Today I am very honored to be allowed to share with my readers a wonderful story by Moya Roddy.
Moya has kindly agreed to do a Q and A so please look for that soon. The impressive background of the Galway based Roddy can be found at the close of this post.
"Keeping Salvador Dali in the Wardrobe"
By Moya Roddy
‘I feel trapped,’ Rita McCann insisted.
‘What’s that got to do with the bloody strike?’ her husband grumbled, turning over to switch off the alarm.
‘Everything,’ she responded. ‘I-I need an outlet.’
‘Oh! And what do you call that thing you work in six days a week?’ Joe was referring to “Aladdin’s Cave” a pot-pourri of inexpensive gift items, knickknacks and second-hand books which Rita had been running for twenty years.
‘It’s a distraction!’ his wife blurted, surprising herself.
Feeling him stiffen away from her she clammed up.
‘Is that so? Well, I could have sold that “distraction” for a small fortune a few years back.’ Since Joe was an auctioneer the remark did not surprise her. ‘I’m getting up,’ he added.
Sliding to the middle of the bed, Rita toyed with the idea of confiding in him but she knew he’d think she was mad if she started going on about watches. And not any old watches either. Melting watches. Having recently celebrated her fiftieth birthday Rita was in no doubt what the watches were trying to tell her. Time was running out they were saying. Her time.Where had it all gone? Over the edge of the quilt she stared at the man she’d been married to for thirty-two years, the man in the crumpled pyjamas with the thinning hair who had once had the power to make her whole body tingle.
‘Why don’t you put it off ’til next week? It’ll be over by then.’
‘The inter-city isn’t affected, it’s only commuter trains,’ she countered, realising her trips to Dublin had become her outlet, and the idea of not going made her want to cry.
‘The buses are out.’
‘I’ll get a taxi.’
‘You and a thousand others.’
‘Teas, coffees,’ a voice shouted above the rattle of the trolley.
‘I’ll have tea and-,’ Rita pointed to a Danish. Now she’d shrugged off her responsibilities, was no longer Mrs Rita McCann, proprietor, she’d begun to feel a whole lot better. Breaking off a corner of moist pastry, she dunked it in the hot liquid then indulging a delicious feeling of irresponsibility reached into her bag and extracted the Mills and Boon she’d borrowed from the shop. She opened it expectantly but after a few pages her mind began to wander. What did she care about beautiful women or masterful men with determined jaws? Or affairs for that matter? Just another distraction, she thought, turning to look out the window. The train slowed and in a street parallel to the tracks a woman dragged a cloth across the window of a shop, her sleeves rolled up, a look of concentration on her face. Rita felt a twinge of envy. Once upon a time, “Aladdin’s Cave” had been her love affair. Opening the door and letting herself into the shop used to fill her with excitement. There had always been something to do, something to look forward to even if it was only sorting through the boxes of books which came via Joe’s house clearances. She’d first seen the melting watches in one of those books, an art book - she couldn’t’ remember the artist’s name - full of bizarre paintings. Now they’d come back to haunt her-
‘Mind if I sit here?’ a voice interrupted.
‘Not at all,’ Rita replied, glad of the diversion.
‘Have you anyone meeting you?’ the woman enquired settling herself comfortably in the seat opposite.
Rita noticed the woman was wearing a lot of make-up, tried to guess her age. It was something she found herself doing more and more: gauging other women’s ages, comparingherself to them.
‘I’ll get a taxi. There’s not that many travelling.’
‘I’ll walk. Good for the figure.’
The pair exchanged knowing smiles.
‘Why shouldn’t they get a decent wage?’ the newcomer asked. ‘They found money for the high-flyers. No problem.’
‘Money isn’t everything,’ Rita heard herself saying then wished she hadn’t. It was the kind of remark that often passed between her and her customers but in the circumstances it felt trite, second-hand. Just like the books she sold. Sinking back in her seat, Rita closed her eyes. All of a sudden she didn’t feel like making small talk.
The taxi rank was empty and from the size of the queue trailing round the corner had been for some time. Rita’s spirits sagged. She should have listened to Joe, he always knew best. As she weighed up her options, the woman she’d met on the train sashayed past with a little wave. Rita returned the salute and for a moment considered walking but the thought of not being able to get a taxi back decided her. Maybe there must be something to do in the vicinity, somewhere to go. As she looked around her a group of Italians jostled past and Rita followed their brightly-coloured macs as they crowded into the station. If she was a stranger in her own country what would she do? The only place she could think of within walking distance was the Phoenix Park but she’d no desire to spend her day staring at trapped animals, it was a bit too close to home; besides she associated the zoo with taking the children there on days out when they were young. On the far side of the concourse the yellow raincoats came to a halt before trooping one after the other into a kiosk marked Tourist Information.
Rita had been surprised at her reaction when the man at the Tourist Office suggested the new exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Now as she stood outside the imposing gateway the feeling of reluctance returned. She couldn’t think why: she’d always liked art, had been good at it at school, although at some point she’d given it up. As she hesitated, a crocodile of children in neat blue uniforms filed past. Rita smiled at all the carefully combed hair, the shiny shoes, the flushed, animated faces. It wasn’t that long agoher own two were that age, innocent and trusting. Her eyes lighted on the two girls dawdling at the rear, each lost in her own world, necks craned, mouths hanging open, curious about everything going on around them.
‘Sinead, Aishling, keep up with the others, you’re holding everyone up,’ a teacher ordered in a loud prim voice.
Out of nowhere, pain gripped the back of Rita’s neck, travelled to her heart. Holding her chest, she made her way past the school tour, through an archway on the other side of which was a large courtyard. Benches skirted the walls and hurrying to the nearest one Rita sank down. Seated, she took several deep breaths, fanning herself with leaflets from the tourist office. As she mumbled a prayer - she’d begun praying again - the pain slowly subsided. A little bit of indigestion from the Danish, Rita decided, having a good look round her. The young man at the Tourist Office was right - the building was lovely; hadn’t been modernised at all, the exterior anyway. She’d seen a photograph once of some gallery in Paris with the plumbing on the outside. What an idea! Old-fashioned buildings are so soothing, she thought rising to her feet. The entrance to the museum was on the far side of the courtyard but as she crossed the cobblestones a sign for coffee caught her eye and she changed her mind. She still felt a little shaken and a cuppa might settle that.
To get to the café she had to go down a lovely staircase. Reaching the bottom she resisted the temptation to go into a small bookshop tucked into a corner, promising herself to come back later and have a browse, maybe treat herself to a book or a souvenir, something to show Joe when she got home.
Rita hoped she didn’t look as foolish as she felt. How was she to know the wallpaperwas part of the exhibition! She’d assumed the room was empty and had stood looking round like an eigit for God’s know how long before it dawned on her. Annoyed at her own stupidity, she crossed to the adjoining room and was confronted by several items of clothing suspended mid-air, on an invisible line, she guessed. Afraid of walking into it and sending the whole thing flying, she took a step back, smiling apologetically at the only other visitor. ‘Thought provoking, isn’t it,’ the woman whispered, her eyes lighting up. Rita nodded, pretending to agree. As soon as the woman left, she circled the exhibit. For all she knew it was unusual to see clothes you might wear everyday hanging in a gallery but apart from that she was flummoxed. What was the point? Of course, she was completely ignorant about modern art, “a load of cobblers!” Joe called it. She circled again, hoping for enlightenment. None came. Instead, anger bubbled. Deciding she’d seen enough, Rita flounced out, making her way towards the entrance until she found her path blocked by heaps of junk and realised she must have taken a wrong turning. If it hadn’t been for the red rope cordoning it off she have thought she’d wandered into a rubbish tip.
Warily, Rita skirted the edges, shaking her head at the piles of empty bottles and chipped crockery, the countless cracked ornaments and mountains of squashed cans, soiled toys, rusty cutlery, bits and pieces of unrecognisable things. Hundreds and hundreds of discarded, worthless objects. Why, she pondered, why on earth, would men and women,grown men and women, choose to spend their time creating such absurdities? Expressing themselves - wasn’t that what artists were supposed to do? But a corridor full of rubbish?Flowery wallpaper? It didn’t make sense. Does everything have to make sense, a voice in her head asked. Rita tried to ignore it. Where’s the sense in sitting in a shop year after year, selling useless gifts and dog-eared romances? The voice persisted. Rita’s heart began to pound. She needed fresh air. Halfway down a flight of steps the melting watches appeared. A slick of sweat collected between her breasts. She wasn’t able for this kind of thing. Joe was right; she should have stayed at home.
Discovering she had an hour to go before the train Rita went to the shop although she no longer felt in the mood to buy anything. What she felt was middle-aged, tired. As she flicked through books she found herself thinking fondly of her husband, yearning to go home to her familiar, cosy life. Today had taught her a lesson. All the same, she had to admit something had been touched, she could still feel it - raw - inside her. Her glance fell on a ‘For Sale’ sticker on a large painting set. ‘Only One Left’ it declared. Sensing a bargain, she picked it up but as she did the image a young woman painting on the front of the box blurred and she saw herself sitting at a desk, a jam-jar of dirty water by her elbow, the teacher’s breath on her neck.
‘What’s this?’ Miss Hennessy asked.
‘A family tree,’ her younger self answered, proud of the figures dangling from the branches of her stylised tree.
‘I believe the topic the class was given was nature. Throw that away and begin again.’
‘Are you alright? A blond girl asked touching her arm and startling her.
Rita blinked. ‘Oh! Oh! I’m fine.’
‘You should sit down, you look a bit pale.’
Accepting the proffered chair, Rita fumbled with the top button on her coat. The shop felt stifling and she was glad when the girl arrived back with a glass of water. She took it meekly,thanking her profusely. Young people seemed so much more confident these days, that girl would have been well able to stand up to an art teacher. Had she given up art on account of Miss Hennessy? Maybe. Or perhaps she’d just grown out of it.
Rita got to her feet. She’d have to get a move on if she wanted to get a good seat. Adjusting her clothes, her eyes were drawn to a shelf of larger, glossier books. The jacket of one in particular – caught in the flare of an overhead light - dazzled. Rita’s eyes widened. Standing on tippy toes, she eased the volume down. On page twenty-three, she found the melting watches. The Persistence of Memory, the title read.
Next morning, after her husband had left for work Rita took Salvador Dali from his hiding place in the wardrobe. Over freshly poured coffee, she opened the volume. On the inside of the dust jacket, the famous painter, a rose between his teeth, winked wolfishly at her and she thought for a moment of Little Red Riding Hood and being led astray and felt a stab of guilt as if she was looking at an image of a man she was having an affair with. Turning the pages, the paintings came back to her although she was a bit shocked at some of them; she’d no recollection of them being quite so erotic, pornographic even. When she’d gone from cover to cover, she went back to the photograph. With his outrageous moustache and flamboyant clothes, he reminded her more than anything of one of the dashing heroes in romantic novels. She’d always supposed those kinds of heroes were fictional but here was someone who’d obviously lived out their own fantasy.
Returning to the paintings, she paused at one very similar to the melting watches, this time of a giant clock, half eaten, hanging above a desert landscape full of strange deformed animals. She studied it, allowing her coffee go cold as her thoughts ventured down unfamiliar byways. Yes, she admitted eventually, for some time now she’d been living in a desert. What was worse, it was a desert of her own making. When the clock on the mantelpiece chimed noon, Rita realised she hadn’t opened the shop for the second day in a row. What would her customers think? Leaning back in her chair Rita decided it no longer mattered.
From a cupboard under the stairs where she kept surplus stock, Rita rooted out a child’s paint-set and pad that sold in the shop by the dozen. To begin with, she didn’t attempt to paint “pictures”, contenting herself with mixing colours, experimenting, seeing how many shades and tones she could come up with. When she did try to actually paint something/, her efforts were laughable. Balling them up, she threw them in a bin. Eventually, as the afternoon wore on, the smallness of the pages began to annoy her. Frustrated, she prowled her immaculately tidy house for something larger to work on. Glancing into her bedroom, her eyes widened. She shook her head. She couldn’t. Yes, she could, she told herself; then in a fit of daring ripped the sparkling white sheet from the bed.
Once she’d tacked the sheet to the kitchen door, Rita’s bravado deserted her. It’s only a piece of material, she kept telling herself but as soon as she picked up a paintbrush, herhand froze. The idea of spattering paint on her hundred per cent Egyptian cotton sheet even if it came from the sales at BT’s seemed a step too far. An act of desecration. Impotent, she decided to make tea. As she filled the kettle, her mind returned to the gallery, to the exhibits she’d seen, the pieces she’d dismissed so easily the previous day. She was aware suddenly of the level of courage it must have required to create any one of them and felt humbled. When the kettle came to the boil, Rita ignored it. At the first stroke her heart somersaulted and it was all she could do not to run from the room. The second stroke was almost as difficult and she wished she’d checked to see if the paint she was using washed out. She made herself go on and as her heart stopped racing her hand developed a mind of its own and she forgot about everything. Time passed, minutes, hours, and she heard herself laugh, cackle, as she wantonly applied layer upon layer, wallowing in what she was doing, relishing the feeling of the paint itself; rubbing it into the fabric, rubbing and scrubbing and scraping, not thinking, going with a feeling that seemed to rise up from her gut. The result, she admitted, standing as far back as possible, was pretty awful but she hadn’t felt so vital, so alive in years. By the time she heard her husband’s car pull up outside, two more sheets adorned the kitchen walls. She pulled the nearest one down. ‘I’m home,’ she heard Joe call, shutting the front door behind him.
A moment later, he ambled into the kitchen. ‘What the bloody-!’
Standing in the middle of the room, a sheet draped round her, a paintbrush between her lips, his wife smiled mischievously at him.
‘I think I’ve found my outlet,’ she told him.
Copywrite Moya Roddy 2014
This story is protected under international copyright laws and cannot be published in any format without the permission of the author.
Author Bio - from The Galway Review
Moya Roddy attended the National College of Art and Trinity Arts Lab. She continued painting during a two-year stay in Italy, before moving to London where she trained as a television director at the Soho Poly. Que Sera Sera, which she wrote and directed, won a Sony Award in 1983 and the British Film Institute commissioned a full-length feature, I Prefer Freesias in 1985. Several of her screenplays were optioned in America. She worked in television adapting a novel for Scottish TV and in Current Affairs/Documentaries for Channel 4 on programmes such as Promised the Earth , analysing the UN Decade for Women and was sole writer on the innovative four-part art series Opening Up the Family Album. Returning to live in Ireland, her debut novel The Long Way Home, ( Attic Press 1992), was described as ‘Simply Brilliant’ in the Irish Times. They had published her first short story, Biddy’s Research, in 1991 and since then she’s had numerous stories published including The Day I Gave Neil Jordan A Lift ( Anthology of Irish Comic Writing, Penguin/Michael Joseph,) which was broadcast by RTE and CBS Canada. Her work has been anthologised in Dublines and the Anthology of Irish Women’s Writing , (Bloodaxe). She wrote several episodes for RTE’s sit-com Upwardly Mobile . A radio play Dance Ballerina Dance was short-listed for the PJ O’Connor Award and broadcast by RTE. She collaborated with Pete Mullineaux on Butterfly Wings, broadcast on RTE radio in 2010, and two stage plays, Trust Games , (Galway Youth Theatre 2002) and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry – specially commissioned for the 2003 Cuirt International Festival of Literature. She completed an MA in Writing at NUIG in 2008.
Her collection of short stories Other People was published in 2010 and long-listed for the Frank O'Connor Award. She is currently finishing a second collection and a novel. As well as writing Moya facilitates meditation at various venues in Galway.
I offer my great thanks to Moya for allowing me to share this wonderful story with my readers. She has kindly agreed to do a Q and A session so please look for that soon.