VISIONS & REVISIONS
An Anthology of New Writing by Junior Cycle Teachers
Fighting Words is a creative writing organisation established by
Roddy Doyle and Seán Love. First opened in Dublin in 2009, and
now with locations across the island of Ireland, Fighting Words aims
to help students of all ages to develop their writing skills and explore
their love of writing. www.fightingwords.ie
Junior Cycle for Teachers (JCT) is a dedicated continuing professional
development (CPD) support service of the Department of Education
and Skills. JCT aims to support schools in their implementation of
the new Framework for Junior Cycle (2015) through the provision of
appropriate high quality CPD for school leaders and teachers, and the
provision of effective teaching and learning resources. www.jct.ie
POW! Portfolio of Writing Project 2019–2020 for teachers is a
partnership between JCT Arts in Junior Cycle and Fighting Words.
Twenty Junior Cycle teachers attended a series of workshops at
Fighting Words to draft, redraft, edit and publish this collection of
work. All of the participants in the project were keen to support a
culture of creativity within their professions and hope to bring the
skills they’ve developed back to the classroom where opportunities to
create portfolios and extended pieces of work exist across
all of Junior Cycle.
© Individual contributors, 2020.
This online magazine collects a selection
of work from the July 2020 Fighting
Words publication Visions & Revisions.
No part of this publication may be used
or reproduced in any manner without
written permission from the publisher,
except in the context of reviews.
The support of the following organisations
in the production of this project is
VISIONS & REVISIONS
An Anthology of New Writing
by Junior Cycle Teachers
Editors: Ciara Doorley, Orla Lehane
Cover design: Louise Smith
Interior design & layout: Rosa Devine
Foreword by Sheila O’Flanagan
THE SWAN’S NEST 4
THE UNWELCOME MAT 10
BETWEEN THE LINES… 16
Rosanne Roe Florence
CONVERSATION PIECES 21
WOMEN THROUGH THE AGES 26
CONCUSSION SONG 30
A BUMPY ROAD 42
INNER SPACE 45
HOW TO CANCEL A WEDDING 49
TAKE ME THROUGH YOUR DAY 53
DAYS LIKE THIS 60
Niamh Ní Bhraonáin
83 AND COUNTING 64
WAITING ROOM B 80
SOME LOOSE SCREWS 86
THE WALLS 90
In 2019, Fighting Words, along with Junior Cycle for Teachers
(JCT) and Arts in Junior Cycle, launched the POW! Portfolio of
Writing Project for teachers who wanted to develop their writing
abilities across a range of genres.
The project focussed on creating and developing writing
skills in a supportive and collaborative environment where
participants could take risks, explore new opportunities and
reflect on the creative process.
The group of writers met regularly to offer each other
support and encouragement. With the guidance of Orla Lehane
from Fighting Words, and JCT project leader, Emma Gallagher,
the discussions covered topics such as character development,
storylines and how to progress their work. The feedback was
always valuable, and every writer benefitted from constructive
criticism that gave them the confidence to continually assess
and edit their writing in order to make each piece stronger and
more impactful. All of the participants in the project were keen
to support a culture of creativity within their professions and
hope to bring the skills they’ve developed back to the classroom.
The exciting result of their collaboration is Visions &
Revisions: An Anthology of New Writing by Junior Cycle
Teachers, a book of engaging stories, plays and poetry that use
characterisation and language in different ways to explore a
diverse range of topical and enduring themes.
Each writer brings their own individual style and voice;
and every piece, whether short story, play or poem, is unique in
itself, offering distinctive visions of the world around us and the
people who live in it.
It is clear that working with young people has given the writers a
nuanced insight into peer pressure and the necessity to conform
within the group, as we see so vividly in the anarchic ‘Some Loose
Screws’ by Shane Ruth, and the topical dilemma at the heart
of ‘Stupid’ by Ruth Kelly. The theme of peer pressure is further
explored in Catherine Hickey’s play, ‘Homework – A One Act
Play,’ with its cast of recognisable young characters.
Women and their complex lives are front and centre in a
number of the short stories, including the poignant ‘Waiting
Room B’ by Elizabeth O’Dea, and Mary-Elaine Tynan’s
compelling ‘Undone’; while ‘Conversation Pieces’ by Emma
Gallagher, and ‘Unravelled’ by Laura Morrissey, thoughtfully
explore the changing concerns of women in the modern world.
Old age and regrets are dealt with sensitively in ‘83 and
Counting’ by Martine O’Brien, while ‘Inner Space’ by Mary
Lowry looks at the difficulty of a long goodbye, and in ‘Days
Like This,’ Niamh Ní Bhraonáin moves between the past and the
present to show the consequences of a youthful tragedy.
Taking risks with writing was one of the principal aims
of the project, and the willingness of writers to approach their
themes in distinctive ways is celebrated in ‘Splinters’ by Patricia
Wall, ‘A Bumpy Road’ by Richard Kerins and Katie McDermott’s
‘How To Cancel a Wedding.’ Leona Talbot takes an innovative
approach in her play, ‘The Walls,’ while Rosanne Roe Florence
skilfully brings us into the mind of someone with Asperger’s in
her short story ‘Between the Lines…’
‘Autumn Break’ by Anna Johnston draws the reader in with
vibrant imagery and lyrical language. Anna also uses rhythm to
its full effect in her poem, ‘Concussion Song,’ while powerful
poetry from Chelsea Hudson evokes female strength in her
‘Women Through The Ages’ pieces.
In ‘The Unwelcome Mat’, Yvonne Corscadden explores
grief and loss, but also how far a writer will go to achieve a
dream; the gently evocative unfolding of ‘The Swan’s Nest’ by
Marie-Thérèse Carmody brings the past and the present together
in an elegant short story of time and place, and Neasa McHale’s
‘Take Me Through Your Day’ brilliantly exposes the dichotomy
between our internal and external lives in the most ordinary of
This inspiring collection of work by new writers is a
testament to the power of words, taking chances and using our
Now, more than ever, we need to find our creativity, raise
our voices to each other and share our experience.
This collection couldn’t be more timely.
THE SWAN’S NEST
Ned sat in the stillness at the end of every night. Heavy boots
and heavy legs, still in his donkey jacket – the kind that would
keep a nuclear winter out. Ned’s shift finished at 4am. When he
came home he could never get his head down. The buzz of the
shipyard spun around his head. It wasn’t an official night guard
gig, more of an under the table, cash in hand sort of thing.
The dockers shouted jovially in the little cabin window as
they passed to clock out each evening. ‘G’Night Dad’s Army!
Don’t you and yer cronies go catching too many young theivers
now. At least give um a head start!’
‘G’wan outta that,’ Ned would shout, leaning out the
window waving them on home.
Back in the kitchen he sipped the milky brew. The lights
under the cabinets glowed peacefully and it soothed his brain
a bit. It was much quieter now that Vera was ... He kept her
favourite cup on the table, next to his. He liked to look at it
when he felt lonely for Vera, which was all of the time. It wasn’t
there now – the cup. Joaney, his niece, must have moved it when
she came by. She liked to make sure Ned hadn’t slipped into
a life of squalor. Ned made a mental note to ask her about it.
Misplacing Vera, it just wouldn’t do.
* * *
A quaint cottage in need of modernisation, the ad had said. The
well preened estate agent lent down to open the little iron gate.
Looking back at John and Rachel he said, ‘It’s got great potential.’
But he must have seen by the looks that the couple exchanged
that they were already sold. Rachel linked John’s arm and pulled
THE SWAN’S NEST
him up the steps with a smile. The Swan’s Nest, the little sign by
the gate read. It felt like home already.
‘It’s like looking out from my ma’s kitchen,’ she said, peering
dreamily out through the small window over the sink. ‘It’d be so
nice to look out over a canal, even if it isn’t the Grand one. The
Royal will have to do,’ she poked him playfully.
‘So that’s everything,’ the estate agent said ten minutes later
as he closed the attic door. ‘Any questions?’
‘I’d love to have another look around outside,’ John said.
As they had entered the house John had been bemused
by a bizarre feature of the front garden. The very small paved
area housed a rather oversized body of water. Proportional to
the space, the pond was stiflingly big. John hung his head over
the edge of the water and peered down. A large net covered the
surface of the pond. A glittering body flicked just below the
surface, and then another, and then, John realised, a whole shoal
of the most beautiful coy fish inhabited this most unlikely space.
‘Lovely, aren’t they. The neighbour’s been feeding them since
the owner passed,’ the estate agent added as he passed John on
his way out.
As John peered back down at the pond he got the uncanny
sense that he was being watched. Looking up at the fence he saw
a very large puffy feline staring through him.
Shaking John’s then Rachel’s hand, the estate agent said,
‘Look, I shouldn’t say this but the seller is looking to make a
quick deal on this house. It was her uncle’s and she just wants it
sorted. Give me a shout and we’ll try to get something moving
soon.’ He slipped John a business card and they parted company.
The following week John was packing up his laptop and just
about to leave his desk when his mobile lit up. ‘The niece, she
says that she’s happy to avoid a bidding war if you’ll take the
place as is. It’ll need a good cleaning before you move in, mind.
She doesn’t want any of the contents.’
Six weeks later, Rachel and John picked up the keys of their
new home and set about the big clearout.
‘Sorry I’m not in any condition to help you with the heavy
stuff,’ Rachel shouted down the hallway to John from the kitchen,
patting her infinitely curving bump.
‘Bloody hell, we’re going to need to order a second skip,’
John bellowed over his shoulder in reply. ‘And we’ll need the rest
of the feckin’ week to sort it all out. Come ‘ere Rach! You should
see some of this gear,’ John called.
Rachel found him peering into a large dusty looking
wardrobe. The room looked like it hadn’t been decorated since
the early 90s.
‘Check this out,’ John laughed, pulling out a pale blue suit
with a ruffled collar, still on its hanger. Holding it up to his neck
he said, ‘I look like da in his wedding photos.’
‘Stop mitchin’ off,’ Rachel said, throwing a tea towel at his
head before ambling back up the hallway.
As John dragged the remaining contents onto the bed he
noticed a box on the floor at the back of the wardrobe. It was
a bit bigger than a shoebox, but not much. Throwing himself
down on the dressing table chair he carefully lifted the lid ...
* * *
Hopping on his bike Ned looked at his watch. Late again! The
boss would have him quartered.
‘Better take the shortcut along the tow path,’ he thought.
It was early evening, midge flies low on the water and the
vibrant sun warming his bare arms. Speeding along.
‘Bloody swans!’ Ned exclaimed, as he skidded to a stop
spotting the birds blocking the path up ahead. And there she was,
a girl of no more than eighteen years old, he thought. She was
brazenly staring down a large angry looking swan. The bird’s
expansive wings outstretched and body arched, it dived for this
poor girl’s legs.
‘Jaysus!’ she screamed, and jumped a mile into the air.
Not sure how else to help her, Ned cupped his hands around
his mouth and shouted, ‘Get yourself right up against the wall
and run like the clappers!’
Taking his advice the girl hiked up her skirt and sprinted
THE SWAN’S NEST
up on the path verge past the enraged fowl. With the girl safe, it
was Ned’s turn. He followed suit on his bike and made it to the
other side, just about.
Laughing with relief Ned held out his hand. ‘The name’s
Ned,’ he said.
Smiling, she said, ‘Vera, I’m Vera.’
Ned married her 6 months later.
‘We’ll need our own place,’ Vera had said.
Within a month of the marriage they had received the letter
from the council: You have been approved for a residence, it had
As they moved their small bundles of belongings into the
little cottage by the tow path, Ned stood in the tiny garden. He
turned to look out over the slow moving water, contented.
Later that evening an excited young Ned ran into the
kitchen and gently grabbed Vera by the elbow. ‘Com’on, the delf
Leading her out to the tow path he turned her around to
face the little iron gate. There she saw a small sign lovingly
carved from beech wood. It read, The Swan’s Nest.
‘I love it.’ She swung her arms around Ned’s neck, laughing.
Vera made sure to pay the rent right on time every week.
‘We’ve got another letter from the council,’ she said to Ned
one night as he sat at the table to tea. ‘They say we can buy
the cottage if we are fixed,’ Vera said, standing in front of Ned
clutching the letter, a look of hope on her face. She slipped into
the chair beside him. ‘I’ve been squirreling away a few shillings
and I think we have enough for the deposit. Let’s give it a shot
Ned. Imagine, our own place!’
* * *
Back in the bedroom John gently examined the contents of the
box and saw, sitting on a pile of letters, a large white feather.
Carefully he lifted the feather out and laid it on the little dressing
table. Turning back to the papers, he picked out a yellowed
envelope. Should he read it? He’d just take a look. The front
of the envelope read: Miss Vera Joyce, No. 3 Shandon Park,
My Dearest Vera,
I hope you are well. We made port this morning. The
weather here is a sight better than in Ireland, I’ll tell
you. I’ve never been this far from home before. Most of
our runs have been to France. But this will be the last
one and it will be worth it for the money. We have a
bit of shore leave today and tomorrow, so I’m going to
try and see a bit of the place. It’s a big island, Okinawa,
and we are in a city called Naha. It is beautiful here. So
many trees and animals that we’ve never seen before.
You should see the fish. They’re like liquid gold. I wish
you could see it. I’ll try and bring you home something
nice. Maybe a wedding present x.
All my love,
Marie-Thérèse Carmody has been a
librarian with the Junior Certificate
School Programme since 2013. She is
based at Riversdale Community College
in Blanchardstown. Before Marie-Thérèse
became a librarian she worked in the field
of science. This is Marie-Thérèse’s first
venture into the world of creative writing,
but hopefully will not be her last. She enjoys
(not in any specific order) baking, reading,
time with the dog and family time.
A little embarrassed having intruded on an intimacy, John folded
the page and returned it to its envelope. He placed the letter back
in the box, laying the feather on top.
THE UNWELCOME MAT [EXTRACT]
‘That!’ Oscar remarked holding up the manuscript, a little
uncomfortably, even though he was normally quite at home in
his own office. ‘Well darling … How can I put this nicely?’
He paused nervously as he sat down in his big plush
office chair. He looked his best friend in the eye and continued,
‘That… Well… It’s just not good!’ he exclaimed. He continued
quickly, ‘Look Jane, you know I love you and I know that you’ve
been through a hell of a hard time, but the raw emotion and
utter heartbreak that you captured in The Unwelcome Mat just
He moved from behind his desk, and sat down in the chair
beside Jane and picked up her hand in his to comfort her.
‘Look at it this way,’ he began, slowly and deliberately.
‘When Aoife passed, I had never seen anyone in such a state.’ He
paused and tried to reach her eyes with his. ‘You are a young
woman, you should have been in the prime of your life but you
couldn’t eat, sleep, dress yourself. AND let’s be honest. You stank,
and I mean, you literally stank. That apartment that you shared
with Aoife was an actual pigsty. I realise I should have been more
worried about you. As soon as I knew you were writing, I knew
that you’d be okay.’
Jane could easily have taken offence, and maybe she would
have, if it had been anyone but Oscar, but she knew that he was
‘I did stink,’ she agreed. ‘But if it hadn’t been for the writing,
I don’t know how I could have coped,’ Jane interjected, with a
tear beginning to gather in the corner of her eye. ‘Sorry Osk,’
THE UNWELCOME MAT
she continued as she wiped the tear away. ‘I thought I had this
random crying thing under control. But that novel flew out of
me. It was like I needed to get the words out of me so that I
could get rid of some of the hurt and the pain that was tearing
Her voice cracked and she sat back in her seat, throwing
her head back and inhaling deeply, trying to keep a second tear
‘I know my love, I know.’ His tone was comforting and
he reached out and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. ‘It was
your saving grace… And let’s be honest, and I’m not trying to be
flippant here… but you got a nice few Euro out of it too, not to
mention global recognition and a film deal. So it wasn’t exactly
all bad.’ He looked at her with a little glint in his eye, ‘AND best
of all. It placated your father!’
Jane looked at him, raised her eyebrows and smiled, ‘And
you didn’t do too badly out of it either!’
Oscar put his hands up in surrender and continued, ‘Hey,
look! I’ve been in the publishing game for three decades and you
are my only Pulitzer Prize winner, so I’m not complaining. But I
wouldn’t be doing any of us any favours if I publish this!’
Once again, he waved the manuscript at her. ‘It’s… Terrible,
awful, dreadful, unpleasant… How many other synonyms can I
use… Go on… You tell me, you’re the writer?!!?’
Finally Jane broke down laughing. That type of laugh that
clears a lot of pent up energy. ‘You’re right!’ she announced. ‘It’s
shit.’ She paused. ‘It IS shit, it’s shit, it’s shit!’ she yelled, with
each iteration of the phrase getting louder and louder until they
both collapsed and laughed as only old friends can. ‘I’m so lucky
that you took me under your wing when you did. I’m so lucky
to have you in my life, Osk. No one else could deliver such bad
news with such brutal honesty and still have me laughing at the
He smiled and she could see that he was a little relieved to
have delivered the brutal truth to her about her manuscript.
‘It’s why I’m such a fantastic editor. And also why I’m so
modest,’ Oscar added, as he smiled back at Jane with a twinkle
in his eye. ‘And also, why I’m such a hit with the gents.’
They both laughed, as Jane knew only too well Oscar’s
reputation with men.
‘But how do I follow up on, “the most courageous and
enlightening piece of modern fiction this decade” if everything
that I have written since is shit!?’ Jane sighed.
‘Ah,’ exhaled Oscar with derision. ‘That Irish Times reviewer
was up himself and was just trying to get into your knickers
when he wrote that,’ replied Oscar. ‘But I have to say, it didn’t
hurt with the book sales!’
They both chuckled and a stillness grew over the pair.
‘Can I tell you what I think is happening, why your writing
isn’t hitting the standard that you’ve now set for yourself?’ Oscar
said, and without waiting for a response, continued. ‘You are
It was a statement. Not a question and Jane looked at her
friend with disgust.
‘I. Am. Frikin’. Not,’ she countered, punctuating every word.
‘I’m still mourning the death of my sister.’
But she noticed the gentle turn at the corner of his mouth
and his ever-so-slightly raised eyebrow.
‘I’m not happy,’ she repeated with almost total disbelief.
‘You are!’ Oscar repeated.
‘I am not.’
‘I AM NOT.’
‘You are. And there’s no point in disagreeing with me,
because we both know that it’s true.’
Oscar raced through the sentence so that he wouldn’t be
interrupted. The two friends stared at each other. A slight tension
between them and Jane stared at Oscar. Someone that she trusted
‘Staring me out of it isn’t going to make it not true, and
before your writer brain corrects me… I know that was a double
negative, so there!’
THE UNWELCOME MAT
‘Fuck,’ replied Jane, breaking the silence.
‘Ya! Fuck!’ replied Oscar. ‘That’s what happens when you
fall in love.’
‘It can’t be. I can’t be in love, I can’t be happy,’ repeated Jane,
shocked at the words that were escaping from her mouth. ‘But
how can that be?’
She paused and inhaled in that staccato way that children
do when they finally calm down from a tantrum.
‘Well, you’ve spent a hell of a lot of time with Sam since
Aoife died AND I’ll tell you something else. You’ve known Sam
longer than I’ve known you.’
Jane’s eyes opened in sudden realisation. ‘Sam has been in
my life, since the little shit got us both beaten up by those dicks
that we went to school with. How can I “suddenly” be in love
with him?’ She did the always-annoying quotation marks symbol
with her hands.
‘Darling, I don’t think twenty years, is “suddenly.”’ Oscar
repeated the gesture but added his own little two-finger salute by
turning his wrist around at the end, before burying his head into
his desk and pulling out a bottle of rioja.
‘Fuck off,’ Jane replied, smiling in spite of herself. ‘He is
lovely though, thoughtful and considerate and …’
‘And absolutely fantastic in the sack!’ continued Oscar
pulling the cork out of the bottle, the ‘pop’ of which was timed
to perfection with the statement.
Jane snorted in laughter, which set both of the friends off
‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaah,’ sighed Jane, as she took a sip of the wine,
when the hysterics had subsided. ‘I needed that. Thanks for being
there and for being a good editor which ultimately makes you
a shit friend who tells me that my writing is useless, but at the
same time plies me with wine.’
‘You’re very welcome,’ came Oscar’s reply. ‘You know me,
always ready to open a bottle in times of emotional crises.’
‘So tell me. Things are going very well with Sam?’
Jane smiled, ‘Oh Oscar, he’s just so lovely. I can’t believe that
it took Aoife’s passing to bring him back into my life. Seeing him
at the funeral was so unexpected but having him in my life since
has really helped with trying to deal with all this stupid grief
stuff. Him and the writing.’
‘I’m thrilled for you darling, I honestly am. At least one of
us is getting some,’ he laughed as he winked at her. ‘So what does
Daddy Dearest think of your young gentleman?’
‘Oh, you know yourself, disappointed in me... The youge,’
replied Jane. ‘Sam being a carpenter rather than an academic is
me “lowering myself.” But ultimately we both know it’s because
one Pulitzer isn’t good enough for him, because he has two.’
She had practically sung the sentence. ‘It’s always what it
comes back to.’
‘You do know that no matter if you had seven Pulitzers and
a Nobel, it still wouldn’t be good enough for Daddy Dearest,’
Jane dismissed her friend, ‘Ah, I know that.’
‘But you are still going to go through your life trying to
They looked at each other. Both acknowledging the truth,
but neither confirming the statement, until Oscar continued,
‘Even if it makes you feel like shit?’
‘You know what?’ Jane started. ‘I think I’d rather talk about
my boring dead sister!’and continued, ‘See!’ as she grinned
excessively but with a little too much enthusiasm. ‘Look, this
grief thing. It just catches me unawares every single time. I
cannot believe how lucky I am to have found you. You make me
feel amazing about myself and that is always so unexpected. But
I still feel guilty for being the twin that’s here, the one that isn’t
dead, you know.’
‘I get it,’ Sam replied. And he did get it, yet it still hurt. ‘But, I
have to say, it would be nice if my girlfriend didn’t cry every time
I told her I loved her!’
He wrapped his arms around her. And cuddled her, while she
stifled a little sob on the couch.
Yvonne Corscadden is an English and
geography teacher at Moyle Park College
in Clondalkin, Dublin. She originates from
Sligo and went to college in NUI Galway
and Trinity College Dublin. Reading has
always been a big part of her life, but
writing never has, yet a version of ‘The
Unwelcome Mat’ has been knocking around
her head for years. She really appreciates the
JCT and Fighting Words for the opportunity
to finally write it. This process has reminded
her of what it is like to be a learner again,
and she hopes that her own students won’t
judge her too harshly!
Rosanne Roe Florence
BETWEEN THE LINES…
Only If You Are Hungry…
By midday, most days, I still resemble a Zombie from The Walking
Dead, so as soon as I hear more than the vaguest suggestion that
it is necessary to eat … I’m off. Breakfast, brunch, lunch … it’s
all the same to me, whatever you want to call it. I only eat when
Two excruciating hours later, whilst cramming the Innes
Interview Book and succumbing to the roar of a grumbling
stomach, I eventually make my way down to the kitchen. My
eyes not having yet acclimatised to the near anaphylactic assault
of the slightly ajar south facing window, my nasal passages
inflamed, gasping from Allium cepa² inhalation and already
I’m expected to multitask. To what end? Multiple tasks done
simultaneously, each with a less than optimal outcome. Less focus,
more divergence, dystopian, delusional … bullshit. One cannot
fill the washing machine whilst cooking the harissa pan-fried cod
with roasted roots, and concurrently load the dishwasher. Dinner
will not be Michelin starred, that’s for sure. The dishwasher will
no doubt be packed unsymmetrically, and there will invariably
be a grey sock in the whites…
The thing about AS is, it leads me to be easily overwhelmed,
copiously misunderstood, frequently considered impolite, rude,
overly direct, distracted and addicted, so if this is the rubric
by which I’m known, there’s surely no reason to change. My
prefrontal cortex is like a beacon of light when I see facial
expressions I don’t understand, so it really helps that people see
BETWEEN THE LINES…
how I react and can give me the heads up on a verbal option. I love
order, rules, discipline, operations that optimise, streamline and
facilitate. The sheer beauty of systems that seamlessly work to
everyone’s advantage is such a notable and enriching experience
for me that I have a tendency to get enormously frustrated when
people diverge from what ‘common sense’ should suggest is the
I frequently observe drivers stop, allowing passengers to
disembark on the roundabout adjacent to my local shopping
centre whilst there are signs abound for seven car parks! The
unsuspecting offender hardly knowing what has hit them as I
seethe, like a thermite reaction, displaying outward revulsion as
we drive and I press my hand firmly on the horn.
‘Defective parking, defective thinking,’ I say out loud. ‘What,’
I ask, ‘is wrong with them? Who stops on a roundabout?’
This, I note, is a widespread but clearly faulty behaviour,
perhaps a genetic upset, an error in the DNA restrictive enzyme
destroying the proofreading ability which causes their brains to
effuse such irrational behaviour and yet, I am the one with no
The Blind Leading the Visually Gifted
With visual spatial scores in the 99.9th percentile it’s somewhat
difficult to argue with me when I say that non-functional
asymmetry is my nemesis. The ‘secret scripture’ of streamline and
substance that I love, proves that aesthetic without functionality
is like a vertical asymptote with a zero denominator.
Almost everything I visualize requires a pattern to be
competed, altered or destroyed. The belt of Alnitakk, Alnilam,
Mintaka and Orion Constellation Theory come to mind. If the
Egyptians on the Giza plateau in 2490 BC could manage it with
a few thousand illiterate slaves, here’s me guessing being an
‘aspie’ is nothing new.
Often, a daily assault course for my brain can be something
as minor league as observing cars being parked over the
designated parallel lines in a car park causing a non-symmetrical
Rosanne Roe Florence
domino effect. Hypertension inducing, and unfixable until the
initial offender has been removed. That person who, on finishing
their shopping, leaves the trolley a mere scraping distance away
from a full body respray. Why do people put things in the wrong
But then, existence for me is filled to the brim with things
that are in the wrong place. In my dreams there can be no
ambition to plan for urban abstraction without acknowledging
the native simplicity and practicality of the grid.
God, I’d love New York!
Out and About
It’s not like I’m out and about all the time. I quite like my own
company and few people understand, that on a good day, I have
to circumnavigate the synaesthesia of my own dysfunctional
sensory modality. Sometimes, no, most of the time, for the benefit
of myself and my co-habitants, I try to escape it.
I often retreat to the lockdown style bubble of gaming that
most mothers I know irrationally despise, but it allows me to be
the one in control … the one who calls the shots, the one with
the winners badge and somewhere I’m not forced to decipher
neurotypical metaphors and moods.
Whenever I venture out, my trips are always planned and
purposeful, one might even say prosaic, but as I reluctantly sit
on the second last row of the 41C bus rehearsing, ‘The Real
Meaning Behind the Interview Question,’ and regrettably
overhear a conversation, I value the opportunities in life for selfinduced
Two women, oh, I don’t know, middle aged people say, but
given that only 0.00095760% of the population reach 100 years
this is a highly spurious and inaccurate label. They chat and I
listen, but I do not understand.
‘Jaysus, isn’t Paddy getting a bit long in the tooth for all that.
Maybe he’s going through a mid-life crisis.’
I wince. Seriously, he could get hit by a bus tomorrow and
it would be an ‘end of life crisis.’ They continue chatting and
BETWEEN THE LINES…
I momentarily disengage … whilst my brain does revolutions.
Perhaps if Paddy were augmented with cybernetic enhancements
in the future, it might be a quarterly life crisis.
I’m keen to inform them of the inconsistencies and
ambiguities in their statement but I have been led to believe it
might be misconstrued as rude. Well, sometimes the truth hurts.
So I proceed to explain. Fifteen minutes later, I disembark the
bus. Why is the human race so utterly dense?
¹ In 2013 ‘Asperger Syndrome’ (AS) was subsumed by the diagnostic label of
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
² Alium cepa is the Latin term for onion, a vegetable that many with AS find
CONVERSATION PIECES [EXTRACT]
Rosanne Roe Florence BSc. H. Dip, MSc.
Mol Med, is a mathematics and biology
teacher in Coláiste Choilm, Swords. An avid
reader, dance teacher, musician and grower,
Rosanne has extensive experience and a
keen interest in understanding the challenges
students with special educational needs face,
especially those on the autism spectrum.
In her short story ‘Between the Lines…’,
Rosanne looks to open people’s eyes to
the struggles that exist for someone with
‘Asperger Syndrome,’ and to dispel some of
the prejudice that affects their daily lives,
allowing them to follow their dreams.
‘That’s when I learnt my lesson,’ he said, ruefully from the
They’d been filling each other in on the vagaries of life in the
classroom. They did this every day, thirty minutes to school and
thirty minutes home. Each day presented these little questions,
and how could you answer them? Concentrating on the road,
more often than not, Mam felt, her responses were poorly
thought out and probably deeply inappropriate.
Today’s lesson was on why they shouldn’t lick each other’s
hand. Saoirse had tried to take Fionn’s book from him because
he never listened to her when he was reading his book, it was
almost as bad as when he was on his device. She was trying to
get Mam to instigate a rule – no devices at the dinner table. She
liked rules. Rules made everything work better.
‘Mam, he’s after licking my hand.’
‘Why did he lick your hand?’
‘I was just trying to get his attention because he’s been
ignoring me all day.’
‘I haven’t been ignoring her all day, how could I ignore her all
day? We’re in different classes, we don’t even do yard together.’
‘Well, this morning I was trying to ask you a question and
you were ignoring me. I was trying to ask you a question in
‘Don’t be asking him questions in Gaeilge, you’re not his
‘You ask him questions in his Gaeilge, Mam.’
‘Yeah, well that’s different. Anyway, you’re not his ma either.’
‘Yes, Saoirse, you’re not the boss.’
‘I don’t think he should be ignoring me. And it really hurt
‘Well, it really hurt my feelings when you tried taking my
book off me, I was reading that and now I’ve lost my page.’
‘But you shouldn’t have licked my hand.’
‘Yeah, no licking hands, you don’t know where they’ve been.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well … eh … hang on, just turning here…’
The car lurched around the roundabout at the shopping
centre, a disaster of a roundabout with five ways to enter and
leave it, and three lanes becoming two to exit it. There was no
end of accidents at it. She concentrated on the road, watching for
people undercutting the lane to exit.
‘You were saying… ’
‘Where could hands have been?’
‘Well, I dunno, imagine if they’d gone to the toilet and there
hadn’t been toilet roll and then
they’d got poo on their hands?’
Mam lived in constant fear of stomach bugs; faeces on hands
was her worst nightmare.
‘Or if they put their hands in their trousers thinking they’d
just done a fart…’ he enjoined.
‘Well, in senior infants it happened to me. That was the day
I learnt my lesson about putting my hands in my trousers.’
‘You got poo on your hands!’
‘Yeah, and teacher had to wash them for me and I had to
wear the school’s trousers.’
‘I hate them.’
‘Why do yis hate them?’ Mam wondered aloud.
‘They’re all itchy…’
‘Yeah, they’re not soft.’
‘Can we have Apache Pizza tonight, Mam?’
She thought for a moment, they were supposed to be eating
healthy, and pizza was bloody expensive. She was tired though,
and it was so tempting.
‘No, we’re eating healthy, it’s not even Friday.’
‘But it’s so delicious.’
What did they have for dinner? Was there anything in the
‘Do yis have much obair bhaile?’
‘What do you have?’
‘Maths and English…’
‘Mam, he does have Gaeilge, I know when he’s lying.’
‘Saoirse, stay quiet.’
‘Ah, you two…’
‘Mam, you know Fionn’s crush?’
‘Saoirse, that’s private family business, we had a deal.’
‘No, it’s not that, Fionn, I didn’t say anything, but Friday is
‘Do you think I should write her a note, Mam?’
‘I don’t know, Fionn.’
‘It’s not a note Fionn, it’s a card.’
‘I don’t like cards.’
‘Should I write her a note?’
‘I don’t know love, what do you think?’
‘I don’t know. Saoirse … Mam, she licked my hand again.’
They turned into the estate and headed toward the house.
Mam dodged the bins scattered across the road. There were
three collections every week. What day was it again? Ah no,
she’d forgotten to leave out her own bin, two weeks until the
‘Do you know what, lads? Maybe we will get the pizza.’
Emma Gallagher’s poetry has been shortlisted
for the Ballyroan Poetry Prize 2019,
published in the Poets and Politics poetry
anthology 2019 and The Stony Thursday
Book 2011. She has written for Village
Magazine and The South East Voice as
an arts correspondent. Emma is currently
finalising an MA in Creative Writing at
Dublin City University. She has previously
been seconded to Junior Cycle for Teachers
as Team Leader for English, and currently
works with JCT on a part-time basis to
develop support for arts in education.
WOMEN THROUGH THE AGES
WOMEN THROUGH THE AGES
What part of me they’d like and serve myself,
Garnished to be enjoyed by them–
Left in shreds, leftovers discarded back to the Earth
To be planted and grown;
Footsteps up and down mark a history of everything that
has gone before–
More grand, more worthy, wilder and golden–
Golden to red, and blue, and broken–
Tampering with the broken to ease an eternal pain …
A loss for a loss, a cycle of decline–
Would you sell your heart to buy a brain
Burn your house to guide you home?
A parcel, wrapped for you
I am more than a woman;
Than anything other than me.
You don’t see them,
Don’t notice them
But they pave your way through the dark.
Blurred in the lives of others
My essence only belongs where I announce it,
Where I present the menu to my audience,
Leave room for choice–
I am more than a woman
In how I embrace my cycle
Here to please you
Until my worth is empty
We live for reasons to
Separate us from
You to eat,
Me to be eaten
And the beauty that blooms
In me watching myself
And being fuel
To keep you alive
To consume more of me
Until I belong
More inside of you
Than within Myself.
My mind, to you, is a fascinating journey
And you should know that I’ve granted you
Access to my every hope and dream
And all of my demons of the night.
I trust you with it–
To pause at my exhibitions,
To figure them out,
To imagine the colours of my universe
And use them to paint your skin.
We match in that way,
Where our ingredients are mirrored
We are different by method.
Where we plant each other,
Water each other
Watch each other flower differently–
One not less beautiful,
One not more fragile,
Both striking and worthy
A piece of art.
Chelsea Hudson is a post-primary English
and religious education teacher born and
raised on Dublin’s Northside. Her love
for poetry was first inspired by her own
English teacher in school, and now it is just
a part of who she is! The act of writing, for
Chelsea, is a powerful tool, an escape, an
opportunity. She looks forward to further
developing her skills and experimenting with
different styles of writing thanks to POW!
A slap on the skull
A whack on the whelk
Rattling the cradle, fracking the dome.
The earbell is ringing; sun’s slipping sideways:
Nothing stays put when the box is all battered.
The humming-and-throbbing is numbing the noggin.
How many fingers?
Count backwards from twenty.
Inside the casing
Where trouble is bruising
And something is bubbling.
for missing key.
Cerebellum rings wrong.
Shuffle shuffle whispers muffled
Sssh! shush hushaby hush.
Count every moment in one night:
Breathe in slowly,
Make it right.
Stand on one leg
and hold up a hand.
Cogs and cams –
A belt on the scalp
A crack on the conk
Brain badly baffled …
Anna Johnston teaches at Newpark
Daragh wished his mother gave him more credit. He was 17, for
God’s sake. He was well able to take care of himself.
‘Like … don’t you trust me or what?’
He flopped sideways into the kitchen armchair and swung
both legs over the arm.
His mother looked flustered.
‘I know it’s all last minute but shure that’s just the way it
is. They don’t know how long she was lying on the floor. Poor
Granny. I don’t know for how long more she can live on her own.
The ambulance is bringing her to hospital. Paula is on her way
over and we’ll travel to A&E in her car.’
Daragh wanted his mam to just go. He had plans. Granny
and her medical complications did not come into them.
‘I feel bad leaving you on your own again. It could be after
midnight before I’m back.’
She opened the fridge distractedly. ‘There’s plenty of milk
and there’s bread in the freezer. There’s two burgers left over
from the ones I made yesterday. Have them later if you like.
Don’t forget to feed the dog. Give him TWO scoops out of the
red bag. He doesn’t like the yellow stuff. It’s all up there in the
Daragh sighed. ‘I know mam. I’ve done it before. You haven’t
forgotten I’m going out though? It’s been arranged for ages.’
‘Well … I don’t know. I’ve got a funny feeling. What time is
Joseph picking you up at?’
‘I think 8.00.’
Daragh’s mother frowned … ‘Maybe it’d be better if … ’ she
‘Ah Mam, would ya stop worryin’. Joe’s da is dropping us
off AND collecting us. I’m not stupid.’
He noticed his mother’s face soften and he knew
he’d convinced her. She liked that he was hanging around
with Joe now. She thought he was a ‘positive influence.’
And his father was high up in the guards. A sergeant or
‘Oh, okay so,’ she relented. ‘Anyway, here’s Paula now. Oh
by the way, you’d better not let Bubbles in. He’s been rolling in
something in the field below and he stinks.’
Daragh watched the headlights of auntie Paula’s car run
their beam across the kitchen window.
‘Love you lots, Dar!’ he heard his mother call as she
disappeared out the front door.
And then she was gone.
Great. He was on his own at last. He thought she’d never
go. He was suddenly filled with an intense feeling of fantastic
freedom. He thought he’d burst with elation. Thoughts of
endless possibilities surged through his mind. God this was class.
The whole feckin’ house to himself.
He’d have an extra long shower, he decided. No one around
to tell him to go easy on the hot water. He might even use
the fancy new aftershave his mother had put in his Christmas
He’d do the dog first. Get that job out of the way.
Then he felt the weight of his freedom begin to crush him.
A free house was just an empty house. Nobody here but himself.
Here in the middle of bloody nowhere. Two miles from the
nearest house. He never really felt at ease going up to the shed
Ah, he was just being stupid.
Nothing would happen. He was only being a baby. No one
was lurking around the shed waiting to jump out at him.
Unless it was like that time. It had frightened the daylights
out of him.
A barn owl. It had been so cool. Soaring off into the night
like the Star Ship Enterprise.
It must be nesting in the hayshed. Maybe he’d get to see it
He felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. It was Joe.
Change of plan, he texted. In Ryans. Won match. C’mon
Typical. Bloody typical. It was always like this with Joe. He
always had to march to Joe’s tune.
How was he to get to Ryan’s? It was a three mile walk into
And it was raining. But he really wanted to go and be with
his friends. He wanted to be part of it all. He wanted to belong.
How was he ever to properly meet any girls if he was stuck
The phone seemed to throb in his hands. It was as if it was
waiting for him to respond.
No lift, Daragh texted back.
Immediately he was miserable. He could see it all. All the
lads having right craic in the pub, laughing, joking, slagging each
other. The kitchen clock ticked its lazy tick as if mocking his
predicament. His free house now became an irritating burden.
His need to be with his friends slowly grew into a longing. An
urgent physical pain from deep within him.
His phone lit up again.
Another text from Joe.
Just one word this time.
Daragh flung his phone onto the floor. The bastards. He’d
show them. He imagined them all having a great laugh at his
expense. Them all skitting at him, mocking him. Calling him
It was all stupid. Feckin’ feckin’ feckin’ stupid.
Granny and her falls. This wasn’t the first time his mam
had been called away for a ‘granny emergency.’ She was always
falling, and she was always grand. It seemed to Daragh that
whenever granny said jump, his mam and auntie Paula burst
themselves trying to outjump each other. He’d lost count of all
the things he’d missed out on. His mam hadn’t even bothered to
come to his parent teacher meeting before Christmas.
And here he was, alone in his house prison, and the lads all
together having mad craic. More than anything he wanted to be
right there in the middle of them all on that roller coaster ride
He spotted the bunch of keys his mother had left on the
kitchen table. The car keys! Class! Why didn’t he think of it
before? God, sometimes he was so stupid. Slow on the uptake.
He looked out the kitchen window. The light outside the
back door shone on his mother’s car. Through the darkness,
raindrops glistened on its bonnet.
It was there just for him. Waiting for him. Calling his name.
He began a ridiculous one-sided conversation with himself
as to why taking the car was a good idea.
His head began to burst with reasons why he HAD to take
Reason number one: His mam would never know. Anyway
she never actually said he couldn’t take it.
Number two: This was an emergency after all. The future of
his social life depended on him getting himself down to Ryan’s
Number three: He’d already had two official lessons and his
instructor said he was a fast learner.
Number four: He knew if his mother were there she’d drive
him down. But she wasn’t. In fact, she probably would insist that
he take the car if she knew how much it meant to him.
He decided he wouldn’t bother with his shower. It’d take
too long. He went into the sitting room and returned to the
kitchen with a bottle of whiskey. He put it on the table beside the
keys. His mother would never miss that from the drinks cabinet.
He didn’t really fancy drinking it himself. He could see himself
passing it around though, and knew that it would make him look
hard in front of all the lads.
He’d show them who was a ‘loser.’ He got angry when he
thought of Joe’s text.
His mother thought Joe was great. If she only knew the half
of it! He knew for a fact that more than once Joe’s father had
had to pull strings to get him out of trouble. The thing with that
third year, Mary Foley, was a shocker … If it was true … But
Joe’s dad got it all hushed up with the principal. If they kicked
him out who else would they get to play right corner forward on
the school team?
Daragh had never really allowed himself to think about
this side of Joe before. Everyone loved him, didn’t they? He was
probably the most popular lad in the school, wasn’t he? And
Daragh should be thanking his lucky stars that Joe wanted him
to be his friend, shouldn’t he?
He sank into the kitchen armchair and began to think.
He thought back to early September when they hadn’t been
back at school that long. The blackberries were bursting out in
the ditches. They were on the school bus on their way home.
There was the usual mayhem and noise.
Just as Daragh had got up from his seat to walk down the
bus, Joe, who’d been sitting in the back with the messers, said he
was getting off too.
Joe said it was about time that he saw Daragh’s house and
asked him what he was going to give him for his dinner. He was
Daragh was dead chuffed at the time. Everyone on the bus
could see the two of them were proper mates now. Daragh had
felt a golden glow come over him, like he was the ‘chosen one.’
They had just approached the gateway of his house when
Daragh realised he was under serious scrutiny.
‘What the hell is that?’ Joe pointed to the bird table Daragh
had made in woodwork class at school.
‘It’s the thing we made in Kavenagh’s class. Remember?
‘Oh yeah. I remember. My mam burnt my one. In the fire,
like. Said she may as well get some use out of it. You actually use
your one though? For birds like?’
Joe had started running around the garden, flailing his arms
maniacally as if he were some kind of demonic bird.
Daragh had felt embarrassed. And stupid. Really really
stupid. Joe had a way of making him feel like that.
Inside the house, Daragh had hoped that everything met
with Joe’s approval.
Joe had no problem making himself at home. He had gone
straight to the fridge in Daragh’s kitchen, opened it and frowned.
‘There’s nothing in here that you can do quickly … Have
you nothing to put in the microwave?’
‘There’s some soup there. That’s what I usually have until
Mam sorts something out.’
‘Never had that. Sounds shite.’
It was Daragh’s favourite and he knew his mam always
made a special effort to make it. He knew it was useless to persist
with the offer. He had an instinct that if Joe knew he liked the
soup he’d only slag him about it. He didn’t want Joe to put him
off soup forever.
‘C’mon, don’t be stupid. Give me something decent to eat.’
Daragh didn’t seem to be measuring up.
Joe had paced around the kitchen, picking things up and not
even putting them back in the right place.
He had lifted a framed photograph from the dresser.
‘Hey, who’s this one? Jaysus, I wouldn’t mind having a go
It was as if someone had reached inside Daragh and squeezed
his heart. ‘For feck’s sake Joe, that’s me mam … Look, there’s
pizza in the freezer. I’ll put two on. Then we can have one each…’
Then Joe had caught sight of Bubbles in his basket and
‘Jesus! He’s a monster. Does he bite?’
Bubbles had lifted his hairy head perplexed.
Daragh had almost burst out laughing at the idea. Bubbles?
A monster? Joe had to be joking.
Joe had continued, ‘I feckin’ hate dogs. Smelly, stupid
‘He’s a dopey auld lad, he won’t touch ya. We’ve had him
years.’ Daragh had tried to pretend that Bubbles meant nothing
to him and he had felt like a traitor.
The best day of his life had been when his mam brought
Bubbles home. He had been only eight weeks old and smelled
like caramelised milk. His little blubber ball. Daragh had tried to
say ‘Blubber’ when he had seen his pup for the first time, but he
was only little then and could only manage ‘Bubble.’ Mam had
thought it was really cute and so the name had stuck.
They had been through so much together. Bubbles had never
let him down.
The more Daragh thought about his dog the more relaxed
The flurry of emotions he had felt earlier seemed to have
slowed down in his head. He began to see things a little more
clearly. He was finally beginning to admit to himself that
Joe was hard work. He didn’t like the way he felt in Joe’s
company a lot of the time. He couldn’t really be himself. Being
someone’s friend shouldn’t be such a strain. Joe wasn’t all bad.
He was good fun.
But from here on in, Daragh was going to be his own man.
A familiar scratching sound brought Daragh back to reality
and to the back door. Bubbles burst his way through the door
and waddled past. He was on a mission and not to be trifled with.
He settled into his usual spot, his bed beside the cooker.
His mother had not been joking. A heavy, putrid stench
slowly began assaulting his nostrils.
‘Ah Bubbles, have you been rolling in shite again ya feckin’
Bubbles actually managed to look ashamed of himself. He
bowed his head contritely, looked up at Daragh and gave his tail
a subdued wag. Daragh couldn’t help but smile.
Out of the corner of his eye, Daragh saw the whiskey bottle
and immediately felt mean and selfish.
God, he had come very close to ruining everything.
Daragh felt Bubbles’ head nuzzle the back of his knee.
His loyal presence made Daragh’s heart melt.
He took a deep breath and sighed.
What the hell had he been thinking?
Was he stupid or what?
‘Are ya hungry fella?’
Daragh lay down on the floor to rub his dog and as he
did so he knew his plans for the night were going in a different
direction. He was needed at home. His mam needed him. His
dog needed him.
Ryan’s didn’t seem so appealing anymore. The boys were
welcome to their night out. He’d no doubt that he’d hear all their
exaggerated stories in school on Monday.
Bubbles looked as if he was settling into a long comfy sleep,
cosy and warm.
Daragh began to feel a contentment he hadn’t felt in a long
time. He’d text his mother to see if everything was alright with
But first Daragh would text Joe. He’d let him know he
couldn’t make it. There would be other nights. Great nights lay
ahead of them both. He reached for his phone.
He spelled the words aloud, slowly, making Bubbles perk
up his ears.
‘Can’t make it. Washing the dog.’
And Daragh knew in his heart,
that most definitely,
he was not stupid.
Well, that’s enough about me … The real
credit for this story goes to my LC1 English
class at St Peter’s College Wexford. What
started out as a homework assignment,
prompted my own attempt at said exercise,
snowballed into this short story. They were
receptive and insightful as they listened
patiently to my redrafts (or maybe they
just wanted a break from the mundanity
of classwork). Whichever, they were a
tremendously kind bunch of lads to their
unusually self-conscious teacher.
After thirty years teaching I love the
optimism and idealism of my students.
This privileged position gives me great
hope for the future.
And no, lads, I won’t be retiring next year!
A BUMPY ROAD [EXTRACTS]
A BUMPY ROAD
Jade or ‘Elsa’ when she was crooning Let it Go. Turned four
last month, the final piece of the perfect family puzzle. A cloud
of pink to counter the sea of blue. Everything they wanted and
more. Until the darkness set in.
* * *
He knew it was bad the second he laid eyes on her.
‘That fucking toe again,’ he thought to himself. He had
apologised loads of times, flowers, the lot.
She burst out, ‘I’m pregnant, six weeks I think.’
The world stopped. The late nights, crippling tiredness and
tears cascaded down on him from a million years before. Each
memory more vivid and real than he could’ve imagined ten
‘How?’ It was out of his mouth before he had time to stop
it. Her raised eyebrows said all that was needed.
‘I mean … I thought you were … when?’
‘I missed my pill for a few days when I was sick before Con’s
wedding, must have been around then.’
His brain felt like a lorry carrying a load up a hill, slow and
John eventually mumbled out, ‘Well, congrats.’
For her it was different. She would have loved to have called
it hell because it would have had a name, a place. No, it was
purgatory for her. Sitting in between two worlds, belonging to
neither. All the longing to be a mother, wife, sister, daughter, dead
but none of the ability or words to be anything. What he didn’t
get this time around though was that she was not going to allow
it to happen again. The first sign of that fog and she was going
to take action.
Positive action. Others would attack her idea that she had
been selfish, but she felt she had. As she slipped down, she knew
she was depriving all her loved ones of her. The signs were
obvious that she needed help but how could she let her guard
down and ask for help, show that weakness. No, they were
choices that would not be made again. She wouldn’t tell him this
though. Actions speak louder than words.
* * *
The sound of the tea being made flooded his thoughts with
memories, long assumed forgotten, for the second time
that evening. The hospital cafeteria. He was a dad for the
first time. Jake. His son. Both of them living minute to
minute, not knowing what they were doing but loving every
second of it; Jake’s little cries or giggles and everything in
between. The seven years had passed in the blink of an eye.
The pictures of a wrinkly little piglet replaced by a joyous
footballer, celebrating imagined victories and World Cup glories
in the back garden. Another life passed by his eyes, his daughter,
INNER SPACE [EXTRACT]
Richard Kerins is an English and history
teacher in Moyle Park College, Clondalkin.
He also coaches various soccer teams in the
school. In his spare time, he enjoys reading,
walking his two dogs and spending time
with his wife Laura and their two-yearold
son, Eric. He is an avid runner and has
completed numerous marathons. Richard
was born and raised in inner city Dublin by
his inspirational mother, Adrienne, and older
sister, Rachel, but is now adjusting to living
the country life in Meath where the sight of
cows in the morning still surprises him.
When I was with her, the outer space of my world melted away.
For those few hours, we just were.
The present of her presence.
So we occupied a space and there was such joy in that, in just
being present. In being of the moment. Those moments were so
precious. That bubble, where she was and where we were.
We sat and spoke of nothing really, of times past, of remembrances,
of reminders, of who we were and who we thought we were.
At times we reached an essence of humanity, a purity of love.
There were no expectations and no judgement. There were
photographs and flowers, there was song and poetry, there was
much laughter and there were tears.
The emotions were … intense. She felt love and joy so purely,
she felt loss, especially the loss of Daddy, so keenly. The sense
of loneliness and fear that sometimes engulfed her was so raw
that I couldn’t reach into that space to pull her back, to make
her realise what was present and what was past. The sands were
shifting beneath her and time was fluid. So when she worried
about Daddy and why he wasn’t home yet and why he hadn’t
written her a birthday card, it mattered little that Daddy had
died 29 years earlier, because for her she felt the pain of his
absence like a physical wound.
And then it passed and she was with us again in the very moment
and the very space we occupied. And we sang songs …
‘Hello Dolly, you’re lookin’ swell Dolly.’
‘Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling.’
And we spoke the cupla focal, and she remembered learned
phrases from childhood, mine and hers.
And we laughed at her wit and her childlike mirth that came back,
and we saw glimpses of a woman unfettered by the pressures and
stresses of a long life – the life of a business woman, a mother
to us, a bereaved mother of three of her children, a wife and
a widow. We saw glimpses of the woman her friends and her
family must have known when she was young, of the woman
my father fell in love with, of a carefree and joyful woman filled
with girlish glee.
We experienced the kindness of strangers who became friends,
of carers who genuinely cared about our mother, who showed
love, attention, patience, who respected her dignity and her
individuality, who laughed at her jokes and her humour and who
comforted her in the darkness of night, the dark night in her
Ah hello, the voice said into the silence.
...and so began the long goodbye.
I watched her go to that space, where she was alone. I couldn't
go with her and she was petrified. Her eyes wide with horror,
appealing, asking questions, begging me for help, imploring and
I couldn’t go there.
I couldn’t follow.
make it easier and I was brought back to labour and I knew
she had to travel this road on her own and I could only be
an observer, a watcher, sit beside her and tell her it would be
okay, that she could go, that she had to go, she had to move
forward … and she didn’t want to go … she wanted me to
help her and I couldn’t – I couldn’t and I felt bad for urging
It was exhausting.
and then she stopped ...and there was space
and there was silence
and we looked at each other and we wondered
and then she took a big breath and off we went again.
The silence and the space and the hole that was her mouth, her
mother tongue, was silent and quiet and it was sore and she was
tired and it went on and on as she stopped and started and we
paused and then she filled the silence as she fell
And she fell
And then she was gone, but we were not sure and the nurse was
not sure and she checked her pulse and her mouth slackened and
softened and it was done. It was done, thank god it was done.
And then there was only absence and silence and it was over. And
almost immediately she began to look a little more like herself,
like who she had been. And I asked myself who was she?
She looked nothing like herself, she was a dying woman, who
was beginning to take leave of us and of her essence. I sat up
on the bed, over her, guiding her and I tried to smooth the road
that I knew she was travelling. I sang and tried to remember
lyrics and what she liked and how I could make it better,
HOW TO CANCEL A WEDDING [EXTRACT]
Mary Lowry is an English teacher at
Donabate Community College in North
County Dublin, with a passion for teaching
and learning. Mary has a particular interest
in the promotion of student voice through
creative expression. She lives in the beautiful
coastal village of Donabate with her
husband Gavin and their three young adults
– Sophie, Rachel and Tom. Mary enjoys
swimming (especially in the sea), cycling and
as much running as her ageing joints will
allow. This is her first foray into short
It had always been destined to fail. Maura could see that now. To
think otherwise had been foolish. Their backgrounds were just
too different. When they went to parties at Beth’s homeplace
everyone stood up around the table eating cake, drinking tea,
exclaiming in delight as more and more people arrived. Parties
at Maura’s house however, were smaller, more controlled and
less frequent. They revolved around the dining table, everyone
swirling glasses of cheap wine from McAloon’s off-licence on
the corner. Their lives were just incompatible; they were from
two different spheres of existence. There was nothing else for it,
Maura had decided, they’d just have to break up. People who
came from tea-drinking and cake-eating houses could never
settle down with people from wine-swirling table-dining houses.
There existed between them, a cultural incompatibility.
She’d had inklings for a while now, little suggestions that
they would never last. But after their blow up last week over
the seating plan Maura had started to keep a running tally.
Difference number 12: Beth loved cars, Maura preferred public
transport. Difference 72: Beth came from the countryside, Maura
was a townie. Difference 54: Beth supported Manchester United,
Maura preferred the hurling. Up until now, it had all been little
things that separated them, but isn’t life made up of little things?
Big events – births, marriages, deaths – they were the exceptions.
Life is the little rituals you perform every day, and more and
more, these differences between them were becoming like grains
of sand, irritating and wearing away at what they once were.
Marriage in particular was one issue where their differences had
risen to the surface. You got married to someone because you
loved them. That was all that should matter. It was fast becoming
apparent though, that Beth and her family were a package deal.
Maura felt like she was marrying every single one of them, and
so far, they had as much say in her own wedding as she did.
Maura made her decision on the August bank holiday weekend.
Beth’s cousins were home from Australia, home for the wedding
ostensibly, but that wasn’t for another two months. Still plenty
of time to cancel the whole affair. Today’s party was to celebrate
their arrival, but it had also become a very late engagement
party for Maura and Beth. If there was one thing Maura hated,
it was fuss. A wedding was bad enough, why did there have to
be so many ancillary events clustered around its feet like kittens?
Maura had the passenger window down, to let the breeze in. She
preferred it to the air conditioner – difference number 78.
‘What time are they expecting us?’ Maura asked.
‘About seven. Same as last time you asked me.’
‘Right. Will Anne be there?’
‘I don’t think so, she has to bring the kids to a party or a
circus or some such event.’
‘Oh. What about the other Anne? Who makes the
cheesecake?’ ‘Yeah, she’ll be there.’
‘Will the cheesecake?’
‘I don’t know.’ There was a pause. ‘You know—’ Beth
‘You know they’re going to be asking a lot about the
‘I know. But it’s our ceremony, not theirs.’
‘But they’re my family, it’s important to me.’
Maura didn’t reply. There was a whole subcategory of
differences, all led under difference number 1: the Wedding. 1.1
– Maura wanted a small ceremony, just two witnesses and their
celebrant, Beth wanted everyone there; 1.2 – Maura balked at
the thoughts of spending all that money on a party, Beth said
it would be worth it; 1.3 – Maura hated people staring at her,
hated being the centre of attention, Beth seemed to thrive on it;
1.4 Maura didn’t want a seating plan, Beth not only insisted on
HOW TO CANCEL A WEDDING
it, she made Maura help. That was what the latest fight had been
about. Maura didn’t see why Beth was inviting all these people if
they couldn’t be civil to each other for one day.
‘The celebrant needs to know what we want soon,’ Beth
‘I’ve already told you what I want.’ Maura was frustrated
with herself now, she felt too much like a sulky child. She didn’t
like what this wedding was doing to her. ‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to
Beth indicated to turn right at a crossroads.
‘I’m just stressed about today,’ Maura continued. ‘You know
how I hate small talk and people staring at me. And your family
is kind of ...’
‘Kind of what?’
‘Overwhelming,’ Maura finished, thinking it was best to
leave it at that. She’d make it through today and tell Beth tonight.
The wedding just wasn’t going to work.
‘But I like showing you off,’ Beth looked at her and smiled.
‘You look gorgeous today.’
‘Don’t I look gorgeous always?’
They both laughed and Maura felt relief at having shelved
the wedding talk for now. Forever, really. She’d made her decision,
but a new knot of anxiety was settling into her abdomen at the
thoughts of the conversation they’d have to have tonight.
TAKE ME THROUGH YOUR DAY [EXTRACT]
Katie McDermott is a writer and an
English teacher from Co. Meath. She lives
off coffee and writes late into the night. Her
reading tastes see-saw between Speculative
Fiction and Literary Fiction, and she has
a particular obsession with contemporary
Irish writers. Her short stories have been
published in Banshee, Autonomy, and
Literary Orphans, among others. She has
also been longlisted for the Over the Edge
New Writer of the Year prize and the
RTÉ Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story
Competition. Katie is currently elbow deep
in writing a novel and can be contacted via
her website http://katiemcdermott.com/
A coffee jar of small talk you leave on the kitchen table. Slips of
paper with small talk you’ve collected that you liked really liked
the sound of ... Oh, I must remember that one, you used to say,
then one day you were standing in the shop picking out lotto
numbers with the pen in your hand, putting the line through
the numbers you wanted. With the pen in your hand you wrote
down what the man said ... simple, and he left the shop keeper
with a smile on his face.
Today a woman leans against the wall outside the shop. She
licks her 99 ice cream and then puts the cone down towards her
dog. The dog quickly takes a lick and the cone goes up towards
the woman’s lips again. The woman moves the cone up and
down between the two of the them as she chats to her friend and
when the ice cream is almost all gone she takes the chocolate
flake out of the cone and tells the dog that the flake would make
him sick. So you finish the cone and I’ll have the flake, she says
to the dog. You stare as she drops the cone at her feet beside
the dog. When she finishes the flake she takes a small bottle of
water from her bag and drinks some. When the dog has finished
crunching and chewing the cone he lies down and stretches out
in front of her and licks his lips. He stretches again, and this time
lowers his head and closes his eyes. Before putting the bottle of
water away she takes out a container that looks like a lunch box
and pours water in it for the dog. You reach into your bag and
take out a bottle of hand sanitizer and drench your hands with
the clear liquid and begin to wring your hands together.
Walking up the road, there she is, your neighbour. She’s the
type who would tell you that there is a surprise party for you,
just she’d know you wouldn’t like the surprise and all. She tells
you all the bad things about people, the stuff that makes your
face glitch when you smile at them after telling a joke because
you know, but they don’t know you know, and they think that
in your eyes and in your head that they’re just, you know, your
man, very friendly, lives a few doors up. Instead of, well you
know now, he had affairs from the minute the ring went around
his finger until she flung hers back at him, yeah yeah that’s a fact
now. Just watch him now next time and see, he’ll leave early or
say he has to collect something. And then you feel like you’re
on a bad TV programme because he does leave early or he does
have to collect something and then as you watch him leave you
wonder who else is watching him leave or who is watching you
watching him leave.
You liked him like you’d like anyone at the start of knowing
someone. They are the sum of everything that they have told you.
Then there are the others and the others, filling in the blanks
and filling in the blanks that, well, you didn’t know they were
blanks until they tell you they’ll ll you in. Thanks for filling me
in, you’d say, but then you’re left with a knot in your head for
the rest of the day because you have a before and an after view
of that person now. After everything I did, after everything I said,
everything I told you. And then you run through the questions
that you prepare each night at night night time. The ones you
write. You ask too many questions, so you stopped completely.
And now it’s wrong wrong wrong. He, you think he is perfect,
but no he is just normal next to normal. He almost stamps his
foot to dismiss you, sends you away like a cat wandering around
the bins. But now your neighbour has told you all his secrets. You
think about his face, is that okay to like someone only because of
their face. Looking at him face to face. Now you are in the future
fighting one morning over everything, over nothing. I know you
only like me because of my face, he says. That’s right, I’m only
here because of your face.
Now back to today you are walking up the road and you see
him. He is standing at his front door, fingers splayed on the door
TAKE ME THROUGH YOUR DAY
frame and you have to say hi to everyone. Hi Hi Hi. He says hi,
and your name. You haven’t heard it all day. Don’t know what
else to say. His face drops straight down, he is confused thought
it was something something else. You want to empty your head
of all the words your neighbour said about him but you can’t, so
you continue to walk to your door. You turn the key and rush
straight into the silence.
Neasa McHale has been a JCSP librarian
since 2018. She has a BA in English and
History from St Patrick’s College, DCU.
She completed her Masters in Library and
Information Studies (UCD) in 2013. She
likes writing short stories and her work
has appeared in publications such as The
Stinging Fly and Town and Country: New
Short Stories (Faber & Faber). She has
previously been shortlisted for the Francis
MacManus Short Story Award. She is
interested in everything to do with libraries,
books, writing and words. She really
enjoyed taking part in the POW! Portfolio of
Writing Project 2019–2020!
‘Oh fuck! I’m never going to be allowed back in here – this is
beyond amateur dramatics. It was a tad extreme, like ... Jesus
what the hell was I thinking?’ thinks Tara.
‘Miss, do you need any assistance?’ an overeager Brown
Thomas sales assistant chortles in. How are you getting on?!’
Yes yes, I need help, but not with the dress I expect your
one outside is trying to peddle. No dress is going to help this
situation. Even Freud himself would have a head-scratcher of a
moment trying to sort me out.
‘No, I’m all good thanks,’ I call out, hoping I don’t sound
QUITE as hysterical as I felt. Deep breaths, deeeeep breaths, as
the assistant walks hesitantly away.
My thoughts are interrupted by my phone buzzing in my
bag. Oh thank God! It’s Caroline. She’s one of my closest friends
for this very reason, swooping in exactly when I need her.
‘Tara?’ Is everything okay? Ten missed calls are a lot, even
for you!’ she teases.
‘Eh, well, okay so here goes, don’t kill me ... So, it was the
worst experience I’ve ever had in my life, and so I legged it and
the next thing I know I’m hiding in the fancy changing rooms
on the third oor of BT’s ...’ I trail off as the phoneline goes silent.
‘Caroline? Hello?’ I ask, wondering if we’ve been cut off.
Slowly, I hear a high pitched breath and suddenly Caroline
lets out a howl of laughter, ‘The ... fan-cy ... dressing roooooms ...
hahahahahahahha! What are you like?’ she cackles. ‘Why didn’t
you just say you were done and get up and leave? One foot in
front of the other ... it’s not that hard!’
If only she knew. If only she knew how well it had started
out; if only she knew how easy and chatty it was; if only she
knew that within the utter of an eyelash, the whole evening went
SNAP, and all of sudden Dorothy was back in Kansas. Like Jesus,
why do I even bother?!
‘One word Caroline – Connor,’ I utter with as much distaste
as I can muster. ‘Mm hum, all six foot four of him draped around
the blonde, and guess how I spotted him?’ I say incredulously.
‘Oh no, how? What happened?’ Caroline asks in a hesitant
tone, trying to analyse my emotional state with every intonation
of my slightly hysterical whisper.
‘Down on one knee, in the middle of the restaurant in The
Dean, just as I came out of the loo!’ I utter in between sobs.
‘WHAT? Oh, dear god! Jesus how can he get any worse?’
she fumes down the phone. ‘Are you alright? What can I do?’ she
‘I can’t deal with this right now,’ I think, sure that Zoe,
the ever-bright assistant is hanging on every word behind that
‘Caro, I need to go. I’ll ring ya back in a while!’ I reply,
trying to sound brighter than I felt.
‘Oh alright, I’m here if ya need me. Well I am heading out
remember, but head over to Eavan’s. Please do not go home by
yourself tonight alright?!’ she orders.
‘Yep. Sure. Bye,’ I said, hanging up the phone as I slide to
The dressing room is comforting. The thick crushed velvet
curtains melt into the calming teal carpet. I can forgive the
mirrors on either side reverberating the heap of myself into the
reflection of eternity. Endless moments of disappointment. I am
going to have to leave here, regardless. ‘I AM leaving here,’ I
I have two choices. Choice One: I pick myself up, slick
another layer of lippy on and march out ... OR, Choice Two:
that impatient looking security guard is going to haul me out
over his shoulder.
Be Optimistic. Be Optimistic, lip-gloss out, let’s go girl!
Laura Morrissey is a teacher of English
and geography in Newpark Comprehensive
School, Blackrock, County Dublin. She
has written her first short story in years,
and will forever be more considerate of the
intimidation of a blank page in a classroom.
Just keep writing!
Niamh Ní Bhraonáin
DAYS LIKE THIS [EXTRACT]
‘Did you see Mr McCarthy neck that pint?’ Luke grabs my
shoulders with glee as he announces this to the group.
‘He’ll be on the floor before starters,’ I reply, filter tip in my
We’re making rollies under the GAA club’s overhang. Luke,
Darryl and I huddle together to protect my cigarette against the
bitter October wind. The thumping bass from inside balds us
each time someone opens the hall doors.
‘How do you know that missus you’re with again, Dar?’ I
ask Darryl before proudly taking a drag of my new creation.
‘The neighbour’s daughter. Know her years,’ he replies
‘She’s a weapon. Did you see her chatting to Deco
Lawless? You’d wanna keep an eye on her with him around,’
Luke chimes in, drinking from a half empty beer can he found
on the ground.
‘Ah stop, I don’t see her that way. She’s leaving early anyway.
She works part time in the care home. Shift in the morning,’
I look at them both closely and try to see them from a
stranger’s perspective. It’s hard to imagine Darryl as anything
other than a scrounger who plays too much Xbox. Why anyone
would let him take their daughter to a drunken secondary school
grad is beyond me.
Luke is no different. When I picture him, I can’t help
but see his filthy hurling uniform and a congregation of
nicks and healed scars on his legs. The suit he’s wearing was
DAYS LIKE THIS
only worn once previously, to his grandmother’s funeral, and
it shows. The sharp tailoring looks clunky on his scrawny
I come to the conclusion that they probably could pass for
college students if they were a stranger to you. Or at least, college
age. I try to think of exactly when we all suddenly stopped
looking like children.
‘You’re looking very smart, boys,’ Laura says as she
approaches us from the backseat of her father’s Ford.
‘There she is, my lovely bride,’ Luke swoops in and kisses
‘Ah, goway. It’s only a dress,’ Laura giggles back, loving
every moment of his triumphant display of affection.
We take some pictures together in the car park before Darryl
suddenly pauses and suggests urinating on Mr McCarthy’s car.
‘What? You’re disgusting,’ Laura rolls her eyes, swigging her
water bottle full of pinot grigio.
‘He’s awful anyway. Failed me in geography four times,’
Darryl says, unzipping his trousers, leading the way to the car.
I turn on the camera’s timer and look for a suitable place
to set up my phone. As I’m crouched down trying to find
a balance between the curb and Laura’s purse, I hear a voice
‘You get in, I’ll take it.’
It’s Darryl’s date, smiling down at me. Her skin is flushed
from dancing and she’s holding her strappy sandals in the crook
of her arm.
‘That’d be great, thanks,’ I reply.
I hand the phone over and we drunkenly pose with the car
as Darryl urinates all over it.
Laura’s careful not to stand in it as it gently streams back
towards the GAA club.
‘You have to send me these, they are gas,’ Luke exclaims as
he swipes through the photographs.
The door of the sports hall opens again and the thump is
deafening. A pounding mish mash of drunk sounds wash over
Niamh Ní Bhraonáin
us and a voice from inside shouts, ‘Grad song coming up!
‘We can’t miss this, let’s go.’ Laura splits Luke and Darryl
apart and throws her arms over both of them. ‘Right boys, gis a
queen’s chair inside.’
‘Aye, aye, Captain!’ Luke replies, saluting with his newly
rolled cigarette between his fingers.
They take a leg each and clumsily rush towards the entrance.
The bass line to Thin Lizzy’s Dancing in The Moonlight fills the
carpark before the door slams shut after them and the noise
turns shadowy. It’s just me, Darryl’s date and a fresh stream of
‘Do you want to go in?’ I ask.
‘Nah, that’s alright. It’s nice out here.’ She takes a deep
breath in through her nostrils and leans against the wall before
letting gravity pull her to the pebble strewn ground.
I realise how drunk she looks.
‘Do you want to play Twenty Questions?’ she smirks up at
me with tired eyes and my body joins her on the damp ground
before my mind can keep up. Something feels right about staying
with her, it’s like I’m supposed to.
‘What is something you are certain you’ll never experience?’
She asks this with a sense of whimsy that doesn’t suit her
and I suddenly become aware of how sober I am. I laugh and
without words, offer her my suit jacket. She nods and leans
forward to allow me to place it over her shoulders.
‘I don’t think I’m in the frame of mind to be answering
things like that.’
‘Fair enough,’ she replies. ‘Do you want to know my answer?’
‘Being sober at a GAA club.’
She makes herself laugh with this comment and sluggishly
falls into my shoulder.
‘I’m Cormac by the way,’ I extend to shake her hand.
Niamh Ní Bhraonáin is from Ballymun
and has been teaching for two years with
English as her main subject. She first visited
Fighting Words as a transition year student
in 2012. Niamh says it has been a surreal
experience returning as a teacher and doing
the entire process again. She is very proud
to be a part of this collection.
83 AND COUNTING
83 AND COUNTING three each, then the beggar’s life for the first loser, and sweets or
coinage as prizes. This long established tradition will be passed
to future generations, I hope. My own dada taught us to play.
That’s continuity for you.
Apologies, I digress. I advance the lawn and arrive, awkwardly,
not trusting myself to sit down. There’s resistance in my legs.
With reluctance I ease myself backwards and downwards onto
the bench, an old, nicely designed wrought iron structure with
It’s dark out. The counsellor keeps telling me I need to calm
myself, to breathe slowly when the thoughts are whirring
round and round. When they’re unstoppable. If it’s not raining
or too cold, I’ve to go outside into the garden. I favour the
front, I might see someone. I’ve to look at the trees and the
sky. Apparently it’s good to touch the alive stuff. There are
the two locks on the front door; the keys are in the drawer. I
need to hold onto the doorframe as I negotiate the steps. The
sharp gravel digs into the soles of my slippers. They’re warm
and snug from the sheepskin, a Christmas gift from John, my
oldest son. A step up again onto the kerb and I’m on the lawn,
mown with care by Fionn, one of my grandsons. The springy
grass feels like a bouncy mattress underfoot, great for kicking
ball around or cartwheeling like a whirling windmill. Yes, I’ve
seen it all! The grandchildren happily play there after they’ve
said their hellos, received a treat and listened to me asking silly
questions about school and their busy lives. They answer well,
politey and respectfully, often exchanging eyes with their
nearby encouraging parents. They call me Grandad with ease,
prompting a warm feeling I enjoy. Flesh of my flesh. It’s hard
to describe. When we gather together, multi-generationally,
and play cards, all hell breaks loose! Cousins together are
highly competitive. Sometimes there are tears, more often
laughter, just like my own childhood. We even sit around
the same mahogany table, highly polished, chestnut in colour.
Pressed tablecloth removed, coaster topped drinks pushed to
the centre, it’s time to get serious. The games Switch, Horses
and Pass the Ace are favourites, with safety matches for lives,
wooden slats. The paint is chipped and little bits stick to my
trousers, but I’ll not let it go for sentimental reasons. It came
from my old family home on the Ennis road. I’ll ask Tom, my
other son, if he’ll do a job on it at the weekend when he calls;
he’s handy. As I rest here underneath this old copper beach, I’m
brought back and back further to times past. My fingers know
to trace the little indents on the smooth grey bark. The stories
they could tell.
The rope swing near my head, to the left, we hung when
they were small. It has been upholstered many times, but remains
secure. Now our grandchildren play on it, as their parents did.
I’m very fond of trees; they’re like the protectors of our home.
Our garden is well planted. Being able to recognise native species
when I was a boy was normal. We had open fields, tree shapes,
bark rubbings and freedom. Nature Studies with Father Geary
stood me in good stead. I used to encourage the children to test
me as we ambled of a Sunday. Leaf, bark and fruit. I’d stride
slightly ahead pointing to this and that with a stick of some sort
and they’d scramble after me. It’s a lovely memory. There was
a pattern. Sunday morning mass, back for pre-prepared lunch,
followed by an afternoon drive, with a walk in the countryside.
We varied the destination. Admiring the land, houses, slopes
and hedgerows, the mystery lanes and colour, we often sought
the water’s edge. Little forested areas were jungles to us and the
theme song ‘Daniel Boone was a man, yes a big man, with an eye
like an eagle and tall as a mountain was he …’ was sung in the
car, as well as the hymns from mass, as we drove. ‘Sons of God,
hear His holy word, gather round the table of the Lord, eat His
body, drink His blood and we’ll sing a song of love, A-lay-lu,
A-lay-lu, A-lay-lu uu ya!’
Sorry, what was I saying? Oh yes, when my wife Mary and
I looked at the property, more than fifty years ago, that splendid
tree, already tall and proud, stood there majestically. She clasped
my hands tightly in hers and we spoke excitedly, imagining how
our home and our lives would be. There’s something soothing
about being so close to this particular tree. I know it sounds
silly but I like to go up beside it, and if my nose isn’t blocked
and I’m breathing easily, I hoover the essence of it all up.
Maybe you know this already, it was a surprise to me … I read
an article a while back about the human body. Did you know
that when a woman is with a man she’s attracted to, her nostrils
start to flare?
My cardiologist and I joked about that phenomenon when
I told him. I had cut out the article as proof. I was worried
about the tightness in my chest and got checked out. Thankfully,
everything was normal. That was another reason to go to the
counsellor. He explained that what I thought was angina, could
actually be a symptom of a panic attack. I was shocked. Me?
A grown man. However, it’s true. It’s real, but it passes. When
my heart is thudding in my chest and I’m fearful, I’ve to get
a glass of water and sip it. I’ve to stop what I’m doing and to
listen kindly to what’s going on, in my head and in my body. I’ve
to take out the hard covered notebook for my thoughts, and
to write down what’s happening. The paper bag trick doesn’t
work for me, I feel as though I’m going to suffocate. All of this
the counsellor has told me. My daughter Susie purchased the
notebook in Eason’s, O’Connell Street when I was at the dentist.
She picked this particular one intentionally. The cover says One
Day At A Time in slanty gold writing against a blue puffy sky. It’s
a bit girly, but I like to use it. It was my wife Mary’s motto when
she was sick. One of the night nurses introduced it to her.
It’s taken me a good while to understand what to do
when I’m distressed. I’d get jittery and frustrated trying to get
the order right. Susie came to my rescue again, she’s a great
83 AND COUNTING
organiser. Just inside the front cover of the notebook, along with
the numbered instructions, in capital letters she’s written, LOVE
YOOOOOOU DAD, YOUR FAVOURITE DAUGHTER,
SUSIE XXX. A running joke. I love her too but I’d be lying if
I said I love her more than the others. I don’t. ‘All you can do
is love them the best you can,’ Mary used to say when we’d be
talking about the children and their lives and how I found it
hard to like the girls when they were angry, emotional teenagers.
‘It’s just a phase.’ And it was. They’ve turned into kind, decent,
So it’s night time and I’m alone in the sitting room, not
far from the television, on the low chair, cushion at my back.
My feet like the shock of the burning feel of the hot water; it
extinguishes the pain in my big toe. It stings at first, like a hot
slap, and then numbs me. I’m better at knowing how much
water to put in the basin at this stage, so it doesn’t spill when
I splosh and stagger from room to room. Approximately a cup
of Epsom salts are added to the mix and dissolved with a hand
swush pre-transportation. I add boiling water from the kettle
when it cools. My daughter Lucy found this particular remedy
on Google. It’s a big operation alright. This hard blue plastic
basin is very practical and is always kept under the sink in the
scullery. It’s the hand-washing bowl, carefully chosen because it
fits the shape of the sink. The divil’s in the detail. Actually, I’m
getting to be a real DIY expert in my old age.
If I have an accident, I first wet the area of the stain with
cold water. Hot water fixes, cold water loosens. Over the years,
I watched Mary’s technique on my shirt collars and spills on the
tablecloth. After carefully making a thick paste with washing
powder and cold water, I paint on the stuff, akin to a poultice,
with an old toothbrush I keep in the drawer. Then I scrub.
Generally, I leave it there for an hour or two, depending on how
hard the crime scene has become. After I’ve checked it, I add
more water and leave it soak in this same basin. If the material
will not stay submerged, I have a few glass jars on the shelf I fill
with water to weigh the thing down, like an anchor under the
sea. Sometimes I only need a small dip so I use a mug; I hide it
behind the box of washing powder so no one can see my small
pants flowing over the rim.
Mary used to kind of laugh when she said the Epsom salts
would suck the poison out of me. Damn this gout. I should be
taking the tablets every day, I suppose. The TV is on when I’m
doing the ritual. I’m enjoying The Crown on Netflix. I ate half
the Marks and Spencer tiramisu for dinner this evening as I
watched it. Don’t tell my son John. The thought of turning on
the oven and then all the other decisions were just too much
today. John gets the ready-made meals in for me. He’s very good.
All I need to do is cook them. The freezer is full of neatly stacked
tin foil packages, fancy names, instructions in small writing. And
you can’t guess the time it’ll take ‘cause Una, my oldest, warned
me about the salmonella. ‘Disruption upstairs and downstairs!’
she jokingly predicted. No thank you very much. God bless their
sense of humour. The children are funny people, clever humour,
often irreverent. They keep me cheerful, perking me up, often
doing something unexpected or fun. They’re thoughtful like that.
Laughter is great medicine.
So here I am, 83 and counting. Adding, subtracting
disappointments. Daily dalliances in the art of frustration. Count
your blessings, I order my head. You’ve had a good life. There’s
no point in feeling hard done by. Focus on the now. However, in
truth, it is so very challenging when there doesn’t seem to be much
point in carrying on. I felt that way consistently, immediately
after Mary went off to do her own thing. Truly though, what’s it
all about? I’m here on my own for the majority of the time, with
nothing to do and nobody to do it with. What good is that? Okay
okay, I’m more fortunate than many my age. I’m still driving.
I’m not stuck for a few bob. I agree with the well-meaners, they
were out in full force for the month’s mind. But so what. Smiling
winter, I listen to them. Whom are they trying to convince really,
I wonder, as they measure me up.
The visitors come and then they go. They gauge my mood
and respond accordingly. ‘Eggshells and mood swings …’ I heard
83 AND COUNTING
John’s wife tell someone on the phone as she smoked in the garden.
I was out getting a few logs for the fire from the shed. Sounds
like the words on one of them poncy-fancy menus in a gastro
pub or maybe a line from a funny version of Dana’s All Kinds of
Everything. A Youtube possibility there. The grandchildren show
me what they find hilarious, with kindness. I don’t always get it,
but I smile and nod agreeably.
There’s no denying I’m often drowning. Man overboard.
Everything has gone strange in my world. The nightmares have
been awful, slipping under the water, darkness all around. I wake
up hot and sweaty, struggling to breathe. Sometimes I see Mary’s
face in the distance, or something like it. The social worker
tried to warn me. ‘Patty Fiona,’ we named her. ‘I think she likes
you,’ Mary acknowledged, slightly peeved. I could tell from her
splotchy flushed neck she was getting vexed. Best option in these
circumstances I find is to ignore and change the subject. The
television is great for that, point something out. It wasn’t always
so easy to soften her mood when she was tetchy, especially when
the pain was bad and she hated living, and me. Touchy feely
Patty Fiona conversed with her hands and often times they’d end
up on me. One afternoon, mid conversation about something,
her fingers with their shiny pink nail varnish, lingered on my
hand. They’re always cold, my hands, poor circulation. ‘The aul
heart’s under pressure,’ the doc told me. ‘Wave your hands and
wiggle your fingers,’ he advised. It’s probably a form of greeting
in some country I’m sure. Fiona’s pink nails are committed to
memory; they’re the colour of Mary’s favourite carnations. I’m
quite fastidious about clean fingernails. Fiona was stroking me
like a child first discovering warm animal fur. The intimacy
slightly alarmed me, I can tell you. Raising my head, her eyes,
clear and gentle, surprised me. I started to well up. Mary was
asleep. ‘Do you want to come outside?’ Fiona whispered. In the
corridor, on the couch outside the room, she sat down beside me.
She warned me about wearing myself out, that I could get sick
from the stress of it all. She reminded me to eat, to take breaks,
meet up with friends. ‘What friends?’ I thought to myself. She
seemed to be always touching me, on the hand or the arm. Sher
I know she didn’t mean anything bad, she was using her warmth
to connect with me. I’d be wheeling Mary to lunch in the hospice
or sitting on the chair by the window, Mary would be watching
TV and Patty Fiona would pop in for a chat. ‘You’ll feel like
showering in Self Pity Falls,’ she predicted poetically. She was
right. Twice weekly, at least, regular as clockwork, especially in
the evenings. I was getting so bad, so sad. Counselling has really
helped me see the light and watch out for the dark.
From my seat by the fire, I watch them sweep into the
driveway, cars varying in size, age and make. They peer into my
face as I unlock the front door, twisting their heads taking it all
in. Later, out of earshot, they consider their findings. ‘Are you
not cold they enquire?’ They haven’t copped on to the thermals,
I don’t think. I have the whole caboodle, in white. Una got
them for me a long time ago and I felt like Grand Paw from
The Waltons when I saw myself in the mirror. Parading in front
of Mary and Una in my finery made us all laugh. Mary didn’t
like the fashion, she said I looked like an old man. A few weeks
later, she succumbed to the female version. Dunnes best! The
extra layers are practical and save the oil. The super-ser is grand
I tell them. You can move it from room to room. Stubbornness
and stinginess are in me more now. Mary used chide me for my
frugality. ‘Tight fart!’ she called me just the once. It didn’t stick.
She ran the house but I controlled the heat.
She came from long living stock, she did, she did. 90s, late
80s they were. Alas, it didn’t hold true for my Mary. A few years
ago, she got a bit feeble, suddenly. Her body ached and she had
no energy. She took to the bed. ‘It’s payback time!’ one of the
children announced, with a wry smile, over a latte in Costa. Like
a yoyo, Mary had me up and down the stairs, after a fashion,
bringing her tea and toast, a boiled egg. Oh my God, my knees
were crucified. They’re even worse now. ‘I don’t recommend
it,’ the consultant insisted, when I asked him about new knees.
‘You could end up worse.’ He told me to exercise. Does he have
any clue what arthritis feels like? I don’t think so. ‘Keep going
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until you’re too sore to continue,’ he recommended. ‘Then take
a break, catch your breath and do some more.’ Fabulous advice.
Well worth 120 Euro. So I’m kind of stuck with this infirmity,
wobbling like Charlie Chaplin. ‘Take a Difene before a round
of golf,’ someone offered. ‘It works for me…’ But Difene type
inflammatories aren’t allowed with the medication I’m on for
my heart. Golf is in the past, sher my balance isn’t good, I could
fall over like Humpty Dumpty. I can take Paracetemol, the odd
Solpadine but I’m not good for taking anything for pain. The
children give out to me for that, calling me a martyr, they mean
well I know. To be honest, I’m on about 20 tablets a day, all
in blister packs sorted by Jenny in the chemist across the road.
Medication to thin the blood, more to help me with number
one, something else to protect the lining of my stomach, one
for nausea. There’s more but you’ve heard enough. Maybe not
being able to move freely is like my penance. There’s no choices
in these things though, is there, who gets what. The luck of the
draw, God’s gift.
Copious hot water bottles to warm her up I supplied as she
lay in bed, tired and fed up. We had an electric blanket at one
stage, took it out every winter, but it singed the bed, can you
believe it? We could have been burned to death. That put an
end to that. Age might have accounted for the fault I suppose;
Mary never liked to throw anything out. I remember another
time forgetting to switch it off. Like being in the Bahamas, it was.
I’ve never been, but you know what I mean.
It’s storming a gale outside now. Pitch black at 7.15am.
Lightning woke me. The devil’s element they call it. Phosphorus.
Explosions of light, so bright, gun powder thunder. The flash box
on a Kodak camera, 12, 24 or 26 a roll. Remember them? Mary
had a Kodak camera at one stage, or was it a Fuji; she loved to
have the memory of a photograph. The children, me with the
children, the donkeys and the children. A posed first communion
shot, intertwined fingers in front, prayer face on, confirmation,
birthdays when they were small, everyone gathered round.
Happy times. All the occasions. A few graduations. Boxes and
boxes of memories I have. Some in the attic, in albums, on the
walls in frames. Wandering from scene to scene sometimes, I try
to remember and feel in me the look of joy on their faces. It’s
hard though, when faces blur into each other.
They really do try to keep me going, the children and the
grandchildren. And I appreciate all they do. Before Mary got
really sick I had an idea what was coming. I had a bad feeling.
She hadn’t been right for a while and the pain was incessant.
The medical people did the best they could, but it was too far
gone. She swelled up on the steroids and ate like a muck savage.
My beautiful wife became a bald, pale, bloated pumpkin with
slitty eyes. Makeup can hide a multitude but the eyes don’t lie.
They were glazed for days before she passed. A dead expression.
It scared me a little. I tried to be loving though, always kissed
her on the lips at the beginning and at the close of each visit.
After my daughter Una gave out to me, I never forgot. We went
through it as best we could and then one awful day she died. It
was all over. Suddenly the cliff had given away and I felt myself
being angry and sad and every emotion in between. Abandoned,
I didn’t know what to do with myself. The children were well
grown, doing their own thing. I was in despair. I was warned
about the drink, it was grabbing hold of me. Thanks be to God I
had discovered Sudoku!
At the funeral, the wake, before and after, sympathisers
came up to us and aspects of Mary’s life, before and after our
lives together, were recounted fondly. They told us about a Fun
Mary, and a Young Mary we’d never known. She had lived a
full and varied life and was well liked. Maybe if she hadn’t been
so private, those lovely women who consoled me at the church
would have come to her, supported her and made the journey
home a bit easier. It puzzled me the way she blanketed herself so
tightly, strictly keeping people out. I even wondered early on if
she had had enough of life and just wanted to leave and join her
parents. Maybe … I don’t know, and I probably will never know.
I’m not sure if you heard my recent news? Emily Lynch, a
friendly woman, maybe mid 70s, recently widowed, living down
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the road, sidled up to me after mass last week and offered to
make my lunch every day and to keep me company. Her husband
Tony passed away about a year ago. Her two children are living
in Canada. I’m not sure what to make of it. Fr. Richard says she’s
harmless but the children don’t think it’s a good idea. I might
give her a call in a few months…
Funny the way the human need is to try and encourage
engagement with life, even when the grip is tenuous. Mary
struggled to be convinced by words of hope from the doctors.
Maybe she just knew how strong a hold the cancer had and that
she didn’t stand a chance. A present of a Country Woman’s Diary
when she was ill, decorated with pretty flowers and vegetables
in season, remained blank. She wouldn’t write in it because she
had nothing positive to say, she explained to me. That was hard
to hear, I knew better than to point out that her constipation
had eased. Normally a problem solver, she didn’t seem to have
much appetite left for a fight in her. I wasn’t much help, but I
tried. I was with her every single day, even when we were bored
of each other and there was nothing left to say. Some routines we
kept, like prayers before sleep time, alone in our separate beds.
How do you comfort someone you love, when they’re suffering
in front of your eyes, life force slipping, stumbling, haltingly to
a place they fear? And you can’t fix it or take a share of the
burden? ‘This is my journey,’ she’d try to convince herself and
us. ‘And you can’t come with me!’ Turns out to be true. Can
I tell you a trick? Whilst you’re brushing your teeth, put your
hot water bottle on your pillow where your head is going to be.
Don’t leave it too long. When your ear lies down on the hot spot,
it feels like a hug. There’s a lot I’m getting used to, I miss the
comfort her strong body lying beside me.
Mary was all woman. Soft and curvy. Babies had fattened
her over the years. She was self-conscious of her size. ‘I’ve soft
skin,’ she once confided to me with a little smile that sagged
in the middle. ‘I’m not fat.’ She went to Unislim a few times, it
didn’t make much difference. She had a gorgeous head of hair.
Years ago, she got a blow dry in Portugal the day before we
were due to come home from holidays. The girls had convinced
her. Times were good, the shop was going well. We were all on a
family holiday together in Praia da Rocha. She looked beautiful;
she really did, warmed by the sun, loosened by the wine. Why she
didn’t get her hair done like that at home, I don’t know. Instead,
she went for the granny look. The night-time high fashion look
was her floral blue cotton nightie, plastic foam hair rollers and
creamed up face and hands. My Mary!
‘What was my mammy like when we were small?’ Susie
enquired of me recently.
‘She was always busy,’ came my reply, ‘with ye, with the
What kind of an answer was that? I disappointed myself.
Mary complains I am too aloof, always thinking, well she used
to. In truth, maybe I am but it’s not that straightforward. Is it
ever? People are complicated messes. Do you agree? When
I’m talking to the counsellor he asks me questions that get me
thinking about how I’ve lived my life and why I do what I do.
Big stuff. It gives me fodder for conversations, with my daughter
Una particularly, and is helping me understand my struggles. The
great unravelling. I get too emotional, too defensive over little
things. I take umbrage and wear the scars like an excuse. In the
past, the success of the shop relied on me, the staff too, and I had
to be tough. Stupidly I hold onto pain like a loyal friend and I do
not trust easy. When Susie asked me about her mammy, I should
have thought more carefully and tried to remember, challenging
though it is. Maybe if I had the photographs from the attic with
me as a guide it would help. I know stress can addle the brain but
I’m not sure why I’m stumbling so much when I try to talk these
days. Names, or even just the ordinary words I need to make
sense, seem to be just out of my reach here and there. I get stuck
and the gaps when I’m talking are embarrassing. The counsellor
told me to monitor it.
‘Age related!’ my wincing contemporaries deduce, half
smiling sadly, in solidarity.
We compare notes the odd time we meet. Some are with
83 AND COUNTING
it mentally, even though they’re hobbling and falling over with
aches and pains.
‘You’re grieving,’ my friend Pat reminds me compassionately.
‘Are you drinking enough water?’
‘I’m not a great water drinker, ‘tis true, I prefer gin,’ I reply.
Then, with all their reading and radio programmes, they
might talk about how your body is made up of what is it, 70
percent, more, of water, and you need to keep it hydrated. One
particular couple, Joe and Cecily, friends of ours, still living,
still together, make me laugh, in spite of their obvious struggles.
Once we’ve gone through the update on the ailments, alternative
treatments, drugs, family, nothings, Cecily, the wife, whispers
conspiratorially to me, as she glances around, ‘Enough of this
age related drivel, let’s talk about sex!’
And her husband Joe pipes up, after a pause, ‘What? What
did you say? … Sex? … What’s sex?’
It’s always funny. Better than crying.
Sometimes I squeeze out a few tears when I’m desperate,
late at night when I’m in bed, wanting to die. When I cannot
sleep for the lonesomeness. All this insight from the counselling
is making me evaluate the last 80 years or so. I could have been a
better husband, in hindsight. A better father, brother too. I know
I was a good son though, the apple of my mammy’s eye. It can
be awful painful though. All these torturous, muddled thoughts
chase around my head and often I cannot seem to sort them and
put them back. Next time I see Susie I am going to give her a
better answer, a more honest one.
‘Your mammy was a very decent person, she wasn’t perfect,
but she did the best she could for our family,’ I will say to her
eyes. ‘She loved us all so much and she knew we loved her too.’
I will try to tell Susie and the others too what I remember
about her. I know she didn’t want to die. Her life was bearing
fruit, the grandchildren coming. She was enjoying her life more;
she had more time to do what she wanted to do. She planned to
finish the patchwork quilt and the projects she started but never
completed. I would explain that I get it now, why their mammy
was sometimes frustrated. She was often lonely and bored too.
She didn’t drive and had to rely me or the boys for a lift with
the groceries. Sometimes she travelled by bus to town. Having
all the children and minding them put a certain part of her life
on hold in ways. She had talents and not using them stifled her.
However, I did not quite understand that at the time. I didn’t
want change. I was a selfish eejit and wanted things to stay the
same. She looked after the children. I went out to work. We had
a routine. She looked after the house and it kept her busy. We
had a good life in lots of ways, years and years of being together
through thick and thin. Dinner dances, some friends and visits,
day trips and holidays. I will say they are all a little bit like
their mammy, and pick out the traits and similarities. Maybe it
won’t come out right, but I’ll make a good fist of it. I’ll prepare
a speech. I’ll explain how very able she was. Pretty and smiley.
Always singing, kind, creative. People liked her, they found her
easy company. I loved that about her. She attracted people with
her warmth and sense of humour, I got the advantage. When
we married, she stopped working at the airport. That was the
way of the times. She had a very good brain. And the truth
is that she didn’t find it easy to be at home all the time. They
were different times I know. But I was just busy with my own
problems, trying to make money to support a big family. I should
have talked more, listened more, to her, to the children. That’s
what I’ll tell the children, especially Susie, she wants to know.
Maybe that will encourage her to stand up for herself a bit
more, think a bit more about her own situation. Her husband is
turning out to be a little shit. Mary actually helped me see things
differently from what I thought on my own. She brought balance
to my view. The counselling is doing that too. It’s probably a
On brighter days, when the sun is out and the birds dance
for me, I can see I’ve been very lucky in my life. I’ve shared
feelings of love with a wonderful woman and my children are
doing fine. We did our best for them, they’re college educated
and had a good start in life. They’re always there for me and they
83 AND COUNTING
know how important they are to me. Seeing the grandchildren
grow into fine young people, sharing traits I recognise, makes
me very proud. That’s more than a lot of people. The past is
fuzzy and though it’s hard to put into words, I have a sense
of Mary about me. I remember little exchanges, things she said.
‘No matter what happens, I’ll always love you,’ she told us all in
different ways before she died. I have the sense that I miss the
feeling I had with her. She was good for my head and loved me
in spite of myself. Funny to be thinking that now, after all these
I definitely miss the hustle and bustle of my family around
me, filling the house. I used to complain about them being
untidy, with their messy bedrooms, lights being left on, and
immersions boiling. Always giving out about them costing me
a fortune. I’d give anything to have it back, just for a while, to
ease my mind. I’d do it better this time. Now and again, when
they’re together, they joke a bit about some of the things I did
and said. The time I put my fist through the door, hammering
on it demonstrating how my own father woke us up. That was
a shocker. Hindsight is a fine thing. But maybe I could have
been more acceptant, less domineering. If I had the chance
anew I’d tell them I was proud of them with generous words.
I’d be curious about them, even try to go to a few matches. That
would show them I was more than just the man who doled
out money from the drawer. That’s what I felt sometimes, and
I resented it. They were all very sporty, talented in different
ways. I’d celebrate the sound of laughter and chat instead of
hiding behind the paper and giving ultimatums. The counsellor
chides me for being so harsh on myself. Over the last few weeks,
he’s been getting me to do some homework, like writing down
the names of people who have influenced me in my life. I’ve
listed my children, my wife, my parents and extended family.
Some friends as well, not forgetting Holy God and Jesus
Christ. Last week he got me to write a list of my achievements
and the silent generosities I don’t talk about. He ordered me to
proudly state aloud, ‘I am significant. I am loved. I am not alone,’
ten times when I wake up and again when I go to sleep. One
of the homework exercises I’ve to do is to actually talk to the
children individually, properly. There’s no deadline but I’m half
Every day I am reminded that it’s only going to get worse
from here on in. The house is empty. It’s a big house and I’m here
alone. My affairs are in order. The children know I want to be
cremated. The idea of maggots crawling all over me, eating my
flesh makes me sick. Slobby, wet mouths, teeny, sharp teeth taking
bites out of me. The Tommy Tiernan Show last Saturday night
provided the nation with another golden nugget. Michael D was
outstanding, as always. ‘As long as you’re drawing breath, stay
curious and keep going,’ he concluded wisely. I’m trying my best
to be positive and enjoy life. Mary gave out to me often enough
saying, ‘There’s nothing worse than living with someone who’s
got a sour puss on them the whole time!’ Maybe I can make a
better effort to be more grateful, like the counsellor suggested.
To be clear though, there is no way on this earth that I’ll ever be
grateful for gout…
So here goes, time to close. I don’t know what happens
when you die, but I hope there’s something and that it’s good. I
pray every morning that my death will come soon, without too
much pain but knowing what I know I’m not holding out much
hope. And I pray every night. I give thanks – for my life, for
Mary, for my family, for the good fortune, the opportunities, but
especially I say thank you to the people I came across and who
blessed me along the way. I pray that the children will keep well,
and everything will be lovely for them. 83 and counting. I’ve
outlived so many people I cared about. Is it time to go? Maybe …
I haven’t decided. Maybe I need a break away from all of this. I
hear Italy is lovely this time of year!!
Martine Therese Catherine O’Brien, one of
seven, is Limerick born and bred. Her blood
brother’s DNA sample suggests ethnicity
as follows: 78.8% Irish, Scottish, Welsh;
12.8% North & West European; 4.6% East
European; 2.8% Italian and 1% Balkan.
Martine enjoys good company, quality
connections, quirk, creativity, nature and
interesting surroundings. A seasoned teacher
in Balbriggan Community College (a strong,
supportive community of forward facing
friends); it’s a short commute from her home
in a pretty seaside village in North County
Dublin, which she shares with her adult
WAITING ROOM B
Clare had muted all those Facebook friends who posted every
night about finally having their children in bed. But she knew
exactly how they felt.
‘Come on chicken, into bed now or you’ll be down to one
‘Mammy, can I tell you something?’ Maeve stalled.
‘You can tell me something when you’re in bed. Come on.’
Clare was losing. Firstly, the child was not in bed. Secondly,
she was not giving the child her undivided attention, she was not
mindfully in the moment, fully present. She was itching to read
the two stories, sing the song and get back downstairs to all the
usual shit still to be done. And to steel herself against tomorrow.
Maeve chose Madeline for her story and Clare’s heart sank.
One of Maeve’s delay tactics involved lengthy discussions about
which of the 12 triangular-headed French girls on each cartoon
was most likely to be Madeline herself. These investigations led
Maeve to spot many a discrepancy in the illustrations.
Finally, they made it to the last page, when the put-upon Ms
Clavell manages to get her 11 charges back into their beds. The
ending always intrigued Clare:
And that is all there is.
There is nothing more.
So stark and final. Pragmatic. It struck her as somehow very
‘Okay. Night, night, see you in the … ?’
‘Morning,’ Maeve reluctantly gave in to the bedtime
Back down in the kitchen, amidst the remnants of dinner, a
WAITING ROOM B
quick glance in the fridge revealed Shane had done the lunches
before going back out to five-aside. One less thing. And of course
she wouldn’t need a packed lunch herself tomorrow. Strange how
in the midst of everything, this little diversion pleased her. How
could the chance to eat out alone be any kind of consolation?
What kind of person did that make her? What kind of a mother?
Or should she be grateful for this ability to take joy in ‘the little
things’? Grateful is a kind of gag. There’s very little else you can
say when you’re busy being grateful.
The next morning, Clare let the traffic pass so it only took a
bare hour to drive to Dublin and find parking on Merrion Square.
The appointment was bang smack in the middle of the day, so
she’d taken the whole day off. This, another small pleasure that
shouldn’t have been.
The hospital doors slid open and she climbed the double
step to the foyer of the ancient building. This foyer had memories.
The walls seeped memories. Familiarity with the narrow staircase
gave her a false confidence and she surprised herself with the
cheery voice that greeted the nurse behind the hatch.
‘Hi, I’ve an appointment at 12.00 with Dr Carey.’
‘Okay, I see you here,’ the nurse replied, clicking a mouse.
‘Waiting Room B. Pass Waiting Room A, end of the corridor on
Waiting Room B? Clare thought. There’s a Room B?
Room B was empty. The posters here were distinctly different
from Waiting Room A. In place of the cartoon families washing
their hands and preparing nutritious meals together, there were
flowers, forlorn silhouettes and help lines. There were two doors:
the one she had come through, and another to her right. The
‘Alice in Wonderland’ of waiting rooms. It was at this second
door that a figure appeared, a young nurse in blue scrubs and
white crocs, his trendy top knot popping out of a halo of frizz.
He had one of those mouths that seemed too small for his teeth.
Clare wondered at herself noticing this. Surely to God she had
more to be thinking about than passing comment on the poor
young fella, even if it was only to herself.
‘Yup.’ She gathered her jacket and handbag awkwardly.
‘Sorry, sorry, everything is getting away on me.’
She followed the nurse through the Alice in Wonderland
door to find a consultation room where Dr Carey was stationed
at an ultrasound screen.
‘Well, this has been a bit shit, hasn’t it?’ Dr Carey said.
Clare hesitated, taken aback that a doctor would say ‘shit.’
But mostly impressed that Dr Carey had the gumption to say it
and that she had read Clare as the kind of woman who would
appreciate this. Because it was. Shit. And that was as much or as
little as could be said about it. Beyond that, it was important to
be, and sound, grateful.
Clare had driven herself to the hospital the morning the
bleeding started. It was 6am on a Sunday. Shane had to stay at
home to mind Maeve. But even if she’d had anyone nearby to
call, she’s not sure that she would have. She came alone to this
second appointment by choice. Shane argued with her, insisting
he didn’t mind taking a day’s leave, but she wouldn’t give in.
There was a limit to how much of this road they could travel
together. Ultimately, she was the one who had to go through it.
What was the point of pretending otherwise? She knew this was
stubborn and deeply unfair to Shane; she knew it was borne of a
kind of buried rage. But she also took pride in this impulse and if
it helped her through, then so be it. Her perverse pride at driving
herself to the hospital, these two acts of defiant independence,
reached its peak when Dr Carey used that word. Shit.
The doctor that morning six weeks ago would never have
said something so direct, more’s the pity. In his feeble attempts
to reassure her that there was no right way to react he had only
revealed that he thought her reaction was odd. Of course she
cried when the midwife said, ‘no heartbeat there.’ It was a cry like
a vomit; it came from her whole body, instantaneous and ugly.
She was only two days shy of the twelve week milestone. But
now, ‘no heartbeat there.’ So, of course she bloody cried, at that
moment and many moments after. But by the time the midwife
WAITING ROOM B
brought the doctor in, there was business to be done, decisions
to be made. She was getting on with it. That’s what you do. Dr
Carey would have understood her pragmatism, would have met
it head on with useful facts. She would have warned Clare about
the bleeding, saved her ruining three sets of bedsheets before
finally resorting to old towels on the bathroom tiles.
‘Alright, let’s get you up here, see how we’re doing.’ Dr Carey
gestured to the bed beside her.
Clare positioned herself on the bed, tearing the impossibly
thin tissue roll covering it and then making it worse by wriggling
around to re-position the tear, before giving up.
Dr Carey went through the motions of the ultrasound before
declaring, ‘everything’s gone.’
There is nothing more.
‘Back to normal, physically speaking. But you and I both
know that’s only a fraction of it. Give yourself some time, cut
yourself some slack,’ Dr Carey said.
Clare swung her legs over the bed and put herself back
‘Thanks, I will,’ she said, heading for the door she had come
in before the nurse blocked her path.
‘I’ll bring you out this way,’ he said.
Another bloody door? And then Clare got it. She had
fallen down the rabbit hole of ‘sad case.’ She was being led
through a third door so this sad case didn’t have to parade its
disappointment back through Waiting Room B, and certainly
not anywhere near the bumps in Waiting Room A. It was a
miscarriage quarantine. No awkward encounters between the
opposing worlds of pregnant and ‘no heartbeat there.’
That night putting Maeve to bed she lay down with her, in
no rush to go back downstairs. She was partly allowing herself
this time, partly avoiding talking to Shane. She twirled Maeve’s
hair around her index finger and let her eyes rest on the pink, the
unicorns and the glitter of her little girl’s world. They could gift
this childhood to her. This is what they could give.
When she finally slid her arm out from under Maeve, she
was relieved to hear the Champions League theme tune meet her
halfway down the stairs.
‘Well?’ Shane looked up at her expectantly as she sat on the
arm of the couch.
‘She was tired, she didn’t put up much of a fight.’
‘Today, I meant?’ he asked.
‘All clear, back to normal. It was grand, nothing bad, just an
ultrasound.’ She put her arm around him and leaned in to kiss
the top of his head. ‘I think I’ll leave you to the match, I’m tired.’
Shane pulled away to look at her. She knew that look, a
combination of worry and frustration.
‘I’m grand. I promise,’ she reassured him.
She settled into bed for a long read. It was a book an old
friend had sent her. The weight of it in her hand was a comfort,
this solid thing, the fact her friend had bothered to post it. She’d
talk properly to Shane soon. They had plenty of time. There was
Elizabeth O’Dea teaches English and drama
at St Mary’s College Arklow, Co. Wicklow.
She is a graduate of English, Drama and
Theatre Studies at University College Cork.
Elizabeth is passionate about the arts in
education. Creative spaces give us the
opportunity to make, to move, and so to
discover. Fighting Words has been just such
a creative space in her life. Elizabeth lives in
Wicklow with her husband and daughters.
SOME LOOSE SCREWS [EXTRACT]
‘Right so. Everyone, books away. All you need is a pen and a
sheet of paper,’ Mr Edwards called out with a smile.
There was a collective moan in the class.
‘What, do you mean we have a test?’ called a slight girl from
the back of the room.
‘Yes, you have a test. It’s in your journal. Take it out there
and have a look if you want.’
‘I was out that day,’ came another voice from a different
corner of the room.
‘You can’t write that down during the exam in June.’
‘Eh, yeah I can,’ the girl fired back.
‘You won’t get any marks for that, I mean,’ replied Mr
‘How do you know? I might.’
Mr Edwards ignored her remarks and tried to continue with
‘What’s the test even on, Sir? It’s not like we even did
anything in class,’ shouted a kid with a jet black fade hair cut
in the middle row of the class. ‘All we do is talk about Ronaldo
Mr Edwards held back a grin, not wanting to embarrass the
student. He wasn’t even sure if he could.
‘Kyle, it’s Romeo not Ronaldo, you idiot,’ said Jamie.
Jamie shuffled in his wheelchair to get a better look at Kyle,
hoping to see the impact of the insult.
‘Shut up, hot wheels! Why don’t you walk over and say it
to my face?’
‘Alright! Alright! Will everyone just calm down before I
SOME LOOSE SCREWS
murder one of you,’ Mr Edwards shouted across the room.
His voice was stern and deep. It felt to the students that it
almost shook the room.
‘You can’t say that to us,’ cried Jasmine who was caked in
more makeup than clothes.
‘Give it a rest,’ whispered Mr Edwards picturing in his mind
how he probably could kill each and every one of them. He even
pictured how he would individualise each one of their deaths.
Some slowly, some slightly faster. Except for Shauna, who sat
diligently two rows down from him. She would be spared, but
she wouldn’t be able to live with herself. So maybe her first, as
‘Shauna, could you hand these out for me?’ Mr Edwards
said, offering the test to the girl who he thought was very mature
for her age.
‘Take a seat, Sir. You look tired,’ giggled John.
John received a dig off his classmate beside him, and was
the recipient of the death stare from both Luke and Jeremey
whom he couldn’t see.
The class watched, impatiently awaiting the inevitable
laughter. Luke stared. It felt as if the whole world was slowing
down as Mr Edwards lowered himself slowly down, down.
The door burst open.
‘Orry Slur,’ mumbled Lucas, the foreign exchange student
with his jet-black hair slicked back and food spitting from his
mouth as he struggled to say the words.
Mr Edwards jumped back up to his feet to address the
student. ‘Late again, Lucas? Take a seat and throw the rest of
your food in the bin, it’s time for class.’
‘Ah Sir, would you let the poor Spanish boy eat his food,’
‘No, we have wasted enough time as it is. We need to start.
So, into the bin Lucas.’
Lucas stared up at the teacher and swallowed the food
already in his mouth. He looked at the bin, then back at Mr
Edwards. Shauna thought it was like some Mexican standoff.
She also knew that she was the only one who would understand
the term, and also the only one that could point Mexico out on
The Spaniard shoved the rest of the food into his mouth and
chuckled as he went to his seat. The rest of the class applauded,
the noise reverberating around the school. It felt to Luke as if
some of the other classes had even joined in. Mr Edwards rang
a bell that he had beside the desk. He stalked by all the students
that were still talking and rang the bell in their ears until they
stopped. Some swatted at the bell as if they were swatting at an
annoying fly during a hot summer’s day. Mr Edwards returned
to his chair, minus a few screws in both the chair and his brain
after how that class had just started. He was content. The class
was now silent as they should be, and everything was going to
be good. He twisted in the chair and to Luke’s surprise nothing
Mr Edwards sighed and leaned heavily back on the
chair. Luke glanced up just at the right moment. The chair
disintegrated under the weight of Mr Edwards and the plan
to make everyone laugh went more or less off track. There
was a loud CRACK, followed by a THUD, and it ended
with a horrific SNAP. The whole class erupted with laughter.
Everyone except for Luke who had a feeling that his prank
had veered off in the wrong direction. After several minutes
the laughter died down. It started off slowly but deepened as
the class began to realise that Mr Edwards was no longer
Shane Ruth is a history, geography, and
learning support teacher from Kilkenny.
He graduated from the Professional Masters
in Education from Dublin City University
in 2017. He is currently teaching learning
support in Newbridge College. Shane
embarked on this project to help build
his creative thinking skills as an outlet for
himself, and to better support students in
their studies. He hopes that you find humour
in the story ‘Some Loose Screws’ and hopes
to write more in the future.
THE WALLS [EXTRACT]
35, pregnant, lost her sister suddenly 5 months
ago. Works in a civil service job.
JACINTA Comes out of one of the walls Stage Right. Is 94
years old, the age she died at last year. Jim’s
grandmother, and owner of the house.
MAGGIE Comes out of one of the walls Stage Left. Is 30
years old, the age she died at last year. Rosa’s
34, Rosa’s loyal partner, works long hours.
2020 Dublin, 13th January 6pm.
The sitting room of a large family house built in the 1950s.
Lopsided extensions at the back and front make the house
spacious, cold and damp. New cheap grey carpet lines the sitting
room, with red sofas centred around the TV, arms bald and
shiny. The lamp is switched on in the left corner, a small thread
hangs from it, the remnants of the original cord. It presents great
difficulty for anyone trying to switch it on in the dark. New and
old books spill out of a dark wooden bookcase, cooking books
are stacked haphazardly, alongside clippings from newspapers,
ROSA arrives home from work, pulls the doors behind her, tired.
She is five months pregnant. It’s not immediately obvious until
she rubs her belly with a sigh.
MAGGIE and JACINTA thump from their walls.
[Finds her phone in her coat pocket, JIM is calling.]
I dunno, have you left work yet? … Maybe some
vegetables? … Something nutritious … See you in
a while? … Okay, see you soon.
ROSA takes off her coat and hangs it in the stairwell, she puts
her keys on the hall table and goes into the sitting room. She
sits on the couch and looks at the blank TV. Her dog has been
playing with a squeaky toy pig the entire time, and she absently
throws it for the dog to chase.
JACINTA thumps again from her wall. She walks out, and sits in
her chair by the sliding door. ROSA can’t see her.
Sounds of an argument begin to roar quietly from the house next
door. They’re interspersed with someone playing the piano in
another room, sounds like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
ROSA looks unsure what to do, and does nothing. Her phone
rings again, she checks it and sees it’s her father. She doesn’t
have the energy to talk to him, so she puts it down and
lets it ring. This pregnancy is going well, but the tiredness is
The dog is now barking at JACINTA, and jumping at the
door so she lets her out. It’s dark and windy outside, ROSA
MAGGIE walks out of her walls and into the room, watching
ROSA. She does not interact with JACINTA, who sits contentedly
knitting in her chair with the gas fire blazing at her knees.
MAGGIE is pale and drawn, wearing a white T-shirt and blue
jeans, Topshop, mom cut.
The argument has stopped next door, but the piano is still going.
MAGGIE takes a book from the bookshelf and sits and reads
it in the red armchair. She switches on the lamp beside her. The
sitting room door bangs a little and ROSA thinks it might be JIM
so she goes out to check. It’s just a draught, and she comes back
to let the dog in who is tapping at the glass door.
MAGGIE starts to read her book aloud. It’s a library book, ‘No
Future,’ by Lee Edelman. ROSA cannot hear her and does not
acknowledge the sound.
Leona Talbot is from Co. Leitrim and
has taught English at post-primary level
in Dublin for the past four years. She
graduated with a 1.1 in Mode 1 English
from UCD in 2005, and was awarded a
scholarship to complete an MA in Modern
English. She later completed the PMEPP
from Hibernia College in 2016. Prior to
teaching, she worked in stage management
at The Abbey and The Gate Theatres, and
worked on Brian Friel’s version of Ibsen’s
Hedda Gabler among others. She has lived
in Montréal, and enjoys writing short
poems. This is her first published piece.
I am good but not an angel. I do sin, but am not the devil. I am
just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love –
The day they came to take me away was just an average day. It
didn’t start out as one of those mornings when you awaken to an
ache in the pit of your stomach. A sense of something. Something
you can’t quite put your finger on. Something ominous, perhaps
dark and dangerous. I’ve had that feeling before but not on that
that particular day.
It was an otherwise unremarkable windy, if not deceptively
warm, Monday or Tuesday in Autumn 1962. The day I came
For so long since I’ve wondered what if … What if I’d
been more alert? Less self-righteous? If I’d pleaded with them.
Reasoned. Explained myself. Run? What if I’d just done something
different? Instead of kicking and gnashing and cursing? Like
the madwoman they believed me to be. The madwoman she’d
convinced them I was. If I’d reasoned with them, would it have
made a difference, I wonder?
That day, all I could think was that this wouldn’t have been
happening if Alfie were around. Surely they’d be listening to my
educated, reasonable husband and not that thundering bitch
who was standing with her arms folded and head bowed meekly,
wouldn’t they? Sighing softly, her victorious smile visible only to
me from the cold tiles where my furious head thrashed.
Alfie would never have let it happen. He wouldn’t have
watched them half-drag, half-carry his already broken wife from
the comfort of our kitchen range, where moments before I’d sat
in a soft chair, steaming cup of tea and thick slice of homemade
bread in hand, and pull me along the shiny wooden floorboards
of our hallway – past the sullen, judgemental eyes of his ancestors
– to the front door. My Alfie would have stopped them banging
my already splintered pelvis and my aching spine down every
concrete step – from the austere front door to the street – for the
aproned housewives and bending golden leafy trees to witness.
He’d have intervened as they told me I was lucky I wasn’t going
to the gaol.
Alfie wouldn’t have let that happen because I was his wife
and the mother of his daughter. He would have explained to
them why I did it. Made them see that I had no choice. He’d have
made them understand.
That’s what I told myself for so long. That had something
been different, then maybe the priest who’d married us and the
guard who had been in school with Alfie wouldn’t have taken me
to that place. Locked me up to stop me from doing it again. From
leading a good man astray and from corrupting my innocent
child. I told myself that if something different had happened, I
would be still with Alfie and my little Eliza. A broken woman,
But that’s speculation now, isn’t it? A desperate attempt to
rewrite the truth. Because there are, of course, several versions
of the truth. It is as fickle as water sliding through your fingers.
But what is incontrovertible is this: I was always going to fight
because that’s who I was. And Alfie was never going to stop them
because that’s who he was. And even though I wanted to believe
that they came because they knew he wasn’t there, now I know
that he wasn’t there because he knew they were coming. When I
realised that, that’s when I came undone.
* * *
I want to tell you a story. You don’t need to know it all. Just the
parts that matter. It’s my version of course, so you’ll have to trust
me. That may be a stretch for you since women like me aren’t
trusted by society. But I am nothing if not honest. Which is what
led me to where I ended up. Believe me.
I will never forget. Years later I would be transported back here
with little more than the hint of antiseptic, there it is … the smell
of burning, searing pain…
I am looking at the man who has just torn my pelvis asunder
with the precision of one who has done this procedure many
times before. And he is taking time out from his labour to wonder
aloud – with a shake of his sweaty brow – why such a small
girl would have married such a large man. He’ll be sending me
home in just days, cradling a red-faced nine pound baby, without
as much as an ounce of compassion, never mind a painkiller.
Telling me I’ll be grand. That I should be thanking him. Because
if he’d given me the caesarean I’d begged for, I’d only be able
to have three children at most. This way, after sawing my
pelvis open – after splitting me in two – I can go on to have ten
Ten? What woman wants ten children, I wonder as the salty,
silent tears sidle down my cheeks to meet my parted lips, before
dropping – plopping – into the dry, fleshy hollow of my mouth.
Mammy, are you there? Can you see me? Oh, Sacred Heart
And when I think he’s finished, he leans in – his middle-aged
paunch jiggling against the hospital bed – and stares at me for
a moment. After glancing over his shoulder, he lifts his surgical
mask up. Just a little. High enough for me to see him lick his
thick, wet lips. With his mouth still closed, he exhales heavily
through his nose. Like a sick horse. And his breath, as it wades
through his dense nostril hair and mingles with my own, is warm
‘Stop that crying child, for the love of God! What do you
have to upset about? Haven’t you a fine healthy child?’
I’m gasping now. The pain … Oh Jesus, the pain in my hips.
‘Please Doctor … It’s awful. I can’t bear it…’
And he’s sighing heavily, his eyes cold and unblinking.
Having to even respond to my pithy complaint is a waste of his
‘Stop those dramatics, child. It’s just a few stitches. You’ll
be right as rain soon enough and back in the saddle before you
He’s turning away now. Hold it, Kitty, hold it. Just ‘til he’s
gone. You can fall apart when he leaves. Don’t let him see you
weep anymore. But now he’s glancing back again, as if he has
some final piece of wisdom to impart. And I’m actually thinking
it might be an apology or word of consolation on fat, wet lips
when he returns to me, humbled by my pain.
He’s closer this time, so close I can clearly see his damp,
clogged pores. And I’m thinking, in my delirium, that he would
benefit from a hot, steamy bowl of water and a towel over his
head. As I contemplate the foulness of his blackheads and his
nicotine-stained teeth mingling with the disinfectant, he stops for
a moment – appraising me – and then smirks. He bends down
and proffers his parting words in a low voice. As if we’re in
cahoots. A shared secret.
‘I’d give you a couple of weeks – maybe a month – and
you’ll be pawing at him in the bed. You’ll be back into me within
the year – pushing another one out into the world. I’d put money
His voice is barely above a whisper and I’m so delirious
with pain that I’ll later wonder if I imagined it.
My eyes are unblinking now as I stare into his cool
unblinking eyes. They’re actually quite nice eyes, I note. Bovinelike.
It’s funny the things you think about, even in moments
of shock and trauma. Even the tears have stopped and frozen
on my wan cheeks, my head lolling back in exhaustion. And I
want to stop him. I watch one of his incongruently tiny hands
float toward me, arriving finally on my tear-stained face, but I’m
frozen. All I can do is witness his index finger as it takes flight,
powered by his thumb before flicking my cheek. As I register the
flick, he winks and is gone, leaving Sister in his wake, bustling
nearby with more towels to mop up the blood.
And even though he’s left me with a prolapsed womb,
incontinence and a lifetime of pain; even though he has
destroyed any chance I would ever have of intimacy or pleasure,
it is this parting gesture that seals my fate. Whenever I will
ever be tempted to throw caution to the wind, to contemplate
conceiving again, I will need only summon up this memory, and
The one thing that will console me for years to come is the
beautiful baby girl Alfie and I get from it. Elizabeth. Eliza Dolittle
to me. My little Eliza.
Even still, given the untold damage to my pelvis, my spine,
my innards, the fact that I even will walk again is a miracle.
My being able to dance will be my way of telling that animal
that he hasn’t won. That he hasn’t determined my fate. Colonised
And that I will never ever give birth to another child again
as he has predicted. Ordered even. That I am prepared to go to
my grave first. That will be my ultimate defiance. That defiance
will be my strength.
It certainly won’t hurt that I’m blessed with a husband who
has easy access to doctor friends and strong painkillers.
Mary-Elaine Tynan, mother of two, is an
English and French teacher from Dublin
who currently works in curriculum
development. She is passionate about her
family, literature, human rights, cycling
and chocolate (although not always in
that order). In her spare time Mary-Elaine
makes radio documentaries for RTÉ1’s
Documentary on One unit and in 2019 her
documentary Finding Private Branch was a
Gold Medal winner at the prestigious New
York Festivals. She has written a number of
books, including the best-selling Life After
Life: A Guildford Four Memoir. Mary-
Elaine’s biggest dream is to write novels.
She has almost completed her first novel
Undone. This piece is an excerpt from
Joycey landed a clumsy hand on my head, ‘It’s alright Kato. It’s
okay.’ He then continued chatting.
But it wasn’t okay. I was on alert. My eyes were keen.
Something else. Just beyond the girls, beyond the brighter lights
of the bar. In the dimly lit corner. Two eyes. Watching. Dark eyes
with a bullet-silver glint. Eyes like blades watching the girls,
taking in their every move. A creased brow, greased hair and a
grinding jaw. Dressed in dark colours. Was he part of the party?
I whimpered again. How had Macker not noticed? How was it
that the band had not ceased in their sound check, and that the
entire bar had not turned towards the source of this most sinister
and unwelcome sensation? I tried to control it but the whimper,
before I knew it, had become a low and steady growl. Macker
was pointing in my direction, possibly encouraging Arlene to
come and say hello. She smiled happily as she made her way
through the crowds and to the table. I greeted her fretfully with
an abundance of leaps, yelps and a distracted tail. I whined a
little and wanted her to notice the unease I felt. But alas, I was
alone in my dark discovery, another symptom suffered by my
‘Kato! Hi!’ she beamed, looking all grown up in her dress
and shoes, her hair dark tied up in a sophisticated knot. ‘Hi Mr
Joyce,’ she said to Joycey and nodded hello to the other faces
round the table.
‘Well look at you Arlene! All ready for the ball!’ Joycey said.
‘Something like that,’ she said shyly.
Macker arrived with the tray of drinks and stood beside the
‘Did you offer them a drink, Macker?’
‘Of course,’ Macker replied. ‘They’re heading back upstairs
for their dinner, although I think they’ve had a few already?’ He
looked at them amused.
‘Just one or two,’ Arlene giggled.
As they made their way to leave, Macker, as if it suddenly hit
him, called out, ‘Be safe gettin’ home!’
‘We will,’ they chirped.
No one noticed that I was crying quietly the entire time and
that the man in the shadows had vanished from the bar.
It was just after midnight when Macker made his move to
head home. I walked alongside him to the porch of the hotel just
outside the lobby where I was made wait while he went back
inside to the gents. I could see where he disappeared out of sight
down a corridor. As I sat there I watched all of the people from
the bar leave. Some were still singing the chorus of the band’s
last song, helium balloons marked with ‘60’ on them, trailing
behind on frayed ribbons. There were young party-goers from
the Debs upstairs dotted about. Some were outside smoking and
chatting, and others wrapped in youthful embraces of passion.
One or two were drawn over to me and chatted to me the way
you might to a baby in a buggy. As Macker made his way back
through the lobby, he spotted Arlene’s friend. I could just about
make out their conversation through the glass of the door.
‘How’s the night goin’?’ he asked politely.
‘Only okay,’ she said glumly. ‘Arlene left the dancefloor
looking a bit pale. I thought she’d be in the loo but she’s not.’
‘You sure she’s not in there?’
‘Pretty sure. I looked under all the stalls for her red shoes.’
‘You think she went home?’
‘I don’t think so. I mean it’s not over or anything.’
Macker’s voice made me uneasy. He sounded a little alarmed and
tried to hide it.
‘Arlene seems pretty sensible. I’m sure she wouldn’t go home
alone.’ He said this by way of comforting her.
‘I tried ringing her already. No response. I’ll give it another
go,’ she said, as she reached into her bag and fished out her phone.
She tapped the glowing glass and then held the phone to her ear.
Macker stood impatiently waiting and looking at the girl’s
face to analyse what she might hear.
Finally, she frowned anxiously and said, ‘Still off.’ She put
the phone back in her bag and then added, ‘You know what’s
weird, is that we’ve had the same to drink all night but she
seemed a bit more spaced out or something.’
‘You don’t think ... there’d be no one dodgy that’d have
messed with her drink?’
‘I don’t think so.’ She too, was alarmed.
‘Tell you what,’ Macker said. ‘Arlene’s house is on my way
home so I can knock in. Liz should be still up waiting for her, she
‘Okay, thanks. Will you tell Liz or Arlene to text me that
‘Yeah, no worries. Don’t let this ruin the rest of your night.’
Macker was out the door speedily and I followed as fast as
my four legs would take me. As we moved further into the night
his pace quickened with urgency.
Patricia Wall is an English teacher in Scoil
Chaitríona, Glasnevin. She grew up in the
neighbouring village of Drumcondra, where
all four of her grandparents hailed from.
Her classroom has a scenic view of Dublin
city and the mountains beyond. She enjoys
thinking back on all the classes with whom
she has shared the view over the past fifteen
years. Her enjoyment of film resulted in an
MA in Television and Film in DCU where
she researched how videogames can be
used to develop students’ understanding of
storytelling. If she’s not watching horror
or sci-fi, she is most likely reading Atwood,
or working on a young adult novel that
has been brewing for quite some time. She
is very grateful to JCT and Fighting Words
for the opportunity to put pen to paper,
something that needed encouraging and
that has reinstated the creative impulse.
Having visited Fighting Words with students
on many occasions, she was excited to
experience what so many of them claimed
to be one of the highlights of their school
years. They were not wrong!
Phil Chambers, Rosa Devine, Ciara Doorley,
Roddy Doyle, Gail Drayne, Emma Gallagher,
Leeann Gallagher, Paula Granaghan, John
Grogan, Joanne Hayden, Caroline Heffernan,
Catherine McComish, Lorcan McGrane, Kate
McNerney, Mary Mullen, Sheila O’Flanagan,
Margaret O’Shea, Mark Patterson, Ann Ryan,
Louise Smith, Gerard Smyth
This unique collection of work by new writers is a testament to the
power of words, taking chances and using our imaginations.
Now, more than ever, we need to find our creativity,
raise our voices to each other and share our experience.
This collection couldn’t be more timely.
– Sheila O’Flanagan
New Writing from
Junior Cycle Teachers
Rosanne Roe Florence
Niamh Ní Bhraonáin
POW! Portfolio of Writing Project 2019–2020 for teachers is a partnership
between JCT Arts in Junior Cycle and Fighting Words. Twenty Junior Cycle
teachers attended a series of workshops at Fighting Words to draft, redraft,
edit and publish this collection of work. This creative writing programme
offers teachers the time and space to explore and consider possibilities
around the creation of portfolios across all subjects at Junior Cycle.