By Eamon O' Leary
cappuccino (no chocolate)
Cork - March 1960.
Every Sunday, after Da finished reading the Sunday Independent, but before he started cutting it up for bog paper, Ma took out the fashion page. It wasn’t that she was into the fashion or anything like that. Well… maybe she was, but that was only dreaming ’cos she’d no spare money. But she always kept enough to do the Fashion Competition.
‘’Tis my only treat for the week.’
Pictures of ladies in dresses or skirts or other stuff with a letter next to each one was spread across the page, A-B-C-D… all the way to L or M. Ma picked out the ones she thought were the nicest and filled out the box at the bottom. Three pence a line to enter. Ma usually did a shilling’s worth.
‘Could ye imagine if I won? Janey Mackers, £500? The first thing I’d do would be to get some fella who knew what he was doing and get him to do a proper job on them ceilings. I can still see that haunting blue coming through, and then I’d get proper curta-’
‘And would ye buy us bikes, Ma?” the Brother asked.’
‘We’ll have to win first. C’mon, let ye have a go. Ye might have better luck. I’m doing it this past ten years, and not a brass farthing have I got from them blighters.’
Every Monday, Ma would go to the post office and get a postal order and a stamp. Off went her entry, never to be heard of again. Well, not until that Thursday, about a year after we’d landed in Cork.
I’d run home, and it was freezing, and my knees were all red from my hairy pants rubbing, and Ma was standing at the door jumping up and down like there were springs in her shoes, and she was waving an envelope.
‘Look,’ she said, ‘look at this.’ And I looked. In each corner, there was writing in big letters, I started - ‘S-u-n-d-’
‘Never mind, never mind that. It’s from the Sunday Independent.’
‘What does it say, Ma?’
‘I don’t know, we’ll wait ‘til Da and your brother come before opening it.’
She’d forgotten about the cabbage and spare ribs in the saucepan, until they started to stink, and she’d to open the door to let the smoke out, but she was still dancing about when Da and the Brother got off the bus.
She handed Da the envelope. He held it like it was a stick of dynamite and looked at the front and back of it a couple of times before opening it.
Dear Mrs O’ Leary,
You entered two lines in last week’s Fashion Competition, costing six pence, but your postal order was for one shilling. Therefore, you overpaid, and we have pleasure in enclosing a postal order for the balance.
I think the letter said some things about wishing her good luck and all that auld shite, but Da didn’t read it out loud.
Tears flowed down Ma’s face like it was pouring rain, and the smell from the cabbage got worse.