Anne Walsh Donnelly lives in the west of Ireland. She was recently appointed as Poet Laureate for the town of Belmullet in Co Mayo. Her full length poetry collection, “Odd as F*ck,” was published in May 2021 by Fly on the Wall Poetry Press who also published her poetry chapbook, “The Woman With An Owl Tattoo.” To find out more go to her website : www.annewdonnelly.com
Sister Paul told me to sit on my left hand this morning when I came into class. I can’t feel it so it must be dead now. Maybe that’s a good thing. I might not get in trouble anymore, because I’ll have no choice but to write with the other hand no matter what Mam or Sister Paul or anyone says. And I might be normal, like everyone else in the class, like the ones’ that get sweets when they’re good.
“Use your left hand,” said Mam, last night when I was trying to write my A, B, Cs. She could hardly read the letters on my chalkboard.
“But Sister Paul said I was to use my right.”
Mam made her cross teacher face. I don’t like when she makes that face.
“I’m going to talk to her tomorrow and sort this out, once and for all,” she said.
That will only make Sister Paul crosser, I thought. But I couldn’t tell Mam that. Anyway Mam didn’t see her this morning. We were late on account of Liam getting sick in the car on the way to the childminder, so when we got to school, Mam had to go straight to her own class before the Principal noticed she wasn’t there. Mam’s got an awful rowdy class this year. You think 2nd class would have more sense. That’s what Mam says every evening.
I shift my bum a bit, sneak out my left hand, but shove it right back in again when Sister Paul cracks a ruler off her big desk. I nearly jump off my chair it’s so loud.
“Class, I want you all to draw a picture. The best one gets a bullseye,” she says.
A bullseye. Wow. I don’t remember ever getting one of those. Mam says sweets rot your teeth. Sometimes if we’re really good she buys us a pack of Tayto but never a sweet.
I get out my crayons. What will I draw? I look across my table at Olive. She’s already started. Sister is always praising Olive for her pictures. Holds them up for all the class to see. Maybe if I copy Olive’s I’ll get praised too. I might even get the bullseye.
I start to draw, one eye on Sister Paul and one eye on Olive’s picture. Sister turns her back on us and starts to clean the blackboard so I sneak out my left hand again, shake it and grab my pencil. I’ll have a much better chance of getting that sweet if I use my left hand to draw my picture.
Olive draws something that looks like a circle. So do I. Then she draws a wibbly wobbly shape inside of it. I do too, only I think mine’s a bit more wobbly. Then Olive colours in the shape. Some of it red, some blue, some yellow. Great, yellow’s my favourite colour. I use the same colours, even though I‘d like to colour mine all yellow. But then it wouldn’t be as good as Olive’s. I don’t think it’s a great picture, really. But if Sister likes it, that’s all that matters.
By the time I’m finished the side of my palm is covered with a mix of crayon colours. Sister Paul stops making that screeching sound she makes when she’s cleaning the blackboard. I slip my left hand under my bum again. Just as I’m trying to write my name at the bottom of my picture, with my right hand I hear the clod of her thick brown shoes behind my back.
“What’s this, Anne?” she asks, as she picks up my picture.
Does it have to be anything? A house? A tree, maybe. Some of the chalk dust on the sleeves of Sister’s black habit falls to the ground like snow. It makes me sneeze.
“Answer me, child.”
I feel myself go red. Thirty four-year-olds are looking at me now. I wish I could ask Olive what she drew. Because I haven’t a clue. And if I don’t know how can I tell Sister? Please, God, let the bell ring for break and I’ll be saved. I look up at Sister.
“I … don’t … know,” I say, squeezing the pencil in my hand.
Her face goes red. Then she does that thing with her eyes where you think they’re going to pop straight out of her head.
“How could you not know? You drew it for God’s sake.”
I shrug my shoulders, then bow my head and look at the wooden floor through fuzzy eyes.
“Answer me,” she says.
Mam told me never to tell a lie. So I don’t.
“I don’t know what it is because …”
“I drew the same picture as Olive.”
The whole class gasps. Sister throws my picture on the table. I raise my head, a tiny bit, sneak a look at her face; it’s all pinched up like one of Dad’s goats.
I drop my head again, squeeze my eyes shut. Wish I could squeeze my ears shut too so I wouldn’t have to listen to her cross voice and I wish that the wooden floor boards under her big fat smelly feet would open and take her to hell. Or maybe it’s me that should go to hell. I can’t even draw a proper picture and worse I can’t even copy one. I’m no good at art. I’m no good at anything. Olive’s going to get the bullseye now. But maybe if I play hopscotch with her at lunchtime and let her win she might give me a lick.