Emma M.Murray is a mother, wife, teacher, and writer. She spent most of her twenties with a rucksack slung across her back, travelling extensively around the world.
She returned to her native Donegal, a few years ago. She has had short stories and flash fiction pieces published by Rue Scribe, 365 Tomorrows, Ireland Writing Retreat, and others.
She was named as a finalist in the Wild Atlantic Writing Awards competition, in both the creative non-fiction and fiction categories in 2021.
Down by The Clady
By Emma M.Murray
Her tiny body finally stops shaking, as she falls into an exhausted slumber.
In her three short years, I don’t think I’ve ever held her this tight.
I brush the curls from her perfect tear-stained face. Even in sleep that one ringlet falls straight down the middle of her forehead.
It’s one of the things I love most about her.
Any niggling feelings of doubt I had, have disappeared now.
It was fate I met Danny, or so my twenty-three-year-old self-believed.
He stuck out like a sore thumb in Flanagan’s, drinking alone at the bar. Dressed head to toe in black, and wearing an expression to match.
While I tottered around in a cheap pair of Penney’s heels and mini skirt, serving green Aftershocks to drunk underage customers.
“Ya alright for another?” I ask as his pint nears the dregs.
He nods, glancing in my direction, but immediately does a double take when he sees me.
I feel his eyes on me as I turn to pull his pint. He’s sitting a little straighter on my return.
There’s a beautiful darkness to his eyes, as he tells me he buried his father that day.
Sparks fly instantly, and I’m hooked by the time my shift is over.
He waited outside and we kissed like horny teenagers against the damp wall of the pub. He wanted to walk me home but I couldn’t let that happen.
Instead I ran off playfully, the treat ‘em mean keep ‘em keen mantra rolling around in my head.
There’s a text on my phone when I wake. I’m giddy at the thought of him. My skin tingles as I remember his hands running through my hair. His fingers lightly circling the small of my back, his lips lingering on mine.
– Can I see you today?
He seems eager...I furiously begin typing Yessss, but delete it.
Reminding myself to play it cool.
– I have a few things on…
– Like what? Can I join you?
He is eager.
I squirm with delight.
– I’m meeting friends.
– Come by after?
And suddenly I’m agreeing.
I start adding emoji’s to my reply but stop myself…do thirty-year-old’s do emoji’s?
– Sure! See you later. xoxo
– Great. What does xoxo mean?
Aaah! I should’ve gone with the emojis.
So much for playing it cool.
– Kiss, hug, kiss, hug!
– Oh! Looking forward to it! (wink face emoji)
Ugh, I’m mortified.
My jaw drops as I arrive at his address. A magnificent farmhouse stands surrounded by acres of lush green fields. Electric gates open as I approach and I quickly get the feeling I’m being watched.
My rickety Nissan Micra cries as it’s parks beside two Audi’s in the driveway. The front door opens before I get the chance to kill the juddering engine.
Danny emerges, looking like he walked straight out of a Levi’s catalogue. His crisp white t-shirt shows off his tanned forearms and loose denim jeans hang seductively around his waist.
A warm smile spreads across his face, “I’m glad you came.”
“I am too! Holy shit this is some place,” I say, shuddering at the thought of the shabby council house I share with my mother, and her demons.
“Let me show you around.”
Every inch is spectacular, but for me, the real jewel is the River Clady, running adjacent to the farmland. Shaded beneath majestic oaks it gurgles past on its way to the wild Atlantic. In the stillness I can hear the ocean’s beckoning roar. Springtime daffodils add bursts of colour to the landscape.
It feels like heaven.
“Do you like it here?” he asks, already knowing.
“It would take your breath away.”
“It would,” he says, then kisses me passionately, and I know I’ll never leave.
“It will end in tears Hannah, please don’t do this!” my mother wails as I pack the last of my things.
“Oh Ma will ya stop! Danny can give me a life, better than any of this!” I say, dramatically throwing my arms around my cramped bedroom.
“Hannah I just don’t know about him. I can’t put my finger on it… call it a mother’s intuition but I’m begging you not to go?”
“And what, end up like you instead? All alone with only a bottle for company! No thanks Ma, I’ll take my chances with the mansion on the farm!”
She stands in the doorway, yellow fingers trembling as she drags hard on a cigarette.
“It’ll end in tears, you mark my words!”
She’s probably half-cut.
Part of me pains to see her like this, but I can’t stay in this shithole forever.
“Sorry Ma, but it’s my life. I know how I want to live it.”
She doesn’t respond, and doesn’t wave as I drive off.
I was pregnant before we said I do, although no one knew.
Our own little secret, he’d said.
The first of many…
Life in the farmhouse wasn’t what I’d imagined it would be. Danny took over his father’s role, working every hour he could.
My mother in-law continuously walked in unannounced, acting like a domineering matriarch.
“Would ya not cook the chicken properly, in the oven? That’s how he likes it.”
“Ah the slow-cooker is very handy, and it comes out just the same, with less of the work,” I’d argue.
Her nose scrunched in disgust.
And if it wasn’t the cooking that wasn’t done right, it was the cleaning, or the laundry or every damned step I took.
Bubbles of rage boiled beneath the surface, threatening to burst at any minute. I tried to talk to Danny about it but he didn’t see the problem.
She’s a grieving widow…cut her some slack…she’s only trying to help…
In the end I gave up and naively clung to the hope that everything would change once the baby arrived.
The under hand comments would cease.
And Danny would make more of an effort too. He’d stop the constant questioning of where I was going, or who I was talking to.
He’d hire some help and become more of a family man, he promised.
And I believed him.
Molly was born on a cold, dark winter’s day.
The wind howled and sheets of rain viciously beat the window of the labour ward as I screamed her into life.
But from the moment I laid eyes on her, nothing else mattered.
My precious baby.
I breathed her in and promised her a world of love.
Danny shone when she giggled at his silly faces, and adored cuddling her.
However, dirty nappies, night time feeds, these were women’s problems.
My patience and resolve wavered with each passing day. Tiredness and stress ached through my body and mind. The straw to break the camel’s back loomed uncertainly in the distance. I tried to enjoy my new life but only saw how utterly alone I had become.
As she grew her striking red locks fell into an adorable mess around her little face. Her hazel green eyes were mesmerizing. One unruly ringlet reminded me of a nursery rhyme my mother used to tell me, in happier times.
Before she changed.
Before we ran.
“Spwash Mama, spwash,” she whines while we’re out feeding the hens. Pitching in where we can.
“No darling, maybe later.”
“Pwease Mama, I wanna spwash” she begs.
Of course she’s too cute to resist and before I know it we’re down by the Clady throwing stones in the river.
She shrieks as her stone flies higher than ever.
She watches as it falls, falls, falls from above.
A tinge of sadness beats through my heart, watching her playing happily in our sacred spot.
Out of harm’s way.
But there have been too many sleepless nights, unwanted hands.
Too many bruises.
And too many eggshells left to trod on for us to stay. My mother’s warnings drown in my ears, haunting my existence.
“Ya all right?” he asks, coming in for his dinner.
“Aye I’m grand, why?”
It wasn’t like him to care, or even speak most days.
Molly’s at the kitchen table colouring. Swirls of erratic blues and greens cover a cartooned boat.
“What ya colouring Molly?” he asks, tucking into his oven-cooked chicken, laced with all the trimmings.
“Big boat Daddy see?”
“I think you’re gonna sink that boat with all them crayons,” he chuckles, gravy trickling from his mouth, before finding a resting place on his stubbly chin.
He’s in an unusually good mood.
Now is my chance.
“If it’s alright I’d like to go into town after dinner, I wanna pick up a few bits for Molly. Her raincoat’s getting too small for her.”
I loathe myself for asking permission but I have to keep up the charade.
He pauses, glancing up from his plate.
He does a double take.
Quickly I turn from the table, busying myself with some dishes but I feel his eyes burn into my back.
An uncontrollable sweat breaks out beneath my collar.
Play it cool…
He’s sitting a little straighter on my return, the ghost of a smile on his face.
“Why don’t ya go in now…me and Molly will colour, or we might go throw some stones in the water?”
Molly nods excitedly.
“Naw it’s OK, sure I need to take her with me… To try the coats on.”
“No Mama, spwash Daddy! Spwash Daddy!”
“Go, you’ll get around the shops quicker on your own.”
I hesitate, but realise I have no choice.
I kiss the top of Molly’s head before hurrying to the door.
Town is busier than normal.
There’s traffic at every corner.
A knot forms in the pit of my stomach, thinking of the new passports, hiding deep inside the lining of my handbag.
I’ve put myself in danger for too long, but the night with Molly changed everything. The way he snarled her name. The vacant stare as he lunged towards me. The bedside lamp held high above him, threatening to strike. Her piercing screams of terror, her sobbing, shaking body.
It was the last straw.
A kick of agreement comes from within.
I stroke my newly swollen stomach, and know, it’s now or never.
It’s nearing Molly’s bedtime and I’m stopped at another set of red lights.
I send a quick text.
– All OK there? Stuck in traffic.
Anxiety crawls across my body, like a slow moving snail, filled with slime and dread.
I try calling him but it goes straight to voicemail.
Molly’s recorded voice cheerily squeaks “Daddy’s not here to take…”
I try again,
“Daddy’s not here to…”
“Daddy’s not here…”
I try the landline.
Where the fuck is he?
She should be getting ready for bed…
Remembering his faint smile before I left sends shivers down my spine.
Though lines have blurred, instinct makes me phone my Ma.
“What is it?” she answers, sharp as a blade.
“I…I don’t know…”
“Hannah what’s going on?”
“I think you were right…”
“I’m on my way.”
Stones fly as the tyres crunch to a halt, in front of the sleepy looking farmhouse.
I race into the kitchen.
It’s too quiet.
My eyes are drawn to the table where I last saw my daughter.
Her shrinking raincoat drapes the empty chair.
Her crayons are lined up neatly.
Ducks in a row.
But her blue green boat has been gifted an extra splash of colour.
A pop of red.
One perfect curl sits upon it’s bow.
And beneath it, a folded tear of paper.
The word Mama has been scrawled with a forced hand.
Submerged by fear I begin to read.
The curl made the most unusual sound when I cut it.
Like a cord being severed.
You can keep it.
And I’ll keep her.
You know where we’ll be.