Naming Convention – Tom Gaffney
“Please, George” I insist, “call me Muriel. It is the name I have chosen for myself.”
“For how long?”
“Forever, or as long as I need it.”
I stare plaintively out to the alley watching all the summer people pass by, laughing. I asked George to let us sit somewhere private, in the back, where there are no windows, no sunshine to make me hot. But now we sit on the sidewalk, watching all the happy go lucky shoppers walking by. I wish it was raining. Or dark. Or raining and dark.
“We’ll do what we can, um, Muriel.”
George picks at his fries, stares longingly at the waitress and his empty glass. So transparent, I think, his thirst driving him.
“Muriel, do you need a refill on the ginger ale?”
“Yes, with a cherry this time. Like I asked before. I told my contact,” I hiss, “that I would be sitting at a table with the two of you drinking a ginger ale, with a cherry. The cherry is important. It’s vital. Do you understand?”
“Certainly, Louise and her mom will recognize you cherry or no?”
Obviously, George does not understand. The third person at the table, Aunt Barb, smiles with her eyes and suppresses it at the mouth. She thinks I don’t notice, but I do. At least she’s not as clumsy as George.
“It’s alright Muriel; we’ll keep your cover. And get you the cherry this time.”
George sighs, resolved to carry on. He’s steady, good at the boring things. But at moments of great significance he can really let you down.
The two of them return to their conversation. My gaze returns to the people on the alley, but I just cannot shut George and Barb entirely out of my mind.
“It isn’t such a big deal,” says Barb. “You can have a name when you have a name. These things can take time, until you have one that feels right. Just don’t call him what you called me when I came home from the hospital.”
“Insisted on it for weeks. A sullen nearly eight year old. It just sounded so right.”
“But you paid for that. Many times.”
“Sure did – so funny. There was the time when all of my pals were over, and you kept walking around humming it, tables turned. I was chatting with Michael a couple of weeks ago. He still uses it as my salutation.”
“George, you little wanker.”
“You were a pain in the ass.”
“I was a pain in the ass? Imagine the sadness, arriving in this cold hard world. And my big brother calls me a little wanker for years. Secretly too, after he’d been told not to. A disturbing insight into the male psyche. And they called me precocious.”
“Well, I paid, didn’t I? I don’t even remember where I first heard it. I bet Dad called me that once.”
“Maybe. Well, what are we going to call the Baby Boy? Muriel, what do you think?”
I didn’t even bring my book with me. No refuge. Louise and your mom, come, save me.
“Sergio. We can call him Sergio. Then I can shorten it to Serge. Yup – that’s it. Any word from Louise’s mother yet?”
“Sorry Muriel. No word yet. I’m hopeful they’ll be able to get you before we go back to the hospital. Anna does not seem too worried about it. But I want to get a name, get the show on the road. I’m tired of this interim period.”
“Sergio sounds good to me. “
“Sadie, I mean Muriel, please. I don’t think Sergio’s on the list. Anything else?”
Fresh drinks in front of us, Dad, I mean George, takes a big taste from his drink. So, Sergio isn’t good enough for you. I think Muriel is going to call her brother Sergio.
“We’re not going to need anything else if you don’t call me by my new name.”
Barb offers me her sunglasses. I accept them gratefully, a cool facade to hide behind, a dash of elegance on this most boring of days. I sip at my ginger ale, choosing to focus on the small joy of the cherry and its sweetness. This little brother project is so dull. I’d rather be a spy, in my own world of drama and danger. If only. Hopefully this little it will allow me some space for my projects, Anna and George being less focused on interrupting my life. I need to get away.
“I wanted Joseph,” George said, “after Grandpa, but Anna wasn’t interested.”
“I’m with her,” answered Barb, “What about Liam? Edwin? Just keep throwing stuff at the wall, something will stick. Just like the gum wall.”
We walked by the gum wall before we came here. More narrow alleys. I was afraid we’d be ambushed there. It is the most disgusting place on earth to die, or be taken prisoner, or to visit. And we only go there during “special” events: new brothers, aunts in town, mom at the hospital. When I see the gum wall, usually it means I’m giving my room up for at least a night or two. Oh joy.
“Can’t we talk about something else? The baby is just so boring. We’ve been talking about it . . .”
“Him,” says George, “He’s a him now, not an it.”
“It, him, whatever. I’m sick of him already, and I’ve only heard him cry once.”
“You are going to be a great big sister,” says Barb. “Brothers can be a pain, but they can also help. You’ll see.”
“And we all need to pull together.”
“Why? Whatever. I’m bored. Tired of all this. Can you call Louise’s mom?”
“Relax Muriel. A sleepover has been arranged. Either they will pick you up here, or we can drop you off over there later this afternoon. Not much to do, we’re waiting on Louise’s Mom and I am waiting to hear from your Mom about whether she . . . “
“Will!” Aunt Barb interrupts George’s drone. “How about Will? Jeffrey? Leonard? Emile?”
“Will? Maybe. Jeffrey and Emile are out. Leonard, don’t even want to think about it.”
“Anyway, Muriel, we can go soon. We’ll finish our drinks and get the check. Keep an eye on the alley – don’t drop your guard now.”
“Are you going to go back to calling me Dad when you drop your . . .”
“Don’t say it George, you don’t know who is listening. Please, take me to Louise’s.”
“OK, OK, we’re almost ready.”
His phone rings. Oh no. I can tell by the ringtone it is Mom, a little bit of song that I normally love to hear. But not now. So close to escape. I ignore the half of the conversation I can hear, wondering when I can have my own phone so that I can text Louise with all of my bad news myself.
“Baby boy and Mama are ready to go. Sorry Sadie, Muriel, but we have to go up to the hospital and pick them up.”
“Sorry sweetie, looks like connecting with Louise will have to wait a while.”
I sigh, crushed.
“That little wanker,” I mutter to myself. “That little wanker.”