A NEW MUM
When they’ve gone, arm in arm, Harry Secombe and Princess Grace, walking away down the street to the bus and then to the train and then to Daddy's regiment and then to the church where they’re going to be married, I hop into the yard, and if I put my foot down they’ll miss their train and Dad won’t get her to the church in time which is one of his best songs, so I don’t put even a toe down. Aunty Nelly’s sitting on the step, with her big knees wide apart like Mr Chop The Butcher in Happy Families and she pats one fat leg and I flop onto it and we sit there, not saying anything for ages, Aunty Nelly stroking my hair, and breathing funny. My head is so full of so many words that I can’t pull any of them out at all but after a long time I say that Norah talks like the wireless and Aunty Nelly says she’s got marbles in her gob, but I know that’s not true because I saw her gold fillings. Gold. That’s how rich she is. Princess Grace of Morocco rich, which is where they wear fezzes and Daddy has one of those, brought back from Egypt, where I had a swing and we had a dog, left by a sergeant who'd gone back to England.
Kitty Lob comes to sit on Aunty Nelly’s other knee and we both stroke her, till she starts lashing her tail and sinks her teeth into my hand gentle and slow, with her eyes rolling. Aunty Nelly says ‘You bugger’ and shoves her off and she stalks away, murderous. Kitty Lob, not Aunty Nelly.
I try to tell everyone how beautiful Norah is, but they didn’t see her and I run out of words. I can’t believe not even one of them saw her when she was there for a whole afternoon. And then I remember that when the Queen Mother came to Scarborough and everyone lined the streets, me and Mammy were waiting bloody hours and there was no Queen Mum and no Queen Mum and no Queen Mum, and then I needed a wee but I’d already held it in for ages and I couldn’t hold it in any more and just as everyone was leaning into the road, at last, and there was a sort of rumble of happiness from the crowd, and down the street they started waving their flags and shouting, I had to tug on Mammy's arm, crossing my legs and dancing, ‘I can’t wait. I can’t.’ And Mammy looked bloody murderous and her teeth were together even when she was talking and she yanked me off to behind the hedge. And when we came back the Queen Mum had gone and everyone said she'd been a sea of blue. Remembering is good, and bad. The bad bit is Mammy talking through her teeth, and knowing that I ruined it all but the good bit is the two of us laughing on the way home and Mammy wiping her eyes and saying ‘Maybe she caught a glimpse of your bum.’ And maybe she did. Daddy said that made me ‘By Royal Appointment’ which is not at all like the dentist but something they write on syrup tins, next to the lion.
The church is yellow bright with all the lights blazing, and a few people are in the pews, mostly kneeling, heads bowed, a scattering of headscarves and old men’s necks. Confession. I’d forgotten about that. I dip my fingertips in the holy water and do ‘spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch’, bold and wicked. An old woman smiles at me as she goes out, a sweet old smile, and I wish I’d done the sign of the cross properly but it’s too late now.
The woman from the sweet shop is lighting a candle in the Lady Chapel, probably for her son who isn’t the full shilling and shouts at cars, hopeless yearning shouts of ‘I can drive, I can!’ and ‘Change up! Change up!’ like he knows what he's on about. She slipped me a Penny Arrow toffee bar once, for free, and maybe that’s one of the reasons she’s lighting that candle. Atonement for her sin. I get a sudden horrible stomach plunging thought – I took the toffee and ate it, and now I’m not totally completely sure if I ever confessed it. Bugger. I thought I was sin free, bound for heaven with maybe a little bit in purgatory on the way, nowhere near 40 years, but now I’ve got the toffee to worry about, and a bugger, and this morning’s bloody buggering too. Shit. Stop it. Like the boy shouting at cars, I can’t stop. Fuck. Now I’m up shit creek for sure. Bugger. Give over. I rub my forehead, and pinch my cheek hard, to stop the words. Bum bum bum, which shouldn’t really be a swear word because it’s just a bit of the body and we all have one, even the Queen. Even Jesus. That’s bloody done it. Give over. The more I bloody try the harder it fucking is.
Dear God, bloody hell.
As soon as I go into the confessional I know it’s Father Sullivan. I can smell the Polo mints. I count the number of times he says ‘My dearly beloved brethren’ when he gives a sermon and the record is seventeen. He closes his eyes too, when he’s in the pulpit, so he won’t have to see everyone, staring at him, in the pews, and you can see him sweating as he rocks on his toes. Dad says he should never have gone into the church but he was the youngest son and the Irish are savages. The youngest son and the ugly girls, he said, they get sent to the church whether they want to or not. Dad is Irish, which makes me Irish, so I think we’re probably savages too. ‘Bless me Father, for I have sinned, it is four days since my last confession.’ The priest breathes out, like he’s happy and I can see his shadow on the mesh, leaning forward, a smile in his voice, ‘Welcome, my child.’ That’s the best bit of the confession, that is. None of the other priests say it. Father Donoghue takes no interest in your sins at all and then he batters you with the biggest penance ever – crawl to Rome on your bare knees or something, and Canon Castledine groans when you can’t remember how many times you wished Veronica next door was dead.
I have sworn, several times, in my head, and three times out loud, and slammed a door, and lied about my bowels. Father Sullivan says ‘Anything else, my child?’ and I tell him about the Penny Arrow and that it might be already forgiven and he says you can forgive something twice, not to worry. I don’t mean to, but I tell him that I ruin everything for everyone and I have the manners of a bear and the sight of me makes Mum sick but I can’t do anything about that and if I could I bloody would. And there’s a little sharp silence, and I say sorry about the b word, and there’s a funny noise from the other side of the mesh, and Father Sullivan says ‘You’re alright, Lucy Gannon.’ And I wonder how he knew it was me.