“Moving Statues” by EM Reapy

I’m not sure about miracles. Or God. If there was such things then why did my Dad and my brother Matthew get killed. Four years ago in 1981. Out fishing and a wave turned them over. Both good swimmers. Both drowned. And my Mam, well, she’s been drowning ever since. And we’re all getting drowned this summer. I think there has been about three days that didn’t rain since I got my school holidays from the Convent. The only decent thing this summer has been Live Aid. And Micháel McHugh from McHughs’ Shop in the village.

Mammy was the same. No, she was worse. I had to remind her to eat or force her to do it. Sometimes when it got really bad I’d say, “Do you want it to just be me left in this family? No mother along with no father and brother?” and then she cried hard and said, “No Angela, never.”
But she wouldn’t hug me. She never touched me unless it was to push me away when I tried to drag her up out of bed. Her hands were icy. I don’t know how, I kept a fire going in the main room to keep the rest of the house warm but Mammy never seemed to warm up.

She used to leave her bedroom to go to the graveyard on Sundays after mass. All dressed in black except the pink headscarf that Daddy bought her for their twentieth anniversary. She’d wear the overpowering Yardley perfume that she wore throughout the funeral. We’d be down in the graveyard and sometimes I’d have to look around me and hope no one was there the way Mammy would be wailing and thumping the soil. It was weird because other Sundays she didn’t even pray at the grave. She was silent and looked away from the headstone. Then after about an hour of standing, still staring at the fields she would say, “We’ll go now Angela.”

But the visits on a Sunday ended. She told me there was no point in it. I managed to get her to go to Easter Midnight mass this year. That was the last time she was properly out of the house.
I hated her bedroom. It smelt like unwashed clothes. She kept the curtains drawn and the only lights were from candles around pictures of Dad and Matthew.
I went in and turned on the lights and she sank under her blankets and spun her body to face the wall the other side of the room.
“Mammy, I need money for the shopping.”
“You know where it is.”
“D’ya want anything from the shop?”
“No.”
“I can get those biscuits we like, the Custard Creams. Will you eat them?”
“No.”
I got them anyway. They’d be nice for visitors. If visitors ever come round again. Mammy isn’t from Ballymackean. She isn’t even from Cork. All her family are from Sligo and Dad was an only child. The house was packed for weeks after the wake though. But then all the Aunts and Uncles went back up to the West and the neighbours eventually stopped calling when Mammy wouldn’t come out of her room to talk. I tried my best but middle-aged women and sixteen year old girls don’t have an awful lot in common.
In the shop, Micháel Senior was working. “How you, girl?”
“Grand now. Yourself?”
I picked up a metal basket even though it would be easy to just take stuff from the shelves and put them on the till straight away. The shop’s not much bigger than a turf shed.
“Can’t complain loveen, can’t complain. And your Mam?”
“She’s grand.”
“That’s good. Won’t you tell her I was asking for her?”
“I will.”

I always pretended I was going to buy the fancy washing powder so I could peek into the McHughs’ house. I looked through the beads that hung from the doorway dividing the shop and sitting room. They were useless for privacy but I suppose the McHughs could be sitting down inside to dinner or something and be able to see if a customer came. Sometimes young Micháel would be sitting in an armchair beside their stove, reading.
I whistled as I picked up a blue package and half scanned the back of it while flicking my gaze into the house. I saw an arm. He was there. I looked at his arm, you’d know he was a hurler the way his biceps curled and his fingers were crooked. I daydreamed of Micháel, putting his arms around me and telling me I was his only love in front of a crowded G.A.A. stand.

A woman barged in the door of the shop and disrupted my thoughts. She was breathless and bent over as soon as she was in front of the till.
“Did you hear it?” she managed to spit out.
“What?” Micháel Senior said.
“The statue. Above in Ballinspittle. Of the Virgin. It’s moving.”
“What are you talking about woman?”
“I’m telling you. The statue of Mary. It is moving, in the Grotto there, at night. Two women saw it Tuesday night and then last night there was about a hundred down there. All them saw. And tonight there is even more. It’s a pity we’re the wrong side of it for all the people travelling ‘cause you’d be doing great business from the pilgrims.”
“Jesus, Mary, Mother of God. Moving. She must be fed up of the rain.”
The woman shrugged and asked for twenty Major.
I felt my stomach hop. He was beside me.
“How ya, Angela.”
“Hey Micháel Óg.” I tried to flatten my rain-frizzed hair.
“What you think of that talk?” His voice cracked slightly when it lifted at the end of his sentence. My heart jigged inside my chest.
“I don’t know. What you think of it?”
“I don’t know either. All I know is it’s been a boring, long summer with the rain and that. This might give us something to do.”
He said us.
“Would you be going for a look?” I asked as I tried to rub my sweaty palms off my jeans without him seeing me do it.
“I would. I have training tomorrow night though. I’d say I’d go Saturday. You?”
“Ya, I think I’ll be going on Saturday because ah, um, well Mam has visitors tomorrow.”
“Sure, I might see ya there. If we can get through all the auld ones.”
He laughed. I laughed too.

When I was walking home, my legs were wobbly. I rushed in to Mammy’s bedroom and told her all the news. I added a small few details of my own about what bishops had said about it and how RTÉ were there along with the Cork newspapers. She just said she was tired.
The next day, the moving statue did actually get discussed on RTÉ. I had to get Mam to agree to go. She wouldn’t let me go alone, she hated me being gone from the house. I made her tea and put it, along with the Custard Creams, on a tray and went down to her.
“Mammy, we should go to see the statue.”
“No, Angela. To be honest I’ve no interest.”
“But it’s on in here, above in Ballinspittle. It’s only a fifteen-minute drive. We should just go to see it.”
“I don’t care about it,” she said and turned her body away from me.
I started crying and shouted at her. “You don’t care about anything. You don’t even care about me. If you did, you’d be looking after me and not the other way round.”
She moved her head to face me. “Don’t be like that, Angela. I can’t take much of that.”

My heart was racing, I was saying stuff that I’d never say and I couldn’t stop myself. “You never get up. You never talk to me about school. You never want the lights on. It’s like you’re a shell.” I paused, the rage rose up me like vomit and I sceamed, “It’s like you’re dead along with the boys.”
“Angela,” she said and faced me again. “How can you say that?”
“Because it’s true. It’s all true.”

I stormed out of her bedroom into my own and soaked the pillow with snot and tears. This was going to be my life. Stuck in a house with a grieving mother who wouldn’t let me go anywhere and wouldn’t go anywhere with me. I cried for Daddy and Matthew, the way they looked swollen from the water when they lay in their coffins. How different life could have been. I cried for the children that were out in Africa with nothing, who were too hungry to be sad for me, stuck here with too much rain on the mucky ground. I sobbed so much that my head ached. And I fell asleep with all my clothes on.
*

Saturday was a cleaning day. I scrubbed down the kitchen and the bathroom. I washed all the clothes and swept the house. I avoided Mammy except for leaving a tray with toast and cheese and a cup of tea outside her door. I knocked on it and went back to the kitchen. I had the radio on and they were talking about the new bus timetables to get to Ballinspittle. Then she came in, dressed in an old floral print and put the breakfast dishes in the sink. “Thanks Angela, that was lovely.”
I said nothing.
“Look it. You can ignore me if you want but I want to make peace with you.”
“Can we go out to see the statue so?”
She paused and sighed. “We can go and see it.”
I smiled and wrapped my arms round her. She stood rigid. “Thanks Mammy. It’ll be exciting with all the people there.”
I finished all the housework and had a bath.
*

In the evening, she drove up to the village. A man wearing an orange armband directed her into a field and charged us a pound to park. There were loads of cars in it with registration plates from all the counties. There were even yellow Northern Irish plates on some cars.
We walked up to where the crowd stood. Hundreds of people holding rosary beads and praying in front of a hill. On it was the grotto. I looked at her and thought she looked like every other statue of Mary I have seen before. The pilgrims started singing hymns and Mammy’s stiff shoulders dropped a bit. She even joined her hands together. I kept an eye out for Micháel. I spotted him with his parents behind us on the road.
“Mammy, will you be alright here. I’m hungry, I might go get some chips from the van back along? It’ll only take a short while.”
She smiled at me and nodded.
I walked past the McHughs and Micháel Senior noticed me, “Angela.”
“Oh, hi.”
“You were curious as well I see.”
“Ah ya, sure we had to see what the fuss was about. I’m starved though. Just going to get some food at the Chipper van. Did you ever imagine there’d be this many people in Ballinspittle?”
“No,” he said and then he pushed his son. “You, go down with her and get some food for us. We could be waiting awhile for the show.”

He rammed two pound notes into young Micháel’s top pocket.
We shoved through the crowds. I lost him for a second at one stage but he was waiting for me and he put his hand back for mine, “Here we better hold onto each other.”
His touch made me feel like I had pins and needles in my body, but in a nice way.
The man working in the van was sweating when he took our order. We shouted over the sizzling burgers and onions. Micháel dosed his chips with vinegar. Then we sat on a wet wall near the van and chatted. The prayers boomed over a PA system but were interrupted by a voice asking for the owner of a white Fiesta to move it because it was blocking Murphy’s field.

I checked my watch and noticed I had left Mammy an hour before.
“Micháel, I need to go. My Mam will be looking for me. And she is, you know. A bit- a bit- fragile.”
He held my hand, “Will you meet me again? Just the two of us like? Next week? We could watch a video together?”
“Yeah, I will.” I kissed his cheek.
*

I found Mammy but she didn’t notice me beside her. She stared up at the statue. She had tears in her eyes and then she smiled, her top lip folding over her teeth. She blessed herself and then looked back at the statue, dazed. I tugged her dress.
“Mammy, take out the umbrella, we’ll be soaked. The rain is starting again.”
“Did you see her Angela? Did you see her?”
“Who?”
“The Virgin?” Her hand clasped mine.
“No, Mammy, did you?”
“Ya, she spoke to me. She said that Daddy and Matty are safe and happy up in Heaven. She said they want us to be happy too and they love us.”
I furrowed my brow and looked towards the statue on the hill. Her white and blue dress illuminated by the halo of lights on her head. A red flower in her hand. I looked at her face, serene and pure.
My mother rubbed her thumb off mine and then she kissed my head. “I love you,” she said as I strained my neck watching Mary
And then she moved.

Biographical Note:
EM Reapy is a Mayo writer. Received an MA in Creative Writing at Queen’s University Belfast. Editor and founder of wordlegs.com. Awarded Tyrone Guthrie House Bursary in 2011 by Mayo Arts Council. Her work has been published in the US, UK and Ireland. She is currently writing a screenplay.

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