Emerging Writer Member Profile
Winner of the Short Story Award Kinsale Literary Festival 2018, Write by the Sea 2018 and Sligo Feis Cheoil 2019. Shortlisted in Flash Fiction Kanturk Arts Festival 2019 and for memoir, Write by the Sea 2018. Helena is also the founder of the Bandon Writers Group.
Extract from 'The Songbook of Rural Life'
Streams were drained to fill the cattle who wandered the land looking for any sign of growth. As they lay beneath the hawthorn hedges for shade, the weight of heat wore heavy upon their shiny black limbs. John Joe stared at them from his bedroom window, spirals rising from his nebuliser as clouds of steam rose from each breath of his beloved animals. Whatever bit of moisture had left the land, found its way into John Joe's lungs, slowly drowning the man I loved. With each sunset, ridges of worry formed across John Joe's forehead. His appetite was almost gone, his skin clung to a hunched bony frame in a desperate attempt of survival. Every time I helped him up to the bathroom or bed, I thought I would break him. But the only thing that was breaking was my heart.
As the crows stepped towards shorter evenings bonfires lit up the skyline against a backdrop of amethyst clouds. Soft days helped us to make the transition to longer rain-filled days. The air was thick with a soup like fog that marked the changes as the colder air met with a blanket of heat that had laid heavy upon us all summer. I spent my evenings walking in the garden allowing the mist to sit comfortably on my skin, the coolness soothing and welcome. The flowers strained their necks towards the pebbles of rain and danced in delight as their thirst was quenched. I looked up towards the bedroom window to where John Joe struggled for each breathes, fighting to stay with us. It was only a matter of time the doctor said. I wanted to press a pause button, to rewind, to slow it all down. But since the diagnosis, time seemed to move faster, as if we were in a race. There would be only one winner in the end. And it was not going to be John Joe.
That autumn we began to harvest memories instead of crops, made from our simple life together. John Joe was now confined to the bed. Community nurses called daily. Their conversations left words floating in the empty spaces between my thoughts. Palliative, morphine, pumps. I could see the life ebbing away from John Joe in the same way the land around us was becoming barren and idle. His eyes remained closed, but I held his hand and spoke to him regardless. Your hearing is the last sense to go before you die the nurses informed me. I hung onto that, filling the hours with descriptions of the comings and goings on the farm. But with each leaf that fell from the trees outside, the life fell from John Joe until all the leaves were gone.
After the wake, darkness pulled the curtains closed a little bit sooner each evening. At night the patter of rain on the dormer roof tried to tease the sleep from me, the breeze whistling around the chimney breast as it threaded through the house. John Joe should be mending fences, cutting grain, buying ration. Instead, he was planted amongst his own land, the top of his headstone peeping over the graveyard wall beyond the field between our house and the churchyard. The rain came down in sheets as one day rolled into the next until they felt endless. Each night I turned to the empty space in the bed alongside me. I told myself he was out calving. I cried until the faint glow of a new day edged around the curtains. Then exhaustion took hold and pulled me into a parcel of sleep which gifted itself for only an hour or so. Those were tough days, bursting with sorrow and loneliness.
The month's mind has passed. The tractor lays silent and the land is bare. In the lonely winds that bend the trees from beyond the graveyard, I sometimes think I can hear John Joe call my name. The days are deep with frost, hardening the edges around everyday existence. Life is raw, unbearable at times. I miss him. Flutters of snow land on the field between John Joe and me. I won’t let anyone touch the field, for fear they wipe away the unspoken sentences he carefully wrote on the land with his own hands. That is the only conversation we have left between us, as the sharp cold air cuts through another season to welcome the new year ahead.
I am currently working on my first collection of short stories
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