Ficheall, le Gearóidín Nic Carthaigh

Geraldine McCarthy lives in West Cork.  She writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry.  Her work has been published in various journals, both on-line and in print. This is her third appearance at Notes From Xanadu.

Ar bhord íseal sa tseomra suite bhí an clár fichille. É foirfe fós, na píosaí go léir ina n-inead féin. Bhí Daithí ina shuí sa chathaoir uillinn, ag fanacht le go n-imeodh an teannas as a chuid matán. Bhí sé tar éis lá cruaidh a chur isteach, fear mar é, go raibh mórán idir lámha aige. Chaith sé braon fuisce siar. Dhóigh an leacht a scórnach, ach b’in é a bhí uaidh.

Ag an am seo den oíche, ba nós leis a mhachnamh a dhéanamh.  Bhí tábhacht leis an oscailt is bhí stráitéis ag teastáilt. Gan méar a leagan ar aon phíosa, d’oibrigh sé amach ina cheann cén treo ina raghadh sé.  Ar deireadh bhog sé an ceithearnach bán chun tosaigh i lár an chláir. Imirt chlaisiceach, ach ba dheacair é a shárú.


Bhí fhios ag Daithí go dtéadh Peaidí Ó Dónaill ag spaisteoireacht gach lá i ndiaidh lóin.  Canathaobh nach raghadh sé fhéin ar shiúlóid chomh maith?  B’in Peaidí ar bhóthar an chósta agus é ag féachaint amach ar an bhfarraige cháite .

“Conas tá agat, a Pheaidí?” arsa Daithí.

“A, mhuise, ag treabhadh liom,” arsa Peaidí.

“Is conas tá an cúram?”

“Táid ag déanamh dóibh fhéin anois.”

Thosnaigh an bheirt fhear ag siúil.

“Bhíos ag cuimhneamh fé thigh do thuismitheoirí ar an sráid mhór.”

Stop Peaidí aríst.  “An raibh, anois?”

“Ní bheadh fonn ort é a dhíol?”

“Ní bheadh. Sin tigh mo mhuintire, is beidh sé ag mo chlann im dhiaidh.”

“Raghadh cúpla árasán isteach ann go deas néata, mar sin féin.”

“Níl sé ar díol, a Dhaithí.”

Tháinig faoileán anuas chun breith ar cheapaire leath-ite a bhí caite ar chiumhais an bhóthair.

“Ach gheobhainn praghas maith duit.”

Chroith Peaidí a cheann.  “Mar a deirim, níl sé ar fáil.”

D’fhágadar slán ag a chéile is chuaigh Daithí thar n-ais chuig an oifig.

An oíche sin, áfach, d’fhillfeadh Daithí ar an bhficheall.


Chess Middle Game


Lesson Plans, by Geraldine McCarthy

Geraldine McCarthy lives in West Cork.  She writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry.  Her work has been published in various journals, both on-line and in print.

My temples throbbed. I had stayed up until two am finalising lesson plans.  Scanning the classroom, I noticed Geoffery twirl the pencil in the sharpener, his head bent, deep in concentration.

I had put him at the back, next to Amelia, who threw sideways glances at him, when she wasn’t frowning over her sums.

The contrast between them was striking; him dark-haired and sallow-skinned, her blond and pale.

Some children wandered from their seats.

I left my vantage point at the top of the room and crouched down to correct Rebecca’s maths.  Suddenly I heard a piercing cry behind me.  I shot up and looked around.

“Amelia, what’s the matter?” I asked.  It was my first day in my first job.

“It’s Geoffery,” Amelia sputtered, “he stabbed me!”

I fixed him with my most withering look.  He met my eye and gave a little smirk.

“Come here, Amelia, let me look at your arm.”

The little girl got up from behind her tiny desk and came up to me, pouting and looking at the ground as she walked.

“It’s ok.  There doesn’t seem to be much of a mark.  Is it sore?”

Amelia nodded her head, her lips downturned, fresh tears forming in her eyes.

“Ok, let’s get you a sticker for being a brave girl.”

I put the butterfly sticker on Amelia’s pinafore and told her to sit on the teacher’s seat for a little while.

They had never mentioned pencil stabbings in teacher training college.

“Geoffery,” I said, “This is the third time this morning I have had to speak to you.  Come with me.”

He took his time getting up from the chair.  There was still the hint of a smirk about his mouth.

“We’re going to the principal’s office.”

A hush fell over the class.

I nodded to the teaching assistant, opened the door and marched down the hallway.  Geoffery sauntered after me.  I knocked on the door.

“Come in,” a voice said from within.

I entered, Geoffery in my wake, and we sat on the visitors’ chairs.

“Is there a problem?”  Mrs Murphy asked, looking up from the swathes of paperwork which covered her desk.

“Yes, well, there has been a nasty incident,” I said.  There was a moment’s silence.

“I did nothing, Aunty,” Geoffery piped up, shooting me a look.

My jaw dropped.  I managed to rearrange my expression into neutral.

“That’s not quite true,” I said. “You hurt Amelia and she was very upset.”

“Well, I’m sure he didn’t mean it,” Mrs Murphy said.  She began to stack her papers and looked pointedly towards the door.

I waited a moment.  “Well, sorry for disturbing you,” I said, rising from my chair.

Mrs Murphy nodded and began filling in a form.

I walked down the hallway in silence, Geoffery by my side.  When we reached the classroom door, he looked up at me and stuck out his tongue.

“Were they troublesome?” I asked the teaching assistant, who wore a strained expression.

“No, not at all,” she replied, “but I think that’s the inspector’s car outside.”

I went to the window and saw a grey-suited, grey-haired man alight from his car and pull a leather briefcase from the back seat.

Retrieving the bulging folder of lesson plans from my desk, I hugged it to my chest and cast my eye around for Geoffery.  There he sat in his little chair, cradling the pencil sharpener in his tiny, tiny little hands.

Geraldine McCarthy


Bringing it All Back Home – Online

Welcome to the relaunch of Notes from Xanadu. The next four days will witness the transformation of the site from online magazine to online arts centre.

Our homepage has always said Welcome Home. It’s been a place to come in, take your shoes off and relax with something to read, whether that be fiction, poetry, articles or reviews. We’ve never published a bad review – if we couldn’t find something good to say, then we wouldn’t say anything at all (but that never happened). We reviewed theatre, art, books, opera, film, eateries, and even, on one occassion, a karaoke booth. It was a home from home that gave you ideas about what to do outside the home.

And now many of us are confined to the home. On deciding to relaunch Notes From Xanadu at this point, it was decided to make it into much more than an internet magazine. I personally had a list of ideas for an arts centre, and decided to see how much of it could be implemented online – quite a lot, as it turns out. We have art, music, puppetry and of course writing, much of which explores the theme of staying at home or living online, as well as how the “new normal” is for the people who do go out to work.

For many people, the online way of life has been a reality long before Covid 19. I am thinking in particular of the chronic illness community, of which I am a member. Most of us are severely limited in how much time we can spend out and about; some are completely housebound; some are bedbound. The internet is a place for people to connect, share thoughts and ideas, and even study – for those who are well enough. This is particularly true for people who live alone. Other people may find themselves in the same boat by virtue of living in a remote location. We have always known how to do as much as possible online. The coronavirus has taught others the same skills. There is a lot of talk about the downside of the internet – people being addicted to their phones, not having real-life conversations, preferring the virtual world to the real world. But in reality the lines between the two are blurred.

And so here we are, bringing it all back home – online. Welcome to my world. Welcome to our world. Welcome to Xanadu.

Mary Tynan

Red Hood

(Violence and adult themes)

Seena could hear the foxes howling in the back garden.  She had put out a few scraps for them earlier.  She looked out the window and saw two of them enjoying their meal.  Her grandmother always told her she shouldn’t encourage them, but she felt sorry for the skinny little canines.  She had always been fascinated by foxes, going back to early childhood.  Of course, in those days the animals were not so plentiful in cities, and sightings were rare treats.  Now, however, the animals were everywhere.  Many people found them a nuisance, but Seena often felt comforted by the thought of foxes in her garden.  In her mind they kept her safe.

Thinking of her grandmother reminded Seena that she had promised to bring her round some dinner tonight.  What to cook?  She decided on a new recipe she had got recently for chickpea curry with brown rice.

While the meal was cooking, Seena watched the foxes.  They had finished eating now and were sitting on the grass looking towards the house.  As she gazed out the window at them, it felt like a communion between woman and beast. Shortly, however, the animals got up and left, and Seena returned her attention to the dinner.

When she was finished cooking, Seena filled some Tupperware with curry and rice for Granny.  She donned her favourite bright red coat, and, as it was a cold evening, she put the hood up.

It was about a 20 minute walk to Granny’s house, and Seena travelled briskly to avoid the chill.  It was a relief to walk into the welcoming warmth of her grandmother’s house and receive her cheery greeting.

‘You’re so good to an old woman, Seena, coming out on a cold night like this.’

‘It’s nothing, Nani.  Besides, I want to know what you think of my new recipe,” Seena said as she plated up the chickpea curry.

‘I’m sure it will be delicious, love,’ her grandmother replied.

As the old woman ate, they talked about the family, Nani recently having had a visit from her Grandson and his new wife.  Inevitably, this lead to talk of Seena’s situation – Why didn’t she find a nice boy for herself and settle down like her brother?  Seena, as usual made light of Nani’s questions and deflected the conversation back onto her brother.  While her parents were perfectly aware of her preference for her own gender, it had been agreed within the family that what Nani didn’t know couldn’t hurt her, and Seena was happy with that.

Finally, it was time to head out into the cold again.  Her grandmother asked her to stay the night, but Seena had some work she wanted to finish at home, so she donned her red coat once again and stepped out briskly.  Looking at her watch, Seena was surprised at how late it was.  She really wanted to get home as soon as possible  Should she take the shortcut?  She didn’t usually do so at night, but this was a safe area and she felt such a strong yearning to be home quickly.

The shortcut was a pathway at the side of a meadow, with a high wall on the other side.  It was often busy during the day, but at this time of night it was deserted.  Seena pulled up her hood and followed the pavement at a steady pace.  She was about halfway down when she felt a callused hand grab her arm.  Next thing she knew she was slammed against the block wall and a rough-looking man was in front of her.  He pulled down her hood and ripped it from her coat.

She started to scream but he grabbed her by the throat.  Holding her still with his right hand, he used his left to open her coat and tug at her jeans and underwear.  His face was now looming and she could see his bald head with a union jack tattooed on it and a vein pulsating in the forehead.  She could smell his fetid breath  The fear was a stabbing knife in her stomach..

“Please,” she whispered.  He started to undo his own trousers.

Suddenly, something leapt out of the darkness straight onto the man’s left arm.  It was a fox!  As the attacker turned to see what was there, his grip on Seena’s neck loosened.  There was a growl, and another fox was on his right leg.  Meanwhile a third canine nuzzled at Seena’s hand.  She pulled her clothes back into order and raced desperately for home.

It was several hours later.  The police had been round to see her and Seena had told them everything.  They promised to call if there was any progress.  Seena had gone straight into the shower when they left, scrubbing herself as if she could never be clean again.  Now she was coming downstairs in her dressing gown when the phone rang.  It was the policeman who had visited her earlier.  They had found her attacker.

‘He was easy to identify, ma’am, he had been terribly mauled by the foxes.  He confessed to everything.  He’ll be in hospital for a while, though, before he’s well enough to stand trial.’

‘Thank you Officer.’  Seena put down the phone.  Something made her turn towards the window.  Hearing a faint mewling sound, she opened the curtains.

Six foxes were sitting in a semi-circle on the grass facing her.  In the centre was her red hood.

Thank you,’ Seena whispered.

Nothing happened for a moment, and then, one by one, the foxes seemed to nod to her before walking slowly from the garden.

Mary Tynan

New Century – New Aliens

Watching E4’s new 6-part drama The Aliens, I was strongly reminded of the 1989 American TV series Alien Nation, based on the 1988 film of the same name. Initially, I was struck by the similarities between the two programmes: in each an alien ship crash lands on earth, spilling it’s refugees, who then commence a new life on our planet. But, if art imitates life, then the differences between the two shows may be a mirror of how society’s views and attitudes have altered in two plus decades.

Aliens in SF are often used to represent the other: the foreigner, the outsider, the ‘not one of us.’ In both The Aliens and Alien Nation, the offworlders are literally refugees and immigrants so the metaphor is clearly drawn. So how do the respective shows reflect the social attitudes of their time and place of creation?

Alien NationIn 1989, the US was still seen as the land of opportunity – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” as the 19th Century poet Emma Lazarus famously said. In Alien Nation, the Tenctonese, or “newcomers” as they were called, were being gradually integrated into human society, although not without being on the receiving end of a fair amount of racism – they are referred to as ‘slags;’ given silly human names such as Albert Einstein; and often have the most menial of jobs. However, they live in human neighbourhoods; mix in human society; and work their way up the employment ladder – both the film and TV series feature a human/alien police partnership, for instance. The aliens are portrayed as victims rather than threats: tellingly, the ship that crashed was a slaver.

In contrast, E4’s spaceship was said to be a prison ship (according to the humans – the aliens have lost their memory of life before Earth) and the refugees are confined behind a wall, only allowed into the human side to work for a limited period each day, returning to Troy (their place of abode) before their curfew at 7pm each evening. They are portrayed as an evil influence, due to the fact that their hair, when smoked, has a narcotic effect on humans, and they take advantage of this by working as drug dealers and organising into criminal gangs.

Bearing in mind the media hysteria over immigration in Britain in the run up to the 2015 general election, with politicians of every stripe threatening to clamp down on it, it is obvious that The Aliens plays right into these fears and controversies. Although it suggests towards the end of the series that keeping them behind the wall is not a good idea, there is no indication that anything is going to change. Almost all of the alien characters are shown to be violent, no matter what side they are on.

Interestingly, in terms of actually living there, present day Britain is probably a better place for ethnic minorities than late eighties/early nineties LA, as evidenced, for instance, by the police beating of Rodney King and the subsequent riots; but in terms of official, media and public attitudes to immigration matters have certainly deteriorated badly in the past 25 years and The Aliens accurately reflects this zeitgeist.

Although both series concern refugees, Alien Nation overall seems to be more about racism in general, whereas The Aliens appears to relate more to immigration (the aliens don’t actually look any different than humans, for example).  However, the biggest difference, to my mind, is that of perspective: Alien Nation was optimistic and full of millennial hope that problems may be overcome; The Aliens offers nothing but despair for the future, which sadly reflects the feelings of many in Britain today at the dawning of the new century.

The Aliens

The Whole Picture

I’m sitting in the Melon Café, drinking a skinny latte, when the first touch of pain hits the back of my head.  Instantly, the ghosts appear.  There I am 4 years ago over by the window with my cousin James the first time we ever ate here (I know it’s the first time, because I never ordered the full breakfast again – too big).  There we are again a few months later the time I accidentally banged my head against the pillar (never sat in front of it again).  I’m here in groups, in twos and alone.  There I am last week with Carol, discussing the film she wants to make.  And then there are the future versions of me, some of them with people I don’t recognise.  None of them look any older than I am now, so I know I won’t be coming here for much longer, but I don’t speculate as to the reason why.  The possibilities are endless.  I know from experience that I have at most half an hour before the pain becomes excruciating, so I pay my bill and go home.

One of the interesting things about holograms is that if you break one into little pieces, each fragment still contains the entire image.  One of the many interesting things about life is that it works in a similar way.  One instant of a life contains the image of the whole – past, present and future.  This is not common knowledge however.  Just as you need a special light in order to be able to view a hologram, you need a special form of sight to be able to view your life.

I developed this ability at the age of thirteen along with the headaches.  The pain came out of the blue and with it the visions.  I was in my bedroom in my childhood home.  I saw myself as a baby, a toddler, a young child, as I was now, as a young woman, with others and by myself.  My mother must have heard my involuntary gasp, because she soon appeared at the door.  She explained that both the headaches and the “gift” as she called it ran in the female line of our family.  She answered my questions as best she could, although she knew no more that I do now of the origin or ability of this power.

The ability is location specific.  My first experience was in my childhood home, and I saw only times when I was there.  I only see other people’s lives where they intersect with mine.  I can’t see the future in places I haven’t been to yet, and I can’t tell you your future unless I am a major part of it.  I’m no fortune teller.

The gift cannot reliably tell me what will happen, but it can often indicate what won’t.  For instance, I never saw myself in my parents’ house older than perhaps mid-twenties.  My mother cautioned me not to speculate on what this might mean: she said that way lay madness.  As it happens, my parents were both killed in a car crash when I was 24, and I sold the house shortly afterwards.

I didn’t have a headache at their funeral, and there were so many real-time people there that there would have been no room for ghosts.  However, I visited the grave on my own many times afterwards, and on several occasions felt the familiar pain at the rear of my skull, and saw the many times I would visit in future.  I saw myself a lot older, with white hair and a stick, which was the first intimation I ever had that I would not share my parents’ fate of dying young.

When I’m introduced to Michael by a mutual friend I recognise him instantly.  I have seen him in my flat many times.  As we make love for the first time, I play these visions over in my head and for once allow myself to speculate as to why I have never seen him look much different.  A year later we marry, and move into a new home together.  I see us decorating, doing the garden, cooking together, relaxing in front of the fire on a winter’s evening.

When I fail to get pregnant after two years, Michael wants to discuss options – fertility tests, adoption.  I know there is no point.  The time has come for me to tell him what happens when I have one of my headaches.

He listens attentively, but I think he finds it hard to believe what I am saying.  I can’t blame him for that.  “Look,” he says.  “Even if I accept that everything you say is true, it might just mean that we will be living somewhere else when we have a baby.  Let’s move.  Let’s put the house on the market tomorrow.”  He is shouting.

I take his hand and try to speak very clearly and calmly.  “Michael, it’s not just this house, or this town.  Do you think I would never bring my child to visit my parents’ grave?  A defeated look comes over his eyes and he pulls his hand from mine and leaves the room.  I think he doesn’t want me to see him cry.

Six months later we move to Australia.  Michael wants to go, and I would do anything to save the relationship at this point.  On our first day we go to the beach, and I have one of my headaches.  To my delight, I see us building a sandcastle with a little girl.  Six months later I am with child.

It’s 20 years later.  I’m standing at my parents’ graveside with a young woman, my daughter.  It took us this long to make the trip.  Even now Michael wasn’t able to accompany us.  My vision was correct but my interpretation had been all wrong.  I did bring my child to visit my parents.  She just wasn’t a child at the time.

In the distance I can see elderly me with the white hair and the stick making her way up the path.  She is alone.  I don’t try and figure out what that means.

Mary Tynan