It was already spring, but cold enough that once outside my breath folded in small clouds. The litter of cars in our front garden was dappled with rain. They shone on their breeze block pedestals, idle, grass grown up in rutted clumps. Missus G was out on her side of the wall, walking her bins. She looked at the cars, and at me, then went back inside unsmiling. Cow.
Sometimes Da was paid for fixing a car before the car was fixed—the promises he made, one hand holding the money in his pocket, the other fingers crossed. That was what you got if you paid Da before a car was fixed. ‘Those gifted hands.’ I’ve heard people say it, even Missus G. ‘- Gifted,’ that’s what she said. I overheard her and an unwanted feeling for him flared like a lit match, and puff, extinguished. I gave a car a good boot as I passed, hollow as Missus G’s lonely steel bin—bang bang bang.
A car moved off somewhere in the estate, its engine revving, but I couldn’t see it. It was silent then. I walked to the roundabout where the massive chestnut tree had grown before they laid down the new road. The council had tarmacked around it for reasons nobody understood. It died slowly, choked I suppose. Along Church Road, the street veered downhill and the top of the spire could be seen in the near distance. I looked into all the windows as I passed, just to be nosey, and my books and jotters bounced on my back with every step and the leather strap of my schoolbag with its thick buckle dug in through my uniform and left a mark.
I cut through the wooded area at the back of the church. In spring, ferns unfurled at night, dropping dew in the morning, and the pathway was choked ever tighter by brambles and nettles. I went past the huge rocks covered with graffiti. Green and brown bottles, broken and unbroken, gathered with cigarette butts, tangled in the undergrowth.
I’d been warned not to go that way. Years earlier, some auld lad had grabbed our Derry off the path and pulled her into the bushes. She was bleeding after and she never said, but I saw how the tea towels Mam brought her came back stained. Mam never told me not to talk about it with anyone, I just knew, and for the longest time at home the fighting stopped and the house was quiet as a library, the air thicker. Mam prayed, her big Bible brimming with mass cards, laminated prayers, and other missives stayed glued to her hand. She says, ‘We take nothing from this world and the sooner we know it, the better.’ I wondered if that was true and if it was, who had told her? It was true that people were always trying to take things away from you, especially if you only had a little. Derry’s narrow bed lay next to my mine, and I saw how her eyes glistened open at night, how sleep was a gateway that frightened her.
She was not dead, our Derry. She married, had kids. Two, maybe three. She didn’t visit.
From Juno Loves Legs by Karl Geary. Used with permission of the publisher, Catapult. Copyright © 2023 by Karl Geary.