The Government were doing the student scheme. 200 hours community work and you’d get €600 into your hand for drink in September. Myself and McGrath got a number in an old charity shop in Ballinrobe. Your man that ran it was sound and generally let us do our.own things as long as we turned up.
On the way. I says to McGrath: ‘Nice jacket. Is it new?’
‘Yeah.’ He says. ‘Hobo. 80 quid yesterday.’
‘Not too bad.’
‘It’ll do for the winter. Wonder will it be quiet in here today?’
‘Depends on if Mary’s in.’
Mary was a real shrewd operator. She mighta been young during the second world war but it was hard to know exactly. She was one of these Octogenarians that just sort of plateaued from 82 onwards and gave the impression she’d live forever.
She’d pick up an old teapot and ask: ‘How much for this?’
Then she’d pick up a plate and go: ‘And if I bought this as well?’
‘We’ll give you the two for €1.50.’
She’d consider that, then she’d pick up a dusty mirror, or an old jug and ask: ‘Will you gimme all three for €2??’
She’d put them in her basket then and she’d head over for the clothes and do the same routine.
She was already there when we arrived. Rooting through a box of Charles Dickens. She debated “Great Expectations” for a minute. Flicked through the pages, squinted, then threw it away and began pulling the needle on an old vinyl player in the corner.
There was no one else there, so the pressure was fairly calm. Twas fairly warm too, so McGrath took of his shiny new jacket and threw it in the corner on top of a load of Desperate Dan comics.
We started talking while we waited for Mary to fill her basket.
‘Have you seen Harte lately?’
‘No.’ I says. ‘You?’
‘No. I heard he was doin some kinda rap music.’
‘Yeah. In Irish.’
‘How much for this?’ Asked Mary, holding a man’s shoe in her hand.
‘Euro? Ok.’ She said.
I turned back to McGrath, went: ‘In Irish?!’
‘Yeah, he’s tryin to revive the language, Eminem style.’
‘Fair play to him. Must meet him for pints.’
‘Remember the time he was four days late for the session…?’
‘How much for the scarf?’ Asked Mary.
‘25 cent, Mary.’
’25 cent? Ok.’
‘I might go for a piss.’ Said McGrath. ‘Can you manage here?’
‘I probably can. I’ll scream if there’s a stampede.’
Mary clattering through a box of old tapes and video games.
Sonic the Hedgehog.
Simon and Garfunkel.
She wanted them all.
I let them go for 20 cent a pop and she was delighted.
She made her way over to the clothes.
I left her at it and went looking out the window. For once it wasn’t raining.
‘How much for the anorak?’ Asked Mary.
I didn’t even look, went: ’80 cent, Mary.’
’80 cent? Ok. Will you gimme the shoe and the scarf and the anorak for €1.50.’
‘Oh you’re pushin it now, Mary.’
‘You will, you will, you will.’
‘Jez I don’t know, I suppose we’ll give it to you.’
‘Good lad yourself.’
She reached into a purse and took out a load of coins and paid me and left. I watched her going out the door. She was laden down with enormous bags of all she bought but she seemed as happy as if they were full of gold.
Later we finished up. Started locking the place. Last thing McGrath asked: ‘Have you seen my jacket….?’
‘Your jacket? I asked. ‘Jez I don’t know. I sold an anorak to Mary alright before she left. 80 cent she gave me for it. Not like her to fork out that much for one piece of clothes….’