4. Jul, 2020

'Help in the Home'

“Delia?  She’d rather read about people talking than listen to them doing it,” she overheard her mother, not incorrectly, observe.  “And the rest of you, staring at your mobiles” (this with contempt)"every living minute!  In my day, you only had each other to look at.  Not that it was always a pretty sight,”  she added, as if describing present company.

“Oh, now, Maura, you weren’t so bad in your heyday,” Delia heard her stepfather, a younger and gentler man, say humorously, to take the sting out of it.  “Now!” he said again and Delia could picture him raising and lowering his hands to calm proceedings as her mother became more worked up, which was always his peaceable way.

Delia had finished making mugs of tea and coffee in the little kitchenette and had a moment of flash recall about none of them being able to use the bath for a time because poteen was being brewed in it for Christmas gifts.  She smiled, remembering, as the eldest, accompanying Donal on his clandestine delivery runs to grateful friends and neighbours.  When her mother was widowed young, she had run this English city brick terraced house as a bed and breakfast for builders, single men mostly, and Donal had been one of them.  Of the children, Delia was not his but it had never seemed that way.  They were all adults now.  Their mother’s topic was insufficient visiting.  In fact, they all visited often and were well aware of the way Maura played them off against one another as to never coming near.  It was her way of ensuring company, Donal being too small an audience for her by himself.  Maura took exception to anything that distracted those who were actually in her company, which was her present grumble.  Taking in the tray, Delia said,

“Now, mum, blackening my name again?  What am I supposed to have done or not done this time?”

“Chrissie suggested you’d be the best person to be here with us when they come to do the assessment for our needs here,” her mother responded emotionally.  “I’m not leaving this house if they try to drag me out!” she declaimed.

“No, no,” soothed Donal.  “They want to keep us in here, not to get us out of it.”

“You’d all just leave us to struggle on alone!” his wife fretted.  “You don’t care!”

Real tears were rising easily in Maura’s eyes.

“Of course we care!” said Chrissie.  “We’re here now, aren’t we?  To talk about it?”

“Oh, yes, you’re here now,” said Maura heavily, subsiding into a lethargic gloom.

Delia frowned at Chrissie, it not being the first time she had had to take issue with the assumption that, as the eldest girl, duties fell to her first.

“Why me, then?” she asked with deceptive lightness.

“Oh, why anybody!” muttered Maura, mournful.

Donal reached across to pat her hand sympathetically.  Once statuesque, his wife was now heavy and arthritic.  There was talk of a bed downstairs, a commode even, as there was nowhere to install an extra toilet.  Chrissie gave an impatient flick of her cinder toffee coloured highlights.

“Because you’re the best at organising things, of course, Del!” she pronounced, as if this were obvious to everybody.  “You know what I’m like!  Besides, I’ve got all the school runs to deal with.”

This oblique reference to Delia’s single and childless state set their mother off again.

“You’ll be old on your own, Delia!  Just like us. It’s a terrible thing!”  Maura sat up again with dramatic flare.  “Poor Delia!  Why should she be the one having to put up with us, just because she’s all alone?”

This loaded remark was dropped into troubled waters with the expert timing that Maura never missed.  Give their mother her due, thought Delia, both exasperated and amused, she never failed to exploit any opportunity.

“Now,” said Donal comfortingly, raising and lowering his hands again.

There was a momentary silence because these were the kind of things that were often said, random sniper fire that, although baffled by many years of self defence, could still hit their mark.  The physical work Donal had done all his life had disabled him, too.  He had chronic back problems, white finger from nerve damage and deafness from heavy machinery, but his skin was still country boy pink and his eyes the kindly blue that Delia had always known them to be, reflecting his warm and steady nature.

“All right,” Delia said, softening.  “When are they coming, then, social services, to do the assessment?”

“Next week, Delia,” Donal explained.  “But , now - nobody needs to be with us at all!  I’ll be here, your mam will be here.  That’s all they want.”

The problem was that Donal wouldn’t hear everything properly and their mother’s carry on meant you could never really know if you were getting the true story or not.  There was no avoiding the fact they simply weren’t managing any more and someone would need to make sure that the right things were put in place for them.

“It’s all right, mum, I’ll come,” Delia capitulated.

Her sister and brother visibly relaxed.

“It’ll be great!   You’ll have someone to help keep the place clean for you,” Fergus misguidedly said, relief making him reckless.

“Are you suggesting my standards have slipped?” demanded Maura, with outraged dignity.

“Now!” said Donal, raising and lowering his hands again.  “How about you sing us one of the songs, Maura.  We’d all love that, wouldn’t we, since we're all here together?  A rare treat!”

He looked round affectionately, as if this would be just the very thing for everyone.  Maura had always been a praised ballad singer with a strong, clear voice, who could sing in the traditional style with great pathos and expression.  They all diplomatically agreed that they would and so she treated them, not just to one, but to a concert length rendition of her repertoire.  Donal looked on with genuine admiration and nobody else suggested that it was really time they had to leave, even though, as on many past occasions, not having chosen to share in this, to them, distant culture, they may well have wanted to do so.

Share this page