When Myra told me she went back with Charlie after he raped her I didn’t understand it, but in a way I did. She made a bed up for me on the settee. In such a small room how she avoided me was a mystery. Her outburst hollowed her out and her eyes darted away from mine. Wasn’t sure she wanted me to stay, but when she offered I jumped at the chance. Truth was I didn’t want to be alone. Wasn’t loneliness as such, but the worry I’d go creeping back and become pegged to a stool facing the mirrored gantry in The Club Bar. Find asylum in the curse of the black Irish and being part of the fixtures and fittings. Nurse a half pint of lager until it turned warm, hoping not so much for company, but somebody to buy me a pint and a half. Wait like a spider in its web until another mug came along, and I could reel them in with a false smile and some gibe that fell from my tongue. Truth was the crustacean itchy skin that revolted most folk, or even the unwashed smell that followed me about like a stray dog, made them dig deeper into their pockets. And I supped it all up. The rot wasn’t on the outside, it was on the inside. I understood being here and there, two places at once. A spread of blankets at my feet, cocooned under a quilt, my head locked on a square of pillow, I guessed I didn’t present much of a threat. Curtains closed behind her seat and the light from lamp shadowing the side of her face it allowed her to talk and not think too much what she was saying.
‘At first I thought I’d be sent away somewhere,’ she said, ‘because I’d done something bad’.
‘He held you down and raped you.’ I echoed much of what she’d said earlier. ‘That wasn’t your fault. He was too strong for you.’
She nodded. ‘I know that now, but back then I thought I could fix it. Make him understand. Make it right. I thought I must have done something wrong. And he’d tell me what it was and I wouldn’t do it again.’ A brittle laugh, like crystal glass breaking escaped from her mouth. ‘He raped me again. And again. Then when I did understand it was too late.’
‘Too late?’ I said.
‘Yeh.’ She clutched her wrist. Bobbed her head back and forward in confirmation, but under her layers of nightgown, cross-stitched kind of padded jacket and pyjamas, her body quivered. ‘By then he had the photographs.’
I wiggled and sat up a bit. ‘Whit photographs?’
‘Use your imagination. Said he’d show them to my mum. That would have killed her. And my da’. That was how they hooked us in.’ Her hand drifted over her mouth, fingers dappling her cheek. She stared straight ahead into the kitchen, avoiding my eye and her voice drifted and fluted up and down as she spoke. ‘Remember that old house at Risk Street.’
‘Aye,’ I said. ‘Course I remember it. We used to jump over the fence at the back drop down to nick apples. Had to be quick. The guy always appeared and was on your case in jig time.’
‘That was a long time ago,’ she said. Looked across at me. Gave me the benefit of a crook smile.
‘Aye,’ I said. Wasn’t sure the point she was making.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘you maybe not mind it becoming derelict, being up for sale for the longest time. It was meant to be haunted.’
‘Kinda,’ I said, humouring her.
‘Well, it was haunted.’ She rubbed at a spot on her forehead, sheltering her eyes. ‘The basement ran under three storeys. They brought children from all over. You’d see camper vans and big cars, minibuses. It was quiet. Nobody to listen. Nobody to hear.’
Sat up. ‘Jesus I never knew. Just down the road. You never think.’
Her bottom lip stuck out. ‘Course not. Why would you? I should never have got you involved in all this.’ Her head dropped into her chest. Started crying and blubbering. ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry.’
Swung my legs out and stood over her, not sure what to say or do. Patted her on the shoulder. She flung her arms around my midriff and held on. ‘There. There.’ Prodded her on the shoulder again. ‘Let it all out.’
Craned her neck to look up at me with a tear-stained face puffy as a five-year old's.
‘And anyway,’ I said. ‘You never got me involved. I got a letter from the High Court. That was hardly your doin’.’
Her hands dropped away and she gulped for air. ‘It was because they know what I’m thinking and they set out to destroy everything I care about.’
Crouched down to face her, foreheads almost touching. ‘Myra.’ Our eyes locked. ‘I’m awful pleased and flattered you care about me. I care about you too. Always have. Always will.’ Wasn’t sure what to say next but blundered on. ‘But I don’t know how to tell you whit you’re saying is rubbish. You’ll need to see somebody about that. They’ve got doctors and stuff that can help you.’
‘I already have Jim.’ She reached across and picked up the Bible. ‘Men in hoods and black robes. They killed babies you know. I’ll never forget the sound—and the unnatural silence. Made human sacrifices. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The devil exists Jim you know. Cold eyes like a burnt-out sun. Cold. Cold to the touch. Especially when he’s inside you. You can never be alone with your thoughts again. It’s a constant voice cutting through you. Deep, deep, deep, so you don’t know your own thoughts from his. “It’s not healthy,” the devil’s voice will say in a conversational tone, “to live in a cramped wee house like this. You deserve so much better. You are so much better. Look at your dad. Never amounted to much. Content to drink a few pints at the weekend and fall over. You’re much better than that. Or your mother. She does her best. But we know her best doesn’t really amount to a crock of shit. If she’d any get-up-and-go she’d have left your dad years ago. You don’t want to be stuck here with these two. Dragged down to their level.” It goes on and on and on. Until you become delirious. Start seeing the world through his eyes. Filled with losers that deserve everything they get. Cruelty become not a punishment, but their just desserts.’ She glanced up to see if I was listening before continuing on. ‘The thing is Jim, there’s no wrongs, only rights. And the only rights that matter is making sure the other mug pays and you get what you deserve. What is rightly yours for the taking. Just the same as Adam took an apple from the tree. Just as Charlie took me because he could and he wanted me.’
Yawned, covered my mouth, but couldn’t help myself. ‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘Just tired.’ Went and sat on the edge of the couch facing her. ‘Look, I’m sure you believe all that stuff, but I just cannae.’ Shrugged. ‘Nothing personal, but all that mumbo jumbo stuff just doesnae mean anything to me.’
She took it well. ‘I don’t expect you to believe me. Very few people ever do. The best argument Satan has is that he doesn’t exist. Those that believe he does exist and go against him unarmed with Christ, well—they pay the full price. But think about this for a second. This house is blessed. Recently, you have been constantly under attack: physically, mentally and morally. Sores appeared on your body. Blotted your mind. Yet, as soon as you entered this holy space, this sanctuary of God, they no longer bothered you.’
Hummed and hawed. ‘That’s true.’
‘And another thing, you’re so tired here because you can sleep. You can rest.’ She leaned across, her demeanour more insistent. ‘Body and soul demands it.’
‘Och Myra,’ slapped my knee. ‘I thought you just wanted to jump on my bones.’
‘No,’ she said. ‘Heaven to me would be getting a good night’s sleep.’
Yawned on cue. ‘Sorry.’
‘It’s ok, you go to bed and I’ll keep watch.’
‘Keep watch for whit?’ Wasn’t going to argue with her. Slipped into my made up bed and fell asleep before she could reply.