By Ethel Rohan
From the back seat of our car, we watched as Dad carried the blue bassinet from the hospital, our new brother inside. Mother walked behind them, unsteady. Dad opened the front passenger door and we clambered to see the baby. Mother dropped onto the front seat and closed her eyes, her voice thin.
Dad placed the bassinet on Mother’s lap. My brothers and sisters elbowed and vied, greedy for that first look. I held back, seeing a horrible flash of my new brother, his eyes huge and yellow and his mouth a large red hole. The others made “aw” sounds. I pushed and wriggled, craned my neck. Our baby brother had a round face, pink eyelids, button nose, rosy lips, and sheen of blond hair.
Dad told us to quiet down, to not upset the baby, or Mother. As he drove, he looked again and again from the road and over at Mother, worried. He asked her if she was alright but she didn’t answer, just stared straight ahead. We tired of the silence and stillness and whispered together on the back seat, waved to people outside, pointed to the front of the car and made cradled rocking motions with our arms. The three women at the bus stop understood, and waved and nodded and grinned.
Dad parked outside our house, walked around the front of the car and opened the passenger side. He looked up on hearing a delighted shriek from Mrs. Nevin, who barreled down the street toward us, dragging her black poodle.
Mother’s shaky hands covered her face. “I don’t want to see anyone.”
Dad’s moustache, the color of rust, twitched. He squeezed Mother’s shoulder. “You’re alright.”
“Don’t let her near me.”
Mrs. Nevin stretched her thick neck over the car door. Mother’s whimpers climbed and her fingertips pushed into her face. Dad stepped between Mrs. Nevin and Mother, his smile and voice too big.
“Bit of a bad time, you know yourself,” he finished.
Mrs. Nevin waved into the car. Mother’s face remained hidden. Mrs. Nevin moved off, her face red and fat lips pursed. Dad lifted out the bassinet, and linked Mother inside.
Dad placed our new brother on the kitchen table, a table for six. Now we were eight. The baby cried. Mother cried. Dad licked his lips and hurried from the room, promised he wouldn’t be away long. Mother threw the baby rattle after him.
Someone rapped the brass knocker on our front door. Mother’s body jerked, each rap a bullet. She shouted for us not to answer, too late. Mrs. Dolan’s voice carried down the hall. Mother lifted her head from the table, red knuckle-marks on her forehead. I’d never seen so much white in her eyes. She slapped at her tears. I gripped the handles of the bassinet and swung my new brother. I pictured both of us flying up, up, and away.
Mrs. Dolan cooed down at my brother. “The scrapings of the barrel. How is it that they’re always the biggest and best looking?”
She grinned up at my mother, still planted on the chair. Her smile collapsed.
“She’s tired,” I said, a wobble in my voice.
Mrs. Dolan covered Mother’s hand with hers and urged her to go to bed.
“You’re alright,” she said. “You have your family finished now.”
Mother nodded, her bun a dead brown bird, her eyes pebbles.
Mrs. Dolan placed a five pound note at the bottom of the bassinette. “The blessings of God on you.”
As soon as she left, Mother plucked the money and ordered me to the shop for cigarettes and brandy.
I walked down our street, hauling something huge and invisible behind me. It didn’t seem right that Mother was doing away with my new brother’s money. Mrs. Dolan’s words, that our family was finished, echoed inside my head. She’d spoken in kindness, I knew, but her words came at me again and again, bats in a cave.