The fat woman who says she is my daughter is back again. This time she is burning the pungent stuff that makes my eyes water. Peace, oh blessed peace, where have you gone? My lovely dream of home, gone, and sticks and wheels, an unholy procession of walking wounded. Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will always hurt me. The woman in white who shouts into my face with a breath that is minty tobacco as I wake again to this. I’m stiff from sitting. She is ranting away while I watch condensation trickle into the lip of the sill, catching fragments of it, but the other voices are still there. Banging and clattering in the hall, at the door. They talk about me as if I were not back from the dream, not here at all. Why won’t someone feed that dog who whines at my feet? Whose baby lies smirking on the bed? It has been grinning at me with its big teeth and black ears for hours now. When I try to talk the words won’t come. They are pulling me now, pulling me up from the warm darkness and the memories.
Nancy D is below, swinging on the gate. Oh, you’d a good innings all right. Break yourselves but don’t break the furniture. Hit her again, Brud, she’s no relation. Black Mick from the hill. She had a baby beyond in England and gave it away. When I was small, I stole silver coins from the Gourmet Boila jar in the kitchen press and spent it on chocolate and suffered agonies on the stairs while my father balanced the books. Who burst your ball? Rise and shine. Them are they. What else all. Je suis, tu est … I am being lifted into a chair. Bless me father, for I have sinned. Oh Angel of God, my guardian dear. I promised not to tell. I’m like the wreck of the Hesperus without a screed of makeup on. Bella won it and Bella will keep it. Not at all. Heck the beds. Getting in the window coming late from the last dance in Tullow. Goodnight, Dick. Whisht Nellie, excuse me, May. Tom standing at the door in his pyjamas wagging his finger across the smoke-filled room.
There are people sitting like crows on a washing line opposite me. They laugh and talk, and when I grow tired of watching the mouths move, I shut them out to go back down. The apple of my father’s eye, the white-headed girl. I’m apprenticed to the Miss Goffs, with a mouthful of pins and yards of poplin and silk and gingham. The make and model competition. Article 42. Fancy dress ball and a turkey at the pongo in the CYMS. That other heifer got herself into trouble and not a word for fifty years. Followed Key Hole Kate to town to get away. Table tennis and Bernie Byrne with a smell of sweat that would knock you down. Madelaine Le Strange. The Happy Ring House on the eighth of December with Tom sulking because I stole into the cinema to show my ring to the girls before his Mother saw it. “No Stir Yet” in the window of the small flat to placate the questioners. Dropping the big-eyed baby, slippery with suds on the bathroom floor. The midwife’s admonishments during the screaming dry birth of a son … The old man in the bed rubbing his feces in his hands, banging on the pipe with the brass tip of his stick.
They have me on the toilet now. Three of them in here. Even here a body gets no privacy. The fat one is wiping my face. If they don’t stop I’ll get the guards. Why are there so many people in this house this day. Cold meat and salad. A cigarette butt stubbed out beside the rind of a rasher on a willow pattern plate. China cups and strong tea. One for the pot. Jam and cream, sponge and apple tart. Sitting on a cliff with the new baby while the other one dismantles the dry stone wall with boredom. Too small for her communion dress. There is a clip in my hair to keep it back and it itches my scalp. I can’t tell them. The woman in white is poking at my mouth. How dare she. I keep my lips clamped tight. It’s sore. She can feck off with herself. The woman opposite me moans and rocks and moans and rocks. I tell her to whisht. The fat one is singing now. She is pushing pieces of sweet brown stuff into my mouth. Tells me it will melt. It does. All over my chin. The big man in black whose face is familiar blesses me and places his huge warm hand on my scalp. He follows my eyes to the wall photo of the couple I can’t place and says, “Sure he had more taste than the taste in his mouth.”
At Mass, the man beside me shouts that he has a sore arse. Sending the children to St. Anthony’s and telling herself which crocheted loop to pull to open her bonnet because the big nun gives out to her for being late lingering in the damp cloakroom, with the smell of sour milk and old coats frantically trying to open the black knot she has got herself into. Always highly strung, that one. Hysterical for nothing. Thinks she has no friends and looks up at me with her tear-soaked face. Am I ugly, Mam? Laughing turns to crying. Mind the house. You’re as safe as a house on fire. She’d rise a row in a barrack of soldiers. She was up smelling the clothes in the wardrobe as if we were gone forever. Overreacting to everything. Breda in the pantomime saying oh she’s greased the boards before but she is pure ham. Playing to the gallery. At the strawberry fair a country man saying she is a fine lump of a child and her head against the window crying all the way home. The boy getting hay fever at the side of the lake with eyes shut like a Chinaman.
Mince and onions with soaked bread to stretch it. A small brown please and ten Gold Bond. A glass of lager and lemonade top. Tea and biscuits with the nine o’ clock news. Eating chips rustling at the table while the lanky teen sprawls huffing and sighing that the end of the film is ruined. He’d give last to nobody. The fat one has me pulled and hauled . She drops me and I lie sideways in the hallway with my glasses hanging off while her face whitens. There is music on always playing, always playing. The voices rise and dip quavering in the sunroom for entertainment where the others squeeze my hands and sing and sing about the something sweet we get to eat.
I have a hunch,
That I’ll do lunch,
Or maybe brunch,
And try to munch,
… not with THAT bunch.
Just a song at twilight, when the lights are low and the flickering shadows softly come and go … though the heart be weary, sad the day, and long, still to us at twilight comes love’s sweet song, comes love’s old sweet song. That was Oliver’s favorite . Tawnish we called him because he couldn’t say turnip. He put a black x on the bag of oranges the little girl brought him in hospital so he wouldn’t eat them.
Its time for her to go now, and I see her at the door looking back in again. I pretend to be asleep.