(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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