We carry these wounds through memories with us throughout our lives
Hilary Fannin: After our family home was repossessed my siblings had to care for themselves
‘I lived alone with our parents after the family home was repossessed and my siblings were unceremoniously dispatched to care for themselves.’ Photograph: iStock
She stood to look out of the window at the top of the narrow wooden staircase and saw, beyond the garden, a wall of water. It was gargantuan, she told us, obliterating the horizon. She couldn’t see either of the islands or the stony stretch of beach that had always been there during the 40 years she’d been living in the railway house next to the inlet.
“I tried to wake him,” she said, referring to her husband. “And then I started looking for the Xanax. I thought if I’m going to drown, I should really take a tranquilliser first.”
We were walking around the park, my two sisters and I, the ancient trees dense against a pale sky, the sun running like yellow ink through high branches. It was almost warm.
One of my sisters lives abroad. I can’t remember the last time the three of us went for a walk together. Being the baby of the family, I insisted on being the navigator.
“You’re all right though. It was only a dream,” stated my emigré sister, the more pragmatic of the two, as we walked towards the herb garden.
“It know it was a dream, but it was so real that my arms are still hurting,” my tsunami sister replied.
I looked from one to the other. I’m used to being slightly baffled by them, these “Irish twins” born 11 months apart. (My brother joined them a year later, and I arrived a almost a decade after that.)
“You’re not allowed to pick the rosemary!” my tsunami sister said.
“Yes you are,” replied my pragmatic sister, who is also a cook. “Herbs are God’s presents to us.”
“God doesn’t give presents.”
“Yes he does.”
There was a man reading on a nearby bench in the winter sunshine, a little oriental-looking dog at his feet. The dog was wearing a knitted purple collar. I’d never heard either of my sisters, now in their late 60s, discuss God before, let alone listened to them debate the divinity’s view of garden herbs. I saw that the reader was wearing earbuds – maybe for the best.
We hide the past deep in our pockets, our stories as fragile as my sister’s pilfered rosemary
I lived alone with our parents after the family home was repossessed and my siblings were unceremoniously dispatched to care for themselves. I remember envying them their bedsit lives. I thought freedom was glamorous. I thought not having to go to school was enviable. I realise now that they were little more than children propelled into the adult world.
We carry these wounds with us throughout our lives. We hide the past deep in our pockets, our stories as fragile as my sister’s pilfered rosemary.
After leaving the herb garden, I led them along the stream and under the low bridge and then out on to the clearing where the trees are just beginning to bloom, cautious pink buds opening out to the light.
There were dogs in the park, happy dogs and bounding dogs, yappy dogs, dogs with sticks in their velvet mouths, and one big, slothful dog with a heavy black coat who made a great show of collapsing on to the grass like an exhausted actor.
A busy little Skye terrier trotted past us towards the park gates; officious, dependable, he looked like an under-secretary who was late for a meeting.
“Greyfriars Bobby!” my sisters said in unison.
“Greyfriars Bobby! Do you not know who Greyfriars Bobby is?”
“Greyfriars Bobby was a little Scottish terrier who wouldn’t leave his master’s grave.”
“Rain or snow.”
“Rain or snow, he lay there on his master’s grave. Loyal little Bobby, just lying there pining in the elements until he died.”
“The dog died of exposure?”
“He might have died of exposure but someone made him a straw bed under a tombstone.”
“Cheery.” I replied.
“He was a little dog who died of love. We were brought to the film in the Savoy for one of our birthdays.”
“We cried for days afterwards.”
“Before you were born she used to take the three us to the cinema on the bus on our birthdays,” said my cautious sister who had dreamt so vividly of the annihilating wave.
“Once when it was my birthday, I chose a ballet: Margot Fonteyn in a black tutu. Robert was so disappointed he lay down on O’Connell Bridge and pounded his shoes into the pavement.”
“The Guns of Navarone,” they said, again in unison. “All he wanted to see was The Guns of Navarone.”
We walked on. Ahead, two tiny little girls squabbled over a wiggly scooter underneath a sombre black chestnut tree, their miniature mouths spilling love and rage.