Orla has been waiting in the darkness since watching her daughter sneak out of the house just after 1am. It is now almost three fifteen as she watches Frank’s car freewheel silently down the track, its lights switched off. It cruises to a halt and Rosa steps out the passenger side, pushes the door closed with a barely audible click and waves goodbye to her partner in crime.
With practised dexterity, Rosa opens the kitchen door and steps inside, closing the door silently behind her. As she tiptoes towards the stairs her mother looms at her from the shadows. ‘Mammy, you almost gave me a heart attack,’ gasps her daughter, her face flushed with guilt and surprise.
‘I thought I told you to stay away from that man,’ reminds Orla. ‘You’ll get yourself into trouble. He’s no good that one.’ Rosa gathers herself together. She has never been one to obey orders. ‘I’ll see who I wish to see,’ she whispers, hoping not to waken the others. ‘I’m going to Chatham with him later to spend our Green Shield Stamps and you won’t stop me.’
With that she flounces past and into her room, locking the door. She and Frank have had such a laugh getting that Zodiac, now she feels bad for having been caught out by her mother. She would never deliberately upset her and the guilt bears heavily.
Frank appears at the yard soon after 9am. Rosa has had to get ready in a hurry as she only woke up ten minutes ago. She flees the house without a word, jumping into the car before Frank has had a chance to get out. ‘Let’s go,’ she urges, ‘Mam was waiting up for me and is not best pleased.’
Sometimes it is best to say nothing, and Frank drives in silence until Rosa changes the subject. ‘How many books have you got?’ she asks. Frank leans across and opens the glove compartment. ‘Count them for yourself,’ he offers, ‘how many have you got?’ Rosa says she has six books and counts a further twelve from Frank’s collection. ‘Where do you get all these from?’ she wonders.
‘I told you, didn’t I? Every time I have to fill up the lorry with diesel I make sure I go in a garage which gives double stamps. I know most of the local girls at the pumps and we have an arrangement. If the customer doesn’t ask for the stamps, the girls take them for themselves and when they have one or two books I buy them off them. That way everybody wins. If the punters don’t want the stamps why let them go to waste?’
‘And they collect all these in a week?’ Rosa is not entirely convinced but she likes going to the shop and looking through the catalogue. She usually gets something for her bedroom and a new gadget for the kitchen. This week she has her eye on an electric can opener and a kettle with automatic cut-off switch. Frank is going to get a Teasmade and sell it to Scotty for his missus. He’s been wondering what to get for her birthday and Frank has convinced him that this is just the thing. Frank has convinced Scotty that this will be the height of sophistication.
‘Frank,’ says Rosa, after a long pause, ‘why don’t you ever talk about your family? I know hardly anything about you.’
Frank sighs; he doesn’t like to talk about himself. ‘Well it’s a tragic story, you see,’ he says, seriously. ‘My grandma was killed by a bee. It was sudden; it was tragic and had a profound effect on my life.’
‘Really?’ asks Rosa, ‘was it an allergic reaction?’ Frank gives his solemn reply: ‘No, she was walking past Boots one Saturday and some workmen were replacing the sign when they dropped the letter ‘B’ and it fell on her head.’
They both burst out laughing. ‘You’re crackers,’ says Rosa. She gets the message: Frank doesn’t want to talk about his family. She will have to be more cunning if she is to learn anything more.