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Don't Wake Me at Doyles
By Maura Murphy
St. Martin's PresCopyright © 2004 Maura Murphy and Macalla Ltd.
All rights reserved.
Flying Along the Tar Road
There is something elegant about a line of washing blowing in the wind. It looks so pure and fresh and reminds me of how, as a child, I would stand at the top of Wakley's Hill and see our neighbours' beautiful white linen flapping spectacularly in the distance. Mammy would have loved a line but she had to throw her washing on the hedge to dry, like the gypsies.
Tuesday 15 June 1999 was a good day to do a wash. It was bright and sunny – not too hot – with a cool gentle breeze. I was delighted: by evening, I'd got two loads done. It had turned into a beautiful evening. The crows were taking their last flight home and a settling calm was descending in Rhode. John was inside, preparing for bed, and I was in the garden bringing in the last of the washing, dry and crisp and smelling of summer.
That's when I felt the unfamiliar wheeze below my left collarbone. I started to cough and, very quickly, my mouth filled up with vile spit. It smelled like detergent and tasted of metal. I felt nauseous. It was overwhelming. I didn't want to swallow, and I couldn't spit it out. I wasn't brought up to spit on the ground. Mammy would have been very cross to see me do that. I held the stinking liquid in my mouth until I got inside. Throwing the clothes down on the kitchen table, I reached for a tissue. My heart was pumping and my head began to pound.
What the hell is this? I thought, seeing the thick clot of blood before me. I panicked, and shouted, 'John!'
* * *
I had been happy that morning pegging out John's shirts and listening to the cars racing past the cottage. It seemed that everyone had only minutes to live. Up in the clouds, birds of all kinds were swooping to and fro and, above them, a plane was flying over in the direction of Galway.
I stopped for a moment, as I always do, and glanced up. The sound of a plane has held a fascination for me ever since I was a child during the war: I had been disturbed by the news that a stray German bomb was dropped – apparently by accident – on Dublin, wiping out some of my father's relations. Now when I hear a plane I have to watch it until it disappears over the horizon, safely out of sight.
John, my husband for forty-six years, was in the garden with me that day, sleeves rolled up, cap on head, clipping the conifers. It was usual for the pair of us to finish our morning chores before sitting down to read the daily papers. He liked to scan the Irish Independent; I preferred the Daily Mail. Reading an English newspaper was my way of keeping in touch with the children. We had lived and worked in England for thirty years, rearing and educating our nine children there, before retiring to Offaly – the county where I was born, and where we had set out on our married life in 1953. It wasn't where we thought we'd end up in old age but we had settled into a comfortable routine, discussing the affairs of the day, eating breakfast and sitting back to do our crosswords. We might even stroll to the village to buy something fresh for lunch.
Rhode is a small village, surrounded by bog land and turf fires, with little more than a church, three pubs, a funeral parlour and a police station. For a big shop, to settle bills or pay into our credit union accounts, we would take the car to Edenderry, our nearest town.
After securing John's shirts on the line, and clearing away the breakfast dishes, I decided it was a perfect day to drive to Edenderry. The six-mile journey was a normal, twice-weekly activity but today it seemed like more of an effort: I was feeling tired. It was an unusual, heavy tiredness that I hadn't experienced before.
As I got into the car, John remarked that I looked pale and asked did I want him to come with me. 'No, I'm fine,' I said, and drove off, calling back to him that I wouldn't be long and to have the kettle on when I came home: I'd bring back something nice for our afternoon tea.
'Oh, and don't forget the pop,' he shouted after me. He had a grá for fizzy pop, especially following a date with 'the blonde in the black skirt' in Doyles pub.
The town was choked with traffic, as usual, but I managed to squeeze myself into a space outside the credit union. Edenderry is one, long, narrow road with shops on both sides and The Square at the top. Viewed from above, it looks spookily like an axe.
I've never liked Edenderry but it has always been a central part of my life. Years ago, it had a bakery owned by a family of Quakers. Williams's Bakery specialised in a flat-bottomed loaf with a brown-crusted top that looked like a hat. When I was a child, I would get a whiff of the baking bread wafting out of the ovens as I passed by. The smell would put the hunger in me, especially as I never had the price of a loaf. We were so poor, Mammy often sent me over to the Mulvins of Clonmore to beg a bit of food. Old Mrs Mulvin was a rich farmer's wife and was happy to slip us the scraps off her table.
I always had to walk, barefoot, into Edenderry to pay some bill or other for Mammy. To avoid the gravel roads, I would go through the fields, cross over the mairn, into the slang field, up over the high bog and on to the tar road by the graveyard. Then it was easy to fly along the smooth tar in my bare feet.
I'd get the odd penny for going and spend it on apples from Edgil's, 'The Bad Bugger'. I never knew why he went by that name but that's what we all called him. No one ever saw him: he was a wealthy Protestant farmer who lived quietly on a large estate behind a big stone wall. An angry red bull stood guard over the apples in his orchard. The Bad Bugger was very well known and his apples were legendary. He would pick his apples in the autumn and pit them – throw them into a deep pit in the ground – and cover them with straw and large sods of turf. This would ripen and preserve them so we had apples all year round. You could always get apples at Edgil's. They were delicious.
Some of my pennies would go on sweets, mainly bullseyes, aniseed balls or sugar sticks, but I never had enough to buy chocolate. If I didn't spend the money on sweets or apples, I preferred to save it up for a packet of marbles or a vanilla wafer from Nolan's ice-cream shop. It would take months for me to save up enough money to buy the wafer but it was always worth it: Nolan's sold the best ice-cream in the town.
The Nolan girls would often be serving behind the counter. They were great Irish step dancers and I often bumped into them at the feis, where their father would be selling his wares from a steel coolbox on the front of his famous ice-cream bike.
I ran errands more than anyone in my family: I was so fond of the pennies. I was that mean, I'd walk half a mile for a farthing and further for a ha'penny. I was never afraid of the twelve-mile round trip. There weren't many cars around in those days but plenty of bikes, asses and carts. The townspeople would never speak to you, no more than the Dublin people. But if I bumped into someone I knew from the country, they would shout, 'Morra, Maura!' I liked that.
Father hardly ever went into town. He would have gone in more if he'd had a bank account but poor people didn't have bank accounts in those days: they had nothing to put in them. Father did try to open an account once, in the Bank of Ireland, but he was forbidden: he wasn't a big-noise farmer with money. The arrival of the credit union was a godsend to the working classes.
Twice a year, Father sold a pig or a calf at the Fair Day in The Square. If he got a fair price, he would go into McNally's butchers and return home with the rare treat of a steak for our dinner. I would be waiting, fork at the ready, with my six brothers and sisters at the kitchen table. Mammy would hop the steak on to the pan and then into our drooling mouths.
The Square was, and still is, at the heart of life in Edenderry. Fair Day years ago was held for those rich farmers with their fat bank accounts to sell cattle, pigs, sheep and fowl. The poor usually went in to buy cheap, second-hand clothes from the stalls set up by the Dublin traders.
Fair Day still happens on the first Tuesday of every month but now it's called Market Day and there isn't an animal in sight. You wouldn't get into Edenderry on Market Day but it's a busy town any day of the week.
The Tuesday I went in, for my messages and John's pop, it was so busy it took me twenty minutes to park the car. My first stop was the post office to put on my lottery – the most important task of the week. I trudged up the hill to the credit union to pay in a cheque, then walked across the main road to the supermarket and parted with a pound coin to release a trolley. There, I bumped into my sister-in-law, Ann, who was after coming back from an appointment in Mullingar.
'Maura, you look very pale. Are you all right?' she asked, suggesting I go home straightaway and get a rest. I acknowledged her concern but put it out of my head because I had shopping to do.
I picked up what I needed, not forgetting the pop and an apple pie to go with the cup of tea, hauled the trolley over to my car and packed my messages into the boot. I abandoned the trolley: I thought feck the pound, and headed back home.
Halfway there, I started to feel hot and shivery. Ann's words were ringing in my ears. I was having trouble focusing and decided to pull in off the road, right outside Edgil's of all places.
I waited for the queer feeling to pass. There were cars flying by me but no one stopped to see what was wrong. Normally, in that part of Ireland, you could expect somebody to stop. Not that day.
My heart was thumping but I made to move off again. I was glad to be home: by the time I pulled into the drive, I was feeling quite sick. John had the kettle hopping on the range and we had our tea and apple pie. I thought a bit of food might help, and nothing was going to stand in the way of me and my pie – not a bit of sickness, anyway.
I brought in the dry clothes and went down for my afternoon snooze. I had a rest most days but this one seemed more important. I knew I was suffering from more than afternoon fatigue. I thought I was going to faint. I put it all down to the heat, took painkillers and fell, exhausted, into bed.
I woke two hours later, refreshed, and put on another wash. I couldn't waste a good drying day and I still had all the bed linen to do. John was preparing the dinner – bacon and cabbage – as he did every day. I didn't always feel like a dinner but, once it was cooked and put out on a plate in front of me, I would eat it.
The next hour was spent folding clothes and placing them into the hot press. The evening wore on in its usual fashion. I pottered around doing my bits and bobs, waiting for the RTE news at nine o'clock. John and I always watched the news together, providing he was in a talking mood. If he wasn't, he would go to his bed straight after dinner and I would write up my diary.
We had our own bedrooms in the cottage. We'd slept separately since 1989. I didn't want to share his bed any more after what he did to me. My bedroom was just off the hallway, next to the bathroom, and John's was on the other side of the living room, in the old part of the cottage. We joked that I was in the East Wing and he was in the West!
Most nights, I would sit in my chair by the fire, shouting at the television and airing my strong views. John would sit on the couch, doing the same. It was our usual practice to comment and interject along with the politicians and commentators. We were particularly interested in the Peace Process.
'I wonder what Seamus has got to say,' I would mumble. We admired Seamus Mallon: we thought he was an honest person.
'Yeh, he has it right,' John would say. 'He's about the best of them.'
My interest in Irish politics was formed very early; both my parents were staunch Republicans who were actively involved in the 1916–21 War of Independence. When we were children, we would listen to Father singing rebel songs after his supper, then he would regale us with stories of the conflict with England. Mammy used to think she was Madam Markievicz: she was as strong as the Countess and they shared the same ideas and ideals. It was my mammy's dearest wish to see a united Ireland before she died. And it's mine too.
The news that night was all about the Peace Process. It was a frustrating time: both sides had reached an impasse over the formation of a power- sharing Assembly. I thought, how odd to watch politicians refusing to speak to each other or listen to what the other was saying. Even though Sinn Fein was democratically elected, Paisley's crowd, the DUP, wouldn't take part in any discussions with it.
'Ah,' said John, 'the Unionists won't listen to that. Not Jeffrey Donaldson anyway.'
'Donaldson, that little fucker,' I said.
I couldn't stand to look at that fella. Any chance he got he would say Sinn Fein/IRA. It used to madden me. Supposing the Republicans started saying DUP/UFF. How would that go down?
Donaldson was challenging Tony Blair that day. 'It has to be no guns – no government for Sinn Fein/IRA,' he was saying. He angered me that much I had to turn off the television.
'That's it then,' I said. John went to the bathroom and I went back outside to bring in my second line of washing.
* * *
15 June 1999 had been an ordinary day. A strange wheeze and a tissue full of blood changed all that. 'John!' I shouted. 'Oh my God, come here, come here quick.' We both stared at the sodden tissue.
'Am I goin' to die, John?'CHAPTER 2
The Notorious Birth of Mary McNamee
I was born a delicate child with a peculiar shape: one leg was thinner and slightly shorter than the other, and a strange hairless head with squinty little eyes sat on top of an odd, bottle-shaped neck. I was chronically ugly and as cross as a briar.
When word got around Clonmore about the freak that was born to Mary Ann and Johnnie McNamee, a stream of curious neighbours dropped in to see the product of the much-talked-about birth. Mammy didn't mind; she was proud of her infant child and was delighted to show her off.
I came into the world among the turmoil of depression and poverty on the seventh – or sixth – of September 1928. There was never any confusion about the date I was born until I took the time to study a copy of my birth certificate when I retired. It seems that Mammy actually gave birth to me on the hour of midnight on 6 September 1928, and that is the date recorded. For some reason I was never told and I've celebrated my birthday on the wrong day all my life.
At least there's no disputing the place of my birth. It happened at Brocka, Clonmore, in County Offaly in the heart of the Irish Midlands. I was the third child of seven born into the McNamee household – fourteen months after my sister Carmel.
I did not thrive in the first year and a half of my life: I was a sick baby, always vomiting, unable to keep down even a drop of water. I was a painfully slow developer. Mammy used to say I was so delicate I wasn't expected to live, and visitors often commented solemnly, 'If that child lives, any child has a chance.'
Mammy took me to see the doctor at Rhode dispensary to see what could be done, even though she didn't have much faith in doctors and none at all in hospitals. She was happier to put her trust in home-grown remedies and in her strong religious beliefs, praying to the Blessed Virgin every night to make me strong. She believed in the power of prayer.
Excerpted from Don't Wake Me at Doyles by Maura Murphy. Copyright © 2004 Maura Murphy and Macalla Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Pres.
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