Louisa felt uncomfortable in her dress. This was mostly because she still had her jeans on underneath it, but also because the scratchy lace trim itched at her arms and neck. She pulled at the collar, forgetting that she was holding a nail polish brush, and managed to pain a bright pink streak across her throat.
“Oh Louisa, look what you did to yourself,” the little blonde girl sitting across from her at the pink plastic table wrinkled her nose. She pulled a small white handkerchief from her sleeve and handed it to Louisa.
Louise accepted the soft piece of cloth and thought that it was a shame to ruin a nice handkerchief when she didn’t mind having paint on herself, but it seemed to worry her cousin, so she dutifully scrubbed at the paint and then handed it back. “Thanks, Erin.”
She turned back to face the other little girl, a brunette, who was sitting next to Louisa with her fingers splayed on the table. Louisa dipped the paintbrush back into the bottle of nail polish and then applied it to the last two nails of the girl’s left hand. “Done, Fiona.”
Erin snatched up the bottle of nail polish and reached for Louisa’s hand. “I’ll do yours now!”
Louisa hesitated to surrender her fingers, not because she didn’t want her nails done, on the contrary she rather fancied the sparkly pink polish, but she was more concerned that she wouldn’t be able to eat any more of the cookies arranged on a white china plate in the middle of the table while her hands were occupied.
“Louisaaaaa!” Erin whined and Louisa finally dropped her paw into her cousin’s outstretched hand. She watched with longing as Fiona delicately picked up a cookie and nibbled at it.
“You should ask your mum for a fancy dress of your own, Louisa,” Fiona peered at Erin’s handiwork, and then back at her own nails. The paint job on Fiona’s fingers reflected Louisa’s haste to return her attention to eating rather than grooming.
“Maybe,” Louisa wasn’t really paying attention to what her other cousin was saying. She was too busy willing Erin to not do such a careful job of painting and to just finish it faster.
“We have plenty of fancy dresses though, Fiona. Sharing is nice,” Erin looked pointedly at her sister.
“I know that!” Fiona snapped. She flounced in her chair causing the skirt of her pale green dress to billow around her.
The heels of Louisa’s sneakers knocked the legs of her chair as she swung her legs impatiently.
“Hold still,” Erin chided. She stuck her tongue out in concentration and finished the last stroke of paint with a flourish. “Finished! And just in time for tea! I’ll see if Mum will let us take it out here!” Erin slid off of her stool and then skipped out of the purple and pink playhouse.
Louisa had reached out and grabbed a cookie as soon as Erin had lifted the brush from her final nail, but unlike Fiona, she didn’t pick it up with any care and as a result there were now cookie crumbs stuck to her newly shellacked nails.
“You’re going to get fat,” Fiona made a face at her.
“Not-uh,” a spray of crumbs launched from Louisa’s mouth and she laughed.
Fiona rolled her eyes. “You’re mental.”
A few minutes later, Erin came skipping out of the house followed by two boys. One of them was carrying a tray with five teacups on it, while the other walked with a curved stick on either shoulder.
Louisa was delighted to see the surprise arrival of her two favourite boy cousins and dropped off of her stool to run over and hug the smaller of the two boys.
“Ger-off me, Louisa!” he bellowed but smiled, his bright blue eyes twinkling mischievously in the afternoon sun.
“Don’ do that ta’ me or I’ll drop this tea right on yer head,” the older one warned, but he smiled as well.
“Oh that’s nice, Patrick! Aren’t you glad that Louisa’s back?” Erin grabbed Louisa’s hand and pulled her into a skip beside her.
“I guess it’ll do,” Patrick replied as they entered the playhouse. He set the large tray down precariously on the small plastic table, then tousled Louisa’s hair roughly.
“Dia Dhuit, Fiona,” he added nodding in his other cousin’s direction.
“Who said that you could join us for tea?” Fiona crossed her arms and scowled.
“I did!” the younger one piped up, “Then we’re gonna play to Iománaíocht.”
“Are we now, Christopher?” Fiona turned her scowl to him. “Well I’m not.”
“Ya, well we didn’t mean you anyway,” Christopher matched her scowl. “Like I’d let you touch my camán.”
Patrick laughed at something that went completely over the younger childrens’ heads. He picked up a cup of tea and took a noisy slurp.
“Oy, Louisa, lookit this!” Christopher reached into the pocket on his shirt and withdrew a small brown field mouse by its tail.
Erin and Fiona shrieked and backed against the wall, but Louisa’s hand shot out and took the mouse.
“Don’t hold it by the tail, you prat, do it like this!” she said making a cave of her two hands so that the mouse couldn’t escape, but could peek it’s twitching nose through her polished fingers. “What did you name her?”
“It’s not a girl! He’s a boy and his name’s Harry.”
“Hm, did it bite you and nearly get away when you caught it?”
“Ya he sure did!” he held up his hands that were pocked with red wounds.
“Then it’s definitely a girl!” Louisa laughed.
“It’s vermin and I want it out of my playhouse!” Fiona screamed.
Póg mo thóin, Fiona!” Christopher snarled.
Louisa laughed in spite of herself. She’d heard her father use that phrase enough times to know what it meant.
Fiona’s mouth dropped open. “I’m telling my mum what you said!”
Patrick snorted and finished his tea in one gulp. “Go on and tell ‘er then, puss-face. Off we go then, Chris?”
“Feck yeah!” he placed his half full cup of tea on the tray and then accepted the mouse back from Louisa and deposited it back in his pocket with a piece of scone.
“Want to have a go at it, Louisa?,” he asked, “You can play with my camán.
Again Patrick laughed to the puzzlement of his brother and cousins.
“She can’t go!” Fiona insisted. “Girls aren’t hurlers!”
Louisa felt a flash of annoyance at this. “Girls can too be hurlers, and I want to try it. Why don’t we all go play with them?”
She caught Christopher’s face turn sour at the word “all”, but he didn’t say anything.
“Why would I want to play a stupid game in a muddy field with some dumb boys?” Fiona sneered.
Louisa looked to Erin and raised her eyebrows. Erin was obviously torn between wanting to play “a stupid game in a muddy field with some dumb boys” and following her older sister’s example. Finally, she shook her head. “Maybe next time,” she sighed.
Christopher grabbed Louisa’s arm, “Come on then. We don’t need ‘em.”
Louisa felt sad that Erin wasn’t joining her because she loved her younger cousin and wanted to play with her too, but mostly she was sad because she could tell that Erin wanted to join in the game but was too scared of her sister’s disapproval to do it.
“Alright,” Louisa frowned slightly. She brightened when she saw Christopher’s happy expression though, and moved to follow him.
“You’re just like a dirty boy Louisa, and I don’t know why we bother with you,” Fiona declared. “You must really fancy to be a boy because you’ll never ever grow up to be a proper lady.”
Louisa considered this a moment. She did enjoy the occasional fancy dress, and painting her nails and the other parts of being a “lady”, but she also liked getting muddy, playing with vermin and using phrases such as “póg mo thóin”. It didn’t seem fair that had to choose to be one way or the other.
“I think,” Louisa said slowly, ” that I do like being a girl, so I don’t fancy to be a boy…but I don’t want to always worry about being a lady either.”
“Well which are you going to choose to be then, Louisa?” Fiona said sarcastically. “You can’t be a boy and girl when you grow up.”
“Then I choose to be…”
Louisa suddenly knew what she wanted to be–right then and when she grew up. She smiled.
“I choose to be…awesome.”
Christopher laughed and gave Fiona an obscene gesture with two of his fingers and then started running to the field. “C’mon, Louisa!”
Louisa stuffed the skirt of her dress into her jeans as best as it would fit, snatched up the last cookie from under Fiona’s nose and then ran to catch up with Christopher.