The prompt is to open my current book to page 39 and start from the first line there. The book I just started is I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I ended up coincidentally also responding to KHP’s request for more writing about Ireland.
“Little did I think what the evening was to bring—
something has actually happened to us!”
Little did I think what the evening was to bring–something has actually happened to us! We were sitting around the stove, not the Stanley range in the kitchen where Mom does the cooking, but the French stove in the living room. It’s not our real living room, where we eat and play cards at the long table that is really two tables nailed together, and where we hang out all of us together, sometimes watching TV or trying to distract Dad from his magazines or dancing to Michael Jackson songs on the threadbare rug. No, we were in the other living room, the one where Mom takes guests when they come to visit—unless they’ve come to eat, like the Hogan family who has seven kids like us or Fr. Manning who drives up from Limerick and always asks Mom to make her special fried chicken.
The other living room, where we do not eat, has the French stove, which is quite fancy, I suppose, because we are not allowed to touch it, and not just because it’s hot. We can’t go near it when it’s cold either; I suppose it’s delicate with its pretty little legs at the end and the metal that isn’t as hard as the metal on the Stanley that makes a heavy clang sound when Mom is opening it or putting pots on it. In the Stanley, the turf goes in beneath and the potatoes boil on top. We use coal in the French stove; it burns longer and is cleaner and more tightly packed, but my brother says it’s made of the same stuff as turf. Turf breaks if you bang it on something or throw it, but Dad yells at us not to do that—except when we have to once a year to move it from the big pile the truck dumps onto the driveway into the shed with three walls. The shed is right next to the driveway, and I don’t know why they can’t dump it in directly, but they can’t, so we have to move the pile in, brick of turf by brick of turf. It’s fun for a while, getting the turf in, tossing it over and making a game of it, before it becomes hard work and we’re tired and we have to keep doing it anyway until it’s all in.
But before it’s work, it’s fun, especially when we’re all there doing it together. I can’t do as much because I’m the youngest except for my little sister, J., who’s still only little, and everyone tells me to get out of their way so they can throw it quickly without hitting me, so I have to stay in one spot to help, and that isn’t as much fun. One year my brother, D., even made a fort with the turf, building turf walls and paths through the shed, and we thought it’d be great to keep it like that and have a real fort instead of just the tree-house that isn’t really a tree-house and anyway Miley’s son let his cows go through there, ruining our mud walls and even trampling the table we’d made from the old wood we found behind the shed. But Dad says no and what are you doing and the turf won’t fit if you have paths everywhere and we’re not leaving it out in the open for the rain and where would we park the van? And I think we could park the van anywhere, there’s miles of nothing around for it to sit on, but Mom says Dad’s right and then after he’s gone back into the house, she says it’s ok, we’ll make a space in the garage for a fort, and it was a great idea to try it, and you did a very good job building it this much.
In the living room, the proper one and not the real one, that is, we also have the nicer couch and the piano that my sister, D., plays and I tried to play once, but I only got lessons from her a few weeks because she only made me do scales up and down, up and down, and it wasn’t even songs, and I kept staring at my nails that were all bitten down while I was doing the scales, and it made me mad because Mom tells me I have to stop biting at them for two weeks, only two weeks, and they’ll be right as rain, only I can’t ever get to two weeks, and I don’t want to look at my nails or do scales anymore. I’d rather go outside and see if I can get around the house on the rock walls without stepping once on the ground. Even though I’ve never done it yet, I think I will soon, and it’s only the part where the trees grow over the corner and getting over the whole gate, even the skinny swinging part, that’s hard. Sometimes I jump off on purpose and skip up the front walk, past the purple flowers and three steps up and on to the big old church pew we have in front of the house, which sits right in front of the wall my oldest brother, C., built (with D’s help of course). I don’t like the wall; there used to be a second front door there—because our house is an old school-house, and there were two front doors, I guess to keep the classes separated and orderly like the nuns like to keep us at the convent school—and I liked to play in the covered alcove as if it were my own little house, but Mom says we never used the door and now the alcove space is gone but really it’s inside the wall now, and that’s where my sister’s piano goes. I don’t know if it’s her piano really, only she’s the only one who plays it, and she is very good, and I suppose that makes it hers. It’s not mine, anyway, and that’s fine with me.
We were sitting there in that room last night after saying the rosary—I don’t know why we only say the rosary in that room, but it makes it more serious, somehow, to be saying it there, and even though we say the rosary all the time at home and school and church, I think I pay more attention in the proper living room. Maybe it’s the French stove or the piano or being close to Mom and seeing her concentrate that makes it nice to concentrate myself. It’s easier to close my eyes and think of the mysteries like we’re supposed to, Jesus being born and all. My favorites are the passion and resurrection, only because I like to try to picture what it was like, and sometimes I think I can, and sometimes I can’t at all. When I open my eyes and look around, there’s only us and the rosary and the piano and the couch and the carpet and some chairs and one small desk, that’s all. There’s not much that happens in this room other than guests and folding laundry sometimes when Mom spreads it out on the couch and once my brother, D., put her bra on over his clothes and we all laughed. This is the room where my brother, C., does computers in the corner and Dad comes to read and where Santa leaves the big pile of presents after midnight mass. Other than that, there’s not much besides grownups, the piano, and the rosary.
Last night though! You should have been there. All of a sudden my mother gasped; she gasped! We all looked at her and then looked at where she was looking, and I didn’t see anything, what was there to look at, but all of a sudden everyone was talking and moving and giving directions. A fire it was, fire at the top of the stove, and my brother, C., had to go up to the attic to try to put it out. Be careful, C.! And my older sister, E., took me and my sisters, L and J, to get our coats to go outside, and I wanted Mom, but she was calling someone on the telephone, and it was our job to get out of the house, so we did it the best we could. We had to get out quick, and my duffel coat was not easy to get on with its big buttons, and everyone was rushing around, and I didn’t know if we would die any minute or what, and I suppose I was scared, only if there was a fire, I wanted to see it, but there was nothing to see inside except for everyone in a panic and nothing to see outside except the dark.
And then it was over because we were all very brave and did our parts and the fire had been put out and thank God for my brother, C., climbing up to the attic and using a blanket to smother it, just like you’re supposed to. Mom thinks it’s the rosary that saved us and her just happening to look up and seeing the red sparks flying and the flames glowing at the ceiling around the pipe from the stove. And I don’t know if it’s the rosary and Mother Mary but maybe it was, and I was glad I didn’t have to be outside anymore, and anyway the fire was out, and the proper living room was a little more exciting after all. But I’m not supposed to think that about a fire, and I’m glad we’re safe, and I don’t know what would happen if our house caught fire, I mean all over. I can’t even imagine it, but the policeman came and gave Mom and Dad advice on how to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and so we’re safe now, and it’s true because Mom says so and not to worry. But I thought we were safe before, and now when we say the rosary, I think I will watch the ceiling just in case, and you know, I don’t think I will be the only one.