I could only answer one question on the history exam paper. It said something like, ‘Describe a day in the life of…’ I don’t remember the rest of the question. But the first seven words inspired my creative juices, and a story began to build.

I was only eleven. I had joined my new school six weeks before the end of first year, right in the middle of their exams. I wasn’t expected to be able to answer any of the questions, but I was told to have a go anyway. I guess they didn’t know what else to do with me.

I have been both a writer, and a student of history, probably from as long ago as when I learned to read and to write. To this day, I can’t figure out why I am so drawn to the peoples of the past.

My father loved reading and history, but he played such a small part in my life, that I don’t feel I can credit him as my inspiration. I lived on the island of Cyprus for a while during my childhood, where I was surrounded by crumbling ancient sites in the process of being lovingly restored by archaeologists, but my interest was already formed long before we moved there; I remember asking for history books one Christmas when we still lived in Kuwait, and that was before I had ever set foot in a Greek burial chamber or Roman amphitheatre. I would have been about seven or eight at the time.

So what did I write about? Read More

As you may know, I am rather fond of Greece, having spent some of my childhood growing up on a Greek island, and getting married to my lovely husband, Conor, on another. We go back most summers for a holiday.

But not this year. This year we spent time with family in the UK, particularly with my gorgeous Nana, whose 90th birthday we celebrated!

I’m having Greece withdrawal symptoms though, so when the lovely Sally Cronin republished my story, Aphrodite’s Rock, which I wrote especially for her Authors in the Sun Series in 2015, I was surprised and immediately transported to sunnier, more exotic climes. It was just the pick me up I needed… thanks, Sally!


Enjoy the sunshine!

Aphrodite’s Rock

“It’s just as splendid as I remember,” she says with a sigh, a rare smile playing on her lips. “Thank you. I never thought I’d see it again.”

I gaze at the rock; although the sea is calm, water foams and gnaws at its base. Here, they say, Aphrodite, Goddess of Love was born, and the magic of the moment is so intense, I half believe it.

The evening sun bathes the scene in soft gold, and we hang there between sea and sky, crying gulls and the ocean’s soft murmur filling our ears as we rock in our cradle-like boat, and drift with our memories.

Her voice is little more than a whisper. “Do you remember the last time we were here?”

I nod, and think back to that day; we stood hand in hand on the headland, eyes fixed on the rock, mum with tears in hers, and acknowledged there was more to life than love.

“You’ll know love one day,” she had said to me.

“Not me,” I had declared emphatically. “Love is for wimps.”

Mum had turned her face away at that. “You’re too young to be so angry.”

“Anyway, I’ll be much too busy digging treasure out of the ground,” I had added. And that, at last, had made her smile.

“Just you and me from now on,” she’d said, turning her back on Aphrodite, and I had done the same. We had never gone back. Until now.

Read More

Please click the button and pop along to Sally’s blog to read the rest of my story, and why not have a look around and say hello to Sally, whilst you’re there.

I took this image of Aphrodite’s Rock with my first ever camera, a Minolta, when I was about 8 yrs old. Taken from the other side of the Rock as the header image.

thank you for visiting


The Sacred Tree – na Bílí – is where I made my home, called by a voice unknown. I pay my respects from a distance, content to wait.

And trees have time to kill.

My life has been filled with trees, from the day as a teen when I missed my train to work because I was so busy writing a poem (Winter Trees) about the trees which bordered the platform, to the day only a few months ago, when I planted the first trees in my garden.

I love them. I admire them. I respect them. I cry when I see one cut down. I feel pain when I see the naked wound of pale, fresh wood.

Trees are tactile. They invite touch. Against my skin, the trunk is cold, hard, unyielding. The tree is not like me: I am soft, warm, weak flesh. Silent and strong he stands, old long before I was thrust into existence; he will remain long after I am gone. Read More

I have looked out of this window every day of my life. I have seen every mood of the ocean and shade of the sky conceivable. The tide has washed many trinkets and curios upon the stony strand, but never before a man.

I watch him wade the shallows, the surf rolling and dragging at his sodden cloak, foaming like playful kittens around his knees. His stride is strong and purposeful, and I know he has come for me. My heart beats faster, louder than the flurry of my footsteps on the tower’s stone stairs, as I rush to meet him.

He has tugged his boat well above the water line. He is not fooled by the benign fawning of the waves upon the shore.

 “My father will kill you,” I say.

His eyes are blue as the gentian which flourishes on the cliffs, and as wide as a summer sky. “It is worth the risk. I came to see if the stories are true.” His bright gaze travels from my hair to my lips to the curves beneath my gown. “And I see that they are.” Read More

I haven’t taken part in many writing challenges recently. Quite honestly, its all been a bit of a struggle for a while, writing and researching for the blog, keeping up with all your lovely blogs and comments, writing books and all my motherly duties as well. Sometimes everything seems to conspire to suck the inspiration out of you, and it’s a downward spiral from there.

But Sue’s picture really spoke to me; it reminded me of all the old places of Ireland I love with my heart and soul and bones. I need to pay some visits. In the meantime, I wrote this, and added a poem I started when I was about 17, but only finished last year. It seems to fit the prompt. At least to me.

the glade

Beards of moss drape old stones with velvet softness. Stark-raw and already ancient, these great stone-bones once teased and tortured from the earth into grey new skeletons, wherein men danced and dreamed and viewed the stars, survive in hunched fragments of former glory.

Now tumbled and crumbling, they lie discarded, forgotten, memories of magic dormant yet still alive throbbing within them. You can feel it if you touch them, feel the vibration in the air on your skin. Be still.

The earth remembers. Time is meaningless here; there is no rush. She feels her way, creeping slowly over recumbent remains, claiming lost treasure torn from her flesh. She heals the hurt without reproach while no one notices.

ancient places
What cities lie buried beneath each hill?
Monuments born of ancient times,
Forgotten and lost but standing still,
Neglected, disconnected, these are our crimes.

What histories are etched into ancient stones?
Tales decayed with the fall of walls,
The sag of dynasty, the crumble of bones,
The march of ghosts through tumbled halls.

If we could learn to unlock the past
What shrouds would unfurl from our eyes?
Would realisation be ours at last?
Understanding the what, when, who and why's.

The power was strong, up on Shee Mor,
I felt at great peace, content.
At Moytura, where warriors fought their war
no harm for me was meant.

At Uisneach, by the lough where Lugh was drowned
I grieved for Eire's loss, watched Beltaine fires leap.
Then to Tara, where High Kings were crowned,
the Sacred Stone sadly lost in eternal slumber deep.

These places, their magic floods my soul,
washes me clean of the now.
Their stories surge through me, re-make me whole,
ancient voices tell of the how.

Ancestors sing and call me home.
I would go if I knew the way.
Under my feet, beneath the loam
stirs blood, beats heart of a by-gone day.

Head on over to Sue Vincent’s blog to take a look at the other entries, and if you fancy giving it a go yourself, here is what you have to do;

Use the image to create a post on your own blog… poetry, prose, humour… by Wednesday 25th May and link back to Sue’s post, not this one, with a pingback. Please make sure that the pingback works and if not, copy and paste your link into the comments section of  Sue’s post.

Don’t forget to use the new and shiny #writephoto hashtag in your title:)

Due to the volume of entries, only the first few posts will feature on Sue’s blog during the week and all posts will be included in a round up on Thursday 26th May.

Feel free to use #writephoto logo or include the prompt photo in your post if you wish or you can replace it with one of your own to illustrate your work. Have fun!

Get more mythology straight to your inbox. Sign up to my mailing list.
Or try one of these…

Fire and Water | Prose and Poetry

Fire and Water | Poetry and Prose

Fire and Water | Poetry and Prose

First up, I tried Sacha Black’s Writespiration. This is what we had to do; Get a timer, set it for 120 seconds and when and ONLY when you are ready to do the challenge, scroll to the very end of the post to see the one word prompt. Write hard and fast until your time is up. The word Is ‘ARMOUR’.

Unfortunately, I had so many interruptions, that it took me over half an hour just to get a few words down, which kind of disqualifies me. So I decided to run with it, edit it and post it here, instead.

The date is November 3rd 1324. Drizzle falls like tears from a swollen sky, but it is not so grim without as within. I sit with Petronella through her last moments, in a cell dank with mould and ripe with the ghosts of its past inhabitants.

Her body is gaunt and bloody, her skin a mass of puckered welts and scabs, broken open and oozing, the souvenirs of her private torture and public floggings. She holds her head high, hands folded together and resting still like pale butterfly wings in her lap.

“Your pyre is built high,” I say. “They want everyone to see it.”

“I am the first,” she replies, “but I will not be the last.”

“But you did nothing wrong.”

“The truth is not relevant, only what people believe.”

“Why did you confess?”

She looks at me for the first time. “To make it stop.”

I bite back my impatience. “And now you will burn for it.”

“So how could I win?” She smiles, a broad glowing smile, as footsteps echo distantly on stone. She gets to her feet, raising a hand to smooth the tangles from her hair.

“How can you smile?”

The key turns in the lock with a rasping, metallic protest, and the door begins to swing open.

She pauses. “Armour, isn’t it?” And then she is gone.

Next, I tried a bit of poetry for Jane Dougherty’s challenge. This is what we had to do; I leave you to choose the form and use the Munch painting, ‘Moonlight’ as your inspiration. I’m adding a selection of words for you to use—verb, nouns, adjective and adverb—that you can use if you want to add a bit of a challenge to the prompt.

winding – moonlight – follow – heavily – path

I didn’t use her picture, but I did use all the words she gave us, and tried an English sonnet.

Where does she wander on this starry night?
A wraith, a shadow, she’s frail as a sigh,
Woven from stardust and strands of moonlight,
Feet tripping dainty as she passes by.
Discarding my fear, I follow her path,
A winding trail through glistening grassland,
Over rounded hills, past the fairy rath
To the foaming sea, roaring on the strand.
With greedy hands, the salt wind tugs her hair,
Waves throw themselves heavily on the shore,
She lets her robe fall, stands tall without care,
She is the shape of my love, form I adore.
White flesh gleaming, she wades into the deep,
Slips beneath the surface to endless sleep.

Writing that made my head hurt! Have a great weekend, everyone! Ali

Faded #writephoto

Faded #writephoto Image (c) Sue Vincent

Faded #writephoto Image (c) Sue Vincent

I never liked roses. They are over-blown and gaudy, just like the woman he ran off with; their scent cloying and sweet, like his shirt after he’d been with her; their thorns sharp and piercing, like the words we exchanged before he left.

My life fell apart then, like loose petals tugged by the wind. I drifted like fallen leaves tossed into life’s gutter. I saw myself in the winter trees, de-nuded, laid bare, stripped of youth and beauty.

But trees bud and blossom and green over, year after year. Their splendour only intensifies as they age. The roses revive and bloom, vibrating colour as if it compensates for the barbs they hide. Me, I just faded away.

I never liked roses, until the day I was given a handful of pink rosebuds, and then it was too late. They bobbed like tender kisses atop their smooth stems, their petals tightly furled, the shade of a young girl’s blush, or a baby’s yawn.

Then, like me, they faded and died.

I wrote this story for Sue Vincents Thursday photo prompt #writephoto

The Dance Tree #writephoto

Tree #writephoto Thursday Photo Prompt image (c) Sue Vincent

Tree #writephoto Thursday Photo Prompt image (c) Sue Vincent

After a brief comments conversation with Helen Jones, I wrote my story inspired by Sue Vincent’s prompt and beautiful picture.

She danced when the world was young and green, and she was all that was in it. She danced for herself and for joy, and the glittering eyes of curious stars. Her dress billowed on the breeze, a filmy sheath of mist and moonlight, revealing nut brown limbs which beat a barefoot tattoo into the soil, matching the throb of life deep in the earth.

New flowers sprang up in her footsteps, animals hopped into being as she passed by, created by her energy. Life surged around her, for she was life.

Mankind watched first with fear, then with adoration, and reaped the bounty she created for them. Laughing, she twirled and leapt, swayed and span, wilder, faster, for their adulation.

Her dance bore her across the world, populating every inch with life, and she was mother to it all. But the more she danced, the more man took. They plundered her bounty, and began their own dance.

The earth whirled and froze and thawed and aged. She danced just like she always had, for life depended on it. But her limbs stiffened. Her skirts swirled and settled in folds around her, and finally she stood still. She lifted her arms to the heavens, and the universe took her back, leaving only a shell rooted in the earth, praying for forgiveness.



An oldie I wrote a long, long time ago, before computers, mobile phones and x-boxes. That’s right, kids, these innovations came into being within my life-time. Hard to imagine, right? Happy Easter to all!

When I was seven years old, I was sent to spend Easter with my granny in the country. I loved Easter more than any other occasion, even Christmas and my birthday, although all were eagerly anticipated for the treats they would inevitably bring.

My passion, however, was for chocolate eggs, and of course these only came once a year, but in all shapes and sizes, and I would happily gorge until I felt distinctly ill, smearing all in my vicinity with sticky fingerprints, making my annual Easter mark on the furniture and the walls.

On this occasion, my mother was expecting the imminent arrival of my sibling, and experiencing complications, was admitted prematurely into hospital. I was not unduly worried; the excitement of a train journey, several extra weeks off school and the indulgence afforded me by my grandmother far outweighed my impatient interest in the new addition to my family.

Granny’s cottage was situated amongst open fields on the outskirts of a tiny village. The cottage itself was quaint and antiquated with practically no amenities. Every inch of space was crowded with a lifetime’s collection of memorabilia, creating for me days of endless fascination. The fields round about were perfect for hunting wild man-eating bears, fighting scalp-hunting red Indians, chasing robbers and other boyish occupations far too numerous to mention. In those days, WII and DS were futuristic fantasies, and few benefited from the luxury of television.

When I came down to breakfast that Easter Sunday, Granny said that she had a surprise for me on our return from church. Looking round, I discreetly noted a distinct lack of chocolate eggs. Disappointment set in. How could Granny forget? Easter just wasn’t right without  chocolate eggs. But what of the surprise? I decided nothing would compensate for an egg-less Easter. Yet, curiosity tightened within me like a coiled spring, and I could not sit still through the service but wriggle and squirm as a means of release. Granny pretended not to notice but there was no mistaking the half smile of amusement which crossed her features.

After lunch, Granny turned to me with an enigmatic glimmer in her eye and said, “I have hidden something for you in the garden; if you can find it, it is yours.” Then she took up her crochet and would say no more.

Something hidden for me in the garden, I mused. It must be my chocolate egg. But how was I to find it in this rambling chaos my granny kindly referred to as her garden? I begged and pleaded for clues and directions, but when none were forthcoming I set about my task, a mission which to me equalled life or death – chocolate egg, or no chocolate egg!

After two hours of searching I was hot, sticky, red in the face, becoming increasingly irritated, and still had found nothing. What was I looking for? I started again… and again… and again. I left no leaf untouched, no stone unturned. I befriended every slug, snail, beetle and spider co-habiting there, and by teatime was just about to give up, when… there it was, sitting patiently and obviously in a place I had searched dozens of times to no avail.

‘It’ was a very SMALL cloth-wrapped package. Very small, and very singular. I was indignant; all this effort and heartache in just one day, and my only reward was a single tiny egg? Rebellious thoughts rushed through my head.  I snatched up the object. It was very heavy for something so small, far too heavy for an Easter egg, and I would know, this being my area of expertise. What, then, could it be?

I carefully unwrapped the cloth and into the palm of my hand tumbled… a pebble.

As I examined it, I realised it was no ordinary stone. It was so tiny that it fitted snugly into my little hand. It was smooth and perfectly egg-shaped, and bitingly cold to the touch. Rich translucent amber in colour,  dark veins ran through it, drawing light into its heart where they merged, which writhed like flames in slow time. I was entranced.

I decided I liked the stone after all, although I was at a loss as to what to do with it. Granny would know. I rushed to her side.

“Thank you for the egg-stone, Granny,” I said.

“Ah, so you have it, then.” Her voice was gruff, her hands moving faster over her crochet.

“Er… what is it?”

“Why, its an egg-stone, of course. What did you think it was?”

“Well, what’s it for? It took me ages to find.”

“You don’t find an egg-stone. It found you. Now, listen.” She leaned towards me now, eyes intent, crochet forgotten. “It found me too when I was your age. Look after it, and it will look after you. You must polish it occasionally, and hold it every day, but you must never ever let anyone know about it, or see it.” Her eyes burned into mine, and if she hadn’t been my granny, I would have been scared.

“I promise.” I put aside my thoughts of chocolate. I was aware that Granny had passed onto me something far more precious, and I was intrigued.

I hid the egg-stone at the bottom of my bed, beneath the mattress. Later, I took it out to examine it more closely. This time, it felt quite warm, cupped in my hands. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with homesickness, and a longing to be with my family. A little chocolate egg would have gone a long way towards cheering me up, I thought sadly.

Then I was shaken from my thoughts by Granny’s voice calling me downstairs.

“There is a visitor for you,” she said.

Strange; I had no friends from the village.

I skipped down the stairs to find a large woman and a small girl standing in the hallway. The girl smiled shyly and offered me a straw basket, in which nestled three small, perfectly-formed mouth-watering chocolate eggs! I gazed at her in jaw-dropped amazement. I understood the magnitude of this sacrifice.

We sat among Granny’s rambling flowers and shared the eggs while the grown-ups chatted over tea.

The next day, a telegram arrived. Granny read it in silence, then smiled a slow smile.

“You have a baby brother, and your mother and he are both doing well,” she announced.  “I am to take you home on the next train.”

I went upstairs, sat on my bed, and took out the egg-stone. I felt very uneasy.

“You’ve done this,” I whispered to it.

All the things I had wished for the night before had come true; a new friend to ease my loneliness, the gift of chocolate eggs, the return to my family. Of course, it was coincidence. Or was it? The heart of the stone glittered.

Back home, Granny fussed over the baby, and my parents fussed over me. My new brother was not what I expected; I wanted a brother I could play football and climb trees with, but all this one did was eat, sleep and cry. But I was happy to be home, and there was even a host of Easter eggs decorating my room.

There was only one dark cloud on the horizon.

School. And that meant Brian.

Brian was the typical school bully; every school has one. Big, fat, stupid and mouthy, with the weight and the cronies to back him up. He had picked on just about everyone in the school at one time or another, and had yet to be defied. I knew with a sickening certainty that now it would be my turn. I took the egg-stone with me for  support.

On my arrival at the school gate, a crowd gathered around me. Well, I had just had an extra fortnight off school, been to the country, and had a new baby brother. Brian did not like anyone else to be the centre of attention and so in the lunch break he made his move.

“Got a new baby brother have you?” he sneered. “Bet he’s an ugly ginger speccy four eyes, just like you!”

His friends joined in the cruel chorus. He took a menacing step towards me, and began pushing me backwards with each jeer until my back was pressed hard against the wall.

“And now do you know what I’m going to do?” he taunted. “I’m going to smash your specs and then I’m going to give you a black eye.”

I braced myself, slipping my hand into my trouser pocket, and felt the egg stone nestling there, smooth and reassuring. Unfortunately, this did not go unnoticed.

“What you got there then? Get it, lads! “

A hundred hands reached for the egg-stone at his command, taking the opportunity to aim a few well-directed thumps in my direction as they did so. Struggle as I might, I could not resist them.

“Well well, what have we here?” Brian turned the stone over curiously in his meaty paws.

“It’s only a lump of rock,” complained one of his accomplices.

“It’s an egg-stone,” I muttered sullenly, “and its mine. Give it back.”

“Finders keepers,” trilled Brian, and with that my resentment flared into anger. I lunged at him. At the same time, the egg-stone began to glow fiercely. There was a shriek from Brian, and it fell from his hands. It hit the tarmac with a resounding crack and shattered into a million pieces.

There was shocked silence, broken only by Brian’s blubbering. He was blowing on his hands, trying to cool them. They looked badly burned. All eyes were on me. Full of righteous rage, I flew at Brian, hating him, wanting to kill. After a few seconds pause, the whole yard full of children poured around me, screaming their encouragement, some even joining in the attack.

Of course, I was punished both by the school and my parents, but I didn’t care. Brian and his mates never bullied anyone again, so it was a small price to pay.

As for the egg stone, to this day I still keep a shard of it at the bottom of my bed, beneath my mattress.

I watch my children launch themselves gleefully at the pile of presents under the tree, but take no pleasure in their joy. My heart feels cold and hard as a stone, and the bitter taste of guilt catches and won’t wash away in the back of my throat.

Sarah is the oldest. Always the thoughtful one, she organises her younger sister to sort the parcels into three piles, one for each of them. It’s meagre pickings, I think dismally, but they don’t seem to notice. Caitlin normally resents Sarah’s bossiness, but on this occasion normal hostilities have been temporarily cast aside. Jojo, not even a year old, crawls happily through the chaos, more absorbed in the crunch and rustle of the bright paper than what it conceals.

My brave bold trio, who already in their short lives have seen a side of it no child should have to witness. I won’t have their childhood stolen away from them, I just won’t.

I pull Jojo onto my lap. She wriggles, trying to free herself.

“Girls,” I say. “Open some pressies for your little sister.”

They show her how to tear the paper, and she cottons on quick, squealing with delight, shredding the paper and mashing it into a squidgy mess with damp, pudgy hands.

When all the secrets have been revealed, it is Sarah who comes to me with a hug. I am surprised to see sadness in her eyes.

“But Mammy,” she says solemnly. “There’s nothing here for you.”

I gulp back the lump which has formed in my throat, and force a cheery smile. “Santy only brings presents for the children, didn’t you know that? Anyway, your Nana will be over later, and she will have a little something for all of us.”

“Hooray, more pressies,” whoops Caitlin, who has overheard, and Sarah rolls her eyes.

“You’re so materialistic,” she says smugly, and I stifle a grin as she stumbles over the unfamiliar word, my first genuine smile of the day.

I set Jojo back down, and go to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. The window is a black square; it is still early, but I can see lights twinkling vaguely in the windows of some of the neighbouring houses, and know that inside, the same ritual will be playing out, only without the guilt.

I lean on the worktop as panic overwhelms me. I am gasping for breath, my heart hammering so hard, that for a moment, I fear a heart attack.

It was the worst thing I have ever done, and I will never forgive myself, but if I have to, I will do it again. For my girls.

“Is Dad coming today?” Sarah is standing in the doorway, clutching her new Barbie. Of the three of them, she was always closest to her Dad, and his leaving hurt her the most. He hadn’t even said good bye. Just woke up one morning a couple of months ago and said he’d had enough, walked out the door as casual as if he was heading to Tesco.

I can’t say it surprised me. He’d threatened it many times, but I never believed he was strong enough or desperate enough to see it through. And at first, I just felt… relieved. No more rows, no more accusations, no drunken violence. To be fair, all of that only started after he was laid off the previous year, and couldn’t find work. I’d thought we’d muddle through, that love would lift us up above all that. Of course, I was wrong. Everything always comes down to money in the end.

Then the relief faded and reality kicked in; Christmas was coming, I had no man, no money, and no one to turn to for help. But I was fiercely determined to make Christmas special for my girls.

I sold my wedding ring, paid the gas and electricity bills, and bought a frozen chicken and a Christmas pud. The girls wouldn’t notice the difference between a turkey and a chicken. They probably wouldn’t even eat the pud, but Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without one. That left precious little for gifts.

Nevertheless, I was drawn to Toys R Us, even though I couldn’t afford to buy anything. I drifted up and down the aisles like a ghost with big, hungry eyes. Sarah wanted the latest Barbie. And there she was, the last one on the shelf. I gazed at her longingly. She was beautiful, layers of puffy princess-pink organza wrapping her svelte tanned form, an impossible confection of overblown feminine perfection smiling blankly from the chaste prison of her box. I reached towards her.

“Excuse me.” An arm snaked past me and snatched the doll from the shelf. Outraged, I turned to glare at the thief. It shouldn’t have mattered; I couldn’t afford it anyway, but for a few moments, in my head, that doll was Sarah’s.

A woman in a grey coat with a fur collar and very pink lipstick deposited the Barbie on the summit of a mountain of toys in a shopping trolley, and wheeled it past me. It was full of girl toys, all the things I would have bought my daughters, if I could. Next to Barbie nestled Frozen’s Elsa, which had been top of Caitlin’s wish list. Tears stung my eyes.

I rushed out the store, mind in a turmoil. What was I going to do? My head ached, and I leaned against the cool shop window, thoughts fluttering as wildly as my heart, searching desperately for inspiration.

When the woman in the grey coat emerged with her purchases all bagged up in the trolley, I followed her. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t have a plan. I was just obsessed with the over-indulgence of her shopping spree, and the unfairness of it all. Her daughters were getting too much, while mine were getting nothing at all.

She had parked in a far corner of the car park beside a crumbling brick wall. Badly, I noticed contemptuously, as the wheels of her car protruded into the neighbouring space. I lurked behind a big four wheel drive, watching. Tall whispering evergreens shielded us from the main road beyond.

There was no alarm on her car. She piled the bags in and locked up, pushed her trolley back to the store, and then headed towards TK Maxx.

As if you haven’t spent enough, you bitch, I thought, made irrational with jealousy.

In that moment, my passions consumed me; anger at my husband for abandoning us, fury at my helplessness, jealousy of this woman’s affluence, fear of my children’s disappointment on Christmas morning, repugnance at my inability to provide for them.

These terrible, powerful emotions took control, they moulded me into the shape of someone I barely recognised, an aspect of myself I abhorred, but did not resist. I thought of my daughters’ happy smiling faces, and that was all the motive I needed.

I worked a brick loose from the wall, and hurled it as hard as I could at the passenger door window, more from rage than anything else. The glass shattered. I didn’t expect it to, but it did. I knocked some of the shards out till the hole was big enough to fit my arm through, then reached in and unlocked the door. It clicked open.

I stared at the treasure inside in disbelief. It couldn’t be that easy. But it was.

I didn’t take everything; I couldn’t completely destroy their Christmas. I just grabbed two bags and ran, hoping one of them contained Barbie and Elsa. When I got home and emptied them onto my bed, there they were, glorious and bright and beautiful.

But as I wrapped them, my hands trembled, and with the adrenaline gone, feelings of self-loathing began to push at the boundaries of my mind.

Dad does not come, but Nana does. The girls jump on her immediately, and give her no peace until she laughingly hands out her gifts.

“Where’s Pete?” she asks, looking around and noting his absence. “I bought him a book. Does he know how to read?”

“Mam, don’t,” I protest, and burst into tears.

She wraps me in her arms for a moment. “I’m sorry love. But he does wind me up, the way he treats you sometimes.”

I push her away and retreat to the kitchen. The chicken is roasting, pots bubbling away on the stove, giving the false impression that I am in control. The window is lined softly with steam, whilst outside a grey sky drizzles relentlessly.

“He’s gone,” I say, and the whole story comes out, a torrent which cannot be dammed. Only when the flood has abated am I able to stop and sip at the mug of hot, sweet tea Mam places in my pale, shaking hands.

“Oh love, why didn’t you tell me all this before? I could have helped. You’re not alone, you know.”

“You’re a pensioner, Mam, struggling as it is. I couldn’t burden you with my problems too.”

“But stealing…”

“I know. There’s nothing I can do about it now. I can’t give them back. I have no idea who she is.”

“If I ever get my hands on that rotten good-for-nothing husband of yours…”

“Stop it, Mam. He’s still their father.”

“I know. He doesn’t deserve them. Or you.”

Our conversation is interrupted by the ring of the doorbell.

“Daddy,” shriek the girls, rushing to answer.

“Talk of the devil,” Mam mutters darkly.

But it isn’t Pete. Two tall policemen fill the doorway. I feel so weak, I think I will faint. The girls gaze up at them shyly, clutching the evidence. Behind me, I hear Mam’s sharp intake of breath, and am aware of her scooping Jojo off the floor.

My heart sinks. CCTV. The car park must have CCTV.

“You’d better come in,” I say, leading the way back into the kitchen. “Mam, make another pot of tea, will you please?”

“Sorry to do this to you, Sue, today of all days, but we’ve got Pete again. He’s in the nick now, drunk as a skunk,” says the elder of the two.

I sit down quickly, before my legs give way. So they haven’t come for me after all. I let out a long, shaky breath.

“He walked out on us, about two months ago, Ed. Haven’t seen or heard from him since.” How many times has this happened in the last year? So often, I’m on first name terms with the local coppers.

He left, I say to myself. He is no longer my responsibility.

“You’ll want to come and get him,” Ed replies, taking something out of his pocket and laying it in the middle of the table. A little square of paper.

“What’s that?”

“It’s a lottery ticket,” bursts out the younger officer, face pink with excitement. “That’s why he’s so drunk;  he’s been celebrating. He’s only gone and won the lottery!”

Ed scowls at him, but then directs a smile at me. “It’s true. We checked. I know that man has taken you to hell and back over the last couple of years, but he’s asking for you and the kids. Maybe he can finally clean up his act, with your help.”

I can’t speak.

“Do it for the girls.” Mam’s voice comes out as a croak.

But I can’t, even for them. They are my life, yet I will not be bought. I have hit rock bottom and committed a crime. I won’t make things worse. I won’t condemn them to a life with a drunk and aggressive father.

“What will happen if I don’t help him?”

Ed shrugs. “He’ll get turfed out when he’s sober, cash in his winnings, and use them to drink himself to death most likely.”

There is a sob from the kitchen door. It is Sarah.

“Mammy, is Dad dead?”

“No darling,” I soothe, opening my arms and enfolding her. “He’s just not very well, that’s all.”

“We can look after him,” she says, wiping her eyes, and pulling away to look at me hopefully.

Ed clears his throat. I know what he’s thinking; the money will make everything better. “It’s a considerable sum,” he says.

I level a cool stare at him. “I married Pete for love, not money. He was the one who let money come between us. Keep the ticket. We don’t want it.”

“Susan, no,” gasps my mother, but my mind is made up.

The two men gape at each other. Raw, ugly greed darkens their features as they weigh up my offer. Ed pockets the ticket.

“What ticket? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says, getting stiffly to his feet.

I shrug on my coat and kiss the girls. “I’ll be back soon,” I say to Mam. “Take the chicken out of the oven at three.”

I hold my head high as I step out the door, fully aware of all the neighbours’ curtain twitching.

As we leave, Ed ruffles Sarah’s hair and winks. “All I wanted for Christmas was the day off.”

“I asked Santy for my Daddy back. I’d rather have him than a hundred Barbies,” she announces.

“The big man was obviously listening.”

She nods solemnly. “I’ve been very, very good.”

He looks uncomfortable, can’t meet her steady gaze. “Well, that’s more than can be said for the rest of us.” Then he follows me into the police car.


“I’ll take them,” I hear myself say, and suddenly, my heart is fluttering randomly like a butterfly in my chest. “I’ll keep them on.”

The two young sales assistants exchange snooty glances, rolling black-rimmed eyes at each other. One of them goes to get a bag for my old grey trainers, while the other processes my purchase at the till.

As I teeter out of the store on my new high heels, I hear the ring of their mocking laughter, and my spine stiffens.

I glance down at my feet. Four hundred euros of Swarovski encrusted soft silver leather now adorn each one, balanced on a perfectly crafted, needle-thin mirrored heel.

I push back the panic which is welling into my throat, locking away the guilt for later. I just want to enjoy the elation which is coursing through my body. It is a long time since I have felt the excitement which accompanies an illicit act. I am appalled, and enthralled, by my own audacity.

I don’t just walk around the shopping centre, I float, basking in the admiring glances of passers-by. I may be a woman of a certain age, but in my skinnies, and with a heel, my legs still look good. I drop my trainers in a bin.

It is Culchie Day; December 8th, the day when traditionally, all the country folk visit Dublin for the big Christmas shopping trip. The shops are crowded. The decorations are overblown and gaudy. The seasonal songs are grating. The eagerness to spend, spend, spend is impulsive and overwhelming, a mass frenzy which has people competing to snap up bargains, splash out on luxuries, and procure what will be St Stephen’s Day’s unwanted gifts.

I am swept away on this tide of consumerism, happy to flow for a while in this vast sea of human flesh. I drift where it takes me, like flotsam in the current.

After a few hours, it washes me into Starbucks. I queue for coffee, squeeze onto a vacant bar stool, and with that first bitter sip, acknowledge the uneasy feelings which push against the edge of my euphoria.

I have done a terrible thing.

Emboldened by admission, my guilt breaks free of its bonds, and I am seized by sudden trembling. I set down my cup.

I can feel something unravelling deep inside me, and I don’t know how to stop it. It has been threatening for years, ever since that day six years ago, when the doctors had handed back my new mystery child and washed their hands of us.

They had done everything humanly possible to wrench him from the doors of death. They had fixed up his weak, malformed little body as best they could, leaving me to rear a child so rare, so complex, so unfathomable, no one knew how to help me, or him.

But it’s Ok, because I am strong, so people confidently tell me, while telling themselves I am the kind of woman who can cope with any truckloads of shit life throws her way.

But they’re wrong. Their expectation only piles the pressure on a woman who is already overloaded. I smile and agree, while all the time shoring up the gaps as another piece of me crumbles. It looks solid and immoveable, this great wall I have built. Little do they know it is built on foundations of sand, and now the sands are shifting.

The money I blew on shoes was all I had to buy Christmas gifts for my children, who are eagerly eyeing the advent calendar every morning, counting down the days till Santa’s visit. This year, what will they find beneath the tree? Mama’s glittery shoes. My gift to me.

I feel my mouth run dry as bile rises in my stomach.

When I saw those shoes, twinkling with allure on their own stage beneath their own spotlight, I was immediately star-struck. Before I knew it, they were on my feet and I was strutting up and down, throwing my hard-won cash at the staff with imperious hand.

What had I been thinking? I was just a woman past her best with lines of tiredness in her face, and the flat gaze of hopelessness, sporting the hoodie, jeans and old trainers of someone who didn’t care too much about herself any more.

Feeling the heat of shame burn in my cheeks, I raise my cappuccino to my lips, but it has gone cold. I set it back down on the counter, and take a deep breath. I rummage frantically in my handbag for my purse. A few coins are all that remain. I’ll need them for the car parking.

I grab my phone and check my bank balance; less than a hundred and fifty euros left until pay-day. I feel so faint, I think I am going to fall from my stool. My coffee-swigging neighbours glance at me in alarm. I smile wan reassurance at them.

Inside, I’m panicking. How am I going to create Christmas for my family on that?

My husband will hit the roof. I can’t expect him to understand something I can’t even comprehend myself.

Beneath the table, the first faint throb begins to pulse through my feet. I slide out of my beautiful new shoes, sighing with relief as I spread my cramped toes. I reach down to the tender buds of blisters blooming on my heels, and realise that the more expensive the shoe, the less likely they are to comfortably accommodate anything foot-shaped.

And suddenly, the crowded café with its warm coffee-scented air and its cloying Christmas music is too stifling for me. The more deeply I breathe, the less oxygen I seem to take in.

I stab my feet back into my shoes and stumble out into the mall. I’m no longer floating on cushions of air, but hobbling across a hotbed of nails. I take the pain as penance. I barge through stressy, spent-up shoppers, searching for an exit. I need fresh air.

Outside, the afternoon is dark, dreary, the pavement rain-washed and pocked with puddles. My shoes light up like a pair of constellations in the headlights of passing cars, but I am no longer dazzled by them. Now they have me gripped in their spell, I realise that theirs is dark magic indeed.

I lean against a wall and suck in damp, wintry air. It chills me, but clears my head a little. People hurry past me to the car-park, laden with bags and boxes, shoulders hunched against the elements. I lift my face, feel my hair pulled back by the wind, icy water tracing a route down my neck with unforgiving fingers.

Then I walk. I just follow the path in front of my feet. It turns intermittently this way and that, and so do I. I cross the car-park exit without raising my eyes, and don’t even flinch when a car screeches to a halt, beeping loudly. I just walk, splashing my designer shoes through dirty puddles with a perverse sense of satisfaction, while I get wetter and colder, and then find myself pausing outside the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The entrance is brightly lit and welcoming.

I need a drink.

And once again my brain disengages, and I find myself in auto mode. I walk into the foyer, book a room at reception, then buy a bottle of Prosecco at the bar.

The room is a shoebox, dark, well-furnished but characterless. I sit on the sumptuous bed, shaking. I switch off my mobile, turn on the TV, and pour the wine. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but tonight I’m not going home.


I swim into consciousness, unsure if the noise I hear is the beating of my heart or the ache thumping in my head.

“Let me in,” calls a familiar voice, and I sit up, wide awake. I’m not sure which is worse, the dizziness and nausea, or the throb in my feet.

“Go away,” I mutter.

He hears me. “Open the bloody door, or I’ll beat it down.”

I let him in. I am afraid to meet his eyes, but he rushes forward and scoops me into his arms. I want to melt into him, but I push him away.

“Don’t,” I say, and retreat. I sit nervously on the edge of the bed. “Are the kids OK?”

He would be within his rights to retort, “As if you care,” but he doesn’t. He closes the door, follows me into the room, and sits beside me. He runs a hand through his hair, then lets it drop helplessly into his lap.

“They’re having a sleepover at Sally’s. Can you please tell me what the hell is going on? I’ve been out of my mind with worry.”

How can I explain something which is incomprehensible even to me? I say instead, “How did you find me?”

He sighs. “I rang all your friends, the hospitals, the police. I didn’t know what to think. Eventually I got in the car and drove down here. Your car’s still in the car park… it’s been clamped. I just thought I’d check the hotels…” his voice trails way, and I see his eyes move to the bed, then back to me. He frowns. “Is there… someone else?”

I almost laugh. Who would want me? Middle-aged, shapeless, invisible, depressed.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I snap.

He takes my hands. “Then what is it?” I can hear the hurt in his voice.

“Why aren’t you angry?”

“I was. I am. I’ve been through the full range of emotions in the last few hours, believe me. I was so scared that something had happened to you, a car crash, or an accident. I even thought, you know…” he pauses and gulps loudly. “I thought maybe you had jumped off the bridge, or something.”

“I thought about it.” I meet his eyes for the first time. He kisses my hand, not knowing what to say. He looks worried.

“So what happened?” he prompts me gently.

I look away. “I bought shoes.”

He laughs. Just a gentle sound at first, but then his body starts to shake. He throws himself back on the bed and lets the emotion consume him, great guffaws of riotous sound somewhere halfway between hysteria and mirth. Then he lies still.

“I’m glad you find it funny. They cost me every penny of the Christmas money. I’ve just enough left to pay for this room. I can’t afford to get the clamp off the car. There’s nothing left at all for Christmas.”

He pulls me down to him. I resist at first, but he’s not taking no for an answer. “We can take the shoes back when the shops open,” he suggests.

“I don’t think so. I walked around in them all afternoon, and then traipsed through the rain.”

He kisses my hair. “Well keep them, then. Don’t worry about Christmas, we’ll have to tighten our belts a bit, but we’ll manage. I just need to know why. You owe me that much at least. Don’t you love me any more?”

But I am not able to explain. The bottle containing my emotion has been uncorked, and there’s no stopping the flow. So we just lie together through the dawn while my tears slide, silent and unrelenting, listening to the sounds of the world gradually wake around us, and I wish that time would linger and wrap us in a bubble and forget about us.

I am woken some time later by his voice, brimming with amusement. “Are these your Cinderella shoes?” He holds up the offending articles.

They look a little worse for wear after the abuse I put them through. The shiny mirror heels are scuffed, and a few diamantes are missing from the toes. The leather is soaked, discoloured. Their magic has worn off. They just look kitsch and tawdry.

“Not your usual style,” is all he says, setting them down on the dressing table. “I’m going to pay for the room. Meet me downstairs when you’re ready.”

I hurry into the shower, then slip back into my jeans. They are still a little damp from the rain. I sit on the bed looking at the shoes glowing on the dressing table like a glittering work of art.

Then I walk out of the room bare foot. I don’t need them where I’m going.

Sarah Zama’s Thursday Quotables and Me

Letting Go Coverjpeg (2)Not so long ago, I gave away a free download of a short story I had written, and thought nothing more about it. (You can get your free copy here, if you missed it first time around.)

Imagine my surprise when I opened my email notification from Sarah Zama’s beautiful blog, The Old Shelter, and found it was all about me! Or rather, my short story, Letting Go.

You can read what she had to say about it here. Thanks so much, Sarah, I am honoured and delighted; it was a lovely surprise, which made my day.