‘Jayzus. What the ...’

            Dermot shot out of bed, his arms trying to shield his head from the blows that were raining down on it.

            ‘Move ya lazy arse, ya good fer nothin’ eejit, before I brain yus more senseless than ya already are. It’s already noon and yus haf done nothin’ at all.’

            Seamus’ face was beetroot, and his black eyes were bulging as he raised the broom he’d just finished making that morning. He was ready to strike his son again if he didn’t shift himself. The fact that Dermot was full grown and stood head and shoulders above him made no difference. He was still capable of givin’ the big lump what for.

            ‘Argh Daddy. Why’d ya haf to wallop me? Me head's ringin’ with the bells now, so it is.’

            ‘ Yus’ll be hearin’ the ringin’ of the fire cart and horse if yus don’t get out and sell some o’ these brooms I break me back makin’ just to put food in ya useless belly. I’ll burn ya bloody bed, I will. Then yus won’t be able to lay in it all day. Now get out and don’t come back ‘til yer’ve sold that lot leanin’ up agin the caravan.

            Dermot didn’t argue, His daddy meant what he said. He climbed into his breeches and out of the caravan, tucking a dirty, ragged shirt in. Without stopping to eat, he grabbed the bundle and set off towards the nearby town.

            He couldn’t help it if his body were always tired. When he’d spent half the night with the lasses in the town, he just needed to sleep. He waited until he was out of sight of the campsite and wandered off the road and into the wood where his father had helped himself to the branches and twigs that made up the brooms he was now carrying. He threw his load down and lay under a tree, well out of sight of any passers-by. The sun was high in the sky, and its warm rays threaded their way through the canopy and bathed him as he slept. His dreams carried him off to a life of luxury in a large house, waited upon by servants by day and a beautiful wife who was at his beck and call all night. He’d had the same dream for years.

            His sleep was disturbed by someone calling him from a long way off.

            ‘Dermot. Dermot Flannagan. Where are yus? Nobody’s seen you in town the day. Yer as thick as manure and only half as useful. When I find ya, yus’ll feel me belt am tellin’ ya.’

            ‘Oh! Jaysus, Mary and Joseph. Daddy’s out lookin’ fer me.’ He scrambled to his feet, grabbed the bundle and ran through the woods as fast as he could. He’d better lay low for a few days or at least until he’d managed to sell those bloody brooms.

 

It was dark when he risked leaving the woods. He found himself on the other side, away from the road that led into town, and emerged in a field of wheat. Hunger pains growled, and his mouth felt dry and thick. Up ahead, silhouetted against a full harvest moon, a column of smoke rose up into the night sky. He headed towards it in the hopes it would lead him to food.

 

A dog barked in the yard and he stopped and waited. Light streamed through a ground-floor window, casting a beam across the dog’s kennel. The huge mass of fur and flashing teeth was on a lead, a short lead. He was wondering whether to chance his arm when the kitchen door opened. A young girl peered out into the black air. The dog looked to her for assurance.

            ‘Who’s there? Show yourself.’ She shouted nervously. Jack smiled at the pretty, young thing and stepped out of the shadows.

            ‘Pardon me miss. But I’m lost and wondered if you had a barn I could spend the night in. I’m not feelin’ so good, I...’ He dropped to the floor as if he had fainted.

            ‘Miss Verity!’ shrieked the girl. ‘It’s a dead man. He’s just dropped dead.’ The dog started barking again, and an upstairs window opened. A large, round-faced woman, wearing a white-lace, sleeping bonnet, peered down at the scene. Dermot squinted and looked up at her.

            Christ Almighty. She’s got a head on her like a busted cabbage, he thought and closed his eyes again.

            ‘Oh, my gracious. I’m coming, Molly. Poor man. We’d better get him indoors before he catches his death. Poor man. Poor, poor man.’

 

Dermot fought hard to stop himself sniggering as the young housemaid and her mistress, dragged, and half lifted him into the parlour. They managed to lay him on a small sofa, which was close to a blazing fire, spitting and roaring in the hearth. His long legs trailed the wood floor.

            ‘Goodness!’ mouthed Miss Verity.’ The man’s barely a shirt on his back, and the soles of his boots are full of holes. Go fetch some of my dear departed husband’s clothes from his bed chamber, Molly.’

            Dermot’s ears pricked up. Making himself more comfortable, he groaned a little.

            ‘It’s alright young man. You’re safe. Are you recovering from your faint?’

            ‘I...I think so Missy, but I’ve a right throat on me. Could yus spare a drink for a poor soul and maybe a bite o’ somethin’?  I ‘aven’t eaten the day.’

            ‘Of course. Of course.’ She poured him a small glass of golden liquid and rushed back to him. ‘Will a brandy do? It’s good for shock. Molly’ll fetch you a piece of pie when she comes back downstairs. Can you sit?’ Miss Verity helped him to sit up and gave him the glass. The smell made her nose curl and her eyes water, but it wasn’t this that took her breath away. She had never met anyone so handsome. His thick black hair and black eyes that sparkled like jet were mesmerising. The heat rushed through her face and then plunged down through her belly and groin as she suggested that he might like to bathe in front of the fire once he had satisfied his thirst and hunger.

            Dermot thought all his dreams had come true. Well, not quite all. She wasn’t the beauty of his dreams, but if he closed his eyes and used his imagination, he could pretend.

            ‘How can a beauty like yersel haf such a kind heart as well? Haf I died and gone to heaven Missy?’

            Miss Verity’s apple sized cheeks turned almost purple with pleasure as she swooned and fell on top of Dermot. He was drowning in a mountain of silk and lace. He gasped for breath under the weight but managed to feign composure as he choked out his words.

            ‘My poor wee Missy. Let me ‘elp yus up.’ He managed a quick squeeze of her breast as he hoisted her up to a standing position again. He wondered if she might fall over all the time with such tiny feet. ‘ I’ve never been so taken with a woman afore. I think yus’ve stolen me heart Verity. It is Verity isn’t it?’ he murmured as he cupped the folds of her chin with both hands and placed a kiss on her red, bow shaped lips.

            Molly appeared in the doorway carrying an armful of clothes. Dermot winked at her as he held Verity’s face to his chest. Molly couldn’t resist the broad smile.

            Two for the price of one, he thought. Yus’ve landed on ya feet here Dermot me boy or maybe on yer back.

Over the Broom by C. J. Richardson

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