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Martina Evans
Martina Evans

Martina Evans is a poet, novelist and teacher and is the author of ten books of prose and poetry. Her first novel, Midnight Feast, won a Betty Trask Award in 1995 and her third novel, No Drinking No Dancing No Doctors (Bloomsbury, 2000), won an Arts Council England Award in 1999. Her fourth poetry collection, Facing the Public was published by Anvil Press in September 2009 and has won bursary awards from both the Irish Arts Council (An Chomhairle Eiraíon) and Arts Council England. Facing the Public was a TLS Book of the Year in 2009 and won the Premio Ciampi International Prize for Poetry in 2011. Petrol, a prose poem won a Grants for the Arts Award in 2010 and was published by Anvil Press in 2012. Midnight Feast and Through The Glass Mountain, a new prose poem, were published by Bloom Books in 2013.


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Petrol Excerpt


Sections 1, 2, 7 and 9 are taken from "Petrol" by Martina Evans published by Anvil Press Poetry in 2012

 

 

I was under the table with the sugar bowl the day of the funeral and I heard the women saying Justin had killed Mammy. But I thought I was the one who killed her. And the spoon was shaped like a small spade and I sucked hard as I listened. He might as well have put the gun to her head, twenty-nine miscarriages, sure who in the name of god would put up with that? The women wore thick tan tights and one woman’s legs went in a straight line from knee to ankle. The last one put her clean out of her mind. The table was shaking, they were buttering the bread so hard and I dipped my spoon in the sugar. Last time Mammy took Agnes and me down the fields, she took all her clothes out of a big suitcase and threw them into the river and started bawling crying. Agnes ran in to save the clothes but I was only thinking of my stomach. I thought we were going on a picnic, where was the lemonade and tomato sandwiches? A horsy headscarf hung from the hawthorn like a flag, Agnes was up to her knees in green weeds and I was examining the welts on my hands where Mammy’s ring squeezed too hard. I wished hard that she’d die like Bertha’s Mammy and three weeks later she had.

 

*

 

Face your Fears, said Justin, as he backed out of the cat shed. There’s a rat in there. Agnes better get the shovel and Agnes did and I followed at a distance, thinking of the shopkeeper who pulled a handle sticking up out of a side of ham and wasn’t a handle at all, it was a rat and it turned round and bit him to death when he pulled. Our rat was dead of course but Agnes was always brave, with her brown eyes and barley sugar plaits, pulling on the big gloves for dipping the petrol tank. Why is it always me? Agnes said and the rat’s tail swung at the end of the shovel. Carrying the weight of this family. I was behind her in the gloom, always wanting to be that saintly, too. The rat-filled cats lay in the hay, their eyes like stringed lights lighting our sisterly way and Is it codding me you are? said Justin when I said I was worried about the snake coming down from Dublin and Agnes and Justin laughed and held their sides as if they were in a Shakespearian play. Justin put a Hamlet cigar in his mouth, told me I would do well to listen to my teachers - hadn’t they told me that Saint Patrick had driven the snakes out of Ireland. But the Zoo, I said. But the Zoo, he repeated in a squeaky voice, mocking me, asking me did I think I was that important out of all the places where an escaped snake might go, interesting places like the hill of Tara or the Rock of Cashel, Do you mean to tell me that he would turn off the main road just to make his way to your bed? Face your fears. Justin said it again when he said I wasn’t allowed down after eight o’clock. It wasn’t that dark with the lights from the cars outside and the glow from the Major Cigarettes sign lighting up the page but sometimes the mice wouldn’t stop running inside the panelling and there was the strange smell from the possessed girl’s room in The Exorcist and having to go to the bathroom and passing Mammy’s grotto where the cabbage-green snake was biting the Virgin Mary’s foot and I was always afraid Mammy’s ghost would appear to me high above the green linoleum stairs.

 

*

 

Granddad had seventeen cats, he ran down the path reunited with them after he was away, crying I’m back! I’m back! Justin said the bailiff would be in. All over a pack of unhealthy cats. The waste of food was something savage and you wouldn’t hear of it out of tinkers. Anyway, I was on lookout when Justin was busy talking to the men in the bar saying the IRA were completely right and giving out about the Jews and Granddad’s tongue was out as he sawed the ham for the cats with a bread knife because the sound of the electric slicer would alert Justin. But Justin was as quiet as a cat himself in his Hush Puppies and he must have gone out the bar door and in the front door because he came silently from the other direction with the exaggerated steps of a stage villain. But the shop door bell rang and Granddad was able to run with the ham and Danny Boy walked in, his blue eyes, like Henry Fonda’s, blazing out of his oil-streaked face. His salmon corduroy flares were dusty too, he smelt of diesel and Major cigarettes and Bourneville chocolate and he tore off the chocolate wrapper with his beautiful brown fingers and always offered me half but not today with Justin holding up the mutilated mound of ham and asking us how in the name of god was he going to sell that? Saying that it was only a matter of time before the bailiffs were in and then Justin went quiet and his eyes were as hard as Black Jacks watching me as I added up the messages, three cans of Batchelors beans, four sliced pans, holding my breath, twenty Major and a box of matches. My cheeks hot enough to melt tar. That is one pound and twenty-nine new pence, I said and Danny said I was as good as a ready reckoner and I wished he hadn’t said that because Justin said that Danny was very easy to impress and everyone knew that Agnes was the brainy one and Justin didn’t take his disgusted eyes off my red face, looked like he’d forgotten all the good things he’d said under the lilac tree. When Danny went out, Justin's voice was just like the electric slicer and he asked me did I know Danny Boy was so stupid the Master put his head through a blackboard years ago.

 

*

 

The BP sign swung on its pole as they drove away, Agnes’s lips in a pointy line, her yellow checked shirt buttoned up to the neck and Justin staring into the wheel. Granddad was glorified as we cut up corned beef and luncheon roll for the cats and took Golly bars and Carrolls No. 1 out to the back yard. We were smoking in the sun and I had my hand on Anne Frank when it came to me through the smoke that someone was roaring Petrol! Petrol! Petrol! In the name of Jaysus! I ran round to the front and the roaring man had hair like someone had combed out a sod of turf and his eyes were turf-coloured too with smouldering red bits and he was sucking on a Sweet Afton as if it was the last bit of oxygen. The keys swung madly from the petrol cap, sitting on the roof of his coffee-coloured Morris Oxford as I rushed the nozzle into the petrol tank and the pump purred and the black figures on the white screen twisted themselves back to nought. I could have lifted everything, cigarettes, whiskey, brandy, the whole lot, the whole place robbed! His cigarette tip glowed above the petrol fumes, I tried to keep my eyes on the black figures. Will you put ten shillings into her and stop looking at me. Whiskey, brandy, I could have robbed the whole blooming lot, it would be no trouble to me to put the till under my arm and where would you be then? Hah? I said I’d be in a terrible state. Oh, a little smart aleck, is it? A little chip off the old block? he spat on his palm and the butt went out with a sizzle. Please don’t light another one, I had to say it in the Name of Safety but he just popped a new white one between his heathery lips and peppered away at me, Ye’re all the same, every one of ye McConnells, too big for yeer boots with yeer by-the-way big brains and feck all inside of ye but big bags of wind. He pointed at two dark splashes of petrol on the ground. Look at what you’ve done with my ten shillings worth. I’ve a good mind to throw a match on it now before I leave. I smelt nothing but petrol as he stood, roaring in my ears. I saw you round the side lying in among a heap of mangy cats smoking fags, by God your father will hear from me, mind! And he left me shaking under the BP sign.


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