Gordon Ferris is a Ballyshannon poet and writer, originally from Dublin but has lived in Donegal for thirty-eight years.
He has had poetry and short stories published in A New Ulster, the Galway Review, Impspired Magazine, and Hidden Channel ezine.
Entering the hall door, I could hear Andy Williams blaring on the stereo, with Mother singing along quietly as if embarrassed, even though she was the only one in the living room. As I made my entrance, she turned the knob on the record player reducing the volume without interrupting her knitting.
“Ah your home on time, thought you were going to be late, were you with that one from the south side?” she said.
My mother had met my girlfriend Anna once before, I got the impression she didn’t like her.
“I Was with Anna, we had a good day, we went to Stephens Green” I said, almost under my breath.
Mother lit another (Craven A) Cigarette. Where does she get these strange brands from, I wondered?
“I hope you managed to stay out of the pond in Stephens Green this time.” She replied, eyes glancing over her glasses in my direction. Referring to a childhood incident when I accidentally fell into the pond in St Stephens Green
“Am I ever going to hear the end of that, so I fell into a pond and made a show of myself going home on the bus drenched, it was ten years ago,”
“And it’s still funny after all these years, did you get something to eat when you wear out, there’s some beef left there, I can put a plate together for you if you like” she said shifting forward in her chair as if to but not getting up.
“No, stay where you are listening to your crappy music, I’ll grab a sandwich, do you want tea? Stupid question, when do you ever say no tea”
“I’d give you a crack on the ear only I’m nice and comfy here with my Andy serenading me” She muttered distractedly as she picked up a stitch on her knitting.
“Ok I’ll get you your tea, what time are we going to the club tonight.”
“About nine I think, it’s early closing tonight, although we might be going to Burkes, they open late with their restaurant licence” She answered as I went on into the kitchen without replying. I could hear the faint sound of my mother still talking to the absent me as I put the kettle on and rooted in the fridge for something to eat. I got the beef out sliced four thick pieces, rescued four bits of the already cut batch loaf, lovingly buttered them, preparing two thick sambos, as good as any dinner I thought.
I went back into my Mother with her mug of tea, milk, three sugars, “Where’s the biscuits, you can’t be given tea on its own now, can ya, and don’t be going off leaving me talking to myself like that again, like a mad one here “.
“I said I was going in to get something to eat, you weren’t listening, to wrapped up in your shite music,” I replied while going back into the kitchen to get my sambo and returning instantly to the living room with it to eat in comfort.
“Don’t let them crumbs get on the couch or carpet, if you do, you can get the hoover out.” My Mother scolded as I sank into the couch and picked up the Irish independent. The headlines reading that Nixon is a not a crook, or so He says. Major War breaking out, Syria and Egypt invade Israel. I ignore all that and look for the music page, Rory Gallagher playing the Stadium, give me Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck any day.
“Where’s Da, strange he’s not here asleep on the sofa snoring his head off,” I asked.
“He went to the Shamrock this morning with Mr. Kenny and had to get his head down after dinner, told me to call him at seven.” She replied without looking at me.
It was sometimes hard to tell what she was thinking; sometimes she responded like a person in a trance, in a different world, I often felt like we were a hindrance disturbing her thoughts. She would either give a sad sigh of resignation when answering our demands or respond with sudden rage and anger. We kept away from her when we noticed her in these moods. Occasionally she would snap and lash out with whatever was at hand be it a wooden spoon or a metal ladle. You could get it anywhere from the back of the legs to the head. This very seldom happened, it appeared to me as if the pressure of having to do everything in the house and look after us lot would build-up, she would just explode, blowing off steam. It would be over in seconds and she would be extremely remorseful, in tears trying her best to comfort whoever got the beating. Seemed to happen to me a lot, maybe I was just a handful, a little bollox. I often ended up having dreadful migraine headaches after some of her tantrums. When the headaches were bad, she would put hot cloths on my forehead, once for an extremely bad migraine I couldn’t shake off, she gave me half a Valium which knocked me out until the next afternoon.
Most of the time it was a relaxing home, dad was out working most of the time and we were in and out all day if it was dry out. The only time we sat in together was after dark midweek watching Tv. Occasionally I would be sent to the van shop around the corner to get goodies and we would watch whatever was on the box that night, Ma would sometimes have her empress express which wear like liquorice allsorts on steroids without the liquorice, she would give us all one each and eat the rest herself.
I could hear stirring from upstairs, “There’s the owl fella now, I’ll put the kettle on.”
“Goodman, get me a refill when your there will ya.” Ma said holding her empty cup up.
I often wondered how she can live in Dublin for twenty-odd years and still have the gentle Kilkenny- Carlow accent, no trace of Dublin at all.
I went back out to the kitchen and put the kettle on, I could hear me Da’s electric razor humming from the bathroom, then I got the aroma of his aftershave (old spice) wafting down the carpeted stairs and the weighted stair creak of his descending footsteps.
His overpowering scent and presence now blocked the doorway into the living room, he seemed to demand attention even before he said anything. He stood fixing his gold cufflinks on the sleeves of his purest white starched shirt.
” Kettles just boiled out there, I put it on when I heard you moving around upstairs”
Mother said without batting an eyelid, winking at me when his back was turned, finger to the lips at the same time to hush me up. White lies were allowed per Mothers moral compass, just part of a person’s sense of humour, if you don’t cause pain or draw blood, its acceptably. But what if you don’t bleed easy and are good at hiding pain?
Silence for the merest of seconds as Dad raided the fridge preparing for his tea. No matter what the situation, or how busy a day he has had, Dad always had to get his four meals a day in, breakfast, dinner, his tea, and his supper. He could be only in from work at eight and have his dinner and tea one after the other, take a break until ten or half ten, then have his supper, obsessed with getting his four-square meals.
He arrived back in now with a dinner plate loaded with cold beef, lettuce, boiled eggs tomatoes cheese, and a separate plate packed with batch loaf and a huge mug of tea.
“Are you not having something to eat with that tea Da “. I said.
“It’s bad manners to talk when my mouth is full Son,” he said in response.
Mother burst out laughing, telling me.”
That’d teach me to try and be a smart arse with the master smart arse himself.”
Silence again as the diary of Irish agricultural life The Reardon’s was starting on TV. What shenanigans will be going on in Tom and Mary’s household, will Bengy and Batty behave themselves. If Da keeps eating now, we will find out unfortunately I thought. Mother lit another fag, looking in the direction of the TV with her eyes wandering off into some distant place, where did she go when she stared into space like that, was it back to the farm she was reared on and where we went every summer for the duration of the holidays. Exhaled Smoke drifted up towards the ceiling like lost thoughts escaping her never to return. As soon as Dad spoke to her she snapped out of it.
“Are you ready to go, I’m ready to go anytime. And what about you, are you going like that, can you not wear slacks instead of those jeans,” he said speaking to both of us with me getting it last.
“I just have to go up and change my clothes, they’re laid out and ready upstairs for me. I’ll watch this first” Mother said.
With me then muttering “What’s wrong with what I have on, I wore it out on a date already today, there still clean”.
“Jeans, they’re working clothes, you just wear them when you’re working on the building site or on the farm, not when you’re going out socialising, and especially not when you’re entertaining a young lady.”
“Young Lady my arse.” Mother said but under her breath.
“No point in my talking to you anyway, the younger generation think they know everything. Even with no life experience, you have all answers.” My dad complained.
“Ah the big moral dilemma of the day, whether to wear slacks or jeans, should I comb my hair to the right or the left” I was saying when Mother jumped in telling me not to answer my father back like that giving me a light clip on the ear as she departed the living room to go up and get dressed.
The Reardon’s music played as Mother’s light barely audible footsteps could be heard ascending the stairs.
Father reached over for the paper from the coffee table,
“well how did the exams go, wasn’t Friday the last day then?” he asked as he reached.
“The last for now until September, results be in august.
“Well, how do you think you got on, any point in you going back in September.”
He asked me bluntly continuing with,
“I put a word in for you at the pub next door to my place in Town and you have a start Monday week next. Apprentice Barman. Well paid, always plenty of work in the bar game, you never hear of barmen being made redundant.”
“I guess my mind is made up for me then, I’m not going back to school, so the results make no difference,” I said, annoyed that I wasn’t being given a choice. The assumption that I was going to fail is what hurt deeply, I kept this fact buried. Maybe they were right, maybe I was only suited to manual labour, recent new interests, and encouragement by the English teacher were irrelevant.
“Sure look, you can work away for the summer and if, by chance that you get good results in your exams, you can quit and go back to school, no harm no foul,” He said, meaning I was going to fail so don’t build your hopes up.
Mother appeared in the doorway with, coat, talcum powder scented make-ups passing Dad going up the stairs to the toilet.
“Typical rushes everybody than keeps us waiting.” Mother berated him.