Everyone knows exactly where they were when the little girl died.
It was a momentary intake of breath, the news. An oh-my- god instant, and then the reassuring breath out and their own lives jerked back to them, arrhythmic but safe. Sweet Jesus, isn’t that awful. Tell me all about it.
Addy in the shop, sweeping up the remainder of the tiny candy balls which had bounced, crazy, around, and got in everywhere. She’d never get them out from under that crack in the counter. “Millions” they were called, and did he not have any wit, to open the pack like that, all rough, with his teeth? Sure he should‘ve known they’d go everywhere, millions of them indeed, and here she was on hands and knees like a drudge, hoking the bits up, when the hiss of the doors let in the hot-faced runner with the news. What? Where? Oh my god, really? Sure those Blaney girls were in this morning, no time ago, right enough, and the wee older one, what was it you called her? Chelsea? Yes, counting out the money so carefully. Took ages actually, I had to call Aveen from the back to let the queue away but God love her, she had only enough and no more. And the wee one, god almighty, pulling at her other hand trying to get free. A bit wild, that wee one, Emily I think, I had to speak to her oh, maybe a fortnight ago, running around like a crow on the loose, that hair all tatty, nearly knocked the Refreshers off the counter. And sweet Jesus. Dead? God that’s desperate. That’s one pound twenty for the water love, please.
Alice at her window with her aching bones, tutting at the dust in the top corner, where she couldn’t reach it… Sure where else would she be today, waiting on that postman… Sun pinking her face on one side… giving her eyes the creaks so she had to keep shifting to see the road… And it hurt like the goodness to move anywhere… flames in the hip- OH -when she shifted at all….Miracle she got herself dressed this morning and down the stairs, really… all alone like Lazarus or that other one in the Bible… and those bloody tights laddered when you looked at them...It’s as well no one was coming to see her, the hole in them. OH- there he was, at last. That was sharp, shouldn’t have got up so fast… Could have set your watch by the last one, but this fella? Looks in a bit of a hurry all right…take your time… take your time, Mister… fair enough, but I want to get the letter in my hand, not all mixed with the special offers from the Mace…What d’you say? God save us! Dead!... Oh my god you know, I think she went right past here this morning… not an hour ago… yes, a wee girl ran on past here… and down that, that shortcut to the water… see where the bin is?... Oh yes… Cut right over there...in behind the fish factory...Oh yes… I do believe that was her, right enough… Sweet Mother of Mercy… Whatever next… Yes, skinny wee thing, should’ve been in school at that time of the day, I thought to myself… Oh aye, running away as happy as Larry, round the back there… I can’t believe it… They need to put some fences up, stop children getting in like that, sure it was only a matter of time…. The poor parents… God that’s desperate…Have you my letter there? Oh thanks now… It’s good to get it in my hands, you know, waiting for it all morning…
No, you can keep the other stuff, I’ve told the other fella, I don’t want that junk.
Carrie in the staffroom, dallying over the kettle boiling so that break would be almost over before she got into the playground. Such a nice day but it was her time of the month and if Lacey Doyle came yapping to her one more time about those bitches in P4 she’d surely slap her. Mr Allinson’s looking pale, moving slowly, getting out of his car with another man and coming towards the outer door. She’d better ask him to get onto the social worker again about those Blaney kids, another no-show from Emily this morning, and after all those interventions too. The class smelt fresher without her, that was for sure, but that was not the point. And Stephen Miller should not have mentioned the fact. Smart little bollocks. “Miss Lennon, we’ve had some terrible news, some really dreadful news, actually. God. I can’t believe it. Put the kettle on will you, this is Sergeant Keene. I’m afraid it’s, well it’s really awful, actually. I don’t know how to tell you. It’s really terrible.”
Mary Allen, on the phone. Yes Jimmy, no Jimmy, three bags full Jimmy. Just sign the release will you, till we get things moving here. Forty tonne to get out, still sitting in the warehouse on the quay behind her, and indecisive dickheads up there frigging about instead of making decisions. A snatch of movement out of the corner of the eye, a blown rag of skirt and flash of white skin. Hey! You there! Bangbangbang, irate on the windowpane. Jimmy’s head under her knuckles.
Get out of there you wee monkey! No don’t worry, Jimmy, just a wee girl sneaked through into the processing yard. No, yes, I did say to him and he was to get your man to call and price for a fence, both kinds. But sure. Yes. No, she’s away again. Looked like a breath of wind would’ve blown her…who the hell is looking after these wee buggers, that’s what I want to know. Should be in school, not running about here tame. I know, I know! Sure that’s all it would take, I know. God, there she is again, the wee bitch, no, she’s out of ours and into the harbour. No, no, I better go, here, and give Peter a bell. She’s no size to be out on the quay on her own. And get those shitheads up there moving will you - please…
Annie Blaney in the girls’ bedroom, picking up socks, pacing, distracted out the window by the seabirds coasting. How would he ring her with no fucken phone. Jesus Christ. Of all the days for this to happen. He was definitely going to ring. Definitely. She had this one in the bag, definitely, and then that bad wee cow Emily went and dropped the phone again, probably on purpose, dropped it right on the fireplace and smashed the bloody screen so now touchscreen wouldn’t work, the light wouldn’t even go on. She was mental. Mental.
God forgive her for saying that about one of her own. But. Someone was going to have to give them a hand with her, always screeching and crying, couldn’t even hold her long enough to get her washed, get a brush through her hair. That hair – state of it, God! Next thing will be, cut it all off. Mum would’ve cried to see the state of the grandchild running about all tats like that, always so proud of her own girls. And Chelsea so good, pity she was the picture of her da. Christ, it’s busy down at the harbour today. Jesus. Cars, people running, shouting, down there, crowd gathering, looking off the quay like they’ve dropped a fiver. Health and safety my arse. That fishery is mental. Siren now. Bit of excitement. Maybe take a walk down myself, see what’s up. Jesus, wish that phone wasn’t broke, I’d call Cathy to go down with me. Maybe that’s her now. Not like her to have come all the way up the hill though, fat bitch. Jesus, leave the doorbell on, will you.
Chelsea Blaney, sitting quiet at her desk, hating Barry Quinn. Hating him with all her bones. Aching with it but nothing to be done but glare. Called our Emily those names. Bastard. She was nearly at the gates, she nearly had Emily in the bloody school, till that Barry started. Where is she now, the wee rat? After the promise of the morning, feeding her sweets, coaxing her along like a bad puppy, one street, another, into Meadowlands, round the corner, nearly there. She hated school, wouldn’t go. Every day the same, yapping. It’s not actually that bad. Art’s the best. But that Barry Quinn. Hope his thing shrivels up and drops off. Look at his fat stupid face, can’t even keep his fat eyes straight, looking out into the corridor at somebody coming, nosey bugger. Hope Miss asks him something, the bastard. Now they’ll be round to mum again about Emily. Wee rat. She can bloody look after herself this time, mum’s not fit for chasing her either. I don’t like it, myself, running around in the quiet day like that. Done it the one time. It’s scary. Weird. Rather be in school here. I shouldn’t‘ve left her maybe. She’s not right in the head, I think. Oh! Good morrrning, Mr Allinsonnn. Yes sir, now? Will I bring me bag?
Peter Kelly, hands cold, nose cold, feet cold, counting boxes in the freezer shed. No way is he making this one, there’s just too much to do and not enough of them to do it. The sun cuts sharp across the water and slices in through the shutter door but he hasn’t frigging time to step out in it, not even for a minute, to stretch, to warm nipped hands, ease the cramp. Would murder a cup of coffee. He keeps at it, clicking the clicker. Clickety-click. 400 dead.
Something passes the doorway, flickering the sun a second, shadowing the day an instant. Bird. Clickety-click. He makes that 428. The fill of two trucks. Better get Jameson Haulage in as well. Nothing else for it. There goes the bloody margin. A screech. A bellowing. A woman’s voice wailing in over the clickety-click. Jesus Christ, WHAT? The clicker hits the floor as he swings round, sees big Mary Allen hanging out the window over the pier. Screaming and roaring and waving and pointing from under the top-hinged glass. What, for frig’s sake, what is it, woman? Where? The water? Christ.
Patrick Fitzpatrick, don’t laugh, the joke’s old, waiting for wheezing Elsie by the waters’ edge. Too fat to run, too old to want to, she waddles a little into the lacy curls and stands, pensive, looking out at god knows what, panting a little in the warm morning. The leash swings empty on his calf, no real need for it unless to hurry the old girl on a bit up the slope at the far end, stop her sniffing butts and generally making a nuisance out of herself. Fresh fish for lunch, brine and butter on bread. Yes indeed, sniffing the air like the dog, happy. One of the many benefits of living by the water, indeed, indeed. Mustn’t forget teabags on the way home. Elsie stiffens, barks shortly, lungs not up to much. What is it, old lady? A disturbance over by the fish factory. A huddle on the quay, agitated, crowding in, looking down. Nothing moving on the water, what are they looking at? Then a running figure, hollering up from the end of the quay, pulling off clothes, shouting, the rest backing off, covering mouths, eyes, distressed. A leap. No sound but a white splash, splodge, like in the comics. The water closing back, gone. The crowd bending low, urgent, strained. He’s trying to see, but there is nothing but that small crowd pressing, crying, their sharp whimpering noises carried over the water and flattening Elsie’s ears.
JP Finn, casting again into the grey oily wash of the harbour waters. No, you wouldn’t eat anything you pulled out of here, filthy spot, but sure there’s not much else to be at, and it’s good craic trying to pull a fish in, before the snap- mouthed seals snatch it off the line. The sun’s a friendly arm across his shoulders, the rope stack’s firm against his arse and things are grand for the moment. He’s got the one roll-up left but he’s keeping it for later, a thin ragged promise in his pocket. Big Pete gave him a wave when he ducked in under the barrier. Decent spud, lets him come and go. A sleek shiny head watches him casually from a little way out on the water. The nose is long like a dog’s, hiding sharp teeth and guile. A seal. I see you, you bastard, stop sniffling there. They eat the throwaway off the boats, fat as slugs but can move like the shite when they want to. Saw a thing once about them underwater, like dancers round the diver, nipping at his camera. All those fat and flippery bits sucked in and streamlined. It’s looking at something else behind me now. Oh, it’s ducked away, satin, under the water, gone. There’s a wee girl coming onto the quay, that’s why. Jesus, Peter’ll have a fit. Got something, a pack of sweets maybe, in her hand, picking one out at a time, popping it in. Tiny wee thing, dancing along. What’s she doing, all on her own down here? Shit, is she mental? She’s walking the edge of the quay like a tightrope. Hairs a rat’s nest, like bloody dreads or something. Fuck’s sake- Hey! -Foot’s slipped. Shit! I knew it, silly wee bitch. Here- Jesus – Shit – Fuck – everyone running, screaming, move! Fuck, looks deep. Fuck, that’s cold. Dark. Breath sucked out. Water brown, grey near the surface, bubbles and splash. Air. Jesus, where? Where? Can you see her? Did she come up? Did she- Where? Down again. It’s all one, down here. It’s all the one colour. Can’t see the bottom. Can’t see my hands, oh my god, this is shit. No way can I see her in this, poor wee thing. Air. Sky is so blue. Faces like moons above. Where? Has she come up yet? Has she- fuck’s sake - standing there shaking heads like a pack of sheep. Can’t feel my fingers. Ears are on fire. Spinning a frantic 360, 360, 360. Where? Slower. So cold. Shaking heads. No chance. So quick. Fuck. So quick.
And Emily Blaney, what about her? Mouth and eyes stretched, every sensation endlessly engrossing, she feels as if she’s falling, falling forever. Nothing happening quick, at all. She can sense her own thin arms drifting wide from her body, cast off from the sinking ship of herself, separate entities on their own voyages on the strong sea-muscle. It was only cold for an instant but now it’s dark, very dark and brown, and she is all alone. She is weightless for the first time. She is flying. There was a horrible, painful, burning, tearing fire in her chest for a short time, and she cried for Chelsea, but it passed quickly and now she is content to be sinking, falling, spinning with what feels like tiny bubbles tickling from the corners of her eyes, popping from her ears. She is giving up air. She is becoming water instead. There is no strong preference for either. Only the fact of herself, weighing less than a crow’s feather, down and down in the brown, the dark, the silent water, while all the noise, the hubbub, roaring and ruction throbs up above, the whole world of her village aghast, shrieking, incredulous at what she has done now. She turns slowly over in the water, and sees only blackness. She smiles into the silence.