Kathryn Reynolds is from Galway and living in Barcelona. She teaches English while travelling. She loves writing and has tried her hand at different forms. She is currently taking poetry workshops with Over The Edge. She studied theatre in Sligo and Galway, and one of her plays was produced during the Jerome Hynes One Act Play Series in NUI Galway. She is going to have two of her poems published in April in The Incubator.
The Newly Secondhand Brownie
‘Sure you can’t see it.’
‘Lean in on that side. You can see yourself in the reflection there.
‘I can’t lift my neck up that high.’
‘Come in in front of Pete.’
‘How do I know if I’m even in it?’
‘You’re in it alright. Come on.’
The Brownie camera sat facing out the way onto the back garden. It was atop the high toilet window ledge at the back of the extension. Propping up the camera to get the height was an old blue Roses sweets tin and an even older red Rover assorted biscuits tin. The sweets tin was full of Mam’s sewing gear; the biscuit tin, every other small thing in the house that had never found a home. For fear they’d throw anything away.
While it faced onto the lawn, not that much of the garden could be seen for the heads leering into the lens from either side. If it had been in the picture, then immediately to the right would have been the hen shed. It was attached to a smaller shed, a room if you like, where the toolbox was kept up high. A toolbox that was more of a cardboard box that also stored the odd bottle of poteen, and of course the new lawnmower in pride of place just inside the door. Up the back to the left and behind the vegetable patch would be the Paddy house, where Paddy himself had once lived. Coming down the centre of the garden would be two homemade washing lines that had seen better days, beside them, one round one that swivelled with the wind. Bought for the Christmas last year. Lower and movable to make it easier on Mam’s back. She had given Dad one of those looks when he brought it into the kitchen from the shed.
‘Lovely wrapping,’ she said, and nothing more. He wordlessly nudged Madge to get the bottle of perfume he had left wrapped under the tree.
While all of this particular view was blocked, a bright October blue sky was not. It peeked into the eye of the camera through any available space it found amongst all the varying shades and silhouettes of ginger. There was never fear of either of the two lads going bald anyway. And the two girls had puffed up theirs with plenty of hairspray for the photo. The younger one’s was twice the size of the older one’s. The shame for the time she’d spent on it was that really only half of the hair got a look in the frame at any one time.
‘Pete you can’t just stand up. Lean down into it like you were a minute ago.’ Noeleen grabbed a hold of the top of his shoulder and tried to make him shorter.
Pete knocked her hand off with a harsh jerk of the arm. ‘Sure I didn’t even want to be in it in the first place.’
‘What time again did Mam say they’d be back from the McTighe’s?’ said Madge, who went to see if she could spot them coming up the boreen.
‘Doesn’t matter because I’ve to get on the road in ten minutes either way. Now, this time, is everybody ready?’
Tommy had come down from Dublin for the weekend to see the family. He made it a point to be down at the home house on the first Friday evening of every month and he stayed till after mass on the Sunday. His mother would always want him to stay on for the roast in the afternoon but as he always said, ‘It’s a long way back to Dublin.’
Neither of them liked to see him go, so sometimes Dad would take her up to McTighe’s for a small drop after mass while Tommy was getting on the road. But sure as day she’d have two cheese sandwiches laid aside for him in the kitchen along with a quarter of the curny bread wrapped in tinfoil to bring back to Dublin.
And he’d always say, ‘Ah Mam, you don’t have to, sure I’ll stop along the way.’
And she’d say, ‘Ah sure, I know. Just don’t let them two Offaly lads eat all the curny bread on you this time.’
And he’d say, ‘Mother, amn’t I always telling you, their Mam doesn’t make curny bread the way you do.’
She’d snort and give a half-smile.
Tommy was still enjoying the novelty of being the oldest O’Donoghue away in the big city. He had gotten himself a car before the summer so the neighbours knew, or assumed, that he must be doing alright for himself. He always brought a treat for his brother and sisters, sweets or caramels or something like that. This time instead of a treat he had brought down his newly second-hand Brownie camera. It had cost him a quarter of his last month’s wages in a little shopeen in Templebar.
He proudly took it out to show them all on the Friday evening, after the tea and before the game of cards. He took a few snaps while they were playing away. His mother shooed him away with her hand, vexed to be caught with her curlers in. His father hardly took any notice, positioned comfortably between the table and the range, his feet in thick holey socks, rested on the ash bucket in front of the fire and held a cigarette over the ashtray beside him. Pete, a dourer picture of his father, was watching every matchstick changing hands as though they were gold. The girls were coy at first, then started posing and sticking out their tongues. When they heard the clicks of the camera though, Madge was mortified and covered her face with her cards.
‘Stop, Tommy,’ said Madge, ‘I’m trying to concentrate.’
‘Go on, Tommy, take one of me,’ said Noeleen. ‘Here I won’t look at you now, I’ll make it look as though I’m really playing. Natural like.’
With a sigh he spent Saturday afternoon taking portraits of the neighbours that had heard about the newly second-hand camera up in the O’Donoghue household. ‘And didn’t the eldest fella buy it up in Dublin himself.’
His mother had been down to McTighe’s at the crack of dawn and had Deta McTighe told all about it and how it had cost nearly a half month’s wages. Sure Deta was only dying to see it. And the whole McTighe dozen, all twelve of them under fifteen, had been kitted out in their Sunday best by three o’clock for a nice photo in the living room. Try as he might he couldn’t get them to smile.
Up to Quinlan’s then to see his good friend Barney who came back down with Tommy to do a family portrait of the O’Donoghues as a favour. The O’Donoghues at least half-knew how to show their teeth, and there were a good sight less of them to fit onto the couch. That night it was back down to The Gap for the night for a few pints with the rest of the lads from school.
On Sunday morning Tommy had had his bag packed before they headed off to mass. One more cigarette and he’d finish his tea and he was nearly ready to go. Noeleen was onto him again about how they hadn’t got a decent photo of the four of them the night before. All the brothers and sisters together, she meant. And sure when would they get to do it again? She herself had been up since half seven doing her hair, and she was by no means letting him head off to Dublin if he hadn’t the thing taken.
‘I’ll get it the next time I’m down.’
‘You will on your hole. Come on.’
‘Give me two minutes, Noeleen, please.’ It would be a while before he’d bring the camera back down home again, that was for sure.
‘I’d say you’ve woken the beast there,’ said Pete from the couch. Noeleen walked over and gave him a clatter across the head before turning to face her oldest brother expectantly. At the same time standing just out of line of Pete’s foot.
‘Sure there’s no one to take it for us. There’s only the four of us here,’ said Pete as he rubbed his head.
‘Maybe we can get someone to come over and take it for us,’ said Madge as she shoved some more turf in on the range. She had been up early as well, and had sneaked out her Mother’s red lipstick when she knew she wouldn’t be home to see it.
‘It’s one o’clock now, Tommy, and you said, and Mammy and Daddy won’t be back from McTighe’s for a good hour at least,’ whined Noeleen.
‘I thought you were supposed to be feeding the hens,’ said Madge.
‘I am,’ said Noeleen. ‘I’m multitasking.’ She stayed stood beside her brother and followed him like a smell as he threw his cigarette into the ash bucket and stalked into the bedroom to pick up his canvas holdall bag.
‘Fine,’ he said, as he threw the bag beside the back door in the kitchen. ‘Fine. Go up to Barney’s and see if he can come down for five minutes.’
‘I did. And he can’t. He’s gone fishing for the day. It’s fine, we don’t need him. I have a plan.’ In the quick of a flash Noeleen had the camera gone from where it perched on the kitchen counter beside Tommy’s car keys and she was out the back door.
Tommy huffed once and then huffed again. With his hands on his hips he turned and looked behind him to where his brother was sprawled out on the couch still watching The Waltons.
‘Get up, Pete, and we’ll get this over with.’
‘I haven’t a feckin notion.’
‘Ya feckin have and ya will.’
‘Tommy, it’s ready.’
The two brothers came out the back door to find Noeleen steadying the camera precariously in front of the frosted glass on top of the aforesaid tins.
‘Where’s Madge?’ said Tommy.
‘She’s feeding the hens. I have her on standby. Now, if we all stand here… like this–’
Tommy cleared his throat, ‘And how do you plan on taking a picture like that?’
‘The same way as you do it the other way. Come on, you or Pete, just stick your arm out to the side.’
Pete with his hands shoved deep in his pockets blew out a deep sigh and raised his eyebrows.
‘Come on, Madge’, called Noeleen, ‘the hens’ll be grand.’
As Madge came out of the shed she wiped her hands on her apron and started to pull it over her head. She looked around the gable end. ‘No eh, no Barney?’ she said.
‘No. He’s gone fishing. Come on, stick your head in here. Now, Tommy, stick your right arm out there.’
‘I know how to work it. It’s my camera. Pete, lean down a bit further. Madge, go up on your tippy toes. Jesus, Noeleen, push your hair out to the side a bit more. There. Now, is everybody ready?’
‘Okay. Say something.’
‘I dunno. Cheese. Say cheese.’
Looks like Rain
Fresh as the day
Sea reflects and
Sky is happy
Look across to
The furthest line
Where angels play
Upon the shore
At closer glance
It turns and stares
Wave is rushing
Home ’fore dark
Close the shutters
Feels like rain
At the ground
Cling for seabed
Surge of ebb
Up from the roots
Last look down