‘Mary,’ Ma shouted up the stairs, ‘there’s somebody at the door for you.’
‘Just send them up,’Mary said, as if she was expecting an army, or navy, or biker gang, because that was cool either way. Her reply was muffled because her head was pulled down and her red hair stretched out on the ironing board, with brown paper over it, as she tried to iron out her curls, and smoke a fag at the same time.
‘Just you go up hen,’ Ma said. She had already made that decision before Mary had answered, because it was only wee Fiona.
Fiona was the scrag end, the runt of a big McLeary litter. Just when Mrs McLeary thought they were finished with all that kind of thing, Fiona had popped up. Spoiled rotten Ma called her. But that might have been an overstatement given that if the first words a child learns is no, no, no, Ma had countered with yes, yes, yes, in Mary’s case.
Wee Fiona, however, really was wee. She was only four foot eleven, with long brown hair and features like a doll. She always wore all the latest kit, so it was no surprise some people called her Barbie, behind her back. No one would have said it to her face. Not because they were scared of her, because that would have been like being scared of a field mouse, but her brothers were a different story. Everybody knew everybody else and word might have got back to them.
Ma had sat in the front room while Michael McCleary had rocked back and forth in chair in front of the hearth and spat out all kinds of bile about killing the local bobby for disrespecting him. Ma’s knitting needles did more talking than her, but when PC Murphy, a good enough boy for that kind of job, had walked past, Michael had jumped up and pulled a cleaver out of the back of his coat. Ma was quicker picking up the white-hot poker out of the range and hitting his hand so that he dropped it, clanging to the floor.
‘I’ll have none of that nonsense in my house,’ she said.
Ma may have looked frail, but her forearms could match many a man’s from the number of washings she’d done over the years, beating out sheets and rolling out enough water to fill the Clyde bucket. She gripped him by the hem of his overpriced jacket and hustled him out the front door.
‘Come back for that toy of yours, when your sober,’ she’d added.
Michael still proudly showed the burn, like a gunshot wound to Mary years later, with the words, ‘your Ma’s- some Ma.’
Wee Fiona sat on Mary’s bed and smoked a fag and listened to The Beatles LP on stereo, whilst she waited for Mary to finish her ironing. She didn’t like the Beatles, thought they were too Beatley.
‘I think you’ve burnt something,’ Fiona finally said, but it was only half-hearted, an old joke that they had between them when Mary had said that there was nothing burning, it’s only my hair, the first time she’d did that.
‘I’ll not be a minute,’ said Mary.
She always said that, even though she buzzed up and down the stairs in and out of the kitchen, made tea, put her make-up on, took it off because she didn’t like it, went to the corner shop and came back again with a packet of fags, unwrapped them and smoked about three of them, all before the Lonely Pepper’s Heart Club band had made any kind of dent into their hearts. The whole night could have gone on like that-and it usually did- if wee Fiona hadn’t burst out greeting.
‘What’s the matter hen?’ Mary said, sitting beside carefully down on her bed, so as not to crease the new skirt she’d just ironed and flinging her arms around wee Fiona and pulling her in close enough, so that she was almost breast feeding.
‘Have you split up with Finlay again?’ she said, her words dripped with so much empathy that they brought tears to her eyes and she was greeting as well.
‘Aye,’ spluttered Fiona, burying herself in Mary’s breasts and rocking back and forth on the bed as the two of them blubbered up a new storm.
‘You’re far too good for him anyway,’ said Mary.
She said that because Fiona was good and kind and beautiful and had always been her best friend. But it wasn’t just that. She also knew she good taste. And Finlay was a filthy wee arsehole that thought he looked like Elvis and had tried to kiss her a few nights before. The final deciding factor was that she was getting bored with all this roaring and falling about greeting about him. He wasn’t worth it. And she quite fancied cheese on toast.
‘That isn’t the worst of it,’ spluttered Fiona.
They were sitting side by side on Mary’s bed. ‘Ah no,’ said Mary, suddenly dry- eyed and wondering if they had any cheese left in the fridge.
They heard the thud of Ma’s footstep coming up the stairs. She pushed up the door with one foot and barged through placing a tray with two mugs of tea, a bowl of sugar and a half filled pint of milk on the ironing board.
‘Thank’s Ma,’ said Mary.
‘Thanks Mrs Russell,’ said Fiona.
The sniffle in her words alerted Ma and she peered at Fiona. ‘Are you alright hen?’ she said.
‘Fine Mrs Russell,’ said Fiona.
‘Have we any cheese Ma?’ asked Mary.
‘No. I don’t think so,’ said Ma, ‘I’ll just go downstairs and check. You want me to go over to the shop and get some?’
‘No thanks,’ said Mary, ‘I need to go over there anyway before it shuts. And thanks for the tea,’ she added.
‘Thanks for the tea,' chimed Fiona.
Mary balance the tray between them on the bed. As she poured tea for both of them she patted her on the hand and said, she hoped for the last time, ‘I’m sorry about you and Finlay.’
‘I’m not sorry at all,’ said Fiona, ‘I hate him.’ She put down her cup and saucer so that she could bend over and cry.
Mary stirred her tea and nipped at one of the Digestive biscuits Ma had left on a plate.
‘I never want to see him again,’ said Fiona.
‘Neither do I,’ hazarded Mary, sipping at her tea.
‘You don’t understand,’ said Fiona.
‘I know. I know,’ replied Mary, trying to work out if there were more calories in one Jammy Dodger than two Digestive biscuits.
‘I’m pregnant,’ said Fiona.
Mary dropped her cup and saucer and the whole tray went flying off the bed and landed on the floor. They looked at each other. Mary nodded her head as if that helped take it in, but Fiona knew that her mind would already be whirling and planning and thinking ahead. And that’s what she felt she needed.
‘There’s no point in crying over spilled milk,’ said Mary, her head nodding down at the mess on the floor. She smiled.
Fiona smiled back, it felt as if it was the first time she’d smiled since she’d done the test.
‘I’ll need to get a mop,’ said Mary, bounding up and springing down the stairs.