'The Coat' by Gavin Kostick

  • 11 March 2005
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To mark Amnesty's International Women's Day Festival, Fishamble Theatre Company asked a group of writers to pen a story about a piece of clothing, for a one-off performance on 5 March. Here's what Maeve Binchy and Gavin Kostick came up with...

It begins at, it begins at... I was born... I grew up in... Any of those. It might be a point if I said, it began when I was bullied in the playground and did nothing about it.

Susie Shaw used to take my juice every day. Held my wrists and took it right out of my hand, or bag or whatever. Without a please or a thank you. Never told anyone. It just stopped after a bit: but it was horrible while it lasted. Like those things are.

To be fair though, I think this whole business really started when we moved to Oldcastle, County Meath. We had a house in Cabra. Cabra, home of the Nissan Micra. Cabra's the last place you can with any kind of self-respect say you're a part of central Dublin. And still have some kind of fingernail grip on the middle-class dream. You know, Nigella and Dermot Gavin and all that. But it's not even Phibsboro.

The problem was, we had a boy and a girl in a two-bedroomed house. And that simply won't go. So we did what we had to do, and persuaded ourselves that we really wanted to, I mean, for the good of the children even: get out of the rat race.

You can see it on MyHome.ie – 750 square foot in Cabra translates to 1,400 square foot in Oldcastle. A nice, refurbished vicarage. Double-fronted. Double-fronted is... you can breathe in it. You can go into the house, and choose which way to go.

And it was on half an acre, to do something with. Or just grind out the planning, and sell off a site. So. We went. And that was the big mistake. I changed jobs. I downsized. From assistant manager in Waterstones, to 24 hours in a baker's. Just to keep us ticking.

But we couldn't afford for Charlie not to have a job, or even drop below the twenty seven and a half grand he was on. The mortgage wasn't any smaller: it was just that the house was bigger.

They turned down his request to work from home even two days a week. So he commuted. We had lied to ourselves, that it was only an hour. But come on. It was an hour forty. Each way. And it either cost to park, or he had to do that park and ride thing, from Blanchardstown.

To give you some idea, how it use to be. We had, from 1993 to 1997, a flat above Hogan's on George's Street. Which we kept on rent allowance. And we had absolutely huge amounts of friends, coming and going, and being alive, right in the middle. And we went to nightclubs, and raves: I mean, we were the people who were part of what made Dublin explode. I had great clothes.

So this whole, having to have a house, with central heating, and money, and a car, and make sure there was food, and shoes, and someone to drop off, and someone to pick up, wasn't us. But it's what you have to do, if you have children.

Dunphy on the way in, The Right Hook on the way out. I really sympathised. I really did.

Okay. Then it's a story about drink. Charlie and I drank. Usually a bottle of wine in the evening. But, he started to drink, consistently. Out of the car, out with the cork. I mean cheerfully, and all that, but it was number-one priority. It was a commitment. Supper, wine, and half and hour with the kids before bed. And then he knocked off a large whiskey or two. I tell you what infuriated me. We couldn't keep a wine rack going. Or even a 10-year-old malt for best. Because we drank the stuff.

He drank the stuff. He once drank a baby rum I'd got for making truffles. (Delia.) He pulled a funny face about it. We talked about it. So what.

It's clear enough, that when you're hung over, and trying to get the kids out in the morning, the chances of arguments and tears goes up. Molly, the three year old, had insisted on buying this packet of Chocolate Wheetos, which had a Rugrats figurine in them. So Charlie opened them for her (I could hear all this from upstairs – it was his turn to start the day with them). And he got out the figure. (I found out later it was Angelica.) And Molly started crying and crying. She had got it into her head that there were all eight in there, like on the picture on the back, and that Charlie was cheating her somehow. And wouldn't show her "the rest". Even Conor the five-year-old tried to help. And I could hear Charlie's "explainy" voice, over and over. And she cried. The sound of your own infant, crying, really tears at your brain. And finally I heard a slap and a silence, and then real anguished howling. And Charlie ran up for loo roll, as Molly had wet the floor.

That same day was cold, and in the afternoon, in a race to collect Conor from school, I threw on Charlie's coat, which, in the uproar, he had left. Don't you think there's something nice about wearing your husband's coat, even though it's too big? And I put my hand in the pocket and found an empty naggin of Jameson's.

The argument that night. It was, it could have gone, I mean, we could have sorted it out.

But I hadn't realised how, just, how angry, we both were, with how we'd got ourselves trapped, in Oldcastle, County Meath, with no one but each other, when we'd had 250 actual friends in Mother Redcap's at our wedding.

I'd left it of course until the children were asleep, or at least settled. And tried to talk it through. But, I mean. Here's me with a degree from Trinity, in philosophy and psychology, working in a baker's. Fiddling in a till for exact change, and I don't know how it happened. And there's him. Who had artistic ideas, writing copy, not that successfully, for radio ads, for a firm that should let him work from home, but wouldn't. And he doesn't know how it happened either. And we were both just so angry. So it came out that he drank along with George Hook on the way home. And he didn't give a shit.

And I pointed out, that this was costing us, and if he gave up, we could get a holiday out of it. And right through this, I could see him thinking, "I'd rather have a drink than listen to this", and getting that slant eyed expression, that meant his mind, was closing itself up, and he was brooding, on how to be mean. This time, it was me, using my "explainy" voice, over and over, and him, just blocking and blocking.

He could have just lied for an easy life – "I'll give up if you want" – and I might have pretended to believe him. And turned a blind eye. But he was so angry, that he was trapped in 27 years of mortgage, commuting three hours a day, that he wanted a fight. And got bloody minded.

And we started shouting, like married couple do – but not like we'd ever done before, and he jumped and slapped my wrist, so hard, like he had with Molly. And when I opened my mouth, he held my wrist, and slapped it again, and again. Classic bullying when you think about it. Holding my arm in one hand, and slapping the wrist with the other. So I was a child again. Then he went out to the car.

I really thought we got beyond that drunk-Irishman, grasping on to his grievances. And Irish mammies, balancing off, their children's security, against their own fears. But we haven't. Because, here I am in our lovely house, in Oldcastle County Meath, not knowing anyone, and not knowing what to do.

The International Women's Day Festival was part of Amnesty's Stop Violence Against Women campaign.