Fancy Nancy. That’s what Mammy calls me when I wear this red dress with black velvet trimming; the one Grandad bought it for me in Belfast last year. It’s a bit tight around the back now.
“Well, would you look at the get-up of this one, Daddy?” Mammy says when I skip down the stairs in my good painted leather black shoes. “Give us a twirl.”
I spin around and it swings out like a frilly umbrella. Daddy looks up from his crossword and mock-whistles. “Is that my little Nancy or the Queen of Mary Street?”
“Come here and help me with these apple tarts.” Mammy brushes her auburn hair from her eyes with the back of her floury wrist, exposing a fresh bruise.
“Mammy, what happened?” I point to her arm, but she fobs me off like always.
“It’s nothing to be worrying yourself over, now these tarts aren’t going to bake themselves. Turn on that oven like a good girl.”
We’re enjoying the fruits of our labour with hot custard when I see the first one pass. Daddy replaces his fork with his pen and lifts his newspaper.
“Five down: Without blemish. Four letters,” he says.
“Pure,” Mammy says and stares at him for ages. I’m trying to pick up the hot apple delight with my fork but it drips through the prongs and splats onto the plate. If I didn’t have my good dress on, and if Daddy wasn’t here, I’d lick it off.
Another one goes by and my head shoots to the window.
“John, please,” Mammy says but Daddy looks away and clears his throat. “Eight across: No score in tennis.”
I jump up. “Love!”
Mammy reaches over and smiles, squeezing my hand. I grin back, so delighted with myself I almost miss the next one.
“Please Daddy,” I beg.
His face is red and the big vein at the side of his head is bulging.
“Are you sure you want to watch them?” Mammy asks.
I nod furiously. I can’t explain it. I know I can’t be one of them but it’s the most beautiful sight in the world.
She stands up, brushing the crumbs from her floral apron. “Go on so, but only from the window.”
Daddy slams the table with his fist, stands and grabs his coat from the back door.
“Don’t mind him,” Mammy whispers and we both jump as the door slams.
From a wooden chair in the front window, far back enough to not be seen, I watch the May Day parade - visions in veils, tiaras and taffeta. A choir of angels, their hands joined as they sing Ave Maria. If there’s a heaven it must look like this.
The girls in mini-wedding dresses are this year’s first holy communion class. Silk, satin and sparkles bellow in the breeze but my eyes are drawn to the lacy socks in white shiny shoes that clip-clop past the window. Marianne next door told me she got money and sweets when she made her communion and went visiting her aunties and uncles and cousins.
It’s not fair. Mrs Hughes on the corner said I can’t join in because I’m a dirty pagan, but I told her I’m not a pagan and I don’t even need any money or to know the prayers or even go visiting. I just want to wear the lovely clothes and be in the parade singing the lovely songs. Mammy called me in and told me not to be saying those things on the road.
Some nights I lie awake thinking about what if. What If I could make my communion? I’d have a long flowy dress with lace and lots of flowers. It would have net on it too and my veil would go down my back. I’d have a crown so sparkly it would look like a big diamond. My shoes would have two cross-over straps and diamantes, my bag drawstring and I’d let mammy put rags in my hair the night before to make it curly. I wouldn’t stop smiling all day and I would be good for a whole week after.
But I can’t because we’re Protestant. Well, half Protestant, half Catholic, I don’t know what I am. They don’t like us here. I know that because I overheard Daddy say we’re moving again on account of the neighbours giving Mammy trouble. He wanted to kill them, or tell the police, for hurting Mammy but she said they’re not worth it.
That makes me sad so I won’t think of it now. Instead, I’ll enjoy the white princesses of the May procession as they pass by and dream that one day, they might let me fit in.