Maggie now, p.1

Maggie Now, page 1


Maggie Now
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Maggie Now





  Copyright C) 1958 by Betty Smith

  Printed in the United Stares of


  All rights in this book are reserved.

  No part of the book may be used or


  in any manner whatsoever without

  written per

  mission except in the case of brief


  embodied in critical articles and

  reviews. For

  information address Harper & Brothers

  49 East 33rd Street, Ncw York 16, N. Y.




  YOUNG Patrick Dennis Moore wore the tightest pants

  in all of County Kilkenny. I le W;iS the only boy-o in the

  village who cleaned his fingernails; and his thick, black,

  shiny hair had the widest, cleanest part in all of

  Ireland or so it was said.

  He lived with his mother. He was the last of a brood of

  thirteen. Three had died, four had married. Three had

  been put in an orphan home when the father died, and

  had been adopted or bound out to farmers and never

  been heard from again. One had gone to Australia;

  another to Dublin. The Dublin one had married a

  Protestant girl and changed his name to Morton. Patrick

  Dennis was the only one left with his mother.

  And how she clung to her last baby Patsy Denny, she

  called him. In her young days, sue had had her babies like

  kittens. She nursed them at her huge breasts, wiped their

  noses on her petticoat, cuffed them, hugged them and

  fretted when they toddled away from her skirts. But when

  they grew older and stopped being utterly dependent on

  her for life itself, she lost interest in them.

  Patsy Denny vvas a charge-of-life baby. She was in her

  middle forties when he came along. (His father died four

  months before Patsy was born.) She had been awed and

  surprised when she found herself "that way" with him,

  having thought surely she was too old to have another

  child. She held his birth to be a holy miracle. Believing he

  was a special dispensation from heaven, and realizing he

  was the last child she'd ever bear, she flowed over with

  maternal love and gave him all she had denied her other


  She called him her "eye apple." She did not ask that he


  [ 1 1


  and support her. She worked for 13iin. All she asked v as

  that he be. All she wanted was to have him with her for

  always to look her fill at him and to cater to his creature


  She was the one who convinced him (and he wasn't

  hard to convince) that he was above common labor. Was

  he not the talented one? Sure! Why, he could dance a jig,

  keeping his body rigid as he jumped into r he air, no

  matter what intricate figures his feet beat out.

  He had a friend known as Rory-Boy. T he friend had a

  fiddle. Patsy and Rory-Boy entertained at the public

  houses. Rory-Bov banged his bow on the fiddle strings

  and wild, incoherent music came out to which Patsy

  pranced, jogged and leaped. Sometimes someone threw a

  copper. Patsy's share didn't come to much just enough

  to keep him supplied with the lurid-colored handkerchiefs

  which he liked to wear around his neck and knotted

  under his left ear.

  What was there said about Patrick Dennis in the

  village? Much that was bad and little that was

  good except that he was sweet to his mother. And so he

  was. He loved her and treated her as though she were a

  girl he was forever courting.

  Sure, he had a sweetheart. She was seventeen. She was

  a pretty thing with black hair and azure eyes with

  charcoal-black lashes. She was walking proof of the

  legend that sometimes God's fingers were smudgy when

  He put in the eyes of an Irish girl baby. She lived with her

  widowed mother and her name was Maggie Rose Shawn.

  She was beautiful, she was poor. And mothers of mar-

  riageable sons warned them against Maggie Rose.

  "And what would she be bringing to a marriage except

  her beautiful self? And it's soon enough the bloom would

  leave that rose when the man would have to take the

  mother with the daughter for the Widow Shawn is not

  one to live apart from her only daughter.

  "No. The Widow's only son won't take the old lady.

  Sure now, he's a constable in Brooklyn, America, and it's

  grand wages he makes. And it's the constable's wife,

  herself, with her American ways, who looks down on her

  man's mother and his sister. Or so 'tis said.

  "No, my son, there is others to marry. C)ur l.ord put more

  ~ ~1

  women than men in this world, especially in this village

  where the young men leave almost as soon as they're

  weaned, to get work and to lead the wild life in Dublin or

  some other strange part of the world and leave the village

  girls behind."

  The boys listened but looked on Maggie Rose with

  desire, and many there were who thought the care and

  support of her clinging mother was a cheap price to pay

  for such a darling of a girl.

  But Maggie Rose would have none of their intentions.

  Patrick Dennis was dear one. He was the one; the only


  Lizzie Moore was not too concerned when her eye apple

  of a son started walking out with Maggie Rose Shawn. She

  knew she had a strong mother-hold on her son.

  "Why would he marry," she said, "and play second fiddle

  to the girl and third to the Widow and him a king alone

  in me cottage? "

  She was sure, too, that Patsy was too lazy and selfish

  and too scared of hard work to marry a poor girl.

  "And what can the girl bring to marriage with a honest

  boy-o? No bit of land, no sow, no cow, no bag of cloth

  with a few pieces of gold in it. Nothing! Nothing but a

  keening mother and a handful of picture postal cards from

  her brother, the constable in Brooklyn."

  She gave out ugly rumors about the girl. "Marry, you

  say? And why should me last son marry the likes of her?

  A man marries for the one thing when he can't have it no

  other way. But ah, me boy-o don't have to go to the

  trouble of marrying for that the way he is good looking

  and all."

  Patrick Dennis and Maggie Rose were together day and

  night except when he ate with his mother or performed in

  the taverns with Rory-l'.oy. Soon, all of Maggie Rose's

  other suitors gave way. There was talk.

  "The shame of it . . ."

  "'Tis against nature . . ."

  "A healthy boy-o and a beautiful girl together all the

  time, it follows that . . ."

  So spoke t
he drink nursers in the taverns. The village

  biddies, arms folded and lips stern, nodded knowingly as

  they agreed that if the couple were not- married, sure and

  they should be.



  None of these thinners were true. Maggie Rose was a

  good, decent, churchgoing girl. But the talk came to her

  mother in time and Mrs. Shawn invited Patrick over for

  supper and had it out with him.

  "Sonny lad," she saicl, "I will talk to vou ahoutmarrying.7,

  "I'm a-willing," said Patrick.

  "To marry?"

  "To talk."

  "And aren't you the one for talking. And making talk,

  too the way they talk about me only daughter and all

  the fault of you and your ways with her."

  "I'll thrash any mail what speaks against Maggie

  Rose no matter how big he be's. '

  "You'll have to be thrashing most of the women of the

  parish too, then." She gave him the question point-hlank.

  "Now when will you be marrying me daughter?"

  Patrick felt trapped and frightened. He wanted to run

  away and never see either of them again. Not that he

  didn't care for Maggie Rose. He did. But he didn't want

  to be gunned into marriage. His gift of gab came to his


  "Would I not be the proudest man in the world could I

  marry .N,laggie Rose and she willing? Btlt I made a great

  promise to me old mother: never to marry the while she

  lived. For who else does she have in all the world? Only

  meself poor thing that I am." He appealed directly to

  Maggie Rose. "You would not be wanting a man what

  W.15 cruel to his mother, would you now?"

  Dumbly, and with eyes cast down, she shook her head


  "Is it not so that a son what is bad to his mother," he

  said, "is had to his wife? Ah, nothing but bad cess would

  come of it. Think on the poor children what would be

  born to us and them blind and crippled our Lord's

  punishment was I to destroy me promise to me poor old

  lady." He wiped an eye with a corner of the magenta

  hanc3kerchief knotted under his left ear.

  "And the while you're waiting for your poor old mother

  to die on you," said the Widow Shawn, "and she the one

  to make old hones and live to a hundred, me Maggie

  Rose is losing her chances with the other boy-sis.'

  "'Tis true, 'tis true,' moaned Patsv. "I don't he having the



  right to stand in her way." He turned to the now weeping

  girl. "Me poor heart breaks in two giving you up, me

  Maggie Rose. But is not your good mother right? So I'll

  not be standing between you and some other fine man. I'll

  be bidding you goodby."

  To his astonishment, he burst into tears. Is it a good

  player that I am, he thought, or is it that I love the girl?

  He rushed out of the cottage. Margie Rose ran down the

  path after him, weeping and calling out his name. He

  turned and waited for her. She put kisses on his face and

  buried her tear-wet cheek in his neck.

  "Don't be leaving me, darling," she sobbed. "I'll wait ever

  for you for I want no one else. I'll wait till your mother

  dies. And may that be years to come," said the good girl,

  "for I know how you love her and I w ould not have you

  grieve. Only don't leave me. Do not leave me because I

  love you so."

  Things went on as before. Patsy kept on courting Maggie

  Rose and enjoying it more because he knew now that he

  didn't have to give up his freedom. Sure, he intended to

  marry her someday maybe. But for now . . .

  His mother was jubilant. She told her cronies: "Her and

  her mother together: They tried to thrick me boy into

  marrying the girl and for all I know saying there was the

  reason for it. And maybe so. Maybe so," she said

  insinuatingly. "But if so, 'twas not me Patsy Denny was the

  feller. A girl like that, and sure, it could be anybody


  Rory-Boy told Patsy Denny he was lucky. "Is it not so

  that the old cow's got no husband and the sweet girl no

  living father to beat the hell out of you for not going to

  the priest with her? I tell you nowhere in the world is

  there such free love. Not even in America where all is


  There was a tug at Pats>'s heart. Should I not be

  sheltering her against the dirty talk, he thought, by standing

  up in church with her? Ah, yes. But would I not be a poor

  stick of a man if I married me illaggie Rose because the old

  lady said: do you do so, now.

  Mrs. Shawn took to waylaying the boy and inquiring after l s


  his "dear' mother's health. "And how's your mother this

  day'" she would ask.

  "Ah, she's as well as might be," he'd answer, "and me

  thanks to you for asking. But," with a sigh, "she's getting

  older . . . older."

  "And so's me daughter," she'd answer bitterly.

  The harassed woman decided to put a stop to the affair.

  She told the girl she'd have to stop seeing Patsy or go into

  a convent.

  "I will not do so," said the girl.

  "That you will. 'Tis meself has tile sav of vou and you

  not eighteen yet."

  "Do you try to force me, Mother, 1'11 . . ." she searched

  for a word she didn't know. ". . . I'll stay with him in the

  way bad girls stay with men and they not married to each


  "To talk to your mother so," wailed Mrs. Shawn. "To dig

  me grave by breaking me heart. And you such a good

  girl before you were spoiled by that black'ard! You who

  went to church every morning to receive . . ."

  Mrs. Shawn went into a time of weeping and keening.

  When that was out of the way' she sent for Bertie, the

  Broommaker, who was also the village letter writer. Bertie

  brought his book along: Epistles for All Occasiorzs. There

  was no form letter that suited the Widow's exact occasion.

  The nearest one vitas: Epistle to Be Written to a Relative

  Across the Water An~zounci~zg the Demise of a Dear

  One. Bertie said he'd copy it off and make it "fit" by

  changing demise to my daughter's fix whenever demise

  came up, and to substitute nZy esteemed so',' Timothy for

  my esteemed great-u~zcle Thaddeus.

  After the letter was carefully addressed to: Constable

  Timothy Shame, Police Department, Brook~ly~z, U.S.~.,

  Bertie inked in his trademark on the back of the


  A few waving lines represented ocean waves. A pigeon

  flew over the water with a letter in his mouth. On the

  pigeon's letter were tinier waves, a tinier pigeon with a

  letter in his mouth. That tinier letter had a microscopic

  pigeon with an almost invisihle letter in his mouth. That

  microscopic pigeon was flying over almost invisible waves

  and so on. When the whole thing waves, pigeon and

  letters got down to one dot, that dot was supposed to

  1 6 1


  represent a billion, trillion, so on letters of pigeons flying

  over the waves with a lever. Bertie was tussling with

  infinity and the neighbors said he wasn't all there.

  Eventually, all the pigeons got the letter to Timothy

  Shawn, Maggie Rose's brother, who lived in East New

  York, Brooklyn.

  ~ CHA PTER T 1l7O ~

  OFFICER Timothy (Big Red) Shawn sat in the parlor of

  his East New York flat. His beat was the Bowery in

  Manhattan, but he lived in Brooklyn because he liked to

  live in the country, he said, and because his wife wanted

  to live near her mother. It took him more than two hours

  to get home each night. He had to journey by ferry,

  horsecar and foot.

  Now, his day's work done, he sat in his parlor in his

  undershirt soaking his poor feet in a dishpan of warm

  water in which Epsom salts were dissolved. The stiff red

  hairs on his chest pushed through the cloth of his

  undershirt like rusty grass seeking the sun.

  "Why don't you soak your feet in the kitchen and save

  the parlor rug? " asked Lonie, his American-born wife of

  Irish descent. She asked the same question each night.

  "Because me home is me castle." He made the same

  answer each night.

  He surveyed the parlor of his castle. The narrow

  windows that looked down on the street were hung with

  lace curtains. They were sooty but starched. A taboret,

  fake Chinese, stood between the windows. Its function was

  to hold a rubber plant in a glazed green jardiniere. The

  unfolded top leaf of the plant always had a drop of rubber

  milk on its tip. A gaudy and fringed lambrequin draped

  the fake marble mantelpiece over the fake onyx fireplace.

  On the mantelpiece was a china pug dog lying on its side

  and with four pug puppies lying in a row, frozen eternally

  in the act of taking nourishment from their mother. In the

  renter of the room there was a marble-top parlor table

  covered with a



  fringed Turkey-red tablecloth. A picture album lay in the

  dead center of the table. When the album was opened, it

  played "Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot." The tune

  came from a Swiss music box concealed in the concave

  cover of the green plush album.

  The rootll was stuffy. ugly, tasteless, even vulgar. But

  Big Red loved it! He was happy in it; proud of it. He

  thought it N-as perfect or would be if it wasn't for the


  A bamboo easel stood cater-cornered at one end of the

  room. On it was a gilt-framed chrome. Next the easel was

  a low, gilded taborer with a palette rat sting on it. There

  were uneven blobs of colored enamel painted on the

  palette to simulate squeezed-out oil paint. A camel's-hair

  paint brush lay across the palette. You got the idea that

  the artist had stepped out momentarily`: for a beer.

  The picture was a t rudely tinted photograph of Big

  Red's mother-in-law. The head was three times life size.

  It bothered Big Red because no matter where he was in

  the parlor, the triple-sized eyes seemed to follow his every


  Tonight, he was on the point of asking his wife why she

  had to have a picture of her old lady in the house when

  the old lady herself lived only two blocks away. But he

  restrained himself. He'd had enough trouble that day

  what with a couple of the Hudson Duster gang over in

  Manhattan showing up on his heat. He didn't want

  trouble in his castle.

  ah' well, he thought, 'tis better to have the old Chro77'o's

  picture in the house rather than the old Chromo herself in

  person, sitting here and coming between husband and wife.

  "We got bedbugs again," said his wife conversationally.

  "Where'd the buggers come from?"

  "From the people upstairs. I hey always come from the

  people upstairs. Where the cockroaches come from."

  "Ah, well, they got bedbugs at Buckingham Palace, too,"

  he said. He sniffed the air. "What are we got for supper


  "We got boiled dinner for supper tonight, being's today

  was vashday."

  "If there's anything what I like," he said, "it's a boiled

  dinner like NyOU make it."

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