I open our front door, ignoring the sign hung there: With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come. – Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Hasn’t been any laughter here in a long time. Ma should take these old things down. Store them, if she can’t bear to throw them out. They make a mockery of our lives. Take this one in our bathroom: Self-love, my liege, is not so vile as sin, as self-neglecting. – Shakespeare, Henry V. Because that’s what you want to see first thing in the morning after some baby has been wailing all night. Not.

But Ma is determined to keep them. They’re everywhere. Gifts from Grannie’s old madam. The woman came back from her la-de-da trip to England, “Where they’re all so civilised,” she had said.

Decorate, my grannie did, and the house has been that way ever since. Even though Grannie’s now gone, Ma owns the house and that old madam moved. Although the house Grannie worked in remains, see it every day I go to school, tucked right around the corner with its white-white paint and big pretty windows and a perfect lawn that some man tends to every Monday through Friday, keeping it all looking neat as a pin.

We used to have a bit of grass, too. It never looked that smooth and perfect, but it was nice enough. But after daddy died, Ma got some old paving stones and used them to cover most of our tiny garden because, “We don’t have time for that.” All that’s left is a small rectangle of soil for veg. I suppose she’s right about the grass, not like I needed another chore to do around here, anyway.

I flip on the TV and set Gab down. He gives a happy squeal and then zones out to the high-pitched voices and the colourful shapes and pictures flashing on the screen.

I leave him be and go into the kitchen, a cat’s paw length away from our living room. I turn on the oven, warming it up to put in yesterday’s leftovers, pickled fish. At the sink I begin to wash out Gab’s bottles. I pointedly ignore the sign staring at me: There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. – Shakespeare, Hamlet. Because there is bad and I’ve lived too much of it already. So I look out of the window instead. We don’t have much of a view, mostly other people’s houses. But standing at the sink, if you tilt your head just right, and look down the tar road, you can see a bit of the bay in between the informal homes that cling to the lower slopes. It is at the perfect angle to watch the fishing boats come in.

Ma never looks anymore. Not since that night she stood there during the storm, whispering prayers that God refused to hear. But I still look. I know Daddy isn’t coming back. The sea swallowed him whole. He and one other man from his crew were the only bodies never found. Ma worried the insurance would fight it, but it all got sorted out thanks to one doctor’s lawyer taking the case for free. Not that Daddy had much money in his life insurance policy. But it was enough that I get to go to the better high school in town, the one that wouldn’t take people like me when Ma was a little girl.

Ma only says, “Thank God I didn’t waste it all on Justine and have enough for you.”


Tell us: Do you agree with the Shakespeare quote that nothing is good or bad, it is how we look at it that makes the difference?