Pap comes home after a day’s work, after a visit to Flanagan’s Pub. He trips over two wooden chairs, staggering through the small, crowded parlor to get to the bedroom that he and Mum and Willy share.
He mutters as my mum says, “Senior, couldn’t you come home sober one night a week! If there was any of me dowry left, I’d divorce you!”
My younger sister, Patticake cries “We’ll be orphans.”
Willy harmonizes with Patticake, “I don’t want to be no orphan.”
“Wipe your noses and pipe down. I ain’t got no more dowry since your pap drank it up. So I ain’t going nowhere now am I?”
A grunt comes from the bedroom as Pap falls onto the squeaky bed.
“Colleen, go help your pap take his boots off so’s he doesn’t get me own Mum’s rose quilt dirty,” Mum yells at me.
“I hear you, Mum,” I snap back as I run to the bedroom.
Pap is already snoring. His breathing is deep and the stench of whiskey makes me want to be sick. Pap doesn’t budge an inch when I tug mightily to get first his left boot and then his right boot off. I’m thinking I could jump full hard on his belly and he wouldn’t wake up.
I look at his grizzled face. The deep scar on his upper left cheek looks like a cleared ditch bordered with stubble. He was handsome once. From the tintype on the dresser he stares, a dark-eyed man with wavy black hair parted in the middle and slicked down. Now he looks worn from work, hard living, hard drinking. He doesn’t know what to do with us kids, especially the girls. He roughhouses with Willy some, but he leaves us girls to Mum. I feel sorry for my pap and pat his arm tenderly.
“Colleen,” Mum calls. “Get out here and snap the green beans for supper.”
I sit at the knotty wood table, hands washed, sleeves rolled, opposite Kathleen and Louise. Kathleen peels potatoes with expertise. Her face is satisfied. She is going to be James Flynn’s wife. Louise is slicing the carrots intently. She doesn’t have a beau yet. But she’s pretty enough and Mrs. Donovan, the matchmaker, is always looking for the right fella. The little ones are napping after their hard play today.
Mum stands at the wood-fed stove, stirring the broth, sweat beading on her forehead. I snap off the tough ends of the green beans and pull out the string as I was taught to do. In this rare moment of suspended silence, my mind wanders to my 18th birthday. I don’t talk back anymore when Mum says that I’m going to have to go into the convent. I’ve read about some girls who ran away from their families. They bought their passage and emigrated to Australia. A girl doesn’t need a dowry there and there’s plenty of men who want a good wife. The day after I turn eighteen, I’m packing my few belongings, taking the money Mum has stashed in the cookie jar with my name on it and getting on a boat to Australia.