After school, I have to play outside. Mammy’s at the factory and Daddy’s in England looking for work. I’m not allowed in the house on my own because I can’t be trusted.
Me and my best friend, Rosemary, sit on the pavement, poking sticks in the soft tar. It’s getting all over our hands and we’ll be in trouble, but we’re bored.
“What would you do if you were rich?” Rosemary asks.
“I don’t know. How do you get to be rich, anyway?”
She thinks about it for a minute. “I guess if you were famous, you’d have lots of money.”
“But how do you get to be famous?”
We both stab furiously at the tar for a few minutes, neither of us quite sure how to go about being famous.
Then Rosemary says, “Well, if you got your name in the paper, you’d be famous, wouldn’t you?”
“Yeah, but only important people get in the paper.”
We wander round to the backyard, where there’s a cold-water tap. It doesn’t wash the tar off but we manage to get our socks and shoes wet.
I have a good idea. “What if we gave money to the hospital like Mr. Brown did? He got his name in the paper.”
“Yeah, but Mr. Brown’s not rich, is he?” Rosemary objects.
“He’s richer than us, though, because he’s got a car and a job.”
“My daddy has a job.”
“But he doesn’t live with you and he hasn’t got a car.”
“You’re right.” Rosemary sees the sense of what I’m saying. “But where will we get the money to give to the hospital?”
I look at Miss Barr’s apple tree in the garden next door and the branches which hang over the hedge into our garden. She goes mad if we pick her apples and I’ve been told time and again not to touch them.
“We could sell apples on the corner to the people coming out of the factory.”
Rosemary follows my gaze and gasps, “Susie, that’s stealing!”
“No, it’s not, because they’re already in our garden. So, really, they belong to us, don’t they?”
She always believes me and I always get my own way. Rosemary’s pretty but I’m the smart one.
Too clever for my own good, Mammy says, which is very nice of her.
I climb on the dustbin, with Rosemary hanging on to my legs, and pick the apples I can reach, hitting the far-off ones with a stick so that they fall to the ground. Some of the apples have marks on them. That’s all right. We can turn them upside down.
We find a cardboard box in the shed and carry the apples to the corner. It’s throwing out time at the factory. The women frown at us and hurry past. The men laugh as if we’re funny and give us pennies. Sometimes they don’t even take the apples.
One of the men says, “You’d better watch out, your mammy’s coming.”
All the apples are gone anyway and we trail behind Mammy as she heads for home. Rosemary decides she’s in charge of the money and counts it. “Two shillings and thruppence. It’s not much, is it?”
It seems a lot to me.
“They’ll be delighted with that at the hospital. We’ll take it up on Saturday morning.”
She looks doubtful and I have to give her a pep talk.
“We have to make a start, or we’ll never be famous. Wait til our names are in the paper; everybody will be talking about us.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
Rosemary clears off for her tea and I go in to wash the dishes from this morning while Mammy cooks.
The lady at the hospital on Saturday morning is very smiley and laughs a lot.
I nudge Rosemary. “See, I told you they’d be delighted.”
“And what are your names, may I ask?”
The lady has her pen out. This is it; we’re going to be famous!
We split up at the corner of my road. Rosemary’s going swimming in the Bann this afternoon with her brother, Adrian. I’m not allowed to go to the river, because I can’t swim. But it’s all right. I’ve got an Enid Blyton book from the library and I get sixpence on a Saturday for sweets.
I help Mammy with tidying up and peeling potatoes for dinner, even washing the dishes afterwards without being told to. When I’m famous, she’ll be saying how good I was about the house.
I’m a good way into The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters and the Famous Five are showing the police how to do their job when there’s a knock at the door. I ignore it, until Mammy shouts, “Get the door, are you deaf?”
Sighing loudly, to make sure she hears me, I make my way to the front door. Norman, from across the road is outside. I know from the look on his face he’s got something he’s just dying to tell me, but I won’t ask him and put on my patient face to stare him out.
It’s a waste of time, anyway, because he blurts straight out with it. “Your friend, Rosemary – she’s drowneded!”
He’s so stupid, the same age as me and he can’t even read yet. I tell him, “First, it’s drowned, not drowneded. And second, if she was drowned, she’d be dead.”
His mother (he doesn’t say Mammy like ordinary people) comes running across the road after him and grabs him by the arm.
“Come away, Norman,” she says and looks at Mammy, who’s come up behind me. They do that thing grown-ups do, talking without saying anything.
I feel sick, like I’d eaten too many of Miss Barr’s apples.
Mammy brings me back into the house and talks to me ever so soft. It’s true. Rosemary got drowned in the river.
“But she can swim. It’s not true. We’re going to be famous.”
I shout at Mammy and slap at her arms. When she cuddles me instead of scolding me, I know it’s true.
The Chronicle comes out on Friday.
There’s a list of people who made kind donations to the hospital. Me and Rosemary are at the bottom of the list with two shillings and thruppence. Over the page, in among things about people who got born or married or died, there’s a picture of Rosemary in her school uniform.
Underneath it are lots of nice things about her and how sad it was she got tangled up in the weeds. I find a bit that says how much her friend, Susie, misses her. I expect Mammy put it there.
Anyway, Rosemary is more famous than me because she got a picture as well as her name printed twice. I don’t mind.
Being famous isn’t at all like I thought it would be.
(c) Jacqui Jay Grafton