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Till Death do us Part

by Maura Barry


    Talking to myself as usual. His lordship is stuck behind the paper, smoking his pipe. The two girls are married and have their own lives down the country. God bless them.
    I’m a bit old now to change things, but many a day I would have loved to pack my bags and leave with the kids. The only problem was, I never had the money or a place to go. I tried saving the hen egg money, but it went on different things around the house. Himself was too miserable with money. Once I asked him would he give me a few bob to get lino for the kitchen. He threw a fit and said,
    “What to hell do you want spending money just to walk on?”.
    It wasn’t love that brought us together in the first place. Our marriage had been arranged by both families.  Never set eyes on his lordship until the week before the wedding. My mother, God have mercy on her, kept saying,
    “It isn’t right for a girl of your age not to be married. We will have to look out for some farmer.”
    My father, R.I.P., knew his lordship’s father. They lived only seven-and-a-half miles away on a good-size farm. It was daddy who arranged the marriage. Both men had inspected the farms and a settlement was made over a few whiskies in Connor’s pub in Cushendal. His lordship was a dour auld thing and twenty years my senior. I didn’t complain as the old pair were getting on and I didn’t fancy being left on my own.
    Years after we were married, Mrs. McStravick, a neighbour, asked was his lordship treating me o.k.
    “Why do you ask?”
    “Ach, it was only that I heard a long time ago that your man didn’t know whether to buy a donkey or get married.”
    It’s a pity he didn’t get the donkey, but then I wouldn’t have had Bridget and Mary. A Godsend they were, as I was getting on in life. 
    His lordship went off the head when the girls were born. He nearly hit the mid-wife on both occasions. She was a strong nurse and told him if he didn’t behave himself, she would get him locked up. It didn’t stop your man given out.
    “Girls! What to hell do I want bloody girls for? It’s help I need. Can’t she do anything right?” 
    Complained from morning till night. It was a waste of time marrying, he said, as the land would go the wind now. No boys to take it on.
    Many a day I prayed he would fall in a big bog-hole, but he always came back demanding his dinner. His face became more like a melted wellie everyday. He’d moan about all the work he had to do and no boys to give him a hand. I did nothing of course, only arose at 6:30 a.m. to get his tea before he milked the cows. I had to strain the milk into the cans. He had the easy job then, going to the creamery, where he spent half the day. I would have the cabins cleaned out, hens fed and brought umpteen buckets of water from the well for washing. No luxury like running water in those days. The toilet was a bucket in the shed. I’d have 101 jobs done before he came back. He’d leave the donkey in the yard, pace in with his mucky wellies and demand his tea. I asked him to clean his wellies once before he came in and was sorry I did. 
    “What the hell else have you to do but go round with the brush, just get me my tea.” 
    Was tired of his roughness and bad temper so it was easier to say,
    “Yes, no, fine,” bow and scrape, it kept the peace. 
    I’m not a religious woman, but went to Mass a few mornings a week. It took me out of the house and I could dream away for myself in peace. I used to wonder what it would be like if I’d married someone I loved. A real man, that would care for you and remember your birthday. You know like those romances on the T.V. and the ones you read about in magazines. His lordship never bought me a thing in his life. If the girls didn’t send cards and gifts the birthday would go unnoticed. Ah, well, I suppose a lot of women are in the same boat. 
    The girls always told me I was mad to put up with him, but what else could I do? He held the purse. Don’t see much of the girls now, as they can’t bear to look at the miserable old goat in the corner. I find it hard to get to see them. The transport is easy, but it’s like trying to escape from prison. As soon as your man sees me putting my coat and hat on, he’d throw a fit.
    “Where the hell are you going, woman?” he’d say.
    “Oh! I was just going out to milk the cows, they like to see me dressed up.”
    At this statement, he’d fire anything his hand could grab and fling it at me. 
    “Don’t you dare go off anywhere. I could be in a brown box by the time you come back.”
    “Wishful thinking!” On occasions, he would fall down on the floor and scream for a priest.
    “I’m dying, you can’t leave me.”
    He was a great actor. It was easier to stay at home than put up with all the ranting and raving.
    Mary would love if I went to live with her. She said I could help with the kids. She has a wee part-time job. It’s amazing how you get into a rut and are afraid to make a change. Old age, I suppose.
    Bridget once said, “Ma, why didn’t you stay on your own farm? You could have opened a wee tea-shop. It’s an ideal spot on the main road between Waterford and Cushendal,” she said.
    “Just think, ma, your life could have been different. Wee tables outside on the sunny days and you are a great cook. All homemade jams and scones. The city folk would have loved that and maybe you would have met a nice guy from Belfast. But then I wouldn’t be here,” she ended.
    Right enough, she had me thinking. The wee house was lovely. My mother, Lord have mercy on her, white-washed it every year. The pump at the side of the house was painted yellow and blue. Green fingers she had as well. She could get flowers growing out of an inch of soil. There was roses growing all round the door and crawled along round the lattice windows. The thatch roof was well kept by my father, R.I.P. Every summer he would repair it.
    Right enough it would have made a lovely tea-shop, as the road is now teeming with traffic coming from Belfast. City people love to look at wee country cottages, but I bet they wouldn’t fancy living in one. No mod cons, mice up in the thatch. I suppose I could have made a go at that and the money I made during the summer would have kept me over the winter. If the trade got really good I could have employed help and maybe done a bit of travelling. Never travelled too far in my life. Was in Belfast once. 
    Ah well! It’s no good reminiscing, I can’t turn back the clock.
    The farm at home was sold and the money went into this place, my dowry you could say. The thatch house was never lived in after my parents died. The roof has since caved in and the nettles and weeds have choked up the door and windows. Women in those days didn’t make decisions so I’m stuck with his lordship till death do us part. He is on his last legs now and I’m still praying he’ll fall in a bog hole.

 

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Taken from ‘Roughly Speaking’ (1991), pages 62-64.



Maura Barry
 

The Smell of Incense