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.