The strangest thing happened the other day. Like, if I tell you about it, you won’t believe me. If I swore on the Bible or the Koran or a….do the Hindus have a Book? What about the Buddists? And that one the Jews use? The Torah, is it? If I swore on a stack of those tomes, you still wouldn’t believe me.
Perhaps strange is the wrong word. Out of this world might be more fitting. Because the thing that happened was otherworldly.
Kittens, people like. And puppies. Even fully grown dogs, with their imploring eyes. Goldfish are acceptable when one’s offspring is clamouring for a pet; cheap and replaceable, should you find one belly-up in the tank.
Mangy. There’s a word people often use in my vicinity. The cheek!
She paid for me in cash. I was her first. I sensed her pride, despite her initial reservations about my colour. Some might call it garish and I concede that there are many colours duller than I. Ronald, the salesman, wore a shiny suit. Pastry-white pouches of skin oozed between the buttons of his loud shirt. No, he told her. I was not mustard. I was gold.
I was only six back then. A six-year-old golden Nissan Micra. One previous owner, Ronald said. Which was not the case. I don’t like to doubt him but used-car salesmen can be deserving of their reputation, in my experience.
It’s not all his fault. She knows that. She should have said something earlier. Maybe before the children were born. Or before they got married. She was just so desperate to get away. Maybe she should have taken better care of her hair. Or her face. Or just been more like her sister, Kate. Kate who lived in New York City with another woman. Kate who told her not to marry Seán. Kate who wore jeans long before women wearing jeans became fashionable. Or acceptable.
My mother loves a bargain. She loves it the way people love a good book. Or a great glass of red wine. Or both of those things, at the same time, which happens to be my personal favourite.
Gerry Maguire said he was ‘good in the livingroom.’ My mother is ‘super in the supermarket.’ Why buy one red pepper when you can have a whole bag of peppers – all different colours – for almost the same price?
In Ireland, we wake our dead. We bring them home. We put them in the ‘good room.’ They lie in a coffin that is not yet closed. We talk to them. Touch their faces. Tell stories about them. Drink toasts to them. Cry for them. Cry for ourselves. There’s singing. There’s always singing. And praying. Decades of the rosary. Lines of Hail Marys. The four Mysteries; Luminous, Joyful. Glorious. Sorrowful.
The dead are never alone during this vigil. It is a party.
The best Valentine’s Day happened a long time ago. As far back as 1982 in fact. And it’s been downhill from there.
I was 12 years old and I loved a boy in my class. Handily enough, he loved me right back. I put this down to the fact that his mother was German, thus differentiating him from the other boys in my class who sniggered at that word, love, preferring instead to push and pinch the girls they disliked the least.
You know the way grown-ups always ask you what you want to be when you grow up? Well, I never had any problem answering that question. Because I always knew. I never had any doubts. I wanted to work for Father Christmas. In the workshop. You know the one. Where the Christmas toys are made. Even before I did my Elementary Elf exams – I passed them all! – mama says that I did nothing but talk about being one of Santa’s Elves. She says I dressed up like them, using green leaves that I found in the Fairy Fort at the bottom of our garden. Making pointed hats out of green crepe paper and sticking blocks of wood onto the heels of my shoes, the way elves do, to make themselves seem a little taller. Because you see, elves are small. Tiny in fact. And that suits me down to the ground. Because I am tiny too.
IT HAPPENS in the confectionary aisle. There I am, dangling a fat bag of chocolate doughnuts over my basket. I’m fighting it, but I feel my resolve stumble, my grip loosen, my arm lower, when I hear a voice. Maurice’s voice. I drop the bag like it’s on fire and pull the brim of my hat down around my face. For a moment, I do nothing. The voice is fainter now and I think he might be in aisle four. The frozen-food section.