Dad tapped on our bedroom door. Jayne said it was okay to come in. He gave us pens and papers. He had shaved and put on clothes. It was weird seeing him out of his nightgown.
‘I had an idea, ladies,’ he said and clicked his pen on and off.
When he told us, we hugged him.
The house is cold without Mam. It’s dirtier too. In the corners of the walls and on the curtain rails. We can’t reach. Dad sometimes cleans but then he gets bored. We sometimes clean but then we get bored. Once he paid a girl from another country to tidy but she moved everything around and none of us liked it. Mam’s cactus with soft spikes that lived in the hallway. I went to the flower shop on my own to ask how to keep it alive. Mam’s vases with painted Chinese people dancing and kissing. Mam’s lamps, Dad turned them all on every day. He wanted to keep the house bright. We liked her stuff to stay where it was.
Sometimes I spray her deodorant on my clothes. It smells like lemons and leaves white marks that I lick and rub in. In class, I shut my eyes and breathe in my sleeve if I’m finished my work and feel like drifting off.
Dad had good and bad days. Our Auntie dropped us to school in the mornings and we did supervised study every evening. When we got home, he always had dinner for us. Usually oven fries, baked beans and sausages. Jayne asked him to give us different dinners because she was so sick of the same one. She said it gave her spots and would make us all fat. Dad left the room and we knew he was crying because he didn’t finish his plate and he let the phone ring out instead of answering. Jayne never said anything bad about dinner after that but she started buying salads for her lunch. She tried to get me to eat them too and said we’d all die if we didn’t start being healthy.
I wrote about school. I wrote about a boy called Davy that worked in the corner shop. He invited me to the cinema. I wasn’t sure whether to ask Dad or Jayne. I wrote about how I’d grown two inches and got my first bra since she last saw me. I told her what was in fashion, what was in the charts and I talked about Dad and asked would she mind him. I looked at Dad as he wrote his letter. His tongue stuck out a small bit between his teeth when he concentrated. Jayne’s too.
Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I wake up after dreaming about Mam talking to me. I beg God for twenty seconds, ten seconds, a split second to see her smile and hug her. Jayne wakes too because I’m shaking and she pats my head and rubs my back until I sleep again. I feel bad because she’s doing the Leaving Cert soon. She puts concealer under her eyes in the morning. If I’m puffy or sad, she’ll turn the radio on and make me dance when we get ready for school. If Dad is on a good day, we’ll hear him singing in his room too.
‘Are we all finished?’ Dad asks and he blows up balloons. He looks nice in his green t-shirt and navy jeans.
We get the sellotape and stick our pages on to the balloons. I make one page just say ‘I LOVE YOU.’ The balloons squeak and I’m afraid they’ll pop. Jayne has loads of black eyeliner on. She’s holding six balloons. I have four. Dad has one.
We go outside into the back garden and Dad says, ‘Now’ and we let them go. They fly up. The sky is bluey grey. The balloons go in different directions. We stare upwards. My neck gets sore but I don’t care. Dad has his hand pressed on my shoulder. He is staring upwards. We watch them soar until we can’t see them anymore. My heart is racing. I hope Mam reads them.