Anna's Odyssey



        New Year's Day is always a big day in the Moran household. My mother had warned me to be on time as it only starts heated arguments between my father and other family members about my irresponsible lifestyle. On Christmas Day, an even bigger day in the Moran household, our family reunion was ruined because our turkey was off, not off the menu but completely rotten. The stench was overwhelming so I guessed it had to be something in it’s initial stages of decomposition. I have my uses, one of which is an acute nasal radar sensitive to smells that most mortals are immune to. Was it the dog? No! Was it my niece’s soiled nappy? No! Was it my brother’s bedroom and its secretions? No! The source was not discovered until the turkey was taken out of the oven.

        My mother who has no sense of smell after having five children stars in the leading role of Delia Smith dishing out the dinners. She needs to play happy families every so often. I watch her gazing proudly at her generously laden plates. Starvation forces me to peck upon the ever-diminishing carcass .Aaaaa………Instant nausea forces me to spit into the sink. "The turkey is rotten," I manage to say.. "Nonsense," says she, "it's the sausage meat, and you’ve hated that ever since you discovered you were a Jew in a past life.’’ My mother’s disapproval of my beliefs doesn’t ever seem to stop her from using them against me when it suits her. "Mother if my present life or any of my past incarnations depended upon it, I would not peck on the sausage meat. It’s the turkey. I swear to God.’’ I run in to the family dining room. " STOP RIGHT THERE BEFORE YOU GO ANY FURTHER, THE SMELL IS THE TASTE AND THE TASTE IS THE SMELL"

        As I am far too low in the family pecking order to merit my father’s credibility, he immediately goes on the defensive. The man’s genes have to be a throwback to famine times as he pathologically hates waste If the birds or the dogs or the pigs can’t eat it then it goes straight into storage. Our fridge is full of just in case we need it tomorrow processed peas or congealed black pudding or a small bowl of super hot curry with no sell by date. After a night on the beer its contents are devoured indiscernibly by my brother and his friends. Uncontrollable desire for quantity and alcohol soakage obviously supersedes their ability to taste. Fortunately there have been no casualties yet of salmonella or E. Coli. which goes to prove that either our fridge is a germ free zone or they have super human gut antibodies. The word rotten and food cannot co-exist in my Dad’s eyes so there is nothing wrong with the turkey only with me.

        Grace on the other hand is a germ buster. Detox and Domestos protect and watch over her family day and night. They have replaced the Child of Prague in shielding her home from harm. Anti-bacterial sprays .are all part and parcel of her new religion. Any life form other than human is annihilated every day. She is practically on first name terms with her rent-to-kill agent George who has an on going contract dealing with any probable infestations of ants, termites and fleas. You can’t ever be too safe or too clean is her motto. As Grace does not even eat out of our fridge I knew I could rely on her to echo my sentiments.

        Nervously twiddling with her latest gold chain she stares at the turkey in horror and shouts, "SHE 'S RIGHT" Phew! My father's favourite spoke making my discovery gospel. So we ended up eating only the bits that did not touch off the turkey or the stuffing or the sausage meat. Our dinner was virtually reduced to nil calories which suited the flab fighters just fine. That poor bastard turkey must have shat in itself while it cooked, making the whole drama appear like a party political broadcast favouring vegetarianism.

        So today my mother sees fit to redeem herself. You can't go wrong with lamb from Gorman’s butchersas free-range as you can get it. This is now deja-vu without the rotten turkey. Eight members in attendance like the knights at the round table. To my left is Nuala (30),5 ft 6. Sensible and impeccable are the two adjectives that come to mind. Also terminally boring. She is a permanent primary teacher engaged to Nigel the towns well-respected solicitor (10 years her senior). I hate the way she assiduously pulls out the grey intruders from her black hair. Honestly she is too mean to spend her cash on hair dyes. Unlike me she obviously doesn’t think she’s worth it.

        I’m also convinced she’s a serial hoarder holding onto odd socks in the vague hope they will return from the Bermuda triangle. In case of emergency she had to put a stone on both first holy communion and confirmation money. Insurance policies against all eventualities are designed for people like my sister .She fears and expects the worse to happen to all members of this clan especially herself. A headache becomes an inoperable brain tumour. A simple rash becomes a life threatening contagious plague. In the meantime she’s as healthy as stone. She also eats with her mouth closed and chews forty times her jaws being the only part of her to work out.

        Nuala was born with and still has the Anne Doyle's hairstyle, bobbed ‘til she drops. Mother claims that Nuala is a throw back from Aunt Maud, a spinster teacher who hailed from Valentia, Co kerry. To save money Nuala still lives at home and has the habits and foibles of a woman twice her age. She thinks that anything other than the missionary position causes blindness. Looking at Nigel I can understand why. Nuala, for whom routine has replaced life must have been born crystallised. I love her, deep down anyway, but I don’t like her. In fact on a bad day I positively loathe her. She is mother’s satellite dish, not to be trusted. Family pet name is’’ bug ‘’

        To my right is Grace (26) - blonde haired (dyed) and blue-eyed. Perfect in every way. An Aryan dream.. Married to a successful investment banker Marcus. One designer daughter and a designer son on the way. Fate and destiny did not knock on her door. Not our Grace. She was well and truly in the driving seat, (top of the range 3 series Mercedes). She was the hunter and Marcus the hunted. Like a cunning fox she made Marcus believe that he was the one in hot pursuit, just as she snared him. She has a house worth over half a million in Dublin – her belief and confidence in herself has escalated in accordance with rising house prices in the city .If there isn’t a bloody recession soon she’ll be unbearable. She is my father’s pride and joy, his one genetic and commercial success. She has it all. And she knows it. I am her complete opposite. Family pet name is "Golden Girl".

        Beside Grace sits my favourite sister Edwina so named after my mother's passion for Edwina Currie. Edwina is 23 and did a fine -Arts degree in U. C. L, which in Dingle qualifies her for painting infinite landscapes and selling postcards of Fungi to tourists in the summer. She is the prettiest with genuine blonde hair and sea blue eyes. She can eat what she likes, unlike me who puffs up like a blow fish if a morsel passes my lips after sun down. She is presently dating Cuan a fisherman who now makes a fortune boating excited tourists to visit Fungi (the local dolphin) and patron saint of Dingle. Cuan and Edwina live in the hippy commune in Ventry. She is not approved of which makes me love her even more. Family pet name is "Pour les Oiseaux".

        Sitting opposite me is Judas, the one and only son (19). His name was conceived after my mother's biblical class was working on forgiveness issues and she took the topic to its illogical conclusion. 6 ft 1" black hair with navy eyes. Mechanic and part time model. He is my mother's only real child, forever destined to remain an imbecile in anything remotely connected to self -care and housework. All the sisters (including me) resent their oedipal bond. We have never forgiven her for making us do his bed and wash his clothes. Judas loves his friends but hates all his sisters. The feeling is mutual. Presently single and looking. Family pet name "Dick-head".

        Mother a. k. a. (Mother Superior) name is Una McCarthy from South Kerry. Peroxide blonde, piercing light blue eyes, forever fighting the war of the flab and failing. Her claim to fame was starring as an extra in "Ryan's Daughter". She boosts about declining Robert Mitchum advances, calling him a lecherous old sod. Other mother’s daughters can be sluts but not hers. Her mission in life is to guard her daughters' virginity and to pander to her only son. This takes up all her time .She is forever telling us what we and should not be doing but her words fall on deaf and tired ears. Delusion and denial shelter her from the reality of her off spring’s morality which suits us all just fine.

        To guarantee her place in heaven she is a daily mass attendant and Eucharistic helper. She has secretly confided in me that she prefers it when people receive by their hand rather than their tongue. She has a positive aversion to tongues- they are simply too slimy and yeuchy. Sometimes when her finger touches off a tongue all thoughts of the body of Christ mutate into reptilian effigies that haunt her for the rest of the mass. She grins and bears it only because as one of Father Horgan’s handmaidens she is goodness personified in the eyes of Dingle society’s squinting windows.

        Father 's name is Jack Moran from the heart of Dingle. Jet black hair streaked with grey. Thinks he looks like Richard Gere on a good day. Bless him. He works as a sheep farmer and also in the summer runs sheep tours for American tourists. This consists of American tourists watching him and his best friends Fionn and Sam round up the sheep. They think it's awesome and he thinks it's great that they pay him money to view his daily routine .In a house full of women the only concession afforded to his manhood is the television remote control. Even my mother tolerates his infuriating channel hopping because she knows who is the real boss. Needless to say my father takes a passive role when it comes to child rearing as my mother has sufficient dictatorial skills on her own.

        Sitting between my mother and father is my Gran-aunt Molly who alternates between the past, present and future existing in a semi-senile fog. She is my mother's aunt and only living link to her past. She is a social embarrassment to our family. When I had a French boyfriend with long hair every day she would ask him if he was a man or a woman. After a week of listening to her insults he did a runner. She claims that she hates all people from "Killarney" and when asked why she says that they are mean and rotten. She eats everything but eggs (not since the chickens got the galar in 1922) and spends her pension money on sherry and scratch cards.

        Last but not least is moi -meme. Anna (28 yrs) Auburn hair with blond and pink streaks. Height 5 ft 7 " large gap between front teeth (sign of travel) a stone over weight (flab fighter like the mother). Green eyes, Irish skin with the threat of freckles. Bust 34 c—looks remarkable in a wonder bra even if I say so myself. Dimpled cellulite on inner thighs and buttocks. None of the creams on the market have worked so far. If I were nine stone I’d be dangerous which is why God turned down the metabolic thermostat in my body.

        Marriage prospects for a babe like me in Dingle are zero but if my mother had her way I would be sold to anyone whose income exceeded £30,OOO. ‘’Beauty is in the eye of the beholder my dear.’’ so she says. It would not matter to her if a guy had a squint or a club foot, just as long as he was solvent. One would simply have to grow to love him and his squint. Emotional evolution at it’s best. Being a dreamer reality sucks big time so even minor imperfections such as buck -teeth or giant freckles freak me out. I don’t like to stereotype people but I do have some standards when I’m sober. I could not be mated with someone I didn’t fancy the pants off .You might think I am being foolish and immature but sexual chemistry is a huge deciding factor in my book. I need to tingle with anticipation. feeling the gravitational pull towards his maleness. I need seduction with all the pleasures of the flesh. I need to burn in the fires of lust. If my mother knew this I’d be treated to weekly exorcisms with Father Horgan and all her cronies. I would.

        To my mother’s generation sex outside of marriage is the number one mortal sin. If is it so disgraceful and disgusting then how on earth did they ever do it. It is an argument that is ongoing in our house. Nuala agrees with mother but I know that she and Nigel do it at his flat ‘cos I’ve found condoms hidden in a cigar box. Seemingly it is only a sin if you are found out. Thou shalt not get pregnant. Now that must be the ultimate, a fear that always torments my conscience. Relief is the most under-rated emotion of all but it is definitely my favourite. If I’m late niggling doubts threaten all rational thoughts reducing me to a quivering wreck. Me pregnant? What would I do? I plan my escape route to outer Mongolia, my goodbyes to Edwina…giving birth alone in some hut in the forest …giving birth to a baby with giant freckles and flaming red hair…By the time my period arrives the relief is intoxicating... amazing…I feel liberated and truly absolved.

        I used to love growing up in this house full of raging hormones, shouting, screaming and banging doors but not anymore. It’s no longer funny. Everyone else seems to have a life, a plan taking them to the stars while I get to stay in the one place selling fish and conversing with house wives. Oh no. This is not me. My star is up there right now shinning maniacally, desperately trying to attract my attention to steer me elsewhere. Dingle has clipped my wings in more ways than one and right now I need to fly. Unlike Icarus I do not give a damn if I fly too close to the sun. I want to rage against the dying of the light and escape like a bat out of hell.

        At last the Christmas Pudding is being recycled for this New Year's dessert. Three people eat it while the rest of us wonder how they can eat such a gross source of concentrated fat. Heart disease and Christmas pudding make a perfect duo. Now is the time to go public with my plans. I would like to state here that I am stone cold sober so I am breaking out in a cold sweat. My Dad and Mam have drunk 3 bottles of Faustino V (white and red wine) so they should be a little more pliant and lenient before they pass sentence.

        "I want to move to Dublin". ----There is a moment of heavy silence. .................. "I want to change my career". Edwina looks down at the floor as if she is visibly cringing for me.

        My brother breaks the spell sniggering "What career? You don't have a bloody career to change".

        Nobody laughs. Not least my Mam and Dad. Mother’s lips have disappeared which is definitely not a good sign. Dad finally clears his throat. "What about Uncle Jimmy?" I knew it would come to this. My heart sinks to the basement of my toes. Since I can remember all I have ever heard is "Keep in with your Uncle Jimmy". Uncle Jimmy owns the local fish shop a. k. a. Slimy Jimmy's. He supplies all the local restaurants, deli's and housewives. He is unmarried and childless and ever since my head could fit above the counter I have been his helping hand. "Poor Uncle Jimmy ", my mother would say as she'd invite him up for copious lunches and dinners. "You're his favourite Anna. He says that he doesn't know what he would do without you". And so from an early age I was sold into slavery for poor Uncle Jimmy".

        In the meantime the bastard is filthy rich. I have spied upon his bankbooks and he is LOADED! I didn’t tell this to my mother or she would have me living with him. He's not too bad (in homeopathic doses) just a trifle morose as though he hides a tragic past. He has the countenance of a mortician who really cares about his job. His female customers love him because he just stands there and nods while they natter away incessantly. Poor Uncle Jimmy was once almost married to Philly but she choked on a fish bone. He has never forgiven himself or the fish and since then has thrown himself into his work.

        "Uncle Jimmy can do without my help. He has two other staff" I say.

        "Yes " says my mother "but they are not related to him. They are not going to inherit the shop. "

        "I don't want a bloody fish shop at my age. Uncle Jimmy could live for another 30 years at least. Where would I be? I'd prefer to be dead than to be referred to as the pong lady. What man would want a woman who smelt of fish all of the time? Uncle Jimmy could then go senile and donate all his money to his favourite charity "Save Fungi" enterprise Ltd. And there'd I be 30 years later a shrivelled, miserable, bitter old maid".

        My Mother stares at me in disgust. Bless me Father I have taken the name of Uncle Jimmy in vain.

        "Nonsense" says my Dad ‘’You could employ people to work for you".

        ‘’Not until Uncle Jimmy is well gone past his sell –by date (no disrespect to the man)’’ I retort.

        ‘’Besides I want to have a life outside of Dingle. I can always help out some weekends."

        ''YOU have had numerous lives outside Dingle Anna.’’ Nuala my judge and executioner spoke. Thank you Nuala. All rise her court is now in session.

        True I lived in Cork when I was a student but that hardly counts. It wasn’t the real world and I was constantly broke. I have also done work experience in a hotel in Galway but that only lasted 6 months. For Christ sake I was still within the melancholic energy field of the western sea front so where’s the difference. The water in Galway also gave me spots and spots equal major depression.

        I also worked as a nanny in Boston for a year but I was horribly housebound and suicidal after the experience. You see, to date my career choices have led me down a cul-de-sac. My degree in Folklore and Celtic mythology (while it sounded so cool) is worth nothing unless I want to commune with fairies in their ring forts or continue my studies. This would necessitate returning to the university that I now associate with the boulevard of my broken dreams. I haven’t the heart to return. Which of course brings me to my present job rotting away in a fish shop in Dingle. I listen to women all day long discussing the weather and the ridiculous price of squid. Unless I escape soon my soul will atrophy under these conditions. If this is it then kill me now Lord but make it painless.

        Grace who likes to keep the peace mercifully intervened. ''Anna can stay with me for a few weeks and see if she likes Dublin.'' I already like Dublin but I'd prefer to suck soap than to live with Grace. I love her dearly but I could never live amongst such perfection. Her matching duvets, curtains and cushions would choke and stifle the greater part of me. There is a real danger I would drown in the uniformity of her existence. I need to be free to follow my own star where -ever it takes me. However Grace must have helped to get Dad's seal of approval as he changed his tune. "I think Anna needs to be responsible for herself. Grace has enough on her plate as it is, what with the new baby’s immanent arrival. Sure couldn’t Anna stay with Assumpta.-----" My heart started to pound uncontrollably.

        Resurrected memories that I thought were well and truly cremated flood my brain. Until that moment I really believed I was in the driving seat in control, making progress, taking tentative steps towards a future I wanted to mould for myself. Now Fate and Destiny were truly banging on my door. How in the name of all the saints in heaven would I get the courage to open it? My mother’s lips form into a smile of approval that make me realise that the Gods are about to play dice with all my hopes and dreams. Those bastards up there are definitely out to get me. But I won’t let them, not this time.