I adore Evelyn. I endure Maeve. I don’t like them being too close, or doing things without my being involved. Unfortunately for me, Evelyn and Maeve are cousins, and when you are cousins, it’s a given that you’re friends; it’s a bad sign if you can’t be friends with your own cousin, and even if the cousin is in the wrong, you stand by them. That’s the rule of being cousins.
For Maeve, it’s a mixed blessing having Evelyn for a cousin; Evelyn is bold, and I know it, and the children at school know it, but the grown ups don’t seem to know it at all. Evelyn has a small round face. She has hazel eyes that dart about, with violet shadows beneath. Her skin is sallow and her hair is long and dark, worn with a middle parting. She is thin and angular, with a curious sort of frame, the hips leading and the spine tilting backwards, her body appearing crooked from the side like a straw distorted in a clear glass of water. She gets away with things and that’s why I find her so interesting.
Maeve has wispy hair that carries in the breeze, a small and compact barrelish body, and a protruding tummy. She has large slate-grey eyes that droop at the outer corners, like a sad dog. Her teeth resemble little pegs, and she can carry a masterful whistle. She has wet bubbles in her nose in the winter that bring about weeping scabs, and a mysterious bald patch behind her left ear, and we whack anyone who asks her about it, but even me and Evelyn don’t know why it’s there.
I can’t say for certain why the three of us are friends. Sure who can answer a question like that. I suppose there aren’t many children along our road, so there isn’t much choice. I don’t give it too much thought. We carry on as we are, and there’s plenty of fun to be had. That’s not to say I couldn’t make nicer or better friends in another place, but how would I ever know the difference?
I don’t have a camera, so I hold my fingers in a frame, place them in front of my eyes, and peer through to see what the photographs would look like; I even make a tsch! out of the corner of my mouth to mimic the mechanical sound of a shutter.
Glenbruff is alive: there are fields and meadows, a valley with swaying grasses, gates to swing upon and hollows to hide in, and arched canopies of billowing trees set over narrow boreens. Myself and Evelyn and Maeve trek the overgrown railway track set deep in an incline, play at being tied to the sleepers and rescue each other in the nick of time. We go in to the graveyard and visit the lichen blotched graves of long dead relatives, and ride bikes we’ve long outgrown over steep hills, swooping into the air before thudding onto the tar with a skull-rattling jolt. We play in the disused quarry and sit into the old machinery left to rust, attempting to force the dusty stick shift and turn the gigantic steering wheel, its rubber coating bubbled with age and heat.
The door of the church is always open, and we go in and gaze at holy statues, willing them to wink at us. We’re never chosen for apparitions, but it’s for the best; we might get too much of a fright, or we might be given a big job by God to carry out when all we want to do is play. Saint Jude is the saint of hopeless cases, and he stands inside the vestibule in a big maroon cloak with plaster folds, his forefinger pressed to a gold medallion. Maeve leaves flowers from the roadside at his chipped feet.
We watch a group of older boys walking to school, spread out across the road, long legs striding. Black trousers made of cheap fabric flap in the wind, white socks garish underneath. The boys give chase, kicking plastic bottles that tipple into thick hedges. We girls hang back and knot ourselves together.
The quarry fills up with water in the wintertime, but in the summer it’s abundant with unusual ferns, caterpillars pulsing along the fronds, miniature frogs and lizards blinking and bulging, and purple flowers sprouting from bristles. The puddles in the quarry resemble agate, with green and blue tones radiating from pickle water. No one knows that we play in the quarry, and our parents would be disturbed if they were to find out. Evelyn’s brother Mickey is in the habit of following us, so we have to ensure that the coast is clear if we intend to play in the quarry.
The county council have put up a wire mesh fence around the periphery, but it’s easy for us to peel it from one side and clamber down onto the quarry’s floor. We are girl explorers, out in the unknown: the outback, the jungle, the desert, alternate planets and kingdoms. I take a rope from the shed at home and we practice at bullwhip flexing in the quarry for a long afternoon, thwapping the rope off the ground until we can hardly see for dust.
I might announce that I’ve discovered a dried clod of dinosaur shite, and we stand around and prod at the ground with twigs. “A herbivore. See the fibres. That’s a sign that this dinosaur feeds off grass and leaves.”
“We’ll have to build a trap so we can catch him,” Evelyn says, her chest puffed out and hands on her hips.
“What’ll we use for a trap,” says Maeve. It’s not difficult for Maeve to suspend all disbelief.
“We’ll set out some bait. Then we can hide over there, and when the dinosaur comes out, we’ll take pictures,” I say, patting the invisible camera slung around my neck. We place our imaginary bait on the ground and huddle behind a set of skinny beech saplings, and then Evelyn exclaims, “Here he comes. Look at him.” Maeve and I gasp, and we gaze up high as though the creature has suddenly manifested from a prehistoric age, plodding before us as pterodactyls spin in the sky. Tsch. Tsch. Tsch. We stay in the quarry all day long until the hunger weakens us, and then we bolt home, leaving our imaginings behind to be picked up again the following day.
Evelyn likes to play a game she calls Cleopatra. She sits on a boulder and commands that she be cooled by the wafting of ferns. Maeve and myself stand either side of the boulder and waft the ferns. We are commanded to set out on a quest to find diamonds, and we scuttle about, searching for a chunk of sparkling quartz, before presenting it to her. Evelyn says that the largest diamond of all is hidden in the old rock crusher, and we are ordered to fetch it. “Bring it to me.” I look to Maeve, and she looks to me, and we both look at the crusher. The old crushing machine is orange with rust, and wrapped round with glossy green ivy. It resembles an extended chimney stack, close to twenty metres in height, with a great metal chamber at the bottom. A fierce wind has pushed the chute of the crusher into a slanted position so that the aperture of the chute rests against the quarry’s edge. I don’t know the mechanism on the inside, but I imagine gargantuan teeth within the crushing chamber, and cogs and plates that spin around, whittling rocks into rubble.
Hesitantly, myself and Maeve approach the crusher, and we slowly amble around it, looking to see if there’s a way of getting inside without going down the chute, but there isn’t. We glance back to Evelyn and her gaze is authoritative. Maeve steps onto the metal chamber, and begins shunting herself up the outside of the chute with simian dexterity, deftly clutching on to the ivy. She hauls herself to the lip of the chute and punches the air with her small fist. “You did it!” I exclaim. I hadn’t thought she had it in her.
“Don’t forget the diiiamonnnd,” calls Evelyn, and Maeve promptly swings herself inside the chute. There’s an alarming scream, followed by a great metallic clanking, and an almighty bang, as Maeve tumbles down the chute and into the crushing chamber.
I run to the chamber and knock hard. “Are you dead, Maeve?” I press my ear to the chamber, and I can hear heaving and gasping from inside, and then a great long anguished wailing sound carries out of the chute and across the fields.
Evelyn leaps off the boulder. “Fuck.” You don’t use words like that, words that pierce the heart of God, unless the situation is very grave. Evelyn takes a stick and raps it off the side of the chamber. Maeve howls again, louder than before, like a sonic boom reverberating around the thickness of the quarry.
“You’ll make her deaf. Stop it.” I hope there aren’t teeth in the chamber, and I imagine Maeve impaled in the darkness below. The wind rises up and the chute shudders, and a ghostly howl pitches into the air, the likes of which you might hear all over the county. Maeve is like Alice, falling down down down the rabbit hole. Maeve is like the Little Match Girl, delirious and dying in the dark. “You’ll have to push your back against one side and your feet flat against the other side, and try and get out that way.”
Evelyn cups her hands around her mouth and sings, “I’m the ghost of the quarry, and you’ll never escape.” Evelyn can be a terror, but we’re well used to her.
“Come on, Maeve. You can’t stay down there. We’ve to go home soon. Put your back against one side and your feet against the other side and wriggle up towards us. You can do it.”
“Don’t worry. You won’t starve. We’ll come back tomorrow with slug sandwiches and throw them down at you,” Evelyn jibes. She lays back against the grass, places her palms behind her neck, and sighs impatiently.
The wind picks up once more, and Maeve’s howling rolls out from deep within the chute and across the land beyond the quarry. I persist with the coaxing. We begin to hear small grunts interspersed with snivelling, and make out the sound of Maeve’s rubber plimsolls scuffing within the chute, and the prang and pop! of metal panels as her back shimmies upward. “Good girl, Maeve. I see you coming. Not long to go now.”
“I’m going to fall. My legs hurt.”
“I can see your head. You’re nearly there.” Maeve is close enough now that myself and Evelyn can catch her under the arms and haul her out onto the grass. Maeve is like a feeble newborn foal, coated in a thick grey dust. Her small legs are trembling, her yellow shorts barely visible beneath the accumulated crud.
“You look like someone sucked you up into a hoover,” says Evelyn, offering Maeve an apple. Evelyn can give us strength but she can steal it away from us too, when she feels like it. Maeve takes the apple and tears her teeth into it. I’m hungry myself. It’s time for home.