After Anna

I wondered if it was possible to successfully fry an egg on the bonnet of a car. Morris was bathing on the driveway, his green frame steaming under the sun.  I watched him for about five minutes. It was Ireland; the sun didn’t usually visit us. This was a one-time experiment, it was now or never. I turned to my younger brother, who was playing Boggle in spite of its missing letters.

‘Wanna fry an egg on Morris?’

‘Okay.’

We went to the kitchen. I remember Mammy sitting on the sway chair sleeping. We were expecting a new sister or brother that summer. Daddy told us boys to stop laughing at the way Mammy walked. To us, she looked like a penguin. We tip-toed past her and opened the fridge. My brother was too small to reach, but I got the egg because I had long legs. We then got two plates and a slice of bread before going outside.

According to Daddy, it was the shock of seeing an eggy Morris that caused Mammy to go into labour. With both our parents heading to hospital, me and my brother were told to ‘sit and pray to God that everything would work out alright’.  The door slammed shut, keys were shuffled and Morris tooted and hummed lightly as he drove away.  We were left alone to reflect. This was our prayer:

‘Dear God, look after Mammy and please let it be a boy. Also, could you please make sure that Daddy doesn’t have us for messing up Morris’ green paint with an egg? Thank you.’

One half of our prayer came true. Baby Anna saved us from the slap that night. According to Daddy she was a big girl who weighed in at about three bags of sugar. I climbed into the attic and took out my brother’s old baby sling, wrapping three bags of sugar inside the dusty fabric. I told Daddy to leave me be, this was me preparing to be the big brother, the family helper. Two of the bags fell to the floor and for some strange reason the top bag (representing my sisters head) ripped and the sugar poured out. Daddy laughed, saying he’d never forget my face. I brushed up the sugar and decided I was too young to carry around such a heavy baby. I probably could’ve handled two bags, but she was three.

A few days after Mammy and Anna came home. My younger brother was still mad at the fact Anna was a girl. I knew that because he looked at her like he looked at garden peas. He hated garden peas. Scowling with his arms crossed, he asked Mammy why she took the baby home. Mammy had this way about her when she smiled, you could see the happiness in her eyes.  She knelt down to him, radiant.

‘What would you like for dinner tonight?’ She said to him. ‘Your choice.’

‘Really? Can we have chicken curry?’

My brother had good taste in dinners.

That night was the best night of my life. Mammy made a tasty chicken curry and Daddy even brought us back a cone of sweets from the market. Anna was quiet, so Daddy turned the radio down low. Together he and Mammy danced in their bare feet on the tiles. We then watched Danger Mouse before going to bed, later than usual. Anna stirred once or twice in the night, I heard her whimper, but she was quiet otherwise. She was a very quiet baby.

For weeks afterwards our house was just as happy. Morris still wasn’t looking the best, but I heard that Daddy was planning to buy matching paint and tidy him up himself. Anna was now the weight of three and a half bags of sugar, and my brother had now accepted her as one of his own, including her in his games.

‘Anna! I, Dr Who, thought you were my friend. But you are a Dalek in disguise aren’t you?’

Anna burped.

Exterminate you say? I was right. There’s only one thing left to do then…’

He pointed his finger at her bouncy chair.

‘BAM!’

She would then kick her feet. The bouncy chair would rock backwards and forwards with such a force that Daddy believed she would be a mighty footballer. I was looking forward to her being old enough to kick a ball. I told Mammy this and she said that at the rate Anna was growing she would be in the premiership by the end of the month. Mammy was very proud of Anna. She was proud of us boys too, but Anna was special. She would dance bare footed with her on the tiles, she would sing to her, she would blow raspberries on her cheeks. That night Mammy caught me watching her, so she placed a sleeping Anna into her bouncy chair and took my hand. I took off my shoes, but not my socks because the tiles were cold. I stood on her feet and together we circled the floor, dancing to the music on the radio. I went to bed then and Mammy put Anna into her cot. I fell asleep but woke up within a few hours with a fever. Mammy and Daddy took turns when tending to me, so Anna didn’t get the full attention that she would usually get at night. I heard her whimper, but Mammy hushed her from the doorway and didn’t actually go into her room.

That morning Daddy took my brother to school. I was sitting in the kitchen with a plate of dry toast that I couldn’t eat. I had seen Mammy check the baby monitor before she poured me a glass of milk. She kissed my burning head and then went upstairs to check on Anna.

She wasn’t up there for long.

Daddy would warn us about running down the stairs, so I remember wondering what he would’ve said to Mammy when she took three stairs at a time. Anna was in her arms, being very still and very quiet. Mammy paced the tiles, muttering words that I couldn’t understand. She then put Anna on the kitchen table in front of my toast. She grabbed the phone and began to dial, but her hands were shaking so she was missing the correct buttons. I could make out a few words then.

‘Baby. Hold on. Ok baby.’

She looked out the window.

‘Baby. I can see his house.’

I looked out of the window. The only house I could see was Dr. Foster’s and that was two fields away. She scooped Anna into her arms and ran outside. I noticed she forgot her shoes. I grabbed them and followed.  She reached the end of our garden. The Farmer had put wire around his field to prevent his sheep from wandering. Mammy moaned and rocked from side to side before turning to me.

‘Take your sister.’

I panicked.

‘I can’t Mammy, I’ll drop her.’

She became even more desperate.

‘Take your sister now!’

I had read in the Boy’s Scouts Magazine that when you find yourself in a threatening situation, your body can become stronger. I didn’t really understand how that worked, if it was magic given to you by an angel, or God, or Superman. All I knew was, I had it. For that moment I was strong enough to carry Anna. I took her into my arms for the first time as her big brother. She didn’t feel right. Mammy climbed over the metal thread. I saw her blood rest on the wires like raindrops. She stretched over the fence.

‘Give me her’.

I did. Mammy ran. I discarded the shoes and climbed over the fence. I always thought I was faster than Mammy, but I found it very hard to catch up with her. The field was large and empty. We were running for a long time before we reached its end, and by then we were only half way there. I looked down at Mammy’s feet that danced on the kitchen tiles, they were torn. I cried when she mounted the wire fence again, but I managed to hand Anna over the barrier safely. This field was bigger than the last and I could see Mammy’s feet beginning to fail her. She fell to her knees, Anna slipping out of her arms onto the grass.

‘Baby. Ok.’

I saw red on a jagged stone as I passed. I stopped to get sick. When I looked up I couldn’t see Mammy anymore, so I bolted in the direction of Dr. Foster’s house. There she was at the end of the field, shrieking and cradling Anna. A woman was outside the house, hanging fresh linen on a washing line. Immediately she called inside for Dr. Foster, who emerged within seconds and jumped over the wire. I stopped running. The last thing I saw was the woman taking Anna inside the house. I remember feeling afraid for her, I didn’t know this woman. I didn’t know if she was able to carry Anna. After all, Anna was a big baby – she was the weight of three and a half bags of sugar.

I remember falling to by knees.

***

Mammy had this ability to smile with her eyes, but after Anna she seemed to forget how to do that. My brother didn’t understand, and cried often. One night Mammy made extra peas for dinner. My brother began to whine, telling everyone in the room about how much he hated peas. Without warning, Mammy stood up. The table went silent. She looked at all of us and smiled. For weeks afterwards, that smile gave me nightmares. It wasn’t friendly, or warm. It wasn’t how my Mammy smiled. She began to pile peas onto my brother’s plate, slamming the ladle onto the china harder with each spoonful. Daddy stood up to meet her eyes. Both of them said nothing, but Mammy retreated, her walk like an injured penguin, not one that us boys could laugh at anymore. She closed the door. We listened to the creak of the floorboards, then another door closed. She screamed upstairs.

‘Daddy’, I said.

‘No, stay here. You boys need to behave.’

Daddy left. My brother looked at me.

‘Eat your peas.’

Without any objection, he picked up his fork. I watched him eat. Mammy was sobbing and we could hear the hum of Daddy’s words to her echoing in the hallway.  I stood up, told my brother to finish his dinner and went outside. A sorry looking Morris was lying idle on the driveway, the weather further chipping away at the offending egg stain. Daddy had brought home a tin of paint from work, but it had been forgotten about. The tin was sitting by the doorstep, so I picked it up along with a brush that had been tossed into the grass. I began to paint over the marks on Morris, to put an end to the trouble that I had started.