The most haunting image from my childhood is probably the sight of my neighbor, Katie O’Sullivan, sucking her thumb, playing with her short, brown hair, and gazing out of her dining room window. I don’t know why she was there, but she seemed to be standing there every time I passed the house. Was it somewhere she chose to stand? Was she put there as a punishment? Or did she just end up there when she wandered around the house, searching for something that she never found? Either way I’d never seen such empty hopelessness in the face of an 8 year-old.
My mother’s demons saved their worst attacks for Saturday nights, and we would often be shunted off somewhere on Sunday while she pieced herself back together––perhaps in hospital.
One Sunday I was sent to the O’Sullivan’s. I was excited. My older brother had heard rumors they had an electrical contraption for making toast. I loved toast. I was anxious to see it and perhaps even try it out.
I entered through the kitchen. Katie was at the table, drawing a picture of Mary, the mother of Jesus. I said, “where’s the electric toast-maker?”
She seemed annoyed at the interruption, but indicated a small grey box, on the counter behind her. I’d been expecting something larger, with fins and chrome, and maybe even a couple of robotic arms, but I didn’t have time to be disappointed, because right then a vision appeared in the kitchen doorway: a girl, slightly younger than me, wiry and boyish, with gingery-blond hair, and more freckles on her mischevious face than I’d ever seen on a human being up until that time.
I’d been told to always stand up when a lady came in the room, but I think I actually floated off the kitchen chair. I was completely, utterly and irreversibly in love. I wasted no time before proposing marriage. I didn’t even wait to find out that she was Geraldine, Katie’s younger sister.
I went to an all-boys school. I didn’t meet many girls, but when I did I almost always fell in love right away, which is a habit I’ve never been able to break entirely. I would always propose marriage. I knew that 7 was legally too young to really marry. I’d been told this by my cousin (adopted) Janine. I also knew that Geraldine was around a year younger than me, which was too big of an age gap for a successful marriage, according to Caroline Barker.
On the other hand, I’d heard about kings and princesses who’d been betrothed as young as 5 or 6. Even though I knew that betrothal wasn’t marriage (according to Nicola Eade), I’d have settled for betrothal with Geraldine. Heck! I’d have settled just for an hour to gaze into her green flecked eyes.
“I can’t marry you,” said Geraldine, in a way that suggested she had received a lot of proposals. “You’re not Catholic.”
This was like walking into a tree. I wasn’t certain what religion I was, but I probably wasn’t a Catholic.
“ROMAN Catholic!” corrected Katie as she chose a blue crayon to color in Mary’s veil. “Plus, if you’re not a Roman Catholic then you’ll go to Hell.”
“Let’s draw something,” said Geraldine, changing the subject. She handed me a sheet of paper.
“What should I draw?” I said.
“It has to be something suitable for Sunday,” said Katie. “Something from the Bible, or a Saint.”
I wanted to draw something that would impress Geraldine so much she’d consider being betrothed to me, and I knew I was good at dinosaurs. “I’m going to draw a brontosaurus,” I said. I knew some of the Bible. I’d never seen any reference to Brontosaurs, but everything in the Bible had happened long ago, and brontosaurs had been around long ago, so I thought it would be perfect.
Geraldine had already sketched out a picture of a man with a halo. “What’s a brontosaurus when it’s at home?” she said.
“It’s a giant lizard that lived in the Cretacious Age, about 60 million years ago,” I said.
Geraldine and Katie both reached for the yellow crayon at the same time. Geraldine won. Katie stuck her thumb in her mouth, and played with her hair. I offered her the orange crayon. “You can use this for Mary’s halo.”
She pushed my hand away.
“I know,” said Geraldine. “Give your lizard a halo, and it’ll be fine.”
I could have reached across the table and kissed her, but it’s just as well I didn’t, because at that moment the back door flew open. Mr. O’Sullivan marched in, followed by Mrs. O’Sullivan, and a very large man dressed entirely in black.
“What a very special treat!” said Mr. O’Sullivan (in my memory I see him rubbing his hands, but this can’t be possible as he’d lost an arm at the Battle of the Bulge). “What a special honor,” he said, gesturing towards the man in black. “Father Jeremy is joining us for lunch.”
The man in black, pulled off his scarf to reveal a dog-collar.
Half an hour later we were in the dining room. I was by the window––the same window I’d often seen Katie gazing out from. Father Jeremy was seated at the head of the table, and naturally I was sat next to him. Geraldine was opposite me, only a couple of feet away, but the priest was of such impressive proportions that my view of her was almost completely blocked.
If I leaned to one side I could look through the window, and just see my house, a few doors up the street.
I didn’t much like my own family life. When I was out I never wanted to go back to our house, but this time was different. When lunch was over I ran back home as fast as I could. My grandmother let me in, I rushed to the kitchen, took out crayons and paper, and drew a brontosaurus without a halo.