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DOLORES WALSHE

 

 

 

Dolores Walshe

Dolores Walshe was born and raised in Dublin near the Grand Canal and currently lives and writes in Leitrim. Her novel and short story collection were published by Wolfhound Press and she was awarded a second Arts Council Bursary in Literature 2014.  Fiction awards include Writers’ Week Bryan MacMahon Short Story Award 2012; James Joyce Jerusalem Bloomsday Award;  2nd in Francis Mac Manus Award (twice). Playwriting awards include: Bank of Ireland/Listowel Writers’ Week Play Award; Irish Stage and Screen Award; O.Z.Whitehead/SIP/ PEN Play Award (twice). Plays staged by The Royal Exchange, Manchester, Andrew’s Lane Theatre Dublin and published by Carysfort Press, UCD, and Syracuse University, New York, 2014.

 

 

 

 

Small Yellow Sun

2nd Prize in the 2015 Seán Ó Faoláin Competition

 

 

 

 They’re squatting in Nesbit’s house in the crescent, sneaking in after dark, all cat, you imagine their dilated pupils, some terror they’re ready for, its spring at them in the night. No sound, no matter how hard you listen. Well-practiced padding on the heels so, tiger-quiet. Lighting candles, living in miser-hood, no question of romance, no feasting on the flesh, not in this Antarctica.

They know you’re here of course, since you’ve still got electricity, though you’re discreet spying through the blinds, your dusty brown, Venetian, chosen for the place you once visited with Patrick, lying in bed scorning death and elegance amidst the lava of love oozing through the body, but the blinds scorn you now, reduce your vision, world shrunk to thin rectangles of shame. Yes, Moya, forty years old, you. are. reduced. to. this.

Diversion. Middle-Eastern, maybe? You’d  need to walk down, knock on the door, ask. Are yiz Syrian, Iranian or what? Drive them out nicely, when you desperately need their company to help keep you out of the abyss.

 Then doesn’t Dicey tell you he’s aware of them too. Such crusts! This is the substance you feast on: their little girl escapes, wanders across the fields past the house-shells where Bullnose blew his brains out. Almost walks under Dicey’s tractor and he backing it out of his yard to go for your kerosene, but suddenly her little ma’s there, jabbering in a tongue Dicey can’t understand, joining her olive hands, palm-pressed and grey with the cold, bowing as she backs away after giving the little one an almighty clout that sends her running down the road back towards the housing estate, the mother hurrying after as if afraid she’ll lose her again.

 He asks you if he should offer to get them some briquettes but thinking of the cat-stealth you don’t know, and you’re on tenterhooks not to nose, not to drive them out, to end up alone again, spectre queen of spectredom. 

How in hell Dicey wonders could they be heating themselves in there, sure there’s no gas electricity nor tank, Bullnose’s boyos have stripped the place, the whole shebang, including the tank, lifted onto a lorry with a forklift.

Perish this. Can’t think about them being colder than you, no. Embarrassment supreme if they asked you for anything, they’d think you mean refusing, you can’t bear to be thought of as that, not when it’s one of your ex’s qualities.  

That child’s older than your little Eamonn. School-going age, but not going. And her ma, small, dumpy as a leprechaun, wearing the musty green woollen coat to her calves from the WA-WA in town, would’ve bought it yourself but it barely covered the bum, you’d have frozen.

To give you more grief it snows again. The mile-long track to Dicey’s becomes Everest as you trudge up for eggs. Oh for last summer, him giving you goat’s milk for Eamonn in a lemonade bottle, rich, frothy, your little son all milky-moustached, looking heart-achingly like his absentee traitorous father. 

You tell Dicey forget about going into town for the weekly kerosene, but Jesus you’re relieved when he sez he’ll manage it no bother, the snow’s no match for his Fergie, there isn’t a better woman in all of Ireland. You’ve a job laughing at this. You’ve a job laughing generally now, so never know if what he says is actually funny, but at least his joking is pristine, he could’ve got in a dig and a wink about riding his Fergie but he didn’t, Dicey isn’t in the same league as Patrick, he isn’t that kind of man.

Gratitude. You try to open your mouth but Dicey rattles his keys and silences you, eyes gimleting you beneath his frown.

Leaving the drum with him, you say you’ll put the kettle on, though you only ever boil it when he pulls up in the tractor, staggers down the side of the house with the drum, shifts it up the stepladder till he gets it positioned to pour into the tank. He never lets you help no, despite him being a hundred and sixty-eight. He has that way of behaving, always doffing his cap, while the wind skins his ancient already skint head. Makes you feel something primal you can’t explain. A rush of  scald and pain, to the centre. 

Love. You want to sound its breakage on the air through lips blue-purple stiff with death.

This man is foolhardy. What if he gets pneumonia, what if he leaves you truly alone? 

But despite his skinny wizened-ness, he’s indomitable, even managing to tie a tarp over the broken ridge tiles on the roof, till, he sez, such time as the spring when he can get up and have a look. Such words offer you a future. You try reciprocation, offering enough Euros for a pint but he gets insulted, turns his back. Tight-fisting your fiver, you’re thankful you can keep your relief hidden from the pride in his eyes.

Once, when he came with the kerosene, he told you over his cuppa how his daughter died when she was half your age, how he’d lost wife and daughter in the one mangled year.

Abortion. Such he called it, an abortion of a year, a concept that was new for you to ponder, if time could be aborted, could life? While he went on staring out the kitchen window at the brick-spectres opposite, lips tight with what they held back, rheumy eyes staring through his heart at the un-stareable, shivering in less clothes than you were wearing, though you were wearing your duvet.

You cried then, scalded tears stinging up from your guts, for him, for Eamonn gone from you to Martha and Tom’s, your little son on his little Atlas feet being reared now by his only set of grandparents a million miles away. Mortified, you tried to apologise but Dicey cut you off saying he was grateful for the tears, it wasn’t something he’d managed himself. He’d laughed, but you couldn’t join in, where was the fucking joke? To please him then, you went into the free legal aid crowd and told them the trouble you were having with Patrick and the bank. Good girl, Dicey said, you can’t let that boyo and them boyos suck the life outta you.

But it’s too late for that. Everything was lost when you handed Eamonn over to Patrick’s parents, you don’t even know why you find you’re still breathing, an old mare clip-clopping in an empty house. 

Food. It stops snowing while you’re making your way back with seven shitty eggs in the enamel bowl, oh the thought of a scrambled egg sandwich lathered in salt, at least salt is cheap. Save it, maybe?—for when the heat’s on tonight, the radio doling out the bedtime pills? Eyes closed over arms closed over a pillow the shape of Eamonn asleep in your arms on the sofa bed Dicey helped you drag into the kitchen, ah, rip the thought out before it scrapes the skin from your chest. 

There’s no finishing screed of tar on the road into the estate and you trip over a manhole proud of the surface, hidden by snow. The eggs go flying. You screech more at losing them than at the fall, and lie, staring at the fan of little holes in the snow, an egg potted in every one. Miraculously only one’s broken, a small yellow sun glinting on immaculate white, telling you to rise, dust yourself down, come out with a cup and scoop it once you’ve off-loaded the rest indoors. 

Something’s wrong with your house. You stare at it, clutching the bowl tightly. Messed footprints. And someone’s scraped the bulk of snow off your drive onto the joke of a garden. Scraped the joke of a footpath too outside the garden wall. Making the house look normal for the first time since catastrophe struck. You swallow, like you’re trying to get an egg down without breaking it, feet frozen in Patrick’s wellies despite the extra socks. But you step onto the drive in star-dusted pumps, shimmying to your hall door, even the snow cleared from the shallow porch as if the world and your place in it has been re-configured.

He. Must have done it of course, the husband, must’ve watched you go off up towards Dicey’s, since he’s minding the little girl while the ma works, Dicey said she worked inside in the hotel in town, there in the kitchen under wraps, he said, meaning she probably had no work permit. He’d caught a glimpse of her the night the senior club were having their Christmas in the dining room. Bits of her black hair strealing out of the bun on her head, the sweat rolling off her loading the big steaming dishwashers; she was having a hard job, and her so short and overweight, Dicey felt like going to help her himself.

The hall door slams into emptiness, all rooms hollow now except for the kitchen. How many eggs will you part with? They have to last you a week. Three? No, four. Two for the little girl. Better do it now, if the woman steps on them coming in in the dark, the wastage doesn’t bear thinking about, you’d strangle her bare-handed for such a desecration.

Present moment wonderful moment … breathe.

 When you get there, to the only other cleared drive, you stand for ages, the houses around you desolate, the eggs in one of the Indian boom-time take-away cartons you and Patrick accumulated before he cheated on you, before the whole shebang went belly-up. You want to knock, commend this Arab for his stickability, ask him the cure for poverty of heart. You set the eggs in the porch, a noise within startling, a light step on wood, the child’s, maybe? Then silence. Will he open up, demand to know what you’re doing? Heart knocking, you rap the door, then slip-slide off fast as you can back home, pulse rioting beneath your skin.

Snowing again. Darker now, colder. Still no sign of Dicey. Teabag in his mug, waiting. Middling, he likes it, none of your walk-a-horse-across-it.

Should you make the hot water bottle, stuff it inside your coat? Rubber’s thinning, if it leaks you’ll brand your chest, if it leaks in the bed you’ll never dry out. 

No tracks. So he couldn’t’ve called. Besides, his old Ferguson farts wildly on the road long before it arrives through the two Doric pillars nobody’s yet figured how to plunder at the estate’s entrance. When they first went up Dicey said he could imagine Pontius Pilate in front of them telling Bullnose and the politicians cutting the red ribbon that he washed his hands of the lot of them instead of Jesus. According to Dicey, he’d seen it all coming before it came and went, the only farmer who refused to sell his fields. Which, Bullnose told him, was only bog and rock. My bog, Dicey said he shot back quick as an ass’s kick, my rock.

Late. Isn’t like him. Has he collapsed? Is he having his stout in Deane’s instead of carrying it home like usual, maybe he’s having an extra couple? Through the upstairs window there’s a great stillness outside where you crave noise, a white caul smothering the land, the road out between Pilate’s pillars forking left towards the main drag to town, while Dicey’s rutted boreen, the shorter route, remains equally empty to the right.

You set out when the snow stops, crunching forward slowly, glad of the raincoat that keeps the wind off. There’s enough light under a starlit sky, the moon risen, its beauty sickening in light of your life. You want to scream, tear the stars down, smash their lava between your teeth, swallow them till you explode.

Rounding the curve in the track it greets you, a dark hulk, suspended mid-air. 

Thick-fumed. It takes several tries to light the torch, you’re trembling that much. Fergie, overturned deep into the ditch. Images, disjointed, the torch picking them out, a gigantic tyre eye-level with your face, your burst drum of kerosene jutting from a black snowdrift.

Cold ages to clear the snow off the cabin, haul the door back, climb your way in to him sitting, head and back resting against the roof, staring you in the face, here and not here, moon and torchlight silvering his departure.

No blood, no mark on him, no flutter of a pulse. You breathe into him, long hard frightened blasts of air, again and again till your throat convulses. 

Nothing. And colder than snow. 

Your phone. Use up the bit of credit for talking to Eamonn twice a week? Pathetic. No help to him now.  

Dicey

The moon deserts, the torch’s beam capturing snow falling thickly down through the open door, gracing him, weaving its shroud.  

So draw him tight into juddering arms, tell him how much, how deeply, how true, how he’s become mother and father to you, how you’ll never ever leave him just as he hasn’t abandoned you.  

Chafe. His hands now, this man who knows that calamities happen, that sometimes no matter how hard you try, no matter how determined you are to deal with things, you can’t stabilize again.

See. The snow too falling on Martha and Tom’s house, on the little nursery where Eamonn sleeps snug in his bed, where in the morning, because of his love for Dicey’s goat, they’ll feed him goat’s milk, packaged, pasteurised, in his yellow sippy cup. So that sometimes, through all his breakfasts ahead, he’ll carry something of you and Dicey with him in the weft of his life.

Then vaguely register it, a bobbing light, the squeak of boots slipping on glass.

Raise the torch to find the squatter woman braced above you, hanging over the cabin door, a battered red imitation storm lamp with flickering votive candle held aloft beside dark eyes, the lustrous orb of her face. She’s breathing hard, saying a spate of somethings in fairy-talk over her shoulder before shoving her hands down deep into the cabin towards you, snow falling on the lines of her palms, the high globe of her stomach. 

Pregnant. You take it in. Not overweight at all. 

Where from? 

Does it matter? A harder place than here, else she wouldn’t have come. You stare at her open hands, the cold rigor of Dicey’s stiff and tight in your own.

 

©2016 Dolores Walshe

 

 

Author Links

 

Learn more about Dolores Walshe in Irish Women Dramatists
from Syracuse University Press

Dolores Walshe at Playography Ireland

Dolores Walshe play in Carysfort anthology Seen and Heard

Fiction by Dolores Walshe in North West Words: Spring 2015 issue (PDF 3.72MB)

 

 

 

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