Read a story from the RTÉ Short Story Competition shortlist 2022 – read Scrappage by Aingeala Flannery below, and listen to the story read by Jane Brennan above.

Aingeala Flannery is a writer, journalist, and broadcaster. Her debut novel The Amusements was published in June 2022; she is deputy publisher of The Dublin Review and is currently working on her second novel. Her story Kamikaze was broadcast in this competition series in 2018.

Aingeala says: "Scrappage is a story about memory and loss. I’m intrigued by cast-off objects in charity shops, auctions and especially in household skips. When people bought and owned fewer things, their belongings told a story..."


Scrappage

Yvette can go to hell. John-Paul, her oily runt of a husband, can join her. When I opened the curtains this morning there were four traffic cones stacked in the front garden. Isn't the 'FOR SALE’ sign rising like a gallows out of the earth enough of an eyesore for her? Apparently not.

She sends a text: Move the car. Skip arriving at 11.

Our mother’s Yaris is still out on the road, parked beneath the blossom tree. The roof’s covered in petal mush that looks like bird shit and there’s moss around the window seals. When I came back, oh, six months before Mammy died, Yvette told me to take the garden hose to it. Put it on Done Deal, she said, it’s not like either of you are using it. I go out and turn the key in the ignition. The engine wheezes and the alternator rattles. The battery is dead.

The man delivering the skip doesn’t have jump cables. And anyhow it’s NOT HIS JOB. He stands red-faced in the middle of the road, the arms of his hi-vis jacket raised in supplication at the line of traffic that’s forming behind his truck. There’s nowhere to put the skip, he says.

Couldn’t we move the car ourselves? There’s space further up the road. I could release the handbrake and you could give me a push.

A car horn sounds, then another and soon they’re all at it. The skip man frowns and shakes his head. You’ll have to get the car towed. He hops into the cab of the truck, sticks his head out the window and tells me to call the office and reschedule.

According to John-Paul, there’s a knack to filling a skip. You do it in layers. Break up the furniture, bookcases, tables, and especially the chairs. Flatten them. When you minimise the load you maximise the space, and there’s no call for anything bigger than a Midi. Above all, your goal is to finish the job in one go, because an unattended skip is just asking to be fly-tipped. Isn’t that right, Yvette? It is, she replies, a truth universally acknowledged.

The charity shop won’t take Mammy’s clothes. Not even her handbags and her wedding hats. Can you blame them? says Yvette, reefing blouses and cardigans from their hangers and stuffing them into bin bags that we’ll push into the creaking jaws of the clothes bank on the Lower Kimmage Road. They were quick enough to take the Royal Doulton. That china was a wedding present, I say. A collectible. Yourself and John-Paul should’ve kept it. But she’s having none of it. What would we want with a sixty-four-piece dinner service? The only thing it’d collect in our house is dust.

The skip company wants to charge a rescheduling fee. The woman on the phone is adamant. They can’t be sending drivers out with skips and nowhere to put them. I tell her my mother died and that’s why the car seized up. Oh, she says, and puts me on hold. Gabriel’s Oboe ululates down the phone line. Is waste removal always this sorrowful? Or did she choose the music just for me, like a request? I’m constructing objections in my head when the woman comes back and tells me she’s going to ‘prioritise’ our order. We’ll send a skip soon as the car is towed, she says. And the rescheduling fee? She’s sorry for my troubles. But there’s nothing she can do about that.

In the back garden, I bash a kitchen chair off the breeze block wall until the frame cracks and splinters. Pinning the carcass to the ground with my foot, I pull the legs off one by one. It feels magnificent. I try the same with a CD unit but it’s too narrow to get a purchase on, so I take a lump hammer to it. This feels even better. I drag all the unwanted furniture I can manage out into the garden to be hammered and torn asunder.

Midway through demolition of the TV cabinet, I hear banging on the front door.

Yvette is standing in the storm porch, arms folded, neck splattered with a pink and white rash. A bunch of keys the size of a fist is hanging from the lock.

Why’s the latch on? she barks. Then, taking stock of me. What in god’s name happened to you?

I’m out the back breaking up furniture.

Where’s the skip? She flings an arm towards the road. And why is that car still here?

Jane Brennan
Jane Brennan read 'Scrappage' on RTÉ Radio 1

The battery died. I step aside to let her in, but she doesn’t budge. Her arms regroup and fasten themselves even tighter across her chest. This can-NOT be happening, she says. The cleaners are coming. There’s an open-house viewing on Saturday.

I’m about to tell her we’ve been prioritised. But before I say a word, she spins around and marches down the path. The garden gate clatters behind her.

John-Paul is dispatched to recycle the electrical appliances. He shuffles through the hall and into the kitchen. I’ve filled three cardboard boxes with gadgets. He’s going to dump them outside the goods entrance of some superstore in the Liffey Valley Shopping Centre. They have to take them, he says. It’s the law.

The law.

The law.

I’m sick of people talking to me about the law. The solicitor says we need to sort out Mammy’s estate – A-S-A-P. The inheritance tax is overdue. Revenue. Penalties. It’ll be a year in June. The solicitor is a great woman for reminders. Yvette agrees with her. Do I have fifty grand to spare? Because herself and John-Paul sure as hell don’t. If Yvette could see him now she’d have a fit. He’s emptied the boxes onto the kitchen table to inspect the contents: a black knot of useless phone chargers, curling tongs, remote controls. A sandwich maker. A Soda Stream machine. He examines them one at a time like he’s presiding over an archaeology dig, and I notice, for the first time, his short hairy fingers. Winding up the cable of the electric carving knife he asks if the blades are still in the cutlery drawer. I tell him they are. He decides to keep the knife.

The bones of a million, Munnelly the estate agent reckons we’ll get for the house. He says my share will be enough for a smart two-bedroomed apartment with ‘shopping money’ left over. Yvette doesn’t talk about what she’ll do with her share. At Christmas dinner, her eldest let it slip that they’re thinking of going on an Arctic cruise. Fjords and volcanoes. Polar bears. The Aurora Borealis. Before it all melts away. Yvette and John-Paul came back into the room, one with the turkey, the other holding the gravy boat, and nothing more was said.

I stand in the front room with my back against the fireplace, looking at rectangular outlines on the wall where family pictures used to hang. Nail by empty nail, I can visualise them. Mammy and Daddy getting married. The day Yvette made her holy communion. The day that I made mine. Confirmation, debs and graduation photographs. John-Paul and Yvette’s millennium wedding, her looking long and slim as a calla lily. On the left, Mammy beams beneath the feathers of a pink fascinator that cost nearly a hundred pounds in Clery’s. A hundred pounds! And over on the right, Daddy’s got up like a Lord Lieutenant in a morning coat and cravat. Clueless that he’ll be dead within the year. Poor Daddy. We loved him. All of us.

Out on the road, the insistent beep-beep-beep of a truck in reverse followed by the hydraulic groan and grind of heavy metal. I look out the window and there’s the silver Yaris swinging like a Dinky from a chain above the flatbed of a tow-truck. The chassis drops with a silent bounce. The car’s strapped down for safety and they’re away. No need for small talk or coming to the door. It’s only scrappage. Certificate of Destruction to come. I consult my to-do list and call the skip woman to tell her we’re ready. Then, I drag the traffic cones out onto the road to cordon off the space where Mammy’s car used to be.

John-Paul is impressed by the job I’ve done deconstructing the furniture. We build up the sides of the skip with wardrobe doors and panels, then go at it strategically, like a jigsaw, leaving the awkward bits until the end. I fill a pedal bin with plant pots and wedge it into the pile. The neighbours come and go, taking babies and shopping from their cars. They rush inside, too embarrassed to look at us. There’s nothing left to say. We carry on with our loading because it’s hard to start again once you’ve stopped. The Health Board never came to collect Mammy’s walking frame. I wonder should I call them. Dump it, says John-Paul.

We walk from room to room making sure everything that has to go is gone. What buyers want from a house like ours is a clean slate they can put their stamp on. This is the gospel according to Munnelly. Leave only the curtains and the lampshades. Clear the gutters and power-wash the windows. Yvette speaks fluent real estate. I heard her on the phone to the cleaners, spouting the ‘blank canvas’ doctrine. Mildew is a concern. They’re to scour the kitchen and bathroom until their spick and span-ness is a matter of fact, not opinion.

John-Paul reckons we’ve done all we can. He pushes the wheelie bins from the front of the house down the side passage and out of sight. Let’s get a takeaway, he says. An Indian or Chinese. A curry and a beer is what we need. A toast to new beginnings. You wait here – do one last sweep – just to be sure. He takes my suitcases from the hall closet and carries them to the boot of the car. I’ll stay with himself and Yvette until the inheritance comes through.

We thought we were clever, sticking air-fresheners into the sockets: ‘Cut Grass’ and ‘Jasmine’. But the house still smells like an old mop. The rooms feel hollow and I don’t want to be alone with their unfamiliar shadows. Stripped back to the bare floors even the slightest noise sounds loud. I close the kitchen door to stop my footsteps echoing down the hall. The glass in the door is clear, except for one pane on the bottom right corner. Daddy kicked it in the night he heard I was after getting myself into trouble. Mammy swore it was the first she knew of it – and he believed her. He circled me with balled up fists, his forehead glazed with sweat, shouting WHO? and WHEN? and WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO NOW?

We’ll sort it out, Mammy said. Sort it out? he roared, it’s not kittens she’s carrying. He launched his foot at the door and I don’t think any of us expected the glass to shatter because the shock of it brought us straight to our senses. The door was fixed by the time myself and Mammy got back from Liverpool but the new pane was cut from amber glass. You get used to things you live with every day. Once, a visitor sitting at the kitchen table noticed the different glass and putting down her teacup, passed a remark. It was Yvette who came up with an answer. She turned to the woman, looked her right in the eye, and said: It’s always been that way.

To hear Aingeala discuss her story with Sean Rocks on Arena, click here

Scrappage by Aingeala Flannery was read by Jane Brennan.

The series continues on Late Date at 11.20pm each night from 10 to 20 October (except Saturday 15th).

This will culminate in an Arena/RTÉ Short Story special which will go out live on air at 7pm on Friday 21 October 2022 from Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, with all 10 shortlisted writers in attendance. Judges Lisa McInerney, Ferdia MacAnna and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne will discuss the art of the short story and the stories from this year's shortlist with host Seán Rocks, there'll be live music and performances from leading actors, and we'll find out who's won the top prizes. Why not join us in person? Audience tickets are now on sale at paviliontheatre.ie

And for more about the RTÉ Short Story Competition in honour of Francis MacManus, go here.