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.