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.’
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