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16 October 2014
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David Lewis
D W Lewis

DW Lewis was born in Lisburn in 1974. He studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and has recently finished his first novel, The Martyr. He was one of eight unpublished writers awarded a workshop at Annaghmakerrig in this year's prestigious Davy Byrnes Irish Writing Award. A selection of his work will appear in a short stories introduction from Lagan Press in September.

At the Post Office by David Lewis
'Smoke signals are loud-mouthed compared with us'
(Seamus Heaney)

'She choked to death on a feather you know.' The voice was a hoarse flutter. Gripping the handle of her shopping trolley as tight as her arthritis would allow, Eileen hacked her throat clear. 'Terrible way to go.'
'Aye,' replied Marty.
For a moment they ruminated on the thought, gobs moving abstractedly, two septuagenarians at cud.
The old cronies stood on the pavement, facing the traffic. Behind them, half torn from its moorings, the wire grill over the post office window rattled in a chilly lick of wind. Every fortnight the pair queued inside to collect their pension money; the meeting a tacit rendezvous to discuss the weather and the afflictions of their declining peers. Afterwards they’d re-emerge into the soggy light, make a hesitant good-bye and depart on separate ways. But that morning they had paused, shuffled into position and waited respectfully for the funeral cortege to pass.
A workman holding a STOP sign had forced the lead car to a halt in the middle of an oily puddle, a remnant of the skiffle of snow that had coated the country overnight. Inside the hearse, on top of the coffin, an arrangement of red and white carnations spelled out the word ‘Mummy’.
'They’re late,' said Eileen, straining to read her watch. 'With the roadworks it's a good ten minutes to the top of the hill.'
'Aye,' agreed Marty.
'It’s the kids I feel sorry for. Who’s going to look after them? I doubt that father of theirs will be able to keep them out of care.'
Marty nodded. The shirt collar slopped around his wizened neck. He wore a grey suit that was several sizes too large. A few years ago his body had filled the suit. Now the cloth hung in folds around him like undrawn curtains. His ma had never told him that eventually he’d shrink into his clothes.
'It’s his fault she’s lying there in the first place. He always was trouble. Even when he was little he could charm the leg off a donkey. Oh, he was the cutest of babies. Then, when he was old enough, always a girl on each arm. Such a handsome man... but sly with it.'
A pram nudged out the doors of the post office, clattering down the steps to the pavement – a woman pushing a baby, dragging another elder child in her wake. Sensing that rain was on the way, she stooped to yank the toddler’s hood over his head. The pensioners turned back to the road. The hearse, wintery breath pouring from its exhaust, had half-shifted its elongated black body from the puddle. Marty peered at the mourners’ car behind. He could barely make out the shadowy figures in the back. The husband would be in there, red-eyed and snotty as the children.
'She never seemed to mind when they were courting,' Eileen began again. 'But once they were married it was a different story. I’d never have thought it possible, but she kept him in line all right. He stayed faithful to her throughout. Clever woman to manage that.'
'Aye,' said Marty slowly.
'Do you know how she did it?' Eileen lowered her voice and rummaged in her handbag. 'She spread a wicked rumour around the town. You must have heard it, she told it to anyone who would listen. ‘My husband is sleeping with Patricia O’Neill,’ she’d wail, tears in her eyes. ‘That bitch Patricia O’Neill is in love with my husband.’ What with Pat’s activities, nobody would touch him. The girls wouldn’t even take a drink off him. They didn’t fancy a hiding, or worse...'
At last Eileen pulled a half-smoked cigarette from her bag. Marty sighed as she huddled up and lit the butt. No matter how hard he tried to stay clear of things, the craic always seemed to get back to him in the end. He had a reputation as a polite man, a quiet man, a man who rarely opened his mouth, a man who ‘never said nothing’. As a result people told him everything.
'This went on for years,' Eileen crowed, clamping the fag to her cat’s arse mouth. 'The husband couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. He thought he had bad breath. Everyone else knew rightly... ' Eileen spluttered on the smoke, half laugh, half cough. 'A wicked rumour isn’t it? Pity Pat couldn’t see the funny side. I can understand her being angry, but a lynch mob?...Tar and feathers, in this day and age!'
A car horn sounded from down the street, hooting once, twice, three times. From the top of the hill, in sonorous response, the bell tower tolled back eleven long notes. The workman turned the sign from STOP to GO and the traffic rolled ahead slowly, tyres swishing through the snow-water.
'They didn’t know she was an asthmatic mind you,' Eileen concluded, dropping the butt and fumbling shut the clasp on her bag. 'You can hardly blame them for that. No, in my book the husband is the guilty one.'
Marty counted past the cars in the funeral procession. One, two, three...less than a dozen, much less than usual. And the wreath had been removed from the lamppost overnight. He wondered if half way up the hill the mourners would turn their heads and gaze at the dark streaks of creosote on the pole and pavement, or if they would keep their heads bowed, eyes downcast. Marty watched the last of the line of cars start the slow climb to the chapel.
'Pray God he doesn’t marry again,' he muttered.


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At the Post Office

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