on looking at the sky. I reckon he’s waiting on it getting dark so he can get on with shaking the bed with Momma.
The pacing goes on for a week or so, then Daddy goes away for a whole night. Momma always goes to see him off and she leaves me in the house on my own. I don’t think he goes very far because Momma is always back before it gets dark. Then she locks the doors and bolts the shutters, and goes to Daddy’s gun cabinet and takes out the big old revolver and puts it on the table. She doesn’t go to bed on these nights – she sits in the kitchen facing the door, drinking black coffee from a pot she keeps going on the stove. The whole house smells of burnt coffee for days after Daddy’s been away.
I don’t know where Daddy goes, but he’s sure tired when he gets back. He’s always covered in bruises and scratches, like he’s been fighting. Momma sits him on a kitchen chair and she bathes his cuts in witch hazel. She never seems mad with him – not like Katy’s Momma is when her Daddy has been out all night raising Cain. One time Katy told me her Momma made her Daddy sleep out in the barn for a week after he came home with a hickey. My Momma doesn’t seem mad at all – she goes all soft in her face, like someone is stroking her neck for her.
I think Daddy might be a little shamed though, because he always goes and cleans the big barn out for Momma once he’s rested awhile. There’s always blood and sometimes feathers in there, and once or twice I’ve seen him bring a dead lamb out, all torn up. I think that must be where Daddy kills the animals for our table. Momma never lets me go in there. She says it’s too dangerous, but one time I sneaked down while they weren’t paying attention, and saw some leather straps hanging from an iron ring on the wall and some real long chains, all coiled up like sleepy rattlesnakes.
After all that happens, I have to creep about the house for a day or two while Daddy has his long sleep. Then things are okay again for a while. Daddy works the farm and Momma sometimes sings, and I have to go to school most every day. Daddy doesn’t touch a drop of whiskey, and the bed shaking doesn’t happen every night.
I always say my prayers at bedtime, but when it’s the quiet time, Momma comes in and says them with me. I guess she has more time then. I do pray to God like she taught me, but when she’s gone, I send my own secret prayer to the moon. I pray real hard that it’ll stay small, ’cos I know that when it starts to get big again, it always brings trouble with it.
NICOLA BURR is the joint owner of an independent bookshop as well as being mother to two boys, 9 and 11. Her writing space depends on mood – often using the shed for seclusion, and the family PC to keep in touch with the world around her. The support of other writers, and deadlines help focus her creative energies. The 35-year-old names rice-cakes and hummus, books and Converse trainers as but a few of her addictions. She has had a poem previously published in Writer’s Forum but this is her first published story.
Being Auntie Gina Rosalind Flaherty
It’s Rosy’s job to keep watch. It’s not the job she wants. Rosy wants the top job.
Auntie Gina’s job. Rosy’s not stupid. There’s a reason why she’s stationed behind the door to the front shop, like a clockwork soldier guarding the kingdom. Why she’s lifting the net curtain, rubbing the glass, peering out. Every thirty seconds. She wants Auntie Gina to see her doing her job properly. So it’s ten seconds to the right, ten to the left, ten to the centre.
If it’s sunny, there’s a fairy palace on the right hand side. The wall is really dozens of stained glass windows, coloured light rippling on the stripes of humbugs and bouncing off sugary bonbons. Rainbows skitter-scatter over the counter. If it’s raining or there hasn’t been a customer for ages, it’s just sweeties in jars.
The sun never reaches the other wall so that’s always a dusty art gallery, enormous flat boxes of Milk Tray and Black Magic almost balanced on wonky prongs sticking out of the hardboard. Rosy wonders if anyone will ever buy one of the blue-green cottages or blue-green bouquets of flowers: or her favourite, the biggest one with the crispy yellow ribbon that used to be pink tied across the corner; the one with the blue-green kitten.
In the centre of everything, where it should be, is the till. Rosy knows it’s a masterpiece of Victorian engraving because there’s a man who comes in every now and again and wants to buy it but Auntie Gina won’t let him. It has pearl buttons. When Auntie Gina presses them a metal drawer clunks open and enamel tags with wee chips out of them fly up, saying 1/- or 4d or 2/6 in swirly writing. Rosy has dreams where she’s pressing those buttons, scattering a handful of sixpences and threepenny bits into the drawer, scowling a wee bit at her customer….
‘Shop!’ Rosy yells. ‘Auntie Gina! Shop!’ Auntie Gina sashays through the back door, smoothing her cotton overalls. She swivels the magnifying mirror above the sink to the big side.
‘No! There’s a grey hair!’ She tugs at the tight curls behind her ears. ‘It was just dyed last week. See that Alfonso. Spiv. That’s the last time I’m going to him. Alfonso. That’s no his real name, either. He’s no more Italian than fly in the air.’ She slides a lipstick from her pocket, slicks it over her lips, smacks them together till the red covers her mouth.
Rosy watches through the lacy holes as three women hesitate at the counter. One goes back outside and pings the bell again.
‘For goodness’ sake, I’m coming, I’m coming! A wee skoosh of eau de parfum first. Where’s their patience!’ Auntie Gina sprays Tweed over her wrists. Another smack at the lipstick. She opens the door and sails down the steps into the front shop, her overall skirts flouncing, wafting the scent towards Rosy.
Auntie Gina never closes the door properly. Rosy gathers in every sound: the clink as the serving scoop is lifted from its container, the bentwood chairs creaking as the women sit down at one of the four tables. She’s seen the women lots of times before. They come in every week, wearing spectacles with winged frames and fur coats and hats that they never take off, even if it’s boiling hot outside. Rosy thinks they look like owls. They order strawberries and ice-