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World Turned Upside Down

by Maura Barry

    Tracey and Jacinta walked between the aisles of underwear and stockings, in Mark’s & Spencer’s. Jacinta fingered the silk drawers.
“God! Imagine wearing these, and look at the price, just for a pair of bum warmers. Hey, Tracey, would you like a pair of these lacy tights?”
“No, I wouldn’t, they’re awful.”
“I wonder would anyone notice me taking these two pair of tights?”
“What do you want those for, Jacinta, they’re even a yucky colour?”
“Just for fun. I bet I could walk out of here with them, without anyone noticing me.
“Ah! For heaven’s sake, Jacinta, have you lost your marbles? Well, I’m not going with you.”
“Come on, are you scared? Anyway, it’s only for a bit of crack. I’ll leave them back again.”
“What about that camera?”
“Don’t mind that, it has the whole shop to cover.” Jacinta picked up the two pairs of yucky tights and stuck them down the sleeve of her jacket.
“You should have picked a better colour.”
“Won’t I be putting them back? I bet I’ll get as far as Woolworth’s. Come on.”
Tracey followed. She could feel the cold sweat running down her arms. Going up the escalator, Tracey squeezed between her teeth, “I think we’re being followed. Jacinta, just put the bloody things back, before it’s too late.”
“Come off it, Tracey, it’s only tights, not gold bars.” A woman a couple of steps above them, turned round and gave them an awful look. Tracey’s heart was hammering in her chest.
“He’s still behind us.”
“So what, we’re on an escalator, you nit-wit.”
Jumping off at the top, Tracey let Jacinta go in front of her. It wasn’t for long, as Jacinta came back and dragged her by the arm.
“There, we’re at the door. I told you we would make it.”
“What do you mean ‘we’? You’re in this on your own.”
Tracey looked over her shoulder and whispered, “Your man from the escalator is still behind us.”
“You’re paranoid. Look, easy as punch.”
The pair walked onto the busy street. Tracey was glad it was Saturday, as the town was packed. They mingled with the crowd and Jacinta jumped up in the air and yelled, “You right eejits!”
As her feet hit the pavement, a large hand gripped her shoulder, and another grabbed Tracey’s.
“I think you have something that doesn’t belong to you.”
He pulled them towards the shop, all the people just stared. Tracey was roaring and kicking.
“I didn’t take anything, let me go.”
He shook her none too gently, as if he were shaking a louse from a blanket. He marched them through the shop and into an office. Tracey held onto the jam of the door and screamed, “I didn’t steal anything, I’m going to get the cops on you.”
With that, the security guard grabbed Tracey’s wrists and pushed her into the room. A man was sitting behind the desk, with a pen stuck in his mouth.
“Well, miss,” said the man.
“You can take down those tights you have up your sleeve.”
He gave a little grin.
    “Thought you’d get away with it.”
    Jacinta didn’t say a word. She just stood and stared at the fat man, whose hair had receded and whose fat neck sat down on the collar of his shirt. He stood up and came wobbling round the desk and looked the two girls up and down.
“I want your name and address, and no funny business.”
He poked Jacinta with the pen. After getting her name, he made a phone call.
“Well, miss, you have no police record. That doesn’t mean you’ll get away with it. We can’t have wee thugs coming in here taking what they want, now can we? As for you, miss….”
Tracey stood with her legs crossed tight. She was dying for a pee but afraid to ask.
“I’d pick a better friend. Now get out of here and don’t let me see your faces again. Miss Myers, you’ll be getting a summons within the month. You will have to attend the petty courts.”
The security man opened the door and the pair made a tear for it.
Out on the pavement, Tracey grabbed Jacinta by the arm, and rushed her round to the C&A where she went to the loo.
“What will I do now, my ma will kill me.”
“You should have thought of that first.”
“Come off it, Tracey, did you ever hear of anyone going to court over a pair of tights?”
“No, but it looks like you will.”
They bought 10 No. 6 with their bus fare and chain-smoked the lot before they got home, sucking them in, as if to get some answers to their thoughts. They parted at Pacific Avenue.
“See you tomorrow, Tracey. That’s if I’m still alive.”
“I told you they were a bad colour.”
“Don’t rub it in,” and she humped her way home.
“Where have you been to this time? If I didn’t want you, you’d be glued to that auld box.”
Jacinta got stuck in and helped her ma with the dinner. Afterwards she washed the dishes, a chore she hated. She rose every morning before the postman came. No sign of an official letter. Her mum and dad got their tea and toast in bed for the next few weeks. Jacinta’s mum was over the moon about this change although she said, to Des, her hubby.
“Do you think she might have banged her head off something? Come to think of it, Des, she has hardly said a word in weeks. When I asked her to tidy her room the other day, she did. She usually tells me to get lost. Maybe we should bring her to the doctor.”
“For heaven’s sake, woman, why don’t you leave well enough alone. Don’t be going banging her head with a brush. I quite like this treatment.”
Jacinta came home one evening from school shivering. Her mum told her to go to bed, she would bring her up a hot drink. She heard the postman the next morning, but she felt like a lump of lead, so she closed her eyes again. Her mum arrived later, with tea and toast along with a couple of aspirins.
“Here, Jacinta, take these.”
“Did any post come, Ma?”
“Only one for your da, he has to go to court.” Jacinta spilled her tea all over her toast. It went soggy. “Will you look what you’re doing. You’re going to get that tea all over the quilt cover. Give me it. Can you not hold a blooming cup in your hand?”
She took the cup and plate from Jacinta.
    “You may get up. I’m not traipsing up all those stairs again.”
“Think I’ll stay in bed for a while.”
Jacinta lay and looked at the cracks running along the ceiling. What will I do now? She jumped up and pulled on her clothes and looked out the window. The street was deserted. Pushing up the window, she managed to get herself onto the ledge, without being guillotined. Getting onto the roof of the bay window wasn’t so easy. Jacinta hadn’t grown much in the past year. Stretching herself she was able to get her toes onto the roof. She pushed with her hands along the front wall, and finally she stood up on the roof. She looked down at the path below. It’s not that far. One, two, three, go, but her legs stayed where they were. One, two, three, this time she landed on the path, feet first. It felt like her legs went up through her body and were now on her head. Jacinta moaned and groaned, then howled,
“Ma, ma,” before she keeled over. Her mum and dad came rushing out of the house, along with Dusty. He jumped on her and started to lick her face.
“Ma, get the dog off me. I think I’m going to die.”
“Holy mother of God! How did you get out here, you were in your bed a minute ago. I told you, Des, she must have banged her head. What’s your name?”
“Ma, will you stop asking me silly questions. My legs are broke.”
Des ran out the gate and shouted, “I’ll get the doctor.”
“What’s your name, how did you fall?” her mother mouthed.
“Bloody superwoman. Just bring me in, everyone is staring at me.”
A crowd had gathered at the gate.
“Don’t lift her, Mrs. Myers, till the doctor comes,” said nosy Miss Peg, from down the street. Jacinta tried not to cry, but the tears rolled down her cheeks. Dusty kept mopping them up.
“Just tell me, how did you fall out here so quick?”
“I fell off the window.”
“The window! What window?”
Her dad had arrived with Dr. Armstrong. He examined both her legs.
“Well, miss! You have a clean break in this one, the other one I’m not too sure. I’ll bring you down to the hospital.”
The doctor lifted Jacinta and put her in the backseat of his car. Des jumped in the front along with the doctor. Mrs. Myers hung onto the open window.
“Des, get her head examined as well. I swear there is something wrong with it. She said she fell out the window.”
    The car took off, Mrs. Myers stood and said a wee prayer to St. Rita. She pushed her way back into the house, making some excuse about the porridge sticking to the pot, to her neighbours.
Jacinta and her dad had to wait a while in casualty, before she was whisked away for an x-ray. She came back with a plaster-cast on one leg, the other had a bandage on the ankle. On their way home in the ambulance, Des asked Jacinta how she fell on the path.
“I was looking out the window, and there was this wee cat stuck on the ledge of the bay window roof. Well, I climbed out to help it, but the stupid thing jumped off and left me there. I couldn’t get back in the window, so I jumped, too.”
She hated telling her dad lies. Jacinta coughed, and thought this was a good time to ask about the letter.
    They wouldn’t kill her now.
“Did you get a letter this morning, Da?”
“I nearly forgot about that. I have to go to court next Thursday, to do my stint on the jury. So you thought you had problems.”
“You’ve to say who’s guilty or not. God, I would hate that.”
“Hope to God I don’t get someone like Jack the Ripper, or some young lads I know. They would knock my head in, if I put the hammer on them.”
“What if you got some woman who stole a tin of salmon, and it was her first offence?”
“Not guilty, but I don’t think they would bring anyone to court for a tin of salmon.”
“That’s what I thought.”
She pushed her back into the long strip of cushion, and looked at her plastered leg. Jacinta saw the bald man on the floor, with perspiration running down his face. His fat neck was bulging, where she had left her cast leg on his throat.
“I’m going to kill you.”
“What’s that, Jacinta?”
“I said, we must be home, the ambulance has stopped.”


Taken from ‘This is Where We Came In’ (1992), pages 22-25.

Maura Barry

The Sting