Wednesday, 19 August 2015

A Short Story | "A Mark on the Calendar"



This is the first time I have shared a short story on my blog. I am by no-means an expert, but you have to start somewhere. This story, I would like to add, is a fictional piece. Grab a cup of tea and have a read and let me know what you think in the comments below.

I folded the clothes like I did every other day. Edges, crisp and parallel to one another, a strict structure to make up for the one that my life lacked. Pretty blouses and tops I’m not sure I’ll wear again for some time. Wednesdays were “pay-day”, laundry-wise. I had a system of jobs to do every day – the same system I’ve had since I was fourteen years old. 

I could hear her stirring upstairs, she liked to take her time to make her appearance. I took a break from the clothes and flicked on the kettle. What mood would she be in today? Her humour swung mid-air daily, and you could only hope the pendulum would land in the favourable direction. 

Every morning she walked in the kitchen, she looked stunned almost, surprised to find herself in the house she had been living in for a handful of years or more. “Good morning, Mam” I tuned to her. She flew her head around, was she surprised to see me, too? “Ah, morning.”

I watched her find her way around the kitchen; checking that everything was in place. Yesterday’s newspaper caught her attention, political so-and-sos plastered on the cover. “Enda Kenny,” she choked, “Taoiseach? How did he manage that?” About twice, or even three times a week, this revelation would take the weight from under her feet. “So the Fianna Fáil crowd are all booted out? Well, I can’t say I’m sorry that it happened – too many shady characters in it, I would say. Although I did take a shine to Eamon Gilmore. He’s still the head of the Labour party now?” For argument’s sake, it was easier to go along with whatever put her mind at rest, “Yes, Mam, he’s still there in the ranks with the best of them.” I don’t think Joan Burton would be losing sleep over my attempt to appease my mother.

The kettle finished boiling, she took a cup down from the cupboard, poured the water, popped in the teabag and stirred it. As I was about to go back to the clothes, I could see her bringing the cup closer to her mouth. She had forgotten to put the milk in to cool it down. I darted from the other end of the kitchen, and took it from her in a matter of milliseconds. If I was a fraction of a moment too late, I would be nursing a scalded lip, mouth and throat. She tried to contest with me, “I was going to drink that, actually.” Keeping my patience in line, I tried to level my voice as calm as I could, “Why don’t you get the milk?”

She studied the door of the fridge, her eyes honed in on the picture frame I had picked, a photo of us on our holidays in Tenerife five years ago, happier times. Beneath the beaming photo, My Daughter, Sorcha, was etched. I intentionally placed it where she would she would see it several times a day. She turned her head to find her eyes on me, she smiled – with the brown, beady buttons I had inherited from her, but it didn’t feel as genuine as it did before. Alongside the photo was a note, it read:


Today: Wednesday 12th August 2015
Sorcha receives her Leaving Cert results
Aunt Mary will pop around at lunch-time, she will bring you to the GP for 1.30

I started leaving these notes on the fridge a couple of years ago, we don’t speak about them, I write them and she reads. It’s said without saying it; we both know why they’re there.

She returned to the counter, not a shade of embarrassment for her slip up two minutes prior, “And you’re getting your results, today? Very best of luck with them, and sure the hard work is done and dusted now, what will be, will be.” I wished I could have believed her.


I deliberately waited until lunch time to head to the school to pick up my results, so that I could get Mam organised for the day. As promised, Aunty Mary arrived at 1.30 to relieve me for two hours or so. I didn’t avail of a great deal of help from the family, part of me doesn’t want to bother them, part of me wonders if they sincerely mean; “If you need anything, just let us know”. It had become a catchphrase over the last while, words – that’s all they are. Having said that, I was grateful. It was important for my mother to go to her regular check-ups. She had been put on the latest clinical trial to treat early-on-set dementia. Every year there was some new “breakthrough”, and whether or which this new cocktail will make any difference would remain to be seen. I was anxious to make sure she was kept on the programme. We have to cling to hope wherever we can sometimes. 

Mary looked at me wearily, squeezed my shoulders and tried to lighten the tone in her voice, “I’m sure you’ll have done great, take deep breaths – it’ll be all over soon enough. Are you sure you don’t want someone to walk down with you?” Funny that, I thought, I’ve seem to miraculously manage everything else on my own and somehow sit exams amid the functioning chaos that is my life. I sighed, “I should be grand, thanks. As you said, it’ll be all over in a jiffy.”

I hadn’t given myself a spare minute to think about what the numbers on a piece of paper will tell me this afternoon. Admittedly, I was just so caught up in getting my exams finished, to be able to say I did them, that I had almost forgotten there were results to be sought afterwards. I took the route to the school, it probably being the last gander I would have for some time yet. In my mind, I had it all sorted. I planned to defer whatever course I’d be offered for a year at least until I had some long-term-fixture in place for Mam. 

*****

The following day, I received a message from Johnny, you have to hand out credit where it is due, and he had been a determined individual the past few months in his effort. I put him off time and time again – who would, in their right mind, decide to put all their energy into someone who has all theirs deposited solely in caring for a person? 

Bearing that in mind, I had a look at my phone all the same; 
“Hope you’re happy with your results. Fancy meeting up for lunch one of the days, catch-up? - John-Boy”

Just as I was about to reply, to reiterate the response that he knew was looming, there was a knock on the door. I checked to see that Mam was safely resting in the sitting room before I answered it. The last person I was expecting to see, stood the tallest I had ever seen him, it looked like he was standing on clouds. If this were a film, John’s signature genial smile would have taken up the whole frame. He consciously organised his charcoal hair into a perfect mess, and dressed head-to-toe in Hollister. He was a man that meant business.

Not alone did he not give me a chance to answer his message, he interrupted me as I was opening my mouth to ask what in God’s name was he playing at.

“Cool the jets,” did my face look as stunned as I felt? “Your mother will be well-taken care of, I called round to your Aunt Mary-“ queue the entrance of the woman of the hour “- and sure look, perfect timing. I had a feeling you’d take your time to get back to me – so I thought if I rocked on up-“ 
I cut across him, “That I’d be snookered?”
His smile went crooked, “I didn’t realise my company was so torturous. No more questions, grab your coat.”

I went into the kitchen to fetch another couple of layers. Mary was putting Mam’s medication into little plastic boxes – she was due her will it, will it not work concoction around about now. I’m not used to going here, there and everywhere at the drop of a hat, “Mary, what’s happening? Are you sure you’ll be okay here for a couple of hours? I didn’t know I was heading anywhere ‘til he showed up-“
“Don’t worry about it, pet” she cooed, “It’s all sorted, you deserve a break. Like we always say, wherever we can help, we will.” The evening’s sun was streaming in and wrapped around her heart-shaped face and platinum coloured hair, making her look like an angel in disguise. I pulled my most thanks a million, you’ve saved the day smile I could muster.

“Sorcha’s off on a date, Bridget, with John down the road.” she said to my mother as I was running out the door.  I grimaced at the label she chose for this turn of events, but my mother would probably forget my whereabouts as soon I got into the car.

***** 

John was the first person I had made friends with when we moved to Lucan eight years ago. He is quite literally, as clichéd as it sounds; the boy next door. He had become my closest and dearest friend in no time, it’s hard to say no to his charm – even as a ten year old. In the last year he had been hinting towards something a bit more committed than our friendship that had stood the test of time. I had tried to steer him clear – he can be just as stubborn as me, it seems.

You could tell John took pride in his VW Polo, despite the fact it was obvious he lacked leg-room, whereas I had plenty. Now that I think of it, I saw him sponging down his precious chariot earlier this morning. 

Although, at this stage in the game, I could nearly trust him with my life – I didn’t like to be left in the lurch. “If you could fill me in on where exactly we’re going, that would be delightful, thanks.”
He grinned at the stretch of road in front of him, rhythmically tapping his fingers on the wheel. A lilac sky cast, signalling that summer was in its prime – but it didn’t provide an ounce of any calming effect on me. I honestly thought he was going to get premature wrinkles with all the smirking he has been doing today alone.
“It’s a surprise, you see,” he was enjoying this, “all in good time, squirt.”

Since leaving our home in Lahinch – the sea and beaches along with it have been the single thing I have missed since moving to Dublin. I hadn’t acquired the salty, crisp air that my lungs fuelled on in quite some time. Even when I do get a dose of it when we’re down, I only consume it in snippets. The air by the coast would make anyone feel young, the sand curled up in your toes keeping you grounded.

My eyes blundered when we pulled into the car park by the promenade in Sandymount. John whipped his head to me, “Since you’re always given out about” he gestured his hands around, and he pitched his tone into a squeak; “’this polluted oxygen we are subjected to’, this is the best I can do, missy”.

While he never seems to stop taking the absolute piss out of me, and I thumped him hard in the arm to let him know, this was the nicest thing he had done for me – it felt strange to be thought about for the first time in an age.

We didn’t say much when we initially made our way onto the strand. Granted, I am on the other side of the country, but thundering onto the shingly grit made me feel closer to home. 

“Isn’t a shabby way to spend the evening, I suppose,” John uttered the first words between us in the last ten minutes. It was getting chillier now, but if it was as cold as the Antarctic I think I would have still kept going. He continued; “And neither is the company, can’t stop the chat out of you,” winking at me.
“I’m just thinking,” 
“That’s what all you women say, sure we all think.”
“Do you want a bruise on that arm, John-Boy?”
He stopped in his tracks and turned towards me, surrendering his arms into an empty space.
“What’s on your mind then?”
I sighed, “What isn’t?”
“Now, now” he teased, “tell Uncle Johnny all about it. You never told me about your results?”
The results. I hadn’t thought much about them myself, being honest. 
I inhaled deeply, I hadn’t said them out loud yet to anyone; “I got 455, I reckon I’d have enough for Multimedia in DCU, my first choice, but I’m not sure-“


He stopped immediately again. Eyes popped, jaw opened and set in such he way he’d never pose for a selfie. His voice cracking and pitching to random frequencies; “Sorcha, that is absolutely, UNREAL? Aren’t you pleased?” He looked like a Jack-in-the-box that was about to set into orbit, RDS show-jumping style.
I thought about it for a bit, surprised at his reaction in comparison to mine. “Ah yeah. I’m delighted,” was I lying? “I’m just not sure if I can accept the offer on Monday, if it comes around. You know how things are at home. I can’t dream of leaving Mam unattended, even for a day. All hell will break lose, I’ll defer my place.”

He didn’t say anything for a minute. Instead, he looked out at the sea and we kept walking while the waves lipped and lapped over one another, a neat strip of foam forming on the shore line. The two Poolbeg chimneys out past the water looking as lost as I felt.

He gestured for us to sit down in a sheltered part on the sand. Finally, he started to speak, taking in a deep breath before he began.

“Sorcha, you are one of the most determined people I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know. You have put everyone else in your life before your own, and that is something I will always admire about you, you’re completely selfless. I know, believe me, you haven’t had it easy the last few years – and you haven’t looked for any medal for all the work you do for your Mam.” He took a break, another breath, as if he had rehearsed this all week; “But you have your own life to live. Life is for living, isn’t it? You can’t live in the shadow of your mother forever. And I know that sounds harsh, but it’s because I care about you that I’m being honest about all this. You have so much going for you, so much so, you don’t even realise it. 

It’s time for you to think about yourself for a change. We can figure out a way to make sure Bridget will be looked after.  I promise, if it is the last thing I’ll do, I’ll get this to work. We can do it together, because you deserve the best chance – you above all people do, at least”.

I knew John wasn’t a lad of few words, and he stuns me from time to time with half the stuff he comes out with, but this was a new level for him. Deep down, I was agreeing with him. There’s usually something about his manner, that makes me always want to contradict and argue with him. Everything he said was true, a voice of reason. 

He looked smug, happy with himself after the speech be bellowed, “and no strings,” he said, “Pinky promise.”

I laughed, forgetting the last time I had done so. I laughed until it hurt and my head felt dizzy, I laughed until I sensed that I could push the waves all the way to Clare and back. I laughed until I could loosen the nuts and bolts inside my head, clearing the fog. I laughed until I fell and buried my head into his shoulder, without feeling self-conscious, like I had already started to live, unapologetically. 

I didn’t think I’d ever compose myself. “You’re right,” I beamed at him, “your opinion on many a thing is questionable. But you’re absolutely right.” 

On that note, he hauled me to my feet, his face a mirror of excitement, and picked me up in his arms. “That’s settled then,” he chorused, “you’re ready for the off.” 

I laughed again and threw my head back, splinters of rain falling on me as we whizzed around, I would have welcomed a flood, because they tasted like the purest drops of adventure.


*****

I fumbled with my house keys as I was paving my way towards the front door. I took a glimpse at myself in the pane of glass on my third attempt to turn the key clockwise to let myself in. The sea-air must have gotten to my head, I thought. Even in the reflection I saw before me, with its saturated colours toned down, I was the picture of the perfect matrimony of health and happiness. My auburn hair, although, now a mess – went well with my flushed cheeks,  my freckles didn’t demand to be seen half as much, pupils dilated – a sign of youth I was told before.

I found a note on the cabinet in the hall, it seemed I just missed Mary twenty minutes ago; “I had to pick up Tom from his match, I made sure mum was comfortable before I left. Hope you had a nice time.”

Before I summonsed myself to the sitting room, I calmed my breathing and patted down my hair, Mam wouldn’t recognise me in the slightest in my windswept ensemble.

Her eyes darted up, she looked more here, more present, and I saw Mary had helped her get ready for bed. “Ah, you’re back. Did you enjoy yourself?  How is John keeping?”
She remembered.
Overwhelmed, I opened my mouth; but I couldn’t think of anything without hiding my emotion. The day I dreamed of, when she could recount, even a minor happening in the day - had fallen on my lap and I didn’t know what to do about it.

I raced over to her, threw my arms around her neck and my blubbering, salty tears dampened the shoulder of her cardigan. “Ah now loveen,” she soothed, “was it that bad? I’m just after watching the news, it seems I’m behind the times, I feel the same way about Gilmore”. I managed to gather myself, and I cupped my hands around her face, “No Mam, everything’s great, perfect even”.

She started to come back to me, with the 13th of August forever cherished.

6 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness Catherine, I was absolutely enthralled reading this! I would love to read chapter after chapter of this story! Please keep going with it, I'd love to be able to read it cover to cover one day :)
    Maeve // Thrift O'Clock

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    Replies
    1. Aw thank you Maeve, that means so much - it really does! Who knows what'll happen, but I'll bear that in mind and you'll be the first to know about it ;)

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  2. Good job Catherine! You should be really proud of yourself :) x

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  3. Yes! So much yes.


    That is all :) xx

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