Tell Your Own Story
Fire at The Castle Hotel, Bundoran, 1980 by Lynda O’GormanSubmit Your Memories
It’s late. The house is asleep or pretending to be. The smelly dog has padded down the stairs beside me in the almost dark and taken up his guard at my feet. Why is it so easy to believe that the dog can read my mind?
I have a thousand words swimming at the front of my head fighting for daylight and bright red warning lights burning at the sides telling me to self-edit, to just stop now and let it be.
I was away. We were in France. It was paradise, almost.
We arrived at a wood cabin just in time for an Atlantic sunset. Down three steps and six leisurely paces from our door took us to a rickety picket fence and beyond that a thirty foot drop to the beach. The water was still warm, lapping turquoise and gold over tangerine sand. It was, truly, that good, like an ad for a perfect holiday.
We went to bed, toes pointing west, and the tide came in.
Waves crashed against the cliff, Ka-Boooommm, and dragged back sand, ki-shhishhhhhhhh.
At the top of the tide the waves hitting the cliff reverberated through the dune, across six paces, up three steps and rattled the house.
The draw back from each slapping wave sounded as though it was pulling the very ground from under me. The wind rose and a loose shutter took to banging in time.
Ki-shhishhhhhh-Pullll-Ka-Boooommm-rattlerattlerattle-BANG, Ki-shhishhhhhh-Pullll-Ka-Boooommm-rattlerattlerattle-BANG, Ki-shhishhhhhh-Pullll-Ka-Boooommm-rattlerattlerattle-BANG…
I lay awake with the certain knowledge that we were about be tipped into the ocean, that feeling of spiders scuttling about in my chest. I listened closely for the ultimate sound that should send me dashing to throw my children out the windows. I listened and calculated, how long to drop thirty feet, how far to sink, and tried to breathe and dared not think the words it-will-be-alright.
Now, I have to go back. Just typing that makes my head spin.
When I was eight years old, my mother took a holiday with her girlfriends and my father brought my four year old sister and me to a seaside hotel in Bundoran, Co. Donegal. There’s a long story there, obviously, but it’s not mine to tell. We can skip to me, trying to get to sleep in a hotel bedroom. It was, I think, our fourth night in the hotel, my fourth night in any hotel and it still felt strange. My Dad had gone downstairs to the bar. My sister was asleep. I had read a few chapters of Black Beauty. It was a lovely hardback copy from a collection of children’s classics. My mother had bought them from the travelling salesman who sold her the World Book encyclopaedia and she kept them all in the breakfront bookcase which was her pride and joy. The book smelled of Pledge furniture polish. It smelled of home.
I had a bedtime ritual. Oh Angel of God, my guardian dear, and now I lay me down to sleep and if I die before I wake and then God bless Mammy and Daddy and Everyone Who Loves Me and then I said to myself, Holy God will take care of us, it-will-be-alright.
Then my Daddy was shouting Get Up, Lynda, Get Out Of Bed and I did what I was told and rolled out unto my feet and he was lifting my sister from her bed and urging me towards the bathroom and my feet were burning because the floorboards were scalding hot and it was dark but I could the shape of my Dad outlined against the orange-glowing curtains.
We went to the bathroom window and he lifted me out to the ledge and I looked down and saw a cluster of men holding their hands up and telling me to jump and I worried that my nightdress would billow out but I did what I was told and I jumped and, after a second, they caught me. My sister was dropped behind me and we were bundled to the other side of the street and wrapped in the coats and the arms of strangers. There was a woman who held my sister from running back inside.
There was heat, infernal heat and flames and sparks falling on the footpath at our feet but mostly I remember a roaring noise and staring at that bathroom window waiting to see Daddy come out. He went back in you see, to save a baby. There’s another long story there. We had played with her all week on the beach, just as if she were one of the family. He went back through our room and tried to get down the corridor to her room but he couldn’t make it. He didn’t get her. They never found her. She was so little, I suppose there was nothing left.
Eventually, Dad came out through the same window we had. I have no recollection of where we went from there that night. The next day, we went to a clothes shop where a nice man gave my sister and me matching shorts and t-shirts. He said there was no charge.
We were on the six o’clock news and the front page of the newspaper. In the picture, we are wearing our new clothes.
We don’t talk about it.
I don’t know what the triggers are. It’s not every holiday but some. It might have been the smell of Malibu sun cream or the hot sand or the booming noise. I don’t know.
It wasn’t all bad. The cheese was smelly, in the best possible way, and the wine was red and plentiful. I nearly have a tan. Well, many freckles.
There are reasons, I’m sure, why I shouldn’t write this but I can’t, right now, remember what they are.
Now, to sleep.
(c) Lynda O’GormanSubmit Your Memories