I had a daughter once, well I guess I still do somewhere.
She was taken by social services. People stopped looking me in the eye, in the
face, stopped looking at me at all.
I have a husband, I know where he is, he is in the hospital
in the ward we don’t talk about. People gossip about him, about his truth,
about his lies.
I have a house, I live there alone, two bedrooms sparkling
clean. I don’t sleep in them, I don’t sleep at all. I sit in a sparklingly
clean house waiting for visitors. People don’t stop by, they act like they don’t
know I’m here.
I know what I did and didn’t do, I know what I am. Rumours
fly in the town, faster and faster creating momentum. I have to hold onto the
knowing, my knowing.
Rebecca was my daughter’s name. She wasn’t brought to the
funeral, I wonder if she was told. I hope one day she will come to my house and
see the sparkling bedrooms. I will tell her my truth. I will tell her the
truth. I hope she hears me. I hope she listens.
Dodie Foster, my next door neighbour comes in once a week,
dusting and polishing. When she comes in this room she shivers but she does not
look me in the eye, she does not see me.
I was at a loosely called book club get together. Loosely because half of us have read the book and forgotten and the other half forgot to read the book. Club because we are a band of women at a time in our lives when being married is no longer an aim but staying married is difficult. We laugh. We love.
At the last meeting, someone suggested we read that fifty shades book. The idea went around the room, it took form, people were concurring to read, two had already started and then the light fell on me.
The light suddenly became sharper, brighter, pointier, hotter. I was going to say I couldn’t read it. I was hoping no one would ask why. Thankfully the ladies pointed their anxieties to each other. Some of the people had no idea it was an SM book, so in light of all this new revelation they chose Mirror Mirror by a safe Irish formulaic writer.
Great (stage aside – big sarcastic sigh), we were going to have bad prose just like 50 shades, a formula, just like 50 shades but no erotica.
Great, no one asked me why, my faith was assumed to be at the heart of the reason.
Great we would meet again next month, and the ex-sex worker could keep her past secret for another day/week/month/year/lifetime.
Fourteen and bolshie. What a combination for any teacher to deal with. That’s what me and my mates thought so we would hang out for most of the day in the top bogs, smoking.
Sometimes me and Milton would have enough of everyone else and we’d take ourselves off to our office. The bottom bogs had the cistern above the pan so to touch it you’d have to stand on the edges of the pan. Inside our office’s cistern was a bottle of vodka, me and Milt would take it in turns to swig.
Idyllic days and sweaty nights, that is how we spent our fifteenth year till Milt got pregnant, had an abortion and the whole world (entire town) blamed me.
It was the range of colours that struck me, and, the centre, the centre was white. Well not white it was skin coloured and he was white so I call it white but really it was a pale insipid grey. A child, dirty, in a vest and shorts, hot, it was June 2007 and unlike this year it was a warm summer. It changed in July but this was June it was hot and there were colours.
I visualise the colours so easily, they are etched on my brain, there was a mottled purple, like the delicate fritillaria, looking so frail each year they bloom, it is always a wonder how they manage it. The was an Indian inkiness to the black-blue portion, almost like a borstal tattoo done with biro ink, or the female prisoners who hide the ink capsules in their arms to get a few days in the hospital or die trying. The red, like slates on an Italian villa in the mountains, terra cotta, with tones of weathering, of moss, of trapped dirt, of mistrals, and leaves. A colour I had never seen before imbued these former colours, this colour had the depth of lapis lazuli, with flashes of inky darkness, flecks of cream risotto rice, it reminded me of squid ink risotto I’d had one evening in Rome at Da Sergio’s, not the food but the colour of my mouth after it – black, white, blues and lumpy bits. Fluorescent yellow and green encircled the white centre.
Polymer chained crisp packets, if one were to recreate this as a piece of modern art, would have to be scrunched up and placed under the skin. It was bumpy, lumpy and looked so very sore. The child, ran away, thinking trouble was brewing, that it was his fault.
I turned to my life partner, the man who took full time care of our family while I worked away.
“WTF is that? How did he do it? What has he been up to?”
Very quietly, very carefully, the man I had built my adult life with, said,
“I keyed him”
That’s enough, isn’t it, that would wreck a person. Not in my life, that isn’t quite enough. I met with my eldest child, my head whirring, keyed, keyed, keyed. We met at the bus stop, it was raining, it had started raining in my heart with the word keyed.
I was meeting my son away from the house, away from the home I shared with my family, because I needed advice and was fast discovering I was not that strong independent woman I thought I was. I shared the story to my son, expecting him to say something calming, soothing, something I could work with. He said,
“Why are you telling me this? I know this story. This is my life. He has been attacking me for five years.”
Now that is wrecked.
Twenty five roller-coaster years, how do we celebrate that, honey?”
“I dunno babe, maybe a trip, do we have any tokens?”
“Let me check. Wouldn’t you think we’d be above coupon clipping after all this time,” Jenny spoke as she rifled through the coupon drawer.
“Hey, don’t start with me! You know why I never took the promotions, I didn’t plan on any of the stuff that’s happened,” Phil countered becoming more defensive with each word.
“Honey, cool it, it was just a throw-away. I didn’t mean to hurt you. You’re right, and Philip Solomon, I would not change one thing about our life. Imagine if we wrote it down sometime?”
“Aha, that would be like ‘War and Peace’, there’s our two families for starters, then the kids. Nothing prepared us for having children with disabilities. We could write a book for each child and a three volume treatise on your mother!”
“Phil, don’t be mean, I have been healed of my past, I might still have the physical scars but the emotional ones are gone. What about a tv series like ‘Shameless’ for your siblings,”
“Ha, ha, ha, oh Jennifer Lynn Solomon you are going to be ticked some for that, C’m here!”
The two, should know betters, fooled around, jumping over the sofa and chairs, chasing each other whilst laughing at each other acting like newly weds instead of approaching fifty.
The noise, I hate the noise in subway trains, I hate the squealing of rusty brakes on rusty tracks. Since glasnost there are no workers to grease the tracks. I hate the noise of youth, no longer in the groups of my youth, now tribes determined by drug use, music preferences and orientation, not forgetting wealth. I hate the noise of wealth most, when we were all communists, we all had the same.
Yes some of us had more same than the others, but we all had important jobs to do. My job, I was in charge of an internment camp on the outskirts of Moscow, to the east, in a forest near the town of Balashikha. I lived there, in Balashikha with my wife. She was in charge of a factory there. We had more floor space than the neighbours because of our jobs.
And yet here I am in the middle of Moscow, freezing because the heating doesn’t work and when it does work it leaks, and every one has pets now and the noise of them is incredible. I’d kill the lot, like in the old days, a prisoner who couldn’t be kowtowed, we just dropped them off the roof, job done.
There is too much softness now, too much America, too much noise. At my camp, in the forest, it was peaceful, there was no noise, there was no ….. life.
…running, running away, running toward. He ran mile upon mile, his mind in turmoil. There was no wall, physical or mental that stopped him. He ran on. He had within him the one piece of information, the vital snippet that would unravel the banking system, that would bring down the government, that would start a war between the two biggest nations, that would stop this civilisation in its tracks, that would bring a wave of anarchy that would go around the world.
He had no plan except to run, whichever way his mind turned he could see only destruction, he could only see annihilation and so he ran. As he came towards the cliff path he suddenly had a plan, he could not keep the information within, it would eat him up and as he looked at the gathering sunset he ploughed on. Running always running, he ran off the edge and screamed the secret to the sea as he plummeted to his death.
The banks opened the next day as they had every other day, the Government did its business and the earth continued turning on its axis. His heroic death went unnoticed.
Living vicariously through her characters, she was content. The outside world was too painful to be in, so she sat in semi-darkness with the blinds almost closed, laptop on knee playing the same role playing game she had been playing for over a year.
She met people on line from all over the world and chatted to them in real-time whilst their characters either fought or quested together. She was dying but she didn’t want to focus on that. Of course if she got up and went out into the pinpricking world she wouldn’t be dying as much and could reverse the process. She couldn’t do that, all she could do was breathe in and breathe out, any movement more than that was too much. She had a catheter and a colostomy bag so she had no need to move. Once a day a carer came in and removed rubbish, replenished supplies, dusted around her, and changed the bags. Once a week a cleaner came in and vacuumed around her, opened the windows, lifted the blinds and cooked her a meal. Her body violently reacted to “real” food but she still ate it. The rest of the time her food was made up of aerosol cheese, corn chips, tortillas and dips, biscuits, crackers, gallons and gallons of soda. Cigarettes and wine finished each meal, each meal finished the previous meal, a vicious circle of eating, drinking, smoking, chatting and playing, it had no end.
Her heart did it’s best to keep a steady rhythm, her lungs did their best to inflate and deflate regularly. Her kidneys did their best to flush the bad bits out, her liver sat like a beached whale getting flabbier and less able to do it’s job. Each part of her intricately designed body craved oxygen, exercise, vitamins, minerals and everything needed to live. She lived vicariously through her characters as she bounded toward death.
The two handbags sat between them. The mother and the daughter. Abby looked across at Cheryl-Ann, so much to be said but silence was the only conversation. Cher was nervous, she hadn’t meant to put her bad down next to her mom, she wanted to pick it back up and move it to her left side. She picked at balls of fluff on the underside of her cardigan whilst twisting the end with her thumb, she wished herself away to another place, another time, another seating arrangement. She wished she could talk, really talk to her mom.
The stilted conversation began, “so, how’s college, Cheryl-Ann?”
“Umm, okay, I guess,” Cher gave up fluff catching and launched into full defence stance, the arms of the cardigan over both hands tightly wound around her tiny middle.
“Did you have luncheon yet? Sylvie made pie, I’m sure there is some left,” Abby asked politely, as politely as if the pastor was round for tea.
“Oh I stopped on the way, got lunch at a diner on the road some place. Is dad home?” Cher was becoming more nervous as the seconds ticked slowly by, stealing glances at her handbag, daring it to get off it’s lazy behind and walk.
“No. Father is in the city today. A big presentation at the office, I think he said,” Abby girded her loins or whatever is girded on the formidable female frame that was Abigail Pearce Clinton-Johnson though feels as fragile as a fly in a web, “Cheryl-Ann, I know you have your own life now. You are at college and you’ll probably be bringing a young man home at some point. It’s just that. It’s just that father, my husband, Jack, your father. Well he has decided not to be married any more. I have the papers here, they came yesterday. He didn’t say a word. It is terribly civilised, don’t you know?”
Abby fumbled for her handbag, knocking Cher’s to the ground, spilling open, with all the information she had brought home to show her mother. Or leave it in the letter tray as she left on Sunday evening.
“Oh!” They both said together. Then it was Cher’s turn to rush and gush out the verbal diarrhoea she had been practising all the way home. “Mom, there are places you can go. You don’t have to live like this. Just because you and daddy are practically royalty round here, it doesn’t mean you have to live here. You can leave. I can help you. I have friends who work with women like you, victims of domestic abuse. Mom, it happens to loads of women, but some of them get out. Get out now before daddy thinks of a better settlement than divorce. Love you mom.”
The two women, brought up so politely and civily jumped up, bawling their eyes out, hugging like there was no tomorrow. How many familial cycles were broken that day? Abby and Cher became good and real friends as a result of handbags being inappropriately placed.
Stella and her belly were doing flip flops, as in she was practicing that shoe shuffle dance so popular at bluegrass festivals in her flip-flops and failing miserably and her stomach, God bless it, was a tightly wound as a Jack-in-a-box.
Daniel was filling the saddle-bags in an intricate pattern, weaving each item so everything needed for the road trip was accounted for. He looked up at the sky, the beautiful blue sky and brilliant sunshine polar opposites to how he was feeling. A damp, grey day in England was how he felt. An uneasiness was eating into his core.
Brian picked up Star and they rode over to Stella’s. The radio mic was on but neither spoke. The chasm between them could not be seen, as Star clung to Brian’s back, but it was palpable to them both.
The four friends rode all day on their way to Telluride, stopping off at Grand Junction for the night. Most of it spent in silence as they slept in sleeping bags like sardines in the tiny motel room. Daniel only spoke to say not a bad time from Fort Morgan.
Brian said he was sorry when he tripped over Stella. Star did not speak at all but was sick twice. Stella kept going into the bathroom to practice the dance, she wished she had her fiddle but they had decided not to unpack the instruments.
By this time tomorrow with Daniel on mandolin, Stella on fiddle, Star on banjo and Brian on bass, their four voices, (high lead, tenor, baritone and Star’s beautiful dissonant soprano) harmonising their own material on the Elks Park Stage, they would know if “Blow the Vault” could become the next big thing.
Just like they dreamed of last year when they lost Virginia and Virgil on the journey over from Fort Morgan, they hadn’t performed and spent the next twelve months rejigging the set without two guitars and without their best friends.
Once upon a time there was a young girl.
Every day, she would avoid contact with all humans.
One day a boy followed her and wouldn’t stop.
Because of that, she ended up talking to him.
Because of that, some other boys got jealous.
Until finally only her and the boy were left.
Hilary lived in a strange little room, in a strange little house with strange people. She wasn’t allowed to talk to people, not even them. Every day she was sent out to collect wood for the fire, bottles for one of the people who filled it with liquid and sold it, old newspapers for another who created bowls and vases from them after mushing them up. She avoided people so she couldn’t be talked to. Sometimes not talking to people was worse to the people than talking. She didn’t really know so she just kept to herself. A lot of her day was spent in the wood on the edge of the town collecting twigs and cutting branches into smaller pieces. Little forays into the town for the bottles and newspapers and then back to the more comfortable woods.
Billy watched Hilary for a week before he followed her. He was a curious chap, new to town and already ostracised by the cool kids. He was geeky enough to put kids off from being friends but not geeky enough to not care, he was in his own world at the same time as being part of the bigger one. He followed her from town to the woods, on her second trip that day, at first he treated it like a spy story being thirteen he wasn’t quite old enough to find playing uncool but was just on the cusp of it all.
“Why you followin’ me boy?” Hillary sprung from behind a tree.
“Oh, hello, my name is Billy, I am new, I want to be friends. I have no friends. Will you be friends?
“I ain’t allowed. Go away!”
“No seriously, the kids in town, they don’t want to know me and there is no one else. Please!” Billy countered, not willing to give up after spending all week watching.
“Okay, kinda, only in here, only in the woods, and not all the time. I have work to do. I don’t have friends either. It might be nice. There isn’t much that’s nice, here,” Hilary was softening.
Over the summer they got to know each other, odd they may have been but fun they had. Halfway between childhood and adulthood, not quite one or the other, there was fleeting hugs, fleeting kisses, all chaste, not quite ready for anything else, not quite ready to even know.
One September evening they were just saying goodbye when Jeremy Spencer and Rob Dickinson were running through the woods away from some mischief at a nearby farm. All tallness, angles and the beginnings of muscles they circled the two youngsters.
“What do we have here Mr Spencer?” Rob began.
Later, much later, Hilary half limped, half crawled to her strange little house. She knew what had happened, so did Billy, being forced to watch. Hilary didn’t go to the wood for three days. The people did not like this, they needed the wood, the bottle and the newspapers. On the fourth day Hilary went. Billy went too. They found they couldn’t look each other in the eye. They wanted to talk but found they couldn’t. They wanted to cry, to comfort, to love but found they couldn’t.
Billy killed Jeremy and Rob, everyone thought it was an accident because the rest of the world didn’t know. There was a fire in the shed of the strange little house, everyone thought the still had blown up because the rest of the world didn’t know.
Billy’s parents, pastors at the new church, brought Hilary to live with them. She didn’t need to be told to not talk anymore. She no longer tried. Billy looked at her but couldn’t see her eyes anymore. They lived in the same house but might as well be on different continents. As they grew up Billy continued killing and Hilary continued being mute. Both traumatised by an event in the wood, that no one was left to talk about and the ones who should talk about it, unable.
Meet Spirit and Dance. six year old twins – they went on a road trip – a walking trip:
We call our mother “mother” because it annoys her. She would like us to address her as Sweet Divinity, the name she chose when she left home to join a commune. We found out years later she was called Mary Winifred O’Connell but we were used to mother by then and much as we would have liked to annoy her with Mary we could never remember it in time. We never really knew mother, just when we thought we understood what she was, she changed becoming more robust, or a little fragile, very political or like an earth mother. Her moods were like shifting sands, when other people were around she was always bright and shining like a beacon of hope. However when they left they snuffed out the spark of hope and we endured dark days, sometimes she didn’t cook for days or even get out of bed.
It was on one such deep black nadir, as long as we had known, lasting more than five days that we went in search of food and changed our lives forever. We could only count up to five and we had done that and eaten all the berries we could find. We weren’t sure about weeks but we knew it was autumn as the leaves were falling from trees, it was getting colder and both of us had put on shoes for the first time that year.
We dressed with care for the occasion of the big walk. Spirit was wearing orange corduroys with a yellow jumper that came down to her knees. Dance was wearing a dress that dragged along the ground made out of heavy crushed velvet. A dark blue matching cardigan two sizes too small finished her outfit.
We now know that we looked wild but back then it seemed natural to have our hair streaming down our back, unkempt with twig and leaf entwined. The clothes we wore were either too big or too small, all given by these transient caravanners as part payment for water and pitch. So on this particularly momentous day in our lives we thought we looked normal and set off down the road. We decided to walk down rather than up because when the people went for a walk in the evening they always went that way and came home cheery, loud and happy.
The first part we skipped as a new freedom descended on us, this slowly gave way to a slower pace until we were trudging. Our clothes were getting wet as rain dripped unnecessarily harshly, they hung down and got heavier and muddier as we marched our slow monotonous walk. The village started abruptly as we turned a bend, cottages on both sides gave way to terraces and eventually we saw a shop. We had brought money in mother’s purse. Although naïve about a lot of things we knew that mother gave money to get things and people sometimes gave money to her for staying with her. We pushed open the door and Dance spoke to the lady, well pointed at things; a packet of jam biscuits, a chocolate bar and bananas. Spirit opened the purse and gave it to the lady.
Honesty was thankfully well imbued in the shop lady and she only took out the £2.30 needed. We left and sat on a bench outside, each item came out of the bag, halved and stuffed unceremonially into our watering waiting mouths. We choked and spluttered our way through the food and with hiccups stood and went in search of something to quench our thirst.
As we turned a corner a group of children were coming the other way. We said hello to them but they laughed, encircling us, they pointed; at our hair, our faces now covered in chocolate and biscuit crumbs, our clothes, they said we smelled funny, we were dirty, and we were stupid. We cowered turning into each other, arm around protecting, not understanding why but aware of danger. The noise must have alerted some adults to investigate because suddenly the chanting stopped and we opened our eyes. A huge man stood over them asking who they were.
Spirit spoke, “I am Spirit. She is Dance.”
“Come on now girls, tell the truth. You have run away and stolen a lot of money. Mrs Hanrahan at the shop says you had more than fifty pounds in that purse. Tell the truth like good girls.”
Dance moved forward, facing him, she craned her neck until she could see his face, “We tell truth, me Dance and she is Spirit, we were hungry so we came for food.”
Spirit dragged her back to be with her and put her arms back around her
“Got it!” She shouted with glee at the wall this time whilst jumping up.
“The old bat down by the river with all the cats, she’ll give me a roach if I feed her moggies, genius!”
Mary set off in the glow of the orange street lamps, striding purposefully. It was seven and would take an hour to feed the gazillion or however many cats were there tonight.
There was a light shining from the window so she knocked and opened the door . The stench of cat piss hit her as she opened the inner door and the noise of mewing kitties enveloped her.
“ Nancy, it’s Mary from the estate. Will ye be wanting yer cats fed Nance?”
But Nancy wasn’t listening; in fact she hadn’t listened all day not since dawn when she drew in her last breath. She stared at Mary, and conversely Mary stared back. She momentarily wondered should she call the doctor or the ambulance or something. Something she decided and poked Nancy who was sitting immobile in a green frayed fireside chair. No response. She slapped her across the face as hard as she could. The head moved to one side with the momentum but came back to stare once more.
Something else she thought, scanning the room. Nancy’s hash box was always kept in the centre of the mantelpiece, it was an old tobacco tin that had been covered in sanded down and varnished matchsticks, like parquet flooring. Mary knew all this because her dad had one and she used to stroke the glossy top. He took it with him when he left, not that he was much there as he spent more time sent down than out for good behaviour. That was where he made the tin, she had thought to ask Nance who made the tin for her but she’d forgotten. Who cares she thought as she stuffed the tin down her knickers and went in search of Nancy’s handbag. She knew where that was because Eileen and her used nick the odd bit out of it every now and then. She emptied the purse out onto Nancy’s lap, making use of the tweed skirt she was wearing that was taut across the thighs making a perfect table for change gathering. In the notes compartment she found a fresh crisp €20 note and grabbed all the silver from her lap leaving the copper in a sagging pile. Stuffing the coins into her jeans and stashing the note inside her bra. She would have chips on the way home.
“Thanks,” she said to Nancy. Still inert. Still dead. She scuttled out of the house leaving the door open as she rushed into the night.
They woke together on Saturday as the sun spilt in through the gap in the curtains. “Mmm, she slept all night,” Carys whispered smiling as Jake, her husband planted fairy kisses all over her head and shoulders. Kisses that barely became kisses before floating to another area.
“Will I go check on her?” He asked Carys whilst continuing down her body.
“No, leave her, she will cry when she’s ready. When was the last time we got a Saturday morning love-in? Must’ve been four months at least.”
Carys and Jake made slow, lovers love to each other, they were still young, still in love, still passionate. Jake slipped out of bed, padded across the room and into the bathroom. Carys heard him start the shower, she slipped out of bed, thought about joining him but decided they had already had bonus sex. She went into the nursery.
Wee Charlotte was lying in her cot, waiting for her mammy patiently, too patiently and as Carys got closer she could see there was no breath in the body of her little angel. She knelt down, surprised by how calm she was, cried silent tears and prayed. Jake found her there ten minutes later, kneeling, crying and praying.
Jake immediately thought of their early morning romp and felt guilty, if he had only checked on the baby first, if he had only… He did not go to Carys.
Carys moved through the funeral serenely, Jake was a mess. Their lives became more disparate and in time they separated and divorced. Charlotte was laid to rest after a brief autopsy, sudden infant death, being the cause on the death certificate.
Carys moved on, grieving was seen as textbook for a grieving mother. Jake in comparison, his life fell apart, he lost his job, he began to drink heavily. After many years of dereliction he sought out Carys.
Jake appeared on her doorstep one day in November, it was just beginning to get colder. “I’m sorry,” he said as she warily opened the door.
“Jake, is that you?”
“Um, yeah it’s me, I guess I don’t look how I useta.”
“No, I mean, yes, no. What I mean is I recognised your eyes and the way you said sorry. You had a special way of saying it. What are you sorry for?”
Jake explained briefly and then walked away leaving Carys on her knees praying, but this time her wracking sobs were violent, loud with edges and sharp pointy bits.
Charlotte was exhumed a few months later and the cause of death changed. A warrant for Jake’s arrest was made. He was not found and Carys felt vindicated.
Jake jumped from a bridge into freezing water in December calling Charlotte’s name as he did. He couldn’t live with what he had done. Intentional methadone overdose was the amended cause of death, Jake just wanted one night of peace, one night of sleep, one night without Charlotte. He didn’t bargain for what he got; a lifetime without her.
“You are so stupid!” her mother was screaming at Mary. Mary was picking up pieces of delph. Mary’s brother was stood to the side smirking and her step-father was giving her one of those looks, those ‘I’ll see you later’ looks.
This was Mary’s life; her brother caused trouble for which Mary got the blame, causing her mother to lose her temper meaning she’s need a couple of spliffs and some mellow Southern Comfort to chill her out till she passed out, meanwhile her mother’s husband would use Mary for his own ends.
Mary had an alter-ego, her name was Morrigan, Queen of the Crows, Queen of the Dead, no one messed with Morrigan. It was always later, much, much later that she could invoke Morrigan. She had rituals, she would purge, she would shower in the hottest water possible, scrubbing every centimetre of her body till it tingled (for Mary’s tingle read scrubbed raw till blood appeared). As she dried her body and yanked at her long black hair so tufts of rat-tails would come loose from her scalp, she lit candles and placed her arms from elbow to wrist in the candle flame, backwards and forwards till she could feel it. Finally she banged the back of head against the wall of the bathroom until she became Morrigan.
Morrigan left the house, dressed all in black, with a long black cloak, she paused in alleys, she slithered between shop doorways, watching, waiting for her step-father leaving the bar so she could if she wanted to, kill him.
Watching and waiting, waiting and watching; thinking of her baby sister asleep in the cot. “Touch her Derek, and you will die!” she howled into the night. She swept along the road howling like a banshee, Morrigan Mary, no one dares….
The sun was setting as the plane landed in Los Angeles. The cabin was infused with a golden orange glow. Celebrity hoped was a good omen and squeezed Wayne’s arm to waken him.
Security took forever, Celebrity’s newly coiffured hair was becoming limper than the lettuce left forgotten at the bottom of the crisper. That was the problem, Celebrity thought, I have a name that totally sucks, I am desperately trying to make a good first impression with Wayne’s parents and it really doesn’t matter because my name got there first.
The hair, the new linen suit, strike that, the new crumpled in a heap linen suit, the Jimmy Choo’s that were killing, all of it didn’t matter because her silly, fussy, manic mother once was friends with a woman called Mia with strange named children and she got landed with the stupidest name in the history of stupid names.
And Wayne’s parents had already judged her, and what was the point anyway, I want to go home, she could feel her eyes smart. No way, I am not having mascara run. Where did Wayne go?
Oh I love this man, she smugly smiled as he handed her a bottle of water and a napkin. “Come on Ceely, mom and dad aren’t that bad. They made me. And I love you, honey more than chocolate chilli ice cream, more than anything,” Wayne held Celebrity whilst whispering in her ear.
Talenkynic woke before dawn, full of night terrors, sweats and flushes. Witness to too much destruction, her unconscious mind revisited nightly. As she woke she caught the merest glimpse in the corner of her eye, a shape, a shadow, nothing tangible.
She couldn’t remember, she couldn’t forget.
Shards of her past were clear shining like crystals in the midday sun, huge facets though were left hollow, without form.
Emotions ran riot within her, she possessed them, she contained them, she fought with them whilst maintaining the serenest veneer of calm. Only now, alone, in the twisted sheets and twisted mind of the night were they let loose.
A morass of limbs, thoughts and thread count. She asked herself each time, “How did I get here?” As if the stillness of the night, with the humming of nature could answer.
She began to pack.
She was always on the move, migrating south, along highways and byways, following rivers and streams. At nightfall she pitched her tent, unfolded her sheets and lay down between the cool layers, daring herself not to sleep. A dare she lost each night, the hour unknown, only the brutal awakening was remembered.
Talenkynic walked towards the town she’d seen the day before. Hoping for a day’s work in a diner or hotel kitchen, she began her campaign. A little dust on the face and hands to make her look more impoverished, her shorts were ready to be tugged down for a female boss or tugged up for a male. She marvelled at the simplicity of folk.
“Bing-bong!” the diner door announced her arrival, just as dawn appeared. Silhouetted against the brilliance of the sun,
“Hello, are you open yet?” she called into the darker reaches of the store.
“Goodness, my first customer. You’re an early one, come on in, sit yerself down, coffee?” The owner, a middle aged woman of vast proportions tottered along the inside of the counter.
“May I wash up, first? I have travelled many days,” Talenkynic with her opening gambit.
“Yes, of course, dearie, through the back there. Here, use this towel, you could wash your hair. I often do if I’m running late for Harve,” the diner owner poured coffee for them both and set sugar and creamer on the counter for her customer.
Rose, or Rosie De Bois, according to the diner’s signage had lived and worked in Ellisville all her married life. She was originally from up the county in Laurel, but she liked it here, quieter, more peaceful and easier for her to bury her sadness away from her family.
Talenkynic appeared with the towel binding her hair in a turban, “Is this okay?”
“For sure, Ben will be the next in, but not for an hour. Will I fix you some breakfast?” Rose smiled at the gangly girl before her.
“Oh, well, umm, maybe some toast and more coffee please,” Talenkynic began a wistful smile and let her eyes move up to Rose’s.
“When did you last eat, girl?” Rose countered.
“Yesterday, I found some berries and ate them as I walked, they were so juicy, it popped in my mouth,” her next play out she let her eyes close briefly then looking down and blushing ever so slightly.
“Hey, cheer up, my name is Rose, this is my diner, I will feed you breakfast, lunch and dinner if you work for me and I will give you twenty dollars wages plus any tips you make. Mind they’re a frugal bunch round here, not many tips to be had. Or maybe that’s just me. What do you say? What’s your name, girl?” Rose unknowingly had walked into Talenkynic’s innocent trap.
“Tally, I go by Tally, and yes, oh thank you, thank you so much,” Talenkynic gushed thanks and beamed a smile in appreciation.
Later after her fill of eggs and ham she wiped down tables, set up condiments, filling where necessary, all the time keeping an eye out for customers. She hummed as she worked, a folk tune from home, barely audible and unheard by Rose who was busy baking biscuits and peeling potatoes for her morning men.
People came into the diner at regular intervals, with a snippet of a story, either theirs or Rose’s. Talenkynic was building up quite a picture of Ellisville and Rose, a widow with no children, a heart of gold, always with a smile, never one to hold a grudge. Saint Rose, she thought, as she served the hungry diners with food that even Talenkynic found appealing.
Rose was also talking throughout the day gently probing the young girl rushes back and forth with orders and dirty plates. She was hard worker, Rose thought, but very closed. As she pulled down the blinds at the end of the day she learned nothing except her name and she was moving south.
“Tally, when you’ve eaten, would you like to walk with me some, before the sun sets?” Rose asked as she turned the key in the lock.
“Um, yes, sure. I mean, I have to get going but a small walk would be okay,” Tally spoke brokenly partly due to stuff biscuit, gravy and fried chicken in her mouth and partly due to a sudden yearning to spend time with the widow Rose.
They walked, to Talenkynic it seemed aimless, a little left, a little right. To Rose, there was a purpose, she was bringing Tally home. Turning into the path that led to her house, she turned to Tallenkynic, “Tally, you are welcome to rest for a few days or for a while. You look so tired, exhausted, you need to sleep in a bed. Come?”
“I suppose I could stay for a night and see from there,” was her cagey reply.
Rose made the most of having a guest, plumping pillows, running a bath and making hot chocolate and cookies. She sang spirituals, reminiscing when she first moved into the house as a newly wed, hoping to fill the home with kids and animals. Settling for one mangy cat that would never come in but sat on the porch with disdainful mews.
Talenkynic sank into the deep mattress, surrounded by fluffy pillows and soft toys, trying desperately hard to stay awake but without the usual will and she soon slipped off into a deep sleep.
As Talenkynic slept her mind, warped by memories of a distant time and place, scenes played out, one by one projected above. Rose awakened and watched horrified, silent tears falling, as she watched the annihilation of a species, Tally although younger retained her eyes and Rose saw the girl watching her family, her community, her entire hold killed.
After the first twenty minutes or so, she slipped into bed with Tally and held her, still watching. Babies, old people, children and women all killed, it took some working out but it seemed certain girls were saved, the men were not there. Rose had never spent the shortest night at the movies but she was riveted to the screen all night, until just before dawn as the violence that Talenkynic endured became more horrifying, the experiments, the torture. No wonder she was always moving, she thought.
Talenkynic woke sometime after seven, rested for the first time since arriving on earth, the smell of coffee wafting up the stairs. “Ah, you’re awake, here have some coffee and we’ll get off to work,” Rose breezed in, smiling.
Their life together began, Rose watching and holding, Talenkynic slowly recovering.
“Steph! Get the phone, love, I have my hands full,” George literally had his hand down a chicken’s throat.
“Hi, DeLeon residence, Stephanie speaking,” Steph was putting on her call centre voice. George continued stuffing the chicken.
“Re ally, oh my gosh, re ally, oh my, let me tell George,” she was becoming almost incoherent.
“George, George, wait till I tell you. We won, we won. George we won,” bouncing into the kitchen she grabbed George and swung him round.
Her eyes, beautiful blue jewels, were shining like sapphires, little pink spots on her cheeks and a wide grin all helped give George the jolt to ask what they had won.
“The second honeymoon, they liked our story, we leave tomorrow, yea, yea, yea.”
“What about the chicken?” George asked weakly
“Stuff the chicken! We’re going to Jamaica!” Steph rushed off.
She was probably packing he thought and slowly emptied the chicken and the rest of the stuffing into the bin. The special stuffing would have to wait. Actually, he thought, this might work better, it would be much easier on vacation to add the necessary ingredients to cause an allergic reaction and he might even get compensation to boot. Win, win. A honeymoon to remember.
“Need help packing love? Let’s see how much we can stuff into the suitcase, eh love.”
I am old-school English grammar taught, 11 plus passed, Grammar School educated. I had relatives who would correct my spoken grammar – “Sean and I” not “me and Sean”. It was to be said in a plummy accent (English posh) which made my life in the poor end of town unbearable.
My written grammar was scrutinised, essays were written based on my errors. I am sorry, American friends, but you really have no idea how high the bar was surrounded by copperplate handwriting books and old maiden Aunt teachers. Woe to me if I failed a spelling test – a little impromptu fun or used I’ve instead of the correct I have. Presents were given of Ronald Ridout’s grammar books, they thought, bless them, they were being hip.
I have the rules in my head and I break them, in fact I don’t just break them – I smash them into a thousand smithereens. I love to use prose as poetry, it has to move in a rhythmic dance, and if it doesn’t, it ain’t my dance, my song, my revolution and it gets hacked to pieces.
Grammar if it is broken, must be broken for a reason, (as above), or not at all.
A dear friend of mine had to write a report on a conference. Every sentence began – ‘And then I went’. It was dire, it was so bad I couldn’t resurrect it for her and made up the conference report based on hearsay and the brochure. She got her promotion based on that work and we have a favour based relationship – I proof read and edit without mercy for her , she grooms my dog. Win-win.
As an aside – it took my five goes at spelling hearsay, I don’t think I have ever written the word and for some reason I thought it was “heresay”, which spellchecker didn’t like, it preferred heresy! So maybe breaking the rules of grammar is grammatical heresy but I learned to spell a new word today!
She was crying.
Not pretty tears, red swollen eyes, her nose full of snot, running freely as the tears.
She sat staring out of the window, oblivious to the world going on outside. People were beginning to get up and out for the daily grind. Mr Boyson was having trouble starting his motorbike directly opposite, his cursing, slamming and banging going unheard or unseen. Martha and Martin the twins from number 23 were gabbing on at a hundred miles an hour as they swung their bags and shuffled through autumn leaves.
Doris sniffled and wiped snot on her sleeve, grabbing her handkerchief too late for the slug like trail on her clothes but she dried her eyes. “Well this will never do,” she exclaimed to herself and put the telegram back in its envelope and into her apron pocket.
“Clarence, I am putting on the kettle for tea. Are you coming down today, love?” She spoke up the stairs hoping her husband would hear her. She didn’t want to take a tray up today. In the kitchen she straightened the envelope and put it leaning against the salt cellar.
She drew the black out curtains in the parlour and put the gas masks away, hung up in the cloakroom, she wished this damn war would end before anyone else’s son was killed. She sobbed again, before shaking her head and turning to brew the tea.
He sat at the bar, on the same stool he always sat on. One beer was following nicely on from the other, sweet nectar for the soul. This was his daytime; nights he worked as a bouncer in a stripping joint. Locals came in, chatting, shooting the breeze. Tourists popped in, to see some real local colour, taking pictures, asking questions, the same questions. He answered them, the locals, the tourists, he chatted to them all, affably chilled.
She entered the bar because of a sudden downpour, sat next to him and ordered a beer. She hadn’t had a beer in years and it went down like water, she ordered another and started chatting to him. The weather, where she was from, what she was doing there – normal chitchat. All the time more beer was entering both their bodies.
At some point the two beer fuelled bodies turned to each other and sparked. They kissed.
The sun came out and she left, slightly buzzing from the interaction, shaking her head, clearing in the sunshine, she returned to the tour bus, she returned to her husband, she didn’t give him or the kiss another thought.
He sat at the bar, on the same stool he always sat on. He drank his beer, he chatted, but something or someone was haunting him. A normal person, a woman with no agenda, with a good life, a pastor’s wife had kissed him. Him, a has been, never been, what was it about her that niggled. No longer chilled, wtf, it was just a kiss.
But in his heart, in there it changed, he was changed, the beer tasted sour, the chat sounded flat. The locals, the tourists, he got up and left.
Not sure how, not sure why, he just knew it was time to change…
“It can be a lonely place,” Brian stirred his coffee as he spoke.
She said nothing. There was nothing to say. She knew how lonely it was, sitting in the middle of a family that didn’t want you. She hadn’t expected him to say it, he was a man. Men were supposed to be empty of such thoughts, logic was supposed to course through their veins, not neoemotions and empathetic waves.
Her mind drifted as she licked the swirl of steamed milk from her finger. Motivations for Brian’s concern were whirling through a check-list maelstrom; attraction – no, concern – yes, intervention – maybe.
Brian’s coffee was becoming a black vortex. Had he gone too far in saying that. What had he hoped to achieve. He didn’t fancy her, she was his wife’s best friend, she was the person you ran to when the kids got a rash before heading into the doctor, she was the one you rang to bring in the washing if it was raining. She was the one that rang you to pick up the kids because she was running late, or that needed a lump of meat because she forgot to go marketing. She was on the list of friends that we depended on as a couple. Why does she not speak he wondered?
Stephanie completed another circuit of froth and licked again, “Brian, to consider myself lonely within my matrimonial state, will not help any I don’t think. Yes it is true, with Dave playing away, it is lonely. This is not a new state for me though, as you know I was reared begrudgingly and oh bugger. Look I have to stay married, I have no income of my own, everything is in his name, including the kids and I feel safe in it. My safe might not be your normal, but it is mine. I have boundaries, don’t worry, I am not a punch bag as well as a doormat. And finally although I truly do appreciate your concern and Jill’s as well. You are good people. You are good people to me. Although I do like that you are concerned, please let’s not speak of this again. It is what it is. I am married therefore I am.”
“Sure Steph, no prob, just letting you know we are here for you. I am here for you. Jill’s indiscretions were a long time ago, forgiveness sought and received, but I remember at the time, the sheer loneliness of the partner at home,” Brian finished his confidence and his coffee, shoved his chair back and saluted a goodbye.
Stephanie drained her mocha and rose to leave as well.
If I was txtin den mi spellin an such wd b all ova de place. Prob rong place to do a gramer ting!
But it got me trawling in a lot of places with the help of Larry Blumen and ‘Against Me!’ from Florida
How Low Can …….. you Go?
The low ebb is descending
A rhyme from a pop song
Reverberates the background
It’s melodic chant daring her lower
Tiredness all around no respite
Sleep depravation increase the tome
No good news war sickness
No puppy dog tales only poverty
Take it to the chorus litany of woe
Shutters coming down
Closing up shop
Humanity good bye
Sign off gone for a while
I’ll be in bed
No white light
Judgement descends how long to stay
Am I ready to depart or interlude
Difficult decision in trance like mode
Get it wrong county homeward bound
Heaven can wait let’s breathe in
He sat at the bar, on the same stool he always sat on. One beer was following nicely on from the other, liquid nectar for his soul. This was his daytime, nights he worked as a bouncer in a strippers joint. He chatted with whoever sat next to him, he was one chilled character.
She entered the bar because of a sudden downpour, sat at the bar and ordered a beer. She hadn’t had a beer in years and it went down like water, she ordered another and started chatting to him. The weather, where she was from, what she was doing there – normal chitchat. All the time more beer was entering both their bodies.
At some point the two beer fuelled bodies turned to each other and sparked. They kissed.
The sun came out and she left, slightly buzzing from the interaction, shaking her head, clearing in the sunshine, she returned to the tour bus, she returned to her husband, she didn’t give it another thought.
He sat at the bar, on the same stool he always sat on. He drank his beer, he chatted, but something or someone was haunting him. A normal person, a woman with no agenda, with a good life, a pastor’s wife had kissed him. Him, a has been, never been, what was it about her that niggled. No longer chilled, wtf, it was just a kiss. But no matter how many times he said this to himself, he knew in his heart it changed everything, he was changed… <img height="16" alt="Description: http://media.disqus.com/uploads/forums/95/7532/favicon.png” width=”16″ />
For a very specific reason I am reading Pollyanna by Eleanor H Porter. The specific reason is: I want to and am old enough to admit to liking 19th and early 20th century fiction aimed at young girls without blushing.
Protagonist: Pollyanna, optimistic orphan
Antagonist: Aunt Polly: strict, dour relatively young aunt, unmarried.
the glad game, the man and aunt Polly all are potential obstacles to a peaceful life.
There could be more and if I tried to I would think of them but then that would spoil the ending for me!!! (again) am only up to where she begins to meet The Man.
There are nuances that I read now as a Christian I have not seen before so have downloaded a truck load of this kind of fiction (more examples please) for my vacation to the States next week.
this morning wrote a story based on raindrops for my son. I know I shouldn’t do his homework! Amazing that your prompt is similar, thanks Joe, here’s a little bit of it:
It was the rain I missed most. Growing up in Ireland you certainly got used to the soft days, the showers, the heavy downpours and torrential rain. I remember one summer; I must have been ten or eleven. It rained every single day for the entire summer holiday, then the first day of term; bright sunshine.
Sitting in the room watching raindrops fall down the window, like an ever changing waterfall, I remember that. The wind, there was always wind, would drive the rain against the window panes. The panes themselves would shudder and moan. They were the old type, two halves and a sash cord to raise them up or down, only one fixing in the middle. Designed to last, designed before house burglary became an occupation for so many, but they did like to groan.
The house was, I remember, fond of talking. Floorboards creaked as you stood on them, doors whined as you opened and then exhaled when closed. Tiles on the roof thought they were in a rock band, pounding rhythms with the rain, thrashing out da-dum,da-dum, da-dum. Presses and cupboards held their own secrets; moths, insects and spiders all vying to be top-dog of whatever press they were in.
Up the creaky stairs and along the corridor was the bathroom. For a young curious lad the bathroom held the most appeal. In the twilight, silverfish roamed the tiled floor, woodlice snuck out of the skirting board and made a dash for the underbelly, the dark side of the bath. Once I counted four different kinds of mould and fungi growing in the damp humid conditions, black mould on the walls, a turquoise growth in the corner of the bath. Under the sink was a platform, hewn from fresh timber for the ‘smallies’ in the house but it had aged and in the clammy dank darkness of the bathroom and had grown orange and yellow curly foils of fungi. My brother, the daft one, wanted to eat them but then he would eat anything; charcoal, turf, the dog’s dinner. He was always so hungry and so painfully thin.
rules, keeping them, breaking them, following them religiously, creating a crack in the rule. I am more inclined to poetry when I think of rules rather than good English grammar and language in prose. Why? Because I was taught old-school grammar and language, not only at school which was horrific enough but at home, on vacation with my aunts, weekends with my grandmother. The only place where you could say, “me and you,” without the retort, “It is you and I, Susan” was on the streets. Or perhaps the use of a double negative, quelle horreur in my family. Every aspect of the words I chose to use came under scrutiny, goodness, when I think of times I stupidly asked “Can I leave the table?” So I know I break the rules of grammar, I use language appropriate to the character’s age, class, gender, culture, religion etc.
Poetry for me (apart from being really bad at it) is a release, there is a form called free verse so I can follow the rules of having no rules without breaking one – or can I? By adding structure – number of syllables per line, number of lines in a stanza, repeating words creating rhyme – oooh that is way uncomfortable to contemplate.
As it happens I spent the day writing different things, two pieces of leaving cert homework for my son, a poem, essay for my course, essay for myself, essay for my tutor, and this comment. This is the poem:
She sat waiting
Waiting to be picked up
Waiting to be nurtured
Noisily at first
With ever decreasing
Until she cried no more
expected no more
hoped no more
She stopped waiting
My seventh birthday was the first I shared with my stepmother. My mom and sister shared a birthday and did stuff together on that day. Did I expect the same? No, in the previous week each family member, liberally covering the generations, made some sharp, pointed remark about the stepmother and I.
On the eve of my seventh birthday I spoke to the ether asking to be rid of my stepmother as a birthday treat.
On the actual day, the thirteenth day of a nameless month, the first “Witches Day” was celebrated in my room, alone with the ether. No one wished me a ‘happy’ one and I didn’t solicit conversation.
The day after my birthday I was told that my stepmother, Gwendoline, was paralysed, had woken up on her birthday unable to walk.
That was the last birthday I celebrated, there was nothing in my life to beat the drum of commemoration. Now, because of me, because of the ether, I lost a father. He could no longer travel and leave his frail wife.
My wife is one of those people that has to live in a spotless environment, I think it is why we don’t have kids yet but that’s a whole other story. I am not naturally neat, I like to leave my clothes on the floor overnight and decide what can be worn again in the morning. The last time my clothes lay in a heap overnight was on the day before we married.
Of course we can’t know everything about our spouses before we marry, even if we have lived over the brush for a while. Something changes in the exchange of rings, everything we have held in check whilst puffing up our feathers to catch our mate is let out like a long silent fart.
So my wife has borderline obsessive compulsive disorder, a neat freak, everything having a place and it being kept in that place. I can work around her, because she is the love of my life. I know us macho males aren’t supposed to admit it, but when she arrived into my circle of friends, I had to have her. As a result I put away the forks exactly as she likes them placed in the green baize lined drawers, I pick up my clothes at night and place them all in the hamper regardless of soiling because she likes the smell of of my cologne through pristinely pressed linen shirts and I always take off and put away my outdoor shoes before entering the apartment just because.
In all of this seemingly one-sided compromise, I have a dirty little secret. Something that if she knew I can only assume we would part ways, so I am very careful. Once a month I lock myself into the bathroom, remove the third tile on the far wall, reach in and take out my matchboxes. I spread out the contents on the floor and just smile, then I add ten more to my collection. After ten to fifteen minutes of admiring my toenail hoard I collect them up into their boxes in a totally random and ramshackle manner adding to the pleasure. I don’t go as far as to speak to them but I do smile one last time thinking of all the years I have been collecting them, smug about the secret and remembering the love I have for Selena, my wife that makes living in this clinical atmosphere bearable.
“Where’s my tweezers?”
“Don’t you what fridge me, Josh, you know which tweezers. I only have one pair, pink, sharp ends. Always kept in the pot by the mirror.”
“Oh, those tweezers, when are you gonna’ stop using that fridge thing, it was years ago and not very funny then.”
“That is so typical of you, deflect from the issue. Where are my damn tweezers? And by the way, it was two years ago and it was very important to me. You know that, why do you do this? WHERE ARE MY TWEEZERS?”
“They might be in the sink. I might have used them to get a screw out. I might need for you to buy new ones. Look I sold the fridge, we were short for the rent, I didn’t know you were given that food. It was my fault. I admitted it then, and again I admit. When will you get off my back?”
“Josh, I need the tweezers, I have an interview tomorrow. Oh what is the point? You will never change. Remind me, why am I still here?” finally a faint smile started at the corners of her mouth.
“Because you are crazy about my foot massages, and no one else would put up with constant job changing, mood shifting, high maintainance tush. Oh and I love you. Come here, babe, I am sorry about the tweezers.” He pulled the pliable Amy towards him.
Talenkynic – no last name from Zylmor
Mary Cronin with the nickname Morrigan (queen of crows, irish mythology)
Maplesyrup Maguire, badly named by social climbing mother, Annie
Chrystal O’Brien, settled traveller
Rohan Williard, aka Red
Sukey Mackie, artist
Joy Wellcome, Annie Maguire’s childhood and adult best friend
Mimosa Harwich, Annie Maguire’s boss
Joshua Flynn, Mary Cronin’s “the one”
Kuldeep Jayaraman, Joshua’s school friend
Gaetana Jayaraman, Kuldeep’s sister
All characters in progress
Sybil sighed as she paused at the window, “Oh my, what a beautiful day,” she exclaimed to herself. She soaked in the immaculately mowed and rolled lawns, the stripes were especially pleasing. Beyond the lawn, the lake, mirroring the azure sky and fluffy white clouds. She could make out the shape of the swans floating majestically. She smiled wryly to herself as she thought, like herself , the swans were paddling good-oh under the water to maintain the graceful exterior above the water.
Turning she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and patted the back of her head as if there was a hair out of place, she smoothed down her dress and carried on to Jason’s room. “Good morning, darling, did you sleep well?” she asked as she knocked and entered her husband’s room.
“Ah, Sybil, yes, yes, indeed, a good sleep. A man needs a good sleep. Come, sit with me for a while,” Jason answered, ever positive from his sickbed.
“Hobbs will be here with breakfast shortly, I ordered kippers for us and some brown soda bread. A reminder of home, Jason. Tomorrow back to healthy, healthy, healthy,” she sat down on the edge of the bed as she spoke smiling lovingly at Jason.
The smile unfortunately started a coughing fit for Jason, the two of them were so engrossed in the violent exhalations that but for the smoky aroma of the cured herrings pervading their midst, Hobbs would have gone unnoticed. “Hobbs, please help me raise up Mr Jason,” Sybil whispered across the room.
“Of course, Ma’am,” Hobbs swiftly pushed two plumped up pillows behind the convulsing Jason.
“That will be all Hobbs,” Sybil dismissed the servant and continued to tend to her husband. ……..15 mins up
We lived in a tenement in Dublin, my mother and I. Dad had died of TB when I was really small. Mammy was a small tired woman who never had time to sit still, she did for three ladies and took in washing. Our flat always smelled of Fairy soap flakes and Robin starch. When it was raining and the sheets couldn’t dry outside mammy would send me to look for wood to put on the fire to warm the rooms.
One day I was on this mission, jumping into puddles on the waste ground when I found a packet of flower seeds. It was brown with no picture but I could read the word, ‘Mimosa’, Mammy loved to read and one of the books she had borrowed from the Ladies at the Mission was “Told on the Pagoda” by Mimosa. She would read these fables from Burma, interlaced with stories of her father, an soldier in the Gurkhas, from the Karen part of the country.
I ran home, not with timber but with my precious cargo. Mammy cried when she saw the seeds and we both went out in the rain to find a corner of earth for them to go in. We waited long days for the seeds to come up, I would run out in the morning to check before going to school and as soon as I got home in the afternoon I would rush out to look at the little pile of dirt.
One day Mammy was singing and smiling when I got home, she didn’t look quite as tired or small. Running out I saw the tiny stems coming through the ground, I turned and hugged Mammy. We smiled together and had jam on our bread for tea. Our little plants seemed in a weird way to give us hope.
We moved into the country before the plants grew and the tenements were razed, but we always had a Mimosa Tree in the garden in every home we ever had, we call them “Tree of Hope” from the story in Mimosa’s book, “The Vigil of Mah May” our favourite tale.
The cat, whose name was longer than most humans, sat with a smug smile on the plush white couch, her claws dug in the velour fabric; scratch, scratch, scratch. Contentedly she purred, stretched and yawned. The smile plastered on her face was as wide as all of Cheshire.
The regulars in the diner all had a theory, Jim Baines was dead, murdered, his body found on waste ground at the back of the council offices. Charlotte, the cook and Mrs. Baines was not in the kitchen, compassionate leave, but the routine of coming into Al’s was too much for her and she sat on a stool at the counter whilst another flat white went cold in front of her. She heard the chatter going on around her, the deferent whispers had long ago submitted to more vocal opinion. They weren’t bad folk she thought, she of all people knew Jim’s shortcomings, his propensity for chasing ‘skirt’, his short temper, long arms, his ability to hurt with no bruise to show, of she knew all about Jim.
Hal Greenwood, sitting as he always did in the booth nearest the bathroom was arguing with Shell the waitress. Shell was defending Jim, she always had a soft spot for him and had often taken care of him when Charlotte had been over at her sister’s in Oak Grove. Hal, whose current wife had been Jim’s first was trying to convince Shell that Jim was violent. It was not a row that would ever be resolved, each knowing a different version of Jim Baines.
In the next booth, Judge Grayson and Boyson Rider, the pharmacist were discussing who would have a motive for killing Jim. All the booths were taken when Miriam, Hal’s wife walked in and instead of joining her husband, sat next to Charlotte. “I went over to your place but when you weren’t there, I thought you might be here” she opened.
“Did you?” Charlotte whispered.
“No, I was going to ask you,” Miriam replied.
“My money is on Rosemary, she had most to gain,” Charlotte countered, “I must go and identify him, will you come with me?”
“Sure honey,” “Hal, I am going with Charlotte to the morgue to see Jim, will you pick up the twins?” Miriam hollered down the diner to her husband.
“Will do, take it easy, Mir,” Hal spoke through Shell.
Outside, there was a chill and Charlotte wrapped her cardigan around her. “Come on, Lottie, let’s go see Jim one last time.” Miriam said putting her arm around the quiet Charlotte.
In the car, Charlotte, barely moving her lips, looking out the window as the shop facades were racing past, “Thanks Miriam, for everything, bonfire out?”
“Yes, Hal took care of it, all evidence accounted for, now we all just need to hold our nerve, the detective arrives later today, shame about Rosemary, but she got away with two already, they should be able to link it all together.”
“You are all good friends, I should’ve listened years ago,” and Charlotte resumed the hunched, haunted look she had been practicing for months, ever since Hal and Miriam saw the beating.
stream of Mary’s consciousness
Oh no, mum’s passed out again, stupid, stupid, stupid. Jake the little… Why did I come home? I hate this, I really hate this. Jam everywhere. Is there anything in this room that is not bleeding red jam. And Jake, where is he? Okay, so if I check the baby first, change it’s nappy cos I am sure mum didn’t bother. Thursdays are just zero days. I wonder how long it took her to get from the bank to the off license. Did she even pay? I should ring Halloran’s, see if we owe them anything. Oh mum, remember when it was you, me and dad. He built that swing in the yard and we took it in turns to swing. We laughed. Do you remember laughing? Proper laughing at something important, not the bottom of a vodka bottle, or some random tosser you picked up. I mean laughing ‘cos it’s summer and the grass smells green and the sun is shining just for us. Oh mum, look at the baby’s bottom, it is raw, red, why don’t you change it? I am so past tears, mum, I wish you could hear me, Jake doesn’t know how to laugh, I barely remember, mum, please ….
It was a routine operation, so they said and then followed it by lots of legalise but the bottom line is, the peaks and troughs in my life are gone. The things I considered routine all disappeared with the cut of the surgeon’s knife. Waking up with the musky aroma of my husband next to me; taking up too much space, snoring quietly. I would then nudge him gently to wake him. We would talk about our day ahead, argue about who was going to dip their toes into the cold air first, who’s turn it was for breakfast. I usually won and I would sink back into the pillows listening to him pad down the hallway to the kitchen.
The tinny sounds of spoons on cups would be replaced by clatters as bowls and plates were brought forth, all our crockery had chips in from Séan’s hamfistedness. I loved him for it. Each time I went to find a pair of tweezers that were buckled out of shape, forks and knives used as screwdrivers, screwdrivers used as hammers. For the twenty five years we have been married I have mended or replaced all the tools over and over again. I bought some pink secateurs so he wouldn’t use them but eventually I found them with gouges out of the blades – they had been used for cutting wire. And the wire cutters, well they had been used to hold the aerial in place at the back of the television and are probably still there.
Séan would sometimes come down and drag me out of bed, if I had a vital meeting but usually he would bring breakfast down to the bedroom and we would perch on the bed eating our porridge and chat some more, shall we paint the hallway, bottom the front room, when was the nurseryman coming with the trees, did the dog take his worming tablet. The usual, the routine, the monotonous. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Those precious minutes together first thing, on our own before the world invaded; kids jumping all over us, jobs to go to, lunches to prepare, meetings to pitch, soccer training, friends to visit, neighbours to check on, families to ring. That reminds me I must ring Séan’s mother she will be devastated, her first born, her eldest son, gone at only forty seven, what’s routine about that.
The doctor has returned and is giving me more information but still reiterating that it was a routine operation. I have a sarcastic retort that for now is being held in but I swear if he says routine one more time. Séan would’ve stopped me, I would give him my acid retorts, the ones I would say if I had more gumption or less sensitivity. He held me in check. He held me.
Oh Séan why did they have to mess up your routine operation. Why are you dead? I need you to help me organise your funeral, I need you to tell your mother. I need your arms around me when I tell the children. I need you. Nothing will ever be mundane again, no comforting cooking together you chopping, while I stir. Everyone said we were two halves of the same coin, well I feel half a person, we slotted together so well.
I loved our boring, routine wishy washy life and now I am going to have to do it by myself. When we said till death do us part I thought it would be when we both had plastic hips and knees and hearing aids, I thought it would be forty years from now. Did you know how much I loved our humdrum existence, we could chat for hours about nothing, we laughed together, we cried together, you laughed when I cried at movies and I laughed when you cried at reality shows on t.v.
The doctor arrives again to explain the procedure for your body and again he starts with the it was a routine operation and I am sorry Séan, I know he is only human but I reply, “routine? So all your patients die?” and I walked out into the Spring sunshine to the car and bawled.
I was from Cork city, a civilised place with gas to heat us in the winter and a coal fire on special occasions. I married Dan when I was twenty two, fresh out of college and full of life, Dan was a fully paid up member of the bachelor club until I arrived this year according to the old men gossiping after Mass, he was forty four.
We had first met when I was sixteen and running away from home because my brother, the sneaky little pup had stolen my diary and read it to the gang of kids we hung out with. Full of teenager-angst he told them all I had a crush on Timmy, the unofficial leader of our pack. My diary no more said those words than if the Pope had a baby, himself. So I was on the train to Mallow, with a bag of clothes, a tenner and a packet of biscuits. Dan, was just the man sitting opposite, nose in a book, he didn’t blip on my radar, owld one. The train had been getting up speed over the viaduct when it made a sudden stop. Dan fell forward over the table and we banged heads.