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by LMJT 

Posted: 08 October 2009
Word Count: 747
Summary: For this week's 'Nighthawks' challenge.

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Hanging up the phone, Finola willed herself to feel something: sorrow, anger, pain. Anything but this neutral numbness. The news should stir something within her, surely. And yet she felt nothing. Did that make her an awful person? Perhaps. But what was a normal reaction to the death of someone who’d become a stranger?

When the phone rang again, she lifted the receiver with trepidation, half expecting the woman she’d just spoken with to tell her they’d made a mistake.


She blinked. She didn’t recognize the male voice at the other end of the line and her silence must have betrayed her confusion.

‘It’s Jason James,’ the man continued. ‘Don’t worry, I’m not stalking you. It’s just, well, I thought we were meeting tonight. I just wanted to check you were alright.’

‘I’m fine,’ Finola said quickly. She cleared her dry throat and looked at her watch: half past eight. ‘Sorry, I’m leaving now. Will you still be there in fifteen?’

‘Sure, but if you’d rather rearrange-,’

‘Honestly, I’ve been looking forward to it. You’re in Phillies, right?’

Making her way down from her apartment, Finola studied her reflection in the mirrored wall of the elevator. Was her blusher too much? It seemed excessive in this harsh light.

As a teenager in County Sligo, she’d hated the milky complexion that she’d inherited from her mother and she’d done all she could to lend her skin a little colour. It was a habit she found hard to break, not least here in LA where any physical flaw was tantamount to social suicide.
She wondered now what her mother would make of this obsession with image; her daughter’s career in fashion journalism.

‘Sure, it’s not your complexion you need worry about,’ Mary Cardell snapped of her daughter’s adolescent vanity. ‘It’s your face. You know nothin’ o’ life to be walking around wit’ a frown down to your chin.’

Though such putdowns smarted, Finola believed her mother to be protecting her modesty. Naively she saw no cruelty behind her words, since, after a few whiskies, her mother would say similar to Finola’s friends: ‘Deidre O’Shea, your brothers must starve for you to be that size. And Clionagh Grady, look at your spots. It’s no wonder none of you are courting. Honestly, the Devil has a prettier face.’

She never even imagined that her mother might be jealous of their youth.

One morning a few years later, Finola found her mother clutching a manila envelope. She was shaking with rage in the way she did when slurring stories of Finola’s absent father and his ‘fancy woman’.

‘Dear Ms Cardell,’ she read from the crisp white page.

‘Thank you for your application to study English Literature at Oxford university. I am pleased to offer -,’

‘I was going to tell you,’ Finola interrupted. ‘Mammy, I was going to tell you, but I wanted to -,’

‘Your place is here,’ her mother said sternly. ‘With me.’

Finola watched as she tore the letter in half.

‘But Mammy, I want-,’

Her mother’s hand cracked against her cheek, and, before Finola knew what she was doing, she had returned the blow.

Her mother’s lower lip wobbled and her eyes widened. Turning on her heels, she ducked into her bedroom and gently pulled the door shut behind her, the effect more startling than a slam.

A month of silence later, Finola stepped into her mother’s bedroom with a suitcase packed in the hall.

Her mother busied herself with her dressing table drawers while humming along to the radio.

‘Please don’t let’s leave it like this,’ Finola said.

There was no response.

When the taxi pulled up in the driveway, Finola dragged her suitcase to the front door. Though she knew better, she waited for her mother to follow behind her and to say that she was sorry. She didn't, of course, and Finola would walk over broken glass before swallowing her pride; like mother, like daughter indeed.

Aside from one other man and the bartender, Jason James was alone at the bar and staring into an empty wine glass.

Finola’s heels clack-clacked on the wooden floor as she approached him.

He smiled and she saw that the photograph he had on the website did him no justice. There was a kindness in his eyes that no picture could ever portray.

So perhaps that was why she blurted out, ‘My mother died tonight.’

And the tears she thought would never come came running down her face.

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Comments by other Members

Laurence at 09:04 on 09 October 2009  Report this post
A very powerful evocative piece of writing.


M. Close at 09:04 on 09 October 2009  Report this post
Hi Liam, I liked this story. A sad tale of loneliness and desperation and a longing for someone to talk to.
Very emotional.


tusker at 10:00 on 09 October 2009  Report this post
A great story, Liam.

A seamless shift from past to present. Loved the mother's nasty quips to both daughter and friends. I could see her waspish face.

Really enjoyed.


Prospero at 12:19 on 09 October 2009  Report this post
Hi Liam

I enjoyed the story, but was a bit confused by James saying he was not stalking Finola? This implied back-story that wasn't explained. If he had said something like 'Listen, I don't want to crowd you, but I thought we were meeting tonight'' it would, for me at least, have made more sense.



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