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The Invitation

by Maura Barry

Who’s the letter from, Brenda?”
    “You wouldn’t believe it, from my Ma,”
    “From your mother?”
    “Yeah! After all these years, she has finally thawed. She was wondering, would myself and the kids go up and see her. No mention of you, of course.”
    “Maybe you should go up, as you might regret it if she died.”
    “Thirteen years Eric, it’s a long time.”
    It doesn’t seem that long ago, since the assistant at the dole office, sent me round to Johnston & Johnston Sports Shop for an interview. I had to go, even though I hardly knew the difference between a squash or badminton racket. They would stop my dole, if I didn’t turn up. Couldn’t believe it, when they asked me to start the following Monday. To be honest, I was hoping I wouldn’t get it as they were too stuck up for my liking.
    It was a family-owned shop, Mr. Simon Johnston, his brother Donald who was a pain in the ass and a nice looking guy, Mr. Eric, Simon’s son. The staff were all called by their first names, so it was Miss Brenda this or Mr. Eric that. What a load of auld nonsense.
    I worked on the ground floor along with Mr. Eric, Miss June and Mr. Donald, who cursed at me from morning till closing time. Anything I did wasn’t right, he had me running around like a terrified mouse.
    “Jesus, Miss Brenda, I said, bowls you throw, not bloody camping bowls. God! Where did we get you from, a bloody imbecile would do better.”
    His language was appalling and if a customer came in he would put on a big cheesy grin.
    “Can I help you,” Madam, Sir.
    Two faced auld pig.
    We sold everything for the sport enthusiast. A man came over to me one day and asked, where would he get tees. “Ah! You’re in the wrong shop, the wimpy bar is next door.” He just smiled, “It’s OK love, I think they are over here.”
    Eric was in stitches, in the corner. “God Miss Brenda, you really don’t know anything about sport.” He pointed to a big poster on the back of the door and there was a golf ball on a weird thing. “That red pin, my dear Brenda, is a tee.”
    I could have run from that place, I was so embarrassed. I had numerous days like that. The day a young fellow came over to me and whispered, “Could I have a jock strap please?” What! A jock strap?
    “What does it look like, is it for a horse or something?”
    “Its OK I’ll ask the man” That day Eric gave me a run down on everything in the shop and explained what various things were for. Talk about being green.
    Eric asked me to lunch one day and it went on from there. I told my Ma I was going out with Eric from the shop. She even met him a couple of times.
    It wasn’t until I came home from work one evening, I just opened the door and a plate of dinner landed in my face.
    “You defiant bitch, had to hear it from the neighbours, just a lad that works with you, my ear.”
    She lifted up a brush from the hearth and banged me on the head.
    “I’ll kill you, do you hear me?”
    She was making a good job of it.
    “Jesus Ma, have you lost your marbles?”
    “Ma, Ma, lay off, what are you talking about?”
    “A protestant, that’s what I’m talking about. The boss’s son.
    Your dad would turn in his grave if he knew you were going out with a prod. What was the use of sending you to the nuns and giving you a good religious background to end up with a Prod. All the nice young boys around here and you pick the boss’s son.”
    “For God’s sake, give over Ma, I’m 22 and I can go with whoever I please.”
    “Over my dead body you will, you’re not to go with him again, and find yourself another job, do you hear me.”
    “I’ll see him if I want.” I turned to go out when she started firing cups off the table at me.
    “If you leave this house, you will never again get back in.”
    “Go to hell Ma,” I ran when I said that and locked myself in the bathroom. I must have sat there for two hours, till she got sick of banging the door, threatening she’d murder me. I ran into my room, threw a few things into a holdall and ran down to the front door. She pounced on me like a cat, another weapon in her hand.
    “I’ll break every bone in your body if you open that door.”
    Don’t know where I got the strength, but I gave her an unmerciful push and she landed on her backside.
    I ran round for a taxi and asked for the Malone Road. Was wondering why the taxi man kept staring at me. When I glimpsed at myself in the mirror there was still spuds and carrots stuck to my hair. I put my head down into my knees and cried. Why was she like that?
    Eric opened the door of the flat and busted out laughing.
    “What did you do, run into a waiter?”
    “Shut up.” I made to run but he pulled me into his arms.
    “Hey, what happened?’
    I told him about my Ma while he made me coffee. I asked him for a bucket of aspirins as my head was banging.
    “Jesus, Brenda, your mother must be a witch”.
    The only good thing about it he said was I would have to live with him.
    His Ma wasn’t any better when he told her we were going to get married. She thought it was a phase he was going through. She was a right auld bitch, like my own. She swore she would disinherit him if he married that little common Catholic girl.
    Eric did marry me and the auld cow did dis-inherit him but he didn’t seem to mind. Eric’s dad was great, he came to see us when we came back from Rome after the quiet wedding. He was heart-broken the way things turned out, but Mrs. Battleaxe ruled the roost. “Maybe when the grandchildren arrive,” he said, “they might mellow and come to see you.” They never did.
    Eric’s dad gave us a sizable cheque and told us never to go short while he was around.
    We decided to get out of Belfast as I was sick of all the hassle, we ran into my Ma in town one day. She actually brushed off us and walked to the other side of the street. I never felt so hurt in my life. We finally bought a house in Co. Clare. It was the first time Eric was ever in the Republic.
    The children ask have they no grannies as every one in school has one. When they are older we will tell them about the two grannies that let pride and religion keep us apart.
    The kids are happy here and I’m glad we moved away from all the violence and hate even in our own flesh and blood.
    I roll up the letter and throw it in the fire. She left it too long, some of her pride rubbed off on me.


Taken from ‘Inside Outside’ (1990), pages 58-60.

Maura Barry

Till Death do us Part