Forgiveness and Fury

I have two sisters and a brother, but this story is just about the two sisters, Saoirse (“Seer-sha”) and Maire. I was 10 years old, Saoirse was six and Maire was four at the time. For one reason or another, a morning before catching the bus, Saoirse was given a new dress by my parents, for some formal event at school that day (she’d never owned a dress beforehand). While the event didn’t enforce formal attire, the societal pressures of women needing to differentiate (and compete with) their fashion choices descended upon Saoirse’s first-grade class early. Nevertheless, I distinctly remember the look of utter joy on her face when she unpacked the overpriced, overflowing article of clothing, the delight on her rosy face.

I also remember Maire’s face.

No emotions populated her face, but for someone who was typically very expressive, she might as well have held a protest sign with the b-word written across it in our dog’s blood. I don’t know if my mother made a point of not looking at the bubbling cauldron of jealousy and rage that my sister was suddenly transformed into or she genuinely didn’t see it. But I did. I realized that Maire didn’t understand that this wasn’t a preferential choice. Maire was still in pre-school and didn’t have any “Cocktail for Kindergarten” events to attend, Saoirse was apparently preparing to meet Prince Charming, and we didn’t have the money to spend on unnecessary dresses — it was really that simple. But clearly, obviously and unquestionably, this was lost on my four-year-old sister. 

All four of us sat around the table in the kitchen, huddled over our identical bowls of Cheerios. The disparity of emotions between Saoirse (as she bounced in excitement, already changed into her new dress) and Maire (who suddenly wore the same stern, shrewd look of our great-grandmother, who would poke us with forks at the dinner table) could not have been more polarized. It was at that point when I noticed Maire forearm nestle itself too closely to Saoirse’s bowl to be by coincidence. Before I could react, Maire let off the most forced yawn I’ve ever heard, and stretched her arms backwards, knocking Saoirse’s own cereal bowl, milk and Cheerios into her lap and down her dress.

I expected Saoirse to quickly produce tear streaks that would rival the milk streaks across her dress, but she simply sat there, in shock, like she’d received notification of a relative’s death. Maire’s prompted apology was layered with insincerity and dripping with relishment. I’ll admit that I immediately snitched. I usually don’t condone “ratting,” but in this case, I wouldn’t care if you called me Templeton; Maire was so clearly, obviously and unquestionably in the wrong here, and she deserved whatever punishment she got. 

While my father quickly attempted to clean off the ruined dress, my mom grabbed Maire and took her to timeout. I’ve never seen someone mutter with such speed and conviction as my mother did. Don’t get me wrong, Maire deserved severe punishment, but I thought for a second that this was it for her. I didn’t think we had an electric chair, but then again, I wasn’t allowed into my parents room. What did I, or any of my siblings, know? 

Maire was tossed into the room, and the door slam shut. It was solitary confinement, and I thought for sure that my youngest sister must be terrified. I would have been.

What proceeded was the most blatant disregard for discipline and authority I’ve ever seen.

Two minutes into her sentence, Maire leaned out the door threshold and asked: “Is my time up yet?” My mother screamed back that if she asked again, her relegation to the room would go through the night. I shook my head at my sister’s rebelliousness, but it also gave me pause. “Through the night?” There was simply no way my parents were going to exile themselves from their own bedroom! The temperature in their room was the best in the house, and they had a really fun bed to bounce on, if you were so inclined.

Ten minutes later, my sister began to “fake cry.” Pathetic, I thought, as I listened to the forced wailings and animal-like wretches from Maire. Then, as suddenly as her bemoaning, she began to sing her “Days of the Week Song” from school. “Sunday, Mondayyy, Tuesday, Wednesdayyy, ThursdayFridayyyyyy … Sat-er-day!” My mom quickly jogged down the hall and bellowed, “No singing or crying in timeout!” Maire silenced herself, but the armor in my parents’ authority was cracked. Even Pearse snickered.

Another 10 or 15 minutes went by, each with seemingly more and more silence. I wondered if Maire was actually contemplating the lesson here, and if she was beginning to feel true remorse. Such a realization and subsequent apology would be impressive for Maire, especially given her age. Part of me even felt bad for her.

The door to my parent’s bedroom creaked open, and Maire stood before our waiting eyes.


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