Short fiction by Susan Walsh
It wasn’t a house really. It was a room above a butcher shop in a not too fine section of Dublin, 1916. The outside the shop was painted blue and the door was red. The door to our room upstairs was red too. My mother looked at it, clucking her approval. There’s no reason a room can’t be bright and cheery and have its own red door, even if it is above a shop.
“A butcher shop,” my sister Maureen said wrinkling her nose like she smelt something bad. But I didn’t smell anything.
“It’s a roof over your ungrateful head,” said Granny Down. Their real name had been O’Down but her father had changed it to Down when she was a little girl. Down, downed. It suited her better, Maureen said.
On one side of the room was an old-fashioned fireplace where Ma and Granny cooked potatoes and sometimes potatoes and carrots in a big black pot. Occasionally, they threw in bones they got from the butcher shop.
“Good beef bones,” said Granny. “With marrow in ‘em to keep you strong.”
The butcher shop was always busy. We knew because we heard the bell on the door go ding every time a customer came in. In the early mornings, we could hear cleavers hitting butcher blocks and saws scraping meat. Danny let me watch now and again.
“There’s a proper way to butcher a beef, Owen.” He promised to teach me someday when I was older.
Wednesday nights, there were secret meetings in the back room of the butcher shop. And every Wednesday, Danny gave me a couple quid to play in the alley. If I see ever anyone skulking about, nosy-like, he said, I was to come in the front door so the bell would ring. Then go up directly to our room.
One night I saw a man leaning against the blue wall, peeking in a window and listening. I’d seen him in the shop that day too—looking but not buying. I tossed my ball around in the alleyway, caught it then walked past the man like butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth. I opened the building’s red front door, and skedaddled up the stairs.
I heard a bit of a scuffle followed by quiet. I watched all evening but I didn’t see the man go back out the red door.
Later that night, we heard the cleaver chopping and the saw whirring. “Danny’s working late tonight,” Granny said. “Must be getting a jump on tomorrow. Maybe we’ll have some nice marrow bones for stew.”