Famous

After school, I have to play outside. Mammy’s at the factory and Daddy’s in England looking for work. I’m not allowed in the house on my own because I can’t be trusted. 

Me and my best friend, Rosemary, sit on the pavement, poking sticks in the soft tar. It’s getting all over our hands and we’ll be in trouble, but we’re bored.

“What would you do if you were rich?” Rosemary asks.

“I don’t know. How do you get to be rich, anyway?”

She thinks about it for a minute.

 “I guess if you were famous you’d have lots of money.”

 “But how do you get to be famous?”

We both stab furiously at the tar for a few minutes, neither of us quite sure how to go about being famous.

Then Rosemary says, “Well, if you got your name in the paper you’d be famous, wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah, but only important people get in the paper.”

“Yeah.”

We wander round to the backyard, where there’s a cold water tap. It doesn’t wash the tar off but we manage to get our socks and shoes wet.

I have a good idea. “What if we gave money to the hospital like Mr. Brown did? He got his name in the paper.”

“Yeah, but Mr. Brown’s not rich, is he?” Rosemary objects.

“He’s richer than us, though, because he’s got a car and a job.”

“My daddy has a job.”

“But he doesn’t live with you and he hasn’t got a car.”

“You’re right.” Rosemary sees the sense of what I’m saying. “But where will we get the money to give to the hospital?”

I look at Miss Barr’s apple tree in the garden next door and the branches which hang over the hedge into our garden. She goes mad if we pick her apples and I’ve been told time and again not to touch them.

“We could sell apples on the corner to the people coming out of the factory.”

Rosemary follows my gaze and gasps, “Susie, that’s stealing!”

“No, it’s not, because they’re already in our garden. So, really, they belong to us, don’t they?”

She always believes me and I always get my own way. Rosemary’s pretty but I’m the smart one. Too clever for my own good, Mammy says, which is very nice of her. 

I climb on the dustbin, with Rosemary hanging on to my legs, and pick the apples I can reach, hitting the far-off ones with a stick so that they fall to the ground. Some of the apples have marks on them. That’s all right. We can turn them upside down.

We find a cardboard box in the shed and carry the apples to the corner. It’s throwing out time at the factory. The women frown at us and hurry past. The men laugh as if we’re funny and give us pennies. Sometimes they don’t even take the apples. 

One of the men says, “You’d better watch out, your mammy’s coming.” 

All the apples are gone anyway and we trail behind her as she heads for home. Rosemary decides she’s in charge of the money and counts it. “Two shillings and thruppence. It’s not much, is it?”

It seems a lot to me. 

“They’ll be delighted with that at the hospital. We’ll take it up on Saturday morning.”

She looks doubtful and I have to give her a pep talk.

“We have to make a start, or we’ll never be famous. Wait til our names are in the paper, everybody will be talking about us.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” 

“I know.”

Rosemary clears off for her tea and I go in to wash the dishes from this morning while Mammy cooks.

…………………

The lady at the hospital on Saturday morning is very smiley and laughs a lot.

I nudge Rosemary. “See, I told you they’d be delighted.”

“And what are your names, may I ask?” 

The lady has her pen out. This is it, we’re going to be famous!

………………….

We split up at the corner of my road. Rosemary’s going swimming in the Bann this afternoon with her brother, Adrian. I’m not allowed to go to the river, because I can’t swim.  But it’s all right. I’ve got an Enid Blyton book from the library and I get sixpence on a Saturday for sweets.

I help Mammy with tidying up and peeling potatoes for dinner, even washing the dishes afterwards without being told to.  When I’m famous, she’ll be saying how good I was about the house.

I’m a good way into The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters and the Famous Five are showing the police how to do their job when there’s a knock at the door. I ignore it, until Mammy shouts, “Get the door, are you deaf?”

Sighing loudly, to make sure she hears me, I make my way to the front door. Norman, from across the road is outside. I know from the look on his face he’s got something he’s just dying to tell me, but I won’t ask him and put on my patient face to stare him out.

It’s a waste of time, anyway, because he blurts straight out with it. “Your friend, Rosemary – she’s drowneded!”

He’s so stupid, the same age as me and he can’t even read yet. I tell him, “First, it’s drowned, not drowneded. And, second, if she was drowned, she’d be dead.”

His mother (he doesn’t say Mammy like ordinary people) comes running across the road after him and grabs him by the arm.

“Come away, Norman,” she says and looks at Mammy, who’s come up behind me. They do that thing grown-ups do, talking without saying anything.

I feel sick, like I’d eaten too many of Miss Barr’s apples.

Mammy brings me back into the house and talks to me ever so soft. It’s true. Rosemary got drowned in the river. 

“But, she can swim. It’s not true. We’re going to be famous.”

I shout at Mammy and slap at her arms. When she cuddles me instead of scolding me, I know it’s true.

……………………..

The Chronicle comes out on Friday. 

There’s a list of people who made kind donations to the hospital. Me and Rosemary are at the bottom of the list with two shillings and thruppence. Over the page, in among things about people who got born or married or died, there’s a picture of Rosemary in her school uniform. Underneath it are lots of nice things about her and how sad it was she got tangled up in the weeds. I find a bit that says how much her friend, Susie, misses her. I expect Mammy put it there.

Anyway, Rosemary is more famous than me because she got a picture as well as her name printed twice.

I don’t mind. Being famous isn’t at all it’s cracked up be.

Fluffy Gets the Sack

WARNING: Contains violence. Do not read if squeamish

Daddy passes me the tin lid, full of birdseed. I rattle it, call “tom-tom-tom” into the sky and watch for the pigeons coming home. It’s hot up here on the roof of the pigeon loft. My head’s a bit dizzy but it’s a very important job. The pigeons are flying home from France and I need to get them down quickly so Daddy can clock them in.

Mammy won’t like it that I’m on the roof, but she’s gone across the street to help Mrs Diamond get her baby. It can take quite a long time, so that’s all right.

Daddy picks up his air rifle. I’m not allowed to touch it, but when I’m a bit bigger I can go with him to shoot rabbits. He’s not very good at shooting, because he’s been trying to get Miss Barr’s cat for a long time. It still comes after the pigeons, crawling through the hedge from next door. I don’t know why Daddy worries because it never catches one.

I can see it now, sneaking through the grass. It’s big and fat and ginger. Miss Barr calls him Fluffy. Daddy calls him ‘that fuckin’ cat. I’m not allowed to say that word, Mammy would have a fit, and Daddy never says it in the house.

He bangs the gun twice and the cat scoots away, back under the hedge.

I tell Daddy he’s going to stop the pigeons coming home if he makes loud bangs and he laughs and messes my hair up. I like it when he does that.

The garden gate creaks open and two of Daddy’s friends come into the garden. They look funny, because Mr Fitzsimmons is big and fat like Fluffy and Mr O’Neill is not much bigger than my brother, Sam, who’s two years older than me. I don’t like them coming round, because Daddy forgets about me.

He jumps off the roof and stands with his friends, smoking fags and saying ‘fuckin’ cat’ a lot. Mr O’Neill thinks Daddy’s going about it the wrong way, he’ll never get him with the gun, what he needs is a sack.

They get a sack from the red brick outhouse that Daddy built and Mr O’Neill lies down on the ground beside the hedge. Daddy looks up and tells me to stop rattling the tin for a wee while. I don’t want to stop because we need to get the pigeons clocked in, but I don’t want to feel the back of his hand, so I keep quiet. 

From the roof, I can see Fluffy in the next-door garden. He’s playing with a leaf, having fun and getting closer to the hedge. Mr O’Neill nods at Daddy and lift the sack. Fluffy chases the leaf through the gap in the hedge and the nasty little man pounces on him, dropping the sack over poor Fluffy.

Daddy and his friends all laugh and slap each other on the back. I can’t see why they’re so happy when the cat is going crackers inside the sack, fighting to get out. I can hear him crying and spitting from here. I don’t like this and call for Daddy to get me down. He comes over and I jump down into his arms, leaving the tin lid on the roof.

I pull on Daddy’s sleeve to tell him he needs to get up on the roof to clock the pigeons in, but he tells me to get myself away into the house. That’s not fair because Sam is coming up the garden and he gets called over to see Fluffy in the sack. Nobody’s looking at me anymore, so I go round the side of the outhouse to see what happens.

Mr Fitzsimmons has got the sack now and he opens it a bit to show the cat to Sam. Fluffy gets one paw out and rakes his claws down the fat man’s hand. I think Fluffy will get away but Daddy grabs the sack and smacks it on the ground. Fluffy cries really loud. It makes me want to cry as well and I wish I’d got myself indoors when Daddy told me.

Sam laughs when the cat cries, but he’s just doing what the men do. I want him to get the sack and let Fluffy out. Instead, he puts on a pair of Daddy’s gardening gloves and pulls the cat out by his tail. Daddy and his friends are telling Sam to go on and do it. He looks like he’s going to be sick and Fluffy is squirming and clawing at him.  

My head is dizzy again and I’m too hot. I walk round the side of the outhouse to tell Sam to let the cat go. Before I can get to him, he swings Fluffy by the tail and smashes him against the brick wall. I scream at him to stop, but Daddy and his friends are all cheering at Sam to do it again and nobody hears me.

Sam swings the cat again and again. Now he looks like he’s enjoying it. And everybody’s shouting. And I’m screaming. And then I’m sick all over the grass. 

It goes quiet and when I look up, Fluffy is lying ever so still on the ground and there’s blood all over the wall and splattered on Sam’s clothes. He grins all over his face. I hate him so much. And I scream and scream. And Daddy lifts his hand to me. And I run.

I’m never going back to help Daddy again. He can sit on the roof and rattle the tin himself.

I hope his fuckin’ pigeons never come home.

Come Into the Light

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a story in dialogue-only for a while. Ireland is in my mind a lot lately, as I research my next novel. This came to me in the middle of a sleepless night and I remembered enough to write it down.

“I know you’re there.”

“Ears like a hawk, you.”

“Come into the light, where I can see you.”

“Not yet.”

“Will you join me in a dram?”

“It’ll kill you, that stuff.”

“Ah well, we all have to go sometime.”

“That’s for sure.”

“Come into the light, my heart’s sore to see you.”

“In a while.”

“How did it go? Everybody safe?”

“We hit some trouble.”

“I was afraid of that, it’s a dirty old night.”

“Not the rain. They were at the bridge.”

“B Specials?”

“Them, and a few boys from the RUC.”

“Ah, Christ, Is anybody lost?”

“Murphy, Donovan, the Fitz brothers.”

“God rest their souls.”

“We never stood a chance, Da.”

“But you came back, thanks be to God.”

“Aye, I promised, come hell or high water.”

“Come into the light, son.”

“For only a minute. I can’t stay.”

“Oh, sweet Mary, Mother of God! Your face …”

“Listen, they’re at the door. I must go.”

“Stay, son … you need help. Wait …”

“I kept my promise, Da …”

“… while I open the door.”

“Mr McParland, it’s about your son. You’d better sit down.”

Meet Jilly

Jilly, the main character of Circles of Confusion, has a dark and hidden past. She has many regrets and is very good at holding a grudge. When her world falls apart, she seeks a terrible revenge. 

When I started writing Circles of Confusion back in March, I was hoping to have written 75,000 words by the end of the year. Today, with 60,000 words under my belt, I realise I’m not going to make it and have moved the deadline to my birthday in February 2020.

On the other hand, I have learnt a lot about plotting, grammar and structure. It was also a shock to see my characters quite happily take off in an entirely different direction from the one I had intended. Now that I have decided where they are all going to end up (if they allow me to place them there), I am having to face the fact that I am going to miss them all terribly.

The model for my photograph is the beautiful Rachelle Summers.

My Inspiration

A small piece of Flash Fiction (less than 100 words) written for a competition. The prompt was to incorporate a Bic lighter.

I didn’t mean to hurt her

It was easy to fall into the habit of shouting at her after a rough day at work, to criticise the meals she cooked, to take her confidence.

It was all useful material for my novel, about a woman who subjugated herself to a domineering man. She was such great inspiration.

Maybe I overdid it. I don’t know.

Today, they found a pile of ashes on a clifftop with a small blue lighter dropped beside them. She burned my novel before making the leap.

Damn. It’ll take weeks to rewrite. But what a great ending.

Dinner for Billy

This is my first-ever piece of Flash Fiction (under 1000 words). It was written in haste for a competition on the last available day for entry. The brief was to evoke a childhood memory. So here it is, set in Northern Ireland in 1952. It may or may not be true!

Update: It gained an Honorable Mention.

Imprisoned © Jacqui Jay Grafton

Billy lived alone and wore blue silk drawers. On wash day, Mammy closed the curtains on our kitchen window so she couldn’t see them on Billy’s clothes line. He had a matching vest, a bit frayed at the edges, but without the faint brown stain on the drawers.

He was a Roman Catholic and we were Protestants, but Mammy did her duty and sent me round to Billy’s house every Sunday with a bowl of stew. I had to go out of the front door, which opened directly on to the street, because what was the point in doing a good deed if nobody knew about it?

It was only a few steps to Billy’s front door, just enough time to shove a couple of spoonfuls of stew into my mouth and return the spoon to the bowl. Sometimes, he was waiting behind the net curtain and opened the door before I could kick it.

“Hurry up, get in. I can see Ma McCracken’s curtains twitching.”

“Mammy said can you wash the bowl before you give it back.”

She didn’t, but I never missed a chance to practice my dumb insolence.

“Off you go, out the back way.”

I liked going through Billy’s long, narrow house, surely some kind of architect’s mistake. The narrow living room, barely wide enough to accommodate the front door and the window, led into the bedroom. A glowing Sacred Heart adorned one wall, above a dresser with dusty vials of Holy Water.

Billy was going to Hell, but I wasn’t quite sure why, only that it was something to do with the Pope. His window always got smashed on the Twelfth of July, but he never told the police. No point. My Da fixed it for him and Billy slipped him a bottle of whiskey when Mammy wasn’t looking.

A tiny scullery beyond the bedroom opened on to the communal garden. A quick hop over the dividing wall and I was home again, job done for another week.

I hated the old fucker.

One Sunday in November, after taking Billy’s dinner to him, I overheard a conversation between Mammy and my older sister, Frances, who was getting married in a few weeks. Frances could whinge for Ireland.

“Do we have to invite Billy to the wedding, Mammy?”

“Yes, we do. What would the neighbours think if we didn’t ask him?”

“But he’s – you know –”

“I know, but maybe he won’t come.”

But Billy did come, in spite of being “you know –”. His hair was freshly permed and his overcoat had a velvet collar, which proved to be quite the talking point. I watched him like a hawk all day, but couldn’t work out what “you know –” could possibly mean.

January blew in with sleet and snow. Mammy stepped up Billy’s dinners to twice a week. Well, it was the Christian thing to do. The snow was too deep for me to walk a mile to school, so I was left alone in the empty house while Mammy and Da went to work.

The letterbox thumped and a handful of letters shot into the hallway. I picked them up and had a quick shuffle. We didn’t get many letters as such, usually just bills, but today there was a lavender-perfumed envelope addressed to Mr. W. McParland of number 22a, Reilly Street.

Well, this was interesting.

We were number 22 and, for the briefest of seconds, I considered walking next door and poppng it through the letterbox. But, lavender perfume? Maybe it was a love letter. Maybe it had stuff in it about ‘doing it’.

No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than I had the envelope ripped open. The writing was flamboyant and written in purple ink with lots of curlicues. I could hardly contain myself, even as I struggled to read it.

My dearest William,

It seems so long since I last saw you, when we ran naked through the grass together.

Boy, this was good.

Unfortunately, that was the best bit. The rest was just a lot of boring arrangements to meet, so I skimmed over it until I got to the bottom of the page.

Yours, in loving friendship,

Harold.

Harold? That wasn’t a lady’s name. Why would a man write that stuff to another man?

I was so engrossed in this conundrum that I didn’t hear Mammy come home.

“What’s that you’re looking at?”

“Nothing.”

She held out her hand “Let’s see nothing, then?”

I didn’t have to wait long for a reaction.

“Where did you get this filth?”

Unseen, I stuffed the envelope into my pocket.

“Uh, it was in the dustbin. It was on top when I took the rubbish out.”

She turned on her heel and stormed out into the street, hammering on Billy’s door and shouting for him to come out.

He opened his door and, before he could speak, Mammy was in there.

“You bloody pervert! You’re not fit to live near decent people! And leaving your filth where a child can see it, you’re evil.”

Billy stood open-mouthed, without a clue what she was talking about.

An interested crowd of neighbours were unashamedly gawking at the spectacle, which lent fuel to Mammy’s ire.

“Yes, you can all look! You don’t know what he’s been up to. Things with men!”

Things? What things? Running in the grass?

She caught sight of me, taking everything in and dying to know more.

“And you, get back inside. You’ve seen enough for one day.”

Back to Billy, now ashen-faced and trying to get his hands on the letter.

“Oh, no. This is going to the priest, he’ll know what to do about it.”

There was much, much more as the neighbours felt it was only right that they had a say in the matter. But I didn’t hear it, as the door closed behind me.

After that, there were no more dinners for Billy.

I know the rules, but …

Mean Streets © Jacqui Jay Grafton

Six months ago, I started writing Circles of Confusion. I had a very clear picture in my mind of my three main characters and how their little drama would play out. I read more than one hundred books every year, I have a degree in English Language and a fairly active (some would say over-active) imagination. What could go wrong?

Well, nothing actually went wrong. It just changed.

As soon as I began to commit my characters to Pages in my computer, they behaved differently to the way I wanted them to. Like the ballerina in the Red Shoes, my fingers would set off in an entirely different direction to the one I intended. More characters appeared and began to put in their tuppence worth. My beautiful, innocent heroine turned into a dysfunctional sociopath and no amount of persuasion by me could set her feet on a different path.

A backstory was required to explain why she was such an utter cow, so flashbacks became a thing. I joined an online writing forum/thingy and learnt that using the first person, present tense was maybe not the best way to write a first novel. Oops, too late! I learnt about comma splices, part sentences and passive voice – all quite big No-Nos in their own, quiet way. Yep, got lots of them.

So, three chapters in, after our wayward young woman had got herself into a whole heap of trouble (nothing to do with me!) I went back to the beginning and started again. I paid great attention to all the No-Nos and punctiliously observed all the rules I’d been reading about. One chapter into the new version and – Guess what? – she’d become so boring I unfriended her on Facebook.

Back to the beginning again and, this time, I gave her free rein to go in whatever direction she chose, in any way that took her fancy. Comma splices, part sentences, passive voice and any other rule she chooses to bend – she’s off like a greyhound from the starting blocks and God knows what trouble she’ll get herself into.

I guarantee one thing, though – she won’t be boring.