Want to see what I’m working on?
Here is a little excerpt of Summer Poppies which I am slowwwwwly working on finishing. This book will take place both in the present in the fictional town of Fayette and in the past in the real Irish town of Mountmellic.
Chapter 3 Ireland
Siobhan Bloomer was born in 1939 and she was the oldest in a family with four girls. At least, that’s what her parents, Eileen and James, told everyone. Siobhan’s younger sisters were Caitlin, Therese and Shelagh, but there had been another sister once, an older sister. She wouldn’t have even known about her had she not been in so much trouble.
The Bloomers ran a grocery that was attached to the side of their house on the outskirts of the town of Mountmellic. There were cornflakes and cakes of soap, loaves of fresh bread that Eileen herself made every day in the family kitchen and all sorts of treasures to be found down the tight aisles. Siobhan loved to sneak in, touch the tins of beans on the shelves and look at the pictures of the pretty women on the washing powder boxes.
The two best parts of the shop were right up in the front where her mother stood. There was a big glass jar on the counter full of sweets and a tall black stove behind the counter where her mother boiled the water for the tea and served the many ladies who took a moment to set down their shopping, rest their feet and enjoy a good gossip. Siobhan learned early that if she were very well behaved, she could come in, flash a bashful smile and the ladies would sometimes buy her a sweet. If she was noisy or naughty though, or knocked something over, her mother would give her a swat across the back of the legs and send her into the house. But those days didn’t happen often. Siobhan liked sweets more than the satisfaction of being purposefully wicked.
By the time she was only five years old Siobhan was already allowed to help her mother out on busy days. If Eileen was busy with a customer, she would often call out for Siobhan to come in and fetch her something that the lady had forgotten, or ask her to take down a mug or a cup if her own hands were full. That was how the trouble started.
One Saturday, Siobhan was in the shop with her mother helping her to put away the deliveries. She absolutely loved the days when the man with the loud motor van pulled up and brought in box after box of treasures. She loved too listening to her mother argue with him over prices and such and then watching her charming father come in to take the man aside, pour him a small glass of whiskey and silently complete their transaction in the dark corner of the shop. On this morning, the man had already come and gone and Siobhan was sitting on her mother’s chair behind the small counter because that’s where Eileen had told her to sit while she checked on little Caitlin and baby Therese in the kitchen of their house. Mrs. Mooney came bursting in through the front door and slammed it behind her. Looking violently around her, she caught Siobhan in a scowl and demanded Eileen.
“Where’s your mother, girl?”
Siobhan was a little frightened of Mrs. Mooney. She was loud and always seemed angry. Shyly, she pointed towards the kitchen.
“Ah, with the babas, well, don’t just stand there gawking at me. I don’t suppose you know how to pour a cuppa?”
Siobhan did know how to pour a cup of tea, she couldn’t imagine not knowing how. But she had never done it out here in the shop. In the house the teapot was always on the table and you just poured from there, but here in the shop, there was a big black kettle on the stove, which was higher than their kitchen stove, and you had to pour that water into a pot and make the tea each time someone asked for it. She had watched her mother do it a thousand times, and was sure she could copy the same actions. Besides, she didn’t want to make Mrs. Mooney angry. Just as Siobhan was reaching for the kettle, standing on her tiptoes to be able to see over the top, she heard her mother shout at her.
“SIOBHAN, NO!” Eileen bellowed, running toward the counter and rounding the corners of the shop faster than a wild horse in the field. She snatched Siobhan up in her arm and kept on going, out the front door of the shop and around the corner, sitting her down on an upturned pail.
“Don’t EVER touch that stove in the shop, or the one in the kitchen do you hear me? Especially when I’m not there,” she had a red face and there was something in her eyes that Siobhan had never seen before. “Do you hear me?”
She nodded at her mother and put her fingers in her mouth for comfort. Still not understanding the situation, she watched her mother’s shoulders shrink back down into their normal position.
“I’m sorry love, why don’t you go in the house today and help out with your sisters. Therese has been roaring all morning and Caitlin needs a playmate. Go on with you.”
Cautiously, Siobhan went back into the house and sat in the kitchen. She was sulking. She didn’t want to be stuck in here when there were so many more exciting things to do. Therese was kicking up a fuss and the girl that came in to help with the children, Maureen, was doing her best to console her with Caitlin hanging off her legs. Quickly, before Maureen could see her and give her something to do, Siobhan snuck back into the shop and hid in the back where she could see the door but nobody could see her. She could hear her mother crying quietly and talking to Mrs. Mooney at the counter while the normally horrible woman was actually speaking soothing words of apology.
“I can’t say sorry enough, Eileen. I forgot. It’s been such a long time now, sure I won’t ever ask that of your girl again. Don’t fret, love, she’s just grand now, isn’t she?”
“She is, she is. I just came out and she looks so much like Norah, I couldn’t bear it,” Eileen said, sniffling.
“Don’t give it a thought, love. Haven’t you three other fine girls now? God never takes two little ‘uns from the same family, that would just be cruel.”
Now she was confused. Who was Norah? Leaving the rest of the conversation, Siobhan snuck back into the kitchen to find Maureen.
Finally having gotten her quiet, Maureen had put Therese back into her basket near the stove and was now busy pouring Caitlin a glass of milk. Siobhan climbed up onto a chair and thought about what she had heard. “Maureen,” she asked, “who is Norah?”
“No-wah,” Caitlin said, her mouth outlined in white. She giggled and then took another drink of milk.
“She was your sister,” Maureen said bluntly without really looking up from the potatoes she was peeling for supper. “Why?”
“I don’t have a sister called Norah,” Siobhan said matter of factly.
This time Maureen looked up, her face a little bit white. “Well, you did. Why d’you ask?”
“Because Mammy said I looked like her when she was cryin’ with Mrs. Mooney.”
Maureen cast a quick glance around, “what were you doin’?”
Without waiting for her to do it, Siobhan got up and poured her own milk. “I was gettin’ the tea for Mrs. Mooney because Mammy was busy and she pulled me away and told me not to touch the stoves no more. Then she cried and said I looked like Norah to Mrs. Mooney.”
Maureen took down the biscuit tin from the shelf and handed one to Caitlin and then one to Siobhan. This had to be a big secret, because the girls weren’t allowed biscuits until the afternoon and it wasn’t even lunch yet.
“Well, this’ll be a fine day for the cryin’ then,” Maureen said, biting into her own biscuit. “I suppose you’d better steer clear of your mammy today altogether, child.” She sighed.
“But who is she?”
“Well, before you were born, your Ma and Da had another wee girl. Norah. That was before I came here to work. They had another girl helpin’ then. Mary, I think,” she took another bite. “When she was just a little thing, no more than two or three, she accidentally pulled a pot of water off the stove onto her head and went off to heaven. You were born just a week or so after that, and then I came to take care of you.” Maureen polished off the rest of her biscuit and brushed the crumbs from the front of her dress.
“But how did she go to heaven from water? You put water on my head every Sunday when we wash before Church.” Even as a child, Siobhan wanted to understand how things worked. She knew that when people went to heaven it was a great scary thing, because it meant you went into a great big box and people put you in the ground with dirt all over you and then you never came back. She never wanted to do it.
“The water was boilin’ hot, wasn’t it? Like tea water. Took the poor wee thing right away,” Maureen shook her head sadly.
“That’s bad,” Siobhan said. She knew how hot tea water could get; she couldn’t imagine how much it would hurt to have it poured all over your head.
“Yes it is. Well, it was. Now, you must do something for me,” Maureen said, leaning in across the table.
“You must never ever talk about this again. Your Mammy was so sad when Norah died, and she doesn’t talk about her. Not ever. Neither does your Da. And now neither do you. I only told you so you’d mind your mother and stay away from the stoves, understand?”
Siobhan nodded solemnly. This was her first really big secret.