-Where’s the thing? she asks, her mind racing faster than the push-up response of the recline on the sofa.
-What thing? I inquire, startled out of a semi-induced state of hibernation to save myself from the 2nd instalment of the evening of Emmerdale which was briefly interrupted by 23 minutes of Coronation Street and two visits to the kitchen; the 1st for a cracker and the 2nd for a bag of leftover Christmas nuts…
-Will you be baking anything with those pecans one of these days? came the roar from the kitchen on that 2nd visit and I could hear the excitement in the voice at the thought of an exotic pecan to chew down on instead of the usual insipid old walnut.
-There’s a good date on them, all the same, I always look for a good date, but if you’re not going to use them I might go ahead and eat a few of them and pick up another bag when I’m in the shops during the week, cause I know you like to have your nuts in the press, just in case.
-What thing? I inquire again as she comes right way up on the sofa, one big red hair curler on her head, the others sitting on her shoulders as if waiting to be mistaken for a Beth Lynch tribute act.
-The remote, says she while the phone in her right hand continues to ring. Squares of torn-off kitchen roll, used to cover everything from half-drunk tea to half eaten slices of cake under which the icing seeps into the tissue and you can never go back to eating it, go flying into the air in the frantic flight to pause live tv before the 1st unidentified caller of the evening gives up, hangs up and then calls us back on the mobile, or via messenger on the iPad, all lined up on front of The Mother like the accoutrement required for a Bond Mission; 3, 2, 1, ready, call, answer! Or not, where was the remote?
-Is that it in your other hand? I proffer and she looks and laughs and drops it onto her lap so she can laugh more freely and grab one of the flying kitchen squares from the air and blow her nose with it before relaxing back into her seat as a curler falls down into her nightdress and startles her back into the realisation that the phone is still ringing and we are no longer following what the hell is going on down in the Dales!
She regains control. She grabs the remote. The Woolpack is put on hold!
-Don’t worry, I’m told, we can rewind to catch up on what we missed, and then she accepts the call from the land line and I can hear the voice of her youngest sister, mid conversation to someone we cannot see, on the other end. However, Mum cannot hear so she shouts-
-Wait. Hang on. Wait a minute. Where’s the button? And then she flicks the call onto loud-speaker and I can hear the dust-gathering Waterford Crystal beginning to rattle behind the glass doors of the mahogany cabinet with its fairy lights twinkling with twenty thousand batteries picked up in Penneys last week when she popped into the shops to get me those nuts. I know you love the nuts!
-Where were you? I was ringing. There was no answer. I thought maybe you were in the loo but I knew Emmerdale was on and you’d be watching so you couldn’t be in the loo so then I was going to phone you on the mobile but sure isn’t he after falling asleep like a big fucking lump over there on the armchair with the phone between his arm and his arse. Where were you? Youngest Sister asks again although she hasn’t let in a breath to allow an answer to be proposed.
-I couldn’t find the remote.
-You couldn’t find the remote?
-I couldn’t find the remote and then Damien had me laughing because it was in me hand all along. What’s that down me back? she asks, having forgotten the descending curler amidst all the excitement.
-Oh, Damien’s there with you, lovely. And you’re glad to have him…
-It’s a curler!
-Damien has a curler?
-What? What are you saying, for God’s sake? I think I lost a curler while watching Emmerdale, she says as she taps her head for reassurance. Yes, head’s still there but no hair curler.
-I don’t like it- Emmerdale, full of farmers. What do you think about Sharon and Phil?
-Were you talking to the other one at all today?
-No, or was I? Well, not since this morning, after she’d been out in the field.
-Yes, I know, spoke to her this afternoon. She said she’d been out in the field and then she came back in.
-Oh right, says the Youngest Sister, with a little resentment, as if jealous that that titbit of news hadn’t been shared. She didn’t tell me she came back in!
-No, she came back in alright, because she called me afterwards. Only went out there for 5 minutes.
-There’ll be frost tonight, did you know that? Get that water bottle filled. His feet will be freezing next to me, I know they will.
-I know, I was watching the weather. What did you think of her dress?
-Awful. Looked awful on her. She looked better last night in the pink dress when she was telling us it was going to rain all night and yet that never happened. Took the washing in all the same.
-Oh, you did?
-Yeah, yeah, right so, yeah.
A moment to catch a breath passes between them where they both respect the fact that neither of them should try and claim control of the conversation at this point.
-Listen, Youngest Sister jumps in with a refreshed set of lungs, Sacred Heart of God, I have to go. The Cat is giving me the eye right now and I know he’s gonna piss all over the floor and he knows I know. Oh Jesus, He’s starting. I’m going, I’ll talk to you so.
And she’s gone. Mum hangs up the phone. The crystal settles down. She looks over at me.
-That was your Aunt.
I know this already, of course, because the phone was on loud-speaker and I wasn’t far enough away like New Zealand not to hear it, but I say nothing and give her that wide-eyed look of surprise that seems to work.
-The cat is gonna be the death of her. She was only on the phone to me there and in the middle of the call it started to pee all over her floor and she only called me this morning to tell me she had washed the floors, just this morning. And there’s the cat; peeing all over the place. I would be…
But the phone rings. The mobile this time. A horrific tune not even a deaf person would pick for their ring tone. She gets up and opens her dressing gown before answering and shakes herself until the big bad red curler drops like an unnecessary appendage from her night dress and rolls across the floor which causes a giggle. Now, ready for battle, she reaches out. She takes the Samsung phone off the table, careful not to disturb the house phone or iPad. She flips the cover over, slides her fingers across the screen, brings the phone to her ear and readies herself for the 2nd call of the night, offering out that usual yet cautionary Hello? which she always gives out even though I know she can see who it is on the screen. But the phone continues to ring. She tries again, this time using her thumb and we have connection. Lord save us!
Sister No. 2.
-I was calling you there on the land line, but you were engaged so I went to call you on the mobile instead, but I had to go to the loo first. Were you on the phone to the other one?
Silence. A judgement is made on both side of the line.
-I said that to myself, I said you must be on be the phone to her. I spoke to her earlier after I’d been in the field. The legs are a bit sore now. I thought I’d never make it up to go and pee.
A deep breath from Sister No.2 and The Mother, simultaneously, as if they were both catching errant thoughts.
-She cleaned the floor this morning, did she tell you? Sister No.2 offers up.
-Ah, don’t mention the floor. Indeed she did tell me that she cleaned the floor, sure she called me just afterwards. (Nudge) And then, when I spoke to her later-on, she told me you had called and had been out in the field but sure you’d already told me that. (Nudge to the other) But wait till I tell you, she just called me there and Damien was laughing at me because I couldn’t find the remote for the telly but anyway… you won’t believe this. The Cat’s gone and pissed all over her floor, the floor she cleaned this morning. Ah Jaysus!
-Ah, for Christ’s sake, she just cleaned that floor this morning!
The mobile phone in The Mother’s hand next to her now curler-less head is not on loud speaker but it is on maximum volume so I can hear them both sounding like echoes going into mum’s right ear, out the left and rebounding off every wall in the living room with its glass-doored mahogany cabinet filled with the unused Waterford Crystal decanter and its matching wine glasses, now only 5 after a smash in the sink Christmas 4 years ago by a cousin who only gets offered drinks in a can these days, and those twinkling lights and twenty thousand batteries in a room about 10 foot square but home to no less than 7 lamps, not including the twinkling lights, nor the over-head ceiling light or the many, many battery operated alter candles. We currently have 6 lamps lighting along with the tv and the twinkling fairies and those battery-operated candles. It takes about 30 minutes to turn them all off before bed. The curtains had been pulled earlier, all over the house. 5pm had been designated as a good time to draw the curtains. The windows have different operating hours. They’re usually opened around 11am and a good hour to close those would be 3pm, giving the house a good 4 hours allotment time for letting in The Fresh Air.
-Did she tell you she didn’t like the dress on your woman last night, on that yoke, what do you call it?
-Who, Holly, on This Morning?
-No, last night, your woman with the rain, after the news.
-No, sure I wasn’t watching the news. I was in the loo. Go on, I better call her.
-Go on then, she’ll probably be cleaning the floor cause if he does it then he’ll use the wrong towels, you heard what happened last time, of course.
-Go on with you, I did indeed. Men are fuckers! If I don’t call you later then I’ll call you in the morning. Bye.
-Go on. Goodnight.
-Good night to Damien.
And she is finally gone.
-That was your other aunt, she didn’t know about the cat, The Mother says to me. She’s gone to call her now. She didn’t seem interested in your one’s dress. Do you remember, I was calling you last night to come and look at it, but you were in the loo and wouldn’t come out to see it and when you did she was gone. Must have been a poo you were doing, was it?
Welcome Home and good Fuck, I think, but I say nothing and go for the wide-eyed look again. It seems to suit so many scenarios. Maybe that’s why my eyes have felt so strained over the last few weeks, too much of the I-Had-No-Idea look.
The TV goes back on, at last, some distant relative of the late Molly Sugden, once gay, now a father of three children which only he thinks are his, who recently married an ex call-girl who may or may not be his younger sister’s illegitimate child, finally gets to walk into the Woolpack. Regular TV scheduling is now returned to the room and its lit lamps although we have slightly fallen out of time. EastEnders is now being recorded and will be watched somewhere around 22.45 unless he has someone funny or in a lovely dress on the sofa of The Late, Late Show, now renamed The Even Later Show and to be watched on +1, much later.
I think about heading up to my room but all thought is interrupted by the phone. Again. This time it’s the mobile.
Remote. Pause. Change hand. Phone. Finger. Slide. Hello? Still the same surprised Hello that seems to say; however did you get this number and am I speaking to a person or life on Mars?
Youngest Sister again.
-She just called me, the voice bellows into the room and yes, I can confirm that the crystal is once again shaking. It’s the only time it gets to be used.
-I know, she said she would, The Mother confirms while managing to acknowledge all that she already knows.
-Yes, she told me that she told you that she would call me. She said to tell you that she won’t call you back tonight. Her legs are sore! I told her it was probably from being out in the field.
-I know, but what about The Cat?
-Why does she go out into that field?
-No, your sister? She says ‘your Sister’ but it is actually ‘their Sister’.
-What about The Cat? asks mum, ignoring the question and its implication.
-The Cat, oh, he’s gone asleep, bless him, sure he’s only scared, and he’s a beauty. But I got me slipper when he did his business, I got me slipper and hurled it across the room to that lump who’s been snoring this past hour. Little fucker, and I was trying to watch me soaps. You know it’s not good for you, snoring like that. The both of you should see someone about the snoring. Probably why The Cat pisses so much, the sound must scare him!
-Listen to me, what about The Cat?
-He’s asleep, I told you, I woke that fucker to get up and clean it.
-Ah, the poor man.
-Poor man me arse.
-But you know he’ll never clean it properly. Did you tell him which towels to use? Remember last time, Christ, he used the good cleaning towels and ruined them on you?
I don’t care. I’ve had it. I’m off to bed. There’s nothing on the telly. On a Friday night. There’s a man on the sofa there with him on The Late, Late Show and he’s wearing socks that are so bright I can’t even watch so I’m going to bed and he can follow me when he cleans up the mess.
-I’m still watching Emmerdale.
-What, sure that’s over, this ages ago?
-What do you mean?
-Ah, there were calls, I’m catching up.
-Ah yeah, yeah, that’s grand sure, yeah.
I get up and open the door to head up to my room. I can’t sit around on pause any more.
-Are you off? The Mother asks, still with the phone to her ear.
-Yes, I am, I said that already, are you listening? You need your hearing checked, my aunt replies.
-No, Damien, not you, he’s going up to bed. He’s goes up early. He likes to go up early to his room.
-Did he put the blanket on? The Youngest Sister asks The Mother.
-I don’t know, wait, I’ll ask him, did you put the blanket on she wants to know?
-Grand, night then. I love you.
-I love you too.
I go in for the kiss. Right cheek. Next to the mobile phone. I can hear Youngest Sister shouting about towels to That Lump now cleaning the kitchen floor.
-Have a good rest.
Don’t forget to turn off that blanket now.
-Did you hear him, he did, he put the blanket on, God love him, The Mother tells The Youngest Sister as I pull over the door into the hallway.
-Ah, isn’t it lovely to have him home to keep you company. Now can you send him up to me to wash the fucking floors?
And yes, I can still hear them talking out in the hallway.
-It is, it’s lovely to have him home, The Mother agrees, now, listen, if you do talk to the other one later or before me in the morning tell her that Damien put the blanket on, I forgot to tell her myself earlier what with all the fuss about the floor. Now would you not just take out the right towels before you go up so he doesn’t ruin the good ones on you again. You can’t keep buying towels because he can’t remember which ones to use. The poor man, what does he know about using towels?
-Go on, I’ll see. Anyway, that’s the story.
-Yes, you too, now, bye.
-Bye, bye. sleep well.
And they hang up.
And for a moment there is silence. For a moment. Then I hear her sitting back into the seat, the button clicks on the side of the sofa and I hear her legs go up and she’s in place, reclining and ready. She takes the remote. Pushes the button and she is back, once again, in the Woolpack and this is me, back home.
All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly