Maggie Now, page 1
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
mission except in the case of brief
embodied in critical articles and
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
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
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
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
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.
"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
"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
~ 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
"If there's anything what I like," he said, "it's a boiled
dinner like NyOU make it."
1 [Y 1