One morning recently I was drifting awake to the sound of my radio and I heard a rich tenor voice singing these words
You came when the stars were gleaming
You came after all my dreaming
That night when they played the Starlight Serenade
For you, with the stars above you….
And I was back at O’Mahoney’s, and Mr O was waltzing round the sitting room with Mrs O in his arms and we, their daughters and I their all-too-frequent visitor, were squeezed together giggling in the hallway. My friends were embarrassed, but I was filled with yearning. Why couldn’t my parents be like that? My mother with her many babies and her braids pinned up on her head, my father with his big boots and his pipe; I could never see them spinning, arms wide, heads turned back, Mrs O’s skirt flaring out. Just like someone in a film.
All the summer holidays I ran down the back lane to O’Mahoney’s. Grandma watched me run down and when it was time to go home Mr O watched me run up again.
Our house was ruled by Grandma and our father was often away working in Rum Jungle. That was why, even when he was home, he wore khaki shirts and big boots. Mr O had been in the war, so he didn’t have to go to work any more. That record he played was a very old one. He told us the singer’s name was Chick and he had died in the war. Mr O had been very brave and got lots of medals, he said.
Our house was big and quiet and polished. O’Mahoney’s was full of life. The lovely smell of cigarettes had sunk into the curtains and cushions, the smell of fried bread came from the kitchen.
Sometimes when I came panting in the back door, I might find a sideboard blocking my path. That was good. It meant this was a day when they were changing the rooms around. The sitting room became the dining room, Maureen swapped bedrooms with Deidre and so on. When Auntie Ena, who usually lived in the sleep-out, was dying, they had her in a bed in the sitting room and we all played around her. She didn’t seem to mind. We heard her gasping breaths, but it seemed quite normal to us.
I felt normal at O’Mahoney’s. Not someone who lived in a strange old house, or someone whose father drove a strange Volkswagen car, or someone who was supposed to spend all her time doing her piano practice. They listened to me. I was part of their discussions. When we sat out on the front veranda after tea and chatted about what we would do when we won the lottery, they listened to me when I suggested they build another story with little attic windows on top of their house. I didn’t want them moving away.
Those nights sitting on the veranda with the stars above us, with little puffs of disinfectant wafting on the air from the Lustral factory across the road, were among the happiest of my life.
You were mine, we were close together…