The sun of my youth is complimented by my nostalgia; it has blurred edges and exaggerated warmth. That was the sun that woke me from my dreamless sleep one Sunday morning. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and listened to the silence of the house. “Nobody is up yet” I thought “it must still be early”. The sunshine lit up my room and I was excited by it, the day before it had rained heavily. I had a lot to do that day and was anxious for it to begin. I looked across to the other bed in my room and seen my older sister flat on her belly, face squished into the edge of her pillow and watched as the clear liquid slowly rolled from the corner of her open mouth and down her chin. Jenny always dribbled in her sleep, her pillow had drool stains all over it and I liked to jeer her about it when she annoyed me. She was eight and a half, two years older than me and she never let me forget it.
I swung my legs out of bed onto the bare floor where it had been warmed by the heat of the sun that had sneaked through the pink curtains. I bent down and as quietly as I could, I pulled the pillow case that I had packed with toys from under my bed, careful not to wake Jenny. I watched as the dust fairies rose and danced in the sunlight; I tried to catch them in my hands, but they were always too quick for me. Bundling the pillow case into my arms I quietly tip toed from the room and crept past my little brothers, Patrick and John’s room. If I woke them it meant making their breakfast, and I just didn’t have the time for that this morning.
I was filled with anticipation and excitement for the sale of work Cara, my best friend, and I had planned. We had spent the previous day in her bedroom making a list of things we could sell. Admittedly, my contribution was less likely to produce much profit, being third or possibly fourth hand. Cara’s second-hand toys were better than some of my newer possessions. I decided that I was going to buy her Rainbow Bright; I had always wanted one of them.
Cara was very lucky she only had an older brother so she didn’t have to share her room. She had lots of cool stuff like the glitter and glue we had used to create a poster on the inside of a Cornflakes box. My Ma never let us have glitter or glue she said it cost too much money and that we would “wreck the place with it” and “she had enough to do without cleaning up shaggin’ glitter”.
Passing my Ma and Da’s room I heard my Da snore, it caught in his throat and he coughed and farted. I put my hand over my mouth to stifle my laugh and hurried down the stairs. The carpet was old and worn from my Ma’s obsessive hovering and the constant traffic. I gently pushed open the sitting room door; it never closed properly the lock had broken after my little brother had shoved a stone into it. It felt strange to enter the sitting room so early, there was little light and only the faint sound of a ticking clock, like a rhythmic heartbeat pulsating in the sleeping room. Cara said that my house smelled like biscuits, I never noticed before but today I could smell the sweet and musty scent, it was both comforting and unsettling. I couldn’t decide if it was a nice smell or not.
I quickly dressed myself and just as I reached the front door, I heard one of the boys running into my Ma’s room. I pulled open the heavy wooden door, my Ma shouted down “Laura what are you doing!”, “I have to go up to Cara for a minute Ma, I won’t be long”, I called back while trying to close the door behind me. “Laura get back in here NOW”, my heart leapt, “will I pretend I didn’t hear her and just go” I thought to myself, but I knew I would be in big trouble. “Ah Mammy please, I told Cara I would be up” I could feel my lip begin to tremble and my throat tighten, she was going to ruin everything. “Laura, it’s too early Cara won’t be up” she called back down. I heard her feet land on the floor just as Patrick jumped from his top bunk. “Mammy she will, she knows I’m coming” I pleaded, as John charged in to her room. Patrick and John began their morning battle of wrestling and kung-fu “Jesus!” gasped my Ma trying to separate them “Two minutes Laura, you better only be two minutes”, “Thanks Ma” I roared, skipping out the door wiping the snot and tears across the back of my hand.
I ran out of my garden jumping over puddles from the rain the night before, darted across the road. In my haste I realised I had forgotten to look up and down for traffic. My mother’s mantra rang in my head like an alarm “I’ll kill you if you get knocked down Laura Byrne!” and resolved to do it on the way back. I stretched to pound the knocker shaped like a lion’s head and silently made roaring sounds and ferocious faces at the lion, while I waited for an answer. The door opened and Mrs O’Grady peeped out “Hey ye Mrs O’Grady, can Cara come out?” I asked, “Laura love, it’s very early, she’s not dressed yet” behind her Cara came thundering down stairs, with a bag of toys in her hand. “I am Mammy, I am” she cried trying to squeeze by her Ma. “Cara, you can’t go out yet” she snapped grasping fresh air. “Mrs O’Grady she can have breakfast in my house, I already told me Ma she was coming. ” I called over my shoulder as we ran back down the street and across the road.
Cara stopped suddenly at Mrs Maguire’s garden and ran her hand across the rainwater that had gathered on the gate; she leaned in and sucked the water from it. This made me laugh and fired my excitement. I raced to the next garden and did the same. All the way back to my house we drank the rainwater from each of the garden gates, with the exception of Mr. Quinn whom we both didn’t like but were unsure why. Pretending to be fountains we pursed our lips and sprayed the water into the air, screeching as the spray landed back in our face and on our hair.
As we reached my garden we could hear a symphony of sounds and smells coming from my house. John and Patrick were watching cartoons, they were wrestling each other for the TV remote as Cara and I came in. “Gimme it Patrick, I want to lower it up” “Ye sap, you can’t “lower” it up, you higher it up” Patrick taunted John. Jenny came in from the kitchen and slapped the two of them across the head and took the remote from them. “Maaaaa” the boys roared, “come on out to the kitchen Cara” I said trying to ignore the commotion. My Ma stood in her dressing gown with her back to us. On the table there was a plate of sausages and bread and butter. “Get stuck in there, girls before it’s gone” she said without turning around. We made a quick sandwich and headed straight out to the front garden armed with a blanket, Cornflakes box poster, and two bags of toys.
We laid our blanked on the damp grass and positioned our poster on the garden gate and the toys were lined up against the railings that divided my garden from our neighbours. The sounds from the house slowly quietened, meaning my Da was up. Sunday morning was always the same, breakfast and then off to the pub, by the time he was home we would be in bed. Jenny peered through the curtains, her curiosity piqued she had decided to join us.
“What are you two up to?”
“None of your business, Jenny” I said defensively
“I’m only asking! Eh, that’s mine” she said grabbing the Mandy annual.
“Gimme it back, ye don’t even read it” I argued. Through the small open window I could hear my Ma and Da talking; their voices were steadily growing louder. Just as I was about to lunge at Jenny, Mrs O’Grady strolled up.
“Hi girls, how are you getting on” she asked, leaning her arms across the top of the pillar, I quickly sat back down avoiding Jenny’s dirty look. The voices in the house built and I recognised the familiar tones. Not wanting Cara or her Ma to hear I chattered nervously trying to distract them. I noticed her eye flicker to the window and I jumped up to show her my ‘Bunty Annual’ “Em, Mrs O’Grady did you ever read this, it’s great, I eh, love this story…” One of the boys had started to cry inside, I glanced at Jenny. Her eyes wide she stood frozen afraid to go in. My chest began to feel like there was a rabbit trapped there and my voice became louder in an effort to mask the noise filtering through the open window. “Cara do you want this, you can have it, I don’t think anyone is going to buy this today, will we leave it till tomorrow”, I gushed feeling ashamed and desperate for them to move on.
Mrs O’Grady interrupted just then walking into the garden “I have a great idea, why don’t you three come down to our garden with your sale; sure more people pass by our house. I’ll even make you some fairy cakes and you can sell them too” she said taking Jenny by the hand. “Ye that’s a great idea” I said grabbing the toys and shoving them into the pillow case. I felt a sense of relief believing that they hadn’t heard the fight that was brewing. I pushed Cara from the garden “you go on Cara, I’ll be there in a minute” I rambled and she looked at me nervously then ran after her Ma. I followed pulling the pillow case behind me, feeling guilty for leaving John and Patrick. I could hear crying, the sound of doors banging and my Da shouting “Stop fucking nagging me”. At least Mrs O’Grady didn’t hear that, I thought.
Mrs O’Grady, as promised made us fairy cakes, and in between cleaning she came out every so often. I caught her looking at Jenny and me, she would smile and rub my hair. I smiled back even though it had made me sad when she did it. As the day crept away and it started to get cold, the dark clouds that hid the sun felt a weight in my heart. “Laura I think we should go home now, it’s going to rain” Jenny said reluctantly.
The house was quiet except for the sound of John and Patrick playing upstairs, Jenny ran up to them. I walked through the empty sitting room for the second time that day, cartoons were on the TV but nobody was watching them. In the kitchen my Ma was standing at the sink, I walked over and looked up to her puffy red eyes “Were you crying Ma?” I asked fidgeting nervously at my dress, “No Love, I was just cutting onions, I’m grand” she replied smiling down at me “she cuts onions a lot” I thought, hugging her leg.