In the lean years, before the end of it all, before the final curtain, Emma Mannion thought little of her past, little of the rutted and silty pathways that had brought her to where she was at the age of 60. It had been too difficult, all of it. She had no stomach to experience it again through memory.
Whatever stability she enjoyed resulted from the largesse of her parents, well heeled, well enough off, and generous to a fault. Despite their sour view of the course of their only daughter’s adult adventures, they had regularly supplemented her fragile income whenever she asked, and sometimes when she didn’t. When they passed within six weeks of one another, common victims of a vicious flu season and too many years spent stressing over the things they could not control, their assets passed to Emma. Nothing amazing – they weren’t astoundingly wealthy, and their estate would provide nothing in the way of upward mobility. But there was enough there to spread out over the remaining years of Emma’s life if she were careful. She would never have to work again if she didn’t want, provided she lived in the same simple house in the same simple neighborhood. Well enough, it was.
And so in her 60th year Emma Mannion considered that she had her place, or what passed for it. She had her home, she had an ample supply of the favored spirits – gin, scotch, bourbon, and beer to smooth it down – and she had her son.
What she didn’t have were dreams. Those had died slow, painful deaths through the pressure of obligation, the neglect and abuse of her long gone husband, the demands of being a mother and the pulse of lost time. With neither dream nor vision, Emma followed her days one after the other, subsumed by ennui, bitterness and the constant, numbing drip of hours that meant nothing and were best spent as insensate as she could make herself.
She still worked many days although fewer than before. Emma had abandoned office work, the tedious repetition of being yet another man’s assistant, and so had traded her secretarial position for a part-time job tending the counter of a convenience store that sold tacky food, lottery tickets, and gasoline. The hours were odd, the customers even odder. It was something to do.
Amusements arose where she found them, mostly in the form of chatty gossip with longstanding neighbors who knew Emma’s quirks and abided her nonetheless. Mornings and afternoons could be spent walking the neighborhood and sharing news and views with others whose days also rang hollow, those she had known since coming to this tatty place more than four decades prior. The same faces, the same jaded, cynical postures, and, really, the same stories acted out with the same characters. The same crimes, real or imagined, the same indiscretions, the same flirtations, the comings and goings of the same wounded souls.
There was Donal, of course, but as he had grown older he commanded less and less of her time. By the time he hit adolescence he seemed to know his way around and through these streets. And he had friends to help him along the way, a rough lot for the most part but young men whose own edges had been sharpened by whatever whetstones their younger years had forced on them. They looked out for each other, protected one another, and gave no thought to their own vulnerabilities.
Donal, possessing both his father’s charisma and his father’s inclinations. Woe be it to him, but there was nothing she could do about it.
“No worries about me, Ma. I’m fine, and I’ll always be so. There’s nothing to this life except jokes and fancies.”
But the jokes turn sour and the fancies become tawdry, she thought now as she sipped the strong whiskey that coated most of her nights. She gazed toward her front window, awash in the brilliant, rare light of the fullest moon she could remember. The strange light cast wispy shadows across her threadbare carpet and against the far walls. A miraculous light, it was.
‘Donal was born under a full moon. Come into this world with a brightly lit squall, and has been played against the tempest ever since. Ah, but the lad has spirit.’ She sipped again and leaned back into her chair. ‘And sometimes spirit is enough.’
Emma Mannion took one last pass around her small and worn house, placed the empty whiskey glass in her sink, secured the front locks, and headed up the stairs to her bed. Tired, she was. So very tired, this night, and all the others. The day’s final washings, and then into a bed as empty as her heart, where she would once again regard the spectacular moon, and the light it shone on the hidden corners of her exhausted soul.