Our extract this week is from The Raptures by Jan Carson, which is set in a small village in Ulster, and is about a class of 11-year-olds who are hit with a fatal illness…[restrict]
Miss McKeown said it wasn’t always going to be like this. Eventually, it would get better here. Matty raised his hand and asked if eventually was going to last much longer. Miss gave him one of her looks and never bothered answering. She probably thought he was being sarcastic. Matty was only asking because he wanted to know. He’s not smart enough to be sarcastic. Matty’s still reading baby books though today’s our last day of P7.
It’s not his fault. He’s got no dad and his mum’s rubbish. She never goes over his homework or checks his reading. Granny says Matty’s been dragged up. Mum says it’s not nice to talk like that. I’m to be kind like Jesus and share my crisps with him at break time; first pick of the bag, before I get down to the wee broken bits. Everybody else’s mum must’ve said the same thing because we’re all nice to Matty. We pretend not to notice the way he smells or the worn bits in his trousers.
When we line up to pay for school dinner tickets, we let him go last, so he doesn’t have to see us seeing him get his for free. I’m not poor like Matty. I’m not stupid either. I’m the second smartest in our class. Only William’s sharper than me. That’s probably because he’s a boy. God made girls from boys’ leftover bits. It says so in the Bible: Genesis chapter 2. Last year, in Sunday school, I got a gift token for the Faith Mission bookshop because I could recite the first three chapters of Genesis off by heart. Word perfect. No hesitation.
I didn’t need to check the Bible once. I’m pretty clever for a girl. Obviously, I’d never say this out loud. It’d sound like I was being prideful. Pride’s one of the worst sins you can do. Only murder and adultery are worse. I’m not exactly sure what adultery is. I think it’s when you act more grown-up than you actually are: drinking wine and playing cards or maybe giving your parents lip. I should’ve looked it up in the dictionary when we were learning vocabulary. I probably won’t get the chance now. I don’t think you do vocabulary in big school. It’s a pity. I really like words.
There’s a space at the back of my jotter for writing new ones next to their meanings. I’ve learnt so many, I’m almost out of room. Sarcastic. Fantastic. Evangelical, which is what we are, in my family. Encyclopaedia. Environmental. Rhododendron. Rhododendron ’s the hardest word in the spelling book. I don’t need to ask Miss McKeown for a definition. I know that eventually means a really long time. Just saying it makes me tired. It’s a word that feels like a waiting room. We’ve had the Troubles here for a really long time. I asked Granda Pete how long they’ve gone on for. ‘How long’s a piece of string?’ he said.
This is a thing adults say when they don’t know the answer but still want to sound smart. I asked my dad the same question. He said it wasn’t the sort of thing wee girls should be thinking about. According to Dad there’s lots of things wee girls shouldn’t think about. We don’t talk about the Troubles in our house. The Bible says you shouldn’t have anything to do with the World. Worldly things are politics, gambling and the pictures. I’m not that bothered about politics or gambling. I just wish we weren’t against the cinema.
Last summer Caroline’s birthday was in the big cinema over in town. She invited me. That was nice of her. Most of the ones in my class don’t bother asking if I can go to their parties or come round to play. They know my parents won’t allow me. Outside of school, we don’t do anything that isn’t church. I still asked Dad about going to Caroline’s birthday. I told him the film was only a PG. ‘It’s about a big dog that’s always knocking stuff over,’ I said. ‘There’s no swearing in it or anything.’ He said no. I knew he would. Every time I ask about the pictures, Dad says, ‘Cinema starts with sin, you know.’ I don’t know what he’s talking about.
We drive past the State on the way to church and the sign’s definitely spelt with a C. I’ve never been to the pictures but we do have a television in our house. Cinema’s pretty much the same as telly. It’s just on a bigger screen. Every night, after dinner, Dad watches the news. I’d rather watch EastEnders like everybody else, but it’s banned in our house because the people in it are always swearing and getting divorced. The news is better than nothing and, while Mum’s redding up the dishes, I get Dad and Hannah time.
When there’s bad stuff reported – and there’s never a night when nobody dies – Dad makes a clickety noise with his tongue. He shakes his head. ‘Dear, dear,’ he mutters and writes the details down in his notebook. Car accident. Aughnacloy. 2 killed. Pipe bomb, Crossmaglen. 4 army injured. Incendiary device in C&As. I never say anything. I click my tongue and make the same sad noise as Dad. News isn’t for discussing. It’s for praying about later on.
The Raptures (TPB, €14.99)
by Jan Carson is out
now and is published