Creative Writing Ink July Competition Winner

Blue with White Daisies

Margaret Magee

The boys are getting angsty. I can hear the edge in Tom’s voice. His brother, Eamonn, will follow his lead – like a sheep wandering off a cliff. No gumption that fellow. Always was a frightful non-decider.
I hear you Rosie; let him be. You always liked his soft side and didn’t he come good in recent years, you will say. I remember the first time he brought Simon home; his partner. God between us and all harm. You told me that if I didn’t act civil, you would move out to the spare room. It was several weeks later before you admitted that you wouldn’t have kept it up. How else would you warm your cold feet?
Let them wait. They’re busy sifting through photographs in there. I’ve swiped our wedding album so that I can look at the most precious one, now nesting in my inside pocket. They won’t think of looking for me in the shed, and for good measure I’ll turn down my hearing aid.
The shed’s not the same these days. I’ve had to move everything up to the top shelf out of the youngsters’ way. I know I only trick around with the odd project now, but would you ask a surgeon to search through a box of scalpels before he starts cutting?
It’s raining, a downpour pinging on the tin roof. But it’s promising to be a beautiful day; a haymaking day, Rosie.
They’ll find me, but not for a while. I reach up for some old newspapers to cover my stool and keep the suit clean. You insisted I buy a new one for our fiftieth wedding anniversary. I’ve lost some weight since. I’m like the teenagers you complain about: trousers hanging off my hips and my Y fronts showing.
I sit and ease the trousers legs over my knees. Now I’m settled and can dip into my pocket and extract the photograph. Black and white, it’s curled up at the edges where you pasted it onto the page. There was a photographer in the hall that night and he snapped us. Remember Rosie? Our first photograph.
Perhaps not.

‘You’re beautiful,’ I tell you as we waltz around the dance floor. You have tiny feet that glide lightly out of the way of my brogues. Your hair is the colour of bleached straw. It smells of rainwater and it tickles my neck because you barely reach my shoulder. Your dress is blue with white daisies.
‘I’m here with my brother. Do you know Sean O’Grady?’
‘Do I know Sean O’Grady?’ I answer, ducking down and mock hiding behind you. ‘Sure everyone knows that Sean would lay me flat with a spade if I ever did you an unkindness. But that’s the last thing on my mind tonight, Rosie.’
I have ears the size of hubcaps, more obvious tonight because I got my crew cut for the Guards today. My nose was broken with the abandon of a hurley stick and now has a hook. But you see past that, don’t you Rosie?’
Your hand is lost in mine, but I can still feel the calluses at the base of your fingers. You have spent the day in the hay field same as myself, only you weren’t the eejit who stripped off his shirt in the heat. My back is scalded and I won’t be able to lie straight tonight.
‘Have you heard of Paddy Kavanagh? We went to the same national school,’ I deliver my chat up line.
You smile as if it’s Christmas morning. ‘Recite a few lines for me, Hubert.’
I glance around us. ‘The band is playing Waltzing Matilda and you want to hear poetry?’
You grin, dimples hollowing your cheeks like stones skimmed on a placid lake. ‘You’re quick, Hubert.’

My father played the melodeon
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.

‘That’s lovely. I want to be married by the time I am twenty five and have two girls and two boys,’ you say just as the dance finishes.
It’s almost as if you are propositioning me. Still I put my arm around your lovely waist to claim you for another dance. ‘Will we call one Matilda,’ I joke.
‘Ah no. Too sad,’ you rejoinder, quick as a whippet. ‘Violet and Daisy,’ you pronounce. You’ve obviously thought this through.
‘And us girls will bring in the seasons every time we walk through the door,’ you whisper into my ear as the next dance starts.
We only leave the floor to quench our thirsts with bottles of lemonade. Your bottle fizzes and blows bubbles up your nose and you laugh. A laugh like a burst of sunshine after an April shower. Later we walk our bicycles home together. Sean follows at a distance whipping the heads off nettles with a sally stick. Whish, whish like a scythe. I steer my bike with one hand and keep the other hand in my pocket.
The shed door opens, the spell broken. I put the photo back in my inside pocket.
We never did have those flower girls, Rosie.

Tom’s youngest, Matty, is standing by the door. He looks as if he is encased in sunshine, just like that statue of Jesus you like with the spokes of light coming off him.
Because it’s Matty, I turn on my hearing aid.
‘Granddad they are looking for you everywhere,’ he says solemnly. No young lad should be that earnest. How are they bringing them up these days? His father ran out of the house in the morning and I didn’t see him again till suppertime; had the run of the neighbourhood and he came to no harm.
‘Tell them I fell down a rabbit hole, Matty,’ I grumble.
His lined forehead would break your heart. ‘Will I, Granddad? I don’t think Daddy will believe me.’
‘Do you want to play hide and seek with me then?’
Matty needs no further prompting. With a cursory glance over his shoulder, he reaches up behind him and pulls the door closed. The shed is dim again; the Perspex window grubby with spiders’ webs.
‘What’s that?’ he points at the album by my feet.
‘They’re pictures of me and your Granny, Rosie. Do you want to see them?’
You climb onto my lap and settle your bony frame hard against my ribcage. It’s times like this that I think I will manage.
I lift the album off the floor and turn to the second page. ‘There we are,’ I say. ‘Your Granny is wearing a white dress and a short veil. And look at me in my dapper grey suit and white carnation.’
The photographer told us to look at him but all I wanted to do was look at you, Rosie; to drink you in. And me a pioneer at the time!
Matty is beginning to wriggle, waiting out my silence.
‘Did she remember things then?’ he asks.
‘Your Granny can remember every promise I made and broke, Matty. She doesn’t need reminders singing on her phone or a grand diary.’ I tap his forehead gently. ‘She has no much information in her head that she has to close a few doors or all the facts and figures would leak into each other.’
‘Like chocolate sauce on my ice-cream, Granddad?’
Ah, Jesus, Rosie. How am I supposed to do this alone?
‘Will you leak too?’ Matty asks.
I wipe my eyes with the back of my hand. ‘Nah, I’ve only a smidgen of the knowledge that your Granny has, so there’s room in this noggin for lots more.’
I let him thumb through the album. His small fingers carefully lift the gauzy insert covering each photograph as if he is unveiling the past, moment by moment. The slow turning of each page brings me back to our first kitchen. A damp Barracks in Leitrim where we nested while you carried Tom. I bring home the newspaper and we sit together after supper. I point you to the articles I’ve already read and you stay my hand when something catches your attention.
‘Hold your whist,’ you protest.
Matty quickly shuts the album as the door is yanked open for a second time. It’s Tom crammed into a suit that hasn’t fitted him in years.
‘Matthew your mother is looking for you in the kitchen.’
Matty skedaddles.
‘For heaven’s sake, Dad, we have been calling you for ages and there’s a second search party looking for Matthew. I bet that bloody hearing aid is turned off again.’
‘The bloody hearing aid is turned on for your information. That has always been your trouble, Tom. You forget to look under your nose.’ I may be deaf, but I’m still compos mentis.
Tom takes a deep breath. I know he is trying to control his temper. He holds up a framed photograph. ‘Is this one all right for the top of the coffin?’ he asks. It’s a photograph of our 50th wedding anniversary.
I reach into my pocket. ‘No, I want this one,’ I hold out the black and white offering.
‘Dad, there’s no frame for that. We can’t just prop it up.’
‘The house is full of frames,’ I say evenly. Tom inherits his hot head from me but today I’m the master of my own destiny.
To be fair to our eldest, he wells up when he sees his Mammy grinning at the camera. ‘I’d forgotten about this,’ he says. ‘I’ll get a frame.’
‘No. I’ll do it in a minute.’ I pop the photograph back in my breast pocket.
Tom nods. ‘Are you coming?’ he holds the door open.
‘I’m grand here for another while. It’s strange that this is where I came to be alone and it’s where I feel closest to your Mammy. Call me when the funeral car arrives.’
I pick up the album and open it at the back. There we are on Grafton Street, Rosie; as well turned out as the bank manager and his wife. You are wearing the whole kit and caboodle; a feathered hat, tweed coat, leather bag, gloves and shoes, over a jacket and skirt. You’ve commandeered my carnation from the day before and it adorns your buttonhole now.
And I’m as well attired in my wedding suit and a tweed coat to boot. The ubiquitous cigarette is smouldering between my fingers.
The bloody shed door creaks again and I reluctantly lift my head. ‘Whoever you are, go away,’ I shout. ‘It’s not time yet.’
‘It’s Simon, Mr O’Farrell. ‘May I come in for a minute?’
He’s no bloody polite I grunt assent.
‘Is there anything I can do for you, Mr Farrell?’ he asks from the doorway. At least Tom made the effort to dress formally for the day. Simon – Eamonn too – ­is dressed in coloured corduroys and pullover as if he is taking a boat on the river.
Oh, there’s plenty, I would like to say to you, Simon. How about you stop playing with my son’s hair and running your fingers up and down his arm. And do you really need to hold his hand so much? And while I have the floor so to speak, please don’t update me on the stellar efforts you two are making to marry. Two men getting married! Whoever heard of anything so unnatural?
‘No, thank you,’ I manage to say.
‘I …I realise that this is an exceptionally hard time for you Mr O’ Farrell, but I wanted you to know that we are here for you.’
I grit my teeth. What do you bloody know? ‘Thanks, I’m fine. Close the door behind you.’
I stand up slowly and take the photograph out again. Looking at us again Rosie, I’m pondering if I really do remember that you wore a blue dress with white daisies for you are quite the expert at planting memories that I’ve come to think of as my own.