The Week Off
As soon as I came downstairs I could tell it was the week off. I’m not just saying because it was very dark and I was a bit afraid. It was the smell that came from the dark. It was a smell you could taste too, and a feeling to the dark, just like the feeling from the old velvet jacket that got wet when the dog peed on it after granny gave it to us for dressing up.
But I’m only eight and I don’t know what to do when the week is off. If mam was up she would know. Like the way she takes fish or something from the fridge and says straight away “That’s the fish off”. She would then drop it in the bin, but you can’t drop a whole week in the bin.
I sat on the bottom step to think, and with the week off I think there is a smell on my clothes. I close my eyes and stroke the wet velvet. Then I smack my lips together several times and it tastes like the smell of granny’s house. When I got to eight I was allowed to get my own breakfast. I usually get cereal from the press and milk from the fridge, or sometimes I make toast and I’m sure not to burn myself. But I don’t know now. I should have listened to mam properly. Last night she was talking to dad about it.
‘What are you going to do with the week off?’ dad asked.
‘I’m just going to stay in bed,’ is what she said. But I was busy using “twenty best apps that help your kid get smart”, which mam had downloaded for me, and didn’t ask what I should do with the week off. With the week off does that mean everything is off?
If mam stays in bed who will know what to drop in the bin? I don’t think dad knows.
‘I think that ham is off,’ mam would say.
‘Ah, its fine’ dad would say, continuing to make a sandwich and mam would move her shoulders the way adults do.
Then I started wondering if people could be off.
‘I’ve gone right off her’ mam would say about a friend, and then she would find another friend until she went off.
I am lucky because my bestest friend has never gone off. I wouldn’t like it if she was stinky the way it is now with the week off. Then I thought of my dog Alfie. He is white and mam says he is a Bison. She wrote it down and I learnt to spell it. He sleeps in the utility room and he hasn’t started barking like he usually does when the first person comes into the kitchen in the morning. Maybe he’s just very tired or maybe he’s gone off.
Because I don’t really know what to do with the week off I start making up prayers. First I pray to holy God, and then to the tooth fairy and then to Santa. I sit on the step and wait for the prayers to work. Then Alfie starts barking mad, but with the week off all around me I stay where I am. Mam comes out on the landing and when she looks over the bannisters she sees me sitting on the last step.
‘Milly, what are you doing sitting in the dark at six o’clock in the morning?’ she says, and then she comes downstairs in her dressing gown.
‘Just one week where I don’t have to get up real early for work. When was the last week off?’ she asks me but I don’t remember. She rushes past me to let the dog out so that he will stop barking.
‘Is it just this week that’s off, mam?’ I ask as I follow her.
‘Of course it’s only the one week. Next week is back to normal.’ Mam is very cross but I’m just glad that the week off will finish on Sunday. Then dad comes out on the landing because of the dog barking mad and mam shouting.
‘So much for a lie in on the week off,’ she says up to him when he leans on the banisters and yawns.
‘Is that the best thing to do with the week off mam? Just stay in bed until it goes away?’
‘Yes, unless you get taken off to somewhere the sun is shining all the time,’ she says looking up at dad. Dad moves his shoulders and then goes back to bed, scratching his bum the way he tells me not to.
‘Go back to bed Millie,’ she says as she follows dad.
I pick up Alfie and go back to my bed. When I sniff Alfie he smells fine so I pull the covers over our heads and hide from the week off.
Strange, not to work, and to see others not working. The surfaces are without a speck, and everyone looks so utterly dazed. If this is relaxation, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.
Tried sleeping past the waking hour. Just vexed myself, so got up. Had a bath. Didn’t like my skin so puckered, so got out. Relieved myself, exited my chamber and tried fraternising with the other resters. Nothing in common. Returned to chamber.
We work, we work, we work, and now we’re expected to rest. Feel I had more time. Mustn't complain, mustn't question.
Ate the meat of the fat animal. Must admit, it beat the mush of the daily feed. Played hell with the digestion though.
Met woman. Name of Eledith. Eyes filmed as if blind, yet felt she could see to my very core. We exchanged roles. Hers was as midwife: 3424 little ones delivered over a twenty-six cycle span. Told her of mine in the mines: dig, extract, dispose, repeat. 'Must get grubby, toiling under the mud,' she said. I agreed. 'Must get messy, with the mucous and the blood?' I asked. She agreed. I asked her how she felt about the reckoning. She became cagey, so I changed subject. Asked her how it felt to have brought so many lives into this world. 'If I didn't do it, someone else would have,' she said. 'Can't argue with that,' said I.
Slept with Eledith. She cried on and off throughout the night. Wanted to ask her to return to her own chamber, but felt was untoward. On waking this morning she was gone, just a crumple in the sheets on the other side of the bed to say she was ever there. On the plus side I awoke with the first say of sun peeking into the window. Seems I'm adjusting to this enforced relaxation.
Must admit, the leisure time means more time to think. Take solace in the thought that once I'm processed I won't have to worry about my place in this whole damned mess.
I took a swim earlier. Felt anxious to be exposed to so many people at once, but it looked a lot were feeling the same. Forced myself to ignore and enjoy. Must say the sensation was wonderful.
Looked for Eledith. She wasn't in the common common areas or the luncheon room.
Stayed in bed all day. Barely raised myself to write this. So little time.
I surmise Eledith has been processed. I looked for her anyway, but to no result.
I ate, I ate, I ate: the meat of the non-flying bird, and the meat of the large grass-eater and the meat of the fat animal again. Felt swollen and slept while the sun was up.
Thought of time passed, and decided I'd do once again. Was hard and weary but at least there was a pulse in my veins.
Little to write.
Perhaps there is something after this.
This hadn’t always been the case; she had once had a life of her own in England, but then her mother died when my mum was just a toddler, forcing Anne to abandon her carefree life and return home to help raise her siblings. And when they`d left home to have lives and families of their own; she stayed behind to look after my grandfather.
And that’s how things remained until granddad passed away when I was seven; it was from that point on, until she took her own leave of this world, that she came to stay with us.
Every Christmas eve at around fiveish, Dad would go and collect her from Greenmount, delivering her to our front door with absolutely no fanfare, (their relationship could best be described as; tolerable) but to the utter delight of her five, and one day, six, nephews.
A severe looking, and severe woman, auntie Anne wouldn’t hesitate in giving any of us a slap if she felt we were deserving of it, but if Anne smacked you you knew you`d earned it, so none of us held it against her. She was an inveterate and unapologetic chain-smoker, invading a house where nobody else smoked, soon reducing the atmosphere to something akin to a London Peasouper, a fact that drove my parents insane, but bothered none of the rest of us a bit.
What was so special about Anne`s annual visit was the safety that arrived with her. Her older sister was the only person in the world my mother was afraid of. And though Anne knew what her baby sister was capable of, and how regularly she did it; she knew also that in the holy catholic Ireland of the sixties, she was powerless to do anything about it.
So for one whole week a year she did the only thing she could to keep us safe. Safe from the wooden spoon, the rolling ping, the sweeping brush, or whatever weapon was closest to hand whenever our mother “lost it”
But most of all we were safe from the rubber hose she kept in her bedroom, the one she used when she hadn’t “lost it” but had had an opportunity to think about what she was about to do. We always knew that moment, it was like a pressure change in the air, you know, like the feeling you get when you can sense the thunder storm approaching. Each of praying `don’t let it be me, please don`t let it be me.`
And there is a certain level of guilt that goes with hoping it`s not you, knowing that in doing so you`re damning one of your brothers.
You always hear how Christmas is a time of peace and goodwill to all men, well that was a week of peace for us, though not so much on the goodwill. And I will always celebrate Christmas, though I have long been an atheist, because for me it will always be that, a time of peace, a time when my brothers and I got the week off.