A quote from “We All Die in the End”

And I felt a lurch in my stomach as I spoke. People always think they feel things in their hearts, but they don’t – it’s all in the stomach. On Valentine’s Day there should be big red stomachs hanging up in shops, and the cards should say – you are my sweet-stomach, my stomach is all yours, and stuff like that.

From “Siblings”

The kitchen was too warm, and it was quiet except for Sarah’s occasional tobacco cough and the rustling of thin white pages. Sarah read quickly, stopping sometimes to laugh silently, her shoulders shaking. A bluebottle buzzed in the heat and flew to the pile of dirt in the corner. Tea-leaves, eggshells, bits of porridge – Sarah no longer noticed them, no more than she noticed the thick oily grime on the shelves and window-sills, or the matted clumps of dust on the floor. Her thin hand stretched from the sticky sleeve of a black cardigan as she read and her skirt, once a pale grey, was patterned with dribbles of tea and porridge.

            The sudden, small noise in the hall made her look up. She waited, listening for her brother’s key, frowning, her eyes searching the floor and the walls and then she rose from the chair. Barney’s pipe lay on the mantle-piece; she stuffed it with tobacco and lit it with the long matches he always used, and after puffing and coughing she opened the door and peered out into the hall.

            The postcard was bright against the dark linoleum. It looked new and neat and strange beside the pile of old newspapers. Sarah’s breathing filled the hall as she smoked faster. She bent awkwardly and picked it up, a picture of mountains and a lake. Her fingers trembled over the address. It was addressed to them all. To Barney and Martin and herself.

            Sarah kept her eye on the door, listening for Barney but the only sound was the bluebottle buzzing in the corner. She sighed deeply, looked to the door, and then read the card but the words made no sense to her. She read them out in a loud whisper.

            “Hello my dear cousins. Just a quick word to say I’ll be back from overseas in a few days and I`d like to call and see you all on the 20th – I`ll be bringing my new wife!! I`ll keep all the news until I see you. Love and hugs, Richard.”

            “Bringing new wife . . . Richard,” Sarah read again. “Oh, what does it mean?”

            And then the front door opened and closed and Sarah subsided into her chair. Barney came in rubbing his hands together, bringing with him a taste of salty air and a whiff of beer and whiskey from the pub.

            “Well then, Sarah,” he said. “Is the porridge ready? What a morning we had, a crowd from the city, you should have seen them, down for some party or other. I never saw people so nice about themselves, looking at the chairs before they sat down, looking at the tables. What do they expect in a public house – polish and perfume? I don’t know what the city pubs must be like. And Charlie hounding me to dry the glasses and bring up crates of beer, more beer every ten minutes.”

amazon.com/author/elizabethmerry

A Review of “A Friendship” by William Trevor from the “After Rain” collection

William Trevor often makes me laugh. There are situations in his novel, “The Old Boys” that I remember at odd times and that make me laugh out loud no matter where I am. And this story does the same, but only at the beginning. It’s a thing that William Trevor does – you think the story is about one thing but it turns into something else entirely. The friendship in question is between Francesca, married to pompous Philip and with two sons, and Margy who livens up Francesca’s life with tales of her various love affairs. The two have been friends since childhood but have very little in common. As Trevor says:

“Their common ground was the friendship itself.”

Francesca seems an ethereal creature, tall and blonde, hardly aware of her surroundings, or of what her boys are up to. Margy, however, sees everything, She is small, dark, quick, with a touch of spite, especially where Francesca’s husband is concerned. And this spite is what eventually wrecks the friendship. Philip doesn’t help  himself however; he is known as “bad news” in their dinner circle:

” . . . he displayed little interest in the small-talk that was, increasingly desperately, levelled at him . . . he was not ill at ease; others laboured, never he.”

Margy, on the pretense that it was time she thought about settling down, proposes that they contact their old college friend, Sebastian. But Sebastian had always fancied Francesca, and shortly after they all meet up for lunch, he and Francesca begin an affair. Margy facilitates this by lending them her apartment from time to time.  Philip finds out by accident, a slip in conversation:

“Oh heavens, I’ve said the wrong thing!”

Philip pretends that he and Francesca often meet up with Sebastian. He confronts Francesca, who is contrite and says it wasn’t much. They have a row, clear the air, and decide to continue as before, with one difference:

“‘Drop me?’, Margy said, and Francesca nodded . . . ‘It’s how Philip feels.'”

“On the pavement . . . they stood for a moment in a chill November wind, then moved away in their two different directions.”

This is the body of the story, but it begins with Francesca’s two sons, aged six and eight, pouring wet cement into their father’s new golf bag, complete with new clubs. Even thinking about this makes me laugh. Trevor writes it down in such a matter of fact way, without as much as an exclamation mark.

“Sharing the handle of the bucket, they found they could manage to convey their load . . . they had practised; they knew what they were doing.”

“‘We know nothing about it,’ Jason instructed his brother. ‘Nothing about it,’ Ben obediently repeated.”

Francesca is oblivious; Margy sees it straight away but says nothing and the four sit down to lunch. Ben decides to break the monotonous silence and mentions his teacher:

“‘Miss Martindale’s mother died . . . a man interfered with her.'”

His mother is shocked but Margy is amused.

“Ben said all the girls had cried, that Miss Martindale herself had cried, that her face was creased and funny because actually she’d been crying all night. Margy watched Jason worrying in case his brother went too far.”

And that’s all there is about the boys, except for a sentence to say that when tackled by their angry father they said it was just a joke. But for me, they make the story memorable. I loved the pair of them. Very often children are interesting and exciting and you wonder what will become of them. But generally very little does; they grow up and stop pouring cement into new golf bags.

The writing, as always, is delicious.

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.

amazon.com/author/elizabethmerry

Twitter @elizabethmerry1

           

“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.

amazon.com/author/elizabethmerry

#CoDownWriter

                                                                            

Any tips for Indie Authors?

For some years now I have been writing short stories, most of which have been published or broadcast, or both. The stories are grim, some verging on the macabre, others dealing with strange marital relationships, but there is black humour here too, and the odd flash of joy.

At some stage last year I realised that the sea was a feature in most of the stories and that with a lot of work I could link them together and give cohesion to a book. I enjoyed reworking the stories so that a character with a small part in one would become the main character in the following one. It isn’t quite as linear as that – any character could turn up anywhere. The book is called “We All Die in the End”, subtitled “Scenes From a Small Town”. Here are a few quotes:

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.

Sadie lay without moving, afraid to move in case her body broke up and fell to pieces. She knew she must have bled and the blood would be mixed up with what came out of him and it was all down there messing the sheet. So that’s it, she said to herself, that’s it. She smelled a new, hot smell and turned her head to one side, tears running into her ear. 

I had to practically tear Jennifer’s hand off my arm and promise to have tea the next time and all that and, by God, I needed a smoke to restore myself. I was a bit disappointed the baby wasn’t dead, being usually right as I am. A girl to mind the baby indeed! It makes no sense at all but I imagined her as Dutch, long yellow plaits and a big skirt. I’m a little Dutch girl, she’d sing to the baby and when it was asleep, Lydia’s husband would go up and stand behind her and undo the plaits.

I have tried very hard to find a publisher, or an agent, but I find it impossible. Short stories, linked or not, are neither popular nor profitable (unless you’re famous) so I published it myself on Amazon Kindle. Now it’s time to promote the book, get reviews and make some sales – a full-time job! There are several excerpts from the stories here on WordPress if anyone would like to take a look. Any tips from other Indie Authors would be appreciated.

        amazon.com/author/elizabethmerry

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.

amazon.com/author/elizabethmerry

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!

amazon.com/author/elizabethmerry

#CoDownWriter

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.

amazon.com/author/elizabethmerry

@elizabethmerry1 on twitter

elizabethmerry51 on instagram