I’ve been thinking of posting some of my creative writing work on this blog for a while, so today I’m going to go for it. This is the first instalment of a short story called Stuff Happened, which has been percolating in my head for some time now. I hope you enjoy it!
UPDATE 7th May 2018 – the second instalment can be read here.
20th May 2018 – the third part can be read here.
Stuff Happened: Part One
‘Well! Are we all ready to shovel some shit?’ Ben asks gleefully as he starts up the Jeep and maneouvres it out of Jenny’s driveway. Bébhinn laughs at this and glances into the back seat, where Jenny – wearing her trademark bright red lipstick, as usual, with a matching red bandanna tied around her tight, unruly black curls – beams back at her.
‘I’m going to do more shit-shovelling today than anyone has ever done,’ Jenny declares emphatically.
‘Wellies?’ Ben calls out.
‘Mine have a couple of holes in them, but they should be grand,’ Jenny’s partner John says a little fretfully, as he pulls them out of a worn-looking plastic bag and examines them. ‘I put a bit of Sellotape over the cracks, see?’
‘I’ve brought extra, in case anyone forgot one,’ Jenny says cheerfully.
‘Will there be a riot?’ Bébhinn asks with a laugh.
‘If we get too close to Perla’s babies, yes,’ Ben replies. ‘Lynn says she’s very protective of them.’
’She’s a pig who gave birth recently,’ Bébhinn explains to a bewildered-looking John. ‘Lynn and Steven took her in not too long ago. She’s gorgeous! She has the most soulful pair of eyes I’ve ever seen. But she doesn’t like people going too close to the piglets.’
‘Ah, right … Jen, where did I put the damned bottle opener?’ John exclaims, throwing his hands up in the air. ‘I thought it was in the same bag as the cakes.’
‘Well, I don’t know, darling…’
‘Do we need to go back to the house for it?’
‘Ah no, I’m sure Lynn and Steven will have their own one.’
‘But what if they don’t?’ John frets. He leans forward in his seat. ‘Ben, would you mind turning back?’
‘Don’t mind him, Ben, he’s getting himself into an ould state, as usual,’ Jenny trills affectionately. ‘I’ll call Lynn now and ask whether she has her own bottle opener. That should put your mind at rest. Okay?’
Bébhinn shakes her head and smiles as she listens to them. Those two never fail to make her laugh.
‘Hello, Lynn? Yes, we’re on our way. John has gotten all upset about forgetting his bottle opener. I wondered if you might have one … You do? Great. That’s great, my dear, we’ll see you soon. Bye now.’ Jenny hangs up and beams at her partner, before pulling him close to her and planting a kiss on his forehead. ‘Relax now, you big worry wart, you.’
After exchanging a brief look of amusement with Ben, Bébhinn settles back into her seat and closes her eyes. She can’t wait to see the pigs – though the experience will undoubtedly be tinged with sadness, now that Jill is gone – and watch the chickens skip briskly across their yard. She can’t wait for the moment of their arrival, when the dogs will run right up to the gate – as they always do – and set up a cacophony of excited barking. She can’t wait to get her hands on that battered fence and see it gradually taking on its former shape, as they all work together on it…
They have now approached the Lucan slip road. With a slight lurch of her stomach, Bébhinn tries to avoid looking directly at it. She doesn’t want to think about the last time she was in Lucan. Not now, at any rate…
‘Okay, so I’ve just got to pick up Lexi,’ Ben says as he turns onto the slip road, much to Bébhinn’s alarm, ‘and then we can –’
‘You’re picking up Lexi?’ The question bursts, unbidden and high-pitched, out of her mouth. She hastily clears her throat, attempting to make her voice sound as nonchalant as possible. ‘I didn’t know that.’
‘Yeah, she was saying she might not be able to make it today because her flatmate needs the car, so I said I could come and pick her up, no problem,’ Ben explains, frowning slightly at her.
‘Ah, right. So … she told you this at the committee meeting, I guess?’
“Bébhinn cannot help watching Lexi as she runs out of her apartment building a minute later, clutching a pink duffle bag, her brown curls streaming out behind her…”
Ben throws another sceptical glance her way, but she deliberately avoids looking at him and turns to stare out the window instead. The only way she will get through this with her dignity intact, she resolves to herself, is if she doesn’t look at Lexi or speak to her unless absolutely necessary. Yes, that’s what she will do. Still, she can’t stop her stomach from churning as they get ever closer to her apartment block.
Once they are there, Ben makes a brief phone call to say that they are waiting outside. Bébhinn cannot help watching Lexi as she runs out of her apartment building a minute later, clutching a pink duffle bag, her brown curls streaming out behind her … but she has to quickly avert her eyes.
She picks a spot on the windshield and decides not to move her gaze from it until they have arrived at the sanctuary. She can still hear everything, though. She can hear Lexi greeting Jenny and John, and asking Ben where he got this Jeep, and Ben explaining that Lynn loaned it to him for the day. She can hear all of them exchanging pleasantries about the weather, and about how great it will be to get a solid day’s work done under these conditions… Oh God, she must look so rude, just sitting here and saying nothing. A few minutes pass before Lexi says – in a slightly annoyed tone – ‘hi Bébhinn.’
Bébhinn reluctantly turns to look at her. There is something challenging in the other woman’s hazel eyes – something that dares Bébhinn to continue ignoring her, now that she has directly called her out by name. Bébhinn forces her lips into what she hopes is a casual, carefree smile.
‘Hey Lexi. How are you?
‘Grand thanks. And you?’
With that, Bébhinn turns back around, her cheeks crimson. She is well aware that Ben is staring strangely at her yet again.
“There is something challenging in Lexi’s eyes – something that dares Bébhinn to continue ignoring her, now that she has directly called her out by name.”
‘Well, it’ll be great to get a bit of fresh air, I must say,’ Jenny remarks hurriedly, rushing to fill the awkward silence. ‘I can’t wait to get stuck in. I haven’t been to the sanctuary in ages. But this lazy lump here –’ she elbows John, then kisses him on the cheek, ‘well, he’ll spend the day by the fire reading his newspaper, won’t you John?’
‘I will not!’ he protests. ‘I’m going to spend the day cleaning out the sheds, I’ll have you know.’
‘Ah, you know I’m teasing you, darling…’
The sound of their jokes seems to fade slightly as Bébhinn closes her eyes. She’s feeling a bit faint and queasy – hopefully she isn’t about to pass out. She should have eaten a bigger breakfast this morning…
Ben’s voice reaches her as though from a great distance. ‘Are you alright, Bébhinn?’
‘Fine. Fine … a bit carsick, is all.’
‘Carsick?!’ Ben screeches. ‘Well, if you’re planning to throw up, O’Brien, you can get out of here this instant. If Lynn hears that her Jeep has sustained vomit damage on my watch – on top of everything else she’s had to deal with lately – I will be killed. Let me repeat that. Killed.’
‘Don’t worry, Bébhinn,’ Jenny says soothingly. ‘I have a couple of poop scoop bags in my backpack somewhere. You can use those to get sick in. I can’t reach the bag myself, with this casserole on my lap, but it’s that brown one with the flowers and sequins, see it?’
‘I’ll get ‘em,’ John assures her, reaching over to it.
‘We’re pulling over,’ Ben insists, squinting at the stretch of road just ahead of them. ‘There’s an empty field over there. The footpath beside it is a bit high, but we should be grand…’
‘Car sickness is horrible, isn’t it?’ John interjects sympathetically. ‘My God, I used to get it something terrible, when I was a lad…’
Bébhinn feels rising alarm at the fuss everyone is making. ‘No, Ben, honestly –’
‘We’re pulling over,’ Ben repeats, with grim determination. He manoeuvres the Jeep over the footpath a little too quickly, and it gives a sudden jolt.
‘Be careful with that steering wheel, Ben,’ Jenny howls. ‘I nearly spilled the casserole all over the floor…’
Bébhinn can feel her cheeks turning crimson yet again. She glances at Lexi – who is gazing fixedly out the window, her jaw tight – and mutters, ‘Ben, there’s no need for this. Really. Maybe if I just tried to sleep it off for a while…’
‘When I said Lynn would kill me if I bring this Jeep back to her with vomit damage, I was not exaggerating.’
‘But –’ Bébhinn begins, before Ben gets out of the Jeep – closing the driver’s door firmly behind him – and makes his way to the door beside her seat. He yanks it open and says gently, ‘I’ll walk with you to the edge of the field if you like.’
‘Don’t forget those poop bags!’ Jenny reminds them brightly. John has now finished rummaging through her sequinned backpack, and is holding out a few small plastic bags. Bébhinn sighs, resigned to her fate. ‘Thanks, John.’
The two piglets: A. Sparrow/Flickr
The two dogs at the gate: Puppy Bumpers