by Moya Roddy
Fuckin’ mad, Stacey thinks, eyeing the crowd milling outside the theatre. Imagine goin’ to hear poetry this hour of the morning. Across the entrance of the building a large banner blazes: Cuirt International Festival of Poetry and Literature. Stacy wonders what ‘Cuirt’ means? Something to do with courting? Isn’t that what her Granny calls snogging? Having a good court, she’d say, except she pronounces it curt. Not that Stacey can imagine her granny kissing anyone. Or anyone kissing her granny. Still she must have, otherwise her ma wouldn’t be here. And if her ma wasn’t here she wouldn’t be standing outside a poxy courthouse waiting for her case to be called. Her granny shoulda kept her tongue to herself.
Stacey shakes out a cigarette, lights up. It’s mainly middle-aged women across the road, although there’s a few girls her own age, one of them chatting to a gink with glasses. What kind of poetry do you like? Me hole! Going to a fuckin’ poetry reading and she’s up for stealing a bloody hair straightener. Top of the range though; she’d been hoping to sell it to her sister-in-law whose hair frizzed if you so much as sneezed near her. Would ye look at them, gab, gab, gab. Wonder why nobody on this side is talkin’? Except the barristers and solicitors and they’re only talking shite.
I could be over there, Stacy suddenly thinks, I used to like poetry at school, be good at it. When I went. Fuck! I’ll be feeling sorry for meself in a minute. Where the hell is Dennis- She scans the foyer of the courthouse, just in time to see him speeding towards her like a giant bat, hair and spit flying.
‘Stacey, sorry, I got caught up in Court 2. You won’t be called before 12.30. I had a word with the magistrate.’
‘What am I supposed to do? Hang round this bleedin’ dump for all morning?’
‘You could go into town, I suppose.’ He looks at her sharply. ‘If you do any shopping, remember to pay for it!’
Stacey gives him the finger. Not that she minds Dennis. He’s alright. Mostly.
‘Sorry. Have to go. 12. 30. Here. Don’t be late.’
Stubbing out her fag, Stacey watches him rush back in, gown ballooning, documents slipping.
Asshole, she thinks, tripping down the steps.
The poetry crowd has begun to drift in. Crossing to the other side of the road Stacey stiffens, certain they’re all watching her.
Relax, I’m not going to nick your bag. Not today anyway.
Stupid cows, she likes the thought of putting the wind up them.
From inside the theatre a buzzer sounds. Stacey stops, lingers at the bottom of the steps, awkward.
‘It’ll be starting soon,’ a woman nudges her.
‘I’m not goin’.’
‘It might be good. It’s free anyway.’
She watches the woman push open the doors, disappear inside. Notices the traffic lights at the junction have turned – giving her the green light.
Cheaper than a cup of coffee, she decides, attaching herself to the tail end of a raggedy queue, her eyes glued to the ground. Anyway she doesn’t want to risk bumping into Ryan up town. Bastard! Didn’t even turn up this morning although she’d asked him. Told him she was up anyway. Just as well. Great impression he’d make on a judge.
The warmth hits her as soon as she slides into her seat. It’s next to the exit so at least she can do a runner if it’s crap. All around, mouths open and shut like the goldfish in her granny’s flat, only noisy. Her granny is going to kill her when she finds out. Why did she nick it? Impulse. Just saw the thing, next it was in her bag. There’s a crackling sound then a voice booms from a large speaker. Stacey listens to the usual warnings about exits, entrances, not taking photos, turning off mobiles. When the announcement is over there’s a silence, a feeling of expectation. After a few minutes of nothing, a hippy-looking man ambles onto the stage.
‘You’re all welcome,’ he announces, ‘to this year’s annual Cuirt Festival ...’
Stacey’s fingers tap her thigh. She feels trapped sitting there. Like in a holding cell. Everyone claps when the man is finished, the sound increasing as a woman scuttles out from the wings. ‘Thank you. Thank you. I’m delighted to be here,’ she beams. She’s nervous looking, the papers in her hand trembling.
Just like that woman, Stacey thinks. The one she robbed, the one they haven’t caught her for. Shook all over she had, handing her the purse. Stacey hadn’t meant to scream so loudly, it was the way the woman reacted made her.
She squints at the stage. What must it be like walking out there, hearing all that applause. Everyone looking at you, expecting something. She’d die. Like being in the school play, only worse. Not that she’d ever been in one. Never been asked.
The woman fumbles, begins to read.
Stacey’s mouth twists into a sneer. Fuck, she hasn’t even learned the poem. Stacey checks to see if anyone else minds but no one seems arsed. Signs on, she’s never had Sister Agnes for English. Aggy wouldn’t have stood for that. You’d get a real bollicking if you couldn’t say it off. The poem is over in a flash and when only a few people clap Stacey feels sorry for the woman. As soon as the second poem begins Stacey realises she hadn’t heard a word of the first. She couldn’t listen.
Slumping in the seat, Stacey closes her eyes. The woman’s voice has a kind of soothing rhythm or maybe it’s the words; half-listening she feels her body relax, settle, the rush of blood slow. God, she’s tired. Tired, fucking tired. The voice grows fainter and fainter, vanishes ...
Stacey wakes with a start. People are standing, pulling on coats and jackets. Fuck, the time! She pulls out her mobile. Twelve twenty-five, she’s alright. There’s a new crowd standing in front of the theatre and ducking out from behind them Stacy sees Dennis pacing up and down outside the courthouse. Spotting her, his eyebrows shoot up.
‘Didn’t know you liked poetry,’ he comments as soon as she reaches him.
‘I don’t. Are we going in?’’
‘We’ve got another few minutes. Wasn’t the reading any good?’
‘I fell asleep.’
He looks at her, the way guards do when they want you to incriminate yourself.
‘Alright, I used to like poetry at school. One poem anyway. Can’t remember, something about going into a wood.’ She knows it by heart but she’s no intention of telling him. ‘Do you mean Yeats? The Song of the Wandering Aengus?’
‘“I went into a hazel wood, because a fire was in my head....”’
‘Yeah, that’s it, so,’ Stacey interrupts. She doesn’t like the idea of him knowing it. Spoiling it.
‘What do you like about it?’
‘Nothin’, I dunno. It’s how I feel sometimes, s’pose. There a fuckin’ like fire in me head.’
She shouldn’t be telling him. Tells him too much as it is.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Ah fuck. Listen, you gotta get me off. I can’t go down. It’ll kill my mother and me granny. You won’t see me here again. I promise. Cross me heart.’
‘You said that last time. You know it won’t be easy. There’s your previous.’
‘I didn’t mean it when I said it last time. I do now. I’ve a boyfriend Ryan, we’re gonna like, get a place together.’
‘Tell me about the poem? The fire in your head.’
‘What for? It’s like, nothin’, like seeing red ...’ Stacy shuts up. It’s embarrassing talking like this.
‘Is that what happens,’ he pursues, ‘before you take something, you see red?’
‘Maybe. Dunno. Who cares? You’ll get me off, won’t ye?’
‘I’ll try. Behave yourself in there. No temper.’
Stacey listens to the proceedings, trying not to catch the judge’s eye. Fuckin’ woman magistrate, the worst. Feel they have to punish you.
At the end of his plea, Dennis sits down then seems to change his mind.
‘Might I request this case be adjourned for Reports?’ he asks, standing up again.
The magistrate sniffs. ‘I don’t think I see any need for Reports. Young lady, I meet your kind far too often in my court, you’re a disgrace.’
‘Your Honour I think ... My client gave me some new information … which may have some bearing.’
‘What sort of information?’
‘What I‘m proposing is a psychiatric report. You see my client told me before she commits a crime, that, as she puts it, her head goes on fire, she sees red....’
‘What the fuck....’ Stacey screams, jumping to her feet.
‘Young lady, one more word out of you....’
‘That was private, dickhead! What are you telling the whole world for!’ Stacey’s heart is thumping, the room spinning.
The magistrate bangs the table. ‘I warned you.’
‘I’m not fuckin’ mad, I’d rather go to fuckin’ prison.’
‘That’s precisely where you are going. I sentence Stacey O’Connor to six month. Leave to appeal withheld.’
‘Bastard!’ Stacey shouts at Dennis as they lead her away, ‘fuckin’ bastard!’