A Hundred Tiny Threads – Extract

Our ma died when we were little and Da died three years ago.’

‘I’m sorry.’

He lifted his shoulders. ‘He was a good man, so he was–a good doctor—’

‘So you’re following in his footsteps. How wonderful!’

Conal smiled a wry smile. ‘Not quite. I could have trained in Dublin, had a practice in the villages surrounding the hamlet where we lived like our da. But things were– are getting bad in Ireland. You’re either with the Nationalists wanting Home Rule or you’re against them. At least that’s how they look at it…’

‘Did you mind having to leave?’

‘No, like I said, I thought it best we got away. Nationalist politicians think Home Rule will make Ireland into the Promised Land; old wrongs put right and old scores settled.  Course it wouldn’t be like that.’ Conal shook his head.

‘Ya’ll have noticed neither of us have any religion?’ he said, abruptly changing the subject.

‘I did know about Honora—’

‘Well, to be sure, I have no time for it, either; the Catholics believe they’ve been denied so much– and who am I to say they haven’t?’ He raised and dropped his shoulders. ‘And the Protestants have always thought there’ve been plots against them. There’ll be more trouble, more riots, sure to be.’

‘Do you think there’ll be riots here about it?’ The thought of it frightened Winifred.

He must have seen her fear because he caught hold of her hand. ‘I shouldn’t think so, macushla.  There’s been a lot of anger against the English for a long time; ever since the famine, but it hasn’t meant the Nationalists have dared to do anything over here.’

Winifred nodded. ‘I remember Dad telling me about it once. The Great Potato Famine? I was about nine, I think. I remember I cried at some of the stories he told me.’

‘Except they weren’t stories; it happened to real people.’ Conal’s voice was hard.

Winifred flushed. ‘I’m sorry.

 It was as if he hadn’t heard her. ‘Our da used to tell us about his father and the bad times. People died. The British landowners didn’t care; they exported food while their Irish tenants starved to death. Those who didn’t starve, left. It split families; loads went off to America, some came over to Britain. But they didn’t fit in here. And we’re still not wanted by many folk this side of the Irish Sea. We’re seen by some as wanting to cause trouble. I’ve even heard they think anybody with my accent wants to blow up Parliament.’

The image of her mother came into Winifred’s mind. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said again.

He glanced at her. ‘Aw, you’re grand. No worries. Anyhow, after the famine, for a long old time, whole parts of the country were left empty. Those left were poor. Grandad was new with the qualifications then. Da said he worked for free most of the time and they sometimes didn’t even have bread on the table. My da was different; he thought his family came first. And I feel the same; I want more for Honora and me than what Seanathair had; for a wife and family, if I ever have one.’

Winifred felt unexpected warmth in her throat and face at his last words and turned her face away in case he noticed. ‘Still…’she said. ‘Still, you’re helping poor people here, like Sophie. And I’m sure you’ll be a good doctor.

‘Aw, sure look it, one day.  Anyhow, Da left us a quite a bit of cash when he died. Enough for us to get here after I’d won a place at the Leeds School of Medicine, enough to get me through to be qualified if we don’t squander it. We manage. Just.’

‘And you don’t mind living like…’ She stopped, aware of the irritation in his eyes. ‘I mean that house– that street…’

‘You think we have a choice?’

‘I’m sorry—’

 ‘It’s free. That street is down for demolition. No one cares that we’re there. Not yet.’ His voice was grim.

‘I’m sorry,’ Winifred said again.

‘When we have to move on we’ll find another house. We’ve done it before, we’ll do it again. As long as I can save enough, we can earn enough for me to keep on training– working for a future for Honora and me, I’ll keep on fighting…’

‘I’m sure you will.’ There was nothing else to say.

‘I’m sorry, carrying on like that.’ He looked at her.

 ‘Aw, you’re grand.’ Winifred tried to imitate his accent. ‘No worries.’ She thought for a moment he was offended, was surprised when he grinned. His laughter was infectious.  He grabbed her fingers and they walked hand in hand until they left the narrow streets behind and emerged onto Cook Street.

‘I know my way from here.’ She’d actually known her way for the last ten minutes but was enjoying the feel of his long, slender fingers wrapped around hers. And he made her feel safe.

 

 

A Hundred Tiny Threads
Pub Date: August 2017
Honno Welsh Women’s Press
ISBN: 9781909983687

 

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