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Authors: Glenna Jenkins

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Somewhere I Belong

BOOK: Somewhere I Belong
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Cover

Somewhere I belong
© 2014 by
Glenna Jenkins

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the publisher or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency.

P.O. Box 22024
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
C1A 9J2
acornpresscanada.com

Printed in Canada
Edited by Penelope Jackson
Cover design by Matt Reid
eBook design by Joseph Muise

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Jenkins, Glenna Landrigan, author
Somewhere I belong / Glenna Jenkins.

Issued in print and electronic formats.
ISBN 978-1-927502-27-3 (pbk.).--ISBN 978-1-927502-28-0 (ebook)

I. Title.

PS8618.E544S66 2014 jC813'.6 C2014-903534-9
C2014-903535-7

The publisher acknowledges the support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts Block Grant Program.

For my parents
and for
Neil and Rita Lanigan

The whistle blared and the engine spewed steam across the station
platform. Through the vapour I saw my little brother, Alfred, pull his thumb from his mouth and throw himself at Ma. Ever since Dad died, he had clung to her like he was afraid she would disappear too. The way he stomped his feet now said he was screaming like crazy. But this time he was outdone by the din of the whistle.

The blaring stopped and a man in a blue uniform leaned out a
doorway. “All aboard!”

My older sister, Helen, moved closer to Uncle George and clutched his arm. Ma glanced at Aunt Mayme, scrunched up her face, and buried it in a hanky. Aunt Mayme leaned toward Ma and touched her arm.
On the platform beside them stood a hamper of food Aunt Mayme
had packed for our train trip to Canada and a battered cardboard box.

“The women from the church sent it over.” She glanced away from Ma like she was too embarrassed to look at her. “It's what they do in these situations, I suppose.” Like she needed an excuse. What she didn't say was that they boxed up other people's cast-offs and foisted them on the poor. But the look on Ma's face said she already knew.

I watched them from where my older brother Larry and I stood guarding our baggage. I thought about all the fuss over the past two weeks and Ma's humongous fight with Uncle George over us leaving. Now she looked as sorrowful and washed out as she had at Dad's funeral. If she was so determined to go, I wondered, why was she making such a shoulder-heaving, inconsolable show of it? I wanted to know a few other things too, like how long we were going, when we were coming back, and why nobody had asked us kids if we wanted to go in the first place. I didn't see why we had to up and move just because Dad died. I didn't want to go.

The day my whole life changed was just any other Friday in February. My parents rose early, like they always did. Dad descended to the cellar to shovel coal into the furnace. In the kitchen, Ma stoked the cookstove and put the coffee pot on to perk. I heard their back-and-forth murmuring drift up the stairway, where we kids lay snug under
our covers. Then Dad bounded up the stairs, calling out, “Rise and
shine, everyone; rise and shine!” That was the signal for us to roll out of bed and for him to fly out the door to morning Mass, which he did every Monday to Saturday. Sundays, he trooped the lot of us off for the full hour of High Mass and one of Father Flynn's boring sermons. Dad must have spent half his life on his knees. Thinking back on what happened later that day, at least he was ready.

Larry rolled out of bed the minute Dad came singing up the stairway. His bedsprings creaked and the wooden floor groaned as he knelt and mumbled out his morning prayers. He slipped on his slippers, shuffled across the hallway, and made a big deal over splashing and gargling in the bathroom. But the minute the front door slammed and Dad hurried off to church, Larry hopped back into bed and stuck his nose in a book.

Helen followed Larry by a year. She waited for him to return to his bedroom, and then sauntered across the hallway and into the bathroom. She took her good old time washing her face and brushing her hair in front of the only mirror you could still see yourself in, because the plate hadn't pulled away from the glass. She returned to her room
and donned the clothes she had meticulously selected and laid out
the night before.

Alfred and I shared a three-quarter spool bed and a single pine dresser in a room barely larger than a closet. Through the night, Alfred rolled up against the inside wall and stole most of the covers. I got back at him with a good, solid fart and a wafting of the sheets—fair game for him freezing me out. But, like Larry, I waited until Dad was gone, because Alfred could scream bloody blue murder. And that's what he did, the little bugger—he cried out like he was being nailed to the cross on the left-hand side of the Holy Saviour Himself.

“Ma! P.J. farted on me!”

When Ma stomped toward the banister in the downstairs hall, I
knew I was in for it. “Pius James Kavanaugh!” she hollered.

That's me. I came after Helen. Every Catholic mother in Greater Boston wanted a priest for a son. It gave them bragging rights around the neighbourhood; they believed it was a sure road to heaven. So I got stuck with the name. Helen was a year old when I came along and she couldn't pronounce it, so I became P.J. to everyone except the grown-ups. Which was just as well—I hated my name. And the way I figured, there was no way anyone with a name like “P.J.” would ever get into the priesthood. But when Ma hollered out the whole of it, I knew I had one more chance. Then the wooden spoon would fly from the kitchen drawer and land with a crack across my sorry backside.

By the time Mass was over, Larry, Helen, and I were seated around the kitchen table. The warmth of the cookstove and the smell of oatmeal and molasses melted the cool air. Alfred was still in bed. He was too young for school and a nuisance anyhow. Larry's book lay in front of him. Helen had laid her spelling list beside her cereal bowl, as it was a Friday. I had placed my baseball on the table.

Larry adjusted his glasses, opened his book, and groped for a spoon. I poured a moat of milk around my oatmeal, sprinkled it with brown sugar, and spooned it up, being careful not to spill it down my chin. Ma moved from the cookstove to the table, serving warm bread and hot oatmeal. She pulled a jar of orange marmalade from the icebox and placed it in front of Helen. Then she looked at me. “Pius James, whatever are you doing with that baseball?”

“I need it for my project—it's on the Red Sox.”

“Get it off the table, dear, it's dirty.”

“But it's my Babe Ruth baseball; it's the one he signed last summer.”

Larry looked up from his book. “Babe Ruth plays for the Yankees.”

“He used to play for the Red Sox,” I said.

Ma leaned over and grabbed my ball. “You'll get it back when you leave for school.”

The front door opened, sending a blast of February air down the
hallway and into the kitchen. Dad had returned from church. He stomped snow off his boots, shrugged out of his jacket, and moved
across the hardwood floor in his sock feet. Larry slammed his book shut and slipped it under his chair; Helen brushed a hand across her spelling list and straightened it. The three of us huddled closer to the table and concentrated on breakfast. Ma folded the collar of her bathrobe over her neck and met Dad in the hallway. He kissed her cheek with a loud, teasing smack. Ma giggled something about his whiskers and the cold as he tickled her and nudged her toward the kitchen. He moved to the counter, cut a thick heel of the newly baked bread, and placed it on a plate. Then he poured himself a mug of coffee and one
for Ma. He leaned against the counter and spoke to her for several
minutes—said something about Father Flynn's homily at Mass or the impending day at the Beacon Oil Refining Plant where he worked as a foreman on the day shift. I didn't catch what he was saying. But I do remember the relaxed way he leaned at the counter. His legs were crossed and his feet looked swallowed up in the thick woollen socks
Ma had knitted for him. Steam rolled off his coffee and up over his
face as he sipped it. He chatted with her and glanced over at the table, mindful of us being there. Ma smiled at him and nodded as she listened. He noticed Helen's spelling list, picked his plate off the counter, and sat next to her.

“You've a spelling bee today, do you, Helen?” He raised her list.

Helen looked up at him and nodded eagerly, her mouth full of oatmeal.

“We can't let those boys show you up, then, can we?” He was referring to the boys in Helen's class. Larry and I were in different grades.

We sat quietly around that small table and ate our breakfast. Dad chanted out the words on Helen's list between sips of coffee and bites of bread. Helen blurted out the letters as fast as she could, like she was afraid Larry or I would beat her to it. Ma bustled in the background, filling lunch tins and soaking pots in the sink. The dead of winter had closed in. The furnace roared in the basement, not yet meeting its task. Sunlight strained faintly through the kitchen window and nudged the darkness into a dull grey.

Dad read out the last word on Helen's list and was on his feet before she had finished spelling it out. Ma grabbed his lunch tin and followed him to the front door. I heard their chatter, then Dad said, “Will I have my pipe and a kiss waiting for me?”

Ma laughed. “So, you can wait, can you?”

“Come here, you.”

Their laughing and carrying on that morning is the memory of the two of them that I cling to.

Dad pulled on his boots and slipped into his jacket, the one with
the badge of the Sacred Heart on the left breast pocket. The badge
that helped identify him later that day. I don't remember this for sure, but he must have kissed Ma goodbye. It was likely one of his quick stolen smacks, because I remember Ma giggling a muffled giggle as if her hands were up over her face. Then she stood by the open door in her bathrobe, winter biting at her bare ankles, and watched Dad disappear down Hancock Street for the last time. I wish I had thought to say goodbye.

On the train platform, Uncle George retrieved a thick brown envelope
from the inside breast pocket of his topcoat and held it out to Ma.
Ma gripped her hanky firmly against her chest, shook her head, and stepped back from him. Aunt Mayme peeled Alfred off Ma as Uncle George leaned over her and gently placed a large, gloved hand on her arm. He spoke softly to her. His voice was deep and reassuring. The brim of his grey felt fedora nearly touched her forehead as he pressed the envelope into her hand.

A porter loaded our belongings onto a trolley and pulled it down the platform toward the baggage car. Ma and Helen walked on either side of Uncle George and held onto an arm. Aunt Mayme grabbed Alfred's hand and then signalled for Larry and me to pick up the box and the hamper of food. We followed her as she nearly dragged a screaming Alfred across the platform toward the train. I stared across the station, toward the exit. Strained to see through the glass doors and out onto Front Street. Everything I had known was slipping away and I wanted to hang on to one small part of it.

Larry turned to me, “Come on, P.J. It's time to go.”

I let out a breath, grabbed the hamper, and followed him.

Alfred bawled all the way to our compartment. But the moment Larry put the church ladies' box down, he fell onto it and ripped it open. He spied a plush pony, in the heap of assorted toys and used
clothing, and grabbed it.

“Hey, Alfred, that's mine,” I hollered. I couldn't have cared less about that stupid pony, but I grabbed it anyhow. Looking back on it now, I realize I was taking out my anger on my little brother. It wasn't his
fault we were moving—it was Ma's. Or maybe it was whatever had
caused the accident that killed my dad.

Ma plucked the toy from my hand and passed it back to Alfred.
“Mind, Pius James.” She picked Alfred up and plunked him down, on the seat, next to Helen. Alfred clasped the pony to his chest, tossed me a look of defiance, and slid closer to her. In better times, my sister would have taken that pony and danced it across Alfred's knees. Now, she glanced down at him and then continued to sulk by the window.

Larry threw his coat onto the rack above the seat and rummaged through the box. “Look here, P.J.—a chess set.” He pulled the table out from beneath the window and secured it in place. Alfred dropped the pony, slid off the seat, and watched me and Larry arrange the chess pieces. My eyes on the board, a hand moving a black pawn into place,
I swung my free arm out in a reflex-like motion, and sent the little
bugger flying back toward Helen.

“Yow, Ma!” Alfred hollered.

“You're off to a good start then, aren't you, Pius James?” Ma's eyebrows furrowed like she wanted to haul off and smack me one good.

I scowled back at her and slumped in my seat. She was the one
getting off to a start—I didn't want to go anywhere.

The train that carried us north from Boston was called the
Gull
. It hugged the jagged coastline up through Maine and crossed the border into Canada—a rugged expanse of white I knew little about, except that Granny's place was up there, somewhere, and that's where we were headed. We passed through dense, black forests and sleeping coastal towns. At midnight, we changed trains in Saint John, New Brunswick, and then continued north. At dawn, we slowly screeched to a standstill. Pale, blue light shone faintly through the window as our train sat idly by the Northumberland coast. Ma had brought us here one summer years ago, when Dad travelled for his work—his old work with Uncle George, that is, the one Ma said was dangerous. Not his new work at the oil-refining plant, the one he went to that day and never returned from. I knelt on my seat, peered through the window, and tried to find something I recognized about the place.

BOOK: Somewhere I Belong
13.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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