The hollow din of aluminium tin pots being scraped with spoons fills the ears of my disinterested three-year-old self. I spy magnificence through the doorframe. There beneath the lintel, circling slow motion around the table. One after another – appearing, disappearing, reappearing like a flick book animation. Racing toy cars like it’s a grand prix and shouting vroom-vroom. A voice saying we can’t go in there – that’s the boys’ room.
I know all about the shit we can’t do because we’re “too small” but this exclusion based on being not-boys is news. My frenemy Penny Joy says I must stay in the kitchen and play pots and pans with her. Penny is the kind of girl some people might describe as bossy (it’s the 80s, pre-fourth-wave feminism and no one knows yet that calling a three-year-old girl bossy is misogynistic and potentially damaging to her self-esteem). She shows me how to fill up the pots with imaginary substances like soup and potatoes for our imaginary husbands who are coming home from work hungry (Penny is unaware of first or second-wave feminism). I fill my pot with all the fucks I couldn’t give about my imaginary husband’s hunger.
Thoughts store up in me. A great solution to this problem is percolating. I drop out of playschool. I’ve had enough of playing pots and pans with Penny. Fuck that. Big school starts in September. I’ve given them my terms and conditions. I’ll only go if I can wear trousers like my brothers. My mother goes before the school board. The Monsignor who wears dresses is unhappy about my insistence at wearing the trousers, but he says he will make an exception because he was friends with my dead Grandfather and owed him a favour.
It is decided I am to have the younger of the brother’s old trousers. They’re too big (or I’m too short) so my mother cuts the ends off and stitches the hems up crooked. She does not possess the seamstress skills of a surgeon. She patches up the holes in the knees best she can and tells me she’s tried but she can’t get the blood stains out. She says sure they add character, as though that’s something I’m lacking. My balaclava-wearing brothers make it clear that they will not be walking to school with me. I am not to approach them in the school yard or any public areas under any circumstances. I am not, nor will I ever be considered a member of the Roselawn Brotherhood (Roselawn was the name of our housing estate, in the 1980s its green spaces were primarily under the control of the Roselawn Brotherhood, a boy gang of soccer playing 8-10 year olds of which my brothers were considered commanders).
The teachers call me “Cuntaois Markieviczín” when they speak in whispers behind their clipboards. The other children ask me if I am a boy or a girl. They are confused by my long blonde hair. The girls deal fancy paper in a cartel run by Penny, while the boys beat the shit out of one another. I tightrope walk the tiny curb that circles the yard and fill the aluminium tin pot of my mind with my imaginary allies. For the many members of my lost tribe are scattered across the frontiers of other school yards. There’s a boy who wants to wear dresses. A girl taking pictures with a broken camera. Another who thinks she’s a pony listening to Lou Reed on repeat. A girl popping blue smarties, spinning on her axis and falling on her ass. A boy holding a one-boy-protest against the unfair use of collective punishment in the primary school system. A girl in the west directing a snail-farm soap opera. And though the arc of time is long, it bends towards us meeting.
Alice Walsh lives and works in Dublin, Ireland. She is the founder and editor of The Bohemyth. Her writings have been featured by HeadStuff, Number Eleven Magazine, wordlegs, Roadside Fiction, Doire Press and others.