by Niamh MacCabe

So the pair of us are out the back garden, me and my sister, fooling with the dog. All the rest are inside: Mammy, most of the uncles, aunts, grandparents, some older cousins. Everyone’s speaking small and quiet, curtains neither closed nor open, curly-edged sandwiches, kettle hot, immersion on day and night. My sister hears the phone. She sprints into the house like a cat with its tail on fire, though I’ve never seen one, yet.

I never answer the phone. I can’t figure what people are saying and have to shout WHAT? and still don’t know what the hell they want so hang up and say nothing. Unless it’s Malachy. Usually I pretend I don’t know him and I’m all Excuse me who is this please calling the residence at this hour when people are busy watching Pink Panther on the television may I be of help Sir? And he says Yes Miss, am calling to see if anyone in your locality is interested in a bicycle trip to the shop tomorrow with their uncle as I appear to have some coins in my pocket which could need spending on sweets or other such items as may take someone’s fancy, if that may be of interest to somebody?

If he called now, if I answered, I’d talk straight to him, no messing, I’d tell him come back.

The others, the cousins and whatnot, have been staying over, eating odds and ends at weird hours, not all of them sleeping, at least not at the same time, showering at midnight, reading on the bottom step of the stairs, or creaking halfway up to just sit. Everyone’s waiting for something. They run in and out of hospital in relays to see Malachy, Malachy who taught me how to cycle, Malachy who plays The Dawning of The Day on a tin whistle through his nose, Uncle Malachy who has turned yellow, whose smile now looks like a sneer, who has stopped talking.

It’s just me and the dog. I’m pulling him around with a lump of rope he holds in his jaws. He’s growling soft, only half-serious. I’m growling back. We spin, hoping the other will hold on. He’s strong, but so am I, Deputy Dawg, so am I. My sister sticks her head out the backdoor.

-Hey! Come here! Come here immediately!

Strange this highfalutin immediately, and her swinging from the door, head stuck out, feet still inside, palm like a visor over her eyes, same as a film star.

-What? What d’ya want?

-Come here! Right now!

-No, YOU come here!

-I said come here! This minute! Mammy says so!

I let go of the rope and the dog slumps onto his backside. My sister waits until I am standing on the doorstep beneath her before she speaks.

-Malachy is dead. Uncle Malachy just died. In the hospital. Aunt Sal at his side. In his last moments. He died.

Her face is blank white, a slice of plain bread. She tilts her eyes down, hands together all serious as she delivers the big news.

-Sorry to say. Malachy is dead now. He is in eternal repose. Peacefully. Rest In Peace. R.I.P. Sorry to say.

She hangs her head and makes a slow Sign Of The Cross, barely tapping her shoulders. May the Lord have mercy on his immortal soul, may he rest in peace, amen, she whispers to the floor, a creak in her voice like the broken stair-step on the landing.

I stand gawking at her; at her hands, her face, her shoulders.

Nothing happens next.

She raises her eyes and stares hard at me. She parts us with the look, cuts us clear into halves.

-So? she says.

The dog barks. Just the once. That high-pitched solo squawk when he’s lonely and sick of waiting. I splutter out laughing; snorts, snot, tears, the works. I hide my face but that only makes it worse. My palms shake over my mouth, my sides split, my eyes stream.

I turn my back on my sister. She stands heavy as a statue on the threshold, the quiet sugary words Rest, Peaceful, Mercy twirling like a mad Holy Mary halo of sparky stars over her.

Sir Maul A Key, Or Eye Pee. He’s dead. Dead Wait Malachy upped and died, he’s gone and been doggone dead now, sorry for your trouble and God speed, dead as a doornail, dead Unck, dead Unck, Malachy has died.

Dublin-born, Niamh grew up in Paris, in north-west Ireland, and in Washington DC, where she graduated from the Corcoran School of Art. She worked in the Animated Film industry, returning to Ireland to raise her children. She began writing in 2014, and is currently completing an Honours Degree course in Writing and Literature.

Twitter: @NiamhMacCabe