Final part of “Myrtle” from We All Die in the End.

Silas Bell followed Myrtle into the sitting-room; he opened his case and handed her the catalogue and set a laptop on the table.

            “Fresh outside today, Madam,” he said, sitting down when she did. “Bracing. Very warm in here though.”

            Myrtle turned the pages and the pictures slid past her eyes. She could feel him watching her.

            “Page sixteen, Madam,” he suggested.

            “I thought, since you’re getting a cat you might like a basket. There’s a really nice wicker-work model, well lined with cotton. It’s just the thing for cats these sharp nights. You can’t be too – “

            “Yes.” Myrtle looked up at him. “A basket.”

            “Wonderful!”

            Silas Bell opened his laptop and typed into it very quickly. 

            “You’ve made a good choice, madam. I thought you would like that one.”

            “Name?” he said, fingers poised.

            “Oh – Smith – Myrtle Smith.”

            “Well now.” Silas Bell beamed at her.

            “My dearest aunt was called Myrtle, dead now I’m afraid. Lovely name I’ve always thought – lovely, and you don’t hear it much these days.”

            Myrtle watched him as he put in her address and the details of the cat basket.

            “Phone number, Miss Smith?”

            “Oh . . . no . . . I don’t – “

            “Well, you’re just right, so you are, they can take over your life.”

            He put away the laptop and the catalogue. Myrtle’s heart jumped – he’d be gone in a minute – should she ask him to have a cup of tea? What could she say? Would you like tea? What about a cup of tea? She stood up and so did he. She tried the words in her head but before she could speak he was holding her hand, shaking it up and down.

            “Delighted, Miss Smith, Miss Myrtle Smith.”

            He pressed her hand harder; his eyes and teeth shone at her.

            “Would this day week be convenient for delivery? About twelve?”

            Myrtle nodded slowly.

            He bowed from the waist and then he left. Myrtle stood at the window, hands clasped together. She had forgotten to take off her old lilac fleece but it didn’t matter.

*

            The hailstones hurt her face and her fingers were frozen from holding up the hood of the raincoat. If she could just put on her gloves, but her hands were too wet. She had to lean into the wind to walk forward, her breath catching. The sea was black and white and grey and the hailstones fell in silently.

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

            It was almost dark in the sitting-room when she got home and she turned on the lamps, but it was warm and quiet and she stood still for a minute, savouring the comfort of it. In the kitchen she unpacked the tins – Liver and Bacon, the label said. The cat in the picture was pale yellow with green pointed eyes. Myrtle balanced the tins against the others and put the kettle on.

            He’d be here soon. In a minute she’d go upstairs and comb out her hair, put on the black dress and redden her lips.

            She dipped her biscuits and curled her toes in the warm socks. Rain hissed in the chimney and the window shook – she’d have to jam it with newspaper, and she would, in a minute. She folded her hands on her stomach, the heat of the tea still in her throat. Her eyes closed, the fire burned, the wind rattled at the window. She could call the cat Bunty – or Bella – or Sammy . . .

            The knock at the door frightened her. She sat up looking straight ahead. It was him! She’d have to get up and open the door; she’d have to talk. There was a louder knock; he’d be cold out there, waiting . . . Myrtle stood up and thought briefly about the black dress. She looked at her thick, tennis socks.

            “Good morning, Madam, Miss Smith. What a day, what a day.”

            Silas Bell tried to smile, fighting the wind. There was a parcel at his feet and he picked it up and darted inside. The rain shone on his black hair.

            “Cosy in here, Miss Smith, great altogether.”

            Myrtle stared at the floor.

            “And here’s your lovely basket. I got the best one there was, the very latest.”

He unwrapped the plastic covering and pushed the basket towards Myrtle. It was dark brown; the lining was blue and padded like a dressing-gown.

            “Well.” Silas Bell stood up.

            “Where had you thought of putting it?”

            Myrtle breathed loudly; her shoulders were high, her fingers moving.

            “Over here in the corner? Or not?”

            “Just . . . it’ll do . . . just – “

            “No, no, we must find a place for the little kitty. It might be better in the kitchen – more heat there at night you know. It holds the heat from the cooker and that. Is it through here?”

            He elbowed the kitchen door open. Myrtle put out her hand to stop him but he was already in, looking at the tins of cat food, his eyebrows high on his head.

            “What?” He turned to her, swinging the basket.

            “Have you got the cat already?”

            Myrtle lifted the Trout and Tuna and hit him very hard on the side of the head. He dropped quietly at her feet, his face saying, oh . . . his legs were sprawled out, there was a smudge of blood at his temple and she wondered if he was dead but then he made a sound and moved his hands. She curled his legs neatly and pushed him into the corner.

            I’ll tell him he slipped, she thought, splashing water on the floor, he slipped on the water and banged his head.

            She rolled up a bit of newspaper and stuck it into the rattling window-frame. The black car parked at the kerb shone in the rain. Myrtle looked at it for a minute, shrugged and sat down.

Myrtle is one of nineteen stories from the interlinked collection: We All Die in the End available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.

Part 2 of “Myrtle” from We All Die in the End.

“Cat . . .   “

            The word popped out of Myrtle’s mouth.

            “Wonderful. How nice – “

            “No! I . . . No, I – I’m getting a cat . . . soon.”

            “A new arrival then! How exciting! Now let me see . . .  “

            He rummaged in the case.

            “I don’t seem . . .   “

            He shook his head.

            “I have a lot of toys for dogs you know. I find these days most people have dogs, for the company – they like the company when they get on a bit – of course you’re not . . . “

            Myrtle stared at the top of his shining head as he lifted plastic bones and leather dog-leads.

            “Very little for cats with me. They’re so independent, as you know I’m sure, no interest in toys. What’s this? Ah no, worm and flea powders – Madam won’t be needing those.”

            He laughed and Myrtle shook her head. He moved his left foot forward.

            “There’s a new catalogue in the office – I could call tomorrow if that would suit – you could have a look. I’m sure there’s cat-baskets, yes, and bells, door-flaps, all that. Would it be convenient?”

            He whipped a business-card from his pocket.

            “There you are.”

            He flourished it at Myrtle.

            “That’s my name there at the top –   Silas Bell. Mr Silas Bell, that’s me.”

            He smiled and made a little bow.

            “Until tomorrow, Madam. Same time suit you? It’ll be a pleasure to see you again.”

            ” . . . Yes,” Myrtle said.

            She clutched the card to her side, watched Silas Bell get into the shiny car, and then slowly closed the door. For long seconds she stood in the hall, staring at the letter-box. Minutes passed; her feet began to get cold. She lifted the card to read it again and breathed out noisily. She had talked, she had made a friend! Didn’t he want to come back the next day? He had almost begged her to let him come back.

            Myrtle ate a huge lunch and cut the apple-tart after. She was conscious of her new position as someone’s friend and she felt virtuous, holy almost. She licked cream from a spoon and eased the waistband of her tracksuit, trying to think of names for cats and wondering what would be in the catalogue. Her fingers were sticky and she wiped them on a tissue.

            She’d have a bath instead of a shower, she thought, a lovely, long hot bath. On the window-sill she found an old bath bomb. There was a smell of violets when she dropped it into the steaming water but it wouldn’t dissolve. She poked at it with a toothbrush until it broke apart. Gingerly she sat down; such an expanse of skin. Her long, pale hair hung wet and straight, and then she remembered the rollers.

            She dried quickly and tied her dressing-gown, but she couldn’t find the rollers! Where were they? Where! Drawer after drawer was tumbled. Myrtle breathed with quick, loud, anxious gasps and spit ran across her chin. There! She had them! She divided her hair carefully into ten sections, rolled it around the curlers and snapped the elastic into place.

            In the morning she was up early. Her head ached in ten places. She stared at the ringlets, pulled them down and watched them shoot back up again. She drew a hairbrush through them, gently over the sore spots. The tracksuit was dropped to the floor – it wouldn’t do – wouldn’t match the curls. There must be something – there’d be something in the spare-room – there was a box . . .

            The black dress fitted very neatly; Myrtle held her breath to get the zip up. It was all right only she was cold. She put on her old lilac fleece – she could take it off when he arrived. The face in the mirror looked odd, not like her own face at all, and too pale against the dark dress. Lipstick! She should have lipstick, but . . . wasn’t there a book with a hard, red cover . . . yes. She wet her finger and rubbed until the colour began to run, then pressed the colour to her lips. Well . . . it would do only she couldn’t have a cup of tea now.

            What time was it? He said, at the same time. She stood in front of the fire, trying not to lick her lips or bite them.  Eleven, half-eleven, nearly twelve – and there he was, the shiny, black car coming to a stop outside her door. Silas Bell pushed his hair flat behind his ears, lifted his case from the back seat, and smiled.

            “Well, here I am again as promised,” he began when she opened the door.

            He gaped at her, his mouth open; there was a glitter of teeth and then he went on:      

            “I’ve brought the catalogue.”

            He waved it in the air, smiling and sliding his right foot forward.

            “Yes, Myrtle said.”

            He shivered suddenly and hunched his shoulder against the breeze.

            “Maybe . . .  “

            Myrtle opened the door wider.

            “Maybe, would . . . ?”

            “Yes indeed, thank you. I would indeed.”

            Silas Bell followed Myrtle into the sitting-room; he opened his case and handed her the catalogue and set a laptop on the table.

End of the story tomorrow.

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 . . .

Re-launch of “We All Die in the End”.

I had to republish the paperback edition as the first one looked awful. My own fault but I have learned now how to do it properly with the help of some knowledgeable friends. It will be available from Tuesday 13th October in its new improved form. Here is an excerpt from Scene 9: “Siblings”

“We’ll have to tidy up, girl. I mean – look at the place. Could you not have washed up the dishes or – “

            He stared around, helplessly.

            “And did you get the ham? I thought you’d have done something by now. Dicky bird said evening. What’s evening? What time is evening? Six? Seven? Eight? And do you know what I thought of as well, they might want to use the new bathroom.”

            “But – ” Sarah turned to the stairs. “But – oh . . . “

            Barney moved quickly, went up and pushed at the stiff door of the bathroom. He heard Sarah coming up behind him and he pushed harder.

            “There’s something in here,” he said.

            “Push it, push it,” Sarah said, pushing at his back.

            And then the door gave way and they tumbled inside. Barney sniffed, raising his eyebrows at Sarah. The sink and toilet and bath were black with dust. Sarah touched a tap and quickly withdrew her hand.

            “Here, look at this,” Barney said.

            In the corner behind the door was a roll of wallpaper, brown along the edges, black across the top, and sticky when Barney tried to open it.

            “Do you mind, Sarah? Do you mind I bought that when we got this put in?”

            “Well, they can’t use it, so they can`t, and that’s all about it.”

            Barney dusted his hands on his trousers.

            “They’ll have to use the downstairs like everybody else. It`s good enough for us, isn`t it?”

            The door of Martin’s room was shut and they could hear him sniffing and moaning.

            “What’ll we do about him?” Sarah nodded towards the door. “He’s been crying since you left. I couldn’t get a thing done with him like that.”

            “I’ll give him a drop of whiskey maybe. Look.”

            Barney took a half-bottle from his pocket.

            “I got it today – it’ll come out of my wages – for Dicky bird, you know. Nobody can say we don’t know how to treat our visitation. I’ll give Marty a drop in hot water and he’ll go asleep.”

            Sarah sighed and followed him downstairs.

            “We’ll have a drop ourselves, Sarah – what do you say? Sure isn’t there plenty? Dicky bird won’t want all of it.”

            Sarah filled the kettle, her eyes beginning to gleam.

Thank you for reading this. If you enjoyed it you might check out the 5 star reviews on Goodreads.

I’m happy to announce Launch Day for the paperback edition of “We All Die in the End” available now from Amazon.

This intriguing collection of interlinked stories set on the Co Down coast, is full of devious, eccentric, lonely characters. Many of the stories are grim, some deal with abusive relationships, but there’s a lot of black humour in this book. and an odd flash of joy too.

“SADIE said nothing. She trimmed the fat off the kidneys and the liver, her fingers curling away from the soft, red slither and she held her breath against the faint smell of blood.”

“Well, that didn’t make any sense but then Lydia stopped and I saw her speak to the doll. Oho, ARTHUR, I said to myself and I threw down the cigarette. Oho, I said, what’s this? What have we here?”

“Elizabeth Merry’s characters leap from the page, fully formed.” Jean M Roberts, historian and genealogist.

“The stories were compelling and addictive.” Sammi Cox, writer, blogger and reviewer.

“Merry’s is some of the best writing I’ve read in a while. Like Faulkner, she creates a fictional world unto its own . . . “Kurt Brindley, author and blogger.

If any of you are kind enough to read this book please leave a review – good or bad- all feedback welcome. Thank you.

Elizabeth

Upcoming launch of paperback edition of “We All Die in the End”

Here’s a short excerpt from my book. It is currently available as an ebook and I’m looking forward to the paperback edition. Should be ready tomorrow so maybe Monday for launch day . . .

“Upset!” Bridie turned sharply to her husband.  

“She doesn’t know what upset is. What do you want to get married for?” she said to Brigit. “Aren’t you comfortable here? You never said before you wanted to leave. Of course we’re getting on now. You’re bored with us, I suppose.” 

“Ma! Why would you say that? Don’t – ” 

“Nothing for you here only knitting every night and listening to your father shouting at the television.” 

“You leave me out of it,” Reuben said.  

“Tears now and the dinner ruined. I know what you’re at. Oh aye, up to your old tricks again.” 

“Am I talking to you? Am I? Am I talking to you?” 

“Talking!” Reuben stood up.  

“You’re not talking, woman, you’re ranting! Well, rant away. I’m going to eat in the kitchen.” 

“This house is yours,” Bridie said, tugging at Brigit’s hands.  

“You have all the security you want right here. I don’t understand why, all of a sudden, just because that fellow asks you out – ” 

“It’s not just all of a sudden. He was always . . . there, you know. I thought you’d want me to get married. You did, you and Da – ” 

“Huh! Him? Sure what did I know? I was only a girl.” 

She put her hands on the table as if she was about to get up, and then she half-laughed. 

“I married him because I liked his name.” 

“Aye!” Reuben pushed open the kitchen door.  

“I heard that. And it’s the only thing you ever liked about me.” 

He pointed at Brigit. 

“Do you know what she said when you were born? She said that I,” Reuben tapped his chest, “that I, was a monster to put her through all that, and she’d die before she’d let me near her again. One year I had of married life. There was no pills in them days – not that it would have made any difference to her. Marriage! Don’t talk to me about marriage! Work, work, work for me – take, take, take for her. And I’ll tell you more than that. She tried to make you the same as herself – wouldn’t allow you as much as a lipstick – ” 

“Stop it!”  

Bridie’s chair scraped on the floor. Her face was flaming, her cheeks bulging. 

“Ma!” Brigit cried out. 

“You’re a dirty man! Such things to say! You’re a dirty man to talk like that in front of your daughter.” 

“Daughter!” Reuben roared. “Look at her! She’s nearly a middle-aged woman!” 

“Da!” Brigit clapped her hands over her ears.  

If you liked this excerpt, find out what happens next . . .

amazon.com/author/elizabethmerry

An excerpt from scene 16 in We All Die in the End “PET”

When the time came I went to the bathroom and gathered up the boxes and packets of pills. I felt all right but I couldn’t breathe properly – I had to keep my mouth open. In the kitchen I emptied the whole lot into a bowl, popping them out of the tin foil – it was like shelling peas. Then I put them into the coffee grinder and switched it on. They broke up very quickly and fell to powder, much quicker than coffee beans.

            The lilies arrived and I put them into white bowls, horrible greeny waxy things. I couldn’t decide what to wear for death and then of course there was only one dress that would suit, the tight, black one, my party dress, also my funeral dress. It made my hair look darker and my face whiter. I ringed my eyes with black eye pencil, lathered on the red lipstick. Nothing subtle about that.

            The curry was just about ready and I was unwrapping garlic bread when Jack came in.

            “I’ve made chicken curry,” I said. “Isn’t that all right? Louise likes curry, doesn’t she? She can leave the garlic bread.”

            He didn’t answer, just frowned, at my darkened eyes, at the lilies, half-smiling.

            “What is all this, pet?”

            “Say my name,” I said.

            “What?”

            “Say my name. You never say my name. My name is not pet.”

            The half-smile disappeared. He smacked the newspaper against his leg and went to poke at the curry.

            “I made an effort,” I said when he wouldn’t answer.

            “And I ordered lilies – you said Louise likes them.”

            And I smiled and smiled, still trying, even then.

            “Why are you wearing that dress?”

            He was walking in and out of the dining-room, taking off his jacket and tie.

            “Do you not – ” I began.            

But he went off upstairs.

On putting together a book of interrelated stories.

Carey Harrison, novelist and playwright, said once, that if you get into the habit of writing novels, short stories, plays, or television scripts, then every idea you get turns itself into the appropriate length. And to avoid that, you should aim for different lengths, different structures. Although I have written two novels for children and a collection of poetry, that was a long time ago, and for many years now every idea turns itself into a short story. I don’t mind though; it seems to suit me best, and works best for me too.

So, I begin with a picture in my head; a woman shop-lifting; a man smoking a cigarette on a cold, stony beach; a boy reading in a window seat. Sometimes, strangely, this original picture disappears as the story takes shape and develops. I always write an outline, first with headings – Introduction, Development, Complication, Resolution. I write a page about each character as the story takes shape in my head. Then I take each of the four sections and write a couple of paragraphs about it. And when I can’t put it off any longer, I begin to actually write! I don’t like the first creative output; it exhausts me; I usually aim for 500 words a day, but when that part is finished, I could sit forever, editing, shaping and polishing.

I didn’t set out to write a book of interlinked stories – I was primarily writing short stories for competitions, magazines, or for broadcasting. So, it was only after I had written most of them that I realised, quite suddenly, that they were all set on the Co Down coast; the sea featured in every one. After that, a whole book fell into place where some of the characters lived on the same street; others knew each other from business dealings, or from just living, shopping and drinking in the same small town. And it developed then that a character with a small part in one story would become the main character in the next one. I’ll give a couple of examples:

From Scene 1.  Arthur

She leaned forward and her hand snaked out to pull me in. 

   “Where have you been?” she cried.

   “Can’t stop, Jennifer,” I said, leaning back. “Just called to say hello.”

   There was no way I was going inside that house. People have been known to go in there and never come out again. Well, I’m exaggerating but you know what I mean.

From Scene 2. Carmel

Jennifer stood there smiling at me, waiting for me to go on about the picnic. She was wearing a sleeveless pink blouse and a short skirt and her arms and legs were nearly green they were that pale. Her hair was the colour of redbrick that week – it was always some peculiar shade of red . . . she was always hanging around, her and her dogs. She smelled of them and there were long hairs on her clothes. Every time we met her she invited me to tea in her house but I never went – my allergies would kill me, and how could you eat anything?

From Scene 3. Wee Sadie

Sadie said nothing. She trimmed the fat of the kidneys and the liver, her fingers curling away from the soft, red slither and she held her breath against the faint smell of blood. Madge lifted her walking-stick and rattled it against the leg of the table.

From Scene 11. Brigit

And there was wee Sadie Hughes at the till, showing off her engagement ring, an emerald it was. I’d rather diamonds, she thought, smiling to herself.

   Her next-door neighbour, Myrtle, was before her in the queue, staring round with her black eyes, moving so slowly like she was in a dream.

And then Myrtle, Scene 12, is the star of her own strange story.

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.

It isn’t always exactly one leading to the other – any character could turn up in any story, where appropriate of course. I worked very hard over several months making sure that it all seemed as natural as possible until I felt really at home in the town. I don’t give it a name in the book but in my head it was called Ballyfarr. I knew all the street names, where the shops and pubs were and where all the characters lived.

“We All Die in the End” is the title of the book (subtitled “Scenes From a Small Town”). That’s the last line of the first “scene” and I got it from my sister who always proclaimed it when anyone was giving out or when she felt moved to be gloomily philosophical.

The book is available on Amazon Kindle as an ebook and will be available in print at the end of August – date to be announced soon.

A Review: Peaches by Dylan Thomas

I first read this story many years ago and never forgot about it so recently I read it again, and again it seemed terrific. It is written from the point of view of a very young Dylan, perhaps ten years old. He is spending time with his aunt and uncle in rural Wales, and his best friend from school, Jack, is coming to visit. Jack’s people are well off and he is expected to arrive, accompanied by his mother, in a Daimler. Dylan’s aunt has been holding on to a tin of peaches for a special occasion and is now looking forward to serving them, with a dollop of cream, to Jack’s mother.

And all around this situation is built a whole world of characters:

” . . .  a thin, bald, pale old man, with his cheeks in his mouth . . . “

” . . . a sour woman with a flowered blouse and a man’s cap.”

There is not a wasted word in the story of this small boy with his fears and fancies; it draws you in, subsuming you almost, until you are living on that farm,  playing in that farmyard:

“On my haunches, eager and alone, casting an ebony shadow, with the Gorsehill jungle swarming, the violent, impossible birds and fishes leaping, hidden under four-stemmed flowers the height of horses . . . my friend Jack Williams invisibly near me, I felt all my young body like an excited animal surrounding me, the torn knees bent, the bumping heart . . . the sweat prickling in the hands, the tunnels down to the eardrums, the little balls of dirt between my toes . . . “

The young Dylan imagines his uncle:

“I could see uncle, tall and sly and red, holding the writhing pig in his two hairy hands, sinking his teeth into its thigh . . .  leaning over the wall of the sty with the pig’s legs sticking out of his mouth.”

And about his his aunt he writes:

“She went upstairs to dress like Sunday.”

In this tale the writing is the thing. It is hardly like reading at all; it’s like someone sitting beside you telling the story, the language rich and sumptuous and deep and luscious, full of adverbs and adjectives:

” . . . for his uncle to light his pipe and set the darkness on fire and show his long, red, drunken fox’s face to me, with its bristling side-brushes and wet, sensitive nose.”

It makes today’s pared-down prose appear without smell or taste or colour, and it reminds me of “A Christmas Carol”, especially the middle part, about Christmas Present. I found it very difficult to choose which quotes to include in this short commentary – every line is memorable.

An Excerpt from – WE ALL DIE IN THE END

ANDY

There was sleet falling. It fell straight down in the windless, chill air but the boys ignored it. They were standing outside the pub hoping someone would lend them money or bring them out a few beers. Barney Madden ran them out of it but they went back when he took himself home. Like he owned the place, Stevie said, fuck him, all he does is wash the glasses.

            Andy felt the unhappiness grow in his chest again. It was heavy and he fought against it. No, he said to himself. No. He held his arms up and out in front of him and made soft, crooning, engine noises.

            “Definitely getting a bike, so I am, and it won’t be long now. I’m still getting a couple of days on the boat with Dominic Byrne and he says he’ll have more work in the Summer and I’ll start saving then . . . “

            Andy dropped his arms and sat on the wall.

            “What do you say, Stevie Wonder?”

            Stevie threw the butt of his cigarette on the ground and watched it roll into a puddle.

            “I say you’re full of shite, Andy. I wish there was more than tobacco in that fag, that’s what I say . . . God, it’s freezing.”

            They walked up and down, their fingers squeezed into the pockets of their jeans and their shoulders hunched and they thought about riding bikes on the straight, endless roads with the sun hot in the sky and their ipods loud in their ears.

            “We’re never going to have them bikes,” Stevie said.

            He nudged the rolled-up poster tucked under Andy’s arm.

            “That’s as near a bike as we’ll ever get . . .  cost a fuckin’ fortune even if you do have a job – most of them don’t hardly pay more than the dole. And you’ve got Lily and wee Grace. Have we any fags left?”

            Andy lit a cigarette and dragged on it before passing it to Stevie. Stevie had a part-time job delivering newspapers to shops. Great, he said it was, getting up at three in the morning, the streets all dark and no traffic so you could hear the sea, and then the day to yourself. He wanted Andy to come too when the other helper was off, but Lily wouldn’t let him – said she’d be scared on her own at night, even though them birds were in the downstairs flat. She hated them birds; they were always laughing and talking so loud in the hall. Andy couldn’t imagine their lives – he looked at them like they were on television.

            The sleet began to fall thicker and faster. There was no one they knew coming or going and Andy could feel the cold going into his bones.

            “I’m off home,” he said. “It’s too fuckin’ cold to wait. See you later on, Stevie.”

            He pulled the sleeves of his jacket down over his knuckles and curled himself around the poster. One of his runners was letting in and he tried to bend his foot away from the wet spot. He went up the shore road at a half-run and paused as usual to spit into the sea; it was only a habit now; he never waited to see how far it went.

            He stood outside the flat for a minute staring up at the window, trying to guess if Lily and the baby were in or not. He opened the front door and listened. There wasn’t a sound, and then he heard a noise in the downstairs flat and the door swung open. Shite, Andy thought.

            “Hi,” he said, moving towards the stairs, mopping at the wet hair on his forehead.

            The girls stopped at the sight of him. Their faces were bright and their blonde curls bounced on their woolly scarves.

            “Hello! Hi! There’s nobody up there.”

            “We’ll make coffee for you if you like.”

            “We’ll warm you up. You look like a wee icicle.”

            Andy bolted for the stairs.

            “No thanks,” he said. “They’ll be home soon . . . I’ll have to . . . “

            He sniggered quietly to himself at the thought of what Lily might do if she came home and he was in there with them birds . . . they might have cooked him something and they’d have the heating on, probably had a big telly as well. Andy sighed, a long, painful sigh. He went into the kitchen and edged past the table to the kettle, batting the onions out of his way. They were strung from hooks in the ceiling. Lily had seen that once in a movie and insisted on stringing them up although she didn’t eat onions – didn’t cook anyway.

            Water rattled into the kettle and Andy shivered with his hand on the cold tap. Maybe Lily would bring home something from the Chinese – she did that sometimes if her mother gave her some money.