Welcome to The Echo’s annual feature — Summer Soap. Now in its sixth year, Summer Soap is a daily fictional serial run over 12 parts, which starts below. Called Annie May And The Hit Brigade, this story follows a young woman from the USA to Cork, and was written by Mahito Indi Henderson, from the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC. Catch up with previous episodes at echolive.ie, where you can also hear a podcast of the story.
In the first episode, we meet Annie May, and discover her desire to see the world.
She has been in the booth for two and a half hours already. The dawn stretches its way across the city. Her shirt is on backwards and the milk in her coffee has chunks in it. She is pretty sure her producer is asleep.
“Good morning and welcome back to 87.7 The Hit List. You’re our first caller — go ahead.”
“Hey, Annie May! This is Devon from Naperville, Illinois.”
“Welcome, Devon. And what do you do out there?”
“What do I do? Like a job?”
“Yes, Devon, like a job.”
“Sorry, I’m a little nervous — first time calling — I work in advertising.”
“Very cool, Devon. My dad works in advertising. Well, worked in advertising. And I say advertising — he used to put up posters. Anyway, do you have a guess for today’s Hit Hysteria?”
“You’re too much, Annie May! Okay let me have a go — is the answer Homework?”
“Ouch, sorry about that Devon. We’re looking for a specific song title, not the album.”
“Shoot. Well, thanks anyway, Annie May. I’ll try again tomorrow!”
“Sounds good, Devon. Thanks for calling The Hit List.”
She hits a tab and the pre-recorded voice says The Hit List. “Better luck next time.”
Her producer looks up from behind the glass, the lines from his keyboard etched into his cheek.
“What’s the answer?” he mouths.
Annie May shrugs. She hasn’t decided yet.
Her boss is standing in the doorway with a frown the size of an ocean. Says she has some serious explaining to do.
“That’s the final straw, Annie May,” he says.
“First the tardiness, now the attitude? Nuh-uh. This ain’t no beach party. Not having it. You can pack your things.”
“Oh no,” says Annie May in mock surprise. “However will I make less than minimum wage again?”
Her apartment is one of those 1970s monstrosities with shag carpeting in the bathrooms. Herself and a few old friends from uni’ share a three-bedroom apartment in the Back of the Yards neighbourhood of Chicago. The landlord has a pretty hands-off attitude about the complex. One time he told them that the roaches and ants were all part of the building’s “delicate ecosystem”.
Annie May is always telling her room-mates about how much she wants to get out of the country. The payments just keep piling up and if she has to look at one more depressing strip mall she’ll go postal. She can barely afford rent with her radio job. Former radio job. Stella’s got no trouble there, a trust fund in the bank and a rich grandma in a home, but she loves to commiserate anyway.
That afternoon, Annie May tells her roommates that she has been fired. Stella opens a bottle of wine and tells her that a trip would be good for her spirits.
“Look,” says Stella, picking up a coffee table atlas, “it’s not the end of the world.
"There are loads of places you could go.”
Stella opens the atlas and points to the first name she sees. “How about… Lebanon?”
Their other roommate shakes her head.
“No, no, no,” she says. “Africa’s way too dangerous. Think of the parasites!”
So Annie May calls her mum and proposes the idea. Her mum says no to Lebanon but agrees that a bit of travel might do her good, might make her reconsider her career choice. When Annie May first told her parents about her desire to become a radio DJ, her mother asked, “Did your father and I do something to make you hate us?”
When she tells her family about the plan, they offer suggestions. Copenhagen, Wellington, Zürich. There are drawbacks to each: too expensive, too far, too… showy. Then her aunt mentions Ireland and suddenly everyone’s in agreement. Her uncle even offers a modest loan to help cover the cost of the ticket.
“Ah, I’ve always wanted to get out there,” he says. “Look, because it’s Ireland, I’ll give ya 0% interest. That’s a helluva deal. Best I can do.”
Her mum gives her the number of some family friends who live out in a place called Cork or something. Says it’s near the ocean. Or a river. Or a castle.
“I hear it’s a nice, big city,” her mum says. “Just ask them if you can stay for a bit.”
TOMORROW IN EPISODE 2: “When Annie May comes through the sliding glass door, they rush towards her. ‘I remember when you were in nappies,’ says Mrs McCarthy.