On Wednesday afternoon the kids are painting. It’s times like this when I miss primary school. I’m useless with a paintbrush but it doesn’t matter when you’re little, it doesn’t mean that you can’t still do it in school and absolutely love it.
When you’re little the world is full of possibilities and you think you can do anything. At some point that changes and you have to pick just one or two things that you want to do, that you can do really well. Like Dan trying to decide what college course he really wants, what one thing he’s going to choose above all the others, and even then his choices are limited because of the subjects he picked to do for his Leaving. Kids seem to be able to do anything and everything.
I feel sort of old, but then young at the same time – young because I’m squeezing out paint onto palettes for the kids and they’re giggling at the sound and I have to stop myself from smiling too. Young because when Pearl runs into me ‘accidentally’ and gets paint on my clothes, I can’t give out to her. That’s Miss McCabe’s job. There’s a proper grown-up in the room and I have to just accept her apology and ignore the smirk on her face.
If I was babysitting I’d make her apologise properly, or send her to her room, or take away her paints. Here I have someone else looking over my shoulder and I have no power whatsoever.
And paint all over me.
When I get home, the doorbell rings before I have a chance to change. Mum and Jim are still at work and Dan has left a note saying that he’s studying at Saoirse’s house this afternoon. His school finishes early on Wednesdays – they’re supposed to stay for sports but Dan hasn’t done that since he was twelve. I was so disappointed when I found out my school didn’t have a similar arrangement, despite all their blathering about a well-rounded education. We are encouraged to do sports, as long as it doesn’t interfere with our all-important learning-from-books experiences.
It’s Michael. “Hey Kimmie,” he says.
Very few people can get away with calling me Kimmie. Jim tried it once and I screamed at him, because it was like he was trying to be my dad, fill this place in my life that didn’t need filling. It’s for family only – I know Jim counts as family now, but I still don’t want him using pet names for me – and I guess Michael gets away with it because he’s been Dan’s best friend for ages and he’s known me for almost as long.
There’s this picture of us from the summer when I was seven and they were nine up in the kitchen, the three fair heads together making us look like one big happy family instead of two kids from a marriage about to shatter and one kid from an entirely different family. People always used to think we were all related. Cousins, at the very least.
“Is Dan around?” he asks as I put on the kettle. When Michael comes over and Mum and Jim are around, they ask him if he wants coffee. I just make it. I know the answer is always yes.
“Nah, he’s over at Saoirse’s. There’s a note around somewhere. Who’s Saoirse, anyway?”
Michael’s found the note. “Studying?” He laughs. “Yeah, right. Saoirse’s this girl he met a couple of weeks ago when we went out –”
“Almost, I think. They’re definitely not studying over there, anyway.”
“He never tells me anything,” I sigh. Okay, that’s not fair. Dan and I do talk. It’s just sometimes he refuses to talk to me about girls. I rely on Michael to keep me updated, which he thoughtfully always does. Whoever said that gossip is an entirely female activity was sorely mistaken.
“Never tells me anything either. I thought he was going to be around this evening,” he says.
“You know what he’s like, though. Saoirse probably has him whipped.”
I make him coffee and make hot chocolate for myself.
“You can head home if you like,” I say, “if you just wanted to talk to Dan. I won’t take it personally, promise.”
He takes a sip. “Trying to get rid of me?” He grins, and I smile back. “Love the arty look, by the way.”
“It’s very me, isn’t it?”
“I miss primary school art,” he says.
We sit in silence for a moment before he asks, “How are things with Eddie?”
I shrug. “The usual. How’s your love life going, mister? What are you doing when my brother’s picking up girls, huh?”
He sighs. “How about if we don’t talk about that,” he says.
I nod. “Okay.” And then, “It’s not the end of the world to be single, you know.”
“Depends on what you want,” he replies.
© Claire Hennessy 2007