This is the third part of a fiction serial, in 1960 words.
September 2018. Orla Reilly is in intensive care.
Shawn met Orla when they were both just fifteen. They knew from the start that there would be nobody else for either of them, and they married at eighteen. Shawn found work in England, and told her they should leave the quiet town in Ireland to make a life for themselves. She naturally agreed, and they set off to the grimy industrial town that they would now have to call home. The money was good, and Orla managed to find work too. Things were looking up, and then she got pregnant with Noel. But Shawn was happy to be a father, and he put in for overtime at the car factory where he fitted the front bumpers onto delivery vans, day in, day out. Six days a week, every week. On Sundays, he was exhausted, and refused to help out with the baby. They started to argue for the first time, and that drove Shawn out of the house, defusing his temper on long walks.
Then he started drinking.
A few beers at first. Then he started to play pool with the regulars, and a few beers turned into ten. Very soon he began to meet the lads after work, missing his dinner, and rolling in drunk around eleven. He hardly noticed little Noel, and never played with his son. Orla started to sleep on the sofa, and by the time they were twenty-five, they were like strangers in the same house. Then Orla got another job. School hours, working as a cleaner for the bus company. The extra money meant that Shawn could drop some of the overtime, and Orla’s improved mood started to help thaw things out between them. Shawn took Noel to junior football on Saturday afternoons, and before too long they were back in the same bed.
That got her pregnant with Roisin, and they took a trip back to Ireland to show off the new baby to their families, and to let them see how big Noel was getting.
By the time Roisin was approaching her sixth birthday, the bad times were forgotten. Shawn came home every night, played with the kids before their bedtime, and contented himself with a couple of beers after dinner. They had moved into a three-bed, and started talking about maybe buying a place the following year, if they could scrape together a big enough deposit. A week later, it was on the TV news. The company was cutting back. Car sales were falling, and nobody was buying the vans either. There was talk of cutbacks and lay-offs, perhaps even compulsory redundancies. Shawn raged at the fact that he had to find out his possible fate from the TV, as nothing at all had been mentioned at his work.
The next few weeks were hard. Less hours at the car plant, and the fear that the company would sell out to some outfit from Korea, who would move all the jobs south, to the existing factory there. Shawn became withdrawn, and started drinking more. There was no money for luxuries, and when the car broke down, no money to repair it. Shawn got the bus to work, and Orla walked to her job after seeing Roisin into school. Noel was grumpy and argumentative, as there was no money for his promised football trip, or the new football boots he coveted.
Little Roisin had seen a lovely doll in an old-fashioned toy shop, and Orla knew how much she wanted it for her birthday. But it was one hundred pounds all but a penny, and there was no way they could afford that.
One day at work in the bus company, Orla was telling her manager how tight things were financially, about the shop where her daughter had seen the cherished doll, and how much she would love to be able to buy Roisin that doll for her birthday. She was wondering if there were any extra hours she could do at weekends, when Shawn could mind the kids. Mr Bennett was a kind man. He had a large build, and a bald head. He was probably over fifty, with grown-up kids of his own, and a wife who was big and fat, and always smiling whenever she popped in to see him. He shook his head. “Sorry, Orla love. No extra hours at all. In fact, the company is thinking of bringing in an outside company to do the cleaning on contract. It works out cheaper than using our own staff. Tell you what, why don’t I lend you the money for the doll? You can pay me back bit by bit, no pressure”. Orla shook her head. “That’s lovely of you, Mr Bennett, but I couldn’t do that. I would never be able to repay you”.
Her boss looked her up and down. Not yet thirty-three years old, Orla was still a very attractive woman. She had thick auburn hair, cut short, and just enough freckles to look cute. Two pregnancies had left her with some nice curves, if you liked that sort of thing. And Mr Bennett liked that sort of thing. He smiled, sucking in his belly as he spoke, like that would make any difference. “Listen, Orla. You’re a good-looking woman, and I am a man with needs. I’m sure we could come to some arrangement that could easily pay for that doll”. Orla was shocked, too shocked to reply. She just turned and left his office, her face turning bright red.
Shawn arrived home from work drunk that night. Roisin was crying, Noel sulking in his room, and Orla was at her wit’s end. Her husband mumbled something about the company closing down, then staggered up to bed, collapsing on top of the covers fully dressed.
As she was finishing up the next afternoon, Mr Bennett called her into the office. Sitting on his desk was the doll. The same one, with its dark red hood, and scarlet ribbon. The lace on its outfit looked so delicate. He leered at her, and tapped the doll’s head. “Lovely, isn’t she? It’s up to you, Orla. I’m sure my wife would like to display her in our cabinet otherwise. Taking a deep breath, Orla turned and locked the door. As she unbuttoned her overall, she spoke with a determined voice. “Just this once mind, and from behind. And no kissing” Then she leaned over the desk as the man she had once thought was so kind stood up and unzipped his trousers.
There was no money for a party, as the car plant was closing for sure, and any redundancy payments still had to be sorted out. But Roisin loved that doll, and hugged it close all day. Orla had lied to Shawn, told him it was reduced to twenty-five pounds because it had no box. He might well have been angry with her, but the face on his delighted daughter melted his heart. Noel was in a foul mood, complaining that he couldn’t have any football boots but his sister got a doll. Shawn calmed him down. “Wait until Christmas, son. See what you get then. He was banking on a decent payout, but nobody had a clue how much it might be yet.
Orla settled both the kids, then came down to do the washing up. Shawn waited a while, then went up to kiss them goodnight. Little Roisin was a picture, tucked up fast asleep, cuddling her new doll. As he leaned over to plant a kiss on her head, a strange voice spoke in a hoarse whisper.
“Ask her how she got the money for the doll. Ask her how much it really cost. Oh, and ask her how she liked it, bent over Mr Bennett’s desk, with him grunting away at her like a hog at a trough”.
He jumped away from the bed, looking around the room illuminated by the glow of the night-light. He thought for a moment that it was the doll speaking, but that couldn’t be. He shook his head, and leaned forward once again.
“She said ‘no kissing'”.
Shawn reeled back so fast, he stumbled into the half-open door. The voice had come from the doll, and that wasn’t possible. He closed the door and stood motionless on the landing, slowly taking in what the doll had said. He had never met that Bennett, but Orla had talked about him, said he was kind, and an easy guy to work for. He stood and thought some more, then slowly walked down the stairs. Orla was drying a mug on a tea-towel as he walked into the kitchen. His voice was surprisingly calm. “So what’s the story about you and Bennett then? Is that how you got the money for the doll? You shagged him for it, right?”
She put down the mug as the colour drained from her face. It would be best to lie. Say he was crazy, ask him what he was talking about. Get angry, tell him he must be imagining things. But eighteen years of Catholic priests talking about confession and truth was hard to overcome. Best get it over with.
“It was just the once, and it didn’t mean anything. I don’t even like him that…”.
He hadn’t meant to hit her that hard, he really hadn’t. The punch stopped her in mid-sentence, and he felt her nose break under his fist. Her head flew back as her legs gave way, and she hit her head with such force on the mixer tap spout that it bent into the sink.
He left her in a heap on the floor, and walked back into the living room. Reaching into the back of the unit, he took out the bottle of Jameson he had been saving for Christmas. Then he flopped down on the sofa in front of the television and drunk it all, straight from the neck of the bottle.
When Shawn woke up early the next morning, he went into the kitchen, to see if Orla was dead. Head clouded by the booze, he knelt on the floor in the blood, and put his ear to her mouth. She was still breathing, but only just. He walked upstairs and woke the kids, carrying his daughter and pulling his complaining son by the hand. Still in their nightclothes, he walked them around to Mrs Oliver, next door. The old lady peeped around the door when she answered, wearing a quilted dressing gown. “Could you mind the kids for me please missus? Me wife’s taken poorly so she has, and I have to get her to the doctor”. As the door opened wider, he put Roisin down on the mat, and pushed Noel inside. “Be good now, kids”.
Back in the house, he went up to Roisin’s bedroom and grabbed the doll from her bed. Stuffing it onto the bag he normally used for work, he took his mobile out and phoned the ambulance. As he walked out of the house, he left the front door open, so they wouldn’t have to break it down. He needed a walk, and time to think.
The shops in town weren’t open at that time of the morning, and there were few people on the streets. Shawn knew he would have to hand himself into the police. No point trying to run. He had no money anyway. He walked in the direction of the main police station, and paused on the corner opposite, next to a charity shop. He was building up the courage to walk in there, and confess what he had done to his wife.
He left the bag in the shop doorway as he crossed the road.