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A BROKEN SHELL OF A MAN
A novel by
Elizabeth O’Neill

 

Chapter One - EGGS


‘Dae ye want ays tae read your palm?’  The gypsy woman asked, craning her scrawny chicken neck.
‘No, this is a cafe,’  Peggy said, wiping the counter.  ‘An’ folk come here to eat.’
‘Dae ye want tae buy some lucky heather?’  the gypsy asked, wiping her long pointed nose on the
back of her hand. 
‘If Ah wanted heather,’  Peggy said,  ‘Ah wid go tae the moors an’ git some.’
‘Dae ye want ays tae read yer tea leafs?
‘We only use tea bags in here.’
‘Ur ye sure ye don’t want ays tae read yer palm?’ the gypsy woman asked, her beady black eyes
darting around the cafe.   
‘Look, if yer no buyin’ oanythin’ tae eat,’  Peggy said, ‘ye’ll need tae leave the premises.’
‘Awright, Ah’ll huv a hard boiled egg,’  The gypsy said, removing her shawl from her black shiny
hair.
‘Is that aw?’  Peggy asked, placing the egg in a pot of boiling water.
‘Aye.’
‘Ur ye no wantin’ tea or toast wi it?’ Peggy asked.
‘No.’
‘Right sit doon an’ Ah’ll gie ye a shout when it’s ready.’
The gypsy woman shuffled to an empty table and sat down and waited.  When the egg was boiled
Peggy shouted over to the gypsy.  ‘That’s yer egg ready.’
The gypsy came to the counter and began to take the shell of the egg, throwing it on the floor.
‘Don’t jist drap that oan the flair!’  Peggy said.  ‘Ah’ve jist brushed it!’
‘This egg.’ The gypsy said, holding the boiled egg up to Peggy’s face, ‘is your soul.’
‘Whit ur ye oan aboot?’  Peggy asked.  ‘Ye don’t scare me wi yer spells!’
‘This is your soul,’ the gypsy said, eating the boiled egg.
‘You’re a nutter!’  Peggy said.
‘Your soul is mine.’
‘Ah telt ye,’  Peggy said.  ‘Yer spells don’t scare me!’
‘You are doomed!’  the gypsy said as she shuffled towards the cafe door.
‘Git back here!’  Peggy shouted.  ‘Yiv no payed ays yit fir yer boiled egg!’
‘You will pay for it!’  The gypsy woman turned to point at Peggy with her long finger.  ‘For the rest
of your life!’
‘Aw bugger aff ye fuckin auld witch!’  Peggy shouted as the cafe door opened again and in
staggered a small drunken man with no teeth.
‘A bacon an egg roll?’  The man slurred through his gums.  ‘An’ a strong cup ay tea.’
‘Ur ye sure ye don’t want a strong cup ay coffee, tae sober ye up?’
‘No a cup ay strong tea, hen.’
‘Ah might serve eggs but Ah don’t lay thaim, so if ye want served don’t ca’ me hen!’  Peggy hissed.
‘How much is that?’  The drunk fidgeted in the pockets of his trousers.
‘Ur ye sittin’ in or takin’ it away?’  Peggy asked.
‘Ah’m sittin’ in.’
‘Well that’ll be one pound thirty, please.’
After five minutes of counting change from his pocket he looked puzzled.  ‘Ah don’t huv enough
money fir the bacon an’ egg roll, can ye jist make ays a bacon roll without the egg?’  He suggested.
‘Whit’s the name ay this place?’  Peggy asked.
‘It’s ca’d “Eggs Wi Ivraything”,’  He answered, in an almost incomprehensible slur.
‘Well that’s yer answer then, ye need tae huv an egg, otherwise we would huv ca’d the cafe
something else like mibbee “Bacon Wi Ivraything”,’  Peggy answered, her forehead furrowed in
confusion.
‘Jist gie ays an egg roll, then,’  the drunk demanded, giving Peggy all of his loose change.
‘Yer five pence short.’
‘Aw fir Christ sake!’  the drunk said, getting more money out of his pocket.  ‘Here is that enough
noo!’
‘Aye that’s enough.’  Peggy took the extra five pence from his shaking hand.  ‘Right, jist sit doon
afore ye faw doon.’
Peggy reached for a white cup and put a tea bag into it, then retrieved a roll from the large black
plastic bag and proceeded to crack an egg on to the hot plate.  When the egg roll and tea was ready
she shouted over the counter to where the drunk man was sitting.  ‘That’s yer egg roll an’ tea ready.’
‘Aye awright,’  the drunk man said, approaching the counter.
Peggy looked around at the egg and grease splattered clock face on the wall behind her.  Four more
Hours to go until she could finish work.
The door opened again and into the cafe stampeded half a dozen schoolboys with loud smoker
coughs.  They didn’t express much interest in the menu of the day, which was the same today as it
was every day.  Peggy’s battery farmed eggs, fried, scrambled, poached or otherwise.  Their only
interest lay in the fruit machine situated at the rear end of the cafe.  Peggy never understood why
anyone would choose a fruit machine over a fried egg roll; children were indeed a very strange
breed.   
The schoolboy with the black eye approached the counter.
‘Can Ah help ye?’ Peggy asked.
‘Can ye gie ays some change fir the fruit machine ower their?’
‘Dae ye think thit yer in a bloody amusement arcade?’  Peggy asked.
‘Aye, an you’re the bloody amusement in here!’
‘Don’t  you be sae bloody cheeky!’
‘Ur ye gaunnae gie ays change or no?’  the schoolboy demanded.
‘No Ah’m no. This is a cafe, an’ in this cafe we sell eggs wi ivraything, bit that disnae include fruit
machines.’   
The boy crushed up his tenner and stuffed it deep into his pocket.  ‘Ah’d rather eat that fruit
machine ower thair as yin ay your greasy fried eggs.’
‘Aye, an it wid likely digest quicker tae!’  the drunk interrupted, struggling to eat his roll and egg with
only his gums.
‘Well it wid help if ye hud a pair ay false teeth tae eat it wey in the first place!’  Peggy snapped. 
‘Oanymair lip an’ ye’ll be oot the door!’
‘Ah’ll jist spend ma tenner somewhair else!’  the schoolboy huffed.
‘Oanywey, whit ur ye daein wi aw that money et your age?’  Peggy asked.
‘Ah’m twelve if ye really want tae know,’  the boy said, reaching into his trouser pocket to bring out a
packet of cigarettes.  ‘Huv ye goat a match tae Ah light ma fag?’    
‘Yer only twelve, the only match Ah’ll gie ye in here is a match fur that black eye yiv goat thair,’
Peggy said, shaking her head.  ‘Ye shouldnae be smoking et your age, Ah didnae huv ma first fag until
Ah wis at least thirteen.’
‘Ah’ll smoke if Ah want!’  the boy said defiantly.  ‘Ye’ll no stoap ays, Peg Leg!’
‘Ye cheeky wee bugger, jist git oot ay the cafe!’  Peggy ordered the schoolboy.  ‘An’ shut the door
behin’ ye, when ye go, ‘cos it’s cauld ootside.’
‘Shut it yersel!’  the boy answered, standing in the doorway of the cafe.
‘Yer causin’ a draft, an’ a cafe needs tae be warm,’  Peggy protested.  ‘A warm cafe an’ warm food,
thir’s nothing worse as a cauld cafe or a stane cauld fried egg!’
‘Ah widnae worry aboot yer eggs gittin’ cauld, ‘cos ye could keep aw the eggs in the hale ay Scotland
warm, if ye sat oan thaim wi’ a big fat erse like yours!’
‘Jist leave the premises,’  Peggy snarled, gesturing to the cafe door with her index finger.  ‘Come oan,
aw you boys oot!’
‘We huvnae din oanything!’  one of the six schoolboys that was huddled around the fruit machine
protested.  ‘It wis him thit wis cheeky tae ye, no us!’
‘Ye aw came in thegither,’ Peggy replied aggressively, ‘so ye can aw leave thegither!’
‘Ah’ve jist pit money in this machine, an Ah’m no leavin’ without it!’
‘Jist leave the premises this meenit, nivir mind yer bloody money.’  Peggy went over to the fruit
machine and pulled the plug out.  ‘Yir leavin’ awright!’
‘Aye, awright. Keep yer wig oan Peg Leg!’  One of the schoolboys teased.
‘Don’t ca’ ays that, awright!’  Peggy threatened.  ‘Or Ah’ll kick ma peg leg right up yer bloody erse!’
‘Peg Leg! Peg Leg!’  the six schoolboys chorused as they ran out of the cafe door.
‘Bugger aff!’  Peggy shouted, limping behind them.  ‘An’ don’t come back.’
She had always been called Peg Leg from when she was not much bigger than a clothes peg.  It did
not help that her surname used to be Legg.  Peggy was named after her mother Meggie and Meggie
was named after her mother Margaret, and so on.  The name Margaret had been passed down many
generations and had been shortened in a variety of different ways, Peggy being one of them.  So
when she was just a foetus in her mother’s womb, Meggie her mother had decided to call her
daughter Peggy, and then Peggy’s older brothers had decided to re-name her Peg Leg.  Her brothers    
Only stopped calling her Peg Leg seven years later out of sympathy, when Peggy did actually lose a
leg.
Peggy’s brothers were the only children to stop calling her Peg Leg.  The name-calling continued all
her life, and it was only marginally better when she decided to marry Gregg Eggar and took his
surname.
The oldest brother was named Henry but everyone called him Hen for short.  Hen Leg was a heroin
addict  and sold drugs and anything else he could get his hands on to feed his habit. Hen had been to
prison on two occasions:  firstly for shoplifting and secondly for breach of peace and affray.
He had been involved in crime from an early age.  He began by stealing small items from shops and it
was not long before he graduated to more serious criminal activities. After stealing a car he would
drive it at ridiculous speed.  It may have been called ‘joyriding’ but there was little evidence of any
joy the day he drove his stolen car into a seven-year old girl who was walking on the pavement at
the time.
Hen had turned the corner much too fast and lost control of the car, swerving it into his younger
sister.  Peggy lived but never came to terms with losing her leg.  Hen’s character also changed.  He
survived the crash but the emotional toll was considerable both for him and his family. 
Hen was fourteen years old at the time of the accident and was regarded as a minor, so he was sent
to a young offenders institute.  Some people criticised the leniency of the punishment that he
received, but over the years Hen made sure he was punished more than any lengthy prison sentence
could ever have done.
He started drinking heavily and smoking heroin.  After a time he began to inject it.
Peggy knew that Hen could never forget she had lost a leg as a result of his actions;  he told her she
limped in his dreams and limped when he awoke from his dreams.  She would probably limp in his
head forever, regardless of how many grams of heroin he could inject into his veins.
Hen had never been able to stop his heroin habit and he said he only took it now to enable him to
function normally.
He sold drugs, broke into houses and also shoplifted in order to feed his growing habit and had been
known to go into large stores in town with a huge shopping list in his left pocket and a pair of strong
wire-cutters concealed up his right sleeve.  The shopping list contained his customer’s chosen
colours, materials and most importantly sizes.  He usually got everything on the list and then he
would sell these on to his customers for a fraction of the stores price tag.
Meggie and Chick, Peg’s parents, had banned their own son from their house because he had stolen
numerous household items from them.  The last straw was when he had just been allowed back in
his parent’s house for a trial period.  He had only been in the house for ten minutes when Meggie
got up to put the kettle on to make a fresh pot of tea, only to find that the kettle had gone.
He had also broken into many people’s houses in the neighbourhood.  He had stolen videos,
computers and televisions and sold these on for next to nothing.  Once a man had bought back his
own portable  television, and though he had a bargain until he got home and realised it had been his
own house that had been burgled and a lot more than his portable television had been taken.  When
the man informed the police of what had happened he was arrested for receiving stolen goods.
Peggy’s second oldest brother was named Charles Norman after his father but everyone called him
Chick N for short.  Chick N Legg had a reputation for heavy drinking, extreme violence and sexual
promiscuity.  He had been to prison on two separate occasions; breach of the peace and affray, and
grievous bodily harm.  It was in prison that he earned the reputation for being a psychopath.  He
once bit off a prison officer’s ear because, he said, he thought that one of his ears stuck out more
than the other.    
Chick N was a binge drinker and would become even more violent after a heavy drinking session.  He
could stay off alcohol for weeks at a time, but then something would trigger him and he would go on
a bender for the same length time he had managed to be sober.  When he was drinking he would
start early in the morning until he eventually passed out late at night, only to wake up early the next
day and top himself back up with alcohol.  
When Chick N met Carol, he seemed to settle down.  He was managing to control his alcohol intake
and, apparently , also his desire for other women.  When Carol fell pregnant with his baby , they
decided to move into a council house together.
It was not long before Chick N met another woman, called Julie, and started to have an affair.  He
didn’t stay of the booze bingeing either, and during Carol’s pregnancy he would often beat her. 
Carol would retaliate by constantly throwing him out of their house.  Always, a day or two later he
would manage to convince her that he had changed, and she would take him back.
When Carol was giving birth to their son, Chick N was sleeping with Julie.  The following day, Julie
discovered that he was already living with another woman and broke off the relationship.  Chick N
was still drinking heavily and being aggressive towards Carol, who decided she could not tolerate his
behaviour any longer and threw him out for good.
He decided to try and get back with Julie but she rejected him.  He then decided to have another go
at getting back with Carol again, but she had already met someone else; a man called Eddie. 
Chick N was devastated by this, but gradually he began to accept the fact that it was over between
Carol and himself.  Things were going along fine until, when on a visit to see his son, he overheard
his son calling Eddie Dad.
He knew the route Eddie took when walking home from work.  Chick N approached him in the
underpass, and punched and kicked Eddie to the ground, warning him never to go near Carol and his
son again or he would live, or maybe not live, to regret it.  Carol never saw or heard from Eddie
again.   
So Peggy supposed that when Carol met Julie they found they had a lot in common.  They both
decided to give up on the male population, and instead became involved with each other.  It was not
long before Julie moved in with Carol, in the same council house she had once shared with Chick N.
Strangely, Chick N had accepted that both his ex-partners were now living with each other.  He told
Peggy that he felt a sense of achievement that he had somehow brought them both together, and
he was optimistic that if he played his cards right they would perhaps become a threesome.  Things
were going well until, when on a visit to see his son, he overheard his son call Julie Mum. He decided
to pay Eddie another visit on his way home from work.  
When Chick N approached him in the underpass, Eddie looked like a frightened rabbit staring down
the barrel of a farmer’s gun.  However, this time Chick N welcomed him with open arms and warned
him that he had better start seeing Carol again or he would live, or maybe not live to regret it.  With
a puzzled expression on his face, Eddie now understood what the family had known for years; Chick
N had completely lost the plot.
As well as being violent  Chick N also had a reputation for being sexually promiscuous and could
never be faithful to one girl at a time.  Over the years he had numerous sexual encounters with
women, and in the process had impregnated the majority of them, so the rumour went.  He was
meant to have fathered a quarter of all the children that attended the local primary school.  He
never denied this; in fact he seemed quite proud of his ability to produce.  That was until the Child
Support Agency contacted him about providing for his many children.
Chick N then decided to confess that he couldn’t possibly be the father of any children as he had
always had a low sperm count.  He told them his testicles had been squashed as a result of wearing
tight jeans for most of his adult life.  The fact that he had confessed to having a low sperm count and
squashed testicles certainly went down well with the regulars who drank in the Tam Pack’s Inn.  That
night, when Chick N sheepishly walked in wearing his tight blue jeans for his usual pint, there was
not a straight face to be seen in the pub.
Peggy pulled her attention back to the cafe, looking around at the egg and grease splattered clock
face on the wall behind her.  Three more hours till she finished work.  The cafe door opened again
and in walked Ann, a middle-aged valium fuelled housewife, with her middle-age spread evidence of
two small sons and all the fried eggs eaten on these very premises.
‘Hi Peggy,’  Ann said.
‘Awright Ann.  Whit can Ah git ye?’
‘Och, jist a couple ay scrambled egg rolls fir the boys,’ Ann said, looking down at her sons. ‘An’ a
couple ay glesses ay milk.’
‘Whit ur ye huvin fir yersel?’  Peggy asked, cracking two eggs into a pot and then adding some milk.
‘Och, Ah’ve sterted oan this new low carbohydrate diet.  Ye cannae eat tatties or white breed when
yer oan it,’  Ann said slowly.
‘Ye don’t look as if yiv loast oanything yet,’  Peggy smirked.
‘No Ah’ve no, bit it’s early days.’
‘Well, insteid ay yer usual two fried eggs, two rashers ay bacon an’ three slices ay white breed.  Ah’ll
jist gie ye three fried eggs an’ three rashers ay bacon, an nae white breed, awright?’
‘Aye Peggy, ye’ll jist see the fat meltin’ away afore yer very eyes.’
‘Ah’ll no haud ma breath if yer past attempts at dietin’ ur oanything tae go by!’  Peggy replied, trying
not to laugh.
‘At least Ah’m tryin’ tae lose ma big fat belly,’ Ann said.  ‘Whit ur you daen aboot yours?’
‘Ah’m due ma period in a few days,’  Peggy said feeling her bloated belly.  ‘This is jist fluid retention!’
‘Fluid retention?’ Ann said laughing.  ‘Ah’ve nivir heard ay it!’
‘Well yer no exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer!’
‘Whit?’
‘Nivir mind, jist sit doon an Ah’ll shout ye when it’s ready,’  Peggy said, feeling her overall getting
tighter.
Peggy’s yellow overall usually fitted her like a glove, but for at least three days of each month she
felt as if she was bursting out of it.  Peggy blamed the time of the month; it was all that fluid
retention making her belly swell up and her breasts heavy and sore.  That wouldn’t have been so
bad, but with it came mood swings and the occasional emotional outburst.
She had gone to the doctor who diagnosed pre-menstrual syndrome and gave her some pills.  It was
official;  Peggy had a medical condition.  She could’ve gone on the sick, but Peggy preferred to carry
on working, telling herself that suffering from pre-menstrual syndrome would not affect her ability
to work to her usual high standard.  Peggy was a professional.  She had been to college on day
release and on top of that she had twelve years work experience.  She knew how to fry an egg.  Most
importantly, the college course had taught her that the customer was always right, that you always
had to be polite, pleasant and helpful.  Nothing, not even pre-menstrual syndrome, would impinge
upon her professionalism.  She had a college certificate to prove that she, Peggy Eggar, was trained
in customer care.
Peggy dragged herself back to reality, two more hours to go until she finished work.  The door
opened and in strolled half a dozen builders with their bad language, sexist jokes and their builder
bums on display.  Peggy recognised the ginger haired one; they called him Ginger Nuts, after the
biscuits, Peggy thought.  He usually drank in the Red Fox.  They were supposed to be building a new
courthouse in the centre of town.  Peggy, no doubt, would become a regular spectator in the
courtrooms, as her two brothers were always getting into trouble with the law and being summoned
to attend court.  In fact Peggy had been to court so many times people thought she was a season
ticket holder.
The builders sat down, taking up two tables.  Ginger Nuts approached the counter.
‘Four egg an’ bacon rolls an’ two egg an’ sausage, hen.’
‘Ah might serve eggs but Ah don’t lay thaim, so if ye want served don’t ca’ me hen,’  Peggy
suggested.
‘Awright, Ah’ve no goat aw day, ur ye servin’ ays or no?’
‘Whit’s the word?’
‘Och, please.’
‘Dae ye want oanything tae drink wi that?’
‘Aye, four teas an’ two milky coffees, please!’  Ginger Nuts said, emphasising the please.   
‘We don’t dae milky,’  Peggy said.
‘Whit dae ye dae, then?’
‘Ye pit yer ain milk in, it’s in a wee jug oan the table.  An’ ye jist pick it up fae the table, tip it ower an’
the milk pours intae yer cup ay coffee an’ then ye dae the same again wi’ the ither cup, an bingo yiv
goat two milky coffees.’
‘Ur ye takin’ the piss?’  Ginger Nuts asked.
‘No, Ah’m takin’ yer money, that’ll be eleven pounds an’ twenty pence, please,’  Peggy shot back.
She looked around at the clock.  Just one more hour to go until she could finish work and leave the
hot, greasy cesspit behind her.  She reached for half a dozen white cups and placed tea bags in four
of them, then put a teaspoonful of coffee in each of the others.  She fried the sausages and bacon
and cracked half a dozen eggs on to the hotplate and proceeded to butter the rolls.  When the eggs
were ready she looked over at the builders and shouted:  ‘That’s yer rolls, teas an’ black coffees
ready.’
The builders were busy telling each other sexist jokes and laughing.
Peggy placed the egg rolls, teas and black coffees on a tray and limped over to the builders, banging
the tray down on to the table in protest.  ‘Ah’m no a waitress!  Yer s’pposed tae come tae the
counter an’ get it yersel.’
Ginger Nuts looked Peggy up and down, undressing her with his eyes.  She could feel him trying to
imagine what she would look like without her yellow egg stained overall on.  He asked her
suggestively, ‘Why dae Ah fin it hard tae make eye contact wi ye?’
‘Ah don’t ken,’ Peggy replied.
‘Cos yer tits don’t huv oany eyes!’                          
‘That’s a fuckin’ guid yin, Ginger Nuts,’ the bald headed builder with a bushy black moustache said. 
‘Yer brave, sayin’ that tae her!’  
‘You can shut it as weel.’
‘Whit me?’
‘The last time Ah saw you, you were singing YMCA wi The Village People!’
‘Ur ye trying tae say Ah’m a fuckin’ poof?’
‘Look, this is a respectable cafe, cut aw that swearing oot, thir’s weans aboot fir fuck sake!’  Peggy
snapped angrily.
Everyone in the cafe laughed.  Peggy thought they were all making fun of her artificial leg.  She
turned to Ginger Nuts.  ‘See if ye don’t stoap laughin’ Ah’m gaunnae  huv tae chuck ye oot the cafe.’ 
‘Can ye know take a yoke, fir fuck sake!’  Ginger Nuts teased.
‘Naebody makes a fool oot ay me!’
‘Ah wis only yoking, ma dear!’  Ginger Nuts sang with a gravel voice.
‘Aye, yer very funny!  Jist take yer jokes elsewhair!’  Peggy said, gesturing towards the cafe door. 
‘Oot the lot ay yis, the cafe is closed!’
The laughing gradually lessened when they realised how serious and angry Peggy had become. 
Finally it stopped altogether.  Ginger Nuts slowly got up from the table, leaving half of his uneaten
egg roll behind him, and left the cafe with all the other customers following reluctantly behind.
When the cafe had eventually emptied its bowels and all the shit had gone, Peggy sat down at one
of the deserted tables.  She felt a sharp stabbing pain in her left limb, the limb that was no longer
present.
She often felt pain in the amputated leg.  The only thing that had stopped her from going to her
doctor was embarrassment at the fact that she had pain where there was no longer any leg.  When
the pain became too intense, Peggy overcame her embarrassment and went to the doctor who
called the experience phantom pain, and said it was apparently a very common occurrence amongst
amputees.
As pools of tears welled up in Peggy’s deep blue fried-egg eyes, she thought that perhaps the pain
she  felt in her heart could be explained in much the same way.  People had told her on more than
one occasion that she was cold, unfeeling and heartless, but at times such as these she still felt an
intense pain in her chest; in the heart that was supposedly no longer there.

 

 

 

 

     
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