wo weeks after our wedding, I am
being persuaded by Niall to climb on
Finn McCool, and have a ride. I
feel excited but fearful at the same time. Anyway, I’m finally sitting upright in the saddle and
my fear is gone. Sure Niall can persuade me to do anything!
‘It feels grand. I love it!’
‘I knew you would.’ Niall is smiling and his eyes are like stars.
Suddenly, Toby the dog comes running after the ginger cat and they come right up to Finn Mc Cool's front legs. He makes a neighing sound and leaps into the air. I fly through the sky and land in the mud.
‘Kathleen!’ Niall shouts my name.
The sound is far away for a minute, and then I can hear him all right again. ‘I’m all right.’
He's lifting me up, very gently, cursing the dog and the cat at the same time, and apologizing profusely to me. He’s taking me inside and laying me on the bed. My head aches.
That night I wake up, screaming. I can see monsters com-ing to take me away again. One face belongs to someone I remember! I know who the monsters are! I remember who I am. I scream. Niall wakes up.
‘I'm not a famous pam....pampered dancer living in a tower. I'm a...they call us…Tinceard…O Niall, what would you want being married to me?’
‘Sure I’m totally in love with you Kathleen. I don’t care about all that class distinction stuff. You’re the most wonder-ful girl I’ve ever met, and the most gorgeous! The important thing is, can you remember your name then?’
‘Niamh. That’s my name, Niamh Murphy.’ He is hold-ing me tightly and I’m pouring out the things I remember and relating my dream to him. ‘What would the Connors say if they knew I was a tinceard?’
‘Don't worry; I won’t say one word to them! This is be-tween you and me and God! And you know, whether you're Kathleen or Niamh, you’ll always
will be a famous dancer, and my queen. Begorrah, we'll get away from this place. Listen to me now Kathleen Niamh!’
Somehow he makes me look into his face. He kisses my forehead and continues, ‘I have a bit of
money in the bank. Just let me sort out a few things, and then we'll go far away from here. We’ll just ride off into the sunset.’
My crying and trembling stop as I lie in Niall's comfort-ing arms the rest of the night.
‘Niamh Kathleen,’ I hear my name and struggle to open my eyes. Niall’s face is close to mine.
‘My one true love, do you mind if I move my arm.’
‘I’m sorry!’ I raise my head.
‘It’s as stiff as a dead cat,’ he moans.
‘O Niall, I’m sorry. Are you all right?’
‘It’s going all pins and needles, so it must be still alive.’ He turns to me, rubbing his strong, hairy, arm. ‘But you're worth having pins and needles any time.’
He kisses me softly on the forehead again. I throw my arms around his neck and we indulge in a very passionate kiss. For a long moment we lose ourselves in each other. After a while we both need to breathe again. I can’t help smiling.
‘I feel better, much better…after that terrible dream. Niall, don’t ever stop kissing me like that!’
‘Don’t worry, if I live to be a hundred I’ll always kiss you like that. Niamh Kathleen, I think everything is going to be grand.’ His lips find mine once more.
Later that day, I'm busy in the kitchen, rolling pastry for Missus Connor. She’s just gone outside to
sharpen a knife on a stone. We're making apple pies.
Niall comes in and speaks quietly in case Missus Connor hurries in unexpectedly. ‘Listen, Kathleen, Tom wants me to go up to Dublin with him. He's got a good tip on a fine racing horse. He wants my
advice. While I'm up that way I'll get the money, he gently squeezes my shoulders.’
‘O Niall, please don't leave me.’ I grab his arm.
He holds me tight, flour is going all over his shirt. He's kissing my forehead and hair.
‘We'll be back in less than a week, I'll make some
arrangements while I'm in Dublin.’
‘Take me to Dublin with you.’
‘I will. We’ll go there and be happy ever after. Right now, you have to stay here. Missus Connor will be good company for you. I’ll be back in no time at all.’
‘Take me now, please!’
‘I wish I could, but I can’t! I promise I will take you there in a week or two!’
‘All right then. Remember, you promised!’ A thought comes to my mind right then. ‘What must be
must be. My Aunty Maura used to say that! I can remember so much. O Niall.’
‘Your Aunty is right. I’ll come back to you. I will, cross
my heart and hope to die. We’ll dance all night in Dublin, that’s a promise!’
‘O Niall, I keep getting horrible visions, even during the daytime now! I can see my drunken father, falling over me in a shed. Then my Aunty Maura is having a stand up fight with him, banging him with a brass pot or a stick to stop him doing something bad…’ I gulp for air between my words and tears.
‘Now now, ’tis going to be all right. These
thoughts will go away. They’re only in your mind.’
‘I can’t bear them…I can see Maeve and me huddled together. We’re frightened to death by the cursing and swearing of my da…’
‘It must have been terrible for you. But you’re safe with me now. I’m your very own man, your
‘Hold me Niall.’
‘It’s all right.’
I keep talking as I lean into his breast. ‘I am always shivering and hungry in my visions. I can see myself going from door to door asking for a bit of bread and my stomach turning itself into knots with the growling and groaning. I hate the life I had and now I want to keep the life I've found. You know something, Niall?’ I look up into his concerned face.
‘I wish I never got my memory back. But then, I'm glad because now we'll get away from this place forever.’
‘We will, we will. I promise, if it’s the last thing I do, I’ll take you away from here.’ He bends his mouth to mine and we indulge ourselves in a long passionate kiss…
‘A hem…well now, I think Tom is getting anxious to be off…’ Missus Connor tries to be discrete as she comes in the door.
We pull our lips apart from each other. My mouth tingles from the passion of Niall’s kiss.
‘Sorry Missus Connor. I’ll be off then.’
I smile at my beloved Niall as he shyly lowers his red face
and hurries off. At the door he turns and looks into my face once more, his eyes betraying the deep passion in his heart. In that instance it seems that our hearts leap from our bosoms and fuse together. Suddenly, he’s gone, leaving me with only
an ache where my heart used to be!
Niall and Tom Connor have been away for two days now and I'm kept right busy with all the extra work around the place. Each night I’m waking up in a sweat, my da's face in front of me; him with a pitch fork in one hand and a bottle of the drink in the other. He always says, 'You need to be wedded now.' His face comes right up to mine. His face is cut and blood drops onto me. His eyes are red as though they’ve been roasted in the fire. His teeth are clenched and coloured brown. His face is imprinted with blue and red lines, like streaks of lightening zigzagging across his cheeks and nose. His nose is red and huge, like it’s a Christmas light. Long whiskers poke out of his nostrils, which move in and out like a bellowing bull. Spittle drools from the sides of his lips. His tongue is green and red and has lumps on it. He holds the huge rusty fork in his rough hands. The long prongs of the fork are held against my neck. I wake up at this point, trying to scream, but I can’t because of the prongs on my neck. My forehead is always dripping and my heart is nearly leaping out of my bosom with fear. Through the day I repeat what Niall said, ‘Everything is going to be fine!’ Then I feel better.
‘Kathleen, I need to go into town today.’ Missus Connor announces as we sit down for breakfast at
thseven on the morning of Wednesday 13 September.
Her words bring a strangling fear to my chest. ‘Why so?’
‘I want to get a bit of wool,’ she says slowly, looking away. ‘I've got nary a bit left. I think we might be needin' some little garments in the not too distant future, the way you and Niall are...carrying on.’ She looks sheepishly at me.
I stare. What on earth does she mean? I'm thinking.
Suddenly my face feels hot. I bury my head and stare at
my sausages, black pudding, fried eggs, tomato and bacon. My stomach heaves just seeing the food. ‘You don't mean...a babby!’
‘Well, you never know. I'm very hopeful. I've never been a grandmother. I think it would suit me fine.’
She's very hopeful! What about me? I never even thought of such a thing happening until this minute. ‘Excuse me…’ Before I take a mouthful of food I feel so sick I have to run outside.
By nine o'clock she is all spruced up in her best jacket, her light grey; the one she wore at our wedding, with her dark grey pleated skirt and light grey hat with flowers on the brim. She even has stockings on. She's wearing her deep pink, double frill blouse, which gives her an enormous bust. Her lips are bright red. She looks really strange climbing into the old rusty truck. Toby leaps up beside her before we can stop him. She tries to shoo him away, but he is stuck to the seat and won't budge. He whines and looks sad.
‘He can come for a spin,’ she says.
I notice that her face is as pink as her double frill blouse.
‘You’re all right now?’
‘I’m fine thanks,’ I reply, smiling as brightly as I can. ‘I think I just overate.’
‘Sure you need to keep your strength up. You take care of the place now, won't you Kathleen, mo vhoirneen? The fowl need feeding and the pigsty needs a bit of a wash down. Keep yourself busy. Idle hands are the devil's work.’
I’m keeping very busy cleaning up the kitchen, then feeding Ginger the cat, then the chickens; then I'm filling a bucket with water and carrying it across to the pig sty. I wish they put the pump a bit nearer the pen. I don't particularly like the pigs, but they remind me of my pig book, so I put up with their honking. I am not sure how to clean their home with them in it. Tom or Niall, and sometimes Ned do this job. Maybe, I’m thinking, I should take the pigs
out and put them on the grass, and then put them back in. But what if they run away? My thoughts are interrupted by the sound of voices.
‘Thank God,’ I say aloud. I look up hopefully, expecting to see Niall and Mister Connor coming back early; but there before my eyes I see a band of men, yelling and howling. I remember my
nightmares, and then I'm making a run for it. I can see me da. He's lagging behind the front-runners. I can see his grey jacket flapping in the breeze. He’s got some weapon in his hand, a pitchfork! I'm looking for a place to hide. I jump over the pigsty wall in one leap. The pigs are a bit startled and back off as I crouch down behind them. They stink and make noises like sirens and I tell them to shush. I’m
grabbing one of them and trying to hold it in front of me, but he's making a terrible screaming sound. I’m letting him go and lying as low to the ground as I can. He’s burying his snout in the ground and sticking his curly tail in my face. Niall, Niall, my
heart is crying… but he doesn’t hear me! The next thing I know, Jack Sullivan is peering over the pigsty wall.
I’m looking up from behind the fat bottom of
Squealer. He’s pink, hairy and obese, shamelessly wriggling his ob-noxious rear end in my face, as though he’s saying he’s proud of being porky. He squeals in fright as a face peers into his. He steps back, bowling me over. I let out a yelp! The face peering at me is pink, with rough grey stubble draped around brown-spotted lips, which open to reveal a dark mouthful of broken, greenish-yellow and occasion- ally black teeth. Grey whiskers curl from flailing nostrils. The deepest eyes, shaded by black and white peppered thick bushy brows, rise to allow round dark beady lenses to penetrate the recesses of my eyes. My mouth opens and the words jump out, ‘Jack Sullivan!’
‘Begorrah, ala!’ Jack’s neck stretches like a turkey’s as his face comes even closer. ‘A pig that knows my
name?’ His mouth hangs open. I can see red
zigzagged maps in the whites of his eyeballs. ‘I thought it was me own sow!’ He chuckles as he ogles me, revelling in his peculiar sense of humour. ‘The wife!’ he says, by way of explanation.
I’m sitting on my bottom with Squealer in my lap. ‘Shush Jack,’ I’m pleading, as I try to heave a thousand pounds of bacon off me.
‘Begorrah! You can’t fool old Jack. You’re not a sow! You’re Niamh Murphy.’ He’s beckoning my father who’s close by. Suddenly he bursts into
excitable shouting, mixing his Shelta language with English. ‘Aga di’lsa, over here Sean!’
Squealer rolls off me with a final shove, ripping my skirt in the process. I leap up, vault over the pigsty wall, and make a run for it. I know I'm a good runner. I'm a good dancer and a good runner! I'm glancing back to see if they’re on me heels? ‘Oh God, they are…’ I’m falling over in the high grass.
‘Oh, Mammy, mammy…’ My leg is aching, but I’m up as quick as a flash,
ignoring the pain. Oh God, I’m stumbling all over the place. My leg’s bunjaxed. ‘No…’ I scream as the thunder of heavy breathing encompasses me and I’m tackled to the ground. I close my eyes. ‘Just let them kill me,’ I pray. I’d rather die than go back to the
Voices clamber for fame. ‘She’s down. Come on lads. Get her arms, quick!’
‘I’ve got a leg.’
Two lads have taken hold of my left leg. ‘Not this one, ye egit. I’ve got it. Get the other one, Dan, be quick now.’
‘She’s only got two, ye Moron!’
‘Get her arms someone. The two of them!’
My arms are squeezed. I'm kicking and wriggling with every ounce of energy, but ’tis no good, they’ve got me cornered. The pain in my leg is excruchiating, but easier to bear than the burning humiliation I’m
suffering as they haul me away like a rabbit, legs first. I can see Jack Sullivan
and Dan O’Brien holding my legs, romping along at the front. Seamus Creen and Dennis Buckley have me by the arms. They’re like a pack of dogs when
they gang up. Every step is a jabbing, searing pain in my leg. ‘Gits’ I yell. ‘Let me go. Jesu Criosta. Oh Mother of God!’ My skirt blows above my knees, but I can’t move my arms to push it back down again. They’re probably hoping it blows right up over my
head! They’d love that! I’m glad I’ve got knickers on me. Thank God for that! I can just see that ugly Jack with his red eyes, stubbly chin and cheesy grin trying to have a good look. ‘Stop gawking at me…’ I’m yelling at a couple of other fellas with scarves
over half their faces. I don’t know who they are. ‘Cowards. Yellow livers!’ I sneer.
‘She’s a whore!’
‘Like her mother!’
I shout ‘Leave my dead mother out of this.’
They keep making indecorous comments as they run alongside me. I’m spitting in their faces and
cursing and swearing at them. Now I hear different noises, which flood my mind with old memories. I can just see the campfires in the distance. I can hear the shouts of people coming closer to inspect their prize, me!
‘We’re here thank God! She’s like a ton of spuds! Throw her over there lads!’
‘Don’t call me a sack of potatoes!’ I shout, as I land, bottom first, in the dirt.
‘What can we call you then, whore?’ Aunty Maura's voice bellows out before I can see her face. I turn my angry countenance away from her face. I pull my skirt down over my knees.
‘You know my name!’
‘Stand up when I’m talking to you!’ she orders. She pulls me by the arms.
‘Gerroff!’ I scream. My arms are all red and nearly blue, and soon will be black. My right leg is throbbing and looks bigger than my other one, the left leg, that is! I’m not even trying to stand up, but just sit as cool as a cucumber in the
damp grass, staring straight ahead, resisting the tears pressing on the back of my eyes.
Aunty Maura lets go and stands above me,
frowning. ‘She's become a real little trollop altogether! Nid’es axiver!’ she roars as she hits me
across the head.
‘I never was one! Dil ‘lsa axiver glori the truth
She scowls at me. ‘Don’t worry, I know the whole
‘Nobody asked me what happened…’
‘You always were a bloody liar.’
I stare at her. ‘I must have learned it from you…’
She stares back at me, dagger for dagger as her right hand rises to clobber me. ‘You’ll be the death of me!’ She grits her teeth as her arm stiffens in mid air. Her bright blue eyes in her white face are cold and unfeeling. ‘Thank God I’m not your mother.’ She flips her hand hurriedly to her forehead, chest and shoulders as her own blessing falls on herself. Her eyes soar into their sockets skyward for an instant, then back to focus on my face. I stare at her in disgust. Her dark hair is uncombed and blowing across her face in the wind. Her mouth is a thin rust-coloured scowl with a few bits of egg yolk around the edges. She is hugging her old brown and red tartan rug close to her chest. She’s wearing a long grey skirt and dark brown brogues on her feet. They look like two left shoes to me from this angle. She has no stockings on. I can see her dark varicous veins winding up her legs like the branches of a tree. ‘Thank God. Amen!’ I reply. ‘You’ve got egg on your face,’ I add maliciously.
‘Shut your gob,’ she sputters in reply, pushing my head with a fist filled with hatred.
‘Is this how you welcome your own flesh and
blood?’ I say, covering my head with my fists.
‘You belong here, under my care, God help us all! You think you can come and go as you please,
without leave or reason? You’re very much mistaken you little trollop!’
‘And what have ye all been doing all your life?
Going from place to place?’
Her wild eyes come close. ‘Don’t back answer me! You’ve disgraced your father and me, running away like that! Your not Irish ar burt’
‘I’m as Irish as you are. I’m not agetul of you!’
‘You should be afraid, you faggot!’ Maura screams. ‘Give us a bit of hand, Betty, Alice, Mary!’
Three wiry women, who are standing in a huddle, leap into action, taking an arm or a leg. Now I'm being dragged to an old van nearby. Somehow they squeeze me through the narrow doorway, and hurl me onto the floor. Heavy breathing is the only sound I hear for a moment.
Betty stands in the doorway. ‘That’ll sober her up!’
I’m curling my fingers like claws. ‘Yerra, gerroff,’ I scream and shake my head, so that my mop of wavy red hair flies all around my face. I snarl for added effect.
Alice pushes Betty out the door, almost knocking Maura over on top of me. ‘She’s a bloody witch, that’s what!’
Betty and Alice run off, screaming, ‘I think she might be a Banshee! Oh God help us!’
Maura steadies herself and scurries out the door after the other two.
‘She’s mad! She’s insane!’ ‘Lock her up axonsk,’
Mary screams, leaping out the door on top of Maura. I make a growling sound. ‘I’ll put a curse on you!’
‘Mary’s right. Lock her up tonight. Quick! For
God’s sake lock her up. Hurry up!’ Someone screams hysterically.
The door bangs shut and a bolt is secured. I can hear their voices mingling in high-pitched animation. ‘At least I bring a bit of excitement into your miserable lives,’ I shout after them.
I lie down for a few minutes, ‘How in God’s name have I come to this?’ I wonder.
My leg is aching so much I’m feeling faint. Alice and Mary are back again, peering through the foot square, dirty window. I prop myself up. ‘Stop gawking at me, you pair of witches!’ I yell.
Their eyes grow large for an instant, and then with a yelp they disappear.
That suits me fine! I lie back cautiously on the splintered ridden floor and stare around me. The van has been stripped bare. All the cupboards have been pulled out, leaving broken walls behind. There’s a piece of snapped wood nailed to the floor where a bench used to be. My right foot rests in a
space where the floorboard has been removed. I can see the dark green grass below in parts where boards have disappeared, probably for firewood, I muse. The wind is blowing through the holes, making goosebumps rise on my skin. I tug at some of the broken boards, but soon my hand is filled with splinters. I suddenly feel exhausted and the pain in my leg seems worse, and a pain lands on my head like a brick. I try to pluck the splinters out of my fingers, and realize I’ve got my wedding ring on. I pull it off, pull up my dress at the back and tuck the ring inside my elasticised knickers. I can feel the cold ring safely inside my drawers. That gives me some satisfaction. I’m closing my eyes and the tears are accumulating around my eyelashes. I’m
allowing them to find their course down my cheeks and over the tip of my nose and into my hair. I’m falling into a restless slumber… darkness …light…I escape my pains for a time…
It’s some time later and now I’m fully awake! I’m on the cold floor, in the little van where the four women dumped me. There’s a horrible cold draught rushing at my face from beneath the van. It’s
getting dark, so I must have dozed for a number of hours. I curl up to try to stop the shivers going through me. There's a gap of about an inch under the door, and I can see a bit of light under it, but any cockroach can come walking in. I close my eyes, as I'm still feeling too tired to care if a thousand cockroaches come and crawl all over me. I shiver at that thought. I wish this was a nightmare, but I know it’s not because the pain in my leg is fierce. I can hear someone banging on the door of the
van. ‘Oh God, let it be Niall, please.’ Then the door bursts open! It’s Nell Doran and my half-sister,
‘Maeve, Nell, thank God you’re here. I think my leg’s broken.’
‘Serves you right, running off like that!’ Nell says, tut tutting beside me with her hands on her hips. She’s swaying back and forth. She smells like a brewery.
I’m holding my nose. ‘You stink!’
‘Pig! You stink yourself!’ She almost falls on top of me.
‘You’ve caused more than enough trouble Niamh. I’ll go and get something.’ Maeve rushes off, leaving Nell and me. We stare at each other for a time. ‘So, are you going to run away again then? Going back to your pigs, or your buccal?’
‘What do you mean, my buccal? ‘
Just then Maeve rushes back in the door, carrying an elastic half stocking in her hand.