CH TWO 9
Pat finishes applying her elaborate make-up before going downstairs from the flat to open up the launderette. Patrick has got himself up and left for school before she had chance to speak to him. She tries to remind herself that he must be grieving too but her own sorrow overrides all concern for the needs of her remaining son. He stayed with his father for the first three weeks after Kenneth died but the chaos was too much for him and he moved in with his mother in the New Year. She is glad he chose to live with her and she feels guilty for lavishing all her attention on Kenneth over the years. She knows she has a lot of making up to do but for now it is all she can manage to keep functioning at all.
She unlocks the door and leaves it open wide, then she checks every machine for items left inside. Next she fills the galvanised bucket with hot water and Flash, mixes it in with the mop and meticulously cleans the tiles. Next she empties the water onto the paving stones in front of the shop and sweeps the pavement. Satisfied that all is as it should be, she pops to the newsagent next door and collects her copy of The Times. Routine helps her cope and her next task is to make a cup of tea, put her feet up behind the counter and flick through the pages of her newspaper.
Reading about the IRA bombings at the weekend Pat’s thoughts go to her childhood days when she would play all day in the park not far from the scene of the latest atrocity. Life seemed so much simpler in those days. She turns to the back pages and reads some of the crossword clues, filling in several answers before getting stuck. Kenneth would have helped her; he could always pick out the anagrams and figure out the cryptic clues. He had a quick brain did her Kenneth. She folds the paper and finishes her tea then checks the fluid in the dry cleaning machine. It’s fortunate she decided to do this as the container is full of sludge and she curses Fat Frank for doing his greasy overalls again when she has warned him not too, then realises it couldn’t have been him because he is not at large.
Customers arrive, some exchange small-talk, others sit in silence reading or knitting. One young woman is having trouble getting her two-year-old son to behave. He wants to go to the swing park and his mother says he will have to wait until the laundry is done. Pat offers to do it for her and the woman thanks her for the kindness, hands over enough coins to feed the dryer machine and hurries out with the fractious child, leaving the shop peaceful once more. Pat has become very sensitive to noise of late.
There is comfort in the warm, humid atmosphere with the rhythmic whirring of machines and the muffled music from the transistor radio. The morning hours pass, customers come and go, the hands on the clock jerk round in their continuous circuit and Patrick arrives home for lunch. Pat tries to fix a cheerful face but her eyes are cold and empty and Patrick suggests he should buy something from the chip shop at the end of the road. Pat hands him some money from her purse and he drops his school bag behind the counter before heading off. Pat knows they are eating fish and chips too many times a week but reasons that it is a hot meal and she doesn’t have the appetite to cook for them. Patrick could eat chips every day of his life if he had to but his spotty face could do without the extra grease. She knows she is letting him down but can’t seem to help herself.
Pat is placing two mugs of tea on the counter when Patrick walks in with the steaming hot food, which they settle down to eat from the paper wrappers. ‘There’s a school trip coming up next month,’ says Patrick, ‘to Stratford upon Avon. It’s for our English Lit. can I go?’ Pat says of course he may and asks how much it will cost so she can write out a cheque. Patrick digs a hand into his jacket pocket and pulls out a leaflet with the details on it. ‘Oh, it’s an overnight stay as well,’ says Pat, ‘well I suppose that will be alright if you really want to go.’ Patrick says he needs to go and everyone else will be on the trip so that is settled. They can’t find anything else to talk about and finish their lunch in silence before Patrick looks at his watch and says it’s time he was heading back. He gives his mother a peck on the cheek and leaves her to clear away the debris. The morning has passed and Pat just has to live through the afternoon before she can go back upstairs to her quiet cell where she doesn’t have to make conversation with anybody and doesn’t have to put on a face for the benefit of others.
She is transferring some laundry from the washer to the dryer when Sally Nash walks in. Pat’s face whitens as she notices that the girl is obviously expecting. Thoughts rush through her mind as she burbles some sort of greeting to the girl. Sally sits down on one of the benches and takes a deep breath before telling Pat why she has come. Pat is shocked to discover that Sally and her Kenneth had been lovers for nearly a year and had planned to get engaged on Christmas day. It is Kenneth’s child she is carrying and she has been plucking up the courage to tell Pat ever since the funeral when she was too upset to speak to anyone.
‘But you’re only sixteen,’ Pat says, ‘you have your whole life ahead of you, why would you ruin it by bringing a baby into this hard world?’ Sally is shocked at the response; she had hoped that Pat would be glad to know that part of Kenneth would live on. ‘We didn’t plan for this to happen,’ she snaps, ‘it won’t be easy for me. Not only have I lost my Kenny but remember that my dad died only a week later. I’m looking for some help here Pat, not condemnation.’ She goes to leave but Pat calls her back. ‘I’m sorry, it’s just a bit of a shock,’ she explains, ‘I knew you and Kenneth were close but I never dreamed you were that close. We had such hopes for him; he was heading for university, maybe even Oxford or Cambridge. How could he have followed an academic career and look after you and a baby as well?’
‘I didn’t want to come here,’ Sally says after an awkward silence, ‘my mum made me. She said you ought to have the opportunity to help out, it being your grandchild too. Of course if you don’t want to know I’ll get off and you won’t have to have anything to do with me or the baby.’ Once again she makes to leave and once again Pat calls her to stay. ‘Let’s not be hasty,’ she says, ‘surely you understand this comes as a shock to me after everything? You’ve had time to get used to the idea but it’s not just a simple matter of acceptance; I have Patrick to think about.’ Sally says she will give her a few days to think about it and leaves with the promise she will call again after the weekend.
Pat manages to hold her composure until Sally is out of sight then she crumples, sobbing and shaking, unable to help herself. ‘Are you alright?’ calls a familiar voice. ‘Let me make you a cup of tea and you can tell me all about it.’ Dawn’s mother, Mavis fusses about behind the counter and brings two mugs of tea, setting one on the bench next to the weeping Pat, ‘Come on, get that down you; you’ll feel better.’
Eager for all the gossip, Mavis waits patiently as Pat pulls herself together, accepting the clean handkerchief and mopping her face. Much to Mavis’s disappointment Pat is not forthcoming, simply thanking her for making the tea and drinking it in sips between suppressed gasps for air. The last person Pat would choose to confide in would be Scotty’s mother-in-law.