From “Man and Wife”

Jim coughed again, a hard, tight bark from the top of his chest. His head jerked forward when Connie’s big hand landed on his back and he gulped for breath, waving her hand away. Connie grinned and hit him again anyway. His chest hurt; his eyes watered and tears sat in the long creases in his cheeks.

            The beer tasted sweet going down and he took a long suck, wondering if Connie would let him have another one. He looked at her glass and measured the last of her pint. Connie gave him one of her half-smiles and he knew she knew he wanted another drink. He set down his glass as if he didn’t care and glanced with pretended interest around the bar.

            The usual trio sat on stools, their heads together, Eugene Curran and the Brothers Grimm, and Jim thought that if Connie wasn’t with him he might walk over and say hello, what are you having boys? He tried to imagine that . . . they would talk to him about sport and ask his opinion.

            A shout from the corner drew his attention. He thought there was a fight starting but it was only a crowd of young fellows, a whole gang of them, shouting and laughing, and pushing and shoving at a slight, fair-haired one in the middle. He looked like he couldn’t stand up for himself and Jim’s heart beat sore for him.

            “Birthday party,” Connie said in his ear.

            Jim looked again and saw the huge gold key on the table. The fair-haired boy wasn`t being bullied; his friends were teasing him and Jim could see that he was full of drink. The hair was stuck to his head and his face bloomed in the dark corner.

            “That boy’s not twenty-one.”

            “Eighteen.”

            “You have to be twenty-one to get the key.”

            “No you don’t. That was years ago, it’s eighteen now. You know nothing.”

            “He’s not old enough. Look at him.”

            “Time!” Charlie roared, rattling a spoon against a glass.  “Come on now.”

            Barney Madden started picking up glasses. He’d lift it from under your nose, finished or not. Jim held his on his knee. 

            The crowd in the corner stood up and pulled the birthday boy to his feet, shouting at him to make a speech and he began to talk, leaning on the back of a chair. He seemed to be nearly crying and he shook everybody’s hand over and over.

            The trio at the bar pocketed their change and went out, leaving the doors to swing behind them, letting in great gusts of cold air.

            “Come on now, Connie,” Barney said. “Get that into you. Jim, can you do nothing with that wife of yours? Take her away home to bed.”

            He laughed when he said that and clattered glasses onto the counter.

            One by one the young men got up. With the fair one in the middle carrying the huge gold key they pushed through the swing doors and then they were gone.

            “Now, Barney,” Connie said, and handed over her glass.

            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.

From “We All Die in the end” – Now with three 5 star reviews on Goodreads

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An Excerpt from “We All Die in the End” now with a 5 star review!

Lily stood at the door with Grace on her hip. She was very pale and she was patting her face with a towel. She looked at him, at the poster still pinned to the floor with Grace’s bricks and she pressed her lips tight together.

            “There’s a job,” Andy started again. “Stevie was saying there’s a job . . . “

            He sat back on the bed, his hands smoothing the bedspread.

            “Don’t mention that eejit to me!”

            Lily marched straight across the poster and leaned over him, Grace clutching at her neck.

            “Get yourself a fuckin’ job! Nobody’s going to hand you one, Stevie or nobody else.”

            “Fuck sake, Lily!” Andy tried to stand up. “I’m going out now. I only came in to – “

            “You only came in to lie down. That’s all you do. You lie down and sleep and dream about fucking bikes, and your own child – your daughter . . . “

            She thrust Grace onto his lap. The baby’s eyes were red from the cold and she stared up into his face.

            “We’ve no dinner,” Lily said. “I was in the shop and I opened my purse – but there was nothing, there was – “

            She began to cry; loud, angry wails.

            “Ah, for fuck sake, Lily. Don’t cry. Would you not ask your mother – “

            Lily let out a louder wail. She hit the wall with her fist. Oh, Jesus, Andy thought, trying to breathe calmly. He pressed his feet against the floor and hugged Grace tight, trying to stop himself from jumping up and running out of the room.

            His eyes fell on the poster; Lily was standing on a corner of it, wrinkling the smooth, shiny surface. He wanted to move her off it.

            “I’ll get a job today, Lily. Honest to God I will. I won’t come home without one.”

            “Chrissake! What are you like?”

            Lily blew her nose and slapped away the baby’s reaching hands.

Read the rest of this story and eighteen other interlinked stories in “We All Die in the End”. Please have a look at the 5 star review on http://www.thebookdelight.com. Thank you.

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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.

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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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From Scene 19: Eugene Curran “We All Die in the End”

The fire is nearly out and I’m getting cold. Drinking this brandy is doing me no good now; I could drink two bottles of it and still be sober. It’s Sunday night again – a whole week since I went to bed in peace. I don’t like Sundays – dead days I call them.

            I remember I nearly fell that night when I was taking off my trousers but I managed to get myself undressed. The curtains were shut tight and I pulled them open – like sleeping in a godamn tomb with them closed like that. I`ve told her and told her. Sometimes I think she does it on purpose.

            It was a calm, quiet night with a bit of a moon and not a sinner about in the street. I stood there looking out the window with not a worry in my head and then I turned to the bed. She was well buried in it and I knew I’d had a bit too much to drink, but a man has to have his bits and pieces and I was going to have my rights anyway.

            I footered about with the rubber for a minute and when it was on I wheaked up her night-dress and laid into her. She was holding her breath with her face turned away, holding herself tight and still. I laid in good and heavy and when I was finished I rolled off and gave her a good push. She deserved it, I thought, lying there like that as if I was a stranger. I should have clocked her one but that’s not the way I work. She spun over onto her side and her knees came up and her head went down. She was like a spider, rolling itself up when you touch it and not a sound out of her – waiting for me to go asleep; my eyes were heavy all right. I pushed her a bit more and she curled up even tighter.

            “What ails you?” I growled at her.

            The bit of a moon was shining in and she was white as a ghost in the bed. I could see she was shaking.

            “Sshhh …the child,” she whispered, pointing to the wall.

            Child, my arse. A big lump of a fifteen year old sleeping his bloody head off. She was more worried about the neighbours, don’t I know what she’s like? All sweet and good morning, missus. She’d die if they heard anything. However I was too tired to go on with it so I lay down again.

            I didn’t feel too bad the next morning, considering . . . There wasn’t much light in the room and the windows were streaming with rain. I thought I’d heard the lifeboat in the middle of the night but maybe I’d only dreamt that.

            There she was, moving about quietly, stooped over as usual. She always stoops – she sort of drops at the knees and pokes her head forward like a hen. It’s because she’s taller than me. I hoped she wasn’t sulking. Sometimes she gets in a huff over the drink and there’s no breakfast until I raise my voice.

            When she left the room I stretched myself and had a good scratch and went to the bathroom. What has she to complain about? Hasn’t she the biggest house in the whole county and only young Pat to look after besides myself? She says he’s getting stroppy but sure the lad is a teenager; a fine lad too, handsome, and broad for his age. He’ll be like myself one of these days, a brave, fine-looking man. Of course I’m getting a bit heavier now about the neck and shoulders but I can carry that. She’ll have to learn to cope with him and not be whinging to me.

            I was moving stuff around in the cabinet, looking for a new blade, when I came across a packet of hair-dye. I took it out and shook it. Notions, I thought. At her age! I nearly laughed, and then I sniffed the air, hoping for rashers.

            Pat was down before me with a plateful in front of him, eyes glued to his phone as usual.

            “That’s the boy,” I said. “Plenty of grub.”

            He flicked his eyes at me, not a word out of him. My breakfast landed on the table and I rubbed my hands together.

            “Yum, yum,” I said, just to see the reaction.

            She moved away sharpish and didn’t speak. She was eating toast at the work top, her shoulders hunched and the spikes of hair sticking up. I took a gander at the head on her; I suppose you could say she was blonde now. Nobody was going to speak only myself by the looks of it. Well, feck the pair of them. It was a good breakfast, best thing after a feed of drink, a good Ulster fry in the morning.