Less about the world, more about me.

Category: Writing (Page 2 of 3)

On Noveling: Choosing a Title

I hate naming stuff. Anytime I write a blogpost I have to ask Paula for advice on the title. There’s a lot of expectation put on a title. It’s supposed to describe and attract, but using only a handful of words. Sometimes, just a single word. And to make it more complicated, one wants to exhibit a touch of class by avoiding ‘clickbait’ titles. That’s a lot of pressure.

As I write this I am still unsure what the title of my novel is going to be. It’s a science-fiction story set about 10 millennia into the future. So, do I call it ‘Ten Thousand Years’ or some variation on that? It has aliens. Do I call it, ‘First Contact’ and pretend I don’t know there’s a Star Trek film of that name?

Why am I even stressing about this? Because naming your novel is the single most important thing you’ll ever do. That you can change that title ten times a day, every day, until it’s actually published is irrelevant. The more you focus on the title the less time you have to worry about writing the damn thing. I get to spend hours wondering about something that will be one to four words in length. That is so much more manageable than 60 to 80 thousand words.

So yes, it is a colossal waste of time. My most successful story to date was called ‘The Bucket.’ The Bucket! I still cringe when I say it but I don’t think there can be a better title for that story. It’s just so prosaic. I know that whatever I call my new story today, is not what I need to call it tomorrow, but naming it does have a function.

When I began this project, I created a new folder on my laptop. I called it, ‘Writing Project.’ That does not draw the eye. It does not inspire. It will not excite. A name, a title, gives the novel a life. A separate (even if wholly dependent) existence. It’s a form of anthropomorphism. I’m visiting with this entity, feeding and molding it into the finished being it was always meant to be. When the really hard work begins, it is this degree of separation and obligation that will hopefully inspire me to continue.

And again, that doesn’t mean I won’t change the title in a heartbeat if I think of something better. But the separateness continues.

So, for today and possibly all this week, my work in progress is called, ‘In Ten Thousand Years.’ I will now change the name of the folder and begin to think of this being called, In Ten Thousand Years. It’s a bold title. Well, it’s longer than my usual. I’ve rarely gone beyond two words. You can imagine the misgivings I’m already trying to quell.

Next week I’ll write about the characters. Or more accurately, write about writing about the characters. There are really only two in this story so that shouldn’t be too difficult.

Previous: On Noveling                    Next: The Characters

On Noveling

I wrote recently about experiencing a level of anxiety that has necessitated me getting professional help. Part of that anxiety is fueled by my inability to write. And my anxiety is causing me not to write. It’s a sealed loop that I’m trying to unseal. I’ve not had a lifelong desire to write fiction. I can trace that desire to about fifteen years ago. Since then, telling stories has become an integral part of my identity. So, when I’m not writing, me and my concept of me get uncomfortably skewed.

It’s frustrating in the extreme. I don’t even like writing fiction. I like the ideas that swim around my imagination. I like exploring them. Putting them in some order. It’s just that communicating them to anyone outside my head is painfully difficult. What I’d like is someone with the skills and discipline to write a novel, to reach into my head and take those ideas for themselves. Create a bit of art that has its genesis in my idle musings. Save me the pain and absolute drudgery of trying to communicate those ideas through the medium of the novel.

I keep reading blog posts by writers who describe their process, hoping they’ll have the secret to making noveling easy. I haven’t found that secret. Writing a novel is, and always will be, hard work. A long and brain melting endurance test that doesn’t even guarantee a product anyone will care about. Yet here I sit, with anything up to ten different novel ideas fighting for attention in my head. I need to begin to get them out. They’ll drive me mad otherwise.

So, I have decided to change my entire life. Well not really. I’m going to gradually, incrementally and carefully begin to alter certain aspects of my life so that the process of writing a novel, becomes less intimidating and awful. The first step has been going to bed earlier. Yep, I know, how dramatic. I realised some time ago, to my surprise, that I write better in the morning. I had confused being able to stay up late watching TV with being a night owl. I’m not a night owl. I just lack a routine and when I’m tired enough to go to bed I spend a long time procrastinating because it’ll involve brushing my teeth, seeing to Arwen, unplugging stuff. I can get another 30 minutes of channel-hopping out of that.

The aim is to be in bed by 11.30, read for half an hour and then sleep until about 7.30. Get up and write for an hour. That’s it. That’s all I intend doing for the next four to six weeks. I have a long list of other steps but I know if I try everything at once it’ll be easier to give up. If I manage this small thing for that length of time, then I will add more steps. There is one other thing I’m including though.

I am a very vain man. I adore attention. That probably won’t come as a surprise to many people, but let’s pretend it did. Thank you. I intend using that vanity for something useful. Mornings will be for writing my novel. I haven’t a name for it yet and it may be more a novella than a novel, but it’s the story I intend concentrating on for this year. Anyway, afternoons and evenings will be for planning that novel and describing that planning process. It will offer an insight into how an inexperienced, unsure and struggling amateur novelist tries to novel.

I’m hoping that my vanity will encourage/force me to have something to write about. No doubt a few posts about not writing anything will be acceptable to a reader, but a litany is just that, a litany.

So that’s my plan. It may fall on its arse or it may spur me back into my groove. Either way, I will begin on Monday 27th March, with the aim of having a novel (or novella or even a novelette (shut up, that’s a real thing)) ready for publication next Christmas, Winterfest or Saturnalia.

Whatever happens, I hope you will at least enjoy my bitching and moaning and insights. I promise that no matter how unproductive I get, I will give a detailed weekly update on my failure. OK, yes, that was a terribly transparent attempt at lowering your expectations and garnering sympathy. But my first entry will be titled, On Naming a Novel. Both boring and pretentious so I do need to mitigate that by appealing to your emotions.

See you Monday.

Next: Choosing a Title

When A Column Is Not A Column


As you may know, I am back writing a column for The Kerryman. I originally gave it up because it was getting in the way of writing fiction. But I found that I missed it so here I am, again, trying to write approximately 570 Kerry-centric words a week about stuff that interests me. And already a large portion of my brain is taken up with viewing everything as a possible column.

Recently two different articles about the environment caught my attention so I began to do a bit research. The research led me to abandon my original idea and instead write about the research. I was very proud of what I’d produced. So I gave it to my first-reader who said I hadn’t written a column more I’d just shown my work. I of course argued with her. There is no one as thin skinned and over-protective as writer is about his writing.

Of course she was entirely correct. I didn’t submit it. But I really liked it, so I’m posting it on my blog instead. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Sometimes I sit down to write a column and it flows from my fingers. This happened, these are my thoughts, you don’t have to agree with me, but I’d like you to at least think about it. On those days, beginning to end, could take less an hour. Then there are the columns that take days to write. But my favourite columns are when I sit down to write about one thing and end up writing about something else. This is one of those columns. I intended to write about the environment and ended up with a history lesson.

I’d read about a debate going on in certain scientific circles. Please don’t leave. There’s a movement to name this era of our planet’s existence the Anthropocene Age. The ‘anthropo’ parts means man and the ‘cene’ means new. They want the name of this age to reflect humanity’s impact on the planet. We are responsible for the Sixth Mass Extinction Event (Sixth?), we’ve changed the atmosphere and polluted the oceans. Since the 1990s we’ve destroyed one tenth of Earth’s wilderness or just over 680 times the area of Kerry, gone.

But you already know this. One would have to be deliberately ignorant not to know we’re destroying the only home we have. What I found fascinating is that I had never thought about how an age is defined and who does the defining. It’s mostly geologists by the way.

And that I was using the wrong term, it isn’t an age. The scientists are talking about an epoch; they want this to be the Anthropocene Epoch. An epoch is made up of ages. The epoch we are presently in is the Holocene. This literally means, ‘entirely recent’. Very imaginative. It began about 9,700 BCE and encompasses the entire period of human civilisation.

The Holocene is the most recent epoch of the Quaternary Period. Quaternary, means fourth. There was a Tertiary Period but apparently it no longer exists. Geologists can do that. This period begins approximately 2.6 million years ago and encompasses all the human species that have existed. That’s a phrase that isn’t used enough, all the human species.

But there’s more. The Quaternary Period is but one part of the Cenozoic Era. My computer doesn’t even recognise that word. Cenozoic means ‘new life’ and begins about 66 million years ago. This era is also called the Age of Mammals and Age of Birds because that’s when we got our big chance to flourish. We got this chance because of the previous Mass Extinction Event that took out the dinosaurs. That asteroid ended the Mesozoic Era.

The Cenozoic Era is part of the Phanerozoic Eon This began about 541 million years ago. Phanerozoic means ‘visible life’. This, as the name suggests, is when we first get animals, insects and plants that, you know, looked like animals, insects and plants.

The time before this is called the Precambrian Supereon and begins about 4.6 billion years ago when the Earth was formed. It’s the longest period of time in our planet’s existence but obviously it’s the part we know least about.

Now that is a history lesson on the largest scale, with a lot of Greek thrown in for good measure too. But what occurred to me as I was writing this is that regardless of what we call today, the next species will certainly call it the Anthropocene Epoch.

Anxious About Writing

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I have been experiencing a great deal of anxiety these last few months. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice to say that in common with most people, a sudden and large injection of cash would make things a lot easier. What it feels like, is a tension in my belly. And when it gets really bad, that tension travels to my chest. I have learned over the years that when I feel something in my chest, things have gone a bit too far.

If I was really struggling, if I couldn’t pay my mortgage or for food, then I would embrace that tightness in my chest as entirely natural. How else should one feel such fear? But I’m not in that situation. What I have been thinking is irrational and even obsessional. What I have been feeling is the result of that irrationality.

The most galling aspect of this bout of unhealthy thinking is its impact on my writing. I had big ambitions this year, but it is July and I haven’t written a thing. And that has added to my anxiety. I am neither a prolific nor a successful writer but I have arranged a great deal of my life to enable me to be a writer. If I am not writing, then who the Mordor am I?

It’s not a simple case of not being able to write because I’m anxious about money, it’s more that when I’m day-dreaming or trying to imagine how a story should go, I keep thinking about winning the lottery. Or when I manage to get past that silliness, I get distracted by thoughts of commercial success.

How irrational has my money obsession been? In desperation to get my head straight, I sought professional help. Yep, I am in the privileged positon of being able to afford to see a therapist about my anxiety. There’s enough irony in that for a novel. But it did emphasise to me that my anxiety was irrational.

A couple of DMs and a few phone calls later, I had an appointment with a therapist. I used the term ‘privileged’ earlier. When it comes to mental health it really does all come down to privilege. It shouldn’t, but it does. Think on it, wannabe writer, worried about money, can pay to see a therapist within a few days of deciding a therapist is necessary. I don’t mean to downplay the effect anxiety is having on me, nor do I feel any guilt that I can get the help I want and need, but what if my money concerns weren’t irrational?

I’ve had one session and I may have more, because I can afford it. I already feel less tension in my chest and learned a great deal about how writing forms an important part of my identity. Hopefully that means I can salvage some part of this year’s ambitions. More importantly, I might rediscover the reason why I write in the first place, the enjoyment of telling stories. And being aware that it is an unearned privilege.

My Ambitions For 2016

It is already a bit late to be writing an ‘end of year-looking forward to the next year’ post but I can’t help it. I had convinced myself I didn’t need to bother but I am about to go back to work and the urge to mark the passage of time, is irresistible. Due to the weird hours I work, my Christmas was about a week after everyone else’s and my return to work similarly so. Today feels very much like the beginning of 2016, thus this belated post.

2015 was very much a mixed year for me. I self published my first novel. It went nowhere. And while that stung a bit, I did appreciate the positive feedback and all the learning involved. Unfortunately since then I have been stuck. I could not focus on a new project. To that end I jumped into the namowrimo experience. It was brilliant and gave me 24000 words of a new novel but I couldn’t get beyond those 24000 words. I also completed 25000 words of another novel. I like this novel, though I fear I may be entertaining myself and no one else with it. Combining rural living, hurling and science fiction may be pushing the envelope a tad too far. These two incomplete projects will however form the basis for my most fervent ambition for 2016 i.e. completing two new novels. If I fail, (and by fail I mean not complete them rather than commercial and critical acclaim) then 2016 will have been a bit of a disaster for me.

My blogging fell off a cliff in 2015. I can use the excuse that I was busy failing to write other things, but blogging, for all its self-indulgence, is where I first found myself. I owe a great deal to blogging. It is through blogging, much more so than in my creative writing, that I discover what I think. In 2015 I didn’t get take the opportunity to reflect and as a result, I now feel uncomfortable in my own skin. Ideologically I am aware I’ve shifted to the left. For the first time in my life I could possibly be described as left of centre in the political spectrum. That is rather momentous for me but I haven’t explored it, put words to it and owned it. I determined a few months ago to leave Fine Gael, but I’ve dithered as I don’t know how to describe what and where I am.

My second ambition for 2016 (early February(ish)) is to begin a new blog. I intend beginning afresh (well, I’ll be importing some older blog posts, but still pretty afresh) and being more systematic in my blogging. It will be part commentary on my own politics (which is where I think my real strength is), part commentary on the world of politics, part update on my noveling, the odd nerd post and finally links to things I have read that week that I found insightful or just interesting.

2015 was also the year I discovered I am now actually middle aged. I hate it. I really hates it. My third ambition in 2016 is start looking after my ageing, slowing and increasingly cantankerous body. That means losing a lot of weight and eating a lot of stuff that never breathed. Ick.

I have to mention what was wonderful about 2015. I got married. Last March, about 20 friends and family witnessed my marriage to Paula, in a registry office in Dublin. Nearly half the guests were people we’d met on Twitter. Appropriate considering my wife and I also met on Twitter (Possible fourth ambition, be on Twitter less). I can safely say that it was the happiest day of my life and an amazingly stress free experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Can’t believe it has been almost a year.

The second thing I have to mention about 2015 was the Marriage Equality referendum. The result was glorious, that everywhere I canvassed voted yes, was the cherry on top, but I am still holding onto a knot of anger about the lack of support and/or numbers we had down here. Anger too that people had to go door to door begging for equality. Fifth ambition will be to get over it. All that matters is that it passed and that it passed with the overwhelming support of voters. I really need to let it go.

That referendum leads me to my sixth and final ambition for 2016, repealing the Eighth Amendment. I don’t know how involved I will be in that campaign in Kerry, but I know I have to be. Though I mostly just want to stick my head in the sand and let other people face the hate, and worse, the lack of interest, at the doors of strangers.

So that’s it. Have a great, productive and active 2016.

Blue Eye Shadow

Jason carefully applied the blue eyeshadow to his left eye as he remembered the very moment the pain had stopped. Phil and Sam had trapped him in the changing rooms and pinned him down as Meg painted his eyes with this exact shade of eyeshadow, none too gently of course. Then she had spat in his face. Phil and Sam had let him go and called him a fag as they walked away, satisfied that they had done their work for the day. Jason decided at that moment he was going to die and as if by magic, the stomach churning agony that he had carried with him every day for the last eight months, just fell away. He now knew how to end his suffering. And that knowledge was like as if his body was being flooded with a wonderful anesthesia. He walked around the school in a daze for the rest of the day and the rest of that week.
He endured the petty humiliations, the casual brutalities, the gradual annihilations, as if they were happening to someone else. Even his parents were moved to remark that he seemed happier in himself. He smiled and hugged them, knowing that they were planning on going away this weekend. As a responsible fifteen year old they were leaving him unsupervised. He knew the pain would be stopped forever then. All would be better. No one would ever hurt him again, no adult would get to continue turning a blind eye to his suffering and he would not have to see the terror in his parents‘ eyes as they continually failed to see that his agony, was not just a phase.      
He waved them off from the front porch. It was a beautiful and sunny Saturday morning. He went back inside the house and locked the door. He took a long shower and standing naked in front of his bedroom mirror, applied the blue eyeshadow to his left eye but not the right. He stood back and looked at the mirror. His body was slight and lacked the hair most of his peers were proudly showing off in the locker room. That first day in the locker room, that first comment, that first invisible bruise, all began with his body. Someone had pointed at his crotch and called him a girl. The laughter had almost deafened him. Within a week the cheerleaders were in on the joke. By the end of the month, he was a cock sucking faggot and everyday was a waking nightmare. Everyday they would push each other to find new ways to remind him that he was scum. He was an AIDS ridden homo. He was a cum guzzling perv. 
He tried to endure. Tried to follow the code of never telling, but his resolve cracked and he told a teacher. The teacher assured him he’d inform the Principal. He was summoned to the Principal’s office where he was lectured at, by the Principal and the School Nurse about the importance of fitting in. About boys being boys, about manning up, about good Christian values and the dangers of alternative lifestyles. Perhaps he had done something to deserve this abuse? Did he have a girlfriend?
He did not complain after that. He just endured. He attempted to shield his parents from what was happening. But they heard his nightmares, they knew he threw up before school. They saw his grades drop from A’s to D’s. But they thought it was a phase. Perhaps he should listen to different music. Get a girlfriend. Have a party and invite his classmates. He smiled and didn’t tell them what it was like to exist as one tender bruise. How even alone, safe from the bullies, their words continued to flay. How he had begun to wish he was gay as they seemed able to endure these kind of attacks, while he also grew to hate their very existence, because it meant he was receiving the abuse meant for them.  
He spared them the truth and he intended to spare them from the trauma of finding their son’s dead body. He looked once more into the mirror. Looked at the body and the face he had been taught to despise. His pain would end and he would spare his parents. They would get over him. He did after all, deserve to die. He was a disappointment to them. They worried all the time and never once did they think to protect him. They would have a new son, a better son. A son who wasn’t faggy and weak and who didn’t deserve to be spat on by the beautiful girls. 
He went to his closet and chose his favourite boxers, jeans and tshirt. He looked in the mirror again. Yes, he should at least look well when he died. It was important to make a good impression on strangers. He would hate to think his parents would have to face the doctors and cops knowing he looking unkempt. His constant failures were shame enough. He opened his drawer and reached under all his spare stationary and found the baggy of pills. He took them out and examined them. There were three different colours. Anti-anxiety tablets he had been prescribed when the nightmares began. His Mom’s sleep medication, which he had stolen earlier from her bathroom and several oxycontin capsules that were left over from when his Dad had broken his leg at work. Altogether twenty tablets and a bottle of Scotch in the den. Jason smiled to himself. No more pain.
He took his laptop with him to the Den, remembering to unlock the front and back doors on his way. He looked at his Mom’s prized glass display cabinet. It was her pride and joy. All that shiny crystal from all over the State. Anywhere they holidayed, she had to have a crystal vase, or a crystal goblet. And on very special occasions, she and Dad would use two of the tumblers to share a few drinks of his finest Scotch. His parents appreciated the best things in life. He sighed in annoyance. It was so obvious to him now that he was not the appropriate child for such people. He was just not up to the mark. 
He opened the cabinet and chose the most beautiful of all the glasses. He placed it on the mahogany side-table, next to the leather couch and then looked at the bottles on the drinks table. He wasn’t an expert but he assumed the oldest would be the best. He saw a 50 year malt. It was unopened. Yes. His father would surely forgive him this liberty. He may have been a let down as a son, but the end of a life required a certain solemnity. He unscrewed the bottle and poured himself a generous measure of whiskey. He opened the baggy and blindly took a handful of pills from it. He crammed them into his mouth and gulped the whiskey down.
He promptly plonked himself down on the couch and tried to stifle his desire to both cough and scream. The whiskey burned in a wholly unexpected way. How could something so smooth looking taste so harsh? His parents drank this shit for pleasure? He got his breathing under control. He swallowed the pills and the burning sensation disappeared, to be replaced by an almost instant glow of satisfaction. Oh. So that’s the point. He grinned to himself and switched on his computer. He logged onto his twitter account. He ignored the stream of invective and porn-bots that littered his timeline and typed his message. His last message, hoping this would get someone here before his parents got home.  
@jason1998abc: Today it ends for good. None of you will ever hurt me again. Please, no fake tears at my funeral. 
He hit send and sagged back into the couch. He switched off the laptop and poured himself another large measure of Scotch. He picked up the baggy of pills and took one put. He popped it in his mouth and took a sip of whiskey. He sighed contentedly. He decided to take his time. He didn’t want to risk throwing up and ending as one of those sad cases that try to kill themselves and just come across as pathetic attention seekers. This had to work. It was his only option. The only alternative was pain. He could not take anymore pain. 
He grew accustomed to the fiery taste of the whiskey. He grinned to himself, imagining that if he had lived, he would one day have shared a tumbler or two of this with his father. Oh well. perhaps Dad will have another son. A better son. A son he would be proud to share a drink with. He took more and more pills. He could feel his breathing beginning to slow. His mind dimming. His eyes beginning to unfocus. He felt contentment. A real and beautiful contentment. He was almost free. His escape was at hand. He pictured his Mom, he pictured her face as she hugged him and told him how much she loved him. Tears began to flow from his eyes. The glass dropped from his hand. His brain vaguely aware of it smashing against the hardwood floor. His Mom’s face filled his head. He fell sideways. Panic beginning to grip him. He tried to call for his Mom. His hand fumbled uselessly at his hip, wondering where his cell phone was. Confused as to why he couldn’t move properly. He tried to call for his Mom. His tongue felt like over large buds of cotton, stifling his voice. He tried to pull himself off the couch. He could only manage to fall heavily, face first, onto the floor. He heard his nose shatter and wondered when his body would react to it. He waited for the agony. His tongue tasted the bitter iron of blood. He reached it out and felt a gap where his front teeth had been. 
He sobbed in terror. What was happening to him? Why wasn’t his body working? Where was his Mom? With one last gargantuan effort he heaved himself onto his back. He struggled to regain his breath, but every moment that passed, he took in less and less air. His chest was gripped with a stabbing tightness. He was aware of blood pooling in his throat but was now incapable of swallowing or spitting. He stared blindly at the ceiling, tears flowing from his terrified eyes. He could no longer call his Mom. His bladder let loose. An uncomfortable warmth spread from his groin. Then he knew a growing coldness, beginning with a numbness spreading from his feet. In minutes he could no longer feel the piss warming his crotch. Even the hot red pokers lancing his chest disappeared. He closed his eyes and mercifully lost consciousness. His bowels loosed as finally his heart stopped. And there he lay, the dead body of a child, resting in a pool of shit, blood, piss, whiskey and tears. And there Jason Beglan was found. The reek of his passing, making the house uninhabitable for weeks.
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Holding Hands

An hour to go. She wondered if it would be worth her while making another cup of tea. A quick calculation of caffeine content, the affect of a full bladder, and the desire to have that last chocolate biscuit before the day-shift arrived added up to, tea winning. It had been a dull night. None of her twelve clients had stirred. The reports were written. The morning meds prepared and the handover, ready. She moved quietly over the blue-grey carpet tiles, deciding on one last sweep before settling down with a hot mug.

She would be the focus of some envy come handover. No one got a free-ride on the Millennium ward. A nickname they had all disapproved of, when first coined by that smart-arse young doctor. It had taken him only a few seconds to scan and laughingly declaim in his smart-arse young doctor way, that the combined ages of the twelve patients came to over one thousand years. He had used it disrespectfully, but it became a badge of honour for those who lived and worked on this wing. A thousand years of life. In this one corridor. She never felt anything less than awe, at so much lived life, concentrated in so small a spot.

A sweep was little more than looking through the glass window of their doors. They were a sprightly lot. Yes, there were health issues, there were absences and there were often night-time accidents and there could be querulous confusions. Time consuming all, but rarely seriously medical. She passed Number 12, hardly pausing to look. Her mind already in chocolate. She paused. Turned and returned and looked again.

She opened the door, hand pressing her pocket alarm. He was struggling to breathe. Switching on the light, she reached for the oxygen mask. He pushed her away. Flailing with his wasted arms and crooked fingers. Mumbling and distressed. She grunted in annoyance, then realisation hit. His teeth, were still jarred. The vain fool. She gave them to him, though the anguished rasping of his chest spoke of more pressing concerns. Teeth in, he consented to her administrations. Shock, he kept his lecherous hands to himself.

Looking into his eyes, she saw the terror. She nodded to him. A tear left his eye. They understood each other. Sitting on his bed, she took his hands in hers. They waited. Help arrived. They worked around her. The motions had to be gone through. Chart checked. Chart filled. Only a matter of time now. His hands shook in hers. She held them tighter, smiled brighter.

The day-shift arrived. Matron came to say good-bye. “Will he be wanting a priest at all?”

“No need Matron, he’s not a believer.”

“Will you be staying?”

“I will surely.”

“For him?”

She grinned at the older lady. “Aye, for him.”

The Matron threw her eyes to heaven. All, even the Matron, had been pinched, insulted and generally abused. “I’ll fetch you a cuppa.”

Matron gone, she looked back at him. His hands now still. His breathing shallowing. She leaned in closer, “You’re a notorious prick Sean, but you will not go alone. You will not be alone.”

He heard.


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Day Trip

He shuffled from the kitchenette to the door of the flat. In his hand the bowl of cat food. Setting the bowl down he reached for his jacket. Checking the cat was distracted, he slipped out the door, as fast as his ailing body could carry him. He locked the door. A young man passed him in the corridor, no greetings were exchanged. Down the stairs. Checked the post box. Nothing. Through the front door, to be hit by the fury and fumes of North Circular Road traffic.

Pass in hand he waited alone with all the others. All so young. So young that foreign becomes meaningless. There were all alien to him. A noisy mess of otherness. Things that passed by and around and if they thought they could, then thought him too.

The bus arrived. An impatient grunt told him his boarding lacked the alacrity of a Dublin day. His speckled hand gripped harder the bar, as he searched each pocket for his pass. Panic rising, had he forgotten it after all?

A voice, drip dripping with patronising bonhomie, “It’s in your other hand granddad.”

The chuckles cut. He looked at his hand, tight gripping the bar, crushing the plastic covered pass. He searched desperately for another bar, not wanting to risk a careless driver jerking the bus back into traffic. No longer first in the queue, these aliens had all pushed by. Paying or carding or passing, all transactions done in unconcerned flashes. The driver had already lost interest. Old was old, who would question a man so wrinkled and infirm? The privilege of being a condition.

As he’d expected the bus jerked hard. He kept to his feet, two hands on the bar. This was not how he’d hoped he would reach town, but to move now was to risk sprawl and all, that would entail. A score, perhaps even two, of these aliens brushed by him, entering and exiting by he same door, not seeing him on the way in and not seeing him on the way out.

His knees ached. His back complained. His hands screamed in their vice-like grip of the bar. But there finally was bold Parnell atop his column. And there, that alien antennae, piercing the sky. His stop, one hand then the other, relaxed their hold. He moved into the crowd, disrupting the flow. And like a fallen tree in a running river, a gap opened before him and a jostling crowd began to stack behind him.

One slow foot after the next, and he was street level. He carefully remembered not to take an immediate pause. He moved his slowing frame out of the now rereleased stream. Only then could he take the reward of rest. Breathing and flexing and allowing himself to relax. Minutes passed, before he was ready. He walked to the shiny alien metal and with his back to it, he looked up Henry Street. It was lunch-crowd full. Hundreds of these not seeing things, ears stuck to their communication devices. Their alien speech directed at the never there.

He took out a notebook and examined his list. Name after name, crossed out. He turned a page, then another. He saw yesterday’s mark. Below it, unscored. Today’s target. Putting away the notebook he crossed the road. Around him he sensed only the chaos of speed and disregard. He kept is eyes on the ground, always conscious of being tripped-up by the merest thing.

There was Moore Street. He paused here to look further up Henry Street. In the distance he could see his goal. Jervis Street Shopping Centre. Breath retrieved, he walked. A glacial arrow cutting its way through the madding crowd.

Two more breaks and near endless shuffling and he was there, facing the glass edifice of his quarry. He didn’t wait. He reached out a hand and then took it down again, as the door greeted him by opening unbidden. He didn’t allow the minor unsettling, vex him. He continued, even finding his feet on those soulless moving stairs.

And there it was. A shoe shop. He straightened the long scarce strands of hair, over his bare head. He walked in and paused to identify the men’s section. He walked to it and sat on a chair. Then it happened. Everything slowed. There was a voice.

“May I help you Sir?” It was a young voice. The accent unidentifiable to him, but it was directed at him. He breath shallowed, his heart slowed and his face relaxed into a smile.

“Thank you Miss, I would like to purchase a pair of brown leather shoes.”

“Of course Sir. Do you know what size you take?”

“An eight and a half. I remember a time when I was a nine, but Mother Time takes her toll in unexpected ways.”

Ah, she knows when to laugh as well. His smile broadened. She left for a few moments, returning, burdened with half a dozen boxes. She placed the boxes at his feet and looked at him. “Will I help you try them on Sir?”

He nodded. She knelt and undid his laces. “Did you have far to travel today Sir?”

“No, only a few minutes for me. I live on the North Circular.”

“And you picked a fine day for it. I brought a raincoat and an umbrella to work today. Seems like the weather likes to make fools of us.”

He took his turn to laugh. In short order he was wearing her first suggestion. He stood, taking her offered arm to help him up. He looked at them. He examined them in the mirror. Their conversation never faltering. After two pair, they knew each other’s names.

After the third, they learned that her people were from unpronounceable Białystok, his from far off Lyreacrompane. By the fourth pair, he was speaking of his late wife. Her slow death and the relief it had been at the end. She showed him photos of her children. Smiling little Polish boys in their Dublin jerseys. On trying the last pair he shrugged and demurred. Nothing was exactly as he wanted. He would try elsewhere, but return for that pair with the extra support for his arches, if he could find nothing that really grabbed him.

She smiled and the world remained slow for a few moments more. Old shoes on, he left the shop. He stepped lightly on the stairs. All was slow. Someone pushed by him and his smiled disappeared. He paused before the doors, took out his notebook and scored through the shop name. He sighed as he contemplated the long journey back to his flat. But no, he would not despair. Today someone heard his voice. Spoke his name. Tomorrow he would visit another shop. He could not be dead if people speak his name.


all rights reserved

Milky Tea (Part Four)

Malachi strained with all his might as he lowered the less than svelte frame of Mother to the ground. He was on top of a high brick wall, behind him the shrill sound of police whistles made eerie threats from the thick fog. He looked down at his Mother’s face. Neither of them could see the ground under her, but both knew the score. She nodded and he let her go. The sound of her crash landing came in swift curses. Her anger was as a balm to Malachi’s nerves. He swung his legs over and gripped to wall, stretched himself to his full length. His shoulders screamed at him with the agony of over worked strain. He heard his Mother’s muffled voice.

“Drop you gobshite.”

He shook his head in annoyance and dropped. The split second stretched into seeming minutes, before his feet hit dirt. He staggered, a shooting pain going up his back. He muttered a curse of frustration. That jolt promised to pain him for months to come. His Mother caught his hand and they continued to flee further into the night fog of crowded New York.
They had been on the run for the last eight hours. As Mother had expected, they’d merited and excited a welcoming committee of uniformed coppers. She and Malachi had watched from an upper deck as the police went through every single steerage passenger. Any man or woman that matched or even approximated their description was pulled out for further questioning. Anyone who took umbrage at this man-handing was dealt a swift quietner to the temple via the vicious looking truncheons the coppers around here used. More than a few burly men, who didn’t like their women-folk being jostled thus, found themselves unexpectedly asleep and bleeding.

 Since their encounter with Penelope, they had commandeered her berth in Second Class and had slowly acquired, through careful pilferage, entirely new apparel. Once Malachi kept his big, ignorant, bog man illiterate, savage mouth shut, as was his Mother’s exact admonishment, they passed as legitimate Second Class passengers. And on a ship this size, the absence of one woman was noted by no one and would pass unremarked until her cabin was cleaned. Of course, Malachi and his mother planned to be well away before the bare bones of their encounter could be picked over.

 They calmly joined the other well to do passengers and made their way to the pier. The police presence here was both thinner and infinitely more respectful. Though The Mother’s careful eye was drawn to a plain clothed man, who stood like a copper and who was clearly smart enough to watch for his targets without having to continually refer back to a written description. She gave Malachi a gentle nudge and they discreetly parted company. Malachi walking next to a young couple in a way that could be construed as him being in their company. The Mother found a large and loud young man who was declaiming loudly to his sweetheart of his exploits to come in the savage interior of this vast continent. She casually shielded herself from the Detective’s eye with this vainglorious bulk.

They escaped the man’s notice but they were aware that they lacked the documentation to maintain their ruse for much longer. In front of them a queue was forming in front of long tables, manned by officious men in clean blue uniforms. Paper was examined, paper was shuffled, more paper was signed and eventually once suitably papered, America was opened. The queue moved, slowly but steadily. Malachi and Mother watched for their opportunity. The queue continued its inexorable progress and then they saw it. A door once guarded had succumbed to the exigencies of a weak bladder. Separately they moved towards it, being careful to nod and joke about the inconvenience of queueing with their fellow passengers.

Finally they were at the exit and without looking back they were through it. They found themselves in a stinking alleyway. They ran without pause. Only when they approached the city proper did they slow. They paused for breath and checked for sound and sign of pursuit. They shared a satisfied nod. All appeared to be going well. They linked arms and began to stroll leisurely into the city. They had money in their pockets and had to be nowhere quick. Then the whistles began.

 Shrill sharp shocks to their senses. They hadn’t escaped. They darted down alleyway after dank alleyway. They stole clothes and changed their appearance twice. All day they had escaped capture and now the night and the fog promised to make their escape final. But these coppers seemed to take a personal interest in their apprehension. There was no let up and they were forced to begin climbing and once or twice wading for their lives.

They were close to exhaustion. Malachi limped in agony. Too tired to complain and his Mother too worried to mock his clumsiness. They were now just blindly going down streets. All that mattered was that they keep moving. Their ability to plan had been lost in the fog. More whistles and they misstepped. They found themselves in a blind alley. The whistles approached, they looked around desperately. There was little to see and even less light to see it in but they spied a glowing shape in the gloom. They move to it and saw that it was the outline of a door, lit by the escaping brightness from within. The whistles grew closer. She looked at him,

“If we go in here, you know what has to happen.” Malachi nodded a reply, a long silence followed, before she again whispered, but this time in appalled consternation, “If you nodded and you can’t even see my face I’ll hand you over to the police here and now, ya mutton headed moon child.”

 Malachi blanched, “Sorry mother, I didn’t nod, I was thinking about what you said.”

 The Mother snorted in disgust, “Don’t lie as well as being stupid.”

“Sorry Mother. I understand. Whoever we find, they have to be ended. ‘Tis that or the rope. So I say we go for it.”

 The Mother took him by the hand, “You’re a good Son Malachi, thick, but loyal, a mother could ask for nothing more in a son.” She placed his hand on the door handle as she took her knife from her bag.

“On the count of three Malachi…One, Two, Three.”

They crashed through the door, but were immediately moved to stillness. They had entered a surprisingly large room, dominated by two wooden slabs, on one was a dead body, covered in hundreds of needles and on the other, another dead body, being carefully carved apart by a tall middle-aged man, with a long neat beard.

He hissed at them angrily in a haughty French accent, “Close the door yes. There are coppers everywhere tonight yes. What is it you want?”

The Mother hurriedly closed the door and made that mental leap which always amazed Malachi, “My son here, hurt his back Doctor, we heard you might be able to help.”

Malachi stood up taller, his neck cracking as he looked in horror at the dead bodies, the needles, the mad doctor and Mother.

“Ah sure now Mother, the pain is almost gone, we should be on our way and sorry for disturbing you doctor.” He turned and placed a hand on the door handle. He felt his mother move and then had to stifle a yelp as the knife that had recently disappeared up her sleeve was now being pressed against his kidney.

She spoke to the Doctor with careful gentleness, never once taking her eyes from Malachi’s, “You’ll have to forgive him Doctor, he’s a simple child and despite his great hulking size, a big cowardly baby. His back does need looking at, whatever the lummox may say.” Malachi yielded to the pressure of the knife and let go of the door. He turned and faced the Doctor.

“Yes Doctor, it is exactly as my mother says.”

The Doctor took his bloodied hand from the corpse he was dissecting. He wiped them carelessly on a rag, already filthy with dried blood and walked towards the pair of visitors. He looked Malachi up and down before addressing himself to Mother, “A simpleton you say?”

“As nears as makes no difference Doctor.” He nodded and turned away.

 He spoke to them as he opened a door and took out a collapsable bench, “Please instruct your oaf to be removing his upper clothing please.” He assembled the waist high bench without waiting for rely or looking to see if his instructions were being followed. “How did you hear of me good mother?”

The Mother looked at Malachi and bared her teeth in threat. He relented and began to take off his jacket, shirt and vest. “I was down the Market Doctor and a dear old lady saw Malachi limping and recommended your name.”

“Yes, I do have a great reputation among the small people. But one day Kings and Queens will be clamouring for my attentions. Until then I will have to treat the dim-witted and poor. Speaking of poor, how will you be paying?”

The Mother didn’t miss a beat, taking Penelope’s purloined watch from her bag. It wasn’t very valuable, but would garner a few dollars, “Here you are Doctor, a gift from my sainted husband, but as he looks on me from heaven, I’m sure he will forgive me for making free with the bounty of his affection.”

The Doctor took the watch and after a cursory examination, threw it into a drawer, full of similar keepsakes, used to pay for his services. He patted the bench and looked at Malachi as one would an unruly child or recalcitrant farm animal, “Lay down here yes. On your front like a good boy.”

Malachi wasn’t unduly offended by the patronising tone, for the body covered in needles filled his mind. The Doctor looked at the hair covered musculature of Malachi’s chest.

“He would make a fine specimen good mother, please think of me if he should pre decease you.”

She looked at the Doctor for some time. Malachi waited, face down on the bench. “So his corpse would be worth something to you Doctor?”

He nodded and Malachi groaned, his discomfort may have been mental or physical. “Indeed good mother, valuable to me yes and valuable to science.”

 She shrugged her shoulders and walked to the other side of the room slowly. She retrieved a chair and brought it back to Malachi’s side, opposite to the side the Doctor was on. “The lad is dear to me heart Doctor, a trial to my nerves, but around the eyes he’s the clearest picture of his father I have. To lose him would surely put a bruising on my heart that’d be the death of me.”

The doctor nodded at her sagely, “Of course good mother, I have a number of cadavers at my disposal, so please, take some time to consider my offer.”

 She leaned over Malachi’s bare and clammy back to shake the Doctor’s hand, Malachi finally brought his mind to consider the content of the conversation being had over him. He wondered if cattle felt so much like meat when they heard the bargaining voices.

 She spoke again, “So Doctor, his back? Do you think you can see to what is ailing him?”

Malachi felt his back being manipulated. Despite himself he began to relax. The room was warm, the kneading of his aching muscles wonderful and his eye lids increasingly heavy. He breathing shallowed, his body sagged and brawny arms fell away. Voices droned above him, as if heard through a dream and then only softly. Insensibility took him.

Mother was cut short by the first thunderous snore. She looked at her incapacitated son in consternation. This was no act, he was sound asleep. She glanced at the Doctor with a silent apology.

“That is quite alright good mother. I find that many times my patients fall asleep while I look for the cause of a malady.”

“And have you found his Doctor, other than his empty headedness of course?”

“I have. There is a blockage here yes, along his spine. I will need to manipulate his meridians to unblock him. Then he will be fully recovered.”

The Mother pursed her lips, showing how impressed she was at his quick diagnosis and her confidence in his ability to remedy the problem. Then her head turned, her eyes searching the room.

“Tell me Doctor, would you have a sup of tea anywhere in here?”

He answered her carelessly, “No good mother, I drink only the coffee.”

Mother nodded, “I had heard that was the habit of many in this land, perhaps you would instead oblige an old woman with some boiling water and perhaps a drop of milk. I am happily well provisioned in the area of tea leaves already.”

He looked at her, his patience already near exhausted, “If you must, there is a kettle in the back kitchen and some milk in the cooler. Now please, I must concentrate on my work.”

“Of course Doctor. Of course.”

She proceeded to carefully and ever so slowly prepare her tea. Finding the kettle, the milk, the stove, watching the water till it boiled. Minutes passed in blissful concentration until she was ready to bring a large mug of milky tea to her lips. She sighed in purest contentment, before turning to see how the Doctor was treating her son.

She stopped dead. Even for a woman of her special sensibilities, the sight that greeted her, gave her pause. Malachi was still out cold, snoring gently now, but his back had taken on the appearance of some grotesque pin cushion. The doctor had stuck what must have been a score at least, of needles into his unresisting flesh.

She approached the spectacle, taking her seat she took anther sip of her tea before addressing herself to the Doctor. 

“Forgive me sir, but how pray does puncturing my son, aid his recovery?”

The Doctor’s face lit up, he never tired of an opportunity to explain this near miraculous treatment to the uninitiated.

“I will of course attempt to explain all to you good mother, but I fear your uneducated mind may struggle with the concepts this method of treatment rests on, yes”

“Yes I understand Doctor, you can only do your best with me, if I fail to follow you, then we know where the fault lies.”

He bowed in acknowledgment at her acceptance of his vastly superior intellect.

“To begin, you must imagine that through our bodies flows an energy which animates us. When this energy flows as it is meant to, then we are in perfect health yes, but if there is, how you say, a disruptedness, then a malady will happen.”

The Mother nodded, her free hand gently squeezing Malachi’s hanging arm.

“Please continue Doctor.”

“When that flow is in flux, men like me have studied how to fix it, by pressing these needles into special places in the body. These places once so pressed or prodded help to make the flow return to normal. It is a rare gift and it will make me my fortune.”

Mother looked at Malachi who was now looking back at her. Fear and confusion on his face. With the merest of glances she signaled that he remain as he was.

“And there is no pain Doctor?”

“None what so ever. A sensation yes, but no more than that.”

She stood and walked around to him. Standing at his side she looked down at Malachi’s back.

“You would be surprised Doctor at some of the people we’ve met this last year. Some of them would impress even a scientific genius such as yourself Doctor. And I think I know exactly what you are saying to me”

The Doctor laughed, “Of course you may think that good woman. But I’m sure you could not even in your imaginings know what it is I am doing.”

The Mother smiled. She saw that Malachi had discreetly turned his head so that he could see them both. She reached down and lifted Malachi’s hanging arms and rested it against his side. She then placed her mug in it.

“A moment Doctor.”

She returned to the stove and retrieved a spoon. She returned to the Doctor and placed the spoon in the mug.

“Imagine Doctor, that this mug is my dear simple boy here. Inside is a mixture of tea and milk and for those that like it, sugar. But ‘tisn’t as simple as just throwing them in willy nilly.”

The Doctor was intrigued despite himself, leaning closer to the mug.

“If the mixture just sits there, it is not a proper mug of tea. So one takes a spoon, or a needle in your case, and moves the mixture, the energy, along the road it’s supposed to be on.”

The Doctor grinned excitedly.

“I think perhaps your words work better if we understand each meridian as a mug of this tea.”

The Doctor reached for the mug, but as his fingers brushed against it, his eyes glazed over. His knees buckled and he dropped straight down. His head hitting the dirt floor hard.

Malachi carefully raised himself a few inches from his bench and looked down at the Doctor, a knife jutting out from the base of this skull.

“I think you impressed him Mother.”

“I think so too boy. We’ve come across a lot of doctoring recently.”

“Do you think you can take these needles out now?”

The Mother took back her mug and sipped at it.

“In a moment Malachi. It has been a fierce long day and my thirst has my throat cut ragged raw.”

“Of course Mother, of course.”

She continued to sip in silent contentment as Malachi rested his head on his hands, relaxed despite the needles.

“So whats the plan Mother?”

“Well my boy, we must head west. We seem to have overstayed our welcome in civilisation.”

Malachi considered her words then nodded in agreement.

“At least we have meat for the road.”


all rights reserved

Milky Tea (Part Three)

Malachi leaned over the railing and retched mightily. His already empty stomach insisted on attempting to expel what was no longer there. He groaned in self-pitying agony. A swell, imperceptible to all but Malachi’s stomach, took his legs. He collapsed to his knees, praying for the sweet release of death. His mother looked down at him. Her face a picture of pity warring with amusement with a soupcon of scorn.

“Malachi my boy, that’s Fastnet Rock over there. You are missing the last part of dear old Ireland that’ll you’ll ever set eyes on.”

“The devil can take it and Ireland too. Just let me die in peace.”

His mother shared a knowing smile with those who packed the deck with her. It was a thing common known, that there’s always one. She gave a glance at the retreating rock, then sat beside Malachi. She spoke quietly into his ear.

“Now I’m not one to harp on about things my boy. May the Lord strike me down if I ever become one who throws the past in a man’s face, but I can’t help thinking you could be less of a martyr.

Malachi looked at her angrily.

“You can keep the looks to yourself Malachi. You had only to sell a necklace and we’d have been set for years. But no, you had to haggle and act the big man, until every thief and informer in the province knew what you were up to. If we’d eyes that could see far enough, I’d wager we’d see RIC men tapping out an arrest warrant, for us, right now. Even New York won’t be safe for us anymore.”

“They can do that?”

“Ah Malachi, I know you are a big ignorant farmer, but that don’t mean you have to act like one.”

“Sorry Mother.”

The Mother stood and dragged Malachi up by the arm.

“Right boy, let’s find our bed and some food.”

Malachi groaned and bent over the railing again. The Mother shook her head and walked away muttering to herself.

As the sun began to set, Malachi made his slow way down the several flights of stairs to the Third Class compartment. With every tiny swell he stumbled, reducing him to gripping the railings with both hands, as if for dear life. He found the crowded and stench ridden compartment. To his dismay there were no more railings for him to hold but to his relief he saw his mother sitting in an alcove. She was chewing on Cruibins with some relish. Malachi took several deep breaths to steel himself for the walk and the proximity of pig extremities. He sprinted across and near dived onto the bed. He burrowed under the blanket and tried to shut the world out.

“Ah Malachi tis finally yourself. Will you have a trotter?”

She was answered with a groan and she grinned maliciously. Malachi shifted his body and brought his head near to his mother.

“I am right sorry mother. I’m surely am.”

His mother shrugged. She placed a hand on his face and forgave him with a smile.

“Ah sure, we might like this America. Tis supposed to be fierce big.”

“Do you really think the police will be waiting for us?”

“If they are, they are Malachi. I’ve never been hanged and I mean to keep it that way.”

“Sorry mother, but I have to go up again. The smell here is cruel.”

“Off you go, you’re right about the smell. I’ll join you in a while.”

Her last words were said to his disappearing back. She looked around the crowded compartment and wrinkled her nose in disapproval. She stood up. She shared a nod or two with the women who might be considered her peers and she walked after Malachi.

When she saw him, she stopped in surprise. He was bent over the railings, a well dressed young woman stood beside him, with her arm around him, rubbing his back. She looked at the woman and judged her to be in her early twenties, a townie and most likely traveling Second Class. She wondered if she had a young man with her who might take exception to Malachi receiving such attention.

She joined them.

“Now Malachi, what have you done to merit the care of this young lady.”

 “My apologies Ma’am, he appeared to be in such distress that I could not help myself. I hope I have not given cause for offense?”

“I’m not the one likely to be offended Miss. Do you not perhaps have a young man with you, who might though?”

 The young woman stood up and looked hard at The Mother.

 “I can assure you Ma’am that I am traveling alone and even if I were not, my aid was charitably meant, it is not something salacious.”

Her cheeks coloured in anger and The Mother had to stifle a grin of approval at her spirit.

“Now, now Miss. I meant no insult. Only that men being men, are quick to see what isn’t there, when it suits them.”

The young woman relaxed.

“You are correct of course Ma’am. My name is Penelope Reagan. You’re son said his name was Malachi, I think. Though I fear the words were somewhat garbled. I’ve never met a man so troubled by the mal de mare.”

 “Mal de mare Miss?”

“My apologies, Sea Sickness.”

 “Ah, sick of the sea he surely is. Lost his breakfast before we’d even cast off.”

“If you think it not inappropriate, I have some remedies in my cabin. If you would join me there, I may be able to do something for him.”

 Malachi groaned in oblivious distress. Penelope could see The Mother was unsure.

 “I could also offer you tea Ma’am and the milk will still be fresh.”

 Penelope knew she had clinched the deal, when she saw The Mother’s face light up.

“Well, I won’t say I wouldn’t welcome a good cup of milky tea, but tis only my concern for Malachi that brings me to impose on you Miss Reagan.”

“Penelope please.”

“Oh that’s kind of you, please call me Mother.”

Between the two of them, they carried and led Malachi to the Second Class Deck and down the narrow corridor to Penelope’s cabin. Penelope opened the door to the tiny room and they walked in. Malachi immediately slumped onto the bed, leaving only a chair for the two women.

 “Please take the chair Mother, I will start the tea.”

The Mother nodded, then sat. She watched Penelope use the small stove to boil some water.
“Where does this door lead to Penelope?”

 Penelope blushed slightly.

“That’s the WC.”

“The what now?”

“The privy.”

“You have your own privy? My that is the luxury.”

“Is the Third Class so bad?”

“Oh tis a fright to god. Cattle as packed in, would rebel and declare an independent republic, if they were treated so.”

“That is terrible. I had heard stories, but could never have them confirmed.”

“Ah sure, them’s that know, know. Them’s that don’t know, are better off not knowing.”

 Penelope poured the boiling water into a cup and reached for a small box of tea leaves. The Mother picked up a bowl and poured the cup of water into it and then poured more water from the kettle. Filling the bowl three quarters full. Penelope watched her silently and then spooned leaves into the bowl. She then poured milk into it. The Mother took a sip and sat back in contentment.

 “May this journey last forever, while I have my tea. You are a saint and saviour Penelope.”

 Penelope smiled at the joy on the other woman’s face. Malachi groaned and Penelope remembered the purpose of their visit.

 “Oh my, I must look to Malachi.”

 “As you wish Miss, I will abide here.”

Penelope took a bag from under the bed and opened it. She reached in and retrieved a small bottle of clear liquid.

 “Is he to drink it Penelope?”

 “Oh no, this is not for drinking.”

 She knelt by the bed and gingerly began to take Malachi’s boots off. No matter how polite she tried to be, she could not help but grimace at the smell. Determined however, she took off his socks. The Mother watched avidly.

“Perhaps I should wash his feet first?”

 “You are welcome to Penelope. It t’would be a remarkable thing to see. And hand on my heart, I doubt that ever his feet were the best clean part of him. For a man like Malachi, the only time he could expect a woman to clean his feet, was in his laying out.”

 Penelope nodded at the grim picture and went into the privy. She returned with a basin of soapy water and a cloth. She washed his feet, trying very hard to be clinical and unconcerned.

 “Jaysus that’s a grand job you’re making of it Penelope. Tis only a pity that his socks and shoes have kept onto the smell.”

Penelope nodded at her but then an idea struck her. She picked up the socks and shoes and put them outside the door. The Mother laughed.
“Let them thats out there endure what we can’t.”


 Penelope then took a deep breath and poured some of the liquid into her hand. She then used her thumbs to manipulate the sole of Malachi’s right foot. She did this for several minutes before working on his left. There was a look of intense concentration on her face. The Mother heard the occasional murmur from her, as if she was reciting from a book. The Mother looked at Malachi and saw that he was propped up on his elbows, looking with fearful confusion at the activity around his feet.

 “She’s only giving you medicine Malachi.”

 “Through my feet?”

 “Whist now, she gave me a big bowl of milky tea.”

Penelope looked up at Malachi.

“How do you feel now?”

“Where did my socks and shoes go?”

“Penelope stored them outside Malachi. Don’t be a feared for them. The man who would steal them, deserves to have them.”

“If you say so Mother. But could someone tell me what’s going on with my feet?”

The Mother looked at Penelope.

“Would you look at the enquiring mind on my son. He must have turned into a science man unbeknownst to me.”

Penelope smiled politely at The Mother and then looked back at Malachi.

“I am using the access points on your feet, to bring order to your disordered organs.”
“Well that’s a mouthful for you Malachi. Everything clear now?”

Malachi continued to lay on the bed, looking confused.

“Perhaps I didn’t explain myself correctly. I am a Practitioner of a new kind of medicine. That’s why I am going to America, to set up my own practice. The New World is the perfect place for new medicine.”

The Mother nodded.

“True enough there, there’s many a man who’ll pay a young lady to wash and rub his feet Miss.”

Penelope ignored the implication.

“We have discovered that every organ in the body in connected to different points on the sole of the feet. By applying pressure to those points one can mend an out of balance organ.”

No new understanding lit Malachi’s face. Penelope sighed and gently took the bowl of tea from The Mother.

“Imagine this bowl of milky tea as your body. With the right amounts of tea and milk, it is in perfect harmony and is exactly to your mother’s taste. Now add too much milk or take some of the milk out, then it stops being harmonious. Now further imagine the kettle as your right foot and jug of milk as your left foot. I use them to balance the contents of the cup, I mean this bowl, to make milky…”

Before she could continue she slumped forward and Malachi had to move with great speed to grab the bowl before she dropped it. The handle of a knife was sticking out from the base of her skull. He handed the bowl to his mother.

“I don’t remember you packing that knife?”

“Sure where would I be without my favourite knife Malachi?”

“Did I hear something about a private privy?”

“You certainly did. We’ve landed in luxury son. How’s your stomach?”

“I could almost forget I’m at sea. I might even risk some of this fresh meat. Though cooking it won’t be easy”

“Tis far from turning our noses up at raw meat we were raised Malachi.” 

“True enough mother, true enough, but if you don’t mind, can we leave the hands, considering where they’ve been?”

“Right you be Malachi.”

Malachi looked at the corpse for some time.

“Something addling you boy?”

“Do you think I could find a woman in America to rub my feet?”

She pondered the question for some time. Then with a sigh she looked at Malachi.

“Well now, if someone can believe that your feet are the path to your stomach, then sure why not a woman who believes that your heart leads to your feet?”


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