Weekend Wind Down – Dead Man Walking: 2

Jim Connolly junior was a big, bouncing redhead of a baby, and seemed quite well aware of his status at the centre of the universe. Even his father would lean over the cradle when nobody was about and touch a huge finger to the baby’s soft cheek.
The family moved from the flat to a house with its own little garden when Baby Jim was a year old and Betty was already thickening with his brother or sister.
It was a hot, stuffy afternoon, a couple of weeks after the move and Betty was taking the kids to the park, via a visit to Donny’s mam. She turned the corner into the street where Donny’s family lived, and Mrs J came out of her house to see her granddaughter. She hugged the little girl and grinned at Betty.
‘I shouldn’t ought to say this,’ the old woman rasped in her tobacco-roughened voice, ‘but I reckon our Donny done you a favour when he got hisself squashed.’
Betty patted her arm. ‘Maybe so. But we miss him don’t we.’
Mrs J wiped a furtive tear. ‘Yes. The bugger was the apple of my eye. And he knew it. Thanks for letting me see little Donna, she’s all I have of him.’
‘Aye. I know that, and you’re all she has of him too.’
They didn’t stay much longer, as the coolness of the park beckoned. Betty sat on a convenient bench, while Donna clambered monkey-like about the tall climbing frame. Once she was sure the little girl was safely occupied, Betty let her mind wander a little – remembering how Donny’s mam had never had any time for her while he was alive, and the callous way the old woman had driven her from the mean little house she and Donny had shared right after he was killed. None of that had been unexpected, but when Mrs J had humbled her pride enough to come to the flat and beg to be allowed to see Donna that had been a surprise. It had never occurred to her to say no, and when the old woman had gone on her way she also remembered the warmth of Jim’s arm about her and how his approval had made her feel. He had kissed her on the top of her head and spoken in a slightly thickened voice.
‘You’re some kind of a girl, Betty. Did it never occur to you that you could have said no?’
She had looked up at him in some confusion. ‘Why’d I want to do that? It ain’t her fault she’s the way she is, and Donna’s her only grandbaby.’
The thumbs he rubbed across her cheekbones had felt like a blessing of sorts.
The next day he brought her flowers, yellow scented roses and oxeye daisies tied with a bow of yellow ribbon. If she concentrated she could still smell those roses.
But that was then, and now it was time to go home and water the garden before she cooked fish and chips for tea. She scooped up Donna and sat the tired little girl in the end of the pram, where she started up a soft-voiced babble of conversation with her baby brother. They were all but home when a pair of figures in a bus stop caught her eye. They seemed incongruous in this settled family area although she couldn’t at first figure out why. The woman fitted in fine, being young and very modestly dressed with her mouse-brown hair coiled in a neat bun and a blue linen hat to shield her from the afternoon sun. No. It was the man who was wrong. He had his back to her, but his pinstripe suit, patent leather shoes and fedora hat marked him as a wide boy to anyone with eyes to see. Then he turned around and her heart did strange things in her chest. It was Donny. He recognised her almost immediately and the smile that lifted one corner of his mouth took her back to the dancehall where they first met. He winked, and bent his head to the girl in the bus shelter.
As the girl lifted her hand Betty could see the gold of a wedding ring. She looked down at the band on her own left hand and that steadied her more than anything else could have. While Donny pitched his new love whatever tale he was weaving, Donna looked up at Betty and grinned.
‘Hungry Mum,’ she said.
And those simple words solidified something in Betty’s chest, showing her precisely what she needed to do. Donny Jackson had walked away from his life, his debts, his enemies, and his responsibilities. Now, if she wasn’t mistaken, he was thinking he could pick up where he left off. Only he couldn’t. His face might still be able to set her stomach aflutter, but she couldn’t forgive what he had done. Not only had he left her with nothing, he had also left his mother to mourn him as dead. Worst of all, though, there was Donna, and without Jim that little girl would have been going to bed hungry at least five nights out of seven.
Betty stiffened her spine and watched Donny come out of the bus shelter walking with his usual swagger. He walked towards her with his hands outstretched and she blanked him, willing her eyes to show no sign of recognition. She drew almost level with him and he opened his mouth to speak. Betty ran the wheels of the pram over his highly polished shoes and then kept on walking.

© jane jago

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