Pink silk scatters from the skies. Leaving delicate blossoms to outstretched little hands, clawing at petals in the breeze. He sticks them into the collie’s furry ears, as Shadow runs for dear life away from the smothering arms of the child. His glee at her fear is heard through blazing squeals of delight.
Vera lays a hand on the window. Watching her Oisin, run wild through the garden, she envies that little life. To contain a heart that swells, not the hollow left resting over her ribcage. She doesn’t remember when it turned that way, she only knows when she had realised it.
The day Donal walked out of their marriage, she had sat down and waited for the grief to come, bracing for the pain. The pain never came. It was just another school-night in their household. The only thing that changed was the warmth in her bed.
‘Vera? Are you listening to me?’ Donal walks up behind her, frustration in his voice at her idleness.
‘Yes, I am. I’m choosing not to answer that question.’ She swings away from the window to look at him. ‘Don’t expect me to care. If you’re not here to see the kids, you can leave.’
She leans back on the window-sill, furious over him crawling back here after the young one he shacked up with kicked him out. He takes another step closer. She can smell his sour breath wafting through the desperation on him.
‘You’ve changed. I like this new you, why couldn’t you have been like this before?’ He’s an inch away from her face now and leans down, hands on the painted white wood either side of her. ‘There’s a fire in you today.’
Her chest tightens, the claustrophobia rising with his presence around her.
‘And you haven’t changed a bit. Begging for me to take you back in. For a few nights. Pathetic. Not going to happen.’
‘I still own half this house.’
‘You gave that up when you walked out the door. You won’t have a leg to stand on in court if you try and take it off us.’
She can see his eyes squint in rage, it makes her lose her nerve. With a shaking hand, she pushes him away from her and goes for the door, but he grabs her wrist and has her up against the wall before she can take another breath. He twists her arm behind her back until her joints crack from the sharp pressure, and pushes her face into the cold plaster. She can feel the imperfections of the pale-mint paint job on her cheek.
‘I don’t need to take you to court to walk into my own house.’
Vera slackens her body until his grip eases enough for her to slip out of his arm-lock and turn to face him. She puts two hands on his chest, using all her strength to propel him backwards.
‘Get the fuck away from me.’
He slams his body into hers, all six-feet of him in the force, stopping her movement in all directions. She can smell the sweat on his flesh, turning her stomach, and knees him in the groin to put some distance between them again. ‘Get out before I call your mother.’
Donal bends over in pain and hisses something like cunt at her.
Vera goes for her phone on the counter when he lands a heavy fist to her stomach. She can’t help but let out a screech of pain. Molly hears them and runs in the kitchen door, oblivious to the scene in front of her.
‘Daddy, I made you a picture.’
Molly waves around her crayon masterpiece, her rainbow nail varnish blurs into the colourful image Vera sees in front of her while she picks herself off the floor, light-headed from the pain.
‘Wow, I love it.’ Donal bends over to look at his gift, a beaming smile for his little girl. ‘Is that me?’
‘Yes! And me and Shadow and the big sunflower we’re going to grow in the garden beside the pink tree.’ Molly points carefully to each subject on the picture, biting her lip in excitement.
‘I think I’ll keep this right here, close to my heart. It’ll stay in my shirt pocket till the day I die.’ Donal carefully folds the picture and tucks it deep into his pocket. Molly giggles and pulls at him for a kiss.
‘I told you to stay in your room,’ Vera scolds her, out of breath as she pulls herself upright over the kitchen sink.
‘But I miss Daddy,’ Molly says, hugging herself closer to Donal.
‘Daddy was just leaving, I’m afraid. He has things to do today, isn’t that right?’
‘Leave her be, she can come with me for the day,’ Donal says.
‘She’s not going anywhere with you,’ she snaps quickly, ‘she’s got homework to do.’
Molly moans as Vera pulls her away from him and leads her to the back door. She looks out the window and sees Oisin frozen to the spot, staring in the window. Shadow is hopping around him barking like mad at them.
‘Say bye to your father. C’mon, Oisin,’ she calls him in through the open window.
Shadow follows on the heels of the boy and lies down at Vera’s toes when she gets inside, licking her bare feet. Donal bends to rub her fur and a low growl vibrates through the dog, baring her teeth at him. He pauses an inch over her, grazing the long apricot hairs then thinks better of it.
‘Still your pet, ha? Never liked me did you,’ Donal says, eyeing the dog carefully. ‘This isn’t over, Vera.’
Tears are welling in Molly’s eyes as she watches Donal leave. Oisin stands to the side, scuffing his grass-stained runners off the skirting board, leaving green streaks over its whiteness. Vera locks the door after it shuts, then tries the handle a few more times for certainty before she can quieten her heart again.
‘Why do you have to be so mean to him? He told me you always hurt him with your words,’ Molly screeches at her mother. ‘It’s all your fault!’
She storms off as quickly as she ran in the kitchen door a few minutes earlier. The six-year-old child brewing an emotional hurricane inside her scrawny frame. Vera whistles at Shadow. ‘Go to Molly,’ she whispers softly into the Collie’s fur, and her lithe figure takes after the crying child. Silent paws, feather-like on the hard wooden floor.
‘Come here, Oisin.’ Vera spreads open her arms for him, but he won’t look at her. She goes to him and kneels to his eye level. ‘Are you okay? You never said bye to your father.’
‘Does it matter?’
‘Yes, it does. It’s good manners to say goodbye. Whether you want to or not. Is there anything you want to discuss with me? I know things have been difficult lately and if you ever need to talk it out, I’m always ready to listen.’
‘No. I just want to play outside.’
‘No more outside today. You can watch telly before we do your homework, love,’ Vera kisses his forehead and he snuggles into her chest before heading out the kitchen door, his shoulders and head lower than the carefree child tormenting his dog a few minutes earlier.
Vera closes the door behind him and covers her mouth with the scratchy wool of her sleeve before letting a sob escape her. As it shakes through her body, she slides down to the floor, choking back tears.
Vera wakes up with a shiver running through her. She rubs the hard, little bumps rising on her bare arms and rolls around to find her duvet cover on the floor and the sheets wrapped around her legs. Through the slit in the curtains, the orange hue of the street lights helps her find the path to the bedroom door. She walks through the still house on the tips of her toes and sticks her head into the children’s room.
Oisin is curled at the end of his bed around a mound of animal teddies, while Molly is wheezing little snores from under her cover. Vera tucks them both in, moving Oisin’s sleeping form back to his pillow and plants a light kiss on each of their heads.
She walks through the house, checking the back door first then the front again, making sure the metal handles thud stiffly when she tries to pull them down. Each attempt calming her fear. Bending over, she plants another kiss on Shadow’s head in the hallway and rubs the velvet of her ears. The dog’s eyes are open and watch her move around the room from her fleece, paw-print cushion.
Vera lays her head back on the pillows, cuddles with her duvet cocooned around her for heat, until the shivers lull and she starts to nod off. She feels the warmth of the little body beside her before she sees him. Oisin sneaks his way under her insulation until he’s wrapped around her.
‘You shouldn’t be awake at this hour,’ Vera whispers to him.
‘You shouldn’t be either.’
She just smiles and pulls him closer. His breathing slows as he drifts off into sleep.
‘I want to protect you, Mammy,’ comes out of him, barely audible in a whisper. His stillness lets her know he’s fallen asleep. He doesn’t notice the tears on the pillow from his mother’s eyes.
CATHY DONELAN is a writer from the West of Ireland, she is currently studying for her degree in Arts with Creative Writing at NUI Galway. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in ROPES, Dodging the Rain, The Honest Ulsterman, Spontaneity and The Lamp Graduate Journal. Her Poetry has appeared in The Galway Review and A New Ulster. She has won the December 2015 Poetry Pulse Prize and been highly commended in The Fool For Poetry International Chapbook Competition.