A Swift Pure Cry
    'Go on, Jimmy,' she pleaded. 'Please. If Mam were alive, she'd tell you to go. Y'know she would.'
    Jimmy's face cracked like a smashed saucer. 'You're not my mam,' he wailed. 'I want her. Not you.'
    Shell had heard it before. She sighed. She dragged him by his collar out of his chair. He fisted her on the arms but not so it hurt. She marched him to the back bedroom where they all slept, army like, in a line of three thin beds, crushed in tight. His bed was at the far end. Over the headboard were his colourings of black and orange felt-tip scrawled straight on the wall. He'd done them as Mam lay dying. They weren't of anything, just busy spirals warring with each other.
    When she laid him down, the fight went out of him. She put the blankets over and stroked his cheek. He pushed her hand away. Trix came up to the bedside too and gave him Nelly Quirke, the chewed-up toy dog that had once been Shell's.
    'There,' Shell said. 'Fine man.'
    He took Nelly Quirke from Trix but pulled away from Shell, curling in a ball with his face to the wall. 'Want Mam,' he said. But now it was more of a mutter.
    Shell and Trix returned to the kitchen. Trix took to the floor with some paper dolls Shell cut out for her from an old Examiner . The rain returned. The long afternoon passed. Shell did the dishes. She tidied out the fridge. She dusted down the piano. Then she made tea. Jimmy made no sound. She checked in on him, but he slept the day away.
    Dad was due back from the collecting. He'd be hauling Jimmy out of bed, she thought, for the next decade of the rosary. They were onto the Glorious Mysteries now, the one where flaming tongues come down on the heads of the Apostles, making them speak loads of languages.
    Six came and went. Dad didn't come. Shell put a saucepan lid over his tinned fish.
    'I wonder where he is,' she said, more to herself than to Trix.
    Trix pushed a tomato quarter off the side of her plate onto the plastic tablecloth. 'He's here,' she said. She flicked the tomato off the edge of the table onto the floor. 'Now he's dropped down a bog. He's deaded.'
    Shell chortled.
    She picked up the tomato and popped it under the saucepan lid onto Dad's plate. 'He's probably delayed in town,' she said.
    Trix helped Shell clear up. Then she sat at Shell's feet so that Shell could brush out her matted brown curls. The job hadn't been done in days, and the nits were back. As she combed, Shell told another story about their made-up fairy, Angie Goodie. She was the size of pea but always managed to stop the bad things happening. Tonight, Shell made her fly up onto the church steeple in an electric storm and hover over the top of the iron cross. She saved the church from being struck by raising her arm with her wand at the ready. The lightning bolt hit the wand, not the church. Because she was a fairy, she didn't die. Instead her wings shone brighter and when the rainbow came out after the storm, she went sliding back down it to her nice warm bed. Trix went off like a lamb. Jimmy slept on.
    Shell went to the front door and watched the darkness settle in the yard. She walked out as far as the road. She thought of Bridie Quinn in her fury. She thought of Father Rose, the rainbow and Nelly Quirke the dog, her ear in Jimmy's mouth. In the brown hush of the country road, she thanked Jesus for the good and bad of her day. It rained again. There being nothing else to do, she went in and made some scones.


    They were out of the oven and cool when the front door burst open. Dad stood before her, a man of the night. The rain flew in around him. His old jacket flapped, his chin bristled with growth. The collecting box was around his neck, tipped upside down, with the cord dripping. His tie was askew.
    He blundered in.
    'Where's tea?'
    Shell put the plate before him, removing the lid.
    He ripped the collecting tin from around his neck and dropped it to the floor with a curse. He ate in silence.
    Shell watched in wonderment. His routine

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