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GERRY BOLAND

 

 

 

 

Gerry Boland is a poet and author. He was born and lived for much of his life in Dublin and moved to north Roscommon in 1999. His first collection of poems, Watching Clouds, was published by Doghouse Books in 2011, and his second, In the Space Between (Arlen House) appeared in 2016. In 2011 and 2012, O’Brien Press published his trilogy, A Rather Remarkable Grizzly Bear, the first of which, Marco Moves In, was nominated for an Irish Book Award. He has written two travel books on his native city, A Pocket Guide to Dublin (1994) and Stroller’s Guide to Dublin (1999), both from Gill&Macmillan. He has also published a collection of poems for the young reader, The Secret Life of Mothers, and his first collection of short stories, The Far Side of Happiness is due out in 2017 by Arlen House. He was Writer-in-Residence for Roscommon County Council in 2013 and again in 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

A Short Drive To The Shops

 

 

 

Veronica

 

We called him Adam because he was our first, and because Rory liked the name. I wasn’t keen on it, but I was happy to go along with whatever he chose. After all, it was Rory who’d made all the running in our on-again off-again relationship, who’d pursued the idea of marriage until he’d worn me down. And it was Rory, the desperate-to-be-father, who persuaded me to have a child. The motherly urge had never been a strong internal force, unlike my little sister who was a mother before she was twenty-one and who had four kids in five years. Not for me, that kind of carry on; I was happy as I was, a working wife with a life.

 

The birth was the easy part. It was afterwards, when I brought him home, that the trouble started, the trouble being that my instincts had been right, I was not a natural mother. I became depressed for the first time in my life. Retreated to my bedroom and left him crying in his cot until he gave up on me. Went through confusing phases of loving him and resenting him, spoiling him and ignoring him, all in the space of a single day. And yet – and this is the most amazing thing – he turned out to be a good boy, so serene and seemingly contented. And because he was so calm I got used to the whole mother thing as we went along. He was always a little wary, underneath this calmness he presented to us, which was understandable. I knew that I was the primary source of that.

 

The bike he was on that day had been a birthday present from both of us. He’d had us worn out with his pleadings for a bike. Our son was only eight, Rory said. Eight is too young to be cycling on the roads. He wouldn’t be cycling on the roads, I argued. There would be a strictly enforced rule that he would only go out on the roads if Rory was with him.

 

Let’s be honest, I didn’t really believe that Adam would keep to the footpaths. He had, even at that young age, started to play by his own rules. He was a clever boy, he saw how his father and his mother were using him for their own petty, vindictive purposes, each one pretending to be the more reliable, the more attentive, the more loving parent. I think even by the age of five he had begun to see through the charade, and by eight he had decided to make up his own rules.

 

So, even as I was pressing home my arguments to buy him a bike, part of me was aware that I was doing nothing more than getting back at Rory. For what? I can no longer remember. Something trivial, no doubt. Christ knows what kind of bitch I was then, a slave to conflict, up for a fight at any time of the day or night, hurling insults at Rory, who was no slouch himself when it came to confrontation.

 

And Adam always in the middle, or up in his bedroom, working out his own survival strategies.

 

When our son asked for a bike, and his father emitted an emphatic ‘No’, he would not have been surprised to hear his mother say ‘Yes’. Oh, he knew how to work us alright, our darling, manipulative son.

 

I blame myself and no one else for Adam’s death. I do feel sorry for Molly Dunne, I genuinely do. Poor woman, she was devastated. Who wouldn’t be? You’re driving your car to the shop, along a road you travel everyday. The weather is fine. You have no worries, and a boy on a bicycle appears from nowhere in front of your car and before you can brake you hear a sickening thud as a small human being made of flesh and blood and bones and soft tissue smacks against your windscreen and bounces over the roof and he’s gone. Molly Dunne said at the inquest that she wasn’t sure what had happened had really happened, it was that sudden, that impossible. She said you don’t expect a boy on a bike to come out of nowhere, you don’t expect to kill a young boy on your way to the shops. She told the coroner that she believed she was a safe driver. She said she always paid attention. She was in tears most of the time. Rory smelled a rat, he said there was something about Molly Dunne that he didn’t like. I believe it was grief, a hideous, unbearable grief that made him suspect her of something, even though he couldn’t articulate what it was, didn’t know what it was. There was nothing rational about his hatred of her. It was pure and raw and unnervingly real. He wanted to go up to where she was sitting and put his hands around her neck and squeeze the life out of her. His reaction was almost as grotesque as the accident itself.

 

He’s over it now. Well, maybe not over it, he’ll never be able to forgive Molly Dunne, that’s for certain, and he will always hold a special place in his heart for Adam, I do know that, he’s not so callow as to wipe the memory of his son in order to survive, but it would be true to say that he is in a far more positive place than I am or am likely to be for the foreseeable future. Me getting pregnant again has helped him to direct his gaze forward, towards an ideal that he believes we had conspired to destroy but which now seems possible: that is, the two of us united, something that seemed unlikely in the immediate aftermath of Adam’s death.

 

We’d tried hard, back when Adam was only learning how to walk, to have a second child. We felt a brother or a sister would be good for Adam, and for us, that it would somehow release the pressure cooker that the three of us had become. But it didn’t happen. And then things started to turn sour between Rory and me. We started sleeping in separate beds, and before long the three of us were occupying the three bedrooms in the house. 

 

On the night of the funeral I wasn’t capable of sleeping on my own – neither of us was – and so we ended up in our old bed acting out parts we no longer knew or even recognised, a long night of emotional and physical intensity, the two of us lost in our grief, making love to a complete stranger, that’s what it felt like for me, anyway. I wasn’t to know it then, but sometime during that erotically-charged marathon, Rory scored a bull’s-eye and I became pregnant.

 

I’ve seen Molly Dunne. Recently, I mean. She hasn’t seen me, I’ve been very careful about that. What she’s been through is bad enough without the added nightmare of an unstable, grieving stalker outside her house. She’d be understandably alarmed if she spotted me sitting here, spying on her. I wouldn’t want to do that to her.

 

I watch the house from my car. I park it a few doors away, at the far side of the street. I don’t stay long. I pretend I’m reading a newspaper, but actually I’m keeping a steady eye on the front windows of her house. She has the blinds down on two of the three upstairs windows. I go there at different times. The blinds are always down on the downstairs windows, even during the day. I don’t know what she does in there. Watch TV, I suppose.

 

It’s hard not to feel sorry for her. She seems to have no one. She’s an attractive woman, and I’ve often wondered why there isn’t a man in her life. Throughout her emotional scenes in the coroner’s court, I could see that she was a nice person. Harmless, innocent, even insubstantial, if that can be said of a solid, living human being. But overall a decent sort, and that’s what matters in the end, when it comes down to it.

 

I haven’t told Rory I come here. He’d be utterly perplexed. And furious. He has moved on. I know it is what he has to do. Men are like that. They need to sidestep, compartmentalise their fears and anxieties, even their grief. They need to feign progress. And in most cases they can. That’s the difference, I think. Men can move on. They carry their emotions more lightly. Though he still has moments. Only the other day he caught me looking through old photos of when Adam was two. He sat on the sofa and looked through those photos and he cried for over an hour.

 

And me, how am I coping? I’m stuck in a strange place, I guess. It’ll pass. Sooner or later it’ll pass. I can’t go on like this forever.

 

The front door opens and Molly steps out into the freezing air. She is wearing a three-quarter-length navy coat and black, drainpipe denins. A red scarf is wrapped around her neck. She glances up and down the road before closing the door. As if she is checking for something. Perhaps she has a sense that I have been watching her. Perhaps the trauma of the accident and her self-imposed incarceration in her house has made her hyper-nervous. She must have sold her car, because there’s been no sign of it outside the house. I suppose she feels she wouldn’t be able to sit behind the wheel of a car after what happened. Not that car, anyway.

 

*

 

Molly

 

Monday was our sacred day, the one untouchable day in the week that Tom and I set aside for each other. Tom once used the word sacrosanct about it. That pretty much summed it up. Seven-thirty he’d leave his house and twenty minutes later he’d let himself in my front door and join me in bed.

 

We were meant to be together the Monday that I killed Veronica Harte’s son. Only that was one of those rare days that Celia’s needs trumped mine. She had a cast-iron reason, so I couldn’t really complain to Tom, but that didn’t mean I was happy about it.

 

‘What happened to sacrosanct?’ I said, when he rang me at six that morning.

 

 A mean remark in the circumstances, and it does bring on some guilt when I think about what happened to Celia after.

 

The togetherness thing I always thought we had unravelled quickly after the accident. And then Celia began her own unravelling, her physical dismantling, so even if Tom and I had managed to overcome what had happened to me, had managed to hold on to each other, it would all have fallen apart as Celia’s life ebbed away in front of Tom’s eyes. 

 

I can’t say it wasn’t tough on Tom. He told me lots of times he no longer loved her, but I find that hard to believe. I think he still loved her, even when it seemed really strong with the two of us. So he lost his wife and he lost me, all in the space of a few months. Maybe when he gets over all this he might pick up the phone, though if I’m being honest, which I know I should be, it feels like he’s gone for good. He has two children, a boy and a girl, both in their teens. It can’t be easy. I could be a mother to them, that’s something I’ve put some thought into. They’ll need a mother, poor kids. I think I’d be good at it. Anyway, they’re teenagers, so it couldn’t be that hard. I could be their mum and their friend. That could work.  

 

When Tom called to cancel that Monday, it was like someone punched me in the stomach. How would I get through the day on my own? My entire week was an arrow pointing towards Monday, and Tom. I didn’t believe his excuse about Celia and the hospital. ‘You shit,’ I remember thinking, ‘you lying shit.’ It threw my day completely out of kilter. I might have stayed in bed all day only I was out of ciggies, and I needed them badly, especially now that I’d been lied to and abandoned for the day. I could have walked to the shops, it’s only a ten-minute walk there and back.

 

I remember the first time I saw Tom texting while he was driving I was so shocked I said, ‘How can you drive and text at the same time?’ I couldn’t figure out how you could do the two things at the one time and not drive into another car. I asked him to stop because it was making me nervous, but he just laughed and said it was easy, as long as you kept your eyes on the road. So I watched him, and I could see how careful he was, his eyes darting to the phone but staying most of the time on the road. I could see how it wasn’t dangerous at all.

 

‘I wouldn’t try it if I were you,’ he said.

 

‘Why not? If you can do it why can’t I?’

 

‘Because you’re a crap driver, sweetheart, and I’m a good driver, that’s why.’

 

So I can’t blame Tom. He did warn me.

 

Anyway, that’s when it happened, when I was texting Tom.

 

*

 

Molly steps out onto the pavement and doesn’t turn either left or right. She looks at the ground as if the solution to her problems might be found in its drab greyness. Veronica watches from behind her newspaper, convinced that what Molly Dunne needs more than anything else in the world is her forgiveness. An urge that is almost too strong to resist presses her to put down the paper and get out of the car and walk up to her and simply say: ‘I forgive you.’ But she stays where she is because she knows she could never say it. Molly’s life may have been temporarily derailed in that instant when Adam appeared in front of her car, but all the suffering that she will experience, no matter whether it lasts a lifetime or a year, will not bring back into Veronica’s arms the soft warm miracle that was her beautiful son. Because even if she was not a very good mother, she loved her son with an intensity she didn’t know she was capable of. That had been her son’s true gift to her, the opening up within of such a deep and beautiful love. Before Adam was taken from her, she might never have known that this love was inside her, waiting to flower. It had taken his sudden, violent death to bring it out, and here it was, blooming all around her. She almost feels as if he is in the car with her, her lovely, troublesome, troubled son, watching over her and her seven-month-old unborn child.

 

As she watches Molly, an unbidden memory comes to her: a whispered, rasping sound in her ear as Rory poured out his hatred in the coroner’s court –  ‘Murderous bitch, if I could strangle her and get away with it, I swear I’d do it.’ She remembers the precise words, and the way they were spoken. It didn’t make sense to her then, but it does now. She realises she hates Molly Dunne more than the visceral, grief-fuelled hatred Rory felt during the inquest. The hatred has been lying hidden for months. It disguised itself at varying times as shock, as grief, then sorrow and, finally, pity. Pity for the woman who killed her son. If it were ever discovered that Molly Dunne was at fault for Adam’s death, she would find some way to cause her grievous harm. She would not try to stop herself, it would be something she would have to do. It would be beyond her control. It is a chilling thought, the clearest and the truest she has had since Adam was run over.

 

Molly lifts her eyes from the pavement and looks into the eyes of Adam’s mother. She didn’t know she was there, sitting in her car, watching her, but she cannot deny that there was some powerful force acting on her consciousness that caused her to look up at just the moment that Veronica Harte is realising that she is capable of a truly violent act. Veronica’s expression is ambiguous. It doesn’t reveal what is crystallising in her brain. It is, to Molly, a look of sadness, perhaps, even, of pity. Without thinking about what she is doing, she raises her arm and holds up her hand. It isn’t a wave – it cannot be a wave – it is nothing more than an acknowledgement that the boy’s mother is there and may want to talk. Veronica, as if in a trance, lifts her own hand in response.

 

©2017 Gerry Boland

 

 

Author Links

 

Marco Moves In at The O'Brien Press

Gerry reads Marco Moonwalker

More work by Gerry in Southword

 

 

 

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