Teacher by day! Mum to three kids under 10!!! And husband to Damien for the past 11 years.
Malbec a must 😊
I live in Cork and I absolutely love walks on the beach, steak and chips and a good book. I can’t remember a time I wasn’t reading or writing and scribbling.
My first novel ‘You were always mine’ is finished and I’m currently approaching literary agents and publishers. My book being published would be a dream come true!
I’m currently half way through my second manuscript. ‘Next of Kin’ this is a story about family, love and betrayal.
Do we ever truly know anyone?
Is blood thicker than water when the chips are down.
These are all questions lorna Armstrong has to answer when she finds herself in prison for a crime she didn’t commit!
Chapter 1 – Kitty and Tess
The rain was falling so hard, the noise of it bouncing off the leaves and empty beer kegs threatened to overpower the sounds of Seán O Cearbhaill and the Tulla Céili Band coming from inside the dancehall. This was her new favourite song, the one she should be dancing to at this very moment. Round the front, a door opened and slammed shut and for a brief moment, the music prevailed but then it was back to the rain.
It was more a vibration than Tulla Céili Band coming from the dancehall, rippling down the corrugated wall in waves and leading to a dim orange light at the end, hovering high in front of the trees and shining itself on a metal frame arch, flowers long since battered off by the rain.
And there it was. The only hint at colour in this scene. A deep red, catching the slimmest glimmers of light. A puff of chilled breath launched itself into the light in front of the arch and dissipated into its leaves. The red belonged to a shoe and the shoe belonged to a young woman, half kneeling, half sitting against a tree. She was soaking wet, perfectly still, staring into something out in front of her by the treeline, water pouring off the tip of her nose. She was wearing a light dress. It clung to her slim frame almost ground length but definitely left enough room to dazzle with the shoes. It spread out from her like the rain was trickling down her and the trees and everything else and forming a white puddle around her. It was cold. She’d be excused for shivering but she wasn’t shivering. She was departed from all earthly matters. If she’d been crying, her tears were long since swept away by the rain.
Then something cracked and crackled and echoed in the woods and it brought her out of it. Her gaze moved to her shoes. Her lovely red, sparkly shoes, just the thing for the dance. But not the thing for the walk home. She stroked a finger round the heel line and she was again still. Very slowly and deliberately, she unbuckled the shoes and took them off, rubbing her feet into the grass, scrunching her toes up in it. She sat back against the tree for a few more seconds and then got to her feet, glancing briefly in the direction she’d be taking down the track to home.
San Francisco, Summer 2013
The rain was still falling on Lafayette Street and everywhere else in the city, maybe everywhere else in the Bay. Three days straight now. It was the season to be warm, wet and sticky. They reckoned two more days of the wet bit and they’d be clear, provided hurricane Orville didn’t get any wise ideas.
Kitty was staring out of her big bedroom window. The rain was beautiful in Lafayette Street. As it fell through the willows, it chewed off the stragglers and spread a green and white carpet onto the road.
This morning, she’d woken up feeling different. It took her a while to remember it. It felt good but she didn’t know why particularly. She smiled at her finishing touches in the mirror. Sixty-three years had woven its fabric on her pretty face but she still knew who she was and she knew why she was here and this got her the day’s second smile.
That second smile spread to the photo of a man, a good-looking man, strong face but kind eyes, flecks of grey round the sides. He was looking right into her and still telling her how much he loved her. She ran her fingers over his face, loved him right back and whispered her goodbye into the day.
A final glance in the mirror sent her down the stairs to coffee and autopilot took her round the process of making it. She hovered by the machine to witness its slurping and steaming and stared into a nondescript place in space and time. What would her morning ritual be? One just like Kittie’s? Where would she be waking up, what light would fall on her face when she got ready in the morning?
Then Kitty got a tone from her phone telling her it was seriously the very last call to get to the bus. How on Earth had twenty minutes just gone past, she thought. The coffee had long since percolated but it was now lukewarm and she had no time to drink it anyway.
There’s never time to go back for an umbrella when you’re late for the bus and so it remained for Kitty when the bus kicked her and seven others out at San Francisco State University. Jake Soloman from the admin building did his best to share until he had to slip down another track. The rain was so warm. Kitty slowed her approach to the cover of the main doors to let just a little more of it splash across her face.
The waves and smiles passed as they always did until she was into the department and opening her office door. She opened the blinds but the outside world didn’t shine much extra light in the room. Her women’s studies students had a test today and she was glad she’d got all that ship shape well in time. She was happy with her young men and women. They asked more questions than most.
The coffee machine reached its crescendo and she looked forward to the coffee she didn’t have time for at home. Her late husband Daniel had always been a tea man himself, strong and warm just like he was. This thought caught her a little and she sat to catch her breath. She put the cup down on the desk and she noticed a note. Adrienne Townsend, the Dean. Faculty meeting in the lounge at eleven.
The few hours till eleven passed, mostly consisting of coffee, bit of news but more than anything, checking to see if there was that one all-important email, the email that would change her life.
And just before eleven, the rain let up and soon after that, shadows formed under a blue sky and out came the sun. Everything was steaming, taking all the water back up where it came from.
Adrienne Townsend, the Dean was a stern looking woman, brusque, impatient and to the point, not one bit in sync with the romance of her name. The mean glasses she wore made her look older than she was. But irrespective of age, a seemingly humourless woman but mercilessly good at being a Dean. She’d always been a pain just for the sake of it but she was a trusted colleague and one that Kitty had gotten some much needed support from in recent years.
‘This afternoon,’ announced the Dean. ‘We will have a new faculty member, Tess Albany, who will be replacing Mr. Jenks in the Anthropology Department on a temporary basis until a replacement can be found.’
The room was quiet and the Dean paused long enough for some to look up.
‘We are all of course aware of the bones of what happened with Mr. Jenks.’
Another pause expected any who were not so aware to step forward. If you were one of them, you just wouldn’t.
‘In the interests of full disclosure, Miss Albany will be fully briefed. We will be greeting her, back here at 3pm. Compulsory. Good morning.’ And that was that, information imparted, no time to linger. She was off and clicking down the corridor at a fair old lick.
Old Vincent Jenks was the most veteran of veteran lecturers. He was eighty-six as far as he could remember and the students loved him, used to have a bit of fun pretending he’d forgotten things and poor old Vincent could never know if he had or not. He was a legend. He was also a student liaison but one day, one of the students he was liaising with sure as hell got under his shirt. The incident was barred from discussion until Tess Albany learns of it today.
Three o’clock. That would be right in the middle of Kitty’s test. When her class started at two, she had to share a little smile with them when she said the test was postponed till next week.
Kitty was one of the first to greet young Tess, pretty little thing, not long graduated herself, but there was barely time for more than a handshake and a smile. She looked kind. She also looked familiar to Kitty for a reason she didn’t know but there again, some people just do.
Eventually, Kitty spotted a moment when Tess was free. Tess was still maintaining a polite smile but it turned more genuine when she saw Kitty.
‘You look like you’d rather be at home with a glass in front of the telly,’ said Kitty.
‘Oh God, yes I so would,’ smiled Tess with a second handshake.
‘Kitty. Women’s Studies’
‘Tess. Junior dogsbody temporary, soon to be replaced by someone who actually knows what they’re doing, History major.’
‘I know. We heard all about you coming.’
‘It’s probably a bit early to ask if you like it yet.’
‘Oh, I do. I was glad to be given the job, well the almost job.’
‘You know about old Jenks.’
‘I do. How’s the student?’
‘Still a student by the string of her teeth.’
The two women shared a soft chuckle.
‘So, would you fancy it full time?’
‘Absolutely, once my PhD is done and dusted. But they’ll find someone older and more experienced before then.’
‘You never know, Tess. I’ve seen the likes of you come along and never leave.’
‘What’s your thesis?’
While Tess rattled on about something on cultivating cognitive competencies in resource-constrained environments, Kitty’s usually sharp mind wandered unconsciously. There was something about Tess that triggered sharp memories that had been buried inside her, full sections of her life that she had often dismissed since she set foot on American soil.
“…That would be the sum of my final work and I do hope it passes muster with my professors,” declared Tess with a deep sigh of resignation.
Kitty was conscious that she had not heard what the young teacher said but she was aware of how much Tess reminded her of her own young self- vibrant and full of plans.
“Let me know if I can be of any help to your research,” Kitty replied warmly, placing a reassuring hand on Tess’s shoulder.
“Of course, Miss..”
“Call me Kitty,” said the senior professor warmly.
Kitty glanced on the dusty wall clock and gathered her folders. Tess immediately understood from the slight nod that it was time to head to their classrooms. As they made their way out, Kitty noticed the red shoes Tess wore as she sauntered down the hallway with the Dean’s secretary who as showing her around.
Her words to Tess rang back, ” I’ve seen the likes of you come along and never leave.”
“But thank God, I left,” Kitty thought to herself. She quickly checked herself and swallowed the ball of sentiment that threatened to well up in her eyes as tears and took a deep breath. There were other matters at hand. Now, she had to deal with one more lecture and get to her after-school appointment on time.
The last of the day’s lectures went smoothly. Kitty was never in more of a hurry than now to get out of the university. Something stifled her, an invisible hand that threatened to choke her senseless. Lately, she had been feeling a sense of sadness and dread. She chalked it to losing her beloved Daniel in a short but bitter fight with cancer.
At this very moment, Kitty was just feeling utterly relieved that the day was over. Well, almost.
Now, she had to make her way to her appointment a few blocks away. There was ample time to get there. A walk would be a welcome change from the stuffiness of the campus. When Kitty stepped out, the sky was still slightly overcast, the rain had stopped. The sidewalks were starting to fill with pedestrians giving Kitty a sense of comfort.
A few weeks ago, Kitty had suffered shortness of breath and chest pain while celebrating Mothers’ Day with her sons’ families. Her regular internist referred her to a cardiologist, just in case it might be something that needs more serious medical attention. But Kitty had put off going to the heart doctor. She was certain that she was fine – it was probably just stress or indigestion or heartburn – nothing grave, she insisted to her children.
Christopher, the younger of Kitty’s two sons, was having none of his mother’s excuses. He took time off work and brought Kitty to the cardiovascular specialist. After a routine checkup, Dr. Helena Johnson sent her to get a cardiac MRI, a CT scan and a stress test. Kitty could sense concern when the physician wrote the orders, emphasizing to Christopher that his mother must be scheduled as soon as possible. Tired of protesting, Kitty agreed. They found a slot and it was over and done with.
“Move in with us, Mom,” Christopher her youngest son told her when he came to check up on Kitty earlier that week. Christopher was like his father in so many ways. He was a self-made engineer-realtor. He lived in an apartment building which he owned. One unit below his was kept vacant, in case his family grew bigger or if his parents decided to move closer in their old age.
Daniel had thought the same when he built their first home after the birth of his second son. It was supposed to be an apartment building but Daniel decided that he would “reserve” two floors for his sons, so they could live rent-free in the future. The top floor Daniel converted into an attic-like space with provision for a roof garden.
Christopher was worried for his mom. Daniel and Kitty had been married for more than 20 years. They were practically inseparable, each other’s backbone. Both Christopher and his older brother, Joe noticed that after their dad passed, Kitty never seemed the same. She lost a spark in her eyes and was pensive most of the time. He thought it would be beneficial for her to have family around more often.
Of course, Kitty refused her son’s offer. She was not some old biddy who was losing her mind. She preferred the privacy and quiet of her home. Kitty also had several personal matters to attend to and the last thing she needed was Christopher hovering on her on a daily basis.
Today was the day Kitty would get the diagnostic results from her cardiologist. Both her sons offered to drive up and take her, but she was adamant on going by herself.
“I can handle this,” Kitty thought to herself as she followed the crowd passing the crosswalk. There was no need for any fuss. She knew she was fine.
Kitty strode into the six-story medical facility that she was well-acquainted with in the last year of her husband’s life. The familiar sounds of the lobby brought her back to two years ago, when she brought her beloved Daniel for his first check-up to a gastroenterologist in one of the higher floors. He had joked at how she would have to be his nurse if he were to have an appendectomy and she would have to spoil him while he convalesced.
“Naughty Daniel,” smiled Kitty at the memory.
Then she stopped in her tracks. Kitty realized that she was on the gastroenterology floor. In fact, she was about to go into Daniel’s doctor’s clinic. This was the wrong floor. Kitty had been on auto-pilot, letting her feet take her on that familiar route. She rummaged through her bag and found Dr. Johnson’s card.
The fifth floor. She could almost hear Daniel ribbing her for that mistake. Kitty sighed and got back in the elevator and went up the for her appointment.
After less than an hour, Kitty was on the way home. Thankfully, the bus was not full and she had the luxury of having a row of seats all to herself.
She was still processing what the doctor had told her. It was not that serious. Not yet.
Dr. Johnson had made it very clear that Kitty ought to make immediate lifestyle changes. The doctor said she had coronary artery disease. They would try the aspirin and statin combination for a few weeks and take it from there. After making sure that Kitty hadn’t been suffering from any further symptoms in the last few days, the doctor let Kitty go.
“I’m going to be a lowlife, Daniel,” Kitty smiled as she watched the early evening crowds gather in the streets, “Low-salt, low trans-fat, low-sugar lifestyle.”
There had been little regrets being Mrs. Daniel Hyde. Kitty’s husband had always claimed that loved Kitty the day he met her. This declaration was always met with feigned annoyance by Kitty. She had never trusted men after what she had experienced early in life. But with Daniel, it was different. He was light to her spirit, a kindred soul. She missed his company so much. Kitty knew that Daniel would want her back to her astute ways and she needed to snap out of spells meandering thoughts. She needed to regroup.
Kitty made a mental note to call Christopher and Joe. They had both left messages while she was in consultation. She just wanted a little time to let it all sink in before being fussed over by her sons again.
The bus slowed down and Kitty alighted. As soon as she got her bearings, Kitty realized that she had gotten off one stop too early.
“So much for regrouping,” Kitty thought wryly.
It would be a 15-minute walk – one she had often taken way back, when she was a teacher at the nearby International Primary School. Kitty could see that the old iron gates were now replaced by a modern automatic panel. As she strolled Kitty noticed that a lot of things had changed. The small plant boxes by the sidewalk was gone. This was compensated for the bluegrass pathway and Lemonwood Trees.
Kitty’s silent reverie was cut by a deluge on people exiting from the daily evening mass. The Cathedral of the Holy Family stood unchanged, a huge and imposing gray stone structure that stood out in the middle of the more modern architectural landscape. Its huge wooden double doors were wide open and Kitty could see the parish priest still wearing his vestments, conversing with some of the churchgoers.
Maybe it was her vibrant red hair that made him lift his head up and look her way. Kitty’s gaze locked with the familiar blue eyes of the cleric. He recognized Kitty and gave an almost imperceptible nod. She did likewise, looked away and walked down the path to her home.
Kitty did not know him by name but they had often seen each other. During her stint as a primary school teacher, Kitty would often look at the Cathedral doors absentmindedly. Many times, she would find the priest there, then young and newly-ordained. She always knew it was him because of his height and well-groomed blond hair. To Kitty, it was a perfunctory memory that did not elicit any emotion. He was just another familiar face on her way home.
The rest of the walk home was uneventful, save for stopping by the grocer at the corner for some fruits and vegetables. Kitty was back at her home at La Fayette street. The street lights had been turned on. As she strolled to her house, Kitty could hear the sounds of her neighbor’s puttering about inside their homes. Children’s voices mingled with adult tones as families watched tv or conversed over dinner.
She arrived at the familiar iron gate. Kitty looked at the blue-gray shingle that was trimmed with white. Daniel chose that color. Through the years they had remodeled and repainted it around that shade. After her Daniel’s death, Kitty had the original color restored. It made her a little bit happy that somehow bits and pieces of her love was still around her.
After a light dinner and some tea, she had called Joe and then Christopher, updating them of the doctor’s visit. As expected, Joe had insisted on getting a second or third opinion. Kitty was having none of that, of course. If he were to have his way, her older son would take her all the way to the Mayo Clinic for even a fourth or fifth opinion.
Christopher, on the other hand, reiterated his invitation to his mother. To his surprise, Kitty had replied, “Not now.” He did not comment and kept it at that. He knew his mother. She was a woman who never wasted words and meant everything she said. So, she was maybe considering the option. Maybe. Christopher decided that he would give her time.
A light drizzle welcomed the Friday morning. Kitty woke up before her alarm sounded off. She had a surprisingly deep sleep after talking to her sons. Her doctor told her to go easy on the caffeine but this was her one indulgence. She had time to make herself a cup before taking a shower.
As she reached the landing, Kitty took the remote control from the hallway console and flicked the TV on. The morning news was still in full swing. The coffee was now swishing away in the percolator and a slice of bread warming in the toaster.
“That will do for now,” Kitty thought as she peeled open an orange. She could hear the distant drone of the news.
“.. And in news overseas, four orders of Catholic nuns informed Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter that they would not pay into the survivors’ package fund of the Magdalene laundries in Ireland. The orders of the Sisters of….”
Kitty found the remote and turned the tv off. She heaved a deep sigh and looked wanly at her freshly percolated cup of coffee. She had lost her appetite for breakfast. “I guess an orange will have to be enough for now.”
Breakfast was abandoned in favor of a long, hot shower. Kitty emerged fresh. Whatever had bothered her earlier was washed away by her island bath gel bubbles and chucked down the drain.
Kitty braved the shower and reached the bus stop in time. She was looking forward to Friday. She had only 3 classes, leaving her with ample time to mingle or maybe do some research.
After breezing through her first two lectures, Kitty was famished. The sandwiches in the hallway vending machine never looked more tempting. As she waited for her turn, someone tapped her shoulder.
“I have something better than cold sandwiches,” came a familiar voice.
Kitty turn around and saw Tess, who was holding up a paper bag. She recognized it from the café just outside campus.
There was a warmth to this young girl’s smile that made Kitty’s heart melt. After some banter, the young teacher and the seasoned lecturer made their way to the faculty lounge. Kitty got them some freshly brewed coffee.
“How was your first class?” Kitty asked.
Tess made a face, “A student had the nerve to ask me if I used to KNOW Professor Jenks. But I successfully parried it with some comment I can’t even remember. Other than that, it all went well.”
“These students can be a handful, Tess. But I see you’re quite capable.”
“We shall know after a week.”
Tess munched on her bagel thoughtfully. “You know, Kitty, I was glad I ran into you today. I was going to look for you,” she said tentatively.
Kitty waited for the new teacher to finish her statement. She was curious why Tess would want to see her.
“Actually, I have an ulterior motive. Last night I met with my thesis tutor. He said my topic was over-discussed and passé.”
“Was it cultivating cognitive….?” Kitty asked.
” competencies in resource-constrained environments,” Tess completed, “Quite a mouthful, isn’t it?” She added between munches. Kitty could not help but grin.
“When I told him that I worked with Ms. Kitty Hyde, he gushed about how your teaching concepts are so relevant and inspiring. He practically suggested that I change my thesis topic! I thought about changing it last night and decided on writing about women in non‐traditional work fields.”
“Kitty, if you have the time – and of course, only if you can and want to, could you be one of my thesis advisors? I promise I won’t be a pain,” Tess looked pleadingly into Kitty’s gray eyes.
Although Kitty was now widowed, it did not mean that she didn’t have anything better to do. In fact, she was going to arrange her affairs over the summer, plan a trip overseas on top of managing her health. If she planned everything right, she would be busy in the coming months.
“Of course, Tess,” came the reply. Kitty never understood what came over her to say yes.
Before Kitty knew it, the day was over. She was back on her bus early. This time, she made sure she got off on the right stop. Kitty had wanted to get some grilled chicken in one of the food shops near her street.
Something about today seemed to have fired her up. She was absolutely looking forward to mentoring and guiding Tess – even if Kitty didn’t know how to fit it in her schedule. She was also keen to arrange all her other plans.
It was time.
After dinner, Kitty didn’t bother turning on the TV, knowing that a replay of the news earlier in the day would most probably be broadcasting. Instead, she went up to the attic, put her iPod on its dock and played a selection of her “Oldies but Goodies” playlist.
As the Carpenter’s wafted over the portable speaker, Kitty opened the locked door to a small storage. It was too small to be called a room, yet too big to be a crawlspace. The boys were never allowed to open it, not that it was ever opened, anyway.
Kitty dragged an old leather suitcase which was caked with dust. As she wiped off the grime, the maroon leather made her heart thump fast. With unsteady hands, Kitty unbuckled the old-fashioned belts that were near the handles. Fishing out a tiny key from her pocket, she unlocked the old lock. As soon as she unzipped the travelling case, sheaves of documents, letters, and photographs tumbled down her feet.
Settling in Daniel’s old leather armchair, Kitty starts sifting through the pile.