“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.
This is a wonderful book, beautifully written. I have a feeling I’ll be posting more than one excerpt. Here, he is talking about going to dances long ago. The sixties – he’s the same vintage as myself!
“Crowds streaming out of the pubs, some walking or on bicycles; hard chaws in their fathers’ cars leaning out windows with cigarettes, like they were in a film, combing oiled hair into Elvis quiffs and whistling at the girls click-clacking by in short dresses.
On the stage the spangle-suited band, brass flashing, guitars twanging beneath revolving globes that scattered shards of light over the dancers.
Wallflowers looked out with shy, uncertain eyes.
How long had they spent in front of the mirror getting ready and here they sat unwanted, with thumping hearts, yet hopeful they might be chosen, having to look unconcerned when they were not.
I understood them, afraid of being rejected, as I was shoved towards them in a herd of Brut aftershave and Guinness.”
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.
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 – ”
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 . . .
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.
“WeAll 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.