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 on 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, another fascinating visitor to Madge.
I PUT my hand on the bell to silence it.
“Oh, Madge,” Jeannie says, and bursts into tears.
“Come on, love, tell Madge all about it. I’ll put the kettle on.”
Turns out it isn’t so much a ‘tell’ as a ‘show’. She shrugs out of her leather jacket with the skull and crossbones on the back, and bares a shoulder, exposing an inflamed mess that might look like a butterfly one day. Her tear-stained eyes are wide with panic. “What am I going to do?”
“Ah — I think you just have to wait it out, love. Some people have a reaction to the coloured inks. It doesn’t look infected, so it’ll probably settle down in a few days. You just have to keep it dry and clean.”
“I mean, I can’t go home! My mum’ll kill me!”
“I doubt that. But why on earth did you do it?”
Her voices squeezes to the uncertainty of a six-year-old, “I just wanted to.”
Why does every generation have to rebel? I did, and when my parents lost their cool, I assumed they’d never been there, never done what I’d done. Kids fool themselves something rotten. Then, when you get to be a parent you just don’t know how to do it any different because the kids won’t bloody listen, and you lose them over small things like chewing gum and tattoos. Nature’s having a laugh at all of us.
“The thing is,” she starts. “Oh, what’s the point; you wouldn’t understand.”
“What wouldn’t I understand?”
“How painful it is. How stupid I feel. How much I want it just gone.”
I pause, then roll up the sleeve of my dress.
She stares at my tattoo. “That’s Latin? What does it mean?”
“To free the oppressed.” I raise one brow. “You see, I was young once, too.”
“And did your mum mind?”
“Yes, she minded a lot.”
My older brother there one minute, gone the next, then me following, to a cause doomed to failure, though we didn’t realise that at the time.
“I should do your legs.”
That was why she came to me, what her mother paid for. A congenital disorder that meant she would never excel at sports. She threw off her boots, clambered awkwardly onto the coach, and closed her eyes the better to endure the pain.
“Your mum will understand,” I said eventually, when the tears stopped flowing.
“No, she won’t.”
“She will, because she loves you. She knows how hard it is for you. The minute you get home, just tell her; get it over with. She’ll want to make sure it doesn’t get infected.”
“I don’t care if it does.”
I work away for a bit in silence, then say. “All done. Are you still a vegetarian?”
“Of course. I’m never going to eat meat again, it’s disgusting. We shouldn’t kill animals.”
As she bends to haul on her chunky biker’s boots, and slings the jacket over her shoulder, I wonder where she thinks leather comes from.
“Well, love. Just tell her, OK? Trust me.”
Back on form, she performs a well-rehearsed, sneer.
“Why the hell should I trust you, you old faggot? You aren’t even normal.”
“What’s normal, love?”
The bell jangles angrily as she slams out of the door.
I lean back and smile. The young, eh? She’ll apologise next time she comes in. It happens all the time: talk first, think last. I remember doing it myself, once upon a time.
One of the most profound skills in life is knowing when to keep silent, and I wonder if any of us ever get the certificate for that.