I took up fiction writing in late 2011 when my daughter turned three and started Nursery School. My first three stories, ‘Rent a Chair’, ‘Ballyfotherly‘ and ‘The Scent of Lavender’ (extract below) were kindly accepted by Ether Books and are available as free downloads. The Ether App is free for Android, iPhone, iPad, etc, and is bulging with great short stories, most free, some to pay for and by authors such as Hilary Mantel, Lionel Shriver, Louis De Bernieres, etc
‘No Blue Roses’ was published in Issue 3 (December 2014) of The Incubator Journal (pg. 26) and is readable online, along with poetry, flash fiction, essays, and other short stories by Irish writers.
‘The First Wife’ is a Flash Fiction piece that was shortlisted for the Allingham Arts Festival prize in 2014 (entitled ‘The Second Wife’ then). It was published in Haverthorn Magazine’s inaugural issue in March 2015.
‘The Moon-Faced Girl’ is on Englanti Editing’s website – a resource for English learners and writers writing in English from all over the world. It won Englanti’s Story of the Year Award in July 2015.
‘The Sweating Stone’ was accepted and published by Severine Literary Journal in Issue 2 which came out in September 2015. A few edits were made without my knowledge and it’s hard for me to read it now, but check it out and see what you think.
My biggest success to date was winning The Bath Short Story Award in July 2015 and subsequently being published on page one of the anthology they published for the 2015 award. The anthology contains 20 stories in total, including the top three prize-winning stories as judged by literary agent Carrie Kania of Conville & Walsh, as well as selections from the short and long list of the competition. See Bath Short Story.
The Scent of Lavender
(Extract – full story published by Ether Books, available as a Free mobile download here.)
If they arrest me they’ll have all the evidence they need. They’ll say it was premeditated. Wouldn’t take a genius to come to that conclusion. Premeditated? More like predestined. If I end up in court, my old social workers will come forward, lay it on thick about my disadvantaged childhood. From what I read in the newspapers and see on the best-seller lists, child abuse is a hot topic.
The other kids called us bogtrotters. Granted, we lived in a remote dive on the edge of the bog, but they were hardly city slickers themselves. It was more our clothes and our looks that led to the nickname, rather than where we lived. They saw us coming into town on Josie Clancy’s rickety old minibus, but none of them ever came out to our place. They’d have spread the word and we’d have been called a lot worse. That’s for sure.
Why did our Ma insist on calling such a hovel “Lavender Cottage”? Well, she always wore lavender perfume and the house was purple. The oul fella picked up a job lot of paint from some conman in the bar one night. Of course, he never considered the guy had a reason for selling it from the back of a pickup the darkest night of the year. Next day, he was up early, rummaging around in the shed for his old decorating tools.
“Now you’re all gonna see an expert at work,” he said. “They didn’t call me Picasso O’Dowd for nothin’ ya know.”
Maybe it wouldn’t have been quite so gross if he’d painted the windowsills and the door a different colour. But he insisted that yellow and purple were opposites on the colour spectrum. They’d make a nice contrast. Oh, yeah, right on, Picasso. The place looked like something from a kid’s colouring book after he’d finished. Anyone driving past on the main road, would probably laugh or puke, but they wouldn’t laugh if they knew what was going on inside.
* * * * * * *
Yesterday was my twenty-first birthday. I celebrated by going into town and buying one of those businessman’s fancy in-flight bags. You know the kind, lots of pockets for passport and tickets, keys, mobile, pens, socks, ties, two folded shirts and a waterproof section for toiletries and after-shave. It’s black so it goes with the rest of my gear. I’ve chosen the independent film-maker look. I’ll be keeping my hair a bit messy and wearing a pair of those weird little rectangular glasses – black of course, to complete the ensemble. They should get me past passport control at least. Then I can take them off. They’re just those off-the-shelf reading yokes and they make your eyes hurt when you don’t need them.
Brendan won’t even notice I’ve nicked his passport. He’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. Christ, I used to have some fun winding him up when we were in the same foster family. It was too easy at times. I could laugh out loud when I think about what I did to him. Still, he’s doing okay for himself now. Computers were always his best bet. Data entry sounds a bit dorkish and boring to me though. He says he works with a load of girls, but I’m sure they take the piss out of him as well. That’s just Brendan’s fate in life.
So, what’s my fate then? I guess you could say that since ninety-seven I was destined to kill the oul fella, although I never seriously planned to do it. Our mother was intellectually challenged – that’s how they put it in the case notes. I read them when I turned eighteen. She always said she never noticed anything going on and couldn’t help with their enquiries. But she had a photographic memory.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” she’d remind me. “I can still remember the face on you Mikey when you picked up that knife and said to your da, ‘I’ll kill ya, ya pig!’ It was your seventh birthday and we’d all just finished eatin’ the cake. I don’t know what set you off.”
My memory may not be photographic but I know. It was the old, “come into the bathroom an’ we’ll brush your teeth” game. Something inside me snapped when I heard him whisper that to Cathy – she was just four then. There was no way I was letting him start on another one. At least my hissy fit put a stop to it that time, even if he did spoil my birthday by beating me senseless.
I’ve written out my schedule for tomorrow and it all looks good on paper. According to my old case worker, Sharon, he’s due for release at nine in the morning. They’re flying him to London – his choice. I switched off after I got that detail out of her. Can’t remember all the stuff about a new identity and the paedophile register. As if I care about that. Does she still not understand how I feel?
After she hung up, I went straight onto Brendan’s laptop and checked out the flight schedules. Two flights from Galway to London on a Tuesday – seven-thirty and eleven-fifteen. I booked my ticket on-line in Brendan’s name, using his Visa card. He never noticed I’d borrowed it last week and photocopied it. This time I remembered about those three numbers on the back as well.
People used to mistake Brendan and me for real brothers, so I shouldn’t have any trouble using his passport. The photo is four years old anyway and with the glasses and the messy hair, it’ll be easy-peasy. I don’t want any trace of another O’Dowd on the flight. So, that bit was no problem. All I had to think about after that was how to do the deed. Could I do it on board? Would he have a prison guard or a social worker with him? Could I follow him at the other end and do it when I got the chance? I decided I wanted closure the same day. I didn’t want him to enjoy one single night of freedom. Let his last night of dreaming be in that cell in that miserable hellhole where he whinged about harassment from the other scum.
I thought over all the crime novels and detective stories I’ve read. Then I remembered an episode of True Life Crimes and a lightbulb went on in my head. Mary and Jim. Jim had exactly what I needed.
Mary and Jim were the best foster parents I’ve ever had. They always had time for me and forgave me for all the hassle I caused them. I kept in touch with them on and off since getting out of care, so it wouldn’t seem too strange if I dropped in. Jim was usually on his own on a Sunday afternoon watching soccer on the telly. That was Mary’s time for doing her visiting – old people, sick people, disabled people, young single mothers – you name it, Mary would get involved.
Jim was sitting in front of Man United and Sunderland when I arrived, and at half time I offered to make him a cup of tea.
Everything was just the same in the kitchen. I looked at the table and remembered the first time I sat there. I was nine years old. I’d never tasted homemade hamburgers and potato wedges before. I looked at Mary and said, “Is this a dream?” I reckon that did it for her. There was no way she could say no to taking me in after that. Later, she told me it was my scabby knees and skinny, dangling legs that melted her heart. But I think she was just kidding.
When I went into the fridge for the milk, I saw all Jim’s diabetic stuff. Still on the same shelf and he was still using the insulin pens. I slipped one into the side pocket of my combat trousers, swiped his “I am a diabetic” bracelet from the key rack, and took him his tea and digestives.
* * * * * * *
There’s interesting stuff on the Internet, but there’s a load of crap as well. Brendan’s addicted to blogs and networking sites. I suppose it makes up for not having any real friends, apart from me. I kicked him off his chair one night and he sat looking over my shoulder. So I Googled some really boring things first. After a while he got sick of bag-filling machines from Korea and he shuffled off to watch a DVD with the other losers. The pages on insulin all said the same thing. It’s lethal if injected directly into the bloodstream. Something called hypoglycemia happens and this can cause a coma, irregular heart rhythm, and death. One bit stood out: “The longer the hypoglycemia lasts, the greater the risk of permanent neurological damage.”
If I could get at him early on in the flight, or even just before it took off, nobody would even notice. He’d probably just fall asleep. That became my plan. I would push past him when he was taking his seat, or reaching up to store his jacket or bag, or whatever, and just stab him with the insulin pen. He’d feel it of course, but I’d have another pen in my hand, or maybe a sharp pencil would be better. I ‘d say sorry, I’m doing a crossword, or something like that. I’d take the opportunity when it arrived.
When I was a kid and looking forward to something exciting, like an access day with my brothers and sisters, Mary used to tell me to get to sleep early and tomorrow would come all the quicker. It worked for a while, but I soon started tricking her into believing I was asleep. Once I heard her and Jim go to bed, I’d sneak downstairs and flick around the satellite stations for a few hours. I know I saw things I shouldn’t have at that age. They were no worse than what I was forced to watch at Lavender Cottage.
Tonight I feel the excitement I used to feel on Christmas Eve. Mary and Jim were generous and always managed to work out what present I was dreaming about. I’ll never forget that morning I rushed down to find a shiny, blue bike sitting in the hallway. Happy days.
I’m ready now. I switch off the light and lie there repeating their names. Frankie, Jamesy, Breege, Marion, Aidan, and Cathy. After Frankie’s suicide and then the disappearance of Breege and Marion, I made sure Cathy enrolled at the same college so that I could keep an eye on her. She’s the youngest and she got out of Lavender Cottage just after she turned five. There was always more hope for her.
Cathy’s doing catering training and she likes to cook me a roast lunch every Sunday after she goes to Mass. I hope I make it this week.
(Extract ends … to read on, please go to Ether Books)