Dee Scallan writes short stories and memoir and is working on a book for children. Three of her pieces were included in Cuisle Chill Dara, an anthology published in 2019. She was runner-up in the 2019 Michael Mullan Writing Competition with her story, On the Move. Her memoir, Locking Down a Virus, was published in Writing. ie in 2020. Dee enjoys ‘zooming’ with her friends in the Naas Creative Writers Group.
By Dee Scallan
The voice came at her out of the dark as Maggie walked towards her car. Her body stopped
moving mid-bop, the joy of conducting the school band cut short as the score sheets fell from her hands.
‘Good show then, Miss?’
A shriek caught in Maggie’s throat as she backed into the rear of her red Peugeot
hatchback. Doing a quick scan of the yacht club car park, she saw that the crowd had
dispersed in the rain. There was nothing but shadows playing with her eyes, and a hum from the marina below – no sign of the caretaker anywhere.
‘Who’s there?’ she said, cursing herself for not asking one of the team to wait for her.
A figure detached itself from behind a column at the entrance – a tall, thin, shape in a
long, dark trench coat.
‘Habit of yours – taking the air late at night,’ he said.
‘What do you want? I haven’t got the takings.’
‘Is that so.’
Retrieving her belongings from the wet ground, Maggie made for the driver’s door.
‘I wouldn’t, if I were you. Let’s finish our conversation first, Ms. Coleman. Tell me.
Enjoyed any more late-night walks on the headland?’
Maggie flinched, her mind racing back to a night over three months ago.
‘Want to be careful – dangerous down there, by the old diving board. Could find
yourself toppling in – if you know what I mean.’
The chill in the air moulded to silence, capturing pictures of stormy words in the
howling dark. Why hadn’t she just told people the truth of what happened that night? She’d done nothing wrong. It was an accident.
‘I…I never go….’
‘Come on now, Maggie. We know you do.’
‘I’m sure you’d like us to keep it to ourselves.’
Maggie shuddered – not again. What kind of people has Andrew drawn down on me?
‘How much?’ she said.
‘It’s not your money we want.’
Maggie swallowed. Something clawed at her innards.
‘Be at the marina Tuesday night. 11 o’clock. You’ll take delivery of a package. Find
a boat called An Chloch Bhán – at the farthest end. Hatch will be unlocked. Wait below for
‘Tuesday night? But I…I can’t,’ she whispered.
‘What’s that? You can’t? Ah, sweetheart. Then I can’t promise you my friends will
keep your secret…secret.’
‘Is this…do I… only the once?’ she asked, a crack in her voice.
‘That’s the deal.’ Maggie heard him spit into his hand, and drew further away.
‘Bring one of those big handbags you ladies like to carry.’
‘What am I to do with the package?’
‘Told you – instructions on the night.’
At 10.45 on the Tuesday night, Maggie drove down through the village, praying that
this wouldn’t take too long and that her daughter would stay asleep.
The breath of the ocean filled her lungs as she turned left onto the causeway. A group
of fishermen were loading tackle into a van, so she continued to the end of the pier. Parking among the boats in dry dock, she waited for them to be gone.
10.48 – twelve minutes to go. Maggie hunched her shoulders and tucked her chin into
her neck. How did she let this happen? If my mother could see me now – the divorce to Kevin would be the least of her worries. The fine lines around Maggie’s mouth deepened. There must be piles of dirt under that carpet my mother keeps.
10.53 – nobody around. Maggie got out of her car and headed for the marina.
Hurrying past the sailing school, she cursed the moon which insisted on seeking her out. The lights of the Yacht Club, on the hill behind the school, twinkled in time to the clinking masts.
She followed the ramp to the right, the breakwater alone between her and the swell of the
ocean, plaques in memory of those lost to the sea mocking her.
She spotted the Chloch Bhán bobbing behind a large yacht, like a toy in a children’s
bath. It wasn’t much bigger than one of those speed boats that chased around the harbour.
Behind it, black clouds reared above the distant mountains. Water splashed and churned.
Ghosts whispered in the depths as the rising ocean breeze curled around her neck.
Lowering herself onto the boat deck, she held onto the rail to keep herself steady.
Then she raised the hatch and went down below, wrinkling her nose at the claggy air.
Fumbling in the dim light, she felt for the berth, then sat down and waited, counting the
seconds with each beat of her heart.
Her stomach rumbled. Maggie hadn’t eaten anything that evening – apart from the few
chips she’d shared with her daughter. Remembering the bar of chocolate she’d meant for
Naomi, she rummaged in her bag and broke off a square. One was all she could manage.
Seconds turned into minutes, which turned into an hour. She grabbed her phone. Only
five minutes since last she’d checked. Was the delivery not happening tonight? She didn’t
think she could go through this again. Every sound made her jump. Every flash of light filled her with dread – she needed air. She needed to go home.
Reaching up to loosen the hatch, Maggie immediately regretted it as the strengthening
wind tried to whip it from her hands. The nearby cove threw up the sound of waves that
battled with the coastline. The moon had gone into hiding. Fighting to maintain her balance, she managed to secure the hatch in place.
As wind and rain lashed against the porthole, Maggie reached out and grabbed hold
of the bunk frame. Chips and chocolate churned in her stomach, rebelling against the constant motion beneath her. She crouched down onto the bunk as the boat rocked against its mooring.
The sound of a siren made her sit up again. She moved to open the hatch, but backed
away. Cursing her indecision, she paced up and down the narrow space between the bunk bed and the counter. The slab of concrete in her stomach threatened to tear her insides open.
Oh God, what was she doing – taking delivery of a substance she knew would play
with the minds of Ballyhogan? Andrew had ended up in the sea because of it – the Sea of the Dead the locals called it. Only he didn’t just ‘end up’ in it, did he?
The skies above her hammered as the dark circle of the porthole sparked into life.
Maggie clamped her hands around her head. Thoughts came tearing at her brain, forcing
images of another night like this one. She wished again that she could wipe her memory clean of it.
It might have been better if Andrew had jumped – perhaps he wanted her to do it for
him? Maggie ran it all through her mind again – the late-night phone call, the pleas that
turned to taunts, and then to threats. She could feel the anger rise again at his talk of
‘damaged goods’, and Kevin ‘preferring the boys’. He knew Kevin loved Naomi like she was
She hadn’t meant to push Andrew so hard – or had she? Maggie shook her head to
disperse the thoughts, vampires to her peace of mind. Why didn’t she just give him his drug money?
Her friends and neighbours sympathised. ‘Sorry for your loss,’ they said. ‘Ye were
more like brother and sister than cousins.’ But on the day they lowered Andrew into the earth, it wasn’t grief alone that darkened Maggie’s soul.
The boat shifted again, and the watery contents of her stomach rose up and splashed
to the floor. Maggie groaned, her throat burning, the taste of vinegar in her nose. The smell made her retch even more, but there was nothing left in her stomach. Her stomach didn’t
seem to know that, though, sending up spasms so strong that breathing was painful.
She didn’t hear the latch being undone – knew nothing until he spoke.
‘What a stench.’
‘Agh,’ she jerked backwards and slipped on the greasy floor, pain shooting up her
back as her head hit the wall behind her.
‘Shut up, will ya. Do you want the whole boatyard to hear us?’
Maggie dragged herself up to sitting. ‘There’s no one around,’ she said, catching her
‘There’s always someone – you should know that.’
Maggie squinted at him. He was young enough to be one of her students. ‘You’re not
the fellow I met at the yacht club.’
‘Full marks, Miss – intelligent as well as good lookin’.’
‘Where’s the package? I’d like to go now,’ she said, pulling herself up on her feet.
‘Would ye now? Well, Miss High-and-Mighty, we’ll go when I say so.’
‘My daughter’s at home and – ’
‘Shut it. The package is under the bunk. Pull it out. It’s in an old tackle box.’
‘It was there all the time?’
‘You ask too many fuckin’ questions.’
Maggie’s hands shook so much that she almost let the box fall. Dropping it onto the
bunk, she backed away as though it might explode.
‘I thought I heard the police a while ago,’ she said.
‘We’ll deliver to your place next time. That’ll be easier on ye.’
‘Next time? The other guy said it was only the once. Please, I can’t do this – aaaagh!’
The blow was into her face, but every bone in Maggie’s body cowered in terror. Not
since the night she was raped at college had anybody laid a hand on her – years of
counselling wiped out by one angry fist as she crouched against the wall.
‘Don’t make me do that again. I might forget to stop.’
Maggie blubbered into her sleeve.
‘Co-operate with us and your little girl won’t know we’re there. Naomi isn’t it?’
Maggie started. ‘This has nothing to do with her.’
‘That’s up to you.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Shut the fuck up, will ya an’ listen. Tomorrow, five o clock – go into Dooleys’
in Bridgetown. Have a coffee – then go into the jacks and leave the package in the bin beside the sinks. There’ll be somebody waitin’ to collect. Got that?’
‘There’s an envelope in the box for ye.’
‘I don’t want your money.’
‘As if. It’s just a reminder to you of our little agreement. Clean up this mess before
you go,’ he said, lifting the hatch. ‘Unless you want to leave your trail….’
Maggie flinched, feeling the kick in his words. As the sound of his footsteps receded,
she opened the tin and removed the package. With trembling hands, she picked up the
envelope and pulled it open.
The long red curls were unmistakeable, as was the slide that held them together – a
silver ‘N’, a present for Naomi from her daddy after his last trip abroad. She’d been in tears
when it went missing last week at the hairdresser’s….
Maggie struggled to breathe. A black hole beckoned to her and she was sliding in.
A bolt of lightning made her jump. Naomi – the storm will wake her! Grabbing the
package, she stuffed it in her bag. What the hell was she going to do? She didn’t know –
Making her way up onto the deck, Maggie struggled to get the hatch closed. The wind
continued to torment her all the whole way back along the marina, hammering into her,
whipping her coat open, drenching her.
That young thug – her terror was turning to anger as she got into her car, the mark of
his fist burning her jaw. How dare he talk about Naomi like she was a piece in one of his
games? He’s only the gofer – he probably got it wrong about another delivery. She’d ring
Kevin, anyway, as soon as she got home.
Maggie never liked this godforsaken place. Maybe it was time to leave.