Janet Kearney

Location: Dublin

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I came to creative writing two years ago. I have been told I am a great storyteller and should start writing. My happy place is when I get lost in writing. I am part of a writing group and enjoy sharing our work and encouraging each other.

Writing sample

I hadn’t planned on arriving at my deceased mother’s house so early. It just happened that way. I wanted the final walk-through and clear out of her home over quickly. So many memories and emotions were stored in that house. Turning the engine off my well-worn Nissan Micra, I glanced at the houses that lined the street. Castle Avenue had formed my identity as a child growing up in north county Dublin. The street hadn’t changed much over the years. I mused that some old neighbours were living there, all in their eighties by now. Mrs. Carmody’s house opposite my Mothers’ had recently been sold. She had passed six months before my mother. Mrs. Carmody had been my mother’s only friend. Carmel Carmody had come from Tipperary in the late 1940s had worked in Clerys Department Store and shortly after married Tom Carmody, a van driver. The story went that Mrs. Carmody and my Mam had moved onto the street in the same month and year and by coincidence had given birth to four children in the same months and years thereafter. My Mam had four daughters while Mrs. Carmody had four sons. I wished Carmel had been my mother. She was warm, caring, funny and kind. None of these attributes described my Mam. Mrs. Carmody had always wanted a daughter. ‘She’s jealous of me’ my mother would snarl. Mrs Carmody’s apparent jealousy caused her to knit us the most beautiful hand-crocheted cardigans and the occasional knitted sweaters over the years. I loved Mrs. Carmody and secretly I knew she loved me too. When Carmel Carmody passed, I cried torrential tears. I would miss Carmel and the way she made me feel as a child. Special and cherished. She formed my most precious childhood memories.
Slamming the car door shut, I looked up at our family home. The upstairs curtain moved, and a dark feeling came over me. One of my siblings had got there before me.
As I walked up the short garden path, I reminded myself this was the last time I would ever have to walk inside my childhood home.
The front door flew open. My eldest sister Rita looked flushed and angry. ‘You’re early’ she snapped. ‘I could say the same about you’ I responded as the hall door clicked behind me. The old home had lost its familiar smell and was replaced by a damp mustiness. It felt colder and looked older than I ever remembered. There were times in my youth when we never removed our coats. That morning it wouldn’t be coming off either. Following Rita into the kitchen I caught sight of the worn tea towels Mam left over the back of the kitchen chairs to air. The Superser, her prized possession was in the center of the tiny room. It got in the way of everything, but Mam insisted it stayed there distributing hot air into an unheatable space. Bending down I tried my best to get the heater to spark. Rita, irritated by my persistent snapping at the ignite button growled, ‘Give it a rest would ya’ a phrase our mother often used. I knew better than to fuel Rita’s temper. Opening the kitchen cupboard, I asked if she knew what time our sisters, Miriam and Irene would arrive. ‘Miriams not coming, she doesn’t want anything of Ma’s, she says her memories are all she needs.’ I was about to reply when I heard the front door slam. Irene sheepishly stood in the doorway. Her eyes filled with tears. Irene was the soft one my Mam would always say. She could cry watching a TV commercial. Today, however, the depth of her tears seemed inconsolable. Irene was the youngest sibling. In most families, the youngest was the favourite. Poor Irene could never be described as favoured. As a baby, she cried relentlessly. Our mother never comforted her. If anyone tried to console her, we were met with ‘leave her, y’all spoil’ her. ‘Give it a rest would ya’ was barked at Irene by our mother from morning til night. I had often wondered if Irene had been nurtured more as a baby would she have been more resilient to upsets in life? Irene had a tough life and it showed in her worn, exhausted expressions. The lack of affection from our mother, topped with teasing and bullying in school shaped her into the timid meek woman she is today. Irene lost two babies at birth. Her well-meaning husband Jim requested we give her space to grieve as she was distraught by her losses. We dutifully stayed away, including our mother. It is something I deeply regret to this day. Irene’s third and only living child, Martin, is loved beyond measure. He was diagnosed as Autistic at four years old. Our mother dismissed this claim, insisting he was a spoilt brat. ‘A good slapping would sort out his behaviour’ she’d say. In my usual peacekeeping style, I would simply agree with my mother. Another of my deep-seated regrets. As she sobbed into her tissue, I wondered had anyone asked how she truly was feeling or had everyone dismissed her as simply too soft.
Our eldest sister Rita had a no-nonsense approach to life. Handing us both a roll of extra strong extra-large sacks she set us to work. Taking a room each, we moved silently and quickly tackling the job at hand. Each of us was buried in wistful thoughts as we deciphered what was for charity and what could be skipped. The bags filled quickly. Mam had lived a frugal life. There was nothing of value in our childhood home. Everything had a place but more importantly, everything had a use.
Our Dad died when Irene had just turned two years old. He went to work one day and never returned. He worked for Dublin Bus. A job of which he was immensely proud. It was a heart attack we were later told. Charles Norton, his branch supervisor found him slumped at the wheel of his parked-up bus. Mr. Norton knew something was amiss when he noticed Dads clock-out card hadn’t been activated. It wasn’t known how long he had been lying in the cabin of his bus, but neighbours said it most probably was sudden. Once the initial shock and funeral was over Dad’s name was never mentioned again. The only other time I had been to Dad’s grave was when our mother passed. I grieved silently for a father figure in my life. In my darkest time, I would dream of life with a dad who would balance my mother’s frostiness. I would dream of a dad who would put his arm around me, encourage me, and look at me with pride. A dad who would make me feel safe and secure instead of this life with a mother who was bitter, angry and resentful of everyone and everything. I decided what I could not change, I would have to endure.
That is why Rita married so young, I told myself. She had just turned seventeen when she met Frank. Our mother was not fond of Frank, and she made her feelings known. It didn’t stop Rita. She went ahead and married Frank at a small intimate ceremony. By the time we had all reached our twenty-first birthdays we were married or soon to be. Finally, we would all have escaped our mother’s wrath.
Over the next forty years, the relationship between our mother and each other disintegrated. Not one of us was a regular caller to our mother’s home or each other’s homes for that matter. We cited work commitments, illnesses and the occasional holiday as excuses not to make ourselves available to each other. Deep down we knew there were too many painful reminders of our childhood when we were together.
I received a call from a concerned neighbour that Mam hadn’t been seen in several days. I didn’t hesitate to make the journey to her home. My mind was in a flurry as I sped down the familiar streets of my childhood. I passed the school and church which held so many highs and lows of my youth. I passed the row of shops I hung around as a troubled teenager, finally arriving at the cul de sac where my mother was now. I let myself into the house and in a panicked voice called out ‘Mam, Mam… it’s me, Rose’. Silence filled the air as I listened out for the familiar sounds of creaking floorboards from upstairs. There was nothing. Only silence. I opened the sitting room door and there, curled in the fetal position lay my mother. She was barely breathing. I dialled 999, my heart beating out of my chest. I was sobbing as I urged the paramedics to come quickly. Kneeling beside the woman who birthed me, her hand suddenly reached out for mine. It was the kindest gesture she had ever made to me. Her eyes opened briefly, and a look of gratitude passed between us. It felt like minutes only when the siren of the ambulance was heard outside. After a quick examination, Mam was taken into the ambulance. I was told to follow behind and make my way to the Mater Hospital. Mam didn’t make it. On the way to A&E, Mam went into cardiac arrest.
I rang each of my sisters, but no one answered my call, so I texted ‘Call me, it’s urgent, its Mam’. Immediately my cell phone rang and one by one each of my sisters was told of Mams passing. An hour later we were all sitting in the Mater Hospital Cafe. Mrs Carmody and our Mam passed away in the same year as each other. The two women who had the strongest impact on our lives.

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