Where new writing finds its voice
Short Story


Nuala Ní Chonchúir

I sit in my glass box, high above the green road, and look at the field hemmed with trees. The box juts from the top floor and, in here, I am above the sightline of passers-by. I can see the chestnut-thick field and the white wall of the school. Branches are dropping burnished leaves, cloaking the muck below them. My glass box fronts my room and, though I like clutter, there’s not much in here: a low table, my divan, a wall lamp, and one painting of melancholic lovers, picked out in white on a sepia background.

This is not my home and I know few people. When I was a girl, my brother nicknamed me ‘Pitiful-delicate’, a nickname that enraged me, though I knew it fitted. I wear the name now and live the life it has taught me: the pulled-back,
solitary existence that my make-up demands. I am an observer. My hours are passed watching swallows, ravens and gulls; clouds, sky and mizzle; rabbits, foxes and badgers. And a man.

The man works for the school; he pushes a wheelbarrow, filling it with weeds, mulch and grass-clods. He walks in rubber boots and his long hair is lion-mane brown; he has a silver hoop in each ear – they glister when the light hits. Sometimes the man comes to this side of the field to smoke and I see his face: it’s well made but ugly-pretty. My heart sings to him and, though I’m concealed, I wait for the time he will see me. On that day, the man will come to my room and take me in his arms; he’ll purr into my hair and stroke my neck with coarse fingers. When I smell his grassy smokiness and know his heat, I will feel rounded out and happy.


* * *


September is the best month: it holds hope in its thin, cool air. This is a fresh time – a time of renewal – though there is a lot of decay. My wife says most people think about the spring the way I do about autumn; that’s to be expected, I suppose.

They are demolishing the asylum. The school has bought the building and it’s being razed to make way for a new gym. People won’t be sorry to see
it go: it was the poorhouse before it was the madhouse; the place affected generations in this county, one way or another. The headmaster said I could take anything I wanted before it’s finally knocked down.

The hall smells of mildew and rust; there are fungus clusters on the stairs and the walls streel moisture. It’s dim along the upper corridor. I hear scuttling; I know it’s only mice or rats, but I shout ‘Hup haa!’ and whack the floor with a stick. Then I find what I’m looking for: the room with the glass window-box, the isolation unit. My eyes are often drawn up to it while I work.

The room is serene and empty but, oddly, it feels full. Sitting into the glass box, I look out and wonder if buildings have memories. There’s a picture on the wall of a man holding a woman; he is caressing her neck. They both look beautifully sad. This is what I’ll take. After lifting it from its hook, I leave.