James Mulhern has published fiction or poetry in literary journals and anthologies over seventy times. In 2013, he was a Finalist for the Tuscany Prize in Catholic Fiction. In 2015, Mr. Mulhern was awarded a fully paid writing fellowship to Oxford University in the United Kingdom. That same year, a story was longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. In 2017, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His writing (novels and short story collection) earned favorable critiques from Kirkus Reviews, including a Kirkus Star. His most recent novel, Give Them Unquiet Dreams, is a Readers’ Favorite Book Award winner, a Notable Best Indie Book of 2019, and a Kirkus Reviews Best Indie Book of 2019.
When Mom and I arrived, you hid the donut behind the picture.
You sat in the sunny kitchen, embarrassed that you’d been caught with a sweet.
My mother tsk-tsked as you deflected our attention to the old photograph,
gray and yellowed, like your sagging skin.
I stared at the image—a girl wading in the ocean not far from the shore.
“That’s me.” You pointed to your former self, wearing a bathing suit like a dress.
Your stockings rolled, you pushed dark water aside to reach a boulder
in the crashing waves and foam.
I moved closer to inspect. I smelled sweat from your large body.
“Did you sit on the rock when you reached it? Was it fun?”
My mother rummaged around us, putting dirty plates in the sink,
running water in the basin.
You laughed, then held your pudgy hand against your cheek.
“I was gathering food for dinner. Sea lettuce is what we called it.
We scraped the rocks and made stew. ‘Twas the food we needed,
but it was good and we were happy.”
“Time for your bath.” My mother put her arm under yours.
“Jimmy, help your grandmother up.” I wrapped myself around your back, pressing into your soft flesh. “Up you go. On the count of three. One, two, three,” she said.
You moaned and breathed deeply as we lifted.
When we reached the bathroom, my mother said she’d take it from here.
“That was Clew Bay in County Mayo,” you told me before the door shut.
As she eased you into the warm bath, I listened to my mother scold you—
your diabetes and hiding the donut.
She blathered on about your eating habits and hygiene.
Silent, except for sighs as she sponged your back,
you were three thousand miles away, walking into the sea.
The water was colder, but its sweet memory was all you needed.