Maurice and Elizabeth Scarlet, known to all as Muttie and Lizzie, lived in the inner city of Dublin in a semicircle of old, stone, two-story houses. It was called St. Jarlath's Crescent, after the Irish saint, and once the dwellings had all been occupied by factory workers who were woken by a siren each morning to get them out of bed. There was a tiny garden in front of each house, only ten feet long, so it was a challenge to plant anything that would look halfway satisfactory.
This had been the house where Cathy's mother had been born and where Muttie had married in. Although it was only twenty minutes from Cathy and Neil's town house, it could have been a thousand miles, and maybe even a million miles from the rarefied world of Oaklands, where she was going tonight.
They were delighted to see Cathy turn up unexpectedly with her white van. What were they doing to see the New Year in? she wondered. They were going out to a pub nearby where a lot of Muttie's associates would gather. The men he called his associates were actually the people he met up in Sandy Keane's betting shop, but they all took their day's business very seriously and Cathy knew better than to make a joke about them.
"Will there be food?" she asked.
"At midnight they're going to give us chicken in a basket." Muttie Scarlet was pleased at the generosity of the pub.
Cathy looked at them.
Her father was small and round, his hair stood in wisps and his face was set in a permanent smile. He was fifty years of age and she had never known him to work. His back had been too bad, not so bad he couldn't get up to Sandy Keane's to put something on a sure thing in the three-fifteen, but far too bad for him to be able to get a job.
Lizzie Scarlet looked as she had always looked, small and strong and wiry. Her hair was set in a tight perm, which she had done four times a year in her cousin's hair salon.
"It's as regular as poor Lizzie's perm," Hannah Mitchell had once said about something. Cathy had been enraged-the fact that Hannah Mitchell, who had expensive weekly hair appointments at Hayward's store, while Lizzie Scarlet was down on her hands and knees cleaning Oaklands, should dare to mock her mother's hairstyle was almost more than she could bear. Still, there was no point in thinking about it now.
"Are you looking forward to the night, Mam?" she asked instead.
"Oh, yes, there's going to be a pub quiz with prizes too," Lizzie said. Cathy felt her heart go out to her undemanding parents who were so easily pleased.
Tonight at midnight at Oaklands Neil's mother would have a mouth like a thin hard line and would find fault with whatever Cathy produced.
"And have they all rung in from Chicago?" she asked.
Cathy was the youngest of five, the only one of Muttie and Lizzie's children still in Dublin. Her two brothers and two sisters had all emigrated.
Mike and Marian, the twins, left when they were eighteen, and the next two had followed them like steps of stairs. They were all married now except Marian, and the word was that she was going out with a fellow from a Polish background. Two grandchildren so far, who wrote strange inexplicable colored greeting cards to a land where they had never been, to grandparents they had never met. Lizzie knew every heartbeat of their lives, an ocean and half a continent away.
"Every one of them rang the whole way from Chicago," she said proudly. "We were blessed with our family."
Cathy knew they had all sent dollars to their mother as well because they sent the envelopes to her address rather than to their parents' home. No point in driving their father mad with temptation, letting him see American money when he knew surefire winners were waiting up in Sandy Keane's betting shop dying to gobble it up.
"Well, I'd like to be with you tonight," Cathy said truthfully. "But instead I'll be disappointing Hannah Mitchell with whatever food I produce."
Reprinted from Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Maeve Binchy. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
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