I was married once... but the kids don’t recognise me

Welcome to the Evening Echo’s annual feature — Summer Soap. Launched last year, Summer Soap is a daily fictional serial run over 12 parts, which began last Monday and runs each day in the Echo for a fortnight. Called Personal Services, this story was written by Sue Dukes (right) of Skibbereen, and is one of two soaps chosen from work submitted by students of the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC. In this chapter, a pregnant customer.
I was married once... but the kids don’t recognise me

“Mum and dad keep asking who the father is, as if that will make a wedding inevitable, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with him.”

Episode 10

IT’S one of those nights. Every five minutes I wake up, thinking I’m hearing that damned bell, like a premonition. Sometimes I feel as if I’m drowning under the weight of people’s dissatisfaction.

Life here isn’t bad, like the old days, but whatever people have, they want more. Life is dealt out free, from a stacked deck, admittedly; but the baggage we accumulate for ourselves.

The bell jangles and Siobhan bounces in. She’s dove-tailing youth with middle age, expecting her first child, on her own terms, because though the ridiculous biological urge to procreate (her words) doesn’t fade with age, the ability does.

“Hi, Madge, how are you today?”

“Fine thanks. And yourself?”

“Fit as a fiddle.” She bursts out laughing. “Talking of which, I’m playing tonight at the Sin É, are you coming down?”

“Maybe, why not? When’s the baby due?”

“Three months, give or take.”

“You know the gender?”

“A girl; as far as I know.” She cast me a sidelong glance, we share a smile. “But any pink fluff goes straight down the charity shop, I swear. Babies should wear bright colours. And she’s going to be called O’Donovan, like me. That whole thing about giving a child its father’s name is dumb, when their part in the process is so — short.”

Her laugh is infectious.

‘Mum and dad keep asking who the father is, as if that will make a wedding inevitable, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with him. He was good company for a while, then it wore off.’

“You don’t think he’d want to be dad? It doesn’t have to mean marriage.”

“No. He’d have wanted me to get rid of it. Besides, a baby belongs to the mother.” She pondered for a minute. “Of course, there are a lot of dads out there who’d disagree. I’m getting cramp in my calves, now, from the weight.”

“All in a good cause, love.”

“You know, the only thing my parents are pleased about is that I didn’t have an abortion. It’s very difficult for them, being torn about the rights and wrongs of it all, but once she’s born they’ll grow to love her.”

Maybe. Love should be unconditional, but usually isn’t. The thing is, you can’t plan your children’s lives, and parents discover that too late. Mine would be mortified if they could see me now.

“Can I ask you something, Madge?”


“Are you married?”

“What do you think, love?”

“No, seriously.”

I pause, reflecting. “I tried it once, briefly. She got married again after we divorced, and is happy now, as far as I know.’

“Did you have kids?”

“Ah, not any more. They don’t recognise me.”

“That’s sad. But you weren’t always…”

“No. This is teenage rebellion cutting in.’”

She giggles. “Really?”

“Yeah, well, I was a late developer. I was brain-washed by government, advertising, convention, and expectations. I tried so hard to be what others wanted me to be, then one day I realised it wasn’t what I wanted.”

“And that’s what the dresses are all about?”

“Oh, no, I always liked dresses. It’s a shame more men don’t wear them.”

She laughed. “Madge, you’re the best. You don’t judge people, do you?”

“I’m hardly in a position, am I? Off you go now. You’re doing OK.”

I wonder if she gets that I admire her for being brave enough to fly in the face of convention; it’s not always easy, especially faced with hard-core resistance, something my next client has in spades.

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