June Sailing (flash fiction)

What does a writer want? To be read. Since I started this blog I’ve written several short stories, some of which are short enough to qualify as flash fiction. My submission strategy is a bit haphazard, something I need to work on but it is based on the sound if-at-first-you-don’t-succeed principle. So I’m delighted to say that this weekend I saw my first story published online as part of National Flash Fiction Day UK. The link to June Sailing is here http://bit.ly/11XiU9g and there are lots of other stories to browse through if you’re curious. But if you only have time for my 500 words, read on!

June Sailing by Clare O’Dea

Nancy stuffed the ferry timetable under the tea towels when she heard the key in the door. Careless of her to be looking at it so late in the afternoon. Not that she needed to check this month, there was a sailing every day, sixteen down, fourteen to go. Quick as a cat, she sprang into the kitchen. It was important to be doing something when he arrived. She opened the fridge and started checking expiry dates. Bill appeared in the doorway, filling the space.

“Tea in ten minutes,” she said, gripping a milk carton. A welcome calm settled over the kitchen as the three men fell on the food. You could call them three men now; the boys had lost any echoes of childhood grace. Almost overnight they had changed into gruff creatures with hard arms and hard hearts. The spit of their father, people liked to say. Nancy leaned against the sink as usual, watching for a moment before she turned to start on the washing up. Bill spoke with his mouth full.

“Cut out the pot-walloping Nance.” She turned off the water immediately. Sometimes the noise bothered him, other times not. A minute passed, the men chomping, Nancy trying to gauge the tension. Hunching her shoulders slightly, she approached the table to pour the tea. No reaction. She melted back to her place at the sink. Her hands crept into her apron pocket where she started to pick furiously at the skin around her nails.

Nancy felt the first dull tug of period pain and her heart skipped. This little monthly victory was always welcome. Twelve years ago she was told she would never bear children again. ‘Can I have that in writing?’ she asked the doctor.

“Good grub,” Bill said, pushing his plate away. Nancy risked eye contact. He was smiling. In fact he only lost his temper once a week at most, and one of the things that set him off was her being timid. A more intelligent woman would know how to handle him better.

“You do a shopping today?” Nancy’s cheeks flared red, her terrified blood started to run for cover. This was his way of saying he knew. Bill took another slug of tea.
“Did you get the shaving foam?” False alarm, he hadn’t noticed her panic.
“It’s in the bathroom,” Nancy said, standing back to let her sons leave the room. The television went on in the lounge but Bill stayed, watching as she cleared the table.

“Here, you should get some new clothes,” he said, holding out a fifty. Nancy looked at the money as if it were something unfamiliar before reaching for it. Bill grabbed her wrist gently.

“Am I going to get a thank you?” She let him pull her in and sat on his lap for a kiss. That fifty brought her to her target. It would pay for the taxi to the ferry in the morning. Our last kiss, she thought and wrapped her arms around him.

Family Resemblance

The Lustre Jug by Walter Osborne (1902)
The Lustre Jug by Walter Osborne (1902)

Walter shook out his umbrella in jerking movements. “What a day,” Louisa said, stepping back to let him into the hall. She noticed he was wearing galoshes; Christopher would find that funny. In ceremonial style, Walter carefully arranged all his wet things on and around the coat stand and removed his sketch book from a damp leather satchel.

“Have you explained everything to them?” he asked, smoothing down his tweed suit. “Of course,” Louisa said, determined to be pleasant. She’d forgotten how blatantly he skipped social niceties.

“And they will cooperate?”

“They’re good girls Walter, you needn’t worry,” Louisa replied, her gaze criss-crossing his unlovely face. He was so like their father today with his bristly hair and manner. An image of the old man flickered in her memory, seated in his study, tilting his head so she could reach his cheek for a goodnight kiss. The last child of his third wife, even she could sense he was weary of playing Daddy by then. So different, she imagined, to Walter’s home life twenty years earlier.

A thump sounded from the dining room followed by muffled giggling and shushing. “Shall we?” Louisa said reaching for the door handle. She had issued strict instructions to the girls to stay in the room until she entered. Christopher agreed that it was time they stopped charging to the front door like hooligans every time there was a caller.

Nora was standing by the mantelpiece holding the lustre jug, her cheeks glowing pink, while Peggy and Maude sat straight-backed at the table. “It’s not broken,” Nora said, holding out the jug. Louisa took it from her eldest and touched her cheek gently. “Come and say hello to your uncle Walter.”

The girls lined up and shook hands with the visitor, looking angelic in their Sunday pinafores. Louisa was pleased to see the children were in awe of him and she hoped the feeling would last, keeping their behaviour in check.

Louisa waited for Walter to take charge but he stood as if in a daze, holding the sketch book to his chest. “How would you like to begin?” Louisa asked when the pause grew uncomfortably long. “Or would you prefer some refreshment first?”

Walter’s lips were trembling. “Could you ask them to sit at the table again? Perhaps they could gather at the corner and study something together?” He was almost whispering. The girls looked at their mother. “Here take this,” she said, pressing the jug back into Nora’s hands. The children followed his directions and Walter pulled out a chair for himself, positioning it by the sideboard.

Louisa glared a final warning at the girls and turned to Walter with a smile. “There. Should I leave you now?” Walter hesitated. “She’s just like my Gloria,” he said, staring at Nora. Louise looked and in that instant saw the resemblance and understood the loss for the first time. She squeezed his shoulder and left the room.

Inspired by The Lustre Jug by Walter Osborne (1902)

Together Again

There it was, the scrape of the curtain pulley. Rosemarie braced herself as the unkind morning light pounced on her closed eyes. Why did the day have to start so early? You would think the old folk with empty diaries would have earned their rest. Now was her chance to say she didn’t feel well and ask for breakfast in bed; Ronnie had encouraged her to get his money’s worth. But she felt her customary shyness clamp down on her throat and the attendant was gone. Rosemarie didn’t like to think of how much that reticence had cost her over the years. By a happy twist of genetics her daughter Melissa turned out to be brash and demanding, a fact which never ceased to please Rosemarie.

Taking it nice and slowly, she got up and used the en suite bathroom. Then she tackled getting dressed. The tricky bit was getting anything onto her feet. If she could just go barelegged, it would save a whole lot of effort. Finally, with her tights on, hair brushed and glasses ready on a chain for the morning crossword, Rosemarie made her way to the mirror by the door. Fuchsia had always been a good colour on her, today she wasn’t so sure. When did her hair get so white? A dab of lipstick brought her face back into focus.

Breakfast was the best meal the place offered and Rosemarie was pleased to still have a good appetite. She was having diplomatic trouble choosing a table though, with two groups vying for her company. People with good hearing were in demand. Coming into the dining room was always a tense moment. The best thing was to be first there and let the others play musical chairs. This morning the Crowleys had made it down first. They beckoned to her and she took a seat between them. The dining room had the appearance of an English B&B, the kind of place she would have stayed in with Maurice thirty years before. Look what you’re missing out on darling, she thought. Bert and Tess looked at her with matching what-did-you-say expressions. Luckily they were distracted by the morning girl, Rosemarie’s favourite, come to pour their tea.

Conversation ran out as breakfast finished. Rosemarie looked despairingly at the scattered crumbs and spots of jam on the tablecloth. It was too blowy again for a walk; three-and-a-half hours until lunch. She excused herself and trundled over to reception with her walker to pick up the newspaper. Mr Farley beamed in his ingratiating way and handed her a letter. Letters were like gold dust these days. Rosemarie tried not to look at it, almost snatching the envelope out of his hand. She laid it face down on her walker tray and hurried to the conservatory, where she plonked herself down in an armchair half turned away from the rest of the room.

It was from Loretta, postmarked London. Her handwriting hadn’t changed since boarding school, bold and artistic even then. The three years they overlapped at the Ursuline Convent had been the happiest of Rosemarie’s life. Despite the age gap they had spent most of their free time together nattering and laughing, celebrating their joint relief at having escaped the stifling atmosphere at home. Since then they had never lived in the same country, and after Loretta took off with her husband on a succession of postings abroad there were years between visits.

The words danced in front of Rosemarie’s eyes – coming home, got the brochure, room for me. She blinked away the tears and reread from the beginning. Loretta wanted to come and live in Glengoran Lodge. She was selling her house, under pressure from the children to move somewhere supervised. The time has come to return to Dublin sis, if you’ll have me. Always so careful to be thankful for the small comforts and pleasures left to her, Rosemarie had tried hard to stay positive since she moved to the lodge. Now she sank back in her armchair to bask in the long lost feeling of happiness. A laugh bubbled to the surface and Rosemarie covered her mouth like a schoolgirl. The Cully sisters, together again.

The Hedgehog News

Everyone knows if you find a dead hedgehog it’s yours. So why is Manny taking over? Because he’s a robber, that’s why. Actually the hedgehog didn’t look that badly hurt the day I found him; only the left back bit was squashed so from one side he looked perfect. I just couldn’t leave him there on the side of the road. Vultures might get him. Now the whole street is coming to look at him under the hedge. Manny is explaining stuff about the maggots and poking with a stick. It’s the last secret I’m ever telling him. I think it’s all because no one else is just my age. Other ages don’t understand the same things. My Mum is sorry about this. It’s just a fluke, she says – twelve houses, twenty-one kids but not a single other seven year old. We weren’t to know, she says. I’m kind of not trusting Mum at the moment since I found some of my Christmas craftwork in the bin. They’re supposed to love that stuff.

When Dad said he was going to a place called Dubai, I laughed. It didn’t sound like a real place – Doob I, Do Bye – I was sure he was joking. But he just looked away for a couple of seconds like he was thinking hard what to say next and then he told me to get the atlas. Maybe he thought I was annoyed he was leaving but at first I was more annoyed about not knowing Dubai was a real place. I know loads of capitals, even really strange ones like Venezuela and Moldova. He taught me them when I was small and we had fun surprising people with that.

Now I’ve learnt a new word which is temporary. But if something is really temporary you should know when the end is. They said he would visit all the time. One week every three months is not all the time. I have a calendar in my bedroom. It’s got pictures of street children in Brazil. One of them definitely looks seven. It’s a pity he doesn’t live here. I’m starting not to like families with Dads living at home but I don’t tell people that.

Everyone keeps telling me isn’t it great we have skype. I don’t know. It might be great if you didn’t have a three-year-old sister. Hannah ruins every call. She climbs over me and taps on the keyboard and talks really loud. Dad doesn’t even understand what she’s saying. Also I don’t like the looking thing. You can’t look at each other properly. I don’t think Dad knows what to ask me.

It’s all because of the mortgage, according to Mum. Mortgage is another word for house. We’d lose the house if Dad didn’t take this job. I mean the house is OK but maybe we could move to a street with more seven-year-old boys. Would that be so bad? Mum didn’t like this question. She is not interested in things like hedgehogs but if Dad was here he would come and see him with me. Then he could tell me Manny is wrong and this doesn’t happen to people too.

Finally I did get skype time alone with Dad. Mum had this idea he could read a chapter a night so we’ve started a great old fashioned story called Kidnapped. The good thing about this is that Hannah is in bed. And the looking thing doesn’t matter; I just watch his face while he looks at the book. I asked Dad last night did he know what happens to hedgehogs after they die. He went quiet for a while and then started talking about animal heaven and it got a bit complicated and I didn’t want him to feel silly. I guess I won’t tell him about the hedgehog after all.

A Long Way From Home

The shelter was in a field behind a fairly new prison-style gated apartment block and a derelict red-brick hospital building. Walking through the old hospital gates, Natasha was surprised to see a relatively wide stretch of wasteland so near the city centre. Soon it would be swallowed up by the new technology park. It was a one-night shelter, with a first come first served policy and there was a queue of about fifteen men outside as Natasha stepped into the pool of light at the entrance. A few girlfriends were also hanging around, with their buggies and skinny children. Most of them were probably staying in B&Bs and would return to their rooms later. It was only a quarter to seven and these men were giving up the possibility of any other evening activity to guarantee a bed for the night. What they would do when the place closed down was anyone’s guess.

Natasha nodded with a rueful half smile at the group, as if they were fellow mourners at a funeral. The atmosphere was subdued, the only noise coming from the children playing on some rubble fallen from the high stone wall. The men concentrated on their cigarettes and some of them finished cans of beer or cider, their last drink of the night. The metal door had a square cut into it at eye height. Very conscious of her intrusion and her accent, Natasha rang the bell and introduced herself to the face that appeared on the other side.

She found herself in a small entrance hall. The security guard who had let her in ushered her into a side room with a cheerful grin. The man behind the desk looked up with a guilty expression. “Just getting ready to open up, last minute cup of tea, you know.” He introduced himself as the administrator of the shelter, Maurice Sheils, and gave Natasha a minute to get her recording gear out. “My job is to check everyone in, keep the records and all that. Derek here helps me make sure the clients all stick to the policy of no drink or drugs. We have a cupboard where we can hold onto the clients’ works overnight and we give the bits and bobs back to them in the morning.” He unlocked the little cupboard on the wall to the right and showed her the numbered empty ice cream tubs inside.

“We’re very strict on the whole question of drugs, and weapons of course. Anyone who’s caught using or with a knife after they’ve checked in has to leave. No exceptions, we have to consider the security of the volunteers.” Maurice’s pale eyebrows danced around as he spoke, his tone growing more theatrical as he warmed to his subject.

It was time to open up and Natasha squeezed into the space behind the desk to the left of Maurice, perching on a filing cabinet. The first two men didn’t mind her sitting in on the welcome chat but they didn’t want their own voices to be recorded. Natasha got some of Maurice’s patter on tape and watched the procedure patiently. The third client, Martin, was nineteen and just out of prison after a short sentence for larceny. It was his first time in this hostel but he didn’t appear to be shy or nervous, having spent plenty of time in various institutions from a young age. He didn’t mind being recorded and winked at Natasha when he started to debate, with mock outrage, the rights and wrongs of having to pay the nominal charge for his stay.

When Martin went off with his sheets and towel, Natasha went with him, interviewing him along the way. The first task was to choose and make the bed. The rows of iron bed frames gave the place the appearance of an old-fashioned hospital ward. If you disregarded the eight-foot high partition between the two eighteen-bed dormitories, the men were all sleeping in the same room.

One by one, new arrivals continued to trickle in and soon the place was a buzzing with activity. Some men made straight for the showers, preferring to wash the evening before rather than first thing in the morning. A television jutted out of the wall on a metal arm and a soap opera was holding the attention of several older clients, as Maurice called them. Natasha wandered around a bit, recording atmosphere for her radio report and feeling more at ease.

Derek appeared again and brought another willing talker with him. As Natasha listened to the gaunt young man complain at length about his ex-girlfriend, her attention was caught by one of the kitchen volunteers. He looked very familiar but she struggled to place him. She was trying not to be rude but had to stare. Pausing in his work for a moment, he ran his hand over his cheeks as if rubbing in moisturiser, a gesture she knew so well. In a flash she recognised him – Mr. Byrne. He had put on some weight since she saw him last but it was definitely her old English teacher. His classes had been the highlight of the week in school; Mr Byrne was the one who encouraged her to write. Natasha interrupted her interviewee expertly and gathered up her equipment in a rush. She wanted to leave just after dinner began; she had plans to meet friends in a pub nearby. What a stroke of luck to meet Mr. Byrne, Natasha thought. Such an articulate man, he was sure to say something compelling she could use.

Mr Byrne was setting places at one of the long trestle tables, absorbed in the task. Natasha felt slightly star struck as she approached, seventeen again. She had admired this man so much in school, craved his praise and attention. And here she was working as a journalist; he would be pleased. “You’re a long way from home,” she said, pulling out a chair for her gear. He looked up at her, blinking nervously. She gave him a moment to recognise her, then saved him the effort it was clearly costing him and introduced herself.
“Natasha Cullen,” he repeated, unsure.
“You taught all of us, remember? My three older sisters too,” Natasha smiled. “It’s great that you’re volunteering here, how long have you been coming to the shelter?”
Mr Byrne glanced around the room and looked to the cutlery in his hand for an answer. “Not long,” he said. “It’s one of the better places.”
“Yes, you do good work here,” Natasha said. “The producer sent me because of those tragic deaths last month. I can’t believe they’re closing the place down.”
Mr Byrne nodded. “Hard times,” he agreed. “And who are you working for?”
“Radio Nation, 101.7. Would you mind?” Natasha dug out her microphone and started untangling the lead.
“Sorry Natasha, I’m going to have to decline. We’re about to serve up here,” Mr Byrne moved up the table, placing knives and forks.
Natasha wasn’t expecting resistance but she switched automatically to persuasion mode. “Two lines will do, one even! Just give me something about hard times for the homeless. Please.” Mr Byrne shook his head and kept moving.

Five minutes later, dinner was being served and Natasha gathered the last of her audio material – an institutional din of cutlery scraping plates. She said her goodbyes to everyone she’d spoken to and Maurice walked her to the door. Natasha shook his hand warmly and they locked smiles for a moment. “Are you sure you won’t hang on ‘til I finish so I can walk you to your car? Honestly, I only need another 20 minutes and I’m all yours.”
“No need, it’s fine. I’ve got to be somewhere,” Natasha said.
“Are you happy with how the evening went?” Maurice unlocked the door and opened it to the cold January air.
“Yes everything was great, thanks. I’m just sorry Mr Byrne didn’t want to say a few words. It would have been nice to include one of the volunteers,” she said.
“Do you mean Robert Byrne? No he’s not a volunteer,” Maurice said as Natasha stepped outside. “He’s a regular client. Nice guy. Well goodnight then.” The door clanged shut and Natasha leaned against it. For a moment it seemed impossible to leave the comfort of that light. But only for a moment.

Circle of Stones

On her way across the green in the middle of her estate, Julie stopped and looked around her. She was due to leave for Cork with her mother in a few minutes and she wasn’t supposed to be outside. She gave up the pretence of walking somewhere purposefully. There were some children out playing, doing stunts on their bikes with an improvised ramp. They paid no attention to her. Julie knew every family in all the houses in this part of Chestnut Glen. She had sneaked out here because she wanted to say goodbye to something – she wasn’t sure what. All the kids her age were either still in bed or off doing their Saturday jobs.

This is it, she thought. I’ve let them take over and this is where it’s brought me. She sat down heavily on one of the small boulders, dropped there in a rough circle not by a glacier but by the developer of the virgin estate back in the 1960s.

Cork. The only person she knew there, apart from her mother’s awful cousin, was her first love from Irish College three summers ago. What sweet letters Marty used to write. Those few weeks away on the west coast had been exotic, enchanted. Not only the language was different – the air, the sky, the rain. Marty was staying with a neighbouring family. They used to walk home from the dances together, the boys from his house, the girls from hers. She remembered his pale face in the grey light of dusk. For a moment, she let her imagination take off. Dreaming up rescue scenarios had become her favourite pastime.

Somehow she would bump into him in Cork, and he would be filled with concern for her plight, realise he still loved her and decide to help her out. Marty would have matured beyond his years, he would have a proper job and his own place to live and they would set up family together. No, she didn’t like the last bit. The baby didn’t fit well into that picture.

Better if she stole some money from her mother’s cousin and escaped. She could rent a caravan somewhere by the sea in Wexford. There she would lay low and wait to turn eighteen, as long as the baby didn’t come first. She would turn up at the local hospital, a mysterious case. The staff would be intrigued. A nurse would take pity on her, offer her a room. They would become friends – and the baby, the baby. Julie felt the muscles across her swollen stomach tighten. It’s not looking good baba, she whispered.

If I had a giant camera, I would zoom out, Julie thought. First you would see this circle of stones in a field surrounded by houses, then up and up, the surrounding suburbs, the coastline, the hinterland of farms. Then Ireland surrounded by clouds and swirling blue sea, farther and farther away until the world looked quiet and harmless and nothing mattered anymore.

It was time. Julie walked slowly back towards the house. Her bag was packed, the adoption agency papers inside it. She would remember that walk; find echoes of it throughout her life. Each step leading her away from something open towards something closed. She recognised it when she walked down the aisle ten years later and the bitterly cold day when she walked into the doctor’s office to get her biopsy results. The moments when you realised the world was turning and you just had to walk with it.

The Newspaper Hour

Beginning with the front page, Marta read out the headlines and waited for the nod. If there was a medical or health connection, Dr Cleary would definitely want the full article. The economy was also a must, although he tended to shout “mumbo-jumbo” angrily before she got the end. Politics brought on more heckling. He seemed to know all these people with their unpronounceable names intimately and he didn’t like any of them. The old man remained silent, his head bowed, during accounts of natural disasters or other senseless tragedies.

What made it tiring at first was that she had to pronounce everything right. He would interrupt her five times in a sentence. Inside she would be railing against him but she remained outwardly docile. On the Tuesday of her second week she deliberately forgot the paper but his disappointment was too much for her. She didn’t come empty handed again.

After reading through the first story, she would offer to do some housework but he always refused. Although the house was tidy, it needed a good clean. Marta considered switching with someone else. She was afraid someone might inspect the place and she would get into trouble. But all he wanted with his hour was the newspaper.

Three weeks into the job Marta made a stand. She struck a deal with him that the final fifteen minutes would be given up to cleaning. In this time she raced around with a cloth and disinfectant spray wiping down surfaces, speed vacuumed the hall, stairs and landing or swept and mopped the kitchen floor.

By the New Year the reading time had become less fraught and more interesting. Marta was getting to know the themes and the players. When she tut-tutted over the latest revelations about the minister for transport Dr Cleary chuckled. From then on they read and listened as a team. She would pour a cup of tea for herself and pause to take sips, enjoying his rapt attention.

On a mid-March morning Graham was passing the graveyard on his jogging route and stopped at the entrance. He pushed open the gate and walked down the hill towards the newer graves. It was a heart-soaring day, the first spring warmth in the air, the sky boldly blue. Could it only have been a week before that they had buried his father seemingly in the depths of winter?

All the what-to-do-about-Dad conversations were over. There would be no more late night skype calls from his brother in Australia. For over a year Conor had pestered Graham relentlessly, his anxiety multiplied by distance. A blind 79 year old man cannot live alone, he insisted, as if it were a known natural law. But Graham saw his father once a week and thought he was doing OK. He’s partially sighted, he would remind Conor. I organise the internet shopping. He doesn’t complain.

Graham turned into his father’s row, his sneakers compressing the soft grass. There was a child’s grave on the left complete with paper windmills and toy trucks. He hadn’t noticed it at the funeral but he hadn’t noticed much that day. The wooden crosses on the new graves were all the same. He assumed the last in the row would bear his father’s name but there was a new grave there and Dr John Cleary was now second from the end.

The funeral wreaths that still covered the mound of earth looked surprisingly fresh. Leaning against the thin wooden cross was something new. Graham leaned over to pick it up. In a plastic folder someone had placed that day’s Independent on the grave. Odd, Graham thought, Dad hasn’t read the paper in years.

The Dogleg Shortcut

By Clare O’Dea

To the untrained eye he was just a man checking his bicycle but Kelly knew the signs. She stopped dead. These men could be old or young, fat or thin, dark or fair but they all radiated ill intent. You could read it in the line of their shoulders, the way they stole a glance at you or the way they affected not to look your way. They moved too slowly; they were bad actors.

The dogleg shortcut halved the journey time to school – and there he was just at the bend, waiting. If she took this route she could be there in 11 minutes door to door, just in time for assembly. Going down to the main road, over the bridge and back through the park would cost her precious minutes and Kelly could not afford to be late for school today. Mrs. Kearney would be at the door taking names as usual and that would be her second poor punctuality mark this week. She just couldn’t do detention on Friday. Missing the inter-schools match was out of the question.

Kelly looked up and down the footpath but there was no-one around. Cracked chestnuts littered the ground at her feet, revealing their gleaming russet hearts. Treasure like this should not go to waste. If only she could gather them up, go home and skip this day. But no-one would understand; she was locked into the routine. The heavy schoolbag weighed down on her bra strap and she shifted it further out to the edge of her shoulder.

He was wearing a navy tracksuit and his hair was red – a young one. Kelly stooped to tie her shoelace, giving him a few more seconds to move on but still he fiddled with the bicycle chain. You’re not fooling anyone you bastard, she wanted to shout. The girls would never forgive her if she missed the match. She was in top form, playing the hockey of her life.

The flashing wasn’t so bad, it was creepy and ugly but it was over quickly. The bad part was the fear. What if this one reached out and grabbed her? The thought of being overpowered terrified her. Most of the time you could ignore the fact that men were stronger, it wasn’t relevant. But in this case it was all too relevant – a fact that squeezed her throat tight, stung her eyes and set her heart hammering.

One step down the lane meant danger, one step down the footpath meant disgrace. And then she remembered her hockey stick. Without being aware of her decision she began to advance down the shortcut. Behind the high walls on either side of her were back gardens. No-one would be gardening in this weather at this time of day. She slipped the stick out of its cover and held it loosely in her right hand like a spear.

Thirty more steps, twenty – the man straightened up and turned towards her. Kelly couldn’t look behind her for help; she didn’t want to show fear. Part of the trick was to behave normally. Treat him like a normal passer-by there’s a chance he’ll behave like one. She wouldn’t know until she reached him whether there was anyone coming in the other direction to save her. He started tugging at his waistband. Kelly felt a chill running up her back.

Hurrying down the steps into the school building, Kelly heard the bell ringing inside. She opened the door just as Mrs. Kearney came out of her office. “Are you on the warpath Kelly?” Mrs. Kearney seemed amused. “Pardon?” Kelly stopped and stared for a moment. Then she noticed she was still gripping the hockey stick with both hands. “You look like you’re going to hit someone with that stick dear.” “Just getting into the zone for the match,” Kelly answered, walking past the vice principal.

She went straight to the cloakroom to change into her indoor shoes. Anita was there. “So Kelly, what’s the strategy for Friday? They’re a pretty strong team,” she said, unwinding a long colourful scarf. Kelly sat down on the bench to unlace her boots. She felt a cold new energy circulating in her veins. “I’ve been thinking about it and I reckon it all comes down to one thing – attack is the best form of defence. They won’t know what hit them.”

Unrequited Spite

By Clare O’Dea

Justin sat at the kitchen table of the Ringsend apartment methodically working his way through the pile of pages and chuckling between drags of his cigarette. Derek watched his flatmate’s face intently, trying to hide his anxiety. He was beginning to doubt the wisdom of sharing his secret with the brash younger man. Maybe he should just interrupt Justin and grab the pages back; the whole notion was half-baked, unethical and difficult to explain. As Derek squirmed and hesitated, Justin read on.

Five minutes passed, then ten. Desperate for something to keep him occupied, Derek put the kettle on and then, feeling tall and self-conscious in the kitchen, started the washing-up. With his back to Justin, he had to keep looking over his shoulder to monitor the reading.

Finally, when Derek was in the middle of tackling the crusty cooker rings, Justin placed the last page on the pile to his right and leaned back with a smirk to look at the J-cloth wielding author.

“I don’t get it, I just don’t get it.” Derek attempted a mature, knowing expression. “This material, these characters, well it’s so bloody real and entertaining.” Derek nodded. “The flow is great, what can I say, it is just as good if not better than any of the chick lit we publish at Perrot’s. But what I don’t get is since when are you such an expert on women?”

Derek smiled weakly and raised his hands in a ‘dunno’ gesture.

“How much more have you written?”

“More. A lot more, I mean reams of the stuff. It’s all a bit in rough form though, needs some structure, some rounding off I suppose.”

“Where does it come from though? I mean how long have you been writing and why these characters?”

“I’ve been writing for a while, you know, and em the women are a kind of amalgam of, well I’ve always been fascinated by women’s friendships and all that, you know through my exes.”

“But I thought the longest you ever went out with anyone was two months.”

“Look I’m a watcher, I’m a listener. I’ve been walking around for the past 36 years watching and listening and this is just something that I kind of tapped into.”

“And the email format, what gave you that idea?”

“Ah I just saw it one time at the airport. I was browsing and I saw one of those best-selling single girl type stories. It was all emails. I think that’s what set me off.”

“Well it’s bloody intriguing, how an IT guy, and I stress guy, who works for an insurance company.” “Worked for an insurance company,” Derek interrupted. “Yeah OK worked then, but you only finished up last Friday after 13 bloody years at the place.”

“What’s your point mate?”

“My point is you don’t fit the typical profile for this kind of writing, by far not, but who gives a shit, you’ve cracked it. I’d be happy to advise you where to go from here with your manuscript. Consider me your number one fan from now on.”

Derek looked at his flatmate’s outstretched hand and broad smile and couldn’t help reciprocating. By now his nerves were starting to evaporate and replacing them came an unusual feeling of satisfaction.

Maybe one day Janet or one of her friends would come across the published material but what could they do about it? Making any kind of fuss would identify them as the women in the emails and expose them to ridicule, if not divorce proceedings. It would teach Janet a lesson for flirting with him and ignoring company guidelines on personal emails, Derek thought, wondering if he might finally have to buy a suit to wear at the launch party.

Clare O’Dea

Neo Natal Ward

By Clare O’Dea

We are warm here but lying down. The time before was better because the noises were soft and there was moving. We were wrapped warm together in the red dark. Best of all she was always there. Murmur, murmur, laughing; murmur, murmur, calling out. Sometimes singing. We liked all the ways of her voice. But where is she now? Now she is not always there. Too tired to cry; will cry later.

Hands are here. Gentle touch on the head, her voice gentle too. Stroke of the cheek, holding my hand. Her voice says words: “can I take him out?” Her happy feeling comes in to me. Holding is nice, better than lying. This time I will stay awake and not let her go. He is here too. We snuggle together and she is our home and it is like the time before again and we sleep. Then she is singing the goodbye song, we are lying down, her sad feeling comes in to us.

We are awake. They change his clothes all the time but it is still him. I look at the different colours. Sometimes there are voices, sometimes hands, sometimes drinks and sometimes pain. I cry, I sleep and I wait. He waits too or cries for me if I am too tired.

She is back. We are drinking. I look across at him, his eyes are closed. This is different drinking but the best taste. Her happy feeling is all around us. Big voice is here too and he is holding with big hands and giving soft kisses on the head. We like when big voice is here. I look at his face and look some more. Amazing. Big voice says words: “100 more grams little fella, just 100 more grams.” He is talking to me.

Oh the feelings and the noises and the changes today. Lots of clothes. Too warm, too warm and then cold air on my face. All the world we heard in the time before but loud so loud. We were very quiet, trying to understand. The moving feeling was nice and the moving noise. Cold air again, warm inside place. Small voice is here now. That’s what was missing. Small voice is jumping around. Her voice says: “Gently, gently”. Laughing. Happy feelings are coming from everyone. We have to sleep.

I wake first and she is there. She makes a nest in her arms. He wakes and big voice makes a nest in his arms. We drink and we sleep again. Sometimes it is day and sometimes it is night and slowly we come to understand. From now on they will always be there.

Clare O’Dea, summer 2012.