Moya Roddy – I Also Had My Hour

Moya Roddy attended the National College of Art and Trinity Arts Lab. She continued painting during a two-year stay in Italy, before moving to London where she trained as a television director at the Soho Poly.   Que Sera Sera,   which she wrote and directed, won a Sony Award in 1983 and the British Film Institute commissioned a full-length feature,   I Prefer Freesias   in 1985. Several of her screenplays were optioned in America. She worked in television adapting a novel for Scottish TV and in Current Affairs/Documentaries for Channel 4 on programmes such as   Promised the Earth , analysing the UN Decade for Women and was sole writer on the innovative four-part art series   Opening Up the Family Album. Returning to live in Ireland, her debut novel   The Long Way Home, ( Attic Press 1992), was described as ‘Simply Brilliant’ in the Irish Times. They had published her first short story,   Biddy’s Research,   in 1991 and since then she’s had numerous stories published including   The Day I Gave Neil Jordan A Lift   ( Anthology of Irish Comic Writing,   Penguin/Michael Joseph,) which was broadcast by RTE and CBS Canada. Her work has been anthologised in   Dublines   and the   Anthology of Irish Women’s Writing , (Bloodaxe). She wrote several episodes for RTE’s sit-com   Upwardly Mobile . A radio play Dance Ballerina Dance was short-listed for the PJ O’Connor Award and broadcast by RTE. She collaborated with Pete Mullineaux on   Butterfly Wings, broadcast on RTE radio in 2010, and two stage plays,   Trust Games , (Galway Youth Theatre 2002) and   Red Lorry Yellow Lorry – specially commissioned for the 2003 Cuirt International Festival of Literature. She completed an MA in Writing at NUIG in 2008.

I Also Had My Hour

By Moya Roddy

She was one of those ordinary looking oldwans, you see them in supermarkets at certain times of the day or coming out of the Post Office on certain days of the week. You think you know them. The way you think you know a lot of things. The first time I met her was on a bus, I was on me way to see the MABS about sorting out the arrears. Christmas was coming – or not – depending on what happened. Me pockets were stuffed with reminders from the ESB and the credit card company and I was carrying on a kind of dress rehearsal in me head when she gets on, dragging one of those wheelies that would take the leg off ye. She sat down opposite. I was at the bit where we were discussing the instalments I could afford when I coulda swore she said something. I leaned over. The eyes that met mine beamed and with the lips still moving, she held up her hands. Rosary beads! I threw me eyes to heaven.
‘It was too cold this morning to kneel down,’ she said, kissing the cross and putting the beads in her bag. ‘I’m sure He doesn’t mind where I say them. Are you getting in before the rush starts?’
I gave a non-committal nod.
‘I don’t bother with Christmas,’ she carried on, ‘it’s got so expensive. I feel sorry for parents. In my day children were glad-’
I stopped listening. Old people only seem to know sentences beginning with ‘in my day’.
When she’d finished, I sighed, ‘I know, it’s terrible.’
She bent closer. ‘Have you any children?’
‘Three,’ I answered although I wanted to tell her to mind her own bloody business.
‘You don’t look old enough. I hope your husband has a good job, he’d need it.’
That did it. I gave her one of me stares – they could stop a train. She got the message because right away she began fidgeting, pulling her coat tighter round her.
‘Where are we?’ she asked, peering out the window like she’d just landed from Mars. She knew. There was no husband. Suddenly I felt like lashing out. Who did she think she was insinuating herself into my life? Did she think I’d reached the stage where telling a sob-story to every oldwan I met was the highlight of me day? I remember hating me Ma doing that, as if talking got you anywhere.
‘Aungier Street,’ she announced like she’d invented it. ‘I’ll make the eleven o’clock if the priest’s late. I’ll say a little prayer for your intentions,’ she whispered, her hands gripping the wheelie for support.
All the good that’ll do, I smirked to meself.

It was well into the New Year when I bumped into her again.
‘I thought I recognised you,’ she said, gathering herself into the seat beside me.
‘You’re just like me, always sit in the same seat. My husband, God rest him, used to say, “Sit near the front, that way you don’t feel the bumps.” She lowered her voice like we were old friends. ‘I kept you in my prayers. How are things?’
‘Grand,’ I replied, turning towards the window, not that she needed any encouragement.
‘I love this time of year, especially when the crocuses come. Have you seen any?’
I shook me head.
‘There’s plenty of snowdrops but it’s the crocuses I wait for. You know it’s spring then. Course when you’re young you don’t even think about it but when you get to my age-’
Here we go again, I thought, I could put the words to music. Excuse us for living.
‘Listen to me rambling,’ she continued, ‘it’s what happens when you live on your own, you’ve no one to talk to.’
Then you try and make us feel guilty.
‘Must be hard,’ I said, forcing me voice to sound sympathetic.
‘I’m sure you’ve enough problems of your own.’
A metal rod shot right up me back and lodged where me neck and shoulders met. As the neon lights of GameWorlz flashed in front of me eyes the throbbing in me neck got worse.
‘A penny for them,’ she interrupted, ‘not that you can get anything for a penny these days.’ She tittered. Something about the stupid words and the stupid laugh got me.
‘There, there,’ she fussed.’ ‘No need to cry.’
I wiped the tears away with the back of me hand. ‘It’s something in me eye.’
‘I know. Here.’ She pulled out a crumpled tissue. ‘It’s clean.’
I blew me nose, squeezed me eyes shut – anything to keep from spilling all over the place. ‘I’m making a real show of meself,’ I sniffed.
‘Who cares? That’s one thing you learn when you get to my age.’
I burst out laughing, I couldn’t help it. She joined in although I don’t know what she thought I was laughing at.
‘My heart, my heart,’ she gasped, her face getting redder and redder.
‘Here yous two,’ someone shouted, ‘let’s in on the joke.’

I suppose some kind of bond must have been sealed between us that day; because we ended up exchanging names and addresses. Not that I’d any intention of calling on her, but I can’t say it was a total surprise when I opened the door a couple of weeks later and found her standing there.
‘I was passing, sure with the free travel I’m all over the place.’
Pull the other one Eileen Kerrigan, I thought, it has bells on.
‘These houses are very deceptive,’ she commented, taking off her coat and having a good look round. I could see she was impressed by the state of the place. I keep it very nice even if I say so meself. It’s amazing what you can find in second-hand shops. The trick is never to go to the local ones.
She produces a brown paper bag. ‘I made these for the children. They won’t be any the wiser if we eat a couple.’
When I saw they were rock buns, I knew the kids would turn up their noses but I didn’t let on.
‘Did you sort out that little problem at work?’
I looked at her sharply.
‘Oh, I don’t mean to be interfering. None of my business.’
‘Yeah. Well, it’s blown over. For the time being anyway.’
There was an almighty shriek from outside and she rushed to the window.
‘Ignore them,’ I told her, switching on the kettle. ‘They’ll sort it out themselves.’
‘Which ones are yours?’
‘See her. The one poking her finger, that’s Donna and the monster in the Man U shirt is Jason. Dunno where Kenny is.’
‘You don’t look any older than my youngest.’
‘I’m thirty. I had Kenny when I was eighteen.’
‘Aoife’s age, that’s my second daughter.’ She sat down slowly. ‘They’ve all left. Gone abroad. It’s not until they go, you miss them. Strange.’
Not half as strange as you sitting here, I thought.

After that, Mrs K, as I took to calling her, began appearing every Thursday, regular as clockwork. I could tell the day by her. I have to admit there was something soothing about the way she’d ramble on about her kids, like listening to a soap opera. There was Aoife, the one who was the same age as me who’d moved to London recently. She’d just finished a degree and had to take a job in a company that made commercials until she landed the one she wanted in television. Poor thing, I thought, imagine having problems like that. Then there was Martin, who lived in Boston, and was a bit fond of the drink. A raving alcoholic, I guessed, reading between the lines. Her favourite was Sarah. She’d ended up in Sydney after doing a bit of travelling and Mrs K was always praying she’d come home.
I don’t think I ever met anyone who prayed as much, there was always some novena on the go. But the kids took to her, she’d watch them doing their homework, ask them questions, make a bit of a fuss of them. It was like having a granny, I suppose. The rock buns were a problem but. I hated throwing them out and then I discovered the dog next door liked them. Before long Ringo began to call as often as she did.

That afternoon when the bell went I was sure it was Kenny back with me cigarettes, too bloody lazy to walk all the way in.
‘It’s on the latch,’ I yelled. Hearing no one come in, I forced meself out of the chair.
‘What are you doing here?’ I asked seeing Mrs K, ‘It’s only Wednesday.’
Mrs K stared at me face. ‘Are you alright? Is something the matter with one of the children?’
I realised I must have looked a sight, me eyes ballooned up with crying, nose and mouth raw-looking.
‘It’s nothing.’ I said, propelling her inside. ‘It’s …oh fuck it, fuck it.’
I saw her flinch. She hated “language” as she called it. It was the only thing she ever pulled the kids up for when she thought I wasn’t listening.
‘What am I going to do?’
She didn’t answer, just went to the sink and filled the kettle. Bustling round, she found a Pyrex dish and shoved a few of the buns she’d brought into the micro. Within minutes there were two steaming mugs and a plate of hot buttered rock buns on the table. I’d never seen her move so quickly. Like someone had charged her batteries.
She pushed the plate towards me. ‘Eat up.’
I took a bun out of politeness and I have to say they tasted better heated. Halfway through eating it the tears started. She took hold of one of me hands, covered it with hers. I looked away, embarrassed at the tumult of longing she’d set off.
‘What is it .. what’s upsetting you?’ Her voice purred like a prayer. It was too much. The longing did a somersault and just as suddenly I hated her. I pulled me hand away, reached for a fag. It was me last one. I’d make mincemeat of Kenny when he showed up.
As I sucked on the cigarette it all flooded out, like a dam bursting. I wasn’t sure what I’d told her already so I treated her to the whole saga. Story of me life: getting everything hunky-dory then crash! This time I’d been so sure: part-time work with just enough hours so I didn’t lose benefit, a neighbour who looked after the kids for next to nothing and the job only ten minutes up the road so I didn’t have to waste time waiting for buses. Then a few weeks before Christmas – nicely planned – Donnelly, the geezer I work for mentions he’d like me to do extra hours and he wasn’t asking.
‘The bastard knows well the Social will deduct it.’
‘They found out?’ Mrs K interrupted.
‘Found out what! What he was on about is me working longer hours for the same money. He didn’t want me to start straight off so I said nothing … hoping he’d drop it. Then yesterday he brings it up again. I wish to fuck I’d kept me mouth shut.’ I could still see the whole charade. Me telling him I couldn’t do it, me neighbour wouldn’t be able to have the kids and anyway it wasn’t fair. The way he looked at me, his shaved skin smooth like a baby’s, a gleam of sweat round his mouth, his voice low like talcum powder, ‘If you don’t like it, Mrs, there’s a queue behind ye.’
‘He didn’t even know me bloody name! “Mrs!” he called me.’
‘Don’t upset yourself! He’s not worth it.’
‘Then he throws me wages across the table and says unless I change me attitude he doesn’t expect to see me again. What am I goin’ to do? I can barely manage as it is.’
There was a silence, the laughs and screams of the kids outside suddenly deafening.
‘What about the other workers? Have you spoken to them?’
‘Let everyone know me business, are ye mad?’
The doorbell went.
‘That’ll be Kenny. I’ll murder him.’
Mrs K gestured me to stay put.
‘Your mammy and me are having a little chat,’ I heard her say.
She came back in, handed me the cigarettes like they were poison.
‘I hope you didn’t give him any money,’ I said, eyeing the purse she was carrying. She made like she was going to say something then didn’t. I shrugged, lit a cigarette and sat drumming me fingers. She sat looking at me, her lips pursed. Just to annoy her, I blew a smoke ring, watched it spiral up to the ceiling. Maybe I could float away on one.
‘Who else works there? Is it only women?’
‘Catch a man working for the pittance he pays.’
She rounded on me. ‘He’s probably doing the same to everyone. I mean he’s hardly picking you out for special treatment?’
‘What fuckin’ difference does it make if he’s screwing the lot of us?’ I lit a fag off the one I was finishing. I’d had enough. If she didn’t leave soon I’d smoke her out.
She slammed a mug so hard on the draining board I jumped. I thought she was going to hit me. Great! I lose me job and she’s pissed off because I’m cursing. Just like me Ma. Well me Ma was dead, and she could fuck off, it was my house and I’d curse if I wanted to.
‘That’s right,’ she shouted, ‘smoke another cigarette, sit on your backside and complain. Can’t you see, if you let him get away with it, he’ll do the same to others. All I’m suggesting is to go and talk to some of the women, the ones you’re friendly with.’
Easy seeing she’d never been to GameWorlz. I’d like to meet anyone who could make friends sitting in a glass box handing out tokens all day. Anyway, I wouldn’t be seen dead back there.
‘What have you got to lose? If you find out everyone’s getting the same treatment, maybe you could all go and see him, threaten him-’
She stopped and sat down. For a moment she was silent then she held out a hand. ‘Look, I’m shaking all over. I wasn’t like that years ago.’ As she spoke a light crept into her eyes.
‘What d’ye mean?’
‘I know you think I’m a fussy old woman but years ago I worked in a factory. And before you ask, it was a knickers factory. Go on, you can smile. I used to sew gussets on knickers. They were real ones in those days, not bits of lace held together with elastic. When I think of it, we were on piecework, two pence halfpenny a dozen. Can you imagine? We could do six dozen an hour. Then they brought in a conveyor belt – we didn’t even know what it was – offered us hourly rates. We ended up working twice as hard, doing twice as much and getting paid half the money. So you see, nothing changes. Next thing, we were only allowed to go to the toilet at certain times in case we held up the line. “King Line,” Rita Hand christened it, and it was king.’ Her eyes closed and I could tell she was back there.
‘What happened?’
‘Where was I?’ she blinked.
‘Lion King.’
‘King Line, you mean. Right. Well, I wasn’t going to stand for that. I told the foreman I’d something wrong with my kidneys. Some of the others came up with even worse things, it wasn’t hard to embarrass a man in those days. It didn’t work though and we were all given a warning so what did I do only go and see if I could get the union in. I hardly knew what a union was but I’d heard they looked after workers.’
‘Try that in GameWorlz – you’d be out on your ear.’
‘It wasn’t any different. I got sacked. Blacklisted. Easy done in those days.’ Her voice cracked when she said that. I could feel a lump in me own throat and the urge to have a cigarette was killing me.
‘What I’ll never forget though is the day I was leaving. We all had our own cups for the tea break and one of the women started banging hers. The others joined in, shouting and cheering as I walked past.’ As she told me this her face lit up and for a split second I caught a glimpse of what she must have been like all those years ago. ‘It was the proudest moment of my life …’
‘How come you never told us about this before?’
She looked me straight in the eye and I realised I’d never asked her, never really been that interested.
I went to pick up a cigarette, then changed me mind. Instead I put me arms round her. We stayed that way for a couple of minutes.
‘They’re all bastards! Someone has to stand up to them.’
She looked at me, her eyes twinkling, then we were off like hyenas.
‘Will I make more tea?’ I asked through the giggles.
She nodded. ‘Maybe you could call the children in. I’d like to say goodbye to them before I go.’
I was running the tap when her words sank in. ‘Goodbye? Where ye going?’
She rooted in her bag, fished out an envelope.
‘Sarah wants me to come and live with her. She sent this.’ She held up a brightly coloured ticket. ‘I’ve decided to give it a try. Sure, what have I to lose?’
Like me, I thought.
Only I was wrong.
In the months that followed I realised I had something to lose. She was one of those ordinary looking oldwans, you see them in the supermarket at certain times of the day or coming out of the Post Office on certain days of the week. You think you know them.

c MRoddy 2013

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