Madeline Breen holds a BA (Joint Hons) Drama and Theatre Studies and English from University College Cork. She has been shortlisted for WexWorlds Short Story Competition 2018 and longlisted for the Colm Tóibín Short Story Award at the 2019 Wexford Literary Festival. She has been published in Ireland’s Own Anthology 2019 and her book The Secret Lives Of Roses is available now.
I have several projects on the go. I am currently writing episodes for an upcoming web soap with Slaney Tales. I am also working on a play for Enniscorthy Drama Group. Finally, I will be writing my follow-up book to The Secret Lives Of Roses.
The final part of the Patron was the Blessing of the Graves. Jim followed Father Brohan around the graveyard with a silver aspersorium filled with holy water while the priest carried an aspergillum, a baton with a silver-plated ball on one end. Father Brohan walked down the narrow aisles and around the edges of the cemetery, dipping the baton in the water and flicking it over the graves, people crossing themselves as the water sprinkled over them. Pride grew in Jim’s heart as they approached his family’s plot, where his Grandad O’Connor, Great Aunt Nellie and now his Grannywere buried. Granny’s name had yet to be added to the gravestone and a small cross with a gold plaque marked her resting place.
As he and Father Brohan approached, Jim smiled shyly at his Mum and Dad, who were standing under one of the chestnut trees. He looked across to the grave; it was covered with wreaths of white, red and yellow roses, purple irises and orange carnations. An elaborate bouquet of white lilies and baby’s breath lay across the gravestone. Jim saw his Uncle Tom and smiled at him, but his face fell when he saw his Aunt Judy, his Uncle’s wife, sitting on a folding chair, directly on top of where his Granny lay!
The blood drained from Jim’s face. He looked away and kept going. He couldn’t let his horror and anger show. How dare she! Aunt Judy never got on well with his Granny. He couldn’t understand her theatrical keening at the funeral. It nearly distracted him as he carried the big gold candlestick down the centre of the church ahead of the coffin. She wailed at the graveside as Grannywas lowered into the ground. His Daddy had muttered about it being all for show for her people but not to go repeating that to anyone. Oh, she was taking some liberties!
Jim held on to his annoyance at Aunt Judy right up to when he got into the back of the car, venting to his Mum and Dad. “Aunt Judy was quare ignorant, sitting on Granny’s head!” he fumed.
His mother whipped round in her seat. “Keep your voice down, for God’s sake!” she snapped. Jim was in shock at his mammy’s outburst, but understood it was because anyone could be listening. It was a small village.
His Dad was a bit calmer. “I know what you mean, Jim,” he said. “But you have to be careful to keep your voice down. She could have been right behind us.” Jim understood well enough, but was sullen all the way home from his mother’s chastisement. It was quickly forgotten though when Mammy made him chips and sausages for supper.
It wasn’t until about a week afterwards that the first incident began. Who should be the first victim only Aunt Judy.
It happened after coming back from bingo with a friend, who gave her a lift home, as usual. She had a fairly successful night; four big sweats and a check on the fifth game for a full house worth €100. She was quite satisfied with herself. Judy was walking up the driveway when she felt a sharp chill in the air. The weather had been clear and sunny all day. The highest temperatures reached up to 23 degrees. That evening was due to stay hot and humid. The cold at her back was like someone had dropped an ice cube down her shirt. Judy shuddered and turned around. The driveway was empty There was just Tom’s car and two of the cats, basking in the late sunset. Everything appeared to be absolutely normal.
Nevertheless, Judy walked more quickly towards the front door. She fumbled in her handbag for her keys. They fell out onto the gravel. She scooped them up as she reached the steps to the door. When she looked up again, her heart stopped for half a second too much at the sight that greeted her. It was a sight she never thought she would behold in a thousand years. Someone she thought she would never see until she was herself called to the gates of St Peter! Her voice, for once, seemed to desert her, until a screech escaped her throat and she fell backwards.
The noise outside brought out her husband Tom. He found his wife twisted on the gravel, sobbing loudly, her left ankle already swelling. She nursed her hand, which she had stretched out to break her fall and was now covered in bloody scratches and embedded stones. She wailed for Tom to call the ambulance, call the priest! Oh, sweet Mary, Mother of God, call a priest! Oh Holy Mary, I’m dying! I’m dying!
Judy was not dying. What she saw, though, would haunt her for months. She tormented the nurses in St John’s hospital with her nightmares. At all hours of the night, her alarm button called for them to her room. The nurses would arrive to find her shrieking at an empty corner of the room, clutching her bedsheet until her knuckles were white as marble. Her night terrors became so violent that the doctors had to prescribe a sedative. Although she had only suffered a broken ankle, sprained wrist and some scratched to her palm, it was her mental health which deteriorated the worst.