On Saturday, Aunt Sorcha scrubs me and Tarin clean from head to toe and wraps our hair in rags to curl it overnight. She's gentler than Aunt Ruari, but it still hurts, and Tarin shrieks at her once. Mum yells from bed, asking what's wrong, and Aunt Sorcha says that Tarin is tender-headed. Mum laughs at tells him to come there, she'll finish his hair. So Aunt Sorcha is able to tend to my hair, and I can't complain because I'm eight, going on nine. At least I don't have much hair to tend to. Da shaved it off when I had scarlet fever, and now most of my hair is buried with my sister Louisa.
The baby doesn't cry much during the day. She sleeps all day and wakes up around dinnertime, crying to eat with the rest of us, and that's why Aunt Sorcha's stayed with us for as long as she has. So she can cook dinner while Mum feeds the baby. Mum insists that she's grand, she'd taken care of Alynn and Louisa on her own, and now that Alynn's all grown and even Tarin can help set the table, she shouldn't have any problems at all, at all. Aunt Sorcha needs to get back to her own children, she says.
But Declan and Ian are staying with Mairead, Aunt Sorcha says, and besides, half a year more and Mum will be cooking dinner for the five of them. So Mum laughs, and I don't get it because there's only four people in Aunt Sorcha's house. Tarin's just learning his numbers and asks who the fifth person is, and Mum says they're on a journey here.
"Now go to sleep," she tells Tarin and me, "for tomorrow's yer sister's baptism."
I lie down on my bedroll of furs and blankets, and Tarin tries to sleep by himself, but a quarter hour passes and he comes and snuggles next to me. I don't mind. Just before I drift off to sleep, Aunt Sorcha takes a lantern and leaves for her own bed. She lives two streets north and four houses west of us, so it's no bother for her to walk here and back every day.
The next thing I know, Aunt Sorcha's back and making stirabout for everyone, and Aunt Ruari is fixing Mum's hair, and I run out back so she won't mess with mine. But Aunt Sorcha follows me and plops me down on the bed in front of Mum. So I fix Tarin's hair, and Mum fixes mine, and all's well in the world.
Tarin looks like a wee red lamb with his hair in curls, and I know I don't look much better. Da's curls didn't work out at all, at all. But Mum looks beautiful, and everyone tells her so. Even the baby looks up at her with admiration. When everyone's ready and Da's wiped the stirabout from Tarin's face and I fix my plaid so that it's draped just right over my skirt, we leave for St. Joseph's.
It's raining. I want to pull my plaid over my head, but Aunt Ruari scolds me, "I'll spoil yer hair."
"Faith, Ruari, it'll be spoiled either way," Aunt Sorcha says back, and so up goes my plaid.
The baby's never been rained on before. She looks up at the heavens with surprise and starts to cry. Mum laughs. "It's just a shower, dear heart. You'll get used to it, just as Lynder and Tarin did." But the baby doesn't stop crying, so Mum nurses her to quiet her.
The wood-paved sidewalks are muddy. Da picks up Tarin so he won't start playing in the mud and ruin his clothes. Part of me wishes I was still little enough for Da to pick up and carry like that; the other part is glad I'm grown up enough to help Mum around the house.
We get inside the church. It's dark and cold, a wee bit like a cave, but it's also grand and big and beautiful. Everyone is solemn and shivering. I want to wrap up in my plaid, but I know that if I get too warm and comfortable I'll fall asleep. That's why the priest, Father Ranulf, has us sit and stand and kneel so often; it warms us and keeps us awake. Aunt Sorcha goes to sit with Uncle Seamus, but the rest of us sit with Nan, Granddad, and my uncles Micheal, Stiofan, and Oisin.
Service starts, but then Father Ranulf calls up my family. Aunt Sorcha and Uncle Seamus come up, too; they're the godparents. He takes the baby into his arms and says a few words, then sprinkles her with holy water. "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," he drones, "I baptize you, Britta McNeil."
Britta. It's perfect.
Father Ranulf says a few more words, but Britta's tired of ceremony and decides to vomit her last meal onto Father Ranulf's perfect black tunic.
Mum turns red, but everyone else laughs. Perhaps next time, Father Ranulf will do the rest of us a favor by not talking for so long.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.