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Old Folks by Roddy Doyle - Chapter 2

Last update - Thursday, March 1, 2012, 15:01 By Roddy Doyle

Dariya’s key ring was heavy, too bulky for a pocket. It had her key, and the keys of the four houses she visited during the week. There were Union keys and Chubb keys, her loyalty cards and the gym membership card that she could no longer afford.She found the one she needed. House No 3. It was the house she hated.

But, today, she had her plan.
She rang the bell. She always did this. She rang the bell, then immediately put the first key into the lock, so the people inside would not be too surprised, or frightened, when they heard her turning the key and entering.
She turned the fat Chubb lock, then quickly found the other key and opened the door.
She called down the hall.
There was no answer. He never answered.
She called again.
‘Hello? Mr O’Rourke?’
Ireland was full of O’s. O’Rourke, O’Toole – that was Bogdan’s teacher – O’Leary, O’Sullivan, oh no, oh dear, oh fuck.
The door of the room where Mr O’Rourke sat and watched television was closed. She didn’t open it. There was no need to worry.
That was her husband’s joke. O’Leary, O’Sullivan, oh no, oh dear, oh fuck. He was pointing at people on a passing bus as he’d recited the list.
The old man was standing in the kitchen, facing the door. He was wearing his pyjamas and holding the kettle. It was resting against his knee. He looked, Dariya thought, like a strange, nightmare toddler.
‘Hello, Mr O’Rourke.’
He didn’t answer. He stared at her, over his glasses. He held the kettle like a weapon.
She remembered her plan. She smiled.
‘An bhfuil cead agam dul go dti an leathrais?’ she said.
He stared at her. He didn’t move, although one of his old eyebrows seemed to lift a bit.
Then he spoke.
‘You know where it is,’ he said.
It was Dariya’s turn to stare.
‘Please?’ she said.
‘The toilet,’ he said. ‘It’s upstairs. Where it always is. ’
Dariya had just said ‘Isn’t it a lovely day?’ to this man, in his native language, with words that had been taught to her by her own beautiful son, and he had told her to go upstairs and clean the toilet. What a horrible old man he was. What a disgusting old toddler.
He moved. He lifted his arm. He was going to throw the kettle at her.
But he didn’t. He shook it, slightly.
‘Do you want one?’ he asked.
‘No,’ she said.
She already had a kettle, and she didn’t want any second-hand rubbish from him.
He shrugged, and she saw how small he was – how small he had probably become. The pyjamas had been bought for a much bigger man. Bought by his wife, perhaps. The smiling lady in the photograph in the hall.
Dariya stopped herself. She wouldn’t let herself feel sorry for him. He was a horrible old man. He had murdered his wife, she decided, as she climbed the stairs to clean the toilet. He had hit her on the head with his kettle and buried her in the back garden.
The toilet was perfectly clean. She flushed it. The sink was also gleaming. She put his toothbrush into a holder to the left of the sink. The toothbrush was old; the bristles were bent and slightly yellow. She folded the towel.
She had to stay here for one hour.
His bedroom was clean. She tidied the bed. She went back to the bathroom and got the toothbrush.
He was sitting in the kitchen, drinking tea. She held up the toothbrush.
‘It’s my toothbrush,’ he said.
‘New toothbrush?’ she said.
She brought it back upstairs. ‘I am sorry for you,’ she whispered, as she passed the picture of the lady in the hall. She was paid to help him, but he refused her help. There was a supermarket at the end of the street. She could have bought him a toothbrush in five minutes. His teeth and gums could rot. Dariya didn’t care.
She almost ran to Mrs Touhy’s house, House No 4. Mrs Touhy was lovely. She always smiled when she saw Dariya. She talked and laughed and, even though Dariya could not understand much of what she said, it didn’t matter. The best way to forget about horrible Mr O’Rourke was to spend the next hour with Mrs Touhy.
She rang the bell. She turned the key.
She closed the door.
She went to the kitchen. It was empty, and cold. She went to the stairs.
She pushed open the bedroom door. Mrs Touhy was lying on the bed, in her clothes. Her eyes were closed. The room was freezing. This was dreadful, terrible – unfair.
‘Mrs Touhy?’
The eyes opened.

© Roddy Doyle 2012

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