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16 October 2014
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Tom Finnigan

Tom was born in 1948 and lived in England until 2001 when he came to Donegal with his wife. He belongs to the Derry Playhouse Writers and started to write three years ago. His stories are set in Inishowen, London and Rome, where he lived as a student.

Lady In Red by Tom Finnigan

At six o’clock on a Sunday morning in July, Molly Breen removed her clothes and ran naked along the beach.

On Doagh Island, Joe Doherty rubbed his eyes and blessed himself. A late session in The Pollan Bar left him befuddled and astray from the caravan he kept near the Point. Struggling to his feet, mouth sour with last night’s Jameson, he shaded his eyes. In the light tumbling down the dunes across the Bar Mouth, a slim creature, red hair flying, was running by the water. Her naked white body disturbed Joe greatly. The sun dazzled his vision and he lost her in the long grass about the sand hills.

“I seen a fairy beyond at Goorey.” he whispered to Nora Kearney in the shop at Clonmany after Sunday Mass. Busy with newspapers, hands smeared with print, Nora slapped Joe’s change down on the counter. “By the smell of the whiskey on you, Joe Doherty, ‘tis a wonder you see anything!”
“I swear to God I saw a wee fairy on Lagg strand at six this morning. Not a stitch on her but the red hair on her head.”
“Will ye go away and say your prayers. Haven’t I enough to do without being pestered by you and your fairies?
Gripping the News of the World and a carton of milk, Joe Doherty shuffled into the glare of July to find his bicycle. He spat in the gutter and peddled off to Ballyliffin for a cure.

Ten years later on another bright Sunday morning, Molly left Lagg chapel after mass. Her four girls – hair brushed, bodies washed and smelling of soap – chatted and laughed as the Peugeot bumped along the shore road. Molly was still a pale creature, slightly built, with a crown of exuberant red hair. In the rush for the chapel she had only time to pull it back from her face and fix a green ribbon. Her eyes were rimmed. Sleep was hard. Her mouth felt dry and her hands were tight on the steering wheel.

“I’ll take the weans to see Mammy,” offered Dennis Hennigan when they clambered from the car. You have a few hours to yourself. You look tired,” he said touching his wife’s cheek.
Molly didn’t object. Eileen Hennigan would love to have her son fussing over her. “And where’s she?” Molly could hear her say; “gallivanting I suppose!” Then the sniff and nod of the head as the old woman catalogued her ailments. “Will you put the kettle on Dennis? I’m not able. The leg it is. All the way up.”

It was the Glorious Twelfth. Cars from Derry and Tyrone trailed along the Lagg Road heading for Five Fingers Strand and Malin Head. Molly parked her Peugeot at the Back Strand below Quigley’s Hill and crossed the shore. The tide was out, moving fast at the Bar Mouth. She clambered over stones and kicked off her shoes. Sand seeped between her toes. Behind her the stones were warm. She selected a white pebble, fingering its roundness and blew the sand out of its crevices. The colour matched her skin.

Bleeding had started a month ago. At first she thought her periods were dizzy but the blood was different.
“Isn’t Dennis with you?” Doctor Anne had asked in the surgery at Carndonagh.
“I haven’t told him yet. Nobody knows but you.”
Dennis wasn’t able to cope with stress. As long as his job in the Council Office at Carn was safe and he got his car allowance, Dennis was fine. A few pints at weekend with the lads and an occasional meal out with the wife was all he wanted. Fussing about his mammy’s ailments was the limit of his concern for others. After a few drinks he would grope at Molly, reeking of stout and mumbling how lovely she was. Passion expended, he fell away snoring. Poor Dennis!
“Dennis wouldn’t cope, Doctor,” whispered Molly. “I’m as well hearing it on my own.” Her knuckles were white with tension. She sat rigid in the chair, teeth clenched, red hair pulled back tight in pony-tail fashion.
“The results are back from Dublin…” Anne Sheridan paused and squeezed her fountain pen. Why wasn’t the husband here? She swallowed and continued.

A cormorant flew down the bay, dam buster style, long neck inches from the ocean, wings flapping. Splash! Spray flew white above the blue grey sea and glinted in the mid-day light. Molly held her hand above her eyes to ward off the sun. Leaning on one arm, her hip formed a niche in the sand as she inhaled the warm air laced with salt. Beyond her toes, on the horizon, a thin line of whiteness marked the meeting of sea and sky. Here waves broke on the five rocks that gave the strand its name. Above this thin white line the dome of the sky blended greys and blues. Clouds hung like washed clothes, strung across the ocean.
Molly’s gaze turned inwards. Anne Sheridan had diagnosed cancer of the uterus; malignant cancer. It would probably kill her. Poor Dennis! How would he cope with four children, four little red haired girls? They would remove her womb of course. In Dublin. Probably before the month was out. Then they would know for certain. Four girls without a mother. How was she going to tell them? What can she say to Dennis?
They had married at Lagg chapel because Dennis didn’t want his parents to travel down to Dublin. “We’re not able for the journey,” they chanted. That refrain: “We’re not able” was to haunt her. She saw it pass to Dennis and sour his ambition.

It had been an enchanting July. The white chapel in the sand dunes bathed in light. Photographs on the strand. The purple ocean. Fuchsia. Honeysuckle. Curlews crying on the shore as they lay, twined around each other, in the dawn of their wedding night.
She had been so excited that she had not slept the night before the wedding. It had been hot and her mouth was dry. Scents of wild garlic drifted through the night. At six in the morning she went to the shore bare footed, in shorts and a red tea shirt. In the dunes, above a ridge of pink and blue stones, an Oystercatcher circled, piping anxiously. His long thick bill shone bright orange. “Like Dennis tonight - I hope!” she screamed. And she discarded her shirt and shorts and ran naked in the sand, yearning for the delights of her wedding bed.
“What will I tell him? That I’m going to die? That he will have to rear the girls on his own? No more love making. No looking forward. Only memories. How will he handle his mammy? Poor Dennis!”

The sun was turning her pale skin pink. She’d be like a gaffed salmon if she stayed. ‘Lady in Red’ Dennis had called her when he first undressed her. Molly looked down the beach. Ridges formed in the sand where the receding tide had whirled. Yellow wrack and seaweed glittered. A couple strolled hand in hand, their shadows stretching. She smelt salt and blood. Her hair was flying. Beyond the Bar Mouth on the Island children were laughing. A fisherman was waist high in the water, fingers on his line, rod poised to cast. Dare she?

On Doagh Island Joe Doherty was fiddling with a pair of binoculars. They were a birthday present from his grandson. He was on the rocks outside his caravan with a bottle of Smithwicks at his feet.
“What did Jamie say?” he muttered as he tried to focus on the Lagg shore, eyes filled with sweat, “Twist the nob in the middle for the left eye. And this yoke for the other one…” His mouth fell open. “Holy God, she’s back!” He blessed himself.
“I swear to God I saw her again,” he protested later in the Pollan Bar, cradling a large Jameson. “The whiteness of her; the red hair flying and not a stitch on her! Running from the Fairy King, I tell you, and him beyond in Goorey on the heights, up in Ard na Si.”

The sun had gone, dipping behind Glasheedy. Night came slowly, dark and soft. Sheep bleated for each other. Micky Davitt had been making hay. The smell of cut grass flooded the bedroom where Molly lay bathed and still, her red hair splayed across the pillow.
She heard the crunch of gravel as Dennis lurched up the street from Doc’s Bar. The latch dropped. He was taking off his shoes. Under the duvet she turned on her back and slipped off her shirt. She was ready.

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