Thursday, March 25, 2010


Most of my early adult life, my resentments lay at my mother's door. Mental illness is all consuming, I found her bottomless, suffocating, desperate neediness repellent. It seemed surviving to leave home wasn't enough, I still could not escape. Duty and love forbade me venting this frustration, she was far too fragile to scorch. It took so many, many years later to uncover the sleight of hand. All the time my siblings and I focused on her blame, we never once sought to question my father's motive, or as to why he deliberately choose to seek out and to marry such an obviously broken vessel. Perhaps we were too afraid to fall down that hole. Life was scary enough. Growing up in a house filled with secrets, denial became second-nature.

Does evil exist? Yes, I believe it does.

My name is Karen. This is still my story.

Ma’s not yet home, it’s her first week up at Menzie’s. Peter doesn’t seem to be in, either. Clicking on the light switch, we make for the scullery and Mary lights the stove for some heat. We spread slices of bread with marge, and I climb the chair to fill the kettle for tea. Lifting our bread and mugs through with us, we go on in to the living room, settling back to watch Top Cat and officer Dibble on the telly.

A key scrapes the lock just as the credits roll, and our Peter sticks his head round the door, “Ma here?”

We shake our heads.

“I’ve seen Da. He was up by the docks with Uncle Jimmy.”

Mary turns, “Did he speak?”

“Aye, he saw me. He said to tell Ma he’s coming back now. And he gave me thruppence..”

Typical, Peter always gets the money out of him. I pretend not to care. “What, is he coming tonight?”

“Aye, I think so –“

Mary purses her lips. “That’s good, then, Ma should be happy, eh?”

So am I. I don't know what Mary's problem is, she looks like she's sucking a lemon. Maybe somebody's told her about The Floozy?

Turning the telly over, I search for cartoons, but they look to have finished.

Ma is pleased. She doesn’t say so, but it’s easy to tell. She’s washed her hair and tidied herself up, has even sent Peter off to the butchers to fetch minced beef. We’ve been ordered to clean our rooms, and warned not to make a mess.

Eating our mince and tatties at the kitchen table, dipping chunks of bread in the swimming gravy, we soak it down to Ma's laughter. She is so pretty like this, with her hair all curled up and pinned. Tonight, it being Peter’s turn to do the dishes, after scraping, I head back over to the living room to join her, settling in to watch Peyton Place. Not that she's so interested tonight, she's too busy watching the clock, fidgeting, unable to settle, waiting for Da.

She asks Peter again, exactly what was it that he had said? Peter repeats it back again for the umpteenth time.

Nearing bedtime, Ma decides to send me down to Beep-Beeps. I don’t know its real name, but it’s the bar on the corner, next to our tenement block where Da usually drinks. She wants me to check if he’s in, and if so, to tell him to come on up home.

The bar is crowded, music, cigarette smoke, and voices seep through the door. Peeping through the archway, I scan for his face. A warm, beer-soaked shout calls out,

“Hey look, Larry – it's your bairn here!


“Eh, you’re in trouble now, man!”

Da laughs too, says something funny. They all split their sides.

“Hey, Karen, c’mere..” he puts down his pint, arms beckoning. Perched high on a bar stool, eating crisps, bottle of lemonade in hand, I deliver my message.

“Later.” He says, and buys me a box of sweeties from behind the counter. Da’s friends fawn over me, the bestest wee girlie in Town. Basking in their glow, I am happy to wait for when Da wants to finally finish up and take us on home. Neither of us are in any rush. It's only when the bell rings that we make for the door.

Skipping ahead, Da trails behind, leaning heavily on the banister rail. Rapping on the door, Ma’s closed face greets me, sending me back on through to bed.

Undressing, I climb in next to Mary, listening in the darkness to the rumble of voices down the hall. It seems fine enough, they’re only just talking, that’s all.

Rolling on to my back, I begin to drift.

A loud wail snaps me awake, Ma’s crying. All senses alert, I feel Mary stiffen. She’s heard too. We lie side by side, trying to follow the timbre and tone, work out what’s happening. The voices are raised, less ma's than Da, scuffles proceed thumps, a sharp, bitten off cry as an unmistakable slap find it's mark. Da is still yelling as he crashes out of the room, his heavy foot falls thudding down the hall. They stop outside our door. Barely breathing, we pretend sleep.

Oh no.
The door handle rattles. Light from the hall pools in to the room. Squinting through almost closed eyes, I see da's hunched bulk, leaning silhouetted against the door frame. Squeezing my eyes tightly shut again, I lie still, hearing him breathe. He hesitates, (are we asleep?) then enters. I feel him staring down. His weight tilts the edge of the mattress as he lowers himself to it. Still feigning sleep, I try to breathe evenly.

“Karen?” He touches my shoulder. Asleep or awake, he still wants to talk. Smelling his beer, smoke and despair, I open my eyes. We’ve already heard the shouting, pleading, the hard, sharp blows, but he chooses ignorance, safe he won’t be called to account.

He sighs. “Ah, Karen, your mother, she’s a funny woman,”

Willing him quiet, I don’t respond. Eyes welling up to display his misery, he seeks my comfort. “She is the most stupid woman I know, you know that? She’s – thick! Not a brain-cell to her. I’m just pure disgusted at how thick she is..” He weaves an arm around to demonstrate his frustration, “She hasn’t even the intelligence of a - a budgie, do you know what I mean?”

It doesn’t matter what I know. I know I hate it when he talks about her this way. I know how bad it makes me feel when she cries. I know I’m guilty of not coming to help when he starts in on her. I know a lot of things. I know he doesn’t want to know what I know, so instead I just lie there, let him rant. And yet, still my heart breaks for him, this, my father, the man whom I love.

“Aw, c’mere, give me a big hug.”

I lean up on one elbow, and he envelopes me in his musky scents, pressing his lips to my ear, “I love you, wee Karen, you’re my bestest little girl, so you are..”

I know this is so, so does Mary, faking sleep next to me. I hate it when he slobbers all weepy and sentimental, it is a precursor, I know only too well what surely will follow. Sure enough though, be it no surprise, hearing it said still rips the flesh from my bone. I believe, as always, that it's true, he'll leave us forever, I’ll never see him ever again.

“Ach, it’s going to break my heart, wee Karen. I’m the baddie, I’m the big, bad wolf, that’s what you’ll say..”

“No, no Da, I won’t –“

“Hush now, it’s true, that’s what she’ll tell you, I know she will, and you’ll believe it, aye, so you will.”

“No, please Da’!” I can’t help it, crying now, “Please don’t go, don’t leave.”

“I have to, bonny lass, I have to go. This is the last time you’ll ever see me, my little darling – och, it pure breaks my heart darling, but it’s the only way..”

We’re both blubbing now, me begging, he shaking his head. Gripped in his bear-hug, he holds me tight, asks me to remember he loves me, it's just he has to go, and he can never come back. Not ever.

Giving up playing dead, Mary joins in. “No Da’, please don’t leave, please, we need you.” Wet cheeks, nose running, she lunges her arms out, clinging tight. He hugs her back, holding us both in his tight embrace. We stay there, locked together in a huddle of pain. Gently, he brushes us off, swaying to his feet.

“Shhhh, now, it’s okay, you look after your sister now, Mary, you hear?”

“No Da!” she wails, “Come back, pleeaase, da!”

He points, nailing us to stay.

Fumbling for the door, he slips out, closing it behind. In darkness, we listen to ma's tears as she tries to placate, pleading and cajoling to talk him out of the process of packing. Her efforts are wasted, his mind is set. More raised words, the outside door opens. Running out after him, Ma’s calls echo off the cold, tile walls. A pointless exercise,, his ears are deaf.

Finally, a click of the latch, and she returns to the silence of her misery..

We remain lying motionless, blankets covered around us, as the continuous thunder of the passing lorries rattle over the cobbled street below.

(N.B. Dearest readers, please remember Karen is not me, she lives, yes, but she is, and always has been, a purely fictional character.)


Copyboy said...

Wow. Very powerful stuff. Totally thought that was real.


TechnoBabe said...

Wonderful continuation in the Karen saga. So well written, Shrinky. You are heck of a good writer!

Leslie: said...

Wonderfully written! But methinks writers write what they know, so there just might be a wee bit of someone you know in here, if not you. :)

secret agent woman said...

I've noticed that it is always harder to approach the issue of why the saner parent marries.stays with. doesn't protect the children from the crazier or abusive parent. I think people are reluctant to admit both parents are damaged people.

Skunkfeathers said...

I read this from the bottom up, then the top down, like a convertible, kind of.

Bottom line...fascinating read, real or fixshunal (not that I am including the previous post with a sleight of syntax h'yar...well okay, maybe I am...I've had three concussions, so sort of anything goes on betwixt these h'yar ears).

Joanna Jenkins said...

Stunning read. It's such a sad story but I am enjoying the read very much.

Great job.

Anonymous said...

i really enjoy your own posting type, very remarkable.
don't give up and keep posting for the reason that it simply just well worth to read it,
excited to look over much more of your current content pieces, stunning day!

Cedar said...

A book I can't put down at this point.


great writing ....

Nancy said...

I'm so glad you said she was fictional. Which, of course, says much about your writing!

simon said...

:o/ what can i say?.....

Shrinky said...

Hey Jesse, how lovely to see you in here, thank you for the kind words, that means a lot (smile).

Hi TechnoBabe, I hasten to say this is just the backdrop setting, although right now it may seem a ramble along her miserable situation, there is a plot to this - albeit a dark one. I so appreciate your bearing with me on this, I find the feedback invaluable!

Okay Leslie, we'll say nine parts fiction, how's that? (Wink)

Secret Agent, you are very astute. The deeds of the father later proves him beyond any redemption. Karen's mother was ill, but her father is actually nothing short of evil incarnate.

Skunk, if you are the result of three concussions, maybe we all could do with a little of what you've had (grin). Having suffered one myself, I appear to be in good company!

Hey JJ, I have a lot of "polishing" yet to do, but you make the job so much easier for me when you leave such an encouraging comment - thanks my friend!

Hello Anonymous, what a lovely thing to say, thank you.

Hi Riley, if and when it ever sees the light of day, a copy will find you, I promise!

Cheers Yellowdog.

Good to see you back Nancy! I suspect most of us know a wee Karen, somewhere!

Siomon, how about "hi"? (Wink)

Kathryn Magendie said...

Poor wee Karen *sad*

Good solid writing here, Shrinky -- I'm glad Karen isn't you.

billy pilgrim said...

sadly, karen's situation seems all too familiar. i remember being called the bairn when i was younger.

Kathryn Magendie said...

PS, Da is a shitter isn't he?

Michelle H. said...


(N.B. Dearest readers, please remember Karen is not me, she lives, yes, but she is, and always has been, a purely fictional character.)

Ah, but Karen lives within you, sharing her stories through your imagination and typing fingers. I say you are as much her as she is of you, at a subconscious level.

Akelamalu said...

Excellent writing m'dear, compelling reading.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Shrinky...This is another incredible installment to the story...I love it...You have crafted this so well...and have used your limited narrator to much advantage...leaving us to fill in detail with our imaginations...and so, what is left unsaid is nearly as powerful as what is said! And I find myself crying with Karen and her sister...Keep going, dearest Shrinky! You've got a true WINNER here!!! Love you, Janine XO

Jay said...

Could easily be real, Shrinky, if not you then someone else. I know plenty of heartbroken children have had to live through that. You bring it all to life for them.

Workforced said...

You're a talented writer. I like the care you take in choosing your words. I was gripped at "too fragile to scorch." Kudos to Shrinky!

chewy said...

Your stories always get my undivided attention. "Shards", I feel their pain. You take me, willingly with my hands ready to cover my eyes, into Karen's life.

Erika said...

Beautiful piece of prose. Some great images.

Thanks for the follow! I follow back!

SJ said...

Uff that was a great read. Also the earlier post about Karen. Don't mind if I applaud and whistle.

imbeingheldhostage said...

I came out to read this three times and every time got interrupted and couldn't finish it. Funny how your Karen and her family followed me around all day until I could get back here to read!

Shrinky said...

Kathryn, "da" has hardly come into his own yet - shitter isn't the word! (Smile)

Hey Billy, you got some of the Celtic running through your veins?

Yes Michelle, you are spot on there. There is a lot of fact running through the fiction, but the fact is only the canvass, not the story. (Grin)

Thanks Akelamalu!

Oh Janine, I initially questioned posting this up, it's not the type of thing most of my readers associate with my blog, but it has been extremely valuable to receive such a constructive feedback. I've been struggling with Karen, but now I believe I can go back to her, refreshed and ready to continue her journey. Thank you for all the support!

Yes Jay, sadly, Karen's life is no different from many others in similar situations - but that also changes, there is much more to her story to come (but not up here, there is only so much I can demand of my long suffering readers)!

Hey Workforced, you commented (woohoo)!! Thanks for the kind words, glad you stopped by..

In truth Chewy, I doubt Karen's story would have even got this far if had not been for your constant encouragement (hugs).

Hi Erika, how lovely to see you here, I am glad you came over. Thanks for following!

Hey SJ, where have you been hiding yourself? Good to see you back, I must trot over to catch up on what you've been up to - all good, I hope?

Aw, imbeingheldhostage, what a lovely thing to say! I don't usually like to put up such a lengthy post, this is a very rare exception! Thanks for sticking with me on this (grin).

Suldog said...

It's great writing, Shrinky, and leaves me begging more.

An odd aside: it struck me funny when you mentioned Top Cat and Dibble. I had no idea that cartoon had an audience outside of America. The fellow who voiced Top Cat, Arnold Stang, just recently passed away. He was living in the next town over to me, which I never knew. Had I known, I might have gone to his door and bothered him with my praises, as I loved that show. If you're interested...

Land of shimp said...

Shrinky, this continues to be very well done. You've perfectly captured that constant, lurking anxiety that children have when in that kind of situation, and how they'll try to completely buy the evidence that something is different, even if it is just momentary.

I know Karen is a fictional construct, but this kind of reality does exist for some kids, even today. Literally just today I read a news piece about a mother in Detroit trying to pick up her daughter from school just plastered (she was driving), the daughter refused to get in the car, and the police were called. Pot and sedatives were found in the car, and all that implies about what is likely in that girl's home life.

By telling stories like this though, something like that little girl's reality in Michigan becomes less and less likely. These sort of situations flourish in the dark, and what you are writing is another way of shedding light onto realities. I know Karen is fiction, but it is an important kind of fiction.

It is very well written, Shrinky and I mean that on more than one level.

Anna said...

Shrinky, the story sounds so real, very sad story - the sad part is that children seems to suffer the most. Anna :)