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The Tissue by Maxi McCoubrey

Writing.ie | Magazine | Mining Memories | Tell Your Own Story
Maxi McCourbrey

Maxi McCoubrey

“Before I speak to you sometimes, I have got to empty my head of all logic, that way we have some chance of being equal.”

My mother was talking to me as she sprinkled flour on the oilcloth on the kitchen table. She lifted the bread dough from the bowl, dipped her fingertips in snow white flour, coated them and started kneading.  Now and again she’d push her tumbling curls back from her face with her wrist.  The home perm I’d given her just yesterday made her look decidedly modern. She could easily have been one of the models on the cover of any of the cooking and baking books she so proudly displayed on the shelf over the cooker.

Sitting at the edge of the table watching her arthritic hands work their magic in shaping the dough, I marvelled at how quickly she turned ingredients like buttermilk, eggs, salt, soda, flour, wholemeal, and wheat germ into a delicious tasty homemade treat in under an hour.

Her thin gold wedding ring intermittently caught the shards of sunlight streaming in the back window as she worked. She was a creature of habit. The brown bread was always freshly baked and on the table in time for Dad’s return from work on Friday, his busiest day as an insurance agent.

“Friday is payday,” she’d explain “If you’re Dad doesn’t collect the premiums today, the money will be spent and there will be no commission, which means no treats.” She knew exactly how to teach me gently, firmly and by example and humour.

“Have you checked that the oven is on? she asked as she started the baking process. “Is the floured baking tin heating up in there?” She was lining up the ingredients on the hatch over the kitchen table.  “Is it at gas mark six?”

Once, I had the curiosity to ask what amount of flour she used for her famous brown bread. “You know by the look of it and that will come in time,” she answered, turning the blunt edge of a knife to cut a cross in the top of the dough before she placed it in the preheated floured tin. She balanced it perfectly in her left hand, while, with her right she opened the oven door and slid the tin and its precious contents exactly in the centre of the middle shelf.

As I matured, I was filled with love and admiration for her.  She had been raised in the heart of the countryside. She had a lot of adjustments to do when she married Dad and set up home in the city. That said, there were some she would not make. One of those was indulging in store bought produce if she could grow gather and make them herself.

I remember many summer days spent running through the fields of County Meath, near where my aunt lived, gathering blackberries and gooseberries, which would later be washed weighed and in the shortest time become our supply of homemade jams. A client of my father’s owned a farm in Rathfarnham, and together Mam and I would catch the bus from Harold’s Cross, the 16A, and in exchange for some of Mam’s brown bread, the owners would collect apples for us.  These would make many a delicious sponge or tart to see us thru the long evenings.

When my teenage years began not only did I begin to appreciate her cooking and baking skills but her wisdom began to impress me too.

“Nothing in my life prepared me for you,” she’d smile sweetly when I’d come out with my mantra: “I’m going to be famous and rich, I will have people to do all of this.” She’d look over her glasses at me.

“The only lesson that will teach you what money buys is the lesson that will teach you what money buys,” she’d say enigmatically.

My first heartbreak came to me in my seventeenth year. I had begun to make money working as a backing singer in a recording studio in town. I got to meet all the handsome band guys I had only read about up until then, in glossy fan magazines. Of course I fell in love with one of them.  Life was lucrative and interesting and I was blissfully planning a future.  I was a sucker for a pretty face and if the fingers belonging to that face played a guitar, I looked no further.  Add a tonne of naiveté to that mix and you can see I was an emotional rollercoaster heading for a catastrophe.

Mam was making marrow jam and I was sterilizing the jars when she broached the question of the fidelity of the guy who had taken me for coffee once or twice.  I was having none of her insinuations. “He writes songs,” I said confidently, “so he is going to be rich too; it’s going to be perfect!”

She scraped some seeds out of the marrow. “He wears his trousers two sizes too small.” She looked me straight in the eye. “How can he think straight?”

A month later when mam and I were walking in the park near home collecting kindling we saw him.  He was walking with the young blond girl singer from the band. Their arms were entwined and they were unaware of my heartbroken stare.

Mam got as big a shock as I did. “Is that him?” she whispered turning me around so he couldn’t see me.  “Yes, that’s him.” I turned back again to get a closer look. My watery eyes told her all she needed to know. His pretty face had eyes only for her. He was beaming with the pleasure of her company as he kissed her, curling her hair around his fingers and letting his eyes and soul soak in her beauty.

I dropped the twigs I had been collecting. It was true. They walked engrossed and oblivious.  I turned back in time to see my mother knowing look.

“I’m going to be sick,” I said as I rummaged through my pockets. “Do you have a tissue?” She continued collecting firewood. “I have,” she said, bending down for another great treasure. “Have you not got one?”

The bile was summersaulting in my stomach and soon I felt the bitter liquid at the back of my throat.

“I only have a twenty-pound note,” the tears and the words came out at the same time.  Mam was wearing the expression she wore when she had held my hand crossing the road as a child.

She put down the firewood and spoke. “Good woman” she smiled “Here’s the deal – I’ll swap ya.”

(c) Maxi McCoubrey

About the author

Maxi is a songwriter and writer. She uses her time spent in the music industry and the media as sources for her stories.
Her articles have been published in Qutub Minar, The RTE Guide, Poet’s Choice, The Sad Girls Club, The Bangalore Review, The Sixties Book, Ireland’s Own, The Dublin Gazette, In Dublin Magazine, Senior Times, Little Gems and Pioneer Magazine. She has a diploma in creative writing. She is a member of Writer’s Ink.
She lives in Dublin.

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