• She trembled as she threw the young girl’s clothes into her rucksacks, her eyes flickering to the shabby clock hanging on the peeling wall.

    She counted in her head to keep her calm, hushing her daughter when she asked her innocently where they were going.

    Maisie swung her daughter, Mary Lou up into her arms, hitching her onto her hip and swinging the scruffy rucksack over her shoulder.

    Maisie didn’t take the car, for fear he’d trace them, she’d never had much schooling so she didn’t know exactly how that would work, but she wasn’t about to take that chance.

    She walked slowly down the pathway, her heart thumped but she was determined not to rush, she wasn’t about to cause any suspicion.

    Maisie scoffed at her own paranoia but these days it was beginning to feel like he was everywhere, and every neighbour who’d been good or kind to her was on his side.

    They hopped on the bus, which would take them about two towns over, they’d catch another one then, again and again, until they were far enough away that he couldn’t find them. But Maisie was beginning to fear he’d find them no matter where they went.

    Mary Lou, who’d never been on the bus before, wore herself out pretty soon and Maisie was left to worry in solitude.

    He hadn’t always been this way, he’d once seemed charming and sweet to her but she’d been only a teenager then.

    He’d been vying for a sport scholarship, rugby but he’d damaged his ankle and his dream was ruined. Maisie had stayed with him, though he was mean now and aggressive, she stood by her romantic view that love would be enough, but there wasn’t much love left.

    He’d been hitting Maisie for about as long as they’d been married, she supposed it gave him some satisfaction that though he couldn’t play sports at least he was strong enough to beat up on his wife, Maisie scoffed at that.

    She’d taken it tolerably well, accepting his excuses, he was tired, he’d had a bad day, she just made him lose it. She’d even accepted it that one time he’d said it was because of all his passion for her, Maisie scoffed at that.

    She accepted it every time he blamed her, she was provoking him, she was making him this way, she criticised him.

    Maisie pressed her fingers to her tender cheek, feeling the blooming bruise. She used to care when people saw, but it happened too often to cover and nobody inquired anyway.

    She pulled back a tendril of Mary Lou’s curls, revealing the poorly covered bruise forming low on her cheekbone, the opposite side to where he had hit Maisie.

    That was the last straw for Maisie, because he’d allowed him to hurt her for too long and she certainly wasn’t going to let him hurt her daughter too.

    She wasn’t too sure where she was heading, maybe to her father and mother, who’d tell she was stupid or to her sister who had two children herself and who’d behave superior and tell her ‘I told you so’.

    Maisie nervously rubbed her hands over the lap of her dress and ran her fingers through Mary Lou’s messy little ponytail.

    She’d take a nap she told herself, she didn’t know when she’d next get the chance and she couldn’t be dozing during the day when she needed to be alert.

    They skipped from bus to bus, Mary Lou wailing all the while and Maisie fussing over her, she looked a fright, Maisie admitted, her hair frizzy from the unusual burst of heat and her skin grubby from constantly moving. Mary Lou was somewhat better presented, her hair too short to cause much of a fuss and her skin kept clean from the baby-wipes her mother inflicted on her.

    They arrived in Thurles, Tipperary within a day or so, a few hours stop at a deserted graffiti covered bus stop, where a rugged young man about Maisie’s age shared his sandwich with Mary Lou, and another stop to feed Mary Lou again. Thurles was alright she supposed, not picturesque, not huge, but it’d do.

    It wasn’t difficult to rent a flat, not these days, it was a little harder to find a job, but she did eventually, at a cafe not far from the flat, within walking distance.

    Maisie got Mary Lou into school pretty quick, she’d been wary of it at first, in case he’d find them through school records, or something of that nature. But Maisie supposed it was only right for Mary Lou to play with other children and get an education, she had high hopes of Mary Lou going far, farther then herself at least.

    Maisie worked hard at the café during school hours, pulling another shift or two when she could organize it. They got by, well enough.

    They’d been there two months, and Maisie was just beginning to settle down, reassured he wouldn’t find them when her landlord informed her of a gentleman caller. Mrs. Kelly hadn’t quite put it that way, something more along the lines of ‘some vagabond came rapping about my door, ungodly hour that it was’.

    Maisie panicked, imagining it could only be Ben. But Maisie needn’t have worried. It was her brother, Sean.

    He and Maisie had never been close, especially after she married Ben, he’d always warned her she’d regret it.

    Sean was two years older then Maisie and the only one in there family to go to college, Maisie’s father had always accused Sean of feeling superior but amongst her underachieving clan, Maisie could see why.

    She led Sean into her cramped murky little flat, the rooms were too small and there was no dishwasher or iron, but Maisie could only say that the rent was within her price range and it was a far sight better then where she’d come from.

    Sean didn’t speak much while he was there, he played instead with Mary Lou, he’d always been good with her, he had a way with children.

    Though as he was taking his leave he gripped Maisie’s arm and muttered in a low voice “You ought come with me Maisie, away from this place, you know I’ll put you up”.

    Maisie saw it as charity and to her charity had always been meant for those starving kids in third world countries. Her parents had never given her much of an education, but they’d certainly taught her pride.

    She told Sean no, and he took it well, only telling her to call him when she changed her mind, he had a dishwasher. Maisie scoffed at that.

    Maisie and Mary Lou did just fine for a while, she waited tables while Mary Lou was in school. Sean only called twice more, and he always talked of her coming to stay with him as if it was definite, written in stone.

    Maisie didn’t mind that so much, he just wanted to take care of them she reminded herself. But the idea rubbed her wrong, she was tired of depending on a man to protect her and her child.

    Maisie did alright through Mary Lou’s childhood, she skipped from job to job, the café closed so she worked instead at the chipper, and then at the supermarket and so on, making her way through all the jobs the town had to offer.

    Maisie’s hair started to go a little grey by the time Mary Lou, or Lou as she now liked to be called, was in her fifth year. It was to be expected after the years she’d had.

    They moved flats, more then once sometimes bigger, sometimes just cheaper.

    Lou studied, her mother and her had a deal, while Maisie worked, Lou would study. Her mother had often gripped Mary Lou’s shoulder and warned her “Mary Lou, you’re going to do better then your mother did, you’re going to be like your uncle Sean and move on from this kip”.

    While Maisie would never accept Sean’s ‘charity’, she was glad he was willing to play the male role in Lou’s life. He had often told Mary Lou that she needed to study hard so her mother didn’t have to worry about her so much.

    Her mother cried when Mary Lou got her leaving cert results, average to some but extraordinary to Maisie, who’d only ever sat the junior cert and left school before she could even begin the leaving cert course.

    Mary Lou did just fine, became a teacher and had the life her mother had always foolishly dreamed for with Ben, husband, three kids, nice house, a Labrador, the works in Maisie’s eyes.

    Maisie continued to work, all her life, she’d never learnt to stop and especially not now her daughter was gone.

    Maisie never remarried but at the age of sixty began dating again, her brother jokingly called her lover her toy-boy.

    He was good and there was no pressure. He’d been married twice before and informed her that every woman turned odd when they married. Maisie didn’t mind that remark so much, she felt the same way about men.

    Maisie didn’t remember, and neither did he, but her toy-boy was that kind rugged man imprinted on Mary Lou’s memory, the one who’d shared his sandwich with her at the bus station, while her mother had been crying.

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