2024 Student Literary Awards

2024 Student Literary Awards and Creative Writing Showcase

Carlow College, St. Patrick’s will host its annual Student Literary Awards and Creative Writing Showcase on Tuesday, 16th April in the Link Gallery, Visual Carlow. Students from across the College community – first year to fourth year and part-time programmes,  entered their work in poetry and prose categories. 

The winners were announced at the Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, 26th April 2024 with prizes presented by poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin.

Poetry Shortlist

Patricia Murphy: ‘Turn it Up’, ‘Slasher Meaney’

Danai Pantazopoulou: ‘Of Pillows’

Jacob Ray-Halliday: ‘They Built a ‘Boots’ Upon Our Love’, ‘Transmitter’, ‘The Tree’

Kelsey Motherway: ‘Yellowford’, ‘Mary’s Sweet Treats’, ‘Whiskey on the Brain’

Stewart Quinn: ‘R32 R2P4’, ‘Last Call’, ‘Scrubbers’

Vicky Nulty: ‘Castle Roche’, ‘Louth’, ‘On the Way Home from Kingscourt’

Leah Kelly: ‘Sun in an Empty Room (after Edward Hopper)’

Shannon O’ Doherty: ‘Mother’

Patrick J. Murphy: ‘Behind the House’, ‘The Artist’

Megan Meagher: ‘Matters of the Heart’

Cathy Dalton: ‘Night Swimming (deserves a quiet night)’

Prose Shortlist

Eithne Murray: ‘The Seagulls’

Nik Domican: ‘Controlling the Narrative’

Shannon O’Doherty: ‘Closer’

Mary O’Neill: ‘Sanctuary’

Megan Byrne: ‘Your Train is Coming’

Colin Leonard: ‘The Bookkeeper’

Winning Entries - Poetry

Buckets, brushes, mop and cloth.

This is the work of the body.

Passing through, unnoticed,

like ghosts in the corridor.


Toiling in their uniform,

all black, and brown blotch

from the liberal use

of bleach in the boy’s toilet.


Easier to paint the Forth Bridge,


they say, pausing their labour.

Taking a breath, allowing

busy academics to pass

with their coffee, concepts, important things.


Quietly, consistently,

methodically, they continue

the unseen work…



Slate-blue clouds taint the sky; 

rain drumming, head pounding,  

trying to forget the shitstorm  

of today. Inhale, exhale, 


inhale- her notes of vanilla fill  

the room. In she saunters,

softly uttering a Hey Handsome

the first taste, smooth and sweet.  


Since, she’s aged to an amber perfection.  

Beckoned to bed, hoping to wake  

to honeyed irises, oak tendrils  

spilling across the pillows. 


Tongue dipping into her umber warmth,  

taste, swallow-she burns deliciously. 

Winning Entries - Prose

In a seat at the back of the small café Kevin sat apart.  He glanced around the room and his attention was drawn to a couple sitting in the bay-window caught in the low rays of the weak December sun.  They were engrossed in their conversation and as Kevin watched, the man reached out and took his companion’s hand holding it warmly.  Watching that gesture Kevin felt lonely and he looked away.  Arriving with his order the waitress smiled warmly at this tall, blond stranger and asked

‘Can I get you anything else?’ 

‘Thank you this is fine’ Kevin replied not meeting her glance.

Leaving the cafe Kevin walked along the main street, a display of potted daffodils in the florists window arrested his stride.  They reminded him of his mother and the garden she had tended long ago and as he murmured a few lines of Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ he thought I am indeed lonely. A sign saying The Poets Garden caught his interest but he had to get to the theatre to prepare for the concert and had not time to visit.

Kevin’s mood did not lift as he gazed down from the control booth on the audience enjoying the concert.  The festive Christmas carols and sentimental songs with an emphasis on happiness and togetherness left him feeling like an outsider looking in.  The orchestra left the stage and the support staff moved to transfer the equipment to the vans.  Kevin gathered his audio and communications equipment carefully, picked up some speakers and moved towards the side door.  A woman standing there said

‘Let me get the door for you’

Nodding his thanks Kevin did not notice the slight incline of the floor and stumbled.  A hand came out to save him and regaining his balance he looked up with surprise at the woman who had steadied him.  She was slight but her touch was strong and sure and strangely in that moment he felt connected and safe.  He stepped back a little and raised his eyes to her face.  

‘Thank you’ he said ‘I hope I didn’t hurt you’

A pair of green eyes flecked with hazel met his and she smiled,

‘You are welcome and I am fine, are you okay?’

feeling confused and tongue-tied he nodded

‘Goodnight then’  she said turning towards the exit. 

Looking after her he felt a little bereft.  She was about thirty years of age, not very tall but slim with short, well cut auburn hair.  Her dress was elegant, the dark green fabric fell in soft waves through the cowl back and full skirt as it flowed gracefully around her.  Watching her he had a sense of someone calm and peaceful.  He adjusted his load and going outside he saw his colleague Ernie speaking to the woman who had prevented his fall.  They laughed at something Ernie said, then he turned to leave waving goodbye to her.  Kevin wondered how Ernie knew her, they seemed at ease and they were of a similar age.  Ernie returned to help with the rest of the gear and Kevin said.

‘The woman I saw you speaking to held the doors open for me as I was taking the equipment out, you seem to know her?’ 

Surprised, Ernie looked at Kevin, this man whose words were few and who was usually so self-contained rarely showed any interest in others. 

‘This is my home town and that’s Ann, we were in school together.’ 

‘I didn’t know you came from this town’

‘You never asked’ laughed Ernie

‘I suppose not, anyway your friend was kind’

‘Yes she is and has that knack of making people feel comfortable, she works in The Poets Garden in town and I have often seen visitors stop for a chat with her’

‘I saw the sign in town earlier, it looks like it might be worth a visit.’

Those calm eyes that reminded him of a forest floor and the strength of that helping hand played on his mind as he packed up the equipment.  He felt a gnawing emptiness inside and loneliness seemed to engulf him.  In the past few weeks he had been thinking a lot about his life and what he wanted.  It was coming up to the first anniversary of his father’s death and decisions needed to be made about what he always thought of as ‘the house’.  He had spent the first eighteen years of his life there and now he had inherited it.  The place brought him no happiness rather it aroused conflicting emotions because for most of his life there it had been a place of anger, fear and conflict leaving a mark on his life and now he had to return there and decide what to do with it.

In late January Kevin visited Greenville again and sought out The Poets Garden.  The ornate iron gates opened onto what had been a pleasure garden on an old estate.  Surprised by its size Kevin wandered around until he saw Ann by the edge of a lake amongst crocuses and snowdrops beneath a silver birch whose buds were still in the sleep of Winter.  Along the lake shore were groups of trees and on the grassy banks a few daffodils were already in bloom amidst the snowdrops and crocuses.  In this natural setting Ann seemed at home and he watched her for a time noting her careful attention to the flowers and how her hand lingered as she touched the silver bark of the birch trees. He walked along the lake edge and paused to read Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ on a bronze plaque.  He drew close to where Ann worked and was pleased when she looked up, then smiled, as recognition dawned.

‘Hello again’ she said ‘I think I saw you at the theatre a few weeks ago?’

‘Yes, you saved me from falling over’ Kevin said, surprised again as he looked at her slight frame.

‘Nice to see you again, are you enjoying the garden’

‘It is beautiful, very serene’

‘This is a lovely time of year, everything just beginning to awake again.’

‘Yes it looks good now and will be even better when the rest of those daffodils bloom’ said Kevin gesturing towards the lake edge.

‘Most certainly, well enjoy the rest of your visit, I am going to look for some lunch.’  said Ann smiling as she turned to pick up her tools.

Kevin watched her move towards the path, he really wanted to talk with her a bit longer, it was almost one o’clock and he had not spoken with anybody that day. 

‘Might I treat you to lunch, a small thank you for saving me, I am Kevin by the way?’

Ann looked a bit uncertain but then she smiled

‘I am Ann and yes company over lunch would be nice, thank you, there is a café here.’

Kevin walked by her side his pace slowed to suit hers and at the cafe Ann choose a seat by a large picture window with a view of the lake.  Spring was on its way and the sun was warming the Earth little by little, a pair of swans, mates for life, were gliding gracefully on the lake. 

‘Hi Ann’ said June looking with interest at Ann’s handsome companion

as she gave them menus

‘The special is a goats cheese and caramelised walnut salad served with beetroot relish and brown bread – the salad leaves are from the glasshouse and the relish made with the beetroot and onions you grew in the garden’

‘I will have the special so thanks June’ said Ann

‘A toasted cheese sandwich and tea for me please’ said Kevin

‘You grow food for the café then?’ said Kevin smiling

‘Yes, to be honest it is one of my favourite parts of the garden’

‘I like the poetry quotations myself’

‘They certainly add interest and there are a few like ‘The Daffodils’ you were reading earlier that have particular significance at certain times of the year.  Do you have an interest in poetry then?’

‘Yes, I like poetry.’

‘Any favourites?’

‘Not a particular poet.  I suppose what appeals to me are the images and the power and magnitude of what can be expressed in a few carefully chosen words.’

He saw her look at him with interest

‘We are planning an evening of poetry and music in the amphitheatre here in the garden at Easter to raise funds for the after school drop-in centre, some of the teenagers in particular like to go there, I guess it provides a safe place for them until their parents get home.’ said Ann

‘Might be safer than some homes too.’ replied Kevin darkly

Ann looked across at him and he saw sympathy and a question in her face but he looked away as he heard her say

‘I expect you are right, homes are not always safe places.’

Lunch arrived and Ann ate slowly, savouring her food while Kevin ate his sandwich with indifference. They chatted about the concert where he first saw her, the garden and places they had visited.   He enjoyed her company and was disappointed when Ann, glancing at her watch, said

‘Oh, that time has gone quickly unfortunately I must get back to work, thank you for lunch, it was lovely to see you again, I enjoyed chatting with you.’

‘You are welcome, it was nice to see you too.’

Kevin remained there and watched her walk away towards the lake and the swans and he wondered about her life.  She had not mentioned a partner or children but then the conversation had not been especially personal.  Ernie would probably know but he knew he would not feel comfortable asking.

Valentine’s day brought a storm and Kevin drove through the wind and rain to the house parking his van at the front.  He walked through the garden and noticed the bulbs had pushed their way through the soil, it was miraculous they were still here.  Strange, he thought how things could outlive those who had planted them.  He opened the front door and felt his body tense, even now he felt threatened here, as if his father still prowled the rooms restless and angry. A gust of wind blew through and he jumped as a picture frame on the hall table crashed loudly to the floor.  He picked it up and looked at the faces of his parents with him as a small child in his mother’s arms.  Tears filled his eyes, they had been happy once he thought as he placed the frame down flat on the table.  By the kitchen door he found the key he sought, the door to the pantry was open and as he stood there an image rose before him of his furious father swiping the glass jars of preserved fruit from the shelves as he shouted ‘how dare all these things outlast her’.  Flies and spiders were everywhere, they had quickly taken over what his mother had left behind.

Escaping the memories he crossed the yard and unlocked the door of his grandfather’s workshop.  On every return visit over the years he had oiled the chisels, saws and lathe to prevent them rusting and wrapped them carefully.  Removing the covers from the lathe he switched it on and was pleased to hear the motor start. Unwrapping the chisels he laid them on the bench remembering his grandfather’s hands as he looked at the handles that had been worn smooth and shiny by his touch.  He searched amongst the timber his grandfather had collected and found a piece of oak.  He held the timber in both hands as his grandfather had taught him and closed his eyes trying to sense what lay within, the image of a bulb came to mind and he decided this piece would make a lamp base.  At the bench beneath the long south facing window he cut it into a square and drilled a hole for a cable.  The lathe spun and taking a chisel he lost himself in the process of turning and as the shape emerged he could see the grains in the wood revealing themselves and thought, this is special.  When the light began to fade, he locked the workshop but skirted around the house and returned to the camper van that he now regarded as home and drove away. 

The next day Kevin went again to The Poet’s Garden, as he walked towards the lake he did not fully acknowledge that really he was seeking out Ann.  When he found her she appeared to be rooted to the spot, her hand clamped over her mouth, distress clear in her stance.  Some distance away he could see a terrier with something in its mouth shaking it vigorously.  A sharp squeal of distress sounded and then there was silence.  He reached her and quietly called her name, as she turned he stepped back and tears appeared in her eyes.

‘That terrier just killed a rabbit kitten, they have been playing here for weeks now and he just wiped it out in less than a minute.’ she said

‘That was awful and I am sorry you were here when it happened.’ said Kevin

Pulling a tissue from his pocket he stretched his hand towards Ann and as she took it from him he said

‘You are upset but please don’t dwell on it, come, there is a seat here by the lake and I will get you a coffee at the kiosk.’

Returning with two coffees Kevin sat beside her and they remained there in silence watching the water and the swans until Ann said

‘I am glad you came along, sorry about the tears, you must think I am over-reacting.’

‘Not at all, that would upset most people.’

‘I know nature can be cruel sometimes but I hate to see things suffering, it always disturbs me.  One minute it was alive and the next moment it’s life was extinguished.’

‘That can happen in all our worlds.’ said Kevin a shadow crossing his face.

He saw Ann looking at him and he turned his gaze to the swans on the lake. 

‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

‘I will be, thanks for the coffee.  On a lighter note, that poetry and music event we are organizing is happening on Easter Saturday if you are interested.’

‘I am, it sounds like something I would enjoy.  May I accompany you or are you involved behind the scenes?’

‘My work will be done before the event, the music and poetry are in the expert hands of the local dramatic society, so I would be delighted to attend with you.’

‘May I collect you at your home or do you prefer to meet here?’

‘If you give me your number I shall text you the post code and you can collect me.’

Feeling a bit self-conscious Kevin gave Ann his number. 

‘I should get back to work I guess, thank you for rescuing me this time’ said Ann giving him a smile.

The Sun emerged and feeling a faint warmth on his shoulders Kevin walked with a lightened step towards his van. 

A week later Kevin returned to the house, avoiding going inside, he went straight to the workshop.  He ran his hands over the piece of oak, it felt smooth and rounded now and the emerging feathered grain had many tones, a bright shade to reflect the light would bring the grain alive.  He polished it and added the electrical fittings then took it with him to a local craft shop and bought a handmade cone of white linen stretched smoothly over a strong frame. Returning to the workshop he wrapped the lamp in a clean towel and stowed it safely.

Over the next few weeks as he was travelling he exchanged text messages with Ann and at last Easter Saturday arrived and he called to her home to pick her up. 

‘Come in for a few minutes while I get my jacket.’ she said

Kevin stood in the spacious hall suffused with sunlight that reflected off the white walls. A light oak timber covered the floor and a vase of daffodils had been placed on the glass topped hall table. A series of beautifully framed botanical art works decorated the walls.  When Ann returned he enquired who the botanical artist was.

‘That’s me, I find drawing them very relaxing, they require such attention to detail.’ she said

‘You should exhibit them, they are very fine.’

‘I usually do an exhibition once a year but some I draw just for myself.  I am working on a series of Spring flowers at the moment that I think I will keep.  The snowdrops and crocuses are done and I am working on the daffodils now’ she smiled.

‘Perhaps you will let me see them when they are finished.’ said Kevin as they turned to leave. 

‘Why not but I think you must wait for the bluebells too’ she laughed.

When they arrived at the garden the birds were chattering all around.  Kevin smiled as he watched them settle in bushes then rush out again only to return a moment later landing almost as one. They followed a path bordered by undulating swaths of daffodils fluttering in the breeze.  They reached the  amphitheatre, a natural hollow surrounded by birches that were already clothed in the bright green tones of Spring while the oaks behind them had not as yet opened the protective outer layer of their buds.  The wooden benches descended in tiers to the stage below, they chose a seat on the upper tier and settled down to enjoy the performance. 

The dramatic society outdid themselves as they read, sang and played music on a stage surrounded by pots of spring bulbs.  Kevin and Ann watched the performances way below them and as Ann leaned close to whisper a comment on a performance of John Montague’s ‘Silences’ the gap between them dissolved and they melded to share the same space.  Up here with Ann at his side Kevin felt far removed from an unhappy past and an uncertain future and he was happy.  Dusk was falling when the gentle notes of the final piece ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ filled the amphitheatre.  Kevin felt emotional as he listened, it was one of his favourite pieces and as the fluid final notes soared high he felt filled with hope.  He did not trust himself to look down at Ann but he knew now that the hope he felt was connected with her.  The night sky was clear as they rose to leave and Ann linked her arm through his as they wandered back through the garden.  He felt the warm softness of her body by his side and wished he could stay in the moment forever.

When they returned to Ann’s home she invited him in, pleased, Kevin accepted.  In the kitchen he watched as she selected two dainty cups and made macchiato coffees, then placed them, together with a small china saucer of rich dark chocolates, on a small tray and nodding to an alcove off the kitchen invited him to take one of the easy chairs alongside the long windows. He drank the coffee slowly, enjoying the rich flavour as it combined with the sweetness of the chocolates.  The hour grew late as they talked about the music and poems they had listened to during the evening, those that were favourites and those that were new to them.  On the window sill Kevin noticed a birthday card

‘Was it your birthday recently?’ he asked

‘Tomorrow as it happens, my friend Dolores lives abroad and always sends her card early.’

‘So have you plans for the day?’

‘My family have booked lunch, I will spend the day with them.’

‘Well happy birthday in advance.’

‘Thank you, they come around all too quickly, time waits for no man’ she laughed.

‘That’s true, time goes by quickly especially the moments of happiness.’

‘Talking of happiness thank you for coming this evening, I really enjoyed it and I expect we made a good sum for the drop-in centre.’

‘It was a lovely evening and the funds will hopefully provide those who really need it with some respite.’

‘There is sadness in your eyes as you say that and I wonder do those words come from experience?’

‘They do I suppose, my mother died unexpectedly when I was young and my grandfather a few years later, I struggled without them.’

‘That must have been hard to deal with.  What about your Dad?’

‘He died just over a year ago.  Our relationship was not good, after my mother died he became remote, angry and sometimes violent, I escaped when I could and then rarely returned.’

‘That is sad it sounds like you think he might have been different had he not lost your mother, he must have been distraught but a child would not understand that.  I guess it was very difficult for you.’

‘It was lonely and at times frightening especially after grandfather died but looking back I suppose you are right and my father never recovered from the loss of my mother.’

‘You lost him too at a time when you most needed him.  Even a hug from someone can offer us comfort sometimes.’ said Ann

‘Sadly he wasn’t able to do that but it is in the past now and too late for us both. Hopefully the centre though will provide a refuge and some comfort for the kids in the area who need it now.’

‘I hope so.’

‘You have had a long day and it’s time I went, I hope you enjoy your birthday tomorrow.  Thank you for this evening, I really enjoyed it.’

‘So did I and thank you for a lovely evening’

The road stretched ahead of Kevin as he drove away and as the darkness and silence enveloped him he felt alone again.  In a reflective mood he went to the house and in the workshop he picked up the lamp and switched it on.  The piece seemed to embody a part of him, the interlocked layers of the exposed wood grain were like the swirl of his own unspoken emotions.  He sat by the bench and looked at the chisels and lathe and thought about the life he now had, he travelled from place to place never forming strong ties with any place or anyone.  He thought about his grandfather whose space this was, here he had protected him.  The house however was his Father’s domain and small inconsequential things could trigger an outburst of anger, his moods were unpredictable and escape from him became the primary aim. 

Kevin stood and opened the door, he looked across the yard towards the house, in the faint light it looked blurred and undefined but now he felt the noise had lessened.  Taking the lamp, he crossed the yard and entered the house. In the soft glow of the lamplight the remnants of his father’s life gradually came into focus, there was little enough, he had shunned life and his son and the house reflected that neglect.  On impulse Kevin sat down in an easy chair and looked around the room, a strange silence seemed to envelope the place tonight.  He thought about what Ann had said about his father being distraught at the loss of his wife.  He longed to make his peace with the past and to lay his father’s ghost to rest.  Memories began to surface and he saw again his father’s shrinking frame at the end of the table moving food around on his plate and eventually giving up the pretence he would then pick up the whiskey bottle and disappear.  Barely remembered images from his early childhood formed in his mind, his mother ruffling his hair as she passed him while he did his homework.  Images too of her sitting at the kitchen table preparing fruit for preserving and his father tapping her on one shoulder while stealing a bit of fruit from the other side as she turned to glance up at him.  Some days his grandfather put his head around the door to ask if he was coming out to the workshop where he taught him to turn wood.  Gradually a sense of calm settled on him and as happier memories drifted through his mind he fell asleep.

Morning dawned and Kevin rose amazed he had slept through a night in the house.  He opened the curtains in the kitchen and then all the other rooms and as the Spring sunlight overcame the grimy windows on this Easter morning light flooded the rooms.  The ghosts had receded and he resolved to return in the next week and commence the task of clearing out the house.  Taking the lamp with him he went to the hall, the picture on the table caught his eye, he picked it up and with his sleeve he cleaned the glass and set it back gently on the table.  He left the house by the front door stepping forward into what remained of his mother’s garden where daffodils waved their golden heads in all directions. He stood still and watched them for some time then he remembered how they had seemed to dance in The Poet’s Garden only last night.  He returned to his van and freshened up, then drove to the newsagents.

On this Easter Sunday morning as he walked towards Ann’s front door Kevin felt hopeful. He thought about the previous evening and remembered her hand resting on his arm, her warmth as she walked beside him, her head leaning towards him to catch his words, her gentle expression when he had spoken of his childhood.  He rang the doorbell feeling a little nervous but when Ann opened the door, she smiled warmly and invited him in. 

‘This is a surprise’

‘I came to wish you a Happy Birthday’ he said handing her the lamp and a card.

‘Thank you, that is very kind of you.  Am I allowed to open it now?’ she asked smiling

‘I would like you to.’

She peeled away the wrapping and exposed the lamp then trailed her fingers along the feathered grains of the wood, she plugged it in then to get the full effect. 

‘It is very beautiful, the wood is such a lovely colour and texture, the shade so perfect for it.’

‘It is oak, a piece from my grandfather’s workshop.’

‘Did you make it?’


‘Gosh, you are talented, it is very beautiful.  I really love it’ she said as she held out her hands to him.

He stepped forward and taking her hands held them tightly.  Her face turned up to his, the lovely eyes had a question in them.

‘I want to spend more time with you, to be by your side and be held in your embrace.’ said Kevin

‘I didn’t know you felt like that.’

‘I have felt like that since the first time I saw you on that evening in the theatre and you reached your hand out to save me.’

‘I am glad I was there then and right now this is the only place I want to be.’ said Ann as extracting her hands she reached to put her arms around him and he leaned down to kiss her. 

Momentarily, Christine fancied herself as a detective, surmising the sounds she heard from her bedroom to be her husband returning from the University; the apartment door closing, his leather briefcase settling on the floor. She heard the television come to life, wander through a few stations, then silence. She spread her black performance outfit on the bed and checked her sober shoes were spotlessly polished. If she knew Marshall, then he would have forsaken the vacuous televisual offerings for a dry economics book or a Sudoku puzzle. The violin case on the bed beside her clothes wouldn’t be opened again before she got to the concert hall. After a long afternoon of practice, she had managed to put some measure of peace to her thoughts.

“You’re still here,” Marshall remarked when she entered the living room.

“I’ll be leaving soon.”

Marshall, on the couch, was reading his book as if he were preening for his students, a performative flick of the page, and a chuckle at some passage that nobody else would find funny.

“Have you eaten?” she asked. “I have a chicken thing in the oven. There should be enough for both of us.”

“If you’re sure. I can make myself something later if not.”

“There’s enough,” she said, hovering by the arm of the couch, bothering the simple brown upholstery. The thick, quality fabric between her fingers was solid material. It couldn’t be torn by the insistent scratch of her nail.

“What’s the matter? Nerves?” Marshall said.

“It’s our opening night. There’ll always be nerves on an opening night.”

“You shouldn’t be nervous at your age. How many opening nights have you done over the years?”

“Now I feel nervous and old.”

Marshall resorted to the television again. A quiz show was just starting, one of the few he liked, with a calm, well-spoken host, difficult questions and smugly intelligent contestants. The theme tune faded beneath the host’s smiling welcomes.

Then the television died.

As did the lights.

“Damn,” said Marshall. “Power cut.”

Christine stepped out of his way as he grumbled from his seat and towards the hallway to the fuse box.

“Do you have your phone, Christine? Or a torch? There’s a torch in the kitchen drawer.”

She picked Marshall’s phone from the coffee table and brought it to him. He shone its light over the grey plastic trip switches.

“No, they’re all on. That’s a pain. What will you do?”

“What do you mean?”

“About your chicken. If the power doesn’t come back.”

“I just won’t eat. We’ll have to throw it out.”

“That’s a waste,” said Marshall. “You’ll have to get something on the way.”

“I just won’t eat. I’m not that hungry anyway.”

“But you always eat dinner before a performance. It’s part of your routine. It’s one of your superstitions, isn’t it?”

Christine turned away from her husband and eased through the gloom to the kitchen. The bobbing of his phone’s beam followed her. She opened the fridge and retrieved a bottle of apple juice from its lightless insides.

“I don’t have a routine anymore, or superstitions. I haven’t for the past two years. Not since Philip. Surely you know that. Surely you notice these things about me.”

The white spread of light emanating from Marshall’s phone reflected off the kettle and off the slick green metro tiles of the backsplash. It cast an awkward glow across both of them, revealing little of their features apart from the tightness of his lips and the hand held to her forehead.

“Maybe it’ll come back on in time for you to finish cooking it,” he said.

“I got a call today,” said Christine. Her tone the dip of a toe in a conversation she wasn’t sure she wanted to have. “From one of the policemen who was on Philip’s case. You remember Detective Kelleher?”

“The swarthy looking one? The one with the broken nose?”

“Was it broken?”

“It looked like it had been broken a few times.”

Marshall sidled over to the breakfast counter and eased onto a stool. He lay the phone on its back to shine off the ceiling, turning them both into indistinct, shadowy-eyed creatures.

“What did he want? I thought we were finished with all of that.”

“How could we be finished, Marshall? Nobody has been charged with his murder. It won’t be finished until they get the person who killed him.”

“What did the detective want?”

Christine checked her own phone for the time. There wasn’t long before she’d have to start making a move. And yet she went ahead with her next sentence.

“They found Philip’s name on a list.”

Marshall shifted on the stool.

“A list?”

“Detective Kelleher said he tried to ring you but he couldn’t get through.”

“I’ve changed my number since back then.”

“I know. I told him that must have been it. But my number is the same.”

She took a slow drink of the juice before continuing. “It was a list that they found on a laptop they seized in a drug raid. It belonged to a criminal called The Bookkeeper.”

“The Bookkeeper? Ha! What sort of a name is that? Do they think we’re in Gotham City or something? Where do they come up with these nicknames?”

“He’s part of a drugs syndicate, Marshall. The list was of people who owed money to them, and some of those people have been killed. Just like our Philip.”

“So, they’ve caught the person who did it? It’s been solved, has it? We can finally put this behind us and get on with our lives. Jesus, I suppose we’re going to get called back in to answer a million questions again. Court cases. Victim statements. I’ll have to call Harrison for advice. He’s not going to be cheap, either.”

Christine went to the oven and turned it off at the main power switch. It might be dangerous if the electricity came back on when she left if her husband had gone to bed. She thought of him alone here and then of the score she would be playing tonight, of the focus and comfort of being part of the orchestra. There was a broken pitch to her voice when she spoke again.

“Did Philip come to you before he died? Did he ask you for help?”

Marshall lowered himself down from the stool and stepped towards her in the darkness.

“Christine, don’t do this to yourself. There was nothing that we could have done. It’s all just a terrible tragedy. Our son took a wrong direction in life. He was troubled.”

“But did he come to you for help? Did he ask you for money?”

“What did this detective say to you? What has he been saying?”

“Marshall, just answer me please. I need to understand what happened.”

“How can we understand? That isn’t a world we understand, the world that he got himself tied up in. Drug deals! Gangsters with ridiculous names and hits being taken out on people. I had to identify his body, don’t forget. I had to look at what they did to him.”

Just then, the lights blazed back on, the television chattered from the living room. Christine jerked forward like she’d heard a gunshot. Marshall was right in front of her, eyes wide with an expression she didn’t recognise, and a readiness about his mouth as if there were attacks coming for him that he needed to parry.

“Why didn’t he come to me?” she said, her eyes blinking blue spots away from the harsh return of the LED lights, but not directing her words to Marshall. No, not to him.

“Come on, now. You should be getting ready, not working yourself up like this. You have to have your head in the right space before you play.”

With a bustle of movement, he went to the oven, slid the thick flannel glove off the handle and dragged out the tin foil tray.

“This will be fine if I put it back on high, it will be ok to eat, I’m sure.”

“I don’t want it,” cried Christine. “I don’t have time.”

She strode past him and back to the bedroom. The clothes for her performance were flat on the bed like a pressed flower—the high-necked black blouse, the ankle length skirt. She folded them carefully and into a carry bag, placing the shoes into a side compartment. She checked her handbag had all she needed inside, and she laid a restless hand on her violin case. So many things to carry around.

She took her coat from the hook on the back of the door and transferred the car keys from the bedside locker to its pocket. It was almost time to leave but before she donned her coat, she returned to the living room.

Marshall was back sitting on the couch and had swapped the television for his book once more. How many times had he read that thing, she wondered. How much of his life, if you added it all up, had he spent reading Marx and Keynes and Adam Smith? The hours he spent studying them and all the others she didn’t know about or care about. Then the essays he had written, the lectures given, the time afforded to students and correcting their course work, compared to the time, the actual physical moments he had spent with their son. She watched him turn a page and the curl of his lip, the lift of his nostril in the same action, channelled the expression of some cold and ancient emperor. Philip had gone to him hoping for help, despite the way the two of them were with each other—a wide berth being the only assurance of peace in their relationship. He had gone to his father for help.

Marshall caught her staring at him.

“You’re going to be late. Would you like me to drive you?” he said.

“Why didn’t he come to me?” she said.

“Because he knew you’d say yes, Christine. Because he knew that you’d give him everything we had and leave us destitute.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“We didn’t have that sort of money to give him and there’s no way we could get it. Not without selling the house. Or, or by ruining our future, condemning us to impoverishment in our old age. Once I told him how things were, that he had to fend for himself…well, I think he almost redeemed himself in that decision. Once he understood that he had to stand on his own and not take us, take you down with him. It was his final act of redemption that he didn’t come begging to you. We would have been left with nothing.”

She backed away. A ringing had developed in her ears.


In the bedroom she put on her coat. She shouldered the bag containing her clothes and her shoes and she picked up her handbag and her violin case.

He was standing up in the hallway when she walked out the door and his book was no longer in his hand.


In the elevator, her shoulders sank, her finger brought light to the lowest button. 

In the underground garage, she unlocked her car and placed her handbag on the passenger seat and the rest of her things on the backseat. The keys found the ignition but she did not start the engine.

In the car, she watched the clock above the stereo tick through the minutes that meant she would be late, too late for her call time, too late for music.

The smoking area filled, and the smell of the smoke sickened me. It tickled the skin on the back of my throat and stayed there. I could see the inside of the bar from the bench, its red hues echoed against its candle-lit black walls. Students played pool, acting as if they knew how. I felt as though I was lacking among them. I’ve entered this new world now, almost like a game, where everyone seems to know how to play and I am on the sidelines, waiting. I watched those on either side of me roll a smoke of their own. They were folding and filling skins like stuffed pasta origami. Their tongues glided along the fragile paper, till they mistakenly wet their fingers, causing an irritated air to the sticking process.

“Yeah, but you should see the mould in my room” Ross adds.

The others laugh and roll their eyes. Though we have all only been in each other’s company for two weeks, we have heard Ross’ mould story more than once. Most of the people on the course are from Dublin or just outside of it. Me and Ross are the only two who are renting. He managed to source a student house in Rathmines, down by the tennis club. Which his parents paid for, along with his college fees. My mother thought it would be a great idea to set me up in the small room of a house with an old couple in Rathfarnham. The bus stop to college only a six-minute walk away.

“Home away from home” she would say.

The house was your typical semi-detached estate house with a small garden and a hilled driveway. There were two short steps up to the glossy black door, with a window to the left where you could see right into the hallway. Two neatly arranged flowerbeds sat delicately under the window of the living room and another to the left of the front door. I had it better than most, my monthly fee of five hundred euros covering everything. Food, electricity, Wi-Fi, gas and bins. Louise made me dinner each night too and I sat with her and her husband John if I was back from college in time. The sheets on my bed were changed every second weekend whenever I went back home to visit, my washing was done too. It was never discussed, but I could sense that she enjoyed it, looking after me. Both were well into their sixties and no longer working. They kept themselves busy though, walking the dogs, tending to their flowerbeds, watching the soaps and taking care of me. They didn’t seem to speak to each other a whole lot. It didn’t bother me much though; I enjoyed the quietness.  

“Right, and how much are you paying?” Ella asked Ross, her nasally accent going through my head.

She’s from Terenure, still living at home free of charge, only a twenty-minute walk from the college. I kept my mouth shut during these debates. Some had to catch trains, others had to beg their fathers for lifts, and some had to walk in the rain. Each of them, begging for sympathy for suffering a little more than the other. I felt a sense of guilt around them knowing that the government had covered my tuition and given me a monthly allowance for rent. I needed it. Everyone seemed to be cut from a different cloth and I’d never witnessed this sort of behaviour before. I grabbed my mother’s jacket and wrapped my scarf around my neck. 

“Six hundred and fifty a month, bills and shit included though,” Ross says as he finishes his fourth pint. He dragged his knit sleeve across his wet mouth and placed the glass back down.

“Should spend your money removing the mould instead of nightly pints” Ella under her breath.

“Heading are ya Jayne?” the barman asked me, having brought me another pint of Lucozade. 

  I could feel my face go red once again. He towered above me, a cheeky grin painted on his stubbled face. He seemed much older than I was. He wore oversized black dungarees and had huge silver rings on each of his fingers. The curls fell in front of his muddy brown eyes. I told him the first time I was here that this was my go-to drink.

“Lucozade please”

“I’m going to need some ID,” he said back to me.

“But it’s not alcohol” I laughed.

“Rules are rules” he laughed back.

I handed him my age card, an eighteen-year-old me confined in the small box with daisies in my hair.

“Jayne” he smiled.

Ever since then, he has taken it upon himself to drop it down to me.

My teeth had a sticky layer of coating on them from the liquid sugar he’d been feeding me the past two hours. I hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol. A promise I made to myself at the age of twelve. Writing on the innocently decorated piece of card –

Having considered the dangers and risks associated with alcohol, I Jayne Foley pledge to abstain from alcohol for life. I also pledge, for the rest of my life not to take drugs. Grant me O lord, your grace to keep this pledge.

 The thought of losing myself, losing control within walls of my own body was not something I thought I’d enjoy. The others in my class at the time promised not to drink until they were eighteen some even sixteen. I was making a promise that I thought my life depended on, giving me a sense of security, knowing I wouldn’t break it. They broke their promise, earlier than expected. They were falling around in the wet grass, making decisions they never would have if they were sober. It gave them false confidence. However, there would be stories about the local house parties that made me laugh, or even nights out when the girls would have snuck into the nightclub in Baltinglass, with little dresses and tall shoes, fake IDs in hand, just to get slightly tipsy and dance. I often wondered if maybe I missed out on something.

I started saying my goodbyes to the rest of them. Polite smiles were exchanged across the bench. I couldn’t comprehend the fact this would continue for the next few years. Surrounded by various minds, far removed from those back home.  

“I’ve college in the morning”, I said, focusing on the buttons of his dungarees, trying my hardest not to make eye contact with him.  

“Hardly going to have a hangover from that stuff” Ross said, laughing with the others. 

            I laughed too, nodding in agreement. The more they drank, the more insecure I got about not being in the same humour as them, and that maybe they would notice. Each of them talking over the other, laughing and flirting without hyperfixating on the fact. I had to catch the bus. I was still nervous about the route. Still nervous about the bus. 

“Get back safe, see you in the morning,” one of them said. I couldn’t remember their name, but I made a note to find out tomorrow in class. I made my way inside and walked up to the high counter of the bar. I reached my hand into the bowl of love hearts and chuppa chups and stole two packets of the Swizzlers love hearts. Almost a nightly occurrence. The barman walked me out, his hand on my lower back, my heart in my mouth.   




The bottom of the bus was saturated. December rain had drenched the shoes and socks of those of us on the 16 bus from Rathmines. Men, women and children gripped the poles that ran from the ceiling to the floor. Putting their faith into their wrists. I on the other hand managed to secure a seat before the crowd gathered. Lined up at the top of Leinster Road, they filed in, some tapping their cards and others getting rid of change. I sat pressed against the window, which was nearly impossible to see out of. The warm breath of the masses swelled inside the bus and caused a thick fog to be painted on the glass. I had to stop the child within me from drawing the face – “A disgusting habit” my mother used to tell me. Even from college, her mixed and irrelevant attitudes controlled me. Constantly echoing in the vacant parts of my head. I had to remind myself that that time in my life was over. I was alone now, capable of doing whatever I wanted without permission being granted. I still didn’t draw the face.  

The bus stood still in traffic for almost forty minutes. Crawling ever so slightly forward now and then. I took the sweets from my coat pocket and unwrapped them, popping the first one in my mouth. Last week was my first time on a bus. I couldn’t figure out how they worked and ended up travelling from Ballinteer to IKEA, then back again. Though I missed the orientation in college, I was glad I got to explore the city I was about to spend the next four years in. Dublin had always been a novelty growing up. A treat we would indulge in as a family once a year around Christmas. Driving up as far as the Red-Cow Luas stop, parking in what felt like purgatory. I walked around with my hands in my coat pockets once we reached Jervis, my older sister holding my parent’s hands. Streets covered in bodies, some at a pace unnatural with their heads held high, disregarding personal space. I remember hanging back a few paces, pretending I was lost in the crowd, just to run forward again to the comfort of the back of my father’s bald head.

With each stop, the bus filled, its weight tipping from side to side, strangers now closer, bodies beside bodies. People were wrapped up in a series of layers, their warmth ricocheting against the fabric. Saving themselves from the evening chill, but the confines of the 16 was swelling with a sickly heat. The more I focused on it, the more overwhelmed I found myself. I would often convince myself the air in these vehicles had a limited supply. Each time the door opened, I was sure the air was being sucked out by a vacuum. I decided to put my earphones in and take my mind off it. I wiped the foggy window with my sleeve and concentrated on the orange streetlights swimming in the puddles on the path. I leaned closer to the window, my forehead pressed against the wet glass, just to see if I could make out the traffic ahead. A long line of cars and a sea of brake lights covered the road ahead, it was something to get used to. I opened my phone and started to scroll through my playlists, each of them as random as the next and I questioned why I made them in the first place. I pressed shuffle play and The Stone Roses ‘Fools Gold’ started, I had forgotten how groovy it was, but it wasn’t the right mood. I knew I’d never be happy with whatever came on, so I skipped to the next one and locked my phone.

The beat started. Imitating a throbbing vaguely known somewhere in my core. I quickly glanced at my screen. The sweat from my fingers cast a glare on the phone, I could just about make out the album cover. I quickly locked my phone. This song was mentioned to me a while back along with a brazen nod. I wanted to stop it, but curiosity got the better of me. My ribs now in a vice grip, my lungs could only take in so much. With jaws nailed shut, I swallowed the tension that the lyrics were filling me with. I checked to see if the man sitting beside me could hear what was being said to me from my headphones. He too had his ears full. My heart was pulsating causing the blood to rush and swell and cause a warmth where my ass met the seat. My legs were melting into the patterns beneath me. The lyrics scratched the walls of my skull, the most disturbing grouping of words and images. They created a heartbeat between the top of my thighs. The engine of the bus was shaking under my weight, I wanted to bring myself closer to it. A knot formed below my stomach. Sounds warped, bending, in and out, up and down and I didn’t have the strength to change it. I wanted this intensity to last. 

 I started to move my hips subtly along to the distorted vibrations.  I’m on a bus, I thought to myself. I took another love heart from the packet and printed on one side it said EVER TRUE. An embarrassment filled my cheeks, and I hung my head low, keeping my eyes to the ground. I couldn’t help it; I knew what I was doing. I could feel each bump beneath me. Looking at the people surrounding me, completely unaware of my current state, I tightened myself, crossing my legs, hoping for more. Using my tongue, I pressed the hard round sweet to the roof of my mouth, feeling the words ingrain themselves into the thin layer of skin. I could feel the dampness like a pool begin to gather in my cotton underwear. My breath unsteady. He was in my ears, screaming, begging, pleading a sort of prayer. Mentioning God in between his perverse desires. The song was progressing, the rain against the roof of the bus beating down, a scratchy guitar, the drums getting manic and amidst the disturbing collection of sounds he whispers –


              Through every forest
                                          Above the trees,

                            Within my stomach, 

                                   Scraped off my knees, 

                                                I drink the honey, 

                                                       Inside your hive. 


I closed my eyes and thought of this faceless man. A shadow of my unwanted desires. All the things he said he wanted to do to me. No evidence of love or care. Only filth. Nothing I have ever dreamed about. I could feel his hand on my lower back again, all five of his fingers in contact with the outside of my mother’s jacket. I placed the words of the song in his mouth, pouring from his lips into my ears. Grinding into myself, pressure filled my body, to the point of being somewhat painful, and my legs began to shake under me. While holding my breath, I realised that that was what I wanted all along. I couldn’t deny myself the feeling any longer.  

My eyes opened, and I removed the headphones and stuffed them tangled into my pocket. I took another glance around to see if any eyes were on me. If anyone knew what I just did. Uncrossing my legs, I stood up unsteadily and reached for the red stop button attached to the yellow bars. The bus came to a stop and its doors opened.  

“Thank you,” I said. The driver gave me a nod and closed the doors behind me.  

The air was crisp against the heat of my cheeks and the inside of my mouth felt sticky. I took a breath, the air clean, no longer borrowed from others and walked along the damp path, the trees casting their shadow beneath my feet. I kept my eyes on my steps. My black patent leather shoes glistened with splashes from hour-old rain. I felt somewhat heavier than I did twenty minutes previous. My legs felt boneless as I dragged them beneath me up the narrow alleys beside Rathfarnham Park.

Making my way down the sloped driveway of my new room, I noticed all the lights in the house were off bar the couple’s room. The dim light of their bedside lamps broke through the crack in their thick curtains like it was trying to escape.  The last thing I wanted in my current state was to converse with either of them. Before unlocking the door, I untied my shoes and slipped them off. Holding them in my hand, the dampness from the steps seeping into my socks, I turned the key in the door softly and pushed it open. It was heavy with no squeaks; the loudest part was locking it again from the inside. I walked to the bottom of the stairs and looked at the wet footprints my socks left behind. I sighed and started on the stairs. I kept to the left for the first five steps because I had learned by now there were some creaks to the right. My room was the first on the landing and I slid in, thankful to have made it.

“Home Jayne?” the lady asked.

“Yeah,” I said, my eyes tightly shut, “Goodnight”.

I wanted to shower; to wash away the mess I had inflicted upon myself. The only shower was beside their room and that would only mean more noise, more questions. Turning the small lamp by my bedside on, I placed my jacket on the chair by the desk that was still covered in photos from school. I had yet to stick them on the wall. I took off my socks and threw them in the wash basket that hung on the back of my door. Unbuttoning my jeans and peeling them away, my underwear came with it. I noticed the patch of wetness on the inside that had soaked all the way through. I brought it to my face, the striped pattern now covered in slime like raw egg white, and heavy with my own decisions. For fear of the lady seeing them during the wash, I decided not to put them in the basket. There was no bin in my room, only in the bathroom, and I couldn’t subject John or Louise to that kind of discovery. I folded them in a way the dampness was in the centre and concealed. Looking around my room for a decent spot to hide them, I could only go for the obvious. I opened the bottom drawer of my bedside locker and placed them under some worksheets from college. I took them out. Pulling the drawer open further, I stuffed them behind the drawer against the backboard and pushed it, hoping it would shut completely. Hoping they would melt away into the wood, its grooves. Only to be found later as a fossil, an ammonite.


You lock the door behind you. Turn the key once, twice, a third time for good measure. Jiggle the handle just to check, just to make sure you’ve not done it wrong.

You know you won’t be coming back.

Your footsteps hurt. It’s like the ground is too hard for you. Your body punishing itself for what it knows you’re going to do.

You try not to care.

Her voice is still in your ears. Wishing you a good day at work. Telling you she loves you. You can still see her smile, more familiar than your own.

When was the last time you smiled for real?

You keep walking. You have to walk. The car’s still out of commission, and will be until you can afford what the mechanic asked for. The cold wind stings your cheeks, turns your nose red. You deserve it.

The train station’s not too far from here, anyway.

She’ll miss you, you know she will.

You try not to care.

Walk, walk, walk. Left foot, right foot. Methodical. Mechanical. You have to think really hard about what you’re doing. If you don’t, you’ll be left thinking about what you’re going to do, and under no circumstances can you think about that right now.

You might scare yourself out of doing it.

The letter is already written. There is no going back now.

A man walks past, not for the first time. But for some reason, this one takes particular interest in you. He tells you that you should smile. You’d look prettier with a smile.

You just look at him. You look and look and look until he calls you a bitch, ending the conversation. If you could call it that.

You try not to care.

You’re not far now. Traffic is getting busier. You stop at a crossroads. You could turn back. She may not have found it yet. There’s still time.

You press the button. The little man turns green. You keep walking. Still not thinking about it. Instead, you think about how you’re a bitch, and wonder if you really did look prettier when you smiled.

There are too many people in the station for your liking. You would prefer it to be empty, with room enough only for you. A narcissist as well as a bitch.

You buy a coffee. You don’t drink it, but it’s good for keeping your hands warm. You never liked the cold.

A girl asks if you’re alright. You must have had a look on your face.

You just look at her. You look and look and look until she backs off. She walks away, but her eyes stay on you for a few seconds more.

She thinks you’re weird. A weirdo, narcissistic bitch.

You try not to care.

Better to be repellant. Nobody misses ugly things. Nobody tries to remember them.

It’s better off this way, isn’t it?

Your train is coming.