By Elaine Lennon

 

Mrs Greenan in the kitchen with a pinking shears

That would be her obituary, she mused. 

"Hitler's on the telly again!" came a roar from the living room.

She dreamed about Saturday night when the house would be empty and she'd be able to watch The Far Pavilions on her own, in peace. Her and her bruises and her damaged arm. She never did get that break fixed properly. It itched like hell. 

Hopalong Smith the GP said, "Stop being so selfish. Go home and look after your husband and your son. That's your duty." He peered over the spectacles perched on the tip of his nose and said in a lower voice, "I take it you are - eh - doing your duty? The marriage act? Why have you only got one child? Hmm? Women are only happy when they're pregnant. That's what you should be concerned about. You're the problem." That was when she knew this town wasn't big enough for the two of them. The marks on her neck and her face were of no consequence.  

"My arm," she said in a half-whisper.

"It'll heal." He declared it angrily as though she was supposed to know what to do with what could be a broken elbow.

"You walked into a door, isn't that right?" he smiled viciously.

She stood up awkwardly and grimaced. Bobby had wedged her between the kitchen door and the wall and the noise of the break had been sickening.

"Yes. Just like your wife," she said and walked out.

She stalked past his secretary Irene without paying. Everyone knew they were having an affair. Bet they were using contraception.

When she got to the Surgical they gave her the news she'd been expecting. She should have come when it happened, it would never heal right, she'd always have a crooked arm.

"Something to remember me by, honey," her sexpot husband had whispered afterwards. "And the other one will get it too if you tell anyone. Now, what's for dinner?"

She was gone to nothing. Thinner than his greyhounds and with less nutrition. The smokes were all that kept her going. And the dream of something else. She had long given up taking care of herself. With her hair chopped off she looked like a plucked chicken, only less appetising.

The first time Bobby attacked her he pinned her to the wall of the sitting room and she was so slight he was able to lift her off her stockinged feet. The second time he did it she knew he was doing it for his pleasure, not hers. The beatings were hard to conceal. She was bruised and battered and after a few years she no longer cared who knew. She did her shopping like any woman would but people saw the purple tinge to her skin and how she was wasting away and could barely say Hello.

She saved milk money and the returns from bottle tops and minerals and fifty pee off the welfare and put it in a hole in the wall they'd blocked off from the infestation of mice.  After three years there was enough for the bus as far as Dublin and the boat to London. She'd heard about bucket shops where you could get cheap plane tickets for the Far East. They wouldn't find her  - would they? Mind you that's probably where Spike was getting his heroin. She'd had to think about that one.

After a few years you'd hardly know she'd ever been in the house. The neat floral towels in the bathroom were used to wrap the rads when they'd sprung leaks. The daisy-spattered American duvets she'd saved for when Dunnes Stores first opened were flung on the bins after they'd served their purpose as bedding for the dogs.

 

I'm your man

Seven years after she left without cooking the dinner Bobby wanted the Guards to declare her dead but the bluebottles weren't having it. 

"But she might have life insurance!" screeched Bobby. "We're being deprived!"

"Insurance? Do you think so? From the housekeeping you were giving her, is it?" asked the Superintendent drily. He grappled among a pile of papers on his desk.  He grabbed something from an overflowing wire basket.  "There's a Dublin number you can call," he said, stabbing his finger at a pamphlet for battered women. 

"Try that. Give it a few more years. You never know, she might come back. You're quite the catch!"

Bobby's face gave nothing away. 

"There's some would say you fed your wife to the dogs." The Super beaded him.

Bobby flinched.

"But I would argue that she was far too bony to make a meal for them boys. You keep them tip-top, eh?!"

Bobby shifted from one foot to the other and a pearl of sweat dripped from the tip of his nose onto his upper lip.

"What's Spike up to these days?" enquired the Super with an impressive imitation of concern.

Bobby's mouth trembled as he struggled for control. He clenched his fist around the pamphlet and crumpled it in his hand.

"From all I hear, you're a peculiar kind of client."  The Super tapped his pen on the desk in a manner that made Bobby twitch. It was a tattoo of a song that Bobby couldn't quite place. The Super stopped and stared at Bobby. The air hung dead in the room.

The Super sniffed and considered. "Seven years, is it? Or near as makes no difference. That must be some itch you want to scratch."

Bobby blinked.

"Now if I were you," considered the Super, "I'd walk out of here and thank my lucky stars I wasn't arrested for destruction.  If you know what I mean," he snapped the top off the Bic.

The sweat fell from Bobby's upper lip into a dribble on his chin and the points on his cheek reddened and his eyes narrowed. So did the Super's.  

Bobby turned abruptly and the Super stared at the back of Bobby's greasy greying head until the door shut behind him. 

The Super wondered what he had done to deserve being posted here where nothing ever happened and he turned to a file in a drawer that he'd earmarked for special attention, his personal collection of cuttings about conspiracy theories concerning the JFK assassination and thought, Now that's what I should be investigating, something significant, with death and hired killers and all that jazz. Serious stuff, like. Not this. Not this.

 

When I grow up I'm going to be Paul Le Mat 

Spike was his father's son and there was no point in even trying. He was a bully, a scumbag, the terror of the terrace and a slimy piece of work who shoplifted for Ireland and beat anyone who crossed his path. Even the Christian Brothers didn't dare lift his shirt. When he was five he started copying Bobby, standing with his lips pursed, arms crossed, blocking his mother's passage, daring her to open her mouth. The first time she did, he kicked her shins. That was when she knew she had to get out. And it had taken years.

The Art of Landscape was on Channel 4 until seven in the morning.  Spike burned the toast but the tea did the job. His head hurt. 

Before Jim Reilly left they'd had their usual argument about who was cooler.

"James Coburn. He shacked up with Lynsey de Paul. And he's alive," snarked Jim as he watched the end burn off his fag onto the plastic couch. It didn't go on fire, it had been singed so often the surface was gone.

"Steve McQueen married Ali MacGraw." Spike's theory was obvious.

"Coburn had a better car. 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder." Jim won. It was his turn. That was how it worked. 

Jim got up unsteadily. 

"Sally O'Brien," said Spike

"And the way she might look at you," finished Jim.  He wobbled to the door and closed it softly so as not to wake Bobby or the greyhounds. 

The sun was crawling up the horizon, if you could be arsed to look out the dirty window over the empty broken down washing line.

Spike switched on a tape he'd recorded during the night. He'd remembered it before they did the last pipe but nodded out before it went on. He rewound it in the VCR and got to 00:24 after the latest Hit Man and Her. Michaela Strachan was a great bit of stuff. He could have her easy. There was some new thing called Going Mad in Goa

"Pathetic," he muttered to nobody in particular as the voiceover introduced the phenomenon of European travellers fetching up in this picturesque spot "in an echo of the hippie trail that led across Asia from the late Sixties," the RP-inflected narrator intoned.

He was blinking at the images when he saw a woman with long grey hair dancing around the flames of a fire built on a beach. Her arms were elongated in an off-kilter fashion and she was skinny as hell. There was a familiar cast to her face and Spike squinted at the way her elbow jutted out at a strange angle. His jaw dropped. He stopped the tape and hit the rewind button.

He straightened up in the chair and stood up then squatted by the screen. He looked closely at the images on pause. Play. Pause. Play. Jesus Aitch Christ. It was his mother. E'd up, with long hair and a fierce tan. And a bloody tattoo on her right ankle. 

 

Dog eat dog

In the first market she saw dogs for sale but didn't know they were being prepared for eating. When she picked out a terrier and it was skinned alive in front of her, all she could think was, I hope these slit-eyed savages never come to Cavan. Bobby would kill them. Then she ate the poor thing after he was cooked on a spit and thought, Well, circle of life. Dog eat dog. That kinda thing. It had been difficult to watch what happened to his eyes, but, she reasoned, I could have eaten one of Bobby's greyhounds. I could have served it up like Susan George did in Tales of the Unexpected with that leg of lamb and he'd have eaten the evidence and never noticed. Not at first. Or, it could have been me. He would have fed me to them. Different sort of story, really. She took a bite and vomited.

She cleaned hotel bathrooms and mopped floors but couldn't face kitchen work. She'd had enough of that at home, besides, the heat was truly unbearable. By the time she hit her fiftieth birthday she had enough saved to really celebrate. She did heroin on the beach in Phuket and was lost to a week-long narcotic haze. 

So this is what Spike is into, she thought as she smoked some more and wondered that she even remembered his name after she'd fled that hellhole on the 109.

 

Well stone me

Dusk was settling and the public lighting was switched on.  Moths flew into the centre of the fizzing bulbs.  Bobby was walking two of the dogs on long leads near the Cathedral, that granite knuckle giving the town the finger.  

He stalked the footpath and the air seemed to be sucked into the building's darkening portals.  A woman dressed as lamb walked a Pekingese in the opposite direction and Bobby sensed her giving him a wide berth although there was a flicker of a smile hovering on her lips. 

I could have her, he smirked to himself. I could pulverise her in seconds. Amn't I the fine fellow.  

He proceeded jauntily, a spring in his step.  When he approached the Guard barracks he shivered involuntarily at the memory of his encounter with the Super and marched swiftly past. 

When he got home he found Spike on his knees, head on the floor and impaled on a needle, prostrated before the transfixing power of the frozen image of his mother, dancing, dancing, dancing for her life, off her gourd and out of reach in Goa, wherever that might be. 

While he waited for the ambulance he went into the kitchen and switched on the kettle and wondered how he'd pay for his son's funeral.  

His head filled with noise. As the water started to boil he put his fist through the wall and then remembered that effing Prod who would have to come fix it for the Council.

Really, you couldn't make it up.

 

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Elaine Lennon is a film historian. She is the author of ChinaTowne: The Screenplays of Robert Towne 1960-2000 and Pathways of Desire: Emotional Architecture in the Films of Nancy Meyers.