First thing: I’m going to be away for a few days – wedding duties! Second thing: I have serious writer’s block – I can’t even manage a line for a haiku. So I’m going to post some pages from “Thelma”, one of the stories in We All Die in the End. Back next week – I hope!
“I wonder if I should wash . . . Thelma, do you think I should have a wash?”
Thelma dithered beside the bed, moving from one wee foot to the other, waiting to heave Thomas to his feet. The top of his pyjamas hung open and his belly bulged over the bottoms. There was a line of sweat where the bulge began and another across the back of his neck when he bent to look at his feet.
“Whatever you like, dear. The water’s hot.”
“Well, I will then. I’ll have a nice wash and you can change the bed. I’m a bit sticky. One of the boys spilled beer . . . “
Thomas waved a hand near his pillow and then clutched Thelma’s arm. She braced herself and waited while he moved his heavy legs to the floor.
“Up we go,” she said. “Upsy daisy.”
Slowly, Thomas pushed his feet into his summer gutties and hauled himself up along Thelma’s, thin shoulder. She glanced at his jacket hung over the chair, pockets sagging a bit with change, good! Thomas’ hand was tight on her wrist and she fixed her eyes on the plump, pink fingers. She would prick him like a sausage . . . prick, prick, prick, all over, and his pink skin would burst open with wee pops and the yellow fat would ooze out, relieved and grateful.
“I’ll have a piss first,” Thomas said.
“Yes, and have a shower,” Thelma said. “You’ll feel the better of it.”
Thomas nodded and shut the bathroom door. Thelma could hear him coughing, and then he was pissing and spitting and farting and coughing all at once – the whole bloody orchestra, as he said himself. When the toilet flushed she footered about with the socks in his drawer in case he changed his mind and came back but after a minute she heard the shower starting up.
She shook his jacket and pushed her fingers quickly into the pockets. Heavy change – she left a couple of coins so he wouldn’t miss the jingle. In his trousers two fivers were stuck together. Thelma took one. She slid the money into one of her green boots with the fur and counted with a quick look. Fifty pounds all told – not bad. She ran her fingers and her eyes over it and then she carefully pulled up the zip. Now, she said to herself, Irene can’t say I’m not trying.
A whole weekend away! Up the coast, that lovely, old hotel, and the lovely, soft, sandy beach, not covered in stones like ours! Oh, it’ll be great, it’ll be magic, magic! She leaned against the chest of drawers with her eyes shut tight and her arms folded, one wee ankle twisted around the other. She’d eat steak and chips and drink Prosecco . . .
She opened her eyes. The bed! She tore the sheet off and pulled at the duvet cover. Crumbs, beer stains, the pillow-case grey from his head. She ran round and round the bed, smoothing and tugging and then she leapt when Thomas roared from the bathroom:
“How long am I supposed to wait here?”
He’d be dripping all over the place! Thelma left the pillow and skipped into the bathroom. Thomas was shivering; he dabbed at himself with a towel.
“What are you like?” Thelma was gay with the money safe and the holiday in her head.
“Come here to me and don’t be getting narky.”
She grabbed the towel and dried him. He lifted his arms and his fat feet and turned when she told him to.
“Now, don’t you feel better?” she said.
“Don’t you feel nice and clean?”
“I do,” he said, wriggling his shoulders, the skin still a bit damp.
“You’d better get the sambos made. And put the telly on, the boys’ll be here soon.”
“Another twelve? That’s it, Thelma? Fifty altogether? It’s not nearly enough – it doesn’t even approach nearly enough. What have you been doing? It’s the middle of July already. When were you thinking of going? Christmas week? Nobody around, nothing going on, wind and rain and cold? It won’t do, Thelma. There’s others would jump at a weekend in the Glens, plenty of money too, they have, not putting away a few pounds at a time like you.”
Thelma shook her head, her wispy, silky hair sliding over her wee face.
“I’m doing my best. You won’t let me down now, will you?”
“Ha! Me let you down?”
Irene opened her notebook and tapped the table with her pen. “That’s a good one. You’ve got a nerve, you have. Fifty pounds you’ve got – do you want to go for one night? One night – take us half a day to get there – “
“But I can get more, Irene. I will, I will get more – you know I will.”
She glanced out the window. The boys would arrive soon: plenty of beer – plenty of loose change.
“Well, I don’t know,” Irene said. “You could try harder, I suppose. He doesn’t check every penny you spend, does he? Can’t you cut a few corners? Eat a bit less? Give him more bread and less meat.”
Thelma shook her head.
“It’s all right for you, Irene. You can do what you like – live on bread and jam if you want, sit in the dark and wear a jumper to keep warm if you like. Thomas likes his meat.”
“Get a job then. Get yourself up to the supermarket, sit at the till. They pay you to do it. Money, Thelma! Really, you know, you really should come to the classes our Henry’s May and I go to. You’d learn a thing or two! If ever a body needed it . . . “
Thelma didn’t speak. She stared at the table and shut her ears and squeezed her wee fists on her knee. What would you know, she thought, you with your big hands and your big feet and your hair all screwed up and you don’t have a sausage in the bedroom shouting orders all the live long day. That’s all she ever got – orders.
“Ah for God’s sake, there’s no talking to you. You know, Thelma, half the time I don’t think you’re serious about this holiday at all. And I bet you haven’t told him yet, have you? You’d better get that over with, quick! Are you afraid of him or what? I’m going to tell you exactly how much you need and then it’s up to you. Get a job or get it out of your man in the bed, whatever, I don’t care, just get it.”
Thelma nodded, and then there was a knock at the door.
“Eh – Irene, the boys are here – I’ll have to – “
“Boys! Boys! For God’s sake, Thelma. Do you hear yourself? They’re men – big lumps of men, expecting you to run around after them, and do you know why they expect you to do that? Because you do it. You do it and you keep doing it and you don’t even realise you’re doing it. I blame your mother, so I do. She sent you away to that school and all you learned was how to do what you’re told!”
Irene swept the notebook and pen into her handbag.
“Up and down them stairs,” she said. “Up and down, up and down like a wee skivvy.”
She lifted her bag with a swing as the men came in, clattering up the stairs. Alistair said hello, the word slipping out from under his thick moustache.
“Your own brother,” Irene said, looking at Alistair’s legs in the tight, purple tracksuit. He should be looking out for you. You need to get away – you need to relax. You said you wanted to go, so you did. We’ll drink Prosecco you said and eat steak and hire a bicycle maybe and – “
“I know, I know,” Thelma said. “Of course I want to go. You know I do. I do”
So, what do you think? Did Thelma tell Thomas, and get away to eat steak and drink Prosecco?