The silence spread her wings once more – not to fly, but to include us all in her cumbersome embrace. Only after finishing her plate Mum decided to break her again.
‘I read they sighted another UFO in Wicklow, and that they found more crop circles as well. It seems that an extraterrestrial culture very similar to ours is trying to get in contact with us and learn about our way of life.’
‘Don’t be so naďve,’ I told her. ‘If they are anything like us, we will disappear from the face of the planet before we know what hit us! When the Romans came to Britain, the Europeans came to America and the Jews came to Palestine, did they say, “Good morning, we come from far away, and we would like to learn about your culture, trade with you and establish a relationship of mutual respect and friendship”? - No, they simply bashed their heads and took their country! And if these aliens are anything like human beings, they’ll do exactly the same.’
‘Dee,’ Dad remarked, ‘I told you that all this life-on-other-planets stuff is nonsense. It’s scientifically impossible there’s life anywhere except on Earth!’
‘You’ve always been quite a rationalist,’ I commented. ‘You only believe in the creature that came out of nowhere, shaped the world in six days and keeps a detailed record of ten billion people.’
After dessert, it was Cindy who ended the silence with the question we had avoided so far, but which was burning on our tongues since my parents had arrived.
‘What brings you here?’ she asked as she removed the plates.
‘Well, first we wanted to take the car, but Pat doesn’t like driving in the rain, so we came by bus.’
Dad didn’t pay attention to her. He just sighed again, paused for a moment and then told us, ‘You know the state of my health is not the best, and my GP has suggested to send me to the spa for a fortnight.’
‘Yes?’ I encouraged him to continue.
‘Well, obviously I can’t leave her’ – he nodded in Mum’s direction – ‘on her own, and I was wondering if you could look after her while I’m away.’
Cindy’s eyes grew wide with rejection.
‘Can’t she go as well?’ I wanted to know.
‘Actually,’ he replied and scratched his chin, ‘she is a major part of the problem – as you can imagine.’
‘I don’t know,’ I hesitated. ‘We both are working, and I’m not sure if we can afford a babysitter...’
‘You could each take a week’s holidays,’ he suggested.
‘We are planning to go to India in the summer,’ I told him, ‘and we wanted to take all our holidays then.’
‘Don’t be ungrateful,’ he pleaded. ‘Your mother and I were always there for you!’
‘It’s his heart,’ Mum butted in. ‘The doctor told him a transplant would be his best bet, but he’s too shy to ask you to donate yours.’
I pretended to think about the matter, then slowly shrugged my shoulders and finally gave in while watching Cindy’s face displaying pure horror.
‘Can I bring Mimi?’ Mum asked.
‘Definitely not - there’s no way I’m having that smelly mutt in my house! If God had wanted dogs on this planet, he would have created them himself.’
‘I don’t understand why you don’t like dogs. Mimi is so cute when she’s there on all fours, looking at you with her big eyes and licking your hand...’
‘I have someone to do that already,’ I replied and winked at Cindy, ‘and I don’t have to worry where she had her tongue before.’
After my parents had left, Cindy gave me a dirty look and hissed, ‘These people have screwed up your life! You have avoided their presence since you moved out of their house, and you didn’t even want to invite them to the wedding. They’re awfully annoying, and on top of that, your mother has completely lost the plot. And now you invite her to stay with us for two whole weeks? What the hell were you thinking of?’
‘Revenge, honey,’ I whispered in her ear. ‘Revenge!’
When Mum arrived, it looked like she was moving in rather than visiting. She seemed annoyed that neither of us gave her a hand with the luggage, but she didn’t say anything.
I showed her the guest room and left her for a few minutes to unpack her suitcases. Then I burst into the room to check what she was doing.
‘You frightened me!’ she gasped after she caught her breath. ‘You should knock at the door before you enter!’
‘We have no secrets in this house,’ I explained.
‘But I could have been undressing myself!’
‘Nothing I haven’t seen, Mum,’ I replied and looked above her bed where she had hung a crucifix and a few pictures of saints.
‘We don’t allow dead men hanging on our walls,’ I told her. ‘Take that off!’
‘But it’s our saviour!’ she insisted. ‘I pray to him five times a day!’
‘In this house we don’t tolerate idolatry,’ I set her straight. ‘If you want to stay here, you’ll take them off at once!’
‘But the Virgin Mary...’
‘We’ve never had a virgin in this place, and we certainly won’t start now!’
As she reluctantly took down her pictures, she mumbled, ‘May the Lord punish you for this...’
‘I’m afraid he has no jurisdiction in Ireland any more. I know you don’t follow the news, but even you should have realised that the Church have lost this country to the Baksheesh Syndicate years ago.’
A short while later she unpacked the one vinyl she had and put it on the record player without asking permission. I went over, switched it off and handed it back to her.
‘We’ll have no music of that sort in this house,’ I told her.
‘But it’s Daniel O’Donnell,’ she replied. ‘Surely you can’t have anything against My Donegal Shore!’
‘I certainly do,’ I informed her, ‘and always did since you first played that record twenty years ago.’
In the evening Mum put on her coat and walked towards the door.
‘And where do you think you’re going?’ I inquired.
‘Bingo night,’ she replied. ‘It’s on every Saturday!’
‘You’re gambling?’ I asked her and threateningly placed myself in the doorframe.
Mum got nervous. ‘It’s just meeting a few friends and having a bit of fun,’ she stammered. ‘There’s nothing wrong with that.’
‘Let me be the judge of that,’ I replied. ‘I will not let my mother become addicted to the vice of gambling and lose all my money.’
‘But I’ve got my own money...’
‘We won’t discuss this any further, Mum! Take off your coat and go to your room!’
Later that evening she silently sat in front of the telly and watched a game show.
‘You have €10,000,’ the host said to one of the contestants. ‘Will you hold on to it, or will you try to double it with the next question at the risk of losing it all?’
‘I think I’ll hold on to it – with €10,000 I’ll be able to go to Vegas with my wife.’
‘True,’ the host replied, ‘but with €20,000 you’ll be able to go to Vegas without your wife!’
‘Time for bed, Mum,’ I reminded her.
‘But it’s only ten,’ she claimed defiantly. ‘It’s too early to go to bed!’
‘That’s for me to decide,’ I answered and switched off the TV. ‘You’ve got two minutes in the bathroom, and in five minutes I want to see you in bed and the lights switched off!’
She grudgingly wobbled off and mumbled a curse, but I pretended not to hear it.
The following day we were woken by the Sunday Mass. I stormed into Mum’s room where she was playing it on the radio at full blast.
‘Turn that down, Mum,’ I ordered her. ‘It’s ten o’clock in the morning - the neighbours are trying to sleep, and so are we!’
With an antagonistic look she turned down the volume and muttered a fairly unchristian request concerning my immediate future.
‘Can I go out today and do a bit of shopping?’ she asked at the dinner table.
‘Just tell us what you need, and we’ll get it for you,’ I replied.
‘Actually, I’d just like to get out for a bit, look at the shops, maybe have a coffee somewhere...’
‘Coffee, eh?’ I remarked sarcastically. ‘And what happens if you get lost?’
‘I may forget a thing or two, Richard,’ she said, ‘but I won’t get lost. I grew up in this town, and I do know my way around.’
‘Well, if you promise to look after yourself and be home by six, we might chance it. And while you’re at it, get us a pack of cigarettes on your way back, will you?’ I asked her and gave her the money.
When she came home in the evening, her clothes were ripped, her solemn face was adorned by a big black eye, and she was moving with a serious limp.
‘Help me,’ she whimpered, ‘I was attacked!’
‘Where’s your purse?’ I demanded to know.
‘It was taken from me,’ she replied. ‘Four youngsters pushed me to the ground and took it off me.’
‘And what did you do to them?’
‘I didn’t do anything. I have never seen them before; they just attacked me out of the blue!’
‘Yeah right,’ I mumbled. ‘Four young men just stand at a street corner and wait for an old hag to pass by, push her to the ground and rob her purse, without any apparent reason.’
‘That is exactly what happened,’ she replied in a very argumentative voice. ‘Why won’t you believe me?’
‘Because I don’t know any people who just attack old ladies out of nowhere. You must have done something to provoke them!’
‘I didn’t,’ she cried.
‘Sure,’ I said dismissively. ‘So where are my cigarettes?’
‘They were in the purse,’ she sighed.
‘The one time I let you leave the house you manage to get yourself attacked and lose my cigarettes,’ I complained. ‘Can you see now why I didn’t want you to go?’
She looked to the ground and whispered, ‘Yes’.
‘Sorry, I didn’t hear you. Was I right, Mum?’
‘Yes,’ she repeated a little louder.
‘I’ll go get the cigarettes myself,’ I said. ‘And the money will be taken out of your allowance!’
As she limped towards her room, I held up a bottle of Bailey’s and called her back.
‘By the way, Mum, what is that?’
She stared at me in disbelief. ‘Have you been going through my things?’
‘Of course I have! As long as you are staying in our house, we have a right to know what’s going on, and even you should remember what the doctor told you about your drinking problem.’
She was almost in tears as she watched her precious liqueur being poured down the kitchen sink.
As they say, time flies when you’re having fun, and Cindy came to enjoy my little vengeance trip as much as I did.
The final weekend was approaching, and Mum was desperate to go home. As a matter of fact, every morning she woke up she believed it was her last day.
On Saturday she seemed even more excited about leaving than she usually was, and her volunteering to go to bed early didn’t really fit in with her mood. When I checked on her later on, I found her bedroom door locked – something I had explicitly forbidden. When I demanded entry, she just screamed that she wanted to sleep and asked me to leave her in peace.
Getting suspicious, I walked out of the house and into the back yard. About thirty minutes later, the lights in her room went on. After five more minutes the room was in darkness again, and the window was quietly opened.
There was Mum in her full Bingo attire, climbing out of the window like an adolescent teenager on her way to that secret date.
‘Going anywhere?’ I asked her.
‘Jesus, you startled me!’ she shouted. ‘What are you doing here in the middle of the night?’
‘I may ask you the same question, Mum,’ I replied. ‘Actually, that’s exactly what I’m here for!’
‘I just wanted to see my friends’, she said.
‘And waste our money on gambling, and probably pissing off some young lads again on your way home. Get back in the house!’
She reluctantly went inside, sat down and switched on the telly.
‘What are you doing, Mum?’
‘I’m watching the television, since I’m not allowed to go out...’
‘You said you were tired, and the only place for tired parents is the bed,’ I lectured her and pointed to the door.
‘You’re mean!’ she screamed, went off in a huff and slammed the door after her.
‘This is my last day here, isn’t it?’ Mum timidly asked at the breakfast table next morning.
‘This time it is,’ I reassured her. ‘I hope you enjoyed your stay!’
I did not expect a reply, and I certainly didn’t get one – well, that’s if you don’t count the hostile look I got from her.
She seemed in a very good mood all morning, until Cindy put the dinner on the table.
‘That’s chicken with cashew nuts, isn’t it?’ Mum complained.
‘Well spotted,’ I replied.
‘You do know that I’m allergic to nuts,’ she hissed at me.
‘As a guest, you can’t be fussy about your food,’ I informed her.
‘I’m allergic,’ she repeated. ‘I want something else!’
‘As long as you put your feet under our table, you will eat what we put on it, or you won’t eat at all!’
I amusedly emptied her plate on mine while watching her stamping off to her room.
In the afternoon, Cindy and I were busy in the garden. After we were finished, we came back to the living room which we found empty despite the Fair City Omnibus running on full volume.
‘What could keep her from watching that?’ I asked Cindy.
‘Maybe she’s on the toilet.’
‘She always goes before it’s on, just in case.’
We solved the puzzle as we went into the kitchen where Mum had just raided the fridge. She gazed at us with a guilty look as she swallowed the last bit of a raw sausage.
‘What are you doing?’ I wanted to know.
‘Well, I was hungry...’
‘Then you should have eaten your dinner, shouldn’t you?’ I said and slapped her across the face. ‘We’re civilised people in this house, and we do not stuff our faces in front of the fridge like some deranged ape!’
As she huddled in the corner and wept quietly, the phone rang.
‘Oh, hello... that sounds good... of course, no problem at all.’
‘Who was that?’ I asked Cindy.
‘Your father,’ she said. ‘He’s staying for another week...’
On this occasion, the tiny voice of my mother turned into a giant roar that was easily able to waken the dead: ‘Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!’