It was a miserable cunt of a day and the people at the publishing house were up in arms. Of course it was my fault. I knew it. I’ve known all about myself for some time.
It started with the use of certain words. Like ‘cunt’, just like at the beginning of this. There’s no real need for it, it’s just a horrible, vulgar word, unforgivable, certainly not the kind of thing you’d expect from a middle-aged, middle-class woman. It has become quite natural for me to use it, whenever I can, and not just in my writings. I offend everybody now, my ex especially. And then there’s the three kids: they don’t bother to call me anymore, they tell me they’ve no phones in the students’ accommodation, so they’re just as quick and natural to lie as their drunken, decrepit mother. I’ve been drinking even more lately. That’s where the bad words are coming from, and the dangerous thoughts. No, it’s not. It’s just me. I’m almost finished.
My publishers have had enough. I’m like a wisdom tooth, I’m like a dirty, rotten stalactite of a thing in their mouths—Dave Drake’s especially—rancid, decaying and damn hard to remove. My novels have gotten as bad as this, this bad imagery, bad writing, bad. The first books sold well, the later ones didn’t; my most recent unfinished piece (tentatively titled Cunt) is tormenting all of them—it’s autobiographical. They’ve read the early drafts and have suggested countless changes, especially the title, but of course I don’t make a single one It’s not out of artistic pride or anything, it’s just that I can’t be arsed. I’ve enough money to keep drinking and hopefully will be dead within the year. Dave Drake and co. just email now. They can’t be bothered to phone—why is everyone giving up on the old phone? The e-mails are pretty much the same as what they used to scream down the line: ‘You’re a liability!’
I’ve never heard Dave Drake swear though. That’s admirable, I guess.
I was walking in the rain—miserable cunt of a day it was—thinking about all this, my career careering, when I met a nun. She was sitting on a bench in the park, a place I sometimes go to get pissed in the evening watching the rent boys turn tricks and the clients in parkas, hoods up. It was early enough in the evening, maybe—I don’t have a watch any more.
Ending for my daughter, Jody:
She sat there, rosary beads out, mumbling a bit, so content, her face: benign. I felt comfortable right away. I didn’t want to say anything to break her rhythm, so I just sat, supping, waiting for her to fire up a chat. She smiled at me and then looked at the bottle and a kind of worried expression grew, she tried to quell that with a nice smile as if she understood and had seen all this kind of stuff before. Maybe she had. Maybe she worked with degenerates all the time. She had an umbrella by her side and looked like she was ready to up it should a shower get going again. The rain had temporarily stopped, maybe it was a miracle.
‘Bad day,’ she said. ‘Very,’ I said.
I could have opened up and explained that every day was bad for me, that I had plunged to the depths, that my writing was awful, my family had abandoned me—then that got me to wondering how I thought of ‘writing’ first and not ‘family.’
But I didn’t open up, just sat sighing, and supping, like I do.
She said that there was a church near here, and that I was welcome anytime to pray with her.
I said that I was grateful for that offer, and I tried to sound like I meant it, and not make it come out all harsh like I’m a bitch to everyone.
She laughed and said they often called her Sister Psychiatrist, that she was well known for sitting on park benches, dishing out advice—and not just religious stuff—to all who happened to sit and tell their life story. She could have had a fine career in it, psychiatry, had she not been chosen to follow the Lord.
So we just sat there, in silence, and watched a couple take photographs of the monument. The monument is just like any other. Kind of a tall tower, just rising up. It’s nothing to look at really, certainly nothing to take a picture of. But the woman had her man stand in front of it and positioned him in her digital frame and clicked the moment. And then she gave him the camera and the roles were reversed and he took a picture of her. Such order and understanding. The whole enterprise smacked of the quotidian, saddened me for some reason; maybe it was because they never asked me or the nun to take a photo of them. Perhaps they didn’t want to be together in a shot, been down that line way too many times before, sick of being side by side. Or maybe it was because I saw them in ten years, flicking through an album wondering why they took a picture of a nothing monument on a miserable nothing day in a city they can’t even remember.
Ending for my daughter, Niamh:
I sat next to this nun and told her that I once thought I’d write under the pseudonym Willy Nilly, and that my ex-husband’s name was William. I could see that she thought the idea was just plain stupid but she was just too polite and religious to say it. I looked all over her face and the get-up she had on. The black and white. Then the word came to me: habit. What an odd word. If I had had the energy and a notebook I would have written it down and tried to make something of it in one of my books, the curious connotations. But I was passed all note taking, was a woman who sat on park benches now, in the rain, not even an umbrella, stinking of alcohol, wondering if this nun had ever once… but it was a wanton line of thinking I knew, she must have been sixty if a day, it was unfair so I dropped it. I’m not as bad as all that.
The nun said maybe I should trust in the Lord, pray, repent, that I’d find my inner peace.
I saw a beetle crawl up the arm of the bench and thought maybe she was right, that work and knowing one’s direction was a good thing. She was nice to say that to me. People can be so nice. I almost took her hand and squeezed it and said, Thanks old girl. But I didn’t. I just watched the beetle, and the rain stopped, and she took down her black umbrella and walked off down the gravel road, a little sun starting to come up on her and the day.
Ending for my son, Aaron:
‘They’re up in arms at the publishing house. They’d love to see the back of me. They’d love to see me dead. I’m working on it. That’s my work-in-progress.’
‘So you’re washed up?’
I didn’t expect a phrase like this from a nun. It was direct, surprising coming from a lady of the cloth. I admired her, and her convictions.
‘Yeah, past it. Can’t write a thing any more.’ ‘That’s a shame. Are you a novelist?’
‘Yeah, why do you figure?’
‘You have that look,’ she said, her fingers still telling the beads. ‘Not say, a washed-up painter, or poet, or actor?’
‘Nah, you’ve got the lines of novels written all over your face, the good lines you’ve done, grand prose, and the bad lines too, more so the bad lines, bad writing, bad.’
She just nodded, seemed sad in telling me this truth.
She said she sometimes fed the squirrels, even though they were getting to be way too numerous, a real problem now, and the keepers of the park didn’t like it one bit, people giving them bits of bread and nuts. But she said she’d been doing it for years and the keepers gave her a break, a bit of leeway seeing as she was a nun and all.
I asked her if she often abused her power like this and she said that she did. Then I started to think of the word ‘nun’, just as she sat there, and how it was like ‘none’, and you’d hardly hear it in speech but could see the difference on paper. I knew there were some words in me yet, better than the lazy swear
words, better than the bad writing of late.
‘You’re just a washed-up old cunt!’ she said to me then, out of the blue, without the slightest bit of provocation. This nun! The tongue on her!
No, she didn’t, I just made that last bit up, she just said ‘bye’ and ‘Godspeed’ and upped her brolly and went off into the consoling rain.
There’s trickery in me yet. I’m going to call Dave Drake, speak to him on the phone.
Fuck these e-mails.