A poignant short story.
Published in the Circle and Square anthology, December, 2015
(available for sale at Easons in The Square, Tallaght.)
It includes work from a number of writers, including Dermot Bolger, Martin Dyar, Mia Gallagher, Mary Guckian, Ferdia McAnna, Paula Meehan, Geraldine Mills, Louise Phillips, Kevin Power, Trish Best, Annette Bryan, Joan Power, Niamh Byrne, Eileen Casey, Doreen Duffy, Gavan Duffy, Brigid Flynn, Marie Gahan, Sue Hassett, James Hyde, Vivienne Kearns, Brian Kirk, Aine Lyons, Mae Newman, Trish Nugent, Tony Shields and Michael J Whelan.
‘Lipstick?’ asks Mary, squinting at the label. ‘Paradise pink.’
I purse my mouth and close my eyes, enjoying the familiar sensation of the lipstick as it glides over my dry lips.
‘There you go, Lily, all done,’ says Mary.
That woman is a Godsend. She holds the oval hand-mirror in front of my face. I pull it towards me and bend in closer, pressing my lips together. I still find it hard to believe the white-haired woman looking back is me and I most certainly don’t feel my eighty years. It’s merely a number – an indicator to tell the world how many wars and recessions I’ve lived through.
It’s amazing how a splash of colour across my lips always lifts my spirits, but this has been a particular favourite which I’ve worn for the last fifteen years. A visit to the local shopping centre, for my retirement party, had me returning home with a new look courtesy of the make-up counter in Boots. Maybe it’s time for another visit and an overhaul. Nothing too drastic, mind you, I’m not going back to the smoky eyes and red lips of Lauren Bacall at my age. Besides, I’ve always been more of an Audrey Hepburn – wide-eyed and innocent. Or so I’ve been told.
‘Thanks, Mary, you’ve done a great job, as usual.’
Mary moves behind me, fussing and teasing my hair. Her finger hovers over the hairspray tin. ‘Close your eyes.’
I know the drill. Hiding a smile, I cover my face with my hands, only peeking through when the hissing of the spray finally stops. There’s no fear of Mary leaving anything to chance with these tresses. She knows I love to waltz, but I fear she thinks I love to tango and has visions of me with a rose between my teeth as I strut up and down the room with my dance partner. She will ensure that my hair remains unyielding; like spun sugar sitting atop one of those exquisite deserts in the swanky New York restaurants we frequented all those years ago.
Rat-a-tat-tat. Mary checks her watch, raising her eyebrows, before crossing the room to open the door. ‘That’ll be John, I suppose,’ she murmurs.
There are whispered voices and moments later, a tall, grey-haired man appears in the doorway behind her. I watch as he removes his overcoat, shaking specks of rain onto the linoleum. He is dressed in dark trousers with shiny shoes. A crisp white shirt and paisley tie peep through the neck of his navy jumper.
‘They didn’t forecast that downpour, Lily,’ he says, his brown eyes meeting mine. He crosses the room and kisses me gently on the mouth. My heart hammers in my chest. I gasp and turn away, but not before I see a look of dismay cross his face. What does he expect? Just because he’s a handsome man, it doesn’t mean he can take such liberties; we’ve only just met!
‘Lily, it’s me, love. It’s John,’ he says, as if by telling me his name he thinks he can excuse his shocking behaviour.
He sits in the armchair opposite me and tries to lift my hand, but I pull it away. The sound of his melodic voice soothes me as I practice the two-step in my head, my toes tapping. Suddenly he stops talking and looks deep into my eyes.
‘You look well today, Lily,’ he says, ‘I’ve always loved that colour on you.’
I look down at my dress and smile. ‘It’s my favourite colour,’ I tell him. ‘Periwinkle blue; it matches my eyes, I’ve been told.’ I laugh and pat my hair. ‘I had to make an effort to look extra nice today for my visitors. Did I tell you my son, his wife and their young daughter will visit later. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting my granddaughter. Her name is Mia; my very first grandchild. They’re flying in from . . .’ I look towards Mary, ‘flying from . . .’ I can feel myself getting agitated. I click my fingers, hoping that the words will magically appear. They don’t. ‘You know the place I’m talking about, it sounds like Koala bears.’
Mary hesitates. Usually as sharp as a new pin, it appears she has forgotten too. She looks towards the man beside me. They think I don’t notice his barely imperceptible nod before she answers. As if he is giving her permission to speak.
‘Do you mean Kuala Lumpur?’
‘That’s it,’ I say. “When Sean left America he toured the world before settling there.’ I shift in my chair and turn to look at the man beside me. ‘I don’t mean to be rude, but you should probably leave soon.’ I give him my sweetest smile to take the sting from my words, ‘I’m sure you understand.’
I’m surprised to see his eyes are moist. And strange how I hadn’t noticed earlier what a beautiful shade of hazelnut brown they are; the same shade as Sean’s.
Mary turns off the radio and I glare at her. ‘What are you doing?’ I snap. ‘I always listen to the midday news.’ I didn’t mean to snap. My voice becomes softer, ‘it’s good to know what’s going on in the world.’
‘I just thought that as John was here—‘
‘I’m sure John will understand,’ I say, glaring at him instead. ‘Besides, my visitors will be here soon and I need to get to Mannings Bakery before it closes to pick up a few cream cakes. I must remember to get Sean’s favourite. He loves those gingerbread men. Maybe I should get one for Mia too.’
‘Good idea,’ he says, ‘but I’d like to wait a while. Sit with you. Just for a little longer.’
I suppose he must be lonely. And he’s doing no harm. We were always brought up to be charitable to those in need. I nod. ‘But you’ll have to stop talking while I listen to the headlines. I always listen to—
There is still no news for the relatives of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 missing since Saturday. The plane, along with the 239 people on board, vanished off radar screens while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The search continues . . .
I can’t breathe. My heart is thundering in my chest, but I can’t breathe. I bend forward, my arms folded across my chest; rocking, rocking, rocking. There is a loud keening noise, like a banshee. It’s blocking out the voice of the newsreader and getting louder.
The banshee …
‘Lily, please. You’ve got to stop!’
‘Lily, it’s okay. It’ll be okay,’ the man says, as he kneels before me.
My eyes fall upon my handbag, sitting beside my chair leg. I pick it up and rummage through it, emerging victorious with my lace handkerchief and mobile phone. I dab my eyes, then begin to press the buttons on the phone but my hands are trembling. Soon my entire body begins to shake and I am powerless to stop it; I feel as if I’m losing control.
‘Let me, love,’ he says, presumptuous as ever, it seems. But I allow him to take the phone.
It springs to life. I know he has dialled Sean because the ring tone is longer than normal. I hold my breath. It rings once, twice, three times and then I hear Sean’s voice. I allow my breath to escape. Only it isn’t Sean. Not Sean in the here and now. It’s the Sean in the phone. The Sean that wants me to leave a message and he’ll get right back to me.
I prise the phone from his shaking hands.
‘Sean, it’s me. I just wanted to check that you were alright. I’m looking forward to your visit.’ The tears have started to run down my face and I choke back a sob. ‘I love you, son.’
The phone slips to the floor.
I bend my head and examine the wizened hands sitting in my lap, where they twist a handkerchief round and round.
I am aware of a man and woman. The man has his back to me, his forehead pressed to the window, while his shoulders move up and down. The woman turns the dials on the radio, finally landing on Frank Sinatra. Fly Me to the Moon, bursts into the room.
The man turns from the window and looks straight at me. His forehead furrows and his red-rimmed eyes glaze over as if deep in thought. Suddenly, it is as if his well-worn face deflates like a popped balloon. I look away. I cannot bear to see such sorrow and it would be insensitive of me to ask what has caused it.
‘Would you like me to fix your hair?’
I turns towards the owner of the soft, country lilt and nod. The pretty, young woman smiles and I relax as the soft bristles of the silver handled brush, glide through my hair. Picking up the matching hand-mirror, I watch the soft white tendrils lift and fall around the face of the old woman in its oval frame. I notice she’s wearing my favourite lipstick, Paradise Pink. I must remember to pick up another tube.
Heavy rain begins to fall, drumming against the window pane. The sky is slate grey but the lush green grass glistens outside. The benches, scattered among the myriad of rose bushes, sit empty and desolate.
It will be nice to have a visitor.
The ghost of a smile reflected on the woman’s lips tells me she agrees.
I’m delighted to announce that two award-winning members of writing group, Platform One, launch their debut poetry collections this week!
Details below for these free events:
Peacekeeper by Michael J Whelan
In Praise of Small Things by Áine Lyons
Date: Thursday, 14 April 2016
Venue: County Library, Tallaght
A selection of photos with writers, from all genres, that I have had the privilege to meet.
I admire them all, not only for for their work, but also for their attitude and their willingness to help fellow writers.
And lots more to be added soon, I hope!
The National Emerging Writer Programme
Dublin City Library and Archive
9 January, 2013:
#TXS2 at The Westin Hotel
November, December 2012:
After Crime Night at the Civic Theatre
Three Voices/Three Forms
Loose End Studio, Civic Theatre
14 November, 2012:
Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards
Saggart Heritage & Arts Centre
SDCC European Week Against Racism Poetry Competition
SDCC County Hall
27 March 2012:
Tallaght Library Writers Group
SDCC Bealtaine Short Story Competition
SDCC County Hall
28 May 2010:
City of Dublin VEC Creative Writing Competition
Teachers’ Club, Parnell Square
29 April 2010:
Out and About at Writing Events:
Launch of Red Ribbons by Louise Phillips
Hughes & Hughes Bookshop (5 September 2012)
Photo by Ger at Taken by Titch
Recently, I was approached by the extremely talented writer, Valerie Sirr, as she wanted to tag me in an on-line blogging chain – The Next Big Thing – a way for writers to promote their work-in-progress through a series of questions. Valerie, as I’m sure many of you know, is a Hennessy New Irish Writer winner – and if you’ve already read any of her short stories or poetry, then you’ll see why – if you haven’t yet, then you’ve a treat in store. I’m a big fan of Valerie’s work – and was honoured to accept the challenge along with fellow writers, Celeste Augé and Brian Kirk.
So here goes!
My Next Big Thing:
I’ve been working on my debut novel – a crime fiction thriller set in New York City – for the guts (good choice of word considering my chosen genre!?!) of the last year.
In between, and to keep my writing ego buoyant, I’ve managed to produce a few short stories which have done extremely well – one was Long Listed in the RTÉ Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition, 2012, another has just been published in the Anthology of Original Writing from Ireland’s Own, 2012 and another was awarded First Prize in the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards, 2012.
What is the working title of your book?
My title, as yet, is not set in stone. I had originally opted for Killer’s Curse. But on advice from a couple of writers I greatly admire, they figure that when I get published, the right cover will give readers an idea of what’s inside, so a title that’s a little less telling would suit better. You noticed the ‘when’ – probably why I value their opinion so much! I’ve a title in mind, but I want to hold it there and savour it for just a little while longer . . .
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Reading a snippet about a killer and how he chose his victims set my mind racing and my fingers typing and they never stopped until I reached the end.
What genre does your book fall under?
It has to be crime fiction. I’ve always been an avid reader and I’d read extensively, but I’ve always LOVED thrillers – in any shape or form – the thrill of guessing what’s going to happen next keeping the pages turning late into the night. Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you don’t and occasionally you come across such a clever twist or turn that you really wish you’d been clever enough to come up with it.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
If I could pick any actor, from any era, to play one of my main characters then the first name to pop into my head as the good guy would be a young, Gregory Peck. Impossible I know, but as a kid I loved watching his movies. My favourite had to be Alfred Hitchcock’s, Spellbound, with the tag line ‘Will he Kiss me or Kill me?’ I was enthralled from start to finish. Maybe it’s time to watch it again? My villain, in this scenario, could have been Paul Newman – those piercing, ice-blue eyes, dismissing any doubts his victims might have.
And if I had to go modern day, then I’d go with Colin Farrell for my good guy. My character isn’t perfect – far from it – but in the end, you trust that whatever obstacles lie in his way and no matter how difficult the choices, he will strive to do the right thing.
Matt Damon would be my choice as my charismatic villain – his role in The Departed sealed the deal on this one!
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Your name appears on a list, along with six others – five are dead!
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
With work and life butting-in, it took me the guts of a year. But I also did quite an amount of research which I could probably have done during the editing stage to get the first draft down on paper much quicker. Swings and roundabouts, I suppose . . .
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Some of my favourite thriller writers include; Alex Barclay, Tess Gerritson, Jeffrey Deaver, John Connolly, Harlan Coben, Jo Nesbo, Tana French, Arlene Hunt and Louise Phillips – so I would be delighted if my novel compared favourably to any one of them. Aiming high, aren’t I?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’ve always loved books – especially mystery stories – something to keep the brain engaged. That love of books eventually inspired me to write. I started with short stories and poetry. If I’m totally honest here (and shooting myself in the foot in the process!) I prefer to read a book rather than a short story – even by my favourite authors. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them – I most certainly do – but I feel that you’ve invested your time and interest in their story, you’ve got to know the characters, but then suddenly – it’s over! With a book, you know you can become more immersed in their lives and if it’s a good story, then you want that. And that’s why, when this nugget of an idea began to grow, I decided I had to use it to write my debut novel rather than another short story.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
This novel is based in New York City and contains elements of the occult – just a trifling – but enough to appeal to readers who are excited by something a little different to spice up their thriller.
When and how will it be published?
Well, first, I need to finish editing so that my debut novel is as good as it can be. I’ve heard, on more than one occasion, that you only really get one shot with agent’s and publisher’s and I want to ensure that when I come knocking on their door that I have a novel worthy of their time!
And now it’s time to pass the baton. I’d like to tag three diverse writers who are destined for big things: Derek Flynn, Jillian Godsil and Michael Whelan, for The Next Big Thing (Wednesday, 9th January 2013). Keep an eye out for their rising stars!
Derek Flynn is an Irish writer and musician, with a First Class Honours degree in English Literature. He’s been published in a number of publications, including The Irish Times, and was First Runner-Up in the 2011 J. G. Farrell Award for Best Novel-In-Progress. He released his debut album, “Do You Dream At All?” earlier this year. His writing/music blog – ‘Rant, with Occasional Music’ – can be found here: http://derekflynn.wordpress.com and on Twitter, he can be found here: http://twitter.com/#!/derekf03
Jillian Godsil is a writer, blogger and freelance journalist. She went viral in 2010, 2011 and traditional in 2012. She hasn’t looked back (much) since. Her blog is www.jilliangodsil.com and you can follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/jilliangodsil
Michael J Whelan is a poet, writer & historian living in Tallaght County Dublin. He served as a Peacekeeper with the Irish Defence Forces in South Lebanon and Kosovo during the conflicts in those countries. He was 2nd Place Winner in the Patrick Kavanagh International Poetry Award 2011 & 3rd Place Winner in the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards 2012. He was also short-listed in the Doire Press and Cork Literary Manuscript Competitions and selected for the Eigse Eireann/Poetry Ireland Introductions 2012. He has written books on the Irish involvement in the Congo in the 1960s and Ex British Soldiers in the Irish Army during the Irish War of Independence and Civil War 1913-1924. He is the curator of the Irish Air Corps Aviation Museum and a member of Platform 1 and Virginia House Creative Writers. Follow his blog here: http://michaeljwhelan.wordpress.com/
Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards, 2012
What a wonderful night, at the Saggart Arts Centre, for the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards Ceremony.
Jam-packed with so many fellow writers the night got off to a lively start with music from Tony Bardon.
Maria Wallace, Hennessy Award winning poet, was the judge who offered her congratulations to all of the entrants who had their poems and prose short listed.
It was an especially enjoyable night for me when two great writer friends were awarded, in the Poetry category:
Third place: Michael J Whelan
First place: Doreen Duffy
To be awarded First place in the Prose category made the night even more memorable.
The evening finished with a customary Irish cuppa, courtesy of Mervyn Ennis and his lovely wife, giving everyone a chance to have a chat.
Little did I know, as I walked into Eileen Casey’s Creative Writing class in September 2008, the world it would open – the Narnia of my childhood resurrected . . .
From the age of seven I’ve always been an avid reader. Then, the libraries of my home and my grandmother’s, from North and South of the Liffey, were scavenged to reap the finest rewards. The little bookcase above my bed, filled to capacity with birthday and Christmas presents, mainly Enid Blyton, in those early days. Now, a bookcase in the family room sits three-deep along with an eReader I swore I would never buy.
I love books too much, I thought, but, it appears, I love the written word, in any shape or form, even more!
I’d be very interested in your feelings on the eReader versus the book – if you have the time to comment . . .
I would be lying if I did not admit to missing the look, the feel and the smell of a book with my eReader, but, on the other hand, I can read six books while on holidays without having to extract a couple of pairs of shoes from my luggage to squeeze them in! I can pick up the classics for free and borrow from the local library without leaving my house – and without incurring a fine when I fail to bring books back on time – they just magically return to the virtual world of the library, ready-and-waiting for their next reader.
And if I thought I’d captured the written word in all of its entirety I was wrong!
Hearing the written word, read aloud, preferably by its writer, really brings the world their words create to life.
I had the pleasure of being one of the many writers involved with the Tallaght Library Readings, facilitated by Eileen Casey, which ran from Monday, 5 December to Monday 19 December.
With Readings of poetry and prose from so many diverse writers; David Mohan, Louise Phillips, Brian Kirk, Mary Guckian, Mervyn Ennis, Doreen Duffy, Michael Whelan, Kate Dempsey and Eileen Casey herself, it was always going to be a success. The fact that The Echo is currently profiling each of these writers has made it even more special; you can find out more about each writer and read a little of their work here.
I wish you a Merry Christmas and hope you have an opportunity to take a break, in this madly busy season, to enjoy WORDS, in every shape and form . . .