Thursday, March 25, 2010
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.
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.)