HAYMAKING DAY (A SHORT STORY)

10:36



At half seven the old alarm clock sounded. Sheila O’Sullivan slowly eased herself into a sitting position. Her toes moved in search of the soft material of her slippers. To some, a routine was something you’d grow weary of, day by day, but at seventy-eight years of age, carrying out regular tasks was a comfort to her in her old age. She wasn’t inclined to change that, thank you very much. She dressed methodically, buttoning up her cardigan over her blouse and sliding her skirt into a comfortable position. When she lowered herself onto the chair downstairs she began to think of the journey ahead. As a younger woman, she had enjoyed the vibrancy of the capital and never grew tired of walking along the docks, taking in the bustling activity. Nowadays, people in Dublin walked with their heads tilted downwards, their fingers tapping away at a little flashing screen. It simply wasn’t the same.
What was ahead? Curracloe to Wexford town and then a lengthy train to Connolly Station, with nothing to entertain her but the views outside the train window. She shook her head and muttered to herself.
“Ah Sheila, you can’t turn up to Ronan’s birthday with a sour puss on you.”
She ate hurriedly and got her things together: the tin of Roses which contained her carefully made fruitcake, Ronan’s birthday card, a small suitcase. Oh, and of course, her scarf.
The air outside was brisk as she walked up the lane and out on to the road. Sure enough, within minutes the bus came trundling up the hill, an old Bus Éireann. The bus driver was dark-skinned and a black cloth swathed his head. To see such an unusual figure in Curracloe startled her. For a moment, she found herself marvelling in the unusual shape of his heavy-lidded eyes. How had he ended up here, so far away from the place he was born? She couldn’t imagine why he had decided to make Ireland his home.
            “Why did you come to this country?”
It was only when the woman ahead of her turned around to stare that she realized she’d spoken aloud. The bus driver stiffened as Sheila opened her mouth in and attempt to salvage the situation.
            “Oh Jesus, Mary, and Joseph I didn’t mean… I see you aren’t local-”
            “Do you have your bus pass madam?”
His accented voice was guarded yet polite, which made her heart sink plummet even more. She handed it over wordlessly. Time seemed to be moving very slowly and as she shuffled down the aisle she was all too aware of stares from her fellow passengers.  As mortifying as the encounter had been, this wasn’t the first time she’d had problems with the way she spoke about old Ireland. All too often when giving her opinion she was shut down with cries from her grandchildren:
            “Oh Granny, you’re not racist, are you?”
            “I hear you’re a racist now Granny”
The Ireland her grandchildren knew was chock-a-block with people of different nationalities so how could they know any different? Ronan was the oldest, turning twenty-one today. Known for his crooked smile and the way he tilted his head to the side when he was listening to someone else talk. Sheila focused on the memories of her eldest grandchild and the fifteen-minute drive to Wexford town seemed like nothing to her.


At the train station, she couldn’t disembark the bus fast enough, rushing past the bus driver with a mumbled thank you. Her fingers closed around her train pass, one she’d held since the age of sixty-six. Her rather unused train pass, at that. Used two or three times a year at most. She had all she needed in Curracloe. She found herself a secluded seat in one of the last carriages on the train. This way she couldn’t possibly bring more trouble upon herself. Sheila hadn’t realized that she’d nodded off until the train screeched to a halt at Connolly Station. She got to her feet and stepped into the heaving mass of people leaving the train.
            “Mam!”
Her daughter enveloped her in a bear hug. It was only then that Sheila realized how tense she had been, clutching her suitcase so tightly that she found it hard to open her fingers. The car was nearby so she was out of the zoo-like chaos of a Dublin Saturday morning within minutes.
            “I’m after making a fool of myself” Sheila remarked.
            “Ah mam, what happened?”
            “The bus driver in Curracloe was dark, foreign – I”
Her daughter let out a long sigh and Sheila knew what was about to come. Oh holy God.
            “Mam, you can’t hold on to this attitude forever – the Ireland you knew when you were a child, a teenager, is gone.”
Sometimes there was no point in trying to explain, attempting to lead to more conflict. So instead she closed her eyes and listened to her daughter’s voice, letting it in one ear and out the other all the way to the house.
When she got out of the car at the red brick townhouse, Sheila reached to pat the family dog Rua, before being enveloped in a quick embrace. Niamh.
            “And how are you missy – ”
Ronan’s sixteen-year-old cousin was already gone, following a group of girls with glossy hair and red lipstick.  Again, Sheila was reminded of how the youth seemed to rush through life, without stopping. She followed the sound of voices and found herself in the kitchen. There in the middle, looking exactly like his mother, was Ronan.
            “The birthday man himself.”
She was hesitant to open her arms for a hug, all too aware of the negative reaction children had to being mollycoddled.
            “Granny, you made it. Mam says you brought the fruitcake, I’ll be wanting some of that.”
He winked from the other side of the room. Twenty-one years old, she couldn’t believe it.
            “Mam come out to the kitchen, we’ve a cup of tea waiting for you.”
Cáit ushered her into the kitchen where a chair was waiting for her. Sheila sat and looked around the room, every surface was covered in birthday cards. Twenty-one years old, what a milestone.
The next few hours were a blur; the flashing of phones, posing for photograph after photograph and then watching groups of teenagers squashing themselves together posing to take photographs of themselves. Everything was documented. It was only when she got found herself sitting in the sitting room with a mug of milky tea, that she realized how drained she was from the day. The television had been switched on to some flashy singing competition, not quite to her taste, but she had no idea how to work the television remote. Her own back home had been covered in tape so that only the necessary buttons were available for use.


            “Granny, where have you been hiding?”
Ronan strode into the room with a slim silver object in his hands.
            “I thought you’d headed off galavanting,” she said with a tired smile. “Too busy for your old grandmother.”
He chuckled because settled down beside her on the sofa, his slender finger tapping and moving along the brightly lit screen. She would never know what all of it meant and she wasn’t sure she minded all that much.
“Ah stop, you know I’ll always have time for you” he grinned “In fact, you’ll never guess what I have for you.”
“And what’s that?” Sheila paused for a moment, her mind whirring. What could he give her that she didn’t have already? Technology had no place in her life, she could not imagine its use to her.
“A photograph.”
From the day’s festivities? She almost didn’t want to look, to see her own face, knowing that her smile had been plastered on for the sake of the photograph.
“Right here, on the iPad,” he exclaimed, almost jumping from the seat. “Granny, look at that.”
His face was beaming as he handed the iPad into her hands. She blinked at first, unsure of what she was looking at. Then she picked out her own face and then her brother’s. What on earth?
 It was like being transported back in time. Over fifty years melted away and Sheila could almost smell the sweet scent of hay being cut in the summertime. She had been twenty-one at the time of the photo, her arm draped loosely around her brother Diarmuid’s neck. All of them covered in hay, having had spent the ten minutes before the photographer arrived stuffing fistfuls of the stuff down each other’s backs. Diarmuid had passed away two years ago and now memories were rushing back.
            “I know you feel as though you’ve been left behind. Mam told me about the bus driver, I know you’re not some raving racist. I know you think the past is lost to us. Well it’s not, it really isn’t.” Ronan said firmly.

As she gazed down at familiar faces once more, a warm, loving feeling coursed through her body. Sheila marvelled in how alike all of them had been and how technology had brought back memories she’d thought she would never relive again. Technology, of all inventions in this rapidly changing world, had given her a piece of herself back. Her eyes darted to the caption beneath the photo, slightly illegible due to age. She nodded to herself and smiled, a real smile, one she shared with her grandson. Of course, how could she have forgotten? Haymaking Day. 

*************

As it happens, the character is named after my late grandmother, Sheila Ryan (née O'Sullivan). Some parts of this story were inspired by my nanny's life, such as the fruitcake, the sellotaped remote. I always admired how my grandmother could live a life largely free of any major technology bar a mobile phone, an old Nokia at that. Most parts of the story are not inspired by her,  but I wanted to talk about the idea of old Ireland slipping away from us, how technology seems to be taking over and how the older generation, the generation of my grandparents are coping with this fast-paced world. I wrote this story for a creative writing module I took in my first semester, it was one I really worked hard on, although it's still rough around the edges. Writing fiction was something I used to do all the time when I was younger, I had multiple school copies with pages of writing in them. I look back on most of them now and cringe, but it's nice to see where I first began developing my craft. I hope you liked this new type of blog post or entry. If you liked it, let me know and I'll show you some more!
To Nanny, thank you for your words, your stories and all the rich memories, I still wear your necklace every day and I think about you all the time. 

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