Where new writing finds its voice
Short Story

The Rock in the North

Orla Broderick

Two men came. They were sent by the mortgage company. With suits and clipboards they wandered about my house. I sat at the kitchen table and you drank from my breast. The nappies and tiny vests were stacked beside us. One man chewed his pen and the other let his mouth show pity.

Sheriff’s officers. Bailiffs. They came to take anything of value. They came to catalogue my belongings. There in my kitchen with the old stone floor and the v-lined walls, six boards missing where I had exposed the old hearth, hoping some day to install heating, I cradled you to me. Your new body sighed into sleep as you sucked your fill. They ignored the almost antiqued gas cooker. The fridge freezer had seen better days. There was nothing else in the room.

Up the narrow stairs they went to two bedrooms and a bathroom. The second-hand bed from a junk shop in Leith was dismissed. You had no Moses basket, no changing table, no cot, no cot mobile. The toilet had no seat. Downstairs they discussed the washing machine, going round and ever round. 

In shiny shoes they went to the byre. Through the chicken droppings they traipsed, hoping to find a flat-screen telly, a laptop or the family silver. One nibbled the tip of his biro and wrote nothing. The other stood then in front of me and almost apologised. I explained about the accident, the old man that hit me, losing my job and my boyfriend leaving when I fell pregnant. They did not enjoy their job that day. They left the washing machine sluicing and sloshing shitty nappies even though it was new and shiny. 

Only one man came to erect the sign. For Sale. The vultures from round about descended and took the bits of furniture; the bookcase I brought from Edinburgh, abandoned for the bin men in St Leonard’s Bank, the rug bought in a sale. One woman said she was looking for a Welsh dresser, pine preferably and hand crafted, and that made me laugh. A couple drove all the way from Portree
because they wanted the v-lining from the kitchen.

The Council would house us, people said. But there were no houses and too many homeless, the Council said. A woman with a bed and breakfast took us in. Business was bad and she needed the income. The Council would pay her and she charged them well. She was too fat for shoes and had only slippers to fit. Gilded chains swung from her sweaty neck, greening her throat. She chain smoked B and H. We moved into one room with our boxes. It was cold. We snuggled together in the double bed and I told fairy stories and sang old Irish rebel songs. I learnt baby massage and we bonded forever. There was no place to wash, either our bodies or our clothes and cooking was difficult; without a little chair to sit you in I had to carry you all day, could not stop to stir a pot or peel a spud. So we stayed there in the big bed with the cheap sheets wrapped together and the light outside fell.

Your Father passed every day. He lived just up the road and he worked in the village. He drove by on his way to work in the morning, back at lunch and out again, then home in the evening with his new love. He never came in. He whooshed by in his fast car with the boombox beating the sea air and his teenaged lover looking out the window.

You got sick. I carried you two miles in the rain to see the doctor and she said I was undernourished and the damp house was no good. She found us a winter let, a warm dry flat with two bedrooms and all the mod cons, a television and even a microwave. She wrote, many times, to the Council and the Housing Association.

We got a bus sometimes, to Portree, to sit in the CAB or the JobCentrePlus and fill out forms for benefit. I did not understand the System, could not comprehend the humility required, did not know how to speak with silly wee lassies in offices about the disaster of my life. I learned though. You grew and you thrived. You crawled on soft-carpeted floors. Your hands explored dishes of pureed beetroot in breast milk. You grinned and gurgled in every waking minute, and still I smoothed oils into your body and sang the songs of old Ireland.

Five years have passed and we moved and moved again. You are at school as I write this and Northern Rock, our old mortgage company, has no assets to strip.