Wednesday, April 25, 2012
'A few pints. A few friggin' pints...and on my birthday weekend. Jesus Christ!' He shook his head, affronted, as a child who is the target of a teacher's constant reprimands. His hands. which were aggressively held out as if to show what was perfectly obvious, dropped lifelessly between his legs, set widely apart on the small park bench. He sighed heavily and slumped further into the bench. She looked away, breathing deeply through her nostrils. She was angry. The anger was just under the surface, and there it would remain.
An old couple passed slowly by huddled tightly together, she linking his left arm. Apart from that the park was isolated.
She noticed his knee start to bounce up and down, an involuntary spasmic-like motion that usually suggests his anxiety over something. She recognises things like this. She ignored it, continuing to look away.
'I think you're being unfair, Clau. I mean...am I not allowed to have friends?'
She edged further away, leaning slightly over the arm of the bench.
'I know you're stressed out lately...what can I do to help?' He turned to face her.
She blinked slowly, wondering how she was back here again. Was it her? Was she being too harsh?
How could he help? Did she need to be helped? Could her feelings be solved? Did he see her as one of his engines that could be fixed quickly and easily?
She didn't answer. She sensed his impatience, and knew she had to respond soon.
He shook his head again, and got up, as if to leave, but after a short pause, he sat back down again. He took her hand in his. Quickly, she pulled away.
'Come on Clau. I don't get what I did wrong! Please tell me what I'm supposed to have done wrong.' He was facing her again.
'I...I...nothing. You did nothing wrong.' She continued to look away as she said it, not trusting herself to face him. Tears were smarting her eyes. She would not let them fall this time.
She could feel his gaze, waiting for her to go on. She felt paralyzed: she couldn't move and she couldn't talk. She could do what she always does and flow along the river, letting herself be gently pushed by the current, even if the course is wrong for her.
This was one of those crossroad moments. She could feel it but she did not trust her strength. Could she stand her ground?
He reached out again and took her hand. Warm, familiar. This time she did not pull away. Her heart felt heavy.
'I guess I have been stressed lately'.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
'She's off again, and with the child'. Aggie tutted as she peered out the pane of square glass, letting the net curtain fall back into place.
'When will it end?' she sighed, wiping the crumbs on the table carefully into her palm and then flinging them carelessly in the direction of the fire.
'Are you listening to me, Pat? I'm asking you when will we have our daughter back?' She stands to face him, hands on hips.
'Ah for God's sake, why do I bother?' She gathers the cups and plates in a lazy pile and shuffles out to the kitchen.
Pat puts down his paper, sighs wearily and resumes his position before his wife re-enters.
'Pat, will you please listen to me?' Her voice is shrill now, shrill in the same way she laughs: high-pitched, all on the same note, punctuating the silence like gunshots. It hurts his ears.
He gets up, noisily crumples the paper under his arm, and walks out.
'Will you leave it alone, woman?' He says it under his breath, not wanting to hurt her further.
'What's that, Pat?' she calls after him, but he is out the door now, closing it gently behind him.
Half an hour later, he's sitting in Herlihy's contemplating the last of his pint.
'Same again?' the barman sweeps across from the other side, wiping down the counter in an effort to stay busy.
'Ah no, this'll do me now'.
He is alone in the bar, and not at home with drinking in the middle of the day. He's found himelf down here or else Brady's nearly everyday since Gracie's back in the house.His paper's in front of him, but his focus is elsewhere.
Two ladies enter the bar, sitting discreetly in the far corner. He recognises one of them as Cliodhna, Grace's school friend. Though sitting at a distance, he is sure they must see him too, and he can only imagine what they must be saying.
Without finishing his pint, he flips his cap on, and sends a general salute out with his left hand, to include whoever chooses to see it as he pushes open the door, relieved to be out in the open.
Back in the sitting room, he finds Aggie looking forlornly into the fire. If he had given it another half an hour, he thought, she'd be off doing something else.
'Fine and fresh out there', he says.
Nothing but the flames crackling.
'Cup of tea?'he says, leaning against the side of the door.
'Pat, will you please sit down?'
She continues to stare into the fire, her voice low and controlled.
'What is it, Ag?' He sits on the edge of the chair, leaning forward to her.
He sees the liver spots that have started on the side of her face, the faint wobble of skin on her jowel as she shakes her head, the tape that is holding her new glasses together. Seeing his wife like this unsettles him. A tear rolls down her nose, and she turns, quickly flicking it off.
'Come on, Ag. She just needs time. Things will work themselves out.' He wished he could believe the words he spoke so assuredly.
'It's been fourteen months now!' she turned accusingly.
'And five days', he thought, but didn't say it.
Instead, he touched her arm and said,
'These things take time.' He paused for a moment, squeezing her arm. 'Now, you could do with a cup of tea'
As he went into the kitchen, he spotted Billie's pink elephant on its side on the counter, and as he stood it up, it brushed against the boxes of pills. The valium, he could understand, to get through the funeral. But there must have been seven different boxes of tablets here. The elephant's smiling eyes suddenly caught him off-guard. He swallowed hard, and closed his eyes to let the moment pass.
Picking up the kettle, he resolved to sort this out. He could no longer turn a blind eye. Enough is enough.
'Aggie, the kettle's on. I'm going out. I've something to do'.