It took four hundred years and the forgetting of everything to do with its own life, but the Ghost had finally concluded that the living were brittle. They moved in strict patterns, stiff seasonal waltzes that the elders passed to the children, who became yet another set of glass figurines, limbs squeaking and scraping in protest when threatened with the breaking of social mores. That said, the Ghost never turned down a party.
he O’Sullivans escaped the recession by the skin of their teeth, something Bridget was constantly aware of, but Colm seemed determined to forget. As a result of Colm’s convictions, tonight’s party doubled as the grand unveiling of their new open-plan kitchen/dining room. The guests were the usual attendees, with some obligatory and unavoidable invites.
Colm’s brother Seán, for one. Seán lived with Colm’s mother, and Bridget could never deny Nora the nice evening, god love her.
The kitchen couldn’t be called a kitchen any more, not since the defensive wall had been taken out. Exposed to the elements, Bridget smiled and smiled, even while burning her hand on the hot, spitting chicken.
Colm wouldn’t stop checking his phone. Bridget watched his awkward lean as he fished it from his pocket, the furtive glance as he checked the screen. She used to nag him to keep it close.
Now it was always in the front of those stupid skinny jeans he had taken to wearing, around the same time he started dyeing his hair.
Across the room, fourteen year old Brendan offered out canapés. Bridget watched her son, affection and irritation jostling on the corners of her mouth. She’d given in a few weeks ago and bought him the designer runners he’d been whinging for. Yet there he was, wearing the ratty ‘aul yokes she told him to bin.
Letting out a breath, Bridget glanced around until she caught Moira’s eye — that madam was home from college, and Bridget didn’t like how moody she was after getting, not at all.
Mind your Nan, Bridget mouthed. Moira glared back from beneath a lank fringe. God, had she bothered to wash her hair?
I am, the girl mime-snapped.
Before Bridget could issue a warning look, Áine Bailey from around the corner was at her elbow, asking could she do anything to help now, anything at all?
The Ghost sprawled on the ceiling as conversation and laughter bled together, guests milling about the open-plan dining room/kitchen. Fabulous, was the consensus, wine bottles clinking against Waterford crystal. Really opens the space.
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Nora sat by the fire, brandy in hand. Her unfocused gaze wandered, until she spotted the Ghost. “Oh, lovely,” she murmured.
The Ghost, thrilled with the attention, rippled like an oil shimmer.
“You alright, Nan?” Moira asked, smile flat and forced. She was wearing her Nice Dress, the one her mother had verbally pinched her into.
Brendan didn’t have to change, Moira noted, glancing at her brother as he sipped a can of Guinness, benevolently bestowed by their father. The same rules didn’t apply to Brendan.
Those thoughts were sour flowers blossoming in the back of Moira’s skull. The Ghost floated down to taste their rotting velvet petals, each one a tiny treatise on how Moira had done well in school because people expected it of her. How she had been promised that college would be worth it.
“There she is!” Seán bellowed, sloshing whiskey in hand. The Ghost delighted in the shimmering amber, flinging it into the air like sparkling confetti, dancing in the glittering rain.
“Lovely,” Nora sighed again, fumbling for her brandy and taking a rattling sip.
“The doctor!” Sweat stood out on Séan’s forehead. His glass wasn’t Waterford crystal. “You’d be on the street if you didn’t do medicine, hah?” Moira smiled, thin and tight. Seán roared with laughter, and clapped Brendan on the shoulder, tipping him a conspiratorial wink.
Brendan loved Seán. He was the only adult who didn’t lick Mopey Moira’s arse for passing a few exams. Sure, Moira wouldn’t last a second in the Real World. The Real World being, as Brendan saw it, the field behind the racecourse where the older lads hung out.
Five Saturdays in a row he’d been invited. Twice, he’d made them laugh. He’d even managed a whole cigarette. The Ghost sampled this memory, swirling in tendrilled smoke.
The only problem – like, it wasn’t even a problem. Not really. But Brendan had loaned his new runners to Niall, and Niall kept forgetting to give them back. It was because Brendan was too busy being swotty in school, Niall said.
He didn’t come to the field during the week, so they all forgot he existed. Worry had eaten at Brendan’s midriff since. But as he drank, the tight coils in his stomach relaxed. He felt good.
Áine Bailey yammered as Bridget filled the elegant glass decanter. She used it all the time, despite the slim crack down one side. It didn’t leak, and red wine camouflaged the break.
As Áine chattered on, Bridget spotted Colm checking his phone again. A wave of irritation hit her, a soupçon of fear. Didn’t he realise the wall was gone? Didn’t he know that she could see him?
Mingling, the Ghost sampled the guests. Hannah Ashe, who ran the stables down the road, told a thrilling tale of a runaway mare.
The Ghost leaned against her chest, listening to the mournful song of metastasising tissue.
Teddy O’Gorman’s brittle comments about his tenants were gleefully snapped, the Ghost delighting in their pencil-lead splinter.
Finally, it got caught in the crossfire of Colm’s smile, when he assumed his son’s directionless drunken beam was meant for him.
The Ghost wandered through Colm’s hair, a chemical haze of chestnut dye. Her name was Rosie. Colm was in love. She wasn’t here, of course. He’d never disrespect Bridget like that, even if she did have a head on her. The Ghost clung to a follicle as Colm glanced at his wife, clocking that Bridget’s attention was on that chatterbox, Áine Bailey.
He could slip away—
Seán yanked the sleeve of his jacket. “Watch it,” Colm complained, shrugging from his sweaty grasp. “You’ll ruin the line.”
His older brother blinked through a miasma of whiskey. “The line, is it? Will you send me home then? When I’ve ruined the line?”
Colm caught Bridget’s eye. She shook her head, small and sharp. What she was forbidding specifically he couldn’t say, but their marriage had always been one of generalities. “Come on.” He cupped Seán elbow. “Lie down before dinner.”
“Send me home, sure.” Seán’s words were thick with tongue and tears. “Send me home with mammy, and a bit of money once a month.”
“Have a sleep, I’ll keep a plate for you.” Bridget was their only audience. Her flinty gaze almost made Colm regret taking out the wall.
But he’d spoken to his solicitor. She’d get the ‘family home’. It’d be good for her to feel like it was something new.
“Dad—” Moira started, appearing beside him.
“Not now!” Colm barked. He had asked her to do her party piece earlier, reciting a bit of Joyce for their guests. She had refused with embarrassing vehemence. Colm hurried Seán into the hall, unwilling to acknowledge the hurt of his recently too-sensitive daughter.
Moira watched the door close. She knew why he was annoyed, but the idea of reciting literature made her feel like a caricature. She repeatedly made herself ridiculous in college, constantly fumbling for topics beyond books. She had thought that—
The boy was in her class. He had cheekbones and green eyes, and whenever she saw him, her ribs felt too small. She spent the Fresher’s Ball trailing him like a stray dog, losing him for a bit before spotting him holding court to their classmates. She’s so up her own hole, he was laughing, over his slopping pint. She’s embarrassing. She should get a life. Moira had laughed too. Until he saw her, and his face changed.
The kitchen/dining room was too hot. Someone gave a braying laugh. Moira couldn’t feel her hands. How did you get a life? She didn’t know. She just existed, in a haze of baffled melancholia.
Dinner was ready. Colm was on his phone.
Bridget watched him through the window, as he stood under the patio awning. It was flogging, but he was engrossed in whatever conversation he couldn’t have inside.
She glanced at the wine-filled decanter, sitting on the white tablecloth, checking that the crack wasn’t obvious.
Out of nowhere, Moira drifted by. The dazed look on her face infuriated Bridget. She grabbed her daughter’s upper arm. “Would you do a bit of work?” Bridget spittle-hissed. “Put out the starters,” she ordered with a squeeze, and was suffused with fury when Moira’s eyes welled up. How’s that for a puss! And with guests over! She was going to have a chat with that one.
Brendan swigged from the can of Guinness he’d filled with whiskey on the sly. Adults droned on around him.
His thoughts were disjointed, but he did wonder if something happened to your brain when you got old, so you genuinely thought debating hoovers was decent conversation.
“Get a Dyson. Incredible suction. You can turn it into a handheld.”
Brendan’s slurred thoughts turned suction and handheld into sucking and handjob, and then he was snorting with laughter, the sound echoing into the can. He felt great.
Bridget clapped, cutting through the chatter. “Let’s get started!” she beamed, hard lines beside her mouth. The guests cheered as they moved en masse to the long table covered in pristine white cloth and shining silverware.
“Where’s Colm?” Teddy O’Gorman asked, as everyone dug into their starters. “I’ve a story for him.” He had visibly brightened since bemoaning his tenants.
“He’s talking to Rosie,” came the quavering reply, and Bridget tasted blood. Nora sat wrapped in her woollen layers, using her fork to scrape at the prawn’s pink skin.
“Who said that, Nora?” Bridget kept her tone light, watching the old woman peer around before she lost her thread of thought and returned to scraping.
A minute later, Colm arrived back with a fierce hunger on him, thrilled to see food on the table. “Would you look at this!” he grinned. “Can I get anyone a drink?”
“Ah, sit down for yourself, would you?” Áine Bailey said, sauce around her mouth.
“Sit down,” echoed Bridget, who hadn’t sat yet either, but no one cared about that. “Hannah, will you have a drop?”
She lifted the decanter, glancing around the table, and with a shock Bridget realised that Brendan’s eyes were glassy, his mouth slack. He was nodding over his plate. “Colm,” she hissed, trying to alert her husband over the chatter.
Colm was looking at his phone.
“Teddy, you drink white, don’t you?” he said, glancing up. “Back in a minute.”
“You’re grand,” Teddy insisted. “C’mere, listen to this–”
But Colm was walking to the door. In Bridget’s eyes, he was already dialling. “Colm,” she said again. He didn’t stop.
Bridget’s knuckles went white as she gripped the decanter, as Colm walked away, as Brendan slumped in his chair, as tears rolled down Moira’s face while she stared at her plate in front of everyone, oh Christ, all of it in front of everyone, and then the Ghost, now deliciously full of sound and thought, memory and sensation, realised that Bridget needed help to squeeze.
The decanter exploded.
Shards of glass. A spray of ruby droplets. A red sea that flooded the table, pouring onto everyone’s laps.
Wine threaded crimson tributaries down Bridget’s arms. It gently soaked into her clothes and skin.
Stunned, red-flecked faces stared in the smothering silence, waiting for her to explain what had gone wrong.
“You know, this house is haunted,” she told them. Bright and brittle and loud, over the soft shifting of broken glass in her hands.
About the author
Méabh de Brún is an award-winning writer, actor and playwright. Her short fiction has been published in ‘The Stinging Fly’, ‘Banshee Press’ and ‘Neon Hemlock’.. She was a finalist for the Francis MacManus Award and was awarded a Tyrone Guthrie Centre residency. This year, she was shortlisted for The Women’s Playwriting Prize for her play ‘And Tomorrow I’ll Dance With You’. She lives in Killarney, Co Kerry, where she is working on her first novel.
How to enter
New Irish Writing, edited by Ciaran Carty and appearing in the Irish Independent on the last Saturday of each month, is open to writers who are Irish or resident in Ireland. Stories submitted should not exceed 2,000 words. Up to four poems may be submitted. There is no entry fee. Writers whose work is selected will receive €120 for fiction and €60 for poetry. You can email your entry, preferably as a Word document, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, address and contact number, as well as a brief biographical paragraph. Only writers who have yet to publish their first book can be considered.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/new-irish-writing/this-house-is-haunted-by-meabh-de-brun-41936124.html This House is Haunted by Méabh de Brún