By Gerard Byrne
Photo By Irish Mae Llavore
Her heart was pumping hard. But Jenny couldn’t slow down or even take a break from her newfound interest in running. Mainly down to the two athletic Eastern European security guards that were now chasing her through Belfast city centre. Her lungs burned with each shallow breath she took. It wouldn’t be long ’til they caught up with her. Jenny needed to find a place to hide. The quicker, the better.
She rounded a blind corner. Barely missing a woman pushing a large pram. Jenny stumbled slightly. But got her balance once more,
“Out of the fucking way bitch,” she gasped, leaving.
The young mother was at a loss for words and just walked on.
Jenny spotted a small memorial park for the local Protestants, who had died during The Troubles. It had a high metal fence surrounding it and large gates that were thankfully open. She ran inside and ducked down behind a nearby wooden bench, which was mostly obscured by a rather large bush, that needed a good trimming.
It wasn’t long until the two security guards came running by. One of them stopped and glanced around the small garden. There weren’t many places to hide in there. So thankfully it didn’t take him long to give up and run off after his colleague.
Jenny gave it a few more minutes, before getting up from behind the bench. She poked her head out the gate and checked the street for her pursuers. Thankfully the two of them rounded a corner, a good distance down the street, and that seemed to be the end of it. Stupid assholes wouldn’t be able to find a prosti in a brothel.
She sat down on the bench and took a much-needed breath of stale air. She was finally getting the chance to examine the spoils of her recent shoplifting adventure. Pulling out a long, narrow white box, with the words pregnancy test written down the side. Jenny couldn’t believe that it had come to this. At first, she thought that it was just a little late. Now it seemed to be something more. Her future all came down to the results of this one test.
“You okay, love?” asked an old woman with a big bunch of mixed flowers in one hand. She was wrapped up in a heavy blue coat with a matching woolly hat. Probably in the hope of fighting off the cold autumn air.
“Yeah. Why?” Jenny was blunt as always.
“Sorry, love. Just thought you had a million problems on your shoulders there.”
“Well, I don’t,” Jenny shoved the test back in her jacket pocket, before taking out her cigarettes and lighting one up.
“Sorry to bother you,” the old woman shuffled off towards a nearby grave, before struggling down onto her knees. She continued to lay out the flowers on the small plaque.
A pang of guilt started to fill Jenny’s heart. She preferred to be seen as a stone-faced bitch. But there were times when it was hard to hide her true feelings. There was a question building up in her mind. This was a memorial park. Why wasn’t the old lady at the person’s actual grave?
“Can I ask you something?”
The old woman seemed surprised by the question, “You talking to me, dear?”
Jenny glanced around the empty park, “No one else here, lady.”
“What do you wanna ask me?”
“Why are you putting flowers on a memorial plaque and not on the real grave?”
“Because no one feckin’ knows where my son is buried,” the old woman broke a brief smile before the emotional pain hit her once more, “People keep talking about how great it is. That the fighting is all over. But, it never ended for me. My family never got closure. All I ever wanted to know was where my son’s body was. But people just wanna brush all those questions under the carpet, for the sake of the Good Friday agreement, and move on. I can’t move on with my life. Couldn’t give a shite what Gerry Adams and that other silly cow Mary Lou say or do these days. It’ll never make the pain leave my heart. My son’s death destroyed my family. Tore it apart at the seams. Now I’m all alone in my grief.”
Jenny was starting to regret even asking. She only wanted an answer. Not an added sob story, “Okay then. Makes sense now.”
The old woman struggled to get to her feet, “Can you help me up, dear?”
Jenny threw her eyes up in annoyance. But she still got up and helped the old woman. “You need to invest in a walking stick. Won’t always be someone around to help you out in this place. Never see many calling in these days.”
The old woman straightened her knees, “That’s because the dead get forgotten over time. When this place was built at first, every plaque in this park had somebody caring for it. Now there seems to be less and less. Give it ten more years, and no one will be bothering with this place anymore. No one to mind my son’s plaque. It’ll go unpolished. No more flowers will lay on its shiny surface. And I’ll still go to my grave. Never knowing where my son is buried.”
The old woman stumbled slightly. She grabbed the side of the bench to steady herself, before sitting down. Jenny hadn’t wanted any interruptions. But there was no point in moving on just yet. The security guards might still be on the lookout for her. So, she just sat back down again and lit up another cigarette.
“How do you know he’s dead then ?”, Jenny was blunt as ever.
“The I.R.A. admitted to killing him. Buried his body in some bog. But they’ve never once tried to give us an idea of his location. So that’s all I have to go on. All I get is an unpunishable confession and the promise of peace in Northern Ireland. That doesn’t help me when I’m crying myself to sleep at night. You probably think I’m mad. But I can’t get over his death.” The old woman rubbed a few tears from her eyes, “Have you lost anyone to The Troubles?”
Jenny briefly thought about it, “No one close to me.”
“You’re one of the lucky ones. I’ve lost cousins, and my uncle lost a leg to a bomb blast in the city centre,” the old woman opened her purse, took out a large joint, and lit it up, “This stuff is great for my arthritis. Even put it in brownies and all. Blasts the head off me.”
She handed the joint to Jenny. “Give it a try if you like.”
Jenny took the joint and pulled hard on it. The strong hash hit the back of her throat and made her cough loudly, “Fucking hell. That’s well packed. How the fuck can you smoke stuff like this regularly? I’m surprised you’re not lying in a heap,” she handed the joint back.
The old woman took another long pull and blew out the smoke with ease, “You get used to it. The name’s Rosemary, by the way. And you’re young Jenny. Am I right?”
Jenny wasn’t even surprised that the old woman knew who she was. Her reputation proceeded her, “Take it you’ve heard of me?”
Rosemary nodded over the road, at some graffiti plastered over the side of an old red brick building. The name Jenny was spray painted in white. But the writing underneath had been covered up with the words, the joyless junkie written in large red letters, for all to see. This was the first time that Jenny had noticed it, “Fucking assholes. Thought I’d sorted all that”.
Rosemary sat back onto the bench, “Not a nice thing to call anyone. People can be so cruel.”
“Tell me about it. Stuck with me for life now.”
Rosemary looked the young woman in the eyes, “Nothing is forever. You just have to be the one to make the changes. Like that pregnancy test in your pocket. Your life can head off in two very different ways. And it’s all down to the results of that little piece of plastic. When are you gonna take it?”
Jenny pulled the test out of her pocket and examined the packaging, “Was thinking of trying to find somewhere right now.”
Rosemary glanced behind the bench they were sitting on, “Why don’t you go back there? Pull your knickers down and get pissing. Only takes a second, and I’ll keep a look out for you.”
The offer was definitely tempting.
It wasn’t long until Jenny was squatting behind the bench. Her soiled knickers and jeans were wrapped around her ankles. And she was having considerable trouble trying to balance the test underneath her body. While the urge to pee wasn’t coming naturally to her, “Why can’t I ever piss when I need to. This is a fucking joke.”
Rosemary pulled a small bottle of water from her bag and began to pour it out onto the ground in front of Jenny, “This might help you.”
Jenny concentrated on the running water, and thankfully it had the desired effect. The urine began to flow freely, and soon her little plastic stick was covered in a liberal layer of yellow fluid, “Thank fuck for that. Fucking knees are killing me.”
Rosemary smiled, “Welcome to my world, dear.”
“Hold this for a sec,” Jenny handed her pissy plastic stick to the surprised old lady.
Rosemary grabbed it without thinking. She put it down on the bench and shook the excess fluid off her damp fingers, “You saturated the poor thing. Thought you only needed a dribble to make it work.”
Jenny buttoned up her jeans, wiped her wet hands off her jacket, and sat back down, “I don’t do things by half. Wanna get this right the first time. Especially if I need to go to Liverpool.”
Rosemary glanced down at the test, “So you’re gonna abort it?”
Jenny didn’t wanna hear that word right now, “It’s for the best. Get well rid before it’s a real person.”
“Will that make you feel better? Killing it before it’s developed into a fully formed baby.”
Jenny tried to hide her irritation at the old woman’s line of questioning, “I don’t wanna be a mother. Trust me. I’d be pretty shite at it.”
“You won’t know until you try. Would the father agree with your decision?”
Jenny searched her mind and tried to think about who the father could be. There were a number of suspects. Not that she slept around. It just happened that way. No one gave Meryl Streep shit over all the fellas she shagged in that Abbaesque piece of crap. At least hers was over the space of two weeks. Meryl did them all in two or three days. Now that was a right slapper.
“I don’t know who the father is,” for some reason, an added guilt flowed out of her with those few words.
Rosemary rubbed the young woman’s shoulder, “Don’t worry about it, love. I didn’t have the father of my son around either. Sixteen years of age, and I was scared shitless at first. Wanted to run from this city, before all the gossip and back-biting started in my estate.”
Jenny started to find herself lost in the old woman’s words, “What did you do?”
Rosemary took another pull of her joint, “Put up with them for a few years. Did my best to make my son the best achiever that anyone had ever seen. Worked all the hours available to put him through college. You should have seen all those hater’s faces. I didn’t let them drive me down into a hole. I turned that back around on them and showed them that a single mother can do it all on their own. Soon enough, I found my Mr. Right, and I married him. We had two more kids after that. Margaret and Mary. Life finds a way of working out.” She glanced over at the bronze plaque on the ground, “That was until those bastards took him from me. And all the haters and gossips were back with their tall tales and bullshit accusations. They were just waiting all these years for another chance to knock my family down. Life can be so cruel to the good in this world”.
A great sadness filled Jenny’s heart, “I’m sorry to hear that. I’d batter any bastard that said shit about me or my mother.”
Rosemary glanced back down at the test, “Looks like you’ve got a result.”
Jenny picked it up and examined the small panel in the middle. The words “not pregnant” had appeared. A wave of relief washed over Jenny. As a rare smile flashed across her face, “Thank fuck for that.”
“I’m happy for you, dear”, Rosemary struggled back to her feet and fixed her long coat.
“Are you heading off already?”, Jenny was actually enjoying the old woman’s company.
“Need to get to my bingo session. Only thing I have these days. A pastime with good friends. Think you’d do well to look for something along the same lines. A distraction from your problems. Because if you keep driving people away now, you’re gonna end up lonely in the future. Please think about what I’ve said. You seem a nice girl. And I never would have known that if I hadn’t of sat down here and talked to you. Take care.” And with that, the old woman headed off about her business.
Jenny watched on as Rosemary crossed the quiet road. If only she had a friend like that in her life. She’d driven away so many people over the years. Just a natural defensive reaction to life in general. It had been drilled into her from an early age. Always be on your guard. That was hard to drop after all these years.
A greying middle-aged man entered the small park. He walked with a strange limp, a well-worn crutch clasped in one hand. He spotted Jenny and the pregnancy test lying on the bench next to her, “Good news, love?”
Jenny lit up another cigarette, “Yeah, I’m not fucking pregnant.”
The old man smiled awkwardly at her, before hobbling off towards a poorly kept brass plaque in the far corner.
Jenny picked up the pregnancy test and studied the negative reading a little closer. Hard to believe that her future came down to those two words. She placed it back down on the bench and got up to leave. It was time to check was the coast clear.
Stepping out onto the quiet street, Jenny scanned for any signs of the security guards. They were nowhere to be seen. Looks like luck was on her side once more. But sooner or later, it would run out. Jenny was ready for that day.
Gerard Byrne is from Drogheda County Louth. He has written many pieces of poetry, short stories, stage plays, flash fiction, and a series of novels. Some of his work has appeared on poetry trails during Fleadh Ceoil 2018 & 2019 and in Tales from the Trail, an anthology put together by Drogheda Creative Writers. He is an active member of many writing groups, the Drogheda Creative Writers, The Bull’s Arse, a Navan writing group, and the Inkslingers Dublin. After suffering a life-changing accident, Gerard turned to writing. His only way of dealing with the trauma and pain, was to channel it into words. Something he hadn’t done in nearly twenty years. His work in fiction normally revolves around life in modern Ireland and the strange characters that he creates from people he’s met throughout his life. Trying to find comedy in drama and vice versa, Gerard strives to give a voice to the characters and stories in his head. It’s his joy and passion in life.