This is my story and I’m sticking to it.
This is what I intend to say tomorrow in court. Be assured.
She was the middle child. She was middling in the middle. Lukewarm. The third tap between hot and cold. You could turn her a little this way and a little that, but there was always someone more forceful wedged either side of her.
I was a superstitious child who ever expected to sink.
Her arrival, briefly noted, and then forgotten, was in the middle of September. A month of in-betweens: summer bidding adios but winter not yet an adamant hello. She yowled loud because there was ever someone else yowling. She would have to wait, because you learn to wait. They’ll teach you to wait. That’s how it is. Arrested in the middle. Decisively in middle age she waited no more and landed up arrested. Intentionally or unintentionally, this court will have to decide. Her solicitor, today, busy trying to influence this, labouring to create amends for her but she, belligerent, hands him a plastic red folder with a sheaf of these three pages. I didn’t want them ruined by the rain, she confirms.
He doesn’t read on receiving. Slots them in the middle plastic basket in the middle of the three, squatting on his desk. Bills in the top, letters in the bottom and what-the-fuckity panned into the basket between. I didn’t want them ruined by the rain will be the full extent of what she confirms in this conversational exchange with him. It’s all in the document, she’ll say, pointing to that middle panier. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Three children now, some forty years have since lapsed. Forty years can lapse in a paragraph, where forty minutes cannot ever lapse in a life. Head shakes the solicitor. A mother of three, past forty, with no previous convictions—how will I not get this past?
It shouldn’t be so tough with drug busts and gang bangers and drunken Eastern Europeans clogging the court hearings beside her. Yet, she’s a hint of the saboteur. Yet, do you hear me now? She doesn’t. He’s been insisting she hears. He doesn’t think she has heard. Listen, he’ll be insisting to her yet. Up the stairs of the court, leans towards her ear. Listen. This is the way it is. He has to be firm. Yet, she doesn’t entirely nod. She half feigns a nip of a nod.
Yet, she doesn’t agree this is how to get her off. No. She will not compromise. She looks everywhere but at him. She looks through him. Eyes on or above the middle of his forehead. His hairline. Eyebrows. Chin. He hasn’t much of a chin. Out a window. At that potted plant on the left side of the room that needs watering. Her eyes stop-still on a pipe, the radiator pipe. Once he has finished outlining his defence of her and checking dates with her is when her eyes move. Without comment she hands him a script. This script. Eyes on the pipe, as she hands it over. It’s as though she could yet move to ask a question. Yet, no, upon exit she brushes the radiator and he witnesses her hand on the pipe and up it curls in retreat. Careful, it’s hot, he adds.
It’s hot, she confirms.
The second and only other thing she confirms in this conversational exchange. I didn’t want them ruined by the rain.
This is my story and it’s hot.
Under the Taps
I was obsessed with occupying the middle spot in the bath. I would take a bath on my side rather than my back. I wanted to be a human ruler inside the bath. The taps interrupted matters. I wasn’t a long person. But no matter, the taps forced a contortion. I wasn’t ever content with this contortion.
After the Taps
All my children obviously arrived in my middle. Pushed it out, a tad up before dropping it down. My middle would never quite rise again. It had a sag in it. I will say in my defence, if I am required to supply a defence, I was reclaiming my sag.
Beyond the Taps
How is it you may be wondering?
I would like to say (to the court) my grandfather was a plumber, that he fixed pipes for those women who liberated us eventually inside the post office and up on the roof of City Hall. I would like to say my father, too, was a plumber and that I had grown up around the smell of welding flames or been immersed in fixing poor-functioning water tanks. Or I could talk of the copper pipes being the reason behind all this, coupled with the dreadful water pressure in Dublin. However precise an explanation it would prove, none of it is true. My father was a bald and stable civil servant. My mother was a woman who waited for him to come home and barely complained a day in her life about anything. I did spend an inordinate amount of time in my childhood staring at taps. That was the primary evidence I might end up in the place I stand today.
I would try to place my head upside down so I could see up inside taps. I was more partial to pipe joining and hacksaws than yoyos and dolly heads. I also broke my brother’s left arm with a hammer. It was an accident. He deserved it and it was a small bone that healed fast. He received a cast and people tried and failed to write messages on it. It was not as awful as it sounds. I did not pin him down and hammer his arm. We were trying to build a tent, some aspect of which became uncooperative and I missed clouting what he was holding and clouted his forearm instead. He let a wail out of himself that brought my mother, accusatory-eyed, before she yielded to my point at a bamboo stick as attempted tent pole on the ground as the intended target.
My broken-armed brother was wailing and writhing and rolling on the ground imitating football players he’d seen similarly downed on Match of the Day. All my mother said was how many times have I told you to leave the hammer alone? That’s it she said. Help me carry him to the car. My brother more than wailed. He screamed that his bitch sister was not to put a hand near him and he would walk to the car unassisted and get her away from me. She’s nothing but a witch. I was left alone in the house with the hammer while they went to the hospital. He was plied with presents and sympathy, yet it was the single most interesting thing that happened in his whole life. His handwriting never recovered mam claimed, but then she’d make any old excuse for the boys. Boys weren’t cut out for this or that and boys were not cut out for helping around the house and it was only boys who should have leanings towards hammers at all.
They are both in the court today. Sat up at the back, looking smug, eyebrows ready for a raise. They have not brought up the hammer incident but it’s there behind their eyelids and I am sure they will be bringing it up over lunch that will consist of a good headshake and a ham sandwich near this courthouse.
You were an awful child, my mother would sometimes say lightheartedly at parties and at my wedding, which she was right to warn me against, since I am no longer married, long since no longer married. In fact if you ever see the man I married he will likely tell you worse stories than the hammer story. He will tell you the tub truth that I was constantly in the bathroom during our marriage and it was one of several factors he attributed to our demise.
I could by turn reply that had he spent more time in the bath during our marriage the prospects would have been all the stronger for it. Genetically I have the olfactory oath and can smell a fire four streets away. I can always tell when someone has left a pan on the cooker on our street even while standing in the back garden, hanging up washing.
The above is a digression, which I do not require you to submit to the court in my defence.
The next part is not a digression: take it very seriously.
We all tolerated a less than satisfactory toilet (see olfactory providence) and a too-slim bath that it was instructed never to fill beyond the three-inch mark. We, four kids, three boys and hammer-head girl (testifying for you now) would scream unmercifully if we believed one of us was violating this staunch household bylaw. Now lads, mam would say, there’s only so much hot water in the tank and so we are all for caring and sharing or it’ll be rationed by me. Rationed by her meant that one child would have to take the bath water of the last child. Note that justice was meted out via the bathwater. You were either innocent or guilty based on the amount of water you drew into the bath for the purpose of cleansing yourself.
I was the only child who was blissfully excited the day the immersion heater blew up. I still remember them men in the van. A tall man with a wide head and a strong smile who was able to squeeze into small spaces and call out things unimpeded. Frank, Frank would you pass me the. . . Frank, Frank could you turn the. . . The other fella Frank was unremarkable. He stood staring waiting to be shouted at. Twice I heard the main man call him a dozy bollix.
The cartography of our bathroom bothered me. There was something of a gale blowing in it and the space between the toilet and bath was wasted. There were also established rules around where the bath mat hung and the purpose for which it was intended.
Now lads, my mother would say, how many times do I have to tell you lift up the mat and hang it over the edge of the tub and it’ll be dry for the next set of approaching feet. OK. OK she’d intone.
No one was listening and we weren’t all lads for I was a girl. But the smartest thing about my mother was she raised us with the instructions lads. She knew that lads was the best way to be in the world. That lads would bring us to a better-functioning bathroom and in my case it has. In my most peculiar case, I should say it has also brought me into this courtroom today.
There have been three bathtubs I have snuck into. I am point-blank guilty of entering these bathtubs uninvited and unbeknownst. I am guilty and should be punished although I will contest that I did no damage to any bath by lowering myself into it.
I begin this confession with the first bathtub.
It was a party in Ballina. A house party. The place was ringing with noise. It was easy enough to slip in. A bit of a nod. People stood in the hall were friendly. Some moved to let me pass as I squeezed up the stairs. It was a wait all right to use the toilet. A woman in shoes that no foot should be punished with ahead of me, giddy with drink, I’m dying to go, I’m absolutely bursting. A nearby man teasing her, poking her about her middle and she yelling stop! Would ya stop!
I had to wait on five people before I could enter, but once inside I found the perfect setting in which to take my illegal soak.
To my memory, there was banging on the door. I ignored it. Didn’t fill the bath so full and was in and out and managed my customary need to lie back and put my head under water. I left the bathroom with wet hair. There were now six people waiting. I didn’t say anything except the eye wince of a mild sorry and excuse me. I exited that party as swift as I had entered it. I did not lounge about looking for a cocktail sausage. I’d had my cocktail.
I have no absolute recognition of this incident except to confirm it was an avocado-coloured bath and that I pretended to be a pizza delivery person in order to gain access to it. Obviously I was not a pizza delivery person, but the residents of Ballinrobe are most obliging and ringing the doorbell and saying I’m delivering pizzas would you mind if I use your toilet does not bring them out in rash. Carry on, they say. No problem, they say. You can and you will, they say and up I went.
This hassle-free welcome perhaps falsely indicated that all bathrooms would welcome me, with the inclusiveness of those bathroom owners in Ballinrobe. Ballinrobe might have been where my delusions about bathroom access took hold.
This is the case I am here today to face. I did not mean to give that man a fright and no matter how his statement insists his heart has never been the same since he saw me exit his bathroom—it’s simply not true. Did he tell you he made me a cup of tea and that we sat together at his kitchen table? If he hadn’t confessed to his daughter who made all this trouble about a perfectly innocent dip and cuppa—none of us would be here.
‘She, a perfect stranger, in my bathroom. Me an old man downstairs reading the paper and watching the news.’ So he’s quoted in these court papers. But he does not speak like that at all. This is not the man whose bathroom I broke into. I never did any specific harm to that man, or his bathroom, beyond give him a startle. I improved his bathroom. I cleaned it after I was finished for I noticed the cleaning powder so long congealed on the top of the container and the dirt engraved into it that I don’t think scouring powder was ever used on that bathroom.
Had his daughter not called to put him to bed and check on him and had she not seen me sat in at his table and looked suspiciously upon our cuppa, the man would never have said another word about it. Ask her? Ask this daughter, who sits between us now, ask what were his remarks about my visit? I recall him saying this lovely young girl has come to have a chat with me.
And there’s a problem with this indictment against me. He did not have a bath at all. When I entered his bathroom and found no bath to lower myself into and saw he had only a shower, I set about cleaning the bathroom before I left. I admit when he saw me come out, he said I gave him a fright but immediately invited me to sit and that he’d just put on the kettle.
The act of trespass I am guilty of. The act of attempted anything else is a fallacy. The only act of attempt of anything was on his taps, which are inanimate, and unlikely to face the psychological damage that his daughter contests the court must reward him with.
Bring the man to this court and let us hear his story.
This is the script I have asked my solicitor to present to the court. This is the script he refused to do so by telephone message an hour ago. That is why I am typing this out again. Tomorrow I will read this aloud. Tomorrow again I go to the bench to gather my sag. I have no confidence in the man representing me. He has a head the shape of an egg and we have seen historically where a man with an egg-shaped head previously disappointed us in fiction. He is not a bad or weak man. He is a man who refuses to accept this is my story.
I’m not going to say this in three languages or a loud voice so lean in, but the fella defending me in my case hasn’t a clue. He’s well known in the town. He repeatedly says, ‘We’re in good shape.’ I haven’t a notion what he is talking about. I admit to all my incursions beneath the taps and I supply this text as my cartography of tap baiting.
‘Beneath the Taps: A Testimonial’ previously published in The Long Gaze Back – An Anthology of Irish Women Writers (New Island Books), edited by Sinéad Gleeson.