“Butter us a slice of bread there, girl, will you?”
Sarah wiped a knife on her skirt, then buttered bread for the three of them. The back door opened and immediately two brown hens stepped inside, squawked and stepped out again when Sarah threw a towel at them. Martin darted in, smiling, showing them the eggs cradled in his jersey.
“Good, good,” Sarah and Barney said together, nodding at their brother.
They looked at each other as Martin carefully set the eggs in a bowl.
“For tea,” he said. “Two each.”
He sat down and ate porridge and bread and butter. Sarah poured strong tea and drank, watching Barney, waiting. Barney finished eating, wiped his mouth and felt in his jacket pocket for the card.
“Look at this,” he smiled at Martin, waving it at him . “Do you know what this is? No you don’t. Well, it’s a postcard. A postcard, Martin. And do you know what it means?”
Martin watched the waving card, smiling because Barney was smiling. He shook his head.
“Well,” Barney began. “Long ago, you don’t remember maybe, there was a little boy used to come here to stay. A little cousin, he was, younger than all of us and we used to play with him and tell him stories.”
Martin listened to Barney, staring into his face, frowning, concentrating, smiling and frowning.
“Well,” Barney looked around for his pipe. “Well, he’s going to come and visit us. Won’t that be nice now?”
Martin’s face began to quiver and squeeze.
“It’s all right, Marty,” Sarah said. “It’s only Dicky bird – you won’t mind Dicky bird.”
Martin nodded and smiled but the tears began to roll and his nose began to drip. He sniffed and cried harder and then he got up and went to the couch and hid his face.
“He’ll cry all day now,” Sarah sighed loudly.
“Godallmighty,” Barney looked at his watch.
“I`ll have to get back – I’ll ask for the afternoon off – and – eh, we`ll . . . “
He waved his hand around at the floor, the dishes in the sink, the shovel filled with ashes on the hearth.
“We’ll – eh – tidy up a bit – for Dicky bird – and food, Sarah! They`ll want to eat. Can you nip down to Higgins` – get ham and a loaf, and . . . a few apples, that should do.”
He buttoned up his jacket with an effort and went out.
Martin was quieter now; his eyes began to close and his thumb went into his mouth. Sarah watched him without speaking. Her hand moved slowly towards her book; quietly she opened it. After a while the book slipped a little and Sarah’s head fell back against the high frame of the chair. A hot, close, muggy silence filled the kitchen and the bluebottle was busy again over the fresh spits of burnt porridge.