Thank you Lorna at Gin & Lemonade for a writing prompt which has actually prompted me to write. What are the new studies saying- short bursts of sweat inducing exercise are better than lengthy hours of a moderate pace? Let us hope that is the same with writing.
The prompt is a sepia-toned fall memory.
The Sepia Magician.
Maureen Foley had lumps of hair between her fingers. Her own curly, dry ribs, pulled out of her own head in a fit of temper. This can’t be normal, she thought, breathing heavily and rinsing her hands under the cold water tap. Outside she could hear them.
Mammy. Where are ya? I need you.
Mammy, Johnny belted me.
I didn’t, you’re a fibber.
Cue banging on the bathroom door. Not even a knock. It was as if they were just body slamming the weakly made, badly varnished wood. The poor door wouldn’t take much more. Trying to ignore the red spots on her face and rubbing angrily at the errant hair that so rudely popped out of her chin, she opened the door so fast that they the two gets fell on top of her.
Get your coats. When Maureen’s bark resembled a terrier in distress, the boys would usually behave. They looked at her with defiance but moved towards the muddy front door.
Johnny and Frank zipped up shiny shell jackets, squabbled a bit more, threw a few smart remarks to each other and left the house keeping a careful eye on their volatile Mammy. A drizzle threatened to become a shower and the eight year olds complained but Maureen marched on, barely turning to see if they kept behind her and they reluctantly tailed her like contrary ducklings. Dry leaves whipped into their faces and Maureen didn’t even notice a dropped fiver skipping about in the russet foliage but Johnny would quickly stamp his little foot, reach out and get the booty into a pocket much to Frank’s chagrin.
The boys were a handful. That was it and there was no more to be said. It was late October. Summer holidays had gone through a stage of novelty, boredom and then school returned much to the guilty relief of Maureen. Then came chicken pox. Tonsilitis. Halloween break arrived and with it two grumpy little boys waking her up each morning playing football on the landing. Maureen had brought them to the park everyday. She had lost motivation to try get them to eat right by day two and they had eaten beans on toast or Calvita cheese sandwiches almost daily. Bedtime became a loose arrangement with one or other of the two refusing to sleep in their own bed On one occasion Frank had gotten to watch most of Dallas, without anyone turning a hair, until she realised he was seeing things far too grown up for him when a squeaky little voice asked, ‘What is an affair Mammy?’. When things had gotten too rough, and she desperately needed a cup of Lyons and a digestive, she had let them watch videos, quietly ignoring the thirty minute rule. The video recorder had broken in the middle of Honey I Shrunk the Kids that morning just as Maureen was washing her hair in the downstairs sink. The VO5 hot oil was abandoned midway through treatment in order to try salvage something before the boys attempted to fix the machine themselves. Two hours later, she had only eaten half a slice of toast all day, the hair was literally stuck to her head except for the bits she had ripped out and she hadn’t looked at either of her children with even momentary fondness for most of the day. Week even. They had broken two of her good wine glasses making the sitting room into Indiana Jones’ temple of doom. There were little men drawn on the cover of her new Deirdre Purcell novel and she had to pull the end of what looked like the phone bill out of the loo. As she mourned the fate of her glasses, Maureen had sent the young bucks out the back garden, despite the bad weather, where they had managed to climb onto the shed roof. She caught them throwing lumps of turf into the neighbours’ catbox, high fiving if they hit the cat itself. This had sent her into overdrive and a shrieky lecture on animal cruelty ensued which made Frank cry and then she felt guilty. Johnny led Frank away promising it would be OK leaving Maureen to feel like the worst mother alive. It was around this time that she had given them biscuits and tried to fix her hair and of course the saintly Johnny had managed to thump his brother for eating the last Custard Cream. Hence the hair pulling.
The determined walk they undertook was aimless. She went through the park and let them give sideways glances at the slides but she didn’t even give a hint as to whether they could play. Relentless. She turned the corner onto Church road and the boys groaned as they realised she was bringing them into the local chapel. They were jostling over who would bless themselves first (Johnny had flicked the water at Frank and told him that it meant he would have to be a priest when he grew up making Frank yowl in protest) when Maureen spat her disgust at them. She pulled each little boy to separate pews and went to light candles. Neither boy mentioned the streak of dirt smeared across her face or the fact she had her blouse on inside out. They had the sense to stay quiet. When she had lit five candles (three for the children as they were a handful, one for the poor people out foreign and one small one for her own intentions should the Lord have time to help her) she walked out and they hopped after.
It was outside Mac’s shop when she finally paused her fury to talk to Eamonn, who was a friendly soul and was hard to pass without a word. He told her his own twins were driving their own mother demented and Maureen smiled benevolently, saying her two had their moments but boys will be boys and really, they were grand. They looked at her with scowls which she silenced with an eyebrow raise. Mac had been practising with his new Advantix camera, taking pictures of the town for a shop display. Maureen smiled away, a fixed upturning of lips to which Mac wrongly took as interest and he said he would take their picture for the craic. A panorama shot. Maureen’s horror was masked by her pride as she refused to let on she felt anything but delighted at such a prospect. Rejection was rarely tolerated by this cheerful old businessman anyway as he herded the little family to stand in front of his newly painted shop door and took a snap before they even thought about it. Maureen and the boys headed on quickly after that, her ire somewhat abated by the knowledge that Mary Mac wasn’t having it easy and also that it is hard to keep smiling without getting into some kind of good humour. She bought them two Stinger bars (Johnny never let on about the fiver) and she let them have a go on the swings. They went home and all was forgotten by the nine o’ clock news.
Many, many years later, a forty eight year old Johnathon Foley would frame a picture that would hang over the kitchen clock in a cosy room designed by his interior loving partner. A picture that was long, oddly shaped and dulled over time, kept between the leaves of a striped A4 hardback copy full of handwritten recipes. A price sticker remained in place, Homestead it declared with the lofty sum of 50p visible through smears.The picture had been brought to a local Fujifilm store. The original owner, Eamonn Mac had retired long since but his twins Shea and Síle had taken over the business, bringing with them the youthful exuberance needed to modernise. Older photos could now be enlarged, coloured and given new life. Jonathon’s picture was now filtered with a stylish sepia tone, defined and smart. The old photo was put back into Maureen’s old copybook with its careful writing in faded blue ink cartridge pen on the back- The Foley Family, Halloween 1993. Everyone who entered Johnathon’s lilac and magnolia kitchen would look past the Laura Ashley prints and porcelain to take note of the sepia toned image. They would mention how like his mother he was. They would say how happy everyone looked. How extremely lovely looking Maureen was, a genuine beauty. Jonathon would smile and say what a great day it had been. A real smile with the confident certainty that what was saying was indeed true.