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.            

A poem for “My Girl”

The music filled the room

We pushed the table back

Stacked the chairs and

Formed a ring to watch

My daughter dance

Spangled eyes alight

With joy of movement

She whirled, birled

Arms and legs abandoned

And while she whirled she changed

Grew, evolved, emerged

A stranger unconnected

All her own self, on her own

Future firing headlong

Detached from my detaining hands

The beat drummed louder

Finished and the stranger sank

Triumphant, flushed and

Laughing, enjoying our applause

Turned to me for confirmation

My girl again

But never quite the same.

Time Out

Small windows, deep-set

In a whitewashed wall

Cobbled, dung-splashed

Yard, fiery red-topped

Roosters

Pecked unwary legs

Crusty, griddled bread

Thick with yellow butter

Our towny tongues unsure

Of still-warm milk

Cool, beaten earthen floor

Rough on shoe-soft feet

At night the whisper

Wheeze of bellows

Turf smoke burning eyes

Murmured prayers before

The lamps, blood-red and

Phosphorescent blue

My mother’s mother nodded

Black-robed in the corner

Her father sang us songs

Threaded laces in his boots

And shooed us, lit by candles

To the quilted, feather bed.

The Small Dark Man – a poem

A rattle of keys at the back door

We waited – wary

His face shut tight against us

Like a fist

Toed-in, he crouched over furtive whiskeys

Fingers curled

Over chin and cigarette

And we ghosted from the room

With nervous grins

But once he showed me Dickens

And Maurice Walsh

And he was The Small Dark Man

Alone in a house of women

Cut off by his country voice

From the town

Squeezing memories

From an old melodeon

Sometimes – surprised

His face would lift with love

And fall again

Now I surprise myself

Toed-in, crouched over flagrant whiskeys

Fingers curled over chin and cigarette

And I have to leave the room.

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.”

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“In a Yellow Dress”

If I could put you

In a frame

And freeze forever

Those wanton curls

Burnt honey round

Your peachy, freckled face

And emerald eyes

I would

But you are eager

To be gone

And my frame won’t

Hold you now

As once it did

The room retains

Your image – twirling in a yellow dress.

Twitter @elizabethmerry1

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A review of “Blood in the Valley” by Jean M Roberts

I was sorry to come to the end of this book. Although it finished in exactly the right place I was loathe to leave behind all the characters I had come to know. This is a story about the birth of the United States, and although I briefly studied the American War of Independence at school (a long time ago), it was so interesting to read about it in a novel, and to see what it must have been like for the families who lived through it.

When we first meet Catherine, the main character, she is minding her baby brother, so we see her first as a loving, caring and kindly girl and as she grows to womanhood her personality doesn’t change – although during the war she taps into parts of herself she didn’t know existed! Her husband, Samuel, is a decent, hard-working man who loves his family, and when the war begins he proves himself to be brave, steadfast and intelligent and plays an important part in the outcome of the war. The other characters, their family and friends, are people anyone would like to spend time with.

The narrative drive in this book is very strong and I was drawn into it straight away. The writing is clear and precise – there is no padding here. You can see the families and hear them talking and you understand how they feel. There are also some beautiful descriptions of the countryside:

“The falling water sparkled like gems reflecting the early morning sunshine. The river flung itself over the falls, cascading seventy-five feet or more into a boiling cauldron before rushing away in swirling eddies toward the Hudson.”

God, religion and the community is of extreme importance and the base of all social life for these pioneers and settlers. It’s where Catherine met Samuel, and there are some romantic occasions, which I loved, and which make you aware of how different life and language was then. Samuel says to Catherine:

“Miss Wasson, I have had a delightful day . . . I hope you will allow me the pleasure to call on you.”

At the advice of Catherine’s uncle, three related families decide to move to New York where land is “plentiful and cheap“. These are big families with a lot of children, many of whom bear the same names. I could easily imagine the family gatherings with all ages present; the feeling of belonging to a clan; everyone with the same objective – to live and love and farm and bring up their children in peace and safety.

The journey to New York is long, dangerous and arduous, by land and sea. But they make it, and eventually Samuel builds a wonderful house in Cherry Valley where they settle down and run their farm. But there is now the threat of war and I’m aware that some of these familiar and well-known characters are going to die. I read on with trepidation . . .

The families are separated by the war but for me this was one of the most enjoyable parts of the book – so many letters going forwards and back, so full of love and hope and encouragement. There is a fantastic occasion (referred to above) when Catherine takes to the ramparts of the fort where they are staying, with a rifle, an unheard of thing for a woman to do, and she earns herself a place in history.

And so, to a perfect ending when the war is over: The United States comes into being and American citizens can rebuild their houses and their lives and their families again.

I  would recommend this book to anyone who likes historical novels and family sagas, and a book with a strong narrative drive. The pace and shape of the book is so good; there is no slump in the middle, no part is too long or too short.

I give this book 5 Stars.  

Elizabeth Merry

09/06/20

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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“SISTER”

Here I will rest

My ashes falling

Into swirls of bog-brown water

In Spring perhaps

The river quiet and the birds gone mad

My ghost will hover –

A shape in powdered white

Casting chills on my attendants

Willows hang their leaves

Across the rush of water

Such an airy, fragile green

And I think of you –

Your airy, fragile spirit

Gone out of turn before me

Our childhood memories

All lop-sided now

A pulse of anger yet –

Why aren’t you here!

You should be here!

The mystery of your absence

Plagues me

I kneel beside your grave

Bend low to sense your soul

Breathe in the smell of earth.

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Twitter @elizabethmerry1