You peek your upturned nose through the letterbox, inhale the smothering scent of wee buns, and holler, ‘Naaaan!’
The birds are pecking at the bird box, the drizzle is dripping from the roses and the concrete steps shimmer like marble.
You see a face at the window with hollow cheeks. It’s not quite your Aunt Nan, but she opens the door, puts her teeth back in, smiles and you feel rich.
It’s Tuesday. The twin tubs are swivelling their hips — one for washing, one for rinsing. The buns are ready and Nan lifts them onto a cooling rack. She has eyes on the back of her head.
Tut tut and a tap on the hand.
She’s getting coal from the yard and she’s out of sight. You open the fridge and gulp milk from the carton. You spit and squirm. Butter Milk. You’ll never make that mistake twice.
You turn on the tap, duck your head under and swoosh the sourness away. Your eyes creep up over the window to check. She’s bent over the coal bunker, white bloomers skirting an inch below her flowery dress. You steal your way to the cupboard and find the sweet tin. The dolly mixtures melt on your tongue and the brandy balls hidden in your socks tickle your ankles. She smiles and you know that she knows. And she points to the buns that are cool enough to eat, and you’re rich.
It’s dry and there’s a rush to the garden, a skinny green back garden that will soon have Long Johns swaying in the breeze. And there’s Dan, fingers hooked into his trouser braces, sitting on two piles of breeze block, bridged with a wooden plank. You need to pee so you bound over the backs to the outdoor loo in the yard and you feel rich when you pull that long, heavy chain.
The tape recorder is under the cabinet with the porcelain shoe. It’s Mary Nelson from down the road. Her voice is sparkling, brown lemonade. It fizzes up and floats through the Waterloo Road like pride. Nan sings along. Can you hear it? Larlarlar?
She’s talking about the old days. ‘Says she to me,’ she says to me, as the phone rings. Then she’s the Queen. ‘Hellow, Nan Hewitt speaking.’ She’s leaning on the cabinet with the porcelain shoe and she’s looking in the mirror, fixing a curl with a comb. The call is done and she’s Nan again. ‘Says I to her,’ she says to me.
Dan Dan, he’s the funny wee man. He has a box with a clarinet and a box with a fiddle. What’ll it be? Fiddly dee. There goes the bow against the strings. The best fiddler in Ulster, says Nan. You can hear him on the radio, Dan Dan the funny wee man. You’re rich when the fiddle makes your feet go fiddly dee.
Squares of thick, corned beef sandwiches sit upright on the bottom tier. The cake stand with its red roses and gold-trimmed edges is perched at the centre of the room. It’s crowned with butterfly buns and surrounded by old ladies with smiles like summer.
It is summer and the fire is roaring and their faces are all peach and pretty. Mrs Small, Mrs Perry, Mrs Wharry. They don’t have first names — only June who's there to set the hair. The setting lotion is pink and it smells of perfumed paint and it clings to the present and it clings to the past.
‘Isn’t thon a quare cup o tay?’ says Nan.
‘Och aye,’ says Mrs Perry.
You smile from your stomach to your lips when you know that you’ve made a quare cup o tay.
You wonder if they knew on the Waterloo Road.
Did they know that they were rich?
Angeline King's latest novel, Dusty Bluebells, is set on the Waterloo Road.
Angeline is also the author of A Belfast Tale and Snugville Street.
History & folklore
Jean Park of Ballygally
Fiddles and Melodeons
Martha Taylor's diary
Jean McCullagh at 104
Ballymena & the McConnells
Arms in Irish Dancing
Catholics & Protestants in Irish dancing
Dancing in Victorian Ulster
Irish Dancing: The Festival Story
The Protestant in Irish Fiction.
The Protestant in Irish fiction II
Ulster-Scots in Irish Fiction
An author in Wonderland