Mam has gotten worse since the baby died, her pain visible in the sunken hollows where her eyes used shine. No more children, I overhear her say one night. It’s over.
Aren’t there operations you could have, the Old Man asks.
Mam is silent. She dabs at her wet cheeks. This sends the old man into a rage and he thunders out of the room and heads straight for the pub.
Everyone knows. All our neighbors watch Mam’s belly grow over the winter, and a line of visitors bearing stews and fruitcakes, jams and pies, makes its steady way to our door. All Mam can do is dip her shoulders and nod politely. I stay in my room and watch the front gate open and close over and over again.
One evening Mam’s in the bathroom, the door open as usual, when I catch sight of her in the steamy light. Her belly sags down and has hundreds of wrinkles like the hide of the old elephant in the Dublin Zoo. She is misshapen and thin, and it is perhaps the first time I consider that one day she will die. When she sees me looking she grabs the towel and covers the scars of her labor, her eyes dim and a faraway look is on her face. She shuts the door gently and I slip up the three steps to the top of the house and hide in the hot press until bedtime.
When the Old Man gets home from the pub he thumps on the door, yelling for Mam. When she doesn’t answer his knocks he tries to kick it in. In the morning when I leave for school I can see the indents where his boots landed. He is not in the kitchen for breakfast. Mam says he is having a lie-in. I mooch along on the way to school, dragging my shoes through the frost-rimmed puddles, watching my breath explode into white clouds of steam.
James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his wife, the writer and artist, Maureen Foley, their daughter, Maisie, and Australian Cattle Dog, Rua. He received his MFA from Louisiana State University, where he was awarded the Kent Gramm MFA Award for Non-Fiction. His work appears in many places including New Orleans Review, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, The Drum Literary Magazine, Molotov Cocktail, and Gone Lawn. You can read him at http://www.jamesclaffey.com.