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.
By Gordon Ferris
Dad steps out into the chill evening air, turns the key obsessively and pushes the hall door a few times to ensure it was securely locked. After closing the gate, he gets into the driver’s seat of his spotlessly clean Ford Cortina. Mother is seated in the passenger seat. I am leaning on my elbow’s in the rear seat. Dad hadn’t got around to putting in a driveway, so the car was parked on the street. It would be great if he did put one in, one less bit of gardening for me to do.
Ignition key turned and we were away from the housing estate onto the backroads. The backroads between Cabra and Finglas are like a different world altogether, surrounded by old-established farms with their well-cultivated land, some wild areas filled with overgrown trees and bushes with paths worn in by years of use leading to the wonderlands of our childhood. There was a small stream we leapt over on our ventures, its waters meandering softly to the Tolka river. None of this was visible from the car, only from my imagination with light falling and the rain starting to get heavy. The squeak of the windscreen wiper distracted me from my daydreaming.
My dad was a terrible driver, as soon as he got in the seat it was foot down, almost to the floor, Mothers white clenched knuckles holding on to the seat for dear life, me rolling around in the back. Before long we were pulling up outside my Sister Mauve’s house.
Mauve my elder sister was at the door to greet us, her baby Dora at her ankles. Mom and I went on into the living room as my Dad rubbed the already spotless windshield with a yellow cloth to clean an invisible imaginary streak on the glass.
Sitting now with Dora at my ankles pulling at the laces on my shoes, I try my best to ignore her. God child, have you not some baby things to distract you with I thought to myself, smiling down at her. Dad came in just in time as an idea to pinch her with my shoe was starting to form in the back of my head, he headed straight for Dora who beamed when she heard his voice at the door.
“Ah where’s my little segosha, are we trying to hide from yar old Granada, where’s me lickle angel gone then, ah there she is, the little rascal” he said entering the room and making a beeline for his granddaughter. He had a great way with children, seemed to be able to speak their language, endless patience. He picked Dora up and sat himself down with her bouncing on his knee roaring in laughter, the rest of us ceased to exist while he was caught in Dora’s gaze.
Mom and Mauve smoked with the ashtray between them on the settee, leaned into each other as if to tell each other’s most sensitive secrets.
“Yusar probably talking about me, I’m sitting right here ya know, I’m not bleeding deaf.” I moaned.
“Sure, we know all there is to know about you, nothing left to gossip about.” Mam said, smiling in Mauves direction.
“Ye might be surprised, I could still have some hidden secrets that might shock you.”
“Sure, we know all there is to know about you,
you’re finished school now,
you will be able to go out and earn a few bob from now on” and Mom finished in a lowered voice.
“and you have a secret girlfriend from the south side”.
“And we know you started drinking and smoking recently, better hope your Da doesn’t find out about that.”
“I don’t smoke “I snapped, proving to my Mom that I did in fact drink, by not denying it.
” About what, what might I not want to hear about, if it’s going to cost me money, don’t want to know, everything else is, sound as a ding dong.” Father, entering the conversation, jumped in,
He put an ashtray from the mantelpiece on the arm of my mother’s chair as she lit another cigarette talking to me at the same time, the fag bobbing up and down in her mouth, missing the flame from her pink lighter.
“We were just saying how he has a girlfriend now and will need all the money he can earn to entertain her with having to travel all the way out to the wilds of Drimnagh, or is it Crumlin, never did know the difference between those two.” Mom said with Dad quick to reply.
“There’s no difference between any of the suburbs, north or south of the Liffey, they were all built to house the working-class tenants from the near-derelict tenements of the inner city, should have been done years before it eventually was, there quick enough to take the money off us in tax not so quick to spend it, not on the working class anyway”
“We better be headed out soon before you start on one of your socialist rants, you’ll be doing enough of that when you get a few pints and a couple of Goldie locks into you.” Mother said in a mock scolding tone. She then turned to Mauve and asked if I was going to have to babysit for her.
Mauve turned struggling trying to get Dora off my Dad to get her to go to bed, saying.
“Ah no, Dave’s sister is on her way over from Ballyfermot, he’s gone to collect her, should be here any minute. Sure, go out there and put the kettle on while you’re waiting.” For some reason, they all looked at me when this was said, I got the message and went out to the kitchen.
Dad was out on me heels, rooting around the fridge like an urbane fox, furtively foraging through the bins looking for any scraps that would keep him going for the night.
I got the tea and brought it into my mom, Mauve had just slipped up with Dora to get her down. She wasn’t long up there, descending the stairs in silence, listening for a second before she sat down, thanking me for the tea. Dad arrived with, of all things, a cabbage and brown sauce sandwich.
“The News, somebody put the news on, for god’s sake. Does no one care what’s happening in the world” He said.
As the newsreader read the word of senseless deaths at the hands of terrorists my brother-in-law Dave and his sister entered the room, explaining how the heavy traffic was the cause of their delay.
“AH Winny, how-are-ya pet. Dora’s just gone up, shouldn’t be any bother with her, she usually sleeps all night.” Mauve said, getting to her feet and putting her jacket on, she was wearing the jacket from a navy dress suit that she used to use for work over black corduroy jeans that hugged her slender figure. Her shoulder-length natural blonde hair needed the touch of a brush, would have made no difference, her beauty was deeper than physical, it was in her permanent smile, the quick lowering of her eyes that put you at ease and melted the heart as soon as you were in her presence.
“Ah she’ll be grand, sure what odds if she wakes. Away ziz go and enjoy yourselves.” Dave’s sister Winny said.
Dad reluctantly rose from the chair, “I’m looking at the weather forecast” which was promising four seasons in one day. He headed for the door, still watching the forecast.” Let’s go, are yous right” he added, holding the door for the three of us to exit.
Leaving the house, you could see the orange glow of the sun as it went down over the building’s opposite. Dad adjusted his trousers pulling them up and walked alongside Dave, idly chatting, sorting the troubles of the world out as they walked. Mom and Mauve walked, linking each other, I surmised to prevent either one from falling over, while precariously perched on, what seemed to me, like enormous high heels. I walked along behind them, wondering where this place we were going to was going to be like. A late bar, big sister Mauve had said, late licence because they served food. I doubt very much if we will be eating food, if there’s no wedding or funeral on, that’s the only food we ever eat out other than the odd bit of chipper food
After about ten or fifteen minutes we were walking through the heavy solid wood doors of Blake’s Tavern. It was situated just outside the town, in an isolated spot in the middle of nowhere. The smell of food hit you as soon as you walked through the door. We followed the two male elder lemons down the carpeted hallway past the public bar and into the spacious lounge bar. There was a seated area circling a small dancefloor fronted by an unusually high stage. Just a handful of people were present, so we moved to a table quite near the stage.
There was comfortable armchair type seating, I just let myself sink into it completely relaxing. Dave and my Dad did that ‘I’ll get the drink in’ dance where they both tell each other to sit down and offer to buy the drink. Not that it made any difference, they end up buying in rounds anyway.
It wasn’t long before the place started to fill up becoming noisy and hard to hear what was being said. As soon as the music started all conversation ceased, being replaced by one- or two-word sentences mixed with a kind of sign language-facial gesture. Dad dominated the proceedings as usual with his mild insult kind of humour. Never anything too offensive, usually casting up some embarrassing event in your life you would prefer to forget.
This was all new to me. The only time myself or my younger siblings were ever taken too drinking establishments was for a wedding or funeral, and as far as I knew no one had been hitched or buried recently.
It’s funny the idle things that run through your mind when you’re left to your own devices, observing the surroundings, the people and the behaviour. I wondered about my future recollection of this night, would the room appear bigger than it is because I will have grown bigger, would all that I see now around me take on a whole new meaning.
I could see my dad standing behind my Mom and sister, arm around their shoulders, talking, smiling, looking in my direction. I had a feeling he was talking about me; he had my attention and I caught the end of his sentence, “He’s away in cloud nine that boy, look at him. Come on and join in, why don’t you” he said in my direction.
I wondered what my recollection of him would be when I get to be his age.
I smiled, moved closer, leaning in, pretending I was enjoying the evening and knew what they were talking about. I think my Dad thought I hadn’t heard what was said, or maybe he hoped I didn’t. He moved over and sat down beside me.
The night carried on in much the same manner, progressing from mild-mannered conversation to frenzied shirt open, swinging around the floor dancing crazy like mad ones. Near the end of the night, Dave got up on stage and joined in with the band singing and playing the guitar, with my gang clapping and cheering. Mother and Mauve at different times mouthed in my direction to ask if I was enjoying myself, and to let my hair down. I was having fun but was yet not well versed in the act of letting one’s hair down, needed a few more inches; s on the hair length for that.
Before long, the night was at an end with the music finishing and last orders being called over the sound system, the bar was packed with the crowd getting last orders in. Dave and my Da ordered two rounds each and sat down continuing to enjoy themselves, ignoring the pleas of the bar staff, for us to finish up as they collected empty glasses.
Our exit out the door, with me, ushered into the lead, I, of course, using my great sense of direction headed to the left instead of the right with my Dad leading the jeering to get me back on track. The formation walking home was the same as our journey getting there, Mam and Mauve arm in arm leading, Dave and me Da then me holding up the rear,
the banter back and forth between the five of us, we were back in Dave and Mauves house in no time. Dave’s sister jumped up into a sitting position, she had been lying down, having a kip.
“Are yur back are yiz. Did yiz have a good night, not a sound out of Dora all night, as good as gold she was. Did ye not get any chips, I was looking forward to having a bag of chips ”
She said going out to the kitchen to put the kettle on.
“There was nowhere open, unusual, the one on the corner is usually open late.”
Mauve said plonking herself down on the couch with Dave landing after on her knee.
“For fucks sake you, you’re like a baby elephant there, you’d want to lose a few pounds ya would.”
Mauve playfully said slapping him on the head.
” That’s from all the chipper food I have to eat making up for your cooking.” he replied with a cheeky grin, with Mauve giving him a bruising pinch in the arm joke scolding him with.
“Ah is that right, we’ll see what you have to say when you come home from work without your dinner on the table and me painting my nails, see how you like that.”
Coats on, all the “good nights” done, and the “see ya during the week, don’t forget to ring,” done and on our way across the back roads where Spector’s glared out over dew dripping hedges inviting nightmares. By the time we reached the house, I was starting to doze in the back seat.
The house was in darkness and silent, if the others were home, they were in bed.
My Dad went straight into the living room and poked the fire to make sure it was safe before going to bed. At the bottom of the stairs on his way, he turned and spoke.
“Off to bed with ye now, just because you’re finished in school doesn’t mean you can lay in bed all day. Ye have a week’s holiday, then it’s off to work with ya. Ok.”
“Thanks for reminding me, better make the most of the week. My last bit of freedom.” I answered following my mother into the kitchen where she had put the kettle on.
We both sat down at the kitchen table. Mother smoking one of her numerous cigarettes and sipping her sugary tea. I didn’t bother with tea taking a half glass of red lemonade from the bottle in the fridge. If my mother hadn’t been there, I would have taken a swig of the bottle,
I used the glass instead to avoid being chewed out over something silly like not using a glass.
We spoke a bit about how my future would be different for me now on, with my not going to school anymore and working full time. I reminded her of Dad’s promise that if I did well in the exams, I could stay on, but she just dismissed this as if there was no hope of that happening. Soon I was lying in bed this in my mind but decided there was no point in dwelling on it and tried to get off to sleep.