Rush, And My Mother, Clare

It’s the closest to the Cote d’Azur you got in Ireland, 1972. Rush – the strand there – even the
word recalled the waves pulled from the shore, stumbling over stony sand. Even the noise of
the tides couldn’t drown the noise, though –
‘Achoo!’ she sneezed, for what must have been the hundredth time. Clare’s mother was the
only one of the sisters who was like this.
‘I’m allergic,’ she would pronounce with great gravity, ‘to sand.’
Everyone accepted this, just like everyone accepted that the sisters who all loved bread and
cakes and spent their lives covered in dough and flour in their kitchens couldn’t partake of
the sweet treats; fruit of their labours. ‘That’d turn me inside out,’ they said, suffering through
a few painful bites. There was no such thing as coeliac disease back then.
Clare would toe the waves, happiest in the space between sea and waves, enjoying the
serious pleasure of ducking in to crouch up to her neck in the frigid water, but being very
sure that when she stood up, she’d be fully within her depth. She didn’t know where her
brother, Paul, had learned to swim, but-
‘They taught us all that craic in school,’ he said, smoking half-furtively around the back of
their rented holiday cottage after tea. Clare folded her arms. She didn’t smoke the cigarettes
her parents brought home from the factory, but Paul always had sticky fingers, and stuck
them in where they were not wanted.
‘There,’ Jimmy had said to him, lobbing a bit of paper at him when he had arrived with the
other fathers off the train from the city that evening; down to Rush for the weekend. ‘Fill that
‘This is a survey – on new cigarette flavours!’ Paul had protested.
‘Exactly,’ Jimmy had said, firmly. ‘You smoked all the bloody things, Paul, not me, so you’d
better fill in the form.’
Inside, the grown-ups were all sitting around the table, smoking their after-dinner cigarettes,
and sharing a drink – not their dad, Jimmy, who was a proud pioneer, and not their mam,
Maureen, either – she was still too busy sneezing. The smoke was practically seeping out
from under the doors.
At the water’s edge, Clare toed the line again, shoes safely on the dunes. In different
oceans, jellyfish crowded the water so thickly that you’d never do this. And sharks could leap
out and snap at you. But maybe somewhere, there were mermaids. Across this sea was
England, and France lurking nearby. Anything could emerge from the surf today, or
tomorrow, or the next day …
The sun was setting on the water, dragged away from the shore with every passing moment.
Soon, she’d have to go back inside, another day at the seaside over, and take her bed
among the the cousins.
A song on the radio filtered through the air to her, and she turned on her heel to trot
obediently back to the cottage. Elvis Presley was crooning about how fools rush in . In the
cottage, someone turned the volume up, and her mother sneezed.