âYour hypothesis is that Iâm lying, right? You think she was dead already. That I made the snoring up?â
âSo now you want me to call an ambulance for a dead person? Well, you know what, they donât do resurrection at any hospital around where I live. So why would I call an ambulance if she was dead?â
Oh, God. Iâd walked right into that one. I was arguing the wrong case.
Now it was Paudge who smirked.
âExactly,â he said. âIf Iâm right, you didnât call an ambulance because she was already dead, and you knew it. You just left her there and you scarpered.â
âNo. The reason I didnât call an ambulance was that I never called an ambulance for her, not once in all the years since Da left, and on every other occasion that I didnât call an ambulance for her, she woke up the following morning. Or afternoon. If I called an ambulance every time she passed out drunkâ¦â
âExcept that this time,â he said, â(a) she was dead and (b) you left altogether. Thatâs a bit of a coincidence, isnât it?â
âItâs not a coincidence? No, itâs not. You left because you knew she was dead. Right?â
âI mean, yes. Itâs a coincidence.â
âWell, which is it? A coincidence or not a coincidence?â
I was confused. âHow was I to knowâ¦?â
âYou didnât think to look in on her in the morning, to see that she was all right?â
What? My confusion lifted and anger raced through my veins. How come I was supposed to be responsible for her ?
âI never looked in on her in the mornings. I waited for her to surface.â
What the hell did he know? All the times Iâd put her to bed, taken her shoes off, made sure she had a glass of water and a basin for puking into. All the times Iâd cleaned up her messes. All the times Iâd covered for her. Ringing her up on dole day.
âBitch,â I muttered. (Iâm not proud of that. I was under pressure.)
âYou left her to rot ,â he said.
I gasped. That was carrying literalism a bit too far.
âFor Godâs sake, Paudge, ease up,â said Kate. âYouâre bullying him.â
Y ou stupid old wagon, Ma, what did you need to go and die for?
My chest was heaving with suppressed sobs.
Paudge said nothing for a while. After a few minutes he said, âRight. Weâll leave it there for now. Would you like something to eat, Jonathan?â
Food? My stomach was clenching with sobs, but even so, it did a little flip of excitement at the thought of food. Apart from the Penguin bar, I hadnât eaten for hours.
I blew my nose.
âNot if it is any relation to the tea I got earlier,â I said. I have some self-respect.
âAlways the bitter word,â Paudge said. âBut no. We could go to Max Snacks if you like.â
He could do bad cop, good cop all by himself, this one.
âYouâre joking!â I said, and suddenly I felt I was going to cry. Iâve never found the thought of hamburgers moving before, but for some reason, at that point it seemed like the kindest treat, and I was overwhelmed by it.
âNo,â he said, hitching up his belt as he stood up from his chair. âI think we can rise to an olâ hamburger. If youâre interested.â
That is how I found myself eating a double-decker and chips in a brightly lit yellow-furnished cube of glass with a fat plod and a nice lady with a bad figure, and with unshed tears pricking at my eyelids.
Christ, itâs a long, long way from there to here.
Theyâd found a place for me in some kind of home for delinquents, they told me over the Big Burgers. They didnât use that word, but I knew what they meant. Itâs just outside Dublin, lots of fresh air, they said. I was never a big one for the fresh air, and frankly Iâd got more than enough of it over