June Caldwell – Upcycle: an account of some strange happenings on Botanic Road

It is hardly worth telling, this story of mine, or at least in a modern context, because so many people go through the same these days and feel it too dull and inconsequential to mention. We have to take our modern horrors on the chin in the same way sewage is turned back into drinking water, axiomatically. Some small trace evidence of evil was always there, hanging on a hammock off his organs, in the grubby suitcase inside his head: laughing at a rape on the television, laughing at the old woman up the road dying of cancer (in the most excruciating way). Laughing at a crushed dog out on the main road, a cut knee, house repossessions, floods, poverty, puberty, forest fires, riots, stock collapse and all else sitting mean and keen in-between. Dead in my head now, lost to me, lost to the ignorant beauty of everything.
There are days when I crumple on the couch giving in to endless interlude, boom-box of Jeremy Kyle, mini flask of vodka, crows crying their lamps out in the chest-hair back garden. Slow Joe next door moving his furniture around to nothing but his own sound. Eventually I’ll squirm up to bed when I know I’ve successfully folded enough hours of the day into the next so that neither is in much of a shape to be useful. Even then I cannot escape the watching. That his eyes are stuck on me and me alone, I am completely sure. That she is unable or unwelcome to come through at all, I am also completely sure. From his hospital bed he seemingly figured it all out. ‘Here ye go Frank, have some nice yoghurt, c’mon now, try to eat a little something…’. The mind is a peculiar thing, the nursing manager told us. He seemed to know we were doing up some of the rooms, I told her, he said so. He said he could see it in his mind’s eye. ‘That’s impossible,’ she replied. ‘He might’ve heard one of the carers talking about renovating a house or something along those lines. If you think of it a bit like the way magpies work… on clear days when the blood flows normally, they snatch bits and bobs of other people’s reality, processing it as their own.’
I always had a strange relationship with this house. When I left for university in London twenty five years ago, I was plagued with memories of levitating in the sitting room as a small child. When I returned to Dublin on holidays my mother wrote it off, sniggering — oh my daft daughter! — but he didn’t. ‘I used to do that in digs years ago, down the quays’, he told me. Levitate after concentrating like mad. Best done standing upright with your fists clenched by your side, head up, breathing deep. Think your way through the weight of human rubbish, out the lid on the other side, slowly ascending. Think yourself into light-footed, sheer, insubstantial. ‘If you lose confidence even for a second, that’s you,’ he explained. ‘You’d be right back on dry land again. Sometimes it might only be an inch or two you’d go but what of it. Other times you could go high into a dusty corner of the room no bother.’ One night after his roommate caught him the ‘old bag’ who ran the boarding house called in a priest to ceremoniously bash and threaten with stern words. The priest, when he realised my father was a mossback atheist, called in a mutton-faced Guard and the Guard called in a Doctor of Psychology after he demanded to know what the exact charge was. In 1950s Ireland it was put down to a physical malaise caused by communist blathering. They backed off with a polite warning. He was a civil servant by then: that particular type tended to get away with a lot.
My brother Arnold, six years older than me, remembers Top of the Pops posters falling from the four walls in the back bedroom when he stared into the old grotty dressing table mirror. The same dressing table that recently got an upcycle by Annie Sloan chalk paint that transforms any surface without the need for undercoats and such. Myself and a teenage pal Geraldine used to sit drinking cider and smoking dope in that mirror until she eventually got the creeps sufficient and wouldn’t come to our house anymore. Another brother, Paul, went clear mad in that room. Ran off to the British Army and got caught up in the Falklands — not actually fighting — but overseeing penguins and derelict army buildings when everyone else scarpered. He put a £90,000 bet on a horse and flung himself out a B&B window in Warwick after they paid to get rid of him. My mother invited him home to rest it out but he stayed five years and turned mustard yellow in the room. He eventually died giving himself over to numerous medical trials to feed his gambling habit. He always said he saw faces and not just in the dead leg of night. Mean wizened women’s faces, out of holy nowhere, in the glass panel of the kitchen door leading out into the back garden. There were so many rumours about the clump of houses (not just ours) not far from the old walls of the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. In Irish: Glas Naíon, meaning ‘stream of the infants’. A stream infected with famine-time cholera from sinking bodies in the nearby crater of graveyard. That was one theory for some residents going a bit plinky-plonky. Ley lines, lead pipes, electrical brain teasers from mobile phone masts. Nothing was ever proven.
It was a sky-drenched night in November sometime in the late 1970s when Frank came home with chicken balls from the Chinese. He was pissed out of his brains as usual. From the crimped lace curtains draped across the sitting room window I saw him crawl on his blue-gout hands and gabardine knees from the Datsun Sunny, unable to walk upright on two legs. The takeaway stuck to his teeth like a Residents’ Association Annual Dinner doggy bag. There’d been rumpus of a dog with rabies scaring women and children outside Our Lady of Dolours Church. Aulones hen-huddling around laminated posters of a neon thermometer advertising the advantages of the Billings Method for holy contraception, paying attention to the sensations of sacred vulvas. They talked about the rabid dog with juice spilling from his mouth. At age nine, I thought the dog might be Frank. He was so very angry every evening when he returned home from work. Arnold was in the porch, mop of blonde milling into his young punk girlfriend’s face. ‘Get that slag out of here!’ Frank roared, as the key hunted the bockety lock of the main door, crooked on its cheap wood frame from previous assaults. A favourite trick was to catch one of the sons just as they reached freedom point, banging the growing body he owned up against the glass panels, shouting, ‘Think you’re able to get out of here easily buster!’ I scurried from the sitting room into the cloakroom in the hall, shutting the door tight, lighting my magic candle. The whiff of sulphur from the match a strange comfort. A scuttle of some sort, then a very loud scream. My mother and sister’s voices snaking the air in high venomous pitches. Oh a clump then. Body falling with a thump and thwack. Slush-puppy red blood on the wall, as I’d soon see, being wiped with small yellow sponges by small white hands. Paul’s head split open with a car jack. ‘Go to bed!’ my mother screamed. ‘All of you, get to bed, I’ll deal with this.’
Point is, he was never going to leave the house willingly, even in ancient age. And the house was never going to spew him up willingly either. In reality he had this vulgar indwelling of power despite the whiskey having pinched his mind, his heart, his intellectual abilities, his ambition, his bowels, his bank, his false teeth, his legs. When they first married my mother Emma was his World War II coal queen for sure. The newly-built 1950s Semi-D had four fireplaces, including one in a double bedroom upstairs for any wife to squeeze babies out in comfort to lay snug in a chest of drawers. No one bought cots in advance then. A mantlepiece adorned with a Padre Pio genuflection, ceramic Holy Mary, broken fire-guard, a photograph of her dead father dancing at a tea party and a Dusty Bin; won in a Blackpool bingo hall in 1981. I was born in this room.
Back in the days of Pat-a-cake, of hand-jive, when asked that first time she curbed a smile, and ran like mad, in her A-line skirt and Bobby-socks. My father ran after her. All of what you’d expect, naturally. It may have been the dead baby, lifeless in a Clarks’ shoe box on the bedroom floor, that had the final say. Or it may have been nothing peculiar at all. Missed promotion in work, boredom, a stray urge. But sometime in his thirties, he left himself and us behind. Yet we continued to love him despite the emotional violence, the daily drudge, the drinking, the incessant arguing, the drab awful iron-clad impossibility of it all. As you’d expect towards a father or a husband by a certain societal proxy. A hangover from Victorian times, maybe. We loved him because it was required of us. We battled hard to understand why he was always in such intense pain, why he needed to pass on some of that pain so readily to us.
For the last three years, with everyone else gone, he’d wandered into the smelly elderly and utterly struggling pit. Manning the walls all day like a woodturner. Agonising over what we now know were mites of madness softening at the base of his brainstem. He cried out in the Murano glass corridors of sleep and at least a few times a night would clamber into our bedroom, where my mother and I slept after he became properly incontinent. Cumin-coloured puddles on the brown lino in the bathroom, all the way down to the extension where he sometimes relieved himself in a green bucket with a broken lid if he got lost. He’d enquire as to where he was, looking for an explanation for the clatter trap in his head. Kept saying ‘sorry’ for something he was never able to remember having done. ‘I can’t cope with him anymore,’ my mum said. He had dementia. We were exhausted. It seemed no one else out there cared. Our local GP said he no longer made house calls because the HSE wouldn’t pay doctors for such variants of care since the recession. He had to make it to the surgery or rot. Towards the end of two summers ago, maybe in 2013 or thereabouts (it’s hard to recall exactly) I rang social workers attached to the local health board, put a plan in place and that was that. We were not to know what would happen. We had no experience of this kind of thing. Even in retelling the story, I find I’m just as upset and confused as when I lived through it. I cannot be absolutely sure of what occurred, of the timeline, except for the following: The day came. We both said, ‘Be strong, this is it, the only way forward!’ Even as he sat in his wheelchair facing out at the eggy sun for the first time in four years, the house showed signs of a problem. A water tank in the attic, only replaced the previous year, decided to manifest a swollen belly on the toilet ceiling, bursting through its own guts before the lift arrived. A mirror smashed with no window open or air circulating anywhere. The fridge gasped itself to a halt. I looked right at her and said, ‘Don’t even say it! Don’t be ridiculous! Don’t be reductive! We’re doing the right thing.’ I felt that the whole point of being here, of being human, was to take responsibility. That’s what we were doing, surely? God knows he couldn’t do it! He was incapable of doing anything. ‘Try to remember that much,’ I said to mum. She suffered hugely through all of this. She had made her bed. She would ’till Doomsday’ lie on it.
Four days in a row he rang pleading for his life. We told him ‘NO!’ He could stay there for a month and give us time to clean up the house. It smelt like a Berlin urinal. It would have to be fumigated for starters. We would have to organise a new bed. Possibly a downstairs toilet with washing facilities. There might even be a grant available to convert the garage as elections were only around the corner. ‘I can’t cope with this awful place, you’re my wife, please take me home!’ My mother never stood up to him, ever. She tried to poison his stew once, but that was a long time ago. Rummaging around the garage shelves for the black and yellow box. Me in my brown school uniform, cradling her from behind as she stood at the bubbling pot on the free-standing gas cooker caked with dirt, tipping it in like a schitzy witch. ‘You’re in there for respite, I need a rest too,’ she told Frank, slamming the phone down. On Day Three he had a bombastic stroke. On Day Seven we were summoned. ‘He has deteriorated significantly, especially emotionally,’ the nurse said. ‘I’m so sorry, but it could’ve happened anytime, anywhere.’ We didn’t quite know what she meant by that but when we saw him, by Jove we got a shock for sure. We’d traipsed the ward three times before we accepted the sack of crumpled grey maudlin was the same feisty person we left off just the week before. It took three more days and threats of legal action to get him moved from the stinking old TB sanatorium in the park to a proper hospital for the specialist treatment he needed. Do Not Resuscitate, the sign above the bed read. Young slip of a thing from Killiney or somewhere affluent like that said with his age, with his expected quality of life, with the general prognosis (of which they were still not fully certain) there was no point in doing much at all. Just sit it out, wait it out. His life was now a junk shop egg timer. Throat broken. Stomach empty. His head, well, basically in not so many words, it had begun to thoroughly scoff itself. Middle cerebral artery: considerable shrinkage. Clots, many. Brain bleeds; more to be expected. Aspiration pneumonia. Muscle damage. He screamed. Roared. Pegged at us as if he were grabbing on to a half-inflated lifeboat. We should go home and take it handy, try to get on with things. Especially her, his wife, the overseer of his decline. She needed to push ahead, look after herself. Put loose things in perspective. Everyone will get to this point. There’s really little to do when it happens.
That night I woke at 2.23 am. I will never forget the exact time because I saw in the pitiful light of the green alarm clock, my father crawling around the wall like a crazed lizard. His body partially flattened with his old navy office clothes flipping and sagging. A much smaller head, but his eyes: a ferocious sickly yellow. His neck bent as if it had been snapped and yanked back into place with a heap of loose skin sewn back on roughly. Flipping and flopping around on top of the Billy bookcases, side to side, like you’d expect to see in House of Reptiles at Dublin Zoo. The most revolting noise as well. A kind of clacking that didn’t befit his human form. His smaller body thumped along the furniture as if he/it wanted to attack, priming itself for incursion. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. Flicked on the bedside lamp. Checked for my mother in the other bed to see if she was still in deep snooze. Her small frame slowly rising and falling back into the pink sheets. I was stuck in the forecourt of some outlandish car wash, with the engine on and no idea where to head to next. I stayed like that for a good hour and the vision of absolute repugnance didn’t falter or fade or go away. I could barely breathe or move, my limbs became sore with fright. I could hear the mechanism in my chest chug out and suck in stale air, but I carried on watching him flip and hurtle and scoot with no sign of halting. Until that bilious moment in time I thought I knew what being on the planet entailed, what it was all about, what I could expect at the worst corners of paranoia or down times. But I knew nothing. It had become rayless in a sore nocturnal second; opaque, obscure.
Just once, a bitsy time in autumn 1982, did he catch hold of the ethereal air balloon and partially rise to the skies. It had been another dreadful week in the house, the first coal fire of late September. In the kitchen we’d placed blue diner chairs around the roasty flickers, toasting slices of Brennan’s bread on long meat forks at the very top of the fire. My sister Lucy started a new job as medical secretary in Doctor Stevens Hospital and was home early. Frank was on one of his extended rampages, resuming yesterday’s argument with whoever he could as soon as he demolished through the door, carrying it on into tomorrow, leading back into today. The rule of thumb was to stay still and silent when the key clicked. To see. To see if the coat would be thrown off and deposited at the end of the banisters. If he couldn’t be bothered to walk to the cloakroom and hang it up, it meant business. He banged through to the kitchen and said, ‘Well?’ Of course no one answered. If you answered it would be a dragnet. ‘Well, anyone got anything to say? Anyone feeling brave in here?’ We did not answer. He bungled past the side of the formica table banging into our lovely fireside chairs. He seemingly jumped high in the air (no one dared have eyes on him to see it happening), landing on Lucy’s bare feet with his chunky brogues. Of course she wailed, as you’d expect. Paul, who was hiding behind the fridge playing house detective, two years older than Lucy, ran out and grabbed Frank by the shirt collar, dragging him out to the hall backwards as he continued to wriggle like a Mekong giant catfish balancing against the top ridges of a too-small boat. Paul bounced on him, kicking him in the full of the back and head. So many tunks and clonks. ‘Kill him!’ Arnold shouted. ‘Fuck him up.’ I milled out into the back garden and stayed there until it grew dark. I shadowed wild pigs and razor-tusked beasts with a makeshift spear one of the boys stole from a day out at the Scouts, fashioned from a sweeping brush. It stuck in the grass at brilliant primitive angles though it took some skill to get it to stay rigid in the mud of the vegetable patches. It seemed the rest of them forgot about me or else they thought it was best I stayed lost out there for a while. When I rambled into the sitting room some hours later after it got too cold, Frank was collapsed unconscious on his armchair that no one else was ever allowed sit on. ‘Don’t look,’ my mum said. ‘Look straight at the telly, here, you can hire it if you like, just this once.’ She handed me the huge remote control boasting eleven fat buttons. Such a rare treat, especially as it was brand new, snugly wrapped in a thin film of moon-blue plastic.
After the lizard sighting my mum claimed she’d heard him calling out for hours, Emma! Emma! Emma! ‘I’m not the better for it,’ she declared, the next morning. I was up at the crack of dawn trying to steady myself, doing things around the house that had been abandoned for some time. ‘It’s understandable,’ I assured her. ‘It’s a kind of guilt, you know, you’re feeling all out of sorts with the way he is, what he’s going through.’ No, she was utterly convinced it was really his bellow she heard. ‘At one point I even heard him knocking on the window trying to get in.’ I thought of their window, the front double bedroom window, climbing out when we had the silly séance with a matchbox as a planchette back in the day. We all legged it from the house in unison, a herd of eleven-year-olds. ‘Move if there’s anyone here! Move if you can hear us!’ Then it flew off the bed, hitting the radiator all the way over at the far wall. It seemed an impossible manoeuvre for one of us with our little fingers and no experience yet of the trickery out there in the vast sickly world. Vickie Cawley laughing as ten crows. Me in pure fright mode. Billie Dunne jumping out that bloody window twenty feet up and running for dear life. It was only two weeks after she found the baby in the plastic bag down the laneway backing onto the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity convent. Same location where they later found twenty two babies and sixty skeletons of women whose deaths were never registered. Billie stumbled across the bag in 1981, opening it up without really understanding what she was looking at. Though a tiny bloodless hand was enough to send her rocketing. I guess this was how young women got rid of unwanted evidence back then. It wouldn’t happen now with advances in DNA, with advances in social conscience. On the day of our séance my mother was working at the RDS Horse Fair on the Rowntree’s chocolate stall: Munchies, Caramacs, Mars Bars. All the leftovers were piled into a large shopping bag and dragged across the city home to us. It was the first time I was allowed look after the house without Arnold or my sister Lucy in situ. When my mother got home, she slapped me clear across the chops. She may have already met one of the mothers on her way — Billie Dunne’s was particularly hysterical — but if not her trademark intuition told her I had got involved with something unenlightened. Something mischievous and corrupt. She could feel it. The cold throughout the house was cave-like, wet and heavy.
The next visit wasn’t even in the deferential cubbyhole of night. I was sitting on the toilet with the door wide open, staring out into the landing, thinking. It was mid afternoon. Thinking of how to make her life better in the time she had left (she was already eighty years old). Thinking about how to access his funds to do essential repairs to the house, especially the kitchen and damp bedroom walls, which were, after years of neglect, in a dreadful state. Everything was in his name. She was Mistress of Nothing. What I saw next makes me feel like I may have already been a composed and submissive inmate in the Asylum. He thundered up the stairs his head intact as I had remembered it but a spider’s absurd blackened body, eight legs quivering on the carpet in front of me. Darted about turning to stare me right in the face. In a moment’s stampede of panic he was gone again. I jumped so quick off the toilet screaming at the top of my lungs, ‘Mum! Mum! Jesus Christ, help me mum!’ Back to being a child again.
There was this thing about seeing Frank on stairwells. Around 1986, I was a teenage Mod with a sharply carved Bob, blue bootleg trousers, a round puppyfat face slathered in Rimmel pale-biscuit make-up. I worked the summer months hand-delivering invoices around Dublin city for a pinstripe freak who sold encyclopaedias to people who wanted to show off knowledge on the shelf. Life was good, I was toying with freedom, heading to all-night Northern Soul dances and live music gigs, new people, new sensations. I lived on a diet of space dust and cans of Campbells meatballs in gravy. The quays were full of antique shops, musty solicitor’s offices and telephone boxes good for drinking on the hoof when the 7pm witching hour hit. I spotted Frank on my postal rounds early one afternoon climbing up a metal staircase on Ormond Quay fixing his trousers, fixing himself, zipping his life back up. He seemed properly smug and satisfied. Smiling minus that trademark sneer. I honestly hadn’t seen that before, Frank as haphazard man. He stared at me and I at him and we both walked on by without a word. ‘He won’t last like this,’ my mum said when I told her. ‘He can’t go on.’ She was fairly sure she could get him back on track if he just knocked the booze on the head for a few months or more. He’d already been with her friend by then too and in the pitch of night she’d stay up around the smouldering ashes to write him letters her doctor advised would help. She was to make sure to throw them in the fire when her emotions were done. It wouldn’t be fair to expect a man like that to take on all manner of female fragmentary. He had a very important and utterly stressful day job that many men of lesser stock couldn’t endure. That night, after I’d seen him in town on the black basement steps, he returned home with Chinese chicken balls once again, this time for the whole family. Lava-hot balls of scrumptiousness in mini grease-proof bags, snowed in gorgeous lumpy rock salt. When you bit into them the chicken played a strange trick on your tongue, opening out like a new expensive umbrella, pushing suitcases of hot batter around the gum-line. For a few hours, it made us ridiculously happy.
Of course my mother was no longer capable of remembering these golden nuggets. All this harping on about how the stroke was probably our fault. We didn’t give it to him! If he had just allowed a bit more for our help at home, we would not have insisted he be removed in the way that he was. Obviously he had a problem with it too. What we needed to know was if he was doing this deliberately. Was he wilfully, determinedly, trying to teach us a lesson for what we had done, when in reality, we were left with no choice by then? ‘Dealing with this is like dealing with a forest fire,’ nurse Blathnaid said. ‘Even people with the height of expertise cannot deal with this at home sufficiently. There comes a time when you have to let the person go.’ He is talking about old relations long-dead and I asked her, ‘Could he really be seeing them?’ It is a ‘thing’ with people who are sick, apparently. He will not be aware that they have already passed. Is he caught in some foyer between? I wondered. ‘It doesn’t make sense that he would ask about his brother Edward,’ my mother said. ‘God knows he couldn’t stand him when he was alive. Him or his ugly Sligo wife’ We have to stop this, I told her, we have to accept that he’s getting the proper care and we have a right to live in the house now, the best we can. The kitchen had been fixed up: cream shaker with high-quality Italian stone tiles; a new water tank with titanium coating; floorboards in the front bedroom replaced entirely (as the urine had burnt right through). ‘For a second I thought he was there in the porch late one night,’ she said. No! that was the milkman I told her. At this stage it helped to be stern about the whole ordeal. Such was her slave mentality towards him for so long that she found it almost impossible to disentangle from him in a meaningful way. We painted the bedroom at the back where we both slept a genial grey, with some of the furniture a Provence green to ward off the evil eye. The garage was cleared of his things and the garden tidied up to such an extent that you could now sit on a small stone chantry down the end and draw in the air in long protracted puffs.
At evening time I thought it best to summon him in the mirror to stop any of the nonsense that would no doubt occur later on. She was already so scared of going to bed that I moved her into the spare single room where he wouldn’t think to go. All the years growing up he never bothered any of us in there. I gave her some Ambien along with a few Panadol to aid sleep into the night and sprinkled some valerian and Roman Chamomile essential oils on her pillow. Tucked away in there from early evening until well into the following day, I began to feel that she was not part of this anymore, that I had chaperoned her away from potential suffering or fright.
His presence in the dressing table mirror was amorphous and vague, as if to show his full self to me was not part of the greater plan, that I was somehow not worthy. He would not have been like this with any of my brothers, had they been alive, but men of his generation were sodden in misogyny whether they cared to admit to it or not. Though I didn’t doubt for a second that he was there, looking back at me, sneering, informing me that no man would come to the door in a rush to take me out, that my skin wasn’t the best, that really I wasn’t the cleverest of them, a few forks short of a picnic basket, and more besides. His seething hatred began to make me laugh, as if any empathy I had left for him and his lousy condition was hidden away in a beanpole storage facility, the type that people use for bundles of clothes they hope will come back into fashion someday. ‘Do you think I don’t remember what happened on Bingo Nights all those years ago?’ I told him. ‘When I pissed the bed and you rolled me out like a sausage roll and said I had to wait in the hall until mum got home.’ Putting me in that whiskey-fart bed on Sunday evenings because you were too lazy to babysit properly downstairs, when all I wanted was to watch Worzel Gummidge. What a lousy father you were but still you made us feel sorry for you. It was always about you. And what the hell did you do for your parents after they left Ireland? You barely bothered your arse ever seeing them again. When you did you were pissed out of your mind. They rang us here to complain, across the Irish Sea, you with no respect, turning up for funerals two days late. You who demands so much of us now! What a bloody joke! Do your worst, go on, do your worst. Do whatever you think will work at this stage and do it with your sick brain in all its shrinking glory! Oh but if you think it stopped him slinking into those horrible animal forms and darting around furniture at night, my grousing in the mirror only made him worse and brought him nearer to me, instead of up on top of the bookshelves or the wardrobes or the wall. A ferret slinking in and out of the bed bars at my feet, leaving drops of sweat and other depositions for me to see in the mornings.
When she passed away in the single room I didn’t have her removed straight away because that’s exactly what he would’ve expected to happen. He’d expect her to be lying there, in state, in Masseys on the Old Finglas Road, a twin set and her navy skirt (always in navy, like a sailor’s wife on a first trip abroad, hoping to appear smart no matter where they would go). I didn’t mention to him either that she was gone as I wanted to see if he’d tell me about it, if he really had the upper hand when it came to using his intuition, his greedy appetite for a good hunch. But he hadn’t a breeze! He did however begin to appear more frequently, more sonorously if you like, in the mirror. I am not sure if this was a kind of latent protest, but the house joined in by breaking even more of itself up. The heating system gave out and the plumbing at the back of the shower fell to pieces completely. Twice I had to get a local hood in to bash things back into place or replace the piping entirely. Black mould broke out on the walls of both bedrooms. Dreadful shapes in butterfly splats and distant familiar outlines (the one of the Eiffel tower was funny, but I made sure not to laugh out loud), which I’d rouge over with the Annie Sloan chalk paint within hours of appearing.
I miss her terribly but part of me is glad she is resting up accordingly. No more, ‘Oh God, do you think we should go back out to him today? Does he have enough dark chocolate? Is there still a problem with his swallow? Are there enough clothes out there? I don’t want them to think we’re not making enough of an effort’. She had herself tortured to the point where she gave Catholic martyr wives a pitiful name. Sad too that she would never get to go on a Royal Caribbean Cruise ship that I had promised we’d do. Those ships are something else! Ascend three hundred feet above sea level in a North Star capsule! Fine dining extravaganza that holds more than two thousands merry-makers at a time! He hardly took her anywhere truth be told, not for a long time. Hadn’t the energy, or the self-governance.
Now that it’s just the two of us I feel I have an opportunity to understand him a bit more. I hope that if he sees that I know how he feels, how hurt he is, he might stop his games around the house and reach some sort of compromise. The dressing table was made for them when they first got married by a very talented carpenter, huge money, with the promise that no other identical piece existed in the whole of Glasnevin. The mirror carved in a classic baroque style. It’s good to concentrate on the positive aspects of where we were now, and to forget all the things that didn’t work in the past. He wanted to be a writer, for instance, but couldn’t quite stick at it, not like I am now. ‘There is a lot more to life than jumping at every silly ambition that lands on your mat,’ I told him. He thinks this is a sound observation and one that will ward off disappointment from expectations that are perhaps a bit too high. ‘That’s the problem these days, people want so bloody much,’ he says. Isn’t it so true! We are able to agree, which I feel is genuine progress. To think we were so petrified of him all those years ago when he was the one who was clearly so terrified of us. I get that now. Christ do I get it. That I would hide up here under the scratchy horse blankets during fights. Fingers so deep in my ears they’d be sticky and sore when my sister would eventually burst into the room to reef them out again. ‘He’s gone off to bed,’ she’d say. ‘The coast is clear for now and mum has yummy shortbread in the oven.’

 

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June Caldwell
June’s short story collection is due in 2017 with New Island Books. Her story SOMAT is published in the award-winning The Long Gaze Back – An Anthology of Irish Women Writers edited by Sinéad Gleeson and was chosen as a ‘favourite’ by The Sunday Times. Shortlisted and/or Highly Commended for: The Colm Toíbín International Short Story Award; Lorian Hemingway (USA); Sunday Business Post/Penguin Ireland Short Story Prize; RTÉ Guide/Penguin Ireland short story competition; Over The Edge New Writer of the Year. She is a recipient of a John Hewitt bursary and an Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) literature award after completing an MA in Creative Writing at Queens’ University, Belfast. Her short fiction is published in The Moth, The Stinging Fly, Sixteen Magazine, Literary Orphans, RTÉ Ten, The Bogman’s Cannon, North West Words, Woven Tale Press, and Popshot Magazine, as well as a biography of a Trouble’s moll with Gill & MacMillan (2006). You can listen to June talking about writing short stories on Hen House with further mention of her writing on CBC Sunday Edition (Canada).