My English teacher, Ms Kilroy, came into the classroom this afternoon and told us we should all be keeping a writing journal. She was wearing bubblegum pink lipstick and a new top that was so tight, you could see her nipples sticking out like wine gums. None of the boys heard what she said, and some of the girls too were sitting with their mouths hanging open. Shannon Maloney was in mid-chew of a wad of gum so big it filled her mouth ? totally disgusting. Ms Kilroy leapt around the classroom, talking about how we need to get our creative juices flowing and reveal the writer within and how we had to write the Whole Honest Truth and to keep going, even when the first go wasn't any good. Doireen, my best friend, was rolling her eyes like a baby doll when you put them to sleep but I thought it sounded great, especially when Ms Kilroy looked right at me and talked about putting my life down in words. I've a lot to tell. She said we should write every day without fail, even if it's only for five minutes. I'm going to give it a go. I've been at it five minutes already.
I stopped at Pawel's Newsagent on the way home and got this gorgeous notebook with a picture of an Egyptian King's head on the cover. I showed it to Mum when I got in, but she was so busy with The Baby that she hadn't even noticed that I was 15 minutes late. She used to have a canary if I was even five minutes late, going on and on about crime and street smarts and the council should do something, and then Nan would join in and say wasn't it my mum's fault we had to live here because she had let her husband run out on her and she was a complete failure and only had herself to blame. And then Mum used to say something back about Nan's Feckless Son and how it was all her fault for raising him like a spoilt brat and what kind of man would leave his two small children and yadda yadda yadda. Nan is my Feckless Dad's mum and somehow when my Feckless Dad ran off with The Galway Floozy, Nan stayed here with us and didn't follow him, even when he called her from Letterfrack and asked her to come. I know because I was behind the sofa when he called. He didn't ask to talk to me that time but if he had, I would've pretended I was out and not talked to him, not ever. Sometimes he texts me but I don't answer.
So anyway, it must have been the next week after that first phone call that Mum put on a red dress she'd only worn once before and bought a new, lacy bra that wasn't gone grey with the washing and went out and met Mick. Mick's alright. He drives his lorry all over the country. There isn't a road he hasn't driven on. When there's a new road opened anywhere, he makes of point of getting a delivery somewhere nearby just so he can go and drive on it. When I'm older, he's going to take me to Kinnegad and Moneygall and Newtownmountkennedy and lots of places I haven't been. Not Galway, though. I'm never going to Galway. Not ever.
I can't write anymore today or else my hand will fall off and I haven't started my homework yet.
I took out my writing journal in the kitchen but no one paid any attention except to send me to the shops for some potatoes and beans so I went up to the bedroom I share with Nan to change out of my boring, boring, boring school uniform first. I'm never wearing grey again when I leave school. Dave MacEvoy came to school once in jeans and an Arsenal top because his house was burned down by someone and all his clothes had gone with it and he doesn't even support Arsenal, that's how bad it was. Then Shannon Maloney tried the same thing, but she got sent home because our year head lives near her house and she knew it hadn't been burned down by anyone. Yet.
I'm a redhead, Doireen says I should call it strawberry blonde but at school it's ginger. I hate it. It curls like a curly fry and I can't do anything with it. I'd like to cut it off but Mum would go bananas. And I'm skinny because I'm going through a growth spurt. If it doesn't stop soon, I'll have to bend over to get in the front door. I'm 12, nearly 13. It's my birthday in three days and I'll be a teenager. It's going to be great. When Doireen was 13, her mum and dad took her and me out to a fancy restaurant called Leonardos. They had snails and kangaroo on the menu and everything was drizzled with something or nestling in something else. I had chicken with some green gooey stuff. It was very pretty but if you want the whole honest truth, I'd rather eat pizza. They had about twenty different types of bread, and in between the waiter came and brushed all the crumbs off the tablecloth and once he winked at Doireen and made her go red. I don't expect Mum and Mick will take me out to Leonardos. I'd be happy to go to Lota-Burger. They have highchairs and a kids menu and they have to have something plain that Nan would eat. No sauce. No foreign stuff. What's more Irish than a hamburger? I don't know if Mick will be home that night or not. Last year he brought me a lovely, silky dressing gown he got in Newry, but that was because I'd asked him to get me one. This year I haven't asked for anything in particular. I like surprises.
Mum is four inches shorter than me, even in her highest heels. Her hair is shiny and blonde (dyed) and she has a small scar across one eyebrow that makes her look confused. I don't know what she's going to get me for my birthday. She hasn't said anything but she's very busy getting ready to go back to work tomorrow. She's worried about how Nan will cope with Benjy and The Baby but she'll be fine and I'll be home at 4 to help out. The Baby sleeps half the day anyway. Mum can get my birthday cake after work. Her work is right next to Liffey Valley so it's very handy. I expect that's why she hasn't got me anything yet. At least I don't think she has. Last year I got an MP3 player.
I read over what I have written so far. I think it has a lot of what Ms Kilroy calls spark. She said we have to use similes and metaphors for vivid writing. My Nan's like Simon Cowell. She doesn't mince her words. If she sees I have a spot on my nose or I've cut my fringe wonky again, she'll just out and say, 'What's that huge spot on your nose? That'll stop traffic and what did you do to your fringe? You'll never get a boyfriend looking like that.' And yadda yadda yadda, she'll throw in two or three other things as an extra bonus before she goes back to washing the windows, even though we're downwind of the cement factory.
Ms Kilroy says we shouldn't use clichés like, 'mince her words.' 'What can I do?' I said to The Baby. 'They just creep up on me.' He looked at me with his solemn, brown eyes which are just like Mick's, except Mick's eyelashes aren't half as long. I hate my eyes. Doireen says they're blue like a swimming pool in an advert but they're really blue like my Feckless Dad's.
Mum came home from work looking flattened. The Baby made a complete fuss, howling and throwing his body around like a gymnast when he saw her, although he'd been fine all day without her. Benjy started rocking again so I had to look after him for the whole evening.
Mum hasn't given me any hint what she's got me yet. I had a look in her bedroom before she got home but I didn't find anything except her lacy bra gone grey. I haven't even mentioned it since she told me to shut up about it when we were in Liffey Valley getting shoes for school, which must be about three months ago. I was talking about becoming a teenager and I suppose I went on about it a bit much. She told me that when she was 13, she got a book and pair of rollerskates and they were second-hand and I laughed because she never reads books, not like me. She said I'd better watch out I don't end up spoiled like my Feckless Dad, and The Baby started crying and we had to go and find somewhere to change him and I ended up getting my school shoes in a rush and they're too small already.
Nan was already up and changing The Baby so I went to school without anyone saying Happy Birthday to me. Doireen was off sick again with her asthma, so even she wasn't there. I texted her at break but she didn't answer.
When I got home, The Baby was crying and Benjy was watching Desperate Housewives. Just kidding. He was watching Dora the Explorer. Nan was ironing Mick's T-shirts and I know for a fact he doesn't like them ironed. There were no presents wrapped in tissue paper and ribbons, no post with my name on it, no iced cake with 13 candles, a big, fat nothing. I went upstairs to write in my journal.
After a while, I heard Mum come home and The Baby started howling. She calmed him down and I couldn't believe it when I heard her running a bath and she still hadn't come in to find me. I stayed in my bedroom and wrote my book report on Goodnight Mr Tom.
Then I heard Mick coming in, calling for Mum to put on her red dress as we've something to celebrate. I was so relieved, my legs went wobbly. But then he said they had to celebrate having two pay cheques coming in again and he could murder a curry. He must be joking. He knows I hate curry. Mum came out saying to keep the noise down and she's not paid for four weeks. The Baby woke up and Benjy started screaming and Nan shouted at Mick and Mum said all she wanted was to have a bath and go to bed. Mick said he'd spent all day driving home from Tralee to be with her and yadda yadda yadda, they had a big row, which ended with Mick stomping out of the house to go and sleep in his lorry. Except he came back in again later, when Mum was in the bath, to get some clean clothes and Nan made him a sandwich and then he went back to his lorry. He still didn't come and see me.
Thursday is Nan's Bingo night and nothing makes her miss her Bingo so she went out too, even though she was worn out with The Baby, so I had to make fish fingers for me and Benjy. What kind of a 13-year-old has fish fingers for her birthday tea?
I was writing this in my journal when guess who called me on my mobile? I thought it would be Doireen but it was my Feckless Dad. The only person to remember my birthday was my Dad in Galway. I didn't know whether I should answer it. I stood in the middle of the bedroom with my phone ringing louder and louder in my hand and wondered what to do. I couldn't think straight. What would he say to me? Happy Birthday, I suppose. Did he even know how old I was? And what would I say to him? I would tell him how useless I was as a teenager, how no one had remembered my birthday and I would start bawling like I was still only a child. Maybe he would say he had a present for me and he loved me and missed me and he would ask me when I was coming to Letterfrack. Or maybe he got me a present that was so big, he was going to bring it himself. So I had just made up my mind to answer the phone and it stopped ringing. And when I rang back, there was no answer.
And how did that make me feel, Ms Kilroy? Like a total loser, a complete failure as a teenager. That's how. I wish I was still 12. And that's the Whole Honest Truth.
Kate Dempsey lives in Maynooth, Co Kildare. Her short stories and poems have featured in The Quiet Quarter on Lyric FM and the Francis MacManus Short Story Awards on RTE Radio, and she has been twice short-listed for Hennessy X.O awards, in emerging poetry and emerging fiction.