The Butterfly Cabinet

Free The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill

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Authors: Bernie McGill
behind him at all. Three years earlier he’d left for the Derry boat. Feeley said he’d made a fortune in America, Paudie that he’d gone no further than Liverpool, where he worked as atraveler for the tea and sugar business. Oul’ Peter said he knew for a fact he’d been working at Bessbrook spinning mills and never left the country at all. Some or none of these may have been true. He himself threw around places and names without any real commitment to any of them. But it didn’t seem to matter. When he was talking to you, you were the center of his universe and everything else flew out of your head.
    He courted Peig with real gusto: the more she resisted the worse he got. He carried bluebells in to her in bunches. Peig said: “Aren’t the flowers better off in the hedge where they belong?” He brought her a white pebble from the beach with a cross on it, said it was a sign that their marriage would be blessed. Peig said, “No priest can bless a marriage where there isn’t one.” But she put the bluebells in a jam jar on the kitchen window, slipped the pebble into her apron pocket. Peig said he wore her down in the end: she was the first woman he’d ever come across whose knees didn’t buckle at the first sight of him, and he couldn’t resist the challenge.
    Alphie’s parents were known throughout the parish for their bickering, but they had survived together for fifty-two years, when famously, old man McGlinchy fell into the harbor full of drink and never came out of it. The McGlinchys could agree about nothing. They were like two magnets, wanting to be together and pushing each other away. Peig finally agreed to marry the man we all knew as Alphie, and on their wedding day, when his birth certificate was produced, found she was to be Mrs. Alphabet McGlinchy. It turned out that his mother and father couldn’t even agree on a name for their son and had settled on the one word that covered every letter. “Alphabet” was all the men would call him after that. I suppose that should have been a warning sign. No one should marry a man they believe to be named one thing and discover to be named something entirely different.
    They were married in June. The master kept them bothon after the wedding. Peig carried on in the kitchen and Alphie carried on in the fields. They got old Sarah Meek’s cottage after she died, and a good house it was, with a window and a cement floor, and a place outside for the pig. Peig had it looking lovely. She was a wild woman for the classes run by the board, always coming back with a new way of cooking this and a new way of knitting that. They were happy enough, I think, for a year or more, until baby Owen arrived. Poor Peig, she was the best friend I ever had in my whole life. Oh, I’d feel her tongue all right if I did something wrong. She wigged me for not putting the lid on the pot of spuds like I was bid, and when Feeley slammed the yard door a lump of soot fell down the chimney and into the open pot. She didn’t waste breath on Feeley, mind you, for slamming the door. But that’s the way it is always—you take your temper out on the one you can get away with wigging.
    She lived a hard life, God bless her, and she had a hard end. Years ago, in the thirties, not long after you were born, Anna, I heard she wasn’t well and I called to see her. She was in her bed and she lay and talked to me for a while, and I knew by the way she was going on that things weren’t right with her. When I was about to go, she said, “Wait, wait, Maddie!” She climbed out of bed, pulled a pot out from underneath it, hitched up her nightdress and sat down and started to pee. When she’d finished and got off it, she held it up for me to see and said, “Is that enough, do you think?” I don’t know what she was expecting me to do with it. I looked at her for a minute or two and then I got up and took it from her and said, “That’ll do fine, Peig.” I brought it down to the ash pit and

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