Visions & Revisions: An anthology of new writing by Junior Cycle Teachers [selected extracts]

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Foreword by Sheila O'Flanagan

"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."

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.


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 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

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

gratefully acknowledged:

SELECTED EXTRACTS:

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


CONTENTS

FOREWORD 1

Sheila O’Flanagan

THE SWAN’S NEST 4

Marie-Thérèse Carmody

THE UNWELCOME MAT 10

Yvonne Corscadden

BETWEEN THE LINES… 16

Rosanne Roe Florence

CONVERSATION PIECES 21

Emma Gallagher

WOMEN THROUGH THE AGES 26

Chelsea Hudson

CONCUSSION SONG 30

Anna Johnston

STUPID 33

Ruth Kelly

A BUMPY ROAD 42

Richard Kerins


INNER SPACE 45

Mary Lowry

HOW TO CANCEL A WEDDING 49

Katie McDermott

TAKE ME THROUGH YOUR DAY 53

Neasa McHale

UNDONE 94

Mary-Elaine Tynan

SPLINTERS 100

Patricia Wall

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

UNRAVELLED 57

Laura Morrissey

DAYS LIKE THIS 60

Niamh Ní Bhraonáin

83 AND COUNTING 64

Martine O’Brien

WAITING ROOM B 80

Elizabeth O’Dea

SOME LOOSE SCREWS 86

Shane Ruth

THE WALLS 90

Leona Talbot


Sheila O’Flanagan

FOREWORD

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.

1


Sheila O’Flanagan

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

FOREWORD

‘Take Me Through Your Day’ brilliantly exposes the dichotomy

between our internal and external lives in the most ordinary of

circumstances.

This inspiring 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

June 2020

2 3


Marie-Thérèse Carmody

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

4 5


Marie-Thérèse Carmody

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

said.

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

can wait.’

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

6 7


Marie-Thérèse Carmody

of the envelope read: Miss Vera Joyce, No. 3 Shandon Park,

Phibsborough, Dublin.

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,

Your Ned.

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.

8


Yvonne Corscadden

THE UNWELCOME MAT [EXTRACT]

April 2019

‘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

isn’t here.’

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

right.

‘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

me apart.’

Her voice cracked and she sat back in her seat, throwing

her head back and inhaling deeply, trying to keep a second tear

at bay.

‘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

end.’

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

10 11


Yvonne Corscadden

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

happy again!’

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.’

‘You are.’

‘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

implicitly.

‘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

They paused.

‘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

laughing again.

‘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?’

12 13


Yvonne Corscadden

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,’

Oscar replied.

Jane dismissed her friend, ‘Ah, I know that.’

‘But you are still going to go through your life trying to

impress him.’

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!

14


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

I’m hungry.

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…

Neurocosmopolitanism

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

norm.

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

job…

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

16 17


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

place?

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

solitude…

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

very overcoming.

18 19


Emma Gallagher

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.

Wednesday

‘That’s when I learnt my lesson,’ he said, ruefully from the

backseat.

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

Gaeilge…’

‘Don’t be asking him questions in Gaeilge, you’re not his

teacher.’

‘You ask him questions in his Gaeilge, Mam.’

‘Yeah, well that’s different. Anyway, you’re not his ma either.’

21


Emma Gallagher

‘Yes, Saoirse, you’re not the boss.’

‘I don’t think he should be ignoring me. And it really hurt

my feelings.’

‘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… ’

‘What?’

‘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.

‘What?’

‘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.’

‘Me too.’

‘Why do yis hate them?’ Mam wondered aloud.

‘They’re all itchy…’

‘Yeah, they’re not soft.’

‘I see.’

CONVERSATION PIECES

‘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.’

‘No.’

What did they have for dinner? Was there anything in the

freezer?

‘Do yis have much obair bhaile?’

‘No.’

‘Yes.’

‘What do you have?’

‘Maths and English…’

Any Gaeilge?’

‘No.’

‘Really?’

‘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.’

‘Yes, Saoirse.’

‘No, it’s not that, Fionn, I didn’t say anything, but Friday is

Valentine’s Day.’

‘Oh.’

‘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,

22 23


Emma Gallagher

she’d forgotten to leave out her own bin, two weeks until the

next collection.

‘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.

24


Chelsea Hudson

WOMEN THROUGH THE AGES

WOMEN THROUGH THE AGES

What part of me they’d like and serve myself,

Garnished to be enjoyed by them–

Devoured.

Left in shreds, leftovers discarded back to the Earth

To be planted and grown;

Again.

1.

2.

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

Or

Burn your house to guide you home?

(i)

Take me,

A parcel, wrapped for you

I am more than a woman;

Than anything other than me.

Ground leaves,

You don’t see them,

Don’t notice them

But they pave your way through the dark.

(ii)

Blurred in the lives of others

My essence only belongs where I announce it,

Where I present the menu to my audience,

Display myself–

Leave room for choice–

(iii)

I am more than a woman

In how I embrace my cycle

Here to please you

Until my worth is empty

And you,

Full.

We live for reasons to

Separate us from

Each other;

You to eat,

Me to be eaten

And the beauty that blooms

In me watching myself

Be purposeful

To You

And giving

To You

And being fuel

To You

To keep you alive

To consume more of me

Until I belong

More inside of you

Than within Myself.

26 27


Chelsea Hudson

3.

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–

Now–

To pause at my exhibitions,

To figure them out,

To explore,

To imagine the colours of my universe

And use them to paint your skin.

We match in that way,

Where our ingredients are mirrored

But,

We are different by method.

Where we plant each other,

Water each other

But

Watch each other flower differently–

One not less beautiful,

One not more fragile,

Both striking and worthy

And Both–

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!

28


Anna Johnston

CONCUSSION SONG

CONCUSSION SONG

For Fern

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.

Mayhem mechanical

Inside the casing

Where trouble is bruising

And something is bubbling.

Confounded contusion

Compounding confusion.

Fumble

for missing key.

Ding dong:

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 –

Something’s jammed.

A belt on the scalp

A crack on the conk

Cranium scrambled

Brain badly baffled …

30 31


Ruth Kelly

STUPID

Anna Johnston teaches at Newpark

Comprehensive School.

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

shed.’

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

began.

33


Ruth Kelly

‘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

something.

‘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.

Silence.

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

stocking.

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

at night.

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.

STUPID

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

again.

He felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. It was Joe.

Change of plan, he texted. In Ryans. Won match. C’mon

down.

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

the village.

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

at home?

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.

Loser

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

‘mammy’s boy.’

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

34 35


Ruth Kelly

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

of freedom.

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

it.

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

right now.

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.

STUPID

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.

Really 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

starving.

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?

Third year?’

‘Oh yeah. I remember. My mam burnt my one. In the fire,

36 37


Ruth Kelly

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.’

‘What kind?’

‘Butternut squash.’

‘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

at that!’

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

jumped backwards.

‘Jesus! He’s a monster. Does he bite?’

Bubbles had lifted his hairy head perplexed.

STUPID

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

bastards.’

‘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

he became.

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’

eejit?’

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.

38 39


Ruth Kelly

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

Granny.

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.

Ruth Kelly

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!

40


Richard Kerins

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

minutes before.

‘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

lumbering.

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,

42 43


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.’

45


Mary Lowry

‘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

mind.

Ah hello, the voice said into the silence.

Hello Dolly.

...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.

INNER SPACE

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

her on.

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 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,

46 47


Katie McDermott

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

story writing.

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

49


Katie McDermott

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

started. ‘What?’

‘You know they’re going to be asking a lot about the

ceremony.’

‘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

ventured again.

‘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

snap.’

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.

50 51


Neasa McHale

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,

53


Neasa McHale

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.

54 55


Neasa McHale

UNRAVELLED

UNRAVELLED [EXTRACT]

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!

56

‘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

57


Laura Morrissey

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

enquires worryingly.

‘I can’t deal with this right now,’ I think, sure that Zoe,

the ever-bright assistant is hanging on every word behind that

curtain.

‘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 floor.

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

think.

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!

58


Niamh Ní Bhraonáin

DAYS LIKE THIS [EXTRACT]

GRADUATION

‘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

mouth.

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

matter-of-factly.

‘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,’

Darryl says.

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

shoulders.

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

her hand.

‘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

from behind.

‘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

60 61


Niamh Ní Bhraonáin

us and a voice from inside shouts, ‘Grad song coming up!

Everybody in.’

‘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

urine left.

‘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?’

‘Gewan.’

‘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.

‘Adrienne.’

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.

62


Martine O’Brien

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

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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

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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,

strong women.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

house.’

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

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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

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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

good thing.

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

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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

years.

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,’

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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

way through.

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

children.

78


Elizabeth O’Dea

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

story.’

‘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

French.

‘Okay. Night, night, see you in the … ?’

‘Morning,’ Maeve reluctantly gave in to the bedtime

endgame.

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

your left.’

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.

80 81


Elizabeth O’Dea

‘Clare?’

‘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

together.

‘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

82 83


Elizabeth O’Dea

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

time.

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.

84


Shane Ruth

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

Edwards.

‘How do you know? I might.’

Mr Edwards ignored her remarks and tried to continue with

the lesson.

‘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

and Juliet.’

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

a mercy.

‘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,’

shouted Jeremy.

‘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.

86 87


Shane Ruth

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

a map.

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

happened.

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

moving.

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.

88


Leona Talbot

THE WALLS [EXTRACT]

For SJ

Characters

ROSA

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

younger sister.

JIM

Scene 1

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,

old photos.

THE WALLS

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.

ROSA

ROSA

Hello?

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

consuming.

The dog is now barking at JACINTA, and jumping at the

door so she lets her out. It’s dark and windy outside, ROSA

stays in.

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.

90 91


Leona Talbot

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.

92


Mary-Elaine Tynan

UNDONE [EXTRACT]

2018

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 –

Marilyn Monroe.

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

undone.

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

UNDONE

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 safe.

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

94 95


Mary-Elaine Tynan

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.

1949

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

of them.

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

of Jesus…

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

and stale.

‘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.

UNDONE

‘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

precious time.

‘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

know it.’

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

on it.’

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

96 97


Mary-Elaine Tynan

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

I’ll freeze.

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

my body.

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

this novel.

98


Patricia Wall

SPLINTERS [EXTRACT]

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

kind.

‘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

girls.

SPLINTERS

‘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

100 101


Patricia Wall

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

always does.’

‘Okay, thanks. Will you tell Liz or Arlene to text me that

she’s home?’

‘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!

102


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

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

Marie-Thérèse Carmody

Yvonne Corscadden

Rosanne Roe Florence

Emma Gallagher

Catherine Hickey

Chelsea Hudson

Anna Johnston

Ruth Kelly

Richard Kerins

Mary Lowry

Katie McDermott

Neasa McHale

Laura Morrissey

Niamh Ní Bhraonáin

Martine O’Brien

Elizabeth O’Dea

Shane Ruth

Leona Talbot

Mary-Elaine Tynan

Patricia Wall

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.

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