What's My Tribe?
My tribe is a row of stones and oak saplings, marking the graves of three dogs, one cat and two chickens. The dogs lovingly carried in their blankets to the fresh wet earth, the chickens scraped on the end of a shovel.
My tribe is arguing about vaccines, and whether meat is bad for your health, and how to use the acre of land. But not about politics or history, where we only discuss.
My tribe is tracing its lineage back to a fifteenth century Polish earl, is fleeing the Nazis in 1939, is hiding the Republican Army from the Black and Tans in a fish shop in Clambrassil Street, is going over the trenches in no-man’s land to pull back wounded soldiers, and sniper fire be damned.
My tribe is two little girls walking thousands of kilometres to watch their mother die in Kazakhstan.
My tribe is building surveys, interior design, astrophysics, veterinary, landscaping, table waiting, school, and a gifted toddler being scared by uncle’s growling.
It’s mountain biking, chicken rearing, canvas painting, rock climbing.
It’s theatre tickets as Christmas presents. It’s fights so bad reconciliation is inconceivable.
It’s never having the time, and growing up pretending.
It’s crying at the kitchen table, and cars leaving in the night, and a decade of putting pieces together.
It’s laughing on a mountaintop, and a new business idea, and wishing we spoke polish (Przepraszam!).
My tribe is a house full of more books than you could read in a lifetime, and one Netflix account.
It’s weird like everyone’s, only mine is weirder.
My tribe is County Wicklow; Glendalough, Carrick Mountain, Avonmore House, the Sally Gap.
It was never GAA in Ashford, and only football in Roundwood to fit in.
My tribe is convincing her to take Elmo as a confirmation name, and laughing when the priest had to say it.
My tribe is dogs, washed in the bath. It’s decking rotting through. It’s half-painted gable walls. It’s flowers potted in old wellies and the guts of car tyres.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Shall I be Victoria or Vicky? she wondered. The question had been weighing on her recently. No doubt she would keep her soon-to-be-ex's surname, that was so much easier when you have a child. 'Ex', what a horrible word. Surely there was a better way to describe him.
She glanced at Sacha who was waiting expectantly for chocolate. 'I'm sorry darling, miles away. Antibacterial gel first, then biscuits. You have no idea who has touched what on this train. I don't think they ever clean it.'
Sacha ate her chocolate biscuit, leaning over the napkin to ensure the crumbs were caught.
Vicky, I'm going to be Vicky. Vicky unfolded the sheet of lined A4 paper from her floral handbag. She had memorised each of the eight houses listed, and had written them out in the order in which they were to be seen over the next two days. It would only upset Sacha to see pictures and floor layouts and prices. None of them were as pretty or as large as the house she had decided to leave.
'Will there be a trampoline in the new garden?' Vicky knew there wouldn't.
It was late afternoon by the time they reached the fourth house and Vicky's spirits were starting to fail. She was more concerned whether the Premier Inn they had booked would serve a decent white wine. She parked a few doors away and dropped her head to the steering wheel. The car was silent.
'Aren't you hungry?'
'No,' replied Sacha. 'I like that last house. They were nice.'
Vicky remembered the large slice of chocolate cake the couple had presented to Sacha. 'Our children have grown up, flown the nest, we're downsizing, this has been such a lovely family house.' And the freshly made coffee smell. And the trampoline in the garden, which looked brand new and too large for the space. How Sacha had managed to keep it all down after that was beyond her. Of course she wasn't hungry.
'Will they have chocolate cake here too?' she asked.
'I don't know if we - I think we'll give this one a miss.' There was something about this street that she didn't like. She trusted her gut feel and this wasn't where she wanted to live. She turned the ignition and the engine banged. She turned it off. 'Christ!' This was the last place she wanted to get stuck.
But it wasn't the engine, of course it wasn't, how could she have been so stupid? It was someone banging on her window. A man, with a woman leaning in to see. She pressed the door button to drop the window a few inches, just enough to talk but not far enough for the man to be able to grab her keys.
'We're down there,' the woman shouted. 'You've not gone far enough.' And Vicky had no choice but to get out with Sacha and follow the couple down to their fourth appointment.
A group of four children around Sacha's age were sitting quietly on the wall. They were somehow different from Sacha's current friends, although Vicky didn't understand how. Their clothes were older, the style different, they had a look of children who spent a large part of their lives outside.
'Daniel, he lives next door. Ali, she's across the road.' The woman was picking each child off on her fingers.
Vicky's heart jumped at the thought of Sacha crossing the road on her own.
'Gilly, she's Ali's best friend. And Doug, he's almost part of the family.'
Vicky arched her arm over Sacha's shoulder to draw her away. This would be the shortest possible viewing without being rude. The estate agent stood by the front door, waving at them, waiting to be useful.
But Sacha wriggled free whilst her mother's attention was distracted. 'I'm Sacha,' she said in a monotone, standing facing the group. She smiled. 'We're moving here from Bristol. To be near my gran.'
Victoria would have immediately told Sacha off for talking to strangers but Vicky was slightly more patient. She watched the stand off, assuming that Sacha would follow her inside the house after an uncomfortable pause. It was her favourite technique; Sacha never liked being left behind.
'We have frogs in our pond,' offered one of the girls. 'Want to see.'
'No,' interrupted Vicky.
'Yes,' said Sacha.
'Sacha, we have to -'
'It'll take two minutes. Then we'll bring her back to Mrs Johnson's house.' The girl was more confident than her height would have suggested.
'How old are you?' asked the girl.
'Eight,' replied Sacha.
'I'm eight too. So is Ali.' She ignored the boys.
It wasn't that Vicky let Sacha go, it was that she did nothing to stop her. Sacha didn't even look back as she followed the other children across the road and into the front garden opposite. Had the mother even told the daughter to be careful?
Just before she entered the house, Vicky looked back and saw all five children sitting by the pond laughing like she'd never seen Sacha laugh before.
We Blind Mice
I am labelled by a tongue
everywhere I find myself.
But scoured of skin I am a soul,
drawn blinkered through a maze of blinding light,
to leap the pool that held Narcissus rapt.
We journey toward our heart all down the years
and battle with inherited disgrace.
To be - is ball and chain;
one part only of a symphony,
as other songs are snowflakes on our lips.
Difference is beauty in a life,
but we have wrapped it in a flag and sold it cheap.
Gabbling as birds do in a coop,
strutting little boys and girls at play
becoming killers dressed in our own deaths.
Your tribe is mine,
and all my butchered meat is yours.
Say you love me and I'll say it back.
Fools are we who run amongst the hounds.
We're just the littered leaves,
and sun-bleached bones;
the patterns of the ermine - white and black.