Originally published in the 2016 Tales Irish collection.
Not one picture of my parents’ wedding exists. As I searched through my mother’s old Roses tins of photos and raggedy albums, I knew I wouldn’t find any. It didn’t matter now, the Mass card picture had already been chosen. My mother’s slow death was followed by swift funeral preparations, in the lean and fast-moving style management consultants encourage start-ups to adopt. Her funeral is today. It’s not yet seven o’clock in the morning and my sister Edel is ringing.
“Well, how did you sleep? I didn’t get a wink,” she says, chirpier than you’d expect considering the day that was in it.
“I fell asleep on the couch, woke up with a Quality Street wrapper stuck to my face.”
“Which one was it?”
“What do you mean which one?”
“Which sweet was it?”
“Oh, the long caramel one.”
“It always was your favourite, wasn’t it?”
“And you liked the orange, listen I better go Edel, I’ll see you later.”
There were five years between us. We were a very small family, for this part of the country at that time of the century. Loud tuts in farmers’ cottages followed sympathetic remarks to my father about having no sons.
“All the worse that the failing is with the doe not the buck,” my uncle would say within earshot of my mother, as she cast her eyes to the floor and brought the slops out to the dogs.
Daddy had died long ago and was all but forgotten by me, we were never close. Edel had been his little girl, in a decade where you could prefer one child to another. He would bring her to town to pick up a piece of machinery or to get shoes reheeled. I would hear them coming out the bog road on the way back. Once I stood out in front of the house to greet them. Edel clambered out of the car with bright red splotches of raspberry syrup on her pinafore, fallen from an ice cream cone I would never see the balance of.
Running to the kitchen in tears my mother said “She’s the baby, he did the same for you at that age”. She caught me up in her arms, and told me she loved me. It was the first time, I think I heard it. It didn’t sit right with me, although I was glad she said it.
At Christmas we used to thumb through mammy’s old pictures, laughing at our elephant flares or a botched home perm. The contents of the tin catalogued the good times. They were the best times we had to photograph. Psychologists say we only project the highlights of our lives on Facebook. Well these albums are exactly the same. Feeling the ridges of the mock crocodile skin, the cracks have been smoothed by years of us handling it, dust and skin locked in the crevices.
At the funeral, the warmth of the winter sun gives the church eaves a garish kitsch feel. The ribbons of the floral display are pearlescent, nearly like Graceland. The pale blue of the churchyard, it was gaudy, like someone turned up the contrast. It reminded me of those old photographs. Edel is clutching my hand, grasping for a comfort I can’t give her. She looked so like her, the way she ruffles the hankie to quell the river of snot.
The weather is a surprise. It’s hot for November. At least are were saved the misery that is standing beside a grave in the driving rain, although that’s how you imagine burying your mother. Sun-glassed head said the rosary with sun-glassed head. The black shades lent the crowd an air of polished glamour I’m not sure my mother would have felt at home with, and certainly didn’t fit with the iced buns and coffee cake slices the neighbours provided.
Back at the hotel condolences continued.
“You’ve the same gentleness as her Edel, god bless you both, I am so sorry for your loss,” said Teasy Ward, hands leathery from scrubbing and cleaning and domestic ablution. Teasy was the only one from my father’s side to come along, I silently admonished myself for suggesting to Edel it was only the outing she was after.
Skip Nugent was back from Bristol and pushed his cousin Gone Quinn up the slippery black tarmac. “Sorry for your loss, ladies,” he said leaning in for a kiss, on both cheeks, the lech.
“There’s wheelchair parking up at the door Skip,” said Edel.
“Thanks Edel, I need to keep the upper body strength up though,” he wheeled Gone to a stop.
Gone Quinn felt for our hands and squeezed them, consoling us kindly with his eyes.
As they wheeled off Edel said “He better not leave him parked at the jacks like he did at Joe Paddy Jack’s wake.”
Stride O’Reilly was the fourth generation in a family of butchers and brought me to his debs dressed like Adam Ant. The black eyeliner had been replaced by broken veins, and now he hadn’t hair enough to run a comb through if he’d wanted to. “Sorry for your loss Molly,” he said in a drawl as thick as fillet steak. “I left a few chops above in the house, keep yis going,” he nodded and went in to wet his lips. “Thanks Stride,” I said watching him lumber off towards the bar.
“Who’s your man,” says Edel, pointing at a lightly tanned man in his sixties, parking a swanky hire car. The sun lit the thread of his pinstripe suit like those ads for faster broadband.
“God, he’s not bad looking,”
“He’s old enough to be your father! Oh look, there’s Baby,” said Edel, as our mother’s youngest sister pulled up in a green Avensis.
“We may go back in, quick!” I said, putting out the cigarette, as it sizzled in the rainwater of the ashtray, but she’d spotted us.
“How’s Baby?” I asked leaning in for a kiss.
“Ara it’s very warm isn’t it?’ she said, foot stuck out against the pull of the hill.
“It is, my car said it was 19 degrees leaving the church,” I nodded in agreement.
After an hour of doing the rounds inside I needed another fag. Rifling through my bag, a squeeze of the box reminded me I was all out.
“Here,” said the silver fox from earlier, pulling out a Marlboro Light.
“You have your mother’s smile, that’s for sure,” he said in the dulcet whispers of a well-honed charmer, his hand running through his silver mop. He smiled in a pathetic way with a cigarette pursed between his lips.
“You remind me of Marco Pierre White, has anyone ever told you that,” I said, catching myself as I tipsily spoke the flirtation.
“What’s your name?”
“Donald Timmons, although I used to go by Dart, I would nip around the town on a motorbike,” he said in an accent that held only crumbs of Navan in it.
“Bit of a bad boy were you?”
He straightened his shoulders and shifted his feet. “Something like that. I’m sorry about your mother, she was a great woman. I used to see her walking down the town on a Saturday evening, fur coat and sunglasses on her way to the Metropole in Dublin. She would have her rollers in a silk scarf, not bothering for the locals. Her good taste rubbed off on you, that’s a form-fitting dress,” he said a bit bluntly.
He kept talking “I live in London now, working in finance. I’m only home for a few days, staying athin in the hotel tonight”.
“‘Athin in the hotel’? The accent’s not long coming back is it? Ah it has a hold on us all.”
“I’d like to have a hold of you,” he said, not looking at me but his shoes.
“I didn’t think I’d hear that today,” I said, liking the idea.
“God, I’m terrible. I’m sorry I shouldn’t have,” but I stopped him, holding a finger over his lips.
“I might want to be taken a hold of.”
“You’re a terror, a holy terror, it’s getting late actually I must go and check in,” he didn’t move.
“Let me know what room you’re in,” I said, as he held the smoking room door open for me.
Baby was blustering to herself inside the ladies toilet when I went in.
“You’re either blown asunder with the damnable dryers or picking little farts of toilet roll out of your nails. Sometimes I don’t bother washing my hands only for show,” she said, a hint of a sherry slur about her lips.
“Will you need a lift home Baby?”
“Arah, I’ll sort something out. What are you at blathering to that old boy out there? He is an awful man. Awful. Can’t believe he had the front to show himself here today,” she pulled either side of the peach parka jacket tighter around her shoulders.
“I’m no spring chicken meself,” I said, making for the door.
“Watch yourself,” she scolded me.
“Sure what about him?” I asked, annoyed at her poking her wizenedy snout in on me today.
“He’s trouble. Your poor mother knew well and good about that.”
“What are you talking about you ould crone?”
“Lookit, that woman took things to her grave it’s not for me to go saying anything,” she said, slipping by me out the door.
“Baby, come back here!”
I went to go after her but Edel frogmarched me into the bar “Where were you? Leaving me to deal with this melee on me own?” referring to the tables of old dears and ould lads hatching by the wall.
“Where’s Baby actually? She was going on about some secret mammy took to her grave.”
“Don’t mind her, she’s half cut talking to the priest.”
I felt a hand on the small of my waist, Dart was standing between us.
“You must be Molly’s sister?”
“Molly’s younger sister, Edel,” she said quietly.
“My condolences, Edel,” he said.
“Oh, watch out, here comes trouble,” said Edel.
Baby was standing up at her seat, after knocking empty tonic bottles from the table. She pulled Dart’s hand away from me.
“You have some cheek. How dare you show your face here?” said Baby, her eyes ablaze.
“Ah Baby it’s yourself. I’m sorry for your loss,” he said, clearly caught in the headlights.
“Look at you all over this one, after you up and left her mother!” said Baby.
“What are you on about Baby, now there’s no need to go—” he said before she cut in, turning to me “And you, missy, he’s old enough to be your father.”
The resident’s bar, including my sons, Teasy Ward, Skip Nugent, Stride O’Reilly and Gone Quinn all were now looking, silently drinking it in with their eyes.
“Baby now’s not the time for this, you’re making a show of yourself for god’s sake–” I said grabbing her own frail little wrist firmly.
“—Molly, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but, but, he is your father. He upped and skedaddled on your mother and her expecting you,” she looked at us both, zipped her coat up and walked away.
“I think I’d better go,” said Dart. Donald. Whoever he was.
“Is it true?” I asked him, looking at the lips I had touched, seeing the familiar cupid’s bow of my own pout and knowing the answer.
Not one picture of my parent’s wedding exists. They hadn’t known anyone with a camera, but even if they had, a black lid of shame would have covered the lens. Finally though, I had a clear image of what the day had looked like.