Listen to Gerry Gaffney read this story (8 minutes). Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify

Published: 21 February 2024.

by Gerry Gaffney

This story contains swearing and adult themes.

Line drawing of a casserole dish

Saoirse came down the stairs slowly. She didn't want a continuation of last night's unpleasantness.

Declan's mother was talking in the kitchen.

"Ah she had a lovely voice, there's no denying it. But sure she was never right in the head. All that stuff about the Pope, that was no way to make a point. And then the Muslim thing, sure it made no sense."

Declan grunted.

"And Gay Byrne used to be so nice to her on the Late Late, I think he must have felt sorry for her. She had that gift from God, that voice. It's a shame."

They both turned to Saoirse when she walked into the kitchen. Declan seemed relieved and concerned.

"You look like you're all set."

"I am."

Declan's mother, Maura, gave her a look and apparently decided not to say whatever was on her mind. Instead, she stared out the window.

"You might get a bit of rain on your travels," she said.

Looking out the window to check for recent, current or impending rain seems to be a staple of Irish conversations, thought Saoirse. She had a sudden insight. Rain comments were like a dial tone, when you picked up one of those old-fashioned phones and heard the continuous tone on the line. It didn't tell you anything except that the system was working and communication was possible. She filed the thought away for future attention.

She couldn't wait to get out of the house. Maura was annoying at the best of times, and in times of trouble could be relied upon to be cruel and insensitive. Declan was inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, but Saoirse's patience had finally run out on this trip.

They were supposed to drop in for a brief overnight visit on the Friday on their way to Kilkee. Saoirse was 14 weeks pregnant and they wanted to make the most of their available time to do as many long weekends away as they could. Once the baby came it would be more difficult, as they'd seen with friends. Each trip an exercise in logistics.

Saoirse and Maura had never warmed to each other. Maura didn't approve of Saorise's piercings, or her accent, or her job, or her way of dressing, or her lack of interest in religion. After a few initial and futile efforts at being appropriately polite and demure, Saoirse had given up and resorted to keeping communication to a minimum. She thought it was great that Declan stayed in touch with his family. He called his mother once a week, even though these conversations appeared to be entirely one-sided, with Declan simply providing an assenting voice to whatever his mother happened to be saying.

Actual in-person visits were, happily, rare events. Saoirse didn't like staying in the cold house. And she didn't like all the religious iconography in the room where they slept. There was a bleak crucifix on one wall, and directly over the bed a picture of Jesus apparently undergoing open-heart surgery. These, and the creaky bed, made sleeping there the antithesis of a romantic occasion.

They hadn't mentioned the pregnancy to anyone yet, though of course one of Maura's first questions had been about whether they were "any signs" of them starting a family. Saoirse had ignored her, but early in the evening she had bad cramping and Declan drove her to the hospital, where she had a miscarriage. They were told it was necessary for her to have a procedure under anaesthetic to make sure there was no remaining tissue. She stayed overnight.

Declan was sympathetic and supportive but she felt a great emptiness as she walked from the hospital to the car and he drove her back to his mother's place.

Maura fussed, making tea and offering scones and toast. Saoirse just wanted to be left alone. She lay on a couch in the sun room and stared out over the green fields. She watched the birds flitting in the hedges. The cat came and sat on her stomach. She stroked it and its purring gave her some comfort.

Maura disapproved. "I'll put the cat outside."

"No, it's fine."

Declan sat next to her in an armchair, reading a newspaper.

It seemed that every time Saoirse was about to drop off to sleep Maura would come in with an offer of food or more tea or a platitude.

"Your sister, Declan, remember she had a miscarriage quite late. But then she went on to have the two boys."

"In the old days people had it very tough. There was polio and and hunger and all sorts of disease. A lot of people had children die young."

"You remember Mary Brannigan, Declan? She lost twins very late. It was very sad, she never was able to have any more."

Declan only ever grunted politely to these remarks, but Saoirse could feel herself getting increasingly irritated. She couldn't figure out whether the remarks were supposed to cheer her up, or distract her, or what.

Addressing nobody, looking out the window, Maura spoke again.

"Sure, sometimes these things are just God's way of stopping something that wasn't going to work out."

Saoirse took a breath. She wasn't sure she's heard correctly.

"You know, it can be a terrible trial having a baby with some sort of defect that might not be able to live."

Saoirse was infuriated.

"Well that's a pretty fucking stupid God, isn't it?"

Maura looked stunned.

"Is your God really that dumb that it takes him 14 weeks to decide to do something? How about he could have made Declan have a couple more pints of Guinness that night instead, not be able to knock me up? Or I could have given him a blow-job for his birthday. That would have been a much simpler solution, wouldn't it?"

Maura turned and left the room.

Declan was about to say something.

"Just don't," said Saoirse, "Just don't."

Declan took their bags to the car and came back in to say goodbye to his mother.

Maura said to Saoirse, "I made a nice Irish stew for you to take."

"I'm vegetarian."

"I know, I know, but you need building up, now, after your loss."

Saoirse stared at her. Was she really this insensitive? She wasn't stupid or incompetent, she'd run her own project management company for years. Saoirse found herself completely at a loss for what to say and how to react. She turned and walked out, sat in the car waiting.

Declan came out, carrying a casserole dish covered with a tea-cloth. He put it on the back seat and waved at his mother as they drove away.

Saoirse rolled down the window to avoid the smell of the stew, but the cold rain was too much. She closed it back up again.

"Stop!" she said, "just there on the left."

There was a lay-by. Declan pulled over. Saoirse got out of the car, took the casserole from the back seat and threw the whole lot into a bin.

She got back into the car and looked at him.

"All over Ireland, every weekend, people must pull over to the side of the road and throw out inappropriate parental offerings of all sorts. Food, knitted caps, fuck knows what else."

She stopped. They sat in the car, not moving.

She looked across at Declan.

"What?" she asked.

He shook his head slowly.


"A blowjob for my birthday," he said. "Did you see my mother's face? I was mortified myself."

She snickered.

Suddenly the two of them were laughing hysterically. He reached for her and she leaned over and rested her head on his shoulder while he stroked her hair.

After a few moments they finished laughing.

She sat back and adjusted her seat belt.

Declan looked in the mirror, turned on the indicator, and they drove on towards Kilkee.

Copyright © Gerry Gaffney 2023

If you enjoyed this story, please consider leaving a positive review at iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you accessed it.