The Shawlie


“Onions! Onions! Three for a penny.”

Once I sells off the last of these, I’ll go over to the Market and get a nice bit of tripe for Joseph’s tea. He loves the bit of tripe boiled up in milk. He be’s starving after taking the horse and trap all the way to Ballycotton, to get them poppies and carrots. I hope to God he don’t go into that dirty pub and lave everything on the cart outside like he done a few weeks ago.

“Onions! D’ya want some onions, love? How many? Four? Oh, right. Look here’s four for a penny, that one’s a bit small.”

I’ll get nice schull loaf in Donnelly’s on the way home, he loves to dip the bread into the sauce. I think we have butter and milk and pepper in the larder. That reminds me: I better lave one onion out for ourselves, too.

“Onions! Onions! How many love? A dozen? Good girl, have you a bag? Here y’are now, that’s thruppence for you, it should be four. Buy a few lollies on the way home for yourself. Are you Janey Sullivan’s girl? You’re the bulb off her.”

Maggie says that the shawlies are on the way out that they’re bringing in some traders law or something that’ll stop us selling on the street. Over my dead body. Is that what Mick Collins and the rest died for? Anyway, where would you get value and freshness like that, la? Three for a penny? You’d be lucky to get one for a penny in Morrisson’s in Blackpool. And t’would be half rotten too.

“Onions! Onions! Have I what, love? Carrots? No, they’re all gone, but I’ll have them fresh again tomorrow, and poppies too. You better come early, girl.”

I’m worried about Paddy. After he came home from that war to end all wars in France he was never the same again. Says he’s going away again to work in England, he gets dog’s abuse off them ‘republicans’ over being in the British Army.

“Onions! Onions! Last few onions!”

Something quare happens me sometimes. It’s like I’m not here on the Coal Quay any more. Or I am here but it’s all different, like. Everything looks funny – strange, like. There’s no other women selling things at all but there’s big shiny cars on big black wheels going past, all the colours of the rainbow and people inside them too, driving them, I think. And there’s a huge building opposite, with a green roof, and the ground is all tiles or something. And people is all in funny clothes, talking all kinds of languages I can’t make heads nor tails of. And the trams is all gone out of The Grand Parade and it’s all those cars and big buses and other huge things on wheels – I don’t what they are, and they’re wicked noisy and smelly.

“Onions! Three for a penny! Last of the onions! Are they fresh? Cheek of you, they are a’ course. Here’s a half-dozen now and they’re fine and big, tuppence for you.”

And I feel like I’m here but I’m not here, and I have it in my head that I got old and I couldn’t sell my veg anymore and all the veg was being sold in greengrocers. That my feet used to be killing me, and I couldn’t walk up the hill home anymore. And then Paddy went over to England to fight in some other big war and we never seen him again, and then Joseph died, but I think I must have dreamed that up. Sure amn’t I here now and won’t I make tripe for his tea? I must be raiméising or something. Sure where else would I be only here, selling my few onions with the rest of the shawlies?

“Onions! Onions! Last few onions.”