Friday 21 December 2018

Fire Making

We have different approaches to fire making.
You clean out the grate thoroughly, sending soot and dust skyrocketing.
Then you bury the firelighters deep in a maze of sticks and logs and coal and briquettes. 
To locate and ignite them is a veritable Turing effort.

I try random at first and launch several Cupid’s arrows in the general direction,
in the hope of an off-chance encounter with flammable material.
Even long tapers, improvised from yesterday’s Newspaper, often meet 
the same fate, and fizzle out before they strike home.

I consider the physics of fire: the supply of oxygen; ambient temperatures;
the force of gravity; and convection-
essential components of the manifestation of uncontrolled combustion.
I curse you several times for making the task so darn tricky.

Finally, I launch another match or taper, hoping that it will catch the tail of the previous missile, not yet fully extinguished, and somehow make the quantum leap to 
full blaze. Sometimes that works. But sometimes I have to dismantle your pyre.
And start all over again.

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2018

Tuesday 4 December 2018

The Magdalene

The Magdalene

It was one of those mornings when the sun seems to shatter your sight. Like shutters opening and closing. Bats wings fluttering. Broken panes splintering. Seaward all was quiet in the New York Docklands. Mary closed her eyes and let her mind wander back to Roundstone, Connemara and the cold Atlantic waves gathering momentum in the bay.

The white horses dashed against the shore, swept up the beach and then combed the shingle as they receded back into the sea. Overhead, gulls’ shrill cries pierced the silence. In her nostrils she could smell the tang of a dozen varieties of sea weed: Bladderwrack, Carrageen, Sea Lettuce, Dabberlocks. If she opened her eyes she would see gannets drop and plunge 20 feet in pursuit of their prey. Behind her the clouds hugged the Twelve Pins. Nineteen years ago she stood thus, a young woman on the edge of  a wave that would carry her to a secluded convent ruled over by pitiless Mercy Nuns, a laundry that would sap the last drop of her hope, and an emigrant ship that would see her embark upon a new life.

Mary fingered the letter that she held clutched in her hand. His writing was neat, a looped scroll that tilted slightly forward. She had learned to read and write in one of her households; they said she would need it to take household orders to the shops. Her skills were rudimentary but she understood every word he had written.

In an hour’s time the meeting would be over. Why had he asked to meet her here?
Was it because this is where she had first disembarked all those years ago? A gauche ignorant Irish girl reeling down the gangway, herded into a holding pen. Ellis Island, steerage class, and Mary jostled along in a motley crowd to the front of the queue. Questions, searches, medical checks, delousing. Her skin still crawled at the memory of it. When she finally stumbled onto the streets Mary had wept. She was finally here. Maybe she could find her baby.

In the Dockland a horn blew for the change of shifts. The sound of feet scurrying past her brought Mary back to the present. Men in grey overalls began to converge on the dockland gates where they poured in and out through security checks.

Mary blinked back the tears that threatened and recalled the scene that had haunted her all these years, a squalling infant in a hand knit woollen blanket in the arms of  stranger disappearing into the back of an Austen Cambridge. Nothing had prepared her for the loss of Joey.

She was yanking the handle of a wringer at the time, standing right in the middle of the laundry floor. The steam made fog so thick she could hardly make out the panic stricken face of Agnes mouthing something to her. The hiss of the water in the drains, the clank of the wringers as they squeezed the moisture out of the sheets, the noise was deafening. Agnes had to clutch Mary’s tunic and drag her out of the aisle. Sister Bernadette had arched her eyebrow and extended a warning cane.

“It’s urgent!” shrieked Agnes.
“Joey?” Mary’s heart began to pound. Three babies had fallen ill the week before. Three little souls gone to their maker, victims of diphtheria. Mary was making a dash for her room when Agnes pulled her back.
“Not that way! They’re taking him through the back gate!”
“They? Who?”
“The Americans. They’re taking your baby!”

Her legs gave way but she managed to stumble towards the corridor that she knew would lead her to the outside yard, the drive way and the back gate.
She had, of course, heard about this practice of adoption, but they needed her permission for that. It couldn’t be true.

Then she heard the new born’s piercing cry, the click of high heels over the pebbles, a car revving up, and the smell of exhaust fumes from the engine. Between Mary and her baby a gate rose over six feet high. She fumbled for the latch. It was padlocked.
“Stop!” she roared.
The woman spun around. The blanket began to unravel. Mary’s arms extended as far as they could through the open grill.
“Give him here! He’s mine!” she demanded.
Someone jumped out of the car and steered the faltering woman towards the back seat.
“It’s alright, Kay. It’s probably some lunatic. Careful there! That’s it.”
The door slammed. The edge of the blanket still caught in it. She watched the blanket fringe flap and dangle as the car sped off into the night. When she put her knuckles to her mouth she could taste blood. She must have struck the iron gates several times with force and the pain was now beginning to register. That’s when her legs gave way.

They said she had signed the papers herself. She recalled putting an X to some agreement or other when she was in the height of her labour. That must have been it, the moment they chose to take advantage of her, to trade her baby for US dollars. He would have a good Catholic home, they said. He would have all the advantages of education that she had lacked. He would be well off and well fed. He would be safe. Mary had let it go, but three years later she took the steamer to America. She wanted him back.

In an hour’s time she would see him again. Would he look like her? Did a baby’s eyes change colour? He had blue eyes when he was born, slate grey blue like hers and tufts of dark hair. Dark like hers before it had begun to turn grey. He would be tall like all the Bradys. The envelope in her hand contained no photograph so how would she know him? Mary looked about. Still twenty minutes to wait. It was not Central Park; it was not as though the place was teeming with people. She would know him or he would recognise her, a forty year old domestic servant in her Sunday best trying to look like gentry. Her shoes were hand-me-downs, her Mac was frayed at the edges. She had tied a neat scarf around her neck, but poverty clung to her like a second skin. He would recognise his immigrant mother.

A few workers were hurrying towards their shift, already fifteen minutes late. They would have their wages docked at the end of the week. Joey would never know such miserable conditions. He could read and write. He might become school master or a doctor. He might, if he stayed with them. And he would, of course, stay. What was she thinking? Where was the point of this meeting at all? She had been met with official stonewalling when she had begun to make inquiries all those years ago. No records. Burnt records. Lost records. She had given up. And now suddenly the letter out of the blue arrived. The boy was making inquiries. He was eighteen, of legal age, and he wanted to know who his parents were.

Mary’s heart began to pound. He would be ashamed of her. Look at her! She looked ten years older than she should. A life spent skivvying as a domestic had made an old hag out of her. He would regret that he ever asked. And what could she tell him about his father? Paddy Lunny, a farmer’s son, who was packed off to England before his mother got wind of his part in Mary’s shame.

The clock in the docks struck the hour. She had to go. She had to go now. Mary leapt up from the bench. There was still time.  A blonde headed lad was shuffling late to work just a few yards away, but apart from him the place was deserted. Mary hurried off in the direction she had come; she had to spare him the indignity of knowing.
The dock lad had just passed her and Mary breathed a sigh of relief.

“Mam?” The voice came from behind her. “Is that you? Mary Brady?”
The blonde lad drew along side her. He was the spit of Paddy Lunny, small, blonde, but with the Brady slate blue eyes. 
"Mary Brady?"
"No.No." she muttered as she walked away.

 Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2018

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Opening Sentences

I was given the first sentence of this piece and asked to continue. It's a good exercise if you don't know what to write- just go with the flow... 
You could open any book and pick a sentence and see where it takes you.

The White Rabbit

The air was electric. Electric blue followed by a flash of pink. One of the kitchen light bulbs exploded into a shower of glass shards onto the floor. I tiptoed gingerly through the broken pieces.  I could smell rancid rubbish coming from a waste bin beneath the enamel sink. Beer, hash and a vague unpleasant odour that might have been vomit created a nauseating mix .The air was thick with the stench.

The grey haired man who suddenly appeared at my elbow tipped a cocktail glass to my lips again, the rim of it clashed against my teeth. A couple in the corner of the ill lit kitchen sniggered. The woman was wearing pink tights and a ballet costume. The man had a t-shirt that proclaimed him to be Strong Man. A dwarf sat on the fridge carefully measuring liquids from diverse bottles into a glass jug. Posters of Fossett’s circus were plastered on the walls. In one of them I recognised the grey haired man, his yellow teeth gleaming as he raised a white rabbit by the ears out of a top hat.

On a gleaming marble counter top ahead of me someone had carefully arranged six lines of white powder. A rough hand placed on the small of my back propelled me towards them. The conjuror’s face, a middle aged lined face with furrowed brows knitted tightly together, seemed to float in front of me. His gold fillings gleamed when he opened his mouth and leered. His hot breath smelt of whiskey.

I staggered towards the lines which now seemed to waver in and out of focus. I took another swig of the cocktail glass that was now in my hand. The lines mutated into Zigzags then into circles. I blinked and they reverted back to their original pattern.

“What do I do with them?”

The pressure of his hand on my back eased and I found myself enveloped in a tight grip that edged me towards the gleaming white substance.

“You eat it,” he whispered. “Dip your finger like so,” and he dipped a yellowish forefinger into the chalk white powder. “Then you lick it.” His purple, swollen tongue mimicked the motion. “Swallow. And wash it down with this.” In his right hand he conjured up a pink champagne glass bubbling at the rim. The magician stepped back as if his performance was complete. Then he disappeared behind a door that clanged shut.

Other faces began to hover and leer about me. Faces mutated from male to female and back. Someone began to chant and the chorus was taken up by the couple in the corner who rose to their feet and began clapping their hands slowly, rhythmically to the sound of the chant. The sound seemed to bounce and echo off the walls in a hollow way as sound does in a basement. My face was wet with sweat. I could taste salt on the corners of my lips. That and the sweet sickly taste of the concoction I had drunk with Ellie in the pub where we had met the conjuror and his cronies.

Ellie! The name of my best friend sounded an alarm in my head. Where was she now? The memory of my friend disappearing behind a closed door in this Victorian maze of a house suddenly came into focus. In my mind’s eye I saw a heavy metal door clang shut and then open again. Beyond it I watched Ellie in her new Abercrombie mini shirt and Topshop sequined t-shirt disappear on the arm of the magician.

Around me the pack of leering faces was still gathering.

“Where’s Ellie. Where is she?” I demanded.

“Where’s Ellie? Where is she?” the chorus repeated. The sea of open mouths ebbed and flowed. I stretched out my arm and scattered the white lines to the floor. There was a scurry of hands and arms groping to salvage the powdery substance that filled the air. Against the tide of bodies I pushed myself out of the kitchen and made towards a hallway, towards a metal grey door.

I leaned my shoulder to it and pushed. Nothing happened. I was met by a solid resistance. I heaved again. Still nothing wielded beneath the pressure of my full force. An array of dials glistened in a black metal panel beside the door frame. I pushed all of them. Somewhere miles away a bell rang. The heavy door began to groan. A high pitched metal noise followed by a heavy sound of something dragging. A dim lit corridor lined with doors on one side lay before me. Pot plants, giant ferns, dotted themselves along the length of the corridor at regular intervals. I hammered on the first door for what seemed like an eternity and then repeated this action at three more mute and closed doors. I called her name to blank white walls and metal grid windows placed high above my line of vision. Through them I could see the street, the feet of passers-by, the tyres of cars. We were in a basement. There was no escape.

“Sarah!” I heard my name whispered. I stopped dead and retraced my steps. The sound was repeated. It seemed to come from the street or from a vent above my head.

The great metal door through which I had entered the corridor screeched open. I dived behind one of the ferns. The heavy footsteps came closer. I heard the swish of trousers and smelt whiskey.

I could hear a clock ticking. Beads of sweat gathered at the nape of my neck and began to trickle, a slow stream that chilled my spine. Somewhere outside on the street a dog barked, a high pitched chilling howl. Then a cuckoo noise sounded from the clock. I jolted my elbow against the fern pot and a clatter of ceramic crashed onto the marble floor. I fell. The conjuror’s face hovered over me.

Behind him stood Ellie, her face white with shock.

The pub décor came suddenly into focus. In the snug of O’Rourke’s bar the tightrope walker’s heavily made up face, the dwarf in his check jacket and baggy trousers, the magician and Ellie were standing around me in a circle. The Strongman towered over everyone. In the background glasses clinked and animated cheers came from the plasma screen that transmitted the FA cup final.

“Sarah? Are you alright?”

“Don’t go with him, Ellie,” I managed to utter.

“Go where? What’s in this drink anyway? What have you given us?” She turned to the man who was now placing a rabbit on his head.

“She’s just experienced her worst fear, that’s all. She’ll be fine. Just fine. Your turn next.”  Then the conjuror placed the top hat on his head and disappeared through the saloon style doors of the pub followed by his troupe of players.

Somewhere in my head an electric bulb exploded into shards. Electric blue followed by a flash of pink and then everything went black.

Friday 16 November 2018


First Love

He was an Adonis, the new Science teacher. It was days before she could raise her eyes and take in the whole splendour of him.  On the first day of class she spent much time studying his feet, or rather his shoes, for which she was cruelly teased by a classmate who could not possibly understand her dilemma. Kate was in love, and for the first time.

On the second day a piece of chalk landed unceremoniously in her lap; this was his novel way of getting the attention of an erring student. Kate erring? She savoured every syllable he uttered. The truth was, however, that she was wedged between her ebullient-from-birth next door neighbour, Madge Sweeney, and her soi-distant third cousin twice removed, Alice Hamill. In fact, ever since she had started school at the age of five she had been misplaced between these two warring factions who waged continuous battle, in and outside of the classroom. As a result she had spent many of her school days kneeling on hard wooden floorboards, for kneeling in this school was a popular form of punishment. But at thirteen years of age Kate decided that it was high time to seat herself out of misfortune’s way.

The Greek Adonis had tousled fair hair, a Mills and Boon jaw line, sea blue eyes and bandy legs. But since love is blind Kate did not regard this latter apparent defect in his gait as a deal breaker. She thought that it even added a certain jauntiness to his appearance and took away from a certain severity of expression which she attributed to his rather tight lipped smile.
Her love survived the bandy legs and tight lips and thrived. And Kate, like many love stricken adolescents, spent much of her free time haunting street corners where she might be afforded a glimpse of the beloved in transit to and from church, the library or the football pitch, for his habits were simple and his itinerary easily discovered. Many an apparent chance encounter was, in reality, a carefully planned manoeuvre. She probably knew his school timetable better than he did himself and he must have been surprised at the number of times he encountered her on his daily toil to and from the staffroom. She welcomed every opportunity to deliver messages in and around the science lab and became, in short, the perfect pupil.

This frenetic activity continued for some months and could have gone on indefinitely but for a fortunate meeting that set her thinking abut the real disparity between them, apart from the age factor which she chose, rather romantically, to ignore.

Kate was on one of her sojourns to the library which was located at the bottom of Scotch Street and a long way from Adonis’ lodgings. But she had set out in the hope of finding him at the top of those thirty six steps in that small room presided over by Miss Beatty. This lady too had a look of severity that was unsoftened in her case by the adulation of this beholder. But the similarity set Kate to wondering if perhaps there was something in the nature of their chosen professions, as guardians and custodians of young impressionable minds, that caused them to take on such formidable expressions. She wondered if his face, after a lifetime of teaching, might end up like Miss Beatty’s, permanently screwed up in anticipation of misdemeanour. The prospect was daunting, momentarily, even to young love.

She could see from Miss Beatty’s raised eyebrow that the fusty middle-aged librarian did not approve of her choice of fiction. It was historical Romance, verging on the much coveted Mills and Boon, from which section she was rigorously debarred. A little deflated at her failure to make a sighting of the beloved, Kate decided, in spite of the inclement weather, the puddles and potholes to be negotiated and the library books to be protected from the rain, to take a detour up Anne Street, down Church Street; it would only add fifteen minutes to her journey and it had the added advantage of taking in Meany’s Greengrocer where she could purchase a Cox Pippin. It was not every day that she possessed the price of this commodity. Money was scare and treats few but a visit from Aunt Annie had refurbished her empty pocket and the coin was now burning a hole in her coat pocket. And, of course, the main advantage to following this alternative route was that it narrowly skirted the lodgings of the Greek Adonis.

She emerged from Meany’s into an autumn squall. She was carrying in precarious balance the three historical novels and the recently purchased Cox Pippin. She had just taken one delicious bite when her hold loosened. Her choice, in as far as she had one, was between the admonishment of Miss Beatty and the loss of the Cox. The apple fell. In dismay she watched it roll down the street; it would be another week before she could afford another. Her disappointment was acute. But the apple did not roll far, just a few feet, and given the sharp incline that was Church Street this short trajectory was a miracle.

She deliberated only for a second. Then she picked up the errant piece of fruit. It was wet but not bruised, not really dirty and she wiped it on her gabardine coat sleeve. Just as her teeth sank into the salvaged apple a figure overtook her on the kerb. It was a figure sporting bandy legs and a sour expression.

The schoolteacher uttered an unmistakable tut of disapproval; she heard the word hygiene pursed between tight lips. She recalled the dour face of Miss Beatty. There could be no doubt about it. Her beloved was doomed to end up with a permanent scowl on his face.
And so Adonis fell to Earth with the thud of an Icarus. Such is the nature of first love.

Monday 12 November 2018

The Bundle

This story was shortlisted in an online competition organised by Hungry Hill Writers' group from Beara Peninsula. They run interesting competitions for writers. See links below

The Bundle

The red rag lying on the grey stones caught her eye. It was cherry red like the cardigan she had worn when she was a girl. It seemed to Becky that someone had gone to a lot of bother to tuck the red rag carefully around the bundle.

No one else seemed to notice it. Apart from some people now strolling further along the beach; Bray Prom seemed to be deserted that morning. Becky leaned against the iron railings and pretended to scan the horizon. The bundle lay only a few feet away. Becky thought she saw the red rag shift as if something was stirring beneath it.

Looking around again she established that most of the walkers were regulars, sea junkies like her. The ex-shopkeeper belted past, stop watch bleeping, arms flailing, power- walking they called it. He had once run a successful news agency at the top of the town. Now he walked. He was so absorbed in clocking up miles he wouldn’t see a dead dog lying at his feet.

Becky stole another glance at the red bundle. It seemed to have edged closer to the steps that led from the prom to the shingle beach. Further up the prom towards the aquarium she could see Sean pacing up and down. He would be muttering to himself as usual, waving his arms frantically from time to time, as if engaged in some heated debate.  Then suddenly he would thrust his hands deep into his pockets and his chin would sink into his chest. Mothers always warned their children to ignore Sean. “Not the full shilling” they would whisper. And the children would grapple with this. And stare harder. But it was Sean, the ex-schoolteacher who ignored them. Sean would not see a red bundle if it tripped him up.

A corner of the red rag had become undone and was beginning to flap about in the November wind. Becky moved closer. Then she noticed him. He was not watching her, but something in his stance fixed her to the railings. He stood at right angles to a group on the beach, his stillness contrasting with their fluidity. Becky followed his gaze and looked at the group more closely.

There were ten or more of them ambling near the water’s edge. Each moved in his own pattern, different from and yet connected to the whole. The whole seemed to Becky lie a loosely woven garment. They reminded her of dancers, limbering up. Like a Greek chorus before the performance begins. Then Becky spotted the girl.

She was about sixteen and Becky had often noticed her about the town where she would scurry along the pavements and then stop mid stride. She would hold that pose right in the middle of Main Street. Just like a performer. Then with the same inexplicable suddenness she would resume her frenzied journey. Becky had once watched her drop suddenly to the ground to tie her non existent shoe laces, right on the edge of a kerb. She knew that the girl’s name was Molly and that she attended the clinic at the top of the town.

They were all here today- inpatients from the clinic, institute… whatever they called it. She watched them weaving their strange pattern on the sand and feared for the red bundle. What if the Greek Chorus should find it?

The chorus edged its way closer to the bundle and the red rag flapped and loosened in the wind.
Becky moved closer to it and sat on a nearby rock ledge. She was aware that the man was now watching her so she began to pick up stones, appearing to examine them. She had once kept a whole collection of these beach stones and placed them on the mantle place and on a window ledge. She recalled now the different sizes and shapes and colours. They had all reminded her of hearts. Broken hearts, chipped hearts, hearts with deep scars and some with crystals. She would run her finger along the scars and say, “That’s life. That’s how it is.”

On the edge of her vision she could see the chorus creeping towards her.

In a laneway that ran the length of high stone convent walls Becky was pushing a baby in a fold up buggy. The newborn was wrapped in a red cardigan. The baby cried when Becky stopped at the convent gate, but Becky let go of the pram and walked away.

The chorus encircled her now and the girl was gliding towards the red bundle. She stood poised over it and then she swooped.

“No!” shrieked Becky. “It’s mine!”

She was too late. The girl had whisked away the rag to expose a pile of stones carefully mounted beneath it.

“Give it back to her Molly. Give Becky the scarf!” commanded the man from behind her. The girl dropped the cloth and flung herself down the beach, arms extended in full flight mode.

“I think it’s time we went back everyone,” said the man. There were grumbles of dissent from the group. “Can somebody tell Sean; he’s drifted off a bit. Becky, it’s probably dirty now but if you still want it?”

Becky picked up the scarf from the sand where the girl had discarded it. Slowly, carefully she tucked it around the pile of stone hearts.

“I don’t want it,” she said and walked away.

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2018

Friday 9 November 2018

Knights on Ebay

 She had always wanted a knight in shining armour. So with her fiftieth birthday fast approaching, Meg decided that the time had come to run the gauntlet.
“And just where are you thinking of looking?” asked Janet, her friend, as she munched contentedly on Meg’s homemade Mary Berry flapjacks.
“On E-bay!”
“On what!” asked the matronly honey blonde à la Clairol.
“I mean to go on the internet, Janet. They sell everything on line these days.”
“Your computer just conked out. You said you wouldn’t be replacing it ‘til next year.” Janet stopped munching on the flapjack. “And do you mean to say you’d date a total stranger? Don’t you think that’s taking things a bit too far? I mean he could be a serial killer!” Janet stared bleakly at her friend.
“I don’t intend to date anyone, Janet. I intend to purchase.”

Whiterock’s one and only internet café was tucked away in a courtyard off Main Street. Meg had to walk through the cobbled yard and descend several stone steps before she could enter the ill lit den. She almost whacked her head on the painted crossbeam that announced Charlie’s Internet café.

“It’s like an Aladdin’s cave,” she said to the middle aged man perched on a high stool behind a desk that acted as a serving counter for Charlie’s fresh brew coffee.
“I hope you’re not looking for treasure!” retorted the rotund man with the big smile.
“That’s exactly what I’m looking for!” quipped Meg, looking around the small room that contained about ten computers back to back, all of them occupied by whey faced young men.  Not a head lifted as she watched them; each one intensely focused on the screen in front of him.
“They look like they live here!”
Beyond Charlie’s desk a small waiting room doubled as a salesroom for antique clothes that hung on hangers and pegs from the rafters. Leather bound books and china bric-a-brac bedecked old mahogany bookcases. A large shabby leather sofa dominated the room whose walls were hung with rich coloured red and burgundy tapestries. A thread worn Afghan carpet covered black painted floorboards.
“Do I need to book a computer?” she asked him, tilting her head to adjust her vari-focals as she gazed between the zombie youths and Charlie’s round jovial face.
“For special customers I have the VIP corner,” he announced pointing to an alcove behind her where three computers were set up in a semi circle.
“Oh! They’re well hidden. And do I qualify as a VIP?”
“For sure!”
“I may need your help,” she admitted. “You see I want to purchase a knight in shining armour.”
“I think we may need a cup of caffeine to sort that one out.” And he reached for the coffee pot and poured a thick mixture into two glazed coffee mugs. Then he directed her towards the sofa where she sank into a well worn hollow and told him about her mission.
“Well, I’ve heard worse,” he admitted when she had revealed all. “There was a woman who wanted to buy a ghost in a jar. Then there was the chap who wanted the vote in the American election. Although, to be honest, it’s usually old diaries, love letters, luggage labels, theatre programmes and that sort of stuff.”
“What do you reckon my chances are?”
“Let’s go and find out,” and Charlie with a chivalrous gesture helped to prise Meg out of the deep sofa and escorted her to the VIP corner. He explained the process of e-bidding, the registration, the log in and password and then they set off on a browse around the site.
The trip was a lot more exciting than Meg had imagined. Charlie did the clicking while Meg scanned for knights. He found a section called Weird Stuff, which Meg declared was a likely location for any dragon slaying knight worth his salt, but no knight to the rescue appeared.
“They’re all off saving damsels in distress!” joked Charlie. “Will we take a turn about another site anyway?” he asked coaxingly,” At my expense,” he added.
Meg said she’d be delighted and so they set off on an expedition that set them chasing original 1972 Olympic Games Posters, letters written by criminals on death row and Russian submarines. Meg, who rarely ventured beyond her own gatepost, was enchanted. Charlie explained that she should come back for follow up bouts, as it was always possible that a knight might stray within their gambit.
The following week saw them venture into Paper and Ephemera. This was, in fact, one of Charlie’s favourite territories. Two cups of steaming black coffee later and Meg had put in a bid for a five year Pre World War One Diary- fully written up.
“You’ll have to come back in a day or two and see if anyone has out bid you,” announced Charlie. “Maybe we could have lunch while you are here?”
 Meg agreed, and that Thursday saw them taking a detour through Stamps while Charlie served up Chicken Caesar on a bed of lettuce and rocket. On this trip he managed to inform Meg that he was a widower in search of a close friend with whom he could share friendship and possibly romance.
“You could look on E-bay,” she suggested. “For a damsel in need!”
And so it continued for several weeks. Meg was outbid for the diary and tried her luck at an old leather bound notepad dated 1946. The knight still evaded Meg’s mating call, but in the meantime, she and Charlie had a weekly date.

“You don’t think that maybe you’ve already found him, the knight?” suggested Janet to a surprised raise of the eyebrow from Meg.
“Charlie! You can’t be serious! I mean we’re just friends. He doesn’t see it at all like that!”
“And what about you? How do you see it?”

Two months later on a jaunt through Weird Stuff both Charlie and Meg were stalled mid click to see it.

Knight in full armour, with shield, sword and lance, mounted on life sized white horse. The installation set on wheels for easy movement. 1000 sterling. No bids yet.

“I guess this is it!” declared Charlie, hovering on unchartered territory.
“Do you think?” Meg felt suddenly tentative. Now that the possibility had arrived, the knight within reach, her heart faltered.
“It’s just what you wanted, isn’t it?”
“I’m not sure if it would fit into the workshop.”
“But you told me you measured the space and…”
“I wouldn’t see you anymore!” she blurted out, Janet’s words ringing in her head.
“I’m sure we could get around that, Meg. In fact, I’ve been meaning to ask you for some time.” He was avoiding eye contact and twiddling a pencil in his hand.
“Ask me what, Charlie?”
“About that damsel, Meg… do you think she could be you?”
“About that Knight, Charlie… do you think you could be him?”
His eyes followed the description again.
“Well, I don’t know about that sword and lance bit, but I could have a go at the horse riding.”
“Then I think I’ve found the knight I’ve been searching for!”
“And I think I’ve found my close friend….”

Tuesday 6 November 2018

Anyone for Coffee?

This is a lovely blogspot organised by Gill James of Bridge House Press. The idea is that each story lasts about the the length of time it takes you to drink a cuppa of whatever brew you fancy.

Saturday 3 November 2018

The Fallen

On All Souls' Day I visited the above installation to commemorate the soldiers killed in the Great War. 
To be frank, I didn't take in much of the information as I was distracted by the memory of someone I never knew, except in family lore, as Great Uncle Jim Joe, killed at the front on October 12th 1918 Age 30. 
Coming from a mining community he joined the Royal Engineers and would have been one of those who burrowed tunnels across the line into enemy territory. 

This reflection is for him- Sapper James Joseph Leonard, 137th Field Company, Royal Engineers.
Buried at Cambrin Military Cemetery, France.


The women thread fish wire through paper leaves that bear your names
One leaf for every soldier, it takes them sixty hours
of fine needlework to fashion this chandelier
of fallen souls, 36,000 leaves,
Fluttering from the ceiling
of St Patrick's Cathedral
Finally risen again.

Tuesday 30 October 2018

The Haul

A Surprise Catch

He thought it was the devil himself.

The drag on their nets caught their breaths
Seconds of sand sifting in their heads
Possibilities surfacing, ebbing, drowning.

They exchanged explanations, mumblings-

Each doubtful of the other’s and their own.
A piece of dead tree they concurred
And turned their shoulders to the task.

But the drag widened and lightened

And the tree theory baulked
And like bat wings extended four metres wide
Black tipped volcanoes puncturing the calm.

He staggered back thinking of devil’s horns,

But his mate, recalling jaw bones recovered
four years earlier, moved closer...
It took the strength of both of them

To lift the giant elk antlers from the lough floor.

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2018


Thursday 25 October 2018

Getting Unstuck

Going through a fallow period so here is a website that might prompt me to write!

A Traditional Christmas Tale


   Christmas started earlier every year and this year was no exception. Even before the Halloween ghouls and vampires had vacated every shop window and pub on the Main Street the rotund, familiar figure of Saint Nicolas had already made an appearance in various corner counters, nooks and crannies in all of the bigger department stores. There he sat patiently waiting for the last fireworks display to hiss and splutter and finally burn out. Maura’s heart sank at the sight of him.
   It hadn’t always been like this. Santa in her childhood had been an elusive figure. Stories about him circulated for weeks before the big day arrived. The town was not humming, as it was now- the second weekend in November, with the prospect of his imminent arrival at the Square. Next week other Santas would no doubt set up camp in the centre of every shopping mall for miles. Where was the mystery in that?
   Maura had been saving a bit from her pension for months now. She looked at the savings jar and thought that the time had come to start counting. She made a list of all her expected purchases, allowed for some unexpected items, and still the figures in the two columns didn’t quite match. There were ten grandchildren to accommodate. And. while they didn’t expect a big present, she always made sure that each and every one of them would not be disappointed.
   She had been researching the subject of Christmas presents for weeks now. At every visit from her grandchildren she solicited information from them. “What’s Santa bringing you this year? What’s Santa not bringing you? Where would you buy that now?”
   Online was often the answer, but Maura had not yet mastered the art of the internet.
   In her childhood the experience of writing a list to Santa involved an actual trip, not an imaginary or virtual one. She would set off early with her two brothers and sisters each with the task of selecting the one item that they would really like from Santa. They walked all the way to town, wrapped up warm in their winter coats and hats. Brady’s hardware shop was their destination, and they would climb Brady’s Sixteen Steps to Toyland with trepidation. For just three weeks every December Brady’s first floor would be transformed from a storeroom, where Mike Brady kept his surplus stock, into a veritable Christmas Wonderland.
   Tinsel would decorate every rail on that wooden staircase. The smell of spruce would assail the nostrils, even before you were half way up the flight of steps. On arrival they would gaze with wonder at the shelves neatly stocked with games, jigsaws and puzzles, wooden marble runs and porcelain faced dolls that went on exhibition only once a year. Teddy-bears, covered in lifelike coats of fur, arranged themselves in picnic clusters. Lights winked and wonder grew as you stumbled, mesmerised, from one aisle to the other. The magic pervaded everything. The smell of cinnamon studded oranges and mint chocolate made the mouth water.
   Their mother would remind them that Santa had a lot of children to cater to. And somehow they knew that Santa’s budget would not stretch to the complete wooden doll’s house replete with handcrafted furniture, or the train set that was moved by a mysterious force along the right wing of Brady’s Wonderland.
   When they arrived home they would compose and decorate a carefully worded letter to the somewhat intimidating figure of Santa. Supervised by their mother, the letters would then be sent up the chimney. Only little Joey, their youngest, ever asked how Santa could read them, if they were burnt? But Mother assured him that Santa’s birds were waiting at the chimney top to whisk these precious missives off to the North Pole, where everybody knew Santa stayed put until Christmas Eve. Mum’s explanation was usually followed by a dash to the window in the hope of a sighting of the Christmas robins, followed by a declaration that they were invisible anyway. Paddy, who was nine and knew what was what, declared that Mum’s theory was stuff and nonsense, and that the truth was that Santa could read smoke signals all the way from the North Pole.
Only last week Maura’s eldest grandchild, Molly, had sent an email to Santa.
   “And will he reply?” Maura asked.
   “Instantly” was the assured response.
   Ben, aged six, had already received a letter from the great man and didn’t even remember writing to him.  Where was the mystery any more? Maura just hoped that their parents were up to date on their children’s wish list shopping baskets.
   For old time’s sake she decided to set off with her list to Brady’s Toyland.  She hopped on the bus at her local corner shop and was standing in front of the hardware shop in minutes. Maura was disappointed that the door, which used to tinkle like a bell when you entered it, had been replaced by an automatic glass panel that whizzed open  every time anyone stepped near it. Crossing the threshold Maura was doubly surprised to find herself already in Wonderland.
   The main aisles were choker block full of Christmas fare. She missed the anticipation of the long climb up the sixteen steps that had now been removed altogether. There were too many smells, pine clashed with lemongrass. The noise was deafening. Instead of soft background carol singing, loud tuneless voices blared out from high quality speakers.
   “Can I help you?” a voice broke into her unhappy musings.
   “I really don’t think so,” was Maura’s reply. “It’s changed. The shop, I mean. It used to be different. The Sixteen Steps to Wonderland. They’re gone!”
  “Yes, you can take the lift now, Madam. It’s at the back of the shop.”
  “You mean this isn’t it. There’s more of this?” and Maura waved her arm around the overstocked, glittering, garish aisles.
  “Yes, much more. Would you like me to show you?”
  “No. I think I’ve seen enough. Thanks all the same.”
   Maura moved towards the glass doors that opened automatically; these sliding panels were the only mystery she had experienced that day.
    She climbed off the bus and found her eyes drawn to the marble run displayed in the window of her local corner shop. Jimmy Toner stood behind the counter, as usual, administering information on the weather, the state of the nation and any local piece of news that had come in to him in the past hour.
   “How much is the marble run, Jimmy?”
   “Twenty euro, Maura. But there’s lots of other stuff in the back.”
   It wasn’t a sixteen step climb to the back of Toner’s Shop but each step brought her closer to the kind of toys she remembered as a child. Cut up cardboard dolls, giant magnets, kites and spinning tops. Half an hour later Maura stumbled out of Wonderland with a heavy bag, and the weather forecast as well.
   When Christmas morning came her grandchildren whooped with delight as they unwrapped the brown paper parcels wrapped up with string.
   “Where do you find this stuff?” asked her sons and daughters. “Haven’t seen one of these in years!” It was her own children whose eyes lingered longest over the cut out dolls and spinning top.
   “I think Gran’s been to the North Pole!” declared Molly.
   “Did you meet Santa?” asked Ben.
   “Can I come with you next year?” asked her eldest daughter.

    “I’ll have to think about that,” replied Maura in a tone that could only be described as mysterious.

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2018

Friday 5 October 2018


Attended a lecture on Paul Gauguin at the National Gallery; From Britanny to Tahiti.
Exhibition on Roderic O'Conor and the Modernists runs until end of October.

From There to Here

This revisioning of Gauguin
is not kind
But he still holds
Centre stage
Not for his artist
Or his South Sea canvases
Or his salmon journey
to Peru
His pointed ears
Elongated chin
Wide cheek bones
Not for his derision
of civilisation
Or his Yellow Christ
Or his Noa Noa

But for his mimicry
His stagecraft
His Bill Cody hair
His Chinese takeaways
His ham acting-
That woodcutting incident-
His escape from Modernity
and deference to it
His self aggrandisement
Self advertisement
His deconstructed
of himself

He could have run
for President here.

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2018

Thursday 4 October 2018

Falling Leaves Time

Falling Leaves Time

Disillusionment is a thickness
in the air
and in the throat
a closing up like a clam shell
a hedgehog turning in for winter
a self reflective bubble
feet touching mouth in a perfect O.

All myths and legends have their Tartarus
their underworld journey
through darkness to rebirth 
and regeneration.
Red Indians call it 
Falling Leaves Time.

In Newgrange we squatted in darkness 
and waited for a shaft of light
that would herald the promise 
of a new dawn.

So for now I will hold my feet
in my mouth and wait
for the coming of Solstice...

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2016

Wednesday 3 October 2018


The Autumn Salon

Today the tree is flush
with bronze and ochre highlights 
and ringlets of clustered red berries
Its roots are still green
And its need for a new tint and colour apparent

And though I will daily sweep 
and gather its shorn clippings
for reconstruction as mulch
or fertiliser or compost extensions

Sometime between now and Winter’s end
I will stop noticing
And the sight of its shaven pate in January
will startle me, and beg the question:
When did that happen?

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2018

Tuesday 2 October 2018

Poetry Challenge

The Obheal challenge this week is to make a poem with:


My attempt below...I'm sure you can do better....


Did snakes really lick her ears
Roiling her spirit
Launching her on parallel wavelengths
where the future was already lost
where she will wander forever odd
with no-one ever believing her?

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2018

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Poetry Competition

Poetry prompts.
Here's a competition for you.
Make a poem out of the following five words:


Tuesday 25 September 2018

For Better or Worse

Times Past

What did we used to do
when we ran out of petrol
or the car broke down
or we were delayed on the way
to or fro?

Or when we wanted to know where they were
and when they'd be back
and whether they were safe
or sorry
or both?

When we wanted to say hello
but not actually chat?
Make a date, or a booking,
and cancel both?

We probably walked more and talked less
Thought more or less
Had more  time and space on our hands
Did something or nothing with it
It's probably neither better nor worse
Now than it was then
Though it seems to be

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2018

Thursday 20 September 2018


Inspired by reading Afric McGlinchey's  The Lucky Star of Hidden things

We've all had a few of these.......

He Was

A Rhett Butler
with prehensile tail

A 2/1 favourite
on a bad day

A pomegranate
chemically pumped

A starlit night
in a fog


The Alhambra
in the rain

imbibed for root bark

A Bluebeard
in sheep's clothing

He was
A mistake

Friday 14 September 2018


I'm not usually this serious...especially on a Friday...but here goes...

"The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind,happiness is better." George Orwell

Return to Sender

Boomerangs, Brent Geese, Letters
Library books- used to be stamped-now bar coded,
Salmon, Password protected stuff-in theory,
Passports-to Department of Foreign Affairs- in theory,
Seasons, Bottles-used to be bottle caps,
Stale bread, Past sell- by- date produce,
In general, in theory.

Finds are no longer finds
These items belong to somebody
And can, with effort, be returned.
Cats once wandered, still do
But can’t stray, not really.

Mine has strayed three times
And been returned
Like the recalcitrant prisoner
Who dug the tunnel, only to find
The Microchip on the other side.

Not that he ain’t happy here!
But he just likes to chase a leaf or butterfly
Now and again
Or a bee on his buzz-crawl
Of the local brew

And finds himself beyond
What he knows.
It’s safer to be tagged, I hear you say,
And that’s true.
But what about you?

Never mind the CCTV,
DNA and the Social Identity Card,
Your smart phone, your car reg plate
Your flat screen, your lap top
All monitor your every move-thought.

1984 is here
Big Brother is watching
And  Where's Winston? Never mind Wally!
Doublethink? Double speak? Newspeak?

Sound familiar?

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2018

Thursday 13 September 2018


In the Middle Ages they used wine-
I’d be up for that-
Doused, sated, soaked
Then let the shedding begin.

In Latin it means
To strip off leaves-
It happens naturally to us
Every day, anyway.

But to speed up renewal
Crush almond shells 
and administer to the flesh 
with finger nails.

Then stand in the sun
Where its crepuscular rays
Reflecting skin cells
Scatter light beams.

Like a Monstrance held high
In Exposition or Benediction
Pouring its blessings
Exfoliating you.

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2018

Tuesday 11 September 2018

And If......

If my mother had not gone to the Pictures that night
Or had gone to the Castle, instead of the Astor
If she had arrived five minutes later
My father would have been ahead of her in the queue,
and not behind,
And he would not have seen the fire in her hair
Catch the light of the evening sun
And if he had looked down at that epiphanic
Moment to retrieve a fallen coin
I would have been unconsummated
And if he had not followed her gaze
To the pair of shoes,
Or was it a handbag?
In McKinley’s shop window, and said,
“Would you like me to buy that for you?”
And if he had not startled her with his boldness
that unleashed laughter and not distain
My non- existence would have been ensured.
For it takes such fortuitous events
Such flukes in the passage of time
Such serendipities
To make us who we are.

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2018

Friday 7 September 2018

Irish Time

Irish Time
(To nobody of my acquaintance!)

When she says she’ll be here at 10
and it’s already 9.30
You know it’s just an aspiration.
She’ll have to run to the shops,
locate the cat,
let it in,
let it out,
walk the dog,
water the dahlias,
and finally, in the car,
she’ll remember- the immersion!
run back, turn it off,
and let the cat in again.

And you’ll have time to
bake a cake,
hoover the house,
plant seeds,
clean the bathroom,
write a poem,
wash the crockery,
do a handstand,
polish the cutlery,
and maybe even,
airbrush yourself.

And all you can think is-
Thank God she’s Irish!

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2018

Thursday 6 September 2018


Didn't you just love those teenage crushes!

Today on my city park walk
my heels crushed heather,
City heather, but heather all the same,
And I thought of you
In Northern climes
In olden times
On mountain paths
Leading a group of us
Beyond our stride,
Daring to make mountaineers
out of a bunch of Teens,
All with a crush on you-
Your bow- legs arching the sky
Hair- sun burnished
Knight- helmeted
Anorak- armoured
Galahad -clad
Following your Holy Grail.

Copyright with CathyLeonard 2018