Nuala Smith


Nuala Smith

Nuala Smith was born in Drogheda in 1946. She worked as an air hostess, ran a vegetarian restaurant, and a garden centre, before moving to San Francisco with her daughter in the early 80s. Returning to Ireland, she taught office skills in Wicklow where she still lives. She has written for Irish Radio (RTE) and had short stories and articles published in newspapers and magazines. She is currently working on a Life Writing project on the MA course in Goldsmiths.
Contact: smithnuala100 [at] gmail [dot] com

A Record of Melodie 


The light came on and he got out of bed. I lay on my side, watching him. It was five thirty – Friday morning. He stood on one leg, hopped twice, getting into his underpants. Navy and turquoise, paisley pattern, bri-nylon. He’d dropped them on the floor last night.

“Where are you going?” I asked, my face in the pillow now.

“Home,” he answered, pinging the elastic at his waist, a full stop to his sentence.

“Going for the first flight.” 

He’s mad, I thought. Off his head. Now, I hated this ugly, square man, struggling into what – disgustingly – he often called his ‘knickers’. Hated him. Loathed the whole revolting business.

After a minute I said:

“I’m going to Brampton.” I began to get out of bed.

Quickly, he sat on the side. A roll of flesh fell around the navy waistband. He took my fingers and rubbed them against his jaw, stared at the wall behind the bed.

“Good girl.”

Now he lifted the phone.

“I’ll organize a taxi,” he said, “I’m coming with you.”


I started into the bathroom. My stomach felt sick. Curry and beer, I could still taste it. Christ. January, London, fog.

The hotel bathroom had no window. Closing the door started the air extractor. The robot in the ceiling, whirring away, watching. I began to swab the smell of him out of me.

“I’ve got a taxi Darling,” he called through the door.

‘Drop dead,’ I mouthed to my face in the mirror.

“Freddie? You okay?” he called.

‘There’s a laugh,’ I thought, baring my teeth at the glass. I looked at the deeper yellow where they met my gums.  

‘Must go to the dentist,’ I thought, peering closer. A sudden whiff of garlic made me throw my head over the toilet bowl. I retched. Strings of bile. And the heave for it.

Jesus wept…

“Freddie, are you okay in there?” he tapped.

I wiped my mouth.  

“Yes Denny – fine.” I used it – my pet name for him.

His name is Dennis. Dennis Harton. Age, thirty-four. Occupation, dentist. “Dennis the Dentist.”When we met first, we used to laugh at that one. Everything made us laugh then.

Hair colour; fair. Eyes; blue. Build; could loose weight. Hobbies; me.

“You’re terrific,”Dennis said when I came out.

To be honest, I suppose all this started with me, talking about time ticking away. And when he said: “Stella’d have to understand, You’d need me more then.” Well, you know how a few drinks changes the landscape. Everything seems possible.

And so, my Melodie. Bingo. I knew, next morning. Felt terrific. There’s not a lot of sun in December, but I remember that morning. Warm on my back going to work that Friday, the evergreens glistening round the car park. Hugging myself. Over the moon.

As I scooped into my case, he slid his arms over my shoulders. Pressed me back against him. Ginger hairs on his forearms. In Spain, in the sun, they’d looked golden.  I don’t like red hair. Moving away to the mirror, I brushed my hair. Brushing is calming. It’s so ordinary.

Still dark as we get in the taxi. Traffic crawls. I’ve never seen fog like this.


On the way here from Dublin, our plane turned back, ten minutes out of the airport. Almost a week ago now. Furious people, checking their watches. One hour’s delay.  

Ten weeks, three days, plus one hour more, for Melodie.

So, where did the week go? Well, you have to see a councilor. It’s part of the formula, believe it or not. That’s why I agreed to come in the first place.

You see, as soon as the colour changed, I started clearing space for Dennis. Then he came up with the idea that maybe I wouldn’t be up to it! 

“After all you’ve been through,” he said. My “instability” –  I was “so changeable”;  He actually said “schizophrenic”!

“And whose fault is that?” I yelled at him.

I should never have told him about the nightmare – and Stella, under the boat with all the blood in the water, like shark-fishing. I woke up sweating.

The name? Melodie? I got that in Spain. Dennis and I shot off on one of his trips. We were sitting on a wall beside the market in the sun. Our second day. Two tiny French kids came running past. Dark-haired, they both wore red and white, stripped dresses.  The older one had a fringe. She was chasing the smaller one; “Melodie! Ou vat u? Melodie?” she called.

“Melodie,” all chaotic curls, toddled on, giggling and no shoes. Then the pair disappeared.

Dennis started imitating the child’s voice.

“Melodee.” He got it exactly, raising the ‘ee’. He’s a terrific mimic. I loved the way he loved their little voices too.

I said, “If I’d a little girl, I’d call her Melodie.”

Sometimes I thought Dennis was a bit of a child himself. He always bought a comic book to read on the plane, told me stories about a kettle he loved when he was four. But then, you couldn’t believe him. He makes things up. All the time he lied about Stella.

Can you love someone who lies? Oh you can. Only you understand him. You can blot out the bad bits. Love the bits you love. It’s addiction. Then, when you do what everyone says you must, you feel great – for a while. Exhilarated. Till the longing starts again; Aches. Begs. Once more. Just once. You think you’re strong enough. Then you’re back. Round and round. Deliriously happy – till the next shattering row; or the silent phone weekends, when you ring police stations, asking for names from car crashes; or A and E’s. There’s lots to keep you busy, till its Monday and he’s on the phone again.  

Whatever your price range. Exactly. Yes, Spain. Now, this ghastly London.


“Sorry gov’nor. Shockin’ fog.” The taxi driver, over his shoulder, through the glass. Freezing in the back, the seat, icy under my hand. Dennis is holding my other one, the two-faced bastard. God, don’t let me puke.

“Nothin’ I can do Sir. Croyden crawl eh?” The man chuckles. Steam comes from his mouth, on to the windscreen. Everything’s going somewhere; Melodie.


The day after I told Dennis, he suddenly goes off to a conference in Budapest. No messages. I nearly went mad. When he gets back he does nothing but go on about how unstable I am, would I be ‘capable’ – as if I were some sort of half-wit!

And what about our ‘celebration’ dinner when he wheeled in that vile Peter with the nose. He’s been having an affair for years with an ex-nun. She lives at the end of their garden. When Dennis told me that first, we had such a laugh. It sounded like she was a garden gnome - or someone camping. 

She’s in their mews – how handy for Peter  – and he’s so awful – fat and disgusting. Dennis knows I loath him. And his ghastly bracelet, like a big curtain ring.

Maybe that’s why I agreed, in the end to see the blessed councilor; the omniscient person who’d ‘know’. Dear Christ, to be shut of it all. Start again – Canada maybe?

But not in the days when Dennis was away. On my own, in the silence, I knew I’d adore her. Melodie…blue eyes, tiny shoes…


Yes, I saw the ‘facilitator’. Around my own age, twenty-eight ish I’d say. She told us that she couldn’t ‘recommend’ as I was ‘still unsure’.  

I was thrilled.

Then she suggested a few days ‘postponement’ so that we could ‘reconsider’.

Dennis was peppering.  

Then, if we made a decision to go ahead, we could go along to Brampton Hall on Friday.

“Check in at seven in the morning, fasting,” she said.

“An airline for saints,” Dennis whispered to me and I got a fit of giggling.  She though we were laughing at her.


Three days to kill. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with Dennis, in London. Normally, I’d adore it. We’ve done it so often, his old home town.

Not now. Each day I felt sicker. Each time I felt sick, be bought me brandy.

“Stella always took brandy,” he said.

“Don’t talk to me about her,” I hissed. “Why’s she featuring now? Goddammit?”

Then I’d mellow. Feel better. We’d be off again about what it might be like, me and my job, how I’d manage. Stella, and his boys. Round and round. Then eating in the Greek place with his London pals, throwing plates. Laughing our heads off. And the hotel. The plans. Like Spain again. That was Tuesday.

Wednesday, he needed a couple of hours. Gave me money. Said maybe I’d need things – just in case. Tube, clatter. Sway the nausea. O vomit. No – please. March the hoards in grey, on down Oxford Street. The low gut pain. In a trance to Marks and Spencer for a nightdress. Boiling, no air. Marshmallows. Florals. Christ, who cares. Freezing again. Plastic bag one step closer. O Melodie.

We met at the Hungarian place with the violinist. More drinks, food I couldn’t touch. Ready to puke all the time. So tired. Dennis eats everything. Keeps looking at me, all concern.   

Thursday, I track down my brother, Robert, in his new local. He thinks it’s all great. After a while, I’m sure too. Yes, the squat’s still going. His jewellery’s beginning to sell. Fine. Dennis appears. He’s had a few too.

Now these men I love, shake hands again. Between them, the brainwave. They draw up an agreement. Melodie will be cared for by Dennis and me. Money won’t be a problem. Robert has witnessed the bit of paper. They keep shaking hands, best buddies now, while I smile between them.

“You eat Indian?” Dennis ask him and we go somewhere exotic and turbaned. I don’t remember saying goodnight to Robert.

Then, just after five this morning, I wake to witness Dennis’s struggle with his underpants.

“I’m going home,” he says. And he always will.  

I hate him.


London streets. Suburbs slide past behind the gauze of fog. People trickle to work.

There, below the nausea. Melodie.

“How’re you feeling Darling?” Dennis leans his head against mine. We stay like that for a few seconds.

“Poor old Freddie,” he whispers, squeezing my fingers. It hurts.

I draw on the window; a circle with a cross inside. It leaks at the base and a drop begins to slide down. I draw a matching one.

Silver eyes. Looking silent in.   

Oh Christ, I am mad.


“This it, Gov?” The driver knows the place. Swings the wheel left.

“Okay mate.” Dennis speaks his language.

It’s easy to get out of a London taxi, you can almost stand up straight. God, the diesel smell… Dennis pays, and his usual big tip.

Brampton Hall. People played croquet here. Gravel. Not a weed. Granite steps up to a green double door with a light on over it. Cars parked by bushes. Another car crunches up. A man in a duffel coat gets out, opens the back door for a blonde. She’s smoking.

Inside, pale women sit, coats on, disembarking. Brisk ones in navy, with square white tunics, speed around in shoes that grip rubber floors. Florescent lights. A check-in sign, red letters over an arrow.

“Name please?” My voice begins to pass details to her. The record of Melodie. I could run.

“Address?” Dennis gives that address from when he lived in London. Now it’s a hairdresser’s.

There’s a red, minute hand on the clock behind her. Seven forty-eight.

“O-Kay” the woman’s voice takes that word slowly, raising her head on the ‘kay’, her pen stabbing a final, full stop.  She looks over her glasses at Dennis; “You can phone tonight, after six. Discharge in the morning at seven.”

Her eyes swing to me, she says, “This way please.”

Now we grab each other, bang our faces together, try to hug. My small bag, my handbag, - in the way.

“Freddie,” he says to the side of my head.   

As he pulls back, I see his tears. I’m blinded too. I will stay on his hand, connected like this, go on out of here, a straight line, back, back…

O please! Melodie. Yes!

But we release each other. We turn away in our separate, desperate directions. I see his beloved, square shape move towards the door. Like a dull beast, I follow the nurse’s squeaking stride.

Taking off my shoes, I will open my mouth and scream.