Eileen Counihan joined the Dalkey Writers Workshop in Spring 2010. She writes short stories and poetry and was runner-up in the 2007 Francis McManus Radio Short Story awards and winner of the 2008 Listowel Writers Week, Bryan McMahon short story award. In 2015, a short story of Eileen's featured in Make the Transition, a Transition Year English textbook published by EDCO. She is currently working on her first novel.
Below the picture of Killiney hill are two short stories and a poem by Eileen.
By Eileen Counihan
Any chance of a lazy Sunday afternoon in front of the fire reading the newspapers is blown away, when my daughter announces that she has to have new trainers today. Not tomorrow. Not yesterday but now.
As far as I am concerned going into a sports shop to buy a teenager trainers is like lowering myself into a pit of burning tar. It’s all to do with the heaving dance music pouring out from screens on every wall, the completely indifferent, under-trained, under-paid teenage staff, and the mogadon headed customers whose screaming toddlers should be running around the park not sitting strapped into buggies. But I’m there now and I decide to make the best of it. We both stand slack-jawed, blankly gazing at the altar of Reebok, Nike and Adidas. The white branded beacons of pure unadulterated consumerism sit on their individual stands signalling ‘buy me, buy me, buy me’ to adolescent brains.
I try, I really do try, to work out why one pair of trainers is €130 and the other is €30. I pick one up and then the other. Same brand, same material, same sole. Different coloured stripe on the side. A different coloured stripe costs €100. But I am too long in the tooth to say this out loud. Oh no I will be accused of not understanding anything.
Eventually, one of the indifferent staff sidles up. A Justin Bieber clone in fact. His long fringe hiding his sleepy eyes. “OK?” It’s not so much a question that he asks us but a pathetic bleat that begs us not to ask for anything that may require him to actually do anything. My daughter stares at the ground and her shoulders move upwards. I point to the pair of €30 trainers. “They’re nice?” I venture. “Mum, they’re disgusting,” she whispers. “Well I don’t see what’s so bad about them.” I say a bit sniffily. “You just like them because they’re cheap.” I swear teenagers can read a parent’s mind without even trying. “What about these?” at €60 they are at my secret maximum spend. No comment from my daughter.
Justin Bieber is moving away. I can feel my palms sweat. If he goes, he will disappear behind the staff door never to re-emerge in my lifetime. We will be left wandering in this noisy hellhole for ever. I take the plunge. “Have you got these in size 6?” He trudges off to look reluctantly.
While we wait, I exchange glances with other victims. One particular paragon of maternal virtue catches my eye. She is carrying two pairs of football boots back to her eight year old David Beckham. She holds up the offerings for his approval. He glances at the boots with all the expertise of a diamond assayer, “Yes” he says peremptorily, pointing to one pair, “they can go in the ‘maybe’ pile. The other pair are a definite no.” The ‘maybe’ pile has about twelve pairs stacked up neatly. I look back at the mother who is already obediently returning the ‘no’ pair to the shelf. I consider asking her if she is on drugs or has she undergone frontal lobe lobotomy that ensures she never questions or argues with her offspring but patiently waits for his next order? I want to whisper words of encouragement and emancipation to this obviously broken woman.
But my daughter catches my eye with a warning glance. “Maybe” she says quietly, "I can wear my old pair for another while." We escape before Justin comes back and we buy two hot chocolates on the way home.
by Eileen Counihan
We didn’t get pancakes the day Da died. I had been really looking forward to them for days but my Da had come home from work in the middle of the morning and gone up to his room complaining of indigestion followed by my Mam saying over and over “I think I should get the doctor, Joe.” By the time she did get the doctor it was all too late and my Da had died. Then she kept saying “I knew I should have called the doctor sooner”, but this time she didn’t say it to anyone in particular.
Then Mam started to cry and all the neighbours came in and sat with her in the front room. Myself and Eoin sat in the kitchen waiting to be told what to do. But nobody told us anything. So me and Eoin went down to the river to play. We climbed out over the river on a bigh branch as far as we could. We took it in turns holding on while one of us jumped on the other end trying to make the other let go. We never did. But I was sure I heard the branch crack. Then we went back to the town and bought chips at the chipper. Rosa was looking all sad and asked us how we were and Eoin said we were fine and Rosa gave us two extra scoopfuls of chips and a bottle of TK red lemonade. We didn’t have to pay for it. On the way home eating our chips and drinking the lemonade, people from the town kept stopping us and saying things like “I’m sorry foryour troubles boys” or “I’ll say a prayer for you all”. Eoin said “thank you” and everyone smiled at him. Mr McGann the butcher kept blowing his nose with a big handkerchief and ruffled Eoin’s hair. I didn’t say anything. I can never think of anything to say when grown ups say things like “how are you” or “how is the family” or worst of all “how is school”. So I just say nothing. Mrs Dempster in number 24 says I’ve got a desperate long gob on me and that I’ll never be famous for my charm.
When we got home, Mam was still sitting in the front room. All the neighbours had gone home, but Father McIntyre was standing at the fireplace smoking a cigarette.
“Ah, here they are now Mrs Davis. I knew there was nothing to be worried about. Your mother was worried about you boys.”
Mam did not say anything. She was looking into the fire and not at us which was a good thing because our shoes were soaking from the river.
Father McIntyre looked at Mam and back at us. “Maybe you should run along and go to bed boys.”
“There are sausages on the pan” Mam suddenly said.
“We got chips, we’re not hungry” said Eoin. Mam didn’t say anything more she just nodded.
“You’re going to have to be big boys now. Especially you Kevin. Because you’re the eldest.” said Father McIntyre throwing his cigarette into the fire. I nodded back.
“You’re Da was a great man, you know. One of the finest men I ever knew.” I nodded again. I thought for a second he was going to cry. But he didn’t. We went upstairs. It was too cold to get undressed so we just got into bed in our clothes. I lay on my back staring in the dark at my Liverpool posters. I tried not to think about Da lying in the room next door but then Eoin said “Do you think his eyes are open.” “Shut up” I whispered and Eoin started snuffling a bit. So I said, “John Toshack”. There was a pause for a moment and then a muffled voice came out from under the candlewick bedspread “Steve Heighway” “Emlyn Hughes” “Kevin Keegan”. By the time I got to “Ray Clemence” I knew Eoin was fast asleep.
The next day nobody said we had to go to school so we played down by the river again and in the afternoon we bought Trigger bars and Sherbet Fountains and we went to the pictures to see Where Eagles Dare. It was brilliant and afterwards we came out and Eoin ran down the main street shouting “Achtung, Achtung” and “Raus bitte, raus”. Everyone looked at us but nobody gave out. We arrived back at the house. It was totally silent and suddenly our laughing felt bad, like we had forgotten that Da had died. Father McIntyre was in the sitting room again and Mam was still sitting in her chair facing the fire which wasn’t lit. It felt funny seeing Mam sitting all the time, usually she is always doing things like the ironing or the cooking or the cleaning or the washing of our hair on a Friday night. But now she seemed to have nothing to do.
“Boys, how are you boys?” said Fr McIntyre
“OK father” said Eoin.
“Good. Good. I was thinking that maybe you would like to come upstairs and say goodbye to your father?”
Eoin and I said nothing but I could almost feel Eoin shrink against the wall. I looked over at Mam but she was looking at the floor directly in front of us.
“I think it’s important to say goodbye. What do you say boys.” I knew this wasn’t really a question so I nodded.
We followed Fr McIntyre up the stairs to the front bedroom. The curtains were closed against the grey March evening. The bedside lamp gave a low glow to the bedroom and the wardrobe seemed huge in the alcove beside the unlit fireplace. The room felt strange, like it was a room I had never been in before. We stood in the doorway. Fr McIntyre waved at us to come in further. So we shuffled forward six inches.
Da was lying on the bed. And I could not believe it, not only was he fully dressed in his best suit and the tie he got last year in Arnotts in the sale but he was wearing his best black leather shoes. His shoes on the bed. Mam would kill us if we were lying on the bed with our shoes on but I didn’t say anything. I could not really see his face and I did not want to, but Father McIntyre seemed to be pushing me towards the bed. And then I saw the face and I stepped back against Father McIntyre. It wasn’t Da’s face. It mustn’t be Da. It must be some other man who was the same size of Da and who had black hair swept back and who was wearing his best suit and his best black leather shoes. But it definitely wasn’t Da.
I knew my Da. He was big and solid. And he was always smiling. The same picture kept replaying in my head. It was the picture of me and Eoin and Mam and Da sitting around the kitchen table. It’s Saturday evening and we are having sausages and rashers and grilled tomatoes for tea. The big pot of tea is sitting in the middle and Mam has got up to get more bread and butter. And Eoin is talking. Making us laugh with a story about little JoJo McManus and the time he did a wee in the confessional box. And then Da looks over me at me and he is smiling with his hands up against the back of his head. And I look over at him and catch his eye and then he gives me a great big fat wink. And every bit of me is smiling too.
And that’s the Da I remember, the Da who makes me feel like I don’t have to be funny or clever or anything special. That just being Kevin is enough.
So then I was running down the stairs. I knew I had to get away. I was running out the front door. My legs just wanted to run and run. My stomach felt sour and heavy. I was running down the road. My voice wanted to say something but nothing came out. I wanted to be away from everyone. From Mam and her blank face. From Fr McIntyre and his cigarettes that he is throwing into our fireplace. From Eoin and his snuffling. From all the people in the town with their looks. And from Da. Because I knew in my heart that the yellow faced man on the bed in our front room was my Da. And that he was dead. Da is dead. The words went around my head like the church bells on Sunday morning.
I sat down by the river and wiped my face with the sleeve of my jumper. I did not want to go back to them all. So I just sat there. For a long time. Trying to think of nothing which is a hard thing to do. Harder than you would think. And then when it was dark, I heard Mam’s voice and she was calling my name. So I stood up. And she was climbing down the bank in her indoor shoes and her tweed coat. And even in the dark, I could see her face had a fierce sort of look on it. “What are you doing running away like that.” And I was happy that she sounded cross. Then she gave me a hug. Her body was shaking. After a long time she pulled away and she tried real hard to smile, “Let’s go home and I’ll make us some pancakes for tea.” I love pancakes, so I went home with her.
What do you want me to do about it?
by Eileen Counihan
The WiFi is down
The car tax is up
The toilet is leaking
The dishwasher's fucked
My novel's not written
My bank balance's red
The student's just cancelled
The dog's to be fed
There's no dinner in the fridge
There's a fault with the car
The grass needs cutting
And I need a shower
We're out of milk
We're out of ink
We're out of time
And don't you think
That someone else
Could help me please
I'm just one person
I'm on my knees.
Was this the deal
When I gave birth
That I would lose
My real self-worth?
So, get out of bed
Don't be a pest
Fix the WiFi
And I'll do the rest.