Balls

Balls

Balls

By Susan Browne © Susan Browne 2018/2019

Clara has moved to a Greek Island and lives alone. She would love to get her ex back, but she never imagined he would fall into the trap so easily.

Well, what would you do?

I find him at the side of a dirt road, dehydrated in the blistering sun, on my island. My beautiful gem in the dancing Aegean Sea, with white buildings, dotted like cakes.

Fritz left me seven years ago. I never got over him. And now here he is. Like an apparition.

He said I was much too career-driven to have time for a relationship. I was running my own business. What choice did I have? They say it gets easier, and when it became too late, it did get easier. Much easier. I get to go to a Greek island and not come back and hire more staff to sort things for as long as needed.

I’ve bought a scooter, so I can nip around and see things off the beaten track. I like being on my own. I honestly don’t have an issue with it. I’m the foreign lady in the house on the hill that is kind to cats of every sort – even raggy, flea-bitten ones. And that speaks Greek badly.

He puts out his hand, and I pull over. He wears a hat and sunglasses, but it’s him.

‘No way,’ I say.

‘Clara?’

‘Yes, Clara.’

‘Any chance of a lift? I’m out of petrol.’ That accent still does something to me. I do my best to squish it and stamp it out like I would a moth getting ready to eat my clothes. Keep it together, Clara.

‘So it seems. What happened?’

‘My bike is back there somewhere.’

He smells of sun cream, aftershave that I recognise, and, well Fritz. The human body is a miracle. We are just animals at the end of the day.

‘You can laugh if you like. I don’t care. Yes, I am an idiot.’

‘I’m not laughing. Maybe you had a leak in your tank?’

‘Or maybe I didn’t fill up for such a long ride.’

He still tans easily. Ever pretty. A Bavarian Mountain God. Six foot two, flaxen hair and glacial blue eyes. Sultry lips like his mother has just smacked him in the mouth.

The years have only improved him. He climbs on behind me.

Squish.

‘Let’s keep heading for this beach down here,’ I say. ‘We can get you some water. I’m just out.’ I want to lean back into him, to turn just a little and let my lips brush across his skin, but instead, I accelerate, and the bike lurches forward.

When we get to the beach, there is a small carpark where we dismount. After a few steps, he actually passes out right there on the sand in front of me. His head just misses a great big rock.

I check his pulse and its racing. An elderly man runs up to us, completely naked, and it dawns on me that this is a nudist beach. He straddles Fritz and announces ‘it’s okay, I’m medically trained,’ and begins CPR. I pull him off, and Fritz wakes up to a pair of balls swinging past his face and me shouting at the man.

‘We are okay,’ I say to the pair of balls.

We aren’t really okay, in truth. I should ask someone to help us to stand, to get water, but I just can’t bring myself to ask naked people. There’s just something about them. I’m going to manage him myself. Past all of these bodies, we walk arms around one another for support, across to the Red Snapper Taverna.

‘Water, please. Neró parakaló.’ I help him to sit in the shade. Fritz is shivering. ‘Easy,’ I say. ‘Drink it slowly.’

‘I want to eat something. Anything,’ he tells me.

‘I have the perfect thing in my bag. Close your eyes and open your mouth,’ I find myself saying. I take out a meatball that I have had wrapped in napkins, last nights leftovers brought along for snacking on the go. It’s still good. He opens his mouth and bites into it.

‘Oh my God,’ he says. He always loved my meatballs. He licks his fingers and looks at me, and I feel self-conscious. ‘I’m better now. Cured.’

I suppress the smile. ‘So, what are you doing here?’

‘I came to see you. I heard the news.’

I flush. ‘Oh that. Nice of you. Are you with anyone?’

‘No. I was, but it’s over.’

‘You came all the way out here to see me? Because you heard I was terminal?’

‘Yes. You look great though.’ He pauses. ‘How are you?’

I take a big drink of water. ‘Fine, actually.’

‘Fine? Nobody knew where you were staying, you’re hard to find. I’ve been here for days.’

I shrug and smile.

‘And I heard you are still making these amazing meatballs.’

I punch his arm and we both laugh.

‘I have missed you.’

‘Oh yeah?’

‘Every moment.’

‘Come on. You’re certifiable.’

‘You always said that.’

‘I was always right.’

‘So, if I am, you want to run into the sea naked with me? Since we are here on a nudist beach anyway?’

‘No, I bloody well don’t,’ I say.

Ever quick, he pulls off my top faster than I can react and runs into the sea, stripping as he goes. From there he throws his shorts out onto the shore. With just my bra and skirt on, I pay for the water and walk down to the water’s edge, cautiously undressing as I go. The waiter in The Red Snapper is used to it I expect. Here goes.

Truth is, I got the all clear months ago. I could have gone and told them all and got back to work. But it’s just too good here. So I kept it under my hat. Here, I write. I swim. I cook. I explore. The business ticks over itself and I get paid. Just a few emails and the odd call. They leave me alone. I hoped beyond hope that he might want to see me. That a part of him still loved me somehow. Still cared. I have a friend back in London that knows him. I was just about to tell her the good news then she mentioned she would be meeting him. So I thought I’d leave things the way they were. I know its lousy. I can always tell her now. I didn’t think in a million years he would actually come, but here he is. Bare as the day he was born in the sparkling surf. I could always say I only just got the news now. In my inbox today. Who’d know?

About this Story: This story was written in response to a flash fiction challenge run by NYC Midnight in 2018, where I had 48 hours to write a 1000 word story.

The Prompt: Genre = Romance; Location = a dirt road; Object = a Meatball.

The Candidate

The Candidate

The Candidate

By Susan Browne © Susan Browne 2018

A Flash Fiction Thriller. Josh is desperate to get work, on the verge of being kicked out for not having the rent. On finally getting an interview somewhere unexpected and bizarre, he is subjected to a test he hadn’t bargained for.

This morning I woke up to the sound of a tinkling bell and Tiddles licking my face with her tiny ragged tongue. Her paws are like something out of a dolls house. Her collar is too big for her scrawny neck. Her blue eyes too big for her head.

The landlord didn’t allow pets, so I had to keep her a secret.

On checking my email, I had a reply from my most ridiculous job application I ever applied for: a freak horror show assistant. Whatever the hell that is. It was shoved into my hand in a bar a few days earlier, a handwritten note advertising a job. And then this email came:

Josh,

We are interviewing this morning at 11, please reply if you can make it, and include your phone number so I can give you directions.

M.

The place was well outside of Sligo town, behind a caravan site, through acres of bog, a breeze from the Atlantic that would skin you. I had to bring Tiddles with me and leave her in the back. Too risky leaving her in the apartment. I banged the door shut and walked down the narrow, overgrown path. I had a weird feeling that I was being followed, and I tried to shake it. I thought I heard a van door being slammed again but convinced myself that was madness.

At the entrance, I was met by Sofia. She was far from Irish, had long, white hair with a streak of blue and a short denim skirt. I tried not to stare at the tiny tattoo under her left eye of a teardrop with a skull inside it. It looked strangely familiar, which threw me. She sounded Italian. She brought me down to the interview room which was an old staff canteen. I could hear someone shuffling down the corridor away from us. It smelled like a thousand spilt powder cappuccinos and cup-a-soups in there. And some other faint, repulsive smell that I couldn’t identify. On the wall, an ancient sacred heart flame lamp flickered red. The air was freezing.

She looked at me and smiled, but it did not reach her eyes. ‘Thanks for coming. Please sit down.’ I sat across from her on a red plastic chair, accidentally standing on cutlery on the filthy floor.

‘Do you like horror, Josh?’

‘Sure.’ I actually didn’t.

‘Do you scare easily?’

‘Scare?’

‘You know, if, say we said this place is haunted and we needed you to be the caretaker for the night, alone, would you do that?’

‘Sure. I don’t scare easily.’ That’s not entirely true, but I figured I might as well roll with it. I was about to be living in my van, or worse, with my dad in Castlebar, and that was scarier than any freaks in there.

‘Okay. This is a very well-paid job, and this interview is a sort of.. test.’ She flashed a ruck-sack full of money at me. ‘We pay cash, and we pay quick, immediately at the end of each assignment. We need someone with some kind of .. grit.. you see.’

‘Really?’ I just really heard the money part and began plotting my escape from my life of despair into a life of coolness.  Whatever kind of shit this is, I’ll have to do it. Me and Tiddles could live in luxury, free from huffy, eye-rolling landlords.

She turned toward an old brown microwave. ‘What if I were to tell you that something you love was in that microwave? What would you do?’

I laughed. ‘What? Like my favourite pizza?’

‘Not food. Something you care for. Personally.’

I felt hairs on the back of my neck stand up as she walked over to the old dirty microwave. I had this silly habit of making jokes when I’m nervous, so I said ‘what? Have you got my mam in there?’

‘Not your mam, she would not fit I do not think,’ she said, and grinned. Despite her pretty face, her teeth were yellow, and a little pointy, and her silver eyes widened alarmingly. ‘Meow,’ she said and rolled what looked like a cat collar bell between her fingers.

I stood up so fast I knocked the chair back.

‘Relax,’ she said, but I was already lunging towards the microwave.

Just then big strong arms yanked me back by the shoulders. I was being held tight and I could smell the sourness of sweat and feel a scratchy beard and lip stud against my ear.

‘We just need to know what you are willing to sacrifice. You see, to do this work requires a tough guy. Someone who can fulfil the assignments. Most people so far.. they don’t meet the criteria.’

I relaxed into the hold, feigning submission. ‘Do it,’ I said. ‘Switch it on,’ but as she did, I wriggled out from under the arms, stabbed a fork into the man’s leg and knocked the burco filled with boiling water flying. The microwave was on for less than a second, and Tiddles was stunned but alive. I shoved her into the bag with the money and ran. The man was yelling and hunched over in pain.

I ran through the bog to my van with Tiddles and the money which of course I should have left there. I daren’t look behind me. My lungs were screaming, and my vision was going dark and patchy. But I made it. My beat-up old van with no shocks. With very little fuel in it. At the end of an awful, old road that is overgrown in part. Potholes that you could comfortably bury a body in. The van made it.

Tiddles and I, we’ve decided to move South. The van is packed and we’re going in ten minutes. I had a few missed calls but I’ve switched the phone off and will be getting a new number. I’ve even put all the rent outstanding in an envelope, with the word thanks scribbled across it.

About this Story: This story was written in response to a flash fiction challenge run by NYC Midnight in September 2018, where I had 48 hours to write a 1000 word story.

The Prompt: Genre = Thriller, Location = an Interview; Object = a Microwave.

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Oh, Baby!

Oh, Baby!

Oh, Baby!

By Susan Browne © Susan Browne 2018

 

Ciara was expecting something more exotic for her online dream guy to work at than driving buses. However, the idea grows on her.

It turns out that the rugged faced Dub I have been stalking on social media for the past month is a bus driver. His profile speaks more of an engineer; lecturer; travel photographer; detective perhaps.

I still think his posts are brilliant and that he must be very smart. I accidentally liked one once, but usually I just quietly admire him, not commenting or interacting with him. My friends say I’m an idiot. I’m just shy I guess.

Nan says ‘you should never judge a book by its cover,’ as we sit here in the bus station having mushroom colored tea in thin paper cups. I’m not sure what she means, but I can’t ask her because she’s speaking too loudly and I know he could walk by at any moment. I still experience a giddiness at seeing him, even with the Bus Eireann uniform.

‘You could always ask him out on a date. What’s the harm in that?’ Nan smiles, triumphant. Her chihuahua, Baby, looks at me with his cute black eyes and appears to nod in agreement.

‘Nan, I can’t just ask him out on a date,’ I hiss.

‘You are so old-fashioned. In my day..’

‘Your day?’ I say, trying to imagine what Nan might have been getting up to in her day and then abandon the thought with a shudder.

My face reddens as he strolls right past us again.

‘I think he likes you,’ she says, using her outdoor voice.

He suddenly doubles back on himself and trips over Baby’s lead. Baby yelps with fright and hides under Nan’s chair as the bus driver falls to the white and green tiled floor.

‘Oh my God, are you okay?’ I say.

‘Plant Power Girl?’ He untangles himself from the lead and pats Baby gently, who sniffs him and then licks his hand.

He actually knows who I am. ‘Dara Redford?’

Baby, having made a quick recovery starts humping his ankle.

Nan says ‘This is my granddaughter, Ciara. She is at uni doing a Masters in.. what is it again, Love?’

‘Social Studies,’ Dara shrugs. ‘I saw it on your page.’

Wait, this guy actually reads my stuff. Looks at my profile. Creepy.

‘Well, it’s nice to see you in real life,’ I say, trying to sound aloof.

He strokes Baby’s head while ushering him off his leg, with expert panache. ‘I’d love to see you in real life again. Want to meet me for dinner sometime?’

‘I’ve loads of study to do,’ I blather.

‘No problem. Sorry for tripping over your lovely dog. Have a safe journey if you are traveling today.’

He tips his cap which I find a little cringy, but it makes me reconsider the Bus Eireann uniform. I like the hat and the shape of him as he walks away.

Nan looks at me with that stare she is so good at. ‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth, Ciara.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘I mean why the bejeezus didn’t you say yes? He’s an absolute ride.’

‘Delete that expression from your vocabulary right now.’

‘I’m just saying, I would,’ she grins, wickedly.

‘And that! Disgusting.’

‘I just want you to be happy. He looks a nice chap. Go after him.’

Our bus to Dublin is being driven by our own Dara Redford. As we board, he doesn’t make any eye contact with me. I want so much to say something funny, but the moment is lost, and I work my way to the back of the bus with Nan and Baby following behind me.

As we approach Dublin, he makes an announcement that we will be arriving soon, and I go onto his profile and send him a message.

Are you free Friday night for meet up in Galway? Sorry. Awkward with my Nan there.

I hit send and feel my blood pressure rise through the roof of the bus. Before I can say anything to him, Dara has hopped off and is retrieving passengers’ bags from underneath.

***

It’s been three full days of checking my phone and Dara’s profile about thirty times an hour. I am now content about the bus driver detail. I’ve even idly followed Bus Eireann’s page. I’m beyond smitten, and now he’s replied:

How about fish and chips at Spanish Arch at 7?

I wait all of four minutes so as not to appear too keen: I’m vegan, so I’ll bring my own. See you there xxx. The kisses were by accident. Mortifying.

It’s quarter past seven, and my nose is stinging.

‘Sorry I’m late. Shopping took longer than I thought.’

‘Shopping?’

He unfurls a smart, striped picnic blanket, and produces two very impressive looking salads from my favourite deli.

‘You’re so good. Thank you.’

I sit and eat, self consciously. Just then a miniature dog runs up and licks my hands. ‘Baby! What are you doing here?’ I expect nan is nearby spying somewhere.

Baby is not very impressed by the salad and looks down at the swans as though he is the boss.

 Dara turns to me and puts his strong hand on the side of my face, looks into my eyes with those deep blue lagoons and long lashes. I lean a millisecond closer and breathe him into every cell of my body. He says in his Colin Farrell accent: ‘can I be extremely forward and ask if it’s okay to kiss you right now?’

I reply by kissing him first. The whole world disappears around us.

Next, on cue, Baby starts gyrating on his leg. Nan’s head appears close to mine and says ‘don’t mind me. Want me to get you some proper food, Lovey? No need to eat that salad stuff just cause she is, there’ll be nothing left of you.’

About this Story: This story was written in response to a flash fiction challenge run by NYC Midnight, where I had 48 hours to write a 1000 word story.

The Prompt: Genre = romantic comedy, location = a bus station; object = a chihuahua.

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Must be Talking to an Angel

Must be Talking to an Angel

Must be Talking to an Angel

By Susan Browne © Susan Browne 2012 and 2018

Angel Story. Published by Woman’s Way Magazine, Ireland February 20th, 2012. 

Marilyn gripped her mug of tea as her friend Annabel continued with zest. ‘You should read the book after me. And since I have started reading it I have had lots of angel signs. I keep finding white feathers, hearing songs about angels on the radio and I know it’s them. Of course, it was probably happening all along I just didn’t notice.’

Marylin watched her as she spoke. She did look different. She had a glow that wasn’t there before. But something about what she was talking about seemed to create a knot in Marilyn’s stomach and transported her back into a classroom where she was about six.

She allowed herself to drift away from her friend and into the memory for a look around. The children were all listening intently. She couldn’t hear what the teacher was saying, but she sensed it was somehow connected to what Annabel was telling her.

‘Well, what do you think? I’ll be finished by this evening. I could drop it over.’

‘Okay,’ she sighed heavily.

‘What’s wrong? You love reading.’

‘I don’t know, Annabel. All this angel stuff. It’s not really for me.’

Annabel looked at her, crestfallen. Marilyn tried to make amends. ‘It’s certainly suiting you though. Just look at you; you’re radiant.’

‘I know. I feel a hundred times better. My life is changing in a way I can’t explain.’

That night Marilyn dreamed of being back in the classroom. She could smell the little pile of fresh pencil shavings carefully discarded in her inkwell as she tried to rub black marks off her fingers.

Miss Kelly was pointing at chalked letters on the blackboard. Little Marilyn watched colours dance and swirl around her. She saw a figure of light standing close to her, glowing and watching on lovingly. The golden form looked over at Marilyn and smiled. Then she demonstrated breathing slowly in and out, pointing at Miss Kelly. Marilyn’s mouth opened and the words simply tumbled out, ‘Miss Kelly I think your angel says you must stop and take a breath.’

The class went quiet and thirty-six eyes turned to face Marily. Miss Kelly’s angel seemed to flinch.

‘What did you say?’ the teachers face turned crimson and the colours around her turned into an ugly grey mist. Miss Kelly stormed over and cracked a wooden ruler across her little hands. The hurt and confusion she felt were much worse than the physical pain. Miss Kelly was her favourite teacher. She woke out of her dream and quietly got out of bed, reading the time as only 4:44. She wept as she relived the incident, trying to make sense of it. She made herself a hot drink and did some tidying before her body demanded she get back into bed. Immediately she slipped into another dream. This time Miss Kelly was an older woman dressed in a green jacket. Miss Kelly was apologising to her profusely. The dream was so clear.

‘It’s alright,’ she kept telling her, embarrassed.

‘I would love to make it up to you. What a beautiful child, telling me my angel’s message. How cruel I was.’ Marilyn saw her angel again, laughing and rejoicing, shining and spinning around her. She was also aware of her own angel embracing her with golden light.

‘I forgive you Miss Kelly,’ and she did.

When Marilyn awoke the next morning she had the urge to ring her friend Annabel straight away to tell her about the dream but something stopped her. It was just a dream after all. On her drive to work she turned on the radio only to hear the lines ‘must be talking to an angel,’ by The Eurythmics. It made her laugh. ‘So maybe there are angels,’ she smiled. She remembered to buy some sugar at the last minute and stopped at a different shop than usual. She joined the queue and gasped as Miss Kelly joined after her. She hadn’t seen her in years but was stunned to see her wearing the same green jacket that she had worn in the dream. The retired teacher gave her a warm smile.

‘You’re Marilyn, aren’t you?’ she said.

‘Yes Miss Kelly,’ she said.

‘Please call me Margaret. Can I talk to you for a minute?’ she said after a pause.

Marilyn agreed, feeling apprehensive as they walked out of the shop together.

‘Here is okay,’ she said. ‘I just wanted to thank you.’

‘What for?’ asked Marilyn.

‘I know this might sound a little strange, but I’ve always believed something you said to me when you were a child made me stop smoking. I was very hard on you when you said it, because it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I used to smoke sixty a day, I had terrible chest problems, and my mother was the same and died young because of it. I grieved terribly for her. But what you said made me stop immediately. I never smoked since. I am deeply indebted to you.’

‘Wow. That’s quite amazing,’ said Marilyn.

‘Can you still see angels?’ she asked.

Marilyn’s face reddened. Then she realised there was no need to feel afraid. ‘I did in my dream last night.’

‘Well I often see them these days, and your angel says there is a book you ought to read,’ she grinned. The light twinkled in her eyes. ‘I’m so delighted I met you,’ she said, and waved as she walked away.

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A Woman Much Like Me

A Woman Much Like Me

A Woman Much Like Me

By Susan Browne © Susan Browne 2005 and 2018

About this story: This was published by Woman’s Way Magazine, Ireland October 26, 2005. Set in Goa, India, which is one of my favourite places. 

Una could feel the heat immediately as she stepped off the plane and made her way down the steep metal stairs. A sense of euphoria bubbled up inside her. The sun embraced her body, warming her bones and lifting her spirits. She thought of Garrett and said under her breath, ‘can you feel that, Garrett? Isn’t it marvellous?’

‘Look, Mum, there’s the terminal over there. Will we have to walk?’ a little boy said to his mother who was trying to carry about five pieces of luggage and not really listening.

‘I think we will have to walk. You’d better help your mam with all that stuff,’ said Una. He looked up at her in surprise, but her warm smile reassured him.

Una started walking. She couldn’t stop smiling. ‘We’re here. In Goan paradise at last,’ she whispered, looking down at her two swollen feet bulging out of her beige sandals.

The airport had been modernised since she and Garrett had come, and things were very efficient this time. The taxi ride took half an hour. She just stared out of the open window at the strangely familiar sun-scorched scenery. The palms clung together in forests, and then they straggled out across fields, some with crops and some barren and daunting.

‘Are you travelling alone?’ the taxi driver asked her after a while.

‘Well, I lost my husband last year. But we planned to retire out here. And I think he’s sitting right here beside me if you know what I mean,’ Una grinned as she was sure she was right. She stroked the crucifix pendant that she wore for reassurance. She was sure this was all quite plausible. She did not notice the frown on the driver’s forehead. Or his inability to reply. It wasn’t her problem. She had arrived.

All the arrangements had been made with Mr Atal whilst Garrett was still alive. And she had been in regular contact since. The girls thought she had gone mad. They even tried to talk her out of it. But she was so sure. So determined. One day they spoke harsh words to her: ‘Mum, you’ve gone crazy. It’s a normal grief reaction,  but you have to see it for what it is. You’re an old woman; you won’t survive in India on your own.’ She had lain awake that night fighting off the terror they and other well-meaning friends had instilled in her. Una had wept until they took pity on her and tried to approve and be happy for her. ‘I know the place like the back of my hand; it’s like a second home,’ she had insisted.

She sensed she might be an embarrassment to them. But Una didn’t feel old. And now she was here, out of the grey, drizzly November of Ireland, she felt even less so. Mrs Atal was there to greet her. She had flowers for her on a string, like a Hawaiian necklace. She hugged her and told her she was ever so sorry about Garrett. ‘You’ll be okay. We are nearby. I will send friends to help you settle in,’ she looked the old Irish woman up and down. Her grey hair was still the same length, in big awkward curls, and her face was red and shiny in the heat. She had lost a little weight, but her face was still plump and pleasant. She wore a coloured silk blouse that had been purchased there and was showing its age.

‘You’re so kind,’ Una squeezed her face and gave her a kiss. Mrs Atal looked a little embarrassed but remained warm. She showed her around the house that Una remembered so well. It had been changed a little. Celtified. Garrett had stated what decor and facilities they would need and it had all been arranged for them. It was still very India though. Kashmir rugs that they had bought three years ago had been aired and thrown across the tile floors. The bed had a good mosquito net around it. The bathroom was now wheelchair friendly; this had been the most expensive job of all. You just never know, Garrett had said as she had sighed about all the money it was costing.

‘You just never know indeed, Garrett,’ she said quietly.

‘Pardon,’ said Mrs Atal.

‘Oh nothing, Pet, I’m just mumbling on to myself.’

‘You must miss him, Una. I think you are a very brave woman,’ Mrs Atal turned to face her.

‘Thanks, Love, I don’t know if I’m really all that brave at all.’

‘You are, you are wonderful,’ she smiled, and then looked away quickly in case Una should squeeze her face again. That minute her mobile phone rang.

‘Oooooh things change don’t they? Everywhere you go… There was none of them the last time we were here,’ said Una.

Mrs Atal smiled politely and answered the call. She spoke quickly in her own language. Una had seen this before. It looked as though she might be having an argument and then suddenly the tone would change and it would all seem friendly again. She would try to guess at what the words meant. Mrs Atal was not long on the phone. ‘My husband wants you to join us for dinner. Would you like this?’

‘Of course I will. I’d be delighted,’ Una laughed.

‘That’s good. I’ll pick you up at five. Is that okay?’

‘That’ll be just grand,’ said Una.

‘Do you need anything before I go? I bought you some bottled water for drinking.’

‘You’re as good as gold, Mina, as good as gold.’

After Mrs Atal had gone, Una realised that she was here for the first time without Garrett. Even though she felt he was here in spirit she missed his physical presence, and someone to talk to. She looked down at her flowers, which were already starting to wilt with the heat of the day and the warmth of her body. ‘I’ll go and have a shower before I unpack, Garrett,’ she said, and carefully peeled off the necklace.

You do that, love, she imagined him saying.

‘It’ll be too late to go to the beach now; I’ll wait until morning, shall I?’

Yeah, better off. It’ll be dark by the time you leave the Atal’s house. 

Unpacking was strange. None of his socks and shorts to sort through. She wished she had brought them along anyway. She put her hand into the empty suitcase and smelled. Trying to get a smell of him. Sun cream that had spilt years ago filled her with memories.

Oh, feck that bloody suncream! Look at that, Una! My best feckin’ shirt!

‘Don’t worry love. I’ll sort it when we get home,’ she said to the case. ‘Home… but now this is home. This is our home now, Garrett. I’ll have to see if I can sort it here,’ and she laughed to herself. She laughed until she curled up into a little ball on the floor and began to cry.

Dinner at the Atal’s was lovely. Their son was back from the States on holidays and his wife had a strong American accent. Una enjoyed knowing more than she about the place. Her parents were from Delhi and she had never been here before. She was beautiful and elegant. But not as elegant as Mrs Atal, even though she was twenty years younger. Mr Atal kept looking at Una, as though he was afraid she might burst into tears at any moment. But Una felt happy here. She loved the company and the local food. She just wondered how she would face her lovely house all alone tonight. And tomorrow, and the next day.

On the beach the next day Una remembered she must phone the girls. It was too early now. They were five hours behind. There were more bars and restaurants on the beach this time. Lots of bodies, young and old, were sauntering by. She shook her head firmly at the beach sellers who offered their produce, then kicked off her sandals and walked into the sea. The Indian women kept covered up, even in the water. Yet the Westerners bared all, ignoring the stares. ‘Nobody would stare at me,’ Una said to the sea, and laughed at the idea of stripping down to her swimsuit. ‘Not today thanks, I’ll take this sun one step at a time.’ Just then she noticed another Caucasian woman that looked her own age. She had seen her and was wading towards her.

‘Good morning,’ she said in a European accent.

‘Morning. Lovely isn’t it?’

‘Yes, it’s very beautiful. Have you been here long?’ she asked kindly, for Una was snow white in colour and had obviously just arrived.

‘No, only got here yesterday. How about you?’

‘I am here for one month. I am thinking of living here for the rest of my life.’

‘Me too. I have a house just a minute inland.’

‘I am renting but wish to buy too. I was supposed to be coming with my husband, but he died a few years ago. So now its just me’ the lady smiled bashfully.

‘Really? You are brave. But then I guess that makes me brave too.’

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Disrupting Places

Disrupting Places

Disrupting Places

By Susan Browne ©Susan Browne 2006 and 2018

Short Story set in North Kerry. Inspired by seeing an extension being built. Came first place in 2006 Ballydonoghue Parish Magazine Writing Competition, North Kerry, Ireland. Written in North Kerry colloquial language. 

‘I couldn’t sleep after all that at all,’ she said, pouring more milk into my tea.

‘Because of the holes in the yard?’

‘Not just holes – deep trenches. Cut out of the ground. Ones deep enough to bury a horse in. Stretching this way and that.’

‘The foundations of your extension?’

‘Yes. It kept me awake.’

‘That’s nuts. Why would it keep you awake? Just excited, I s’pose.’

‘Excited yes, but scared too. Scared that it might be disturbing old spirits.’

I pulled me tea over to myself, for fear she’s put even more milk into it.

‘The old spinster that lived in the house before us mightn’t like it. Us rooting around and all that. And those that lived before her, that lived on this patch of land. They might be bothered. Those who lived as far back as when you didn’t wear shoes and central heating was your stomach after the dinner.’ Her eyes shone.

‘Sure extensions are going on every day in North Kerry. And as far as I know no spirits have come bothering people yet.’

‘But how do you know?’ she said. She was right of course. Spirits may not simply arrive in their Sunday best and say ‘Hello, you have caused me great upset by building on your new conservatory. ‘They might do subtle things.’

‘Subtle things like what?’ I asked.

‘Well just hanging around in a dissatisfied manner.’

This made me smile so I had to turn away a little. My imagination is fairly vivid, you see. ‘But what about the existing house?’ I said. ‘That’s only built since the seventies. Wouldn’t that have upset a few spirits that weren’t quite as old back then but older than the seventies people all the same?’

She said ‘Yeah but they’ve had time to adjust by now. This is a new… ahh… disfigurement. A new wound. She used her hands for emphasis. ‘Now how can I explain it? Have you ever been into a new building and found it uncanny that just months before the place you are standing would have been in thin air? And beneath you the mud and whatever grew and lived there are now suddenly drowned by concrete?’ She briefly mimicked a person drowning. My mouth opened and closed.

‘Like the new building in the hospital. It’s like it doesn’t quite belong there yet. The air and the space there just hasn’t had chance to accept the change.’

‘Ah now you’re really doing the dog on it,’ I said.

This time she smiled. But I knew out of coyness and not irony. I knew she was really serious; and being kind of an agreeable person I had to agree a little. I mean none of us really know.

‘Now the walls are up,’ she said, ‘it’s not so bad. When we get living in there, happily so please God, we will start to make the place exist.’

‘As ye imprint yourselves on the space and air and time and stuff?’

‘Now you’re talking.’

I stuck my nose into my mug and finished my tea. I left the scone till after, knowing it would be divine. From the new bakers in town. The one that might be upsetting the old clothes shop spirits, since we were on such matters.

‘I hope the tea will taste as nice in there.’

‘What do you mean?’ she said.

‘Well if the spirits were upset then they could put a bad taste into it.’

‘Really? I never thought of that.’

Then neither of us knew who was codding who.

‘But Mary,’ I said, ‘how do you know they’d be troubled by it all anyhow? They might only be delighted of the change.’

She wrinkled up her nose before considering it. ‘Well that’s true too of course. But then you never think of that when you wake in the darkest hours of the night.’

‘No then, you don’t I suppose.’

THE END

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