Friday Fiction. Going Under.


The story so far: Jo Devereux is back in Mucknamore, the Irish seaside village where she grew up, for her mother's funeral. In her will, her mother’s has bequeathed a pile of family papers and asked her to write about her family's part in the Irish liberation struggle in 1922.   It might suit Jp to stay on and take refuge from the raddled life she's been living in San Francisco since her friend Richard died. But how can she, now that the family pub and shop is to be sold?  And when Rory O’Donovan, the only man she ever really loved, still lives there with his wife and children and seems to think they can be friends?

You can read previous chapters HERE.

Now Read On: After Rory’s gone I go to the sitting room and slide the pictures of my eighteen-year-old self out of their envelope, to look again at this girl with her unlined face and body, to look and look until I can’t see her image any more, until it blurs and clears and mists again.  At some point I fall asleep staring into her wildly glittering eyes.

I wake with the dawn, cold, cramped and nauseous, still holding one of the pictures. Though the window, I see an early morning haze, the sort the sun will easily eat up once it rises a little higher. It’s important to eat, I know, so I go to the kitchen to make some toast, though I have no appetite. If I don’t have something to throw up in a while, it will be worse: retching and heaving a bile that feels like it’s going to strip my stomach lining and serve it up. I make some sandwiches to eat afterwards and upstairs, find a backpack and organise myself for a full day away from here.

By the time I am leaving the house, the mist is already dissolving. Down at the beach I take off my shoes and walk in the water that laps cool, over my feet. I walk past the point, up towards Rathmeelin. I like the beach up here, private behind a twist in the cliff, usually empty except for an occasional jogger or walker, even when it’s not so early. I stop there for a while, alone in the shallows, looking out at a world where everything is horizontal and vast, except me.

I’m trying again not to remember that night. Dee, still wrapped around Steve as if the music has not upped its tempo, gives me a thumbs-up behind his back, happy to be abandoned. ‘Are you always so . . . decisive?’ he asks, as we wait for a cab to hail, and already I know how this is going to go, that I really should quit and go home. But I can’t, I just can’t face my too-empty flat and my too-full head. I climb into the cab.

I don’t want to remember his messy apartment, strewn with clothes and dishes, his perfunctory offer of coffee, our straight march to the bedroom. How I didn’t give myself time to relax into the physical, the only way I was going to make anything of it for either of us but instead let him take the lead and so found us jerked from arms around each other to bra-opening in a matter of seconds.

I opened my eyes to protest, expecting to see arrogance there, a we’ll-see-who’s-in charge-now expression on his face. Instead, he floored me with a grin, eager, excited and a little shy, expectant as a boy now sex was imminent, and no doubt but that I was equally thrilled by the prospect. Despite myself, I was touched. Smiling back, I slipped out of my clothes.

Sue Denim would not approve. Proper sexual attention was my due in this encounter, she would say. Insist on a pleasurable outcome for you as well as him. If he doesn’t know how, show him. And Sue is right, I know she’s right. So what was I doing spreading myself naked on this stranger’s bed, pretending he was doing fine when he wasn’t? Why was I careful to lie on his pillow with one knee bent upwards, a position I know to be the most flattering to my ageing body, flattening the wad of fat that rings my abdomen? We women deserve everything we (don’t) get.

In moments he was leaning over me, expecting entry, and again I was gripped by the urge to call a halt, to start again. But where? Back at the nightclub? When I refused coffee? When we started kissing in earnest? Instead, I opened to him.

Propping himself up on his elbows so that we touched only at the hips, he began. It wasn’t lovemaking, or even what I hoped for when we got together in the nightclub, sexual intercourse. No, he was the fucker and I was the fuckee. Slow at first, then faster and faster, ever more oblivious to the human being under him, until he came with a smothered groan slumped down onto my body, but not for long. As soon as consciousness returned, he rolled off me.

Who would want to remember inflicting this upon themselves? And the next bit, even worse, when I met his eyes and found that look: distaste for his own need, now it was spent, a distaste that pointed in the same direction as mine: at me.

He lifted the duvet, half-heartedly inviting me into the hollow where he slept each night. Agreeing to that felt even more intimate than taking him into my body. He didn’t really want me there, I didn’t really want to be there but I was, considering it. Leaving would have meant engaging him in conversation, getting up and dressed, and arriving back at my empty apartment across the city, opening the door in the middle of the night on its thousand open questions.

Reader: I stayed. I slipped between his sheets, pulled his covers around me and, careful not to touch him, pretended to fall asleep until, eventually, I did.

And now, though I'm thousands of miles away, he’s still here with me, in my body, in my mind, making me groan aloud into the early morning. Nobody’s around, so I slip out of my clothes down to my underwear and run the short run into the water, refusing to cower when the cold licks at my calves, my thighs, my groin. I push on until it’s waist height, then I throw myself forward into it. Ice thumps me in the heart and I gasp out loud.

The salt water buoys me up. I stretch my arms wide into a breaststroke and feel it begin to warm to me. After a while, I turn to float on my back and stare into the blue eyes of the sky. Small waves crest under me, rocking me gently, a comfort that confuses me so I pull my knees into my chest, wrap my arms around them and will myself down to the bottom where I hold myself on my hunkers, breath trapped and swelling behind my nose. All of me except my ears, open to the sounds of the sea, is clasped close and shut tight.

I stay down until the last moment, until my lungs are fissured with pressure, until my heart is panic-hammering and my brain about to burst inside its skull. Just before I sway towards blackness, I kick myself back up, my head breaking the surface skin of the water just in time, memories drowned out for a while by my body’s gulping need for air.

I lie for a while to dry off and then get up and walk on, until I come to the green slope of land, studded with crosses and stones, that is the old cemetery. I climb up there from the beach through the open gate. The path that divides the cemetery in two is stony, jagged under my bare feet, so I pick my way along the grassy ridges between the burial stones.

When I get to the Parle graves, I sit down on the edge, in front of Auntie Nora’s little cross, and look to Gran’s name on the headstone. Margaret Mary Bridget Parle. 1900 to 1989. What am I to do, I ask her but I hear nothing except blood rushing around my head, in time with the waves.

Exhausted, weary to the marrow, I move to lying on my side, curled up, hugging my knees. Their plot is at the top of the cemetery and I can see over the tops of the other graves, over the wall, over the waves, all the way out the Point to Coolanagh island. It looks like a great basking whale. Under my cheek, the stones are hot and sharp. Beneath them is the smell of earth. What am I to do? Please tell me. Please. I close my eyes. The chipstones stab my skin but still I lie there, like that.


Nine-year-old me lies under the water in the big old bath that is almost deep enough for me to swim in, holding my breath. Breaking the skin of the water, I wipe my eyes and stop the clock. Three minutes, twenty-two seconds. Fourteen seconds longer than last time but forty-five seconds short of my personal best.

I haven’t time to do any more now, I have to get to the kitchen for lunch. Drying off, I feel lighter as I always do after this underwater ritual, relieved of something. I have limits but I can stretch myself. Down at the kitchen table, I take my place before the bowl of soup that’s been poured for me, across from my big sister, Maeve. Our silence with each other, and with Mammy who labours over the stove, is packed full of the sounds of her work: sizzling meat, bubbling potatoes, clattering plates. Steam and smells billow, like angry ghosts, around Daddy’s vacant chair.

Maeve tries to land another kick on my shin, her favourite mealtime occupation these days. I pull my legs to one side, afraid of the mark her shoe might leave on my white tights, that would give Mammy the out her anger is seeking. We are all in Sunday best, though it’s a Monday. Not just Easter Monday but Easter Monday 1966, the day Gran has been describing as The Golden Jubilee for months now. This afternoon, our entire family, even Auntie Nora, is going to Enniscorthy, a town thirty miles away, to commemorate it. Fifty years ago today, Irishmen took part in a rising against British rule, starting the war that won Ireland her freedom. Gran was involved back then and today is on the organizing committee and has to get up on a stage in front of everyone to give the speech she’s been practicing around the house for weeks.

The kitchen door opens and in she comes. I perk up and sneer across at Maeve. She won’t have a free run at me now.

‘Something smells good,’ Gran says, her voice all happy. Then she sees Mammy’s face which makes her look at the space where Daddy should be. ‘Ah no,’ she says, ‘don’t tell me, not today . . . ’

She moves across to the cooker. Mammy says nothing, just slaps six plates in a row along the counter. I send a mental message: Come over here, Gran, over here, but no. She lowers her voice though not quiet enough: ‘Have you heard anything from him?’

‘Not a thing.’ Mammy divides the food among the plates. ‘I’m going to go in and collect him once we’ve eaten.’

‘Yerra, let him rot there.’

‘Don’t you think I want to? But how can I? If he isn’t with us today, it’ll look so peculiar. We’ll be the talk of the place.’

I listen to this exchange, waiting for a pause. When it comes, I call across: ‘Hello, Gran!’ and then notice, too late, the quiet lunge of my sister’s leg. A leather toe cracks against my shin.

‘Yeow!’ I screech out loud. The two adults turn.

‘What’s the matter, pet?’ Gran asks.

Maeve’s eyes burn a warning into the side of my face. ‘Nothing.’

Gran comes over anyway.

‘I hope you two aren’t fighting. What do I always tell you? Fighting . . . ?’

‘ . . . solves nothing,’ Maeve and I both answer, in a sing-song voice together.

‘That’s right,’ says Granny Peg. So,’ she settles herself in between us, ‘how is little Miss Tickles today?’ She curls her finger at me in mock threat of a tickle-attack.

‘Fine,’ I gurgle. And I am, now. My heart hums with love of her.

‘And Little Miss Manners?’

Maeve wrinkles her nose at her, pretending to object to this name.

‘Listen, girls, come here till I tell ye,’ Granny Peg says, in that confidential voice of hers that we love. ‘Auntie Nora will be down in a minute and she’s after going to great trouble to get ready. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all told her how well she’s looking?’

Auntie Nora’s appearance is a great worry to Gran, who always has to coax her to wash her hair or have a bath or change her dirty clothes.

‘So she’s definitely going?’ Mammy calls over.

‘Now Máirín, I told you, she has to go. There’s no question of her not going.’

‘Even though you’ll be on the platform? Even though I’ll have the children to mind as well?’

‘I’m sorry, a grá, but it can’t be helped. It would be all wrong to leave her at home on this day. You must see that.’

Mammy brings food over to us all then takes her place at the table. We feel the temper swelling against her skin. ‘I don’t know how I’ll manage,’ she says. ‘You know what she’s like when she’s excited. She’s been like a hen on a hot griddle for weeks.’

Gran leaves the space where she should answer lie open.

Mammy tries again. ‘How will I ever manage the three of them and probably on my own?’

‘She has to be there, Máirín.’ Gran’s quiet insistence is not like her. Usually she calms our mother, strokes her down from the heights of her anger with soft words and the right kind deeds. ‘Nora did her bit for Ireland as much as any of them who’ll be there today, more than most. You can’t expect her to sit home alone on the day that’s in it.’

Maeve sees a chance to step in: ‘We’ll be very good for you, Mammy.’

Mammy momentarily parts the folds of her anger and lets out a smile. ‘I know you will, love. It’s not you I’m worried about.’

She turns back to her food and the unfairness of everything sweeps over her again, eats into her. Her eyes travel around the table looking for a target and land on a bowl of unfinished soup. My bowl. ‘Who owns this?’ She lifts the spoon so the soup slops back into the bowl from a height, looking straight at me. Anxiety curdles my stomach. Maeve perks up.

‘Do I have to ask again?’

‘It’s mine.’

‘How many times do you have to be told? Only take the amount you’re going to eat. Don’t I always tell you? If you don’t want it, don’t take it.’


‘God above, isn’t that reasonable? Isn’t that fair enough? I can’t stand good food going to waste. You’d better eat up that fry, every bit. You’d better clear that plate, young lady, do you hear me?’

She takes the bowl away. My sausages swell on my plate. Gran sees my face, cuts them up small for me.

‘And what about herself above?’ She is picking on Gran now. ‘Is she ever coming down at all this morning? How am I supposed to keep the food hot?’

‘She won’t be long,’ Gran picks up Auntie Nora’s plate. ‘Here, I’ll stick it under the grill for her. You have your own.’

Mammy settles into silence at the foot of the table, nursing her teacup, staring out at the grey sea. It’s all right for her not to eat, but I know it won’t be for me. My sausages show pink where Gran has cut them; a pink that twists my stomach shut. What am I going to do? Mammy’s anxiety is inside all of us now but at no relief to her.

The door opens and Auntie Nora comes in. She doesn’t look like herself today: her hair is swelling out from her face in fat grey curls and a peacock brooch glitters on a new blouse. A tidemark of make-up wobbles along the fold of her double chins, spoiling the dressed-up effect, and her red lipstick has wandered outside the borders of her mouth. The lipstick makes the non-stop motion of her mouth more conspicuous. Though Auntie Nora rarely speaks out loud, she talks a soundless stream of patter to herself all day, every thought that rises in her head getting turned over by her lips. Gran smiles to see her, says: ‘Nora, you look lovely.’

Auntie Nora shoves her big hips between the arms of the chair as Gran gets up to fetch her food. ‘There you are now. And I’m just going to tie this tea towel round you so you don’t get any mess on your nice blouse. Did you sleep all right with those curlers in? They’ve done a lovely job. Isn’t Auntie Nora’s hair lovely, children?’

Auntie Nora puts a soft hand up to its surface, as if to make sure it’s still there. Maeve sniggers.

‘Auntie Nora is lovely,’ I say, to please Gran, making Maeve snigger again.

Mammy cuts across us all, saying Maeve is to help Gran clean up and I am to come with her in the car. ‘We’re going to town to fetch your father.’

This is even worse than being punished for not eating but to say no to Mammy in this mood isn’t an option. Outside, she clicks open the front door of the Renault, her car not Daddy’s, and I step into the back, feeling misplaced inside its glass and pastel-blue steel, the colour of summer and babies and sweets. It takes us 35 silent minutes to drive. ‘Right,’ she says, pulling the handbreak into a stop on the hill outside Larkin’s. ‘In you go and tell your father I want him.’

‘What if he won’t come?’

‘Make him come. Tell him we’re not leaving until I speak to him.’

The handle is high up. Unlike my sister, I am small for my age and I have to stand on tiptoe to reach it. The door puffs open into a smells both like that of our own pub but also different. Daddy is on the wrong side, the serving side, of the counter. Has he got mixed up, I wonder, about which pub he’s in? He has a pint of Guinness in one hand and is leaning over a newspaper, pointing something out to another man. ‘Iron Jack,’ he says. ‘Fifteen to two.’

Mrs Larkin is standing behind the counter too and it is she who notices me first. She nudges Daddy and points at me through her tea towel, making everybody turn. Daddy puts on the pretend face he always wears when he turns to see what everybody is staring at, and finds it’s me. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘Mammy wants you.’

‘Tell her I’ll be home later.’

I move around his side of the counter, so he doesn’t have to speak so loud.

‘Mammy wants you.’

He shakes his head.

‘She said we won’t go unless you come out and talk to her.’

‘Is that a fact? She’ll get to know the inside of that car right well, so.’ He doesn’t keep his voice down. He is looking at Mrs Larkin while he speaks, like he’s talking to her, not me. I can feel the other men looking and it feels like they are laughing, though they’re not. One of them says to me, ‘Would you like a lemonade, love?’

What I would like is to sit down at the little table in the corner and have a Coca-Cola and a packet of crisps and a comic the way I did once before, but I can’t. That time Mammy walloped me across the head, said that having a Coke like that was one of the worst things I had ever done to her. So instead I say, ‘No, thank you,’ to the man and try to get closer to Daddy. I whisper to him. ‘Please, Daddy. Please. She’ll go mad.’

He makes his show-offy voice even louder. ‘Tell your mammy to go ahead, I’ll follow on home when I’m ready.’

Mrs Larkin sends me a look that says she’d like to help but what can she do. Daddy goes back to the talk about horses. ‘Did yours come in, Francie?’

‘Not at all, a dead loss, he’s running still. But Nick had ten bob on Deuteronomy.’

‘Did you hear that, Maisie? The drinks are on Nick.’

I go back out to the car. The door is open, waiting. ‘He won’t come,’ I say.

She screams. ‘Were you listening to me at all? Go back in there now and get him to come out or you’ll get what’s good for you.’

I go back in. Daddy looks up at me immediately this time, expecting me while pretending he isn’t. ‘Jesus, did you not hear what I told you?’ he says. ‘Is it Easter weekend or is it not? Am I to have no peace?’

‘Ah now, Christy, go easy,’ says the man who offered me the lemonade. ‘It’s not her fault.’

Mrs Larkin speaks up. ‘Maybe you should go on ahead, Christy.’

‘D’you think so, Maisie?’

‘I do.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘I am.’

He nods his head, slowly. ‘Maybe I will, so.’

The men are like children in school, laughter forbidden but just under their skin. Daddy picks up his Guinness from the counter. It’s more than half full but he lowers it down in one big swallow, then bangs his glass down.

‘And what are you grinning at, Nick O’Leary?’

‘Nothin’, Christy.’ The man has two teeth only, and both of them black. ‘Nothin’ at all.’

‘I’m glad to hear it.’

Daddy takes a long time putting on his coat. The froth from his drink slides down the inside of the glass, settling into a slop at the bottom. The clock on the top shelf whirrs then chimes: one o’clock, dee-dah-dee-dah. He makes a great show of taking his ease, not letting anybody rush him. Then he puts on his hat, tucks his Irish Press under his arm. ‘Goodbye, men. See you, Maisie.’

‘See you, Christy.’

Out to the car we go. Mammy has what she wanted but she’s not happy. Daddy makes himself very small, pressed against the passenger’s door, trying to seal himself off but she’s not having that. ‘That place must be the dirtiest hole in Wexford town.’


‘If you must stay away from your family, you think you’d go somewhere with a bit of class, but oh no, you’d rather be with the dregs of Wexford town.’


‘Acting the big fella with a crowd of no-good townies. Have you no shame?’


‘For the love of God, answer me. Is there no shame in you for what you do to us?’

‘I’d be ashamed to behave as you are behaving now.’

‘And how am I supposed to behave? Am I to say, “Welcome home, Christy”? “Thanks for coming home to your wife and family, Christy. Thanks for doing what every other man does every day of his life without thinking about it”?’

‘What man would want to come home to the likes of this?’

Mammy starts to cry. ‘Oh, the disgrace of it . . . That dirty townie tart—’

‘That’s enough now.’ He says it twice. ‘That’s enough.’

‘Near young enough to be your own daughter . . . ’

‘Christ, Máirín, would you mind your mouth in front of the child.’

‘Oh, the child, is it? It’s little you care about the child or the other one either when you decide to take yourself off. On this day of all days, to be away from us. You know what this day means to our family.’

Daddy refuses to talk any more, no matter what she says now he won’t answer her. On she goes anyway: how could he, that filthy place, no respect, the talk of the village, the talk of the town. . . I know why Daddy isn’t talking: it’s because he only has bad things to say. Gran told me about it, how important it is to keep the bad words to ourselves. Our thoughts come from the same place we came from ourselves, Gran says, from the Good Lord above. We can’t help what we think; it’d frighten the heart out of you some of the things that pop into your head, but as long as they stay in your head, no harm done. Spoken words are a different thing entirely. The wrong ones let out don’t fade. They stay in the air, smoking it up. Bad deeds are even worse.

I sit in the back of the car, holding my own breath, fingers discreetly plugged in my ears, trying to stop any bad words from getting inside me.


As soon as we get home we have to leave again because Daddy has made us late. We squash the others in, Auntie Nora and Gran in the back beside the windows, Maeve and me in the middle, me on Gran’s knee. Daddy is driving now and it’s Mammy’s turn to be quiet and stare out the window with ruptured eyes.

At the old cemetery, we all pile out again and walk up the little hill towards the The Grave, where Granny Peg’s mother and father and husband are buried and her brother, Uncle Barney with his high cross all to himself, taller than the other cross that’s for three people not one. Taller than Daddy even. Once we’re arranged in a circle around The Grave, Gran makes a speech, the words coming heavy out of her mouth: ‘We offer this rosary for the repose of the souls of all our family and friends but especially for the soul of Barney Parle, who fell nearby in a glorious fight for Irish freedom on the 10th January 1923. sacrificed his life for comrades and country. Dílis do Dhia agus dÉirinn.’

We have left Uncle Barney’s grave and plaque behind and are driving through Wexford toward Enniscorthy. The traffic is heavy along the quay, making Daddy swear and wipe the windscreen with his handkerchief, as if he could wipe the other cars away. Gran is listing off dates and battles again. The numbers melt in my ears but I like the words she fires. Rising. Resistance. Freedom. Rebellion.

By the time we get to Enniscorthy, we are cramped and glad to get out. The rain has stopped but the paths are still wet and big drops fall from the trees and telegraph wires. Flags flutter everywhere: rectangles of green, white and orange hanging from poles and trees and windows and strings of little triangles in all colours stretched across the streets. In the distance, we can hear the boom-boom of pipe-and-drum music.

People I don’t know nod at us as we pass, or tip their caps, or come up to say hello. Men and women admire us: ‘Aren’t they lovely girls!’ ‘Isn’t the little one the spit of her mammy?’ I wonder how that can be as five minutes before somebody said I was the image of my daddy. Hands pat my head, smiles shine down at me, coins are pressed into my hand. Gran accepts and returns the smiles and chat on behalf of us all. Mammy and Daddy are stiff as two trees but they won’t fight here in front of everybody, so we’re all right.

As soon as I stop worrying about them, I notice Auntie Nora’s bewilderment, that her lips are whirring talk to herself. Too many people, that’s the problem: Auntie Nora hardly ever goes out or sees anyone but us. Seeing her distress, Gran takes her by the arm and talks to distract her, talks as if she’s talking to us all, telling us about President de Valera, and how if he didn’t have to be at the big celebration in Dublin he would be here with us in Enniscorthy, because Enniscorthy was one of the few places outside Dublin that rose in 1916. President de Valera always had a soft spot for Enniscorthy, Gran says.

Gran has a soft spot for President de Valera. Once, a long time ago, he slept in our house and afterwards she had the bed moved into her room. Dev’s bed, she calls it, and she sleeps in it still. He wasn’t president then – this happened the very first time Fianna Fáil went for an election.

‘In the olden days, Gran?’ I ask, making her laugh.

‘Yes, modern millie. All the way back in 1932. Which doesn’t seem so long ago to me, I can tell you.’

Mr de Valera was in our part of the country to canvass for votes and he stayed with us to acknowledge that our family had made the Ultimate Sacrifice. When we won that election, he was ushered into Enniscorthy by fifty white horses. Gran will never forget it.

We are at the square now where she is to get up on the stage and make her speech. A band is playing ‘A Nation Once Again.’ Other old people are up on the platform already. Gran hands Auntie Nora over to Mammy and we squeeze through to the seats have been reserved for us up near the front.

We sit and wait. , The music changes to ‘God Save Ireland’ then stops.

A man comes out. ‘Testing,’ he shouts into the microphone at the front of the stage. It lets a loud squeal. ‘Testing one . . . two . . . squeeeak . . . Testing one . . . squeeak . . . three . . . ’ Once he gets it working, another man walks on and everybody claps. He talks for a long time about Easter 1916 and the Rising, about Ireland and England, about brave men and fine soldiers. He’s boring.

Another man gets up and goes on with more of the same but at the end he turns around to point out Gran and the other three old women behind him. ‘Without the brave girls of Cumann na mBan,’ he says, ‘Many a flying column would have collapsed. When almost everybody deserted the soldiers those girls stood by them and the more dangerous the work, the more willing they were to do it.’ I stare at the old women, sitting in a row in their black coats and hats, like blackbirds on a wire, wonder if he’s made a mistake.

Then at last it is Gran’s turn and Maeve and I stand up to join in the clapping for her. We listen with great pride to the speech we all know inside-out by now, about how Ireland can never call herself free while her six northern counties remain part of the United Kingdom and how we need a new movement for freedom in our country. She’s just getting herself to the part where she gets all worked up when Auntie Nora shifts in her seat and stands up, holding her hand above her head like we do in school when we want to talk to the teacher.

Gran puts her hand over the microphone and leans past it. ‘What is it, Nora?’ Her voice sounds low without the microphone, as if she is whispering though she really she’s almost shouting.

Auntie Nora’s fat cheeks are jumping and twitching like two small animals are having a fight inside her mouth. Words whirr through her lips, louder than usual, but indistinct. Mammy catches hold of her coat, tries to pull her back down into her seat. I can see that Gran, up on the stage in front of everyone, doesn’t know what to do. She looks across at the man who did the talking earlier and he shrugs back. She looks again at Auntie Nora, who still holds her hand above her head but seems unable to do any more.

Gran decides she has to ignore her, turns back to the microphone but just as she is about to resume, Auntie Nora finds her voice. Her out-loud speaking voice that I’ve hardly ever heard. ‘What about Dan?’ she asks.

Now the silence crackles all around us. Gran’s face and body collapse, like gravity just got twice as strong. Daddy’s lips fold around a nervous smirk. Mammy pulls harder at the coat and hisses. ‘Sit, Nora. Dear God, what are you trying to do to us?’

Behind us, a buzz of talk breaks out, people passing around what she said like a parcel.

‘Sit, would you? For the love of God, sit yourself down.’

Auntie Nora tugs her coat out of Mammy’s grip and turns around to face the audience behind us. She says it again, addressing us all. And then again. ‘What about Dan?’ she says. ‘What about Dan?’

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