Dedicated to my daughter Kathleen
Walking on Water……………………………………………………… 13
My Soul at Peace in the Chapel at KerryKeel……………….19
The Christmas Cake……………………………………………………..40
Facing the Truth…………………………………………………………..53
I’ve just added The Box. It is not in the book.
I hope you enjoy reading these 9 short stories parts of which did happen while other parts happened only in my imagination.
STRANGERS ON A SHORE
Walking along the beach I told God I was sorry for not going to mass, then, stopping dead to let the tiny waves cool frothy water caress my aching feet. I had begun the walk in anger not thinking where it might end so with uncertainty I had hesitated, unsure which direction to go – left or right – being left handed may have had something to do with turning left: on reflection, a trait all through my life. I enjoyed the cool caresses and told God on second thoughts that I wasn’t sorry for missing mass because, I was here and in awe of His beautiful creation and that was a prayer in itself; my prayer for the day. Thinking deeply how this, this magnetism was happening, in and back out, the power of the waves took my breath away and brought my tired mind to somewhere it hadn’t been in years; mind years!
It was over 20 years since we’d been on a holiday like this and for the last 15 years I went alone to Lourdes searching for miracles along with the other wounded souls; but events were to change that earlier this year. I had forgotten what a holiday was like, a foreign holiday with the sun, sea and freedom. We, Tom and I, had promised ourselves to make the effort to really enjoy these two weeks even if it killed us, literally. How strange is life, I thought, we really never learn, I mean if it kills us both or just one of us then will myself or Tom, really have enjoyed it…………one last time! Silly thoughts were taking hold of my mind on the beach. By the way my name is Jean.
Paddling along lifting the edges of the black dress in which I had thought looked good on me earlier; it was my daughters old dress and maybe a bit too revealing for an auld doll which in case you don’t know is a term we use in Belfast for an older woman. Before leaving the apartment, I studied myself in the mirror and decided that I looked good in the dress, not just good, no, not good just for my age, but good good; attractive even! I put my bottle of water and purse in a blue plastic bag which at the time of leaving the apartment felt sensible enough, though, it did un-glamour me somewhat, I thought.
I’m a 67 year old woman and should have confidence in who I am; I’m that or this 67 year old who constantly pretends to have confidence, but today is the day I’ll show them all who can walk a beach with confidence………it wasn’t long before I felt the blue plastic bag was a mistake, even with the sun glasses I’d bought in pound town with the fancy logo ‘TRUTH’ on each side, the bag still demeaned my appearance, I thought, but I was well into the beach and there were too many eyes watching to discard it. Now walking along a crowded beach, I suddenly felt like a bag lady, homeless and old; an auld doll, a real auld doll. Fleeting thoughts like that were of no consequences; now my rage had died a little I felt pity for the squabbling sea gulls fighting over something no one but they could possibly understand; though I observed that once a smaller gull flew off to the sculptured rocks that encased the beach and made dark caves seem inviting, that a silence or maybe tranquillity descended on the other gulls and they flew about their business in seemingly contentment. The blue plastic bag didn’t really affect me or so I told myself because at 67 one shouldn’t really really care too much about how strangers on a crowded beach perceive one! I think!
There were a few tit-elenas running about and they didn’t seem to care what people thought of them either. Our Jack, my grandson who was on the beach the day before came back to the apartment excited to be telling us the latest breaking news that some women on the beach had no tops on and everyone was looking at them and he could not take his eyes of them because of the way they bobbed up and down and the size of them and the age of some of the ‘auld dolls’ was how it put it………………..he had to be told that his innocence and admiration for his grandmother must to be based on the truth. No lies. Truly his gran was just like everyone else. I was also a tit-elena once a life time ago I told him. He was in total shock, disbelief, that I, his granny Jean could have ever done such a thing; the news was so devastating to him that I had to sit him down and explain that while I would never have gone topless in Belfast……. well, Spain was a different matter. He would understand some day! But, his look of disbelief was shattering for me; to fall of the pedestal that your grandchild has placed you on is hard to deal with on holiday.
The bag lady thought didn’t exactly come out of the blue, no it had been on my mind since the night before when we witnessed the plight of a real bag lady and it was traumatic and painful to recall because in all my years I had never witnessed such an unkindness to a vulnerable person. She was a well-spoken lady sitting at the gate of the apartment block counting change. I bid her a good afternoon and she replied first in German and then good English with a pleasant smile, in fact a warm and welcoming smile.
Tom and Jack had also met the lady, but they gave her money recognising her street status. Much later from the apartment veranda we witnessed the commotion and screams from the woman as she was assaulted by apparently other drinkers. Hearing the thuds was unbearable and Jack and I ran to the Germans aid and found her in an unconscious state on the blood-stained path where she had been sitting earlier. When the police and ambulance arrived, they treated the woman with contempt saying, that they knew it was her when they received the call. They called her Annetta several times as she was being put into the ambulance and although I did not understand the conversation fully that went on between the police and the medics I knew by their tone they were quite unsympathetic to this poor woman. Later the receptionist in our apartment block told us that she had lived there 4 years, working at first in bars and then more recently, because of her problem with drink, began sleeping and begging on the street. I shivered to think of where my own sister Sharon might be: she had left home 40 years ago to holiday in Turkey and had never been heard of since we received a letter with no address from her. It informed us that she wished to break all connections with the family and that her name was changed to Adile. A picture was also enclosed of Sharon and her new husband Abdullah and she was dressed in a Burka; none of the family ever tried to find out how Sharon was or what had become of her and I felt a surge of great remorse that turned from anger to rage earlier; an inward rage; guilt, my guilty conscience. But who was to know how I felt as I walked along that beach for I knew nothing of what secrets or inner rage disturbed the peace of anyone who lay sunning themselves there before that powerful ocean; even the tit-elenas have their secrets.
Further alone the beach I was still in awe of how the sea works, its power overwhelming my soul; I barely had the nerve to glance left at a young couple least I intruded on their intimacy as they embraced and kissed, such a gentle, kind kiss it seemed from the distance and I remembered how once that was me and someone, someone I don’t even remember, but still there once was someone who held me like that for I remembered how it felt. Again, pausing to take in and frame all this majestic beauty I became aware of someone looking sideways at me; was it my face or hair or maybe my whole unite plus the blue plastic bag and I became conscious of my toe nails with the half peeled nail varnish, really tacky, I regretted now not having them painted for the holiday; no one will give a dam about what I look like I remember thinking, stupidly. I just didn’t care until this precise second about my appearance!
Glancing over I saw this handsomely tanned male of maybe my own age, but, who was wearing well, much better than I. He looked natural, no toupee or dyed hair and as he smiled I could clearly see his teeth and they did indeed look like they were his own and not the false brilliant white set that I loathe in older people………he was really manly looking and I liked the way he was staring at me; perhaps the blue plastic bag was becoming an asset I jested to myself. Removing my sunglasses in a dramatic pose he then removed his and at last our eyes met unveiling the most gorgeous brown sexy eyes that made my legs melt like they’d never melted before; oh la la I thought, in an instant my mind raced to romance and more……… the rush of excitement took me by surprise as all I could think of was the words of the song by Dr Hook……..my mind involuntary sang it and I was speechless……if I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me……….who was this stranger on the shore making me feel like this?
He smiled, and oh what a smile. “May I ask you something” he said in possibly broken Italian as I dug my right set of toes into the moist sand; I wasn’t familiar with accents outside of Ireland or France, well, Lourdes to be precise; strange as it may seem, although I had been to Spain many times I had no recollection of the Spanish\English accent and for one daring moment, I was tempted to reply with a French accent, just to sound like some person of interest, just for this one silly moment on a beach holding my blue plastic bag awkwardly now; instead of the fake accent, smiling I replied, “Yes, as long as it’s not to go to bed”.
“Sorri, sorri, can you repeat?”
Coming quickly to my senses I, as cool and sensuous as the waves about my feet said “Go ahead, ask” he smiled and said exploring my face “Your glasses”
“My glasses” I replied puzzled.
“Yes, on the side they say TRUTH, (I acknowledged with a nod) tell me what TRUTH is; you know what TRUTH is?”
I was so disappointed that it was a serious question and I felt my painted smile drop and that old worried look I’m told I carry around on my face at times I just knew he would spot it if he had good instinct……..and I thought quickly that, well at 67 it should be no surprise that my brain was of more interest to a man on a beach than my body……ah well, I sighed under my breath, at least I’ve got an admirer of my taste in sun glasses………Anyway looking into his eyes I saw, not colour alone, but life, life and intrigue and I acknowledged this discovery with a new smile, a friendship smile a ‘we are equal’ type smile. And so I said, looking out into the vast power of the sea then back at him, “Yes, I know what TRUTH is’ and he acknowledged my words with a nod an encouraging nod, gently encouraging me to continue, which I did, with my TRUTH and it felt as though I were standing on a stage in some wonderful theatre somewhere and that I was giving my all to this massive audience saying with such conviction and clarity; “TRUTH is the only thing that is TRUTH, there is no other thing that is TRUTH or half TRUTH, TRUTH is TRUTH”
He waited thinking I had more to say, to explain, and when he realized I had given him my full explanation he said as he moved closer, and at this point I thought he was going to put his hands on me to feel what was real to touch the TRUTH, my TRUTH, my reality was my TRUTH; it’s what I carry on my shoulders daily; but he seemed to have second thoughts about touching, to my disappointment, because I really did long to put my head on his bare chest and feel his strong heart beat like the sea’s beating heart at our feet and it’s lapping waves caressing my body and soul………..but he instead walked a few steps away into the sea and shouted in an amused tone:
“Well then, woman, is SHIT TRUTH?”
Without pausing for a second, I shouted back: “Yes, SHIT is TRUTH, because SHIT is SHIT and nothing else, it isn’t HOPE or PARDON or MERCY or A LONGING or DESIRE or anything else that’s why SHIT is TRUTH”
He then without looking back at me swam into the deep; perhaps it was an invite for me to join him but I no longer wanted to deviate from the straight path I was on carrying this blue plastic bag and so without looking after him I walked straight to the end of the beach where I removed my water and purse from the blue plastic bag. I rested for a moment on a rock and I folded the bag carelessly and put it into a bin.
Now, from the road I looked backed down at the beach and I could see the plastic bag in the bin where I had thrown it, but it was of no consequences that it was a plastic bag; only its magnificent colour mattered now, and it was matched in beauty by the ocean and the sky above. I felt content and continued back to the real world where I truly belong; or so I thought at that moment in time! My rage had swum deep into the sea and drowned.
Walking on Water
It was a beautiful moment and I stood up shaking the sand from my hair as I walked to the water’s edge to breathe in the salted air that had touched memories long buried in that secret pleasure place we all keep for special days of reflection: this was one of those days.
The first chill of the small waves didn’t stir a single skip from my sore feet, in fact, it’s cool caress left me wanting more, bigger and better on its return it was so soothing, though, not just for my feet but for my soul as well. I had been troubled of late and now feeling loved by this great ocean before me I felt free and this freedom slowly rescued my pain and redeemed it for pleasure; an inward pleasure that I had forgotten ever existed in me.
Deeper the white foam lapped around my calves with a sudden force that it almost forced me in to where I was not at that moment ready to go. Stepping in had to be executed in my own time and not before. I still needed more pleasure and pampering before I would take that final step into the depth of what lay before me.
I still hadn’t moved even an inch but time had passed and the waves splashed above my knees giving such relief to my left torn cartridge which I was on a long waiting list to have removed, but like my other current torments it no longer mattered for I was now in such a happy and loving place in my mind and I could see clearly what was before me. It was crystal clear, I could even see, though not identify, the fishes living their lives without a care in their world, I thought; if a fish can live its life without a care, then so should I be able to. Why should I not?
Still, without moving the sea was now up to my thighs and it was delightful, the flooding memories of my French lover carrying me to his bed as I wrapped my inner thighs around his torso tightly and feeling for the first time the electricity flowing between us. I thought of that first ecstasy as I observed what looked like from the distance a little fishing boat and at that exact moment a dark cloud floated and stopped in front of the sun giving me a better vision for distance. My vision was focused clearly on the boat and I thought I could see a man, yes it was a man, for he had the build of a man with shoulder length hair and he was standing upright on the boat, perhaps to fish or urinate; but surely if urinating he would have the good manners to turn his back even at such a distance from the shore, surely! I did not take my eyes of the boat and the man on it only to blink, and that is the truth; then, before my eyes I saw the impossible. That is also the truth.
The water was now above my thighs but I was incapable of movement for what I witnessed was so unbelievable; if I moved it might vanish and I might declare myself mad as others had tried to make me believe about myself earlier in the year when I had uncovered by accident, the fraudulent goings on in the bank where I worked for the past 7 years. Mister Browne and Grace would be delighted if I were to be confirmed insane and committed to some terrible institution for the rest of my life or at least until they could both vanish without trace with all the money they had been siphoning from elderly clients for years. I had always suspected an affair but not stealing from the accounts.
Grace and Browne got their promotion ahead of me and I had thought I deserved it more than either of them but they were friends with Mr Tutting, the regional manager, so that was that, I could not afford to rock the boat with the accusations of stealing for I really had no concrete proof at that time, that came later, and when I confronted them they threatened to say they both caught me money laundering for the crooked side of my family. What could I do…………I just did not know where to turn or to whom I could confide in. It was bad. I was in a mess. There was no one. No one at all.
The water now was up to my waist. I was stung by a jelly fish and I remained mute and calm: this is what I saw. The man disembarked from the small boat and he began to walk on the water; on top of the water. He looked straight at me with eyes big and honest and brown; he was wearing a white robe and he held his hands out stretched bidding me to come to him, but I couldn’t trust myself to walk on top of the water as he seemed to be directing or ordering me to do; if I walked to him from where I was I would have gone under, and yet I should not have been afraid because if someone can walk on water then they would not have let me drowned or that was my logic at that moment but I had not the faith to do it, to trust, to say yes. It did me no good for I felt a coward. He came closer and closer and I grew stiller and stiller perhaps I was not taking in breath and then finally, when he was within yards from where I was now up to my neck in the sea, he smiled, and I felt him or someone or some power step inside my whole body and I knew I was safe and that everything would be taken care off in my life. I just knew this. The dark cloud moved away from the sun allowing again for it to shine down on me giving me such warmth and brightness forcing me to blink. I opened my eyes and he and the boat had vanished. I did not doubt myself for a single second about what I had seen and felt. I turned my back to the sun and began to walk to the shore and people on the beach and on the rocks stared at me because I was naked. Unlike Eve, I felt no shame!
My Soul at peace in the Chapel at Kerry keel
Mine was the only soul in the Chapel and I loved that feeling of being alone in His presence.
The Silence unbroken was beautiful. Silence like this had carried me through much turmoil in the past. When the Silence comes to me I appreciate it and want to hold on to it forever. I knew I was not alone because I believe wherever I am, that, so also is He. I like to think about Him all the time and try to make Him part of my every day. I don’t need to be in a chapel to experience His Silence; but sometimes it just happens that way in that sort of place and usually when I least expect it.
Seated I prayed the rosary, the Sorrowful mysteries, though it was a Saturday and as always, my mind wondered in and out and during each decade. I thought about the last time I prayed here in this chapel or at least the last time I was here in body. All the drink and all that drink brings and does to a soul is a serious matter for any soul. My soul seems to have come a long way since then. But what I want to say is this: after my random thoughts on self-destruction from the past and then the blankness that usually follows such a beating of one self, like a flash out of the blue came this vision.
I have had visions before but none so violently graphic as this which I will tell you now, but before I continue I must confess that when I say vision, what I mean is imagination, solely in my own mind and not a physical manifestation directed by Jesus Himself, but by me. I believe that God opens our eyes to let us see certain things at different times in our life through our imagination; at least that’s the way it has always been for me.
It began after I finished saying the rosary. I was staring blankly at the foot of the altar when I heard something being dragged along up the middle isle the full length from the main door to where I was seated at the isle side on the front pew. I wasn’t afraid and so I didn’t turn around and just sat and waited the few seconds it took to see what it was approaching from behind. My eyes still fixed at the foot of the altar I watched men lay a large wooden rugged cross down and they seemed to be discussing how best to get Jesus to lay down on it with the least inconvenience to them. I knew it was Jesus without a doubt. The two men were not soldiers but more like grave diggers dressed for working with the clay and earth in the present time; they both had that unwashed look about them. One of the two, the man at the bottom of the cross ordered Jesus to lie down. I noticed he had a finger missing from his left hand as he ripped the sheet covering Jesus from his poor tortured body and flung it on top of the altar, but it slid off onto the floor at the back of the altar out of view. Jesus now naked, painfully obeyed the command. “Keep your legs and feet together and don’t move them till I’m ready”. I paused at this point in the vision for I had always viewed in my mind the Crucifixion very differently, more matter of fact, mechanically; I had pictured the Crucifixion being performed without afford. But let me continue, I forgot to mention that in my mind at this stage the chapel was full of people who were shocked to see the Crucifixion playing out before their eyes.
I watched with horror as the men, four now, one still at the foot of the cross, two others each charged with a hand and a centurion soldier who stood observing the congregation from the side of the front of the altar. Both men stretching open the hands of Jesus were ordered by the foot man where to strike and when. This they did in unison. The blood splattered like holy water during a blessing onto the faces and coats of some of the congregation; loud screams echoed all around. The savagery shamed every sinew of my being. To be of the same cloth as His tormentors was my real pain. People began shouting things like: this shouldn’t be allowed, this is obscene! I didn’t look around to see who was shouting, I just watched with pity and wondered if in fact this was really happening now, for real. I couldn’t honestly tell for it all seemed so familiar and real.
The rough and splintered cross was quite thick, and it appeared to take several blows with the hammers to get the nails securely through into the wood. The nails too were uneven and thick with a slight curve at the top. My eyes were focussed only on the poor, poor face of Jesus and I could not imagine the agony He was suffering. His eyes did not close at all, at least I did not see them close and I observed His whole focus was on the man at the foot of the cross who held, irreverently, His feet. There were more shouts and screams from the congregation as they stampeded through the door at the back to get out and again I heard shouts of “children shouldn’t be allowed to see things like this, it’s a disgrace, who is responsible who allowed this to happen in a Catholic church? What will the Pope have to say about this?”
For a split second I did wonder what they meant, didn’t they understand that this was real? This is what happened. It would change so much in our lives I thought if we witnessed this scene every time we attend mass…………but then again…would it? From the outside no one could see what happened next.
I caught the eye of the man holding Jesus’ feet and I saw tears mounting in them and Jesus stared as though He was sympathising with this man. I became aware that Jesus was looking at me but not with his eyes. He penetrated my entire being; I was consumed by something that I had no name for; it was as though I had been brought into a powerful energy of love and mercy. I felt naked; seen for what I am; my awful secrets lay there on the floor visible to me alone mirrored in His eyes. I saw every sin I had ever committed in an instant through His pain; I cannot say how I knew or was able to imagine this, only that I believe this was shown to me by such a power that I cannot fathom except through Almighty God. I felt that I was completely loved and could have sat there in that Chapel for the rest of my life.
Then, just before the hammer went down to crush His poor feet, a silence descended and as I turned I got the feeling that the Chapel was packed with people whom I could not see but somehow knew; and then the silence came alive within my soul and I cried as the blood flooded from His feet; the one who struck the blows stood up dropping the hammer and ran away covering his face as he went.
Then and only then did Jesus close His eyes as if in prayer.
I closed my eyes at this point and when I opened them the cross was standing erect firmly on top of the altar and His blood dripped onto the altar cloth.
I thought before I left the chapel about why people don’t want to see the real mess we all make, we want it tidied up before we look.
I got up to leave and I felt happy not because of what I had imagined, but, because of what my soul had witnessed.
Even in the summer months it always felt cold; (the only heat was when the sun shone on your back as you were being ushered in and out of the mini bus to the visiting area) so now in late October I was making sure that I’d be warm; deciding the night before to wear something that belonged to my mother out of remembrance and respect for one whose life revolved for so long around this particular prison. I wore her purple woollen scarf. She would have liked the idea of that. Though she’d never have visited an empty prison! She’d been visiting Long Kesh from it opened until it closed and before that she’s been a constant visitor to The Crum and Armagh. She was 81 when she departed this life and had been visiting jails since she was 19, and constantly from she was about 45. Like many other mothers here in Ireland she spent more than 20 years of her life visiting her children who at various times had been political prisoners. So, this visit would be different than any other visit I’d made to Long Kesh or The H Blocks where I’d visited my husband, brothers, cousins and comrades. Over the long years I remember at times that it wasn’t always an event to look forward too, but I see no shame in being honest, I still went and put a good face on things!
My hope now was not just to see the other side of the counter in particular, but to somehow feel, to pick up maybe some feelings that linger still in and around this once terrible place where men were not just prisoners to be locked up, but prisoners who were held by jailers who were also their enemy and who believed it their duty to break the spirit of every prisoner who defied criminalization. Maybe I would feel nothing, but I guessed at least I would intrude somehow if not on the spiritual then maybe in the memory banks that lived there.
I was lucky to be picked for the tour, organised by the first minister’s office, by The Link Community Group. Eight of us went up in two cars I was with Michael Ferguson who did his business non-stop on his mobile for the duration of the journey. I was armed with camera, video recorder and memories. Each item with its own unique importance; and each to serve me and the others well for posterity. The tour lasts approximately one hour to an hour and a half. I would have been more selective in what shots I took or in hind-sight, I should have taken an extra film and video battery if I’d known beforehand what exact buildings we would visit.
We were greeted at the inside of the gates by a black cat – it hassled me a bit tripping me up until I finally gave him what he was asking for; a good tickle! I had no memory of ever seeing a cat up there before.
The tour guides were both efficient and punctual – we started on time and finished on time. As we travel in the mini bus I remembered that the windows of the visitors mini bus were always blanked so we couldn’t see the layout of the prison; I was amazed at the length of the wall that encompassed the cages, huts and H blocks, it was grey and seemed to stretch for miles; I couldn’t help thinking that possibly the same mindset that had constructed the Berlin Wall had in 1971 constructed this wall here in Long Kesh and for similar reasons! Then Michael told his story pointing to the ‘hanger’ in the field to the right of the wall; he recounted how he had been held there on his way back from a Sinn Fein Ardheas for several hours – he eventually received £1,250 compensation for wrongful arrest. Then I recounted my ‘hanger story’ which was; after a morning visit our mini bus was stopped by the brits just outside the prison gates, it so happened that the mini bus driver, a wonderful man, Francie Toner, had been harassed daily going and coming from the prison by the same brits, so on this day Francie refused to give his name to the brit who had stopped him as he drove to the prison a few hours previously; so of course in solidarity everyone else refused also to give their names, we were all arrested and brought to the very large and cold hanger and held for two or so hours. My 3-week-old baby had been sick and needed changed and fed, I’d also to pick my daughter up from school at 2 pm. Eventually we were let go, and on reaching the Shaws Road I found my daughter wondering on the green crying and frightened. Another day another struggle – a protest that night – the following day another visit to Long Kesh!
Our first stop was the emergency control room. There was no electricity in the place, so our guides led the way with flash lamps. I could have done without this part of the tour; the only thing of interest to me was the telephone. It was white and I wondered if this was the phone used to alert the guards during the great escape in ’83 when 33 prisoners escaped There were a lot of gates in the building and I laughed to myself as I thought how it must have been harder for the screws to get in than it was for the 33 prisoners to get out!
Next stop was the hospital where the 10 hunger-strikers died. We all went in cautiously and silently nursing our own private thoughts and emotions. It was in a sense as we had imagined it emotionally; there was nothing visual in our expectations, but we did find what we hoped to find and that was atmosphere. There was a stillness that facilitated us to walk in and out of off each room silently, bringing and leaving the trauma, dreams, nightmares and love that had cursed us these years since the hunger strike; perhaps now somehow our spirits could stay here awhile with all the pain and sorrow that still lurks in this place and heal our grief a little. These ten men had heroically given up their young lives in the tiny rooms along this corridor, so how could this cold chilling place feel other than full of suffering and yet somehow there is this feeling of resurrection and off triumph. The importance of standing silently in those small rooms cannot be understated; for in some way being there gave us a sense of sharing with Bobby, Francis, Raymond, Patsy, Joe, Martin, Kevin, Kieran, Tom and Mickey the sacredness of the human spirit which lives on and spreads through the hearts of those with a shared belief. We all left in silence. There was a day outside waiting for our return; but no day will ever live again in the building we’d just visited.
Next stop H4. Everyone was talking once more though in a sombre mood. My brother Joe was in the cell where he’d spend many years. He was able to place the names of his comrades into each cell. Also, we all walked around the yard that the prisoners finally got to use after the 4 years of protest when they were locked up 24/7 wearing only a blanket. Joe recalled that if you walked around the yard 18 times then that was one mile.
Next stop the compound 19. Michael led the way and rightly so as this was his home for many years; he was caged in cage 14. I was really surprised that the cages were so small. Michael complained that he got electric shocks daily while turning the wall heaters on. The reason being that the cages were built on top of a river and the foundations were covered by sand and so the damp would be there constantly. It was good to see the internee’s huts crumbling away. A reminder that all things come to an end.
We took one last look back as we drove through the gates; remembering and feeling sad.
But more was too come. Michael took us all up to Stormont and treated us to lunch. At the next table sat Paisley, junior, The Robinsons, Sammy, Dodd’s and one or two of the young bucks that used to shout at Trimble during the panel programs on T.V. It was amazing. Did you ever think that you were still in bed dreaming? Sadly, some months later Michael died; Louise and his children and all who knew him were left broken hearted. Michael, like the hunger strikers, is free at last!
i am consumed
in my every thought
your name intrudes
i cannot send it away
it is too much a part of me.
everything that is you
i fear for you
for you have no fear
only brief encounters
who, like you are
in need of not friendship no
for that would involve
a kind of acknowledgement
that they and you exist
in a place or sphere
greater than you all are;
loneliness forces you into
a self isolation
where you exist on show
you try desperately to
you try desperately
to pretend that
connections hold no
meaning to you
and like your name
your beautiful name
you keep changing; adding to
shortening to suit the company
you keep and like everything else
you keep changing that too!
i want to embrace
your trembling body
that no one else can see
or understand as I do
but even me your
you keep at a distance
we, who are not you
you disallow from entering
your circle that is empty,
there is nothing it can connect to
it is none existent, but there all the same
it is set in an empty space somewhere
in my imagination
we are so alike in ways
though i suspect you would not
approve or agree with my
we are connected but you cannot and will not
accept this recognition
flesh and blood
it adds to your fears!
Let me enter
your mindful circle
i want to enter
move in, close
how much i love you
you only allow me
to call you by a name
not your real name
but a shortened version,
i comply with your wishes
i might lose you
but, even that is uncertain
sometimes it feels like
i never had you
still i love you
and you have burdened my life
with an incompleteness
all i can do is
God will not force you
will your indifference
force me to beg.
i will be a beggar
i love you.
And love is the only thing
that is real –
in our lives but we cannot feel or touch
for fear will surely make it disappear
we know it is there
we know it exists
somehow it survives.
I have to keep writing
in hope that on the
find you again and connect
as a friend to like or dislike on f/b.
The Christmas Cake
It had been a bad winter that year of ’81. It was the first time in years I had a warm coat; the reason I was able to afford such a luxury this year was that I’d got a job minding twins while their mother Maureen taught in a nearby school. She was a kind woman who would take my own young daughter to school in the morning when we arrived at 8.30am. Maureen also shared lunch each day with me; which was great because for that 20 minutes or, so we would talk. My wages for minding the twins was £12.50 a week. The difference this money made to our lives was enormous. I could get things like shoes or the occasional hairdo and I didn’t have to walk everywhere, which was usually the case before the job. Life was sort of looking good for the first time in a long time!
My husband was a sentenced prisoner in the H Blocks. We were married 8 weeks when he was arrested, and I was 8 weeks pregnant but worse still, we’d only known one another for 12 weeks when we were married; so really, we didn’t know each other very long or we didn’t know very much about one another up until then. In retrospect it does seem strange that I’d given a life commitment to someone about whom I knew so little, but, that’s the craziness of love, isn’t it? Life since his arrest didn’t hold much promise of anything other than a constant upward struggle; but now the £12.50 extra each week made an important difference.
This was going to be a good Christmas; I would for the first time be able to buy toys and plenty of food without having to go into debt. I bought our daughter a Wendy house, paints, paper and lots of books but most of all I had got our first turkey for Christmas dinner. I was looking forward to later that night when I would put my daughter to bed and leave out all her presents and cook the turkey. But first we had to visit her father in prison.
It was Christmas eve and the snow heaped down on the mini bus as we travelled from Twinbrook to the Sinn Fein centre in Savastopol Street. It was custom in the centre to have Santa giving out presents to any children going on a visit on Christmas eve, so we would be delayed for about half an hour or so. Travelling down the Falls Road I was deep in thought, Aine ran into the centre with the other children. I sat alone in the bus; getting up to check in the mirror if my hair was still sitting the way I’d fixed it before leaving the flat I felt cold and alone. As I sat watching the snow like feathers from a pillow fall on the windscreen and block my view of the whole length of Savastopol Street I noticed through a side window a woman I’d known years before from the ‘Legion of Mary’; every so often she would run to the end of the street where the Falls library comfortably stands. She wore red slippers, red cardigan, matching skirt; keeping her arms folded as she ran along emphasised the weight she carried on her chest. I guessed she was waiting for a friend or relative; or, perhaps she was just lonely and was hoping some neighbour would notice her and invite her into their home. I settled for my first guess, I didn’t want her to be lonely. She was nothing to me but because I felt ‘happy’ I wanted her to be happy also!
As I felt a peace come over me, I began to pray, thanking God for the job I believed he’d got me; I was thanking Mary also for the peace and joy I was experiencing at that exact moment. I remember saying to Mary (in my mind) that I’d got everything I’d wanted for this Christmas except the Christmas cake. My mind was still in prayer and I was remembering when I was a child and every Christmas when the baker would bring our Christmas hamper; it would be placed on top of the brown, well-scrubbed table in our kitchen that seemed so much bigger than any of us children then. One year in particular I remember standing staring at the hamper wearing a blue rain coat with the hood up; the bottom of the coat touched the top of my Indian water boots that I had suspected were boys’ boots really and that my mother, to get me to wear them, said that with the blue rain coat and water boots I looked like ‘little red riding hood’ except I was ‘blue riding hood’ I smiled as I remembered that feeling of trusting someone so completely without question. It was always good to recapture that Christmassy feeling; that was why I’d wanted the Christmas cake! I had wanted to once again have that feeling of being looked after and of being loved. There were only 4 of us kids then and my two brothers, sister and myself would stand at that table and just stare at the cake with the icing and snow man and Santa on top. It felt good to remember those days. The Christmas cake to me was symbolic. It represented everything that was innocent and happy from my childhood.
Every time I accumulated the money for the Christmas cake something else would come up and steal my dream. After about 20 minutes I heard a bang and saw all the children come out from the centre; Aine was rushing towards me with a parcel. She was breathless and put the parcel on my lap and throwing her arms around my neck she hugged and kissed me.
“Did you see Santa sweetheart?” I asked as I kissed her back.
“Oh mammy, guess what happened” she said excitedly. “When it was my turn daddy Christmas had no more presents left, but he said to tell you that this is a special present just for you. No one else’s mammy got one! Just you”.
I couldn’t resist it I had to open the parcel, and to my complete amazement when I pulled the wrapping paper back I just couldn’t believe it. It was a Christmas cake. I hugged my daughter and she hugged me, she couldn’t know what exactly the present was that she’d just delivered; nor who it was really from.
Christmas week and we were rushing. Excitement and longing could not be separated. She had got them little extras that weren’t on their list. Hannah and James are too young to say what they wanted from Santa but Eva and Joseph had lists that would scare any parent into lying about Santa’s ability to deliver that amount of presents on his sleigh; they both accepted as only children can, that the weight of all they wanted might cause Santa’s sleigh to be brought down unexpectedly in the wrong house. They both understood what that would mean.
We laughed and joked and remembered about our own Christmas’s past; like when we discovered that Santa didn’t exist and strange how we were both told in the same way and how we just couldn’t believe it. She asked if her dad still hadn’t telephoned me from Russia since last week and I confirmed that he hadn’t and that it was no surprise to me at all. She said that she hoped I wouldn’t be making him a meal tonight when he arrived home. I said that I would, and she couldn’t understand that; she protested and said she wouldn’t do it if Ciaran treated her like that.
The appointment was for 9.30am and the roads were busy already, we practically crawled into the hospital car-park and drove round it a few times before we got a space that the car could fit into without too much danger of scratching the car beside it. We were both feeling so good as we heard a car radio ring out ‘So this is Christmas’ and we began to sing along and laughed as I took her hand and swung it as I’d done when she was a child, she was still a child, my child, my grown-up child; forever my baby. There seemed a strange element of fun between us as we half ran across the tarmac; it may have appeared that we hadn’t a care in the world to the passing observer and at that moment they would not have been wrong.
We waited in the tiny waiting area without talking because there was another couple there and they were speaking a foreign language in an argumentative tone. But before their argument finished a nurse arrived and called us into the room for the scan.
“How many is this?” the nurse asked as she prepared the scanner.
“This will be my fifth, I’ve two girls and two boys; 5,4,3 and a one year old”.
“You’ll not care what this one is then”
“No, I’ll be happy no matter what”
I sat there waiting with pride and joy and thinking how lucky I was to be there with my daughter for this big moment…..her 12-week scan. She would get the photo to keep and perhaps if there were two photo’s she’d give me one as she had on the other 4 occasions and I could show it to her dad tonight when he got home. The jelly was spread on her tummy and the scan began. Wow, I could see the miracle right centre in her womb……..but at that very moment my mobile rang. I’d forgotten to turn it to silent. Embarrassed I made for the door and muttered that it was my husband and I was waiting on a call from him and without looking back I hurried down the corridor and out to the front of the maternity unit.
“I’m in the airport, we’ll be boarding in about an hour or so, will you have a dinner ready for me, the food here’s rotten………..”
“Okay……” I replied in an irritated tone and pressed the red button before he could utter another syllable; I felt annoyed with myself for leaving my daughter at that moment; I should have ignored the call and stayed to share that wonderful moment with our daughter when she would see for the first time the beautiful life she and Ciaran had created together.
Walking back up the corridor I noticed the nurse hurrying up the stairs and I did think that a bit strange. As soon as I entered the room I looked first at the screen and there it was, still there, my daughter’s baby……….. our grandchild…12weeks…..tiny…and wonderful.
“Where’s the nurse away to?”
“She’s away to get a second opinion……. she says there’s no heart beat” Those words fell to the floor………something sharp pierced my heart and left me breathless, my heart seemed to stop, and I was rushed back in time to 30 years ago when I was told the same awful news. In my case it was two hearts. Two boys. Martin and Aodhan. I was 16 weeks pregnant with them and so had to be induced; an actual birth. Twenty first of November 1985.
I don’t remember moving over to my daughter, but I did because I was now beside her, helpless, motionless and dying again. I screamed inwardly and the vibration made my whole body involuntary rock to and fro. At some point I took her hand and at that moment both nurses walked in fragmenting this frame that held the scene like a still picture just as the phone had done moments earlier. It seemed to be a senseless moment that could not be undone. The words and their meaning could not be taken back and recycled into a different meaning.
The second nurse searched the screen for movement and there was none; as I looked I could see this tiny figure in the shape of a baby with two arms, two legs and head. I scrutinised the picture and noticed as I hadn’t before that its arms were wide open, stretched out like an angels’ wings. Then after saying how sorry she was the nurse said, “I can’t even offer you hope, you can see for yourself, another scan won’t make it any different”. Strange, but neither of us looked back into the screen after hearing those words ring into our ears.
The nurses then left us alone in this room that 10 minutes before was a happy room. Now, it was an empty room; a lifeless room where hope and joy evaporated in an instant. We were left with this unbelievable feeling of sadness and pain. New loss and an older loss that seemed renewed in an instant. It wasn’t just the physical or emotional loss, it was the loss of a life that would have enriched all our lives; life that my daughter helped create; but, it was more than even that. Twelve weeks is a long time to have lived with someone inside you.
With our heads now bent we crossed the car park and the same car that had played ‘So this is Christmas’ was still there waiting for someone to return but the music playing went on deaf ears this time. We reached the car and drove home. Not a word was uttered between us. Just our own personal thoughts, separate yet they must have been similar, though, perhaps not. I don’t know. How can anyone know someone else’s thoughts; no one knew mine 30 years ago so how could I even guess at my daughters now.
“Are you coming in for a cup of tea or a rest or what are you going to do now”? I didn’t mean right now that moment, I meant what was she going to do, how was she going to break the news……………
“Will you still get Eva and Joseph at 2 o’clock”?
“Yeah……..will you tell them”?
“No, they don’t know; I was going to tell them the good news after school…..they don’t need to know now…….they’re only kids”.
She drove away and I waited until the car was out of sight before I turned the key and entered a house that could never be the same as when we left it two hours before. There was an emptiness; no baby thoughts; no telephone calls that were promised to say how everything went. Roll on June.
Christmas is over and life goes on and my daughter rang today to ask “Can I cry now”?
FACTING THE TRUTH
Through the heavy rain I walked to the shops and as the small grass patch came into sight I stopped and took in deep breaths, well, as deep as my heart attack of 4 years past allowed, for my breathing has never been quiet the same but I ignore that fact as long as I’m still breathing.
The smell, the beautiful smell that, without fail, always takes me back to that other field from my childhood. It was a much larger field with a river running through it. We all played there almost every day of our lives except when the rain came. The snow made it into a winter wonder land year after year and we never tired of doing the same things over and over like swinging from tree to tree and back and forth across the narrow river to the banks that marked out our separate territories. It was really magical. If someone had told us that there were fairies living under the bushes along the river we would have believed them; in fact, some of us always had hope that one day we might experience a lost fairy or one who had been chosen to look out for us and who would know us by name. On Wednesday’s at exactly quarter to four the bells of St Teresa’s would ring and whatever we were doing down at the river we would stop and run up to the chapel for the weekly devotions to Our Lady. We would sing our hearts out and if one of us laughed then we would all take a fit of giggling and the priest in the pulpit would shout down for us to leave and leave we would, we were such obedient children. We’d walk out quickly, heads down and our shoulders shaking with laughter. There usually would be Rita O Neill, Valerie Thomas, the Marley’s, the Fitzsimons’s and us, the Watsons, oh and Isobel Jess as well. There is no smell in the world that I can think of, that evokes such happy memories as newly cut grass does; even in childhood the smell was of a different time altogether. Perhaps a time, long forgotten, before I was even born.
I had this fleeting thought as I stood there all most to attention, that it seemed strange that the council man or person, if I’m to be politically correct, should be cutting the grass in such heavy rain. It wasn’t as though the rain was soft or even light, it was cold and sharp and had been teeming down for some time. Anyway, I was grateful for the council worker’s dedication to community service.
The magic was broken by Mrs Parker, noisy for short, bumping her horn and calling out if I was all right. That was my que to move, but before doing so, I took in more deep breaths sucking in the smell as if to store some, so it might last for the remainder of the day. Turning the corner, I came face to face with a very dark-skinned woman who looked about my own age and I smiled, and she smiled, and our smiles appeared to meet with approval from each other. As we were about to pass, she on the left and I on the right of the narrow pathway, she moved slightly aside to let me have the right of way and reacting to this polite gesture I said before we blinked, ‘Isn’t that smell beautiful’ to which she replied
“I don’t think smell can be beautiful: it can be good, bad, not ugly off course, but, you can’t see smell so how can you say it’s beautiful? Taking three steps backwards to align her eyes once again with mine she then sighing wistfully said:
“I suppose you think everything is beautiful, lady” to which I replied without blinking an eye lid.
‘No, I sure don’t’
She studied my face before asking:
“Tell me, what don’t you find beautiful?” to which I replied instantly:
‘Lies, people who tell lies, especially about me’.
“Nobody likes a liar” she smirked knowingly “That’s for sure”
‘Well, not all liars are liars, some people aren’t liars all the time, they just chose their time and tell their lies or lie when it suits them’! But no one calls them a liar. People sometime just chose to forget a single lie regardless of its consequences.
“But” she said very very cocky, too cocky for my liking, in fact she sounded as though she knew what she was talking about, but she couldn’t have known because she didn’t know what I was talking about. Specifically, I mean.
“A lie is a lie and a liar is a liar and there is no in between, lady”
‘That’s like saying The Truth is always The Truth, but in fact it’s only The Truth when it tells everything, The Whole Truth’.
“I don’t get that, lady can you explain?”
‘I’m in a hurry, my kids will soon be home from school and I’ve no electricity left, I need to buy some and make them something hot for coming home’.
“And is that the Truth or just an excuse not to justify your statement”?
I laughed and as though taking up a challenge to defend my honour and replied “Well it is the Truth, but, like you said, not the whole Truth or enough of The Truth to give you the whole picture…………”
I searched her eyes, left then right and left again, but her focused stare was like nails being driven into my out stretched arms on a cross. I felt vulnerable. Forced to answer truthfully or lose all credibility in the eyes of this stranger who really should not have mattered in reality to me at all. Somehow her opinion of me did matter; my continued feel good day rose or fell on her reaction to what I was about to confide in her.
I recall only shadowy like figures passing us as we stood blocking the narrow pathway where we stood rooted, stuck, like in a time warp. Neither of us moved even an inch as prams and old ladies on simmer frames pushed past, perhaps because we were now cocooned in a virtual passageway; it seemed unreal as we both indulged in this game; the truth game!
“Go ahead lady, I’m waiting”
It was only then that I noticed she had a false eye, the left to be exact. It felt strange staring into a false eye. Pointless really. I wondered did she take it out at night and set it in a glass beside her bed. Silly to be thinking that when I was about to tell her something which I’d never told anyone before. I should be serious not fickle; though she could not have known what I was thinking and that made all the difference to how she might approach judging me.
‘Look’, I said, ‘I don’t tell my friends my secrets never mind strangers but we seem to have some sort of connection here.’ She nodded politely before saying:
“Yes lady, you may be right there” and I tried hard not to look into that left eye of hers but I now was finding it irresistible and hoped she would not take offence at my staring as I now realised she was aware; perhaps she was used to this with strangers?
Though I did not recognise her there definitely was something very familiar about her, even in her voice and its tone. Maybe, I thought, that she could only see half a truth because of having vision in only one eye. Silly, I know, but then we all have silly thoughts at times and no one can tell that by merely looking at us.
“Go on she said, I don’t have that much time either to stand listening to a stranger…go on tell me what’s not beautiful to you?’’ I thought to myself that now for this once I have this opportunity to say my truth to a stranger and then let it go and walk away without it……without the resentment and bitterness that it had caused me for these 20 years.
‘Okay’ I said, ‘I’ll tell you………I’ll trust you with my secret if you promise me you will never repeat it…….to anyone…..promise? With her real eye she looked into both my eyes one at a time and said sympathetically; almost compassionately, “I promise, I take promises seriously” Then I began, aware that I didn’t have much time because my kids would soon be home and the house would be cold for them.
‘As Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so too is Truth in the mouth of the speaker. I had always thought that, until a lie was told about me and some people, I may add, who didn’t really know me, choose to believe the liar. I was never asked for my side of the truth, but, their silence was conformation of their belief in the lie. Something beautiful dies with lies. A lie kills the truth. It’s not the facts or the reality; it’s something deeper than both. It’s part of the one who lies that dies and that side of it can never be undone nor brought to life again; the consequences of a lie can’t be untold because it’s been lived, acted out, rests in space waiting to be brought up brought home again. Emily Dickenson said, “A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day” and I believe that for I know that to be true’.
For some reason she started looking over my shoulder as if there was someone behind me, but I didn’t want to turn away from her not even for an instant.
‘Bye the way, my name’s Hannah’ I said trying to change the tone of communication between us.
“I’m hannaH also’ she replied and before I got to say what a coincidence she reported quickly “but I spell it back to front”
‘Hannah is the same spelt backwards, everyone knows that!’
“Yes, I know but I spell mine with the capital H at the end not at the beginning; how’s that for originality, lady”.
“Originality”. I gestured with my shoulders that I didn’t know the answer, after all it was a question she posed in ignorance. I got the feeling that she had asked just for the sake of asking and to see how I would answer such a daft question. But, answer it I did.
‘Maybe you see things in retrospect, could that be it?” Ignoring my response, she upped the pressure saying:
“Lady, please say what it is you don’t find beautiful……I’m waiting and getting kind of impatient blocking peoples right of way” and she began to take deep breaths to emphasise her growing impatience with me.
‘I’ve changed my mind; the need has left me to explain’
“That hump on your back will get bigger as your bitterness grows, unburden yourself now lady, grab this chance, I’ve helped people before to rid themselves of what they don’t need, that’s the truth!”
‘What I need to do to unburden myself is: to spit in the liar’s face, nothing else will release all this bitterness that I carry; it’s starting to feel like a cross I’m carrying and its getting heavier and I’m getting weaker; have you ever known anyone like me before?’
“I guess not, lady”
I looked in her right eye intently and thought I saw a tear well up, but in the left eye I saw myself clearly and I was horrified at the sight. It had to be me for there was no one else beside me.
Whatever really happened on that pathway I don’t know for sure but before I moved away to buy the electricity for my kids I realised for the first time how others must see me.
The other hannaH walked away and I watched as she turned and headed straight for the field. Maybe she couldn’t break away from the past either!
I must have been around six years old at the time. I was passing my parents’ bedroom, they slept in the big back room, the larger of three. The wallpaper was blue with pink flowered diamonds. There was a smaller back room and my brothers Sean and Joseph slept there. My sister Teresa and myself slept in the front bedroom, I do not remember the wallpaper in our room or my bothers.
In the big backroom there was always a cot. The sun shone through the windows all day long disappearing only when it sunk behind the Divis mountain that graced the view from our back. We were lucky. Having both the mountain and the little river that journeyed all the way from Divis to the Lagan flowed steadily through the back field that was our adventure playground those childhood days. In the hot summers there was not a day past that we did not go down to the river and play with the children from the surrounding streets in the 1950’s.
I stood in the doorway and watched and wondered what was in the box my mother had placed beside her on the bed. It was large and a buff colour. I had never seen it before and was curious, so I stood, unnoticed at first, then she invited me in to reveal the contents of the box. Mother was sitting on the edge of the bed, and I stood by her side as she slowly lifted the lid.
Instantly the smell escaped from the box, and I knew it had something to do with babies. The box filled to the brim with baby clothes. New-born. They were tiny, the size of which would fit my dolls. I looked as she lifted the little baby vest, the type that tied at the side. These vests were easy to put on and take off a new-born without hurting its tiny arms.
My mother was smiling, a soft half smile, taking each item carefully from the box unfolding it and then refolding it so tenderly. I looked at her and she, without saying a word, looked back at me. It was a moment of closeness, a feeling without the need for words an emotion shared between us, that I was never to experience again.
Putting the box back to into the cupboard she held it as though it were a treasure trove and I marvelled at way her gentleness brought so much joy into my heart. I felt so happy and for the first time realised that there would be a new addition to our family, why else would our mother have all those baby clothes in a box.
I moved quickly to let her pass me through the doorway. She touched my head gently, still without a word and continued downstairs. I heard her singing in the kitchen and knew she was peeling the potatoes for dinner. It was my job to lay out the plates before the potatoes were drained. It was an important job because it helped mother to serve dinner without the risk of it getting cold and as the plates were in a line she could judge better how much dinner to put on each plate.
The order of plates was usually: daddy’s, Sean’s, Teresa’s, Joe’s, mine and lastly mothers. When I got older the last two were rearranged to mothers and then mine. And when my two sisters arrived, ten and eleven years after me, I’d lay the plates out on a new and bigger table. Dinner time was always the same time in our house which was when daddy arrived home from work.
I never saw mother take the box out from the cupboard again. I opened the cupboard one day to check that the box was still there and to my surprise it had gone. I imagined that I could smell the baby cloths all around that cupboard and I wondered where they had gone. I never connected the missing box with the loss of a sister or brother.
Four of my mother’s babies were to die after birth. Gerard was around 6 months and I remember him so well in the large beige coloured pram. He was infused with the wrong blood type in a transfusion after suffering jaundice. The others I had never met. They all died within a day of birth. In later years my mother would speak about them, describing what they had looked like and calling each by their name: Gerard, Anne, Marie and Gerard (he died the day following his birth) she had held each one briefly in her arms and loved them each the same.
In town last week I saw a box identical to my mother’s and out of curiosity I lifted the lid to find it empty, and I remembered and thought. How could I forget my mother’s box filled with hope and love and potential? Never, I thought moving on to the pram section.