An excerpt from “We All Die in the End” (Scene 4. Rosemary)

Vera lifted high-lighted curls from her face and held them behind her ears.

            “You didn’t invite him for my sake, did you? Because I’m used to male company? It wouldn’t do, Rosemary. What would people think if I started seeing some – “

            “Vera! What are you saying? I didn’t ask him for you. For God’s sake! The notions you get. Wear anything, whatever’s comfortable.”

            “That’s where you always went wrong, you never made an effort. You always wore whatever you wanted, that eternal white, every stitch white. You have to dress up a bit. It makes men feel important if they think you went to a bit of trouble. Why don’t you cut your hair? Hanging down like that at your age, all that grey. Put a colour in it. You could have been like me if you’d tried – you could have had a proper life.”

            “Jesus Christ!” Rosemary dropped the knife. “What would you know about a proper life? You had no life – everything for horrible Tony. What did you want for yourself? You don’t even know!”

            “What do you mean? What are you saying about my husband? He was a good man. I had what I wanted. I had a proper home, and children. Jealousy is a terrible thing, Rosemary.”

            “Jealous! Oh my God, this is too ridiculous. I’m not going to argue with you.”

            “It’s all right, Rosemary.”

            Vera trailed a hand across her forehead.

            “You’re not used to company, people get odd when they live alone, I know you don’t mean any harm.”

            She squeezed Rosemary’s arm and smiled gently.

            “I think I brought my blue, silk dress, it’ll need pressed. I’ll just go up and get it.”             Rosemary looked up. Her eyes followed the footsteps across the room above . . .

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We All Die in the End by Elizabeth Merry

(the first few pages)

Scene 1: Arthur

The first day I saw Lydia I knew that here was a woman I could help. Of course I didn’t know then her name was Lydia. She was just a small, fair-haired woman carrying a doll – one of those great big baby dolls. I was quite annoyed when I saw her actually. There’s never anybody on that part of the beach; there’s no sand, you know, it’s all shingle, and I like to have my head to myself. I was just standing there having a smoke and watching the waves when she appeared. Freezing, it was that day; when I blew out smoke, I didn’t know how much was smoke and how much my breath in the cold air.

            I usually walk there for an hour or two – that’s what I do in the afternoons. My days are carefully measured out – one of them head doctors recommended that and it works fine for me. So many hours for resting, so many for exercise, and then there’s mealtimes and going to the shops, and there you are, another day got through safely.

            Although, mind you, I often stay out just to escape Jennifer – that’s my neighbour. She has these dogs, and she’s all over you – you have to lean back when she’s talking to you. She takes an interest in me – that’s how she puts it – I’d put it another way myself; I think she has her eye on me for a fancy man, living with dogs as she does and no man to herself. Ha! And I have another neighbour wears yellow all the time, a young one, she is, nothing but yellow, and drives a wee, yellow car. But there you are, sure there’s mad people everywhere.

            However, as I was saying, it’s the routine; I need the routine, it keeps me from gathering up the pills and buying that final bottle of booze. I know, I know, mustn’t mention that word – mustn’t even let it form in my mind. It’s gone, there – I’ve forgotten it.

            I avoid going past my old local of course, Dinnie’s that was, Julia’s now I suppose. That’s the daughter, but everyone still calls it Dinnie’s. Ah, the warmth of that oul pub, the smell, the craic, myself and Eugene Curran and the Grimley brothers, my old boozing buddies – I try to avoid them too but that’s not easy here in this wee town – half a dozen streets and the very long and very twisty Hunter’s Lane where I live myself and that’s the whole of it – sure you see everybody. And what was so terrible about that old life after all? Now, now, now, that’ll do.

            So, I watched Lydia and waited for some bloody nuisance of a child to come screeching after her but no child came. Well, that didn’t make any sense but then Lydia stopped and I saw her speak to the doll. Oho, Arthur, I said to myself and I threw down the cigarette. Oho, I said, what’s this? What have we here?

            I walked nearer to her but I couldn’t hear what she was saying without going too close. I saw her point at the sea and brush her cheek across the hard brown curls on the doll’s head. Ah, you poor, m   ad cratur, I thought and I went up behind her. I was much taller and thinner than she was and I leaned over her protectively but she turned and jumped away, throwing me a look as she went.

            What did she want to look at me like that for? Like I was going to bite her or something. It pisses me off when people are suspicious like that. I stood my ground and then I turned and stared after her. Why shouldn’t I stare at her? Hadn’t I every right to stand there and put my face where I liked? I thought about her eyes, small and sad. I was going to follow her that first day but I was tired somehow so I sat on my usual rock and lit another smoke.

            The last few months have been tough, you know. It’s not always easy. You needn’t think it’s easy to motivate myself. I do the mental exercises – say the right words – but it’s like I’m not listening sometimes, and then I just lie around all day. I listen to the radio and I keep the curtains closed. Jennifer knocks but I don’t answer. The thing is – it always passes and I get up again.

And I remember what I’ve been told, that I should try to help others and not be feeling sorry for myself. It’s easy for others to talk, people with families, cars, holidays, all that. What do they know about routine and exercises and watching every word that comes into your own head? Oh, Arthur, I say to myself. Where did you go wrong? Well, I know the answer to that one all right.            Anyway . . . It was two weeks before I saw Lydia again (having gone through a bit of a bad patch) and I said to myself, oho, Arthur, there she is, poor soul, a woman who lost a baby if ever I saw one. It was obvious, wasn’t it? She was holding the doll again, tight under her arm. You see, other people wouldn’t notice a thing like that – they would just assume there was a child with her. But I’m different – I pay attention. I kept my distance this time, happy to be back by the sea. It was a cold, calm day and the sea was blue and quiet. I sat on my rock and stared out at a ship moving slowly against the horizon and when Lydia turned to go back up the street, I followed her. It would help me to help her and that was a fair exchange.

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Review of French Exit by Patrick de Witt

This is Patrick de Witt’s latest book, his fourth, published in 2018 and it certainly lives up to the standard of the other ones. Ablutions, the first, The Sisters Brothers next, and Undermajordomo Minor – I love them all. It is impossible to categorize them as they are all completely different.

So, French Exit – as the title implies is mostly set in France although the first quarter of the book is set in New York. It is a wonderful romp of a book – you’d pick it up with a smile of anticipation. The main characters are the wealthy Frances Price and her son, Malcolm. Frances is beautiful and elegant and totally irresponsible. Malcolm is vague and pleasant. He is engaged to Susan, a girl he professes to love but can’t quite commit to.

The story takes off when Frances realises she has spent all her money and is completely broke. The pair decide to go and live in France when a friend offers them an apartment in Paris. They sell everything they have left, jewellry, pictures and furniture and take  all the cash with them. They also bring their cat, Small Frank, so called because Frances believes him to be a reincarnation of her husband, Franklin.

To give a small flavour of the text:

‘Frances sniffed the flowers and asked, “Who has died, and what was their purpose, and did they fulfill their potential?” The doorman didn’t hazard a response. Frances made him uneasy; he believed there was something quite wrong with her.’

‘Frances suddenly became aware of the chair’s dimensions. It was an exciting thing to know and she was happy she’d been told about it. “What did he choke on?” she asked. “Ah, lamb.” “And have you eaten lamb since?” “No. But, you know, I never liked lamb much in the first place.”‘

‘Tom’s foremost characteristic was his handsomeness; his second was his normality; his third was his absolute lack of humour; his fourth, his inability to be embarrassed.’

In France they pick up an entourage of hangers-on, impossible to describe. I have looked for quotes to illustrate them but it’s impossible to take them out of context.

The book is very funny but all along it has a darkness to it. It is perfectly shaped and paced and I can only recommend that you read it.