Part 1 of “Myrtle” from We All Die in the End.

Myrtle studied the label on the tin. She didn’t particularly like the cat’s face only it was a nice, mustardy colour.

            “Same as my coat.”

            A child stared at her when she spoke – a small girl with badges on her jacket. She stared at Myrtle and Myrtle stared back, leaning forward and making her eyes bigger until the child turned away, reaching for her father’s hand.

            “Recipe de Luxe,” Myrtle read in a whisper. “Trout and Tuna.”

            That was a new one and it didn’t say Trout and Tuna flavour – it said Trout and Tuna. She lifted two tins and went to the check-out. The man in front of her turned around and the child with the badges on her jacket was beside him.

            “Not very quick are they? They must think we have all day to stand here.”

            Myrtle blinked away from his busy eyes.

            “Yes,” she said.

            She clamped her teeth and lips together and looked at the man’s feet, the thin legs in tight jeans.

            “Da, what’s wrong with that lady?” the child asked.

            Someone moved in behind her and her shoulders twitched. She held the tins tightly, willing the queue forward.

            Outside the sun shone, the sea so bright Myrtle had to squint. She walked home, stopping sometimes to lean against the railings, to watch the tide rushing in, to follow with her eyes the black mass of seaweed beneath the waves. She looked across to Carrickfergus. One of these days she would go – she would! She’d go on the bus and have a look round, and a cup of tea maybe, and she would talk to people, make friends . . .

            “I wish I was,” she sang, “in Carrick-fer-er-gus . . . “

            And then she stopped; that was all she knew.

            She went into the house, dropped the tins on the kitchen table and put the kettle on. It was a long time since breakfast. She adjusted the waistband of her tracksuit, rubbing at the red marks on her skin. She read the labels on the tins of cat food and wondered where to put them. There was hardly room to put them anywhere.

            She had every flavour – Chicken, Rabbit, Veal, Beef, Veal and Beef, Chicken and Rabbit, Salmon with Crab. The tins covered the worktops; there were rows of them on the floor. She balanced the Trout and Tuna near the front because they were new. She stared at them until the kettle boiled.

            In the sitting-room she sat with her feet to the radiator, warming them and drinking her tea. She stretched, leaning back in the chair, and wondered would she eat the doughnut or keep it for lunch. Ah . . . she’d have it. There was a frozen tart – she could have that for lunch. She bit into the doughnut with her eyes closed; her tongue poked at the jam and she grunted softly.

            The car door slamming in the street made her climb slowly out of the chair. She gripped the edge of the curtain and stared at the sleek, black car, shiny with polish. A man with sleek, black, shiny hair stood beside it holding a small suitcase. Myrtle watched as he went to a door across the street, knocked and waited. May’s house, May Toal she was called. She always wanted to chat and Myrtle had tried to chat back but all she could manage was yes and no and it might rain. May spoke so fast, jumping from one thing to the next . . . ah, there she was, holding the door half-open.

            The man set down his case and opened it, then closed it as May shook her head. He went to the next house and the next, the drove to the top of the street and turned the car.

            Myrtle watched him get out again. He would come here – knock on her door – expect her to talk. Well, she wouldn’t – she wouldn’t even answer the door. Just let him . . . no . . . wait! This was a chance – she could try at least. She could say hello, make friends with him.

            She went in and out of the hall, waiting, listening . . . anyway, she wouldn’t have to say much; he would do the talking: he was selling things. Myrtle looked into the mirror on the hall stand; when she smiled there were bumps on her cheeks. She lifted a hand to her hair; the long ponytail was untidy. Vaguely she patted the loose bits then went back to stand at the window. The car door banged again and there he was.  He straightened the edges of his jacket, pushed the shiny hair down behind his ears, and then he smiled and walked up the steps.

            The knock made her jump all the same. She wavered in the hall, wondering if he would knock again if she didn’t answer, and then she moved quickly.

            “Good morning, Madam, good morning. Isn’t the day great?”

            He lifted his head and sniffed deeply at the salty wind and smiled at Myrtle. His hair shone in the sunlight; his teeth glistened, shining at her. He seemed to have teeth everywhere. Myrtle stared, motionless.

            “Could I interest you, Madam?”

            He moved his right foot forward.

            “Something for your pet?”

            Swiftly he bent, set down the case and opened it.

            “Does Madam have a pet? A little dog maybe, or a cat?”

            “Cat . . .   “

PART 2 TOMORROW . . .

We All Die in the End – an excerpt:

Jim nodded and said goodnight and waited for Connie to button up her new brown duffle-coat. It is a man’s coat, he thought again, looking at the long sleeves of it and the breadth across the shoulders. Whatever she says, it is a man’s coat. I’ll say it to her later, get her going. His own grey tweed was threadbare but he was attached to it. Connie wouldn’t let him have a new one anyway. She belted the door open and Jim ducked as it swung towards his face. Barney winked at him and locked the door behind them. They wriggled deeper into their coats, turning their faces from the wind, and then Jim pointed:

            “Oh, look!”

            The fair-haired boy was crouching at the corner, his arms hugged over his thin chest, and him bare as a baby. He turned when Jim and Connie came out and moved towards them with his knees close together.

            “The b-b-b-bastards left me.”

            He sniffed hugely and wiped his face.

            “I thought they were going to throw me in the sea! I’m fuckin’ freezin’ . . . give us a jacket for God’s sake, will you?”

            Jim looked at Connie. She was laughing, her eyes going up and down the pale, shivering figure.

            “Is it your birthday?” she asked. “Where did they go, your friends? God you’re a hoot, isn’t he Jim?”

            “I’ll get my fuckin’ death out of this, an’ me ma’ll be waiting and I’ve no phone.”

            The boy’s voice went up and up.

            “Oh Jesus God I’ll kill the poxy bastards. Give us something to put on for fuck sake!”

            He began to dance around like a boxer, swinging his arms, and then he remembered to cover himself. Connie turned to Jim and he backed away from her, shaking his head. His chest hurt in the cold air and he coughed. She can’t make me, he thought. I’m not going to. For a moment the three of them stood there, until bolts were shot in the door behind them.

            “Quick,” Connie said. “Charlie’s still around, cleaning and that. Go on, knock the door.”

            And then she turned and knocked it herself.

            “What’s your name, boy?” she said.

            “Frank.”

            “Frankie Pankie,” Connie laughed. “Isn’t that right, Jim? Frankie Pankie! God, he’s a hoot . . . Charlie!” she roared, banging on the door.   

            “There’s a bare-assed bird out here. Let him in. Come on, we know you’re there, we know you’re not gone yet.”

            There was no sound from behind the door and then the lights went out. The wind rose with a cruel nip; the sea rolled black and oily beyond the wall and the first drops of rain were blown over Frank. He ran against the stout door of the pub and shouted for somebody to fucking well open up, and then he ran up and down the street listening for a car, for his friends to come back. Connie watched him and Jim stood well behind her, his coat clutched tight.

            “Poxy bastards! Frank screamed into the wind.

            “Make your man let me in,” he said to Jim and Connie. “Yous know him better than me. He must have heard us knocking – they’ll have put him up to it, the fuckers. How am I to get home? Lend us the taxi-fare will yous?”

            Jim felt the rain on the back of his neck and turned up his collar. Poor bugger, he thought. He looked at the boy’s thin legs, white as milk in the dark night, and his arms like strings wrapped around his chest. Jim was cold himself; he wanted to go home to his quiet bed and lie against the warm bulk of Connie’s back.

            And then he saw Connie taking off her own coat and his breath puffed out in a snigger. What was she at now? She threw it around Frank’s shoulders and he seemed to sink under it, bending his knees, trying to get his feet into it too.

            “Come on now.” Connie marched him quickly away.

            “You come home with us, boy. We’ll mind you, won’t we, Jim? Sure you’re only a little chicken. Are you sure you’re eighteen?”

            She belted Jim’s ear and he staggered.

            “Some husband you are,” she said.

            “Letting your wife give up her coat and you walking there wrapped up like a teddy-bear, much good it’ll do you, I’ll deal with you later.”

            Jim knew Frank was looking at him, expecting him to say something, to fight back, but he stared at the ground and coughed his hard, tight cough.

            Frank turned after Connie. She walked fast with her face up to the rain and the pleats of her long skirt swung from side to side below the coat. Every time a car passed Frank stopped to look but it was never his friends. Jim wondered what they meant to do. They wouldn’t know where he was if they came back. He thought of saying that to Connie but his ear smarted. He fixed his eyes on the bare feet under the long brown duffle-coat. They were wet and splashed with mud and they moved quickly.

            Connie put her key in the door and shoved it open. She grabbed Frank by the arm and pulled him inside and he stood in the dim hallway pushing one foot over the other. His face was pale and damp and he didn’t look drunk any more.

            “Come on, come on,” Connie said, and he followed her.

“Rosemary”

Rosemary always made Dominic wait outside the door until she was in the bed. He could feel the slackness in her thighs and arms; he didn’t have to look at it as well.

            “Come in,” she called when she was ready.

            Dominic bounced into the room half-undressed and dropped his shoes.

            “Wait now,” he said, and brought in a bottle of red wine and two glasses.

            “I’d have been here sooner but only young Andy, you know Andy, he gives me a hand sometimes for a bit of dosh . . . ah, that’s the best sound in the world,” he said as the wine gurgled into the glasses.

            “So, himself and another young fella stopped me going in to the shop. Booze, they wanted, trying to talk me into getting it for them. Well, I gave them a good telling off but sure they’d hardly listen to me – look like babies, the pair of them, skinny, wee feckers. A good feed would suit them – “

            “Did you shower before you came over?” Rosemary interrupted him, sniffing at his shoulder.

            “I can still smell fish.”

            “Well I did, Rosie.” Dominic got in beside her, wrapping himself in the duvet. “But the water wasn’t all that hot. Sure what harm is a smell of fish?”

            “No harm, I suppose, but I don’t want to be covered with fish scales. I’m not a bloody mermaid.”

            “God, Rosie, you’re a cruel woman sometimes. The smell of fish is a grand honest-to-God smell attached to a man going about the business of survival. Drink up now,” he said. “That will warm and sweeten you.”

            “Thanks.”

            Rosemary took a drink.

            “Dominic,” she said. “I won’t be able to see you for a while.”

            “Oh?” Dominic took Rosemary’s hand. “What is it, Rosie, my pet, my dear? Tell your old man.”

            “Oh, it’s all right, nothing tragic – just – I got a letter from Vera this morning, a letter if you don’t mind. You know her husband died – the horrible Tony. I went to the funeral, remember? She wants to come and stay for a while. She thinks I’m fading away from loneliness.”

            “Well you’re not.” Dominic squeezed her hand. “You’ve got me.”

            “I couldn’t tell her that. She’d have a heart attack.”

            Rosemary took a long drink and caught her breath.

            “You don’t know what she’s like. It’s a miracle she ever got herself pregnant . . . she said for a week or two but that could mean anything.”

            “Well, sure, well – will we not meet at all then?”

            “I don’t know. I don’t know what it’ll be like with someone here. Could you not get rid of your landlady now and again?”

            “Ha! Might as well try to get rid of – of – barnacles on an old boat.

            They were quiet for a minute and Dominic topped up their glasses.

            “What’s the woman like anyway?” he said. “Not like you by the sound of it.”

            “She’s neat and tidy and she wears shoes all the time. God, Dominic, I don’t know why she wants to stay with me – we never got on – and I’ve an awful feeling she’s thinking of something permanent.”

            Rosemary leaned over and set her glass on the locker.

            “Right,” she said. “I’m not going to think about her.”

            She put her arms around Dominic.

            “It’s getting late – are you not ready for action yet?”

            “Now, Rosie, don’t be rushing your old man. Didn’t I take my cod liver oil this morning? Will I stay the night? We could stock up for the few weeks!”

Read the rest of the story – and all the other interlinked stories in “WE ALL DIE IN THE END” on Amazon Kindle.

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Thelma

“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.

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Twitter @elizabethmerry1

SUSAN

I know all reviewers on WordPress are very busy and have long lists of books to read and review but I wonder if any of you would have time to give this book a look? There are several excerpts here on WordPress which would give you an idea of the content. It is available on Amazon Kindle and I could gift it to you or attach the manuscript to an email. The book is an interlinked collection of stories; some are grim, some verge on the macabre, and others deal with abusive relationships. But there is a lot of black humour throughout and the characters are eccentric for the most part.

May 20th I.00 a.m.

Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. All day nothing – again. The worst is when I think I feel something and I go to check and there’s nothing. Sometimes I convince myself there’s a trace of blood but it’s no use. Niall is asleep already. Look at him – the huge bulk of him in the bed, feet pushing the sheet out at the bottom. I feel like whacking him with something – big, oul lump, sleeping there like that without a worry. You’d think he was dead, the way he sleeps.

            I thought I was going to scream at dinner today and I was afraid I was going to be sick. Chops and cabbage. What a strain meals are now, and me that always loved my dinner. I don’t know if it’s because I’m pregnant – God! Even to write that down – or because I’m so worried, because I think I might be. I sat there thinking that if it was real, if it was true – the cabbage would be good for me.

            I looked out the window at the bits of an old boat the men were working on and I looked at the cat sleeping on the window-sill, the sun shining in through the yellow curtains – everything so peaceful and normal, and all the time I was hot and sick and sweating.

            And to think that Matty doesn’t know, has no idea even. I wonder if he ever, ever thinks about it . . . about me. Oh, Matty . . . There he sat across from me, eating quickly, not looking up. I stared at his hands as they moved, gripping the knife and fork, lifting bread, drinking tea. Brown, wide, rough hands, not too clean. And I looked at the hairs on his arms, all lying in different directions like he’d been scratching them.

            “Susan! What’s wrong with you?”

            Niall was leaning across the table.

            “Susan!”

            “What?” I said.

            “You’re mooning there in the heat. We’re ready for the afters.”

            He gestured at their plates and I got up and poured custard over the stewed apple. The floor was slippy by the cooker and I steadied myself. If I fell, I wondered, would I have a miscarriage? Paul said, ah, when I put the plate in front of him. That’s what he says in bed too, just before and after. Ah, he says. The thing is – it just could be his, couldn’t it? It happens to other couples after years of trying. Suddenly – bang! There you were, pregnant.

            They were eating their desert when there was a noise outside and I knew Bella had arrived. You’d think she’d no house of her own. Matty’s as bad. Brother or no brother, it gets ridiculous sometimes. They just about sleep in their own house.

            “It’s only me.”

            She sang out the words as she pushed the door open. Jamie toddled in and she fluttered in behind him carrying the baby. She always says that when she arrives and I always want to say back – oh, it’s only you.

            “Well,” she said, kicking the door shut. “I swear I lost half a stone on the way up. This fellow wouldn’t walk for me. I had to carry the two of – Jamie – leave Auntie Susan alone. Matty, take him on your knee, will you?”

            Such a flurry she causes every time, especially when she’s pregnant. Everybody hopping, even Niall, and Matty putting cushions behind her back. And that lisp of hers – calling me Shoosan!

            “Shoosan,” she says. “I’ll just put this fellow upstairs for a snooze. OK? Any dinner left? I’d no time to cook today. Where would I get the time to cook – I ask you – where?”

            She looked at the men and laughed and they both stood up. Matty moved the table out a bit and Niall pulled a chair over. She smiled all around her and then went upstairs with the baby.

            Jamie was calling, Da, and pulling at Matty’s arm, waiting to be lifted. I put out a dinner for her, scraping my cabbage onto her plate. She’d eat anything she didn’t have to cook herself -even for the poor children, fed out of jars, they were.

            “Thanks a mill, Shoosan,” she said when she came down again, settling her skirt about her on the chair and shaking back her long hair.

            “Aren’t you great?” she said to me although she looked at the men.

            “What would we do without you? You’re a mother to the whole lot of us. Jamie, put that down like a good child. Matty, would you look what he’s doing? Would you pay a bit of attention to your son? Isn’t he a holy terror?” she said as she ate the dinner.

            I didn’t know was she talking about Matty or Jamie. I leaned over and took the salt from Jamie’ little fingers and I could feel the heat from Matty’s arm. I willed him to look at me.

            Please, Matty, I said in my head but I might as well have been invisible. It’s never any different, never a look, never a word. Even that night, my party night, he didn’t speak . . . Oh wait a minute, he did. Jesus, he said. One says, ah, the other, Jesus. Talkative, the pair of them!

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From “We All Die in the End”

Near the end of Scene 5. Andy

“It was very quiet when she left. Andy knew it was useless but he tried to put the red, shiny pieces together again. The edges were uneven and shredded. He felt the heat of tears and watched them drop. He lifted his arms up and out and made soft, crooning engine noises and then he rolled onto his side.

            “Oh, God, oh, God,” he said.

            He began to doze but it was cold and the weight in his chest was like a stone. He became aware of small sounds. Grace had dropped her soother and was straining against the harness trying to reach it. Andy bent and kissed her head and undid the straps. He picked her up and held her tightly against his chest. Her bottom was wet, the clothes damp against his arm. He rocked her and smoothed her hair and touched the soft, hot cheek with his own. She breathed snuffily and relaxed and slept.”

I know all reviewers on WordPress are very busy and have long lists of books to read and review but I ask if any of you would have time to give this book a look? There are several excerpts here on WordPress which would give you an idea of the content. It is available on Amazon Kindle and I could gift it to you or attach the manuscript to an email. The book is an interlinked collection of stories; some are grim, some verge on the macabre, and others deal with abusive relationships. But there is a lot of black humour throughout and the characters are eccentric for the most part.

Many thanks for reading this.

amazon.com/author/elizabethmerry

#CoDownWriter

@elizabethmerry1 on Twitter

FREE! One Scene . . . and a taster!

From “We All Die in the End”.

Scene I3: May

There was still thunder in the sky but it was far off now and the rain had stopped. The smell of the earth was strong and Henry breathed it in deeply, liking it. He didn’t mind graveyards; it was nice smoking in the dark with no one around. Not for long though – they’d be coming out soon. He might have stayed at home and let her walk. She’d think there was something wrong with him, coming to get her but he had to think ahead. If she had to walk up the shore road in the storm she’d be whinging and complaining; salt spray on her good coat, boo, hoo, hoo, and Henry wanted his dinner early. Was he to be left waiting just because May wanted to trot along to the church with all the other craw-thumpers? Twice a week she went, and money every time.

            Henry leaned in close to the grey wall of the church and listened to the singing. He could pick out the odd word – father, soul, heaven. He moved away, back among the graves. He didn’t want to be seen when the fools came out and he could hear shuffling now; the singing had come to an end.

            A sudden burst of light shone from the main door and people began to come out slowly, talking and stopping and starting. A group of women stood near the porch looking at the sky to see would it rain again and Henry squinted, trying to pick out May’s green coat. He felt a spit of rain and wondered if he could get to the car without being seen.

            “Godallmighty! Is that you, Henry Toal?”

            He heard a laugh behind him.

            “I thought you weren’t the praying type. I thought you’d go up in a ball of smoke if you were anywhere near the church!”

            “Very funny, Barney, very funny. Did you see May about? Is she saying extra prayers or what?”

            “Couldn’t say, I wasn’t in there myself, just taking the short cut. Will you be over for a pint later?”

            “Aye, after my dinner.”

            “See you so. Say one for me while you’re at it!”

            Jesus! Henry spat his cigarette to the ground when Barney had gone. He’d be the talk of the pub now. That gobshite would be saying all sorts, he’d make a production of it – Henry in among the graves, saying prayers! And where the bloody hell was May anyway? Leaving him like an eejit to be seen by the whole congregation! He stared up and down the street and turned back to the churchyard but it was empty. He took out his phone and rang her but only got the message minder.

            “For fuck sake!”

            He looked at his watch and stood helpless for a minute. Where could the woman be? Well, he’d soon see what she had to say for herself, and if she said nothing, a few belts would loosen her tongue.

            Henry drove home to a dark, lightless house. He turned up the heat and went into the kitchen; the kettle was stone cold. He lit a cigarette and thought about filling it but it wasn’t for him to do it. His stomach roared with hunger as he paced the room. What was May at? She must have lied, and she’d got money off him too.

            Henry stopped pacing. Maybe . . . maybe she had done this before. How would he know? Money for the collection! By God, he thought, I’ll give her a collection. She’ll be fucking well collected when I’m finished with her. He began to relish the thought of smacking her good and hard. It was months since he’d hit her; she’d be getting careless; time to sort her out again. She always cried and said she was sorry afterwards. She’d be sorry all right, sore and sorry. Henry closed his fists slowly, watching the muscles jump, but he’d wait till he’d had his dinner.

            He put out his cigarette and lit another and then he heard May’s step and the swing of the gate. The key was in the door and there she was, pulling off the green coat and patting her hair the way she did. She moved quickly, hardly looking at him, and there was a half-smile on her face. Henry felt his fists curl.

            “I suppose you’re starving.”

            May went into the kitchen.

            She felt the kettle and threw Henry a look over her shoulder.

            “Wouldn’t kill you to put it on, you know. You could have had a cup of tea anyway.”

            She laughed a giddy laugh.

            “Do you have to stand there staring, Henry?”

            Potatoes thick with dirt thudded into the sink. The smell reminded Henry of the graveyard and himself standing there, waiting. And laugh, would she? He moved nearer. Who told her she could laugh like that? She was making it very hard for him to wait. Liar! Well, he had her now all right. His eyes began to water. Don’t hit her yet, he told himself. But he couldn’t help it – he pushed her shoulder and she staggered. He saw fright jump into her face. Oh, he’d fix her! He stood over her with his arm raised and she hunched away from him.

            “What’s wrong with you? You leave me alone.”

            She straightened up and threw half-washed potatoes into a saucepan. Defy him, would she! Henry poked her between the shoulders.

            “Tell me more,” he said, “about the holy church and the holy priests and all the holy people.”

            He went round the kitchen after her, turning to meet her, trying to stand in front of her when she put the steaks in the frying pan.

            “I like to know where my money’s going,” he said. “All those collections.”

            “It was just the same as usual, Henry, that priest that’s visiting, Monroe, he’s called. Isn’t that gas? Do you think he’s related to Marilyn? He gave the sermon, better than the usual oul stuff, love your neighbour and all that. There’s nothing to tell, Henry, not a thing, unless you want to know what the neighbours were wearing.”

            Oh, but she had plenty to say for herself, lickity spit, lickity spit, galloping on. Henry slapped her hard; he felt the sting on his palm and she stumbled, reaching out a hand to the sink.

            “By God!” Henry caught her by the arm.

            “I’m going to find out what you’re doing with my money.”

            He shook her until the permed curls hopped and jumped and tears splashed from her eyes. Behind them the potatoes boiled up and water hissed on the ring. Henry’s fingers bit deep.

            “I went to the church, May. What do you say to that? I went to say a prayer alongside my wife, but my wife wasn’t there. And I phoned my wife but I got no answer. What’s up with you now? Speak up, woman! You had plenty to say a minute ago.”

            He grabbed the wiry curls.

            “Ah, don`t. Ah, don`t!” May cried out.

            “I went there in the storm,” he said into her ear, “to bring you home so you could make my dinner and not be whinging about getting wet.”

            Henry could feel the heat in his chest burning hotter and hotter. He forced May to her knees, still with his fist in her hair and he never even saw her arm swing up with the saucepan. It cracked against his head and he swayed there with his arms loose.

            “Jesus . . .  ” he said.

            When the second blow landed he fell against the table and slid onto a chair. He stared with dopey eyes at May. She’d gone mad, was all he could think.

            “Now! Now! Now! Now!” she said. “I’ll tell you where I’ve been if you want to know, not that I could go far on the bit of money you dole out to me.”

            She laughed suddenly.

            “And did you wait there long? I can just see you lurking around and squinting up your oul face. Well, I was in Dinnie’s, Henry. Me and your Irene, yes, your sister – we go to talks in the ladies’ club, and after that we go to the pub, and after that we get fish and chips and go down to the harbour, and we sit on the wall and eat them. So now you know what the collection’s for. It’s for me! But you can stuff it up your arse in future because I’m going back to the Civil Service and I won’t need your oul money. The girls are gone now and I don’t have to be here all the time to cook you steak for your dinner and wash your dirty clothes.”

            Henry didn’t move. He sat there with his fingers twitching and blood coming from his head. He couldn’t take in what May was saying.

            “You bloody men,” she said, “with your big swinging fists. We’ve been learning things, me and Irene. Did you know that men have to invent things so they can think they’re grown up? Rituals Henry, rituals. But not us, Henry. We’ve got periods!”

            May shouted the word at him.

            “And having babies, and yous have nothing! Did you know that? All over the world men invent things. They cut their faces and their willies and God knows what else to draw blood.”

            Henry half-lifted a hand against the spit from her mouth.

            “If men had periods,” May took a quick breath, “all the oul fellas would be running around the place with bloody sheets – my son is a man, my son is a man – but yous have nothing.”

            Henry tried to sit up straight, to get his head right. May was smiling fiercely at him. She swung up the pan again and he flinched.

            “Now I’m going round to Irene’s,” she said, “for a cup of tea, or a drink if she has any for I think I need it. You can put up your own dinner, and by Christ, you big gormless shite, you, if you ever touch me again, you’re dead.”

            When the door banged behind her Henry put his hands to the table and pushed himself up. He groped his way to the sink and washed his head with shaky fingers.

            “Jesus, God! Jesus, God!”

            How could May talk like that to her own husband – about things – she’d no right to talk like that. What sort of a woman was she? He turned off the cooker and lifted the steak onto a plate, and then he drained the potatoes and heeled them out. He tried to eat but when he chewed the cut on his head opened again and he felt a trickle on his face. He lit a cigarette and watched blood drip slowly onto his dinner.

Scene I4: Thelma

“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.

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“Wee Sadie” an excerpt from – We All Die in the End

Sadie checked the plates, shifting bits of cheese and cherry tomatoes. She ate a crust of the bread and put the kettle on and then she stood with her ear to the door.

            “It’s a grand, wee flat above the shop,” George was saying.

            Sadie squeezed her eyes shut and held her breath. Madge was asking how many rooms there were. The kettle hissed behind her and she turned down the gas to hear better.

            “And I’d expect a bit of meat, you know, and maybe a drive on a Sunday. You can have that oul car, parked out there, teach Sadie to drive it.”

            Sadie raised the gas again. Her hands trembled as she filled the teapot. Calm, she told herself, be calm. But the tray shook when she took in the tea and she couldn’t look at either one of them. The knives and forks clattered and the teaspoons rattled and Sadie couldn’t swallow.

            “Have some more bread,” Madge said. “Fill the man’s cup there, Sadie. More cake, George?”

            George ate everything he was offered and kept saying everything was lovely and when the last cup of tea had been drained he asked Sadie to come and look at the flat above the shop with him.

            “Ah no, George,” she said, and backed towards the kitchen. “There’s too much to do – “

            “Go on,” Madge said. “Off you go. Can’t I tidy up? I’m not helpless, am I? Us old people are useful too, isn’t that right, George?”

            George agreed with her and offered Sadie his arm. She went with him although she knew the dishes would be sitting waiting for her when she came home and Madge would have had another couple of gins and she`d still have to make her a fry too.

            George put the key in the hall door beside the shop and stood back to let Sadie in first.

            “It’s up the stairs,” he said.

            There was a strange smell, the smell of somebody else’s house. Sadie held the banister and then let go of its stickiness. It would take her a month to clean the place, she thought. She stood in the middle of the living-room and looked at the fawn-coloured floor and the fawn-coloured chairs and walls and the photographs of George’s family.

            “Will you sit down, Sadie,” George asked.

            Sadie looked at the couch before she sat on it and George sat down close beside her.

            “Could you live here, Sadie? With me? What do you say? Will we set a date?”

            Sadie couldn’t speak. She hardly knew how she had got herself into this position. She remembered the first night when George had asked her to go for a walk, and after that it had seemed impossible to stop. And she didn’t want to stop really . . . only . . .

            She clasped her hands together and nodded once. And then George leaned over and kissed her hard and his hand clamped onto her leg. Sadie let out a squeak and got up, pretending to look  at the photographs. George laughed and slapped his two knees.

            “You’re the very best,” he said, “you’re a great, wee girl. Look around, Sadie. You can do what you like with the place, make whatever changes you like. I`ve done a lot of work already, replaced all the tiling myself, so I did.”

            He got up and led the way to the white bathroom. Sadie stood inside the door and looked at the new electric shower. There was a smell of plaster. George patted everything, the bath, the shiny taps, the cistern, the shelf beneath the mirror.

            Sadie put a hand to her forehead. Impossible to think of being here with him, to stand here in her nightdress and clean her teeth and George in his pyjamas – waiting for her to get into the bed – no! no! She wanted to go home, to tell George she had changed her mind, but he had his arm around her, squeezing her shoulder, saying he’d look after her, and her mother.

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