Continuing our New NewsFour Fiction: Forgotten Dreams

by Ruth O’Leary

Bernie squinted as she tried to read the label on the back of the noodle packet…carbohydrates 3g. Yes, that looked okay. Justine should be able to have that. Bernie was getting a pain in her face, literally, with Justine’s new diet.

Justine, 28 and still living at home with Bernie, her husband Brendan and their son Sean, was on another new diet. It was a low-carb diet this time. If it wasn’t low-carb, it was low-fat. If it wasn’t weightwatchers, it was unislim. But thank-god she was off the raw veg diet as she was unbearable to live with and was on the toilet for a week!

Bernie was sick of it. Every time Justine read about the next “weight-loss-to-the-stars-diet” it was Bernie who was sent out with food lists and then had to cook separate meals for her precious daughter. Of course Justine couldn’t possibly cook after a hard day at work surviving only on an apple and some exotic tea that looked and tasted like pond water.

At least Sean ate everything that was put in front of him. At 18 he had just started college and was always starving. He was studying communications which was ironic as he just grunted at everyone in the house from under his long fringe and spent most of his time in his room. Occasionally Bernie got a whole sentence out of him, mostly when he was looking to see if a favourite shirt was washed and ironed for some college social. Sometimes, even if it was ready, Bernie hung on to it so Sean had to come and ask for it and then they would have to have a conversation.

Bernie pushed her supermarket trolley down the aisle scanning for low-carb food when, from over the supermarket speakers, came a song she hadn’t heard in years. It was the “Hucklebuck”. It was an old dancehall favourite, recently revived by a family group called ‘Crystal Swing’. And oh, did that song bring her back to her youth.

She leaned on her trolley as the memories came flooding back. Bernie and her best friend Joan used to meet at Bernie’s house to get ready to go to the great ballroom in Bray. There, they would fix each other’s make-up and hair. Once they hit the Ballroom they would dance away to all the hits but when the Hucklebuck came on, everyone went wild.

Bernie recalled the happy faces of all the people as they danced and sang their hearts out to the most popular song at the time. Afterward, Bernie and Joan would get a bag of chips between them from Mario’s chipper and walk across the road to eat them on the Promenade. The Bray Promenade was lined with Victorian houses, some private houses and some turned into B&B’s for people on their holidays from Dublin and beyond. Bernie and Joan would sit eating their chips and pick which house they were going to live in. They were going to marry a fella with a car and a family business and live in a house on the Promenade in Bray. It seemed such a simple and straightforward plan back then.

But they both married fellas with bicycles instead of cars who worked in factories instead of owning them. And they didn’t live in a Victorian seafront house but a small corporation house on the outskirts of Bray instead. But they were young and in love then, so it didn’t matter, and they laughed at how silly their dreams were.

As the song finished, Bernie felt a little sad. She hadn’t thought of those days in a long time. Where did those two girls go? They were so full of life and dreams and felt they could have taken on the world. Instead, they took on mortgages, children, cooking, cleaning, and endless washing. Somewhere between the honeymoon and the hundreds of baskets of washing they had forgotten the young and giddy Bernie and Joan. In fact, Bernie realised, they never even spoke of those days. Nowadays she met Joan every Wednesday morning before her cleaning job and yet, couldn’t remember when they had last recalled those happy dancehall days. Maybe they had changed too much since then. Maybe those ballroom memories had been filed and locked away with all the other hopes and dreams they had, that never came through. But hearing the hucklebuck song had unlocked something in Bernie. Taking out her mobile phone she typed in Joan’s number. She rarely used her phone because she did not like to text people when it was  just as quick to talk to another human being. Joan answered the phone.

“Hi Bernie, any news?”
“Can you meet me in Bray in 30 minutes?” Bernie asked.
“Yes I can. But why? Are you okay Bernie?” said Joan.
“Never better,” said Bernie, “I’ll see you there.”

With that, Bernie looked at her supermarket trolley full of low carb, low-fat food she had wasted her morning squinting at and laughing out loud she abandoned her trolley in aisle 9 and left the supermarket.
30 minutes later Bernie and Joan were sitting side by side on a bench on Bray Promenade with two bags of hot vinegary chips.
“I don’t like what they’ve done to your house Joan,” said Bernie laughing and pointing to the house that had been Joan’s favourite.
“Well look at the colour of yours!” Joan laughed. “Bright Pink!”
“It’s like the house is embarrassed for itself!”

They both fell around the place laughing.

Just then Bernie got a text from a panicked Justine.

  • Home from work. 
    -No dinner. 
    -Where are you mum! –

Then Bernie sent her very first text.

-Have taken the day off-
-Go to the chipper love-
-Life is too short for living on carrots- 

Bernie and Joan laughed till they cried.

“Thanks for this Bernie,” said Joan. “This has been the best day off in a long while.”

And several groups of walkers looked on very puzzled at the two middle-aged women eating chips and singing the hucklebuck at three in the afternoon.

Ruth O’Leary grew up in Sandymount and now lives in Clontarf with her husband and sons and their much loved Golden Retriever. She writes short stories and flash fiction and is currently editing her first novel. Her poem The Empty Goodbye was written following the funeral of her Aunt Bernie Green who was born and reared in Sandymount and sadly passed away earlier this year.

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