‘Ah, love, don’t talk like that.’
A long, coaxing word she made of love, coaxing the world to be lovely like it was the night she was fifty and had a party for herself in the pub and nearly everyone came.
‘To laugh at us, Mammy.’
‘No, no, love.’
‘Yes, Mammy, to laugh at us.’
The girl was always too serious, Mammy thinks, knocking no good out of anything and missing the laugh that’s in everything.
Mammy and the girl are so different. The girl’s hair that was so curly is like a sickly puppy’s now. She stopped minding herself after the lad who promised. Mammy’s hair was blonde when she was the girl but went all mousy and the dye is like the girl’s yellow T-shirt washed a hundred times or like baled straw left too long. Say ‘straw’ to Mammy and she would think of a summer haybarn, dusty and spiky, and her breasts in his hands.
‘Ah, love, don’t die on me like that.’
Mammy wears white shorts when the sun comes out though she’s plump with her big thighs tanned from a bottle. ‘Fat, Mammy,’ the girl says whose thinness and paleness worry her. Say ‘straw’ to the girl and she would think of Baby Jesus in a stable and of the baby the lad left her with.
Mammy took her back home saying the baby was lovely even when it cried. ‘Not lovely, Mammy, with the lad’s face on it when it’s crying and even when it’s smiling, it smiles to say what it can’t yet say.’ It’s sorry to be here with its umbilical cord around the girl’s neck, which is the only really long, lovely thing in that house. ‘A cottage, Mammy, not a house.’
Wet walls, bumpy wallpaper, meat smells living and dead, that choose not to leave even by open windows. The house – ‘the cottage’ – doesn’t deserve the dreams Mammy pretends she dreams of him when she wakes up in the morning. There’s no bathroom. The toilet is in the yard. Galvanised roof. Unlit. At night they pad across in bedroom slippers, under the stars if they’re lucky or under the big umbrella he fecked years ago from in front of the pub. Yellow. Purple. Red. A parasol. A big exotic butterfly in the rainy dark. Some soft drink it was advertising whose name Mammy can’t for the life of her remember but it had passion fruit in it. Say ‘umbrella’ to Mammy and she would think of passion fruit and of him. Say it to the girl and she would think that if it doesn’t stop raining I will die of loneliness living here with Mammy. What she needs is a decent man like I got, Mammy thinks: a fellow who wouldn’t mind if you cried a bit now and again in between knocking some good out of things and finding the laugh that’s in everything.
That’s her again. The lift of the latch on the back door and Mammy waits for the lift of the latch on the toilet door. She remembers one of the last things he said to her.
‘I’ll build a decent jacks for you yet,’ and Mammy said, ‘haven’t we the umbrellae?’ And they laughed and held on to each other and he kicked out the hot water bottle.
‘Will you?’ he said.
‘Do you?’ she said, which was the very, very last time.
The lift of the latch on the back door and Mammy waits only to sleep and pretend she dreamed about him when she wakes up in the morning only there’s no one to tell except the baby.
The policeman two miles away is lovely because he does his best. Nearly every one does their best really. He says they’ll look everywhere and that she can’t be gone far.
‘Has she a boyfriend?’
Another one that is beside the lad who promised.
‘And where is the baby?’
In the cot in the yard under the passion fruit umbrella. Because the sun is shining.
The wind takes the umbrella but Mammy can’t think who would have taken the baby. If he was here he’d know what to do but he’s not. He did his best like nearly every one else, then fell off his chair watching Gone With The Wind after the pub. Say ‘Gone With The Wind‘ to Mammy and she’d laugh and think, God forgive me for laughing but God knows he wouldn’t mind. Say ‘Gone With The Wind‘ to the girl and she would think if I see that video again I’ll crack up. That was the last thing that happened last night but Mammy didn’t notice. She was watching Gone With The Wind.
Mammy prays to St Anthony. He always said St Anthony only finds things just so long as they’re not lost, only forgotten. He was good with cars, taking the bits out of old ones and making nearly new ones. The garden – ‘the backyard, Mammy,’ – is full of rusty old metal hulks, nothing left to them only what happened in them. They drove to Dublin in the blue Cortina. A feed and a dance in Barry’s Hotel. There was a mirror with a long-beaked bird advertising the soft drink whose name she can’t for the life of her remember.
They stopped in the brown Triumph Dolomite on the road back from Ballybunion where the girl was maybe made.
‘Ah, love,’ she told the girl once after the pub.
‘You’re disgusting, Mammy.’
‘Ah, love, don’t be like that.’
The Triumph Dolomite, brown like dried clay. Not like the patch of fresh clay behind the outside toilet. Cars everywhere. Scattered up on top of each other and down under each other but tidy in Mammy’s mind because it’s like before. Only the lid of the septic tank over there. ‘We’ll have to fix it,’ he said one time years ago ‘or the girl might fall in.’ The lid had been lifted, moved aside.
No Gone With The Wind all night. No Gone With The Wind when Mammy pretends she dreamed about him when she wakes up in the morning. No telly either, only wires hanging out of the wall like the long thin bumps where the wallpaper didn’t stick. Wires and a letter on the table with Mammy written on it. Say ‘morning’ to Mammy and she would think I dreamed about him. Say ‘morning’ to the girl and she would think that Baby Jesus grew up and was crucified and was dead and was buried when He woke up in the morning.
Then the policeman comes, not a bit lovely after he knocks on the door with a spade and a billhook and more policemen.
‘We’ll look in the backyard.’
‘The garden,’ Mammy says.
It’s June. but like a May procession they go and Mammy’s the statue carried along. Say ‘May procession’ to Mammy and she would think I was the girl once. The girl would think I’m not blessed and I’m not even a virgin now.
‘Ah, love, don’t cry like that.’
‘St Anthony, help me now not to find anything that matters.’
‘Ah, love, help me now when all the saints and St Anthony and the Blessed Virgin and, God forgive me for saying it, God himself won’t help me. Help me knock some good out of all this. Help me find the laugh that’s in everything.’
‘The septic tank, look at it,’ the policeman says. Cars everywhere just like before but the door of the Triumph Dolomite is open not like before. Then the telly. Up it comes out of the septic tank. Up out of the clay comes the video, Gone With The Wind.
‘Thanks be to God,’ Mammy says and doesn’t forget St Anthony. She points to the open door of the car and the lovely policeman stoops inside. Out he comes with the blanket off the girl’s bed.
‘She must have slept in there and took the baby when you were gone the two miles talking to me,’ he says.
‘Because that’s where she was made,’ Mammy says but the policeman doesn’t understand.
‘I can read the letter now.’
‘The letter?’ they ask.
‘That she left. I was afraid to.’
They crowd around her among wet walls, bumpy wallpaper, meat smells living and dead. Gone to England with the baby. Not away after the lad who promised.
Outside, the umbrella flies by the window like a long-beaked bird or an exotic butterfly or just another thing that blows away. Mammy remembers the name of the soft drink that had passion fruit in it.
‘Thank you, St Anthony.’
Say ‘passion fruit’ to Mammy and she would think I never tasted one but I know what it should taste like. Say ‘passion fruit’ to the girl and she would think: bruised. If only she was half as nice to herself as Mammy is. She would knock some good out of the laugh that’s in everything and leave St Anthony alone about the lad who promised. ‘How, God forgive me for saying it, can St Anthony find something that was never there in the first place? Love, long and coaxing, like I got.’
When the policeman with the spade and the billhook and the other policemen leave, the sun stays, which is lovely. Mammy sits in front of the house – ‘the cottage’ – on his chair though she’s plump with her big thighs tanned from a bottle. Someone passes by the gate.
‘Lovely day,’ she says.
She remembers the last thing she said to him. It was after the pub. ‘Will we tum on the telly?’ ‘There’s nothing only shite on the telly,’ he said.
‘We could watch Gone With The Wind.’
‘More shite!’ he said and he reached for her to hold her but he didn’t mind her turning it on.
‘Will you?’ he said.
‘Do you?’ she said and he fell off the chair but Mammy didn’t notice. She was watching Gone With The Wind and thinking I’ll be fifty next birthday.
‘Ah, love, won’t you always talk to me like that?’