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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