A Song for Issy Bradley

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9780099591870: A Song for Issy Bradley

This is the story of what happens when Issy Bradley dies.
     It is the story of Ian -- husband, father, maths teacher and Mormon bishop -- and his unshakeable belief that everything will turn out all right if he can only endure to the end, like the pioneers did. It is the story of his wife Claire's lonely wait for a sign from God and her desperate need for life to pause while she comes to terms with what's happened.
     It is the story of the agony and hope of Zippy Bradley's first love. The story of Alma Bradley's cynicism and reluctant bravery. And it is the story of seven-year-old Jacob. His faith is bigger than a mustard seed, probably bigger than a toffee bonbon and he's planning to use it to mend his broken family with a miracle.
     Incredibly moving, unexpectedly funny and so sharply observed it will make you feel as if you could pick the woodchip off the bedroom wall. A Song for Issy Bradley explores the outer reaches of doubt and faith. But mostly it's a story about a family trying to work out how to carry on when their world has fallen apart.

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About the Author:

CARYS BRAY was brought up in a strict Mormon family. In her early thirties she left the church and replaced religion with writing. She was awarded the Scott prize for her debut short story collection Sweet Home. A Song for Issy Bradley is her first novel. She lives in Southport with her husband and four children.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

– 1 –
Birthday Boy

Jacob wakes up early. He isn’t sure why at first and then he remembers it’s his birthday, which makes his stomach tip like a Slinky. It’s still dark, the thick kind that hides your hands from you. He lies quietly for a few moments, willing morning to get nearer.

“Issy, are you awake?”

He listens for a reply. The sound of his heartbeat pulses in his ears and he gives them a hard rub. The bunk bed creaks as he sits up to lean over the side.

“Issy. Issy.”

Issy makes a little noise and the bed creaks. Not him this time; she must have turned over.

“It’s my birthday, Issy!”

“I’m asleep.”

“You’re not, you’re awake now. Go on, say ‘Happy Birthday’ to me.”

“I don’t feel good.”

“I’m the birthday boy!”

“Shush.”

“Happy Birthday to me! Happy Birthday to me!” He waits for Issy to wish him “Happy Birthday” and rubs his ears again—they are thrumming with the darkness. “I’m going to get up. Want to sneak downstairs with me?”

He climbs down the ladder and stands next to the bottom bunk. Issy’s silence suggests she has slipped back to sleep, so he opens the bedroom door and creeps out onto the landing. He sneaks along the corridor and peeps his head around Al’s half-closed door. There’s no sign of life, so he sneaks a little farther. Mum and Dad have shut their door, and the stairs up to Zippy’s room are too squeaky to risk. He turns back and tiptoes down the stairs, remembering to stand in the quiet places. He goes into the living room and switches on the television. He turns the volume down to number eight and flicks from channel to channel. It’s too early for children’s programs, so he finds the news. There’s a clock in the corner of the screen: ten past five. He decides to watch a DVD.

His favorite cartoon at the moment is one from the Book of Mormon collection. It’s the story of Ammon, who goes on a mission to the savage Lamanites. The Lamanites don’t wear many clothes and they’ve got red and blue war paint on their chests and faces. They capture Ammon and take him to their king. The king is called Lamoni and he is fierce, with two long braids, blue earrings, and a feathery hair band. King Lamoni agrees to let Ammon be a servant, and he tells Ammon to look after the sheep. One day some wicked men come and try to steal the king’s sheep. Ammon is completely brave. At first he uses a sling and some stones to shoot at the men like in David and Goliath, but eventually Ammon gets fed up with firing stones and he pulls out his sword and chops the men’s arms off. Chop! Chop! Chop! Jacob slides off the sofa, steps over Issy’s Cinderella beanbag, and rummages in the toy box for Al’s old light saber. Chop! Chop! Chop! He chops along with Ammon and the Lamanites’ arms break off like twigs. Serves them right! The servants take the arms back to the king in a bag, and he opens the bag and says, “Yes, these are arms, all right.” The king thinks Ammon must be the Great Spirit, but Ammon says he is just a messenger. The king is so pleased with the bag of arms that he listens to Ammon’s message about Heavenly Father. In the end, everyone is happy—except for the men with no arms, of course.

The story of Ammon is a true story from the Book of Mormon, which means it tells people something Heavenly Father wants them to know. Jacob lies down on the sofa and thinks about what he knows as the music plays and the credits roll: Stealing sheep is bad, swords are dangerous, and fighting might be OK if you do it for the right reasons.

Mum comes down just after seven o’clock.

“Hello, birthday boy. What are you doing down here?”

“I woke up and then I couldn’t get back to sleep.”

“You daft thing.” Mum wraps her arms around him and gives him a squeezy kiss.
“Let’s make breakfast, shall we?”

They make pancakes. What an ace start to his birthday! Mum lets him crack the eggs. She doesn’t get cross when the shells shatter into the mixture, and she does extra tosses before putting the pancakes in a dish in the oven to keep warm.

“Shall we sing a song, Mum? Shall we? I’ll pick—I’m the birthday boy! Let’s sing ‘Here We Are Together.’ ”

Mum laughs. “Not that one, you always pick it! Tell you what, you sing while I finish doing this.” She pours more mixture into the pan and Jacob starts to sing.

“Here we are together, together, together,

Here we are together in our family.

There’s Mum and Dad and Zippy and Alma and Jacob and Issy

And here we are together in our family.”

Mum opens the oven door and slips the new pancake into the big dish. “Lovely singing,” she says in the way she always does, even when he forgets the words and loses the up and down of the tune.

“Will you tell me a story now?” He climbs onto the kitchen table and sits with his bare feet resting on the seat of one of the chairs. He sniffs the burny smell of hot oil and feels a fizz of birthday happiness in his tummy. “Tell me the story of when I was born.”
“Well, once upon a time, exactly seven years ago today,” Mum begins, and she recites
his story while she opens the cupboards to find syrup, chocolate sauce, lemon juice, and sugar.

She jumps when the telephone rings and Jacob climbs off the table and wraps his arms around her waist as she answers it. He billows his face into her pillowy middle, closes his eyes, and squeezes extra tight. He holds his breath and pretends his supersonic strength can stick her to the spot.

“Hello, Sister Anderson. No, of course you’re not a nuisance.”

Jacob knows what’s coming next. If he had a big sword he could chop Sister Anderson’s arms off and then she wouldn’t be able to use the telephone.

“Well, it’s Jacob’s birthday. But . . . yes, of course, just a moment. I’ll go and get him.”

Jacob doesn’t let go of Mum when she attempts to move. She tucks the phone under
her chin and tries to unfasten his arms.

“Jacob.”

He holds on, even though he knows it’s silly, even though he knows he will make her cross. Mum pulls the phone out from under her chin and covers the mouthpiece with her hand.

“Stop it. Let go. Now.”

“But what about my presents? Has Dad got to go? He’s already missing my party, he can’t go out now as well! Am I going to have to wait until he gets back before I can open anything?”

“Let go.”

He lets his hands flop to his sides and stands statue-still, pulling his saddest face. But Mum isn’t having it. She shakes her head, then goes upstairs.

It’s suddenly lonely in the kitchen. Jacob hears the low rumble of Dad’s voice through the ceiling. He suspects Dad is going to miss the birthday pancakes and he tries to think of something to make him stay. He knows “Please” won’t be enough, because Dad likes to follow the rules. If he is going to stop him, he will have to come up with a bigger, more important rule than the one about helping people, a rule that will trump the saying Dad always repeats when he has to disappear at important moments: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Mum has an easier way of saying the almost-same thing: “Do as you would be done by.” Jacob thinks about the best way to persuade Dad—“Inasmuch as you have stayed to eat breakfast with me on my birthday, you have done it unto Jesus.” But it sounds cheeky. He wishes Dad was the kind of person who would say, “No, I’m sorry I can’t come. If it’s an emergency, you must call the police or the fire brigade because today is Jacob’s birthday.” But he knows Dad isn’t that kind of man because Dad has already said, “Of course I’ll come to a missionary meeting on Saturday. I’ll miss Jacob’s party, but I’m sure he’ll understand.”

Jacob looks at the casserole dish of pancakes through the glass of the oven door and decides that after he has died and gone to live in the Celestial Kingdom, when he is actually in charge of his own world, he will make it a commandment for dads to stay at home on their children’s birthdays. And if they don’t, he will send a prophet to chop their arms off.

Issy wakes up with achy arms. When she opens her eyes, they are full of lightning icicles. She tries to get out of bed and discovers that there isn’t much breath in her tummy. She wonders if part of her has popped in the night, like a balloon.
 
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