Catholic Boy and Lifestyle Choice 10mg by Rosemary Jenkinson

Our writers give voice to what it means to be Irish in a changing Ireland.

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Shortlisted for the 2019 Irish Selection for the EU Prize for Literature


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Catholic Boy

Catholic Boy

By Rosemary Jenkinson

2018 / 152 pages / €13.99
ISBN: 978-1-907682-60-5
Cover design: Lisa Frank

(click to view cover)

Lifestyle Choice 10mg

Lifestyle Choice 10mg

By Rosemary Jenkinson

2020 / 140 pages / €14
ISBN: 978-1-907682-74-2
Cover design: Tríona Walsh

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Rosemary Jenkinson was born in Belfast and is an award-winning playwright and short story writer. She won the 2001 Black Hill Magazine Short Story Competition, third prize in the Brian Moore Short Story Awards and was shortlisted for the 2002 Hennessy Award for New Writing. Her first collection of short stories, Contemporary Problems Nos. 53 & 54, was published in 2004 by Lapwing Press. Her second short story collection, Aphrodite’s Kiss & Further Stories, was published by Whittrick Press in 2016. She’s won many General Artist’s Awards from the ACNI and was awarded Artist-in-Residence at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast.

Extract from 'Revival'

How could anyone forget him from the TV screen in the seventies and eighties, hunched, swift,
stalking, surveying the green-baize plain, his nostrils quivering, sensing he had his opponent. He was all
lean muscle bristling under his suit, an edgy Belfast boy with bar-room pallor and he’d strike – an explosive
cue action, a punch winding the audience into tumultuous applause, the trademark whip through the air.
He was Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins, two times snooker world champion and working class hero. When he
was on top, he’d strut, preeningly sexual, loose-limbed in the pleasure of predation, and clean up the table
in seconds; then back to his seat where, confined and restless, he would light up yet another cigarette.

‘What’s your name?’ asked the tiny, elderly man with the pinched face. He was wearing a raincoat
and a hat. His glasses were teetering right on the tip of his nose in the same way that he was standing on
the edge of the kerb.

‘Cara. What’s yours?’

I knew his name but I kept looking. He was so frail and drained of colour. The only thing that
convinced me I was right was his blue eyes.

‘Alex Higgins.’ His voice was light but husky, the whisper of dried leaves spiralling on a pavement.

Pure fluke had brought me to the taxi rank outside Lavery’s on the way home from the pub. I’d
thought about trying the one up on Castle Street but just as I’d arrived, two girls from East Belfast were
being turned away.

‘You won’t take us, so you won’t?’ one girl was shouting angrily over her shoulder.

‘Well, let me tell you this, our fathers built this city!’

‘They built this city,’ derided the taxi driver at the
door, letting fly with a bombardment of cracking laughter. I walked on. I didn’t want to pretend I was a
West Belfast partisan just to get a taxi. That was the thing hard to stomach about Belfast, it was all black
and white, East or West, with us or against us…

There was nothing black or white about Alex Higgins’ accent. It was English barbed with Belfast,
impossible to pin down, a changeable hybrid of the rhythms of middle class society and backstreet banter.

‘Have you been drinking in Lavery’s?’ I asked him.

Lavery’s was infamous for its back bar which never seemed to release its clients before kickingout
time. A bit of a holding pen for hard-core alcoholic sorts.

‘No. They barred me,’ he smiled with some pride. ‘I was in Sandy Row. They’re all mad there.’

We were headed the same direction so we shared a taxi. We didn’t live that far up the Lisburn
Road but within five minutes he had established quite a lot about my life. He fired out questions sharper
than I’d ever known anyone. Like a man in an incredible rush. He found out I was looking to move house
and offered to rent me out the other room in his flat. He was often abroad, he said, he was planning to go
for three months to Australia. I could see it now if I wanted to pop round for a drink.

I knew so many stories about Alex from around town, his begging, his shoplifting, his aggression.
I knew I shouldn’t be going to his flat but I was curious and he was perfectly composmentis for all the
drink; if he’d had the physique of Mike Tyson I might have thought twice.

The flat was pine-floored, fresh-painted and modern.

‘It’s a lovely flat.’

‘This is the room,’ he said, ushering me through. ‘I call it the occidental room.’

The bed was covered in bags and suitcases and turfed-out clothes. The whole flat gave me an
impression of someone just passing through. Half-submerged in the waves of fabric, as though washed
up from the distant past, was a framed photograph of himself in his playboy heyday and Peter Stringfellow
sitting smiling over a giant magnum of champagne that seemed dwarfed between them. He was telling
me that the Snooker Association was going to pay the rent for him for life. It sounded generous but I
couldn’t help thinking they must have figured it wouldn’t be for much longer.

He took me into the kitchen to get a drink. He didn’t want one. He only drank Guinness now. He
opened his fridge to reveal a bottle of white wine and a bottle of vodka chilling, icy-breathed. Otherwise
there was only a mauled meat pie and a couple of eggs.

We sat down on the sofa and Alex flicked on the TV. On the coffee table lay his crumpled income
support booklet and a large piece of cannabis resin, square like cue chalk.

He checked the racing results and tutted.

‘I do the horses every day. Pick fourteen out of thirty two. It’s my system. Stick around and I’ll
show you.’

‘But does it work?’

He grinned at the pertinence of my question and rewarded me with a tap of his hand on my head
as though bestowing a blessing.

Extract from 'Men'

In my life I’d had about five boyfriends and one abortion. I was twenty-six years old and my family said I hadn’t met the right person. I didn’t think there was a right or wrong person for me, they were all just different. A person was right one day, and the next he was wrong.

I’d had a near collision with marriage once, about five years ago. I’d had this ridiculous naïve pride that no man would ever want to finish a relationship with me, but my fiancé did on the grounds of my infidelity, which he found out through reading my diary. Afterwards, half of me hoped he’d get over me and find the woman he deserved, and the other half hoped he’d be embittered for ever. I never heard of him again. For a long time after, every time I saw a reminder of him —an old letter, a photograph, a book he’d bought me, it affected me…

Joe had tight curly, black hair, the whitest teeth and nice green eyes. They were sad-looking eyes because he had top-heavy eyelids, but it wasn’t his nature. He liked all the lads’ things, like drinking beer and playing pool, but his most favourite was watching Newcastle play football on the box and yelling abuse at the screen. For all his braying over football, I liked his laidback character and he knew how to treat women well, which was why I agreed to move with him from Newcastle to Gillingham.

Perhaps it was the drink that united us. We both signed on the dole in Gillingham, and his Mum, who was living locally, found him a job working cash-in-hand as a barman. When it was a sunny afternoon and all the customers were outside, he’d ring me to come over and pour me free beers. He was thoughtful like that. We got on fine.

In three months’ time he was due to start work as a t
rainee pub manager with a big brewery. I think his mother, Nikaya, had some half-cocked idea that Joe and I were going to get married in the near future. I didn’t like Nikaya much. She was always touching the breasts of a big rugby player who came into the pub. Joe’s stepfather, Ivan, was usually drunk and obnoxious and his backside teetered on the edge of the barstool. The previous year he’d successfully won compensation from another pub when he’d fallen off his barstool and broken his leg.

The times Joe worked in the bar, I was writing in our run-down, rented bungalow. My words were gradually materializing into a love story about scum/salt of the earth—in my experience there was no intrinsic difference between the two and it depended on perspective, like most things. I would start with a beer every morning, then quickly drink down a coffee. The way I looked at it, the beer loosened my hangover from the night before, relaxed me, and the coffee would keep me awake. It seemed to work. I was fairly romping through the pages. Fifteen, twenty pages a day. Joe had bought me a second-hand computer. He was a great guy really.

I had a provisional title—‘Life is Everywhere’ by Tara Shaw. It felt reassuring to write it down. It gave a touch of tangibility to the airiness of it all. Writing to me felt unreal. It terrified me. I half-expected the letters to crawl off the page one night and join the woodlice which kept creeping in under the back door.

One afternoon we were sitting on the sofa in the front room while Joe read my work.

‘Who is this guy you’re writing about?’

‘No one. Just a composite.’

‘Is it an ex?’

‘No. It’s a literary combination of—of Mr Darcy and Alfie.’

Oh, right. So, you’re telling me this Mr Arsey doesn’t exist?’

‘Yes, so don’t feel inferior to him.’

‘Me, I wouldn’t feel inferior to a paper cut-out, Tara. But you didn’t make these sex scenes up, did you?’

‘Don’t you believe I have an imagination? Don’t you credit me with anything?’

If he was going to go on in this vein, there was going to be a scene.
‘Imagination,’ he scoffed.

‘What’s eating you, anyway? You can’t expect to have been the first.’

‘I won’t play second fiddle to anyone.’

He looked sulky.

‘Come on, Joe. Who could compete with literature?’ He looked away and I was pissed off too. ‘Yeah, well, great. I’m hungry. Will you make me a bacon sandwich?’

He got up and walked out of the room but not in the direction of the kitchen. After a few minutes I followed him into the bedroom. He was lying on the bed and I flopped down beside him, putting my arm around him.

‘Want to fuck?’ I asked.

He groaned but there was a promising glimmer of a grin.

I shook him roughly. ‘Well. Anything wrong still?’

He gave me that wide-toothed sexy smile. ‘I just thought I was what you liked.’

‘Baby, you are. I love you.’

We kissed. I made a mental note to make all future sex scenes sound more like those Joe and I enjoyed.

The reading of the sex scenes seemed to prey on Joe’s mind. They made him dig deep into his subconscious, perhaps even inspired him. The next night he told me his deepest sexual fantasy. I was surprised but I said we could try sometime. It made a change from the simple fetish of wanting his back scratched during sex. Like a lot of people, Joe had a thing to get off on. People have something done to them once in sex and they make a habit of it. In my opinion it was a bit dull but at least it made you easily satisfied.

This hidden desire, however, I understood. I always thought there was a touch of the woman in Joe. He was quite fleshy, curvaceous even which maybe sounds unfitting in a man but was quite a turn on, something different. His mother had been voluptuous (now pendulous), his sister was gorgeously voluptuous, adored by all men, and he was a masculinized version of the same. I liked the fact that he was even shapelier than me, and he had really fine legs. I wasn’t so narrow-minded to have a ‘type’ of man I liked.

And I didn’t think it was odd to want your girlfriend to fuck you.