Phil Carrick was born and raised in Ireland in the 1950s, enjoying a childhood that saw her family live in various parts of, Offaly, Galway, Kildare, and Dublin. She was educated at both UCD and Trinity College Dublin and spent a full career as a Microbiologist in the Dublin Institute of Technology. Since raising her own family of three and retiring early in 2015, Phil has married for the second time, welcomed her first grandchild, and embraced her life-long ambition to publish her writing.
In November 2020, the ‘Galway Review’ published Phil’s short story ‘The night visitor’. A memoir (2019) and a short story (2020) were long-listed by Fish Publications, Cork. The poetry collection “2020 Visions” published by the Ballymun Library, Writers group, includes three of Phil’s poems.
A woman in need
By Phil Carrick
One Friday afternoon, at about ten minutes past five, I leave my workplace and turn right to head down a Dublin street towards my usual bus stop. After taking a few strides, a woman walking up the street, steps directly in front of me, blocking my path. Looking into her face, I can see that she has been crying. Both of her eyes are red and swollen. I am somewhat startled, she does not look like a beggar, in that there is no apparent sense of need in her attire or countenance, yet her stance is determined. She speaks through tears and says:
‘I am not a beggar, and I hate doing this. I am staying in the refuge centre down the road.’
‘Do you want money?’ I ask.
She points down the street towards the women’s refuge centre while tears wash over her cheeks. Her cries originate in her belly, move up through her chest, and out through her eyes and mouth. The normal in-out rhythm of breathing is lost to her and breaths come in great gulps as she attempts to get words out. Her whole body radiates deep sorrow, as she continues:
‘I have five children, and my money won’t be in for a week yet.’
‘I’m not a beggar.’
‘I hate doing this.’
I have a twenty-euro note in my coat pocket, so I take it out and hand it to her. She takes it between her two palms. I step around her and continue on my way. A feeling of shame clings to me.
The woman’s face was round, soft, and maternal with a hint of familiarity. She wore a calf-length beige coat, in the style of a raincoat, but made of heavier material. The oversized garment wrapped her stout body, with a belt of the same material holding it in place. In the moment of this woman’s acute need, she crossed the usual boundaries that exist between two strangers. We shared the same space on this earth for a brief time, and something passed between us. On my bus journey homeward, the presence of my late mother engulfed my being and pulled my thoughts down into the past.
The last time I saw my mother wearing her beige coat was in 1971. She had just told my father she was leaving him and left the house with this intent. Her frame looked slight inside the oversized beige coat pulled in at the waist with an old trouser belt, and almost reaching her ankles. It was a hand-me-down from my father’s sister. My mother looked worn out with pale, thin skin stretched tight over the bone structure in a once pretty face. She clung to a white plastic bag containing a few belongings and walked out along the avenue that led from our rented house down to the roadside. My father’s bouts of jealousy, anger, and depression came and went like the winds and had dire consequences for both finances and family. That day, we, her six children, ranging in age from seven up to seventeen, stood incredulous watching her leave. It was the first time she had decided to walk out. The younger ones began to cry and ran a little of the way after her. I was sixteen, and while standing aside on the avenue to let her pass, some tiny, frightened part of me glowed with admiration for her. She had no money of her own, no clothes except those on her body, no place and no person to go to, but she was going.
The drama ended when my father came running from the house and began pleading with her to return. He promised not to hit her again, and he asked her to look at us, her children, standing around the place. He pleaded, she cried, and eventually, he took his wife and went back inside the house. We stayed outside for some time, trying to recover from the fright and reassure the smaller ones. Dad owned two shotguns and often said he would kill himself. Mother would lock herself and us children into one of the bedrooms. During one ‘locked in’ time, I remember my older brother discussing wild plans for how we might escape when dad fell asleep. A bullet in the belly would not account for the sickening pain of fear and anticipation each child experienced.
Back in my own home, this Friday night, my thoughts focus on how history has repeated itself for my family. I am now a lone parent trying to keep a sense of family going while we await the findings of a bitter court case. Our family unit, my three school-going children, and I are going through an earthquake at present, and I feel I am desperately clinging to the side of a massive rupture in the ground we stand on. Sleep does not come easily to me, but this night it arrived laden with an unusual dream.
I am walking on grass up a very steep hill in a crowd of people, all heading in the same direction. On the hilltop can be seen a small chapel. We climb the hill and reach the chapel. This building has a two-tiered structure, and I realise that the lower level has collapsed. I take charge of the crowd. I know what to do, and people can follow my lead. There are sounds of a celebration taking place on the upper level of the chapel, the sun is shining brightly there, and we want to reach this place. I scramble up a stone face and find it easy to achieve this first stage of the climb. The difficulty arises as I start on the second part of my climb.
I move into a dark corridor and feel as if I am pushing my way back into a womb. With great difficulty, I force my face through a black rubbery membrane consisting of several layers. I reach into a dark space. I feel claustrophobic, and I am suffocating drawing only short breaths. I consider going back but hear a voice saying:
“Go to the right and keep pushing through the narrow space. This will be frightening but will not last long; you will reach brightness on the other side.”
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