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Chapter One

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. — Oscar Wilde.

For everyone that knows me: hello there! For everyone that doesn’t: hello there! I’m Karen, and I go by K.M.L. Quinn in the writing world. I write anything and everything. I write for my readers, and I write for myself. I also occasionally write for my dogs, but for some reason they don’t really listen to me.

This is a new chapter for me, so I need a brand-new website to tell you all about my new adventures; and there are plenty on the horizon! I have a big year of travelling ahead, I’m working with some fantastic new people on some new writing projects. So please, explore, keep reading and join me – let’s brave this world together.

Greysnet

I have teamed up with Greysnet to facilitate a series of online writing workshops for older people. I’d recommend checking it out: not only am I there, giving fabulous advise for all those diving straight into the world of writing, but there are also bundles of other fantastic articles and discussions on a wide variety of different topics. It’s perfect way to pass the time during lockdown!

You can check it out here.

My face and my words!

Hello everyone! So I have been working on a series of “Wonder Workshops” for young writers out there who want to work on their own stories while we’re all stuck indoors. I’ll also be posting up some videos of readings from some of my favourite stories, as well as some of my own writing. It’s my way of staying connected with you all!

You can check them out on my YouTube channel, as well as my dedicated @kmlquinnwrites instagram page.

Twenty Years of A Friend

Note: The content of this story might not be appropriate for younger readers.

I watched as you said twenty years of a goodbye. I watched as your twenty years went went by in a blink. To you, in a blink; as if you took a breath and it was gone and so was your friend. Your twenty years of a friend. I watched as you took your first breath without them, as they took their last with you. It seems cruel; life allows for some of us to be completely fulfilled, while others, those left behind, carry on with a great emptiness inside them. It all comes down to which one takes their last breath first. In this case, it was your friend. Your twenty years of a friend. 

As composed as you could be in that room of disinfectant and panicked creatures, you cleaned your glasses with some kitchen paper. 

You had a jacket on. 

Beside you, was your friend, all tucked up in a blanket that should have been yours. I imagined your life with them; I didn’t even know your name, but I started to think of who you were and what they meant to you. I started to imagine you with my eyes and my heart and my soul. So with a mixture of both you and me, both of us lost in that room, broken, I could see your life.

Your life together.

I imagined that your friend, your twenty years of a friend, sat with you in the mornings as you drank your steaming coffee and waited for the “sunrise news” on the telly. Your friend would talk to you too, and you would talk back, although you never could understand each other. For twenty years your friend would often sit in silence as you cried into your hands so nobody could hear. Your friend though, knew different. Your friend saw you in a way that others could not.

You were a lorry driver in your twenties, for a haulage company in your small town. Everyone knew who you were, with your torn jeans and wicked smile. You talked up a lot of women. They were interested in you, they were always interested, but the only girls you truly loved were your mum and sister; they were your family and you’d do anything for them. You were the first born and the big brother, and those titles meant more to you than any fancy certificate that you could get by leaving town. But they left, one day. Travelling down the road in your sister’s banged-up Puma, some youngin’ took the bend too quickly. That was it. He took the bend too quickly. Ten kilometres less and they wouldn’t have left you, but some boy-racer took the bend too quickly. Then you spent the next thirty years alone, hateful, and no longer wanting to love anyone again. You were told that painful endings meant new beginnings. You hated whoever told you that. You hated them, and everyone else who came along with other useless, patronising words. They had no idea how much pain you were in, and they would never understand you either. You really hated the comment about new beginnings, though. You never wanted to begin again.

And then your friend came along. That was a beginning.

You found your soon-to-be friend abandoned at the side of the road, twenty years ago, just as you completed your morning walk. They were the size of your hand, with sticky eyes that had a strange liquid oozing out of them. They smelt of rot and every five seconds, your friend seemed to gasp for air. 

A local farmer, with a face full of tobacco, found you. ‘It’s barely here,’ he said, ‘you can give it to me; I can sort it for you.’

You figured you should respond to the farmer: ‘I found it, so I’ll do it.’ 

The farmer nodded; he was hardly going to jump at the chance of ending a life. So instead, he took it upon himself to invade your personal space and pat your shoulder, before he made his way down the road to see his sheep. You looked at your soon-to-be friend again, with no idea of what to do or how to help. You wanted to though, and that was all that mattered in the end.

You took your friend to get help, and the specialists fixed them in a way they couldn’t fix your mum or sister. You watched as tiny needles pierced its skin, filling its body with good, healthy liquid. They wiped your soon-to-be friend’s eyes and skin, with a plan to leave them over night with no real promise of survival. You left with no intention of ever calling back, but the next morning you found yourself walking down the road towards where your soon-to-be friend was staying. It didn’t matter anyway, you thought. All you were doing was getting confirmation of another resident leaving town. That’s all it was. However, when you arrived the nurse greeted you; she was cheery, far too cheery for bad news. That’s because it wasn’t bad news at all: your soon-to-be friend was sitting up and making an awful lot of noise. You were told that a full recovery was expected. Now all the specialists could talk about was when you were able to take your new friend home.

You didn’t even want a friend, and then all of a sudden, you had a new one. It wasn’t easy for your new friend to settle in, or for you to settle in with them for that matter. Your new friend was still far less than pint-sized, but moved around the place like a dragon. They took down curtains and smashed cups. They scratched your legs and arms, clung on to your wallpaper and soiled your carpets. You would look at your torn-up sofa and wonder if you could remember it ever being new. There were many times you thought you’d find your new friend a home, but then at night, when they snuggled in as you watched the telly, you figured you would give it another day, and another day, and another.

After many days and weeks and months and years, your new friend wasn’t new anymore. 

There were days where you felt so broken as a man, that you wondered why you were given this life in the first place. Sometimes at night you would see your mum and sister standing in the hallway, and even though you knew they weren’t there, you would still make sure to be in the house when the sun went down, just so not to miss them. And the emptiness, the emptiness inside you almost would swallow you up; you couldn’t talk to the shop assistant to ask for some bread, or call the doctor to tell them that something was wrong. Instead, the emptiness had strangled your vocal cords and you were paralysed, so paralysed that all you could do was sit in your chair and weep. Your friend, now much bigger than pint-sized, would sit by your legs and then on your lap and then lie so heavy on your chest as if to share their breath with you. Soon after you would breathe again, and the tears would dry up and it would be just be you two, sharing breath and heartbeats. And one night, as your erratic breathing subsided, your friend lent you their voice and you called the doctor. Your mum and sister left you shortly after, and that was for the best.

For the twenty years after that very day, you would fight, reconcile, and fight again. Your lives would revolve around each other. You’d have sleepless nights, wondering when your adventurous friend would come home. You would chase your friend with a broom when they tried to kill the neighbour’s rabbit, and then would pet them in the quietness of your home once you were sure your disgruntled neighbour wouldn’t see. For twenty years you would turn on the stove just so your friend could sit by it, especially during the colder months.

Over time, your friend would slow down. Their love for adventuring would stop and instead they would sleep on your lap, as you drank coffee and read the paper. Their once black fur would become speckled in grey, and the manic eyes you used to see before your friend randomly blitzed down the stairs would disappear. You would sit on that torn up sofa with your friend beside you, listening to their breathing becoming more laboured as the months travelled towards years.

Time. Time had caused your new friend to become your old one. So, you visited the same place that kept your tiny, less than pint-sized friend on this planet, just to make sure they could prevent your fully grown friend from leaving it. They tried, but some things just couldn’t be fixed. Over the twenty years your old friend’s bones had become brittle, and little spots appeared in their lungs and heart. Lots of little spots. Spots that couldn’t be retrieved, spots that couldn’t be destroyed, just little spots that were taking your old friend away from you. Lots of little spots, that’s all that mattered in the end.

That’s how we ended up here, me watching you, and you looking at nothing but your friend. I wish I could help, but I know that you don’t want another new beginning; you had been through far too many in your life, and each time a soul you loved so much left, you lost another bit of yourself. I knew how that felt, and I knew that nothing I could say could ever repair you. You were permanently broken. You just had to learn how carry on with these cracks in your heart.

Your name is called, and you stand up. I watch as you carry your friend into a cold room with a steal table and low beam lights. You close the door behind you, but I can imagine what is being said. You are asked by that same kind face of twenty years ago if you can put your friend on the table. This takes time: your friend does not want to leave the refuge of their blanket. The kind face says some words, using a stethoscope to listen to your friend’s heart. The kind face that once told you that your friend was better, now said they were not. Then they asked what they should do, because, for some reason this life was your choice. It wasn’t your choice when your mum and sister left, just like it wasn’t my choice when all those I loved walked away from me. Right now though, this life, your friend’s life, was all down to you. So really, you could take your old friend home, and tonight they could lie on your chest and you could share your breath and heart with them. Even just for one more night. That was your choice. 

And in that moment, you choose to love them.

So instead, today you ask for the unhealthy liquids to sink into your old friend. Today, you rest your hand on their boney body and as the kind face listens to your old friend’s heart, you keep your hand on them, just so they know that you are there, long after their eyes close. Then the kind face tells you it’s the end of a twenty year adventure, and you nod. You don’t cry; you shake their hand and thank them for their twenty years of service, turn and walk out the door. I am waiting for you on the other side.

I watch as you falter; you hang by the door, looking into the small square glass window. You look at your friend lying on that steel table, and that is your goodbye. Your twenty years of a goodbye. A blink of life lived and gone and you are still here. Just like me; we both look back at pictures of who we used to be, but we’re trapped behind some cold, metal door. Life has a way of damaging you, so over time you lost your laughter and your wicked smile, while I lost the part of me that used to feel happiness and hope.

You’re brilliant, though, and let me tell you why.

In that moment, us together, I know. I know as I look at you, that even though your heart is broken and you are left with that empty hellish void again, that you would walk down that road and pick up that small rotting creature and take it home and live your life with it. You’re a wonderful example of what it is like to live, to really live, because you know your heart was made to be broken. You know the sadness in your heart, once shared, is worth it, because your friend had once shared it with you.

The Storm III

This is part three of a three-part story, inspired by a quote from Haruki Murakami. It contains adult themes, so might not be suitable for younger readers. I hope you enjoy!

***

I kick against the water, pushing myself towards the surface. I‘m far beneath though, and the current is strong. It’s pressing hard against my face and grabbing my ankles, trying to drag me down. I use my arms to pull myself against it, but the current launches itself at me; the swirls of the water form the shape of a monster and it snarls. With its claws, it grabs my shoulders and forces me back, even though I’m trying so hard to finally move forward.

I used have the same dream each night. I was about five, and I would lie in the blue room, cocooned under a collection of heavy blankets. When the lights were switched off, I would close my eyes and see the waves. They were huge and unfriendly, and, on the surface, there was just one little boat trying to stay a float. Under the black sky, I dreamed they grew into the size of mountains. I didn’t want to watch; I didn’t want to witness these waves take this little wooden boat that, for some reason, meant the world to me. But there was nothing else I could do; I stood on the rocks and watched as the waves broke it apart, piece by piece.

I used to wake up, above the blankets, with my forehead dotted in sweat. I would then look at the window and wonder if the waters just across the road was a fierce as the ones in my mind.

I fight it.

Thrashing wildly, I scramble away from the monster and swim upwards. I’m not even sure what direction I am going, or if a tribe of those water creatures are waiting for me near the surface. So really, I’m swimming through this heavy-weighted blackness with no idea of what’s waiting for me.

Then I see them.

I once read that jellyfish were bioluminescent: they could produce their own light. I remember watching them float around in an aquarium, bright and inviting, and all the while I was thinking of the ones I used to find dead on the shore. I also once read that they had no heart, so I wondered how could they possibly be dead if their hearts never started beating in the first place. I remember feeling sorry for them, but now I wonder if it’s a good thing to have a heart at all.

In the water, there are hundreds of them. They are like fairy dust, or angels; they are little sparks of light that I can see but I’m too afraid to touch. They light up the waters in a purple-blue haze, and I can see my way. I follow, making sure not to disturb them, and watch as they slowly move past me. They dance between each other; their skirts falling gently like silk. I used to dance, like them; I used to move up and down those old rickety wooden floors, and spin so my dress would catch and twirl with me. I thought in someone’s eyes, I was bioluminescent too. I never thought I was though. I just thought that maybe, it was a nice thought, to be seen that way even if I couldn’t see it myself.

The waves crash against the little boat. The wood cracks.

Beneath me, there is a rumble; the water creature has returned. It has grown to the size of a dragon, and has sharp horns growing out of its skin. It reaches for me; I try to pull away, but I’m too late. This time, it has a hold and it won’t let go.

I’m dragged back. I grab at the water but there’s nothing I can hold on to. I am almost completely back in that ruthless, suffocating darkness, but I won’t let it take me. So, I reach out again, this time holding on to memories. Good ones; ones that surpass the pain and the tears, and I hold on tight. And these memories, they reach out to me – the fairy dust and the angels, the little flashes of light.

I hold out my hand and the jellyfish wrap their tentacles around it, and pull against the monster. They do not sting my skin, but they do mark it slightly, and when they reach out for the monster’s claws it retracts and releases me. They pull me towards the surface then, and with their help I start to swim.

I fell to the ground once. I skid for a moment along the concrete. It tore the skin on my hands, knees and slightly above my head. I remember lying for a moment, waiting for the pain to come rushing through my body. It did eventually, it travelled through me, prickling my skin like little fireworks being set off all at once. I closed my eyes and screamed.

I was the girl who would walk into the ocean, and who would twirl on the wooden floors; I was the girl who loved seeing colours in the smallest of things. I was the girl who would grin, and lie in the daisy fields, and feel the heat of the sun on my face. I was that girl. But I was also the girl who was broken, who had firework skin. I was the girl who dream of mountain waves and twisted skies. I was also the girl who had been so deeply hurt.

I break the surface of the water, and finally take a breath. The waters have settled, but my raft is gone. Instead, in its place, is my little boat. It has been waiting for me all this time.

I pull myself aboard and look back at where I came. The clouds are still unsettled and the waves tall, but I turn my head away and, instead, look at what’s ahead. I have no idea where I’m going, but under the water the jellyfish continue to light the way, creating a path for me to follow. I smile to myself; I am not who I was before, and that’s okay. I have jellyfish scars and firework skin, and I’m proud of them. I’m proud because they are my marks of strength, aren’t they? My proof that I will be stronger than I ever was before.

The sun is rising, just beyond the horizon. Its light rests on my face. I close my eyes and hear the birds and imagine everything I will become.

Look at this world. Look at where I am.

Colours and You

Colours and You is now available to buy on Amazon. Yay!

It’s a story about an a Robin who wants to make his friend, Squirrel, happy. Random fact: I wrote it while I was stuck in a recycling centre, waiting to say goodbye to a collection of tin cans and glass bottles. I can’t say it was a place of inspiration… it just popped into my head!

Then, once I wrote it, I thought of Aoife.

Not only is she an amazing friend, but she’s also an incredibly talented artist and illustrator. She’s a great eye for colour and characters, and sees the world in the most vibrant of ways. In the past, she’s worked on film projects with me and also kindly put together the post beautiful portrait of my late doggie. She’s kind, funny and an endless source of happiness. She’s my friend and I’m so lucky to have her!

I asked if she would be up for teaming up and gave her the words and away she went; it’s wonderful to see how the words you write inspire others. It always feels so exciting to see the characters for the first time – and I remember gasping when I first laid eyes on Squirrel and Robin!

Writing is such a team effort, which is something I absolutely love. It’s definitely not an isolated thing; for me, it’s always filled with the most amazing people, like Aoife. I really hope she’ll team up with me again, but in the meantime, we hope you enjoy this little story of ours!

The Storm II

This is part two of a short story written especially for TBoS. Make sure to read part one first!

A wave takes me.

I’m thrown from the raft, and swallowed by the ocean. The weight of the water pushes me down; my eyes are closed, but I know I’m far away from the surface. I don’t even try to fight it. Instead, I let the water carry out its punches and, one by one, they take me.

Down.

Down.

Down.

Once there was a time when I was wearing a short sundress. I can remember it now; the sun was burning the skin on my shoulders. I felt so pretty, beside you. As you watched, I walked right into the ocean until the water nipped at the rims of the fabric. I thought that moment was a glimpse of forever. I remember turning back towards you, grinning, as you stood on the shore. I had no idea how far I had drifted away.

I’m holding my breath, but I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to hold on for. There’s a heat prickling under my skin, and it’s starting to take over. It’s overwhelming; I wasn’t made for this, but I’m in far too deep now.

For a long time, I struggled under the weight of so many things, but there was always someone to help carry it. To help carry me. Now, I have the weight of ten thousand water-boulders pressing down, crushing my chest.

And I’m so alone.

Perhaps it’s better to be sucked in by the ocean; to let the waves and the water just fill me up. I imagine opening my mouth and screaming, screaming so hard that my lungs are set ablaze, burn and become ash. I imagine sinking further down, and imagine the nothingness. I imagine the nothingness and wonder if it’s better than the struggle, than facing this ruthless storm and its incessant punches on my heart.

And then I imagine this.

I imagine laughing and dancing in the ocean. I imagine the water taking bites of the cotton on my dress. I imagine standing there, alone, and I imagine digging my toes right into the sand. I am digging my toes right in, and I am watching my feet as little crabs crawl over my bare skin. I imagine making sure not to hurt them as I dig in just that little bit more. I imagine treasuring that kindness in me.

In the distance, there is nothing but water, and I love it: I imagine finally finding a place that is mine, and mine alone. I imagine the sun above my head kissing my skin, rather than burning it. I imagine a moment, a moment that’s only mine, and I cling on to that thought. I cling on to it so tightly. So in my mind, I imagine that I am strong, that I am in control, rather than everything else being in control of me.

No. I’ve decided. It’s not better to be swallowed by the ocean. It’s much better to face the waves and the storm and to be mightier than both.

I open my eyes. I think it’s time for me to throw the next punch.

Colours and You: Amazon Release

Colours and You is available to buy on Amazon on Friday! This lovely little story* will be perfect for any picture-book lovers out there, so if you could ask Santa to put it on your Christmas list, I would be so very, very happy!

I am also on the lookout for any eager reviewers out there. If you’re interested get in touch and I’ll send you a copy.

* this is only a semi-biased remark; Aoife’s artwork is STUNNING!

The Storm

Here I am, lost in the middle of the ocean. I look, in all directions, and all I see is this endless world of water. I’m on a raft, one that’s just for me alone, and the waves are bashing against my ankles. I tuck my legs up further under my chin and wrap my arms around them.

Above my head, the grey clouds are twisting further and further into a crooked grin. A storm is coming, the biggest one, and it’s got its eyes on me. Oh love, I’m going to have to fight back, aren’t I? I’m going to have to face this one alone.

I close my eyes, and imagine a time when I was lying in a field of daisies as the sun blazed above my head. I imagine the sound of birds and the orange glare of the sunlight under my eyelids. I remember the sound of familiar footsteps walk towards me. I imagine a time where I thought: “wow, look at the world. Look at where I am.”

A gust of wind takes the raft. I cling on, but only just. The waves have turned from blue to black, and have grown taller. They turn towards me, these monstrous water warriors, and here I am, on a tiny raft, with my arms hugging my legs. This isn’t the eye of the storm though; it’s only just begun. It’s picking up, furiously so, and I need to ready myself.

My chest gets tighter. This is it now. This is where I am.

This is a little snippet of something I’m working on. Hope you enjoy! It’s inspired by the beautiful quote from Haruki Murakami: “And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.

After Anna

I wondered if it was possible to successfully fry an egg on the bonnet of a car. Morris was bathing on the driveway, his green frame steaming under the sun.  I watched him for about five minutes. It was Ireland; the sun didn’t usually visit us. This was a one-time experiment, it was now or never. I turned to my younger brother, who was playing Boggle in spite of its missing letters.

‘Wanna fry an egg on Morris?’

‘Okay.’

We went to the kitchen. I remember Mammy sitting on the sway chair sleeping. We were expecting a new sister or brother that summer. Daddy told us boys to stop laughing at the way Mammy walked. To us, she looked like a penguin. We tip-toed past her and opened the fridge. My brother was too small to reach, but I got the egg because I had long legs. We then got two plates and a slice of bread before going outside. 

According to Daddy, it was the shock of seeing an eggy Morris that caused Mammy to go into labour. With both our parents heading to hospital, me and my brother were told to ‘sit and pray to God that everything would work out alright’.  The door slammed shut, keys were shuffled and Morris tooted and hummed lightly as he drove away.  We were left alone to reflect. This was our prayer:

‘Dear God, look after Mammy and please let it be a boy. Also, could you please make sure that Daddy doesn’t have us for messing up Morris’ green paint with an egg? Thank you.’

One half of our prayer came true. Baby Anna saved us from the slap that night. According to Daddy she was a big girl who weighed in at about three bags of sugar. I climbed into the attic and took out my brother’s old baby sling, wrapping three bags of sugar inside the dusty fabric. I told Daddy to leave me be, this was me preparing to be the big brother, the family helper. Two of the bags fell to the floor and for some strange reason the top bag (representing my sisters head) ripped and the sugar poured out. Daddy laughed, saying he’d never forget my face. I brushed up the sugar and decided I was too young to carry around such a heavy baby. I probably could’ve handled two bags, but she was three. 

A few days after Mammy and Anna came home. My younger brother was still mad at the fact Anna was a girl. I knew that because he looked at her like he looked at garden peas. He hated garden peas. Scowling with his arms crossed, he asked Mammy why she took the baby home. Mammy had this way about her when she smiled, you could see the happiness in her eyes.  She knelt down to him, radiant. 

‘What would you like for dinner tonight?’ She said to him. ‘Your choice.’

‘Really? Can we have chicken curry?’   

My brother had good taste in dinners.

That night was the best night of my life. Mammy made a tasty chicken curry and Daddy even brought us back a cone of sweets from the market. Anna was quiet, so Daddy turned the radio down low. Together he and Mammy danced in their bare feet on the tiles. We then watched Danger Mouse before going to bed, later than usual. Anna stirred once or twice in the night, I heard her whimper, but she was quiet otherwise. She was a very quiet baby. 

For weeks afterwards our house was just as happy. Morris still wasn’t looking the best, but I heard that Daddy was planning to buy matching paint and tidy him up himself. Anna was now the weight of three and a half bags of sugar, and my brother had now accepted her as one of his own, including her in his games. 

‘Anna! I, Dr Who, thought you were my friend. But you are a Dalek in disguise aren’t you?’

Anna burped.    

Exterminate you say? I was right. There’s only one thing left to do then…’

He pointed his finger at her bouncy chair.

 ‘BAM!’

She would then kick her feet. The bouncy chair would rock backwards and forwards with such a force that Daddy believed she would be a mighty footballer. I was looking forward to her being old enough to kick a ball. I told Mammy this and she said that at the rate Anna was growing she would be in the premiership by the end of the month. Mammy was very proud of Anna. She was proud of us boys too, but Anna was special. She would dance bare footed with her on the tiles, she would sing to her, she would blow raspberries on her cheeks. That night Mammy caught me watching her, so she placed a sleeping Anna into her bouncy chair and took my hand. I took off my shoes, but not my socks because the tiles were cold. I stood on her feet and together we circled the floor, dancing to the music on the radio. I went to bed then and Mammy put Anna into her cot. I fell asleep but woke up within a few hours with a fever. Mammy and Daddy took turns when tending to me, so Anna didn’t get the full attention that she would usually get at night. I heard her whimper, but Mammy hushed her from the doorway and didn’t actually go into her room.     

That morning Daddy took my brother to school. I was sitting in the kitchen with a plate of dry toast that I couldn’t eat. I had seen Mammy check the baby monitor before she poured me a glass of milk. She kissed my burning head and then went upstairs to check on Anna. 

She wasn’t up there for long.

Daddy would warn us about running down the stairs, so I remember wondering what he would’ve said to Mammy when she took three stairs at a time. Anna was in her arms, being very still and very quiet. Mammy paced the tiles, muttering words that I couldn’t understand. She then put Anna on the kitchen table in front of my toast. She grabbed the phone and began to dial, but her hands were shaking so she was missing the correct buttons. I could make out a few words then.

‘Baby. Hold on. Ok baby.’

She looked out the window.

‘Baby. I can see his house.’

I looked out of the window. The only house I could see was Dr. Foster’s and that was two fields away. She scooped Anna into her arms and ran outside. I noticed she forgot her shoes. I grabbed them and followed.  She reached the end of our garden. The Farmer had put wire around his field to prevent his sheep from wandering. Mammy moaned and rocked from side to side before turning to me.

‘Take your sister.’

I panicked.

‘I can’t Mammy, I’ll drop her.’

She became even more desperate.

‘Take your sister now!’

I had read in the Boy’s Scouts Magazine that when you find yourself in a threatening situation, your body can become stronger. I didn’t really understand how that worked, if it was magic given to you by an angel, or God, or Superman. All I knew was, I had it. For that moment I was strong enough to carry Anna. I took her into my arms for the first time as her big brother. She didn’t feel right. Mammy climbed over the metal thread. I saw her blood rest on the wires like raindrops. She stretched over the fence.

‘Give me her’.

I did. Mammy ran. I discarded the shoes and climbed over the fence. I always thought I was faster than Mammy, but I found it very hard to catch up with her. The field was large and empty. We were running for a long time before we reached its end, and by then we were only half way there. I looked down at Mammy’s feet that danced on the kitchen tiles, they were torn. I cried when she mounted the wire fence again, but I managed to hand Anna over the barrier safely. This field was bigger than the last and I could see Mammy’s feet beginning to fail her. She fell to her knees, Anna slipping out of her arms onto the grass. 

‘Baby. Ok.’

I saw red on a jagged stone as I passed. I stopped to get sick. When I looked up I couldn’t see Mammy anymore, so I bolted in the direction of Dr. Foster’s house. There she was at the end of the field, shrieking and cradling Anna. A woman was outside the house, hanging fresh linen on a washing line. Immediately she called inside for Dr. Foster, who emerged within seconds and jumped over the wire. I stopped running. The last thing I saw was the woman taking Anna inside the house. I remember feeling afraid for her, I didn’t know this woman. I didn’t know if she was able to carry Anna. After all, Anna was a big baby – she was the weight of three and a half bags of sugar.

I remember falling to by knees.

***

Mammy had this ability to smile with her eyes, but after Anna she seemed to forget how to do that. My brother didn’t understand, and cried often. One night Mammy made extra peas for dinner. My brother began to whine, telling everyone in the room about how much he hated peas. Without warning, Mammy stood up. The table went silent. She looked at all of us and smiled. For weeks afterwards, that smile gave me nightmares. It wasn’t friendly, or warm. It wasn’t how my Mammy smiled. She began to pile peas onto my brother’s plate, slamming the ladle onto the china harder with each spoonful. Daddy stood up to meet her eyes. Both of them said nothing, but Mammy retreated, her walk like an injured penguin, not one that us boys could laugh at anymore. She closed the door. We listened to the creak of the floorboards, then another door closed. She screamed upstairs. 

‘Daddy’, I said. 

‘No, stay here. You boys need to behave.’

Daddy left. My brother looked at me. 

‘Eat your peas.’

Without any objection, he picked up his fork. I watched him eat. Mammy was sobbing and we could hear the hum of Daddy’s words to her echoing in the hallway.  I stood up, told my brother to finish his dinner and went outside. A sorry looking Morris was lying idle on the driveway, the weather further chipping away at the offending egg stain. Daddy had brought home a tin of paint from work, but it had been forgotten about. The tin was sitting by the doorstep, so I picked it up along with a brush that had been tossed into the grass. I began to paint over the marks on Morris, to put an end to the trouble that I had started. 

After Anna was first published in The Bohemyth in 2013. It’s this story that inspired the name of my blog, Three Bags of Sugar.

Colours and You

A Children’s Picturebook

In this charming book, a lovely Robin tries his very best to make his friend, Squirrel, happy. Written by K.M.L. Quinn and beautifully illustrated by Aoife Gallagher, this book brilliantly describes how wonderful the world can be.

I’m very lucky to have teamed up with my wonderful friend, Aoife Gallagher to produce this book. It’s available to purchase on Amazon now!