The Country Girl


She sat on the back roof under the railway line smoking black tobacco.  It was a clear night.  The universe of stars held the sparkling existence of an infinity of souls in its vast cradle.  A train lumbered up the incline, the windows lit with other fleeting existences, moving on as her own fugitive moments.  She was smoking black tobacco from Spain.  The rich, pungent aroma trailed towards the stars, an unnavigated vastness, visible.  Shooting stars or comets blazed brief trails like . . . well . . . so that was her life then, a wisp of cigarette smoke on a clear, starry night.  The death of her crippled brother had brought a final deliverance to the country girl.  She sat in the room where he was laid out.  She held his marble-cold hand for hours.  Those who passed through were struck by her distant, dry eyes.  Finally, when his brute, meaningless life had been interred in the earth, she found herself alone on the roof with a pack of Ducados and the universe.  A light trail of aromatic tobacco smoke, her existence and yet here she was still breathing, in fact chain smoking, inhaling long and drawing the nicotine deep into her lungs.  There was something like a sparkle in her eyes at last.  After this nothing will ever be the same again.  Not so very long ago, not a million years ago, she pushed him in his little golden chariot in the park behind St. Mary's church, far away, more than two million miles away, when they heard a horrible voice shouting his name in this sentence: there's Pa the cripple, out to feed the ducks.  And though she considered the speaker no more than a mindless savage with the mentality of a wood louse, the voice pierced through her heart like a sharp shard of glass; luckily Pa was too simple or too sick to pay attention.  Another day she recalls pushing him around in that park, farther away than Pluto now, when they ran into a swarm of little savages, how she wanted the earth to swallow her and Pa, wheelchair and all; their horrid eyes, sneers and dirty faces; their filthy minds, their dreadful voices.  She lights up another fag trying to burn them from her mind; the louts, the elm trees and the deer with manic eyes as forlorn as if they had trapped souls inside them and the sad swans on the canal.  It was the loneliest place on the planet when Mary pushed Pa around there every day.  But now that he was cold at last there would be no more treks in there, in through the dismal gates, the one-eyed crone who sat on a bench inside, the simpleton with the Stalin moustache, the rat-infested waters under the bridge, the park keeper on his tractor with reluctant lift of hand and evil eye, a scowl really as you pass by for the third time on your rounds.  She felt that she should rejoice now that the noisy gravel paths would no longer support her legs or the wheels of the silver chariot.  She sucked the black smoke deep.  She was delivered at last, a cuntry girl, the way Seanie always said it, his cuntry girl, the fumes of the drink from his breath, combustible.  If you had a match you could set him alight.  She was often tempted, no joking.  She could set him on fire like an effigy on bonfire night, that rollicking, reeling drunken scum in his vomit.  Still, with all her hatred of him, it was he had initiated the first deliverance, delivering her from an infernal life in the country, doomed forever it seemed to live on the outskirts of that unmentionable village.  Because you have to do certain things, there's no excape, as a fellow said in a film she once saw about New York.  In his case it was no excape from New York, in Mary's it was trapped forever with her mother and Patrick.  She could take the bus to the city but if she did she had to take it back again for the fact is she lived there.  There was no way out it seemed.  No more than wishing she was a man, always to re-awaken next day, raw country dawn, trapped in the body of a good Catholic girl, then woman, a spinster, but of course wishing she'd wake up a man was taking things a bit far or was it?  She would never be a man unless she had an operation but don't be stupid Mary says she to herself, it was the other way around actually, it was men who could have operations to become women.  Mary, Mary, your tea is going cold.  She was trapped that's the crux of it, trapped in the shell of a good conservative, Catholic girl, dying Jesus nailed to his cross on the bleeding walls of the church, Saturday night with her ma and Pa, the statue of the priest-poet presiding over the wicked ironies he never really wrote about, the pious after-mass congregation mutating into an unholy cesspit of savages let loose, the sons of Belial, street brawls, skirmishes, screeching brakes, suped up engines screaming, used condoms next morning in the entrance to the park, scummy, filthy residue of the low-life savages.  What dismay.  No excape.  Until a miracle happened.  An event after another creeping Jesus Saturday evening, in the local bar, fund-raising for a new roof on the church, Ma with her box of buns.  Now Mary give out the buns, go on quick.  There they were in the corner, three city boys after a day's hunting, the miracle being when Seanie let his eyes stay upon her, the fumes of drink on his breath must have made her dizzy.  A simple matter after that, her excape.  Seanie plucked her as a fox whips the chicken from the coop in a flutter of mid-night feathers, yes, in the dead of night, in short, she did the unthinkable, accepted his brazen advances, the only advances ever advanced, and he took her back to Cobb Hill with him, a trophy, his cuntry girl.  Deliverance.  Holy, bleeding Jesus, deliverance from the frying pan into the fire.  Ma fast declining back home and poor Pa, helpless.  If she took the bus regularly enough to see them she took it back out of there again, back to the furnace of fumes from Seanie's mouth.  One match she thought, while he slept, stinking the room with it.  She lasted twelve months, then she kicked him out and demanded half of everything he had, which as his sister to whom he returned, her flat down the hill, said, half of nothing is nothing, my dear.  Go away back to the country for yourself, you'd be better off, half sympathetic, half cynical, two halves of nothing being nothing, Mary did not go back to the country but took a job to pay all the rent herself, the curse of Jesus on Seanie.  And she brought Pa to live with her, the Ma now in a home with the alzeihemers.  At last, deliverance, at long last.

You still can't say it's the first morning, Mary.  There are phone calls to come through, doctors to be paid, the undertaker, the solicitors, forms to be filled.  The practicalities are endless.  After all these years the loose ends will take time to tie up.  Very well.  She sat on the roof smoking black tobacco.  Turning back the pages was futile.  This is the point of no return.  She planned to sell the house in the country, gleefully burning her bridges.  To go dwelling on the past now was the worst kind of nonsense imaginable.  She sucked the tobacco.  I'm thinking like this because I'm more than capable of dwelling on the past.  I'm giving myself a warning, avoid it.  From now on you have to answer to or apologise to no-one, try to keep that up there in the forefront of your simple mind when you're talking to the people.  Let them imagine what they like.  Let them read their tea leaves.  No-one will ever see me on this roof smoking black Spanish tobacco.  

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