Famous

After school, I have to play outside. Mammy’s at the factory and Daddy’s in England looking for work. I’m not allowed in the house on my own because I can’t be trusted. 

Me and my best friend, Rosemary, sit on the pavement, poking sticks in the soft tar. It’s getting all over our hands and we’ll be in trouble, but we’re bored.

“What would you do if you were rich?” Rosemary asks.

“I don’t know. How do you get to be rich, anyway?”

She thinks about it for a minute.

 “I guess if you were famous you’d have lots of money.”

 “But how do you get to be famous?”

We both stab furiously at the tar for a few minutes, neither of us quite sure how to go about being famous.

Then Rosemary says, “Well, if you got your name in the paper you’d be famous, wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah, but only important people get in the paper.”

“Yeah.”

We wander round to the backyard, where there’s a cold water tap. It doesn’t wash the tar off but we manage to get our socks and shoes wet.

I have a good idea. “What if we gave money to the hospital like Mr. Brown did? He got his name in the paper.”

“Yeah, but Mr. Brown’s not rich, is he?” Rosemary objects.

“He’s richer than us, though, because he’s got a car and a job.”

“My daddy has a job.”

“But he doesn’t live with you and he hasn’t got a car.”

“You’re right.” Rosemary sees the sense of what I’m saying. “But where will we get the money to give to the hospital?”

I look at Miss Barr’s apple tree in the garden next door and the branches which hang over the hedge into our garden. She goes mad if we pick her apples and I’ve been told time and again not to touch them.

“We could sell apples on the corner to the people coming out of the factory.”

Rosemary follows my gaze and gasps, “Susie, that’s stealing!”

“No, it’s not, because they’re already in our garden. So, really, they belong to us, don’t they?”

She always believes me and I always get my own way. Rosemary’s pretty but I’m the smart one. Too clever for my own good, Mammy says, which is very nice of her. 

I climb on the dustbin, with Rosemary hanging on to my legs, and pick the apples I can reach, hitting the far-off ones with a stick so that they fall to the ground. Some of the apples have marks on them. That’s all right. We can turn them upside down.

We find a cardboard box in the shed and carry the apples to the corner. It’s throwing out time at the factory. The women frown at us and hurry past. The men laugh as if we’re funny and give us pennies. Sometimes they don’t even take the apples. 

One of the men says, “You’d better watch out, your mammy’s coming.” 

All the apples are gone anyway and we trail behind her as she heads for home. Rosemary decides she’s in charge of the money and counts it. “Two shillings and thruppence. It’s not much, is it?”

It seems a lot to me. 

“They’ll be delighted with that at the hospital. We’ll take it up on Saturday morning.”

She looks doubtful and I have to give her a pep talk.

“We have to make a start, or we’ll never be famous. Wait til our names are in the paper, everybody will be talking about us.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” 

“I know.”

Rosemary clears off for her tea and I go in to wash the dishes from this morning while Mammy cooks.

…………………

The lady at the hospital on Saturday morning is very smiley and laughs a lot.

I nudge Rosemary. “See, I told you they’d be delighted.”

“And what are your names, may I ask?” 

The lady has her pen out. This is it, we’re going to be famous!

………………….

We split up at the corner of my road. Rosemary’s going swimming in the Bann this afternoon with her brother, Adrian. I’m not allowed to go to the river, because I can’t swim.  But it’s all right. I’ve got an Enid Blyton book from the library and I get sixpence on a Saturday for sweets.

I help Mammy with tidying up and peeling potatoes for dinner, even washing the dishes afterwards without being told to.  When I’m famous, she’ll be saying how good I was about the house.

I’m a good way into The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters and the Famous Five are showing the police how to do their job when there’s a knock at the door. I ignore it, until Mammy shouts, “Get the door, are you deaf?”

Sighing loudly, to make sure she hears me, I make my way to the front door. Norman, from across the road is outside. I know from the look on his face he’s got something he’s just dying to tell me, but I won’t ask him and put on my patient face to stare him out.

It’s a waste of time, anyway, because he blurts straight out with it. “Your friend, Rosemary – she’s drowneded!”

He’s so stupid, the same age as me and he can’t even read yet. I tell him, “First, it’s drowned, not drowneded. And, second, if she was drowned, she’d be dead.”

His mother (he doesn’t say Mammy like ordinary people) comes running across the road after him and grabs him by the arm.

“Come away, Norman,” she says and looks at Mammy, who’s come up behind me. They do that thing grown-ups do, talking without saying anything.

I feel sick, like I’d eaten too many of Miss Barr’s apples.

Mammy brings me back into the house and talks to me ever so soft. It’s true. Rosemary got drowned in the river. 

“But, she can swim. It’s not true. We’re going to be famous.”

I shout at Mammy and slap at her arms. When she cuddles me instead of scolding me, I know it’s true.

……………………..

The Chronicle comes out on Friday. 

There’s a list of people who made kind donations to the hospital. Me and Rosemary are at the bottom of the list with two shillings and thruppence. Over the page, in among things about people who got born or married or died, there’s a picture of Rosemary in her school uniform. Underneath it are lots of nice things about her and how sad it was she got tangled up in the weeds. I find a bit that says how much her friend, Susie, misses her. I expect Mammy put it there.

Anyway, Rosemary is more famous than me because she got a picture as well as her name printed twice.

I don’t mind. Being famous isn’t at all it’s cracked up be.

Fluffy Gets the Sack

WARNING: Contains violence. Do not read if squeamish

Daddy passes me the tin lid, full of birdseed. I rattle it, call “tom-tom-tom” into the sky and watch for the pigeons coming home. It’s hot up here on the roof of the pigeon loft. My head’s a bit dizzy but it’s a very important job. The pigeons are flying home from France and I need to get them down quickly so Daddy can clock them in.

Mammy won’t like it that I’m on the roof, but she’s gone across the street to help Mrs Diamond get her baby. It can take quite a long time, so that’s all right.

Daddy picks up his air rifle. I’m not allowed to touch it, but when I’m a bit bigger I can go with him to shoot rabbits. He’s not very good at shooting, because he’s been trying to get Miss Barr’s cat for a long time. It still comes after the pigeons, crawling through the hedge from next door. I don’t know why Daddy worries because it never catches one.

I can see it now, sneaking through the grass. It’s big and fat and ginger. Miss Barr calls him Fluffy. Daddy calls him ‘that fuckin’ cat. I’m not allowed to say that word, Mammy would have a fit, and Daddy never says it in the house.

He bangs the gun twice and the cat scoots away, back under the hedge.

I tell Daddy he’s going to stop the pigeons coming home if he makes loud bangs and he laughs and messes my hair up. I like it when he does that.

The garden gate creaks open and two of Daddy’s friends come into the garden. They look funny, because Mr Fitzsimmons is big and fat like Fluffy and Mr O’Neill is not much bigger than my brother, Sam, who’s two years older than me. I don’t like them coming round, because Daddy forgets about me.

He jumps off the roof and stands with his friends, smoking fags and saying ‘fuckin’ cat’ a lot. Mr O’Neill thinks Daddy’s going about it the wrong way, he’ll never get him with the gun, what he needs is a sack.

They get a sack from the red brick outhouse that Daddy built and Mr O’Neill lies down on the ground beside the hedge. Daddy looks up and tells me to stop rattling the tin for a wee while. I don’t want to stop because we need to get the pigeons clocked in, but I don’t want to feel the back of his hand, so I keep quiet. 

From the roof, I can see Fluffy in the next-door garden. He’s playing with a leaf, having fun and getting closer to the hedge. Mr O’Neill nods at Daddy and lift the sack. Fluffy chases the leaf through the gap in the hedge and the nasty little man pounces on him, dropping the sack over poor Fluffy.

Daddy and his friends all laugh and slap each other on the back. I can’t see why they’re so happy when the cat is going crackers inside the sack, fighting to get out. I can hear him crying and spitting from here. I don’t like this and call for Daddy to get me down. He comes over and I jump down into his arms, leaving the tin lid on the roof.

I pull on Daddy’s sleeve to tell him he needs to get up on the roof to clock the pigeons in, but he tells me to get myself away into the house. That’s not fair because Sam is coming up the garden and he gets called over to see Fluffy in the sack. Nobody’s looking at me anymore, so I go round the side of the outhouse to see what happens.

Mr Fitzsimmons has got the sack now and he opens it a bit to show the cat to Sam. Fluffy gets one paw out and rakes his claws down the fat man’s hand. I think Fluffy will get away but Daddy grabs the sack and smacks it on the ground. Fluffy cries really loud. It makes me want to cry as well and I wish I’d got myself indoors when Daddy told me.

Sam laughs when the cat cries, but he’s just doing what the men do. I want him to get the sack and let Fluffy out. Instead, he puts on a pair of Daddy’s gardening gloves and pulls the cat out by his tail. Daddy and his friends are telling Sam to go on and do it. He looks like he’s going to be sick and Fluffy is squirming and clawing at him.  

My head is dizzy again and I’m too hot. I walk round the side of the outhouse to tell Sam to let the cat go. Before I can get to him, he swings Fluffy by the tail and smashes him against the brick wall. I scream at him to stop, but Daddy and his friends are all cheering at Sam to do it again and nobody hears me.

Sam swings the cat again and again. Now he looks like he’s enjoying it. And everybody’s shouting. And I’m screaming. And then I’m sick all over the grass. 

It goes quiet and when I look up, Fluffy is lying ever so still on the ground and there’s blood all over the wall and splattered on Sam’s clothes. He grins all over his face. I hate him so much. And I scream and scream. And Daddy lifts his hand to me. And I run.

I’m never going back to help Daddy again. He can sit on the roof and rattle the tin himself.

I hope his fuckin’ pigeons never come home.

My Inspiration

A small piece of Flash Fiction (less than 100 words) written for a competition. The prompt was to incorporate a Bic lighter.

I didn’t mean to hurt her

It was easy to fall into the habit of shouting at her after a rough day at work, to criticise the meals she cooked, to take her confidence.

It was all useful material for my novel, about a woman who subjugated herself to a domineering man. She was such great inspiration.

Maybe I overdid it. I don’t know.

Today, they found a pile of ashes on a clifftop with a small blue lighter dropped beside them. She burned my novel before making the leap.

Damn. It’ll take weeks to rewrite. But what a great ending.

Lunch with Albert

A short anecdote about a very dear friend, sadly gone ahead.

Albert © Jacqui Jay Grafton

When I first began to forget the names of things (apparently the first thing to go is proper nouns) I swore I would never resort to ‘whatchamacallit’ and ‘thingymajig’; even if it meant a pause in the conversation, I would just wait until the word came. That worked for a while and then the next stage appeared – the word would come to mind but the tongue wouldn’t spit it out and the pauses got longer while mind and tongue had a little domestic to see who would win. Now, sometimes the name of a person doesn’t come at all and I have to admit defeat and move on, only for the elusive name to pop up when I’m talking about something entirely different.

I was talking about books recently, while having lunch with Albert, and he was describing a biography just published in Spanish about an Irish hero / activist (history hasn’t made its mind up which he is yet) from the time of the Easter uprising in 1921. Both of us knew exactly who the biography was about and could regurgitate clues – he was hanged, his first name was Roger etc. – but we couldn’t tell each other what his name was. So we were in the strange position of having a complete conversation about someone without once mentioning his name. We eventually moved on to talk about other things and, in the middle of discussing the pros and cons of the present Government, I suddenly banged the table in triumph and shouted “Casement!”. The cutlery jumped in the air, the wine glasses rocked (oh yes, there was wine) and everyone in the restaurant turned to stare, while a waiter rushed over to see if everything was all right with Sir and Madam.

It was a bit like the Meg Ryan moment in When Harry met Sally.

Only non-sexual.

And geriatric.