The tenements stank of rotten cabbage and shite. I looked down at me brother. Pakky was the youngest. He was sleeping but I didn’t like the flush in his cheeks. He cried for oranges earlier. And where would I be getting oranges around here? I’d wanted to ask. But I couldn’t bring meself to snap at the child, so I gave him some water and bit me tongue. He wasn’t the only one on the street who was sick. No one liked to think what that meant.
I didn’t want to leave him but it was no good. Me bladder felt like an overripe fruit.
I hated using the toilet on our street. It was nearly always blocked. No surprise when you thought about it. Shared as it was between six families – large catholic families at that. If I could get away with it, I snuck down to the river and did my business behind the bushes like a dog. Da caught me at it once; tanned my hide properly. No child of his was to be baring her arse to the wind like a tinker’s brat. I rubbed tears from my gritty face, resolving to keep my sore behind better hid.
I’m the oldest still at home. There were six children before me. Two of the boys died as babes and Sean turned out to be a bad one. Me sisters still send something from their wages. It’s not enough for the feeding of the five children still at home, with Mam expecting yet another and Da often passed over by foremen; the day’s labor given to younger men.
We’re still not the biggest family on Hay Lane. The O’Neil’s have ten children at home; poor mites, too young to work, their bellies sticking to their backbones. Mr. O’Neil frightens me some. He works less than Da then changes coin for a tot of whisky in his jar. Da never drank our food away but once. Mam fetched him such a clout that he never did so again.
Business done and no one the wiser, I went back to my little brother. He was pale and clammy. I sponged his forehead, trying to ignore his whimpers and forcing myself not to think about me taking sick from being near him.
We had more to eat that night. Pakky could only swallow sips of water from boiling the veg. Brian thought it was grand. That night as the four of us clambered top’n’tail in bed with Pakky, he burned alive beside me. I threw an arm around him and slept.
In the morning my brother felt cold. I though his fever had broken. Then I saw his wide, glazed eyes. I didn’t wake Mam. No hurry now. Brian asked if there would be more food tonight too.
(Originally published by FlashFlood 21st June 2015)