This story is by Shane Fitzpatrick and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Your social worker, Kerrie, says that you’ve lived a life already Riona,” offers Maeve as a conversation opener.
“I suppose,” I counter defensively.
I feel uncomfortable, yet peaceful. I’m chatting to my new foster mother and father, Maeve and Maurice. She’s sixty, with kind, inquisitive grey green eyes and a blond bob. He’s quiet, a few years older, relaxed, and pours from the pot of tea on the table. Bourbon creams fill a side plate that no one bothers dunking.
I bend my head, letting my thick, fifteen-year-old red locks fall forward, before I thrust them back. I play with my hair, shifting on the soft, cream suede couch. Steam from my cup rises against the sunshine filtering through the front window.
“What do you remember from your early days?” asks Maeve.
“I remember Mum going to a fortune teller, a sweet smell and the colour yellow. She told Mum I could see through people, I was related to people in County Armagh, but I’ve always been from down south.”
“Really?” Maeve brushes her hair behind her ears a few times.
“Mum died not long afterwards. Breast cancer.” I start crying.
Maeve reaches across the couch and comforts me. We sit in silence. Maurice hugs his mug of steaming tea, eyes steadily on the main road outside.
“You’re very like her,” adds Maeve, sympathetically.
“She was pretty, I don’t see that,” I staunchly oppose.
“Stop putting yourself down.”
“Let’s just say, my life comes with drawbacks.”
“I have dreams. If I have a bad one, something bad happens to someone I know, or love. You should beware. This could affect you both.”
“Explain your dreams to me.”
Maeve’s body heat is warm and comforting, yet her hands are chilly. Her skin is lightly sallow, her hands soft. Her red silk blouse is loose on her fit frame. I focus on an old leather book on the coffee table in front of us.
“I lived with my Aunt Sinead in Dublin first. She was twenty-two, a student and had no clue. She dealt drugs to pay bills initially and then got hooked. I was found alone in the apartment by social services, with a three-day full nappy. I’m now only seven years off her age when she had to look after me. I’d panic too. Kids are scary.”
“You’re not resentful of her?”
“Christ no! She was a kid. I’d heard that she’s working as a volunteer for drug rehabilitation.”
“You didn’t dream about your aunt?”
“No, thankfully. She has a kind heart.”
“Are you okay with me sitting here or do you want me to sit with Maurice?” asked Maeve.
“You’re grand there. I, like it. Your perfume is nice.” I dab at my nose with a tissue.
“Who came after your aunt?”
“Money-grabbing arseholes called Nikki and Patrick, who owned a pub in Baltinglass. All foster kids had chores, from day one. As soon the social worker left, our designated chores were on the fridge. No child supervision! I got smacks on my bum at the end of the first week because I couldn’t clean the top of a window. I was four!”
“Did you report them?” asked an aghast Maeve.
“No need. Nikki got her comeuppance anyhow. The morning after I got lashed on my arse, a boil appeared on my forehead. I had a dream mere hours beforehand. Nikki saw the boil and pronounced it as badness seeping out of me. She wanted to burst it at the breakfast table as punishment, with the other kids watching. It spurted not just pus, but watery blood too, into her face and eyes. I was moved on a few weeks later and last Kerrie told me, Nikki was registered blind, and Patrick had left her. I think he’s died since.”
“Wow! That’s awful.” Maeve sipped her tea. “I hate to ask, but how did that make you feel?”
“Vindicated, if I’m honest. She was nasty, he was functional. I was moved on to live with Alan and Alice in Waterford. They were nice, and the most devoted, enthusiastic and loving couple. They reconverted an old windmill. She had long blond hair, slim and petite. Alan was tall and stringy with a thin reddish, greying beard. Her reassuring eyes, baking and hugs were as close to a mother I’ve ever had.”
“Sounds like you miss them. What happened?”
I start crying again, tears trailing both cheeks. I sit further back.
“Alan made poteen, and then started sampling it. He smacked Alice hard one night, which quickly became a regular thing. I couldn’t stop having my dream. He started complaining of back pain. Ten days later he was in hospital having MRI’s. Spinal cancer. He died on the operating table, an issue with a blood transfusion. Alice was absolutely crushed despite the beatings. It was my fault.”
“No Riona, it wasn’t. That was something outside your control.”
“I don’t see it that way.”
“What came next?”
“The next one was an utter gobshite, if you’ll excuse the language,” I proffer, stifling a laugh.
“We’re not sensitive here, so you’re okay with profanity.”
“Aideen and Derek from Rosslare. It was mainly Aideen at home, as Derek stayed away, working every available hour as a solicitor. T’was no wonder he stayed away. Aideen ran a B&B and had her nose in everyone else’s business. If there was a medal for tweaking net curtains, she’d win it. She was as tall as she was round with a red nose and a face full of makeup.”
“You didn’t like her?”
“No. She dressed me in one of her, no offence, middle-aged-woman-flowery-dresses on the first day of school, because jeans, t-shirt and a hoodie were ‘too modern’? For one whole week! In a school with no uniform!”
“She sounds, delightful,” added Maeve laughing.
“It wasn’t just her fustiness, it was her cold, old fashioned attitude!”
“There was something else?”
“I started seeing a boy, called Seoda.”
“He’s a bit different. His Mum is from Nigeria and his dad is from Belfast. Aideen doesn’t like people who don’t look like her.”
“The dream came quickly, and I sincerely didn’t want Derek to be the victim. She was out walking on the pier when a speedboat and a jet ski collided. A propellor flew loose and although she’s still alive, she’s lost the ability to gossip and smile. Blood gushed everywhere, apparently.”
“Oh, my!” winced Maeve.
I sighed heavily.
“I’m sick of moving, loving people and moving on again.”
“You’re home now,” spoke Maurice, looking solemn and sitting opposite.
“We’ve known about you Riona, for some time,” added Maeve.
“Yes, but no. I was the one who read your Mum’s palm years ago.”
“I made a mistake. Maurice and I want to right the wrongs of your past, so that you can live your life here, not fearing your future.”
“I don’t follow.”
“You and your Mum are direct descendants of Macha Mong Ruad, the last High Queen of Ireland. Mong Ruad means red hair, explaining your long locks. She was from Armagh, which in Irish was Ard Mhacha, where she got her name. Your name, do you know what it means?”
“Wait, wait, wait!” I tug on my hair, fingernails scraping my scalp, brain exploding.
“Your name means queen and is a derivative of Radha, which means ‘a vision’.”
“Okay,” I exhale loudly. “How do you know all this?”
“Open the book in front of you Riona. It explains a lot of your questions, many of which, I have no doubt are rattling around in your head right now,” reassures Maurice.
I open the old tome and am assaulted by the sweet smell. A single trimmed yellow rose is a bookmark in the middle, a page entitled Macha. The pictogram is of a goddess with flowing red curly hair, a white robe and vivid green eyes, casting a spell. I take time digesting the information, sipping tea, without interruption.
“If you’ll turn the pages, you’ll find she cursed the men of Ulster, under king McNessa, many years ago. Your foster parents, Nikki, Alan and Aideen were all descendants from that king.”
“What? I’ve been continuing her curse?”
“Did you ever meet your father Riona?” asks Maeve.
“No, never,” I answer, fearfully.
“Your father was called Fionn, and he was my cousin,” states a teary Maeve.
“So, we’re related?”
“We are, Riona.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I’m a retired Garda and we’ve done our research, searching for you, for many years,” offers Maurice.
I sit stunned, relaxed and relieved.
“If you’d like, we could take a trip up to Armagh and well, settle your dream issues. You need to set your ancestors to rest. You need closure,” said Maeve.
“I don’t want to hurt others anymore,” I cry.
“Welcome home Riona,” Maeve says through tears, hugging me close.