From “May Toal” in We All Die in the End.

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.”‘


The Red Bed – a very short story.

I was walking along the river this morning when I came across this old bed-head. I stood and looked at it for a while and then I took a photograph. You’d have to wonder whose bed this once was, a child’s anyway. A boy? A girl? We’ll say it was a girl. And what else was in the room with this old-fashioned bed? Some drawers for little socks and cardigans. Was there another bed in the room? No, there was not. There were a lot of teddies though, and two tall dolls dressed in knitted clothes. Their names were Vanessa and Valerie. On the window-sill lay sea-shells collected from the beach. And in the bottom drawer of the press there were some Enid Blyton books and illustrated fairy stories and a Beano annual, and different clothes for the dolls in a tidy pile.

The little girl, whose name was Rosalie, was never disturbed in this room although there was no lock on the door. This was her very own place where she didn’t have to arrange her face to suit her parents.

When Rosalie was seventeen she left the house and five years later she came back to collect her belongings. She wanted her old books, and she wanted her favourite dolls to put on a shelf in her new flat. She smiled at the thought of her small red bed.

“I’ve made a few changes,” her mother called up the stairs after her.

Rosalie opened the door and sat down on the floor beside her cardboard box. The red bed was gone; her teddies and tall dolls were gone; the shells on the window-sill were gone. She pulled open the bottom drawer of the press but all her books and annuals were gone too.

There was a new wooden bed, a bed for grown-ups, and a new wardrobe.

“Where are all my things?” she asked her mother.

“Oh, for goodness sake,” her mother said. “I knew you’d make a fuss.”

She banged the newspaper on the arm of the chair.

“What things? Oul teddies and muck from the beach? Aren’t you far too old for that nonsense now. I threw everything out.

Will I give Rosalie a happy ending? Will her old father tell her to look in a box in the garage behind his ancient motor bike?