Victims of Circumstance




“Maire!” yelled Tom, and banged on the kitchen door. “Maire, let me in!”

I took a deep breath, walked over to the kitchen door and opened it.

“Sorry,” I said quietly. “I didn’t realise it was locked. Come in.” I cleared my throat and stepped aside to let him in. “I’ve just made tea.”

Tom sniffed as he entered the kitchen. The air was repugnant, bitter, nauseating. It was the odour of Betsy O’Leary’s cheap perfume, mingled with stale whisky and cigarettes. Involuntarily Tom covered his nose with his hand.

“You noticed it too. You can smell my mother all over the house. It’s awful.”

“Where is she?”

“On the sofa in the living room,” I said. “Want a cup of tea?”

Before he could answer I took a cup down from the dresser and with a deceptively steady hand poured him a cup of tea. I put the pot down, braced myself and said: “Something awful has happened.”

“She’s dead, isn’t she?” Tom said, his voice barely a whisper.

I nodded.

He fell onto the kitchen chair and shook his head. He did his best to remain composed; he held his mouth firmly closed, breathed deeply through his nose and wrapped his hands tightly around his mug of tea.

“Does anyone know? I mean, what are you supposed to do when something like this happens?”

I picked up my tea cup. “Make tea, what else?” I was being sarcastic.

He didn’t appreciate it.

“I phoned Sister Joseph and Father Cavanagh. Father should be here any minute to tell me what to do. And Sister will be down as soon as she can get away from the Orphanage.” I told him, and sat down next to him at the kitchen table. My legs were about to betray my emotions. I had been on the verge of hysteria since discovering Betsy’s yellowing, lifeless body that morning.

“What the hell happened, Maire?”

“Pills and whisky, it’s so pathetic.” I bit my bottom lip, hard. I licked away a drop of blood, then explained further: “She was pissed out of her skull by eight o’clock last night. I went to my own room and left her to it. She had already ruined my birthday, and all I wanted was a bit of peace. When I got up this morning, she was on the sofa where I’d left her, stone cold.”

And as in every bad melodrama, the empty pill bottle was standing, screaming at me from the coffee table. But unlike the movies, my mother had left no goodbye note, no last words to absolve me from any guilt or responsibility.

Tom put a hand under my chin. “Is there more?” he asked.

“Should there be?”

“You tell me?”

I shook my head.

“Did you two have another fight?” He persisted, and looked me square in the face.

“Don’t make me laugh. We were always fighting, you know that. What’s so special about that?” I said, hearing the venom in my voice.

“Listen, Maire,” he said and put his hand on my shoulder. “Look at me. You don’t have to pretend for me. We have no secrets, do we?”

I shrugged him off. “There’s nothing to tell, Tom. Now, just drink your tea and stop talking for Christ’s sake.” A high-pitched giggle escaped from my mouth. I put my hands to my lips, as though to hold back the sound. “She really did it this time, eh?”

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