Story Chat is a place on Marsha Ingrao’s blog–Always Write–where a different author every month shares their short story. Readers come together for that month to chat about the story.
As it’s impossible to include every detail in a short story, readers have to use their imaginations to fill in the gaps. This is an enjoyable part of Story Chat, reading the different opinions and insights. Everyone has a different idea of the backstory and of what happens after ‘the end’.
Story Chat is also a great way of receiving feedback. Reading the feedback on other people’s stories can also help us improve our own creations.
I was thrilled to have my short story, Backstab, featured on Story Chat for the month of August. It was lovely to have that sort of engagement and to receive some great comments from the readers.
Today’s story is in response to Charli Mills’ 99-word challenge. August 22, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story exploring shame as an emotion or theme. Consider how to use shame to drive a cause-and-effect story. How does it impact a character? Is there a change? Go where the prompt leads!
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His tiny bones were found buried deep in the earth; unworthy of a holy grave. He did no wrong!
He was born from the innocent womb of a young woman. Her voice too small to be heard. Powerless against a society filled with sanctimonious humans. She did no wrong!
An insignificant woman, robbed of her deserving place in society—impure, blemished, broken. But she did no wrong!
Those who hid under black and white habits, the ones behind the twitching curtains, and the men who robbed and walked away, weren’t the ones who carried shame. But they did wrong!
Dressed as an old peddler woman, I scrutinise everyone that gets off the small passenger ferry. No strangers today; only a few locals returning from work on the mainland. No city folk looking to escape from civilisation. And no uniforms looking for me.
I stroll along the shore, watching two puffins floating lazily on a crestless wave—in tune with Island life. This is where I belong now. Not in that shit hole prison. I’m not a killer. I’m a philanthropist.
‘Put me out of my misery,’ he begged as he lay in his sick bed. So I did!
My 100th post of our #100DaysOfOldDays project, is a little different to the others. This is a piece of fiction that gives an insight into some of the characters in my novel, Secrets in the Babby House, which I plan to publish later this year.
The story is set in Bailieborough, Co. Cavan and it spans over three decades; from the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies. You might recognise some faces in the photos, but these characters are completely fictional. Thank you to my very good friends Roisin, Jackie and Roza who came for “Tea With Ruth O’Malley”.
Ruth In the upstairs living quarters of a drapery shop in Bailieborough, Ruth O’Malley was preparing tea for her best friend—and fellow devotee of the Legion of Mary—Goretti Lynch. Goretti and her daughter Flossie often went to Ruth’s for evening tea.
As Ruth shelled hard boiled eggs, she pondered over the prospect of her only son John, marrying Flossie. Not just any girl would suit her John. The Legion of Mary women referred to John as the most desirable bachelor in town. Eligible, they said he was. Flossie was a quiet respectable girl with no intentions of gallivanting the world, like some people. She and John were still fairly shy in each other’s company but Ruth knew it was only a matter of time before they would begin a courtship.
She dressed the eggs with dollops of salad cream and a good sprinkling of parsley. She stood back and admired her spread. She had paid extra attention this evening because Goretti’s sister-in-law Bridgey, was coming too. (Extra sherry in the trifle.)
Goretti Goretti Lynch wished she could be more like her friend Ruth; popular, stylish, confident. And well-off! Goretti’s late husband Eddie, was a good man of course, and had provided well for his family so she shouldn’t complain. They did well bringing up their three children; Danny the priest, Catherine the nun and Flossie the soon-to-be school teacher. And if Goretti’s prayers were answered, soon-to-be wife of John O’Malley—the Catch of the Parish!
Goretti repeatedly praised her daughter’s talents in front of Ruth and Frederick and it was paying off. My John would be very lucky if he were to marry a girl like your Flossie, is what Ruth said one evening in Molly Fagin’s house. And she could tell that Flossie was growing more attached to John; that wistful and desirous look in her eyes lately. A courtship was on the horizon for sure.
Bridgey Bridgey Lynch wasn’t the type of woman to be ungrateful towards others. But Ruth O’Malley irritated the hell out of her. The woman talked far too much—about herself and everyone else. Bridgey no longer considered herself a country woman. After thirty years of living in Dublin, her natural affinity for Bailieborough had greatly diminished, just like her tolerance for meddlesome people. The long bumpy bus journeys to the rural town where she grew up were for the sake of Flossie. It was her job as her aunt to make sure she didn’t get bullied into a life she might regret—like Catherine and Danny. Bridgey was in the humour for a good big glass of sherry (or two).
Flossie Flossie Lynch walked a few steps behind her mother and her auntie Bridgey as they headed across The Green towards Main Street. She was relieved when Mrs O’Malley told them earlier that unfortunately John and his father would be out for the evening and they’d be having tea without them.
Flossie was quite certain she’d cope for the evening without John staring at her through his thick glasses and suffocating her with his mothball odour. They had absolutely nothing in common and she had no doubt that he found her just as boring as she found him. Flossie’s belly rumbled. At least Mrs O’Malley always served up delicious food…the only reason she liked going there.
Teatime Bridgey brought a big box of Lyons tea and cinnamon biscuits with her. And two bottles of French red wine. Ruth liked to see Bridgey having a wee drinkie, presuming that the only time she could be herself was when she back in her hometown. She’ll probably retire in Bailieborough when the time comes, thought Ruth.
Flossie brought Flowers and Goretti brought her usual homemade apple tart. ‘I’ll put them into the vase you bought me for my birthday,’ purred Ruth as Flossie handed her the bouquet of chrysanthemums and gerberas. Ruth knew rightly that it was Goretti who bought the vase and it was probably Goretti who bought the flowers too.
Then Ruth noticed the slit up the side of Flossie’s pencil skirt. ‘That’s hardly a skirt you’d wear to work Flossie.’ Goretti sniffed sharply and looked sideways at Bridgey. Flossie flushed slightly and glanced up at St. Therese hanging on the wall. ‘It’s not for wearing to work Mrs O’Malley. Auntie Bridgey gave it to me.’ ‘What’s wrong with it?’ Bridgey snapped.
Ruth scrunched up her face. ‘The big slit up the side.’ ‘She’s not a child anymore. And it’s only a wee slit. ’ Ruth handed Flossie a glass of red lemonade. ‘Is that what they’re wearing up in Dublin?’ Bridgey didn’t answer.
‘Auntie Bridgey said I can have sherry seeing as I’m not a child anymore. I’m eighteen now.’ ‘What do you think of that Goretti?’ asked Ruth. ‘Ah Ruth, a wee sherry will be fine.’ ‘Well, you may drink that lemonade first,’ said Ruth.
Flossie liked her auntie Bridgey. She was different than her mother and Mrs O’Malley. They have small minds, Bridgey once said. And Bridgey also said that Flossie could go to Dublin and live with her if she wanted—as soon as she was eighteen.
After what Flossie heard about Frank Connolly she might just do that. Get away from this place and everyone in it. Then she wouldn’t have to think about him…and Alice.
Goretti and Ruth drank wine at the table. Auntie Bridgey drank more sherry—more than Flossie had ever seen her drinking. Flossie didn’t care much for it at all and just had tea. ‘Did you hear about the young Connolly lad?’ Ruth began. Bridgey helped herself to a serving of sherry trifle. ‘I hope you’ve plenty of flavouring in this Ruth.’ ‘Just for you Bridgey…plenty of it.’
‘What about the Connolly lad?’ Goretti probed. ‘Well, he’s got himself involved with that Ward lassie from the mountain and…’ Bridgey interrupted again. ‘I was saying to Flossie here that she should come to Dublin and study teaching…get the right qualifications.’ Goretti turned her attention from the gossip to her daughter. ‘Qualifications? You can’t do that. Sure isn’t Miss Kennedy teaching you all you need to know!’
‘I’d die if my John talked about moving away from home,’ Ruth sighed. ‘Flossie won’t be going anywhere and that’s final.’ Goretti poured herself more wine. ‘Come out to the good room Goretti and I’ll tell you what Molly Fagin told me yesterday.’ Ruth guided her friend out to the sitting room.
Bridgey smiled sympathetically at Flossie. ‘I’ll talk to her tomorrow. Tonight wasn’t the right time.’
A different plan formed in Flossie’s head. She looked at the framed portrait of John that hung on the wall below his parents’ wedding photo. Maybe she should get to know him a bit better after all.
I have a fantastic sense of smell. My children often tease me about it because I smell things that no one else can smell. “You and your nose Mammy.”Scent is important. Sometimes it evokes a memory; it can give us happy feelings or sad feelings.
I have photos in my camera roll that make me feel warm, hungry, refreshed, excited and sometimes nostalgic. It’s not just the image that conjures up feelings, it’s also the smell associated with the image.
Here’s my favourites.
The refreshing scent of the sea and freshly washed up seaweed.
Black Magic Chocolates.
Freshly Cut Grass
1 cent, 2 cent and 5 cent coins. (For when we play cards at Christmas) Copper coins remind me of childhood days!
Aw the lovely smell of Cotton after she’s had a bath.
My son sent me this photo. This little munchkin will be joining the family this Christmas. I can’t wait to hold him/her and inhale the most gorgeous scent of a new born baby. This is my favourite smell in the whole world!
“Do you remember the Big ‘47 Snow?” That was a question my dad asked people of his vintage and older—strangers too! When they said, “Yes, I remember it well”, Mam would roll her eyes and prepare to listen to the ‘Big ‘47 Snow’ conversation for the millionth time. People he met who didn’t remember the Big Snow…well, he told them all about it!
If Dad had been still alive during the 2020 pandemic and the lockdown that came with it, I think he would have said, “This is like the Big ‘47 Snow.” Death, isolation, fear, uncertainty. Over 7,000 Irish people died from COVID-19. In comparison to that, hundreds died as a result of one of the biggest snowstorms ever to hit Ireland. But the country suffered in many other ways from the impact of the 1947 snow.
Snow fell sporadically during January and February, and Arctic winds blew for several weeks before the eve of the 24th February, when the biggest snow began to fall. It continued all through the night and the next day. A blizzard driven by the bitter Easterly gales, whipped the entire country. I hear stories that it snowed for close to fifty consecutive hours at that time.
Railway lines were blocked by 6 ft drifts. Main roads were impassable, buses couldn’t run. Turf bogs were buried under six feet of snow. Emergency fuel consignments came in from Britain.
Co Wicklow was hit hard. Many people were unable to leave their homes for a month. Some houses were completely covered in snow and there were people who lived on only potatoes for weeks.
The country experienced blackouts and 1000’s of phones were cut off. Farmers had to take their animals to lakes and rivers to drink, having to break the ice there on a daily basis. Lavey Lake in Co Cavan, was one of the many lakes that froze over. A man even drove his car across it.
The Bailieborough news reported that the Tuesday night bus from Dublin got stuck in the snow near Mullagh and many passengers set off walking to Bailieborough. After their six mile trek, they called to Shaffrey’s Hotel (now the Bailie) and Mrs Shaffrey fed the cold weary travellers and gave them a bed for the night.
There are many stories to be told about the Big ‘47 Snow—some tragic, like this one. A water-filled quarry in Kimmage had frozen over and to the local children it was a winter wonderland playground. The Gardaí had tried their best to keep the children off the ice but they always found a way in. On Sunday March 2nd while about twenty children were playing hockey, the ice broke. About half a dozen of the children plunged into a black hole of icy water. Passersby rushed to rescue the children. Some were saved but tragically three of them died in the freezing quarry. One of the boys who died had been thrown a rope but he had held on to the hand of a young girl in the water beside him, and he lost his grip on the rope. The girl survived!
It was indeed a bleak period for many.
My uncle Philip recalls being told the story of the roads being level with the ditches and 2 ft icicles hanging from roof gutters. Deliveries of bread were dropped at my grandparents’ house for the two shops further up the hill.
My mother-in-law Betty, remembers a two-year-old neighbour child falling deep into a powdery snowdrift and having to be pulled from it. Their well, which was also used by the neighbours, was completely buried. Their water for many weeks was melted snow.
Snow that fell in parts of Ireland during January remained until the middle of March because of below freezing temperatures. Between the days of January 24th and March 17th, it snowed for thirty of them. On St Patrick’s Day there was still snow behind the ditches.
For weeks the country was a sheet of frozen snow and black ice. Everyone who lived through The Big ‘47 Snow has stories to tell about it. Dad always enjoyed sharing his, and loved hearing other people’s memories too.
1947 is a memorable year weatherwise for the Irish, but for the Cavan people it’s memorable for a different reason. Sure wasn’t that the year Cavan beat Kerry in the All-Ireland final!
Kate O’Reilly, from my hometown, recently posted a collection of photos on her Facebook page, that she took in a museum in Limerick; Old Irish Ways. I wish I had some of these photos in the earlier days of our 100 day project. A couple of the photos brought back so many memories of times gone by.
This photo in particular! In the 70’s, some shops still looked similar to this. Soden’s in Bailieborough was one. The old weighing scales and meat slicer on the counter. The old cash register. Newspapers and comics laid out. Cigarettes in 10’s and 20’s, visible to the customers.
“I’m going up the town for a few messages,” Mam would say when was going to the shops. On a week day she bought something for the dinner, and bread and milk. Nothing that wasn’t needed! Although, sometimes she’d buy five penny bars but end up eating a couple of them on the way home, so we’d get half a penny bar each.
We loved the Friday shopping that was brought home in a big cardboard box—or two. They contained much the same as every other week, but it was still exciting to empty them. Maybe there’ll be a sandwich cake this week, or digestives instead of the usual Morning Coffee biscuits.
When we went shopping with Mam, we had absolutely no say as to what went into the trolley. We wouldn’t dream of trying to sneak anything into it. Christ, you didn’t take those kind of risks when you were a 70’s child! We also took little notice of what Mam put into the trolley. But when the big box landed on the kitchen table, we dived right in.
We were a sliced pan family. Some people were Batch Loaf…religiously! There would be at least four sliced pans in the box—brown for Dad and white for us. And a bag of wholemeal flour for making the brown cake.
There would have been a pot of Mace strawberry jam, Mace marmalade and Mace diluted orange. (Mam always kept a check on the pennies and bought store brands whenever possible.)
She bought cream crackers, which she had to hide from us. There was always Morning Coffee biscuits, sometimes Marietta. It was later in the 70’s that the bourbon and custard creams became regular items in the shopping box.
A box of loose Lyons tea. It was well into the 80’s before Mam bothered with tea bags. Tins of beans and alphabet spaghetti. Tins of creamed rice and peas. Jelly and Instant Whip for Sunday. She had to hide the jelly with the cream crackers, because in reality it was a big fat square jelly sweet…a giant wine gum! And it smelled so delicious…of course she had to hide it!
Birds Dream Topping was an alternative to fresh cream. It was such a treat to get it, which wasn’t very often.
“Give it a whirl.”
Birds powdered custard. Oxo cubes. A box of Bisto—the one you had to mix into a paste with cold water. Never instant gravy.
There might have been a sachet of Apeel powdered orange drink and Rise and Shine from Kelloggs.
A four stone bag of potatoes. Carrots, parsnips and onions for the stew. And cabbage and a turnip. Always! We would get some sweets on a Friday. Penny bars, lollipops or jellies.
Porridge, cornflakes and Weetabix were our cereals. And I’ve just remembered…Ready Brek. I hated it!
Apart from the tall plastic container of Saxa salt and the smaller one containing white pepper, Chef Brown Sauce and Coleman’s mustard were the only condiments on our table. If there was a bottle of tomato ketchup in the box we got excited! In the summer we had Chef Salad Cream.
So what fridge items were in the box? Bottles of milk—even though the milkman delivered to the door every morning. Sausages and corned beef. Calvita cheese and Easi Singles. Eggs. A big square tub of margarine; the soft spreadable creamy type that lasted a week. It went on the spuds, the bread and for making buns. And a lump of boiling bacon.
On the top part of our fridge there was a small freezer box so there was very little frozen food in the shopping. There was always frozen peas and fish fingers. Sometimes frozen burgers. We got excited if there was a block of ice cream and a packet of wafers.
Most of these things still exist and some are in my own shopping bag every week. But some are very hard to get or no longer exist.
3 Hands washing up liquid. I’d completely forgotten about it until I spied it on the top shelf in Kate’s photo.
Floor polish in a tin. You had to get down on your hands and knees to polish the floor with this stuff.
Mam used Daz washing powder (and sometimes the Mace brand) to wash the clothes. Daz gave your whites a bluey white.
Remember the little muslin bags that contained a cube of blue stuff? It was stirred around in the washing to make the whites whiter. It was called Bluing. I think it’s still available in liquid form but maybe not in the wee muslin bags.
Vim was a scouring powder for cleaning the sinks and the toilet bowl. It came in a fat cylinder box with holes on the lid so you could shake out just as much as you needed. Waste not, want not.
Mam used Sunlight and Lifebuoy carbolic soap for household cleaning. We had Palmolive and Shield soap for bathing. Although, I have memories of being scrubbed at the kitchen sink with the carbolic soap on a summer’s evening, when ordinary soap wasn’t enough to remove the mud, grass or tar marks on our hands and knees.
There was definitely no liquid hand soap or shower gel in our bathroom. We had bubble bath sometimes. Mam had nice soap for herself; Lux, Camay or Imperial Leather. (She still buys Imperial Leather.)
Camay created a soft creamy lather that gave a woman a complexion as smooth as porcelain. Most of the adverts showed women washing their faces with Camay soap and being amazed at their beautiful soft skin afterwards. But this particular advert has a more humorous slant to it! I think it’s very funny!
Iodine was used for cuts and grazes. TCP was also put on cuts and used as an antiseptic for most skin ailments.
Any mention of a stomach ache and we were fed Milk of Magnesia or Syrup of Figs. I didn’t mind Syrup of Figs, but dreaded Magnesia.
Here’s an old-fashioned metal list of the messages.