1st chapter of my novel, a quasi-autobiographical tale of love and revenge.
NORMAN opened his eyes and wiped away sleep with the heel of his hand. He turned towards Treasa and admired her face with a lover’s eyes.
There was a boyishness about her features, yet they were feminine. The line of her jaw was strong and she had a firm chin. Her short dark hair gave her a cutesy elfin aspect. Her parted lips were soft and pink. The tiny crinkles on either side of her mouth spoke of mystery and invited kisses. Her smooth creamy cheeks softened the planes of her face. Her nose was small and adorable. Her clear brow and delicate cheekbones drew his eyes to the fairest of Treasa’s features: her shapely eyes.
They opened and the fusion of black lashes, luminous whites and irises of bright sapphire blue sent a tingle of enervation rippling along Norman’s spinal column. Treasa blinked and smiled.
‘What are you looking at?’ she said.
Norman responded with a guilty grin. Treasa had caught him peeping. She was annoyed but pleased by the attention. Norman kissed her. He traced her upper lip with his tongue and their kiss deepened.
Treasa pulled away and sprang naked from the bed and then she dashed out of the bedroom and went into the bathroom.
Norman reached across to the bedside cabinet for his Marlboros. He sat up and lit a cigarette. As he flicked the wheel of the lighter, there was a jab of pain from the small cut at the base of his thumb. A week had passed since he had put his fist through a window of a solicitor’s office and cut himself but the tendon had been damaged and the wound refused to heal.
He was reminded of what he had to do. His happiness evaporated and he was consumed by a deep sense of dread. His eyes unfocused and he talked to himself.
‘Your luck’s going to run out, Mister Kane. It always has in the past. You do know, it’s only a matter of time. And when it does, you’ll lose everything. Yet again…’
He frowned and squinted through the haze of cigarette smoke.
‘…yeah, I know, but there’s not much I can do. I’ll worry about it when it happens.’
He got out of bed and pulled on clothes and left the room. As he passed the bathroom door, Treasa called out to him:
‘Norman, where are you going?’
‘Do you want a coffee?’
When Treasa walked into the lounge, he did not look up from the sofa but sat there, with his eyes fixed on the mug of coffee cupped in his hands.
‘Are you going to tell me my fortune?’ she said.
He did not respond. Treasa recalled her girlhood and what her father had always done whenever she brooded. She slapped the back of Norman’s skull. His head shot up and he fixed her with angry eyes. The mischievous grin melted on her face.
‘What the fuck are you doing?’ he said.
Treasa ignored him and walked through into the kitchen.
‘Where’s the coffee you said you were going to make me?’
‘It’s in here, sitting on the table. Here, what did you go and hit me for?’
She returned to the room with her smile back in place.
‘My old man always said it was the best cure for a sulk. A good reviving slap to the back of the head. Works every time.’
‘Aye? Well I got enough slaps to the head from my stepfather to last me a lifetime. And I’m not sulking; I’m trying to think here.’
He put his head down and stared at the mug again. Treasa went over towards the table and then she changed direction and swiped at Norman. He jerked backwards and hot coffee spilled over his hands and onto the floor. He glared at her.
‘What are you at?’
Treasa tossed back her head and laughed at him.
‘God. You’re in a fine mood this morning, Mister Kane. What happened? Did you get out of the wrong side of the bed?’
‘I’m all right. There’s fuck all wrong with me. I certainly don’t need you hitting me.’
‘I wasn’t hitting you. Don’t be such a big baby. I was only trying to cheer you up a bit.’
‘Aye? Well, it’s not working.’
Treasa stuck out her bottom lip and frowned. Norman glowered at her.
‘God,’ she said. ‘What do I have to do to get you to smile?’
He bared his teeth in an awful grimace.
‘There,’ he said. ‘Satisfied? Now just leave me alone, will you?’
Treasa snorted and reached for the mug of coffee on the dining table. So, he wanted her to leave him alone, did he? The grumpy old fucker. Fine. She would do just that.
Treasa pulled out a chair and sat down at the table. She lit a cigarette and then opened a book and read.
ONCE she had managed to convince Norman to go out and take a walk on the strand to clear his head, Treasa tidied the house. As she cleaned, she wondered about his mood, for she had not seen him so disheartened before.
With her hands in a sink filled with dirty dishes and soapy water, the truth of the matter came to her: Norman blamed her for everything that was wrong in their lives.
Had he not said as much, when he moaned about having to go out and steal again, because she had spent all the money?
Oh, those were not his exact words but the implication had been clear in his tone and the way he looked at her.
Was she responsible, then, for all their money troubles?
They had been squandering a lot on drink but he was as bad as she was.
If he didn’t want her to spend the money he stole, then why did he give it to her in the first place?
Did he expect her to treat it with respect, when he could not?
Did he do that to then be able to point the finger at her when the money was gone?
Was he so weak and foolish a man that he had to have someone else around to shoulder the blame for his own actions?
Treasa pursued that train of thought and concluded that her suspicions were unfair, unkind and untrue.
Norman was generous to a fault, not manipulative. He had never accused her of anything. When he did bring up the subject of money, he always pointed out how they were both living beyond their means.
He risked life, limb and liberty for their mutual benefit. He probably felt unappreciated and thought that she took him for granted. That was not the case and if she had to go out of her way to prove it to him, then she would. Men were such babies.
She resolved to go down to the beach and show him how she felt about him, since that seemed to be what he needed. The dishes could wait.
Treasa lifted her hands out of the water and dried them with a tea towel. She lifted her purse form the table and put it into a pocket and then she pulled on her coat and went out through the back door.
PERCHED on a rock with his knees drawn up to his chest and his arms clasped around his calves, Norman stared out to sea. His fingers, ears, cheeks, nose and toes were numbed but he ignored the cold.
He felt despondent. Everything seemed bleak. Like the bloated cadavers of mariners drowned at sea, the vile memories that lurked in the murk of his mind bubbled up to the surface. As they arose, so he plunged down to the nadir of his psyche.
He knew that he should stop with the self-delusion and accept that his future would be just as pointless as his past had been.
His thoughts turned to Treasa. He had nothing to offer her. She would be better off without him. He needed to face up to the reality of the situation and end their relationship before it developed any further. To do otherwise would be despicable.
He was a waste of space, a degenerate oxygen-thief and not only Treasa but the world entire would be better served were he not around to corrupt their purity with his malodorous presence.
The chill wind cut at his eyes and he wanted to weep but pride prevented him. He sniffed and turned his head to watch breakers rush the shore and dissolve into foam on the sandy beach and then the heaviness lifted from his heart.
Distant, but discernible, Treasa approached across the damp sands.
Norman stood up on his rock and raised a hand to her. She waved in return. There was a carrier bag in her other hand. His face opened into a grin. He no longer felt cold.
He jumped down off the rock and hurried towards her. When he came close, her voice carried on the wind over the roar of the waves.
‘I thought that you might want some company.’
Like an idiot, he smiled, as the lilt of her voice graced her ears. He adored her rich Kilkenny accent. Every time he did not hear her for a little while and then heard her speak, it was as if a fresh clear melody of musical notes cascaded through his mind. She had magic inside of her and it affected him, heart and soul, in ways he could not seem to apprehend.
He closed the distance between them and strode forward and slipped his hands under hers. She tensed and then, as he pulled her body to his and squeezed, Treasa relaxed. He kissed her ear and she broke out in gooseflesh.
‘I love you, Treasa,’ he said.
She looked up at him and held the plastic bag aloft.
‘I got us a few cans of lager,’ she said. ‘I thought they would help to cheer you up a little bit.’
He let her go and then clasped her free hand and led her over to his rock. They sat down together and he took the bag from her. He reached inside and opened a tin of Carlsberg and passed it to her and then he took one for himself. Six cans remained.
He took a deep swallow and, as the first draught of lager slid down his throat, Norman closed his eyes and revelled in the way that it warmed him inside.
He no longer felt sad.
NORMAN trickled the last of the Cabernet Sauvignon into their glasses. He set the empty bottle on the table and moved across the lounge to hand Treasa her drink. She smiled up at him. He sat down beside her on the low sofa and stared into the fire.
Treasa took a mouthful of wine and gulped it down and then she grimaced and her personality changed. She twisted her head to peer at Norman askance. Her face became hard. Norman turned and looked at her. Her mouth twisted into an ugly sneer.
‘Look at the state of you,’ she said.
There was a bright avid cast to her eyes. Norman was familiar with that malicious gleam. His brow furrowed and he steeled himself for the onslaught. It was the same every time she drank too much. The alcohol exacerbated her condition and she became nasty. Treasa suffered from bipolar effective disorder.
‘What?’ he said.
‘That shirt. It went out of style years ago.’
She tugged the rumpled arm of the shirt, where he had rolled the sleeve up above his elbow.
‘All those wrinkles. I bet you only got it so that you wouldn’t have to iron the bloody thing, didn’t you?’
Norman grinned. ‘You know I hate ironing.’
Treasa snatched his smile and returned it as a sneer. She rose and stalked across the room and into the kitchen, where she switched on the overhead fluorescent and moved over to the counter.
Norman took a sip of wine and watched her with a wary eye.
She cast her eyes about the room as if she sought something she had lost. Norman could not guess what that might be. Treasa turned to face him and then she walked over and stood in the doorway and squinted at Norman. He looked up and met her disdainful gaze.
‘Look at you,’ she said. ‘You can’t even be bothered to polish your boots. Have you no respect for yourself at all, man?’
Norman frowned. It crossed his mind to explain just how little regard he had for social niceties: he was a cat burglar, not a fashion model, so image meant nothing to him. His wardrobe consisted of dark innocuous garments because, as a thief, he aimed to detract people’s attention away from himself and blend into the shadows whenever he was out at night. As far as boots were concerned, functionality was all that he cared about. So long as they were sturdy enough to kick open locked doors and the soles thick enough to act as shock absorbers when he jumped over walls and fences, then Norman was happy.
He realised that he could not be bothered to try to make Treasa understand why he dressed as he did. She wanted to pick a fight with him because she was drunk and would use any excuse to do so, regardless of anything he might say or do.
‘Are you not even going to answer me?’ she said.
He raised his left leg and then pointed the toe of his boot at her and stared at it.
‘I’ve no shoe polish,’ he said.
Treasa swivelled and paced over to the sink. She crouched and yanked open the cupboard doors and rummaged inside. She gave a shout of triumph and returned to the doorway with something in her hand. She brandished it like a detective’s badge. It was a small tin with black letters KIWI on the lid.
‘There all along,’ said Treasa. ‘You didn’t even bother to look.’
Norman put his foot down on the tiled floor. He was bored with her nonsense. When he and Treasa had first met, he had been amused by her irrational drunken tirades. That was no longer the case. It irked him that she chose to act in so ridiculous a manner, rather than just state the true source of her annoyance, whatever that might happen to be. He had put his finger on the pulse of the problem: Treasa refused to trust him enough to tell him what was wrong with her.
‘I’ve cloths and everything here,’ she said. ‘If you want to polish them now.’
The compassionate part of him considered how it might be best if he accommodated her but Norman’s pride flared up in protest and he became stubborn.
‘I couldn’t be arsed,’ he said.
Treasa fumed. She wanted to hurl the tin of shoe polish at his head. All day long, he had been morose. When she had joked with him in the morning, he had snapped at her and turned into a sulky little boy. Despite her best efforts to cheer him up, his sullenness had persisted. All he had done was whine about their situation and how stressed it made him feel. What did he think? That she was made of stone? That she had no feelings? That he was the only one who worried about the crimes he committed and the risks involved? Flaming existentialist arsehole. Typical bloody man.
‘I couldn’t be arsed,’ she mimed. ‘What could you be arsed to do then? You don’t want to get a job. You couldn’t even be bothered to have sex with me this morning. You just sit there and huff like a fucking teenager.’
Norman decided that he would refuse to react to her. He would switch off his emotions and pay no heed to any of the diarrhoea that poured out of her mouth, until she had vented the vitriol from her system.
‘That’s exactly what you are,’ she said. ‘The way you dress like a scruff and don’t give a damn about how you look or what other people think about you. The way you get on. Your whole attitude. An adolescent in a man’s body. But you don’t seem to think that it’s me who has to be seen out in public with you. I’m the one who walks down the street beside you. You might not care but do you think I like the way people look at me when they see me with a man who’s nothing more than a tramp? Do you think I enjoy the way they laugh up their sleeves at me?’
Norman struggled with the urge to rage at her. He tried to keep in mind that she had no more control over what she said than he did about how her insults upset him. It frustrated him that he could not blame her. She was mentally ill, so he could not hold her responsible for her behaviour. He wanted to rail at her but knew that there was no point, so Norman quelled his ire and said nothing.
‘And look at those arms of yours,’ Treasa said. ‘Could you not cover them up? Have you no sense of decency at all? Or do you want people to see all your scars so that you can play on their sympathies? Act the wee martyr? Poor wee Norman and his poor wee arms. Aw-aw-aw.’
Norman leaped to his feet and thrust his finger at her.
‘If you were a man and you’d just said that to me, I’d be fucking well kicking you unconscious right about now. You know why I cut lumps out of my arms. You know what happened to me when I was wee. What do you want me to do? Cover them up, like I’m ashamed of myself or something? Get on like I’m some kind of fucking victim? It took me years to stop doing that. And do you know what? I don’t give a flying fuck what other people think, especially the empty-headed inbred bumpkins around here. Sure, what the fuck would any of them know about the real world, living in this wee shithole of a place? See, Treasa, I’m not like you. I don’t care about style and image and all of that old shite. I care about content…’
Norman poked himself in the chest.
‘…it’s what’s in here that matters to me. If you’re so worried about my clothes, then why didn’t we get some out of all the money I’ve stole over the last couple of months? I could’ve filled a dozen fucking wardrobes, if I’d wanted to. I didn’t hear you complaining about my appearance when we were blowing all of that on drinking in bars and eating in restaurants and dope and fucking taxis here, there and everywhere. You were perfectly happy to spend it on yourself. I’m sick and tired of being the one who has to take all of your shit every time you get a drink into you. If you can’t fucking handle it, that’s not my fucking problem. Do you think I’m some kind of a cunt? Because that’s the way you’re getting on here. And if that’s what you really think about me, that I’m just some stupid fucking teenager, then I have to ask you, what the fuck are you doing going out with me in the first place? Will I tell you? Because no other cunt would be stupid enough to put up with you and your fucking madness. Running around after you like a dog. Is that what you think I am? Nothing but a fucking dog? Well, that just makes you a bitch then, doesn’t it?’
He sat down again and took a swig of wine. Treasa stood with a shocked expression on her face and than she scowled.
‘You’re a bastard, she said. ‘I’m going to bed. Alone. And I don’t want you anywhere near me.’
She crossed the room and opened the door and then she stomped up the stairs. Her voice carried down to him.
‘And seeing as how you’re my dog, you can sleep down there on the sofa. I think I’ll call you rover from now on. That’s your new name. Rover. Heel, Rover. Sit, rover. Roll over, Rover. That’s a good doggie.’
Norman snorted laughter. He took a sip of wine and grinned and then he went out into the hallway with the glass in hand. Treasa was on the landing above. She leaned over the banister and looked down at him.
The fire in her eyes filled Norman with arousal. His penis swelled with blood and he stepped forward to rush upstairs and fuck the badness out of Treasa and himself but then she opened her mouth again and murdered his ardour and killed the mood.
‘What do you want, Rover?’ she said. ‘I haven’t any bones for you.’
Rage surged through Norman. He hurled his wineglass up the stairwell. It exploded against the bathroom door. He felt mean and triumphant.
‘You can fucking well clean up the mess this time,’ he said, ‘because I’m sick of always having to clean up after you.’
Norman went back into the lounge and sat down. He lit a cigarette. Treasa rushed downstairs. Too furious to speak, she stalked past Norman and went into the kitchen and grabbed the long-handled floor brush and went back upstairs with it. As she brushed the broken shards of the wineglass down the staircase, she talked in a terse, low voice.
Norman strained to make out her words. The further she descended, the clearer her voice came to him over the thrust of the brush on the carpet.
‘…of this kind of crap from that other bastard,’ said Treasa. ‘This is exactly how he started. Smashing the place up in temper. Next thing, he was beating lumps out of me at every cut and turn. Well, I’m not going to stand around and wait for that to happen again.’
She reached the foot of the stairs and turned to glare at Norman. He tossed the stub of his cigarette into the fire and got up and moved towards her. Treasa looked down at the floor.
‘I’m not going to put up with domestic violence. Do you hear me?’
Norman was still annoyed but he felt ashamed of what he had done, guilty about the violence within himself that Treasa had provoked. He nodded.
‘You threw that glass at my head,’ she said.
‘No, I did not. I threw it at the bathroom door. If I’d been wanting to hit you with it, I would’ve.’
‘And what? That makes it all right then, does it?’
‘Naw. But you smashed that bottle of vodka the other night when I was away down in Belfast and just left that shit for me to clean up and you didn’t hear me crying about it, did you?’
Treasa looked up at Norman with angry eyes and a quizzical expression on her face, as though she were dealing with a backwards child.
‘This isn’t a quid pro quo situation,’ she said. ‘This is my home and I can do whatever the hell I like in it. That doesn’t entitle you to do the same. I never asked you to clean up after me, did I?’
‘Fair enough. Next time you decide to wreck the fucking place, I’ll just leave you to sort it out yourself.’
‘Yes, but I wasn’t throwing glasses at your head, was I?
‘Naw. But, here, neither was I.’
‘So you say.’
In anger, Norman clenched his teeth and his fists. Treasa’s eyes widened and then they blazed with blue fury.
‘What? Are you going to hit me now?’
She shunted broken glass with the brush and Norman moved back and out of her way.
‘No,’ he said.
She stopped and stared at him again and then she leaned the shaft of the brush against the table and went into the kitchen to fetch the dustpan. She addressed Norman as she hunkered down and swept up the breakage.
‘I don’t need this crap. I don’t need you or any man. I don’t need more domestic violence. I’ve had enough of that to last me a couple of lifetimes.’
Her chore completed, she straightened up and appraised Norman in a cool manner.
‘I want you out of my house. This is my home and I put a lot of work into making it that way and I don’t feel safe with you in it anymore.’
She went into the kitchen and emptied the dustpan into the bin there. Norman followed her to stand in the doorway and pen Treasa in the room.
‘What are you saying? You’re just going to throw me out onto the street?’
‘No. I just want you to leave. You’re not welcome in my home anymore.’
Norman scoffed and folded his arms across his chest.
‘And what if I don’t? What are you going to do, get the Peelers on me?’
‘I’d expect you to have the decency to leave of your own accord, now that I’ve asked you to but if you refuse, then, yes, I will get the police to remove you.’
‘Then that’s what you’re going to have to do, because I’m not going anywhere.’
With his arms still folded in obduracy, Norman turned and went over to the sofa and sat down.
‘Are you not going to pack your bags?’ said Treasa.
Norman lit a cigarette and gazed out the window at the black sky. Treasa went upstairs. Norman fretted as she stomped about overhead. Was she serious? No, it was just the drink talking. She was bluffing. There was no way that she was going to get the Peelers to have him arrested. She was just trying to scare him. Where was he going to go? The last bus had left hours ago. He could stay with Gavin and Kim down in Belfast or Henry up in Derry but he would not be able to reach either place until the morning and he had no money for a bus. There was the tenner in change on the table. He could take that. He should do it now, before Treasa could try to stop him but it was the last of their money and he would be stealing it from her. He felt numb and incapable of acting to resolve the problem. He flicked his cigarette butt into the fire.
The anxieties that flitted through his mind were pursued by a sense of despair. What had he done? Why had he been so stupid and reacted as he did? It was seriously out of character. He had to make Treasa see that. He could not afford to lose her. She was all that mattered to him. If he walked out the door, if she did force him to leave, he would never be able to return. Pride would prevent him. He had to do something. She was angry but she would calm down and see sense, so long as he refused to leave, no matter what she threatened him with.
There was a thump and he turned his head to see that his backpack lay at the foot of the stairs. Treasa had tossed it down. He heard her steps as she moved about above him and then his holdall landed on top of the rucksack and Treasa came down. She stepped over the bags and stood in the doorway.
‘That’s everything. If I’ve forgotten something, ring and let me know where you are and I’ll try to send it on to you. I don’t want you coming back here for any reason.’
‘I won’t be coming back again, because I’m not6 going anywhere in the first place.’
Treasa turned and hefted the holdall. She carried it through to the kitchen and opened the door and threw it out into the back yard. She returned to the hallway and made the same trip with Norman’s backpack.
‘Goodbye, Norman,’ she said.
Norman looked at the open back door and the closed expression on Treasa’s face and kept his mouth shut.
‘Come on, Norman. Don’t make this any harder than it already is.’
He made no move and said not a word. He struggled to find some way to convince her to change her mind but he would not beg.
‘Listen,’ said Treasa. ‘I had this happening with a guy before. One of my exes. I’d only been going out with him for a little while as well. When I told him to leave, he just went. No arguments. He acted like a man about the whole thing. Just packed his bags and went, even though he had nowhere to go. And I saw him at the bus stop the next morning and he was all right about it. Mature. Even though he’d had to sleep on a bench the whole night. So I’m asking you to be a man and leave because I don’t want to have to force you to go but if you don’t, then I will.’
Norman’s shoulders slumped and he leaned forward and stared at the floor.
‘Come on,’ Treasa said. ‘Be a man and act with a bit of self-respect for once in your life. It’s hardly the end of the world. Things just didn’t work out between us. It happens all the time.’
‘Treasa, I don’t want to go. I don’t want to leave you. I can’t.’
‘You only think that. You can and you will.’
He sighed and got up and went over to stand by the open door. The chill of the night had stolen into the kitchen to make inside feel like outside. Norman wanted to grab Treasa by the shoulders and shake some sense into her but that would only make things worse. She moved past him to stand on the threshold of the lounge.
He took a step forward and put his hand on the doorframe as though he needed its support to remain upright. He turned to face Treasa and looked into her eyes. He saw determination and outrage and deep unhappiness that bordered on despair. He felt that she was doing her utmost to push him away because she was terrified that she was about to lose him whatever she did and it was easier for her to choose to end the relationship now rather than have that happen without her consent or influence. Norman felt abject about the hopelessness of what he intuited and a deep sense of severance settled upon him.
Tears sprang to his eyes and he felt angry and humiliated and hurt that Treasa had somehow managed to invoke them from him. He knew with every fibre of his being that he and Treasa needed each other with intense, unspoken desperation but were both too afraid to acknowledge that.
‘Please, Treasa. Don’t do this. I’m sorry, baby. I really am, from the very bottom of my heart and I’ll do anything to make it up to you, just, please, don’t make me leave. Not like this. I love you. I need you more than anything and I can’t do this. I can’t walk out on you. I won’t. If you want to get rid of me, you’re going to have to get the Peelers, because I’m not going any other way.’
‘You think I won’t?’
‘No. That’s not what I meant but, if I can’t be with you, than I may as well just be in jail. You’re the only thing that matters to me. Please, don’t do this, Treasa. I’m sorry about what I did. It was stupid, a stupid argument and I wish I could take it all back.’
‘If I was to let you stay, what would stop you from doing the same all over again?’
‘This,’ he said.
‘And would you…do you promise that you’ll never do anything like this again? Because I won’t stand for any kind of domestic violence. No matter what happens. If you can’t have an argument without losing your temper like that, if you ever get on like that again, then I will get the police to forcibly remove you, if that’s what it takes. Do you understand?’
‘Yes, Treasa. I’m so sorry. I love you so much.’
A solitary tear escaped down his cheek. Treasa spotted that and frowned and her eyes swam with anguish. She turned away and sat down on the sofa.
‘Right,’ she said, ‘bring your stuff back in and then go upstairs or out for a walk or something, because I don’t want to so much as look at you. I want to be left alone for a while.’
He nodded and stepped out into the yard and hefted both bags. He went back in and pushed the door closed with his foot and then he carried his belongings through into the front parlour. He heard Treasa get up and close the lounge door behind him.
Norman switched on the light and closed the door. He sat down in an armchair and put his head in his hands. Televised voices came to him from the other room. He lit a cigarette and smoked.
A little later, the television was switched off and Norman heard Treasa leave the lounge and mount the stairs. There was silence and then the toilet flushed and she moved along the landing.
He heard the bedroom door slam and he lit another cigarette. Since Treasa did not want him to sleep with her, he wondered whether it would be best if he stayed downstairs and used the sofa or went up to the single bed in the spare room. Treasa might take umbrage at whatever he did but he wanted to be as close to her as possible.
Norman stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray and switched off the light and slipped upstairs with the silent stealth of the thief that he was.