Derry Girls - The Baptism Chapter 8 Erin
It was finally time for James to be baptized and the crisis of the week would be over. At least this one would be. For a new crisis had started, just the night before, when Erin went to collect the video of ‘The Fifth Element’ that Orla was saving for James at the video shop.
As she walked in Orla was busy with a customer so Erin went and looked at the wall where they had the new releases displayed. Nothing got her interest at all so as she turned back to collect the video another customer came in, a girl, maybe their age, in a school uniform, not their school, one from across town. She was a bit tall and had dark hair.
“Hi, Orla,” the girl said in a cheery voice.
Hi, Orla? Who was this now?
Orla looked past the girl at Erin and had a worried look and then spoke to the girl. “All right now? Got that video you wanted.”
She pulled up a video tape and put it on the counter. “Oh, darn,” the girl said. “I forgot da’s video membership card.”
“Not to worry,” Orla said. “I know the number. Just a sec.”
Orla bent to the computer keyboard and typed in the information. As she waited the girl spoke.
“So, you coming around this weekend?”
What? Coming around? Who is this girl?
“No, sorry,” Orla said. “Bit busy. Work and exams.”
“Right, of course. Me, too. Exams, I mean.”
“Okay, all set.”
The girl paid the rental fee and took her change and then smiled at Orla. “Thanks a bunch. Have a good weekend.”
And the girl took her movie and was gone.
Erin approached the counter. “Who was…?”
“Nobody,” Orla said before Erin could even finish the question.
“Well, I think she was somebody. She knows you and all.”
“Just a customer.”
Orla glared at her. “Let it be. It’s nothing to get bothered about.”
“God, Orla, what’s going on?”
“Nothing! Now you want that tape for James or what?”
“Fine! I am sure you know James’ video membership number as well as that girl’s da’s?”
“I do…there…all set.”
Erin paid the fee and then looked at her cousin for a long moment. “Secrets hurt people, Orla.”
“Yeah, you’re right. But if people knew this one it would hurt even more. So let it be…please.”
Erin did not know what to say to this. “Right…so…goodbye.”
All the way to James’ place Erin pondered who it could be and could think of nothing. For a brief moment she thought Orla might have been fooling them all and she was in fact gay and had a girlfriend but no, that couldn’t be it. Or could it?
When she got to James’ place Michelle was there was well, both in the living room watching TV while waiting for her to arrive with the movie. James thanked her and eagerly took the tape to the VCR and put it in.
As Erin sat on the sofa she looked at Michelle. “Not working?”
“He told me to knock off early. I think he’s trying to cut back my hours to save money. Don’t know why. Shop does well. I think.”
“Did he at least pay you for this week?”
“He did indeed,” Michelle said with a grin and pulled a wad of bills out of her pocket. “Pub, guys? I’m buying.”
“No,” James said as he sat by Erin. “We’ve got to be up early tomorrow. Baptism at 10 AM.”
“Right,” Michelle replied. “Looking forward to see you get dunked in the Foyle River.”
“Ha, ha,” James said. “Get dunked by the water font in the church you mean. Peter took me through all the steps today.”
“Christ, that’s boring,” Michelle said. “I was hoping to hear you scream and have icicle’s form on your nose.”
“Thanks. So all set for the movie?” James asked as he picked up the remote control for the VCR from a nearby coffee table.
“Just a sec,” Erin said. “Guys, something really weird happened with Orla.”
“Well, if it’s weird and it involves Orla it’s nothing special,” Michelle joked.
Erin quickly filled them in on what she saw and heard. “Who could it be?” she asked when finished.
“Probably her sister,” Michelle said and then a look of shock crossed her face. “Fuck. I wasn’t supposed to say that!”
“Her sister?” James said in surprise.
“God,” Erin said. “It makes sense. She did look a bit like Orla.”
“Did she?” James said. “But I thought Orla was an only child.”
Erin stared at Michele. “What do you know?”
“Orla swore me to secrecy.”
“I think that cat is already out of the bag,” James told his cousin.
“Fine!” Michelle said. “The other day, I was coming home late and I saw this car drop Orla off. And it was a man driving…and he hugged her goodbye. I thought she was having it off with some old geezer but she told me it was her da.”
“Holy Christ!” Erin almost shouted. “Her father?”
“Aye,” Michelle said. “Sean O’Brien.”
“Who?” James asked.
“That’s her da’s name. She found her birth certificate. His name was on it. So she tracked him down. Married and all with a family.”
“When did all this happen?” Erin asked.
“Two years ago.”
“Jesus! Two years!” Erin said in surprise. “She kept it secret all this time. How?”
“Step class,” Michelle said. “She sometimes skips it and goes to their house.”
“The sneak!” Erin said. “Who else knows?”
“No one!” Michelle told them. “And let’s keep it that way!”
“Right,” said James. “Not our business anyway.”
“Exactly,” Michelle agreed. “Erin?”
“I mean…this is huge, massive…”
James shook his head. “Erin, it’s her life, her business.”
“But…well, I mean, she’s got a family we don’t know about.”
“Yeah, sister and two brothers she has,” Michelle told them.
“And two brothers as well!” Erin said in shock.
“Look,” Michelle said. “You go blabbing about this to your ma and da and Sarah, it’s nothing but trouble. For me too. I swore not to tell anyone.”
“She’s right, Erin,” James said. “We can’t tell anyone. Imagine how Orla will feel if everyone finds out?”
They were right she knew, so agreed to keep the secret and then James started the movie. The only interruption was when Erin’s Ma called to find out where she was and Michelle answered and all was well. But Erin could hardly concentrate on the movie as all she learned went through her head.
After the movie she said goodbye and said she would see them bright and early at the church tomorrow. James gave her a quick kiss and she walked home.
At home everyone except Orla, who was still at work, was sitting to a fish and chip supper so she changed out of her uniform and joined them, sitting in a daze the whole time.
As they ate everyone was going on about James’ baptism on the morrow.
“You know what you need to do?” Sarah asked Erin’s ma. “As godparents.”
“Course,” Ma Mary answered. “Father Peter gave us these little note cards about where to stand and what to say. And after it’s done the main things is to pray for James regularly and show him a good example of Christian living.”
“Is that us?” Erin asked. “A good example of Christian living?”
“Yes,” Da Gerry said. “Why wouldn’t we be?”
“Don’t know,” Erin said. “Suppose we are all sin free, are we?”
Her mother gave her a sharp look. “I certainly feel I am. Have you done anything lately to think you are not?”
“No, ma,” Erin lied, knowing what her mother was getting at. “Just we are not the most religious family on the block.”
“Aye, that would be the Doyles down the road,” Granda Joe said. “Always in mass.”
“The Murphy’s too,” Sarah said. “Wanda Murphy is always praying for the lucky number for the lottery ticket.”
“I don’t think that counts,” Ma Mary said.
Erin had enough of their banter. “I’ve homework to do.”
“It’s Friday night,” her father said.
“Busy all day tomorrow, da. And maybe have a date on Sunday.”
“Right. Good enough.”
She went to her room and tried to settle into studying at her desk, but her mind was still awhirl with the news about Orla. About 8PM her mother knocked on her door.
“Come,” she said. Her mother walked in holding two dresses, a pale blue one and a lime green one.
“Which do you think is better for tomorrow?”
“Hmmm…the blue. It’s winter…so…yeah the blue.”
“Right. I thought so as well. Sarah thought the green.”
Erin thought she was done but she came in and lay the dresses on Erin’s bed and sat on the edge of it. “So, James all ready for tomorrow?”
“Aye. Think he just wants it done so there’s no more fuss.”
“Poor wain. His mother never did much right by him.”
“I guess she had it rough as well…being a single mother and all.”
“Aye, it was quite the scandal.”
“I suppose we had a similar scandal in our family.”
Her mother took in a sharp breath. “We did and all.” She stood and then picked up the dresses. “Well, that’s all.”
“Ma…why do we never talk about it?”
“Her, I mean. Orla. Who’s her da and all?”
Mary sat down again heavily. “What do you know about it all?”
“Nothing,” she lied. “No one ever talks about it. What happened?”
“Well…it was a time when such a thing brought shame on a family. Maybe even so today. And we had no access to abortion…well, there was some secret places, but none too healthy and we heard rumors of girls who died.”
“Aye. James’ mum went to England where it was possible and safer…but changed her mind. Here…your aunt decided she wanted the baby. She fought with our parents. So much arguing and crying and screaming. They wanted her to put Orla up for adoption. That’s what usually happened in those situations. But Sarah wanted her own child. I was already pregnant with you and married. So…Orla was born…and we kept her…and that’s it.”
“That can’t be it. Who’s her da?”
Mary sighed. “A man…”
“Yeah, I figured that much.”
“Give me a chance, will you? Cheeky.”
“Sorry. Go on.”
“She didn’t love him…I don’t think so anyway. Sarah just wanted to have a good time. In those day after leaving year girls like us had few options. Oh, some went to university and some married doctors like Jenny Joyce’s ma. And most of us tried to find work. Our fun was the weekend, chasing boys…that’s how I met your Da.”
“I know. He was here visiting his cousin and you met in a pub.”
“Aye. Well, Sarah met Orla’s da same way and well…you can figure the rest.”
“What’s his name?”
“Sean I think. Can’t remember the last name.”
Erin went fishing. “Orla ever meet him?”
“No. Never as far as I know. Now that’s enough of that. Just take this lesson from it. I know you and James are fond of each other…”
“We love each other,” she blurted out before she could stop herself. Jesus, brain, stop and think once in a while.
“What? Really?” her mother replied, a clear look of surprise on her face.
“You’ve said the words to each other and all?”
Her mother smiled. “Well…fine. Actually, that’s grand. He’s a fine lad.”
“I know he is.”
“Just…I know soon you’ll be 18 and not much I can do about controlling you anymore. Just be careful and if you love each other then make sure you don’t mess up your futures. Understand?”
“Aye, we will be sure to be careful.”
“Good. There, that’s done with. Now get some rest, big day tomorrow.”
“See you in the morning. Don’t stay up too late.”
Morning came and after breakfast everyone put on their Sunday best…well Saturday best in this case. The baptism was at ten and after they would go to the pub for a celebratory lunch.
Orla was strangely quite at breakfast and when they were alone for a moment she cornered Erin in the hallway. “You said nothing to nobody about that girl?”
“No,” Erin lied.
Orla gave her a sharp look and then sighed. “She’s my sister,” Orla finally said. “Half-sister really. We’ve the same father.”
Erin just nodded and Orla gave her another look. “You know already?”
“Then why aren’t you surprised?”
“Cause…cause I figured it already. I mean she looks like you and all.”
But Orla wasn’t buying it. “Michelle!! That big mouth!! She told you everything!”
“Yes. Top of the list for her!”
“It weren’t her fault! I dragged it out of her!”
“Who else knows? James? Was he there?”
Erin said nothing and Orla fumed. “Never tell ma or your folks. Leave it be…please.”
“Yes…of course…not even Clare?”
“What’s all this?” Granda Joe asked from the hall doorway. “Whispering in the hallways?”
“Just…school talk,” Erin said.
“Right. Come on everyone or we’ll be late. You don’t get to see an Englishman drown in the Foyle every day.”
“They aren’t drowning him in the Foyle, da,” Mary said. “Wetting his forehead in the church at the font is all.”
“Ach, what a shame,” Granda said. “Was looking forward to hearing him scream.” He gave Erin a look and a wink. “Just kidding, luv.”
Erin smiled and was glad someone still had their sense of humor this morning.
As they walked to the church they ran into Clare, her girlfriend Laurie, and her mother also on their way. “Morning, Geraldine,” Mary said. “Come to see the ceremony, aye?”
“Yes,” Geraldine replied. “I guess it was time I rejoined society. Or so my daughter tells me.”
Mary gave her a hug. “You are always welcome any time you want to talk.”
Geraldine nodded. “I know. Thanks. I will make do of that I am sure. But soon we’ll be in Strabane.”
“So Erin told us,” Mary said. “I hope it’s not permanent.”
“We’ll see. For now I just need to make some space between me and here.”
“I understand, luv.”
“Least you’ll have the wheelie bins in Strabane,” Sarah said.
“What?” Da Gerry said. “Wheelie bins?”
“Aye, they got them in Strabane already,” Mary reminded him. “Months ago.”
“One thing to look forward to,” Sarah added.
Erin just rolled her eyes. Her family.
“Who’s the lovely young lady with you Clare?” Granda asked.
“This is Laurie…my…my…”
“Girlfriend,” Laurie said in a loud voice.
“Yes,” Clare said, finding her voice. “She’s my girlfriend.”
“Oh, so you’re a gay too, are you?” Granda said. Jesus wept.
“I am,” Laurie said proudly.
“That’s grand. I’m Joe McCool,” Granda said. “Nice to meet you. Now who’s your family?”
And on they chattered about Laurie’s family and this and that and the weather and the football score and would they have enough space at the pub for everyone and then they were finally at the church.
James, Michelle, and her ma and da where already there. So was Father Peter, of course, and Sister Michael as well. James was in a nice suit with a necktie. He smiled when he saw her and came up to the gang at the back of the church.
“All set to become one of us, son?” Gerry asked him.
“He is one of us, da,” Erin said. “This is just a ceremony.”
James handed Erin his video camera. “Can you shoot it all?”
“Sure enough,” Erin said. Then she had a thought. “Is it allowed? For a baptism, I mean.”
“Don’t see why not?” her father said. “They do it for weddings all the time.”
Michelle came over and Orla gave her a dirty look. “What’s with you?” Michelle asked.
“I need have words with you later,” Orla said in a low menacing voice.
“About what…oh, shit. Erin!”
“She dragged it out of me!”
Clare looked from one to the other. “Dragged what out of who? What’s going on?”
Father Peter saved them. “It’s time everyone. Please take your places.”
And so it went. James wore a white robe and Erin’s ma and da renounced Satan and promised to look after James’ Christian spirit and then three times James was doused in water and Peter said the right words.
And then it was done. Peter filled in the baptism certificate and gave it to James. Erin video recorded it all with James’ own camera. After it was over Sister Michael promptly snatched the certificate out of James’ hand.
“You’ll get it back on Monday,” she told him. “The bishop is waiting for this. Good day all.”
Everyone congratulated James and Erin even gave him a kiss which caused a few looks but a smile from her ma, which was nice. Then her da tried to make a joke about being the “Godfather” and “Making someone an offer they can’t refuse” but it fell flat and there was even a groan from James. ‘The Godfather’ was his favorite movie, Erin knew, and he hated anyone making fun of it.
Off to the pub they went, where everyone had food and drinks, and a good time…mostly. Orla was still pissed at Michelle but no one outside the gang noticed anything wrong. Michelle avoided being alone and so Orla had no chance to rip her eyes out or kick her where it hurts. After an hour Orla left for work, Saturday a busy day in the video business.
“What’s with Orla?” Clare asked as she found herself with Erin alone for a moment. “She seemed mad about something.”
“Nothing much. So how’s Laurie?”
“You’re evading the subject, Erin!”
“Fine! But you can’t tell anyone.” She bent low to Clare’s ear and whispered, “Orla found her da!”
“Aye! And Michelle found out and told me and James.”
“But…why is she mad?”
“Cause she doesn’t want my family to know. There was some bad blood back in the day when she were born.”
“Right. Yes, I can understand that.”
“What are you two whispering about?” Michelle asked and then she knew. “Erin! You…oh, I give up. Clare too?”
“She’ll find out anyways,” Erin said. “Besides, she’ll be in Strabane soon.”
“Just after exams end,” Clare said.
Erin felt a shock. “So soon?”
“Aye… Christmas is soon after.”
“Well, maybe you’ll be back for New Years.”
Clare shook her head. “My ma is already looking at colleges down there I can transfer to.”
“What?” James said as he joined them. “You staying there for good?”
Clare sighed. “Look, I know it’s not good but it’s only a short drive down the road.”
They all agreed but didn’t feel so good about it at all.
And so it all went. Michelle eventually made peace with Orla, and no one told anyone else about Orla finding her other family.
Orla took Dennis’ name off her enemy’s list one day. “Can’t be having my boss as an enemy,” she said in all sincerity.
And one day after Christmas they all met Orla’s sister who was named Joanne and they all had a nice time.
Clare and her mother moved to Strabane after exams finished. She came back for Boxing Day but then gave them the news the move would be permanent. She had already signed up with another college and would start in January after the holidays ended. They were sad about this but promised to see each other as often as possible.
Life went on in Derry. Erin and James became closer than ever, seeing each other as often as possible, which wasn’t that often since they had parents looking over their shoulder all the time. At school girls still flirted with James and Erin wanted to kill them all but they had no more incidents and shortly before Erin’s birthday in February Sister Michael told them the probation was over, but to also keep their noses clean or back on they would go.
Erin’s only wish was to have an 18th birthday party all her own but besides a cake and a little ‘happy birthday’ rendition at home there was nothing. Her mother said they would have a combined big birthday bash when Orla also turned 18 in May. James agreed with Erin it was not fair but there was little they could do about it.
And then came the news everyone in Northern Ireland dreamed about. Peace negotiations between different sides in the internal strife were reaching a climax and finally an agreement was reached. But many were not happy with the details and it was decided to put it to a vote. A referendum on what was being called The Good Friday Agreement would be held in late May. All residents of voting age of 18 and older would have a chance to decide the future of their land.
And Erin hoped for once and for all things would turn out for the best, for she was happy in her life, and wanted the same for all those who she loved and for her neighbors and those who made her little land so special in her eyes.