We rowed out on the lake that day near the end of summer, me and Mam, and she told me about what she called the murder that she done. I wasn’t shocked, no, well not much and she told me it with tears in her eyes like the time she said her mother never kissed or cuddled her. I was sorry for her that time and sorry this time too. I wonder sometimes if my love for her is all pity and hope it’s not because she deserves more despite the harm she caused, which was only done because she was fierce hurt herself. I understand these things.
That day on the lake, the sounds of the birds all around – corncrakes Mam called them though it took her several frustrated minutes to remember the word – we talked again about her mother who I remember never wanted to be called Granny but only Mum, so she could feel younger. Neither had she let her own kids call her Mum or Mammy, but wanted people at mass and at the market or wherever to mistake her daughters for sisters. Never once did she introduce me as her daughter said Mam she was vain like that, very vain, snobbish too. When Mam gets going it all comes out, though she’d her good points she would say. Very clean, yes, like her husband, very clean and loved nature and little animals and knew all the names of the trees and plants around about, great like that she was. You can still hear the admiration in Mam’s voice when she says this and the longing, the longing in her voice for Mum’s approval though the woman’s dead this years.
But anyway, it was talk again of Mum and her oul’ coldness that led to our discussion of murderous feelings and people we’d like to have killed once upon a time. I told her of the Cummins fella that gave me such grief for bein’ girly up at Abbeyview the first three years and used to spit into my mouth in the long corridor and piss on me from a height on the way from school where the high wall was and break all my pencils in the woodwork class and me never inclined to do woodwork at all but forced into it by Dad who boasted about havin’ never been a child but a grown man from the earliest age pushed into it anyways with this little Cummins wanker who made me aware of how I talked and acted and I was never aware of it till I met him.
Girly and Mary and gayboy he used to call me all the time and I used to make up elaborate plans durin’ mass to do with lyin’ in wait for him on the high wall with a loose jagged rock and droppin’ it on his crown when he passed on his way home down towards Gallows Hill. I used to even hear him pleadin’ no, ah no don’t, then I would and I’d even hear his skull crack and see his brains runnin’ down the footpath. I’d think as well about feedin’ him sweets with rat poison injected in them. Here, have a few, Cummins I’d imagine me sayin’ and I’d see him thinkin’ ah this sissy, sucker, and he’d grab them thick as you like. I’d imagine seein’ him wanderin’ home and me thinkin’ haha he’ll be in agony in no time now and be dead tomorrow and no I won’t go next nor near his funeral but shite on his grave!
I told Mam all about this and I could see her thinkin’ oh God, sure I can relate well to this. Then she told me of the nurse she’d worked with, a divil. Oh a demon she was Mam said with the island risin’ up behind her and the lovely lappin’ sound of the oars as I rowed – the corncrakes goin’ crazy with their harsh raspin’ sound and the water all lovely evenin’ colours, navy and silver and inky and shades of blue I wouldn’t have a clue the name of and the leafy hilly island a certain blue like another colour not like blue at all, yet blue at the same time. God she was the whole time at me yer one Mam says gettin’ at me for bein’ from the country, bein’ a blow-in. She made me feel dire, that I couldn’t do my job and sure wasn’t I as good as her, just as good. Oh a terrible hate for her I had and all of a sudden didn’t she get sick.
Cancer it turned out to be. Well wasn’t I delighted and she in bed the whole time. She lived in ya see and one night I was on the skeleton shift as it was called and wasn’t I asked to look in on her, give her her pills mixed in with her soup or whatever it was she was havin’. Well not a hate of a pill would I give her, the oul’ so-and-so says I and I didn’t. Why would I, the hateful old thing and down to the ward she was brought where she died the next day. Well I cheered! And no I wasn’t shocked. She was right, she had it rough and yer wan had it comin’. You were dead right says I. Poor Mam with her life like a long oul’ string of disappointments and let-downs, A husband as weak as water despite all this claptrap about never bein’ anythin’ but a big man and her useless children except me who stood by her when all else up and left or died on her and yes, we were like allies.
She never minded me bringin’ home the odd man from the jacks in town – not a hate did she care and even when she walked in on me that New Year and me with yer man from Scotland and we suckin’ away at each other like babies and gain’ at it goodo. God he was good! He went at it wild like with good dirty passion and everythin’ and wasn’t afraid to whisper into my ear what he wanted or how he wanted it or anythin’ like fuck me slow or lick me balls all over gently. I was well into him. Well she let on she saw nothin’, went out quietly, left us to it. Hope ya’d a good night was all she said the next day when I brought her her tea and True Detective.
Did ya see who’s made bishop of the diocese she said later and who was it but this gobshite taught us civics at Abbeyview who did nothin’ but advise us to always wash our penises. Don’t get excited when ye think of girls and get hard. Of course sure ye wouldn’t be right not to think of them but don’t touch yerselves or think too much about it, boys. Don’t get excited he’d say over and over and he’d be leanin’ back on the back legs of his chair, stabbin’ his desk with a pen as he raved away, his crown grazin’ the blackboard and him beamin’ around at us all with this big stiff grin on his bloated shiny face, the lenses of his black-framed glasses shinin’ with a flat white light. The only beatin’ I ever got at school was from him for flickin’ a bit of paper on the carpet without thinkin’.
Butch was his name cause he was burly and big but he was no more butch than I was. The bishop he is now she says and she talked away about him and kept from the subject of seein’ me with yer man altogether.
I turned us around in the boat and made for the shore, the little bats skitin’ like shadows, so close they nearly grazed our heads. I don’t have a bad family she said indeed sure ye could be miles worse. And I thought of the sister she’d fostered out as an infant to a family, some sorta half cousins of ours and the other sister she sent away to her own flat when she got pregnant by another cousin. Then there’s a brother she never had a heed on, who grew up joyridin’ and womanisin’ and fecked off to England and another one who’s a porter in the mental hospital and doesn’t talk except for a bit about soccer. I thought as well of when she used to call me sissy but that’s well behind us I thought.
I pulled the oars, lookin’ at her as she said with pride that she’s content now because of me. I’ve stood by her and listened to her and got her to speak like she wasn’t a mother at all but more like a lover or a longstandin’ friend. I think now of the privilege it was sittin’ there in the deepenin’ twilight and the lovely smells and sounds of the lake, chattin’ away with her about everythin’ after all we’d been through. As we headed back to our lives on the land, Dad was brought up out of the blue and we talked about visitin’ him in the nursin’ home where he’d had his second stroke and sat wrapped in an afghan ravin’ through bubbles of spit. I’ve often had a notion he was one of your kind says Mam and left it at that.