In May, Brother Skeehan has a May Altar to Our Lady. There’s a small table with a white cloth at the front of the classroom and on it sits the statue of Our Lady. Brother Skeehan stands beside it and says “Boys, who can tell me what’s missing from this altar?”
“Sir, candles” says Midge Mulholland.
“Well if this altar was in the chapel – in the Sacred Heart Church above – yes, Mulholland, it’d need candles. But this is a classroom altar…Anybody? …Well I’ll tell you then. It needs flowers, boys. Bring flowers of the fairest, bring flowers of the rarest, to honour Mary our mother. Tell your parents.”
The Mullan twins and Martin Gallagher and other respectable boys bring in flowers I’ve never seen before: tulips. Silky-skinned petals, smooth pink and white and red. They bring them in wrapped in tissue paper.
I go home and tell my mother I need some tulips to bring in, Brother Skeehan says I am to.
“We have no tulips” she says. “But there’s a pile of lovely wee yellow flowers out the lane. Run you out and pick some of those, why don’t you”.
So I do, even though the lovely wee yellow flowers grow on a whin bush that jags my fingers as I gather them. Mammy wraps my lovely wee yellow flowers in a page from last Thursday’s Ulster Herald and I bring them in next day to Brother Skeehan.
He takes them from me gently and carefully, avoiding my bouquet’s jaggy bits. “Thank you” he says, and places my lovely wee yellow flowers to one side. There is something about the way he speaks and moves that makes me feel uneasy.
After school I’m half-way down the school yard when I remember I’ve left my homework jotter in my desk. I go back and the classroom is empty, with a smell of chalk dust. I put my jotter in my school bag and I’m turning to leave when I happen to glance down at the classroom bin.
There, their springy stalks bent so they fit into the bin, are my flowers. I head home but I don’t tell my mother.