I have to take a break from computer work. I have lymphoedema in my right arm which is uncomfortable from time to time. I have been doing a lot of writing so this is one of those times when I have to rest it. I will still be on Twitter as it involves much less typing. I hope I will be back soon; I will miss my daily visit.
First thing: I’m going to be away for a few days – wedding duties! Second thing: I have serious writer’s block – I can’t even manage a line for a haiku. So I’m going to post some pages from “Thelma”, one of the stories in We All Die in the End. Back next week – I hope!
“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. When the toilet flushed she footered about with the socks in his drawer in case he changed his mind and came back but after a minute she heard the shower starting up.
She shook his jacket and pushed her fingers quickly into the pockets. Heavy change – she left a couple of coins so he wouldn’t miss the jingle. In his trousers two fivers were stuck together. Thelma took one. She slid the money into one of her green boots with the fur and counted with a quick look. Fifty pounds all told – not bad. She ran her fingers and her eyes over it and then she carefully pulled up the zip. Now, she said to herself, Irene can’t say I’m not trying.
A whole weekend away! Up the coast, that lovely, old hotel, and the lovely, soft, sandy beach, not covered in stones like ours! Oh, it’ll be great, it’ll be magic, magic! She leaned against the chest of drawers with her eyes shut tight and her arms folded, one wee ankle twisted around the other. She’d eat steak and chips and drink Prosecco . . .
She opened her eyes. The bed! She tore the sheet off and pulled at the duvet cover. Crumbs, beer stains, the pillow-case grey from his head. She ran round and round the bed, smoothing and tugging and then she leapt when Thomas roared from the bathroom:
“How long am I supposed to wait here?”
He’d be dripping all over the place! Thelma left the pillow and skipped into the bathroom. Thomas was shivering; he dabbed at himself with a towel.
“What are you like?” Thelma was gay with the money safe and the holiday in her head.
“Come here to me and don’t be getting narky.”
She grabbed the towel and dried him. He lifted his arms and his fat feet and turned when she told him to.
“Now, don’t you feel better?” she said.
“Don’t you feel nice and clean?”
“I do,” he said, wriggling his shoulders, the skin still a bit damp.
“You’d better get the sambos made. And put the telly on, the boys’ll be here soon.”
“Another twelve? That’s it, Thelma? Fifty altogether? It’s not nearly enough – it doesn’t even approach nearly enough. What have you been doing? It’s the middle of July already. When were you thinking of going? Christmas week? Nobody around, nothing going on, wind and rain and cold? It won’t do, Thelma. There’s others would jump at a weekend in the Glens, plenty of money too, they have, not putting away a few pounds at a time like you.”
Thelma shook her head, her wispy, silky hair sliding over her wee face.
“I’m doing my best. You won’t let me down now, will you?”
“Ha! Me let you down?”
Irene opened her notebook and tapped the table with her pen. “That’s a good one. You’ve got a nerve, you have. Fifty pounds you’ve got – do you want to go for one night? One night – take us half a day to get there – “
“But I can get more, Irene. I will, I will get more – you know I will.”
She glanced out the window. The boys would arrive soon: plenty of beer – plenty of loose change.
“Well, I don’t know,” Irene said. “You could try harder, I suppose. He doesn’t check every penny you spend, does he? Can’t you cut a few corners? Eat a bit less? Give him more bread and less meat.”
Thelma shook her head.
“It’s all right for you, Irene. You can do what you like – live on bread and jam if you want, sit in the dark and wear a jumper to keep warm if you like. Thomas likes his meat.”
“Get a job then. Get yourself up to the supermarket, sit at the till. They pay you to do it. Money, Thelma! Really, you know, you really should come to the classes our Henry’s May and I go to. You’d learn a thing or two! If ever a body needed it . . . “
Thelma didn’t speak. She stared at the table and shut her ears and squeezed her wee fists on her knee. What would you know, she thought, you with your big hands and your big feet and your hair all screwed up and you don’t have a sausage in the bedroom shouting orders all the live long day. That’s all she ever got – orders.
“Ah for God’s sake, there’s no talking to you. You know, Thelma, half the time I don’t think you’re serious about this holiday at all. And I bet you haven’t told him yet, have you? You’d better get that over with, quick! Are you afraid of him or what? I’m going to tell you exactly how much you need and then it’s up to you. Get a job or get it out of your man in the bed, whatever, I don’t care, just get it.”
Thelma nodded, and then there was a knock at the door.
“Eh – Irene, the boys are here – I’ll have to – “
“Boys! Boys! For God’s sake, Thelma. Do you hear yourself? They’re men – big lumps of men, expecting you to run around after them, and do you know why they expect you to do that? Because you do it. You do it and you keep doing it and you don’t even realise you’re doing it. I blame your mother, so I do. She sent you away to that school and all you learned was how to do what you’re told!”
Irene swept the notebook and pen into her handbag.
“Up and down them stairs,” she said. “Up and down, up and down like a wee skivvy.”
She lifted her bag with a swing as the men came in, clattering up the stairs. Alistair said hello, the word slipping out from under his thick moustache.
“Your own brother,” Irene said, looking at Alistair’s legs in the tight, purple tracksuit. He should be looking out for you. You need to get away – you need to relax. You said you wanted to go, so you did. We’ll drink Prosecco you said and eat steak and hire a bicycle maybe and – “
“I know, I know,” Thelma said. “Of course I want to go. You know I do. I do”
So, what do you think? Did Thelma tell Thomas, and get away to eat steak and drink Prosecco?
In full, lively bloom
yellow weeds absorb sunlight
nod to the river.
- Midnight, and the pale moon palely
Lighting up the worm beds on the beach.
We hoked them out, threw them wriggly into buckets.
Damp knees in the damp sand.
Uneasy in the stillness, watching for the yellow hair of fairies,
Hidden in the tide, their voices from another world.
That white beach an other world itself
That sent me home a changeling
Waiting to reclaim myself.
2. Barely rose, pearly in the dawn,
An angry sea throws spray across the wall,
Wrecks the boats tied up beneath the lighthouse on the pier.
Its flashing light lights up the summer picnic island.
Foam spuming flying, keeping all indoors.
Seaweed stranded on the road like giant insects.
And I, an elemental on a swing, lick my salty lips and
And watch the sea for Manaman, its King.
When I was a girl, a long time ago, most people had very strict parents, and I remember so well, the feeling of being squashed and kept down – it was just how things were then. Every Summer, we went to an Irish College in Donegal. The first time I went, I was fourteen, I fell in love with everything about those holidays, and Donegal is still my favourite place.
Wet Sunday afternoons
Micheál Ó hEithir full-voiced
My father leaned to hear
Forbidding us to talk
We kept our heads down
Read our Enid Blytons
Visits to relations
Sit straight with ankles neat
Weak tea, not quite hot
Men who would be jolly
Women with their blouses
Buttoned to the nose
Restless, teenage years
Hemmed in by the iron will
Of parents bent on purity
Chips at the harbour wall
A mortal sin
But ah – August in The Rosses
Let loose among na buachaillí*
Blood-red cheeks and sparkling eyes
Mascara thick and black
And lipstick for the céilí –
Bhí gaeilge fíor mhaith againn!**
**We were very good at Irish!
I hear the river
rushing to the sea
splashing over hidden rocks
foaming down the falls.
I tread the river path,
smell the warming earth
and grass. Wild flowers
compete with lilac’s
nodding heads and
These things which Oscar mourned,
shut away from light and air,
more precious in his mind
Some days I wish I’d been a nun
Cloistered, curtained by the hanging
Green of trees, pale apple green, serene cloak.
Measured days and nights,
Paced from hour to praying hour.
No pride no lust no greed no lies,
No loss no gain no pain no strife,
But peace, pale apple green, serene
Soft poultice on the quick of life.
My roots warm up
Beneath the fertile soil
I stretch my arms aloft
To sun and wind
Tossing all my blossoms
1.Tied by mortal feet
to an inland place,
I would be one of
Lir’s unhappy swans
blown across the wintry
straits of Moyle
This bland wind has
no taste, no smell.
It sweeps down fiercely
from the hills
and knocks the heads
off blooms already dead.
2. Heedless of the
grey, polluted air
the whins blazed.
I gazed and saw them
shine above the singing
burned them down.
The skinny twigs are twisted
black and crumbling.
Street-locked and bereft
I am left to suffocate.
I was discussing domestic abuse with some friends recently, on the dreaded Zoom – I’m really not comfortable with it. I never know when to speak up and I miss looking straight at people, and reading body language as well. Anyway, I suffered domestic violence myself, as did an awful lot of women I know, which is probably why it appears in more than one of my stories. So, I thought I’d post a short passage from May Toal here.
‘”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.”‘