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Authors: James Heneghan

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BOOK: Flood
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“The home is warm and comfortable,” observed a Young One.

“With excellent care,” admitted another.

“And good food.”

“Then there is definitely no need for us to stay any longer.”

“Not another day.”

“Not yet,” said the Old One.

“But in the name of Cuchulainn, why not?”

“Wait and see.”

17

DAYLIGHT. Uncle Hugh knocked on the door, bringing him an orange. “Your vitamin C,” he said with a shy smile. “Mona asked me to bring it up.”

Andy pulled himself up to a sitting position.

“Will I peel it for you?” He sat on the chair with its back against the wall, and started peeling the orange with a penknife.

Andy watched his uncle's big hands. “Whose room was this before I came?”

His uncle's bristly gray eyebrows knotted together. “It was Mother Costello's, before she got too old to climb the stairs. It hasn't been used in years.” His voice was soft and slow, with a whispery Irish burr to it.

“Is Mother Costello my grandmother?”

“She is.”

“Is she in an old folks' home?”

He smiled. “You'd never get that one in a home. No, she has the front room. You'll meet her when you're able to come down.”

Andy looked around. Did you paint this room?” “

“I did.”

“And wallpapered it?”

He nodded. “‘A boy cares how his room is,' Mona said. Everything had to be right. But it was herself who picked out the paint color and the paper pattern.” He chuckled. “‘I wouldn't trust a Galway man to pick the paper for a pigsty,' she said. D'you like it, then?”

He didn't answer. Chosen by his aunt. Stupid butterflies. He might have known.

“She had the room done special for you coming.”

“I'm only here on a temporary basis, until my father comes for me; I hope you realize that.”

His face fell. “Temporary basis is it? Well…” He stretched across the empty space and handed Andy the peeled orange in a paper towel. Then he wiped the blade of the penknife with a second paper towel, folded the blade, and pushed it into the pocket of his corduroy trousers. He had short, thick fingers. “Well,” he said again and slapped his knees with the palms of his hands, preparing to stand and go.

“Thanks.”

His uncle was still sitting. He was trying to say something. His blue eyes widened with the effort. “Andy, I just want you to know… you're very welcome here.” He paused awkwardly. “More than welcome.”

Andy said nothing.

“We never had children, y'see,” he continued quietly. “Mona made novenas galore and Stations of the Cross and
prayed to St. Theresa and St. Jude and had a dozen masses said for our private intention, but”— he shook his head — “it wasn't meant to be. When your mother… when she… when you were alone in Vancouver, in the hospital, Mona lit a candle every morning to the Blessed Virgin Mary, above at the church, that you'd be happy here.”

As if realizing he'd talked too much, the shyness came over him again and he slapped and dusted his corduroy knees that didn't need dusting and stood and went to the door. He looked back at Andy with a smile, then closed the door behind him.

Granny Costello was very old.

Andy studied her. This was his mother's mother. And Aunt Mona's mother. She had skin the yellow color of a Spanish onion, and she sat in a special electric lounger with a rug over her in front of the TV in the living room. The chair had a button on the arm, and when Granny touched it the seat tilted backward or forward electrically and slowly, so that if she needed to sleep she kept her thumb on the button until it settled back as far as she wanted, and if she needed to get up for anything the chair ejected her gently forward onto her feet. She didn't walk unless she had to. When she needed to get up, she hobbled and had to be taken by the arm and helped. She ate very tiny meals in her chair from a special tray and watched TV or dozed all day.

When Aunt Mona tried to introduce Andy to her, Granny was absorbed in a soap opera. Her bright black
lizard eyes gleamed. She pointed to the TV.
“Coronation Street,”
she snapped at Mona.

“Yes, Mother,” Mona snapped back. “But this is Andy.”

Andy could see who his aunt took after.

“Andy?” Granny Costello said slowly, frowning, trying to remember.

“Andy Flynn,” said Aunt Mona in a louder voice. She picked up the remote and switched off the sound. “Judith's boy.”

Granny fiddled with the volume control of her hearing aid. “Did you say Judith?” Her face lit up and she smiled a beautiful smile at Andy. “Judith?” She sounded even more Irish than Aunt Mona.

Aunt Mona leaned over her mother. “It's Judith's boy; it's Andy,” she said patiently. “He's come to live with us, remember I told you?”

“Live with us?” Granny Costello looked pleased. “That's very nice indeed. Judith's boy.” She thought for a few seconds and then said, “Judith went away to… Where did she go, Mona?”

“Vancouver,” said Aunt Mona.

“Where?”

“British Columbia. The West Coast.”

“That's it. She left. We told her not to go. It's a big mistake, leaving the ones who love you most.” She frowned and shook her head. “We asked her not to go,” she said to Andy. “And if the truth be known, I don't think her heart was really in it. But she did love that husband of hers, that nice young whatsisname. I'd follow him to the ends of the
earth, she said. Seems to me I remember I had a soft spot for whatsisname myself. I told him, I told whatsisname, if I was forty years younger, I told him, I'd —” She broke off, then brightly, to Andy, “Do you own a motorcycle?”

Andy said, “No.”

“What a pity. Perhaps one day you will own one and we can go for a ride.” She craned her skinny neck and offered her withered cheek. Andy, still a bit wobbly in the legs, leaned down carefully and brushed her cheek with his lips. She smelled like mushrooms.

The house was small, with boxy rooms. The living room was so cluttered with dark polished bits and pieces of furniture that it was difficult to walk about. There was a fireplace with logs stacked. Granny's TV, a black monster, seemed to take up most of the space. The telephone was in the hallway near the front door. In the kitchen there was a small fridge and a gas stove and a pair of small apartment-size laundry machines, but no dishwasher or microwave. Aunt Mona and Uncle Hugh shared the only other bedroom, upstairs next to Andy's. The bathroom had an old iron tub with claw feet and no shower and was on the upstairs landing, three steps down from the bedrooms. When Andy needed a bath, he switched on the heater and waited a few minutes until the water was hot. But the bathroom was clean; unlike the Mayo's, it gleamed and had plenty of soap and toilet paper and bright fluffy towels. Granny slept downstairs in the front room, which Aunt Mona called the parlor, next to the living room. Andy wondered
how the old lady managed if she needed to go to the bathroom during the night. He soon found out one afternoon when Granny, watching the TV in the living room as usual, called out in a high, fluting voice, “Toilet, Mona!” and Aunt Mona helped her hobble to a downstairs toilet, a tiny room near the stairs, that Andy hadn't noticed.

Though Uncle Hugh was not a tall man, he was wide across the chest and shoulders and his neck was thick with muscle. He worked for the brewery, in the loading bay, he told Andy, and smelled of hops and barley. Andy liked Uncle Hugh and his malty smell. His quiet, welcoming acceptance of Andy calmed him, helped him feel more comfortable in the old house with his starchy aunt and dotty old granny.

He missed Vinny.

Aunt Mona told him he would have to make his own bed and keep his room clean, and when he was feeling stronger there would be household jobs for him to do.

“Do you mean chores?” asked Andy.

“Jobs,” said Mona.

“Like what?”

“Don't worry,” said Aunt Mona. “There's always plenty to do. I'll show you how to hang the wash out on the line and bring it in when it's dry. That's one little job. There'll be others, too, like clearing snow. But only when you're strong enough. No hurry. There's all the time in the world for you to build up your strength.”

“Jobs!” Andy muttered to himself.

Old cow.

Aunt Mona reminded him that Hugh's sister and her husband were coming on Sunday. “The girl will be coming, too,” she said, “their daughter, Una.”

“Is she my cousin?”

“Not really. An almost cousin. Una, is eleven, same as yourself.”

Andy liked the idea of having an almost cousin, especially one his own age. But he was apprehensive. The thought of these strangers coming just to meet him was unsettling. He imagined them studying him closely, searching for indications of who-knew-what deficiency or family weakness. How much did they know about Vinny? he wondered.

Or would they feel sorry for him? He imagined them saying to one another, “Poor thing.” And, “What a desperate shame.”

If Vinny didn't keep his promise and fix things so he could get away from Aunt Mona, he would hate him forever and ever and ever.

18

“DID YOU SAY YOUR PRAYERS?” Aunt Mona asked briskly, sweeping into the room after a rapid knock, carrying a hot-water bottle and bringing with her the faintest scent of roses. It was the smell he remembered from his fever, and from his mother.

“Yeah,” he lied. He was reading
Watership Down
in bed, a pretty good story about a bunch of rabbits; he'd found it on the shelves in the hallway. Aunt Mona said it belonged to Una.

“D'you want the hot-water bottle?”

“No.”

“I'll leave it at the foot of the bed so.” Aunt Mona fussed with the quilt. “Did you say a prayer for your granny and Uncle Hugh?”

“Mmnn.”

“And your mother?” “Mmnn.”

“And your poor unfortunate father?”

“My father's not unfortunate.”

“Good night, then. God bless.”

When his aunt had gone he pulled the hot-water bottle into the bed.

Aunt Mona explained how to get there. “Ten minutes if you walk quickly. The rain has melted most of the snow, but I'll give you the bus fare in case you need it. The bus takes only a few minutes.”

It was Saturday morning. Andy took the money but walked through cold streets. By the time he got to the Mayo Rooms, his legs were tired and his feet hurt. Sickness and lack of exercise had made him weak. He would have to toughen up for soccer; there was no way he could sprint down the left wing with the ball glued to his foot in his present condition.

He stood outside the Mayo and looked up. The familiar spectacles stared back at him as if to say, “What? You again? We thought we'd got rid of you.” He went in and climbed the stairs and tried Vinny's door, but it was locked. He knocked. Silence. Vinny had gone out early. Or hadn't come home, more like.

He hadn't brought his key, so sat on the stairs and waited for about an hour. No Vinny. Outside, the rain was starting. He zipped up his parka and took the bus back to Aunt Mona's.

Andy went to mass at St. Gregory's with his uncle and aunt on Sunday morning, his aunt sternly armored in her long gray coat. She walked briskly with her head high, looking
neither left nor right, dark eyes haughty and composed. Uncle Hugh's muscular neck looked uncomfortable in a shirt and tie. He gave Andy his missal. “It's yours if you'd like to keep it,” he said. “The print is too small for me to read even if I wanted to.”

The mass droned on; Andy listened to very little of the sermon. But he liked the color pictures in the missal his uncle had given him, and he liked its weight. And he liked the crowd of people, their murmured responses, and the chance to stretch in the standings and kneelings, and the hymns, and the smell of the incense, and the high stained-glass windows with the red, blue, green light pouring through the images of the saints. The smiling Jesus carrying a white lamb in His arms reminded Andy of how much he had always longed for a dog. If Aunt Mona would let him have a dog, then he could take it with him when he moved back with his father. He leaned sideways and whispered urgently, “Uncle Hugh?”

His uncle bent his head.

“Do you think I could have a pup?”

Uncle Hugh frowned. “Huh?”

“A dog?”

“I could ask Mona,” he whispered.

“Would you? Please?”

“Shush!” said Aunt Mona.

The guests arrived before noon. Dinner was at one. Uncle Hugh's sister, Jill, had Andy in a bear hug before she'd taken off her coat. For a small woman, she had a strong
hugging apparatus. She had lively gray eyes and curly hair held up with combs. “Call me Jill,” she told him. Aunt Mona and Uncle Hugh stood back quietly, Aunt Mona stern and haughty as usual, Uncle Hugh with his shy smile.

“And this is Joe,” Jill said, introducing her husband.

BOOK: Flood
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