Catherine comes home

Adapted from “Grace Notes” by Bernard MacLaverty*

Sound of muffled street noises from outside. Catherine going up steps to the first floor. Sound of chatter behind kitchen door. 

Catherine knocks on the door. 

Mrs McKenna: Come in.

Chatter stops. Sound of door opening. Sound of women sitting at the table buttering stacks of bread. Mrs McKenna gets to her feet. 

Mrs McKenna: Catherine!

They hug and both start to cry. 

Catherine: Ma!.. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

Mrs McKenna blows her nose loudly.

Friend: We’d better make ourselves scarce, girls.

Mrs McKenna: Stay where you are. We’ll go into the other room

They move out on to the landing.

Catherine: Where is he?

Mrs McKenna: In there. Your old room. But we’ll go in the living room first. Come on.

Sound of a young woman cleaning, tipping ashtrays into a bin.

Mrs McKenna: Geraldine, can you finish this place later?

Geraldine: Surely Mrs McKenna… Catherine!

Catherine: Geraldine Scully!

Geraldine: The very one. I’m awful sorry. About your father… Oh, and sorry, I’ll see you later… She leaves

Mrs McKenna: Would you look at this place? Bottles and ashtrays everywhere. There was some crowd in last night.

Catherine: Did you stay up all night?

Mrs McKenna: No.. till about two. The doctor gave me a pill to knock me out. I just went to bed and left Paddy in charge

Catherine: Paddy?

Mrs McKenna: Paddy Keegan, our barman. He’s been great. Just took over. One of the world’s most genuine men. I don’t know what I’d have done without him. He put the notice in the papers –worded it nicely and all –got Carlin’s, the undertakers –drove the whole way to Cookstown to register the death. Aw, Paddy’s been great –he’s away home for a sleep now.

Catherine: When’s the funeral?

Mrs McKenna: From here tonight at seven. Then in the morning at ten. From the church… How are you?

Catherine: I’m fine.

Mrs McKenna: So you’ve moved off the island?

Catherine: Yeah.

Mrs McKenna: To Glasgow?

Catherine: Yeah… How did you get my number?

Mrs McKenna: Paddy spent the whole day on the phone, contacting everybody. He’s a gem.

Sound of a lorry climbing the hill outside in low gear. Hammering.

Catherine: What happened?

Mrs McKenna: A massive heart attack. He’d had one or two wee warnings but . . .

Catherine: Where was he?

Mrs McKenna: He said he wasn’t feeling great. Yesterday morning. Was it yesterday or the day before? God, I don’t know which end of me is up. Anyway, he felt sickish and had a bit of a pain across the chest here. And he’d been having these pains in his upper arm, of all places. I told him to take his tablets. And off he went, down to open the bar. The next time I saw him he was dead. They’d put him on two tables, rather than leave him on the floor. Malachy McCarthy and Jimmy were the ones who were with him. The early drinking crew.

Catherine: Oh mum. Come here.

They hug.

Mrs McKenna: This is getting us nowhere.

Catherine: That was terrible about the bomb.

Mrs McKenna: I like the way you phoned to check we were all still alive.

Catherine: There’s days go by, weeks maybe, when I never see the news. I just didn’t know.

Mrs McKenna: We missed the worst of it. It went off further up the street. Your father was so angry about it. “It’s our own kind doing this to us”. That’s what he kept saying.

Catherine: The IRA?

Mrs McKenna: Who else?

Catherine: It’s awful.

Mrs McKenna: It’s a policy they have now. Blowing the hearts out of all the wee towns… You’re looking well.

Catherine: I don’t feel it.

Mrs McKenna: Is anything wrong?

Catherine: No –no . . . apart from my father being dead.

Mrs McKenna: You’d better come in and see him.

Catherine: I don’t know whether I can. Whether I want to. I’ve never seen anyone dead before.

Mrs McKenna: Did you not see Granny Boyd?

Catherine: No. You wouldn’t let me.

Mrs McKenna: Well . . .Maybe a cuppa tea, first?

Catherine: Yeah.

They go back into the kitchen. Sound of knives and an awkwardness in the silence.

Geraldine: Is that you two finished in there?

Mrs McKenna: Yes, love. I’m making more tea.

Geraldine: Some of us have work to do…. How’s the piano playing going?

Catherine: Fine.

Mrs Gallagher: Open another tin of salmon there. We’d be far better off giving everybody a couple of quid and sending them down to the Chinaman’s for chips with curry sauce.

Everybody agrees.

Catherine: ‘What’s it like?

Mrs Gallager: ‘Very handy. He’s open all hours. He didn’t do chips in the beginning –but it was the only way he could stay in business.

Mrs Steel: There you are now. That’s the wee cakes done. A feast fit for a king. She shakes an empty carton. Aw, don’t tell me… Would you look at that. There’s only one left. And I’ve another two trays to do. Imagine having only one hundred and thousand left. They all laugh. Our kids call them prinkles… Look at that.. The sole survivor.

Mrs Gallagher: The individual matters… I was that hundred and thousand… Sorry love. I hope we’re not upsetting you with our gabble.

Catherine: No, no.

Mrs Gallagher (whispering) : We’re here to get your mammy through it.

Mrs McKenna makes tea. Mrs McKenna pours the tea and hands the cup to her daughter.

Mrs McKenna: There you are… Milk?

Catherine: No.

Mrs McKenna: Sugar?’

Catherine: No.

Mrs McKenna: Changed times. I mind when you took three. I was always washing the sugar out of the bottom of your cup.

The sound of a Hoover whining and roaring from the living-room.

Mrs Gallagher: That Geraldine’s a great girl. She can do the work of ten.’

Sound of general agreement from the ladies.

Catherine: I’ll get my sleeves rolled up later.

The room falls silent. Next door the sound of the Hoover goes on and on.

Mrs Curran: Your da had a way with words, Cathy, didn’t he? Do you mind the night there was the fight in the bar –the night Barney Neary was in . . .

Mrs Gallagher: Barney Neary’s a dwarf from Newtownstewart. Not that height.

Sound of all the women smiling and chuckling.

Mrs Curran: And a battle royal started. Bottles and ashtrays were flying all over the place. And Brendan said, “The only man who hadn’t to duck was Barney Neary”. I can just hear him saying it.

They all laugh now.

Mrs McKenna: She’s an oul model and there’s no parts for her. That’s what he said about Nan in the Post Office. He heard all these sayings in the bar. There’s manys the one can hear the things but never tell them the way Brendan did.

Mrs Curran: Your father was a character.

Catherine: Maybe I should go and see him…Get it over with.

Mrs Gallagher: You’d never forgive yourself

Mrs McKenna: Who’s in with him now?

Mrs Gallagher: Bella.

Mrs McKenna: Do you want me to go in with you?

Catherine: I’ll be all right. Stay where you are.

*MacLaverty, Bernard, Grace Notes, Vintage: London 1998

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