Little Madam

12 11 2009

Regina locked the bathroom door. She hung her bathrobe up and pushed the potty from the middle of the floor with the side of her foot. It hadn’t been used the previous night, a sign the Little Madam, as she called her daughter, was getting the idea of not waking Mammy at night.

She stepped into the shower and allowed the warming water to run over her head. The shiver helped her revive after the nights of interrupted sleep. As the water hit the temperature between warm and hot she shuddered more violently. She wanted to check the door was locked but calmed the rising panic by repeating aloud that she had locked it, that it was alright.

Once the hot water ran down her back she began to relax again. It was ridiculous that after all these years she was still ruled by a single unfortunate incident. An accident even.

As she soaped and scrubbed she willed herself to think it through. She had been fifteen years old, not quite fully tall but well developed in every other way. Initially pleased at her male school friend’s attentions, by fifteen she was weary of them and repulsed them with angry feminist tirades. They weren’t alone in receiving the sharp end of her tongue; she berated her mother for not working outside the home, for being under her father’s thumb. Her mother would sigh, look sad and tell her she would understand in time.

In the mornings, she liked to rise earliest and take her time in the shower. She would stand under the running water allowing her thoughts to flow. One such day she stood covered in suds when the bathroom door opened. Peering through the frosted glass of the shower cubicle she thought she recognized her father’s figure. Frozen she watched the ghostly shape close and lock the door.

Defenseless she waited. What could she do? Her bathrobe was too far away, she would expose herself completely to him. She could shout, tell him to leave but with the sound of the shower, he might not hear.

Her father walked to the toilet, raised the seat and began to pee. He seemed oblivious as he farted repeatedly. It was too late to shout, in listening to his toilet Regina had entered a zone of intimacy she couldn’t break free from. She let the water run scalding across her shoulders as he washed his hands. He left the bathroom without a glance to the shower cubicle.

She’d waited for an age before she moved. Wrapping her towel tightly around her she waited again before leaving the bathroom. Her father had openly wondered why she avoided him, but decided teenage girls were a mystery he couldn’t solve. Even when she was alone in the house, she locked the door.

Now there was a frantic hammering at the door. Regina rinsed herself, refusing to be rushed. The hammering continued and now she heard Jim calling her name. Reluctantly she turned off the water, stepped out, wrapped herself in the robe and unlocked the door.

Jim was on his knees awkwardly hugging the crying Little Madam. He held her away from him avoiding her soaked pyjama bottoms, hugging her neck alone.

He looked accusingly at Regina, “The least you could have done was left the door unlocked. We’ve been knocking for ten minutes and she couldn’t hold it any longer.”





The Lake

14 10 2009

Marie nudged the pony up the rugged path. Shaggy obliged, neatly stepping through the switchbacks of the steep track. They were sheltered here, once they reached the ridge the wind would hit them directly, blowing across the bogs and whipping up the water on the lake. In the hour she’d been riding Marie had calmed a little. Her mother was being unreasonable and stubborn. If her father wasn’t away she could have persuaded him and he could have worked his patient magic on her mother. He had a way of convincing Mammy that Marie lacked. She was too like Mammy and they clashed as a result. Nearing the top of the track Shaggy’s ear’s began to prick at the rising wind. Marie leaned over his neck, a few moments more shelter.

Marie wanted to go to Frank’s debs and her mother was refusing to let her. The debutante ball would be supervised; all the teachers from Frank’s school were going. Marie promised she wouldn’t drink and even meant it. She’d seen a dress in Bray that would be fabulous, but she’d be happy to rent one if expense was the problem. The wind whipped around her as the crested the ridge, causing her to shiver. Shaggy paused a moment surveying the ground. There were boggy patches on the flat ridge which he sidestepped sticking to the stones and grassy hummocks.

The problem was two years. Two short years. Frank was eighteen, finished school and about to go to university. Marie was sixteen and her mother’s little girl. She’d never get to grow up at this rate, even when she was forty she could see her mother click her tongue over something she didn’t do right. Never mind that she and Frank had known each other forever, never mind that they started seeing each other before either of them knew what that meant. Mammy didn’t approve of Frank, he wasn’t good enough for her little girl. She refused to let him in the house and forbade Marie from seeing him. Daddy stepped in when he realised that the ban hadn’t stopped them. He mediated a treaty supported by Frank’s mother that allowed them to see each other under strict supervision. The supervision had relaxed in the years since then. Marie thought Mammy’s refusal to let her go to the debs ridiculous in the circumstances.

Instead of going along the ridge Marie directed Shaggy to the opposite side. Battling the wind Shaggy seemed reluctant, he knew the way home and this wasn’t it. At the top of the cliff Marie looked down at the lake directly below. The brown bogwater of the lake shimmered as the wind whipped across it, opposing gusts sending ripples colliding. Under the overcast sky the lake looked black and mysterious, surrounded by a horseshoe of cliffs and the gentle slope of the bog below. A large white triangle loomed up from under the lake. It was huge and had a picture of a red and blue wing on the side. As Marie dismounted her legs went from under her and she sat on the damp bog. It was the upright of the tail of a plane, a big plane.

She stood pulling on the reins for support, and looked around. She could see ridges of the surrounding mountains, their gentle tops, grass and heather. The wind prevented her from hearing anything. There was no fire, no track of turmoil left by a falling plane. There was nothing unusual but this tail floating in the lake below.

She remounted the pony, urged him to a canter and directed him to the path home. There was nothing she could do there. There was no one to help. She headed for home. Mammy would know what to do. She’d know who to call, who to inform. She’d know the best road through the area and she might even guess where such a plane would come to ground.





The Devil and Mrs. O’Connor

6 10 2009

“Good Lord! How did you get in here?”

Mrs. O’Connor stared at the tall man standing in her kitcher. His hair was slicked back from a high forehead and his goatee was perfectly trimmed. There was a faint smell of burnt toast.

“I swear I just checked all the doors. And I lock all the windows a person could fit through.” She sniffed and walked around him to check the back door. “Locked, you see.” She unplugged the toaster, checked the stove and oven were turned off.

“I can get in anywhere I want.” The man’s voice was deep and smooth. Mrs. O’Connor thought of the ad with the liquid chocolate pouring luxuriantly.

“I don’t like that tone, young man.”

“I’m anything but young, Mrs. O’Connor. I’m older than your very world.”

Mrs. O’Connor blushed to the roots of her blue-rinse hair. The man’s voice poured chocolate over parts of her anatomy she hadn’t shown any man in years. “Well, it’s not very nice to appear in someone’s kitchen and not even introduce yourself.” She tried to sound angry, hoping he wouldn’t notice the blush.

“I’m anything but nice, Mrs. O’Connor. Do you not know who I am?”

Mrs. O’Connor looked at his hair, manicure, floor-length leather coat and ridiculously pointed boots. “Maybe I do but what can I call you?” The scent of burning increased, Mrs. O’Connor thought she detected the edge of a scorch mark under his feet.

“You may call me Lucifer.”

Chocolate poured, over images few sixty-seven year olds found suitable viewing. “Can I call you Beelzebub?”

“No.” A drop formed.

“Can I call you the Dark Lord?”

“No.” The drop filled out, refusing to fall.

“Can I call you the Anti-Christ?”

“No.” The drop was straining to fall, pulling under it’s own weight of liquid chocolate. Mrs. O’Connor waited, barely breathing.

“Don’t you want to know why I’m here?” The drop fell, sending a splash of heat through Mrs. O’Connor, spreading from her hysterectomy scar outward.

“I have my suspicions.” Mrs. O’Connor grinned like a schoolgirl.

Lucifer frowned and the smell of burning increased. “I’m here to offer you a bargain: your son’s future for your soul.”

The mention of her son seemed highly inappropriate. Lucifer continued, “I will save him from his drug habit and his debts if you give me your soul for eternity.”

Mrs. O’Connor blushed, this time with anger. “My son is a lazy good-for-nothing. We gave him every opportunity and he refused every one of them. His brother’s are all doing well for themselves; it’s his choice to live as he does. We’ve all tried to reason with him, we’ve put him in treatment, paid his debts but nothing changes. Within a month it’s always back to the same.”

Lucifer stared, “Do you refuse my bargain? You are resigned to see you son depraved and miserable.”

“We’ve done it all and nothing’s worked. Your bargain is worthless and will leave two in the same state.” Mrs. O’Connor blinked back tears.

Lucifer stared and the lights in the kitchen dimmed. The burning increased and the smoke alarm in the hall began to  beep. The lights went out leaving the gleam of Lucifer’s eyes bright in the kitchen. “You will regret your decision, Mrs. O’Connor.”

“Well, we’ll see. Wait a bit. I wanted to ask…it’s been a few years since Mr. O’Connor passed on and I miss the… company, you know.”

The eye’s glowed red. But Mrs. O’Connor continued, “You have a bit of a wayward reputation, I don’t suppose you could fit in a bit of a ravishing before you leave?”

The eyes burned fiercely, leaving imprints on Mrs. O’Connor’s retina, before disappearing completely. The lights came on, revealing two footprints scorched through the lino right to the cement floor underneath.

Mrs. O’Connor sighed, “Typical man, never think things through, leave a mess and don’t even do what you ask them to.”





A Cut Too Far

11 09 2009

James forgot as he stepped out of bed. Luckily Janine was in the kitchen making tea so he was spared her sarcastic sympathies. He pulled himself up on the bed and looked at the bandage. The wound ached after his fall but there were no signs of seepage or bleeding. He dressed carefully, leaving a polished right shoe behind in the wardrobe.

 

Janine dropped him at the station on her way to the school. She was going to visit her aunt outside the city afterwards. The Volvo gleamed as she drove away, catching the morning sunlight. It was worth it. Though his embarrassment about the club outing still hadn’t abated.

 

He passed a beggar by the station entrance. The man had one arm, one eye and was missing both legs beneath the knee. James shuddered; it was such an easy slope to slide down. In the last few months more and more disfigureds were taking to the street. Some were genuinely homeless but there were rumours others lived in mansions; losing their jobs after they became disfigured they began to beg for a living. James threw a few coins in the man’s plate, dropping them from the remaining two fingers and thumb of his left hand.

 

On the platform there were more bandages visible, they were increasing lately. Most of the disfigured people were in suits but there were a few young students. Initially it was to discourage borrowing beyond a person’s means but people adjust to anything in time. Some were missing toes, evident in the off-balance way they stood. James leaned on the crutch as he hopped to the end of the platform.

 

“Hi James.” Malcolm had two fingers removed the month previous. James warned him not to but he had insisted it was the only way. “How else will I get the kids into the private school.”

“But if you start now, what will you have left by the time they go to college?”

“Something will turn up by then. Besides look at you, you’re losing your toes, sorry your foot, next week. For what? A car.”

“Janine needs it. She can’t do the school run in the Fiesta.”

 

On the platform Malcolm grinned, “So what did she say?”

“Who?” James wished he could change the subject.

“Your wife. What did she say when she found out you weren’t just getting the toes off.”

“Oh, she was ok.”

“Really! My wife was dead against my getting the fingers off. Started ranting on about banks and butchers and what a loan meant in the old days.”

 

Janine had been delighted until she found out what James wanted to do with the extra money. Then she laughed. A lot. “James, what kind of idiot are you? You get your toes off to buy a car but your foot off to go on a club holiday. Not just any holiday either, a golfing holiday!”





The Guide

4 09 2009

The child is her own and yet he’s not. June recognises her eyes but the hair is different. It’s a sandy brown she knows to be soft and fragrant, unlike her own dry blond. His hand is snug in hers, pulling her shoulder down so she stoops to the right. His grasp is firm, confident of her care.

He is three. She has seen him at many ages, from crying newborn to sulky teenager. He never speaks, he doesn’t need to.

Now he needs a bathroom. She must find one.

His safety and happiness are her responsibility. June isn’t weighed down by this but freed from her own selfishness by it. She would starve so he could eat, thirst so he could drink; this never-born child.

He fidgets a little. His need for a bathroom increases. She must act to save him from an accident.

They are in a long corridor full of doors. It is a dormitory and she knows there are bathrooms halfway down. They walk together but she sees swathes of toilet paper flowing out the doors. June can’t bring him in; can’t expose him to the student toilets. That is not the solution.

How can she know this boy? A woman who never gave birth. She doesn’t know his name. Perhaps he never had one.

They walk back along the corridor and start down the stairs. June pauses on each step while he steps beside her.  His grip tightens on her hand, the urge increasing. Now he hops ahead of her.

June accepts the boy’s appearance in her dreams with resignation. First she fought against the guilt and fear that followed in his wake. Now she is comforted by his return in a life of departures.

She hurries down but the stairs spiral ahead with no end. Should she stop him and allow him to relieve himself against the wall? Should she pick him up and run? Should she run back up the stairs?

There is a problem to be solved. One she cannot avoid. She must let go her fear and see beyond herself. A solution, dread by day, becomes the only one in the clear light of her dream.

She looks down at the boy. He smiles up, a pure radiance of hope. She smiles back. Everything will work out.