"The Performance"

I had never liked Trish Doherty. Snide and self-centred with notions of herself. The best dressed woman in the village and by God, did she take every opportunity to flaunt it! She would smugly stride in her click-clack heels all the way to the top of the church every Sunday, just to be sure the entire parish would take note of her new coat, or new necklace, or whatever newfangled add-on she felt needed our attention. Her fool of a father and even bigger fool of a mother would smile like simpletons, scurrying after her. Only the best for their Trish! Sure, wasn’t she training to be a doctor? Wasn’t she yards ahead of everyone in college exams? Wasn’t she destined for far better things than the likes of us? That was what was coming through, loud and clear, every time my own unfortunate parents got drawn into a discussion with them. To our greater disgust, they were our neighbours, so we could be guaranteed of at least one of these sermons on the virtues of Trish and the wonderful future she would have daily. You would always know if Mrs Doherty had held Mam up at our gate, because Mam would barrel in the door with a look of thunder on her face. It hurt her, I could tell. She’d have given anything to have sent us to college. None of us were short of brains and had done well at school. However, money was the stumbling-block that meant none of us would ever set foot in a university. So you can imagine for yourself the feelings you’d have if some up-her-arse neighbour was flaunting the opportunities you could never give your children in your face. 

It was rather like something from a drama, watching all this play out. Her mother’s idiocy meant Trish never knew any other manner than conceit. So it need scarcely be said that friends were few and far between at home. Fair enough, in college she did fall in with a few like herself, but they were useless. Not even proper friends, just a couple of social-mad gligeens; gossipy, obnoxious and mad for men. Trish would bring them down from Dublin every second weekend and they would go haring after the farmers’ sons – the eldest ones, obviously. They were stupid, but there was a cunning to their stupidity. A cruelty too. When that Maire Lawton got her claws into Connor Quaid, his poor fiancee of scarcely two months was left there nursing a broken heart. To add insult to injury, Maire later dumped him for a trainee barrister who was a friend of her brother. Still, it was entertaining if you enjoyed a nice juicy scandal story trotted out every so often . These ladies seemed to enjoy putting on a notorious performance for the village every time they rolled into town. In a small village where little else occurred, attentiveness in any form was there for the taking. They didn’t care that the multitude despised them.They reaped their reward in the reluctant fascination paid to their behaviour. Trish was well used to the general feeling of loathing by that stage. She was such a consummate, thick-skinned performer that I couldn’t help but admire her, for all her simpering vanity. Hatred, jealousy, contempt – she lapped it all up with a brazen satisfaction that was slightly alarming. It was as if she lived to provoke reaction. Almost as if she could not survive without it. In the eyes of her and her cronies, any attention was better than none at all. 

The unexpected twist in this intemperate piece of theatre was Trish’s pregnancy. Nobody knew who fathered the baby. There were some whispers of Maire’s brother sweet-talking her with the promise of marriage, which he of course reneged on after the deed was done. But the simple fact of the matter was the narrative was forcefully plucked from her hands. She was no longer in control of the role she had lovingly crafted and played with such passionate vivacity for years. She was shunted into an entirely new part, a character that all were familiar with – the unmarried mother. A role that would not merely evoke even more contempt than before, but would make her an outcast. Her worthless companions disappeared. Her place at college was abandoned. Her parents threw her out, and if it had not been for the kindness of an aunt, she would have been on the roads. The parish, her ever-watchful audience, seized on this with a rabid and visceral joy. At last, the actress would finally have to admit to being at the mercy of her predatory public. She had danced away from it so far, but now she would pay! She would admit herself to being the lowest of the low! She would bow her head in contrition, and beg for forgiveness for being better than she should! She would hang her head in shame at the conclusion of the spectacle, finally put in her place at long last, and they would be victorious!

The climax of the drama, fittingly enough, commenced on Sunday in St Officia’s Church, exactly two weeks after Trish had given birth. Her aunt had brought her from Dublin to collect her belongings, after which she would depart from the village forever. I had never in my life seen a crowd enter a church with such impatience to be gone from it. They were eager to hasten to the Doherty household and seize on their pound of flesh before she slipped beneath their clutches unscathed. All the way through the Mass opening, I could hear hisses in the seats behind me and beside me of how their prey would be long gone before they got the chance to confront her. I believe the priest sensed the restlessness and its cause, and out of the goodness of his heart, proceeded slower than usual. The dialogue of vicious whispers got more caustic; this could not, would not be! After all these years, to be snatched of the moment of reckoning by a purposely long winded Mass service? This chorus of venom burned my eyes and I shut them tightly. A hand reached over and squeezed mine. My eyes flew open. It was my mother who had sensed my distress and looked to comfort me, with sadness in her own eyes. Words were unnecessary. We simply stood and clutched each other’s hands in silence, figures of quiet desperation while the surrounding scene of malevolence threatened to consume us.

The church door swung open; the prattle died. Slowly, deliberately, the form of Trish Doherty walked purposely into the view of baffled onlookers. Her audience gasped, first in shock, then with barely suppressed joy. She had come! Indeed, they almost felt a form of gratitude for her presence. Now, at last, they could teach this long-standing hussy of a minx the lesson they had longed to teach her for years. Oh, for God’s sake, would that blasted priest finish the service and let justice be served?! They watched her with baited breath. They searched with beady eyes for a hanging head, a lowered eye, a flushed cheek. But, something was wrong. No hanging head, no lowered eye, no flushed cheek. She looked (how on earth could she?) exactly the same as ever. Her hair was styled to the latest trend. Her face was impeccably made up, complete with a bold red lipstick. A royal blue suit, complimenting her unfathomably thin figure, finished off this image of tailored perfection. Only a hint of tiredness in her eyes varied her habitual expression of haughty indifference as she glided up the church to her usual place. The priest, who had paused momentarily upon her entry, hurriedly resumed the service. It didn’t matter. The church was finally silent, but not to the purpose of hearing Mass. Cold fury vibrated from every seat, gushing towards the lone bench near the top of the aisle that held the character of interest who had brazenly dared to not show the penitence expected of her. She simply attended to the service with a complacent expression, not caring a whit. I stared at her dazzled, in intense anticipation as to how the play would play itself out.

Mass came to its drawn-out, inevitable finish. The second the priest left the altar, Trish grasped her handbag and, not missing a beat, swept down the aisle like a queen.

“Whore!” screamed a lone voice.

“You got what was coming to you! You’re in the gutter now, and you’ll never get out of it again!”

It was Mrs Riordan, the publican’s wife, her face alight with savage malice. One by one, the voices of the others joined in, swelling to a pitch with their hideous taunts. Trish paused at the church door and turned slowly around. Taking her time, she paced through the little catcalling mob until she reached Mrs Riordan. Her eyes were like chips of ice as she reached out and placed a hand on the other woman’s shoulder, startling her into silence.

“Gutter?” she repeated softly. “Well, I’ll be in great company. Your son’s, actually. Ah yes, there he is, with his head hanging like a big dumb fool. I must have been fair desperate, now that I think about it. At least I stand over what I’ve done. He’s perfectly content to hide behind his mother’s skirts and run from the consequences of his actions.” 

There was a long, horrified silence. Mrs Riordan was struck dumb with mortification. Her son did not make a sound or lift his head. Trish flung back her head as she surveyed her spectators with satisfaction. The ending was nigh but she had more to say.

“Must have been the luckiest night of your life, when I decided to take you to bed,” she continued mercilessly. “You had best pray to God the child never looks you up when he’s older. You’ll have to explain to him what a sorry excuse of a human  you are. You have the nerve to let me take the fall for this. It took two of us to make a child. But I repeat, I’m better than you. I’ll see to it he grows to be the kind of man that’ll put you,” she suddenly turned to face the crowd at large, “and the rest of you pathetic, devious bastards to shame. You wanted me to crawl back here with my head hanging, begging to be taken in again? Like hell I will. So slink off with yourselves. I won’t give you what you want.”

She turned on her heels and left the church. On an impulse, I wrenched my hand out of my mother’s and rushed out after her, leaving the shell-shocked murmurs after me.

She was getting into a car, but turned at the sound of my footsteps. She looked me challengingly, and I returned her look. Slowly, while staring steadily at her, I lifted my hands and started to clap. Her expression changed to one of gratification and gratitude. A smile spread across her face and tears poured down her cheeks. She gave a regal bow, and sat into the car. As it pulled slowly away, I found myself still clapping, with tears in my eyes. For a girl I had formerly loathed and despised. Even when I recall it now, years later, it fills me with a fierce joy I can never explain. Because when the curtains fell, she most certainly did not.


About the author

Writing has been Rebecca's hobby from an early age, and she is passionate about literature. She recently graduated from University College Cork with an MA in English. When not rapidly consuming Victorian novels, she is training for a career in journalism.


Rebecca Fitzgerald