Every Second Saturday by Carmel Keating
It is the Saturday of every second Saturday. Again. I’m sitting by the window. Again. Ready. Waiting. Again. The last to leave. Again. Sinead is sitting beside me on the window sill. We are both scanning while we chat. She is scanning the traffic. I am scanning the footpaths. Sinead’s mother is always late collecting her from Irish dancing. Not terribly late but a flustered, muddled, caught in traffic kind of late. It makes sense. Sinead is the oldest in her family. The first of five. Three sisters and one baby brother. She says she wishes she was an only child like me. I wish I had sisters like her or even one sister. I’m not greedy. Maybe a brother but I think I’d prefer a sister. A sister I could love, play with, watch the Disney channel with, fight with, make up with, hold hands with. Someone I could figure stuff out with. It is a deep, strange, lonely, longing that I have. To have someone to be in my world with me. I crave a sister but I’d settle for a brother.
I never tell Sinead this. I never tell anyone this not even Granny Sheila and she is my best friend. I don’t really know Sinead that well. She goes to a country school outside of town. She is just another girl like me, who goes to Irish dancing every Saturday. Two eight year olds, like coats in the school lost and found, hanging around, expecting their owners to come and take them away. Sinead is claimed first and I am left alone again. It is the way it always is, every second Saturday. I’m used to it.
I love dancing. When I’m dancing I don’t think about anything else. I count my one, two, threes. I concentrate on the music, the rhythm of the reel or jig, the steps. My legs move swiftly, naturally, almost as if the rest of me doesn’t matter. I bounce, I hop, I turn. I love it. I don’t think about what I can do to make Mammy happy. I don’t think about Granny Sheila getting older and dying. I don’t think about how Daddy is so different from Mammy and how sometimes I wish I lived with him. I don’t think about how these thoughts make me feel a sudden surge of shame and worry rising up inside me, flooding my chest, clamouring at my throat, smothering my heart.
I watch Sinead as she bundles herself, arms first followed by skinny legs, through the sliding doors of her mother’s car. It is double parked and holding up traffic. The people carrier carry’s her and her people down the road, around the corner, out of sight. Now it is just me and Fiona, my Irish dancing teacher. I know she is anxious about when I am going to be picked up. She is not really anxious for my sake. I think it is more to do with her having something better to be doing at a quarter to three on a Saturday afternoon than waiting with me.
Fiona is a nail biter. She is always nibbling her nails as she scrutinizes the dancers in each group, eyes intuitively sensing small mistakes, guiding each of us towards our own level of excellence. Fiona has a nail clenched between her teeth now. Her purple nail polish is chipped. Each finger nail has at its centre a shiny, shimmering island of purple, like plum jam. Each island of varnish is diminished, vanishing by degrees, eroded, like Ireland, being constantly belted and battered by the sea.
We learned about sea erosion this year in SESC. I like SESC as you get to find out about really interesting things like about wheels. The wheel is one of the greatest inventions ever. There was a time ages ago when people didn’t have wheels. I found that hard to believe. There are wheels everywhere. On my bike, on Sinead’s people carrier. Even my hola hoop is a sort of a wheel that I can make circles with using my waist, my arm or my leg. The best wheels are the ones on my roller blades. I stare out. I watch all the wheels rolling by the window. Still no sign of anyone for me.
The nail biting continues. Although Fiona is sitting still on the other window seat her eyes are darting and she is constantly checking her phone. Adults are always checking their phones. They must be afraid of missing something. An important piece of news. But what if they miss something important right in front of them? They never seem so interested in what is right in front of them. My mother is always checking her phone. While she is making the dinner, watching the telly, helping me with my homework, when I’m telling her a story, when we visit Granny Sheila’s, Mammy has her phone in her hand. It’s like the phone has put a spell on her, has hooked her. It always draws her in and leaves me on the outside.
I wish my other dance teacher, Susan, was here with me instead of Fiona. Susan is older, softer, less uneasy. Both of them are aware of my situation. Or as it is described my ‘delicate situation’, my ‘difficult situation’, my ‘sensitive situation’. Susan is never bothered about having to wait with me. Fiona is always bothered by it and her disquiet bothers me. Fiona I guess has better things to do like maybe meet her boyfriend. Susan is older so I suppose she doesn’t have better things to do. I like that Susan has time for me. It is what I like the most. Adults who have time for me, who make time for me. Like Granny Sheila.
‘Do you know who is collecting you today?’ Fiona asks after what is ages sitting by the window. She knows the answer. She is just being nice to me. ‘Is it Mam or Dad?’ She is trying to sound sweet but the impatience in her voice cannot be masked by the mild tone she has chosen as her disguise. I shrug my shoulders. Why answer an obvious question? I know this is irritating for her. I’m not being unhelpful, well not on purpose, just loyal. Her features don’t flinch, except for a small tightness around her lips. We both know it’s Daddy so I don’t know why we have to pretend. I’m sure it’s because of my ‘situation.’ Mam also knows Dad has forgotten and is waiting to receive the phone call. I imagine her peering at her screen as me and Fiona are staring out the window. Mam is the rescuer. Dad is the abandoner. She likes it that way.
‘Shall I ring Dad?’ Fiona suggests. I nearly hug her for being so insightful. Susan for all her goodness would always ring Mam. Granny Sheila says some people have a sixth sense about things. She referred to it as telepathy. Granny likes teaching me things other eight year olds don’t know. I forget most of the stuff she tells me. I don’t know why I remembered telepathy. It means you can read people’s minds. Granny says it’s a gift. I’d love to have that gift. Then I’d be able to read Mammy’s mind. I would know why she was so cross all the time. I could find out how to make her happy. Deep down I think I know already. Maybe Daddy coming home would make her happy. Maybe if Daddy wasn’t with Laura. Maybe if Mammy met someone who would treat her right. Maybe if Daddy wasn’t always so interested in the 2.50 at Doncaster or the 3.20 at Thurles she would be happy. Granny Sheila says Mammy was never happy even when she was happy. Granny says my Mam doesn’t know how to be happy. She has known my mother forever. Granny Sheila told me once that she loves my mother but that my mother is a very difficult person to love. I thought that was the saddest thing I ever heard. Even sadder than Elsa telling Anna to go away or when Olaf says some people are worth melting for. I wonder if I’m worth melting for?
Fiona is talking to Daddy. I can hear him apologise. He didn’t realise the time. He hadn’t forgotten his ‘wee princess’. He just got delayed that’s all. He’d be along in two shakes of a lamb’s tail or the blink of an eye. I can’t remember which. After she hangs up we continue to sit and wait for Dad to appear. I wish people could apparate, like witches and wizards. Then we’d never get held up. We’d be able to be wherever we needed to be quicker than a flicking lamb’s tail or a blinking eye. The phone rings. Fiona tells whoever it is that she’ll be along soon. She asks them to hang on, that she is still ‘here’. She doesn’t tell them why she is still ‘here’. No explanation given. Maybe the person on the other end doesn’t need this lateness explained. Perhaps they know about me already. When she hangs up she gives me a sympathetic smile. I hate sympathetic smiles. I get them alot. From the coaches at football, from the parents of my friends, from teachers. They all understand my ‘situation’. The situation of my parents hating each other. My Mam and Dad can’t pretend to not hate each other. Not even for me. They’re not good at disguises.
Susan never gives me sympathetic smiles. She just chats to me about dancing, school, friends, Christmas. This is why I wish Susan was here with nothing better to do instead of Fiona who should have been somewhere else ages ago. Except Susan would have phoned Mammy. Susan would have got Daddy into trouble.
Daddy eventually saunters along. He is so smiley, big, welcoming. Not a care in the world. He has no idea of the stress he causes others with his careless, absent minded ways. Fiona is having none of his light-heartedness, his happy-go-luckiness. She takes him aside with a face like barbed wire, sharp, spiky, not to be crossed. She speaks to him like a teacher to a bold child. It is strict and stern. Their private talk is done outside the door so I supposedly won’t hear. ‘Dancing finishes at 2.30. It is now 3.15. We are not a babysitting service, Mr. Geraghty. Lizzie is only eight and too young to be left waiting outside on her own. It is an inconvenience every time you are late collecting her. It is an inconvenience to me and especially to poor Lizzie. It is no fun for her having to watch every other little girl get picked up while she is always the last to leave…..” My cheeks are red. They are red because Daddy is getting told off and red because Fiona is not displaying any delicacy about my situation. I feel sorry for Dad the way Fiona is speaking to him. I feel embarrassed for myself to be spoken of in this way. But I am also strangely grateful to Fiona for telling the truth, even if that truth is hurting me right now. Fiona says other stuff. I tune out. I’ve heard enough.
Daddy just smiles back at her. Grinning. I don’t think he has taken on board any of her harshness. Her scolding just drifts over him. He is unchanged. Still smiling. Still relaxed with his hands in his pockets. Still in good humour. Winking over at me. He doesn’t make excuses. Doesn’t try to defend his lateness. Doesn’t seem to feel guilt at the sin of forgetting his only child. Again. ‘Sorry Fiona love. I promise it was a once off. It won’t happen again. Sure Lizzie is the light of me life. The apple of me eye. This is the last time. I swear. I’ll be the first here next time. You can be sure of it…”Fiona knows, I know, Mammy knows this is not true. It will happen again. It will happen the Saturday after next when it is Daddy’s turn to have me. Irish dancing will be finished and he’ll be held up with Paddy Power. He’ll get delayed shopping with Laura. Susan or Fiona might ring Daddy. Or they’ll probably ring Mammy. Either way I will be left waiting again. It’s the way it always is, every second Saturday.