It was only my second day on the job and the bus had been slow. I was in a right tizzy as I rushed along the corridor, afraid I’d be late. Just as I reached the clock-in machine, there he was, right beside me – the life and soul of the factory floor, or so he already seemed, to me.
“The new girl, is it?” he said.
I said yes, shyly. I was distracted. I looked up and down the rack of brown clock-in cards and it seemed to take forever to find mine. Finally I grabbed it and shoved it into the machine. Only a minute left. Nothing happened. I was going to be in trouble. Someone would probably give out to me.
“Feck,” I muttered.
He took it out of my hands. “You have it the wrong way round, you eejit,” he laughed, and leaned against me as he shoved it in. He knew how to do it right.
The machine made a clicking noise and he pretended to give the card back to me twice, which confused me.
“Smile,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world.”
I had to leave that job. That’s why I’m here in London. I’m on my way to work now, on the Piccadilly line. There’s a trendy couple sitting opposite me. They have money and they’re smart. You know it by the look of them. He has a nice shirt and jeans, and the kind of shoes called “casual” even though they cost just as much as Sunday shoes. She’s wearing clothes that seem almost colourless and plain, but they’re not plain plain, if you know what I mean. They’re classy. You wouldn’t find that kind of gear back home where I’m from. This man and woman – I’m not jealous of them. At least I don’t think so. I just wish I had a bit more cop-on, that’s all. I wish I had known the things I needed to know in life at the time I should have known them. I mean, it’s obvious those two people are well clued-in, not thick like me. They’d laugh to think that anyone could be as foolish as I was. They’d be sick laughing to think that a curly-haired chancer who wore grey polyester trousers and patterned jumpers and worked as the floor manager in a factory could make someone demented with love. But I didn’t know any better then. No one ever gave me the time of day before. I was crazy about him.
“Torn between two lovers,” he sang, going around the desks, checking that we were all working. “Feelin’ like a fool… Lovin’ both of you is breakin’ all the rules.”
He winked at me. He had a lovely singing voice. But I was the fool, not him.
I used to sit behind a metal desk on the factory floor, just like the older women, putting transistors and capacitors and resistors onto a computer board. Some of them were like strange small beans. Shiny black and shiny brown. Some were like children’s coloured toys, only far too small, of course – red and blue stripes on a kind of fawny colour. Some were tiny metal cylinders with thin legs. I followed the map and stuck the fiddly little things in the boards until tea break, and then again until lunchtime, and then again until tea break, and then again until home time. It was a bit like doing a jigsaw. Sometimes I made mistakes because my mind would go off on a trip of its own. I tried not to make a hames of it.
“It’s a good job and she was lucky to get it,” said Mrs Buckley in the shop, to my mother.
There weren’t many jobs around Atharnavar then. I tried my best, but sometimes a batch of them bloody boards would end up in the skip and it would be my fault and I would worry about losing my job and what they’d say at home. I’d be dreaming of him, you see. Sister Mary Regina said I wasn’t bright but that I could surely hold down a job at Aces Factory if Mary Kelly could. Mary Kelly was fierce thick altogether, but she knew how to do the boards.
He was a hard case. He was an awful so’an’so. He was a right chancer. That’s what they said about him in the factory. But I thought he was the one for me. I got the thought into my head and couldn’t get it out again, not even when I found out he had a wife.
“You’re as handy as a small pot,” he said to me, when I made him a cup of tea at break-time. Most of the other women on the factory floor would tell him to “eff off” and make his own tea.
“Don’t encourage him, love,” said Mrs Mooney.
I liked making tea for him though. So I did.
Come day, go day,
I wish in me heart it were Sunday.
Drinking buttermilk thru the week,
Whiskey on a Sunday.
He used to make every day like a Sunday to me. It was work I looked forward to, not the weekends.
So here I am on the tube train. I have a cleaning job in the hospital. I’m on the night shift. While people like the smart couple opposite me are having after-work drinks or going to the theatre or to a fancy restaurant I’m at work. I clean all night long, apart from two tea breaks. It’s ok so long as I don’t have to talk to anyone. I don’t mind cleaning, except for the Maternity Ward. I always feel sick when I’m on that, so I usually manage to get one of the other night-cleaning staff to swap with me.
That sick feeling. I hate it. I used to feel sick like that on Saturday nights at the Shamrock Ballroom, sick with worry that no one would ask me to dance. I’d sit along the wall in a row with the other girls, making pretend conversation, wondering inside my head why I bothered going to dances at all, desperate for some man to notice me. Then the girl sitting next to me would be asked up, and sometimes the girl on the other side as well, and I’d be the wallflower, sitting there like an oinseach, not knowing where to look.
Only the drunken lads who came in late and could hardly see me would ask me to dance. That fella who wore his Wellington boots, dance or no dance, used to nod me onto the floor. A girl from the town told me he wore nothing except his Wellingtons for so long that the skin between his toes had grown, and his toes ended up all stuck together. The thought of that made me feel sick, but I didn’t like to say no to him in case the other fellas thought I was a stuck-up bitch, and then no one else might ask me at all.
No more dances for me. My dancing days are over a long time now. I wish I could say the same about that sick feeling I get. Sometimes it doubles me over.
I have to stay in England. I can never go home.
I opened my legs in the back of his Vauxhall Viva and let him do it. Let… him… do… it… Just like I laughed at his jokes and made him tea in the canteen and let him belittle me when he felt like it. I did that. I let him put his thing in me. He put his child seat in the boot of the car before we did it. It hurt.
I didn’t tell anybody. How could I? Nobody said anything to me when I started getting big. Nobody said a word.
It hurt that night too. I was agony when I went into the field in my nightie, no shoes, wet mud. I could feel one foot slide on warm cow dung. I was in pain. It came out. I hated it. His wife went to the hospital. I had to go out to the field. Hot tears, pain like a hot poker. I was an animal; that was all. The head came out. I pushed the rest out, held it hard around the neck, shook it against the ground. I was mad at myself. It meant nothing to me. It was like a dead dog on a leash. I had to bite the stringy bit off or it would drag along the ground after me forever until I died. I bit it through. I hid it well.
All these long years later, I’m still scared. Some day, someone might find out.
I’m sitting here alone on this tube train. No one here knows me. I wish I didn’t know myself. Sometimes I dream about it. I dream I’m walking down Oxford Street, looking in the window of Boots, maybe, or Top Shop, and the thing falls out of me and everybody in the street sees it dragging along behind me on the footpath on its fleshy string and I don’t even notice. Then I see it trailing along behind me, slithering along the footpath like a big slug. I wake up with a terrible feeling that it’s still there with me, that it’s at the bottom of the bed. I have to scrabble down under the sheets to check. I shiver with cold and fear under the blankets. I’m not even relieved that it’s not there, because it feels like it always will be, whether it’s really there or not.
Madeleine D’Arcy was born in Ireland and later spent thirteen years in the UK. She worked as a criminal law solicitor and as a legal editor in London before returning to Cork City in 1999 with her husband and son.
She began to write short stories in 2005 when she attended workshops with Claire Keegan at University College, Cork.
In 2008, she was granted a bursary by Cork County Council to attend the 10th International Conference on the Short Story in English, held in Cork.
Since then, her stories have been short-listed in several competitions, including the Fish Short Story Prize, the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Competition, the Brian MacMahon Short Story Competition and the Bridport Prize (UK). In 2009 she received a commendation in the Sean O’Faolain Short Story Competition.
In April 2010 she was presented with a Hennessy X.O Literary Award 2009 in the First Fiction category for her short story “Is This Like Scotland?” On the same date she also received the overall Hennessy X.O Literary Award for New Irish Writer 2009.
In June 2010 she was part of a group of six Irish writers sponsored by Culture Ireland who attended the 11th International Conference on the Short Story in English, held in Toronto.
Also in 2010 she received a Cork City Council Artists Bursary Award for the purpose of funding a mentor to advise on her novel.
She has been offered an artist’s residency at Heinrich Böll Cottage, Achill, for two weeks in November 2011.
Her stories have been published in the Sunday Tribune, by Ether Books Mobile Publishing, by the Irish Examiner (Holly Bough) and in the Anthology Sharp Sticks, Driven Nails (Stinging Fly Press, 2010).
Madeleine has read her work in Dublin, Toronto, and at the Frank O’Connor Short Story Festival in Cork.
She has recently completed her first short story collection and is currently working on a novel set in Cork and London during the years 1980 to 2005.