Lucky 2s

For years the numbers 2*2 or 2*2*2*2 or numbers that are multiples of two brought me luck, often with my writing (sales, translations, a prize …) or with safe travel, and in other arenas.

They still do.

The origin of this superstition: James Joyce’s birthday – 2/2 – the publication of Ulysses – 2/2/1922 – and the first novel I wrote/published (Mainstream/UK, Hyperion/USA in 1992) – Clairvoyant, The Imagined Life of Lucia Joyce.

With the passing of time, though well reviewed and received, as is the way with publishing, the book went out of print. A long sigh lasted until my lungs had emptied, when – happily – a fresh, blousey breath of air came in the form of an offer to reissue it by TMI Press/Providence. It was decided that I would write a note to the new edition. And did. In honor of Joyces 136th birthday, here is that brief preface:

Note to New TMI Edition — Clairvoyant

As a superstitious person, like James Joyce, always looking for signs and omens and coincidences in life, I thought it a good idea to visit the graves of the would-be subjects on whose biographical armature my fiction would hang. I caught a train from Euston Station in London that took me to Northampton, in the English Midlands and from there, a taxi drove me to St. Andrews Hospital where Lucia Joyce had once been a long term patient. Near to the sprawling complex formerly known as Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, I found tree-shaded Kingsthorpe Cemetery and began searching for Lucia’s gravestone. Up and down the rows and sections I wandered, with no luck. I’d almost given up when, at last, I spied her engraved name on a modest stone among the graves of dead Czech soldiers, and was able to lay the armload of roses I’d been clutching on it.

A few weeks later, early on a Sunday morning, in Zurich, Switzerland, I followed a street map to deserted Fluntern Cemetery, again searching the engraved stones of the dead. This time it was easier, and I found the Joyce buried site in which James, Nora, and Giorgio, their son, lie side by side for eternity. There’s a space here reserved for Lucia, but it remains empty, since, by her own choice, she decided to be buried where she had spent the final thirty-one years of her life. She had not seen her parent’s since before the war and, even in death, there would be no reunion.

I laid flowers on Nora’s section, careful to avoid James’ since he hated cut flowers. Instead I slowly poured a bottle of Irish Jameson Whiskey into the soil atop his and, because I was feeling some ambivalence about writing a novel based on his cherished, troubled daughter, began to explain my qualms to him. Essentially, the superstitious side of me was asking for his blessing. Give me a sign, I asked Lucia’s father, and waited, hearing nothing but birds chirping and a sighing breeze. If somehow he was against it, I’d abandon the idea. I asked again and was startled by the sudden, shocking noise of a supersonic airplane breaking the sound barrier. Then silence.

Yes, I’d gotten a sign. But what had it meant? I still wonder as this welcomed new edition is being prepared for publication by TMI Publishers.

Alison Leslie Gold

New York, 2014

To be or not to be-reft

reft: past and past participle of reave

reave: carry out raids in order to plunder

rob (a person or place) of something y force

steal (something)

One hundred ten years ago today (26 July 1907) Lucia Joyce, daughter of James and Nora, sister of Giorgio, was born in a paupers ward in Trieste. She died in Northampton, England in a mental hospital on 12 December 1982, having spent much of her life locked up – there or elsewhere. From birth she was sickly, cross-eyed, a victim of her Mother’s critical eye, and sharp voice. Although her father coddled her, believed in her, bought her a fur coat and when she lost it bought her another, her sanity had been reft, her prospects bereft. Following are excerpts from my book on Lucia’s life, a love note to her, her courage and tenacity in spite of all especially the bad hand she was dealt at birth and the ignorance from which her mental weakness was treated. Very late in life, though, a love from youth returns to join her in my novella. Before the final curtain falls, bereavement gets tossed aside along with her lap robe; one promise made to her is kept.Attachment-1.gif-90


Clairvoyant, The Imagined Life of Lucia Joyce

from  section – ‘The War, at twenty’

On 28 May 1929 the onion seller finished his work at the produce market at Les Halles, and went walking along the Galerie de Montpensier to look at the small shops, which sold old medals and stamps from around the world. He saw a woman with a small beard and a mustache. He saw that she had mismatched eyes. He wanted to make love to her.

At the arched entrance to the Bal-Bullíer he showed a ticket to the usher. She was a little old woman with a black lace collar and a deathly white face and wrists.

A vision appeared on the stage. A live mermaid. She swayed and undulated to the music, a tall, silver-and-green iridescent mermaid with ribbons threaded through her reddish hair. She wriggled across the stage. As the mermaid shimmered in the stage light an underwater effect was created.

The mermaid’s dance finished, her tender and lovely face glowed pink as the sound of the hands hitting each other and voices cheering burst from the audience. She was not at all diffident. This man was afflicted with a feeling light and pleasurable, weightless as a rib. His heart had melted totally.

As she bowed gracefully he saw that the silvery scaled fishtail curled to the left and that a human leg and foot stood beside it.

“Nous réclamons l’irlandaise!” two voices shouted from the crowd. One voice was Father’s, the other Mr. Beckett’s .

Other voices unknown to me shouted it again, “Nous réclamons l’irlandaise!”

My intuition told me that a stamp had come into the onion seller’s mind, one he had seen in a shop on Galerie de Montpensier.

“L’irlandaise! L’irlandaise!” I heard from the audience.

The onion seller saw the mermaid’s face go pink with pleasure, her smile contagious to both of her bright blue antelope eyes and to her sweet mouth, with which she was trying to maintain reserve.

Then the lights went out.

Another dancer and another music began.

This was some kind of competition between all the dancers. The onion seller would give his life for his mermaid to win.

I was that mermaid but I did not win.


The onion seller followed me out of the theatre. Anxious excitement, perhaps danger, quickened my heavy heart. He backed up and down the curb thirteen times.

Down the street a café had turned on its gramophone. “Pars, sans te retourner, pars.”

Then he glimpsed a long, slender green coat, and a long, milky neck. I was walking with a forlorn droop, wearing a helmet-shaped hat pulled way down over my face. I walked with three other people, a blind man, a beanpole, a worshiped mother, but apart.

I was near the corner. The gas lamp turned my coat to green blotting paper.


What was the use? My glaring deformities, the strabismus eye, scar on my chin, I could go no further. A dancer must be strong. I was not strong any longer, my deformities took enormous strength from me. There were men everywhere, stimulating, vibrant men. A dancer is like a fighter-sex and training do not mix.

No matter who I went with, Mr. Beckett saw me at home every single day.

I had no choice. I gave up dancing.

Then I began to weep and weep. I wept much more than Mother had wept.


from section ‘At Seventy’ –

When my parents come for a visit,” she told Miss Kennedy, “don’t let them see these scurrilous books.”

The writers of yet another scholarly monograph arrived to interview Lucia Joyce. She now called them biografiends, as had her father.

Lucia’s health had been declining. She spent many hours of each day in a wheelchair, often asleep, out of doors if the weather was good so that she could listen to the birds sing to her. She seemed to be waiting for someone to arrive, taking special care of her hair each day and donning an old evening gown even in the chill when she had to cover it with the fur jacket and a lap throw.

It was on a beautiful April day that these three scholars came to Barnaderg Bay to interview her for their paper.

The professors gathered around her wheelchair, holding three kinds of tape recorders, and spoke with her in oily tones as though they were coaxing a rather stupid camel through the eye of a needle, offering biscuits first. “Walker’s Shortbread Rounds, Miss Joyce? Pure butter. Creamy buttery ummm.” They handed her a fistful of biscuits. “Ummm, yummy umm,” the coaxing was almost a hum.

Then Miss Joyce started to hum, her voice sweet but erratic. Three hands pounced upon tape recorders, pressing all buttons to “record.” One professor named Gogarty held out a Marlboro cigarette.

At this instant she turned coy, tilted her head, batted her eyelashes. “Pour moi?” she asked.

All three leaned their faces almost against hers. “Miss Joyce, do you remember anything at all of your father?” one demanded, tape recorder in hand.

Écoutez!” she ordered.

They dared not breathe.

Her voice dropped into a monotonous tone, quite without affect. “Kale or cabbage? Chop well warm leeks onion tops. UMMMM. Green white summer cream cover soft drain potatoes season. I must.”

She spoke more slowly, “Eat leaks milk how. Now. Kale beat pale green fluff. Flame. Deep warm dish. Deep well in center. Pour melted butter. Really I must.” She sighed deeply, “Fill up cavity. I must really.”

“What papers did your father leave in the rue des Vignes flat when he fled to Switzerland when the Germans came?” one asked her intensely.

She studied the plain biscuit-tin top, “L’ Esclammadore! Plain gold ring sixpence thimble button bonfire ghosts witches walk abroad. I get the ring.”

She thumped one of the men with her forearm. “Are you married?”

He nodded.

“Father opened the big horse’s belly. Mother sewed me up inside. I’ll be getting married too. Don’t rub your mushy fat worm between my thighs again, monsieur. I get the ring.”

She spoke no more. She had forgotten him. The cigarette she had been given burned between her lips. Not inhaled. Not exhaled.

The one named Gogarty resisted an urge to squeeze her big old woman’s breasts to make her speak again.

She shut her eyes and sweetly whistled a melancholy tune, her whistle intermingling with a mockingbird’s trilling sound.

Then she began to snooze.

The three moved off together to the edge of the emerald lawn. Excitement stood out in beads of sweat on all three foreheads. Gogarty rewound his tape, then jammed his long finger against the button. The sound of a mockingbird first, then his voice with the words “Umm, yummy um,” and then a mindless hum followed by a second hum. “Strange, I don’t think of mockingbirds in Ireland,” mused Gogarty.

His associate looked up and removed his eyeglasses.

Not another word was said until the tape had concluded.

“What do you think?” asked the associate, pulling on the end of his nose.

Gogarty made some notes on a small pad and then drew a circle around his notes. “L’Esclammadore! Father’s nickname during the early Italian years. The other, colcannon, no doubt. Druidic Sun God feast. Saman, the Lord of Death, that type of thing, bringing together all evil souls who have been condemned for all eternity to inhabit the bodies of wild animals. Also identified as the Irish Saman vigil, Oiche Shamhna. Get it? In my eisegetical view, a tea party. Nausicaa!”

His eyes bulged out of his face.

The other two neither concurred nor disagreed but remained silent.

Gogarty continued, “… cabbage and potato dish served up on the last night of October. All Saints’ Day, Hallowmass vigil. If you get the sixpence, you’ll find wealth, the thimble gets to stay a spinster, the button getter destined to be a bachelor, the ring getter . . . marriage within the year. Could she possibly have any marriage prospects whatsoever?” His tone was mocking.

The third said, “That tune. Hum it again.”

The associate tried.

Gogarty spoke, “Tannhäuser … from Wagner, from the melody sung by Wolfram urging Tannhäiuser to return home to Elisabeth, the heartbroken maiden pining for him, the niece of Hermann, Landgrave of Thuringia. You see Joyce hated Wagner but his wife liked Wagner.”

Gogarty went on, “An orgy figures prominently in this act of the opera. Sexual fantasy about the father … that would concur with my interpretation of the missing letters from 1922, the other notebooks, my theory will be proved when the two wagonloads of papers and books are unsealed in 1991 …” He licked his lips. “I’m sure it’ll match up exactly to my incestuous interpretations of the Scribbledehobble notebook I outlined in my paper at Milan, 1969.”

He turned on the tape recorder and listened to the humming duet again.

If he hadn’t known better he would have sworn that the bird and Lucia were conducting a duet.

He held degrees from three universities. He knew better.

A confetti of swallows swept willy-nilly across the rolling lawn. Their closeness to the ground usually predicted rain. Gogarty noticed that a small man had begun the long walk up the gravel drive from the iron gate. At a distance he looked like someone who had been to the opera. Gogarty couldn’t resist laughing.

He saw that Miss Joyce had risen up from her chair at the sight of him; her fur and lap robe had fallen to the ground, and she stood in a lovely, iridescent silver-and-green evening gown. She seemed to be either laughing or whistling at the sight of him too.




My friend Leslie added a comment to a recent [12/22] post that read:

For many species and individuals the world has ended already. Everything that has a beginning has an ending, Make your peace with that and all is well. (Buddha) It’s the circle of life. But how will it end? The universe is very innovative …

[[Drawing by Devis Grebu from “Letters” Random House, 1979]]

I’m heartened though I’ve no doubt I’m coming-round-the mountain wearing red pajamas in the not too distant future. Unlike the Bristlecone Pine Tree that’s been growing high up in the White Mountains since the pyramids were constructed – 4,600 years ago, give or take a few hundred – it’s unlikely my tenure will last much longer than (say, with luck) four score and spare change. Unless (as Leslie puts it) “innovation”  fiddles with longevity or pauses the final curtain. It’s not impossible. Nothing is, I should be reminded. An example: Edgar Anthagros (the Greek Jew who loved Lucia Joyce through her entire life) who (in youth) woke from his own funeral. Excerpt from

Clairvoyant, the Imagined Life of Lucia Joyce

Part V 

 At Twenty

…Edgar explained that all four of his older brothers had gone to the Transvaal Gold Mines in South Africa before he was born. His mother had lit candles for their safe return but none had returned. Though he was a small child during the Great War, Edgar remembered his own father going with a group of men from the village to work in French shipyards. His father was bearded with blue eyes. He recalled more lighting of candles.

After the Great War Edgar lived with his mother, grandfather, and three unmarried sisters in a tin house that had been an allied troop barrack during the war. They waited for their father to return but he did not.

The entire village worked in the shipyards.

Quite young he would feed his mother’s silkworms with mulberry leaves and tend to the bright yellow silk loops that emerged from the kettles, wound themselves onto the wooden frames. At night he would fall asleep listening to the crunching, chewing of the silkworms.

When his mother took the raw silk to the loom, Edgar would hold the soft curls carefully for her, reluctant to surrender them to the weavers.

Like a sack of stone he had fallen head first from a fig tree and died.

In the family’s tin shack a cloth covered the shard of mirror on the wall and an earthen pitcher of clean water stood at the door. Together the men carried the borrowed child’s-sized pine box to the cemetery. Women sobbed and moaned, prayers were chanted as the procession passed through the narrow streets and up toward the cemetery When the noise of a funeral was heard in other parts of town, doors were shut. Behind these closed doors the women in their kitchens, in order to walk symbolically with the dead boy, walked three steps forward and then, in order to return symbolical to normal life (come back from the dead), walked three steps backward.

When they arrived at the cemetery, a small grave had been dug. The body was removed from the borrowed casket.

Edgar’s grandfather took a handful of dirt, pulled Edgar’s eyelids open, and rubbed the dirt into his eyes. Then the men lowered the body into the grave. The grandfather splashed the body with wine, thinking, “This boy will never drink wine. Never love a woman. Never sing a song. Never carry on my name.” The rabbi sprinkled the body with dry dirt. Immediately, then, all the mourners began to throw dirt down on the small body below, head and foot. Wailing, the mother covered her own face with dirt.

It was at this moment that Edgar sat up and began to rub his eyes.

Still covered with dirt, he was carried home to his grandfather’s bed. His aunt fainted dead out when she saw him carried in through the door. His mother washed him from head to toe and tied a piece of potato with cloth onto his head. She made pinholes in a sheet of newspaper and covered him front and back.

His mother then mixed a glass of water with sugar and went to the fig tree. She poured the mixture into the ground where the accident had occurred. His mother believed that Edgar had been smitten with the evil eye, perhaps from the dangerous blue eyes of his father. …

2014-10-19 20.18.28


Page – Clairvoyant


“He’s about as sincere as a jellyfish; as an ironing board,” I said about my doctor to Pierre.

Being a Jew, Pierre had been made to wear a yellow star.

Blackouts became common. Often in the dark I saw blue-and-white-check carpet slippers shuffle toward me. A ring-encrusted hand would reach out of the darkness patting the air or wall; the hand would corkscrew into the dark and would straighten its spectacles, sending a gleam of recognition out into the room. For an instant I would glimpse a bulging forehead; Brayhead still watching me. Sometimes the ring-encrusted hand dipped inside a dark velvet jacket, exposing hunting scenes embroidered into the tapestry wool vest. The half-lit head, a jaunty hat perched atop, seemed to be looking at me and then turning away into the gloom.

I heard Mother snap at me, “Butterfingers!”

I saw chairs flying.

I wished I could find my copy of Vita Nuova by Dante that my father had given to me, but it had been mislaid somewhere in other places I had been but I couldn’t remember the names of these places. Now they told me there was a war.

“If he is really dead,” I whispered to Pierre, “he will never again eat chocolates out of his own cricket cap. None of us will again eat Bar-le-Due jellies, or Montargies pralines, or get together to play Forfeits or sing ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.’ “

I knew he was not dead. He had lit a candle for me on 13 December. I had seen it, Mother had not.

Both Pierre and I had promised each other to die before falling into German hands. We had heard that Christians were being offered rewards of a half kilogram of salt for each Jew, either dead or alive. “What for?” I asked.

“If only I’d buried eggs in a potato field,” I announced with regret.

The maison still had ample food to eat. One very mean doctor ordered me kept tied to my own bed, which was nailed to the floor.


Rain came drumming and tapping on the thick glass windowpane bringing information. A great ledger sheet was laid out across Europe. If the writing hadn’t been so thick I would have been able to calculate the debits and to predict what was to come. Approaching winter brought more rain, and wind made the trees groan and cry all night.

“Why are my eyes so small and close together?” I asked my doctor. “If my nose was larger, none of this would have happened,” I told him.

As a refugee, Pierre was deprived of his nationality, becoming a stateless Jew under the new Statut des Juifs. He was subject to internment in a “shelter camp.”

At four in the morning he was arrested and taken to Vélodrôme d’Hiver with thousands of others, where ten latrines and one street hydrant for water were …


The Imagined Life of Lucia Joyce

available in paperback and as a kindle on


Lucia is 109

Happy Birthday to Lucia Joyce, who would be 109 today. Lucia was the daughter of James (who would be 134) and Nora Barnacle (who would be 132). Her brother Giorgio (who would be 111) was her only sibling. Image-1-34Following, an evocation of the day of Lucia’s birth in 1907 in Trieste, in the form of an opera  –

Lucia Joyce Und Der Sangerkrieg von der Kindern

with a libretto in Italian, German and bits of French based on the birth and childhood years of Lucia Joyce written by Lucia Joyce -. [From the novel Clairvoyant, The Imagined Life of Lucia Joyce available on Amazon as a paperback and kindle]

LUCIA – Soprano
PAPA – Tenor
MAMA – Mezzo-soprano


Time – Twentieth Century

Place – Trieste, Zurich, Paris


Act I

The act opens to trills of violins as the gauze curtain rises on the city of Trieste. Yellow spotlight skulks along the wall of a rented room. Three photographic copies of Ivan Mestrovic’s sculptures are held on by pins above a tousled bed. The first print, not he left, a pregnant peasant woman writing in pain, the pain of giving birth. In the center, a skeletal child sucking at the almost deflated breast of its  mother. On the right, a naked woman, very old, ugly as sin.

Crashing of cymbals. Piccolos and oboes melt in. Lights go up as Papa and Mama hold a creamy baby, the baby born in the paupers’ ward on St. Anne’s Day. Papa removes the baby’s white fur undershirt and kisses, suckles the baby’s small spongy soles of feet. Lucia, the baby, is naked in a soapy porcelain washbowl. Mama and Papa, Adam and Eve, also naked together suds and tickle the baby. Laughter from them and from voices offstage.

Mama puts her large breast into the baby’s mouth. Lucia sucks it in and in. It jumps out with popping noise and with spittle left on the skin. Mama puts it back and laughs. Papa kisses Mama as Papa’s hatrack grows into an ashplant which taps its head on the washbowl. Its head grows into a bronze cobra, thumping against the washbowl and so forceful that it lifts the washbowl and baby up into the air to the parents’ eye level. Lucia holds on to the breast with her mouth. The breast is an ivory elephant tusk. Lucia’s two hands pat the sides of the warm breast.

The baby’s body is wet from the bath. The parents lick the baby as wild beasts do their young. The baby jiggles her little plump legs in the air, kicking the air. Faintly, a song of sirens as Papa sings “Dir tone Lob.” The lights come up on the Piazza Giambattista Vico where groups of Croats, Greeks, italians, Jews, and Austrians in the street listen to the beautiful melodious tenor voice of Papa coming from the window above them. His voice an invocation. one by one Austrians and Italians drop to their knees in prayer to the Virgin Mary. A somber hymn is heard as the lights lower.

[[Voice of James Joyce reading in 1929 from section “Anna Livia Plurabelle” said to be inspired by his daughter Lucia.]] [[[Photo: James Joyce and Lucia Joyce, Father and Daughter]]]

2015-02-02 08.47.41

Page 1 – Clairvoyant


*****Page 1 – Clairvoyant, The Imagined Life of Lucia Joyce*****

ON THE rolling lawn of Barnaderg Bay Hospital, the long-term patient known as Miss Lucia Joyce sat in a position of slack repose, in a patch of weak sunlight. Her left wrist was braceleted by a canvas posy, the right by a loose cloth only. Her eyes were shut though the left lid fluttered ever so slightly. Her wavy gingerbread-and-gray hair looked as though it had recently been permed. On her lap lay a small copybook and the stub of a wooden pencil.

A mockingbird trilled from its position on the lower branches of a nearby elm tree. In entre chat six the bird leaped into the air, somersaulted, landed on a branch, and then resumed its trilling as it had been doing in tandem to the somersaulting all afternoon a short distance from Miss Joyce’s chair.

The faint sun passed behind a cloud, washing a pale shadow across her face. Her right hand jerked against the restraint and lazily she opened both eyes. They were so blue and clear – her mother’s eyes she had always been told – that they could almost be regarded as aquamarine. Large drops of rain plopped against the crown of her head.

For a brief moment of ecstasy she smelled the rain drenched, fresh smell of her mother’s wet hair. She waited to hear the tone of her voice. By whether or not it was sharp she would know if her mother had finally forgiven her for being such a disappointment.

The charge nurse, Sister Leary, hurried from inside the greystone chapel, where she had been saying her Rosary. Her face showed concern as the rain began to fall; holding on to her white starched hat, she broke into a run. Reaching the clumsy wheelchair, she hurriedly pushed it across the emerald lawn. Miss Joyce’s head bumping as she went.

Miss Joyce showed not the slightest interest in the rain, squinting distractedly at something just out of eye range. Her father had wet her hair with a jug of cool rainwater. Soon he would turn her hair into a halo of soapsuds. His long fingers always made her scalp hum. With the wrong touch, tears of pain sprang to her eyes. While her father sudsed her hair, he would always sing to her in his soft, persuasive Irish tenor voice, his bony body bent over her like a question mark.

She began to hum, her voice sweet but erratic. The bird also trilled noisily.

Her humming continued as Sister Leary ran, barely audible to human ears. Then it trailed off and stopped. The bird grew silent as well.

Sister leaned against the wheelchair in order to push it up the slope into the solarium. She grunted with the effort. Miss Joyce’s head rolled backward, her mismatched eyes showing a flicker of alertness, then disinterest.

The solarium was empty except for a woman who had spent her entire adult life at Barnaderg Bay Hospital. She was Mrs. Angeles, often somnambulist, with canine eyes and dust-gray nose, asleep, drooling onto her woolie.

Sister backed Miss Joyce’s heavy wheelchair against the wall, beside the horsehair couch with cabbage-flowered coverlet and no-longer-white doilies, embroidered and donated by the church ladies from the nearby village to the Handicapped Children’s Home but given by the good sisters there to Barnaderg Bay. Her hair had become wet and tangled.

Mrs. Leary reached under her white starched apron and drew a comb from the pocket of her dark-blue uniform, which was circled by a black belt. At the sight of the comb Miss Joyce recoiled. Mrs. Leary sighed and put the comb away. From the other pocket she removed a packet of Woodbine cigarettes, because she couldn’t afford Sweet Aftons until payday. Then a box of wooden matches.

Seeing the cigarettes, Miss Joyce pinned Mrs. Leary with her left eye and Mrs. Leary loosened the right arm restraint. Miss Joyce’s remarkably pink and outsize hand closed around the packet.

“Flow gently, Sweet Afton,” Miss Joyce teased.

Not one to meet humor with humor, Mrs. Leary sighed once again, “Sorry, dearie, I don’t get paid until next week and neither do you.” Mrs. Leary gave her a pat on her reddish curls. “I promise, dearie.”

2015-02-02 08.47.41

[Photo: Lucia and her father, James Joyce] [[Clairvoyant, available on Amazon as a paperback book or a kindle]]

Fallen on Swords

Image-1-25Mishaps have brought me to a standstill at a dull Travel Lodge in Swords, Ireland. [see Swords documentary] I’ve gotten stuck here bringing to mind Bob Dylan’s tune from 1966 Oh Mama This Could Be the End I’m stuck in Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again. Because it’s the Centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising and Easter Weekend is approaching – Good Friday – Easter Sunday – I could not find a hotel room in central Dublin though I spent half a day on the internet/phone/airb&b. Neither could I get a flight out for less than a king’s ransom. Needless to say, I hadn’t known I’d need to plan ahead. So, here I am in postal code K67 until the resurrection, about 13 km from the Liffy, the medieval town of Swords a ten minute walk away.Clairvoyant

My novel Clairvoyant visits Dublin too. In it Lucia Joyce returns to the place of her father’s birth, Ireland, to try to reconcile him with it. Following, an excerpt about this visit and its aftermath from section #34:

The strategy was—complete and total freedom. Mother shopped for weeks and prepared two trunks for me and I would reconcile my father and the entire country of Ireland. I would travel with my favorite aunt, Aunt Eileen, Father’s look-alike sister. Edgar would join me, my father agreed.

Aunt Eileen’s strategy was—Irish eggs, Irish air.

Edgar told his boss that he would be going away for a trip. He did not know where, but he would need to eat a salmon that had swallowed a hazelnut before he went.

Mother and Father accompanied me to the boat train for London. There was no scene at the station, the trunks were loaded, I was the Lucia of old—sweet and laughing at every wry comment made by either Father or Mother. My mother thought to herself that I looked too chic to be going to dirty old Ireland, that I should be going to a horse race instead. She didn’t say this out loud, having become, she believed, the world champion walker-on-eggs, always alert.

Father slipped an Irish pound into Edgar’s pocket. I brought him back to my compartment. There I presented him with a hatbox. He held the hatbox and slowly turned it with appreciation. “Charlie Chaplin!” I laughed and removed a black bowler hat from the box. I placed it squarely on Edgar’s large head. Though just slightly too small, it made him so happy that he tasted salt in his tears.

In London Aunt Eileen met me and took me by boat to Dun Laoghaire and then twelve more miles further along the coast, to the seaside town of Bray, where she had rented a half bungalow on Meath road quite close to both the railway station and the sea. I arrived on St. Patrick’s day, I carried a long walking stick like a scepter and wore a grand camel’s-hair coat.

Once Aunt Eileen had installed me and gone back into Dublin, I rearranged all the furnishings in anticipation of Edgar’s arrival. I put the bottle of veronal under the mattress, then changed into an oriental kimono with nothing on underneath and lit the gas.

Edgar arrived in the taxi that was bringing the trunks. He saw that the door was wide open and people from the neighborhood were standing at their doors and staring boldly at the half bungalow. I heard someone say, “She squints.”

He carried one trunk into the house and the taxi man carried the other. Then he closed the front door. He had stopped along the way and purchased groceries and a bag of large pamplemousse, which he now put into a glass bowl and placed in the center of the table.

First he sang a song he’d learned as a child in Genti Couli, the town outside of Saloniki, where he was born.

And so ask our bride
What do you call a head?
This is not called a head but
A round grapefruit hanging on a grapefruit tree.

Oh, my grapefruit in a tree,
Oh my spacious countryside,
Long live the Bride and Groom

Edgar and I were becoming fat as Christmas geese. We ate—pamplemousse, raw meat, and buttermilk scones with cabbage, sweetbreads, and porridge. Neither of us had ever been fat before and we decided that it was to our liking. It made noise seem further away, it made sleeping cozier. To prolong our health cure we purchased several jars of ocean swell carrageen, the mucilaginous dark green seaweed.

Back at our bungalow to keep us laughing I recited:

There was an old woman who lived in a lamp;
she had no room
to beetle her champ.

She’s up with her beetle and broke the lamp
and then she had room to beetle her champ.

While edgar mashed large bowls of hot cooked potatoes. together we sprinkled generous shakes of pepper and salt onto the potatoes, added hot milk and hot melted butter and with our invented concoction and sat together, back to back, outside in the little yard, while I read to him sections of Tolstoi in French which my father had sent.

Edgar understood none of what I read, but my voice, speaking slowly and softly, was a whisper away from his ear so that he could feel my intake and exhale of breath. I told Edgar that now that he was more stocky in girth he reminded me of Napoleon. after Charlie Chaplin, Napoleon was my idol. In fact, I told him that I had written at age seventeen a piece for no. 4–5 of Le Disque published by Valéry Larbaud in Belgium, an essay titled “Charlie et les Gosses” on both Napoleon and on my adored Charlie Chaplin.

I took a pair of scissors and cut Edgar’s hair into a short fringe like my impression of Napoleon. I showed him how to bend his hand across his chest and place it under his lapel à la Napoleon. I showed him how to pose and registered great laughter. He resembled Napoleon with the look in the eye of a wild horse and yet devoted and lovable as a Great Dane.

Together we swam in the sea, plump, wearing nothing. In four languages as we strolled through the town, so happy. The hill in Bray looked like father’s profile—forehead and all—as though he were watching over us. I put an ad in the newspaper for someone to come and teach us Italian as it had been the language of my childhood home. I wanted our children to speak Italian also and one day I would teach it to Edgar in bed, word by word.

Our blissful holiday went on until it began to rain and the windows dripped night and day with large rolling drops. On a dark, dreary afternoon my buttered bread fell butter side down. The butter was covered with ash and charcoal bits I started to weep. Edgar had never seen me weep and purposely threw his own bread down in the ash and charcoal so that I would not be alone in ruined buttered bread. The coal bin was empty and Edgar insisted that he go into town for the night’s supply. I said no to him with my wet eyes.

He saw that I was shivering with chill and promised that he would quickly return with coal to keep us warm through the damp night. He was upset and spoke quickly to me in Greek, which I did not know. If only I had learned Chinese, or had taught him Italian by then. I think he said that he would always love me.

I sank down into a chair. He placed a slide into my unwieldy ginger hair, which he found so lovable, and a blanket around my shoulders. He turned on the lamp, put his opera cape around his shoulders, before he shut the front door behind himself.

Father was told that the neighbors, smelling gas, had broken into the bungalow and found all the gas jets turned on at once. The entire room was painted black. An empty aspirin bottle lay on its side beside the blue bottle of veronal, also empty. Fires were smoldering in the rug and in both my trunks.

I was found asleep in Kilmancanogue and made to drink mustard. Both sleeves of my coat were burning. On 13 July I was taken to a maison de santé in Finglas. Some of what had happened was kept out of the newspapers but several items appeared.

“Beware of torpor” were the words telegraphed to me by my father from Fontainebleau. “Je suis bien triste,” he told me.

Aunt Eileen took me by boat to Holyhead and Miss Weaver’s house, where all the windows but one were nailed shut. Before they could nail it, however, I threw out the white gossamer curtains.

I knew from the touch of her thumbs that the new person was a nurse. Then a second nurse was hired, then a third was needed. I had become as strong as a gorilla and was refusing to eat. Voices warned me night and day of approaching doom.

They first took me, now catatonic as an old dishrag, to Surrey to a net hammock tied between one oak and one ash tree. After breakfast the two nurses placed me in it and the third rocked me gently until lunch.

Father thought that perhaps a fur coat would help. Mother persuaded him to try a tweed coat this time. Father was being sued for £100 by the landlady in Bray: for broken furniture, burnt carpets, gas jets destroyed.

Father sent me a camera as a gift. Between bouts of torpor I would sing to no one in either English, Italian, German, or French, at times in all four languages all mixed together. I went into manic singing contests with myself, songs from my whole song-infested life crowding at once into my mind.

I asked the nurses if it was true that my father had been reconciled with Ireland? Had Edgar and I achieved our goal? I was not sure.  When I tried to catch hold of a memory, it was too slippery and would shoot away.

I tried repeatedly to write letters to my parents. Father wrote reams to me daily to cheer me on, pleading with me not to give up. I asked for young nettle tops to be mixed in gloves when picking them and to cut them with very sharp scissors. Before I’d go to sleep I’d make a line of empty milk bottles in front of my door so that I would be warned by hearing the glass break of any intruder’s approaching to menace me in the dark.

When my father was a young man wearing a nautical cap he walked on spidery legs like a heron. My father had always bragged that lice would refuse to live on him, and in my sleep I imagined lice falling from trees onto my father’s head as he brushed by waving, leaving a trail of squirming live lice in his wake.

I saw a boy who had touched me in a private place when I was a little girl. I saw that boy now in my mind’s eye, with stumps at the ends of his wrists as his hands had been removed. I asked to be put into a maison de santé. one was found one hundred miles from London.

They gave me tests.

I could not remain unless Father would certify me. My father refused, and I was brought back to him and Mother in Paris.

Image-1-25Yes, while in Ireland Lucia was about 12 km. south of Dublin in Bray, making a mess. We both made messes in our own way, both were here for St. Patrick’s day. Her town has a hill that resembles her father’s profile, Bray Head, with a concrete cross at the top. My town also has a hill. Spittal Hill, is 13 km north of Dublin. Mine is named after its pure well water, has a 13th century castle, a round tower, the Ward River runs through its center. Image-1-24There are two badminton clubs, a basketball, boxing, soccer, tennis, and golf club. It’s a center for dog shows, over 80 last year. Her town also has tennis and golf clubs, as well as sailing and horses, the River Dangle skirts the town. Swords is considered the second cleanest city in Ireland; Bray is the first. I’m sorry to say, I’m jealous, since only Bray has Mute Swans with white plumage and orange bills (bordered in black) silently gliding in pairs or flying in V-formation at a high altitude above the Irish Sea. I would have liked to be a swan today, as rain begins to fall.

Tale of two Susans

Am onto new work that has briefly taken me to Ireland. Dear, beautiful Ireland! I hadn’t been here since researching Clairvoyant (my homage to James Joyce and his long-suffering daughter Lucia, just reissued by TMI Press), to visit Mrs. Nora Joyce’s cramped childhood home in Galway. That was quite some time ago. Although I’ve only just arrived, it’s obvious that Ireland is altered. Dublin Airport could be Oslo or LAX, the Irish don’t look like the Irish anymore in the same way the French don’t look French and Greeks no longer look like Greeks. Folks everywhere seem (regrettably) interchangeable as if all have jumped out of the same LL Bean catalogue. Happily, though, the famous Irish hospitality/warmth/humor is, as before, alive and well. I’m here to begin research for a new piece of work on childhoods and spent this morning interviewing a Dubliner named Susan R who shares the same name as her mother, also Susan R, who sadly died at age 57. Big Susan, Little Susan. Little Susan told me her mother continued to love a man who abandoned her to the very end of her life. (The song “Yours” was Mammy’s favorite song.) Promising to tell me more about her mother and her own childhood, she did so over a real Irish breakfast:

The mother, from Ringsend, Dublin, had tawny-brown hair and light blue eyes, was tall with high cheekbones. She married at age 18. The man she married owned a shop that sold prams, was ten years older then she was. Quickly there were two children. When Susan was 22 (1947) that husband packed a suitcase and said he was leaving. She didn’t believe him, knew with certainty he’d be coming back, so, on Saturday night she bathed the children, cooked a meal, and waited up for him. He didn’t come home. She drifted into sleep while the lightbulb burned brightly. Susan did this every Saturday night for six months, still certain he’d return. Finally, she received a letter from a solicitor telling her to come to see him. Once there, she was given a Deed of Separation, also a settlement of 400 Pounds. Only then did she realize he wasn’t coming back. She went home and got under her covers. She stopped eating, stopped washing, couldn’t get out of bed. When a doctor bent over her, she told him she had nothing to live for. The doctor brought in her children and said: This is what you have to live for.

Susan: The financial settlement was quite a lot in those days. If Mammy had been more money savvy, she would have paid off the mortgage, but she knew nothing, and the money began slipping through her fingers.

Susan calls her Mammy or Ma. As there was no divorce in Ireland at the time, her mother was considered a married woman by the state, by the church, thus no family benefits could be had. She was bewildered by her own circumstances until, one day while her she was out washing her windows, an older man who lived around the corner named Mikey chatted her up. Soon Mikey asked if she’d mind his two kids while he was at work as his wife had also deserted him. Susan said yes, then began cooking meals for Mikey and his When she discovered she was pregnant by Mikey, her mother, Granny Annie, and the Parish Priest, Father Horgan, ordered her not to let Mikey in anymore as she was still considered a married woman and Mikey a married man.

Granny and the Priest arranged that the newborn would be taken away and put up for adoption. While she was pregnant, she lost her house, became destitute. A large mysterious sum had been withdrawn from her settlement. Perhaps it was Mikey? It was never discovered to whom she’d given the sum. My brother was temporarily taken in by one of her 14 siblings, and my sister was put into the Sacred Heart Home (orphanage). The only place Ma could go was a Night Shelter for the homeless and destitute until a kind neighbor, Mrs. Hanlon, with five or six kids of her own, took her in. 

When Little Susan was born (1952), a confusion was created by an unexpected change in nursing staff when the nurse wasn’t informed that the newborn couldn’t to be taken to the mother as it was being given away, so Little Susan was put into her mother’s arms. When the mistake was discovered, Susan refused to give up her baby. Even when the parish priest came to the hospital to persuade her, she refused. If she could manage two children, she could surely manage three, she told the priest and the others.

When released from the hospital, she was able to acquire a one-bedroom flat in Mt. Pleasant Buildings in a squalid part of south Dublin called Ranelagh. (Maureen O’Hara was born in this neighborhood, so was writer Maeve Brennan.) Here Susan and her three children remained for several years, hoping that one day they could be assigned a house for which they had applied. A nun at the nearby convent, Sister Coleman, a teaching sister, became aware of their plight and was able to pull some strings that enabled the family to jump higher up on the house queue than they should have been.

Susan: On the day the letter bringing news of the house arrived, Ma was baking. She got so excited she threw the basin of flour up in the air. 

The allotted house was in a new area south of Phoenix Park called Ballyfermot – part country, part suburb. It was a corner house on Carna Road with two bedrooms, a large front garden, a smaller back garden, a stairway, which was a novelty to the children. The house was at the end of a row of 15 like houses, facing a row of 15 more and the two older children could walk to their school. A Vincent de Paul man, Mr. Selby, and his wife, Mrs. Selby, took an interest in their plight and surreptitiously gave Susan a job cleaning their house. This suited her, as she could bring the baby with her to work. The small remittance she received from the Selby’s was her sole source of income as she was still deemed a married woman, not allowed benefits, or allowed to work.

Another nun, Reverend Mother Attracta, had befriended my mother when she was pregnant, and the friendship continued even when the family moved.

How did your family get by, I asked this morning, an overcast day in Dublin, while we got full on fried eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, pudding, bacon, fried bread and drank coffee.

When it was time for me to make my First Holy Communion, Mother Attracta paid for my white communion dress. communion_resized-2She also arranged for Mammy to receive a fortnightly parcel in a brown paper bag. In it – sugar, margarine, tea – and more important, in the parcel was an envelope containing 10-shillings – one red banknote in a brown envelope. Later it was increased to a one pound note, a green banknote. It helped us a great deal.

How did you get this parcel?

First my sister picked it up, then my brother, then, when I was a bit older, I did.

From where?

From the convent.

So you’d go there ….

Yeah. When I rang the doorbell, one side of two-sided, tall, wooden doors opened up to reveal a small petition with bars on it through which I could see a short nun in a black habit. This was unusual as the other nuns in the convent all wore blue and white. When I asked for our parcel, if it wasn’t ready, the nun in black pressed a buzzer that opened a door into a hallway. To the right was a big room where I was told to wait.

What was it like in there?

The four corners of the room consisted of straight backed wooden chairs. On the left, a large glass cabinet displaying Priest’s vestment’s in different colors – green and gold, wine and gold – sewn by the nuns. In the middle of the room, a big wood table. Under it, a Persian rug covering half the wooden floor. I can still smell the musty, tarty, raw wood of that table. I would sit in one of the hard chairs facing two tall windows.586_resized


Eventually, a nun came in with the brown parcel. I’d immediately look inside for the envelope. If it wasn’t there, I’d ask for it. I knew Mammy had to have it. Then the nun would go off to get it. And I’d wait…

A long time?

Yeah, it was awfully long. They’d forget about me. Also included in the parcel was a weekly butchers docket.

Butcher’s docket?

For the same butcher from which the convent got its meat.


Yes. On Saturday morning I would set off with the plastic shopping bag on my skinny arm to collect the parcel and collect the meat. With the docket we got 10-shillings worth of meat. I also got friendly with a girl who worked at the butchers and I’d ask for extra rashers, sausage and pudding too. It was a challenge to get the extra bits. The girl would wrap it all, even though this was way over the 10-shillings limit,Image-1-23 and would tell me to go tell the cashier that it was meat for the convent. Coming out, I would feel elated because we’d have enough for sunday breakfast and a roast for sunday dinner. I needed to take two busses home but often skipped one, and walked, in order to save enough to buy a coronet (cone) of vanilla ice cream at Woolworth’s for 4-pence. Sometimes I even had a few pence left while I browsed around the musty old second hand bookshops, or wandered through the city looking into shop windows and finally get the bus back to Ballyfermot.

Let me go back for a minute. How often and long did you actually have to wait for the parcel? 

It happened about half the time. Sometimes I’d have to wait four to six hours. When it did, I’d sit in a chair facing the tall windows. Outside were trees in a park opposite. Through the years I’d watch the seasons change. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop but through the walls were sounds of the nun’s big brown beads rattling, the swishing of their habits, the jiggling of their keys as they locked and unlocked doors. Each time I heard a key in a door, I hoped one of them was coming to me with the parcel so I could get the hell out of there…

(to be continued)




Clairvoyant, on her father’s birthday

2015-02-02 08.47.41Clairvoyant Kindle Cover

This novel is a recreation of the tortured life of Lucia Joyce, the schizophrenic daughter of James Joyce. It follows Lucia’s struggle to survive despite the terrifying effects of this devastating mental illness. Today is the birthday of Lucia’s father. Following, is the note to the recently reissued TMI edition of Clairvoyant: The Imagined Life of Lucia Joyce

Note to New Edition — Clairvoyant

 As a superstitious person, like James Joyce, always looking for signs and omens and coincidences in life, I thought it a good idea to visit the graves of the would-be subjects on whose biographical armature my fiction would hang. I caught a train from Euston Station in London that took me to Northampton, in the English Midlands and from there, a taxi drove me to St. Andrews Hospital where Lucia Joyce had once been a long term patient. Near to the sprawling complex formerly known as Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, I found tree-shaded Kingsthorpe Cemetery and began searching for Lucia’s gravestone. Up and down the rows and sections I wandered, with no luck. I’d almost given up when, at last, I spied her engraved name on a modest stone among the graves of dead Czech soldiers, and was able to lay the armload of roses I’d been clutching on it.

A few weeks later, early on a Sunday morning, in Zurich, Switzerland, I followed a street map to deserted Fluntern Cemetery, again searching the engraved stones of the dead. This time it was easier, and I found the Joyce burial site in which James, Nora, and Giorgio, their son, lie side by side for eternity. There’s a space here reserved for Lucia, but it remains empty, since by her own choice, she decided to be buried where she had spent the final 31 years of her life. She had not seen her parent’s since before the war and, even in death, there would be no reunion.

I laid flowers on Nora’s section, careful to avoid James’ since he hated cut flowers. Instead I slowly poured a bottle of Irish Jameson Whiskey into the soil atop his and, because I was feeling some ambivalence about writing a novel based on his cherished, troubled daughter, began to explain my qualms to him. Essentially, the superstitious side of me was asking for his blessing. Give me a sign, I asked Lucia’s father, and waited, hearing nothing but birds chirping and a sighing breeze. If somehow he was against it, I’d abandon the idea. I asked again and was startled by the sudden, shocking noise of a supersonic airplane breaking the sound barrier. Then silence.

Yes, I’d gotten a sign. But what had it meant? I still wonder as this welcomed new edition is being prepared for publication by TMI Publishers.



Romanticizing the Irish

I dedicated my first novel Clairvoyant, the Imagined Life of Lucia Joyce  (the story of James Joyce’s daughter Lucia Joyce, who spent 47 years in mental hospitals), to an Irish nurse friend. At the end of my Author’s Afterword I wrote: … This book is dedicated to all kind, caring nurses around the world especially Nurse A.G. Kennedy…whose loving care altered this author’s life. An understatement, actually, since I credit Nurse Kennedy – Anna – with saving my life at a long-ago vortex. (Details at some point down the road. Perhaps.) Maybe this is when my soft spot for nurses, and also for the Irish, began.

photo-62[photo 1.]

Anna (we met at the beginning of the 70s), always insisted she would retire in Ireland. But, when the time came, almost no one she knew was still alive there and the plan faded away. She lived in a rent-controled apartment on Bleecker Street. Around the time she retired from nursing, I was again based in New York. Another nurse friend, Andrea (also Irish, originally from Belfast), Anna and I, began having dinner together every couple of months, like clockwork. Because Andrea still worked (on a geriatric psych ward at a local hospital) and her shift ended 4ish, our meals were scheduled on the early end. At first we met at restaurants but soon began to meet in my apartment. I would cook or order in; Andrea would bring wine, other drinks; Anna always brought pastries from Pasticceria Bruno on LaGuardia Place. There was nothing I prepared through the years that Andrea and Anna didn’t eat with relish. (You’d have throught I was a great cook, which I’m not, they’re just appreciative and good eaters.) They’d usually leave by 6:30. In the last 4 or 5 years Anna started speaking gibberish. She was losing weight, was often unkempt. Long story short, she was diagnosed with advanced Alzheimer’s. Our get-togethers continued. Anna somehow was  able to make it to Chelsea from the Village every time while Andrea and I held our breath waiting for the inevitable shoe to drop. In November, on the afternoon/evening of our last gathering, Anna didn’t show up. We waited and waited, then ate. Just us two. After the next shoe dropped, Anna’s guardian took her to live in a ‘home’ on Staten Island while the guardian, Andrea and others in the inner circle began dismantling her apartment.

Yesterday, a foggy, too warm day two days before Christmas, Andrea and I met at the Ferry terminal and traveled to Staten Island jumpy with trepidation. No sad story follows, since we discovered that Anna’s good nature, like cream, had risen to the surface. She was clean, safe, knew everyone, everyone knew and already loved her. Her anxiety had diminished. Her room looked out at the ocean. She managed to explain that she relished the sunrise every day. Able to make sense of her gibberish, we had a good time, some laughs, had lunch in the dining room with others who lived there. Anna still remembers the old times and, so far, so do Andrea and I so there’s much between us. Before departing, we agreed to continue our periodic get-togethers on Staten Island. Anna indicated that she could no longer provide desert. We reminded her that now she was hosting, one or the other of us would take on her old job. Besides, Bruno’s no longer existed, had shut after 41 years, so what difference did it make. Anything sweet would do.

photo-61[photo 2]

We left in time for Anna to play bingo with her new friend Sylvester. Outside, the sky had opened wide, pouring rain in buckets. The windows of the bus that took forever getting to St. George’s Harbor fogged up and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that had loomed so large on the way in had disappeared into the fog on the way out. When the gates opened to allow us onto the ferry, we sprawled on a bench on the Statue of Liberty side, hot coffee in hand. Andrea remarked that while clearing out Anna’s apartment, she’d discovered the pastries unfailing Anna had meant to bring with her on the evening of what would have been our final gathering. Unfortunately, as she wasn’t able to find her way uptown, she must have returned home and put the white cake box tied with string into her freezer. The cannoli’s were frozen solid when Andrea found them.

We began to speak of other things. The inevitable subject of movies came up. I suggested the film “Brooklyn” based on Colm Toibin’s novel, that I, a lover of everything Irish, had just seen and been melted by.

It’s a must for you to see, I urged.

Ed and I saw it. I hated it, Andrea responded to my surprise.

You hated it?

Image-1-13 [photo 3]


Realizing that it was her story too, having emigrated to New York from Ireland as a young woman just as the girl in the movie had, I asked, How so?

It’s a fantasy. Unreal. No Irish girl comes to New York where a kindly Irish priest is waiting to set her up in a convivial boarding house with lovable folks and gets her a job at an upscale department store and finds a way for her to go to night school to study accounting…

I guess you had a different experience.

Indeed I did.

I ask her to tell me about it, realizing (shamefully), that I – usually so nosey – had never before snooped into her history.

When I finished school in Belfast, I was accepted as an exchange student by the Michigan Council of Churches in Bay City, Michigan. I was 18, fairly naive, had attended an all girls school. My family was Protestant but not religious. My father was dead and my mother wanted me to see afield before starting nursing school. Mother drove me to Cobh, Southern Ireland and I happily sailed in 1960 to Quebec, then took a train to Michigan. I was met by my ‘American’ parents who would be my family for a year. I was suddenly homesick, I couldn’t stop weeping. My ‘family’ got and stayed upset because I was so horribly homesick. The first Sunday they brought me to church, they were very Christian. I was marched up to the front of church and told to introduce myself. I was mortified, all I could do was stutter some words.

I listened.

My American mother asked if my Irish mother drank. I said yes, she had a drink once in a while. I was told my Irish mother was a bad woman and wouldn’t go to heaven. I was also told that my clothes were all wrong. I was to share a room with the young daughter of the family, she was  upset that she had to share her room. She couldn’t stand me. The parents were abusive, the husband walked around naked except for skimpy underpants. They had had other exchange students who were Scandinavian and told me those girls were pretty, I wasn’t. Having an exchange student gave them status but unfortunately I was a big disappointment …

I listened.

The only real thing that happened in the movie “Brooklyn”…that also happened to me…was that later, after I’d finished nursing school, and come back to America, to New York, where I was able to work in a good hospital, I, like Eilis in the film, had to go back to Ireland. Eilis was summoned when her sister dies, me when my mother got sick. Like her, once there, my mother’s women friends told me it was my duty to stay and care for my mother. Their view was that I should give up my New York life since I had no husband, no children. My mother and brothers never told me I should stay but the Greek chorus did. My mother had had both legs amputated because of bad circulation. I stayed and lived at the hospital with her. At night I’d lay my head at the end of her bed where, because she has no legs, there was a space for it. She finally died, setting me free. I closed her eyes. Before I left the hospital staff asked if I wanted her two amputated legs. I want to kill them. I said No. I emptied her small apartment, then my brother took over, and I returned to New York. Three months later a friend took me to Montauk for a weekend. While there I went into the sea alone. I thought I should keep walking away from the shore, I should drown. It was misty, seductive. I thought of my brother and came ashore. That’s a little less romantic than “Brooklyn” wouldn’t you say?


[photo 4]


She shakes her head. So much for romance, goodheartedness, opportunity, good fortune, kindly men of God…

Our ferry was docking. We agreed to arrange our next journey to S.I. in the New Year.

I’ll bring the desert.

I’ll bring the wine and drinks.

We quickly walked toward the #1 train, wanting to get home before the worst of the pre-Christmas Eve rush began. I felt a little naive, also foolish to have been so drawn into “Brooklyn” – both the book and the film. I remembered something Virginia Woolfe had said about fiction: “Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps but still attached to life at all four corners.” And what about fact? Apropos of Andrea’s youthful experience, fact seemed like an Asp nest, also attached to life at all four corners.

[Photos: [1] Anna, a young nurse. [2] Anna, Andrea, Alison in S.I. [3] Still of the young Irish girl, Eilis, from the film “Brooklyn” as played by the Irish-American actress Saoirse Ronan. [4]  Andrea, a young nurse.]