Kate was finishing her shift as breakfast chef. It had been a long morning as the hotel was full and being a Sunday, the other chefs were in earlier than usual to prepare lunch. They all treated her as if she had no right to be in the kitchen and made cooking breakfast even more difficult by moving her pots and pans as they saw fit. She was the only woman working in the kitchen and was deliberately excluded from the camaraderie of the men. Some excluded her obviously, not addressing her or talking about her as if she was not there. Others would make sexually overt comments and try to get her to come into the head chef’s office where the walls were plastered with pictures of semi-naked women. She usually coped with them, calmly moving her pots back onto the heat or just ignoring their juvenile comments. This morning however, she had been truly shocked by a small incident which, on reflection, probably occurred a thousand times a day in hundreds of professional kitchens all over the city.
The head chef had come in extra early as the hotel owner, Liam Murphy, was hosting a private party at lunch-time. Liam was a self-made millionaire with a penchant for E-type Jaguars which he collected. He was also very proud of his hotel complex and very exacting in his standards. Kate was always amused by this last aspect of him as she had seen plenty in this hotel which would have made his hair stand on end.
Dick, the chef, was busy preparing the joints of beef for slow-roasting. He called Kate over and asked her to get some more pepper from the stores. She complied and returned swiftly. She filled the pepper mill for him and stood back to watch the preparation. Much as she disliked the chefs, she had picked up numerous useful tips from them. Dick seasoned the meat, all the time puffing on the cigarette which he held firmly in his lips. Kate noticed how long the ash was and as she went to hold an ashtray to catch the ash, she watched it fall, almost in slow motion, and land directly on the meat. She looked from the meat to Dick and back again in horror waiting for him to explode in anger that she had been too slow. In disbelief, she watched how he simply rubbed the cigarette ash into the meat. He grinned at her.
“See if Liam likes his meat smoked”.
We were fourteen years old and had planned our mission as carefully as any strategist. We giggled conspiratorially as we walked past the shopping centre and in particular the newsagent. After crossing the busy road we strolled up Marian Road and took the second turn on our left. Left again and we were at the gate. It was about seven pm on a warm summer’s evening. We looked cautiously through the trees towards the building but nothing moved. Climbing over the gate, Maeve scraped the soft skin of her inner thigh painfully.
“Ouch!” she gasped, “My leg!”
“Shhh!” I hissed. “Be quiet. If we’re caught we’ll be in serious trouble.” Maeve spat into her hand and rubbed the spittle on the graze. We moved cautiously through the trees and paused where the large bushes hid us from both the street and the building. Our goal and the point of this adventure was about twenty metres away – a large skip. Certain that no-one was around we sped across to the skip and looked over the rim at the contents. We beamed with pleasure and then I climbed inside.
“Did you bring the bags?” Maeve nodded and pulling a couple of nylon shopping bags from her shorts pocket, gave them to me. I searched through the skip selecting and discarding with a practiced eye.
“Remember, I want the “Love is….” ones,” called Maeve in a loud whisper. Soon the bags were full and I clambered out with our booty. We scuttled across to the bushes where Maeve impatiently rifled through the bags.
“These are great. Look, this is the newest one; it costs a pound in the shops.”
We headed back to Maeve’s to spend a happy evening dividing up the spoils of another successful raid on Hallmark Cards’ rejects and seconds.
They met every Sunday evening in the bar of the guest house in the village. It was a smaller group than met there on Fridays, Friday being the day when the men met to have a couple of drinks to round off the week and to enter their bets for the football games that weekend. On Sundays, it was quieter and the conversation flowed more gently. There were some regulars, a man and his wife who had moved to this small village a couple of years earlier and usually one or two good friends from the village. The bar was in the restaurant itself, not separate to the eating area but trade on Sundays in winter centred on lunch and the cold evenings encouraged smaller numbers to venture out. The guest house was a family run, traditional hostelry and the atmosphere as in all such establishments emanated from the warmth, or lack of it, of the landlady. In the Rose, the clientele knew that they were lucky to have a friendly, welcoming hostess in Maria. When it was quiet, Maria would serve her guests and then stay and chat with her Sunday regulars where conversation was varied and topics ranged from local to world events. On busy evenings one of the regular patrons would step behind the bar and pull the beers as necessary. It must be emphasised that these patrons were all old friends of the family. The guest-house was old-fashioned in many ways and a source of great amusement and comment were the ‘high-tech’, multi-functional controls for the radio which played music, good and bad, behind the bar. There were of course the standard tuner, graphic equaliser and volume controls directly on the stereo but the tuning could also be managed by switching the cash register on and off and by sliding the leaded glass doors of the cupboard above the stereo back and forth. A heady combination of cash register and sliding doors was always the start of a very adventurous musical experience.
I sat on a bench outside the petrol station and waited. It was hot and I just knew that everyone was looking at me and thinking – she’s been abandoned. How could they have missed my frantic searching after I had paid for the petrol and came outside to find the car gone? I thought that you must have moved off to give another car access to the pump. I walked at a fast pace to the parking area – at this stage I didn’t believe that you had really driven off. I searched the lanes of parked cars to no avail. I was here, alone, my mobile phone sitting on the dashboard of the car, in the middle of France. I don’t speak any French except “merde” which was actually the most apt word for this situation. We had been arguing – holidays being the most stressful time of the year – but even so! I felt the waves of panic, hot and cold, rushing over me. If you had left me here on purpose, then it was over. I sat on the bench and decided to see what happened. I tried to sip my café au lait as nonchalantly as if I was on the Champs Elysee and waited. I swung my legs back and forth, and waited. That was yesterday. It was a warm night. I stayed on the bench. I wouldn’t want you to miss me when you came back.
Central heating was installed in our house when I was ten years old. That was the end of the cold. No more dragging the chilly school shirt into bed to warm it up before putting it on in the morning. Ice crystal patterns didn’t have a chance to form on the inside of the windows any more. In the years BC (before central heating), mornings were very different. A memory I have of school mornings is getting out of bed and running to the kitchen in my brushed cotton pyjamas, fast. In the mornings, this was the only warm room in the house thanks to a tall, round paraffin heater. The heater was grey in colour, the same as the winter sky but it was warm. The warmth permeated the small kitchen, warming little bodies struggling into school uniforms. There was a slight smell of paraffin in the kitchen, but to us this was the smell of warmth. Breakfast was usually bowls of hot, steaming porridge with the lucky one getting the cream from the top of the milk. While breakfast was being prepared and eaten, my father would play his music of choice that day on the large reel-to-reel tape player which was loved by all of us but deeply resented by my mother when she needed the counter space. Depending on what he felt like, we listened and grew to love the songs and voices of Edith Piaf, Miriam Makeeba, Los Paraguayos and the Dubliners and to this day we still associate them with the light smell of warm paraffin and the taste of porridge.
On Greystones Beach
Anne is sitting on the stony beach flinging smooth rocks into the sea. The low winter sun sparkling on the waves makes her eyes water, but she forgot her sunglasses when she ran out of Paul’s house. “Paul’s house” she spits scornfully at the herring gulls. They screech back at her misery. He took her to meet his mother today. She was looked over and dismissed. Paul’s mother only asked her one question.
“Where on earth did you meet my Paul?” The emphasis on “you” was cutting. This “you” contained a thousand prejudices – the wrong side of the city – Northside -, lower social class – her dad was a bus driver – and the wrong set of friends – she knew nobody who could be of any use to Paul’s career. Anne saw herself reflected in Paul’s mothers hard gaze, felt a sharp pain twist in her gut as the other woman’s lip curled. Paul dropped her hand as if his mother’s piercing look had burnt him.
“We’re just friends, Mum” apologised Paul. The pain in her gut intensified as she watched him distance himself from her. He shrugged his shoulders, his mother smiled, satisfied and Anne ran, humiliated, rejected.
Sitting on the beach reminded Anne of childhood day trips with her father, her chatting and him smiling indulgently. She stood up, brushing loose sand from her jeans. She smiled. “A lucky escape” flitted across her mind. Anne didn’t have Paul, she had much more. It was time to go home.
She could tell the time of day through the light filtering in the fanlight. Her daughter was wonderful to have found this flat. “A studio” she’d called it. “Very chic”. One room, kitchenette, sofa bed, table, two chairs. A small television. Rabbit ears. A toilet out the back. As she said, this was easier to clean than her house. Property in the city was much more expensive than where her house was located. This flat cost the same as her house and garden. It must be so hard on young people like her daughter to get onto the property ladder.
© All stories are copyright of Ana Martinez and may only be reproduced with her express permission.