by Aoife O’Leary
The television was blaring. The noise rattled around in her head as she tried to make sense of all the different sounds. She stared at the flashing images on the screen. She wanted to focus, but her eyes kept glazing over as the shapes and colours blurred together. She didn’t like looking at that stupid box. She wanted someone to turn it off. She looked around to find the room empty. She noticed that someone had painted the walls a garish, pink colour. It hurt her eyes to look at it. She had liked it when the walls were that bottle green colour. It reminded her of a jumper her mother had knitted for her. The cushions were new too, a stripy, modern pattern, that she would never have chosen. She was upset that someone had redecorated the living room without asking her. She looked down at the hands resting in her lap. She was surprised by how they seemed to curl up, and when she tried to unfurl them, she failed. The skin was translucent and looked as though it could tear at the slightest touch. Hundreds of lines scratched the surface, weaving together and telling a hundred stories. She wondered when she had got so old.
The door clicked and a man entered the room. He smiled at her but didn’t say anything. He had a friendly face, and although she knew there was nothing to be afraid of, her heart started to pound in her chest. She took a deep breath and tried to relax. He was carrying an old paint bucket, full to the brim with sods of turf. He bent down beside her and began to build a fire in the grate. She watched him as he worked, his movements quick and practiced. Before she knew it, a warm glow filled the room. She wanted to say something to him, but she was nervous. He was a stranger, after all. She should thank him for building the fire. She should ask him about the weather. She looked at his kind face, hoping that he would say something first. He remained silent while he stared, transfixed, into the flickering flames. It was possible that he was a man of few words, but instead she got the feeling that they had already said everything that needed to be said.
She closed her eyes for a moment and when she opened them, she was standing atop a large stone, which was wedged in the bed of a cloudy river. She looked down at her feet, blue from the cold, and squeezed together on the oval underneath her. The next stone was a good length from where she stood now. Her brothers had bridged the gap with ease, their long legs allowing them to cross the river quickly. They had already reached the bank on the far side. They shouted at her to hurry up, but she was scared. She didn’t think she could make the jump. And if she didn’t, she would fall into the murky water below. She could swim like a fish, but the water was freezing, and her mother would have her guts for garters, if she ruined her good dress before mass. She closed her eyes, bent at the knees, and jumped.
The water was surprisingly warm, but that didn’t matter. Her mother would have her killed. She opened her eyes. She was naked, sitting on a plastic chair, underneath a dribbling shower. She looked up to find two women standing over her. Her cheeks reddened. Her body was clear for them to see, and she looked around for something to protect her modesty. There was a towel on the ground, but it was out of her reach. One of the women grabbed her arm, and began to lather it with soap.
“Stop it!” she cried.
“Almost there now, Brigid,” one of the women replied. “Mary, did you hear about Mike Sullivan down the road?” she asked.
“No, what’s he after doing now?” the other woman asked, as she took the other arm and began to soap it up.
“Isn’t he after running off with that young one,” she replied.
“I don’t like it. Please stop,” she begged.
“That’s no surprise, anyway. Sure, isn’t herself better off without him? Couple more minutes now Bridge. There’s a good girl.”
She felt something swell in her belly. She didn’t like this, not one bit. She needed to make them stop. She tried to get up, but they pushed her back down on to the chair. She watched in horror as her arm rose up and hit one of the women, knocking the glasses off her face. They fell on to the tiles and shattered. She kept her head down, focusing on the lens of the glasses, which had split into hundreds of tiny cracks, causing them to be broken and yet, somehow, still intact.
She was tucked up in bed, a hot water bottle at her feet and her rosary beads in her hands. She was starting to drift off. Through bleary eyes, she looked at the many photographs that were dotted around the room. Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at the beautiful, smiling faces that looked back her. She wondered who they were and what they had to smile about. Comfortable and warm, she fell asleep.