Abgelehnte Geschichten: A date to remember

Manchmal packt ja auch mich der Hochmut und für ein oder zwei Stunden an einem Abend oder so glaube ich, auch ich könnte eine Schriftstellerin sein. Sie wissen schon so richtig mit einem Schreibtisch und einem Notebook, wo das a nicht schon sehr abgegriffen ist. Eine Schriftstellerin, die Zeit hat zum schreiben und nicht ständig Zeit stiehlt, um wenigstens etwas ins Blog zu schreiben. Dann schreibe ich wirklich eine Geschichte und schicke sie an eine Literaturzeitschrift und immer klopft mein Herz ein bisschen schneller. Aber dann holt der Hochmut mich ein, denn die Literaturzeitschriften sagen mir immer ab. Dann ernüchtere ich wieder, gehe meinem Brotberuf nach und bewundere von fern die richtigen, echten Schriftstellerinnen und Schriftsteller. So lernt man im Leben auch oft, was man nicht kann. „Ein Shetlandpony kann eben nicht fliegen“, sage ich mir und nach der zehnten Absage, braucht man nicht nur auf die elfte warten, sondern kann eine Geschichte, die nun geprüftermaßen keine Literatur ist, hier hineinstellen, denn so ist das mit diesem, meinem kleinem Blog hier hat all das Platz, was sonst eben keinen Platz hat. So gibt es also nun hier eine neue Kategorie, in der immer mal wieder, die abgelehnten Geschichten abgelegt werden.

A date to remember

I had marked the date with red in my diary for a long time. On every new year’s eve when I transferred birthdays, phone numbers and the odd appointment to my ophthalmologist from the old to the new calendar, I underlined one date, 19th of June it said.

But one year I went away over the New Year, and when I returned I had other things on my mind, or maybe I had lost the red pen. One forgets many things, or, things like a red pen simply slip away. Once they’re gone, they are forgotten. The year after I didn’t put in the date in my diary any longer. That’s how it went.

So the years went by, I got married, had two kids, then a divorce and an affair that still drags on. I bought a house but never planted a tree in the backyard. I am not a presumptuous woman.

My mother calls once a week. Always on Sunday afternoon. But when my mother called one morning and it wasn’t a Sunday, I didn’t look at the calendar hanging above the kitchen sink. I already knew which date it was.

“Hiya mum, how are you doing?” I said.

My mother said: “You won’t believe it, the butcher’s dead. A man in his prime.”

„I know mum“, I said.

My mother kept silent.

“Gossip spreads fast these days”, she finally said.

I kept quiet.

“You knew him quite well back then, didn’t you?”

“No I said, I never did know him well.”

“Odd my mother replied, I remember differently.”

Then we were both silent.

“Well then, my mother said, I won’t keep you any longer.”

“Thanks for calling”, I said.

When I stood up, I wanted to look at the calendar above the kitchen sink. I didn’t or I couldn’t, I’m not sure which it was.

Strictly speaking, however, I didn’t lie to my mother. When I knew the butcher, all those years ago back in Ballydungarvon, he was just the old butcher’s son and his name was Jonny. But nobody called him Jonny. Everyone called him “that big fella.”

He asked me out one night. “Will ye go for a dance with me?”, he said. Once a month there was a dance in the GAA club of the Ballydungarvon Kickhams.

The butcher had paid for the disco-light.

The baker had paid for disco set.

I was seventeen, and it was the summer after the Leaving Cert. It was my last summer in Ballydungarvon and so I said yes, when Jonny came round, asking me out.

It was a bit odd though, him standing there at our doorstep: “Hi Lorna, there is”—and then he stopped, taking a big gulp of air before he started speaking again: “I was just wondering would you like to come with me to the dance?”

We didn’t expect boys to talk that much. If a lad had the hots for you, he flicked you a smile, or tilted his neck in your direction and you knew you were sorted.

I felt embarrassed for Jonny. How could he not know?

But I said ok, sure, whatever, not at least because my mother was shadowing behind me in the hallway, waving at dear “Jonny, will you have tea?”

He eagerly accepted the offer.

As I said, he was an odd boy by all standards.

I didn’t have a massive crush on him. I was in love with one of the GAA lads back then, a blond fellow, I have long forgotten his name.

Jonny was a bit on the heavier side, and he was a ginger. This didn’t go too well with me or the other girls.

Only my mother was delighted when she heard about Jonny asking me out. She fed him cream cakes and he admired her china patterns. There was no one as odd as the butcher’s son in all of Ballydungarvon.

“Jonny is a decent lad, my mother said after he had left, you got very lucky, but promise, don’t let him enter you.” You know that is something, you can’t let happen, even if, and then she giggled, things get a bit rushed later. Will ye listen to your mother?” Don’t let him enter you. “I wasn’t too sure what she meant.

But I didn’t press her on the subject. We didn’t talk about such things in Ballydungarvon. When the priest read aloud a papal letter advising the steadfast people of Ballydungarvon not to fall under the spell of condoms or the pill, nobody in Ballydungarvon knew what he was actually talking about. “That’s for the Dubliners to know”, said Jonny’s father, the butcher, and that was all what was said on the subject.

I grew up alone with my mother. People were talking about me not having a father. But my mother insisted I had one. In America. Above her bed there was a map: United States of America. On Sunday mornings I often crawled into her bed, staring at the map. I knew all the states. I liked Georgia best. Whenever I was asked about my father, I said his name is George. People felt reassured after I had told them. So I told them often. That’s how things were in Ballydungarvon: when you had no answer you repeated something you knew. I knew there was a state named Georgia on the map. I never told my mother the name of my father.

It was my last summer in Ballydungarvon but I think I said it before.

My mother had me sorted. I had a ferry ticket to England and a letter of recommendation by the local priest: “Lorna is a decent girl with quite the quirk for typing. She has a taste for numbers, too.” I was to become a secretary. My mother said: “This is what your father would have wanted.” I didn’t mind.

It was the only time I went to one of the GAA dances with Jonny. He asked again, but I didn’t go.

That night I went. He picked me up on his motorcycle. My mother swooned. You’ll see she said: “The money is with the butchers, the bakers and the priests.”

I climbed on the backseat and Jonny said: “Get a grip.” So I put my arms around his waist. Soft and punchy he was and for a moment I thought his waist would swallow my hands. But it didn’t.

I was afraid he would smell of the pigsty. His father bred the pigs before he butchered them. He was a proud man, the butcher. Proud of his pigs, everyone knew that.

But Jonny didn’t smell of his father’s pigsty. He simply smelled unfamiliar. Even though nobody in Ballydungorvan would have used a word like this. There was nothing unfamiliar about any of us. In Ballydungarvon everyone knew who he was.

So we went off into the night.

I thought of Georgia when I leaned into Jonny. I imagined the street was the Interstate 75 leading from Atlanta to White Springs. Though it wasn’t, it was just the road connecting Ballydungarvon with Ballduncarrough and in the middle where one road met another, there was the GAA club.

What Jonny thought while I pressed my hands into his back, I do not know.

My mother said: Men despise women nagging them with questions.

I wasn’t too interested in the answers either.

There is not much to tell about the dance.

It was always the same.

The guys stood in a corner of the dim GAA club.

We girls giggled in a separate corner and nobody danced.

We waited until the baker’s cousin put on an Elvis record. Then we went on the dance-floor and shimmied our hips back and forth and back and forth. We were watching the boys. The boys were pretending not to look at us. Sometimes they nodded or jerked their head in our direction, then we followed one of them outside and we brushed our lips at each other. That’s what we called kissing. Though in fact we didn’t. Our lips never met.

Jonny was different. He went on the dancefloor. Swirling around, dancing, shimmying his hips, looking out for me while circling his hands wide above his head. I stood there dumbstruck.

What did he think he was doing?

The girls giggled.

The boys said: “The big fella is making a fool of himself.”

I stood there staring.

He said: “You are not much of a dancer, aren’t you?”

So odd was Jonny.

Later when the DJ who wasn’t a DJ but the baker’s cousin said: “Last song for tonight, so ready, steady, daaaance.”

Jonny said: “I want to show you something.”

I nodded.

So we went off on his bike again.

There was nothing of interest to see at night.

Ballydungarvon was just an ordinary village.

Jonny parked his motorbike and pointed at a haystack. He stood in front of me and he reached for my arm and brushed a kiss over the back of my hand. “Welcome to the highest point of the known world.” He pointed at the haystack.

There it was again. This sense of unfamiliarity. No one had humour in Ballydungarvon.

We climbed on top.

Look at the stars he said.

I looked but I didn’t know how to stargaze properly.

So I counted: One, two, three, four….

“What will you do after the summer?” he asked finally.

“My mother has me sorted I said. “Secretary. England.”

I didn’t ask about his plans.

Everyone knew that he would become a butcher. His father was a butcher, his grandfather and his great-grandfather too. Even his mother was a butcher’s daughter.

“You know he said, no one is born as a butcher.”

What a stupid thing to say I thought.

Of course he was born as a butcher.

So we kept looking at the stars.

I didn’t know what to expect of them.

Him staring at the stars reminded me of Miss Morton our English teacher.

Once she started sobbing while reciting a poem.

We felt ashamed of her.

She hadn’t lost a harvest or a son or something of any value.

She just read a poem aloud.

But she was a Protestant, too. So we were suspicious anyway.

We felt ashamed of her and no one had a tissue.

That same sense of shame, I felt when we were glaring at the sky.

We were silent for quite some time.

“There’s the handle, the trigger, the barrel and, finally, the bullet” Jonny said out of a sudden.

“When the bullet gets off there is not much time left.”

“It’s the speed that matters”, he said.

“The speed of the bullet before the bullet enters the body.”

I thought of my mother urging me to be careful. Do not let him enter you.

Was that what she meant?

“Wham”, Jonny said.

“Right into their head goes the bullet.”

“Whack.”

“The pig slumps down.”

“I get sick every time”, said Jonny next to me staring at the sky.

“Every morning before I leave, my father hands me the rifle.

He selects the pig. He says: Here son, here you go. I take the rifle and I hold the rifle in my hands. I know everything about it. There’s the handle, the trigger, the barrel and then I can not do it. I cannot pull the trigger, I think of the bullet and the pig standing there cornered and I simply can’t do it. I get sick every time.

Two days ago, my father lost his patience with me.

He stood behind me, he didn’t hand over the rifle to me. He took my hands into his. In his hands the rifle, his hands clamped down over mine. His breathing hot against my neck. My father never shaves in the morning. His hands closed over mine, harder still. There’s the handle, the trigger, the barrel and my father pushed down my fingers, crushed them unto the trigger. Off it went. Right into the head of the pig. Whack. There you go laughed my father. He was eight when he gunned down his first hog.

One day you will learn to enjoy it, he said. You’re a big fella like me.

I got sick, but I knew he was right.

It is only the first betrayal that counts.

The pig was looking at me. Staring. It didn’t back off. There you go Jonny boy, said my father or the pig. Hard to tell which.”

“Tell me he said as if finally remembering that I was still there, what is the difference between killing a pig and a man?”

I looked at him unsure, if he was really asking me.

But he did. “Tell me, what is the difference?”

Later I often wished I had said something else.

I said: “You kill pigs to make sausages, that is the difference. I mean you don’t make sausages out of humans.”

“So you don’t mind Jonny asked, me gunning down pigs?”

“I like sausages” I said.

I shrugged with my shoulders. I wanted to stop him talking about the pigs.

“You like sausages” Jonny said. I see. “I will gun down pigs all my life from now on, he said. The last pig standing, that’ll be me.”

I nodded.

I felt relieved that he had stopped talking about the killing and the pigs.

I pretended not to have heard that last sentence of his.

The last pig standing.

He really sounded like Miss Morton.

We didn’t linger much longer on top of the haystack. He brought me back home. He didn’t look at me, or try to kiss me.

Bye he said” Thanks for coming it was the best birthday present I ever had.”

“Today is your birthday?”

Yes, he said. 19 June.

It was the last time I saw Jonny.

Two weeks later I left Ballydungarvon and I’ve never been back since.

Sometimes my mother told me about Jonny the butcher.

He married.

He tore down his father’s house.

He sponsored the GAA team, the Ballydungarvon Kickers.

On their shirt it said Proudly sponsored by Donovan “Sausages made to Remember.”

He invested heavily in the butcher’s shop.

He bought land outside of the village. He built a modern slaughterhouse, with a semi-automatic killing station. Thousand pigs per day.

A minister from Dublin came. Photos were taken.

A state of the art facility for pig-slaughtering the minister said.

My mother was impressed.

She sent me the photo carefully cut out of the newspaper. I threw the picture away.

But I listened and kept quiet over the years.

So it went until my mother called on a Monday morning.

She called again in the afternoon.

“The poor lad”, she said.

“He shot himself with his father’s old rifle. Nobody knew he still had it. Shot himself straight in the head. Went out to the haystacks where the road to Ballyduncarrough meets our old village road. Do you remember?”

“It was splendid day”, my mother said. “Was a brazen thing of the sun to shine like that, when the poor lad went out to shoot himself.”

I couldn’t say anything.

I stood there with the phone in my hands, my mother’s voice drifting away.

19 June said the calendar above the kitchen sink.

“I brought sausages”, the man I slept with on Thursdays said to me, while kicking his shoes into a corner.

„10 sausages for just 4 Pound.“

„What a bargain.“