Aileen Maguire stood up to stretch her back and looked out the bedroom window overlooking the busy Dublin street. Business went on as usual. England had won the World Cup, and men walked out of the newsagents with rolled-up copies of the morning’s newspaper stuffed into their jacket pockets. But, in the bedroom above the haberdashery on the corner of upper Dorset Street, eighteen-year-old Aileen’s mother lay dying.
With a sigh, she turned her attention back to the bedroom where her father was slumped in a chair by the side of the bed, his head in his hands. She picked up a cup of beef tea and held it out to him. ‘Come on now, Da. You’ve got to stay strong.’
He glanced up, exhaustion on his pale face. ‘Your mother’s been rambling again,’ he said. ‘For the life of me, I don’t know what she’s on about.’
‘Look, Da, you go and get your head down. I’ll sit with Ma.’
Jonny Maguire stretched his tall, lean frame and stood up. His hair, the colour of gunmetal, hung limply below his ears and across his forehead. Aileen had given up nagging him to have it cut. Since Ma had taken ill three weeks ago, he had dug in his heels. He cupped his hands around the mug as if he was cold. ‘You’ll call me if…’
‘I will, Da. Now, go on! I’ll nip down and check the shop later.’
Her ma’s eyes were closed but she appeared agitated, as if she was having a bad dream. Aileen pulled a chair closer to the bed and held her hand.
‘Jonny. Is that you, Jonny?’ Jessie Maguire’s voice was but a whisper.
‘It’s me, Ma. Da’s having a kip.’
Jessie turned her head towards her daughter. ‘Aileen! My perfect little girl!’
‘Not little any more, Ma, and not perfect either.’
As her mother gripped Aileen’s hand, the doorbell jingled in the shop below. Her mother tightened her grip and struggled to sit up ‘Is…someone looking after the shop?’
‘Everything is fine, Ma. No need for you to fret.’ Her mother appeared to have forgotten she had recently employed a woman part-time.
‘You’ll look after things. Your da won’t…cope well without me. And watch out for Lizzy. I don’t have long, so…listen to me.’ Her mother’s voice rasped as she struggled to breathe. Aileen stood up, dipped a cloth in a bowl of cool water, wrung it out, and gently bathed her ma’s brow.
‘Don’t try and talk,’ Aileen said, concealing her distress. ‘Da will be fine, Ma, and so will you. So, please, no more of that talk.’
Her mother’s face looked grey against the white cotton pillowcase. Aileen gently lifted her ma’s head and helped her to suck through a straw the nourishing drink recommended by the doctor.
‘I need to confess. Ask…the priest…to call in.’
Aileen placed the glass back on the side table. ‘But it’s only a week since he was here, Ma. What do you need forgiveness for?’ Aileen kissed the side of her mother’s face.