Their secret is safe with me

Her little head just topped the window-sill;

She even mounted on a stool, maybe;

She pressed upon the pane, as children will,

And watched us playing, Oh wistfully ! …….

The Auction Sale  Robert William Spence

 

A curtainless south facing window to the left of the bed provided my eye to the outside world. It was a large window consisting of sixteen panes of dirty glass, framed in red painted wood.  There was a black painted, wide window ledge to perch upon that raised me high up enough above the floor to be able to see out the window.  If I stood on the ledge I was almost as tall as the window and could even see the Spire of the Church above the red brick building next door. The Church spire was the tallest structure in the village and towered over all buildings, the most powerful influence structurally and culturally.  Atop the spire was a large metal cross and ball which had weathered a metallic lime green colour and faced west so captured the evening sun, casting a long shadow down Cill Dara.  It was the last visible shadow left when all other shadows had disappeared.  I could see the whole life of the village coming and going from my window, but it seems no one could see me or what went on in my room. My secret room. My secret only to tell.

In the morning, the light would slowly come through my window, hailing the start of the day as the sun rose from the sea. The darkness was over.  I could get off the bed now as no one else would be coming into the room.  Once light winked through the window the day was mine.  The night belonged to others but once the room was basked in daylight I was safe once more. It might mean my mother would come and unlock the door and leave food or let me come downstairs to the kitchen after getting dressed.  If it was winter and the Hotel was closed, the only people in the kitchen were my parents sitting at the long dining table, one at each end drinking a cup of tea, maybe eating a piece of toast but n’ere a word passing between them. I did not know how to make toast but would have a slice of bread taken from the yellow and green metal bread bin with the roller door that I loved pulling up and down.  I  would lift the lift up the brown lidded butter dish in the shape of an Irish Cottage and spread my bread with large lumps of butter, clumsily spreading it as a child does, making holes in the bread with the hard butter but after maybe three days in the room, it tasted delicious. Food eaten in freedom tastes delectable and distinctive.  I found a strange freedom in the silent company of two warring adults.  I was then at liberty to spend the day as I wished and would leave the hotel as quickly as I could and wander the streets, wending my way down to the Harbour onto the beach. I would spend the day playing in the sand and just hiding in the dunes, not coming home until the light began to fade.

 

In the Summer, the kitchen would be bustling with staff and I would be greeted warmly and given a cooked breakfast to eat. These were the rare, special days. I loved the summers. The hotel would be full of guests so there would be a full complement of staff employed to look after them. One of them was a wondrous woman called Bud who was the chief cook. I adored her and she worshipped me. If I was let out of my room I would scamper eagerly down the stairs to hopefully be greeted cheerfully by her. She was a joyous sight to behold. She could not have been more than five foot tall and was probably that in girth too. She was always impeccably neat with her hair worn in a tight bun atop her absurdly tiny head for her seemingly extreme, charmingly rotund anatomy. She had enormous, voluptuous breasts that she would enfold me into to and I would temporarily disappear into what I thought of as “The Land of Bud”. It was warm and safe, plain impregnable. No one could reach you here. Her frame was always wrapped in a colourful floral apron with a large bow tied securely at the back out of which protruded two full and generous arms with incongrous tiny petitite and shapely hands at the end. Ladies hands I always thought. Gentle, female butterflies hands. She did not so much walk, as waddle in the most endearing way possible towards me when I would enter the kitchen exclaiming. “Ceann beag ,teacht anseo chugam mbeidh ya, abhair dom cuddle mór a shocrú dom lá bun. Cinnte tá mé go léir an níos fearr do bhfaca ya.(“Little one, come here to me will ya. Give me a big cuddle to set me day up. Sure I am all the better for seeing ya”). She spoke in her native Gaeilge most of the time and rarely in English except to the staff who spoke none. I loved it. She would sit me on a high stool beside her whilst she cooked and baked and let me follow her about the kitchen chatting away to me. She did not seem to mind that I did not answer her rhetorical questions. She appeared to have an innate understanding that speech was not a safe mode for me and was best left alone as she never forced the issue. She had the most extraordinary way of answering her own questions and conducting conversations that completely included me yet never required me to utter a word. This included the retelling of my adventures rambling the village and beaches. How did she know about them ? Who told her about my innocent exploits ? Her husband was a fisherman. Did he see me about the place and tell her. The eyes, ears and wagging tongues of the village shared the wanderings of child it seemed. She taught me how to make bread, cakes, scones and all sorts of biscuits. Days were blissful and joyful spent in the bustling, busy kitchen where everyone was happy about their work. All ages worked there from old Mr Ó Murchadha who must have been eighty and just sat hunched on a wooden stool in the scullery peeling potatoes and vegetables to Aoibheann who was about thirteen and used to wash the dishes some which seemed to be bigger than her. I marvelled at her ability to wield those massive iron saucepans into the sink and get then sparkling clean when she seemed half their size. Whole families were employed there and had been for a few generations as the hotels had been in my father’s family for four generations.  Silence descended in the kitchen as soon as either of my parents entered and everyone wordlessly and mutely went about their tasks unless spoken to. My mother usually just spoke to Bud who was in charge. Hushed orders were given.  I slid silently out of the room as soon as she appeared and fled knowing I would be in trouble if caught there.
I would traipse the streets observing people, wander the beach, collecting pebbles, seaweed and shells. The beach would be filled with strangers and visitors and I could anonymously mix with them. It was such joy to wander freely without a care in the world, a cuddle from Bud, the bustle of the kitchen in my ears, a full stomach and knowing I had the day all to myself free of the room. It was blessed ecstasy. The sun beating down, the harbour sparkling, smiling faces everywhere and life was joyous. It was a day to be lived. Oh, how I loved those summer days. I can smell them still. There is not a care in the world, only the beach to roam, the seaside to explore and the rapturous yet dreamy heat of an Irish summer day to lure you to a spot on the dune to curl up under the shade of a Tusset plant and dreamily drift of to sleep for a short time until your stomach tells you it’s time for another meal and maybe if you are lucky another cuddle from Bud. It doesn’t move closer to Heaven. Wandering back along the beach I spy my favourite shell and pocket it with delight. Capped the day off !!! Into the kitchen and yes Bud is still there and so is her cuddle and warm greeting. I am just in time to join the staff for dinner. What a treat. No need to speak. Just soak in all their gossip of the guests. Oh, the stories they tell. What goes on behind closed doors. I am warned of course not to breath a word to anyone. As if. Their secrets are safe with me.

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