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The Body Coat

© Máighréad Medbh

Excerpt from Part One: Jacqui Byrnes


Jacqui Byrnes' Diary

Monday 3rd February

It's watching me. I know it is. That's why I'm writing this down. It'll help me keep a grip on things and maybe I'll be laughing at myself after a while. I can feel it all the time, but especially around dusk. Outside that window, like a monster waiting for the right time to attack. I know I sound mad but I'm not.

Tuesday 4th February

I'm in Drumnashee four days now. On Saturday when we got here I thought it was a beautiful house. The space in it compared to what I had in Dublin! Three bedrooms, a front room, a living room, big kitchen, bathroom andtwo small spare rooms as well. Liam has already turned one of the spare rooms into a studio and he's putting equipment and videos into the other one. Compared with two rooms and a shower and toilet, this is pure luxury. A garden out the back as well.

"You can plant flowers and vegetables," said Liam, smirking. Sure I wouldn't have a clue. Wish I did. Anyway, my hands are full with the boys. I can just picture David smashing something with a spade.

Liam aggravates me something terrible. I don't know what mood he's going to be in from one minute to the next. He gives this speech on Saturday when I'm trying to unpack. He starts on about having to watch the money and conserve his resources now that he's after spending so much on the business. He wants me to do this weekly budget to manage my money. He sat down to explain it there and then. Sure Christ, I was up to my eyes. We hadn't eaten for hours, I couldn't find the bag of food I brought, I was exhausted from all the packing and the thought of the unpacking. Then I was trying to watch the boys too. David was running all over the place. I think he's hyper. Brian was bawling because he had diarrhoea and I had to change him every fifteen minutes.

"Can't we talk about it later? I'm up to my eyes."
"There's no such time as later," he said. "We'll do it now." So my fool sits down and listens, or rather tries to listen to this stuff he's going on with. He's talking about itemized expenditure and income and keeping receipts and he's making it all sound so fucking complicated.
"You want me to write down everything I buy as well every pound I get," I said in the end, exasperated beyond belief.
"Including the Children's Allowance of course," he said. "You should be able to run the house out of your Lone Parent's. I'll pay the rent."
"What about the ESB?"
He shoved his face up close to mine, and his eyes were glistening.
"Keep it down," he said. I suppose he meant he's leaving that to me too.

I don't know why I don't say more to him. He'd hit me alright, but I must have no guts at all. I used to say a few things, but it's like I'm getting more afraid of him as time goes on. He gets so pale when he's telling me to do stuff. Oh and then he started giving me instructions about how to unpack the boxes, which one to tackle first. I was thanking my lucky stars he came down six weeks ahead of me so I didn't have to cope with his unpacking too. My nerves were really racing. Still are. That's why I'm sitting here when I should be doing a million things. Speaking of nerves, I'm going to try cutting down on the valium. Being in the country should help me. Doesn't look too good at the moment though. We'll see.

Friday 7th February

We went to Dublin yesterday for my Lone Parent's Allowance. When I came out of the post office, Liam out of the blue said he was going to handle all the money coming into the house.

"I'll give you a housekeeping allowance," he said. "Your record when it comes to money is abyssmal."
"But this is my money." My voice was weak when I said it.
I wanted to remind him about what he said on Tuesday, but nothing would come out
He looked at me as if he was going to give me a slap in the mouth.
"You seem to have forgotten we're living together as of last Saturday. That means any money coming into the house is ours. Ours! And I'm a better manager. So I'll handle it."

His voice had gone low and hard. It gets like that when he's going to be vicious, so I kept quiet. The boys were in the back too. I felt like crying, but as the day went on I thought maybe it'd work out. He might be right. I'm always blowing my money and ending up robbing things. I want to stop all that and be respectable. And anyway, I pleaded with him to let us come to Drumnashee, so I can't say much. I thought getting out of the city would help us all. He never liked working in Taxes. Now that he's doing something he likes maybe he'll be better. He does seem to love taking pictures. Those cameras are like parts of his body.

He rang up Arthur to talk about the videos and stuff, and found out he had been killed in a car accident on Tuesday. Well, he really went down over it. I never saw him like that before. He was still in terrible form when he came home after work. I don't care really. Well, Arthur and myself weren't exactly close. He was a sleasebag to be blunt about it. His wife never knew half the stuff he got up to. Liam respected him though. I think he was the only person he'd stop and listen to and he never belittled him or gave him the cold treatment. He was the main supplier too, and he did the copying. I don't know what Liam will do without him.

So anyway, Liam came in about nine and he told me to sit down and talk to him. I couldn't very well refuse. It wasn't talking he wanted me to do at all but listening. Per usual. My wifely duty or whatever you'd call it when you're not married. He went on about how it had been so hard growing up the way he did, his father being that strict and his mother sick all the time. I don't know what that had to do with anything. How he was a poor green country boy when he came to Dublin first. All about the first time he met Arthur. Jesus, his voice grates on me. I hadn't much sympathy but I sat there anyway. I wish I didn't feel like this.

It's only the past while I'm getting this aggravated by him. I'm thinking, why does he have the right to wear the ears off me and boss me around and use me for what he wants? How did he get to be in that position and me in this one? I'm dwelling on everything he does, little things and big things. They say you have to forgive and forget to make a relationship work. Could you call what we have a 'relationship', I wonder?

Here I am - started the diary because I wanted to write about the hill and I haven't got round to it yet. I used to keep a diary before, when I was at home, and I realize now how good it is to write. It seems to make things a bit better, especially when there's no-one you can talk to. I was always good at writing in school too. Anyway, the hill. Nothing strange happened since Sunday. Maybe I was imagining things. But it was so real. I know I hallucinated before, but it was nothing like this. I mean, I was in a panic then and everything felt unreal to me. I think I just convinced myself I saw things to... I don't know... let off steam, get attention or something. I hope that's why.

The hill must be two hundred feet high. It doesn't look like there are any paths up it, just grass and stray bushes, and a big clump of trees at the top. In the daytime I feel a pull to walk up it, but at night I wish I was a thousand miles away.

I shouldn't be interrupted tonight because Liam is gone to Dublin for the funeral, so I'll put down what happened on Sunday evening. I was washing up after the dinner, Liam was gone out to talk to the fella he bought the Photographer's from, Michael O'Connell. Or so he said anyway. I was kind of happy. At least I was out of that hole of a flat. I was thinking how nice it was to be in the country again. And to have a bit of space for the boys. I was thinking maybe Liam'd be happier here and we wouldn't have as many problems. Maybe I'd get myself together and be a decent housewife or something. I was singing away to myself while I was washing the dishes. There I was, with my two hands in the water. David was beside me standing up on his little chair scooping up the suds and letting them fall back slowly into the sink. Brian was sitting at the door with his soft ball.

"Four o'clock in the mornin' and it looks like it's gonna be another sleepless night...."

David loves that one. He gave a great big grin and looked up at me, as if he saw the words coming out of my mouth as well as hearing them. As I was singing, I lost interest in the dishes and I was imagining myself on stage - per usual. I was looking out the window in a half-dream, staring at the hill without thinking much about it. Dusk was just beginning to fall. Suddenly it seemed that the night had come down already and it was pitch dark. Through the darkness I could see the hill again, lit up by a blue glow. First it looked like it was melting and going to spread out all over the fields, but instead it slowly pulled itself up into a different shape, a bit like a person squatting down. Eyes appeared on it, tons of them, all over its body. Big, huge evil eyes with ten layers to each one, and each layer coloured different. Then I saw it more clearly, and it was a hulking giant of a creature that seemed like it was breathing through the eyes, because the colours were moving in and out to a rhythm.

The monster had a big, flat-topped head and its arms were like an ape's, except they had claws that looked set to grab something. It opened its mouth and all I could see was a huge cave and vicious looking brown teeth. The skin of the body looked to be covered in hard scales, and it had turned pale green. It moved a bit. I didn't notice myself dropping the glass till David let out a roar. I looked down then.

However Brian moved so fast I don't know. He had picked up a bit of broken glass and straight into his mouth with it. I grabbed him and took it out, but his mouth was full of blood and he was screaming like no-body's business.

I was afraid of my life he was after swallowing a piece I hadn't seen, so I turned him upside down and slapped his back. Then I washed his mouth out with water, which wasn't easy and I wasn't sure I did it properly. I didn't know any doctor, only after arriving in the town. Anyway, my medical card doctor is in Dublin. I was shaking with worry. Brian was hysterical. It took ages to calm down. I put him over my shoulder and looked out the window again. It was still dusk and there was the hill as innocent as you please, no sign of the vision.

Brian calmed down and he stopped bleeding, so I thought he must be alright but I wasn't in the better of it. Jesus if anything happened one of them again I'd be in right trouble. I don't want to lose them. That'd finish me altogether, if I couldn't mind them. I didn't tell Liam. He'd only think I was going crazy and look down on me more than he already does.

Maybe I am crazy. I thought I heard sounds of music just now. I looked out the windows and couldn't see anything. I'm scared on my own. I wish Liam was here, bad and all as he is.

Saturday 8th February

I don't know what to make of your man at all. There I was last night, about half ten, trying to unpack the last few things and get them in order, and this loud knock came on the door, more like a rap. I was between two minds whether to open it or not. My heart was choking me it was beating that fast. Well, I said to myself, I might as well know as not know. I was shaking when I opened the door and I had the kitchen knife in my hand, hiding it behind my back. There was no-one there. There's no bulb for the outside lamp yet so I couldn't see much. I went out to look around the porch and as good as bumped into this big man. I nearly fainted. I screamed and started backing away towards the door, holding the knife in front of me.

"Hold on," says this sweet Donegal accent. "Steady up. I didn't mean to frighten you. Would you be Mrs O'Malley?"
I held onto the door and closed it out a bit.
"What do you want?" I could hardly talk I'd got such a shock.
"Malachy Gallagher is the name. I'm sorry for calling at this time of night, but I was on my way home and I wondered if you were settling in alright."
I hadn't a clue what he was on about. He looked a bit amused by the knife, not frightened at all. But then my hand was shaking like someone with Parkinson's.
"Are you a neighbour?"
"Well, in a manner of speaking. I live in the farmhouse a few fields over. I'm your landlord, although the word isn't one of my favourites. Of course, I didn't deal with yourself. It was your husband I talked to."
"Oh. My husband isn't in."
"Ach, that's alright. It doesn't matter which of you I see. I just wanted to check that you were settling in. Maybe I'll come back tomorrow, if that'd be more convenient."
He looked at the knife again and made to go.
"Hold on," I said. "Will you come in for a minute?"
"Well, I don't want to impose if it's a bad time."
"No, it's alright. You just gave me a fright."
"Sorry about that, lass. I was just going round to knock at the back door. That's what we usually do around here."

He smiled then and looked straight at me. He seemed okay.
I moved back and opened the door for him. He's quite good-looking, fair hair just turning grey, soft grey-blue eyes and a strong chin and cheekbones. He looks like he's seen a bit of life. His skin is leathery, a bit weather beaten, but he's not in any way rough looking. Good muscular body but he's no hulk.

"There's something I'm not too happy about alright."
"Is there? I'll do my best to sort it out for you, lass."
I went ahead of him into the kitchen and put away the knife.
"Would you like a cup of tea?"
I was hoping he'd say no. I felt a bit uncomfortable with him.
"I would, if it's no trouble. I'm sure you're up to your eyes. It's a divil moving house."
I nodded my head. "Yeah, with children especially, you've so much to carry."
"I wouldn't know." I hadn't expected him to answer like that, but I was curious then.
"You've no children?"
"No. And my wife died last year."
I never know what to say to sympathize with someone. And I didn't know him from Adam, which made it even harder.
"Was she young?"
"Only forty."
He looked at me dead on when he said that, like he wasn't a bit ashamed of me seeing the sadness in his eyes.
"That's young," I said, turning away to do something.
"Is himself out working?" he said after another minute.
"No. He had to go to a funeral in Dublin. He'll be gone for the night."
I was sorry after I said that. Suppose he wasn't genuine? There's no other house for a few hundred yards.

He was looking at me so straight I had to keep doing things, fussing really, and my hands were still shaking.
"Well", he said then, going to lean against the sink, "Are you having a few problems with the house?"
"Oh yeah. Well, there are two windows that won't close. I mean, I close them, but they open again. They're always open in the morning. Just slightly, but you'd be afraid of robbers, like."
Your man smiled.
"There's no robbers in Drumnashee, lass."
He sounded like he was making fun of me or something, as if he knew I was one.
"There's robbers and gougers everywhere," I said, kind of implying he might be one himself.
"Well," and he said this in a real suave sort of a way, "the last time there was a robbery here was five years ago and that was a young lad who robbed his father of a farm of land." He got more sincere then. "You're safe enough here, lass."
I was getting pissed off with this 'lass' crack.
"That doesn't keep my windows closed," I said sharp-like.
"You're right there."
He nodded his head. I could tell he was trying to suss me out. He was having a good look at my body too and he thought I didn't know.
"The boys are sleeping in those rooms. I'd be afraid they'd catch a cold."
"Is that right? Tell you what, I'll come back in the daylight and see what I can do with them."
He was finished the cup of tea by then.

He was forward and a bit sarcastic but there was something nice about him at the same time. He seemed to be intelligent too, but sure what difference does that make? Look at Liam. Anyway, then he started asking me where I was from and when I said County Limerick, he said, "Oh I used to travel around there years ago when I was a young lad. That was long before your time, girl." He stopped and then, "Not that I'm old, mind."
He has a habit of giving a kind of wink when he's trying to be funny. It could look silly but the way he does it it's nice.
"Oh I'd say there's another clean shirt in you."
"Thanks Missus". He put on his cap, a navy blue one with a peak that made him look arty.
"Thanks for the tea. It's all I drink now. Gave up the Guinness last night."

He grinned, thought he was funny I suppose. He strolled over to the window and jerked his head sideways like he was indicating the hill. My heart jumped.
"Any interest in doing a bit of cultivating?" he said.
"What?" I couldn't tune in to what he meant.
"The garden. You don't have to, mind, but you can plant it if you like."
"Oh, no. I might as well plant a bomb as a vegetable."
After it was out I realized it mightn't be the best sort of thing to say, him being from up near the North. But he laughed at it.
"Everything I ever laid a hand on died."
"That surprises me", he said in a flirtatious way. If he only knew the half of it.
"That hill," I wasn't too sure how to ask him, but he came in straight away.
"Yes, what about it?"
"What's it... I mean.... Does anyone live there or.... Has it a name?"
He didn't say anything for a minute.
"It's called Drumnashee, same as the town. The Ridge of the Fairies. People just call it 'the hill'. The fairies live around about it and they like to have free rein. Don't ever interfere with their trees and their bushes."
He sounded sarcastic when he said 'their' as if he didn't think they had a right to 'their' trees and bushes. He seemed to believe what he was saying. I think he's a bit loopers, but look who's talking.
"Is that so?" I said. If he was crazy I thought I'd better humour him.
"Anyway," he said after a minute, "I'll give you a shout about those windows."

As he was strolling out the door he turned and said, "Will you tell himself I'll collect the rent on the last Saturday of every month if that's suitable? And be sure and let me know if there's anything wanted."

Monday 10th February

David was something else this morning.
"Come on, get up," I said, "We have to go down to the school. Your daddy made an appointment with the principal and we'll be killed if we don't keep it. Come on."
But he just lay there staring at the ceiling and a kind of smile on his lips.
"David, I'm not going to stand here like a half-eejit. This is your last chance. I'm warning you. Get up now."
I didn't want to shout or Liam would come in and kill him.

It was as if he didn't even hear me. He kept looking at the ceiling like it was his favourite tv programme. He gave a huge smile and started to mouth words at the air. I stood there with my heart pounding for a few seconds. Then I made a kind of lunge at the bed, but when I was about a foot away from it something stopped me. It was like an invisible wall and I couldn't get through it. It was probably only for a second or two and then I fell on top of him, grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him.
"That's enough! Get up now."

He got out of the bed, grumbling and moaning, and I had an almighty job getting his clothes on because he didn't help one bit. Even at the school he was fierce sullen, sat lolling back in the chair with his hands in his pockets. No way would he sit up straight for me. A boy that loves school, that's usually well-behaved - I don't understand it. I don't know what the principal thought of us at all, with Brian grabbing at everything and swinging every which way out of my arms. God, it was a nightmare. My nerves are bad today. I'm yelling at them all the time. My head is aching. I wish I had someone to talk to. I suppose Liam should be my friend but that's not the way it turned out. I can't talk to him at all. He's always making out that I'm stupid. I know I'm not exactly a genius, but I'm no dumbo either. He says I should be able to handle the kids myself, that's my job, but half the time I haven't a bull's notion. Sometimes I'm just terrified. I can't tell him that though. Jesus, I'd be afraid he'd have me locked up and I'd never survive that again. I'm bawling my eyes out now at the thought of that hospital.

Excerpt (Chapter Three) from Part Two: The Town


The picture. She walked through the door and straight into the gaping breast of the Lord. For some reason, her mother had taken it down from its place above the range and hung it in the tiny hall, just as you came in. Two large electric candles were quietly adoring on either side, apparently Hannah's attempt to bring her devotion into the nineties. The red of the sacred heart made Anne's stomach attack itself. She had known this picture all her life; why was it only now affecting her like this? As a child she had loved it. Or so she had thought. You had to love it. It was a picture of God. On this Friday, 13th March, she looked at it for a few seconds and her body realized that she hated it. The message was received in the brain and translated into stomach-ache so that she could call it whatever she wished.

Anne Brennan never used the word 'hate'. It was too strong, too negative; it cancelled too much. She never used the word 'rubbish', although anybody who had concluded what she had about the Catholic Church and its dogma could have used the word quite a lot. No. She had a softness - some would call it a weakness - either of intellect or emotion, that didn't allow her to dismiss a possibility. Despite the fact that her reasoning wouldn't hold the belief anymore, she still couldn't find it in herself to discard the symbols. She could no more smash up a 'holy picture' than a newly hatched chicken could fly. The long series of blessed keepsakes and prayers her mother kept sending her were stored in a box at the bottom of the wardrobe, like lesser skeletons.

The day the priest had called to her flat in Harold's Cross in the course of his ministrations, she had stepped back meekly to let him in. Siobhán had glared at his proffered hand, then at his semolina face, and stalked into the kitchen. When Anne had gone in to make the tea, her friend had been hair-deep in the Sunday Tribune. Anne had crept past her and put on the kettle, quietly getting out the cups and plates, not sure whether to offer her some. Siobhán had looked up in horror.

"Are you making him tea?" she had whispered.
Anne had blushed and shrugged. Then, in the same don't-let-your-father-hear whisper that Siobhán had used, she had said, "He seems alright. He's not pushy or anything."
"Not pushy? You mean he hasn't shoved the host in your mouth yet?"
They had looked at each other for a split second, then burst out laughing, Siobhán with her head thrown back, Anne with hers down almost to the work-top. That silent laughter women are so skilled at. The subversive, kitchen laughter that used to be so necessary. The laughter that always reminded Anne of her mother.

She had made the tea while Siobhán had whipped through the newspaper, turning up headline after headline. It had been a particularly damning week for the Church.
After each headline, Siobhán had mouthed 'Fuckers' comically, her eyes wild and her teeth pressing viciously on her lower lip with each 'F'. Anne had kept miming 'Stop' 'Stop', trying to control her giggles, but Siobhán had carried on.
"Tell him to Fuck Off," she had said, meaning every word of it.
Anne had collected herself. She had never told anyone to fuck off in her life. It just wasn't her style.
"He'll be gone in a few minutes," she had whispered.

That hadn't been the case. With tea and the last piece of the apple tart she had brought, Siobhán had estimated it would be at least half an hour, but Anne had a way of measuring time that was all her own. As it turned out, Siobhán had left a quarter of an hour later, while the priest was only getting into his stride, talking about his native Kerry and telling a few weak, well-rehearsed jokes about Social Workers calling to old paranoid recluses near Cahirciveen. Anne had discovered that he had some valuable information on her latest case. That was the thing. You could never write anyone off. You never knew what was in their heads, or when they might be useful. Her slight tendency towards manipulation wasn't a conscious one, only something she needed in order to stay safe. Safety was of paramount importance, although she would have denied that. She was only conscious of wanting everything to be alright, peaceful, nice. If there were rough edges, she tried to smooth them over. If there was conflict, her first instinct was to slink away into a corner. She liked Siobhán, because Siobhán said all the things her paralyzed id would have liked to say. Siobhán allowed her to be profane by proxy.

Now, confronted by the spectacle of Christ's bleeding heart and her mother's blazingly fervent eyes, she pushed down the gut revulsion and replaced it with a glib thought:
"My goodness, don't old habits die hard."
She fussed over her mother, whom she loved a lot. She hugged her and looked closely at her face for signs of ageing, which she found and then regretted looking.
"Are you feeling alright, Mammy? Are you keeping warm?"
She opened the range and found the fire blazing.
"I hope you keep the fire going well every day these times, Mammy. The weather is still quite cold."
"I wear three vests and two jumpers, pet. There's no fear of me."
"Will I get the tea?"
"Sit down there and rest yourself after the journey."

Anne's solicitude was par for the course and Hannah was well-prepared for it. Even so, it made her feel helpless and she was far from the scrap-heap yet, an affirmation which grew more and more important to her with the increased stiffness of her morning muscles. Anne realized that her mother had been looking forward to giving her meals, so she contented herself with laying the table. But sitting and resting was not something she was particularly good at, especially when she was so uptight. She unpacked and walked through the house assessing the renovations that needed to be done. She had to make sure that Joe would carry them out when he had his own house built. Thanks to her thoughtfulness and his work, the third bedroom had been converted into a bathroom, but it was still an unsatisfactory house for an old person. A gale-force draught came in under the front door, there was no door to separate the hall from the living area, and the bedrooms were freezing. She went to the window in Hannah's room, leaned on the sill and tried to make out familiar objects through the gloom of the evening.

"What are their names again, Mammy, the people in Malachy Gallagher's house?" She came back into the kitchen.
Hannah stopped with the kettle poised to fill up the tea-pot.
"You didn't say much about her in the letter. Is she nice?"
Hannah went into one of her little contemplations.
"Yes," she said, as if making a huge decision. "Yes, she is nice. She's young."
"She must be very young, you said it in the letter too."
"She looks about twenty."
"That's young - to be married with two children. Two, isn't it?"
"Two." Hannah ruminated again. "She looks young, but there's something worldly-wise about her."
Hannah looked up from the knitted tea-cosy she had carefully put in place.
"She looks troubled."

When they had taken some bites out of the sausages and rashers, Hannah, obviously full to the brim with the subject, slowly said, "She had some trouble with the people on the hill."
Anne had been practising introductory lines in her mind. Mammy, I have good news for you. I've met this man and I'd like to marry him. Mammy, I'm getting engaged on Wednesday. He's coming down on Monday. He's lovely, Mammy, really easy-going. Graham. No, we'll be doing it differently. You see, he's a Protestant - no that's not the reason. Because I don't believe in the church anymore. Yes, I do believe in God, but a God of nature. We're getting married in a Registry Office and we'll have a small reception afterwards. Nothing too fancy. Not in white, no... Her mother's words parted the tangle.

"What? Who?"
"The little girl in Malachy's house. Jacqui. She had trouble with the People above, but you're not to repeat this for love or money."
Anne looked at her wide-eyed, a look Hannah took for belief.
"Her windows blew in, the Lord save us." She blessed herself.
"Are you talking about the Fairies, Mammy?"
Her mother nodded reverently.

Anne didn't know how to take this. It struck her that there was no essential difference, God or the Fairies, bleeding hearts or breeding trees. It was all a desperate attempt to explain the inexplicable. But she wasn't going to contradict before Hannah had even started to tell. That would have been bad practice. So she slipped into information-finding mode.

"What exactly happened to her windows?"
"She said it was a freak wind." Hannah gave one slow, suspicious nod. " 'Twas an almighty gale that swept in through one window and out the other. The two of them were smashed to smithereens."
Hannah fastened a look on her, that look Anne was so used to, that she had never got from anybody else. Hannah wanted the truth, but it had to be filtered through that special understanding of hers. She was a physical and psychical barometer. She always knew when something was wrong, but she knew it with her body and her subconscious, not with her reasoning powers. Anne's experience made her smell a rat.

"What's her husband like?"
Hannah pushed back her hair and took a sup of tea. Thumbs down, Anne told herself.
"Is he violent do you think?"
Hannah was still slow to answer. Finally she said, "I've heard sounds coming from the house, God help us." Pause. "And I've seen movements too."
"What kind of movements, Mammy?"
"Ah sure, people these days, they live different." Anne waited. "But I think they leave the children alone in the house sometimes, the poor little things."
This was beginning to sound like work.

"One night this week," now she was loosening up, "half past twelve on Wednesday night - I remember because Mary-Pat and Gerry came down to see me that night - I was just going to bed and I chanced to look out the room window. The car wasn't there. I didn't take much notice of that; I often see him arriving home late. But next thing, there was the little boy, the five-year-old, coming back over the fields and going in the back way. God help us, he looked around the front first to see if the car was there and then he went in." She let that sink in.
"If it wasn't for him doing that, looking for the car like, I'd have said he was sleep-walking."
"Was she in?"
"That's what I was going to tell you. Very shortly after, the car came along the road and pulled up to the house. The two of them were in it."
"Did you say anything to her?"

Hannah put on the considering look again. Then, when a stranger might have expected a long, philosophical answer, she simply said, "No."
"Were you afraid they'd think you spent your nights watching them?"
Anne immediately regretted saying it. Hannah was offended.
"I don't think other people's lives are any of my business."
Anne took a deep breath.
"Mammy, I know you mean well. But you know that case in Cork? If someone, a neighbour, anyone, had just made a 'phone call or written a letter to a Social Worker in the early days, something could have been done. The family isn't sacrosanct, Mammy. The family shouldn't be a secret society."
The Sacred Heart picture loomed.
"Look what happened to us. I wish someone had stepped in and helped us."
Hannah's eyes sparked and her voice came out sharply.
"Nothing bad happened yee. I minded yee well."
"Yes, Mammy, I know you minded us, but Daddy had serious problems. He was an alcoholic, he was severely paranoid and he was violent. He needed help. You needed help. We all needed help."
"You're always saying things against your father. I won't have it. You shouldn't speak ill of the dead."
"You have to admit the truth, Mammy," said Anne gently, a wave of unease hitting her on the word 'truth'.
Nothing she said was sounding right. She wasn't in control. Hannah started to cry.
"A child should be with its mother. A mother should never have her little child taken off her. There's no greater sadness. No greater sadness."

Anne went to the other side of the table and put her hands on her mother's shoulders.
"I'm sorry, Mammy. It's alright. I love you."
"I did my best for yee. And didn't you get an education? He didn't stop you studying and he didn't stop you going to University. Joe had no interest in school, but he has a trade and he got the place."
"I know that, Mammy. I know."

If her mother were to change her world view, too much of her life would look like failure. That was what Anne told herself as she scurried away from the subject, lit a cigarette and opened the bottle of brandy she'd brought. Since her father had died, Anne had often brought a bottle of wine and Hannah enjoyed a glass with the pleasure of a mischievous child. The brandy was even better, and after a liberal glass each, they were cracking jokes about all the characters in the village, before moving on to their favourite soap personalities.