Excerpt from my latest (unedited and unpublished) Marion Grace novel, THE GODMOTHER, the story of a dysfunctional family floundering in the aftermath of two World Wars in pre-Millennium Britain.
Throop was on the bus going home, giving the women the eye, drawing attention to himself with jokes nobody wanted to listen to. At least, Sibyl didn’t. They were all chuckling away, out of embarrassment, if truth be told, otherwise moonstruck by a denuded landscape in the grip of winter. The big woman in the tea-cosy hat said, as she was about to get off: “You should have your own show on the telly. I haven’t laughed so much in years.” Playing right into his hands! And he was lapping it up.
At the corner of Hope Avenue, Sibyl got up, and so did Throop. “You want to get your windows hosed down,” she told the driver. “I don’t pay good money to stare at mud!”
“And a happy New Year to you, too, darlin’!”
Throop made a chivalrous offer to carry her oranges, but she scurried ahead of him to indicate that she had a schedule of her own. “No, thanks,” she said. “I’m not a candidate for your harem!”
She was worn out as she shoved her key into the Chubb lock and shut her door in no uncertain terms. The bungalow smelled stale, and there was a sort of close-up smell, a bit like dust and creosote. She’d gone looking under the sink and in the hall cupboard for forgotten containers that were quietly leaching their contents. It had puzzled her for days. Her rooms were spotlessly clean and tidy. She had Bridie’s example to thank for that.
Bridie! How often Dublin had claimed her thoughts of late. Was that really her life three quarters of a century ago? Neglecting her usual priority of filling the kettle, Sibyl shed her weatherproof coat like a chrysalis, letting it fall across the settee. It gave her quite a start, as though another person were sitting there.
Throop’s front door banged. The radio went on, ebbing and rising in muffled waves of sound from somewhere behind the wall. He had turned up the volume to annoy her: he wasn’t deaf.
Wearily, she switched on the bar reflector and relaxed into her chair, lulled into reverie by the anaesthetic warmth. It was done, then. She’d offloaded her worldly goods. The tribal ancestry she shared with Bridie had been given its due and Annabel, whose skin was the pale of privilege, could find her own way. It was only right that black children should be given a chance to thrive. Sibyl was vindicated. She had done her bit to rewrite history with her dusky deed. It was what her life had been about, putting folk in their place.
And now she was transported back to the Emerald Isle. The ammonia of long-forgotten times was sharp in her nostrils. The boom and belch of the steampackets going in and out of port came rolling back, the suet-pudding Martello towers at Sandycove and on Dalkey Island, the leaf-green post boxes, and the sweet fields of campion flanking the shores. Scenes of lobster creels and barnacled groynes, bargaining fishmongers outshouting the Amazon women who helped to beach and disburden the fishing boats, all caught up in the hue and cry of rallying gulls. Their freight glistened like the shillings soldiers took from the King when they went to war in the story books. In those days, you could put food on the table for a family with that. But the sea had an oily smell, and the clams were tight-shut, and her Da’s ship had slipped over the edge of the world and nothing was plain sailing. The horizon had closed over the sun itself.
That was the era of skulking in the peat-smoulder shadows of the Taproom, listening to the patter of the stevedores and chandlers, the racing men from Punchestown, and Maguire from the tobacco kiosk who was banged up in Kilmainham Jail for setting light to more than the weed in his zeal for Eamon de Valera. Slainte! Erin go bragh! According to Maguire, arson ran in the blood of every true Hibernian goaded to vent his spleen in defence of his heritage. Hadn’t God bounded the nation with water to keep Anglo-Saxon brassnecks from getting a toehold on the isle of the free? Weren’t reprisals justified towards blundering Orangemen who cocked a snook at the Pope?
It had rumbled on down the centuries, while Ireland starved under the boot of infernal Puritans. When Irishmen were free, they’d have no part in English quarrels abroad.
The men liked Bridie and took off their caps when she came into the Bar. Bridie was the Queen of the show. Sibyl, trying to emulate her, realised she did not have this happy knack. What Bridie drew from the men was respect, whereas Sibyl’s instinct was to bully when she sought compliance. Poor Sibyl knew that she had the power to enslave no one except the wax doll that had melted in front of the fire. You might learn to accept your handicaps, but it definitely wasn’t fair, the way God handed out charisma. It became the object of Sibyl’s days to distinguish herself in Bridie’s esteem. Until Saul Finnegan blacked out the light. Yes, that was it. Blacked out the light forever...
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World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...