Our extract this week comes from Belfast-based Jan Carson‘s latest book, The Last Resort, which explores complex family dynamics, ageing, immigration, gender politics and more…
Today’s the first day of the season. It gets earlier every year. Most of the regulars will arrive later. The ones with kids, like Lois’s lot, can’t get down till after school. The retired contingent appeared before six: am not pm. (I kid you not.) They wanted to beat the traffic. The way they talk, you’d think it was nose to bumper from Dunsilly. It hasn’t been like that for years. We’ll be half empty till Easter. Ballycastle’s a ghost town in winter. Anybody with sense or money’ll take every opportunity to easyJet the hell out of Ulster. For forty quid you can half-term in a proper city, somewhere with fountains and decent wine. It’s only the desperate and depraved who’d choose to spend February in a caravan. Muggins here doesn’t have a choice.
I heard the oldies arriving in my dreams. Ford Mondeos reversing slowly. Kettles and hoovers grumbling. Good Morning Ulster on the radio. I should’ve been up. I’m meant to be responsible now. If I don’t make an utter bollocks of this season, the whole shebang is coming to me. I’m not off to the best of starts. I was still flat out when Frankie appeared at my door. ‘Are you up yet, son?’ he shouted. ‘It’s today, so it is. When do you want to do the bench?’
He was all for starting then and there, at ten to seven in the dark. I fobbed him off with a mug of tea. While I was making it, I’d a stroke of genius. Pure hanging, I was – God knows where the idea came from – but I heard myself telling him Lynette would’ve wanted everybody there. We should wait till folks got their breakfasts in them. This seemed to sit well with Frankie. He took his tea and a chocolate digestive and plonked himself down on the bench to wait.
I felt awful, lying to him. I’d no notion what Lynette would want. She was well dead by the time I heard about her. My cousin Kevin filled me in the summer I turned nine. Dad buggered off that Christmas leaving me and Mammy on our own. Uncle Jim had us down to Seacliff for the Twelfth fortnight. Uncle Jim’s always been kind like that. Me and Kevin were in the car park kicking football when he pointed out the scorched mark. ‘That’s where the wee girl exploded,’ he told me. ‘You weren’t born back then.’ After I found out about Lynette, I wouldn’t do goalie any more. We always piled our jumpers up that end and I felt sick, standing where she’d died.
The rain definitely isn’t lifting. I can feel it sogging through my jacket. ‘Happy’ Trevor’s still waiting for an answer. Do I want a hand with the bench?
I’m not that fit at the best of times. After two months ‘caretaking’ – with nothing to do but eat and booze – I’ve gone to flab. I could seriously do with a hand. I consider my options. They’re limited to say the least. Frankie’s blind. Trevor’s pushing eighty. John has his hands full with the wife. She’s clearly doting. Him and that woman Anna – the lonely-looking one in the cardigans – have her firmly clamped between them. You’d think Martha was about to bolt. There’s a bad-tempered Yorkie to contend with and a quarter-mile of boggy field. God almighty, it’s Last of the Summer Wine I’ve landed in.
‘Naw, you’re grand,’ I say. ‘I can manage.’ I’d like to say ‘Happy’ Trevor looks relieved, but he’s only got two facial expressions, both of which are scowls.
I haul one end of the bench on to my shoulder. My back makes a noise it’s never made before. Now’s the time to admit defeat. I could call Uncle Jim and ask him to send a cousin down. But the oldies are already falling in, forming a kind of cortege. Martha starts humming the funeral march. It’s not her fault – she doesn’t know where she is – but it isn’t helping one wee bit. Frankie starts sniffling. ‘Right, son,’ he mumbles, ‘let’s take my wee girl home to rest.’ Seemingly, this is a funeral now. I don’t have the strength to object. ‘Let’s go,’ I wheeze, and we’re off. The back legs trail behind me, scooping two deep rivets out of the grass. Tomorrow, I’ll have to come back and fix the mess. It’s a nightmare being the responsible one.
Uncle Jim’s left strict instructions: do whatever Frankie wants. He still feels bad about Lynette. She would’ve been turning fifty this year. Not that Jim could’ve stopped it. If anything, it’s Frankie’s fault. If you were in the RUC back then, you knew to be careful about your car. You didn’t send your weans on ahead with the keys, even if you were on holidays. Frankie must know this himself. We’re all here to help him but you can tell the same fella doesn’t want helping. It’s the pain that’s keeping him alive.
The Last Resort by Jan
Carson is published by
Doubleday Ireland and
is available now.