A NEW START
If I hadn't walked across that stage in virginal white, it would never have happened. Well, maybe it would have, but at least I would not have been involved in the devilment, acting the goat, or—. I have no idea how we finagled it! But, we did—Somehow. I still don't know how he died. But he did that too ... and way before the blood touched my lily-white hands.
I can still see the light dropped like an anvil from the chandelier above my head, pressing me with guilt as I sit at the dining room table grinding and pressing and ... Oh God! How could we do it? He could not feel a thing, not the knife or the saw or even our touch, I told myself. He wasn't really there; it was just ... his body. He was gone. Deceased. Up the river without a paddle. Dead as a door nail. Bit the dust. Fell off the perch as the Irish say. One minute you are here and the next ... you're ... not. It's so finale and so quick; strikes without warning. Always does. 'I shot him,' Maeve had said. The words won't leave my brain, repeating that grim message, like a clapper in a bell rung sharp against my skull.
My hands are wet now but not with sweat or blood or water. There are tears inside my eyes.
A year and a half has gone by, but I remember the day clearly. The day that would change my life. Forever.
Our families were in the audience watching their daughters and sons, wives and girlfriends graduate to the most noble and honest of professions, the distinguished vocation of nursing. I've read the survey ... the one that says seventy-six percent of people in the world would trust a nurse above anyone else. Such fools, I think— and a bit of a stretch too for there are few people in this class who I would trust to give me a soap-suds enema when I wasn't looking. Not sure, I would trust any of them. In fact, I know I wouldn't.
In days of old, only Irish nuns were nurses in this country, working until they were grey-haired and decrepit with bad eyesight and poor hearing; only retiring when they saw fit. And seeing fit, many of them chose not to do until they keeled over themselves. I catch the eye of Sister Margaret Mary O'Reilly. I sure can't tell how old she is for she dyes her hair ...and badly. No matter; she is sharp as a thin tack and twice as quick. I do not know what it is about her that gets under my skin; perhaps tis the fake dye job or the way she clears her throat a thousand times a day or how she's always calling me "Kate the Yank." I always seem to be in trouble with that one. Leaving Sister O'Reilly behind was the sweetest reward I could ask for. A bigger reward than graduation itself.
I look out into the seats of the auditorium searching for two grey heads among the masses. A faint 'meow' alerts me. My cat, Bunny sits on Da's lap, wriggling like a sack of worms and I am surprised yet delighted to see her. I smuggled her in my luggage on the plane if you can believe such a thing. Made a great ruckus too and what wouldn't ? What with the cat running down the aisles, across people's heads and up into the cockpit, by gosh! They were none too happy and Mum was about to box my ears until Da stopped her, said she was going to throw it out the door minute our plane landed in Dublin. She didn't though. Da would not let her.
Da's tall head shines above the others, his bald spot glistening, like a bright bulbous head-lamp on a fifty-six Chevy. The lights make bubbled on his glasses and Mam has a lace kerchief with a yellow crocheted edge permanently attached to her left eye. Tis the same kerchief she had five days ago when Uncle Pat died; chap was old as dirt and smelled like the inside of a whiskey barrel. He ate rashers and eggs every morning washed up with a pint of Guinness followed by three fags and the occasional home brew by noon, yet Mum acted like Uncle Pat was the pope himself, all clean and full of the angels in heaven, said he was too good to die. I liked Uncle Pat alright but seemed to me he gave himself the axe not the other way around. Twas Uncle Pat who gave us a place to stay when we came back home.
I was born in Dublin but I grew up in America. We came back three years ago because of some minor details involving a certain professor and my getting caught under his desk; it wasn't my fault—I was innocent ...if the truth be known, but Mam was mortified and we came to live with Uncle Pat, which is why I enrolled in University to finish my education, which was sorely lacking anyway according to my mother.
Sister O'Reilly's hard shoes clip across the Tuscany marble tiles. Tis the only sound I hear now. Hard. Solid. A taking no prisoners kind of walk. . Her face is stern, framed with starched linen ... lined with years of serious deliberation, celibacy, and—Perhaps she needs to get ... Er—shouldn't think that way about a nun, I think, smiling.
We stand at attention, lined across the stage, shoulder to shoulder. Sister O'Reilly walks up and down the ranks, frowning. She passes out slips of paper, sure we are going to disgrace her by forgetting the words no doubt, with the Florence Nightingale's Creed written on it. Funny, that. Florence Nightingale was American, not Irish. I glimpse to my right and my left, judging everyone else's demeanor. They are not the usual Catholic populace with stoic faces or 'tell me what to think' attitudes. The ladies, if I can be so bold as to call them that, come from all walks of life and only a smidgen of them are Irish, probably what made Sister O'Reilly act like she had a bee in her bonnet in the first place ... and sure weren't four of them pregnant too, the bee stinging her in the arse every time she looks at their bellies.
We recite the Nightingale Creed though in my head I have my own personal revision:
I solemnly pledge myself before God.
Catholics like to give credit to God for everything, I note.
And in the presence of this assembly, to pass my life in purity, and practice my profession faithfully.
Four of the girls are up the pipe so I am not sure purity is in their vocabulary. I struggle not to snicker but then someone yells from the audience, "Hey Sheila, we sure did a lot of practicing didn't we?" Sister O'Reilly's steel-blue eyes squeeze like a fist, searching though the crowd but I am sure she cannot tell where the remark came from. There is hooting and hollering and several people sand up and raise their fists, joyfully pledging their support for Sheila who sinks behind her paper. Sheila is short, black, and eight months with child. She looks like a huge beach ball wrapped in white chocolate. Sister O'Reilly reprimands the cheering crowd and the ones who had jumped up take their seats once again.
We continue to read:
I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous.
Er ... strike that word, abstain. A girl's gotta have some fun.
And will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug. I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession and will hold in confidence all personal matter committed to my keeping.
This one will be helpful in the future.
--all family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling. With loyalty, will I endeavor to aid the physician in his work, and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my ... crime ... Er ... I mean care.
And it is done!
We are ready to face the world, save the day, help old ladies cross the street or give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to people in the wheelchairs while balancing a bag of AB negative blood on our heads, as we dance with an intravenous pole while singing the national anthem. We can do anything. We are nurses!
SEE NO EVIL, HEAR NO EVIL
Sidney, Maeve, and I get jobs right away at St. Columba's Nursing Home, a restored Georgian Mansion with a sixteenth century square tower house in the back yard. It's a no-brainer for me since I love history and plan to write about the place or use if for inspiration or ... something. Sidney, being from the Philippines', is thrilled she is working with friends. Maeve, however, finds it painfully close to her ex-husband. He lives close by and is constantly stopping by her house to harass her about custody of their two kids, about money, about ... Everything. She'd planned on moving after graduation, but I convinced her it wouldn't solve her problems. Besides, our biggest difficulty is the incorrigible Sister O'Reilly and since we do not have to see her again—well, what could be better than that? St. Columba's is clear across the country, in Sligo, in fact.
Sidney and I work the three to eleven shifts and Maeve is our night nurse; she comes in to relieve us.
Sidney has an Asian kind of Cupie doll look about her with dark arching eyebrows tattooed in place; she is quiet and compatible. Maeve is just the opposite, the kind of gal who could be heard over a freight train.
Maeve is tall, thin, and blonde. She has a sharp wit and is what American men call 'a knockout', but here are two sides of Maeve's seductive personality. She' s not one to take prisoners and the first one to lose her flaming temper at the drop of a hat. I once overheard a conversation she was having when someone rung her up. She was cursing out a chap she just met after a single date because he asked if he could see her tomorrow for he was going out of town and had to cancel their upcoming date. I never saw Maeve so angry. Flames shot out her ears; the heat was so intense it was like standing next to a volcano. I found out later that it wasn't the date canceling that upset Maeve, although that may be what started her raging tantrum, it was the fact that the poor chap texted her on her cell, using the abbreviation for tomorrow as t-o-m. When he asked if he could see her tomorrow, she actually believed, the chap was referring to the male name, Tom. Tom is Maeve's insane ex-husband who brutally beat her in front of her two daughters and was busy making her life a living hell ever since their divorce. The name, Tom is a sore spot for Maeve, sent her spiraling into a tizzy. I guess she must have thought the man was asking if he could talk to the Ex about dating her. Or something.
When Maeve came on shift tonight, I knew something was wrong. Her face was pale, her makeup nonexistent, and not only did she appear melancholy, but she was staring at the floor as if counting the small tiles in her head. Sidney and I gave our shift- reports to Maeve on who is dying, who is combative, and who is constipated. Maeve does not make eye contact. She lets us ramble on like we are news-reporters . She sighs deeply and finally looks at me dead in the eye. "Who's counting?" she wants to know. She means narcotics and tis customary to count then after every shift.
I point to Sidney and hand her the narcotics keys. Sidney unlocks the door behind me and they both step inside. Sidney wedges the trash can inside the door, allowing me to eavesdrop. I can smell the old rusty percolator used for heating pads, the bleachy smell of fresh tiles washed on the linoleum floor, and the odd sweet scent of a honey jar left open on the counter.
"Are you worried about your Mum?" asks Sidney.
Maeve's Mum is about to marry a man she has only known for two months. The man has convinced her to pay off his bills, rack up new ones, and sell the house she'd raised all five of her kids in. The house is Maeve's last link to her deceased father whom she adored.
Maeve shrugs. "Tis what it is," she says resigned. I glimpse the sheen of a single tear slip down her cheek. Sidney pats her on the back saying, "There, there. Do you want to talk about it?
I can see them both clearly through the cracked door and I am intrigued by Maeve's strange mood. She stares like a zombie at the stack of narcotic-filled blister packs while rattling off counts of vicodin, morphine, ativan, and ambien so she can check their numbers against the book that is propped open flat on the counter. Then Maeve looks up. She glances to the cracked door then back at Sidney. She blurts out her news in a flash that leaves us both momentarily speechless.
"I shot him don't cha know."
"What you mean ... shot?" Sidney says. She sounds like Judy Garland meets Gong Li from the movie, Showgun.
"Sot," replied Maeve. "Like with a gun ... "
"Oh Maeve, you so funny."
"No really. I really did."
"You really did what?"
"Shot him," Maeve says, sounding slightly annoyed. "I shot Tom with a gun."
"With a guuuun?" The word slides like butter off Sidney's tongue, though I can tell realization is setting in her Cupie-doll brain. Or at least curiosity.
"Aye, with a gun," Maeve clarifies. "Why do you repeat everything I say? I shot him and bang he's dead." The look on Maeve's face is cold and stern; apparently, frightening Sidney and launching her panic like an exploding cannon. I, however do not believe a word of it. I lean from my chair and stick my head inside the narcotics room door.
"Oh ... my ... God! OhmyGodOhmyGodOhmyGod! "
The hysteria in Sidney's voices propels me from my chair like a rocket. It only takes me three seconds to enter the room. They both look at me,
"Tell her what you say," says Sidney.
I look immediately to Maeve—waiting. Of course I've already heard every word."
"I shot Tom," she tells me. "No, really Cathleen. He's in the boot of my car."
"He's ... where!?" Sidney and I shout, together.
Sidney grabs Maeve's arm and I kick the bin away from the door, slamming it shut and trapping us all in like sardines inside a can.
I can't believe what I am hearing. My eyes fall out of my head, roll across the floor and stop beside a case of milk of magnesia. She looks at Sidney as I peek out to the nurse's station, checking to see if anyone is about but no one is there. Thank you, by Jesus. Maeve's eyes are intent on mine. "What!" It is all I can say, all the language I can muster. I get closer to her face. Suddenly I notice, by the redness of her eyes, to look of one who has smoked weed. Typical, I think. I turn away as if I expect her to disappear and then turn back again. She's still there, only this time she is grinning like a big fat trout where a worm has suddenly appeared.
"He's in the boot," Maeve repeats. She sounds so relaxed, as if a great weight has been lifted from her shoulders.
"You're crazy," I tell her. I am not one hundred percent in belief and she lowers her long furry lashes at me, smiling.
"Aye," she says," but he won't be taking me to court or stealing my kids or costing me more money."
She has a point, I think absurdly. Sidney and I stare, slack-jawed as the information settles into the far recesses of our brains, buried there among my thoughts of whether my husband is waiting up, how long the storm outside has been blowing and what I want to eat the minute I get in the door. I’m always late when Maeve is my night nurse but usually I don't care. Her stories and the ones she drags out of Sidney have always been worthwhile. Until ... now!
Sidney has dropped down into a chair, arms slack at her sides as she stares up, the big dark eyes intent and serious. "Maeve, we are nurses," she says in a sweet sing-song kind of voice. "We aren't supposed to hurt people. We're supposed to help them."
Maeve makes a disgusted noise in the back of her throat.
"You really kill him?" Sidney asks. "You do the dirty deed, Maeve?"
Maeve nods. "I just got sick of it! Sick of all of it. He stole seven years of my life. Feckin' jackeen deserved to die." Her lips press together. "Guess you can say I served myself."
An illegal giggle pops out of me. I remember what Sidney told her new husband while her mother and four sisters were visiting from the Philippines and taking up every available sleeping space in their small house. When her husband asked when they would have some privacy to enjoy each other, Sidney had replied. 'You have five fingers, serve yourself.' For a quiet sweet foreigner, Sidney can be graphic with the private stuff.
"Oh sweetie, what you gonna do now? They will put you in jail." Sidney rubs Maeve's arm, soothingly.
"No, they won't. They don't have a body." Maeve smiles as if she'd just cured cancer.
"What do you mean they don't have a body?" I ask. "Where is he?"
She looks past me and lifts her chin toward the windows that overlook the parking lot. "Aren't you listening to me? I told you. He's in the boot."
"Oh my," Sidney says.
"Well he can't stay in the boot. What are you going to do with him? " I ask.
"Get rid of him tis what ... and you two are going to help me."
"Us!" Sidney and I cry in unison. Mr. Fox, a patient who is sleeping in one of the recliners groans from a shadow across the room.
I throw up my hands in mock surrender. "Not me," I say. "You're not dragging me in to this marlarky."
"Me neither. Are you crazy?"
"Don't worry, Sidney," I say. "It's not true anyway. She's just pulling our leg is all."
Maeve's brows rise in defiance to me. "Ha!" she replies to my disbelieving attitude. "And tis your fault anyway."
"Right. Your fault he's dead. And yours too, Sidney."
I cannot believe what she is accusing us of, even if it isn't true. My mouth drops open. "How do you figure I have anything to do with your crazy shenanigans?"
"Don't you remember? You gave me Desmond's number and when I rung him up, he was more than willing to offer me one of the guns from his collection." She turns to Sidney. "And you told me I shouldn't put up with Tom a minute longer. Recall tell me that?"
"I— I didn't say to shoot him," Sidney protests.
"Too late," Maeve says with glee. A light chuckle twitters from her lips; the sound sends chills up my neck. "I still don't believe you," I say.
Maeve's perfectly plucked eyebrows rise at this. "See for yourself," she tells me. Come."
Sidney and I exchange wide-eyed stares of disbelief; each of us hoping Maeve will break into exclamations of 'gotcha', grab her purse and take her high falutin self over to her med-cart to collect spoons, paper cups and a pitcher of water for her nightly rounds. She does not do any of this but simply stands there gawking at us, her fraudulent breasts rising up and out of her tightly fitted jumper like batter of muffin cups spilling over the top.
"Well," she says with an air of high authority that she always seems to be able to command over us. "What are you waiting for? Come on." And we do.
The newly tarred parking lot is lit up with green and gold lights, reminding me of grey fog thrown down from a space ship in a movie I once saw ... they land on tracts of frost that stretch across the ground, mottling the vapid earth below lit. The air is chilled, sharp as a razor's blade and I shudder as I scan the parking lot for Maeve's car, secretly hoping it is not here but Maeve points toward a dark corner and there it is—. Guilty as a sinner. Maeve's 88 run-down green Volkswagen Golf, hiding like a criminal between St. Columba's grey van and a very tall cement wall. The van is used to take the old people to appointments. No one allowed to park beside it ... it is clearly marked, St Columba's Van Parking Only. I guess this is the least of what my worries should be.
I look at Maeve, accusingly. "You're taking a chance, aren't you? What if they decide to tow you?"
"Don't be an edjit," she replies, leading our deceptive little trio across the lot to where her car is. "I park here all the time. I doubt they bother to check who parks where. Em guards are useless as a chocolate teapot. Besides ... its midnight ... where they gonna take the old geezers at midnight?"
"Good point," I say. I place my hands on the car, noting the engine is warm as spilled blood. Oh God.
The Golf's color is somewhere between green olives and rotting lettuce, the door handles silver flaked. I slide my hand across the rust spot on the boot, wondering if it has the essence of the victim's heartbeat, the gasping of his last breath or—.
There is a crinkling near my ear and what sounds like cellophane unwrapping.
"Want some gum?" Maeve asks, as if commenting on the weather.
"I found it in his pocket. Was nice and soft when I fished it out. Course now it's rock hard. " She chuckles. "Like he is. Here." She attempts to hand me the gum. "Tuti-fruity. Try it."
"I'm not gonna try it. You try it."
"I'm not gonna try it. Hey, let's get Sidney. She'll eat it. She eats everything."
Sidney makes no move to take the proffered treat; her lips are clammed shut, though she appears likely to explode at any minute, reminding me of a popcorn machine filled with Mexican jumping beans.
"Back up," Maeve instructs us after popping the gum in her own mouth. "He's been in there since Tuesday. He's kinda ripe if you know what I mean."
This last bit of information sends Sidney into new panic. I see her olive skin fade to a fleshy beige. "OhmyOhmyOhmy,"
Maeve glares at her. "Don't you ever just say one word at a time?" She flings out a hand, waving her fingers backward, and indication we should step back.
She shoves the key in the lock. Her hand is shaking; the keys jangling so bad it must be like threading a needle with spaghetti.
"Damn!" Maeve jumps in the car and hits the auto-lock. The trunk pops open like a jack in the box.
Sidney creeps slowly toward the car, arms wrapped protectively across her chest. "Ugh! It smells like dead cat." She peers in under the boot. There is a dark green trash bag with yellow strips of plastic that are tied in a neat bow. Sidney glances from me to Maeve, and then back at the car. She hunches her shoulders. "He's in the bag?" she asks stupidly.
"He is," replies Maeve. "I could have just dumped him in there but it was so ... messy.
"Open it." I demand, stepping back from the car. This simply cannot be true. Maybe it’s a dead cat or a dog or a bag of rubbish, I tell myself.
Maeve's face is vibrantly alive, tinted scarlet under the lamplight above her. Suddenly, I am struck by the fact that she is so calm, arms slack at her sides, her brow unruffled and smooth, almost at peace. She reaches her hand out and beckons me toward her. "Get over here, Cathleen. Take a look, will ya? He can't hurt you. He can't hurt anyone anymore."
All the blood is gone from my head and my heart is beating like a full speeding train. I take a deep breath and walk over to the car. "Is he—?" I hear a soft puff of air, then a pop, and next a sharp slapping sound behind me.
A beam of light stretches across the ground and I see that it is one of the guards walking toward us. We are freezing out here and I am m sure I've swallowed my tongue. Maeve slams the boot closed, trapping the tail of my shirt inside it.
Hell, I can't even step away from the car unless I take off my shirt. The yogurt and berries I've had for lunch gurgle up in my throat, choking me.
It’s Harry, the night watchman. He looks like humpty dumpty with about fifty keys in his pocket; the keys announce his arrival wherever he goes.
“You gals ok?” Harry asks.
“Uh huh,” My hands are behind my back and I'm standing so close to the car I feel like gagging. Ripe! Yeah, she's right about that one.
Harry shines the light in my face. “What are you doing out here?" Was that a wink I saw from Humpty Dumpty? I hope now. "I won't tell anyone what you're up to. Whatever that is." He winks again and now I know I'm going to be sick. "But I can't cover for you gals forever you know.. One of you better get back in there.”
“I’ll be right in,” Maeve says. “I was just...Er...showing them something.”
“That so?” The guard looks at me suspiciously and leans his head to the side, gazing at the car behind me. I smile back, mirroring his actions ...slowly, like we are trees swaying in a storm. He shivers and then shrugs. Then he turns around, and t makes his way back into S the building.
"G-g-give me your phone numbers," Maeve says with a slight edge.
I guess I would have an edge too if I had a dead body in my car.
"Our numbers. What for?"
"I want to have phone sex with you both—what do you think? Christ! I'll call you both tomorrow. That's why."
"You're just gonna leave him in there ... er ...rotting like that?"
"Just for a bit. Later you'll both help me get rid of him." She smiles like a gorilla I've seen in the zoo right before it pounces on another gorilla. "Oh, what a glorious task," she says and not for the first time I realize how insanely nuts she is. I always knew Maeve was a bit off but I had thought that made her more fun. Fun is not how I would describe her at this moment however.
"You're sick," I say. "Why should we help you. We have nothing to do with y our ludicrous actions."
She looks at Sidney, raises her brows and shrugs. "If you don't I'll kill myself."
"Ah don't be so dramatic, Maeve." She is crazy though. If she was capable of this then she's capable of—. "Fine," I concede. The word hurts my ears with its finality. "Call us tomorrow and we'll figure something out."
"I can't take him home, Cathleen. What will the neighbors say?"
"Leave him in the boot," offers Sidney.
"Sure, sure, but then what? I do have two roommates ye know."
"Take em to Caty's house," explains Sidney. "Her mom is away. No one home there."
What! Is she kidding? Take a dead body to my house?
Maeve smiles. "Thanks Cathleen. You're a real pal. I get off at 7 so I'll be there around 7:30. You'll be up won't you?"
I give her the look that says, 'What ! you think I can sleep after t his?' Then I glare at Sidney. "I'm not dealing with this alone. You're not getting off that easy." We all agree, spit on your hands and shake on it. Maeve returns to St. Columba's to finish her shift and Sidney and I drive home, shocked and numb to the core, wondering what just happened too.
At 7:38 in a bright flash of sunshine, Maeve pulls into my driveway, like she's rolling up to a grave site. I am oddly glad to see her, yet my stomach is churning, like I just crushed a baby bird under my heel. Why am I feeling guilty? I did not kill him. Damn nuns. I've felt guilty for a lot less than this. I'm standing in my doorway like a soldier guarding a palace. Sidney gets out from the other side of Maeve's car, her big almond-shaped eyes flattened into shards, brittle with forewarning and a thin smile, which mirrors her deep black brows, forced and painted smooth.
I lead my small entourage of helpful conspirators into the house where my kitchen, which is the size of a large closet, is completely torn apart, presumably in preparation for a new slightly larger closet-size kitchen. The walls are parrot green, the cabinets ripped off the walls and there is a hole in my floor the size of Mt Everest complete with sawdust smell, old rotted beams, and the skeleton of what looks like a small raccoon . A six by four piece of paneling is covering the hold in the floor allowing us to walk across it to get to the dining room. For some oddball reason, Bunny seems to find her favorite place to hide is under the kitchen floor right beside the raccoon skeleton..
I make us an All American breakfast: pancakes, toast and sausage. As Maeve and Sidney eat, I decide to make homemade waffles as well, with fresh blueberry jam, and then bake fresh scones and two pots of tea. After we have eaten, washed, and dried the dishes, we sit in the dining room staring at each other, each of us waiting for the other to speak. "Well," I say. "Ye did it."
"I did," says Maeve. "You guys want some wine?" She scans the room. "There are glasses in that cabinet behind your head, Cat. And there's two bottles on the floor by your feet. One red. One white."
I have no idea how she brought those in without me seeing her but I am not about to argue. Bunny is rubbing her sweet self up side my shins, purring like a motor boat.. Maeve whips out a corkscrew from her purse, opens one bottle, and pours three glasses. We each take one.
"Yum," I say, letting the slippery stuff glide down my twisted gullet. I am tense as a stick of dynamite and I have a sudden urge to talk my food head off . Either that or I will explode. I take another sip, and then wipe sticky grape juice off my lips with my sleeve as the joyful warmth spreads into my lips. "What I want to know is ... why did you do it, Maeve?"
"Huh?" She says innocently. "Do what?"
"Kill Tom, for God's sake! Why? Why did you do it, Maeve? Was he truly that awful? I mean, you were divorced after all."
Sidney pulls a small nip of Scotch out of her purse, pours it into her glass and downs the concoction in one frenzied gulp. She peers toward the kitchen where the corpse lies on the cold linoleum floor, silent and wrapped with polka dot duck tape stolen from my granddaughter; its holding the lumpy shape that is Tom with fifty deodorizers taped to the burlap bag we have him stuffed in. The room is toxic and harsh smelling with a layer of artificial sweetness, like candy littered through a garbage dump.
"Wouldn't you do the same thing?" asks Maeve. "If he did to you what he did to me, wouldn't you kill him?"
I shrug. "I'll say one thing for ye, Maeve. You've got guts."
"Aye," agrees Sidney. "And she's brave too."
I chuckle at Sidney's lack of the English language.
"Not brave," Maeve says. "Pushed to the limit."
"Still," I say. "Don't think I could have done what you did."
Maeve laughs. "If you only knew, Cathleen."
I put up a hand, not wishing to hear more. "Wasn't there anything good about him?"
"Well ... actually."
"I know," pipes Sidney. "He was a good lover, right? He took care of your flower."
Maeve screws up her face. "Em, my flower?"
"That's what my friend calls it," Sidney says.
"Oh, em, no then. He did not ... take care of my flower."
"But you had two kids with him," I point out.
"By accident, Cathleen. Purely by accident. I told you how that happened."
Sidney gives me a strange look. "She did?"
"Sure," explains Maeve. "He got me high ... you know, on those mushroom thingies then it was just a soft hand under a duck. You know how it is."
"My friend got high once," says Sidney. "Told me made her very randy."
"Is this the one that's real sexy?" I ask.
Maeve looks down her long straight nose at both of us, blonde hair glittering ,and adjusts her fake boobs in her slinky v-neck blouse. "The one who was dancing all loosey goosey at your wedding?"
"Oh noooo. That one is just nuts," Sidney quips. "She always tells me 'bout her sex life and one time she tells me her and her boyfriend were in the middle of doing it and and—" she giggles. "She sticks a vibrator in there. Says it was the best 'o' she ever had, so I says to her 'how big is your flower'?" Sidney is doing hip thrusting moves as while telling us this and I nearly wet my pants and choke on my gum.
Maeve is so doubled over with laughter she's struggling to catch her breath. Streams of water run from her eyes and says, "Sidney, I love your stories." She wipes the corners of her eyes with a linen hankie, takes out a lipstick and mirror and puckers. " You know, we could take this on the road."
I giggle. "You mean a comedy act?"
"Sure," says Maeve. "And Sidney can throw condoms into the audience as party favors. The kiddies will love it."
Now I'm laughing so hard there's snot running out my nose.
Suddenly the phone rings.
Silence and then panic.
The phone machine picks it up. You've reached Cathleen O'Sullivan. I'm not in the F#@*ing house right now probably pulling extra shifts at St Columba's for next to nothing. Leave a message. I'll call you back . On second thought I probably wont. (pause) Huh? What do you mean I can't swear? It's my F#@&ing phone!
The girls and I keep eating. Slowly, each waiting for the other to come up with a plan on how to dispose the body. For some reason I figured it was Maeve's decision on what to do. She did kill the guy but she's not offering any directions and I'm afraid to ask.
So we sit there.
And sit there.
And sit there.
The phone rings again for the fourth time and the cat disappears beneath the kitchen floor.
"Who the F@#$% is that, Cathleen?"
"Maybe you should answer it next time," offers Sidney. "Maybe you won the Irish Sweepstakes. We could all be rich."
Maeve makes a tsk tsk sound. "Any idea who'd be calling you over and over?"
"I do not but I'm sure it's not the Irish sweepstakes. Got any more of those nips in your purse, Sid?"
Sidney rustles through her purse and hands me a bottle of amber greased lightning, which I promptly make disappear. I say greased lightening because it slides down my throat at such a high speed I am left with the sensation I have just ingested a hummingbird with satin wings. I'm feeling very comfortable at the moment, as I put my feet up on an empty orange crate. I survey the room as if I am seeing it for the very first time. It's decorated 'early junk'. Nothing matches and there are all sort s of collections. A shelf eight feet off the floor frames the room, holding teapots, reamers, china cups with chips and saucers that don't match, all laden with dust. A tiny wood and glass cabinet with miniature rhinos, hippos, elephants and giraffes hangs on the wall. A miniature zoo from Red Rose tea, I'm told by my brother. In the far corner of the room is a wooden stand and attached to the stand heavy cast-iron meat grinders; some sit on the floor below it covered in cobwebs. None of these precious treasures have been used in years and to me, each looks exactly like the next, though I am told by my brother, the collector, there are all different. Damien is thankfully away, gone to New York City to act in a play. Macbeth, of all things! It was probably one of his boy-toys calling earlier. Damien has a habit of leaving without telling any one of his multitude of admirers where he is going or when he will be back and there is always someone who has his noise out of joint over it.
The cat jumps in my lap right on cue as someone pounds on the front door. We all look at each other, terrified.
"Oh no Oh no Oh no Oh no," whimpers Sidney.
"Relax, woman," says Maeve. "Whoever it is, they are outside and we are inside." She grins. "Besides it may be the Irish Sweepstakes."
A face smashed into the plate glass door peers into our secret little hideaway. Red hair spiked like peppermint sticks upon a pink freckled face, nose flattened on glass. Stark black eyelashes. Form-fitting shirt ... sleeveless, cut open at the chest with warm green tattoos that encircle his skinny arms like vines on a twig . Tight paisley britches, very chic; I've seen those very same trousers in a window on holiday in London.
Maeve stares longingly at the meat grinders and then at me. "No!" I say firmly but I can hear the disc squirrels running inside her head. I look at her stupidly, thinking of Flintstone cartoons and how everything is made of stone, which ironically rhymes with bone. "No," I say again though this time not as certain.
She looks at me and smiles. "Why not?"
"Just ...er … no," I say again. "Are you crazy?"
"Cathleen, its' perfect. We grind him up and then pack him away in the freezer. Easy-Peazy."
"Ewwwww. You crazy, Maeve," Sidney says, her face blanching. I did not know that olive skin turned green makes yellow.
"Pure mince meat," explains Maeve with a mischievous grin. She reaches past me for another scone and slathers it with jam.
"We can't do that!" I object rather loudly.
"Ye see how big that sucker is?" explains Maeve, biting into the scone.
"Gotta better idea?"
Before I can answer she says, "It's brilliant. If I do say so myself."
Maybe it is. "But how are we gonna ... I mean you said so yourself. Look at him. How we gonna make him ... more manageable, oh evil one?"
Maeve laughs and then turns to leave out the back door. She returns in an instant. With a chain saw!
Sidney sucks all the air out of the room along with my oxygen and covers her mouth, eyes no longer almost shaped but shaped like bombs on Pearl Harbor. "Oh my," she says.
We wait until midnight and then cut, chop and grind the living hell out of Tom's robust body.
Blood is everywhere. On my shoes. On the walls and floor. Even as high as the miniatures in the glass enclosed cabinet that hangs on the wall like a tiny tomb.
The stench is unbearable, like rotted cheese and feces but tinged with sweetness, like my grandmother's cheap perfume.
Sidney has supplied us gas masks from the theatre company her brother works in but. I can hardly breathe through it and I'm claustrophobic to boot, so I opt instead, for vaseline stuffed under my nose and a silk scarf around my lips with a pair of cheap goggles that her nephew used for swimming. Maeve and Sidney look like deranged wasps, donning their masks from WWI while they go about their grim business. When all is said and done, Maeve agrees to take possession of the skull and bones.
"What the hell you gonna do with that?" I ask.
"It's the least I can do," she says hugging the skull which she'd actually soaked in boiling vinegar. "I did kill him ye know."
It takes us all night to hack, saw, and grind Tom's body into a red mushy mass and Maeve makes jokes during the whole bloody process. "What do you call a cow murder mystery? She asks, and then without waiting for an answer she tells me. A Moo Dunnit," and looses it, the air forced violently through her nose with a rough harsh sound.
"That's not funny, Maeve."
"I know," she admits, still laughing.
"What do we do with all ... that?" Sidney says, indicating the platters and bowls, pots and pans, and anything else we could find covering the kitchen table. It looks so ... normal now. All the blood has been cleaned up and from where I am standing, it appears to be nothing more than a cluttered messy table. Like always. I can almost tell myself it never happened. We did not mercilessly butcher a dead body. I never saw any severed limbs or head of hair. There was no watch taken off his left wrist or wedding ring or—this was all just a very ... bad ... dream. I think, maybe it was just game shot in the woods by my brother. A bagged deer perhaps. Perfectly normal thing to do.
Maeve says she will store the flesh in her Mum's freezer. Her Mum will not be home from her boyfriend's house in Kansas for another week, the day before her own wedding. That will give Maeve time to figure out what to do with the evidence. Good. I don't want anything more to do with this.
The next evening, the three of us are at work when Maeve's sister Meagan pops in. Meagan is a nurse who works on another unit. She hover over the three and a half foot wall that separates the nurse's station from the rest of the room, enclosing our little brood of conspirators.
"I cannot believe how lazy you are," Meagan shouts at her sister, face all red with fury. She scowls at me and Sidney who is drinking tea and then turns back, enormous breasts resting on the low divider of the nurses' station. "And cheap too," she adds as an obvious afterthought.
"Nice to see you too," greets Maeve. "You sound like an egg-bound hen. What's up?" She smiles at me first because it's one of the American terms I recently taught her. Maeve loves sounding American and she thinks all the men in the U.S are big tall cowboys with dark hair and full of cash. "Why don't you sit down little lady," Maeve says to Meagan going all John Wayne on us. Sidney spurts tea explosively toward Meagan who if not for the solid wall between them ... would have been bathed in Earl Grey and steaming. Meagan doesn't seem to notice though; she's still focused on her sister.
"What the flip are you talking about?" asks Maeve, sounding annoyed.
"The food! The food for Mum's party. I gave you enough money, Maeve. I gave you enough, and it was your responsibility and as usual you cut corners and do a half arse job and leave the rest for me to do. Sure, you knew I had Billy and Molly to take care of. Sure you know I had to go all the way to Cork to buy ribbons and pasties and those little do hickeys to sit on the tables. And I did give you enough money as I said."
Maeve cocks her head and narrows her eyes; she looks as if she's playing chess and trying to figure out her next move.
Maeve straightens and flips back her blonde bangs. "Wanna tell me what your problem is?"
"Don't look at me like you don't know what I'm talking about. "It’s the meat for the rehearsal dinner you dolt."
"And do you know how long it takes to make quarter pounders for a hundred and eighty people?"
"Em, I dunno. How long?"
"A damn long time, Maeve!
Maeve shrugged, clearly stupefied.
Meagan breathed deep and said, "I know you have your own problems, Maeve. I do and to be honest when I looked at how fresh the meat was to be honest I was really pleased. Told myself 'she had the butcher grind it fresh. Fresh and sure isn't she thinking about someone other than herself for a change but then I realize—" She blew hard out her nose, mashing her lips together. "You didn't pay the extra fee to form the meat into patties! Why? Why do you always have to do things your own way?" I could see smoke coming out of Meagan's ears. Swear I could. "Anyway now it's done ... lotta fat in that stuff." She looked at her hands as if they'd just grown there, spreading the fingers out stiffly. She thrust them toward Maeve, palms out to showcase the bubbling blisters on both fleshy palms. "I have blisters on my blisters ," she says. "—took me four hours to get them too. Gosh, Maeve, do you always have to be so ... so ... so inconsiderate?"
Sidney's drawn black brows scramble upward; they hide in her dark curls; I can see the artery in her neck throbbing as the same realization hits all three of us at once. Gasping, my hand is slapped flat over my mouth as I watch Maeve go green as cabbage and just as ruffled. She runs to the restroom.
Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop
Our little band of conspirators had more to worry about than covering up a murder ... which by the way, I refused to hear the details of. Maeve had tried to tell me how Tom died several times, laughing her fool head off with the telling of it, all the while insisting I would find it quite comical. What was wrong with the woman and why were we even friends, I wondered. On one occasion, I slapped her hard across the face and she didn't bring it up again. Whatever Maeve did to know off her Ex, I wished to be left in the dark about it. And Sidney agreed with me. We lived through enough of the gruesome details of getting rid of Tom's body and I didn't think we could handle anything else. I told Maeve I would have to go into therapy now or drink shopping amounts of alcohol just to function. Of course, she laughed at this, but soon stopped pressing the issue.
It was eleven thirty. Time to bring patients into the dining room for lunch. I walked down the hall with Mrs. Smith, holding firmly to the side of her walker, mostly to keep her from smashing it into anyone, which she loved to do. She didn't try to hurt anyone today but kept mumbling about needing to know where her car keys were and did I know what time the circus began. "Soon," I told her.
We barely squeezed by Sheila, who was working as an aid tonight to make some extra money before her baby arrived. She looked as if she would burst if we blew on her too hard and spray new baby fluid across the cold linoleum floor. Being a single mother, she wasn't due until next month and was looking kind of ragged. Her belly was so large it appeared to arrive a full five minutes before she did.
Mrs. Brady sat outside the dining room entrance wearing a lovely hand-embroidered sweater her daughter had given her. Pea green, I'd call it. She barely spoke at all these days, a fact that broke her poor daughter's heart each time she tried to get a word out of her. She tried asking her mother questions, prompting her. She brought in babies and toddlers, all of which were Mrs. Brady's great great grandchildren, hoping to joggle her sweet mother's memory but the old woman just looked straight ahead, sometimes drooling in the process. She even tried feeding her foods she knew she hated, in the hopes of an obvious highly verbal objection but the woman said nothing. Mrs. Brady remained silent as the moon in a dark sky. Cold and detached.
Sheila yawned and placed her hands on her hips, arching her back like a large black cat. "Know what's the worst part of being this way?" she said.
"The extra weight?" I said.
"There's that," Sheila said, "Tis not the worst though." Sheila was always good for a needed laugh and I leaned in, inquisitively. "I'm so big, ye know," she continued. "And my boyfriend ... well ... he says I'm too big to ... er, ye know."
"Oh," I said. "There are other ways, Sheila."
"Oh I know. That's what I'm talking about."
"What are you talking about, exactly?"
Mrs. Brady was staring at Sheila's belly like it was some sort of strange animal, then she reached forward, placed her long wrinkled hand on top.
"It's ok Judy. You can touch it," Sheila said. "There's a baby in there, no?"
Mrs. Brady's smile grew broader and se looked up into Sheila's chocolate brown eyes.
Then, Judy Brady spoke.
I was so stunned; I almost lost the gum I had chewed into a pulp.
We simply looked at her, smiling wide .
"Say it again. Say it again," Sheila coaxed. "Your daughter is not going to believe this one." But Judy Brady only smiled and then went back to picking at the pills in her pea green sweater.
When Sidney and I arrive at Maeve's mother's wedding a week later, we are a taken aback at the décor of this very swanky establishment. Everything and I mean everything is green. Kelly green. The table cloths and napkins. Green flowers and green glass wear. Green curtains and even the water in the founding inside the wedding cake is green. Green and white crepe paper swoops down from the ceiling; it curls gracefully across the room and there are pots of shamrocks with tiny trumpet white flowers on each table. I frown and grab Maeve's sleeve. "Bit much don't you think? Looks like hung-over leprechauns threw up in here."
"Fairies with too much to drink," I explain. "Looks like they got sick."
We scan the room searching for familiar faces then notice Maeve in a low cut backless dress and Meagan in some kind of ruffly pink chiffon gown that makes her look like a top-heavy birthday cake,. Beside them is a couple we do not know, and—" A ghost? I grab a drink from the table next to me and down it fast, much to the surprised bald-headed gentleman staring at me in disbelief. Suddenly I am reminded of humpty dumpty and I stifle a chuckle."Oh, sorry. I uh thought this was my table, " I say lamely. I can feel Sydney shuddering beside me. " Bejizzis," she whispers, stretching her long lean neck to see over the dancers who now have moved in to partially shield our vision.
We scan the man across the room from his shining bald head to the tip of his toes. Black leather brogues laced smartly upward, the shaft of a dirk in the top of one right ash grey sock, rising to a green and orange plaid kilt, and tweed jacket with matching tie. "It's—It's—It's," stammers Sidney.
"It's Tom!" I supply. "And he's not alone. Look who's with him." We cannot believe our eyes as we watch Maeve gushing and animated at something someone must have said and falling all over Tom, almost in his flippin' lap. Sidney looks at me, the tattooed brows not moving; those marks always creep me out.
"It can't be," I say.
"He looks ...er ... not dead ... exactly." Sidney is clutching my arm so hard I almost wince.
"It can't be, Sid. Must be someone else."
She pulls on my arm, forcing me to look into those dark brooding eyes.
"I know what he looks like and so do you."
"Something 's different though," I say, gasping for anything that could possibly be an explanation.
"Uh huh. Younger. He looks younger."
"Probably because he isn't dead," I say, trying to lighten our shock and removing Sidney's clutching fingers from my jumper.
"What do we do, Cat?"
"How should I know," I say, incredulous.
Before we have to think too long about what our next actions should be, Maeve stands up and waves to us. I feel like a child who has been caught with his pants down. I can't move because all the blood in my head is pooled at my feet, dark and heavy as a wintry day. But there she is. Still waving us over and we don't know what to do so we pretend not to see her. This can't be happening, definitely a bad dream and any minute I'll wake up. I reach over to Sidney and pinch her. Hard.
"Owww! What did you do that for?"
"Oh. Sorry." I chuckle. "I thought if I pinched someone's arm it would wake up."
Sidney looks at me pursing her red ruby lips. She snatches her arm from me and takes a step back, eyes big as light-bulbs as she stares across the room, which is large and packed with dancers so that we are both somehow questioning that we ever saw Tom at all. "Cat, what if he's angry? Sure, I'd be sore if someone killed me and then cut me up like I was dog-food."
"That's ridiculous. That—," I say, "is obviously not Tom or maybe we are both having the same hallucination ...what were in those drinks anyway? Never mind."
Sidney sucks in a breath. "What if he is dead, Cat? He could be a zombie. A zombie, Maeve! Like that Hopscotch guy."
"You mean Boris Karlof?"
"Er, that's him."
"He's an actor, Sid. Not real. Got it?"
"Looked pretty real to me and he made that dead guy come to life too. I saw it with my own eyes."
"It was a movie, Sid! Besides he acted in the nineteen thirties. I'm sure he's dead, Sid."
"See what I mean. He looked so alive in the movie."
I shake my head. "Whatever you say, Sid."
"So now what?"
"Come on." I take her by the elbow and lead her over to the table where Zombie Tom is seated. As we approach we become tongue-tied, unable to speak for several minutes. Zombie Tom smiles and though I had only met Tom about three times I have no doubt this is indeed him. In the flesh.
Tom turns to Maeve and says, "These are your friends?" and Maeve introduces us as her co-workers. More like partners in crime, I think.
"Got some beautiful nurse you work with, honey," says Zombie Tom.
Maeve seems to be smiling. The kind of smile that starts as a grin and then grows like popcorn in one of em silver jiffy pop bags. I'm thoroughly confused. I thought she hated Tom. Then I remember what we did to him and I realize he cannot possibly be a zombie or if he is wouldn't he have stitches or seams or something holding him together. I shake my head, certain I have completely lost my mind. To my surprise, Tom stands and reaches to shake my hand. I take it shakily, wondering if he can smell his own blood under my fingernails. "I like read-heads," he says as his gaze darts from me to Sidney. "What's the matter, honey? You look as if you've seen a ghost.
And that's all it took. Sidney goes into full-blown, accordion folded, panic-stricken attack. She's holding her stomach and breathing hard with frightened eyes darting left to right like a cornered mouse. Tom quickly pulls out a chair and eases Sidney into it but she flinches and lets out a terrified screech as if scalded by hot oil when he touches her. To Zombie Tom's credit, he pays no attention to this strange Philippine moaning. His dark blue eyes appear genuinely concerned as he rubs small circles over Sidney's back. "Sure you'll be fine doll," he soothes. Doll? This is not the Tom, Maeve claims him to be. Cruel and twisted with no regard for anyone but himself.
A dreamy scent spices the air; it floats above the dancers who part like the red sea as servers in green smocks parade from the kitchen with large silver trays covered in plates of beef and potatoes, miniature pastries in baskets, lamb stew, and Dublin coddle with parsnip crisps.
For a moment, I forget Zombie Tom as Red Is The Rose, a Celtic wedding song, strikes up, soft and harmonious. (more here. need research of song.)
From the table where I stand, a tall stocky man with grey curly hair and glasses leaps from his seat. He gallantly rushes to Tom's aid with Sidney. Soon, he is fanning the poor girl with a pack of tourist brochures and encouraging words in what sounds like French. Ordinarily Sidney would eat the attention of a Frenchman up. She once told me if she had her choice of anyone to be stranded on a deserted island with; he would have to be French for the French are the only men who could make a woman ... um .... I think of this for a fraction of a second until interrupted by a loud guttural howl. The kind of howl that sounds as if something in the pit of the abyss is suddenly coming to life. Sidney vomits all over the large Frenchman's black pointed shoes. A few feet from the table, a waiter freezes in his tracks causing an immediate chain reaction by the waiters who were following close behind.
And just like that. Bamn!
Plates of food go flying over people's heads like Frisbees and pints of Guinness and pots of tea smash on the floor. The band stops playing and several musicians ... with bows and fiddles raised ... jump from their seats as do others to see what has happened. "Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod," drawls Sidney.
"Tis alright," says Zombie Tom with a gentle rub on her back. He hands Sidney a glass of water with instructions to drink it slowly but she waves it away as another attack comes on her forcefully. Zombie Tom, to my surprise, holds back her dark hair as she empties what is left of her last meal at my friends swanky Irish very expensive wedding. Finally she stops and Tom and the man with the black shoes escort her out of the room. To somewhere she can lie down, he tells me with a wink.
I watch them take Sidney away, walking straight as an arrow now, head high and stopping ever so often so she can apologize to the guests at each table as she goes. I see my chance and quickly sidle up to Maeve, who has kept her distance during this completely unforgivable chaotic affair. She does not appear upset though and is humming to the music of 'Black Magic Woman'. She actually appears more calm than I've ever seen her in my life. Suddenly, I'm furious. I grab her arm, freezing the words of the song in her throat. "What!" she says, startled. The music has increased its volume. I have to yell to be heard over it. "What the F@#% is going on, Maeve?
She looks at me, befuddled. "What are you talking about? I don't know why she is sick."
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