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These days it's all weed killing, backache and wishes. Now Cork is always dry gin and a twist in Jim's fading memory.
He listens to the awakening of the new day: the clock on the dresser ticks hurriedly and the letter box snaps awake. Housewives hurrying, car exhausts, liberated women with little freedom. He goes to smaller stores, chats with familiar people and gets milk and eggs and a small loaf of fresh bread. ' 'Couldn't be better.' Life is strangled with polite lies. 'Forever and ever,' Ellen assures, squeezing his hand.
His tired eyes examine the envelopes at arm's length. No longer absorbed in his letter opening task Jim looks at the sunlight shining blindly on his glazed, brown teapot and then, laying the bad news aside for later, he pours more lukewarm tea. Cakes and ale, songs and celebrations and the long dead who cared. Up in the still shadowed parlour a clock chimes the hour and Jim rises tiredly and prepares to face the day. The world has gone mad with cruelty and nobody seems to have noticed. Hearing the parlour's ten time chime and the long day stretching ahead like a dreadful eternity. Nothing to do and outside bright girls hurry through the morning, sun on their heads, time on their hands. Light sustenance for the long afternoon lengthening drearily ahead like an empty road going nowhere. He becomes delirious with dreaming and hears distantly the brass handle under the Brassoed letterbox clattering once.
There are no birthday cards to sigh over - these days who would know? When he turns on the wireless the news assaults his soul. He turns a dial and foreign voices cackle urgently in the ether. Feet clattering, black tights, skirts just short of sin. Jim tries to read but even in glasses the words are a blur. Jim shuffles down the hall and when he cautiously opens the wide door Ellen is there, fifteen and lovely, framed in the sun like a miracle.
Returning to the familiar kitchen he slides a knife along his letters, slitting out their folded information. Talking violence in tongues, telling of the rapes of children, no doubt. Jim smiles and finds Mozart and the morning is saved by Cherubino. You're dead.' The sun slides down the street and settles on Jim's house and Ellen fades like a startled shadow. 'My poor dead darling.' Jim avoids the supermarket. 'Ellen,' he whispers and her name rings in his head like a tolling bell. Ellen Kelly, budding with womanhood and childfresh happiness. ' From behind, a different ghost in the dark hallway, Jim's mother, smiling.
The media loves abusing the innocent with their excited updates and urgently breaking stories. It seemed quieter and children could play on the streets. Then he dresses and walks, cane and cloth cap, to the front door and checks the windows and the bolts and all's secure. 'He's got to do some shopping for me, Ellen dear.' Jim, sixteen, between women, inter Ellen's, adolescently happy. Mother agrees, loving neighbour Ellen like the daughter her grey age longs for.
Nobody will judge you, as nobody can find out your real name.
Mama behind the coffin, mama in her own maternal grave.
Jim struggles from a dream speaking her name into the listening shadows. The pitch dark shadows silent as lovewords from dead mouths.
Even later, the clock in the parlour chimes twelve heartbeats. Climbing into an empty bed, Jim turns off the sidelight and watches the shadows huddling against the floral wallpaper. Ellen's same sad glad smile standing there by his bed.
There is nothing to see except blackbirds and sparrows; nothing to hear except the noise of butterflies' wings. Soft as silence, quiet as apple blossoms falling, gentle as Ellen's dimpled smile.