Steak and Kidney

The hotel’s double glazing muffles the roar of the planes. And it’s warm! Jacky won’t need her coat, and can just change into her nightie and stretch out on the bed, her arms and legs bare. She lies flat on the duvet, weary from the bus. Under the nightie her belly’s soft like dough.

Ping. A text. Sarah: IM BEGGING U – DONT GO.

But Jacky rolls on her side and phones her mom.

‘Liam’s asleep,’ says her mom, ‘I read him his story.’

‘I’ve left you money there in the envelope.’

‘Don’t worry.’

But Jacky does worry, for her mom doesn’t really have enough. She’d go hungry to buy Liam a treat.

‘When I get back from Turkey, it’ll be easier,’  Jacky promises.

‘Don’t worry about us. You have a great holiday, enjoy the sun, the beach. You deserve a break.’

Of course, Jacky hasn’t told her why she’s going.

For now she allows herself to enjoy the crisp linen, makes a coffee with the little kettle, switches on the TV news. The court case was still going on today. Sarah’s excited but Jacky doesn’t hold out much hope. The whole system’s run by men. Judgment is tomorrow morning.

Jacky takes the plastic wrapper off the pie she bought in the petrol station: the tough pastry contains congealed gravy and small hard lumps of meat. She wouldn’t dare the hotel restaurant. Luxury belongs to a past with Josh. The warehousemen earned bonuses and when he got one he’d woo her: flowers, chocolates, perfume, seduction. Now he won’t pay and she can’t pursue him: a hunky man has a chunky fist.

‘Why shouldn’t we get bonuses too?’ Sarah would demand. She was the union rep. ‘Just because we work on the checkouts. We’re all working for the same supermarket, shifting the same products, doing the same overtime.’

God, the overtime: evenings, weekends. If I earned bonuses, I wouldn’t be here. I’d pay the rent, turn on the heating, feed us properly, not be hiding when the debt collectors come to the door.

Under her nightie, her flesh yields to her kneading fingers. Is the kidney somewhere round the back? Her skin is so soft there, satin smooth, yet she’ll have a scar, with a row of stitches. Add it to the white lines of the old pregnancy, the roll of flab that Josh won’t look at any more.

Inside, she’s valuable. Expensive. In the clinic in Istanbul a wealthy patient awaits the transplant. It’s disgusting, but the money’s good. It’s only an operation. She’s not afraid, really.

Jacky’s flight’s at one the next day. She stuffs herself full of hotel breakfast then sits in the shuttle bus as it makes its circuit of the airport roads. She’s wheeling her case along trying to make sense of the departure boards when her phone rings.

‘Sarah? I’m just about to check in.’

‘Don’t!’

‘We’ve had all this before. I know you want to help but-‘

‘We won. The union won.’

‘What…’

‘The court case. The judgment: sex discrimination. We’re all due compensation, equal pay. It’s going to cost them hundreds of millions.’

So there in the airport concourse Jacky stops walking. She stands her wheely case up. She phones her mom, running a hand through her hair, wondering what she’s going to say.

© HistWriter.com 2022

This short story was first published by Red Books Press in the Summer 2022 edition of ‘Wexford Women Writing Undercover’. Copies are available from The Irish Bookshop (link)

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