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Author's note: Picture, courtesy of `Dundee City'
* MARY ELLEN 1848 *
The wooden door was as weathered, and as old, as the building it was in. It afforded a certain amount of privacy and rejected most of the weather. The door frame was twisted, from the settling of the building. Thus the door allowed for a certain amount of air and temperature exchange because it no longer fit the frame as well as it had originally. Both the door and the building had stood for many years and would probably stand for many more.
The door rattled against its leather hinges, as it was knocked on, from the outside.
Her reddish hair, though once shiny and smooth, was dull and dishevelled. Her face, haggard by a rough, though short, life, looked querulously at the door. When the knocking came a second time, she drew a shawl over her shoulders, covering the naked baby and the naked breast it was feeding at.
In complete difference to the majority of males in the village, the man at the door was short, chubby, and immaculately dressed, "Good Morning to you, Mrs. Monaghan. I see you're up and about."
"Ye've come for the rent Mr. McTavish." It wasn't a question, just a statement of fact, said in an abrupt way.
"That's not a very kindly tone in your voice Mary Ellen Monaghan. You must admit I didn't bother you for the rent two months ago when the babe was born, nor did I trouble you last month when your husband was lost. It is three months rent that you owe."
"Yes. And you'll be wanting interest on that, I suppose."
"Well, I am a business man." He said in explanation. "I do have expenses to pay."
"And I have a boy to feed and no job."
"And how is the boy?" he asked, trying to lighten the mood.
"Devastated, to say the least. The sun rose and fell on his da. He spends all day sittin' on the dock, waitin' for his da to come home. When the fish boats come in at night he asks all the fishermen if they have seen his da."
"He isn't able to accept the fact that the ocean has taken his da away forever. Like it did my brother last year and my da the year before. I suppose soon it will take Trevor."
"Now, now, Mary Ellen. The boy is still in school."
"But for how long? I'm but a woman. How can I put bread on the table? He is terribly young but he is the man in the family now. And where else is there for a man to find work in this village? There is not but fishing for the men, and weeping for the women, when the men don't return. I wish the sea would rise up and swallow the whole damn town. Then it would all be over." Mary Ellen sank down onto an old chair wedged between the doorway and a rickety wooden table.
Mr. McTavish looked furtively over his shoulder. Seeing that he was not observed he stepped inside. Quietly closing the door behind him he went down on one knee in front of Mary Ellen, "Mary, Mary, don't despair. You are young. You will find another husband. I know that is something you are not thinking about with your man only gone a month. But time will heal all things."
"Time, Mr. McTavish. Where will I get time? Look at my face. Look at what time has done to it. I was never beautiful but look at me now. And what will I look like in time. What man would want me even if I didn't have two sons that weren't his. Would you marry me carrying a new born and dragging a youngster behind?"
"Yes, I would, Mary Ellen. Have I not known you since you were your son's age? I have seen you grow from a wisp of a girl in pigtails to a mature woman. Had I not been a married man I would have asked for your hand myself." Mary Ellen was smoothing her faded skirt over her knees, Mr. McTavish took her roughened hand and held it.
"And you are still married, so you can flatter me all you want, but you can't marry me. All you can do is stop by each month and collect your rent, rent that I won't have the money to pay." Though her arm was tense she didn't pull her hand from Mr. McTavish's grasp.
"Yes, I can stop by and collect the rent, but you need not pay me in coin."
"And how else would I pay you?"
"There are other forms of barter in the world besides coin, Mary Ellen."
Mary Ellen pulled her hand from his grasp and stood, her shawl falling from her shoulders. She clasped the baby tighter but was unable to cover herself. "Mr. McTavish, you're not suggesting?"
With an effort, the overweight landlord put both hands on the floor and pushed himself erect. Barely as tall as Mary Ellen he looked directly at her naked breast.
With lust in his eyes, he pleaded with her, "All I am suggesting, Mary Ellen, is that you are a lovely lady with little coin. Coin that you need to feed your boy. When I stop to collect the rent, instead of giving me coin, you could give me an hour of your time."
"An hour to share with the babe. You have two, Mary Ellen. The babe only needs one. I wouldn't drink it all."
"My milk?" Mary Ellen asked, astonishment in her tone.
Never lifting his eyes to hers, afraid she would say `no' and also riveted by the sight of her swollen mammary, he nervously lifted his hand. He started to place his hand so he could cup her breast from beneath but was afraid she would stop him. Instead he lay the flat of his hand on her chest. Slowly and softly he slid his hand down.
"I would wait my turn Mary Ellen. I would wait till the babe was finished. I would only drink what he had left in the one and leave the other for him when he wakes."
Still not quite comprehending, Mary Ellen allowed his hand to pass over the top of her breast. As his thumb and finger circled the nipple that had so recently fed her child she asked, "Do I understand you Mr. McTavish? You wish to sup my milk?"
"Yes, Mary Ellen. Warm, sweet milk. I haven't had any since my youngest was born, over ten years ago." As he spoke, his head was moving ever closer to her chest. When he finished speaking his tongue began to caress the dark red nipple.
She didn't push him away and after several seconds he sucked her nipple into his mouth and cupped her breast with both of his hands. Squeezing and sucking produced a flow of warm liquid that made him shiver with delight.
The baby began to stir and Mary Ellen gently pushed Mr. McTavish from her. "No, Mary Ellen. Please. A bit more," he pleaded.
"Just a bit more? I am afraid Trevor will come in and see us. Let me put the baby to bed. My back and arms are getting tired."
"Yes. Yes. Get comfortable Mary Ellen. Sit down somewhere. The bed. Sit on the side of the bed."
"Patience Mr. McTavish. I'll be but a minute."
Mary Ellen wrapped the baby in a blanket and placed him on the side of the bed, against the wall, then turned and sat.
She was barely seated on the edge of the bed before Mr. McTavish was kneeling between her legs, his face buried in her cleavage, his hands twisting her breasts towards his mouth.
"Does it taste that good Mr. McTavish?"
Pausing for a breath he gasped, "I have never tasted anything as sweet. Do you not agree, Mary Ellen?"
"I wouldn't know. I have never tasted it."
"Oh, but you must taste it. I want you to taste it." With this he stood up.
While he had been on his knees he had been undoing his breeches. Now he pushed them below his knees.
"What are you doing Mr. McTavish?"
"I want you to taste your milk, Mary Ellen. I want you to put some on my staff and then lick it off."
"Just hold it."
He slid his hands along her arms and brought her hands up to his manhood. Then taking one of her breast in his hands he began to squeeze it until the milk ran onto his staff. "Now Mary Ellen." Placing his hands on the back of her head he pressed her mouth towards his milk covered member. "Lick it off Mary Ellen. Taste your own milk."
She couldn't move her head back because of the pressure of his hands but she was still holding his manhood and she pushed it away from her mouth.
"Please, Mary Ellen," He said as he grabbed her hands and pulled his member to her mouth, "Please try it. You'll like it as much as I do."
She opened her mouth to protest but it was immediately filled with his staff. Thinking she was acquiescing, he urged, "That's it Mary Ellen, lick. Soon your milk will be joined by my milk and then you'll have a treat."
He reached below her chin and lifting her breasts up he wrapped them around his manhood. No sooner had her warm flesh engulfed his then he erupted.
Shudder after shudder ran through his body. He had to drop her breasts and grab her head for support or he would have fallen on top of her.
Her face, like her blouse and shawl, was clean. Her shoulders were bent and her back was slouched. She kept her face towards the ground. It was a small town and she knew everyone in it. Though she had seen no one, when she had left home she knew that the neighbours would know Mr. McTavish had been in her rooms an uncommonly long time.
It had not taken long to wash the man's saliva from her breasts but it had been impossible to remove from them the feel of his hands. In her hand she clutched the rent money that he had not taken from her.
Mary Ellen Monaghan had been raised a God fearing Catholic. She had never know a man before her husband and in her wildest imaginations, not that her imagination would ever swing in such a direction, she never would have believed that sex could be performed in any position other than the missionary.
Before she knew what was happening she had paid the three months rent. That cunning Mr. McTavish had taken her unawares. And the next rent would be due in one week.
Not again. She would not commit such sins again. To hold a man's privates in her hand. Sinful it was. Even if she had been married she wouldn't have done such a thing and with a man who wasn't her husband. May the good Lord forgive her. She would sleep in the streets before it would happen again.
With the feeling that all the sordid details of her earlier encounter with her landlord were plainly written on her face for all the world to see, she presented herself to the clerk in the office of the coach lines.
The young man was also the bartender, as the coach office merely took up a foot or two of whichever portion of the bar the man was standing behind at the time the transaction took place.
"It's been a good long time since you've graced us with your presence Mary Ellen. Would you like a pint to start the day?"
"I've not come for drinking, Terry Finnegan." She replied tartly.
"We're a bit formal today aren't we Mary Ellen Monaghan," Have you forgotten the tot that sat behind you in school?"
"I'm sorry Terry. I Didn't mean to be rude."
"Not at all, Mary Ellen. Have a pint." Terry set a freshly poured mug in front of her.
"It would probably help to wash the taste... It would probably taste delicious but I can't..., Mary Ellen started to push the mug away from her.
"It's on me, Mary Ellen. Drink up," Terry said as he put his hand on hers and pushed the mug back towards her. "My way of saying I'm sorry for your loss."
"Your loss too. You were close."
"We were. Though I haven't see much of him since he got married. I must admit I had my doubts. The amount of time he and I used to spend in here. And you weren't exactly a teetotaller yourself. The two of you took that marriage business pretty seriously. I'm sorry Mary Ellen. Here drink up. Tell me what's on your mind? You said you didn't come in here to drink."
"No," Her voice broke. She wiped a tear from her eye and then took a drink from the frothing mug. "I wanted to ask you about the coach that stops here every morning. Where does it go?"
"Well Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings it goes south to Arklow and then Wexford. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday it goes North to Bray and then Dublin. Are you going to take a trip Mary Ellen?"
"I need to get away Terry. Away from the sea. Away from the memories. Those towns you mentioned, are any of them away from the sea?"
"No, Arklow and Bray are just like Wicklow. Small fishing villages on the coast. Wexford and Dublin are both on the water but they are much bigger. They are cities. If you want to get away from the sea you would have to go further North."
"How far could I go with this?" She took the rent money from her pocket and dropped it on the counter as if it was burning her hand.
Terry shuffled the coins around with his finger, "Bray. With the baby on your lap. There would be no charge for the baby. But there isn't enough here for Trevor. He is too big to sit on your lap. It would be cheaper for him to ride on top but you still wouldn't have enough."
"It'll be okay," Terry tried to take her hand but she pulled it away."
"No. I have to get away. I have to go some place I can't hear the sea. All day long I hear the sea. Every wave that hits the rocks calls Trevor's name. If I stay here the sea will claim Trevor, and then Jamie, the way it took my father, his father, and now my husband."
Gathering the coins from the countertop, Terry reached across the counter and put them in Mary Ellen's pocket, "You could beg."
"Beg a ride. Boys do it all the time. You go to the edge of town early in the morning and ask everyone leaving town. Often a traveller will have room and the boys get a free ride all the way to Dublin. They come home the same way."
With a bright face Mary Ellen clasped Terry's hand, "Thank you, Terry, thank you."
With a quick step Mary Ellen stepped around nets and over lines. At the end of the wharf she found her son. Sitting on a pile of fishing net, the boy looked out to the sea, watching for a father who would never return.
With sad eyes he looked up at his mother, then looked back to the horizon. There were no vessels of any kind riding the slight swells of the vast blue ocean.
Mary Ellen sat on the pile of net that awaited mending, "May I sit with you awhile, Trevor?"
The boy didn't answer. Mary Ellen put her arm around his shoulders and pulled the boy to her, "I know it is hard for you to understand Trevor. It is hard for me to understand. But the truth is there in front of you."
"There are no boats coming in. You can sit here for the rest of your life and you will see boats come in everyday but none of them will carry your father."
The boy tried to pull away but she held him tighter, "Listen to me Trevor Monaghan. Your father was a brave man but he was a fisherman. He fought a war that all fisherman fight, and he lost. He wouldn't want you crying about it for the rest of your life and he wouldn't want you to fight the same war. I want you to take a long last look at the sea and say a prayer for your father's soul and then we will leave this wharf."
Mary Ellen took her arm from the boy and after a minute of silence she wiped his eyes with the sleeve of her faded dress. Taking Trevor by the hand she led him back along the wharf. She silently nodded as she passed two old men who were lazing in the sun smoking pipes and watching the gulls picking at scraps in nets that hadn't been cleaned. With an understanding nod they silently replied to her greeting.
By noon Mary Ellen was beginning to lose her determination. Her legs were sore, her back was sore. Trevor was restless and so was the baby.
The coach had gone by as well as several people on horseback. Only a couple of wagons had passed and they were full of freight, no room for riders. Nearly everyone who had passed, going into or leaving town, knew Mary Ellen and had stopped to talk. Embarrassment from explaining her position, as well as Trevor's constant requests to stay, was wearing down her determination.
Early in the morning old Mr. Dinsmore had stopped on his way into town and had talked to Mary Ellen for some time before continuing his journey. Having finished his few errands about town he stopped for a shave and a haircut, something he hadn't done for many years.
After dawdling over lunch he took a long stroll along the wharf, stopping to talk to the old men he hadn't taken the time to talk to for months. The afternoon wore on and he took his time going back to his wagon and putting the horse into its harness.
As he had hoped, Mary Ellen was still at the side of the road and nearly ready to pack it in as a lost cause. Without too much persuasion he was able to convince her that she could ride with him as far as his cottage.
There, he told her, she could continue to try until dark and if she still didn't have a ride she could spend the night in his empty room.
Mr. Dinsmore's eldest son had died in battle. His only daughter had been raped and killed by the English. Mrs. Dinsmore had died giving birth to their second son who got his foot tangled in some kelp and drown at the age of ten. For many years now Mr. Dinsmore had lived alone.
He told Mary Ellen that his horse was old and let it pick a leisurely pace. Thus it was nearly dusk by the time he reached home and by then he had convinced Mary Ellen to spend the night.
They enjoyed a hearty meal, Mary Ellen doing the cooking and Mr. Dinsmore supplying items that he had brought from town especially for the occasion, telling Mary Ellen that he always enjoyed such a bil' o' fare.
The long day and the heavy meal made Trevor tired and he was tucked up and sound asleep soon after supper.
With much persuasion Mr. Dinsmore was able to coerce Mary Ellen into sharing his bed for the night. But try as he might, the next morning, he could not convince her to make it a permanent arrangement.
Bright and early, Mary Ellen had Trevor washed and fed. With Mr. Dinsmore's assurance that the room was available in the evening, if she failed to get a ride, she walked the short lane to the road.
As had happened the day before, riders and wagons passed in both directions, some stopping to talk. The coach went speeding by coating her and Trevor with a fine layer of grey dust.
Mr. Dinsmore never ceased to watch through his window. He saw, much to his displeasure, a wagon stopping. A farmer helped Mary Ellen to the seat, threw her only bag of possessions on top of his load, sat Trevor on the tailboard, and, climbing aboard, gathered the reins, and disappeared down the road.
It took Mary Ellen several days to get to Dublin and by then she knew a lot about men and their desires. She learned and she earned, and by the time she reached the city she had more coin then when she had left Wicklow.
She also knew what kind of work she would look for. Though the idea was vile and debasing she also knew that she really didn't have another way to earn money.
With the extra coin that she had earned, Mary Ellen was able to rent a decent apartment in a semi respectable part of town. Through time and word of mouth she developed a select list of semi respectable clients.
However, after a year, she contacted a not so respectable client who introduced her to the, not at all respectable, pox. Within a very short time her client list shrank, as did her income. She was soon forced to move to a less desirable part of the city where the rents were cheaper.
Mary Ellen could no longer afford a nanny for Jamie. Trevor was forced to quit school and watch his younger sibling while their mother plied her trade on the streets.
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