The priest was telling the
congregation what a wonderful person mother had been. It’s
a pity mum couldn’t hear him, she was lying in the middle
aisle. This was her funeral. The priest went on to say mother
would be going on her long journey to God. It sounded as if he
was sending her on one of those Apex holidays, to the sand and
sun. You wouldn’t mind going yourself. He then came down
off the altar and stood over the coffin and swung the thurible
around it. The smell of incense wafted around the church.
I closed my eyes, sniffed
in the incense and was oblivious to the rest of the sermon. Didn’t
open my eyes until I felt a sharp dig in my ribs and my aunt asking
was I o.k. Shaking my head, I looked towards the coffin and there
was mum sitting up holding on to the sides. She waved at me like
the Queen Mother and the coffin took off down the aisle and out
the door. I busted out laughing. The auld aunt put her arm around
me, saying, “It’s alright. She has gone to God.”
Turning my eyes towards
the aisle again, the coffin was still there. I suppose it was
all those sleepless nights, or maybe I was going insane.
Mum hadn’t been
an easy patient to mind. She had been senile for the past five
years and you had to watch her like a hawk. I was an only child,
so it was left to me to look after her. Sometimes she was impossible
to mind. I asked the health authorities could she be put in a
With all the health
cuts, they wouldn’t even send me a home help. It ended up,
I’d to leave my job as a nurse, to look after her. The house
became a prison, had no social life and the years crept by.
The congregation filed
past the coffin and shook hands with me. Faceless faces. Where
were they when I needed a mother-sit? Only Sheila, my best friend,
would call. She was married with three kids, so it wasn’t
easy for her to call regular. When Sheila came on a visit, she
would have a bottle of vodka and the two of us would sit and get
a bit tipsy. She was great with news from the outside world. Seamus
Murray also called on the odd occasion. He owned the wee corner
shop. If it wasn’t for Seamus Murray, I would really be
in the soup. You seen, ma died Saturday night. All the shops were
closed. Seamus came to the rescue with bread, ham, rolls and cake.
He even went round to the off-licence and bought the booze.
Don’t think now
I didn’t love my mother, I did. It was just the last few
years she became impossible. She would do the daftest of things,
like fry her watch or throw coal into the fridge. At night, that’s
when she really came alive. I’d just have got into bed when
I would hear the front door slam. Rushing out in my dressing gown
and slippers, I’d find her in the middle of the road with
just her underwear on. A policeman picked up the two of us one
night, for indecent exposure. After that, I had to lock all her
clothes away and ended up sleeping in her room. Now you know why
I’m glad she is lying in the middle aisle.
I’m so, so, tired.
A few neighbours came
back to the house after the funeral. Seamus and Sheila buzzed
around with drinks and sandwiches while I sat in a corner smoking.
The three auld aunts came over to torture me.
what will you do now?”
a lovely clock.”
be needing half this stuff.”
Their eyes were taking
in every article in the room, like vultures. I will surprise them
all. All their questions annoyed me, so I excused myself and went
to the loo. I sat down on the toilet and smoked. It was very peaceful
up there. I was very relaxed and enjoying my pull on the cigarette,
when ma appeared on the cistern.
no way to behave, go down those stairs at once and look after
“Ma, just go away.
You’re dead, remember.”
When I did go downstairs
there was only Sheila and Sheamus left. They handed me a cup of
tea and Sheila said I could stay in her house for a while. I went
up and packed all I could into a case and I was glad to get out
into the fresh air.
A week after the funeral,
I put the house and furniture up for sale and found myself a wee
flat. Hadn’t much trouble in getting a job and Sheamus Murray
started to call around on a regular basis. Sheamus was like myself,
single with youth far behind, so we were both grasping for a bit
of love. He was a bit shy at first and would only leave me to
the door. A bit afraid of what the neighbours might think. One
night, I asked him in for a wee hot whiskey. I was just turning
the key, when ma appeared on the handle of the door.
“Deirdra, I won’t
have any of this nonsense.
Sheamus looked at me.
“It’s all right, Deirdra, I won’t come in, I’ll
see you another night.”
I tried to explain but he was gone.
“Damn you, mother.”
Sheamus rang the following
day and asked would I like to go to a show on Saturday night.
I was over the moon, thought he’d never again want to see
me. The show was great and we went for a few drinks after. Arriving
back at the flat, I chanced asking him in again. This time I kept
my eyes on his face. We had a few more drinks and our confidence
was high, so high we drifted towards the bedroom. Sheamus was
taking off his clothes with speed, not believing his luck. I was
just slipping out of my dress and there was mother sitting on
“No way, Deirdra,
is he getting into this bed. Do you hear me?”
I screamed, “Get
out, get out, leave me alone.”
Poor Sheamus looked
bewildered, wondering what brought on the change.
He pulled on his trousers,
grabbed his shirt, coat and flew.
“Oh, Ma! Look
what you have done.”
Jesus, what must Sheamus
think. He’ll never come back. I’ll never be able to
face him again.
I walked the floor for
the rest of the night. Smoked and cried until the dawn. Rang Sheila
at a respectable hour and asked could I come over. Must have looked
awful, as Sheila’s kids asked was I going to die as well.
Sheila hurried the kids out the back and I sat down and cried
over the coffee again. I told Sheila, everything that happened.
“What am I going
to do, I made a right ass of myself!”
Sheila said to take
a wee holiday and things would be different when I came back.
The two of us went to
the travel agent’s the next day and I booked a three-week
tour of Australia. Not one for lying around on beaches, have to
be on the move.
It was the best break
I had in my lifetime. Met up with a few people and I travelled
around with them. The three weeks were over before I knew it and
mother never paid me a visit. I was sorry to be going home, maybe
some day I’d come back.
Reliable Sheila met
me at the airport and said I looked great, the greyness had gone
from my face. We called to the supermarket on the way back to
the flat. Sheila asked, would I go to dinner in her house that
Friday evening. God, I would be lost without her.
Bought myself a new
outfit for the dinner. Went to the hairdresser that Friday evening
and arrived at Sheila’s in great form. When I walked into
the large living room I nearly died. Sheamus was sitting by the
fire, nice and comfortable talking to Bill. I gave Sheila a terrified
glance, but she just put her hand on my arm and led me to a chair.
Myself and Sheamus made
small talk, then Sheila started talking about my mother and all
the things she would get up to. The tension left me and the evening
turned out great. Sheamus left me home. It was the first time
I could really talk to Sheamus about my mother. He laughed his
leg off, when I told him about her on the pillow.
I’m now living
over Murray’s corner shop. Mother has finally left the scene.
The memories I have of her are good.
Taken from ‘Roughly Speaking’
(1991), pages 65-67.