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issue 19: july - august 2000 

spanish translation | author's bio

Jesus Christ, Murdeena
by
Lynn Coady
      

Her mother would tell you it started with the walks. Just out of the blue, not too long after she got fired from the Busy Burger and had been kicking around the house for a few days. Out comes Murdeena with, "I think I’ll go out for a little walk." Margaret-Ann was just finishing up the dishes and hurried to dry off her hands when she heard it, thinking Murdeena was being sly about asking for a drive somewhere.
      "Where do you want to go?" asks Margaret-Ann.
      "I don't know, I'm just going to walk around."
      "Where are you going to walk around?"
      "I'll just go down by the water or somewhere."
      "Here, I'll take you down," she says, reaching for the keys.
      "Pick me up a Scratch and Win!" Mr. Morrisson calls from the couch, hearing them jingle.
      No, no, no," goes Murdeena. "I'm just going for a walk, to look at the water."
      "I'll drive you down, we can sit in the car and look at it," says Margaret-Ann. She doesn't know what her daughter is on about.
      "I want to go for a walk," says Murdeena.
      "Who goes for walks?" points out Margaret-Ann. She's right, too. Nobody goes for walks. The only people who go for walks are old women and men who have been told by their doctors that they have to get more exercise. You can see them, taking their turns around the block every night after supper, looking none too pleased.
      "What's the matter with you?" asks Margaret-Ann. She's thinking Murdeena is feeling bad about getting fired and wants to go mope.
      "Nothing, Mumma. It's a nice night."
      "Go sit on the porch, you don't have to go traipsing about."
      "I want to."
      "Go on, I'll bring you a cup of tea."
      "I don't want to drink any more tea. I want to walk."
      Thinking of the seniors, it occurs to Margaret-Ann that walking is a healthy pastime, and maybe she should encourage it.
      "You're on some kind of new health kick, now, are you?"
      "No."
      "Well, if that's what you want to do," she says, doubtful. "Are you going to be all right?"
      "Yes." Meanwhile Murdeena's digging around in the porch, trying to find something to put on her feet.
      "Do you need a jacket?"
      "Yeah, I'll put on my windbreaker."
      "Maybe you should wear mine," says Margaret- Ann, fidgety about the whole performance.
      "No, I'll be all right."
      "What do you got on your feet?"
      That's a bit of a problem. Nobody walks, so nobody has any walking shoes. Murdeena settles for a pair of cowboy boots she bought in Sydney back when they were in style.
      "You can't walk in those."
      "They're made for people to walk in. Cowboys. They walk all around the range."
      ''They ride around on their horses,'' protests Margaret-Ann.
      "Well, they'll do for now." Murdeena puts on her windbreaker.
      Then Ronald pipes up again. "She's not going out by herself, is she?" he calls from the couch.
      "Yes. She wants to go for a walk."
      Where's she going to walk to?"
      "Jesus Murphy, I'll bring you back a Lotto!" Murdeena hollers before the whole rigmarole can get under way again, and she clomps out the door in her boots. So there's Margaret-Ann left to do all the explaining.
      Margaret-Ann will tell you that is where it all started, although it didn't seem like much of anything at first. Murdeena walking. By herself, in the evening. Perhaps it was getting fired, that's what Margaret-Ann thought. Murdeena had never been fired before, although the Busy Burger was only her second job - before that she was a cashier at Sobey's, for four years, right up until it closed down. She was great at it, and everybody liked her. She liked it too because she got to visit with everyone in town and catch up on their news. The Busy Burger wasn't so much her style because most of the people who came in were high school kids and Carl Ferguson who ran the place was a big fat shit. She used to get along so well with her manager at Sobey's, because they'd gone to school together, but Carl Ferguson was just this mean old bastard she couldn't relate to who didn't like girls and treated them all like idiots. He picked on Murdeena especially because she couldn't count. Even with the cash register there giving a read-out, she never gave anyone the right change. Murdeena could never do math, none of the teachers at school could figure her out because the math teacher assumed she was borderline retarded while the rest of them were giving her A's and B's. There must be some kind of condition where you can't do math, just like the one where you can't spell, and that's what Murdeena had. If you asked her anything having to do with numbers, she'd change the subject. If you asked her how many people lived in her town, she'd say, "Oh, quite a few;" or else, "Oh, it's about the size of Amherst, I'd guess. Maybe more." If you'd try to pin her down on a figure, she might say something like, "Oh ... maybe ... a ... couple of hundred." It was a good way to get her back in high school. We'd all laugh.
      But her mind just didn't work that way, some people's minds don't. It didn't make her a moron, but Carl Ferguson treated her like one anyway. She was always careful to check the register and count out the change meticulously, but sometimes the bastard would stand there watching her making slow calculations as she moved the change from the register to her palm and he'd wear this disgusted smirk and make her all nervous. So one day, right in front of him, she handed Neil MacLean a twenty instead of a five. Neil said he could see her hand shaking as she did it, and he tried to nod to her or something, let her know in some way that the change was wrong. Before he could do a blessed thing, though, Carl Ferguson tears the twenty out of her hand. "For Christ's sake, woman," he goes. 'You trying to make me go broke?" And Murdeena cried and Neil, probably trying to help out, told Carl he was an arsehole, but that's when Carl told her she was fired - probably just to shut Neil up and prove that he could do or say whatever he damn well pleased in his own establishment.
      Everyone hated Carl after that because everyone liked Murdeena. Whenever she gave people back the wrong change at Sobey's, they'd just say, "Oops, dear, I need a bit more than that," or a bit less, or whatever, and then they'd help her to count out the right amount, and then everyone would have a big laugh together.
      So then she was on UI again and there was talk in town about a big bulk-food store opening up, and Margaret-Ann kept telling her there was no need to worry.
      "I'm not worried anyways," says Murdeena.
      "Then why all the walks?" This was after the fourth walk of the week. Murdeena was going through all the shoes in the closet, trying to find the best pair for walking. Tonight she had auditioned a pair of her brother Martin's old basketball sneakers from eight years ago.
      "I'm not walking because I'm worried about anything!" says Murdeena, surprised. And the way she says it is so clean and forthright that Margaret-Ann knows she's not lying. This makes Margaret-Ann more nervous than before.
      "Well for the love of God, Murdeena, what are you doing stomping around out there all by yourself?"
      "It's nice out there."
      "It's nice, is it."
      "Yes."
      "Well, it seems like an awful waste of time, when I could be driving you anywhere you wanted to go."
      Murdeena has never gotten her driver's licence. This is something else about her that's kind of peculiar. She says there isn't any point because she never goes anywhere. Margaret-Ann and Ronald like it because it means that she still needs them to do things for her from time to time.
      "If I wanted to go for a drive," says Murdeena, "I'd go for a drive."
      "It just seems so Jesus pointless!" bursts out Margaret-Ann, wishing Murdeena would quit fooling with her, pretending everything was normal.
      People around town were starting to make remarks. Cullen Petrie at the post office:
      "Oh, I see your girl out going for the walks these days."
      "Yes, it's her new thing, now."
      "Well, good for her! I should be getting out more myself."
      "Yes, shouldn't we all," says Margaret-Ann, officiously licking her stamps.
      "Isn't she tough!"
      "Yes, she is."
      "Every night I see her out there," marvels Cullen Petrie. "Every night'''
      "Yes." Margaret-Ann gathers up her mail in a pointed sort of fashion, so as to put Cullen in his place. "Yes, she's tough, all right."
      Cullen calls after her to have Murdeena put in an application at the post office - he'd be happy to see what he would do for her. Margaret-Ann would like to kick him.
      "You don't need a job right now, in any event," Margaret-Ann keeps telling her over and over again. "Your UI won't run out for a year, and you've got enough to keep you busy these days."
      "That's right," agrees Murdeena, clomping around in an old pair of work boots to see how they fit, and not really paying much attention. "I've got lots to keep me busy."
      Murdeena is always on the go, everyone says so. She plays piano for the seniors every weekend and always helps out at the church teas and bake sales. She'll do the readings in church sometimes, and plays on her softball team. It used to be the Sobey's softball team before it closed down, but they all enjoyed the games so much that the employees didn't want to disband. They ripped the cheap SOBEY'S logos off their uniforms and kept playing the other businesses in town anyway. Nobody minded. For a joke, they changed their name to the S.O.B.'s.
      Some people are concerned that she doesn't have a boyfriend, but Margaret-Ann and Ronald are relieved, they like her where she is. She went out with a fellow in high school for three years, and it looked as if things were pretty much all sewn up for after graduation, but didn't he go off to university - promising they'd talk about the wedding when he came home for the summer. Well, you don't have to be a psychic, now, do you?
      So Murdeena hasn't been seeing anyone since then - almost five years now. She has her own small group of friends, the same ones she had in school, and they all go out to the tavern together, or sometimes will take a trip over to the island or into Halifax. There are a couple of young fellows that she spends time with, but they're all part of the group, one with a girlfriend and one married.
      So no one can think of anyone Murdeena might end up with. Murdeena knows everyone in town and everyone knows her. Everyone has their place and plays their part. So it's hard to think of changing things around in any sort of fundamental way. Like starting something up with someone you've known since you were two. It doesn't feel right, somehow.
       
      "To hell with it," she announces one evening after supper. She's got every pair of shoes in the house lined up across the kitchen floor.
      "What is it now?" gripes Margaret-Ann, even though Murdeena hasn't said a word up until now. Margaret-Ann always feels a little edgy after suppertime, now, knowing Murdeena will be leaving the house to go God knows where. "What's the matter with you?"
      "None of these are any good." She kicks at the shoes.
      "What do you mean? Wear your nice deck shoes."
      s''No."
      "Wear your desert boots."
      "They're all worn out. I've worn them all. None of them feel right."
      "Do they hurt your feet? Maybe you need to see a doctor."
      "They don't hurt, Mumma, they just don't feel right."
      "Well, for Christ's sake, Murdeena, we'll go out and get you a pair of them hundred-dollar Nike bastards, if that'll keep you quiet."
      "I'm going to try something else," says Murdeena, sitting down in one of the kitchen chairs. Thank God! thinks Margaret-Ann. She’s going to stay in and drink her tea like a normal person.
      But Murdeena doesn't reach for the teapot at all. What she does is take off her socks. Margaret-Ann just watches her, not really registering anything. Then Murdeena gets up and goes to the closet. She takes out her windbreaker. She puts it on. Margaret-Ann blinks her eyes rapidly, like a switch has been thrown.
      "What in the name of God are you doing now?"
      "I'm going for my walk."
      Margaret-Ann collapses into the same chair Murdeena had been sitting in, one hand covering her mouth.
      "You've got no shoes!" she whispers.
      "I'm going to give it a try," says Murdeena, hesitating in the doorway. "I think it'll feel better."
      "For the love of Jesus, Murdeena, you can't go walking around with no shoes!" her mother wails.
      Murdeena makes her lips go thin and doesn't ask her mother why, because she knows why just as well as Margaret-Ann does. But she's stubborn.
      "It'll be all right. It's not cold."
      "There's broken glass all over the street!"
      "Oh, Mother, there is not."
      "At least put on a pair of sandals," Margaret-Ann calls, hoping for a compromise. She follows Murdeena to the door, because she's leaving, she's going out the door, she's doing it. And she's hurrying, too, because she knows if her mother gets hold of that windbreaker, she'll yank her back inside.
      "I won't be long," Murdeena calls, rushing down the porch steps.
      Margaret-Ann stands on the porch, blinking some more. She thinks of Cullen Petrie sitting on his own front porch across the street, taking in the evening breeze.
       
Murdeena Morrisson has been parading all over town with no shoes on her feet, everyone says to everyone else. They marvel and chuckle together. They don't know what she's trying to prove, but it's kind of cute. People will honk their horns at her as they go by and she'll grin and wave, understanding. "You're going to catch cold!" most of them yell, even though it's the middle of summer. The only people who are kind of snotty about it are the teenagers, who are snotty to everyone anyway. They yell "hippie!" at her from their bikes, because they don't know what else to yell at a person without shoes. Sometimes they'll yell, "Didn't you forget something at home?"
      Murdeena hollers back: "Nope! Thanks for your concern!" She's awfully good-natured, so nobody makes a fuss over it, to her face anyway. If that's what she wants to do, that's what she wants to do, they say, shaking their heads.
      Margaret-Ann does her shopping with a scowl and nobody dares mention it to her. Murdeena won't wear shoes at all any more. She'll go flopping into the pharmacy or the seniors home or anywhere at all with her big, dirty feet. The Ladies Auxiliary held a lobster dinner the other night, and there Murdeena was as usual, bringing plates and cups of tea to the old ladies, and how anyone kept their appetites Margaret-Ann could not fathom. Murdeena stumbled with a tea-cup: "Don't burn your tootsies, now, dear!" Laughter like gulls.
       
      "I don't want to hear another word about it!" Margaret-Ann announces one evening at the supper table. Murdeena looks up from her potatoes. She hasn't said a thing.
      It is obviously a signal to Ronald. He puts down his fork and sighs and dabs his lips with a paper napkin. "Well," he says searching for the right words. "What will you do in the winter? They're'll be snow on the ground."
      Margaret-Ann nods rapidly. Good sound logic.
      Murdeena, still hunched over her plate - she's been eating like a football player these days, but not putting on weight, as she tends to - suddenly grins at the two of them with startling love.
      "I'll put on boots when it's wintertime!" she exclaims. "I haven't gone crazy!" She goes to shovel in some potatoes but starts to laugh suddenly and they get sprayed across the table.
      "Oh, for Christ's sake, Murdeena!" complains her mother, getting up. "You'd think you were raised by savages."
      "That's politically incorrect," Ronald articulates carefully, having done nothing but watch television since his retirement.
      "My arse," Margaret-Ann articulates even more carefully. Murdeena continues to titter over her plate. This quiet glee coming off her lately is starting to wear on Margaret-Ann. Like she's got some big secret tucked away that she's going to spring on them at any moment, giving them instant triple heart attacks. "And what's so Jesus funny inside that head of yours, anyway?" she stabs at Murdeena suddenly. "Walking around grinning like a monkey, like you're playing some big trick on everybody, showing off those big ugly feet of yours."
      Offended, Murdeena peers beneath the table at them. "They're not ugly."
      "They're ugly as sin!"
      "Since when?"
      "Since you decided you wanted to start showing them off to the world!"
      "Why should anybody care about seeing my feet?" queries Murdeena, purely bewildered.
      "Exactly!" shoots back her mother. "Why should anyone care about seeing your feet!"
      It ends there for a while.
       
She had always been the sweetest, most uncontentious little girl. Even as a baby, she never cried. As a child, never talked back. As a teenager, never sullen. She was their youngest and their best. Martin had driven drunk and had to go to AA or face jail, and Cora had gotten pregnant and then married and then divorced, and Alistair had failed grade nine. And all of them moved far away from home. But Murdeena never gave them any trouble at all. Agreeable was the word that best described Murdeena. She was always the most agreeable of children. Everybody thought so.
      Gradually, however, she takes to speaking to Margaret-Ann like she believes her to be an idiot.
      "Mother." she says, slow and patient, "there's things you don't understand right now."
      "Mother," she murmurs, smiling indulgently, "all will be explained."
      Margaret-Ann rams a taunt, red fist into a swollen mound of bread dough. "Will you take your 'mothers' and stuff them up your hole, please, dear?"
      "Ah, Mumma," Murdeena shakes her head and wanders away smiling, her bare feet sticking to the kitchen linoleum. Margaret-Ann fires an oven mitt at her daughter's backside, and feels around the counter for something more solid to follow it up with. She can't stand to be condescended to by Murdeena. The world seems on it's head. She can hear her in the living room with Ronald, solemnly advising him to turn off the TV and listen to her tell him something, and Ronald is trying to joke with her, and play round-and-round-the-garden-like-a-teddy-bear on her hand to make her laugh. She won't give him her hand. Margaret-Ann can hear her daughter speaking quietly to her husband while he laughs and sings songs. Margaret-Ann feels dread. She goes to bed without asking Ronald what Murdeena had tried to say.
      It is reported to Margaret-Ann later in the week. The folks at the seniors home were enjoying a slow and lovely traditional reel when the entertainer abruptly yanked her hands from the keys and slammed the piano shut. The loud wooden thunk echoed throughout the common room and the piano wires hummed suddenly in nervous unison. A couple of old folks yelped in surprise, and one who had been sleeping would have lurched forward out of his wheelchair if he hadn’t been strapped in.
      "Murdeena, dear, are you trying to scare the poor old souls out of their skins?" gasped Sister Tina, the events organizer, and Margaret-Anne’s informant.
      "There’s just so much to tell you all," Murdeena reportedly answered, staring down at the shut piano, which looked like a mouth closed over its teeth. "And here I am playing reels!" She laughed to herself.
      "Are you tired, dear?" Sister Tina asked in her little-girl’s voice, always calculated to be soothing and inoffensive to those around her. She moved carefully forward, using the same non-threatening gestures she approached the seniors with.
      With unnerving spontaneity, Murdeena suddenly cried, "There’s so much news!"
      "What’s wrong with her?" barked Eleanor Sullivan, who loved a good piano tune. "Get her a drink of rum!"
      "Give her some slippers, her feet are cold, slurred Angus Chisholm, groggy from being jolted out of his snooze.
      "I have some good wool socks she can put on," Mrs.. Sullivan, the most alert and officious of the bunch of them, offered. "Run and get them for her, Sister, dear." All of a sudden, all the seniors were offering to give Murdeena socks. A couple of them were beckoning for Sister Tina to come and help them off with their slippers - Murdeena obviously had more need of them than they did.
      "I haven't been able to feel my own goddamned feet in years," Annie Chaisson was reasoning, struggling to kick off her pom-pommed knits.
      "For the love of God, everyone keep your shoes on," commanded Sister Tina. "You'll all get the cold and there won't 'be enough people to look after you!"
      "I don't need your footwear!" hollered Murdeena. "I need to be heard! I need to be believed and trusted and heard!"
      It was an outlandishly earnest thing to say, and the old people looked everywhere but at the piano. Murdeena had swung around on the stool and was beaming at them. What came next was worse.
       
      "I take it you've heard," says Murdeena to her mother. She'd gone for a walk after her time with the seniors and stayed out for two and a half hours. Margaret-Ann stands in the middle of the kitchen, practically tapping her foot like a caricature of an angry, waiting mother. You would think Murdeena was a teenager who had been out carousing all night. Ronald is sitting at the kitchen table looking apprehensive because Margaret-Ann told him to and because he is.
      "I take it you have something you'd like to say," Margaret-Ann shoots back. "You're father tells me you've already said it to him. And now that you've said it to a bunch of senile incontinent old friggers, perhaps you can say it to your own mother."
      "All right," says Murdeena, taking a breath. "Here she goes."
      "Let's hear it, then," says Margaret-Ann.
      "I am the Way and the Light," says Murdeena.
      "What's that now?"
      "I am the Way and the Light," says Murdeena.
      "You are," says Margaret-Ann.
      "I am."
      "I see."
      Ronald covers the lower part of his face with his hands and looks from one woman to the other.
      "Now what way and what light is that?" asks Margaret-Ann with her hands on her hips.
      "What -?"
      "What way and what light is it we're talking about?"
      Murdeena swallows and presses her lips together in that stubborn but uncertain way she has. "The way," she says, "to heaven."
      Margaret-Ann looks to her husband, who shrugs.
      "And the light," continues Murdeena, "of - well, you know all this, Mother. I shouldn't have to explain it."
      "Of?"
      "Of salvation."
      Murdeena clears her throat to till up the silence. They are up all night arguing about it.
       
First of all, the arrogance. It is just plain arrogant to walk around thinking you are "the end-all and be-all," as Margaret-Ann insisted on putting it. She would acknowledge it in no other terms.
      "What you're saying is you're better than the rest of us," was Margaret-Ann's argument.
      "No, no!"
      "You're walking around talking like you know everything. No one's going to stand for it."
      "Not everything," said Murdeena. But she was smiling a little, you could tell she thought she was being modest.
      "People aren't going to stand for it," Margaret- Ann repeated. "They're going to say: 'Murdeena Morrisson: who does she think she is?"'
      "Oh, for Pete's sake, Mumma!" burst Murdeena with uncharacteristic impatience. "Don't you think back in Nazareth when Jes - I mean me, when I was telling everyone in Nazareth ..."
      Margaret-Ann covered her ears.
      "…about how I was the Way and the Light back then, don't you think everyone was going around saying: 'Humph.' Jesus Christ! He must think he's some good! Walking around, preaching at people."'
      "This is blasphemy," hollered Margaret-Ann over the sound of blood pumping through her head. She was pressing against her ears too tightly.
      "That's what they said back then, too."
      Margaret-Ann was right and Murdeena was wrong. Nobody wanted to hear it. Everyone liked Murdeena, but she was taking her dirty bare feet and tromping all over their sacred ground. Word spread fast.
       
 Pouring tea for Mrs. Foguere in the church basement, she leans over to speak.
      "Once upon a time, there was a little town on the water ...." she begins.
      "Oh, please, dear, not now," Mrs. Foguere interrupts, knowing by now what's coming and everybody looking at her with pity.
      "No, it's okay," says Murdeena, "I'm telling you a story."
      "I just want to drink my tea, Murdeena, love."
      "There was this whole town of people, you see ... and they were all asleep! The whole town!"
      "I don't believe I care for this story, dear," says Mrs. Fouguere.
      "No, no it's a parable! Just wait," Murdeena persists. "This whole town, they were all asleep, but the thing is ... they were sleepwalking and going about their business just as if they were awake."
      "I don't care to hear it, Murdeena."
      "Yes, for God's sake, dear, go and have a little talk with the Father, if you want to talk," Mrs. MacLaughlin, seated at the next table and known for her straightforward manner, speaks up.
      "But it's a parable!" explains Murdeena.
      "It doesn't sound like much of a friggin' parable to me!" Mrs. MacLaughlin complains. The women nearby all grumble in agreement.
      Murdeena straightens up and looks around at the room: "Well, I'm only starting to get the hang of it!"
      The ladies look away from her. They take comfort, instead, in looking at each other - in their dresses and nylons and aggressive, desperate cosmetics. Someone snickers finally that it was certainly a long way from the Sermon on the Mount, and a demure wave of giggles ripples across the room. Murdeena puts her hands on her hips. Several of the ladies later remark on how like Margaret-Ann she appeared at that moment.
      "To hell with you, then," she declares, and flops from the room, bare feet glaring.
      Murdeena has never been known to say anything like this to anyone before, certainly no one on the Ladies Auxiliary.
       
Sister Tina comes to the house for a visit.
      "Seeing as I'm the Way and the Light," Murdeena explains, "it would be wrong for me not to talk about it as often as possible."
      "Yes, but, dear, it wasn't a very subtle story, was it? No one likes to hear that sort of thing about themselves."
      "The point isn't for them to like it," spits Murdeena. "They should just be quiet and listen to me."
      At this, Margaret-Ann leans back in her chair and caws. Sister Tina smiles a little, playing with the doily the teapot has been placed upon.
      "They should," the girl insists.
      "They don't agree with you, dear."
      "Then they can go to hell, like I said."
      "Wash your mouth out!" gasps her mother, furious but still half-laughing.
      Sister Tina holds up her tiny hand with all the minute authority she possesses. "Now, that's not a very Christian sentiment, is it Murdeena?"
      "It's as Christian as you can get," Murdeena counters. Scandalously sure of herself.
      The next day, the Sister brings the Father.
      "I hate the way she talks to everyone now," Margaret-Ann confides to him in the doorway. "She's such a big know-it-all." The Father nods knowingly and scratches his belly. The two of them, he and Murdeena, are left alone in the dining room so they can talk freely.
      Crouched outside the door, Margaret-Ann hears Murdeena complain:
      "What are dining rooms for, anyway? We never even use this room. Everything's covered in dust."
      "It's for good!" Margaret-Ann hollers in exasperation. Her daughter has grown obtuse, along with everything else. Sister Tina gently guides her back into the kitchen.
      The Father's visit is basically useless. Afterwards he keeps remarking on how argumentative little Murdeena has become. She would not be told. She simply will not be told, he keeps repeating. The Father has little idea how to deal with someone who will not be told. He makes it clear that his uselessness was therefore Murdeena's own fault, and goes off to give Communion to the next-door neighbor, Allan Beaton, a shut-in.
      "Everyone's too old around here," Murdeena mutters once the priest is gone. She's watching him out the window as Allan Beaton's nurse holds the door open to let him in. The nurse is no spring chicken herself. The father is mostly bald with sparse, cotton-ball hair and a face like a crushed paper bag.
      "You're just full of complaints, these days," her mother fumes, hauling a dust rag into the dining room.
       
 So now Murdeena is going around thinking she can heal the sick. She figures that will shut them up. In the parking lot at the mall, Leanne Cameron accidentally slams her seven-year-old boy's finger in the car door and Murdeena leaps from her mother's Chevette and comes running up, bare feet burning against the asphalt, a big expectant grin splitting her face. This scaring the piss out of the little boy, who starts to scream at the sight of her, twice as loud as before. Murdeena tries and tries to grab the hand, but Leanne won't let her anywhere near him. It is a scene that is witnessed and talked about. Margaret-Ann vows never to take Murdeena shopping with her again, or anywhere else, for that matter.
      Margaret-Ann declares that she has officially "had it." She experiments with giving Murdeena the silent treatment, but Murdeena is too preoccupied to notice. This hurts Margaret-Ann's feelings, and so she stops experimenting and quits talking to her daughter altogether. Her days get angrier and quieter, as she waits for Murdeena to take notice of her mother and do the right thing. See to her.
      "See to your mother," Ronald pleads with her at night, lowering his voice so that the television will keep it from carrying into the kitchen. "Please go in and see to her."
      Murdeena's head snaps up as if she had been asleep and someone had clapped their hands by her ear. "Did she hurt herself? Is she bleeding?" She wiggles her fingers eagerly, limbering up.
      She starts lurking around the children's softball games, hoping someone will get a ball in the face or sprain their wrist sliding into home. She hovers like a ghoul and the children play extra carefully all summer long as a result. Murdeena watches toddlers waddling away from their parents, toward broken bottles and the like, with her fingers crossed.
      By now, though, people know to keep their kids away from Murdeena Morrisson. In the space of a couple of months it has become the community instinct. She stalks the adult softball games too, even though she has long since stopped playing for the S.O.B.'s.
       
 No one can very well tell Murdeena to stop coming to play piano, since she has been doing it since she was thirteen and on a volunteer basis -Margaret-Ann thought it would be a good way for her to get some practice and do something nice for the senile incontinent old friggers at the same time. So Murdeena headed over every Sunday after supper, and for the next ten years there never arose any reason for her to stop. It was a perfectly satisfactory relationship, if somewhat stagnant. The seniors asked for, and Murdeena played impeccably, the same songs, Sunday night after Sunday night. "Main's Wedding" and "Kelligrew's Soiree" and such. Some of the seniors who were there when she first started playing had died, but most of them were still around - living out the final years of their lives while Murdeena was experiencing practically the whole of her own, a bland and inoffensive local girl for them to tease about clothes and boyfriends, sucking up her youth.
      But Murdeena will no longer be teased. Her friends have abandoned her in response to the "high and mighty" tone she's adopted with them, her mother is angry, and her father has never spoken to her much in the first place. The seniors are the only captive audience she has. For the first little while after the night she slammed the piano shut, she'd make a slight pretence of being there to play for them, but the tunes would usually trickle off after a few minutes. She'd stealthily start making inquiries about Angus Chisholm's knee, Annie Chaisson's hip, Eleanor Sullivan's arthritis.
      "If you'd just let me hold your hands for a couple seconds, Mrs. Sullivan," she'd plead.
      "My dear, I'd love for you to hold my hands, but not in the spirit of blasphemy."
      They listened, though. The seniors are the most tolerant of the town, for some reason neither threatened nor scandalized by what Murdeena has to say. They don't tease her about the way she looks either - they don't mention her feet. Murdeena's lips are now always thin, and so is her body - she has finally lost all her baby fat from walking the streets for hours into the night and sometimes forgetting to eat supper. It's October, and there's no sign of shoes as yet. The seniors decide it's her own business and they don't say a word.
      And so, stymied by the town, she gradually turns all her attention and efforts to the attentive oldies, stuck in their chairs every Sunday night until the nurses come along to help them to bed, waiting to hear Murdeena. Sister Tina - who writhes-jumps like she's being jabbed with hot pokers at every word out of Murdeena's mouth - soon realizes that she needn't be worried about the girl giving them offence. The seniors greet the blasphemy with more good humour than anyone else in town. Born in farmhouses, raised up on hills or in remote valleys, where to come across another human being, no matter who they were or what they had to say, was a deep and unexpected pleasure - therefore humble, charitable, and polite - the old folks listen, lined up side by side in front of the piano.
      It's like Murdeena figures that the seniors represent the front lines - that if she can just plough her way through them, everything else might fall into place. The world will become reasonable again. So Sunday after Sunday, she abandons the music in order to plead. Sunday after Sunday, now, she pleads with them until dark.
      And they're good about it. They let her talk and hold out her hands to them. They don't complain or interrupt. They smile with their kind and patient old faces and refuse to let themselves be touched.

2000 Lynn Coady

"Jesus Christ, Murdeena" appears in the collection Play the Monster Blind. This electronic version is published by The Barcelona Review by arrangement with The Bukowski Agency, Canada.

This story  may not be archived or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.

author's bio

 lynn.Coady Lynn Coady was adopted into a large Cape Breton family and grew up in industrial Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia, and in the rural Margaree Valley. She graduated from Carlton University in Ottawa and later took her Master's degree from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where she presently lives with her husband. She has published short fiction in most of the literary magazines in Canada; she also produces plays and screenplays. Her first novel, Strange Heaven, was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award for Fiction in 1998, and won the Dartmouth Book Award and the ABPA Booksellers' Choice Award. The book also won its author the 1998 Canadian Author's Association/Air Canada Award for the Most Promising Writer Under Thirty.

photo: Christy Ann Conlin

navigation:                         barcelona review #19                    july - august 2000
-Fiction James Meek: These Lovers
James Meek: And the Days Grow Shorter
Lynn Coady: Jesus Christ, Murdeena
David Ewen: God's Breath
Patricia Anthony: Owl Says
Abel Diaz: Comfortable
-Essay Barbara F. Lefcowitz: Rope, Pockets, The Bidet
-Interview Patricia Anthony: Worlds at War
-Article July and August in Barcelona
-Quiz Toni Morrison
Answers to last issue's William Faulkner Quiz
-Regular Features Book Reviews
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