The city was quiet as Margaret gazed out of her bedroom window. It felt like any other spring morning. She was due to start back at work in the Jacob’s factory this morning. She put on her work clothes and went to the kitchen. Her Ma was busy making breakfast while her Da looked uncharacteristically restless. It took her a moment to figure out what was missing from the picture – neither the morning paper nor the milk had been delivered.
“You might as well go back to bed,” he grumbled, spotting Margaret on the stairs. Beth placed a cup of black tea in front of him. “Thank you dear,” he muttered, giving the tea a contemptuous glare.
“Ah, Da! I have to go in, I was lucky to get the job in the first place,” Margaret insisted, dragging out a chair.
“You’ll not be leaving the house today. Jacobs won’t be open, not with the rebels in the city centre,” her father said dismissively, “I spoke to a man last night, said that Jacobs is occupied along with half a dozen other buildings. It’s not safe.”
“I said no!” he barked.
“It can’t be that bad,”
He glared at his daughter, “The British led a cavalry charge down Sackville street yesterday afternoon.” Her Da stood as he spoke, drawing himself up to his full height. “If you think you have any idea what’s going on out there you’re sorely mistaken. You aren’t going out today and that’s final.” Her father left his cup of tea untouched and took his hat and cane from the stand, “I’ll be back later. The blasted foreman wants the furnaces to stay lit even if the blowers aren’t in.”
He limped out the door, leaving Margaret and her mother alone in the kitchen. Beth pottered around the stove and oven preparing food for the day. She opened the draw of the oven and pulled out a freshly baked loaf of bread.
“You shouldn’t be so angry at your father,” she said quietly, not turning from her work. “He’s only doing what he thinks his best.”
Margaret muttered under her breath.
“He’s just worried, that’s all,” she soothed, “He’s afraid that it could get a lot worse before it gets better. He remembers the stories told by his grandfather about past rebellions. If it’s as bad as 1798 then we could need to get out of Dublin.”
“How do you know about all that?” asked Margaret.
Her mother turned, giving her a wry smile. “Just because men are allowed to do all the talking doesn’t mean they know a thing about listening. Much like you, last night sitting on the landing.”
Margaret opened her mouth to explain but her words failed her, “How did you know?”
“I’ve told you before, all mothers have eyes in the back of their head.” There was a knock at the door. “Go answer that will you, it’ll be the milk man or the paper. Everything’s running late this morning.”
Margaret crossed to the door and opened it to reveal the haggard and worn milkman, Pat Magee, with his cart and a bottle of milk. “Come in Pat, you’re looking wretched.” Margaret said taking the bottle from him.
“Hello Pat, are you well? Will you have a cuppa?” Beth said smiling.
“Ah sure I will. It’s fierce bad for travellin’ this weather,” he replied with a dramatic sigh, “the Brits are as mad as a bag of spiders and twice as hairy.”
“They giving you much trouble?” Beth said beckoning him to sit.
“Ah, trouble isn’t the half of it,” said Pat sitting at the table. Margaret smiled, she could see the glint in his eye that he got whenever he had a story to tell.
“Beth let me tell you this,” he started, “Sure I was doing the rounds as I usually do, down by Pembroke cottages, same as every day, and suddenly I was shocked out of my skin. A shot nearly ran right through me. Broke three bottles and all. And if old Jess had been a younger girl she’d have bolted down the street, cart and all. It was a tossup as to whether she’d have had a heart attack before me! So these three young Brits run up to me, all scared out of their minds. Sure, all the real fighting men are off in France or are already dead. So these three boys are pointing their rifles at me, shouting something about passing messages to the rebels. And I says to them, “Sure the only messages I’m passing to anyone is that I sell milk at three ha’penny a bottle. So that’ll be four penny and a half for the damage.” Now of course he didn’t take kindly to the insinuation that he owed me money. The next thing I know he’s threatening to toss the cart, then doesn’t old Tom Taylor call out of his doorway in his best English accent to let me off and get him his milk. So they begrudgingly let me off without another word. Off to terrorise some other poor citizen I’ll wager.”
The door flew open interrupting Pat and in stormed Margaret’s Da.
“They’ve shut the works!” he howled. “The foreman figures it’s too dangerous. He’s hired some men to guard the place. We’ve been told to stay away till it’s all resolved.”
He threw his hat on the table angrily.
- Written by Cillian Fearon
Illustration by Daisy Kinahan Murphy
This piece originally appeared in Volume 29, Issue 8. Published February 16th 2016.