Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, March 27, 2020

A Snowy Night on West Forty-Ninth Street by Maeve Brennan

March 1 to March 31
A Guest Post by Elizabeth MacDonald
author of
A House of Cards

"A Snowy Night on West Forty-Ninth Street"  by Maeve Brennan 

If you are interested in participating in Irish Short Story Month, please e mail me.

I first became acquainted with the work of Elizabeth MacDonald when I read her brilliant collection of short stories, A House of Cards.  A House of  Cards  was listed for the Frank O'Connor Prize in 2007.   It is a beautiful work set mostly in the Tuscany region of Italy. 

author bio

Elizabeth MacDonald was born in Dublin, where she studied Italian and Music at UCD. In 2001 she completed the M.Phil in creative and Music at UCD. In 2001 she completed the M.Phil in creative writing at Trinity College, Dublin. She teaches English at the University of Pisa, where she lives with her husband and son. Her translations of the short stories of Liam O'Flaherty were the first in Italy. She has translated the poetry of Dermot Healy, Seamus Heaney, Brendan Kennelly, Dennis O’Driscoll, George Szirtes, Derek Mahon, and Old Irish nature poetry. She has a special interest is the poetry of Mario Luzi. Her translations have appeared in  many journals, including Modern Poetry in TranslationPoetry Ireland ReviewThe Cork Liteary Review andSoglieA House of Cards was first published by Pillar Press in 2006 and a second edition will be published by Portia Publishing later this year.
“This is a tender, understated and beautiful collection of stories that will leave you longing for more. ” Emma Walsh, The Irish Book Review.  

Today she has favored us with her thoughts on the work of another great Irish woman writer, who like herself, spent much of her life outside of Ireland, Maeve Brennan.

A Snowy Night on West Forty-Ninth Street
by Maeve Brennan
(taken from ‘The Rose Garden’)

Reading this story is like being able to enter into a painting by Hopper, one of those late night scenarios with people in their solitude etched against a background of hotel rooms or diners. The narrator opens the story with a detail, it has snowed, and then tells us where we are – Broadway. The detail is in the past tense, while the setting is in the present. This juxtaposition is maintained for the whole story, giving it an otherworldly dimension as, like the snow hovering over the city, it fluctuates between a narrated event and the universality of experience:

It snowed all night last night, and the dawn, which came not as a brightening but as a gray and silent awakening, showed the city vague and passive as a convalescent under light fields of snow that fell quickly and steadily from an expressionless heaven.

The narrator then tells us that the area where she (I’m presuming it’s a ‘she’) lives near Broadway “seems to be a gigantic storehouse of stage flats and stage props that are stacked together as economically as possible and being put to use until something more substantial can be built, something that will last.”

This sets the tone of quiet regret that permeates the story, an over-riding sense of impermanence, a solitude so immense that it reduces one to invisibility:

… there are times, looking from the window of the hotel where I live at present, on West Forty-Ninth Street, when I think that my hotel and all of us here on this street are behind the world instead of in it.

Waiting in the wings of existence. But something stirs her as she looks at the snow-covered city and she heads out to her usual restaurant, the Étoile, for dinner. She shows us the macrocosm of the city, then reduces the visual to the area around Broadway, and finally she settles us in with her to the microcosm of the almost empty, snow-bound restaurant.
There is an elderly Frenchman who comes to be able to listen to and speak French; Robert, a waiter; Leo, the Dutch bartender; Mees Katie, the French owner’s daughter; three businessmen from the suburbs, stranded in town; Michel, another foreigner, who imports foreign movies; a newcomer, the stout middle-aged Mrs. Dolan; Betty, a young woman who has moved to New York; and the shadowy, reticent narrator.
Whether the characters are there by chance or because they are regulars, none of them really knows anyone else. They move self-consciously within the restricted space of the restaurant, saying lines to each other in a vain attempt to while away some time and stave off the loneliness. None of them really seems inclined to move beyond the superficial, each in his or her own way, rebuffing more meaningful contact. The narrator remains at a remove even from this impoverished form of communication, noting with a certain approval the silence that falls between Mrs. Dolan and Betty: through it they move beyond the shame of the gaping need for company that manifests in vacuous chatter. The silence forms an intangible bond between them.
The theatrical metaphor is continued especially with Michel, who is partial to making an entrance and even more dramatic exits. He plays his part, recites his lines, while flitting between Mees Katie, Mrs. Dolan and Betty. But his most important communication is with the telephone, for business matters.
Eventually the narrator returns to her empty hotel room. And here, in the hushed darkness of a snowy night in New York, the Joycean note is becomes clear. Miss Kate and Miss Julia’s Christmas party has been given an ascetic New York setting in the Étoile with Mees Katie, and the snow “that was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves”, now falls on this city of giant skyscrapers. The narrator looks out her window at the foggy skyline, her eye passes over what is visible and invisible under the covering of snow, buildings reduced to geometric forms, the street emptied of people - everything transfigured in this shroud of snowy silence:
I pushed open the window. The cold air rushed in, but no noise. What sound there was was drugged, as though I were a hundred floors above the street instead of only eleven floors. The wind had died down, and the snow fell thickly, falling in large, calm flakes.

End of Guest Post

My great thanks to Elizabeth MacDonald for sharing her thoughts on Maeve Brennan with us.

My posts on Maeve Brennan are here

Mel u

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Signatures in Stone by Linda Lappin - Winner 2014 Daphne Du MaurierAward

Contact:  JACK ESTES                                                              FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Bomarzo Mystery by Linda Lappin
Prize-Winning Author Probes the Secrets of Italy’s Famous Monster Park

Lappin has penned an intelligent summer mystery” – Library Journal
SIGNATURES IN STONE, a compelling tale of murder, art, sex and secrets set in Bomarzo, Italy in 1928 won the distinguished Daphne du Maurier Award for excellence in mystery and suspense writing. The award is named for Daphne du Maurier, the author of REBECCA, a suspense novel with romantic and gothic overtones and a precursor to today's romantic suspense. Winners were announced at the Death by Chocolate Party hosted by the Kiss of Death Chapter at the Romance Writers of America's national conference on July 24 in San Antonio, Texas.

"I am thrilled and honored to be the recipient of the 2014  Daphne Du Maurier Award. I am a great fan of her work which influenced my own. Her gift for eerie atmosphere and tenebrous characters has been an inspiration for me." Linda Lappin

In true Daphne du Maurier tradition, author Linda Lappin infuses SIGNATURES IN STONE with romantic and gothic overtones while invoking a strong sense of place and time.
“Deftly mixing fascinating art history and murder with an exotic atmospheric setting (the Bomarzo garden actually exists), dramatic historical period (1928 fascist Italy), and fully-fleshed characters, Lappin (The Etruscan) has written a hallucinatory gothic mystery in which no one is as they appear. Daphne is a most memorable, if a bit unreliable (thanks to her opium habit), narrator. Readers looking for an intelligent summer mystery will find much to savor here.”—WildaWilliams, Library Journal

Tennessee-born novelist Linda Lappin author of the small press classic, The Etruscan, takes on the mystery of Italy’s celebrated Monster Park in her new novel SIGNATURES IN STONE. The sixteenth –century  park, located not far from Rome, created by a Roman nobleman as a memorial to his wife, leads visitors on a journey through hell represented by its eerie sculptures of ogres and mermaids. Art historians are puzzled by its meaning: is it a pagan itinerary of initiation, a surreal illustration of its patron’s weirdest nightmares, an allegory for political events, or a series of emblems concealing an alchemical formula for making gold? And who was the real mastermind behind this complex creation? Was it, perhaps, as some scholars believe, one of the greatest sculptors of the Italian Renaissance?

Lappin takes this mystery in SIGNATURES IN STONE as the background for a compelling tale of murder, sex, and secrets set in Bomarzo in 1928, when four unlikely misfits find themselves entangled in the meanders of the park. Daphne, a mystery writer with a hashish habit; Clive, an American gigolo and art forger; Nigel, an English aristocrat down at the heels; and Finestone, a fly-by-night art historian, are thrown together in a dilapidated villa looked after by two Italian servants who are not what they seem. Each character will find a private hell hidden in the park, and not everyone will make it out alive. Through the deforming mirror of the Bomarzo sculptures, Daphne will face up to the darker sides of herself while solving a murder for which she has been unjustly accused. Unraveling one mystery, she unwittingly solves another: who designed the Monster Park and why. Perfect summer reading for a plane trip or the beach, SIGNATURES IN STONEis an “intense, fast-paced, eloquently elegant mystery novel,” showing how waking life, intuition, and dreams are much more interfused than we normally admit.

I loved this novel! It's a rare balance between eerie and sense-making. Its main character is the spooky Italian landscape ofBomarzo and its Monster Garden of violent statues--which really do exist, the author tells us. But the 5 characters, including the engaging narrator, hashish-addicted Daphne, are as mysterious as the setting. Lappin's people are as dangerously compelling as her Italy. I look forward to a long, creepy series of Daphne mysteries.”  Nina Auerbach, author of Women and Demonsfive-star reviefor Amazon.

Lappin is a modern day Agatha Christie with prose that is like eating dark chocolate or sipping a glass of fine wine — the story continues to entice your senses and simply gets better and better the more you partake. Not one to hurry to the plot, she unveils the scenes piece by piece, character by character and leaves her own signatures for you to find along the way.” Vikki Walton I Love a Mystery

Lappin lures the reader into the loins of Italy, describing it with a lust for its countryside and peculiarities as one might let on about a lover,” Shaina MuganGently Read Literature.
“…Four eccentric traveling companions in an automobile to hell. SIGNATURES IN STONE is as brilliant as it is entertaining.” Thomas E. Kennedy, author of In the Company of Angels and The Copenhagen Quartet.

Linda Lappin, novelist, poet, essayist, and travel writer is the author of three award-winning novels. Her first, The Etruscan(Wynkin de Worde. 2004), a tantalizing suspense tale set in Italy in the 1920s, placed second at the New York Book Festival and was short listed for the 2011 Next Generation Indie Award. Her second, Katherine's Wish (Wordcraft of Oregon, 2008), based on the life of New Zealand writer, Katherine Mansfield, received the gold medal in historical fiction from the IPPY awards and was a finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year Award in fiction. Signatures in Stone is her third novel. Upcoming projects include a memoir, Postcards from a Tuscan Interior, sections of which won a Solas Award fromTravelers Tales, and Genius Loci: A Writer’s Guide to Capturing the Soul of Place,a craft of writing book. She is currently at work on a new Daphne Dublanc mystery, Melusine, set in the Italian village of Bolsena, another site of Etruscan legends. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop and is a member of the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) and of the European Association for Creative Writing Programs (EACWP)

Title: Signatures in Stone 

Author: Linda Lappin 
Published by Pleasure Boat Studio

ISBN-10: 1929355904 ISBN-13: 978-1929355907 

Trade Paperback Original • $18 
250 Pages

The Reading Life extends congratulations to Linda Lappin for winning the 2014 Daphne Du Maurier Award.  It has been almost a year since I first posted on her award winning mystery novel Signatures in Stone.  I want to make sure that as many of my readers as possible know about her wonderful novel so I am sharing again  my, edited for style, observations on Signatures in Stone.

I first became acquainted with the wonderful writings of Linda Lappin when I first read her highly rated novel based on the final years of Katherine Mansfield, Katherine's Wish.  I thought she captured with amazing perspicuity the persona of Mansfield and her complex personal relationships.  I vowed to follow her career and next read her very atmospheric, some felt it was apt to describe it as Gothic, The Etruscan,  a mystery set in Italy between the world wars.  I loved it for the prose and the perfectly realized central character.  

I think Signatures in Stone is Lappin's best work to date, and that is saying a lot.  Set in the 1920s the central character, Daphne comes from Paris to overcome writers block and to clear her head from too much hash.  She arrives in Bomazo, Italy with her agent Nigel, allegedly an English aristocrat, who has been promising her an advance on the book she is supposed to be working for a while.  They  have booked part of an old run down villa.  Of course it comes with some mysterious servants. Nigel brought along his friend Clive, a sexual opportunist who ends up having an affair with Daphne, considerably older than he.  Also staying at the villa is an art expert, Dr. Firestone.  Dr. Firestone is there to direct the restoration of a garden called, "The Sacred Wood".  The heart of the story begins as we see Daphne become more and more fixated on the mysterious and sinister statues.   Italy was once seen in English literture, in the tradition of works by D. H. Lawrence and E. M. Forster among others, as an exotic almost exotic  tropical place where you could do things you might not be comfortable doing back at home.

Nobody is quite what they seem to be.  Everybody is out for everybody else, body, soul, and purse.  
Daphne loves hash and Signatures in Stone lets us see how creativity sometimes feels like a hashish dream.  

There is a murder with plenty of suspects. I was very taken up into the investigation of the crime.  

Signatures in Stone is a fascinating book, deeply evoking the mysteries in the history of the garden of stones and beyond this Tuscan history.  

I look forward to reading lots more wonderful books by Linda Lappin.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

"Great Pocklands" - A Short Story by Alison Macleod - 2019 - included in These are Our Monsters: The English Heritage Book of New Folktales, Myth and Legend - Edited by Katherine Davey with an Introduction by James Kidd

"Great Pocklands" - A Short Story by Alison Macleod - 2019 - included in These are Our Monsters: The English Heritage Book of New Folktales, Myth and Legend - Edited by Katherine Davey with an Introduction by James Kidd

‘The first true storyteller is, and will continue to be, the teller of fairy tales.’ - Walter Benjamin

Short Stories can rescue us from quarantine, allowing us to time and distance travel.

Fairy tales take us way back, before Homer, the Upanishads.  As soon as I became aware of the concept behind These are Our Monsters: The English Heritage Book of New Folktales, Myth and Legend I was bound to read the right stories refashioning English heritage.  (I also love the cover.!)

During these dark times maybe we need stories retelling old folk tales to help strengthen our spirits as we fight the monsters running the world now.

As the story opens we meet the fairies of Great Puckland, "in THE HONEYED LIGHT of late afternoon, they climb, nanometre by nanometre, from the blooms of Great Pucklands, THE HONEYED LIGHT of late afternoon, they climb, nanometre by nanometre, from the blooms of Great Pucklands, to flutter on the last of the day’s thermals. In the meadow, the air vibrates with the beating of countless wings. Izz, izz, izzzzzz. The fairies’ ring is marked by tall, dark grass too sour to tempt any cow. As the bugle flowers blow, they descend. The dance begins. They dip and leap. They link and unlink arms in reels, sequences and flights – over and under, in and out, whirr and whoosh. Poppy-dust streams. Fairy hair rises, crackling with static. Izzz, izzz, izzz. The air is a frenzy of wings. The bellflowers ring out. Foxgloves tower and teeter. Fairies couple and uncouple, their bodies sticky with pollen. Wild orchids open to long-tongued bees."

(For me this exquisite opening justified the purchase of the collection.)

Great Pucklands refers to a 12 acre meadow near the home of Charles Darwin.  It is rembered in his biography as where he recorded 142 different plants.  He and his youngest daughter loved to roam among the wildflowers. Anne Elizabeth Darwin wanted to belief in faries, in the Anglican God of her devout father and in her father, whose work was being castigated by clergy.  We feel the conflicts when she seeks spiritual reassure from her father.  Anne loved wondering the meadow with her father, she carried a jar to capture fairies.

Her father was teaching her the theories behind evolution.  Her mother 

"Her mother had explained to her that God made all the animals on the Sixth Day of Creation. She’d explained that, when the Flood came, Noah saved the animals, taking them into the Ark two by two, which was why they were still with us today, just as God had made them. She’d smiled and walked the four fingers of both hands along Annie’s legs."

Anne sought reassuring words from her father.  We see through the perceptions of Anne how fractured was the marriage of her parents.

Darwin changed how the world is seen.  He more than just a scientist, he was profoundly in touch with the development of life on earth.

"Now as they watched, he bent down – to study an ant at work or perhaps a slug not at work. The earthworms had burrowed deep in the earth because it was too hot. When he straightened, he raised his walking-stick high in a salute, and they waved back. All the while, Annie listened. Above her father, in the canopies of the lime trees, the fairies droned, like one great, mournful harmonium. She suspected they knew about his butterfly net in the cupboard under the stairs. They knew something. The longer he lingered by the lime trees, the louder the noise of their wings. Izzzz, izzzzz, izzzz."

These lines are just so deep, earth worms salute Darwin, the fairies in which he does not believe do believe in Anna and his love.

This story is just so beautiful, so much is in the pages I have not touched.

From These are Our Monsters: The English Heritage Book of New Folktales, Myth and Legend 

"Alison MacLeod’s most recent book, the short story collection All the Beloved Ghosts, was shortlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2018 for best single-author short story collection in the UK and Ireland. It was also a finalist for Canada’s 2017 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and named one of the Guardian ‘Best Books of 2017’. In 2016, MacLeod was joint winner of the Eccles British Library Writer’s Award. Her most recent novel, Unexploded, was longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize and serialised for BBC Radio 4. It is currently optioned for film, while her short stories are often heard on BBC radio. MacLeod is a citizen of both Canada and the UK, and is currently at work on her next novel in Brighton, her adopted city."

I plan a complete read through of the work of Alison Macleod and hope to follow her work for many years 

Friday, March 20, 2020

Overheated Heart - A Short Story by San Lin Tun. Included in Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds: Contemporary Short Stories from Myanmar - 2017 - translated from Burmese by the Author

Overheated Heart - A Short Story by San Lin Tun. Included in Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds: Contemporary Short Stories from Myanmar - 2017 - translated from Burmese by  the Author

With current state of the World, it seems unlikely we can travel to Myanmar soon.  Thanks to Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds: Contemporary Short Stories from Myanmar we can at least vicariously experience this ancient, ethnically diverse and complex culture.  Of the fourteen stories in the anthology, several are in regional of tribal languages other than the dominant Burmese.

The central character in this story is a young man. Lin Yung, who writes and teaches short stories.  When we meet him he is lonely and bored with his life.  He makes a living, not much more than that as unlike his friends he has sought wisdom not wealth.  

He is on a bus on his way to Hpa An, the third biggest city in Myanmar, center of Karin culture.  He has family there and thinks the area might give him some ideas for free lance articles. The bus ride was interesting and the depiction of the encounter with his hosts was very well done.  The food described served at the family dinner whet my appetite.

While there he teaches a class in the short story.  In the class he meets and becomes close with a young woman.  There impact upon one another is very beautifully crafted.

"San Lin Tun is a freelance Myanmar-English writer of essay, poetry, short story and novel and he has published ten books including “Reading a George Orwell Novel in a Myanmar Teashop and Other Essays” and his latest novel “An English Writer”.  His writings appeared in NAW,, Hidden Words/Hidden Worlds short story anthology, PIX, South East of Now, Asia Literary Review and Opening Up Hidden Burma. He worked as editor-in-charge of Learners’ English Educative Magazine, and a freelance contributor to Home and Services Journal and Myanmore. Currently, he is contributing his essays, and articles to Metro Yangon Section in Myanmar Times Daily” - author provided 

I look forward to reading more of the work of San Li Tun.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Self-Assembly - A Short Story by Aiden O’Reilly - From his collection Greetings,Hero - 2014

My Q and A Session with Aiden O’Reilly

The Backstory of a Book by Aiden O’Reilly

My first encounter with the work of Aiden O’Reilly was in January of 2015 when I read his 2008 Michael McLaverty Prize Winning Story,  
“To the Trade”.  I loved this story.

As the story opens the father and his son are on a scaffold on the house.  The father is doing the skilled work, the son basically is his helper, handing him needed items.  "To the Trade" is a very subtle story.  One of the several evoked topics are Irish class markers.  We see that when the son peers into one of the rooms and is impacted by the obvious femininity of the contents, elements of softness and comfort not found in his life.  We learn, without being over instructed, that his mother is gone.  

One of the characteristics of the Irish short story is the portrayal of deep but unshown on the surface feelings.   You can feel both a love and a tension between father and son.  The work is very hard and the weather is brutal.  The lady of the house tells them to come down for lunch but the father does not want to rush down as if he is a starving tradesman being fed by the lady of the manor in the back kitchen.  I felt a lot of real emotion when the father told his son to go eat while the food is hot.

While they eat the father and the woman are conversing about lamb.  The woman notices the roughness of the man's hands.  The lines below from the story shows to me how O'Reilly uses his hands for a. kind of near symphonic bringing to life of the struggles of the working class people of Ireland:

"The father reached out for another cut of bread. His thin hands were appallingly abused. The thread remains of a bandage clung to the middle finger. The skin on the sides of the knuckles was cracked in a radial pattern. Dark grey concrete stains lined the ancient cracks; one of them seeped blood, but as though welling up from a great depth. Veins and tendons interplayed on the back of his hand. The fingernails looked like worn saw teeth, or a cracked trowel. They were alive, but had the appearance of things, of abandoned tools. One nail was like a hoof — flesh and keratin intertwined to close over old wounds. Another was split in two from the quick to the fingertip, and a hard growth filled the space between. A bulbous texture like the organic growth of a tree bark over a rusty nail"

One can feel the depth of pain in these lines.  The woman offers to put a plaster on his hands but he says no need but we know it has been a very long time since anyone has shown him any tenderness.

We see in the boy a trapped young man, he hates school and his only way he sees out is to do work on the homes of the rich.  He and his father's relationship is both simple and complex.

After way to long a hiatus,I am once again posting on a work by Aiden O’Reilly, “Self-Assembly” from his highly lauded debut collection, Welcome, Hero.

I hope I am not the only happily married for a long time man, who does not go “humm” as he reads about the male narrator of the story getting a kit to build a woman 
delivered to his door, from an unknown source. 

“When he came home that day Eugene found a long box in the hallway. He dragged it into the living room. It was of a size that might contain a guitar, or some longer instrument. A white label on the lid stated: Contents: Self-assembly woman. He got out a steak knife and slit the brown tape at the edges. Inside were a number of pieces, separately wrapped. He lifted one up and picked at the wrapping. No bubble plastic, just layers and layers of pulpy paper. The object inside looked like nothing he had ever seen before. He unwrapped a few pieces and laid them out on the floor alongside the box. A few stubby tubes and bulbous shapes with snap-connectors embedded.”

 In the kit he finds the parts needed to assemble a woman.  He previously tried to put together some cabinets and failed badly.  We witness his struggle to put the parts together.  He slowly brings her to life.  She at first just stays home but soon she learns English and develops a distinct personality.  Genevieve soon is asking to meet his friends.  The meeting in a pub was a lot of fun.

As the story goes on Genevieve,they do sleep in the same bed but we don’t know if they have sex or not, begins to use emotional blackmail to get her way.  She has made a translation from robot, doll, Android to a real wife. Maybe this is what the narrator wanted all along. This is a very fine story.

There are fourteen other stories in the collection, I read and greatly enjoyed three of them so far.  In April I will post on the title story, “Greetings, Hero”.

Aiden O’Reilly’s short story collection Greetings, Hero was published by Honest Publishing UK in 2014, and launched in London and in Dublin.Aiden lived for nine years in Eastern Europe. He studied mathematics, and has worked as translator, building-site worker, IT teacher, and property magazine editor. His fiction has appeared in The Stinging Fly (x4), The Dublin Review (x3), The Irish Times, Prairie Schooner, 3am magazine, and in Unthology 4 and several other anthologies. His plays have been given staged readings at The Triskel in Cork and in Dublin. He won the biannual McLaverty Short Story Award in 2008. In 2012 he received a bursary from the Arts Council.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

TOM PAINE A Political life JOHN KEANE - 1999 -676 pages

As of now I Will for a while only be posting on Short Stories but for myself I Will do very Short posts on longer works for my records.

I highly endorse this book to any one interested in The American Revolution and The years up to Paine’s death.

Born January 20, 1737 Thetford, UK

Died June 8, 1808 New York

I am, as are many, fighting The mental impact of events.  

“More than any other public figure of the eighteenth century, Tom Paine strikes our times like a trumpet blast from a distant world." So begins John Keane's magnificent and award-winning (the Fraunces Tavern Book Award) biography of one of democracy's greatest champions. Among friends and enemies alike, Paine earned a reputation as a notorious pamphleteer, one of the greatest political figures of his day, and the author of three best-selling books, Common Sense, The Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason. Setting his compelling narrative against a vivid social backdrop of prerevolutionary America and the French Revolution, John Keane melds together the public and the shadowy private sides of Paine's life in a remarkable piece of scholarship. This is the definitive biography of a man whose life and work profoundly shaped the modern age. "Provide[s] an engaging perspective on England, America, and France in the tumultuous years of the late eighteenth century." -- Pauline Maier, The New York Times Book Review "It is hard to imagine this magnificent biography ever being superceded.... It is a stylish, splendidly erudite work." -- Terry Eagleton, The Guardian from Amazon.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Chinese Nanny - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew- 2020 - from The Heartsick Diaspora

“Virus got you down, try a great book”

 The Chinese Nanny - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew - 2020 - from her marvelous debut collection The Heartsick Diaspora 

Gateway to Elaine Chiew on The Reading Life

If you are quarantined or self isolating, you can travel to Singapore, London or New York City in the  stories of Elaine Chiew.

The Chinese Nanny is the 12th of 14 stories in The Heartsick Diaspora upon which I have posted.  This story explores another aspect of the life of Malaysia-Chinese immigrants to London, that of a nanny to the child of a rich.

For numerous reasons in Manila middle class people often have full time live in help. What the English call a nanny we call a Yaya.  Most helpers are from rural areas, with little education.  They are normally paid maybe $100.00 to $150.00 a month plus room and board.  In addition to cleaning and cooking they function as personal servants, getting coffee etc. There was once a popular TV comedy treating a Yaya as a comic figure.  Some are treated with respect and kindness, some parents stand by as their children order about helpers.  Employers worry about Yayas stealing.  In our community complex, helpers cannot leave the secure area, guarded by armed security with sawed off shots guns , without a note saying they can leave.  When a helper is found to have stolen, the comment is often “We treated her just like family.”  

“The Chinese Nanny” launched my thoughts on household help in the Philippines and how my family treated our help.  

The story is brilliant,it is a story of a truly heartsick incident of diaspora.  In London it has become “trendy” to have a Chinese Nanny, the idea being she can teach your children Mandrian. Our narrator is not from China but a third generation Malaysian with Chinese ancestors.  Agencies import Nannys.  Londoners also find Asian employees more deferential than Nigerians or Zimbawns, as the racist agency placement agent tells the Nanny.

The Nanny does not live in.  Her employer Fiona, a single mother with a successfull busuness has a four year old daughter. At first the daughter wants no part of her Yaya, speaking out against her.  Then over time they became very close.  We also get to know Fiona.  Gradually the Yaya becomes essential.  She stays overnight when Fiona is on a date.  She comes to resent unpaid work out on her.

I Will tell no more of this story as i want you to feel The power of this work.  

Elaine Chiew
Elaine is a writer and a visual arts researcher, and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015).
Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore.

Originally from Malaysia, Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London.

Elaine lives in Singapore and her book, The Heartsick Diaspora, and other stories, was published by Myriad in 2020 as well  by Penquin Books.

“The Boatman” - A Short Story by Billy O’Callaghan from his collection, Ths Boatman and Other Stories, 202

“The Boatman” - A Short Story by Billy O’Callaghan  -from his collection, Ths Boatman and Other Stories, 2020

From here you will find links to my posts on his short story collections as well as 
One of his short stories I was kindly allowed to publish
I have been following the work of Billy O’Callagan since Irish Short Story Month in March 2013

Before speaking about “The Boatman, one of the best stories about dealing with death I have ever read, I want to share my thoughts on one of his prior collections, In Exile and his debut novel The Dead House.

In Exile and other stories

This is the second collection of short stories by Billy O'Callaghan, Cork City, that I  posted on during ISSM3.  I would not have read a second collection if I did not greatly admire the first one, In Too Deep and other short stories (my post is here).    The only book on the short story worth buying is The Lonely Voice - A Study of the Short Story by another man from Cork, Frank O'Connor.  The main contentions of O'Connor was that the modern short story is uniquely, as distinct from novels, about sub-marginalized groups, people who have no one to speak for them.  He also said the short story as a literary genre is uniquely fit to portray loneliness.  I will let more erudite people than I debate whether O'Connor was right or not.  I suspect it is an unresolved dispute but for sure his claims are interesting and illuminating.  O'Callagan's stories are totally in the tradition of the works O'Connor talks about in his book.  In the  stories I will talk about we have an unwed homeless teenage mother, a professional killer, a forty year old fisherman living  alone on a small Irish island, a musician  headed for an early death from heroin, an old man living for his next glass of whiskey, and  a thirty year old man leaving his Irish home tomorrow to work in London know he will probably never see his father again.

The Dead House opens in a fashion that evokes centuries of Irish literature, with the narrator announcing in the prologue that he has a long kept story emerged in his consciousness, he hoped he would never feel he must tell the story but now years later he knows he is so obligated.  

I found the novel immensely captivating for the very visual and mesmerising descriptions of the West Coast of Ireland, dramatic cliffs and isolated villages, the character of the narrator, Michael, a successful happy in  his work fine art dealer, his wife Alison, their poet friend Liz, and the very intriguing a bit fey painter, Maggie, a long time client of Michael.  The characters are very subtlety developed, O’Callaghan draws us into understanding them.  

“The Boatman” is one of the very best works I 
 have read about dealing with the death of your child.  Like many in today, I am being swamped by news of the Corona Virus.  The daughter died of a virus. I have three daughters.

As The Boatman” opens, the young daughter of the narrator has just died.  His wife is prostrate with pain.  He knows he should comfort her but he cannot find the strength for this.  Set in West Ireland, his brother is approaching the house to help dig her grave.  The narrator is thirty, a fisherman.  From his account of thirty being middle aged in Ireland and of the impact of hard physical work on his brother and father, I had a sense of how privileged I am.

The narrator all his life has been sustained by reading.  He has been reading since a child.  No one has directed or guided him. He always as a book with him, even on his fishing boat.  His reflections on his reading history are very moving and profoundly rendered.  

There is another boatman in the story, from a story, a Chinese fisherman who lost his young daughter.  We are there at the burial.  You really need to read this story.  I saw a man without a huge amount of formal education, connecting to ancient traditions far from the doctrines of the Catholic Church, trying to find how to keep going.  

There are eleven other stories in The Boatman and Other Stories.  If I can I will feature one more this month.  For sure in 2020 I will read the full collection and post  on the stories.

The collection will be available as a Kindle on April 28.  If you love short stories, I urge you to acquire this book.

From the Publisher

“A master of the short story.”
John Banville, Irish Times Books of the Year
The Boatman and Other Stories is Billy’s latest short story collection.
“In these twelve quietly dazzling, carefully crafted stories, Billy O’Callaghan explores the resilience of the human heart and its ability to keep beating even in the wake of grief, trauma and lost love.
Spanning a century and two continents – from the muddy fields of Ireland to a hotel room in Paris, a dingy bar in Segovia to an aeroplane bound for Taipei – The Boatman follows an unforgettable cast of characters. Three gunshots on the Irish border define the course of a young man’s life; a writer clings fast to a star-crossed affair with a woman who has never been fully in his reach; a fisherman accustomed to hard labour rolls up his sleeves to dig a grave for his child; a pair of newly-weds embark on their first adventure, living wild on the deserted Beginish Island.
Ranging from the elegiac to the brutally confrontational, these densely layered tales reveal the quiet heroism and gentle dignity of ordinary life. O’Callaghan is a master celebrant of the smallness of the human flame against the dark: its strength, and its steady brightness.”
The Boatman and Other Stories will be released by Jonathan Cape on the 9th January 2020, and will be available in the UK, Ireland and the Commonwealth from Amazon, Hive, The Book Depository and Waterstones.
In the US, it will be published by Harper Collins on the 28th April 2020, and is available for pre-order now from Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, HarperCollins, IndieBound and The Book Depository.

From the author’s website

“Billy O’Callaghan was born in Cork in 1974, and is the author of three short story collections: In Exile (2008, Mercier Press), In Too Deep (2009, Mercier Press), and The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind (2013, New Island Books, winner of a 2013 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Award and selected as Cork’s One City, One Book for 2017), as well as the bestselling novel The Dead House (2017, Brandon/O’Brien Press and 2018, Arcade/Skyhorse (USA)).
His latest novel, My Coney Island Baby, was published by Jonathan Cape (and Harper in the U.S.) in January 2019 to much acclaim.

Billy’s latest short story collection, The Boatman and Other Stories was released in January 2020 (and will be released in the U.S. in April 2020). 

Billy is the winner of a Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Award for the short story, and twice a recipient of the Arts Council of Ireland’s Bursary Award for Literature. Among numerous other honours, his story, The Boatman, was a finalist for the 2016 Costa Short Story Award, and more than a hundred of his stories have appeared or are forthcoming in literary journals and magazines around the world, including: Absinthe: New European Writing, Agni, the Bellevue Literary Review, the Chattahoochee Review, Confrontation, the Fiddlehead, Hayden’s Ferry Review, the Kenyon Review, the Kyoto Journal, the London Magazine, the Los Angeles Review, Narrative, Ploughshares, Salamander, and the Saturday Evening Post.”

I see coming great success for Billy O’Callagan, I see major prizes and movies.  I am proud to have been following his work for so long.

Mel u

Monday, March 16, 2020

Dignity - A Short Story by Madeleine D’Arcy

 Gateway to Madeleine D’Arcy 

. A version of this story was published in Counterparts - A Synergy of Law and Literature (Stinging Fly, 2018). The anthology was edited by Danielle McLaughlin and all of the contributions were inspired by law reports. 

“Madeleine D’Arcy’s début short story collection, Waiting For The Bullet (Doire Press, 2014) was awarded the Edge Hill Reader’s Choice Prize (UK) in 2015.

In 2010 she received the Hennessy Literary Award for First Fiction and the overall Hennessy Literary Award for New Irish Writer.
She holds an MA in Creative Writing (First Class Honours) from University College, Cork.

She is also a qualified solicitor in Ireland and in the UK.
Publishing credits include: The Stinging Fly; Necessary Fiction; Long Story Short; Made in Heaven and other stories; Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts; Irish Times; Irish Independent; The Holly Bough; Short Story Journal (US); The Penny Dreadful; Unbraiding the Short Story (US); Surge: New Writing From Ireland; Quarryman;; Looking at the Stars; Sunset Drinking the Black Ocean; Head Land–Ten Years of the Edge Hill Short Story Prize (UK), The Elysian–Creative Responses; Counterparts, A Synergy of Law and Literature and Europe revue littéraire mensuelle (France). Forthcoming publications include Cork Words and Purple Heart Anthology.

Madeleine co-hosts Fiction at the Friary, a free monthly fiction event in Cork City, with fellow-writer Danielle McLaughlin.
She has been awarded bursaries by the Arts Council of Ireland, Culture Ireland and Cork City Council, and has completed her first novel.

Her second book, a collection of linked short fiction, is scheduled for publication by Doire Press in 2021.”

I first began to  read the work of Madeleine D’Arcy during Irish Short Story Month Year Two, April 2012.

Here are my thoughts on her debut collection:

Waiting for the Bullet, the marvelous debut collection of Madeleine D'Arcy, is a beautifully written highly perceptive set of stories about relationships in times of transition, in periods darked by social and economic stresses and personal crisis.  The stories are set mostly in Ireland but they allow us to see the universal in the particular.  D'Arcy has a keen eye for small nuances in relationships.  She helps us understand the built in paradoxes in relationships that often bring them to an end, the tension between the craving for a partner that excites you, gives you a sense of the edge and one that provided stability and affection.  You can see this strongly in the amazing story "The Fox and the Placenta".  In writing on Irish fiction over the last few years I have been guided by the ideas of Declan Kiberd in terms of a post-colonial reading of Irish literature and I see repeated manifestations of the theme of they weak or missing father in these profound stories.   D'Arcy helps us see the humanity in others, one of the greatest benefits of deep stories.  I think another great story teller from Cork, Frank O'Connor, would have been an admiring reader of Waiting for the Bullet.  

“Dignity”  A Short Story by Madeleine D’Arcy

On the Friday when all the trouble began – though I didn’t know that until some days later – my sister Ellie arrived at my house at 7 a.m. as usual. She took the black plastic folder out of her massive handbag – I call it her Mary Poppins bag because you never know what she’ll take out of it next – and put it on my bedside cabinet.
‘I think it’s best to keep it here,’ she said. ‘And Jake might want to check it out when he comes on Sunday.’  
Jake’s my son. He’s working in Dublin now but he often comes down at weekends.
‘Now, let’s get you sorted,’ she said.
‘Absolutely,’ I agreed. ‘Let’s get out of here before Mrs Looney arrives.’
Mrs Looney cleans my house on Friday mornings. I like to be out when she’s in. Bad enough that Mrs Looney has an irritating way of telling me to count my blessings and believe in the power of prayer; but she never stops complaining herself, about her arthritis, her bunions and her old blaggard of a husband. In fact, if you listened to her and you didn’t know better, you’d swear that Mrs Looney was the one in constant agony and that there was nothing much wrong with me. I used to do an impression of the auld bag that made Ellie hoot with laughter, but the joke has worn thin at this stage.

So that’s why Ellie usually takes me shopping on Fridays. We often go to Leevale Shopping City. You can find some decent stuff in the shops there, and the supermarket has nice wide aisles.
There are two disabled parking spaces right near the main entrance of Leevale Shopping City and that’s where we prefer to park, especially since I got the Power Chair. There’s usually only one space free and sometimes none; I’d been ranting about it for ages because every time we went to Leevale, no matter what time we arrived, the same creamy white Fiat 500 with a red interior was parked neatly in one of our disabled spaces.
Rain was pouring from the heavens as we arrived, to see the white Fiat sliding into our parking spot. A young woman in a smart raincoat got out of the Fiat and clicked the car locked before trotting into the shopping centre – not a bother on her despite the high heels – which were gorgeous by the way, possibly Kurt Geiger; I used to have a pair like them.
‘The cheek of her,’ said Ellie, as she opened the back of the Renault and got out the wheelchair ramp.
‘Let’s follow her,’ I said, but by the time I’d manoeuvred my Power Chair down the ramp and motored into the shopping centre she was nowhere to be seen.. We went into Boots the Chemist first, to get my prescriptions, and while we were there Ellie got the notion to ask the pharmacist if she knew the woman who drove the Fiat.
‘That one? She owns the Happy Hair salon.’
‘Is she disabled?’
‘Well, do you know what? She always parks in that disabled space right outside the main door’ Ellie said, and the girl said that would be her alright, and wrinkled up her face and raised her eyebrows in a manner that meant, quite unmistakably, that she couldn’t stand the woman.
I wasn’t much in the mood for shopping, so we didn’t stay long. Outside, the rain had stopped and the white Fiat was still in the same spot.
‘What a lighting bitch,’ Ellie said.
‘We should do something about it,’ I said. ‘You could let the air out of her tyres.’
‘I could. But should I?’
‘Do,’ said I. ‘And we’ll leave her a note.’
‘Brilliant,’ said Ellie. ‘What will we write?’
‘How about “who’s disabled now?” ’ I said.
Ellie nearly exploded with laughter. This is one of the many reasons I love my sister; she’s so steady and reliable most of the time, but when she gets all fired up she turns into a rebel.
‘Hurry,’ I said.
She kept glancing around like a fugitive while she let the air out of both rear tyres. Then she tore the blank bit off our shopping list and scrawled the words on it and added three big exclamation marks and tucked it behind the Fiat’s windscreen wipers before we made our getaway.
As Ellie revved up and drove off she was laughing fit to burst and I started too but in a few seconds I was laughing so hard I started choking. Sometimes this happens when my saliva goes down the wrong way. She had to pull up round the corner and hop out to sort me out. She reached in to pat me on the back and hold my head for a minute until I could breathe again and said ‘Easy now, easy does it,’ and she got a tissue out of her pocket and wiped the dribble off my chin.
‘You gave me a fright there,’ she said.
Then we started laughing again and this time I didn’t choke and for a while I felt almost human again, because there’s nothing like a good laugh, even in the worst of times.

By the time we got back to my house Mrs Looney had been and gone. The floor was still wet, so at least she’d pushed the godddam mop around. It should be easy enough to clean the place. Even now, every time I come home I forget, just for a second or two, that the house is no longer how it used to be. A few years back, Jake insisted on getting the ground floor renovated, thought I told him repeatedly that I didn’t intend to hang round long enough to make all that trouble and expense worthwhile. Jake was always great at organising things, even as a kid. He called in favours, got an architect friend to draw up the plans for free, did some deals and pulled it all together like that DIY SOS programme on the BBC and all I gave him at the time was grief because I had to go to a Respite Care Home while the builders were in and I hated it there. I felt mean about it afterwards and I apologised, because the new downstairs meant that I didn’t always need a carer around, until recently. I’ve almost forgotten what the upstairs rooms look like; they might as well be distant planets now.
It’s frustrating not to be able to take care of things myself. Ellie does a lot. She does more housework than Mrs Looney for sure, and on top of that she’s now my carer as well, but the pay doesn’t cover anything like the time she puts in. Sometimes I get all bitter and twisted thinking about how much she has to do.
That day, though, it seemed as if Mrs Looney had done a half-decent job until we went into the kitchen area, where she’d left the top bits from the hob still soaking in the sink. Ellie sighed, then bent down and opened the oven door. She stared in.
‘She never cleaned the bloody oven. I specifically asked her. She’s hopeless. Absolutely hopeless. We’ll have to get rid of her and get someone else.’
‘It’s hardly worth it, for the sake of a few months,’ I slurred. My speech is getting very bad.
‘Oh God,’ she said. ‘It sounds terrible when you say it like that.’
‘It’s not your fault.’ She came over and hugged me. Then she looked me in the eyes. ‘You’re going to tell Jake on Sunday, aren’t you? You have to. I’m not going to do it.’
‘Yeah, ‘course I will.’
‘He’ll be upset.’
‘I know.’

Even now, stuck in my so-called Power Chair, I love to watch the Grand Prix on TV. I’ve always loved cars. Dad was a mechanic, and our mother died young, so Ellie and I spent many hours hanging around his garage in Ballyphehane. Friday nights were best, when we’d sit in the back seat of whatever car Dad was working on, eating battered cod and vinegary chips from Lennox’s, the fried smell melding with the fumes of engine oil. He’d eat much faster than we did so he could get back to tinkering underneath a bonnet, persuading an engine to roar back to life, before wiping his greasy hands on his overalls and declaring that it was time to quit.
I must have seemed a strange little girl. Ellie liked dolls but I far preferred cars. I could drive by the time I was ten and for my seventeenth birthday Dad bought me a bright red Triumph Herald. It was second-hand, of course – 1965 – and it needed a bit of work, but I loved it. Even now, although I like perfume well enough, my favourite scent is petrol.
It was Formula One season again and I was looking forward to watching the Belgian Grand Prix at the weekend. The noise of roaring revving engines and the sight of crazily fast cars zipping around a racing track raises my spirits and comforts me, even on bad days when my bones poke against my flesh like shards of ice and I have to grind my teeth together to stop myself groaning.

Jake arrived on Sunday, at about 3pm. He hugged me gently; he knows by now that big hugs are painful.
‘You’re looking well,’ I told him.
‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘You’re not looking too bad yourself, all things considered.’
That made me laugh, in spite of myself.
While Ellie made stuffing for the chicken and prepared a trifle, Jake replaced a bulb in the bathroom and put a new washer on the kitchen tap. All I could do was sit there like a spare part, watching them work.
When it was almost 5 p.m. Ellie got me sorted, toilet-wise, and settled me back in the Power Chair while Jake went out for a cigarette. Then we sat round the television, glued to Sky Sports. For a while I was engrossed in the bustling activity of the mechanics in the paddock, while commentators tried to catch a final few words with drivers and team bosses and the occasional celebrity before the race began. Finally the cars were in position and the red lights turned to green and I could almost smell the petrol and exhaust fumes and every time they showed the camera angle from Lewis Hamilton’s car it was almost as if I was behind the wheel myself, surging ahead, arcing around the chicanes, slowing into the pit lane when his team manager said ‘box, box, box,’ and zipping relentlessly into the lead again, and I could almost forget the bones that pinned every part of me down in pain.
Rosberg won and Lewis Hamilton only came third, for a change, but considering Lewis started from the back row on the grid he did brilliantly. Daniel Ricciardo came second and I was thrilled because he hasn’t the best car so he doesn’t often get placed. To be honest, I’ve a soft spot for him; I love his toothy smile. All in all, it was a fine race and afterwards I figured it was time for a drink before dinner.
‘Can I do anything?’ Jake asked his aunt Ellie. In fairness, he has lovely manners; I’ve always been determined that he wouldn’t turn out like his father.
‘No, the chicken’s in,’ Ellie told him. ‘And everything else is prepped.’ She took her apron off and hung it over one of the kitchen chairs, then ran her fingers through her hair. She looked at her watch. ‘I have to collect Jim and bring him over. I won’t be long. In the meantime you might as well start on the wine. There’s plenty in the fridge.’
Her face was a little flushed. Ellie has always been as transparent as glass. My brother-in-law Jim is the solid, reliable kind. If he’s supposed to turn up for his dinner at seven he’ll be there at seven. Besides, they only live around the corner. When I looked at Jake I knew he was thinking the same thing.
As the front door banged shut, Jake moved to the fridge and took out a bottle of Albarino. He poured some into my pink plastic mug and clicked the safety top on before he handed it to me.
‘Baby cup. I hate it,’ I said and my hands shook terribly as I held it. I knew Jake was wondering whether or not to offer help, but all he said was ‘I know,’ as he poured a glass of wine for himself.
‘So what’s up with Aunt Ellie?’ he said then.
‘You won’t like it. ’ My speech was very slurred. I hate that. At first it happened when I was tired or stressed but now it’s just another part of the damaged package that is me.
‘No matter. Fire away.’
‘I made a decision, Jake.’
‘Go on.’
‘Well, the date is set. I’m going to Dignitas at the end of November. After the final Grand Prix.’
‘But, that’s only – is it – ten weeks away? Mam, you can’t.’
‘Look Jake, I’ve held out for thirteen years but it’s too hard. I can’t face another Christmas.’
‘It’s just… I know you’ve talked about it before, but over there in Dignitas… it looks like a factory building. I mean, I’m sure it’s fine inside, but… wouldn’t you prefer to die here at home?’
‘I would, but sure it’s illegal here. What choice do I have?’
Jake chewed the inside of his lip, then slugged back all the wine in his glass.
‘Would you think about leaving it a while longer?’
‘I can’t, Jake. If I wait too long I might be too banjaxed to travel and then I’ll be stuck.’
‘It’s not right Mam. It’s much too soon.’ He shifted in his chair and bit his lip again. Then he raised his head and stared through the kitchen window. I moved my head with difficulty so that I could see what he was looking at. Out in the yard, a robin redbreast perched on a limb of the rotary washing line.
‘That little robin turns up every day,’ I said. ‘Ellie feeds him for me now.’
‘I’m going out for a cigarette,’ he said.
‘You’ll kill yourself with them fags.’
‘Look who’s talking.’ He shook his head and went out into the backyard. If I could have swallowed my stupid words I would have. As I sat powerless in my Power Chair I could see him pacing in the dusk, dragging on his cigarette as if it was a punishment.
When Jake came back in, I could smell the fags off him. I worried that in some small ways he’d taken after his father. When I was young, Lorcan’s edginess and fast talk had fascinated me but he had turned out to be a flawed and faithless man. Still, I’d done the best I could. Ellie and Jim had helped me then too. I could never have done it on my own.
Jake tilted the bottle of wine towards my plastic cup and I shook my head. Then he poured more wine into his glass.  
‘It’s beginning to get cloudy,’ he said. ‘There’ll be no stars tonight,’
‘You had a telescope when you were twelve. Do you remember?’
He half-smiled. ‘That was such a good present. I still love all that stuff… reminds me... Did you know that NASA has discovered a new planet? Kepler 452b. They’re calling it Earth 2.0 because it’s the closest match yet to our own planet.’
He got his iPad out and found a YouTube clip. The planet floated pale in an inky black universe, circling a sun-like star. Its pocked surface looked a lot like Earth.
‘Maybe there’s a whole other race up there,’ he said.
‘I hope it’s an improvement on the crowd down here anyway.’
I liked the thought of Earth 2.0. I never tell other people what to believe and I don’t believe in anything much myself, except that if there’s a God I’m quite happy to meet her and explain myself. I like the idea of God being a woman, though of course if there is a God at all, it might be anything, half and half for all I know, or just a cloud that talks or sends telepathic messages. Or there might be nothing. But if there’s nothing, then there’s nothing. I’ll be dead and I won’t even know there’s nothing anyway and there’s no way I can change that.
‘Replay it for me,’ I said. I wanted to see Earth 2 again. Jake pressed the tab and we stared at the screen.
‘So you’re not going to change your mind?”
‘Who’s taking you there?’
‘Ellie. Jim’s coming too. All the details are in a black folder in my bedroom.’
‘I’ll go as well.’
‘Jake, there’s no need. The less people involved, the better.’
‘Ah Mam,’ he said. He slugged back more wine. Then he got up and hugged me very gently.
‘You can’t come with me,’ I said, into his chest. ‘I already decided that. You have your career to think about – your whole life is in front of you.’
‘Look, it’s about time I copped onto myself. I could fly from Dublin and meet you in Zurich. Where’s that folder?’ He found it and slapped it down on the kitchen table. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘I’ll book my flights this minute,’ but he didn’t open the folder. Instead he sat there, and I expected him to protest again, but then I saw tears in his eyes, and all of a sudden he looked about five years old again. I felt my own face getting wet in spite of myself. He found a box of tissues and wiped my eyes, and then his own.

The MS was diagnosed thirteen years ago, when I was forty-five. It’s the worst kind, and the truth is that I’m slowly and painfully dying with no prospect of even a brief remission. After I got the diagnosis I kept on working and driving as long as I could, even when I finally had to use a walking stick. In fairness, even then I managed okay until I had an unfortunate accident on Pouladuff Road – involving a muscle spasm in my right leg and a lot of damage to the back of poor old Mr. Deasy’s car – and realised my driving days were over. I had to quit work in the University soon afterwards but at least I had a good pension plan. It nearly broke my heart to sell my little Audi TT but Jim found me a Renault with disabled access for a wheelchair so that he or Ellie could take me out.
The crunch came in the early hours after a terrible night when I lay awake, crying. My drug regime was causing complications almost as bad as the condition and my stomach was giving me grief. On top of that I had pruritis again and the itching was excruciating; enough to drive a person crazy. My bones ached as if I was being pulled on a rack and my head was so sensitive that it felt as if the roots of my hair were digging into my brain. I’m not one for moaning all the time but I was in agony. Jesus Christ, I moaned. Fucking hell. Christ Almighty. Oh God, oh God, oh God help me. It’s amazing that all my groaning was to a God I didn’t believe in. I’d given up on Him a while ago. No God of any kind of quality could ever have wished this on me. I knew no sleep would come, so at about five in the morning, with much difficulty I managed to pull myself up and across into the Power Chair and I trundled into the main room.
To distract myself until Ellie arrived, I decided to watch a documentary about Senna again. He was an amazing talent, who sadly crashed and died at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. He was only 34, same age as my son Jake is now. Senna prayed to God before the race, but God didn’t save him. That’s the way of it. No wonder I’m not impressed with God. Bad things can happen to anybody.
The DVD was easy to spot, not too high up on the shelves, with ‘SENNA’ written in yellow capital letters on the spine. I raised my hand as best I could and reached for it. Almost there, I leaned out of the flipping Power Chair but my right leg went into spasm and I tipped sideways, slithering right off the wheelchair hard onto the floor. That was that. No way could I get up.
As I lay there, my hips and shoulders felt like razorblades and I couldn’t help scraping at my itching parts, all the while knowing that this would only make the problem worse. Under the TV stand, a spider’s web was flecked with dessicated fly corpses, crumbs and other debris … the white… not maggots, surely not? Why hadn’t that bitch Looney bothered to hoover underneath? The stand was on wheels, for feck sake.
The clock on the mantelpiece ticked a familiar clicking sound. It seemed to get louder and louder and the sound of it annoyed the hell out of me. My panic alarm was miles away on my bedside cabinet (Ellie’s always at me to keep it round my neck). I tried to drag myself back into the bedroom but I was like a slug on salt, pierced with pain and getting colder and colder. By the time Ellie arrived, on the dot of seven, all I could say was ‘Ellie, it’s time.’

On the Monday after our Friday escapade at Leevale Shopping City, Jake left for Dublin at the crack of dawn and Ellie came in as usual at 7 a.m. I was in a lot of pain that day and I didn’t want to go anywhere. I listened to BBC Radio One Extra and asked Ellie to give me extra pain relief. Before Ellie went home for an hour in the afternoon she put a recording of the July Grand Prix for me – the British one, at Silverstone. It was an exciting race and I wanted to watch it again even though I already knew Lewis had won.
When the front door buzzer rang, I wondered who on earth it could be. Jake was back in Dublin as far as I knew. Ellie, Jim and Mrs Looney had keys. Not many other people came round anymore. I can’t really blame them. Most people, when faced with someone who has an incurable disease, don’t know what to say, so they stay away instead.
I fumbled for the remote control to pause the recording but it wasn’t in my ‘Super Storage System’. The Super Storage System, as I call it, is a a pocketed thing made of grey fleece fabric and held firmly by a Velcro fastening onto one side of the Power Chair. Ellie got it for me so that I could bung things in that I’d need when I was alone, like the TV remote, the DVD remote, my reading glasses, water bottle, tissues and phone, but the trouble is I keep so many things in there now I can hardly find anything right off.
It was a few seconds before I realised the remote was on the small table beside me all the while. I pressed the wrong button first and the race zoomed forward instead of pausing. By the time I managed to pause the flipping recording the front door buzzer had stopped, but then it buzzed again and, thankfully, the intercom thingy was in its rightful place in the Super Storage System so I managed to get it out and press the Talk button.
‘Who’s there?’ I asked.
‘It’s the police.’ The man’s voice sounded tinny and officious through the intercom. ‘Sorry to disturb you but we need to ask a few questions.’
It was ludicrous, I realised, afterwards, but the first thing that came to mind was that myself and Ellie were in trouble over what we’d done on Friday to the Fiat belonging to the Happy Hair girl in Leevale Shopping Centre.

I zoomed too fast into the hall, bumping my wheelchair against the doorframe and cursing under my breath. Then I hesitated for a moment. Sometimes this blinking MS makes my head addled, so I tried to force myself to think clearly. I’d admit nothing but I’d point out that if a young woman in the full bloom of her health was mean enough to park in a disabled parking space, she deserved what she got. I spoke through the intercom.
‘Show some ID,’ I said.
I peered through the spyhole, which Jake, bless him, had made sure to place low in the door, and then I pressed the Open button and invited them in.
Two Gardaí stepped into the hall. The man, a tall thin fellow in uniform, had hardly any chin. He was what my Dad used to call ‘a chinless wonder’. The female Garda was fair-haired and looked no more than sixteen, in spite of the fact that she wore an engagement ring and a wedding band. Her perfume smelt of woods and flowers; it was probably Issey Miyake
The Garda looked down at me past his almost non-existent chin. ‘Is your name Mrs Siofra Sullivan?’ he asked, very slowly.
‘Mizz. Is there a problem?’ My words came out a bit blubbery and I felt spit seeping onto my lower lip. It always gets worse when I’m anxious.
‘I’m sorry for the intrusion,’ said the female cop. ‘We just want to ask you a few questions.’
‘You might as well come in,’ I said. Without waiting for them, I reversed backwards and then drove left through the door that led into the living area. I bumped into the table as I turned the wheelchair round to face them.
‘I wish they didn’t call it a Power Chair,’ I said. ‘This damn thing is more like a bumper car.’
The female officer nodded and the chinless wonder didn’t seem to notice that I’d spoken.
‘Can you tell me the nature of your disability?’ he said, slowly, pronouncing each word as if he were speaking to a child.
‘There’s no need to talk like that,’ I slurred. ‘I’m no Stephen Hawkings but I’m not a vegetable either.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said the female cop. ‘Today’s one of his slow days.’
‘Sorry,’ he blushed.
’It’s okay,’ I said. ‘I’m used to it. Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis is what I’ve got.’
‘It must be tough,’ the girl said.
‘It is. There’s no cure and in my case there’s no remission. Would you like to sit down, while you’re here?’
They placed themselves awkwardly on the couch.
‘Is Ellie Sullivan Gould your sister?’ the chinless wonder asked, this time in a normal voice.
‘Yes. And she’s my carer as well.’
‘There’s been a report that she’s taking you to Switzerland. To Dignitas.’
‘What… who told you that?’ I felt stricken. A line from a poem came daftly into my head. The best laid plans of mice and men…
‘Assisting a suicide is a criminal offence under section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Suicide) Act 1993, so we’re obliged to investigate.’
‘No one is assisting me to do anything. I can’t go anywhere on my own. I always need someone to travel with me.’
‘I’m terrible sorry, Mrs Sullivan,’ he said, and he did seem sorry, in fairness. ‘I don’t want to alarm you but there’s a possibility that your sister will be charged if she brings you to Dignitas,’ he said.
‘But it’s in a different country. It’s legal there.’
‘Unfortunately, the law in this country hasn’t changed, Mrs Sullivan …’
‘It’s “Mizz”, I said. ‘And I won’t answer any more questions without a solicitor present.’
‘Sorry. Make a note of that,’ he told the girl cop. She didn’t look at him and she didn’t look at me either. She just stared at whatever she’d written in her notebook.
‘We’re very sorry to bother you,’ he said. ‘I hope we don’t have to follow this up but we’ll have to file a preliminary report before we know any more.’
‘We’ll let ourselves out,’ the girl said and they got up and left.
I could hardly believe it. I was raging. So much planning. The agony of filling out forms and getting up-to-date medical reports and psychological reports. I’d had my will drawn up and witnessed. I’d bought Christmas presents to be unwrapped after I was dead. A special parcel for Jake on his wedding day if he ever got married – I hoped he’d tie the knot with Sarah… The waiting… Four months it took to get Dignitas sorted and I had only six months to take up the place or I’d have to update the blasted reports and start all over again.
On the TV screen, the front of Lewis Hamilton’s silver Mercedes was freeze-framed on the silent racing track. I stared at the back of his white helmet and his white-gloved hands on the steering wheel as he sat there, going nowhere.
Then the doorbell rang again.
It was the girl cop’s voice on the intercom this time.
‘Sorry, I left my notebook behind.’
‘Ah feck off,’ I muttered but all the same I pressed Open. The girl came in. Her face was flushed.
‘Actually, I didn’t leave anything behind,’ she said. ‘I’ve come back to apologise. I’m really, really sorry. Sometimes I hate my job.’
She left before I could think of anything to say, and, mercifully, before I soiled my incontinence pad. I sat in despair for some moments, before driving myself into the bathroom. Exhausted at the thought of the slow unsavoury cleansing that lay ahead, I couldn’t help breaking down in tears. That’s how Ellie found me when she arrived a few minutes later.
‘We’re busted, Ellie,’ I wailed. ‘And I’ve shat myself.’
‘I know,’ said Ellie. ‘Don’t worry about that now. Let’s get you sorted.’

Ellie helped me undress and sit in the shower. She washed and dried me and helped me put my nightclothes on. She poured a glass of the good brandy and folded my hand around it.
‘The police just called me. That’s why I’m late.’
‘How did they find out?’ I slurred. ‘I bet it was that old wagon Mrs Looney. Always banging on about prayer and offering it up...’
‘I brought the folder over here last Friday,’ said Ellie. ‘I shouldn’t have done that.’

Given that my law-abiding brother-in-law Jim has never even been done for speeding, his attempts to keep us all calm and pretend he wasn’t worried were almost convincing.
‘It’ll all work out in the mix,’ he said. Jim used to be a sound engineer, back in the day. ‘Don’t worry about it.’  
Ellie wasn’t calm at all. She phoned her solicitor and hounded him for information on possible outcomes and worst-case scenarios. Jake’s name didn’t come up at all, which was the only scrap of comfort for me.

Finally, weeks later, the police heard back from the Director of Public Prosecutions. No charges would be made. There was ‘no realistic prospect of conviction’.
‘Side-stepping the issue,’ grumbled Jim. ‘But at least that’s that, for now.’
‘You’ll just have to plough on a while longer,’ Ellie said to me. ‘We’ll have to leave it for now. I’m glad you’re still here, to be honest.’
‘I’m stuck, Ellie.’
‘No, you’re not. We’ll sort something out. You’ll see.’
I nodded, but I knew in my heart I couldn’t put them through all that again.

The final Grand Prix was on Sunday 29th November. Jake came down from Dublin again, to watch it with me. I tried not to show how grim I felt. I took more pain relief than usual. Nico Rosberg won and Hamilton came in second. Jim arrived afterwards. We ate a very fine beef stew and drank champagne and I talked a lot and told them I loved them, and they thought it was because I was drunk, and I was, but it wasn’t, and it was a great day but that night I hardly slept at all and I woke in the early hours with a horrid sensation of internal shakiness and my whole being in endless pain.

The package didn’t arrive on Monday. It was supposed to arrive for definite that week, so I’d struggled to get up by myself at 7 a.m. It took ages to put my dressing jacket on, and my pad was soggy. It was taking me longer to manoeuvre myself into the Power Chair, but I was not completely incapable yet.
The last thing I wanted was for the postman to rush off without delivering the package and leave one of those notes telling me to collect it at the sorting office. If I missed the delivery the sorting office was way out beyond the Kinsale Roundabout and I’d have to ask Ellie or Jim to collect it but I was determined that no one would know about the package or find out what was inside. I’d pleaded with Ellie to stay home until noon all this week. I claimed I was sleeping better, later, in the mornings, that I needed time alone.

By 7 a.m. on Tuesday I was struggling to ready myself once more. When the doorbell finally rang, just after nine, I was terrified I wouldn’t reach the front door on time, but I made it. Alan the postman was outside, holding a package. The stamps looked foreign. When he asked me to sign for it my hands were so unwieldy that all I could manage was an illegible scrawl. He handed the package to me but I lost my grip and it fell to the ground.
‘I’ll bring it inside for you, will I?’ he asked. He came in and put it down on the kitchen table. ‘You want me to open it for you, love?’
‘No thanks, Alan. I’m fine now,’ I said.
It was difficult, but I managed to slice at the sellotape gently with a serrated knife for ages until the end of the package came loose – scissors were way too difficult. Then I tore slowly at the cardboard until the contents were revealed.
It was a shock to see a shiny purple box with the words Catch Me… Cacharel written in white, below a cluster of circles in pink, white and puce. It seemed to be perfume or body lotion. How could this be? I’m such an ejit, I thought. The one thing I’d not imagined was that I’d be conned.
It hadn’t been easy sending $450 to the company in Mexico; hours of pecking away at my computer, making mistakes, fumbling and foosthering during the increasingly rare times I spent alone.
But maybe, just maybe… I tried to open the perfume box. Feck. Tore it. But... oh joy. Inside, two glorious bottles of Nembutal. 200 ml in clear liquid form. Now to manage pouring a cup of the good brandy – to wash it down. That worked well, according to the blogs. I’d done my research.
But then I was afraid. I didn’t want to die in secrecy. I knew exactly what I wanted. To cease upon the midnight with no pain. A calm, quiet letting go, with my loved ones around me.  But here I was, terribly alone.
I tried to think about Earth 2.0 and what it might be like there, but no matter how I tried I couldn’t picture it.

Madeleine D’Arcy

End of story

I offer my great thanks to Madeleine D’Arcy for her willingness to share her art and knowledge with us.  I look forward to featuring her many more times.

Mel u