We’ve been here a year. Longest we’ve spent in any house. I’m still fascinated by it. I can’t quite believe it’s mine: an upstairs of my own, a bedroom for the children and a master bedroom for me and Paddy. What a strong feeling that idea had – a master bedroom – I am a mistress now. Not a maid of all trades in a drafty old barn of a place, stuck in the backside of Tipperary. Curtseying to an auld one. ‘Penny looking down on a ha’penny,’ as my mother said.
I opened my modern window. It was one pane; split into three panels and looked smart from the outside. The windows opened out. All you had to do was pick up the bar from the catch on the inside. No pushing and shoving up of belligerent sash windows that wouldn’t budge or listening to internal strings snap and shriek. At the end of my new garden was a mid height wall with a box hedge, in a row of boxed hedges. Broken only by small gates like commas, separating all the neighbours. In a new place the planners called suburbia. I stood by the window watching the icy green sea of the Malahide coast breaking on the shore like fizzing baking soda.
My daughters called like gulls to one another from the outside garden. Gusts of wind caught their voices like dusters and billowed the sound out, so it felt like they were surrounding me. My heart contracted when I looked at them. So many moves over their small lives, beds with no blankets, dinner tables with no food. Until I found my window. The house covered me in comfort, as though I were encased in down. Paddy gone to work and my girls giggled on the front lawn. I could taste happiness like sweet wafer, stuck to the roof of my mouth like communion on a Sunday.
My gate swung open. A stranger walked right up to my front door. I felt like a fuse someone had lit. Rage burned a hole in my insides. The Repo man. I knew it was him from the cheap houndstooth suit. A tight bowler hat wedged on his head and a badly put together great coat. Some hangover from the Emergency he thought gave him gravitas. It made him look like a blackened poker as he walked by the guillotine cut box hedges. He picked up the knocker on the letter box and rat-tat-tatted it like he was a favoured uncle. Looked at me as though I was a skivvy in my own home.
I didn’t answer the door. Stared at him through the window instead and called out from the top panel.
‘What do you want?’ I asked.
‘Man of the house, please.’
He might have said please, with his greased moustache that made him look like a talking lump of lard, but the only thing he sounded pleased with was himself.
‘Done a runner has he?’
‘Excuse me! Who do you think you are?’
My surroundings swung away from me. Fear rose up my throat and dropped my bottom lip, but wouldn’t let me speak.
‘I’ll have to ask you to move, ma’am. Take your belongings and leave.’ He had raw boned hands and kept his first two fingers tucked into his jacket. I could see these fingers moving, as they worried something in his pocket.
The air caught in my lungs and crystallised. An icy numbness had started in my head and was travelling down my body. This wasn’t the Repo man. The words had a well worn groove inside my mouth. ‘What has he done now?’
The man took the token he had been moving around his pocket out. A casino token.
‘Mr Clavin lost at cards in the Kildare Street club. He put this house down as collateral. Mr Clavin was all but blackened in the club recently, so my employer asked me to ensure the smooth transition of the house. You’ll have to leave, ma’am. You and the little ones.’
He nodded towards my girls. They stood straight like a row of damp mops glistening hair hanging down. A flat resignation kept them still.
‘Mr Clavin’s a civil servant, isn’t he, ma’am?’
I nodded. My husband worked in the Department of Finance and managed the Nation’s burgeoning new money. I would have laughed, if not for the thought of the children, boxes and shame I would be trailing to my mother-in-law’s house in a couple of hours.
‘Perhaps I should go and find him at his place of work? If you would prefer?’
I shook my head. I didn’t want a beating as well as an eviction. ‘Give me until 4pm.’
The man nodded and walked away.
‘Play,’ I said to the girls in a dry voice. I held my sobs in check and put them with the other unshed tears. This wasn’t the first time we had moved.