Short Story // Boomer Trudy
The city canteen was supposed to be just for the bus workers, but they never seemed to mind us using it. Cheap and cheerless, like yourself Boomer Trudy. The little smackhead sneered at me. Lurking there. Tapping for odds. The state of her. Get up that lane, I roared back, the bandy legs on her barely holding her up as she scurried off. I wasn’t angry with her. If anything, I was very sorry for the girl. She was trouble though, and I didn’t need a scene.
I was hoping to get back inside the canteen, you see, to look for me friend, Jamboy. Gas young fellah. Reminds me of me own lad, and I miss sharing me lunch with him. In normal times, if I didn’t see him there, I’d know to look for him in the central library. Reading or sleeping. But they’ve changed all the rules now. I have no access. To the library. To the canteen. To Jamboy. It seems a long time since I saw him. Since I got to ask him what that word meant. The thing the bandy smackhead kept calling me. Well, I sprayed me mouthful of tea out all over the table when he explained it to me. Never heard such a pile of shite in me life!
I noticed a couple of patches on me scalp the other day. Smooth and hairless and worrying, and I felt me stomach sink deep into me boots. I try to look after me hair. To keep it long like it was when me Ma used to wash it with me leaning over the sink in her scullery kitchen. Oh, that lovely sensation of cold water rinsing the soap out of me glossy tresses, and me Ma telling me how gorgeous I was. She was the gorgeous one. All legs and flat belly, and salt and pepper perm. Much better looking than I ever was. Especially on her Saturday night out. Her time to shine. Rocking off out to the pub in a new top or pair of shoes. Paid for with the Frawley’s club dockets she saved on each week. I scratch a lot now, and me nails digging in feels like how she used to scrape me scalp for nits with her steel comb. She never found any. They wouldn’t dare invade her only daughter’s head. I miss me Ma something terrible.
The patches are bothering me though. I keep touching them and the feeling is bringing me down and back to other days. Like that one time in school when the head penguin came into the classroom and picked me out for me long glossy tresses. Sneering at me with her liver lips. Clumps of me hair wrapped in her fat fingers as she grabbed a rubber band from the teacher’s desk and tangled me hair into a ponytail – and it getting all matted as she yanked me in between the desks like a ragdoll. Who did I think I was, flicking me dirty germs all over the place? Me head throbbed for days after.
I got a doll for Christmas that year. She had glittery lilac bellbottoms and a hole in the back of her head where a long rope of blonde hair would grow from if you tugged at it. Magic she was and I wanted to change me name to hers. Sheena. In our back yard, I started to play a game. I was the penguin, calling the doll bad names with a. full. stop. between. every. word. I. shrieked as I yanked Sheena around the place by her ponytail – ‘til me Ma caught me, and wanted to know where I had learned to do such a nasty thing.
When I told her, me Ma’s lovely face creased up like she was after being punched in the heart and the very next day, she showed up at the school and tore strips off the head penguin – even pulled the veil off her – and there for all to see was me tormentor’s own baldy, scabby head on show. I did feel sorry for that nun, but only that one time.
I didn’t go to school much after that. Neither did me friend, Tracy. She kicked the crap out of a penguin a couple of times. Very angry she was. And tough as any of the boys we knew, including all her brothers. She used to keep her clothes on in bed. And she had an angel in her parlour. Well, not in her parlour, but in her Ma’s and Da’s. His name was Gabriel, or I might have made that up, you know, because of the angel thing. But he was only ever laid down in the pram when I saw him. On his own in the parlour, clean and pale, and breathing all croupy. Tracy said he was handicapped. You don’t hear that word now, thank god. One day, Angel Gabriel was gone, and Tracy was beating up another penguin.
I often think about her. Where she might be. Me Ma used to let us take the Bush radio into me bedroom and we’d dance and jump on and off the bed. Trudy and Tracy, two peas in a pod. There was a song with her name in it playing all the time. We convinced ourselves that the band had written it just for her. Something about her making them bounce off the ceiling. You’d think they knew her. Our Tracey could bounce anyone off the ceiling.
People were always beating people up around me. Second time I met me fellah, he was after takin’ a hidin’ from a bouncer out of that kid’s disco, Bubbles. On a Sunday afternoon! Imagine that. I never had time for that place. I was a Sloopy’s girl meself. All grown up in boob tubes and satin jeans. Only I wasn’t grown up at all. Me fellah was mad about me. I knew it from the first time I met him. In the newsagents at the end of our road. Drinking the real thing in the shop ‘cause it was cheaper to give the empty glass bottle back there and then. He made me laugh so hard that day, the coke fizzed out of me nostrils. Loved that fecker, I did. And the boy he gave me.
I had me son very young. And we couldn’t have any more, no matter how much we wanted them. I couldn’t carry them to term. Dead now, me boy is. There were drugs, and that’s all I have to say about that. We never got over it. And then his Da died, and things went from worst to unbearable with the black dog lurking. I couldn’t keep the house properly, and the bills got the better of me. Then the bank came. Fuckin’ vultures is right! I threw the keys at them. They could have it all. I didn’t want to stay there without me boy and me fellah anyway. The Corpo wanted to put me into alternative accommodation, but I went and looked at that place and it didn’t feel safe there. Not for me. No Siree. Thank you and goodnight.
Me Ma used to send me down to the local shop to get the messages. I’d always have a list. Things like Brillo pads and firelighters. A fresh turnover, cheese slices and a quarter of haslet. Twenty major and a box of matches. A packet of ST’s wrapped in brown paper, and sometimes, me favourite Kimberly spring-sprongs or chocolate gold-grain biscuits. The shopkeeper would write the stuff down in a book and the amount that me Ma owed him. Sometimes, he’d frown at me and I’d know without him saying anything that she hadn’t been down to settle the last bill. Only once did he refuse to give me the messages though, ordering me to get me Ma to come to the shop immediately. They had some cross words for sure, but he handed over the messages and I swore to meself that day that I’d never steal apples from his fruit and veg display ever again. They don’t make them like they used to. And I never did steal again.
The weather’s hitting me hard these days, so I’ll make me way to the canal tonight. Maybe Jamboy will be there.
Or that foreign lad who needs a bit of company. He has a tent, and if they haven’t moved him on, he’ll have cans.
He keeps asking me what me name is. Like it’s important to have one. Boomer, I’ll tell him, and nothing else.
Caroline Farrell is a writer and filmmaker. Author of the novel, LADY BETH, ‘Best Novel’ at The Carousel Aware Prize Awards 2017 (Ireland) and Eric Hoffer Award Winner 2019 (Mystery/Thriller Category) (USA). In 2018, Caroline wrote and directed the short film FRAMED, selected for screening by over 25 festivals in Ireland, UK, USA, Mexico and Belgium, it also won ‘Best Short Horror Film’ at the Underground Cinema Film Festival, Ireland. 2019. She has written the short films ADAM  and the multi-award winning IN RIBBONS , the only Irish short film to screen at the ‘Women Deliver Global Conference’ in Copenhagen in 2016.
Of the short story, Caroline says:
‘My inspiration for creating 'Trudy' began with thinking on how perceptions, labels, poverty and society itself can isolate a fragile human being. This evolved into an imagining of a homeless woman's inner mythology. The personal meaning she holds close and protected as her outward identity unravels.’