First Love, by David Butler
We were learning to make Brigid’s crosses out of reeds when Br. Colman brought in the new girl. We all stood up when he came into the classroom. Then Miss Ivors said ‘Suígí síos’ and we all sat down again.
The girl was small but she had enough tangled black hair for two heads. She wore patched dungarees and a bright blue cardigan and wellington boots that were mucky.
‘What a beautiful colour. Can anyone tell me what shade of blue it is?’ Miss Ivors said pointing to the cardigan but looking at Br. Colman. ‘An bhfuil a fhios ag éinne?’
Not even Lucy Riordan answered but that was because Br. Colman was there. He had piggy eyes and was always in a temper on Monday mornings. Blinky Roche said his Da said it was because he was fond of the bottle.
‘No?’ Miss Ivors sang out. She walked over to where feathers and leaves were cellotaped to a wallchart and waited for someone to put up their hand.
Then when even Lucy Riordan stayed quiet she tapped one of the feathers. ‘It’s the same teal blue as the kingfisher.’
It was the same colour the new girl’s eyes were. They shone out because her skin was smoky as if she’d sat too long by a turf fire. Titch Brennan nudged me, ‘Bet you anything she’s an oul gypsy.’ Only for Br. Colman being there I’d’ve punched his stupid face.
‘This young lady,’ said Br. Colman, ‘is Sadbh Devlin. She’ll be joining your class from today. Miss Ivors, you may add her name to the roll.’ Brigid’s Day was a funny time of year to be joining school.
‘Sadbh. Isn’t that a lovely name?’ said Miss Ivors. ‘Children, say Dia duit a Shadbh.’
All together as if we were at assembly we called out, ‘Dia duit a Shadbh!’
‘And what do you say back, Sadbh?’ Miss Ivors asked. Br. Colman was trying to smile but it looked like a Jack O’Lantern. ‘Sadbh, say hello to your new school friends,’ he said.
She looked at us. Then she looked out the window.
‘Is she shy?’ Miss Ivors asked. She hunkered down beside her. ‘Sadbh? Are you shy?’
‘What’s the matter?’ clucked Br. Colman, raising her chin with a fat finger. ‘Cat got your tongue?’ Her kingfisher eyes looked up out of her smoky face. She smiled like my little sister does, all innocent. When she took his finger her hands were tiny beside it. Then she bit down hard on it.
Miss Ivors gasped and covered her mouth. Br. Colman’s eyes bulged out like a bullfrog and his face went beetroot as he tried to twist the finger out of her mouth.
When he finally did he waved it up and down in the air the way the older kids waved their hands after they’d got the strap. You could see white teeth-marks in the purple skin.
‘You little bitch!’ he said.
David Butler is a novelist, short story writer, playwright and poet. He is the author of City of Dis (New Island), All the Barbaric Glass (Doire Press), and Liffey Sequence (Doire Press). His new collection Fugitive is out now with Arlen House.