Bernadette drove to work for 5am every Saturday and Sunday morning. A red magic tree swung back and forth like a pendulum on the rear-view mirror of her car. She could see it out of the corner of her eye as she drove. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat as nausea overcame her. ‘I am gonna be fired, I am gonna be fired’, Bernadette muttered to herself.
She needed this job because she needed the money to move out of home where she was living with her mother and go travelling around Europe. She worked part time as an assistant in the local radio station. During the crash it was the only job she could get. She was alone in the radio station from 5am till 5pm every weekend. The main headquarters of the radio station was in another town far away. It was where all the hotshot DJs worked. The attitude they had towards this satellite station was that it was a country bumpkin station that played Country and Western music. They also held the belief that all its listeners were backward and toothless cretins. There was a running joke amongst them that every time they ran the vacuum cleaner in ‘Backwater FM’ the radio cut out. Dead air was an anathema in the radio station game but over at Backwater FM it was the order of the day. The adverts were for 10-10-20 fertiliser, nursing homes and cattle nuts.
Pulling up finally outside the radio station she jumped out of the car and raced up the stairs panting. She tripped on her scarf and fell face forward on the top step. Unbothered about her tooth protruding into her lower lip she continued, punched in the code and blasted her way into the studio. She wrenched the fax with the weather forecast out of the fax machine. The place was empty as it always was at the weekends and the phone was ringing incessantly as it always did.
It was Bernadette’s job to feed in the adverts for her region in between programmes presented by the DJ’s at headquarters. She had to listen in to their shows to make sure she ran the local adverts in her region at the right time. She also read the local weather, answered phones and took death notice details from undertakers. Another part of her job was actually reading out the death notices live on air. When they first told her this was part of her job, she thought they were joking, and it was some sort of test to see how gullible she was. Like when she was 17 and had just started working stocking shelves in Dunnes Stores and someone told her to go and get the key to the ‘Banana Room’. She didn’t want to get caught out like that again. However, sadly it was truly a part of the job.
Her Mother had been so happy when she found out that she had been offered this job. Her only daughter reading the death notices on local radio filled her with pride. The thought that she had reached these dizzying heights of achievement meant that she could tell all the neighbours. Her daughter may as well have been the first female priest on the planet such was the honour. It cast such a positive light on this household of herself and her three children. All she needed now was for one of them to become a teacher and another a Guard and she could die a happy woman. It mattered only that they chose jobs that could be deemed vocations, and, to her, it was quite plausible that God had called Bernadette to read the death notices on local radio. The fact that she read the weather was an added bonus.
But the reality of it was that as soon as Bernadette was finished reading the death notices live on air, she had to run hell for leather to answer the telephone and breathlessly apologise for mispronouncing the names of obscure places in Donegal.
One day she could not find the details that she had written down with information of all the deaths in the region. She had no option but to play the gentle piano music prelude and announce that ‘unfortunately there are no death notices to report this evening’. Her manager had a few words for her over that one.
This job was particularly difficult when faxes with the weather forecast from Met Eireann didn’t arrive. She had to rely on lifting the dingy blinds, looking out the window and making up the weather forecast herself. She arbitrarily decided upon a range of temperatures so that she could not be held to account due to her lack of specificity. This had also been picked up by her manager.
Sometimes the challenges of her job became so frustrating that she felt like reading out the names of mean girls that she had known at school. She would never have dared do this type of thing but she thought about it frequently. She would fantasize about bestowing an untimely death on Romaney Duffy. She had sat beside Romaney in Junior Cert Irish over in the prefabs all those years ago at school. She imagined herself announcing in a mournful sombre voice ‘The death will occur of Romaney Duffy, family flowers only please…etc etc.’
Romaney was the one who had started her nickname Bernie blow job. This nickname had followed Bernadette ever since. Its alliterative appeal ensured that it had stuck to her. Even boys from St. Nathys Community College had heard of her although never met her. So it had a knock on effect on her interactions with all the local boys. Her Christian name of Bernadette had not done enough to ward of this particular evil no matter how little she knew about the subject. In the eyes of the school community, she was an aficionado at fellatio. ‘Bernie blow job.’ She did not want to be so misunderstood, but there was nothing she could do about it now.
This stood in stark contrast with the beautiful image of St Bernadette her mother had envisioned in naming her. St. Bernadette who, allegedly, when walking in her feet gathering sticks for firewood had seen Our Lady. Her mother was sad at the unfortunate sullying of her beautiful name. The image of her daughter down on her knees was to kneel in prayer not in the worship at the altar of carnal pleasures.
At home in her kitchen her Mother listened with pride to the sound of her daughter on the radio reading the death notices. ‘Rise up the death notices there!’ or ‘Shhhh the death notices are on!’ These were regular mantras in their home. Her Mother would rush in after mass to hear them and shush the living daylights out of anyone who spoke over them for fear, she would miss the name of a friend or even better a former friend. Bernadette often wondered what opera of emotions ran through her Mother’s body as she listened to the details of all of these deaths of people she knew. What about the people she didn’t know? Why did she need to know about them?
Bernadette wondered at the fascination people had with listening to these death notices. Did they listen for the people they liked, loved, hated, admired, were jealous of? Was it to hear about people they had borrowed stuff off of or had lent stuff to? Did they listen out for the names of the people who they had gotten a job ahead of or who they had been passed over for a job? Were they waiting to hear the name of someone whose boyfriend they had stolen or of the person who had reneged on a promise to marry them? What about hearing the name of someone they had left at the altar or someone who had ignored them or scorned them? Were they listening out in the hope of hearing the names of people who they had made love to or who they wished they had made love to? Maybe it was just a passing interest to see if they would hear the name of someone, they had bought cow nuts off of, or the person from whom they had stolen apples from their orchards or at night had thrown stones through their windows.
Was it the thrill of experience they were seeking in listening to this ticker tape of names running around in their heads? For one moment in the day, they felt something and were touched. Was a story resolved and an experience lived through the resolution of another person’s story? Maybe they felt comfort in knowing that this was not their time. Maybe they felt like it was something they were cheated of and wished it was their turn. ‘What a weird high or low to experience as you flick the kettle on to boil?’, Bernadette thought.
She often remembered wandering into the kitchen for a sandwich and catching sight of her Mother standing alone tensed slightly with her ear cocked. She looked so at peace. She was still in that moment and there was a break from the daily worries of the household. There was an ecstasy to that moment where she was truly in the moment. It was as though there was something happening right then and there in front of her eyes. As she heard the names of people on the radio it was like she was listening to waves crashing against rocks. An announcement could sound the death knell of her archrival at the bridge club who had gone under the hammer for the last time, dealt their last trick, totted their calculator for the last time or whatever the appropriate reference could be for bridge club players. There might be an intimacy shared in that moment too. Maybe there was an intimacy with the one who has gone. You think of them and them alone in that moment and it is just you and them.
But Bernadette also thought that of the names of the people she read out over the air waves. This was a time where a person lost their agency. They were now spoken about in the third person. They would never be called ‘you’ again. They would from now on be called ‘he’ or ‘she’. It was as though they were outside the door or in another country or they could just be away in space now for all we knew. We are the ones with the power. They are apart from us, and we are the kings and queens of our domains again. We are the jolly livers; they are the dead and their consciousness has no influence on us anymore. They are a thing of the past and we are the present and we have a future to get on with. Could they now be omniscient?
‘What are ya doin shushing the daylights outta me while you are making love to the death notices there, ya big weirdo?’, Bernadette asked her Mother one day. She believed her Mother secretly hoped she would one day hear her Dad’s name announced in the past tense over local radio. They didn’t know where he was, but Bernadette was sure he didn’t live in the province any longer.
People used to talk about her Father. Apparently, his smile sang the praises of wine, work and women. When he told a story he had a tongue like quicksilver and a flicker in his eye that must have come straight from the belly of the devil. Over the years these were some of things that Bernadette had heard about her Father.
Apparently, he had tortured her Mother to distraction. In fact people said that he tortured every woman he had ever been in a relationship with. Allegedly, he had systematically cheated on all his female entanglements.
After all this time she knew lots of stories about him but had heard none of them from his own mouth. All she wanted to know at the end of the day was whether or not he was still around the place.
Mark was his name. Her parents had met in person for the first time on their wedding day.
The Grandparents had arranged it. Her Mother had seen him for the first time in a
photograph hurriedly shoved in front of her face by her own Mother. After meeting with his
parents, it was arranged. He turned 40 on their wedding day and she was just about to turn
25. He had jet black hair with no grey whatsoever. He looked as though he
was aged more in the region of his late twenties at that time. But her Mother loved him. She
had a notion embedded in her brain about him. She could not and would not let it go.