Roisin Steed – Sugar and Spice

roisinRoisin Steed (nee Glynn) is from Galway. She was Educated at Our Lady’s Bower Athlone, spent twelve years in England. Roisin Glynn Steed worked in the tourist board in Galway and spent twelve years in London where she worked with The Daily Telegraph newspaper selling Irish property and afterwards for the Law Society. She won a prize in Deirdre Purcell short story competition and also won many letters of the week in Sunday Independent prizes.

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Sugar and Spice

By Roisin Steed

Clutching his blue one-eyed teddy bear called Horace; Andrew crept out of bed into his sister’s room next door. He could hear his parents laughing downstairs as he stood gazing into Jessica’s cot. No doubt they were discussing the joys of Jessica, his new baby sister. Life had revolved around her since his Mum had brought her home from the hospital and Andrew was sick of it. He watched her for a few seconds, rosy cheeks all contented, as she slept peacefully. Her dolly Jude, sat at the bottom of the cot in attendance, golden tresses tumbling onto her red velvet dress. Andrew leaned in, pinched his sister’s leg as hard as he could and ran back to bed. Jessica woke up with a start and shrieked, which brought his parents dashing upstairs. “What is it my darling?” he heard his mother saying. They checked her out and calmed her down and finally got her off to sleep again. When his father looked in to his room Andrew pretended to be asleep, Horace pressed against his cherubic face. All his father could see were his fair curls on the pillow. “Good” he heard him whisper to his Mum, “She didn’t wake Andrew”. Andrew sucked on his thumb harder for comfort. Tomorrow he was going to take Jude and bury her in the garden. He would get his friend Mark who lived next door to help him. Andrew could not understand what all the fuss was about. As far as he was concerned Jessica was useless. She couldn’t walk, talk or even play with him. All she did was cry and wet her nappy and yet everyone thought she was wonderful. Nobody took any notice of him since she had arrived; in fact his Mum was always cross with him. “Don’t wake Jessica”, “Tidy up your toys”, and yesterday when he was doing the best jumps and tumbles from one end of the room to the other nearly breaking his neck in the process, his mother shouted at him to stop. Normally she would praise him – tell him how good he was, but not anymore. He wished she would take Jessica back to the hospital and then everything would be fine again. He fell asleep happy in the knowledge that he had pinched his sister and made her cry.

“What are you doing Andrew?” his mother asked sighing as she took in the scene. He was sitting in her flower bed with his bucket and spade, up to his knees in muck. Andrew noticed one of Jude’s legs sticking up out of the earth, so he quickly sat on it, as his mother approached. He was almost finished burying the doll. “I’m playing in the sand” he said, blue eyes looking up at her, as he fixed his bum firmly on Jude’s leg, covering it completely. “Look at the state of you” she said crossly. “Come on in I’ll have to give you a bath”. She walked towards the house. Andrew got up quickly, covered the dolls leg with earth and followed her in. His friend Mark was away for the day so he had to do the work all by himself. Mark had promised him that they would make a ribbon for Jessica’s hair, with a big long worm from Mark’s garden. Andrew loved that idea and looked forward to his friends return. “What am I going to do with you?” his Mum scolded as she washed his arms with a sponge. “I can’t leave you alone for one minute”. “Jessica has a fat face and I don’t like her. Horace is much better because he doesn’t cry or wet his nappy” Andrew said rubbing his eyes. “Jessica is just a baby Andrew” his mother explained, “She loves you and when she gets bigger she will need you to look after her”. “Well I won’t” he shouted crossly. His mother lifted him out of the bath. Things were not going to be easy – she could see that now. Later that evening when his Dad put Jessica into her cot, he noticed that Jude was missing. They looked everywhere for the doll, turning the house upside down in their efforts. “Have you seen Jude?” his mother asked as he sat watching TV. Andrew shook his curly head, the picture of innocence. He was glad he had buried her. Anyway Jessica had plenty of toys and everyone was always buying her presents.

Next day the two boys went in search of the biggest worms they could find. “My Mum’s going to get a new baby like yours” Mark informed him as they dug with their spades. “Look” Andrew exclaimed enthusiastically, pulling a long worm out of the ground. “Cool” Mark giggled. “Let’s go”. The two boys hurried off to look for Jessica.

Elizabeth Browne eased herself into her favourite chair, to enjoy her first cup of tea of the day. Jessica was settled in her pram outside, probably asleep now. Andrew had been in an awful hurry, to call for his friend that morning and she was just beginning to wonder why when she heard the hysterics outside. She got up and looked out the window. “She hasn’t got any hair” she heard Mark saying. “Put it on her head” Andrew replied – “no her face” he added changing his mind, “put it on her face”. They were giggling hysterically and Elizabeth couldn’t believe what they were about to do. She rapped hard on the window, just as the worm was poised over Jessica’s face. The two boys dropped it and ran off, still in fits of laughter. “What was she going to do with Andrew?” she wondered, he was becoming impossible. Then she was reminded of that nursery rhyme – What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and all things nice, and what are little boys made of? They were terrors at the moment and she’d have to sort something out. Andrew had only started playing up, since the arrival of Jessica and now Mark was in on the act too. Perhaps herself and Brian were partly to blame for not paying enough attention to their son. She went to look for them and found them in Mark’s house. “I want to talk to the pair of you” she said looking at their guilty faces “so come with me”. They followed her slowly back to the house pondering their fate. “Sit down over there” she ordered looking at the muck on the two of them. “Now what were you doing with that worm Mark?” she asked. “Andrew wanted to make a ribbon for Jessica” he said quickly shifting the blame on to his friend. “Is that right Andrew?” his mother asked. Andrew nodded grinning and glancing at Mark for support. “And how would the two of you like a worm on your heads or face?” they giggled, looking at each other. “Well?” she pressed. Still no answer. “That’s a very bold thing to do and I’m very, very cross with the two of you” she continued. “Worms are dirty and you could harm Jessica like that. She’s just a baby and you two are big boys. Isn’t that right?” They both nodded. “You are supposed to look after your sister” she said to Andrew “and when your Mum has her baby Mark she will expect you to help her also”. “Will Mark’s Mum have a girl baby too?” Andrew asked feeling brave again. “She might or else a boy baby”. “That’s not fair” Andrew complained. “I want a boy baby instead of Jessica”. Elizabeth turned her eyes up to heaven and made a silent prayer; “please God let Karen have a girl!” She was exhausted from all of this. “I want you both to go out and say sorry to Jessica”. They stood up. “Fish eat worms” Andrew announced. “Well babies don’t” his mother said quickly. “Jessica has her own food and later on you can help me feed her if you like”. “Cool” Mark said approvingly and as far as Andrew was concerned that was good enough for him. “Cool” he echoed.

The two women sat in the restaurant, grateful for the break from their children. It was Saturday and their husbands were looking after the terrors. “You’re kidding” Karen said laughing at the story about the worm; “and I have all that in front of me!” “You sure do” Elizabeth smiled sipping her coffee, “But as long as you have a girl I don’t mind”. “Why is that?” “Because if you don’t I’ll never hear the end of if from Andrew!” Karen laughed, pushing her chair away from the table for comfort. “The other day Andrew said to me, if Mark’s Mum has a boy baby can we bring Jessica back to the hospital and swap her for a boy baby too!” They sat in silence for a moment. “I have an idea” Karen said, “It might just work”. “What is it?” Elizabeth asked. “Lets take Andrew and Mark somewhere really special and leave Jessica with Brian for the day. We will make a big fuss of the two of them and tell them that Jessica cannot come because she’s far too young. What do you think?” “I think yes, that’s a great idea”. “Then” said Karen “lets do it”.

Karen listened to the two boys as they played in Mark’s bedroom. “Our Mums are taking us to McDonalds and the zoo” Andrew announced (and then the most important bit) “and Jessica isn’t coming with us”. “Cool” his friend said “and when my Mum has a girl baby she can stay at home too”. “Yea” said Andrew pleased that his friend was on the same wavelength as himself. “Horace can come too, cant he?” “Yep” Mark said “and Jude can stay in the flower bed” Andrew giggled. Karen almost burst out laughing. So that was where Jude had got to! She rang Elizabeth. “I had a feeling he had something to do with Jude’s disappearance” she said. “Leave it with me, I have a plan”.

When Andrew came home that evening his Mum made a big thing about telling his Dad how much Jessica missed her doll. “I don’t know what I am going to do” she said winking at him, “because if we don’t find Jude we might have to take Jessica to the zoo with us”. Andrew couldn’t believe it. What was he going to do? They certainly didn’t want Jessica to ruin their day. “I know” his Dad said, “she will cry all day, if she doesn’t have her doll and it will be hard to look after her”. That was it. “I’ll find Jude” Andrew said running out the back door. His parents waited until he had gone and then burst out laughing. Before long he returned with a filthy doll. “She fell in the mud” he said, “we can wash her”. His Mum picked him up and hugged him. “You’re the best boy” she said kissing him. “Now Jessica will be so happy and she can stay at home with her Dad”. Andrew was thrilled – this was going to be his day after all!

The boys and their Mum’s had a brilliant day out and the two women spoiled them rotten. Next morning Elizabeth awoke to a running commentary about their outing. Andrew was standing with his face pressed against the bars of Jessica’s cot, telling her what she had missed, Jessica just gurgled happily back at him.

Later that day Karen’s husband John rang, to tell them the good news. Karen had had a baby. “She just said to tell you its sugar and spice” he laughed. Elizabeth called the two boys in. “Mark” she said “your Mum had had a new baby”. “Is it a girl baby?” Andrew asked quickly. “Yes it is a girl baby, just like our Jessica” Elizabeth replied. “Cooool” they both said clapping their hands. “Thank God” Elizabeth said, perhaps there would be peace after all!!

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