By John Verling

 

The jeep slowed about half ways down the street, it was just gone ten on a Saturday morning and cars were still parked either side, making a narrow street even tighter. Not that Seanie noticed. Seanie never noticed much outside of his own world. It was up to you to notice Seanie not for Seanie to notice you.

"At least the bitch is open today," he said to himself as they came to the bar.

Some Saturdays Hannah mightn't open till two but on Mart days she was by ten. During the week she was always open at ten and there'd even be a few outside waiting, mart days would be no different that way. But again Seanie wouldn't notice or care. He stopped the jeep, jumped out leaving the door open and the engine running. Head down, knowing where he was going, he walked straight into the bar. The two smokers outside nodded without a return. As they watched, Paula came round from the passenger side, got in, closed the door and drove off.

"Poor woman putting up with that prick," one of the smokers said to the other, looking at the door first to make sure it was closed. The other nodded, left out a sigh along with his last drag and threw the butt in the drain.

That was the way with Seanie you didn't talk to him, he was as he was and never any different. Those who knew of him at school said he was the quiet type, the sort you didn't have anything to do with, apparently no different from his father before him. Never had any friends and never looked for any either. It took a woman from outside the county to marry him, how they met and married no one seemed to remember, they just were. People knew that it wasn't long after his mother died, no more than that. Speculation was that she was a cousin but no one dared ask and Paula didn't seem to have any friends to tell.

Seanie was a big man, not the conventional six foot six brickhouse but one of those fellows who was just a solid mass of maleness. He always seemed to wear the same clothes, trousers, half cut boots, cream round-neck jumper with the collar of a check shirt poking out the top, stretched round his thick neck. The presumption was that he had many changes of clothes, as despite his ways, he never stank, unlike others in town that neither washed nor changed. No doubt Paula saw to that, one of her jobs. An old green waxed jacket was worn during the winter but come spring you rarely saw him in it unless the rain was heavy. Today was fine so no jacket needed and strands of his fine black hair could be seen on the shoulders of the cream jumper. The tight hair cut had been done again, another Paula job.

The bar was empty except for the two regulars sitting at the tall table inside the door, full pints in front of them. The pints were being contemplated; the drinkers knew once the first sup was taken that would be it till going home time. They weren't in any hurry to start either, there was a whole day of drinking left and those last few moments of sober anticipation were special. Jackets belonging to the two smokers hung on the back of a couple of the six chairs that lined the length of the short bar. Seanie took the chair furthest away from them, pushing the back into the corner where the bar met the toilet walls. With his back against the wall and left elbow on the bar he spoke….

"Pint there Hannah."

Hannah started to draw a fresh one; she'd had the glass in her hand since he walked in. Leaving it to settle she turned to find something else to do. Like the others she never knew what to say to Seanie and the awkwardness of this drove most people off.

"Must go boil the kettle in case someone comes for a tea or coffee," she said heading out to the tiny back kitchen. If Seanie heard he didn't say, he just sat there facing the door, waiting for the first pint. The two smokers came in and took up their seats again.

"Selling much today Seanie?" one of them asked as he picked up the half drunk pint.

"I have a few of last year’s lambs to move on, the young fella has them over there, won't need me for a while," his gaze on his pint behind the taps, not on the speaker. It was settled now and waiting for Hannah to finish it.

"Prices will be good today," the other man said.

"Fucking better be," Seanie snapped, looking behind the bar for Hannah.

"Hannah!"

"Sorry Seanie," Hannah said, drying her hands on an old tea towel before she picked up the glass. After topping off the creamy head she placed the pint in front of him. It wasn't on the bar a second before he picked it up. Unlike the men in the corner Seanie didn't stand on ceremony and a good third of the glass was gone by the time it was put back. Keeping his hand on the glass he leaned back into the wall, legs out in front of him, his day begun.....

Paula drove down to the junction with Pearce Street. She waited for a chance to cross as the traffic was heavy, the usual for mart days. Farmers from all around would be bringing their lambs today, Easter was coming and prices would be good. They'd dropped young Johnny with this year's lot before Seanie had gone to Hannah's.

Johnny, that was her name for him. Of course they'd christened him Sean after the father but he'd always be her Johnny. Not that she'd ever used Johnny on him. No he was Sean, Seanie Og or Sean Og as far as the world was concerned, it was only in her head that he was Johnny. Paula wanted to call him Johnny every time she saw him but hadn't done so since the last day at the hospital...

"We're going home now my little Johnny," she'd cooed at him, picking the little bundle out of the cot.

"Sean" Seanie had corrected her in a voice that was final.

A gap in the traffic opened up and Paula crossed over. There was a yard off the street about half ways up, perfect for parking and Paula needed to get in there. Yet another problem with the town, it was too small and if she parked on the street Seanie might see from the mart or the bar. She looked in the rear-view mirror in case Seanie was out for a cigarette already. Unlikely, as despite his likeness for an early pint he normally wouldn't have a smoke till after lunch. The fear that she'd be spotted out and about haunted her always, the terrible fear of what would happen when he'd be home that evening. There'd be the explaining to do, then the silence, then the questions and with it all fear, always the fear. Luckily the yard was nearly empty and she parked at the far end. Grabbing her phone and purse she jumped out, locking the jeep as she walked away. She'd have to cross the street to Joan's...another chance of a spotting. Unlikely but you never knew.

Dodging between the traffic she ran in the door of Joan's.

Joan was washing another lady's hair when Paula burst in.

"Hi Paula," Joan said turning from the sink, "you're early. Have a seat there."

Paula loved the hairdressers. Joan always treated her so well. The feeling of someone gently rubbing her head, washing the grime from her was just lovely. It was the one treat she allowed herself, a wash, cut and blow-dry about every six weeks, marts allowing. The sixty euro she kept back was full of guilt and sometimes it went on the kids instead. That happened more often than not as they got older. She never knew when she'd be asked for something and so a little back-up was kept in the cleaning cupboard behind the bleach.

Seanie didn't know about Joan's. She couldn't imagine him liking her going to the hairdressers. She just couldn't. Paula reckoned that if she got it done at regular intervals he wouldn't notice, especially if he'd been in the pub on the day. Not once in twenty years had he commented on her appearance and it was this that she counted on in keeping the secret of Joan's.

Paula thanked Joan and took a seat, the free one closest to the wall where nobody passing could see. It looked like the woman getting her hair washed was a stranger, at least to Paula.

"Would you like a cup of tea, Paula?" Joan asked, still rinsing the lady's hair.
"No thank you." Paula answered.
"Go on sure I'll be putting the kettle on anyway."
The lady lifted her head from the sink and Joan wrapped it in a towel as she spoke.

Paula looked at Joan as she passed. Dressed in those lovely clothes, always something different, always looking so well. Not like me, she thought as she looked at her old clothes well worn and well faded from all the washes. “The uniform” as her Maire called it. When could she bring Maire in here? Not for a while probably, this was a secret yet to be shared.

"Kettle on," Joan said closing the door behind her, "and I'm ready for you now..."

Settled in the comfortable chair Paula leaned her head back into the sink and felt the warm water trickling over her scalp. Joan gently rubbed the shampoo in and Paula drifted off into her own world. Yes Maire, the eldest, the first born, the first of five. She was nearly seventeen now but Maire didn't have anytime for her mother, seemed to look down on her as if she was an embarrassment. All Paula wanted was for Maire to do better, to get away. She didn't know the truth and Paula didn't want her to either. From the day they came home from the hospital she'd been protecting her from the life they lived, she didn't want it for her.

Seanie had never raised a hand to Maire but the beatings for Paula had begun that very same night. He'd gone drinking to celebrate the birth and came home angry, angry with her for not giving him a boy. She'd pleaded with him to stop but he'd lain in to her, she promised and promised to give him a boy the next time but the blows kept coming. It was only Maire's crying from the kitchen that saved her, the hungry cries from the three day old stopped him, broke his anger, giving Paula the chance to escape. By the time Maire was settled he was asleep but the girl had saved her from who knows what. Not that she could ever tell her, it was another secret destined never to be shared.

Her time with Joan went too quickly as it always did. She'd even had a second cup of tea this time and it was delicious. Heading back out into the world she scurried over to the yard.
The phone rang as she sat back into the jeep.

"Collect me at the bar."

Paula froze.

"Why?"

---

 

John Verling is a native of Cobh, Co. Cork, Ireland. In 2012 he made the career change that had been bugging him all his life: to try and make a living from writing. Now he is a writer, broadcaster and a freelance journalist. His featured work has appeared in many national newspapers and his radio documentaries on Irish radio stations. A father of three he lives with his wife Lisa and family in Tralee, Co. Kerry. John writes on all subjects and specialises in long form creative non-fiction. A portfolio of John's work is available at https://clippings.me/johnverling