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.
The masked face stood over my dread-filled body. Inhale through the left nostril, exhale from the right; they said to do, in a book I read once. So I did. Imagine having your feet massaged. Visualise soft hands gently kneading away your fear. I did that too. But I couldn’t relax my tremoring body. I dug my fingernails into the palms of my sweaty hands as his latex fingers came at me.
I cried inside as I imagined life without lemon drops and fudge. I tasted blood. I felt dizzy. Then it was all over. Another rotten tooth extracted!
‘Mother, where’s the thingamajig for opening jars?’
‘In the knife drawer.’
I open the knife drawer, which has no knives in it. I rummage through all sorts of instruments; peelers, weird scoop things, funny scissors, whizzers and all shapes of silicone. A slip-on spout? Gadgets with attachments, blades and prongs. A spork and a chork? What happened the chopsticks?
Ah… here it is. The yoke for opening jars!
I suppose mother needs all these accoutrements. How else would she peel fruit, slice avocados, zest her lemons, measure spaghetti, spiralize veggies, flip her lids, and beat her meat? I wonder!