marital bliss

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.


 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.


“What was that thing, our Theresa said about cooking pasta?”

“Darren, what are you wittering on about. Theresa can’t boil an egg. She knows nothing about food, never mind something forreign like pasta. Remember when we had her and Terry round for tea last month, she accused me of using tomatoes that were off? You know, the little yellow ones. She wouldn’t eat the salad and then smashed one of my best dishes washing up. Honestly Darren! Look, get out of the kitchen and set the table, your boss’ll be here soon.”

“No, Caro, listen, it wasn’t pasta exactly, mmm, oh yeah, it was spaghetti, is that pasta?”

“Oh Darren, bless, you really are as bad as your sister. Yes of course spaghetti is pasta but it comes in tins with the sauce already with it. Tsk, Darren, gerroff me,” as Darren lunged for a quick cuddle by the sink.

“Oh wait Caro, it’s all coming back to me. Last April there was that programme about April Fools Day hoaxes. They had on the man what shrunk people to get in the aeroplanes, he’s dead isn’t he?”

“Yes, Darren, love please I need to find my recipe for this pasta surprise, it was in ‘Bella’,”

“Well on that programme they had a black and white clip, there was a guy in Italy, and they were harvesting the spaghetti off the trees. I remember cos Terry didn’t think it was hoax and we all laughed.”

“Oh yeah, I know what you are talking about now, a button fell off my blouse I laughed so hard, pass me that tin of mushrooms, love.”

“Theresa said, ”

“Darren give it a rest, Mr Plimkin will be here in five minutes and I haven’t even started the “Angel Delight”

“Caro, Theresa said boiling water, salt, twist the spaghetti throw it in and after seven minutes take one piece out and throw it at the wall. If it is cooked it sticks to the wall.”

“Darren Cooper, you really take the biscuit, if you think for one minute I am sending a piece of pasta to stick on my beautiful turquoise tiles, after spending, oh yeah well anyway, no, I just need to find the recipe, it’s here somewhere. Now, go, shoo, and remember to take their coats, love, go on, I love you.”

Meanwhile outside, Mr Plimkin and the glamorous Mrs P were arriving. “Sweets, please eat a little of everything, it is going to be dreadful, but we can’t be seen to be snooty, I need young Darren on my side with all the redundancies going off we need to keep a couple of young fellows, and he is one of the least offensive. I overheard him on the phone with his wife Caroline, they are serving Angel Delight and mandarin oranges. One shudders to think what the entree will be.”

“Just you wait Plimpy, I had better get that spa week next month. You do ask an awful lot of me. Come on then, let’s get it over with.”

Let Me Fit In

“Mum, it’s so unfair. All the other girls will be wearing them. I hate you.”

The words spat with venom, her hands flailing Kayle turned, marching out of the kitchen, stomping upstairs to her room, slamming the door. The sound of her throwing herself on her bed and pounding her arms and legs resonated throughout the house.

Her mother, Laura, turned off the potatoes steaming on the stovetop and slowly slumped into a chair at the kitchen table. The same table she had helped her daughter at as she struggled with long division and fractions. The same table that had hosted Kayle’s thirteenth birthday party, the same table that she sat at knitting cardigans and singing lullabies to the sleeping Kayle who she rocked at her feet. The same table at which she had washed and changed her as a baby when she had first come into their lives arriving at four weeks old, a temporary foster child, who had won our hearts and had not left, eventually she was adopted and was an only child.

She was a very sickly baby, in and out of hospital, it was over a year before Laura discovered Kayle had been born addicted to heroin. Her only link to her past was monthly visits by her birth mother, Cora, and although Laura welcomed her into their home and gave her minute details of Kayle’s progress the visits petered out by Kayle’s third birthday. Cora barely spoke, revealing little about her or her past.

As Laura reminisced, she wondered could she have made Cora feel more involved. It was Laura who could remember Kayle’s miraculous first step, her first beautiful word. Her eyes welled as she thought of these precious moments, she was so proud of her. She hadn’t anticipated this unruly brattish behaviour that marked the beginning of teenage rule in the house, she was deflated, expecting her home to be immune from pubescent tantrums, and she was hurt by the words and actions of her most beautiful gift.

How to go forward from this, were her views too old fashioned? “Oh Lord, help me now, I need your guidance, amen”, a barely audible prayer escaped Laura’s lips as she continued to mull over the problem. These hot pants that Kayle wanted to wear to youth club on Friday night were they really appropriate and was Laura an old fuddy duddy. Would Kayle’s life suddenly become as golden as these lamé high cut shorts? She didn’t want to suggest to her daughter that the world perceived girls’ attire as a statement of their willingness. Most of all she wanted Kayle protected, from predators, from unwelcome stares, from drunken teenage louts and she admitted to herself she wasn’t ready for half of Kayle’s butt to be on show for anyone, no matter what fashion and her peers dictated.

She went back into her thoughts and wondered when would be the right time to give Kayle the whole truth about Cora, her real mother. She had to be given information that she would need for adult life choices, as an ex-addict albeit without choice she would have a predisposition to addiction. Cora had died three years ago from an overdose of sleeping tablets, speed and cocaine and Laura had taken Kayle to the service, they were the only mourners and it was expediently delivered by a nameless priest, one more addict sent to the furnace. They had taken her ashes to the seaside and emptied the pot into the crashing waves whilst losing their footing and landing unceremoniously into the crashing waves. Laughing, the pot was lost and with it the memories Kayle seemed to have of her birth mother.

During Kayle’s life Laura had pieced together a jigsaw of Cora’s progression into the horrific existence she then had; Up to the age of fourteen she had been the model child, her dad was an Anglican minister and she had joined in with church life, enjoying choir and leading Sunday school for the under fives. She was invited to a party at a friend’s house but after the party had finished she had been brutally and repeatedly raped by boys she went to school with. The reason, because she had refused alcohol unlike the rest of the girls and resisted joining in “Spin the Bottle”. It was a punishment for non conformity. The boys didn’t get arrested or charged and she would have seen them each day at school so she didn’t return. From that moment she had quickly spiralled into a drug fed world, firstly prescription drugs, and later speed, E’s, finally arriving at her new saviour, H. Anything to obliterate the memory, her family had tried to understand but as time passed she stole from them and the parish and they left her to live as she then wanted. By the time she became pregnant with Kayle she was injecting into her chest and barely noticed her growing bump.

Laura sighed and turned her thoughts to Kayle once more, rising she went to press the button that would alert her daughter by means of a vibrating disc that Laura was coming up to her room. She would calmly sign out her messages of love and hope, she would sign Cora’s tale onto Kayle’s hand, whilst cradling her tiny frame and looking into her blank eyes, born deaf and blind with stunted growth, Kayle was her miracle child and no scrap of gold fabric was going to breach their relationship, a new way would be found.


I missed you today, it wasn’t anything special, like feeling you in the room, I tripped over the rip in the carpet. Do you remember? You dragged the dining table across the room for Christmas dinner, your mother was staying and when I shouted at you, she came to your defence and I ran out the house crying. What a memory to think of. Not for us a shared rose tinted world, our marriage, our lives together were just arguments strung together with mutual stubbornness.

Whilst you were still here I often wondered why we remained living in the same house. I made a list, it’s probably around here somewhere, maybe I’ll look for it later. Bridies coming tomorrow to take away your clothes, I’m keeping the camel jumper we both wore, it smells of you, I haven’t washed it and it is acting as a pillow case, breathing in the aroma of you helps me sleep.

Your sisters went home yesterday, I thought they’d never go, they talk so much, constant vapid commentary on nothing at all, I lay awake three nights ago trying to remember what they spoke about that evening, I could visualise their mouths like goldfish rushing round and round but I couldn’t think of one memorable phrase, they patted my hand a lot.

I have cried quite a bit this week, you would’ve been proud of me, I used the little hankies instead of my sleeve, silent tears slid down my un-made up face, oh, they’ve started again, I’ve got very quiet since you’ve been gone. The tissues were changed regularly by passing relatives, they have all been so kind, I have been touched by it, because for all their vacuous talk and constant cleaning, they were all there for me as much as you.

I suppose in a few years I’ll say it takes a tragedy to see the kindness of humans. It was tragic, love, wasn’t it. You weren’t on the list for dead people on that day. I know in my heart there is no way it could’ve been your time. For a start the basketball blitz is next week and your team was all set for another victorious campaign, they all came – the team, their mams and dads, the other trainers. I know it’s tradition in a small village but with us being blow-ins I didn’t know if they would. Your family was shocked by the amount of people at the removal, in England, you’d be lucky to get your family there.

The Mass was lovely, Father Ahern took it and he knew I didn’t understand the whole ritual so he led me through it, the children were fantastic, so well behaved, in fact since you went they’ve been as quiet as me, even Bláthnaid hasn’t said boo. When everything settles down I’ll do the best I can to get them to a new normal, once I work out what a new normal means. If you were here we could work it out together.

Your grave was the fifth open hole I have stood by, I hoped by now to have got used to how far down the coffin gets lowered, but no every time  is a new shock. Joey and Fin carried you with your snooker mates. They did a good job, no complaints about your weight or anything. I was so proud of them, proper little men. They don’t want to go back to school, don’t see the point in exams and all that. I will push them back to their studies though, it is only grief talking and when they begin to recover studying will help them get through.

What’s going to help me get through love, it was always you I leaned on, it was always you who gave me that hug, or a dig when needed, Sure I’ll take it handy, maybe I’ll go visit that little chapel in Killarney, it looks small and cosy, maybe I’ll find comfort in something there. Love, look after yourself, I’ll see you again somehow, no doubt and we can continue the argument we were having on the phone when you lost control in the ice.