The Gillie Shoes Trilogy

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
The Gillie Shoes Trilogy is a contemporary literature trilogy (three books) consisting of the books: Gillie Shoes (book one), Just A House (book two) and After Time Ended (book three). It is, at it's most basic, a romantic trilogy. If you dig a little deeper, it's about how life is fragile. If you dig a little deeper again, then it's about how nothing lasts forever, but some things remain in your heart, as a part of you, as long as you live. Gillie Shoes is mainly an introduction to the story, and the romance between Declan and Mairead. Their story begins in somewhat precarious circumstances, but it's pretty much sorted itself out by the end of the book. Just A House brings a few exemplifications of the phrase 'plot twist', but no spoilers here! And After Time Ended is an example of a lot of things in the world nowadays.

Submitted: April 09, 2017

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Submitted: April 09, 2017

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Since I can remember, I've been doing Highland dancing. My mom tells me I started when I was three, but I think I saw my sisters, Kelleigh and Ryleigh, doing it when they were six and eight or nine, when I was one or one and a half, and I was constantly stealing their gillies and trying to make them fit on my very small feet, so my mom took me to their coach and he (or she, I can't remember now) decided to take me on. 

There's hardly ever boys in my class, or at my school. My dance school, that is. So when this kid who looked like he was about seven feet tall, and a moustache, and no boobs, it was… Quite the shock to me and the rest of my teammates. The coach, Mrs. Alexandra, didn't seem to be shaken at all. Me, Bea, Katerina, Melinda, Bobbie, Alexa, and Jorgia, all looked at each other, pausing from our stretches, which we never do anymore, and we all exchanged a look that said, quite plainly, 'What the hell is a boy doing here?' I thought, must be here to visit his girl, or something. Maybe he's Mrs. Alexander's son, or grandson, or … But when Mrs. Alexander didn't reach out to pinch his cheeks and bombard him with loud, inappropriate, intrusive questions, as she does her three or four sons who do so seldom come to visit her at the school, I thought, we're in trouble now. 

Me and my sisters all went to an all-girls private school at the West end of the city. It was called St. Mary's Girls' College at the time, but the name has since changed. And it wasn't even a Catholic school, so why they named the place after Saint Mary will remain a mystery to me. I have two younger sisters, Mariana and Jolene, four and seven, respectively. My four older sisters, Kelleigh, Ryleigh, Bea, and Katerina (22, 20, 18, and 17.5, respectively), went to St. Mary's, too. My parents plan for Mariana and Jolene to go to St. Mary's also. My family is usually one of adaptive tradition, especially when it came to education and relationships. 

Kelleigh and Ryleigh both have moved out, now, and Bea is planning to in the Spring. Kelleigh still does her dancing, and Ryleigh went into a competition and lost, way lost, so that kind of, sort of, totally killed her spirit for any type of dancing. The only time you might see her dancing is when she's drunk or very, very high. When she's drunk or high she dances perfectly, as though it's an Olympic sport, and she's won the Gold Medal thirteen times in a row. 

When Kelleigh was my age, fifteen, that is, she brought home her first boyfriend, a Kenneth or a Keith, or Cam, or something. My father was still living with us at the time, and he got up and brought the boy outside onto the shooting deck, and we were all afraid he was gonna get out his handgun and shoot him up the nose, but he simply got out a packet of cigarettes, and a beer, offered a smoke to the boy, and when the boy said, sure, thanks, dragged him out the side way by the ear, and we never saw him again. Although Kelleigh's best friend since she was five, Lucy, told me that she saw him anyway, when she said that she was sleeping over at Lucy's or Brandy's. 

When Ryleigh brought home her first boyfriend, at sixteen, or seventeen, I think, Dad was gone by then, and Mum was off on a work trip in the South, so all that he had to contend with was all of our questions to him. I remember Jolene jabbing him about a thousand times in the arm with a pencil, just for kicks. And then she asked him, 'What's that on your nose?' It turns what he had on his nose was a combination of a pimple, a blackhead, a whitehead, and what was left of an infected piercing-wannabe. Ryleigh just looked at her like, 'Go away, you incessant brat.' She didn't budge, though. Good on Jolene. 

When Bea brought her girlfriend home, Ryleigh and her guy, Joey, had gotten to the stage of overall steady-ness. Mum had been off on a trip with her new husband at the time, but, if she’d been home, then she would have probably taken a glance at the other girl (who happened to have bright green and orange hair, a right nostril piercing, two lower lip piercings, and her left eyebrow pierced, as well as dark fuchsia lip colour), offered a piece of coffee or lemon pound cake, and walked away with a cigarette in hand. But, because she wasn’t, and Joey hadn’t that proper an idea of our mum, he decided to question the girl as though she was a criminal on hold for assault or murder. The girl, Elena, I think her name was, at first didn’t think anything of it, she was happy to be with Bea, but when old Jo persisted with questions such as, ‘What’s with the piercings, girl? You got a scar you need to ‘ide? That it?’ and ‘Where’s your dad? What’s ‘e think ‘bout this? This lezzy shite? Oi?’ Elena started to feel pushed, so she tried to drag her and Bea out of the house. Then when Jo pulled Bea by the elbow, Elena shouted, ‘Oi! What ye doin’, ye wanker!’ and punched him in the face… More than once. Not the most pleasant ‘meet-the-family’ arrangement, by far. But her loyalty was admirable. Elena’s, I mean. 

I suppose that I should mention some basic details of my life, as of now:

My name is Mairead Wallace. I was born in Dundee, Scotland to Mr. Jonathon Wallace, and Mrs. Henrietta Jackalby. I have six sisters, from oldest to youngest: Kelleigh, Ryleigh, Bea, Katerina, Jolene and Mariana. I’ve got naturally whitish-blonde hair, straight blue eyes, a fairly heart-shaped face, and I’m quite short… About four-foot-eight. Before I go on, I think it should be noted that we are extremely distantly related to that Wallace. Moving on, when I was twelve years old, we all moved to Canada, Toronto. Kelleigh, Ryleigh and Bea have retained their accents, but the rest of us (obviously) have not. Katerina was actually born in Russia and she migrated all by herself to Scotland and they had her in the system from when she was five (when she got there) to when she was … Mmh, about… Let’s say… Seven, safe. My parents saw her with the rest of her home’s kids and they just whisked her away to a life of **joy** and *good* food. She couldn’t barely speak a word of English when she got to us, or at least that’s what everyone says. I doubt that, though. Her English is perfect now, like she’s a native speaker, and she would have had to have picked up some of the language in those two years at the home. But, I’m getting off track. Our grandfather, Dear Old Henry Wallace, had our mum in Highland dance from the time she could stand, and our grandmother, Pat Leslie, had been doing Highland dance from the time she was two, so it’s become a bit of a tradition in our family. Bea says she’s going to quit when she goes to uni, but I really can’t see her doing that. Katerina said that she wanted to do ballet more than jigs and that, but Mum wouldn’t let her. 

My dad moved out when I was nine. He looked at me as he went out the door with his duffel bags and backpacks and suitcase and briefcases, and he said, ‘Mairead, I’ll be back for you.’ I took it as a sort of wish, I suppose. He still hasn’t come back for me. My mum was heartbroken until a couple years later, when she brought home a new guy… Or, man, I suppose I should say: Stephen Ó Gríobhta (oh-GREEFA), an Irishman. He was lovely, and charming, and sweet to us, and he made good stew, but… He just isn’t… Right For Mum. I know that I really shouldn’t be making that call, but… I feel that… As her most mature and favourite daughter, I should at least have an opinion. 

When Mum signed me up for a gillie fitting, I thought, do I really have to go to a damn fitting? Why can’t I just sit down on a stool try the ones in nice colours on, and whichever fits we buy? Right? I would have said something, but my mum’s just not the kind of lady who’d listen to anyone whence she’d already made her mind. So, I went along to the fitting, and sat down, and danced in poorly fitting shoes that made my toes scrunch, for about two and a half hours, and finally, we’d found a pair that not only fit but Mum and my coach liked: a charming little pair dyed glittery green, with two numbers on the back, on the heels: 18 on the left, and 42 on the right. I suppose that the numbers must’ve represented something to Mum and my coach, especially since these gillies were priced about an hundred fifty dollars a top the rest. But, they ended up fitting me until now. Hopefully, they’ll fit longer. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Oi! Mairead!’ A male voice called from behind Mairead. She was on my way to the studio from school, with Katerina and her friend, Matta, at her side. She turned around. There was a pale, red-cheeked boy in a grey and royal blue school uniform running up to them. As he neared, Mairead recognised him as Bontoro, a boy from the boys’ school on the next green. ‘Mairead.’ Bontoro panted, his hands on his knees as he caught his breath. ‘Will you go to the Spring Formal with me?’ 

‘Bontoro, I am ever so pleased that you’re asking me, but, unless you can explain your name to me, and Katerina, and Matta here, in three words, and you’ll do one more thing for me, then, absolutely not.’ It was a tradition in the neighbouring single-sex schools that a boy, a good-looking boy, in a bit of a high grade, ask a girl in a lower grade, who probably wasn’t considered as attractive as the boy by everyone. If the girl was with friends, then she had to say no, but make a condition for her acceptance of the invitation. If she wasn’t with friends, and she took more than thirty seconds to answer, then the boy could kiss her and then she’d have to go. An odd tradition, but one none-the-less. 

‘Bono - parents - idiot.’ Bontoro replied smartly. ‘Now, what’s the other thing?’ 

‘Your parents named you after… Bono?’ Katerina said. ‘But your name is … Bontoro.’ 

‘Yes, I know, like I said: idiot.’ Bontoro said. ‘So, what’s the other thing, Mairead?’ Mairead stepped closer to Bontoro to whisper: ‘You’ve got to dunk your head in a tub of butter, come to school with acid tabs all over your body, only in boxers, and walk into each room of my school, until they call security. If you can do that, I’ll go to the Spring Formal with you.’ She turned around and walked, arm-in-arm, with her two friends to the bus stop, Bontoro still in the same spot, contemplating his task. 

 

+++

 

When Katerina and Mairead got to the dance studio, Bea, Melinda, Bobbie, Jorgia, and Alexa were already in the changing room, doing preparatory foot stretches, and putting their hair into ponytails and getting their dance outfits on. Katerina went to her locker and started whispering excitedly to Bea and Alexa, but her words were indistinct. Then:

‘Mairead! Bontoro asked you to the Spring Formal?’ Bea exclaimed around the corner of the column of lockers to Mairead, who whipped around the corner in a bra and pants and whipped Katerina on the arse with her stocking. 

‘You told them? Katerina!’ Mairead exclaimed

‘What? It’s good gossip!’ Katerina exclaimed back. 

‘Still! I haven’t even said yes or no yet!’ -Mairead

‘I heard from Conner that he has to dance with the school’s coat of arms flag as pants on the roof with his hair sopping wet for you to say yes!’ Alexa said excitedly.

‘Uh, no! Untrue!’ -Mairead

‘Well what’d you say he’s gotta do then?’ -Bea

‘I’m not telling! You’ll just have to come to the school and see for yourself.’ Mairead stomped into her row of lockers, and resumed putting her outfit on.

 

+++

 

As Mairead’s dance team (her, Bea, Melinda, Alexa, Katerina, Bobbie and Jorgia) went out onto the floor to continue their warm-up stretches, with their coach, Mrs. Alexandra, in her office with a cup of coffee and a cigarette, a boy, a very, very tall boy, probably about six-foot-nine or six-foot-ten strolled into the studio. He stood in the door a moment before looking at the girls on the floor stretching, gave them all a cordial nod, but found his eyes lingering on Mairead. Mrs. Alexandra came out of her office, swathed in cigarette smoke and the scent of coffee and melting chocolate, after a few minutes, saw the boy, and took him into her office without a word. The boy felt himself tearing his eyes away from Mairead, who he knew he had to talk to before it was too late. 

 

After about fifteen more minutes of stretching and gabbing with one another, the girls commandeered Mrs. Alexandra and the mysterious boy from her office and demanded practice start. Mrs. Alexandra obliged with a smile and a last long drag on her fag, before she pointed the boy in the general direction of the changing rooms, and started the girls’ practice with the usual, if different in content, lecture:

‘Good evening, girls. I’m sure you’re all doing quite well, especially with all the shouting and rambunctiousness from the stalls, today!’ Alexa and Bea giggled a bit at this, and Mairead shot daggers at them. ‘I see that you’ve noticed our special guest today, whose name you will have to find out yourself. He will be helping with stretches, and he’s trained in ballet, so he’ll be doing ballet with the selected few of you who I think need the extra versatility in your dance education. If you do not get to work with him, I will not tolerate you taking his attention away from his task. Do I make myself clear?’ The girls all nodded. ‘Good. Disperse in common form. Mairead, Alexa, and Bobbie, you stay.’ They backtracked and gathered close to the older woman. ‘You will be working with the boy. Who wants to go first?’ Alexa and Bobbie both raised their hands eagerly. ‘Mairead, you go first. He’ll be doing lifts and teaching arabesque and grand jeté. Do any of you have any objections to, ahem, him touching you?’ They exchanged a glance and shook their heads, trying to force a smile and laugh back down. ‘No? Good. Ah, here is, the bugger.’ She hobbled over to the boy, who would dwarf mostly anyone, but especially Mairead or Mrs. Alexandra. Mrs. Alexandra pointed Mairead out to the boy, and he redirected himself to her. Alexa and Bobbie went back over to the rest of the girls and started whispering excitedly. 

‘Hi. I reckon Alexandra’s told you what we’ll be doing, yeah?’ He had a partially Bristol-partially London accent. When Mairead didn’t reply, he said, ‘No? Maybe so? What are we…’ He chuckled awkwardly. She fell out of the trance his brilliant green eyes put her in, and nodded, turning bright red in the face. ‘Okay. Do you want to start with lifts or arabesques, or, em, plié?’ 

‘Whatever you feel like. You’re the teacher.’ Mairead said so quietly he could only just hear her. 

‘Okay, ah, how about… arabesque? Easier stuff first, hey?’ 

‘Mm-hmm. Sure.’ Mairead then noticed his outfit. She’d never watched ballet, or seen the outfits, so she’d no idea what to expect, but she certainly didn’t expect him to be wearing a black leotard with a scoop neck, tan slippers and black tights that kinda-sorta-totally made it perfectly visible. It was so visible that you’d be able to see it from outside on ground level, if he stood out the window, and they were on the third floor. She felt a fresh flush spreading up her neck, and cheeks, and ears, but she kept getting on. 

‘Are you okay? You look … Quite red…’ Said the nameless boy.

‘Yes, yes, I’m fine. Probably… Just… Hot…’ She said, and then, realising the unspoken implications of the word, ‘Ub—In—In here.’ The boy simply pressed his lips together and nodded. 

‘Shall we begin then?’ Mairead said nervously. 

‘Right, right, of course. Erm, so, I’m going to demonstrate, and then I’ll walk you through the steps, and then, you’ll try, all right?’

‘Mm-hmm.’ Mairead said weakly. Nameless Boy walked over to bar by the mirror, which Mairead had never noticed before, and started to go forward with his right leg lifting out behind his head, and he still stayed standing up. Then he brought his leg back down, and he looked normal again. 

‘Okay, you try, now all right?’ 

‘Mmh. O-o-okay.’ She walked over to the same spot he went to and tried to mimic him, and then she felt herself falling, falling, nope! Nameless Boy came to her rescue and steadied her. He held her round the middle with one of his arms, and raised her leg with the other. The only reason she didn’t scream or hit him was because she’d taken gymnastics since she was five, until she was fourteen and a half, and the type of training she got into would stay with anyone for, if not their life, then a long, long time. Nameless Boy chuckled lightly and released her. ‘Okay, maybe not that one, then. Let’s do, er, lifts now, okay?’ Mairead nodded. ‘So, you’re going to take a jump, then, I’m going to catch you, by one arm round your middle, and another arm round your knees, then I’ll manoeuvre my hands so that one is round your leg, by your thigh, right? Right here.’ He touched her upper thigh, close to there, lightly, as quick as lightning. ‘And the other’s on your back, and you’ll be above my head, right, and then, I’ll tap your back with my finger, and you’ll do a flip, full turn, in the direction of my back, right? Then I’ll catch you again and flip you so you do another full turn, and then you land on your feet, by where we started, all right?… Wait, you are the one who did gymnastics, right?’ 

‘Yeah, yeah. No problem at all. Let’s… Let’s start.’ Mairead said. Nameless Boy walked to a spot about a metre away from the wall, and Mairead got into position for her jump. She took a deep breath, jumped, scrunched, braced for the impact of the floor, nope, she’s still alive, his hands embrace her, she can feel the muscles flexing under her, he lifts her, he taps her back, his hands push her into the air, and they don’t come back. Instead she got the crack-crunch-splinter-OWWWWWWWWWWW!!! Of the hardwood floor with concrete underneath on her bones and skin and she heard a crack. She could feel dust in her eyes, in her nose, mouth, settling on her skin, in her hair, she heard various screams, felt a large hand on her shoulder, saying something indistinct, ‘Call 911’, sirens, more screams. 

 

+++

 

She woke up two and a half days later in a hospital bed in a private room with all of her family, including Aunt Margina and Uncle DT, Mrs. Alexandra, and her dance team, Matta and Josef, and a few people she’d never seen before. She opened her eyes slightly. Nobody noticed. She tried to move her arm. Nothing happened. She tried to move it again. Okay, red alert over, it moved. She clapped her hands a couple times, and, still nobody noticed. 

‘What am I invisible and all you are deaf?’ Mairead said. They all turned to her, happy, hopeful expressions and smiles on their faces. 

‘Oh, Mairead.’ Her mum said. ‘You had us all so worried, comain’ out like that on us! Oh.’ She hugged Mairead’s hand to her chest, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. The dancers looked worried, but relieved. Aunt Margina and Uncle DT looked upset and taken aback at seeing their niece after ten years. They hadn’t seen Mairead or any of Henrietta’s kids since Henrietta and her first guy left Scotland when Mairead was five. Matty and Josef looked happy and excited. Mrs. Alexandra looked furious, but by the way she was looking out the window at the rainy city, she wasn’t furious at Mairead. Her sisters looked happy, except for Mariana, who was practically jumping out of her seat with boredom. 

‘What happened? All that I remember is the boy and dance and a crack and dust and screaming. What—What happened?’ Henrietta looked away for a moment, but Kelleigh and Bea and Katerina and Matta all chimed in at the same time: ‘Yeah, the boy—‘ Then they realised they were all talking at once and Bea continued: ‘The boy, you were supposed to be doing a lift with him, The Cheshire Cat lift, I think he called it, and then you were supposed to do a full turn flip and he was gonna catch you, but he was late and you fell. You have a spinal cord injury, and your broke your ankle, your tibia, your femur, and your fibula. On both legs.’ 

‘So, I might be paralysed, and, even if I’m not paralysed, I’m gonna need a walker and casts, and possibly a wheelchair, and a cane, that’s for sure.’ 

‘No, honey.’ Aunt Margina butted in. She always had a history of unimportant incessant interruptions that could have waited a minute longer. ‘None of that’s for sure… Is it, Ri?’ She was talking to Mairead’s mum. 

‘The might in paralysed, the wheelchair, the casts, the walker, and the cane, aye. That’s all for sure. But, we never knew if ye were gonna be paralysed til ye wake up, aye? So, try. Move your legs.’ I closed my eyes then. I didn’t want to see if I couldn’t. Mairead tried to move her toes. She succeeded, but she let out a howl. 

‘Mairead! This is a hospital, dear!’ Said Uncle DT. He was only joking, as always was. ‘Just kiddin.’

‘It hurts, Mum. It hurts, a lot.’

‘I know, I know. Bea, go get the doctor.’ Bea got up and went into the hall and everyone could hear her footsteps running down the corridor. Then her faint exclamations, ‘Doctor Bennett! Doctor Bennett!’ 

‘Mum. My gillies. My gillies, where are they? What happened to them?’ 

‘I don’t know, dear. Alex? Any ideas?’

‘No. None. Girls? Did—Did you see Mairead’s gillies?’ -Mrs. Alexandra. All the girls who were there exchanged a glance and shook their heads solemnly. 

‘It’s okay, dear, we’ll get ye new gillies.’ Said Henrietta. ‘Oh, here’s the doctor.’ 

‘Hello, Mairead. My name is Dr. Bennett, but you can call me Walt.’ An older doctor with salt-and-pepper hair and quite the substantial amount of stubble on his jaw came into the room. Margina, Henrietta and Alexandra almost sighed, he was so handsome: good jaw, high, slightly pronounced cheekbones, tanned skin, dark eyes. Every older woman’s dreams. ‘How are we doin’ today?’ 

‘Uhm…’ Mairead sighed. ‘I… Uhm… I almost couldn’t move my arm, but then I did, so that’s fine, right? And, um, I can move my toes, my feet, but it really, really fucking hurts.’ 

Walt laughed, then said, ‘That’s pretty normal for a whole sack of broken bones, but you do have a spinal injury, so I am going to get a C.T., a PET scan, and an EEG, so that, if there is anything going on that we need to know about, then we know about it, alright? I’m also going to put you on fluids and light painkillers, okay? Pill, or liquid, or IV? Which do you prefer?’ 

‘Uh, pill.’ Mairead sighed again. 

‘Okay. Mrs. Jackalby? Could I talk to you outside a moment, please?’ Said Walt. Henrietta set her purse on the night table and went out of the room with the Doctor. ‘Mrs. Jackalby, Mairead’s injuries are extensive. If the pain in her legs worsens, there will probably be nothing we can do.’

‘What’re ye tellin’ me this, for, sir?’ 

‘I’m telling you because when people cannot walk, they oftentimes get depressed, suicidal… Restless… And, the best we can hope for, especially if the pain worsens, is that she’ll be able to get a decent, reasonably-priced wheelchair. But, there is a chance that the pain will go away, and she will be able to return to a normal life. Although, with the breaks in her legs and ankles, she will need a wheelchair, casts, and splints, eventually crutches, a walker, probably two canes at one time. And, even with limited mobility, there are chances that she could go into depression, suicidality, restlessness, anger, among other things. I strongly recommend that you get her a psychiatrist, and do not limit her outings or when she goes out with her friends as much as you can avoid. Okay?’

‘Wait, Doctor Bennett, she dances. Highland dances. She loves the dancing. You could say it’s what she lives for. When will she be able to get back on the floor?’

He sighed and took a couple of breaths before answering: ‘Probably… Never. She will probably never dance again. I’m sorry, Mrs. Jackalby. I really am. ‘

‘Wait, again. Could ye tell her that? She needs to hear it from ye.’ 

‘Mmh-hmm. Of course.’ Walt and Henrietta went back into the room. 

‘Walt, Doctor Bennett!’ Mairead cried out when she saw him. ‘I—I do Highland dancing. When will I be able to get back to that?’ He had a grave expression on his face as he spoke: ‘P—P—Probably never, Mairead. I’m sorry.’

‘Wait, there must be something… You can do. C-cell regeneration? I-I don’t know. There-There must be s-something. Please. I have to be able to … To dance again. Please. Please, do something. Don’t … Don’t tell me I can’t dance again. Please.’ 

‘I’m sorry.’ And with that, he left. 

 

+++

 

I’ve been sitting at home for about two weeks, now. Matta and Josef and the girls from the studio come and visit me a couple times a week each. Usually not all at the same time. Mrs. Alexandra hasn’t seen me since the day the doctor told us I won’t dance again. I think that she left that night. Mum tried calling her, but she hasn’t called back. Hm. It’s whatever. I’ll get over it. I’ve got to have the casts on my thighs for about three months. The breaks on my shins, though… I have to keep those on for about twelve to thirteen weeks. Stupid. What was wrong with me that day? He told me the instructions. I knew them. I knew them! I swear, I knew them! Why didn’t I flip properly? I mean, did I flip the wrong way? What happened? Ugh! I hate it. I hate not being able to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night without somebody helping me. It’s horrible. Mum got me a nurse to come and help me during the day. A fucking nurse. Like I’m what? A baby? An elderly person who has to wear a fucking diaper? A cripple? Fuck. I can’t get out of bed by myself. I mean, what the fuck was wrong with me that day? There’s a security camera in the corner of the studio that has range over the whole room. I’m thinking I’ll contact the Mrs. Alexandra to get the footage. And if she doesn’t call me back, then I’ll just get hold of the security company and get them to send the video to me. I just want to go back to that day and rearrange it so that there’s a whole bunch of mattresses under me to catch me. 

Two weeks after Mairead got to go back home, the doorbell rang. Aunt Margina was there, but she was asleep, and she slept like the dead. Mairead’s nurse was supposed to be coming soon, so maybe it was her. But, no, she wouldn’t have rung the doorbell, she has a key. So, who is it? The door was probably unlocked because nobody ever locked the door if there was somebody home. 

‘Come in!’ Mairead yelled at the top of her voice. She heard the door open, and footsteps climb the stairs. A knock on her door. ‘It’s open.’ She called. The door opened, and there stood Nameless Boy. ‘What are you doing here? How’d you find out where I live?’

‘It’s in the school directory.’

‘What are you doing here then?’

‘I came to give you your shoes.’

‘What? I can’t hear you.’

‘Your shoes. They somehow managed to come off when you fell, and I would want my shoes back, if I were you. So here.’ He shoved a little pink bag with green and blue tissue paper onto the bed. Mairead reached and retrieved it. 

‘Thanks. That’s sweet of you. Thanks. It means a lot.’ 

‘Sure, Mairead.’ He turned to go. 

‘Hey, wait. I never knew your name.’

‘Declan. My name is Declan.’ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Declan?’ I whispered into the phone.

‘Mairead.’ He breathed back.

‘Where are you? Are you okay?’ I said. 

‘Hold on.’ He said. … Loud voices, in the background on the phone … Popping sounds … Yelling … ‘I have to go. I love you. Bye.’

‘I love..’ The dial tone sounded as I began my possible last words to Declan. 

It had been three and a half years since I broke the bones in my legs and my ankles. I was eighteen, right then. I was still recovering from the spinal injury, though my legs and ankles had healed a long time ago. I had to use a wheelchair until about a year ago. Right then, I used a walker and went physical therapy four times a week. I also was having massage therapy twice a week, and acupuncture three times every two weeks. 

Declan and I ended up being extremely close, and, as observed from the above conversation, we were a couple, and had committed in a serious way. He was three years above me, which was still legal, obviously, and had gotten his driver’s licence a couple of weeks before the accident, and he used to drive me around; to the therapy clinic; to tutoring and stuff. 

I couldn’t go to school, but I did end up graduating high school, not with Honours, like I was on track to get, but I graduated, none the less. I went to Prom for an hour, with Declan, who I found out went to the school across the green from St. Mary’s, Wilfred Adams Cuthbert Boys’ College (I didn’t actually know the name of the school across the green until a year ago, when I got a letter from the principal, saying that Bontoro did something and blamed it on me and she needed to get proof that what he said about me was true.). My friends had remained loyal to me, throughout my recovery time. I was still friends with Matta and Josef, and Melinda and Bobbie, but the rest of my friends from outside of my family had dropped out of existence, as far as I was concerned. I didn’t end up ever talking to Mrs. Alexandra again, though. She went back to Russia, I think, as well. 

I’m not going to write about what happened to Declan, though. If I write it down, then it just makes it feel more real. If I just… Don’t talk about it, don’t write about it, at all, then… Maybe it’s just a dream… A really fucked up dream, that is. But I won’t pretend it isn’t… If it is, right now, then it is, and I’ll find a way to deal with it. If it’s not, then it’s good, and it’s all just a really bad dream. 

At first, when I got home from the hospital, I just slept all the time. I barely ate. I actually refused to eat for a week because I just … Didn’t see the point of it, really. Then Mum and Kelleigh and Ryleigh called Doctor Bennett and they brought me back to hospital and fed me my food through a tube in my belly, to my stomach. They kept me there for about a week and two days, then I’d had enough and I told them I’d eat when I got home. I didn’t really do anything until I got the casts off of my legs: I’d just sit around, sleep, eat. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom by myself, and my legs were basically dead weight on my body because it hurt too much to move them, so I couldn’t lift myself with my arms to get into the chair to get to the bathroom. I had to press a button on my cell phone that sent off a light and a sound in the other rooms in the house to say, ‘I need help, you sods!’ Which I said more than once during my initial recovery period. Somebody would come eventually. 

 

t

 

About three months after my call to Declan, I started being short of breath, and was having coughing fits, like intense coughing fits that lasted for twenty minutes of nothing but guts-hacking coughing, and burning in my throat. Mum told me that she wanted to wait to see if it would go away before she took my to the doctor. 

After three days of the cough getting worse, and it starting to hurt to breath, and a bit of blood in what I coughed up, Mum finally told me she’d take me to the doctor. Our GP, Doctor Hew, said that I was presenting with the symptoms of lung cancer, so he wrote me a referral note to an oncologist at King Henry Youth Hospital downtown. Mum and I went to see her right when we left Hew’s office. Her name was Doctor Miguel, and she was a sweet, short Latina lady with bobbed caramel coloured hair and bright red lipstick and a short pink dress on under her white lab coat. She was very professional, that day, at least, and got me a CT scan, which stands for Computerised Tomography, I think, that day. The technician rolled me into the machine and it only took about twenty minutes for the whole thing to be over and done with. The tech actually let me look at the scans. 

‘See, there’s your lung, there’s your heart, and there is… Yup. I suppose your doctor was right to send you to Doctor Miguel… But, I’m only the tech. Once Miguel gets a look at them, she’ll be able to tell you what it is for certain, but she may need to do a biopsy. Um, yeah.’ He was very solemn and cordial and friendly, and… It seemed like he saw that every day, and would always let the patient see the scans, and he always felt like he had to tell them what it was that was in their body. 

Three days later, Doctor Miguel called us back to the hospital:

‘Hello, Mairead. How are you doing today?’ -Miguel

‘It’s whatever. Normal… But for the threat of life-threatening cancer invading my whole body, that is.’ -Mairead

‘Of course. So, Mrs. Jackalby, Mairead, I’ve got your scan, and … It is cancer. You’ve got metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. Your treatment options..’

‘Are you sure? There’s no way you’ve read the scans wrong? You’re positive? In a percentage, how sure’re you?’ -Mum

‘In a—In a percentage, I’d say that I am 99.9% sure that Mairead has cancer.’ -Miguel

‘Okay. What’re we gonna do?’ -Mum

‘Mum?’ -Mairead

‘Aye?’ -Mum

‘I don’t wanna do anything.’ -Mairead

‘What d’ye mean?’ -Mum

‘Doctor Miguel, without treatment, any type of treatment, how long do I have to live?’ -Mairead

‘Mairead, please, this is… I can—I can promise you, if you fight this, it will be better, and you will be better for it. I’m sure that your mother would agree with me.’ -Miguel

‘Aye, aye. Absolutely. A hundred percent.’ -Mum

‘No.’ -Mairead

‘Mairead..’ -Mum

‘No! I said no! Doctor Miguel, how long would I have to live without treating it?’ -Mairead

‘…’ -Miguel

‘Tell me! Please. I’m saying please.’ -Mairead

‘Mairead, you do not want to live with this disease. Without treatment, you will die. And before that happens, you will go through a very difficult time. You already have a difficult time with your spinal injury, do you really want to make it that much more difficult with cancer?’ -Miguel

‘Doctor Miguel, all due respect, but I don’t care. I don’t care if it is the most dreadful, unpleasant time ever, I will not spend any more time of my life living in a hospital, miserably. I did enough of that three years ago. If you can tell me that getting chemo, getting radiation, living in a damn hospital, with limited mobility and nobody who understands, will be better than what it was three years ago, then I will do whatever you say. I will get chemo, I will get radiation, I will go through whatever you want me to do, if you can look me in my eyes and tell me that it will not make me as miserable as I was three years ago. Can you do that, Doctor Miguel?’ -Mairead

‘No. In all honesty, no.’ -Mairead

‘Then let’s get out of here, Mum. I’m not going to do it.’ -Mairead

‘Mairead, are you sure about this?’ -Mum

‘Of course not! Of course I’m not sure! What are you talking about? Being sure? I will never be sure. The only time that I will be sure is when I am dead.’ -Mairead

‘Mairead, one last thing, please?’ -Miguel

‘We’re all going to die, anyway. I’m just doing it sooner rather than later. That’s all it is, isn’t it? Dying comes one way or another. I’m just dying sooner than most people in North America. That’s it. It’s just death. It doesn’t matter in the end. It happens, and people will see it, and people will be sad about it for awhile, and then they’ll get over it. They will get over it. That’s how life happens. You’re born, you live, and you do some stuff, and then you die. I was born, I’ve lived, I’ve done some stuff, and I’m going to die. Get over it.’ -Mairead

I walkered myself out of the room at that point, and practically walker-ran to the elevator. It wasn’t the same after that. Not even Jolene or Mariana treated me the same. But somebody did. 

 

t

 

‘OI! Who’s home? Anybody home?’ A voice that I recognised all too much came from downstairs.

‘Declan?’ I called. I couldn’t get out of bed, I was too tired, and my legs were hurting too much. ‘What are you doing here? I’m upstairs!’ I heard him run up the stairs to my bedroom. His face appeared in my doorway, smiling brightly. I gasped and smiled and teared up. ‘W-W-W-What are you doing here? I thought you weren’t coming back until-until, uh, March?’ (It was January.)

‘I got my commander to let me off early. I had to come see you.’ He said, smiling.

‘Wait, did you have to come see me because you couldn’t stand for that much longer, or because somebody called you about-about… The cancer?’ I said, looking at him knowingly. He looked at his feet and sighed, walked over and sat on my bed.

‘A lot of both.’ He said solemnly.

‘Uh! I knew it! Who called you? Was it Kat? Mum? Oh, I’m going to kill them! I swear, I’ll..’

‘Mairead. It wasn’t Katerina, and it wasn’t your mum.’

‘Well, who was it?’ 

‘It was Bontoro.’

‘What?’ I laughed incredulously, disbelievingly. ‘No. What? I haven’t spoken to him or-or seen him for… Three years. How would he know? W-‘

‘Well, he’s obviously been keeping up with you. He said that somebody he knew, he wouldn’t say who, emailed him, saying that you’ve got moving cancer, and that you’re refusing to do anything about it. He knew me a bit from school, but we’d never talked. He just said that he thought that I might be able to coerce you into doing something.’ 

I sighed. 

‘Okay. What do you want me to do?’

‘Come to France with me.’ 

‘Well—What?’

‘I got in contact with the Make-A-Wish people, and I remember your sister, uh, Kelleigh, saying that since you were, like three, your biggest wish was to travel around the world. So, I told them that, and they said if I talked to you about it, and you were on board with it, then they’d make it happen in an instant.’ 

‘Are you serious?… Declan! This is…’ I gasped, laughed. ‘Yes! Yes! Yes, yes, yes!’ I wrapped my arms around his neck and hugged him, and kissed him on the mouth. ‘Thank you. Thank you.’ I whispered into his neck. 

 

t

 

A week later, I was packed, ready to go. First, we were going to Italy, then Greece, Ireland, Belgium, China, Indonesia, India, Australia, Great Britain, Mexico, Portugal, The Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Morocco, Spain, Switzerland, Luxembourg, then finally ending back in Ireland. Nineteen countries in a month. 

And, then, I woke up at four AM on the day of our departure, coughing and barely being able to breathe. Declan was just barely asleep beside, so I shook him to wake him up. He called 911, and then I passed out. 

 

t

 

I woke up the same as last time: family surrounding me, watching, waiting, wondering if I was gonna make it this time. I sat up, slowly. 

‘Out. Get out.’ *gasp* ‘All of you, get out!’ *gasp* ‘Get out! Get out!’ I shouted. They all looked startled at my abrupt shouting, but they obliged, with shocked and slightly angry expressions on their faces. ‘Don’t’ *gasp* ‘Come back’ *gasp* ‘Without him.’ I shrieked weakly at their retreating backs. I sat back in the bed a bit. Closed my eyes. Cried. 

 

t

 

I don’t know why my life has ended up like this. For one thing, my life before fifteen was pretty normal. I had a family, I fought with them a family, sometimes, my parents got divorced, my dad wasn’t very nice to anyone, and I went to school, and had friends, and did stuff. But at fifteen, on the day that I got asked out for the first time by anyone, I fell, and broke, like every bone in both on my legs, and my ankles, both of them, and I got a spinal injury. And then three years later, I’ve recovered as much as I could hope to, and I get cancer. Fucking cancer! What the hell! I don’t know what I did to deserve this. If I believed in reincarnation, then I would, say past life karma? Debt karma, maybe? Inherited from my ancestors? I don’t know. I just know that, as far as I know, I don’t deserve this. I don’t even know how I got here.

 

b

 

They did end up bringing him to the room. It was that the cancer had spread to airway, and was blocking it, and they had to do surgery to take the tutor out. Now, I’ve got a huge scar on my neck in a patch. It would be cool, but it’s a stupidly lame story: ‘I got cancer, and then I had a tumour in my neck, and they had to cut it out and then they put my skin back on.’ And then we went on the trip:

First, we went to the Galleria Borghese, which was awesome. 

Second, we went to Castel L’Angelo.

Third, the Colosseum.

I’m gonna skip over Greece straight to Ireland.

We went to a big forest right at the North-West point of the Island. I may as well mention that somehow Declan had convinced Mum to let us go on the trip all by ourselves, the reason for which I have no allusions to. Anyway, we went around this forest. It was… So quiet. It was… It was so quiet that it was like… Nothing else existed in the world. There was, like, nobody else there. It was January, after all. But, we’d come prepared: we had super-insulated sleeping bags, a tent that had packing insulation, like, five super warm jackets, each, five sweaters, woollen sweaters, each, three pairs of long johns, a kajillion pairs of sheep-skin socks, and the best boots money could buy. We also had a few hats and mitts and scarves and that crap, too. I had had to be in my wheelchair, which Declan so gentlemanly pushed the whole way through, but had a motorised control-thingy that I could have used to manoeuvre myself around. They gave me a breathing machine-thing that I had to carry around at all times, otherwise I’d probably go ka-plonk again, and have to be rushed home in a helicopter, across an ocean, maybe two, which probably would have taken a while. 

So, the trip-planner guys at the airport who met us in a car and took us through the countryside to the forest had helped us to choose a campsite, and they gave us, like, five maps of the whole place, for backup, and everything. So, we got to the campsite, a beautiful meadow with trees, giant, beautiful oak and ash and willow trees with their canopies hanging down over us, and the meadow was flanked by two long, clear rivers, one shallow, and one with a deeper part. Declan parked my chair at the clearing to the meadow, and then he set to work setting up the tent. Declan, being from the big city and never having the opportunity to camp outside in the wilderness before, was almost clueless as to how to set up a tent. My dad and Kelleigh and Ryleigh made it a habit to take the younger ones on a wilderness safety expedition once a year, and, even once Dad left, Kelleigh and Ryleigh still kept the habit in their brains, so I was a bit of an expert at all things camping. 

‘Declan! You’re doing it wrong!’ He stood up from his bent-over position and looked at me patronisingly. 

‘Tell how then, won’t you, little princess?’ He said, making a face at me from under his hair.

‘Okay. So you unfold the tent, right? Then you’ve gotta take one corner, hold it to the ground with a stone or a book or something, then do the same to the rest of the corners, then you go back to the first corner, or whichever, and you hold it down with one hand, while the other is holding the nail and then you put the nail in position, and then you get the sledge, and you hammer then nail into the tent-hole through to the ground.’ As he followed my instructions meticulously, the other corners of the tent that weren’t being held down kept popping back up, and it was quite lovely, and comical. For me, at least. But he eventually got the tent in position, and then he put all of our stuff inside of it and then he wheeled me to a spot in the grass and laid me down and then laid beside me. 

At first, it was weird, just laying there, not doing anything, but after the first few minutes of awkward-ness, it got to be nice, comfortable, even relaxing. 

I looked up at the sky, a bit expecting a bird to crap on my forehead, but mostly just looking at the clouds and letting my eyes make weird shapes out of them. 

‘Declan?’ I said.

‘Yeah?’ He said back. 

‘Do you think I’m gonna die?’ 

‘Honestly?’ I nodded. ‘No. No way.’ 

‘Then, why are we even on this trip if I wasn’t gonna die? If I’m not gonna die.’ 

‘Because…’ He whispered. He started to play with my hair. ‘Because I love you, and you love me, and it was your wish. Your wish, your biggest wish. To travel the world. To go everywhere, and see everything. To be places. To live. Before you die.’ 

‘You know… That I’m not gonna live through this… Right?’ 

‘Yeah.’ He said, barely audibly. 

‘Good. Then, as my last, dying wish, of you, Declan MacGregor, I want you to do something. But you can’t tell anyone, not even in your eulogy to me. Okay?’

‘Yeah.’ 

‘I want to be handfasted to you.’ 

‘Really?’ 

‘Of course. That’s my last wish. My last request.’

‘Do we have a-a knot-tier or something?’

‘Yeah. I secretly got the trip-planner guys to send a priestess out before us. She’s by the river. The deep one.’

‘Yeah. I love you.’ He said, before kissing me passionately and carrying me back into the chair. He wheeled me to the river, and, sure enough, there was a priestess in a dark purple cloak, a black, flow dress underneath, with blonde hair and green eyes. 

‘Are you Declan and Mairead?’ She said.

‘Yeah!’ I called to her over the rush of the river. Declan just nodded. 

‘Alright. You ready?’ 

‘Absolutely.’ Declan said. 

‘Do you have any vows or anythin’?’ 

‘No.’ I laughed. ‘We didn’t really come prepared.’ 

‘Oh, that’s okay. Just wing it, you’ll be fine.’ 

‘Okay.’ Declan said. 

‘So, here we are in the Forest of MacClannahou, with Declan and Mairead, who are being handfasted today. We ask for you, Spirit, the elements of the North, of the South, of the East, of the West, of the Centre, to be present with us here today, for this beautiful ceremony of unity and love. Thank you. Declan MacGregor, do you hereby announce to the Universe and to Spirit, the Lord, and the Lady, to be true in your love, in your intentions, and in your heart to Mairead Wallace?’ 

‘Yes.’ 

‘Do you, Declan MacGregor, vow, from your heart, and your spirit, to love, to cherish, to take care of, and to be honest with, in rich and poor, in health and sickness, in hard times and good, with Mairead Wallace?’ 

‘Yes.’

‘Do you, Mairead Wallace, hereby announce to the Universe, to Spirit, and the Lord and the Lady, to be true in your love, in your intentions, and your heart to Declan MacGregor?’ 

‘Yes, I do.’ I gasped. 

‘Do you, Mairead Wallace, vow, from your heart, and your spirit, to love, to cherish, to take care of, and to be honest with, in rich and poor, in health and sickness, and in hard times and good, with Declan MacGregor?’

‘I do.’ 

She brought out the ribbon.

‘Please, Spirits of this Forest, of this land, of this world, and of these people, bless these two great people with love, with honesty, with care, with wealth, in more way than one, forever here may be.’ She said as she tied the ribbon around our hands in a figure eight. ‘Vows?’

‘Declan, all that I think of to say is that I love you and I never want to be away from me, even I die, and I hope that, when I do, you’re not too terribly broken up over me.’

‘Mairead, the way we met was quite unorthodox, to say the least, but I am forever grateful to the universe that we did, despite the circumstances. And I hope that our love will last and burn the candle of forever down to barely a stump. I love you.’ 

‘You may kiss.’

He bent down politely and kissed me passionately. 

‘Traditionally, the couple would jump over the broomstick while their hands were still bound, but as this situation is, I think that I am going to have you both walk, in a sense, over the broomstick holding hands, instead of them being tied still. Okay?’ We both nodded and she cut the ribbon, and laid an old-looking, battered broomstick beside us. We held our hands, and he wheeled me over the broom, precariously. 

‘By the powers vested in me by the Republic of Ireland, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Congratulations, and much luck to you.’ With that, she left the area we were camping in, and we were left alone. We laid back down on the ground again.

‘So, whaddya wanna do?’ I didn’t even give an answer, I just jumped on top of his chest, straddling him, and starting kissing him all over his face. I took off my shirt, but it got stuck in my oxygen tank-lead-thing, but I just kept undressing, despite the coolness of the air on my skin. He took off his shirt to reveal a muscular torso and nice arms. Then he took off his trousers and his pants, and I carefully climbed back on top of him. I kissed his lips, and he tangled his hands in my hair. 

‘Mairead.’ He said, muffled against my lips. ‘Wait, wait.’ I stopped. ‘Are you sure you wanna do this?’ 

‘I’ve been waiting a long time to do this.’ With that, I resumed kissing him. I’m not going to go into the graphic details of our first time together, but I will say this: It wasn’t just like any old screw; it was slow, and gentle, and it was like we were both trying to savour the taste of the last bit cake and we knew we wouldn’t be getting any type of special sweets for a long damn time. And it wasn’t uncomfortable or weird or involving anything of the sort of, ‘Do I put this here?’ awkward-first-timey-ness that happened a lot to my friends. If I were to be a small bit assuming, I’d not hesitate to say that Declan had been around the track a bit before me. 

That was the last time I really saw Declan for a long time. 

After we got back home, Declan and I were going at it just about every time we could; when nobody was home, in the hospital loo, in a closet, just once. Sometimes, he would borrow a car and bring me to a big expanse of woods, just like our handfasting. And he would imitate the priestess’ Scottish accent, very badly, at that, and then he would say, ‘Are you sure you wanna do this?’ in a really high voice, mocking himself, wonderfully. 

After about a month of being home, his unit commander wrote him and said, and I quote:

Declan, we really need you back in the field. These new boys are horrible and stupid and can’t take a perfectly clear instruction if I dangled it in front of their face and it shouted at them. You’re due to report back for duty on February 20. Please come to the re-registration centre in Kitchener on February 20. You are to be there at exactly 0700 hours. 

Many thanks and well wishes,

Unit 02109 Commander Haymitch Johnson, Canadian Forces

It was February 18 when he showed me that letter, but it’d been dated with an ink stamp ‘January 30, 2—‘ Declan told me it didn’t say the year because of some military secrecy about exact dates it would help them if the enemy got hold of it and it didn’t say an actual date, so they couldn’t do anything with whatever information was there. I can only assume that Declan got it sooner than when he showed it to me, because I’d asked him about a million times when he’d gotten it, but he refused to divulge the answer. Anyway, with that letter, he got a list of supplies and stuff he’d need to go back into the field and stuff, so he went off to do that, because I was feeling extremely tired and vomiting and stuff by then. 

Two days before Declan had to go, I decided to start chemo and radiation, because, just as Miguel had told me, it was getting to be not even annoying, just tiresome and bothersome and stupid: coughing up blood at least twice a day, and having trouble breathing when I go down or up the stairs with my walker, not being able to breathe when I lie down or when I take a drink or when I go under the blanket in my bed, when the blanket’s even remotely close to my face, that is. 

Mum called Doctor Miguel, and she said that she’d have to re-jiggle her schedule a bit to fit me in the next few days for a consult and a chemo round for two days. We made an appointment for February 21. The day after Declan left. 

 

T

 

 

Declan,

I know that you won’t be here forever. I know that you know that I’m going to die soon. But, if you don’t die after two weeks on the other side, then I need you to do something for me: I need you to write my eulogy. And I need you to promise, on the back of the last page of this eulogy, I need you write the words: ‘I will not defer from what I have written in this eulogy.’ Three times. I also need you to write me two letters, at least, while you’re on the other side. They need to be at least three days apart. Date them in the top left corner. If I die, when I die, I need you to not tell anyone about what I am about to write to you: I don’t know how old I was when I met you, but I know that I was younger than you, and that’s how we met, me being younger than you. Don’t ask me a question about that, I will not answer. Declan, when we were handfast, I became your wife. More than that, more than a wife: a partner, a companion, a lover, a mate. I became a part of your soul, cemented in the eyes of Spirit. I became someone who will always be with you, no matter where you are, or where I am. And I need you to know, before I die, and before you die, that I will always be with you. No matter where you are. No matter if I’m dead or alive. No matter what you’re doing. I am always a part of your spirit. I am a part of your heart. And you, a part of mine. 

I love you. 

Mairead Wallace-MacGregor

T

 

Mairead,

I don’t want to think about you dying. Or your death. But I will. I will write your damn eulogy, and it will be the most fucking bad-ass eulogy that anyone has ever heard. It will be like, ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, man! That girl. She will never get out of your fucking mind.’ No, I’m just kidding. I will not put any swear words into your eulogy, because I know that your dad and sisters would have a cow, a chicken, a hippopotamus, and a rhino, all at the same time, in fact. 

It’s very odd, being back here. Being back here with all these stupid men. There’s one guy, a little wiry guy, Alfred Cannon. He’s part English and part Irish, which is why his name is like, ‘I’m a little English dude with my pinky in the air’ and his other part of his name is like ‘I’m a fuckin’ badass pirate, what are you talkin’ about I’m not fuckin’ Irish?’ He’s very mild and very young, too, I think that he’s only eighteen. He said that he got out of high school, and on the same day that he graduated, he went straight to the army and now he’s here. 

By the way, Bontoro sent me a letter; it contained about a million profanities, all of the content of the thing relating to why I didn’t get you into chemo and radiation and that. I haven’t bothered to write back. I won’t, either, unless you want me to, that is. If you want me to write back to the kid then I will. 

On my first day back here, the unit commander said that I got my own little mini-unit-team-thing. It’s Alfred Cannon, Henry John, Luke Casper, Jackson Anselmi, and Annette Gimondi. Luke and Jackson are pains in the arse, but they’ve got eyes for long range shots, which could end up having them in a sniper position later, but I think Jackson’s got his eyes on Annette, so he probably won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

Okay, so I’ve got this idea. My grandfather, Joke, he’s got this monstrous piece of land in Ireland, huge, like 200 acres, or something. It’s right by the handfasting forest. So, Joke, he passed this huge piece of land onto my brother, Jones, who died of leukaemia three years ago. My dad and mum have been digging through his stuff since he died, trying to see if he left a will or anything , because everybody in the family’s itching to get there hands on Joke’s land. A while ago, they finally found a will, way deep in his underwear drawer, with two or three or four pages of it stuffed into one of his old, mouldy socks, and another five in a secret compartment in his bedside table. Turns, Jones has left this huge piece of land onto me. I can get instant citizenship because we’ve got Joke’s birth certificate and Irish passport and everything, and I was looking I at your ancestral heritage, and it turns out that your grandmother, Kyley, was an Irish citizen, so you can get instant citizenship, too. Here’s my plan: we move to Ireland, camp on the land for a bit, then I’ll build a house for us. A grand house, a beautiful, miraculous, magnificent, wondrous house. A fort! Fort MacGregor! Fort Wallace! Fort Mairead! I’ll talk to you more about it when I get back. 

I love you.

Declan MacGregor

 

T

 

Mairead,

I just wanted to say that I love you. Nothing else on my mind. 

Oh! Except that I’ve been working on floor plans for the house, and I’m really excited about it. I’ll show my plans to you when I get back. I’ve made about an hundred of them, I’m about halfway through the paper you gave me! Ha!

I love you.

Declan MacGregor

 

T

 

When Declan went away the first time, I didn’t know what I was expecting. I just… I knew… That it was gonna be really, really hard to deal with. And … I was… So wrong. It wasn’t just hard to deal with. It was like… My heart and my guts were ripped out of me by an invisible force that just like… Totally killed any sense of happiness I ever had. I was completely … Miserable. And through this misery, I came to the realisation that I was in love with him. I still am. Oh, man. I love him so much, I can’t put it into words. And that’s, that’s rare for me. I always have words. You’ve probably noticed that. And then, when he went away the second time, I gave him two-hundred sheets of blank paper, a pen with a fancy fountain-pen-like nib and a refillable ink cartridge, and the refills, and I also gave him a silver wedding band. I don’t know if he’s worn it, or if he’s even allowed to wear it. I just know that I had engraved on the inside ‘Declan MacGregor and Mairead Wallace’. So that, if he died, if he was killed, and he was wearing it, then, they’d know who he was, and who he belonged to. I don’t know his parent.s I’ve never met them. Declan said that they live in Exeter, in England and they travel so much you never have an address for their mail. Declan said that his parents never really cared so much for him. His brother, Jones, he was Declan’s… He was his father. His parent-father was especially never around, with his work, tour guide, all over the world, and with his art galleries and promotional things for his inventions or whatever. So, Jones, Jones became Declan’s father. Jones became Declan’s parent. Jones and Declan were only three and a half years apart. And yet, Jones was Declan’s father. I didn’t know that Jones had leukaemia, otherwise, I would have ordered Declan to go to England and visit every at least four times a year. But he never told me. When I read in Declan’s letter, that Jones had died of leukaemia, the same branch of disease that I was living with, I was like, ‘No. Declan must have been gutted. What happened? Why didn’t he tell me?’ I think that… It was just… To painful for him to say anything about, to anyone. Some guys are like that: they’ll go through a really, really painful, gut-wrenching thing, and they’ll never tell anyone what they’re going through, or the pain that they’re in, so it ends up just falling out, of their ass, on a day when everything’s going wrong. I don’t think that the day that Declan wrote that letter was that kinda day, but I think that he was ready to say something about it. If he had been ready before that, he would’ve said something. 

Then, he told me about the house. I wanted to write back to him, ‘It’s just a house.’ But I knew what he would’ve said: ‘It’s not just a house. It’s the place that we are going to make memories in. It’s where our children will be born, and they’ll grow up with weird, indiscernible Irish accents, and it’s where they’ll come home drunk, with their latest hookup, or their friends who stole them makeup or something. And it’s where they’ll come to when they need a place to relax, to crash, to pour out their feelings. It’s where our grandkids will come during the summer, to relax, and play, and all that stuff. And their kids, and their kids, and their kids. It’s not just a house.’ But it is. It’s just a house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I first met her ‘No, no that’s not right…’ She made me ‘No, that’s not right, either… Rob! Robbie! I need your help!’ I called semi-quietly down the trench. Robbie was a new recruit, only eighteen, the youngest you had to be, but he was a good kid, and he was always telling me, the Unit Commander, anybody who’d listen, really, about his plans for novels when he got home. They sounded good, solemn, competent, interesting. He came down the way, with a lantern and a pen in his mouth, and paper in his other hand, the first page had scrawled writing on it. ‘Aye?’ The kid was actually from Scotland, lived there until he was sixteen, but he’d gotten Canadian citizenship last year, same as his parents. ‘What’s up, Cap’n?’ 

‘My girl’s dying, told you bout this, and she’s getting me to write her eulogy, okay? And I’ve been thinking bout it, and everything that I’ve tried out, you know, written and said back, is shit. And you’re a writer, right? So I need your help. Okay?’ I said. 

‘Oh, man.’ He said, a bit of a grimace present on his slight face, wrinkling his brown eyes. ‘I’m a writer of novels, aye? I don’t write … Eulogies. If ye really need advice, go see June down round the bend. She wrote em for a livin fer twelve years.’ 

‘I don’t really like June. She’s… Prissy, and… Likes to pretend she knows everything.’ 

‘Oh…’ He sighed and passed the back of his hand over his forehead. ‘Alright. I’ll ‘elp ye. But I’m nae writin anythin fer ye, okay?’ 

‘Right, right. Come sit down, take a load off, you stupid sod.’ It was a running joke between me and Robbie for me to try and do his accent and then he would laugh and try and do mine. But he didn’t try to do mine that time. He just sat down and stared at the floor, thinking before he spoke. 

‘Alright. What ye wanna do, see, I think, is that ye should… Ye know, speak from the ‘eart. Okay? That’s all I can think of. An’, don’t think about it too much. Aye?’ 

‘Okay. Thanks, Robbie.’ I said, hoping my gratitude was detectable in my voice. 

‘No problem. See ye.’ He got up and left, the pen back in his mouth, the paper in his hand being lifted up with the wind from his hand swinging back and forth.

I put my pen to the paper, and wrote. 

 

T

 

Declan:

I thought I should just let you know: She’s dead. The Will-People will be going through her things soon. Please come home. The funeral’s on March 23. 

—Henrietta

 

T

 

I spoke to Johnson, showed him the note from Mairead’s mum, and he said that it was okay for me to go back. Again. It’d only been three weeks since I went back the first time. I was going back on March 15, two days after I spoke to Johnson. 

When I got on the small, dingy little plane that Johnson had gotten for me and three other men in my unit, it was loud. I’m not talking about the plane, although, that was loud, too. I’m talking about my head. Well, inside my head, rather. The thoughts I was having would have weirded out a child, frightened my grandmother, and would have made Mairead laugh. 

I want a hot dog. And a hamburger. And some haggis. And I want a castle. And I want to go home. I want to go Joke’s land and build a fuckin house. A huge, magnificent, effervescent house. With turrets, and loungers, and chaises, and love-seats. And a huge black oak table, that could sit the whole family before people started dying. And a great bedroom with a view of the ocean, and a four-poster, with curtains. And a fireplace in every bedroom. 

That was mostly what my thoughts consisted of. 

I’d made a pact with myself that if I could go the whole plane ride without actually breaking up and crying and wailing and shit, then she wasn’t actually dead. Because, if she was, then I’d feel it. Right? That’s what Annette told me. When her boyfriend died of a random heart attack, she felt it. In her whole body. She described it as, ‘It was like a whole vibration, all over, everywhere, I couldn’t stop it. And then it felt like I’d gotten my hair chopped off, all of it, all at once, and like there was a hole inside.’ So, that’s what I was waiting for, in a weird sense. Well, not waiting for… Hoping not for. I was hoping that Henrietta had written the letter, because she was like, just about dead, and she wasn’t sure when I’d get the letter, so, she sent it, and then she wrote another one telling me she’d lived through whatever, and it hadn’t reached me in time, and she was still alive. 

But then, about an hour into the seventeen hour plane ride, I felt what Annette was talking about. And all bets were off. She was dead. 

I don’t know why it felt such a shock to me. I knew that she was gonna die. I didn’t know when, of course, but I knew it. She actually sent me a picture of herself, her upper body, hips up, no clothes. She was extremely skinny. Like, fatally skinny. But she was still beautiful. So, I knew that she was going to die soon. I don’t know why it came as such a shock to me. I knew that it was going to happen. So, it shouldn’t’ve been a shock. But it was. Somehow. 

 

T

 

‘Today, we are here, not to be sad about Mairead Wallace’s death, but to celebrate her life.’ The priest began. I don’t know why her parents had a Catholic funeral. They weren’t even religious. Like at all. The only religion I knew any of her family to ever be even remotely involved in was Wicca. It’s still a mystery. ‘Mairead was a very happy girl. Despite her challenges, she persevered, through it all. She was a very brave girl.’ That was a load of bullshit. She didn’t persevere. When she got the cancer, she didn’t even want to do anything. 

When the old priest whose voice was barely comprehensible in the first place started going on about how she was so brave that she never wanted to stop living, I zoned out and sat back in my pew. I got a whole row all to myself, because I was sitting in the very, very back one. I doubt that Henrietta or any of Mairead’s sisters even noticed me, back there. But then the MC called my name. I looked up, alert, awake from my stupor. I walked up to the podium. 

‘Mairead Wallace. She was a very beautiful girl. Her blonde hair, beautiful, beautiful blonde, green eyes, sometimes grey, sometimes blue, it varied, perfect complexion. She was very beautiful, all round.

‘She once told me that it didn’t matter where you started, but where you ended up and how you got there. So, I’m going to talk a little bit about how we got here.

‘It was more or less my fault that Mairead broke all those bones and got the spinal injury. She told me, a while after that, that she was so nervous, being touched by boy, an older, very much taller, boy, that she couldn’t actually remember my instructions for the lift. So, she ended up falling. She went in front of me, and, I was expecting her to go to the back of me. So, I couldn’t catch her. And then, somehow, her gillies fall off. I stayed back at the studio with Mrs. Alexandra to see if there was anything I could do about the damage. There wasn’t, but, just as I was leaving, I noticed Mairead’s gillies lying, covered in dust, of course, on the floor. I didn’t know how bad her injuries would be, but I assumed quite… Disastrous. I was right, but I didn’t know that at the time, so I looked up her address in the school directory and brought her gillies back to her. She seemed so grateful. She was grateful. I learned later that she’d never dance again, obviously… But, I hoped that… Someday, someday she’d get that back. She probably would’ve.

‘It was kind of comical, how I found out about her cancer. A boy from the school across from her’s, Wilfred Adams Cuthbert Boys’ College, a mouthful I know, who had asked her to the Spring Formal the day of her accident, Bontoro, he wrote me, when I was on the other, in Syria, and said something along the lines of, ‘She’s got cancer, you douche! Go back and make her do something about it!’ I did make her do something, that’s for sure. I brought her round the world, with the help of the people from Make-A-Wish. Her sister Kelleigh, oldest one, once had said that that was her biggest wish. To travel around the world. And I wanted to make sure that, you know, once she died, she’d gotten that wish. 

‘On that trip, we went to nineteen countries, spanning, I think four continents. We went to Ireland twice. On the second time, which was our last stop on the trip, we did something, which is not as graphic as it sounds, I can assure you, and she made me promise never to tell anyone what happened, what we did. And I won’t, but I’d like to show you all something that hints at what it was.’ I took out my wedding band she gave me last time I shipped out. ‘That’s what we did. 

‘While I was in Syria, this time, I had promised to write Mairead’s eulogy, which is the same one that I’m reading now. And for quite a while, I was completely stuck about what to write. Then I asked for some help, and it went fine. I mean, obviously, it’s not fine, but you know what I mean.

‘Mairead told me about what she said to the cancer doctor, Doctor Maria Miguel, when she found out that she had cancer: ‘Everybody dies sometime, I’m just doing it sooner than later.’ That’s what she said. A few more words, but that’s basically what she said. And she was right. Everybody’s gonna die. But it doesn’t make it any less hard, or sad, or heart-wrenching. It just happens, and we eventually get over it. Hopefully. 

‘I don’t know how I am going to deal with this, exactly. But I do know one thing: Mairead will always be a part of me. And all of her sisters, and her mum. She’s been embedded, engraved, over the time we’ve known her, so that she’ll always be with us. In one way or another. 

‘Thank you.’ 

 

T

 

After her funeral, we all were very broken up about it. By ‘we all’, I mean me, her mum, her friends, and of course her sisters. I found a cheap, slightly run-down apartment about an hour’s drive away from Toronto, in Mississauga. Two of the walls were painted blue, and the paint was chipping in ugly, long, vertical strips. The hardwood floors had wine- and whiskey-coloured stains all over them, and there was a green lump of something in the freezer that came with the place. But it was cheap, and it was somewhere to go before I went to Ireland.

 

T

 

The Will-People, as me and Henrietta had deemed them, had been looking through Mairead’s things since before I got back from my second deployment. One of them, a short, sweet young lady, Jean, had found her diaries, under her bed. 

In one of the entries, she wrote that she knew that she was going to die soon. That was three weeks before she died. 

In another of the entries, she wrote that she didn’t want me to be sad. I mean, she knew that her death would destroy me completely in about a million ways in a millisecond, but she said that if I wanted to be anything over her, then she would not allow me to be sad. She’d only allow me to dwell on her, and do these three things:

1. Go back to Ireland and build a kick-ass house.

2. Find the priestess who handfasted us and tell her about Mairead.

3. Become a Drui.

So, the first thing that I was preparing for was to go to Joke’s land in Ireland, and build a kick-ass house. 

 

T

 

A month after I’d moved into the apartment in Mississauga, I was ready to go to The Land. I’d found a tenant to occupy the apartment. I’d secured enough money from Jones’ will-leftovers, and I had all the plans I needed to make the house. 

So, I went. I got all of my stuff, which was only an extra large hockey duffel bag of clothes, four medium sized boxes of books, a fold-up chair, a cheap umbrella with dust and a bit of mould all over it, and two larger boxes for Mairead’s diaries. I still don’t know why her family let me have them. I suppose because they’d figured out we’d gotten married, and all, and they thought, well, since they’re married, he’s next of kin, so they should probably go to him. And they did, so. 

I still had the tent and the clothes from our time in the forest, so I was set for a while, and my dad had taught me how to hunt with a bow and arrow when I was six to when I was fifteen, so I was good for food. Jones also taught me about the other things in nature that I could find to eat: like nuts, grasses, berries, other plants. He’d been an amateur botanist, but a very good one for an amateur. 

When I got to The Land, after a six and a half hour flight, and a five and a half hour car ride, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were birds everywhere, and there were about a million trees. There were magnificent, yet slow-climbing hills, and a huge, huge meadow, which was where I had decided the house would be. 

The house would have three floors. Not including the basement. The basement was going to have a play room, a kitchen, a guest bedroom, and a bathroom. The ground floor was going to have a main room, a kitchen, a dining room, a parlour, a front foyer, and a bathroom. The second floor was going to have five bedrooms: the master, which would have it’s own large bathroom, three other bedrooms, and another guest bedroom with two bunk beds. The second floor was also going to have another bathroom apart from the master’s. The third floor, really the attic, came in contact with the two turrets, on either side of the house. One turret, the Western turret, would house a library. The other turret, the Eastern turret, would house a memorial room. The memorial room would have details of both of our families since however far back I could get to, with a desk for each of Mairead’s diaries, and any other diaries I could find. There would be a meditation room in the attic, a study room, and an actual study. 

It turns out that Jones also left me about 1 000 000 000 000 dollars Canadian (a trillion). Which translates into 676 937 599 440, or, in words six hundred, seventy six billion, nine hundred, thirty seven million, five hundred ninety nine thousand and four hundred forty €.

 So, with that money, I was going to build the house, get furniture for the house, and live in the house. Which I accomplished after about three months on The Land. After all of the costs, I still had something around 676 729 300 Euros. So, I still had shitload of money. I decided to donate a thousand Euros of that to the Irish Cancer Society. Which left me with €676 728 300. So, again, a shitload of money. I felt like I should still keep some of it, at least, so I did. I kept the rest of it. 

For the first few months in The House, it was very weird. That house was meant to be for me and Mairead and our many, many children. But we didn’t have children. Actually, there was no ‘we’ anymore. So, I decided that I was going to form a cooperative in the house. I put signs up around the whole country, which took me a while, to say the least. After a week with the signs, I started getting calls:

‘Hello?’ -Declan

‘Hi, is this Mr. Declan MacGregor?’ 

‘Yes. Are you calling about the cooperative?’

‘Yes, I am. I’ve got five families here who’re interested. When can I meet with you?’

‘Well, I’d like to know your name first.’

‘Oh! Of course, it’s Joan McGee.’ 

‘Great, thanks Joan. How about tomorrow at 11am in Dublin?’

‘Right, great. Yup. Where in Dublin?’ 

‘Village Cafe, how about?’ 

‘Yes, that’s perfect. Shall I bring the other families?’

‘Sure. See you then Joan.’

And that’s how it went. Joan actually ended up bringing seven other families, two of which were immigrants from Syria, and the rest were fairly normal, although large (with the exception of the Griffins). The McGees had five people, the parents and the three children. The Zogbys, one of the two Syrian families, had six people, the parents and the four children. The MacPhersons had eight people, the mom and the seven children. The Gregs had six people the mom, the uncle and the grandma and the three kids. The Scotts had five people, the dad and the four kids. The Griffins had three people, the mum and dad and their little boy. The Quraishis had eight people, the dad and the uncle and the aunt and the five kids. And the Arrans had two people, the aunt to the little girl. I didn’t know where I was going to house them all, yet, but I didn’t want to leave anyone out, so I took down all of their names, and told them they could move in in two weeks. The place was already furnished, so I didn’t have to do much in that respect. But I did have to take down the posters and everything, so I got a friend of Joke’s, Arthur MacArthur, weird name, to help me. That took awhile, again. 

So, the families moved in two weeks from when I met them. Everybody brought food, and, luckily for me, there were two kitchens, there was just enough room for them to keep all of their food. I had decided to convert the attic into my own little apartment. I made a bathroom, a kitchen, a bedroom without a door or walls, a small sitting room and a study. Although, I kept the turrets the same as before. I decided, also, never to let anyone into the attic. Because, firstly, I liked having my own space, and secondly, because of what was in the Eastern turret. Some of the kids were really little, and there was glass and delicate, old stuff in there that a two or three or four year old could easily break. And… It was Mairead’s space. It was her’s. Sometimes, when I went in there, I could feel her in there with me. I don’t know how to explain it. 

 

T

 

Dear Mairead,

I know that you’re gone now, but I wanted to tell you what’s happened to me. 

I went back to Ireland. To Joke’s land, I call it, simply, The Land. And I built our house. And it’s a great house. It’s large and, there’re two turrets, the Eastern turret and the Western turret. In the Eastern turret, I made a memorial room. There’s a desk in there, with your diaries, and with other people’s diaries from our families. 

I’ve turned the house into what I am rightly declaring a Hippy Commune Thing. There’re eight families living in the house, two of them are Syrian refugee families. The other six are pretty normal. Most of them are quite large, though. It’s gotten quite noisy here. But it’s okay. I don’t mind. It takes my mind off things. 

In the Western turret, I made a library. It’s large, very large, and I’ve taken up book-collecting. Bibliophilia, I suppose.  So far, I’ve got three hundred books on two shelves. Really large shelves, mind you. 

If you’re wondering how I’m financing all of this, then I’ll tell you: It turns out that Jones left me a whole bunch of money, I won’t say how much, it’d be immodest and obnoxious, but it was a lot. I went to the bank and got it back in Euros, the currency of Ireland, and … Yeah. 

I feel that I should tell you about The Land:

There’s a pond at the very North point of it. It’s got teeny fish that just swim around and don’t bother with you even if you’re swimming with them. At the very South side, there’s a long, long, mossy, vine-covered, tree-canopied pathway. It goes from the gate of the place to the Meadow, where the house is. There’s probably every single type of tree imaginable here. There’s even a Palm Tree somewhere by the Meadow. There’re three streams that run through The Land, and four rivers: Streams are: Little Boy, Little Woman, and Aoibhneas Stream. The rivers are: Aisling River, Bua River, and Saoirse River. The house is directly to West of Saoirse River, which I think is fitting, because ‘saoirse’ means freedom or liberty in Gaelic, and, well… You’re free now. You aren’t stuck in a wheelchair, or in casts, or confined to a hospital bed. 

The other day, I was on the ground floor of the house, in the parlour, drinking herbal tea, eating a sandwich and reading The Irish Times, when one of the little girls of the house came up to me, sat down beside me. She looked up at my face, and she said, with a beautiful but nearly incomprehensible Irish accent, ‘Why aren’t we allowed to go upstairs?’ And I said back to her, ‘Because… I live up there, and it’s really messy. And I don’t want anyone to see how big a slob I am.’ I actually keep my space pristine at all times, as my little tribute to you, of sorts: It’s your place, really, and I want to keep it nice for you. But, I didn’t think that, as a five year old, she’d understand the real reason. She said, ‘But we’re messy. And you come down here, and we don’t clean up for you.’ She did have a very good argument. ‘Well, my attic is so messy that if you step even one foot into the door, or either of the turrets, then monsters will peep their hands and feet out of the huge mountains of mess and peel you apart, piece by piece.’ I said it so that she looked partially frightened for a second. Then she said, ‘Yeah. Sure.’  And went into the kitchen to bug her mum. 

I’ve become an artist. I went to the art supply store, about two hours away, and bought a crap load of every colour paint they had, five small canvases, six medium sized canvases, fourteen large canvases, and then ten super large canvases. I’ve never actually had any art training, of any sort, ever, but I looked online for photos to paint and stuff, and I started sketching, and I realised that I’ve got the *super*natural ability to completely accurately recreate whatever I see on the page or canvas or whatever. So, I painted some fruit, and some Celtic knots, and then I was like, ‘I’ve forgotten to do something.’ And that feeling followed me around for three days, before I realised that I didn’t paint you, yet. So, I painted you. I drew you first, first on tiny pieces of paper, then on larger pieces of paper, then on 12-by-12 inch watercolour paper, then on a huge canvas, then I painted the sketch over. I looked back at a photo of you before the cancer, and I did do a really kick-ass job, if I do say so myself. Your hair is exactly the same beautiful white it always was. And your eyes are the same miraculous lime-green they always were. Your face that same gorgeously blinding shade of pale white. And your lips the same beautiful dark sweet cherry colour they were naturally. 

I wanted to tell you, in case you missed it, that you were given a Catholic funeral. Are either of your parents Catholic? The only slight, slight religiosity I’ve ever seen from anyone in your family besides you, of course, was the little Pentagram in the doorway at your mum’s house. Wicca. The only religion I’ve ever known anyone besides you in your family to follow is Wicca. I mean, were they unable to find a Wiccan priestess? Did somebody insist on having a Catholic funeral, because, I don’t know, their husband’s aunt’s son was Catholic and he wouldn’t have shown up if it hadn’t been a Catholic funeral? I would have asked Henrietta or Kelleigh or Ryleigh, but Henrietta was crying too much for any language to be discerned beyond a shadow of a doubt. And, it seemed to be kind of an insensitive thing to ask at a funeral. I mean, a funeral is a funeral is a funeral, right? I don’t know. Well, I gave your eulogy, and I did stick to it vigorously, I promise. The last thing that I said in the eulogy was about how you’ll always be a part of me. Of your mum, of your sisters, of your friends. And the only way that I know that for sure, one-hundred percent, is because sometimes, when I go into the memorial room, your room, I can feel you there with me. 

I think that I’ve covered everything that I wanted to say, for now, anyway, so:

I love you, Mairead Wallace. 

Goodbye for now. 

Declan MacGregor

 

T

 

The phone rang. Nope, it’s all in my head. I’m asleep. I’m asleep I’m asleep I’m asleep. 

RIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Nope, I’m not asleep. I groaned. Rolled over, turned on the lamp beside my bed. The phone rang again. I pulled it from the drawer. Unknown number it said on the screen. I answered it anyway. 

‘Hello?’ I said groggily. 

‘Declan.’ I recognised the voice before it spoke. 

‘How? How are you calling me?’

‘I don’t know. I just know I am. And you’re talking to me.’ 

‘Were you there? Did you see it?’ 

‘Yeah. Stupid. Very disappointing. But I know why: it was because Mum didn’t think it’d be accepted if it wasn’t how it was. But it would have been. I can guarantee you that.’

‘What was it like?’

‘At first it was disorientating. Then, after the initial shock passed, it was like… A blanket of fog passing over me, then sounds disappeared, and vision disappeared, and everything was black for a minute. And then I woke up in a field. A beautiful, amazing field. In the Summer. And it was warm, and everything was peaceful. And then I met other people. And I’m okay now.’ 

‘Did you see what I did for you? Is it okay? Do you like it?’

‘I love it, Declan. It’s beautiful.’ 

‘It’s nothing compared to the real thing.’

‘Thanks.’ 

‘Were you really there with me?’ 

‘Yes. I’m always with you, Declan. Only you. Nobody else. Although it was sweet, considerate — what you said.’ I sighed, let her voice melt itself into my mind for eternity. 

‘I love you. Do you know that?’ 

‘Of course. I love you, too.’

‘Are you okay?’ 

‘I’m okay. I have to go now. I love you. Never forget that. Okay?’ 

‘Okay. I love you, too, Mairead.’ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

Declan ended up becoming a world-class artist. He never kept any of his work, strangely. He only kept one artwork: the painting he did of Mairead. Some of his paintings sold for over €100 000 000. Sometimes, he did abstract, and sometimes he did realism. And sometimes he did a combination of both. His only ambition, since he was five years old, was to find a girl, and love her, and be with her, forever. He never even contemplated a ‘career’, in the sense of doctor, lawyer, author, journalist, mechanic, whatever. His dream was to find a girl and love her and be with her forever. He realised two thirds of this dream. He found a girl and he loved her, but he wasn’t ‘with her’ forever, although she was with him forever. He never married anyone after Mairead. He never even looked at anyone else. He said to one of the parents at the cooperative, ‘I don’t date, or even pursue the thought of anything such as dating, because I know that no-one in the world could possibly compare to Mairead.’ The person he said that to was an older Syrian woman who’d never seen anyone ever, especially no-one as attractive as Declan, not date or have sex with people. She’d been puzzling over it with the other parents and guardians in the cooperative, and no-one could figure it out. Most of the people who came and went in and out of the cooperative barely knew anything about Declan, other than that he’d donated a whole bunch of Euros to the Irish Cancer Society, and he owned a huge piece of land. So, when he divulged this piece of information, the woman had nothing to relate it to. She didn’t ask Declan who Mairead was, because his voice cracked when he said the name, and he looked like he was going to cry, and he just excused himself upstairs before she could anyway. She brought what he said and what he did back to the other cooperative adults, and they came to the conclusion that Mairead was the girl they’d secretly heard him talking to a small while after they all moved in. One of the teenagers snuck up into Declan’s attic when he’d gone out to the art store, and they all knew he wouldn’t be back for awhile, so the teenager, let’s call her Lucille, poked around and found Mairead’s diaries. She only read a couple of pages in her final entries, before she felt like she was betraying Declan’s trust completely, but she’d read enough to discern that Mairead had been Declan’s wife, his true love, who’d died before they knew him. She only said back to the rest of the cooperative: ‘She was his girl and she died before we knew him.’ 

Declan ended up living right up until his 100th birthday. He kept at his artwork until the day of his death. He went to sleep that night and just didn’t wake up again. He’d had everything prepared for his death since he was fifty, just in case. He’d donated some of his money to art galleries around the world, some to the Irish Cancer Society, some to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and left the rest of it in a secret compartment in the ceiling of his attic. For one-hundred and fifty years, nobody found that money in the ceiling. When they found it, they just put it back. 

As a last note of this trilogy, I’d like to return to something that Mairead said in the first book:

She said, ‘Everybody dies. I’m just doing it sooner than most people.’ It’s true. Isn’t it? Everybody dies. And it’s okay to die. It isn’t the death of someone, it’s how you deal with it. Or at least, that’s what it is for the people the dead leave behind. 


© Copyright 2018 Drile Carey. All rights reserved.

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