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Authors: Roddy Doyle

Paula Spencer

BOOK: Paula Spencer
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PAULA SPENCER

Roddy Doyle was born in Dublin in 1958. He is the author of seven acclaimed novels and
Rory & Ita,
a memoir of his parents. He won the Booker Prize in 1993 for
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.

ALSO BY RODDY DOYLE

Fiction

The Commitments
The Snapper
The Van
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
The Woman Who Walked Into Doors
A Star Called Henry
Oh, Play That Thing

Non-Fiction
Rory & Ita

Plays

Brownbread

War

Guess Who's Coming for the Dinner
The Woman Who Walked Into Doors
No Messin' With the Monkeys

For Children

The Giggler Treatment
Rover Saves Christmas
The Meanwhile Adventures

RODDY DOYLE

Paula Spencer

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

ISBN 9781407017976

Version 1.0

www.randomhouse.co.uk

Published by Vintage 2007

2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1

Copyright © Roddy Doyle, 2006

Roddy Doyle has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work

This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

First published in Great Britain in 2006 by Jonathan Cape

Vintage Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA

www.randomhouse.co.uk

Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found at: www.randomhouse.co.uk/ofrices.htm

The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009

A C1P catalogue record for this hook is available from the British Library

ISBN: 9781407017976

Version 1.0

This book is dedicated to Aideen, Pamela and Shane

She copes. A lot of the time. Most of the time. She copes. And sometimes she doesn't. Cope. At all.

This is one of the bad days.

She could feel it coming. From the minute she woke up. One of those days. It hasn't let her down.

She'll be forty-eight in a few weeks. She doesn't care about that. Not really.

It's more than four months since she had a drink. Four months and five days. One of those months was February. That's why she started measuring the time in months. She could jump three days. But it's a leap year; she had to give one back. Four months, five days. A third of a year. Half a pregnancy, nearly.

A long time.

The drink is only one thing.

 

She's on her way home from work. She's walking from the station. There's no energy in her. Nothing in her legs. Just pain. Ache. The thing the drink gets down to.

But the drink is only part of it. She's coped well with the drink. She wants a drink. She doesn't want a drink. She doesn't want a drink. She fights it. She wins. She's proud of that. She's pleased. She'll keep going. She knows she will.

But sometimes she wakes up, knowing the one thing. She's alone.

She still has Jack. Paula wakes him every morning. He's a great sleeper. It's a long time now since he was up before her. She's proud of that too. She sits on his bed. She ruffles his hair. Ruffles – that's the word. A head made for ruffling. Jack will break hearts.

And she still has Leanne. Mad Leanne. Mad, funny. Mad, good. Mad, brainy. Mad, lovely – and frightening.

They're not small any more, not kids. Leanne is twenty-two. Jack is nearly sixteen. Leanne has boyfriends. Paula hasn't met any of them. Jack, she doesn't know about. He tells her nothing. He's been taller than her since he was twelve. She checks his clothes for girl-smells but all she can smell is Jack. He's still her baby.

It's not a long walk from the station. It just feels that way tonight. God, she's tired. She's been tired all day. Tired and dark.

This place has changed.

She's not interested tonight. She just wants to get home. The ache is in her ankles. The ground is hard. Every footstep cracks her.

Paula Spencer. That's who she is.

She wants a drink.

The house is empty.

She can feel it before she shuts the door behind her.

Bad.

She needs the company. She needs distraction. They've left the lights on, and the telly. But she knows. She can feel it. The door is louder. Her bag drops like a brick. There's no one in.

Get used to it, she tells herself.

She's finished. That's how it often feels. She never looked forward to it. The freedom. The time. She doesn't want it.

She isn't hungry. She never really is.

She stands in front of the telly. Her coat is half off. It's one of those house programmes. She usually likes them. But not tonight. A couple looking around their new kitchen. They're delighted, opening all the presses.

Fuck them.

She turns away. But stops. Their fridge, on the telly. It's the same as Paula's. Mrs Happy opens it. And closes it. Smiling. Paula had hers before them. A present from Nicola. The fridge. And the telly. Both presents.

Nicola is her eldest.

Paula goes into the kitchen. The fridge is there.

—You were on the telly, she says.

She feels stupid. Talking to the fridge. She hated that film,
Shirley Valentine,
when Shirley talked to the wall. Hello, wall. She fuckin' hated it. It got better, the film, but that bit killed it for her. At her worst, her lowest, Paula never spoke to a wall or anything else that wasn't human. And now she's talking to the fridge. Sober, hard working, reliable – she's all these things these days, and she's talking to the fridge.

It's a good fridge, though. It takes up half the kitchen. It's one of those big silver, two-door jobs. Ridiculous. Twenty years too late. She opens it the way film stars open the curtains. Daylight! Ta-dah! Empty. What was Nicola thinking of? The stupid bitch. How to make a poor woman feel poorer. Buy her a big fridge. Fill that, loser. The stupid bitch. What was she thinking?

But that's not fair. She knows it's not. Nicola meant well; she always does. All the presents. She's showing off a bit. But that's fine with Paula. She's proud to have a daughter who can fling a bit of money around. The pride takes care of the humiliation, every time. Kills it stone dead.

She's not hungry. But she'd like something to eat. Something nice. It shocked her, a while back – not long ago. She was in Carmel, her sister's house. Chatting, just the pair of them that afternoon. Denise, her other sister, was away somewhere, doing something – she can't remember. And Carmel took one of those Tesco prawn things out of her own big fridge and put it between them on the table. Paula took up a prawn and put it into her mouth – and tasted it.

—Lovely, she said.

—Yeah, said Carmel. —They're great.

Paula hadn't explained it to her. The fact that she was tasting, really tasting something for the first time in – she didn't know how long. Years. She'd liked it. The feeling. And she'd liked the prawns. And other things she's eaten since. Tayto, cheese and onion. Coffee. Some tomatoes. Chicken skin. Smarties. She's tasted them all.

But the fridge is fuckin' empty. She picks up the milk carton. She weighs it. Enough for the morning. She checks the date. It's grand; two days to go.

There's a carrot at the bottom of the fridge. She bends down – she likes raw carrots. Another new taste. But this one is old, and soft. She should bring it to the bin. She lets it drop back into the fridge. There's a jar of mayonnaise in there as well. Half empty. A bit yellow. Left over from last summer. There's a bit of red cheese, and a tub of Dairygold.

There's a packet of waffles in the freezer. There's two left in the packet – Jack's breakfast. There's something else in the back of the freezer, covered in ice, hidden. Stuck there. The package is red – she can see that much. But she doesn't know what it is. She'd have to hack at it with a knife or something. She couldn't be bothered. Anyway, if it was worth eating it wouldn't be there.

She has money, in her coat pocket. Not much, a fiver and some change. She could go and get bread, more milk. The Spar is still open. But she knows she can't. Her shoes are off.

Tomorrow is payday. Always a good day. Excitement, a bit. Pride, a bit. New clothes, maybe. Food. A good dinner. A half-full fridge. A video.

But tomorrow is tomorrow. Fuckin' miles and hours away.

Cornflakes.

The secret of the Spencer family's success.

She fills a cup with cornflakes. A bowl when she has milk, a cup when she doesn't. She likes cornflakes, especially the big ones from the top of the packet. But the packet is nearly empty.

Tomorrow.

The telly is no distraction. Another of Nicola's presents. Second-hand; her old one. Nicola has one of these huge flat ones.

This one is grand. The remote works, and that's the main thing. Paula tries to remember a time when she had to get up to change the channel. But she can't. She can't even imagine it.

The old telly is out the back. Smashed. Leanne threw her shoe at it. The heel did the damage. The noise – it exploded.

Leanne.

Leanne scares Paula. The guilt. It's always there. Leanne is twenty-two. Leanne wets her bed. Leanne deals with it. It's terrible.

Her fault. Paula's fault. The whole mess. Most of Leanne's life.

Paula lies back on the couch. She doesn't like going up to bed before Jack comes home. Or Leanne. Although Leanne can come and go as she wants. She tries to get herself comfortable. The couch has collapsed in places. Given up. It's ancient. She had sex with her dead husband on this couch, long before he was killed. That's how ancient it is.

That's another thing. She can't remember sex. Not really. And it doesn't matter. She doesn't think it matters.

Is that true?

Yes. It is. A man. A woman – she thinks, sometimes. She wouldn't want either. Not tonight.

Where's the fuckin' remote?

She hasn't had sex since her husband died. A year before he died; more. She doesn't remember it. She didn't know it would be the last time. Twelve years – thirteen years ago. It's pathetic.

No. It isn't.

She finds the remote behind her; she's sitting on it. She flicks from channel to channel. There's nothing. She's back at number one, RTE. She keeps flicking. Right through all of them again. Sixteen stations. Ads on most. Useless. The lot of them.

You don't measure your life in sex. She knows that now. Fucking. It was riding when she was younger; now it's fucking. She's bang up to date. The more you fuck, the happier you are. That's rubbish. She knows that. Life without her husband has been better than life with him. Sometimes much better. Most times.

Not tonight. Not today. But she knows the bad days. She recognises them. She feels them coming. They're real but they don't often fool her. She feels them going too.

Bullshit. That's just fuckin' bullshit.

That thing.
Big Brother.
God almighty. They're sitting around. One of them's biting his nails. The blondey one with the boobs knows she's being watched. Stupid – of course she does. She's on telly.

Paula had tits like that.

No, she didn't.

Yes, she fuckin' did so.

Jesus, though.
Big Brother.
Is she too old? That's what Leanne says. Paula's too old to understand it. Appreciate it. But Leanne thinks it's shite as well.

—Would you go on it?

—Would in me hole.

Paula smiles; she feels herself smiling. She's never alone. Not really.

More bullshit.

One of them stands up, on
Big Brother.
A good-looking lad. Nice arse on him.

She flicks on. The sound down. It makes more sense.

She turns it off. Back on. Off.

She'd like to sit in the dark. But the light's on and the switch is far away.

Sex.

Sex.

She turns the telly back on.

And off.

He's there – she knows it – before she opens her eyes. She dozed off, and Jack's there. She sees him, and she sees him looking at the floor, under the couch, for the bottle, the glass.

When will that stop?

—Howyeh, Jack.

He looks at her now. He knows. She's sober. He relaxes. She sees it.

—Hi.

—Where were you?

—Out.

—Where?

—Just out, he says.

—Just out, she says back.

She sits up.

—I must have dozed off.

He says nothing.

She stands up. That's for him. I'm fine – look. I'm awake and alert. She can't hug him. She'd love to but she can't. He's too old. And too new. Only in the mornings. She can pat his head, ruffle his hair. But not now.

She doesn't mind. She doesn't really mind. She wishes he'd stayed small, but that's stupid. She loves the way he is. He's up there, taller than her. With his bit of a beard. It's a ridiculous-looking yoke, but it suits him. The brand new man. He'll wake up one day and shave it off. She'll miss it.

She doesn't worry about Jack. His breath is clean. His eyes are clear. He doesn't remember his father. That seems like a good thing. She tells Jack about him. Now and again. Mostly good things. But she's told him she threw him out; she had to. She's told him why.

She copes well. She thinks she does.

—Did you eat? she asks.

—Yeah, he says.

He shrugs.

He probably didn't. She won't press it. He isn't wasting away. Anyway, there's nothing in the house. And he had his lunch. She watched him.

—D'you have your homework done? she asks.

—Yeah.

—All of it?

—Yeah; most of it.

—Ah, Jack.

He smiles.

—I've done everything I need for tomorrow, he says. —Relax.

She smiles. It's a speech, from Jack.

—Bed? she says.

He shrugs.

—Well, I'm going up, she says.

—Okay.

He sits where she was. He picks up the remote.

—Goodnight, love, she says.

—Night.

She goes into the hall. She's tired. She looks at Jack, through the gap between the door and the frame. The couch is up against the wall. She can see a good bit of his face. He's turned on the telly. She hears him bring the sound up, and down. She reaches in, and turns off the light. She sees him look at the door.

—Goodnight, she says, again.

—Night.

He's lit only by the telly now. He's waiting. For her feet on the stairs. He's sitting up.

She goes on up.

She doesn't worry too much about Jack. She doesn't need to, and she doesn't know why not. A dead father, an alcoholic mother – it's not a great start in life. But he's grand. He seems to be.

She's tired.

She's always tired.

Not true. She's tired at night and that's the way it should be. A hard day's work and that. She likes being tired. Tired and sober – it's different. The sleep is different – it's sleep. Although she doesn't always sleep. But it's grand; it's fine. She's not complaining.

Who'd listen?

She brushes her teeth. The important ones are there. The ones at the front. The missing ones aren't seen, unless she smiles too wide. Then the gaps appear. She brushes them well. Brushing will bring the gone ones back. She can believe that sometimes. The new Paula. She can believe nearly anything. She's a bit hysterical. Not now. But sometimes. So happy. Alive. She brushes for lost time. And teeth. Kicked out of her, some of them. Nights and mornings, when brushing wasn't a priority.

She looks in the mirror. There were times when she didn't look. Years.

She knows this mirror. She isn't fooling herself. Yes, she is. And she doesn't care. If she stands here, this way – she looks good.

She looks good.

This distance, this light. She's a good-looking woman.

But she can't stay here, in the bathroom. One part of the bathroom.

She's a good-looking woman. She takes that with her.

She turns on the bedroom light. There's a mirror here too. She stays clear of that one. She takes off her jeans and lets them drop. They fall off her. She doesn't have to pull them off. They fit.

BOOK: Paula Spencer
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