Short Story – Girl Pilgrim

Girl Pilgrim

June 1990

That was the day my life took a different path. Well, it was probably two days really because one ran into the other and to separate them would be impossible. We got the bus to Santiago de Compostela. We were hungry and a bit hung over so the first thing we did was look for a tapas bar. I had begun to realise that in Galicia the only thing that really matters is the food. At home, the grottier looking the cafe, the grottier the food tends to be. Not in Spain. The tapas bars and cafes are very basic, many of them advertising the food with sun-faded photos in the window, but the food is top-notch. We stopped at a cafe and plonked ourselves outside on two plastic chairs in the sunshine and Bea ordered.  Pulpo, calamares, jamon serrano with tortilla and some Padrón peppers. I was used to Bea telling me that the Galicians had the best fish in the world. She was probably right. I stopped short of suggesting that it was very likely that half the fish came from the sea around Ireland. Since I arrived in Vigo I’d been living on a diet of fish and Manchego cheese.  Before we got on the bus we even visited the old lady at the port to eat some oysters. For the ‘resaca’; the hangover cure, according to Bea and rightly so, the oysters seemed to do the job.  I could handle the oysters but for some reason, when the food arrived, the jelly-like part of the octopus was a step too far.

When we finished lunch, we weaved our way through the crowds on the narrow streets lined with bars, stalls and souvenir shops and made our way to the main square. The square was vast and busy with tourists, many of them with backpacks making their way to the Cathedral. There was a Galician folk group performing beside the old Parador. The costumes reminded me of old gypsy costumes but the music they played sounded like a group of Celtic musicians from the west of Ireland. They were even playing bagpipes for God’s sake. I hated the sound of bagpipes.

“Come on and we’ll pretend we’re pilgrims.” Bea said and we crossed the square making our way to the Cathedral.  We were very giddy, as Bea insisted that we put on an act of the exhausted pilgrim when we climbed the steps, so as not to look like the imposters that we were. When we entered through the large doors everyone was lining up to place their hand on a pillar with a carving of St James in the middle of a vast portico dripping with Medieval carvings. We joined the queue, and both took turns to place our hand on the spot. Even in our giddiness the moment was not lost on us. The pillar was worn from the countless pilgrims that had stood there over the centuries and you could feel the grooves of the hands that touched it before. We paid a quick visit to the interior of the Cathedral to look at the gold altar with its famous statue of St James and when we got back out into the scorching sunshine, leaving the cool interior behind, we were back laughing hysterically and decided after all that effort we deserved a beer. 

One beer led to another and after an afternoon enjoying the sights and smells and especially the bars of Santiago, we got a late bus back to Vigo. We were on a roll, so we decided to continue.  First there was the Salsa club and the taxi afterwards and the bars on the port and the other taxi and the night club. Bea met up with her friends and by the time we hit the night club there were about ten of us. And that’s when it all gets confusing, and my memories begin to blur.  I have flashbacks of faces. Of dancing and loud music. Of dancing with him. Of looking for Bea and not finding her. Of finding her. Of going back to his friend’s place with Bea afterwards. Of me being out of it and letting him undress me.  Of me freezing and thinking this couldn’t be happening but knowing it was happening.  Of me getting up from the bed and fumbling for my clothes. Of me sitting on the steps outside waiting for Bea.  Of me witnessing a spectacular sunrise but feeling completely detached from the beauty all around me.

June 2003

On the day of her graduation from junior school I was looking at all of the little faces on the stage feeling a roller coaster of emotions. They were all so young and innocent and had so much life ahead of them. The graduation ceremony was full of joy.  Songs full of hope and dancing and the speeches about going out into the big world. I knew that the next few years wouldn’t be easy for Anna going into the new school, teenage years and all the rest. I thought about the day she was born, looking into her eyes and laughing because she was looking right back at me.  I knew that if she could have spoken, she would have said “What?” Like, “Just get on with it.”  So, I did. And now looking at my twelve year old, I was proud of how I had just got on with it. How we both had.

She was laughing at something her friend said, and I was struck by how beautiful she looked with her red hair lit up by the sunshine streaming in the glass door.   She was taller than most of her year. A lot of the other children hadn’t had their growth spurts yet. She caught my eye and waved down at us. Peter squeezed my hand and said, “She’s a cracker isn’t she.”  Her grandparents were sitting beside us. Anna was their first grandchild. Grandad’s little buddy or his ‘doppelganger’ as he used to call her when she was little. Nana filled the gaps when I was working or studying for exams. Baking with her and listening to her incessant chat. I could never thank them enough for what they and my younger sisters did for me back then and how they accepted my silence. They had long ago reconciled to the idea that they would probably never know how Anna came into our world. They were just happy that she did.

“Hi Mum. Where are the boys ?” Anna was disappointed the little ones weren’t there. She loved showing them off to her friends because according to her and her friends, her twin brothers were “soooo cute!”. 

“They’re with Tina. We don’t want any distractions on your big day.”

“We’re going over the harbour for a celebratory lunch for the day that’s in it.” Peter ventured. He’d taken a half day. “Nana and Grandad are coming too.”

“Great. I’m having calamari.” Anna beamed, still high on the joy of the occasion and enjoying a big hug from Nana, who was telling her for the millionth time what a great girl she was and how proud she was of her.

June 2013

“Mum can we meet for coffee. I’ve some news for you”. I couldn’t work out if Anna sounded happy, or nervous or sad. She wouldn’t elaborate on the phone, so my mind was racing. I had blocked out two hours from work and got the Luas up from the Criminal Courts. I was waiting in Arnotts café. Anna was coming from work too. She was doing well on her graduate placement. She was working very long hours and I was glad she’d taken the year out after finishing college. She had inherited my talent for being late so it was anyone’s guess who would get there first. I had just sat down at a table and I watched her walking towards the coffee shop. She was wearing a long flowery dress with her Doc Martins and her hair was tied up in a ponytail. She looked so young and vibrant.  The teenage years had been rocky enough, but she had got on with it, got through school and college. She was finally working and earning a few quid.  She had also moved in with her boyfriend John, and they seemed to rock along nicely. She saw me, gave what I thought was an apprehensive smile and came and plonked herself down opposite me.

“Hi honey. What’s up?”  I was impatient.

“Hang on and I’ll get the coffees” and off she went. Arriving back with two mugs and a muffin, she settled into her seat and proceeded to divide the muffin in two.

“Well, you’re probably not going to like this, but I’ll get to the point. I found him.”

“Found who?” It was a stupid question and I knew it.

“You know who Mum. My father, the sperm donor or whatever you want to call him.”

The shock of what she had just said was slowly beginning to register. Not the language she used. That was normal for us. It was what she had told me. I felt a wave of panic at the thought that she had made contact with this man. Thinking about it brought back too many uncomfortable emotions that I had successfully buried a long time ago. As Anna had got older and began to ask questions, I found myself wondering if I was right to exclude Anna’s father. Whether I should have at least given him a choice to be involved. But I figured I’d left it too late. Anyway, I couldn’t give Anna the answers she needed. I wasn’t ready to go there.  In recent years she’d stopped asking questions which I found unnerving. Now I understood why. She had taken control of things herself. I shouldn’t have been surprised. That was Anna. I looked into her eyes, and she looked back at me defiantly.


What indeed I thought. So many questions. What? When? I didn’t need to ask ‘why’ of course.

“How? I mean, how do you know?”

“To cut a long story short Mum, I found your old friend Bea on Facebook. Tina told me about her, and I messaged her and eventually after emailing her loads of times, I got it out of her. She said you broke off contact with her.  She had no idea that you were pregnant.”

My mind flashed back to a Facebook message I saw from Bea about a year before. I hadn’t opened it. Bea and I had met when I was on an Erasmus in Madrid. It was easy to break the link in the early 1990s. There was no Facebook and of course no mobile phones. I had gone back to Dublin and continued with my life. Knowing I was pregnant made me work twice as hard and I had made a good life for myself and Anna, even before I met Peter. Meeting Peter and later having the boys had created a very nice little family for all of us. I had always tried to convince myself that having a great Dad in Peter was enough for Anna. And it was on many levels.  He couldn’t have been a better Dad to her. When she was difficult during her teenage years it was Peter who calmed her down and kept the peace between us. Deep down I had long accepted that there would always be a part of her she needed to reconcile

“How can you be sure Anna?”

“He was a school friend of Bea’s. I am sure.  She spoke to him, and I messaged him on Facebook. Anyway, we’ve done the DNA and its confirmed.” She looked at me and continued to speak “I’m not angry. Well, I was a bit, but I’ve calmed down now. I know you had your reasons. But for fucks sake Mum.  He didn’t even know I existed.”

Anna had every right to be angry with me. As a teenager, when she started to ask questions about her father, I told her it was a ‘one night stand’. She knew that was all I was prepared to say about how she came into the world. At the time I knew it didn’t feel right, but I really didn’t think it was rape. We were both very drunk. Of course as I got older I grew to understand that it was a grey area and that I was no more capable of giving consent. But they were different times and we hadn’t a clue back then. It was long before the Me-Too movement, not to mention the Repeal movement. In truth,  I was not long on options at the time, but I never once regretted the choice I made. I could have got the boat if I really wanted to.

Most of all I was so glad for Anna’s sake that these days things were out in the open and more talked about. I was glad that the lines are less blurred. I’d had a chat with the boys about it too. About consent and respect. They looked at each other rolling their eyes up to heaven. “Yeah. Mum. We know all that.” Peter thought they were a bit young for that conversation, but I assured him that I’d heard too many horror stories and I wasn’t taking any chances. He knew not to push it any further.

“Ok love. So, what now?” I said resigned to the reality of the situation.

“I’m going to meet him. I’m going to Santiago in a week. He wants to meet me.”

“Do you want me to come?” I knew what her answer would be before she replied.


June 2015

Peter and I left the boys with their grandparents and we arrived in Santiago de Compostela three days ago. On Thursday we travelled to Vigo to see Bea. We are back in contact now and she has long forgiven me for cutting her out of my life. We stood and hugged for what seemed like an eternity, both of us crying and laughing at the same time. We were so happy to see each other again after so long. It was Bea who brought Anna to meet her father that first time she met him. I can’t thank her enough for her kindness and how she gently smoothed the way. I sat with Bea in the garden by the pool looking out at the sea and we talked about old times. Her husband Juan and the two children made me and Peter so welcome. We promised to meet up again soon. To make up for lost time.

On Friday Anna arrived with John.  They had taken two weeks holiday to walk the Portuguese section of the Camino. They were full of chat and enthusiasm telling us about the different characters they had met along the way.  They had hugged St James in the Cathedral when they got to Santiago, and I was teasing Anna because she always referred to religion as ‘mumbo jumbo’. She knew well that I shared that view. 

“It’s not religious Mum. It’s spiritual. You guys have to do the Camino. The boys would love it too.“

The four of us sat over dinner and chatted for hours hearing all of their stories. I was happy for her. She has embraced her Galician roots with pride and clearly a sense of need. As if she was making up for lost time.  Her Spanish is now far superior to my own. I loved listening to her chatting away to the waiter in fluent Spanish. She insisted on doing the orders. Calamari, octopus, salted cod. Anna was anxious to impress Peter and me with her knowledge of all things Galician.  “Did you know that you get the best fish in the world in Galicia?” I smiled.  “Think I might have heard that before.”

Yesterday I met her biological father. I met Rodrigo. Anna had shown me photos of him, so I already knew what he looked like. She had also shown me photos of his wife Laura with their daughter, Anna’s half-sister, Amaro. Amaro had the same colouring as Anna.  I also saw a photo of Anna with her grandmother, ‘abuela Maria’. Yet I still wasn’t really prepared for how I would feel about meeting Rodrigo. There were so many thoughts going around in my head and I was anxious. Peter offered to come, but I said that for this time I would prefer to be alone. Besides he was minutes away on the phone if I changed my mind. So, I crossed the square, which was full of the day’s stream of pilgrims and made my way to the coffee shop where Anna was waiting with Rodrigo. He had his back to me when I approached, and Anna was leaning forward in deep conversation. I noticed he reached out and patted her on the hand in reaction to something she said to him. I felt a tinge of emotion, maybe even jealousy. I wasn’t sure. She saw me and smiled.

“Hi Mum. I’d like to introduce you to Rodrigo.”

There was no sarcasm in her voice, and I realised how relieved I was that she called him by his first name.  She had always called Peter ‘Dad’.

Rodrigo stood up and shook my hand. I could tell he was apprehensive.

“Louise, very nice to meet you.”

Rodrigo’s red hair had long since faded to grey and his beard was neatly trimmed. The years had been kind to him. Looking into his eyes my memory of the tall Galician boy, that I had danced Salsa with, came back to me as if that memory had never gone away.

And that was it. I sat down and joined them at the table and over the next hour we made polite talk about our lives. Both of us had gone into Law and we mentioned that, but I did not dwell on the area of law I specialised in. We talked about our other children. But mostly we talked about Anna. He thanked me for bringing up such a wonderful girl. He told me how blessed he felt that she had come into his life. There were no recriminations. No questions asked by either of us. We both knew there was no point in looking backwards and without saying anything we accepted things the way they were. I thanked him for the kindness he and his wife had shown Anna. When we got up to leave, he hugged Anna and promised he would see her very soon. We shook hands and as he held my gaze, his eyes welled up with tears. I squeezed his hand and then we hugged each other. It was a long, firm hug full of emotion. Whatever had to be forgiven was forgiven. It was clear that we both had a strong bond in Anna. That was what mattered now. After a moment Anna took me gently by the hand, and we walked away quietly. Neither of us speaking. Although I did not turn around, I knew Rodrigo was standing watching us until we turned the corner. 

Today I got up early and left the others having breakfast in the Parador. I wanted to say goodbye to the Cathedral before we go home. I wanted to say goodbye to Santiago de Compostela, until the next time, when I plan to arrive as a genuine pilgrim. The Pórtico da Glória was closed off for conservation so I couldn’t place my hand in the worn handprint. I was disappointed to hear from the guide that it will no longer be possible.    

There was organ music playing inside the cathedral and the whole interior was infused with a strong smell of incense. Mass had just ended and some people were filing out whilst a quiet stream of pilgrims continued to arrive. I sat down towards the back of the Cathedral. Looking up at the vast Romanesque vaulted ceiling and the gold carved altar with the Statue of St James in the centre, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by everything that had happened over the last few days. I thought back to the last time I was in the Cathedral with Bea, twenty-five years ago. I was thinking about how young we both were and how our time together was full of laughter. We had no idea how our lives would change that day. And then I began to sob uncontrollably. I don’t know how long I was crying for but when the tears finally stopped flowing, I felt calm.  Calmer than I had in a long, long time.

There was one more thing I needed to do before I left the Cathedral. I quietly moved along the row of seats and out into the aisle. An American pilgrim, who had been watching me, moved aside to let me into the queue and I nodded in appreciation. They were queuing up to hug the gold statue of St James. Today I didn’t feel like a fake pilgrim.  I didn’t feel the need to pretend. I reckoned St James would know full well that I’d travelled a long road to get here.

I climbed the narrow stairs behind the altar and waited my turn. When it came, I put my arms around the golden statue of St James and found myself getting giddy again at the thoughts of me doing such a thing. For a non-practicing Catholic I surprised myself sometimes. However, in that moment I felt overcome with a sense of peace and happiness.  Like my fellow pilgrims I had reached the end of a very long journey. I thanked St James for everything that had happened in my life and for the people I had around me. I knew in my heart that from today life would be different. Different in a good way.

Cathedral in Santiago de Compestella

A Short Story / Guardian Angel

Guardian Angel

It was almost midnight and Klara and her grandmother, Ava, were sitting on the veranda overlooking the lake. The midsummer light kept them up later than usual.  The cousins had gone back to Stockholm and they were having a glass of wine from the remnants of the bottle they had opened earlier at dinner. There were some plates and empty glasses on the table.  The clearing up could wait until the morning. The smell of the citronella hung in the air and was coming from a large yellow candle that had begun to flicker.  Klara found the scent of citronella comforting. The mosquitoes always seemed to go for her and she figured  it was the English blood they were after. The heat of the day had dissipated, and it was cooler now.  A light breeze was causing a rustling in the trees and the reeds at the edge of the water were swaying back and forth. The small rowing boat was rocking gently and occasionally hitting against the wooden jetty. Klara always loved the sound of the night birds calling to each other in the darkness. Klara’s grandfather on her father’s side, Farfar, had taught her the names and cries of the birds that visited the lake in the summer. When she was younger, she could recite all their names in both Swedish and English. 


Her grandparents’ summer house was Klara’s favourite place in the world. It was a traditional Swedish wooden house painted a deep red with white surrounds around the windows. Klara’s great grandfather built the original house and Farfar renovated it over the years. He installed the indoor toilet and shower when Klara was around twelve years old.  She remembered how herself and her sister Emily were afraid of the dark and how they used to stand guard for each other when they had to go out to the old compost toilet at night. Klara loved the interior of the house, filled with art and Farmor’s coloured glass ornaments. There were typical Swedish textile rugs on the wooden floors.  The old blue sofa in the lounge, with a big tapestry throw, was the place where Klara and Emily spent their evenings with Farmor, who read them all their favourite Swedish fairy stories when they were little. 

Klara’s father was the only one in the family who had left Sweden, but the family returned each year to celebrate Midsommar.  It was important for Klara’s parents that she and Emily kept their strong Swedish roots and each year they left the girls in Sweden, with Farmor and Farfar, for almost two whole glorious months. At the lake house they had a freedom they couldn’t have in London. Klara and Emily learned to swim fearlessly and rowed from island to island on the lake. Farfar used to call the girls his little Pippi Longstockings.  

Midsommar was special. They decorated the place with lanterns and flowers. Farmor made floral garlands for Klara and Emily to wear in their hair and there was lots of music and dancing. The food was the best part, -the crayfish, fresh salmon, and pickled herrings. And dill. Lots of dill with sour cream and hard bread.  Unfortunately, this year Emily couldn’t make it, but their parents came. Klara had dropped them back to Arlanda airport that morning and she relished the thoughts of the extra few days on her own with Farmor. 

Ava broke the silence. “Did I ever tell you I had a guardian angel?” 

“Like from the Bible or something?” Klara replied, half paying attention. She was used to her grandmother’s stories. She had heard them over and over and she never minded when Ava repeated them.  

“No. A human guardian angel. …..But he died last week.” 

“Really? Oh. Sorry to hear that Farmor.  What did he die from?” Klara wasn’t sure if her grandmother was being serious or not. 

“He had cancer. But old age I suppose.  I often wondered who would go first.” 

Klara wondered if Ava was a bit confused. When Farfar died five years ago, everyone thought Ava would move back to the old apartment in Stockholm with uncle Karl and aunt Astrid; that she wouldn’t want to be on her own. But Ava had insisted on staying on in the Summer house. There was no persuading her and besides, she still was very able to look after herself. She had good neighbours too and uncle Karl was only forty minutes’ drive away in Stockholm. He had fitted the house with every conceivable alarm and Ava had allowed him to. A small sacrifice for her independence. 

The tone of her grandmother’s voice concerned Klara and it struck her that Ava was uncharacteristically emotional. Over the years Klara had never heard any mention of a guardian angel, of all things. She looked over at Ava who was leaning forward and pressing a napkin to her eyes. 

“Are you ok, Farmor?” 

“Yes. Yes Klara. I’m just a bit sad. That’s all.” 

Klara thought about Farmor and Farfar. They always seemed to have a good marraige.

“Who was he, Farmor? Were you and Farfar not happy together?”

“His name was Richard. I met him in London many years ago. And yes Farfar and I had the best life together. We were very happy. But Richard was a glimpse of another good life I could have had.”

“Did you have an affair Farmor?” Klara could always speak freely with Ava. She was her first grandchild. Everyone in the family always said she was a younger version of Ava. 

“No. But maybe my heart did a little bit. It was my honeymoon.”

“Your honeymoon? How could you meet anyone on your honeymoon, Farmor? Surely you were too busy.” Klara was teasing her grandmother. 

“It was 1961 and after the wedding we went to London for five days. The day before we left your grandfather decided he had seen enough art galleries and museums, but you know how much I love art.”

Klara knew alright. She remembered, when she was a child, Farmor dragging her and her sister around art galleries in London and Stockholm. She also thought about the day when she was about sixteen. They stopped at the Anders Zorn Museum in Mora and she refused to get out of the car.  Klara figured she was more like Farfar when it came to art 

“Well, Farfar went to meet his friend Peter who was living in London at the time.  I got a big black taxi to the National Art Gallery.  I remember that day so clearly. I was wearing a beautiful, tailored lemon-yellow suit and I had my hair up. It was the height of fashion at the time. Of course, my hair was as blonde as yours is now. Not this old grey, frizzy hair. Well, I was standing staring at a painting by Piero Della Francesca and this young man was beside me. I didn’t pay him any attention.” 

“Isn’t that the print you have hanging in the dining room? “

“Yes. The Baptism of Christ. As you know there are three angels in the painting. I was puzzled by so much in this painting and he must have noticed because he turned to me and said ‘If you pardon my interrupting, but that angel in the middle reminds me of you. You have the same perplexed expression on your face.’”

“That was a bit cheeky of him Farmor. He was definitely trying to chat you up.”

“Yes. I think he was. I was a bit shocked. But then I looked at him. I cannot say that he was very handsome, in the traditional sense, but he had a smile that lit up his whole face.  He was very tall also.  I said I would not take his comment as a compliment, as that angel looked quite cross, and she doesn’t seem to approve of the baptism going on. He laughed of course.”

“I remember you talked about that painting to me before Farmor.” Klara reminded her grandmother. “The Italian countryside in the background. The walnut tree. The river that stops suddenly. The three funny looking merchants. You gave out to me when I laughed at the man in his underpants in the background.” 

Ava laughed and Klara was glad her mood seemed to improve a little. 

“He joked about that too. Richard did. And how the three angels looked like good friends. His description of the painting was very humorous. In fact, he made me laugh a lot.” 

Klara could see, from her expression, that Ava was back in the National Gallery in London. “We spent hours together looking at all of the main painters. Caravaggio, Rubens, Da Vinci, Michelangelo. So many great paintings. He had a wonderful insight. He was lecturing in one of the universities in London and doing a doctorate on, I think it was Piero Della Francesca and Paolo Uccello.  I remember him telling me that they were both mathematicians.”

“Your own personal guide in the National Gallery. Not bad Farmor.”

“Yes, I suppose it was quite something. When I told him I should get back, he persuaded me to join him for tea in the gallery café. I told him that I was on my honeymoon, and I could see he was upset. He smiled and said it was such bad luck that he should meet me too late.”

“That’s sad Farmor”

“Yes it is, but it’s life Klara.  Well, he wanted to send me a copy of the book he was writing and I wrote the address of the summer house on a piece of paper.  When I finally got up to leave, we shook hands. He held my hand and squeezed it gently. I squeezed his hand too. It was not easy to say goodbye. He looked into my eyes and said “Ava, I will always look out for you in this world.”

“And what did you say, Farmor?”

“Would you believe I said ‘That’s nice. It’s like having a guardian angel’ and he smiled and said ‘Yes. I suppose it is. Think of me as your earthly guardian angel’.” 

Ava was looking out over the lake. “Klara, there was so much I wanted to say but I walked away. I had to. I went back to your grandfather.” 

“But, how do you know he died?” 

“I got a letter last week. From his grandson.” 

Ava pressed the napkin against her eyes again. “I’ve said too much now. It must be the wine. I miss sharing the earth with him, that’s all.  Do you know? There wasn’t one day that went by where I didn’t think about him.”

Klara was moved by what her grandmother had told her. She thought about how you never knew what was going on in other people’s heads and that life can be so messy. It reminded her of the quote she read from Gabriel García Marquez, ‘Everyone has three lives, a public life, a private life and a secret life.’ She knew Ava had loved Farfar and wondered if it had been enough for her. Her thoughts turned to herself and James and how she never brought James to the summer house during their four years. That said a lot.  They had moved out of the flat they shared in Camden only last month and Klara was back living in Greenwich with her parents. For the short term that is.  Until things settle down.

They sat in silence. It was a cloudless night and Klara loved how the stars glistened in the dark sky.  When she was younger, she was convinced that Sweden was much closer to heaven than London because the stars were so clear. The light from the moon was reflecting on the water and the cool breeze was splitting the reflection into hundreds and thousands of shimmering lights dancing on the surface of the water.  Klara could see the silhouettes of the Spruce trees on the two little archipelago islands in the middle of the lake and noticed that the lights were still on in the Nilssons’ house.  

Ava got up to go. “I think I’d better go to bed Klara.”

Klara stood up and gave Ava a hug. “Night Farmor. Sleep well. I’m sure your guardian angel is still doing his job, wherever he is.”


It was a month after Klara returned from Sweden.  She was sitting in her old bedroom in Greenwich surrounded by her collection of posters and books. It had been a long week in work. It always took a few weeks to get back into her London pace of life. Klara was staring at the screen of her lap-top and willing herself to press send on the message. Before she left Sweden, she had asked Ava about the letter. Ava showed it to her. It was short and polite. It just said that Richard had died peacefully. He had cancer and that he’d asked his grandson (the writer) to let Ava know. It was signed by a Richard Davis. Obviously named after his grandfather, Klara thought. It seemed that the original Richard Davis had been big in the art world. When Klara googled him, various publications came up. He had written in the Arts sections of the national newspapers from time to time also. Klara also found the book Richard sent Ava. It was on top of the bookshelf, wrapped in old tissue paper. It was a beautiful book full of rich images but obviously very academic too. Klara felt a wave of emotion on reading the dedication, ‘For Piero’s Angel.’ But Klara found herself now feeling curious about the other Richard Davis. The grandson. Ava’s story had stuck with her, and she wondered if the younger Richard Davis knew anything more than Ava had told her. She found it fascinating that Ava and Richard had only met once, and that the connection lasted their lifetime. 

As soon as Klara got back to London she had checked out Richard Davis’s social media profile, feeling a bit guilty for creeping on him. There were lots of photos of trips abroad. He seemed to be very into the outdoors, hiking, windsurfing. You name it. He had lots of friends and it was clear that he certainly knew how to enjoy himself. Klara figured that he looked like a nice guy.  Over the last few days she had debated whether he would think it was weird to message him, finally concluding that she had nothing to lose. She read through the message for the last time.  

Hi Richard. I hope I have the right Richard. I think you might have sent a letter to my grandmother in Sweden last month. She told me about meeting your grandfather.   I would love to know more if you have any information.  I live in London.  Thanks Klara Lundgren. 

She hit send and much to her shock, a reply came back within a couple of minutes. Her heart was racing as she read his reply.

Hi Klara, yes, you got the right Richard! Seems like my grandfather had a thing for your grandmother…Happy to meet up. Where abouts are you?”


Klara was happy to be back in Sweden again. It was a hot summer evening, and she couldn’t believe how quickly the last year had gone. So much change. So much to tell Farmor. She was so excited to see her. She always worried every time she left Farmor that it might be the last time. As a result, she regarded every year as a bonus.  Farmor was getting on in age. The flight landed in Arlanda airport at 4.30 and getting the rental car had been a smooth process for a change. They were driving along roads flanked by thick green forests. The windows were down. Klara wanted to fill her lungs with the Swedish air. She especially loved the Elk signs on the roadside and the fact that they saw cross country skiers on wheels on more than one occasion. I’m home, she thought to herself. 

It was past seven when they pulled into the driveway of the summer house. The lake was sparkling behind the house and Klara had an urge to run down the jetty and jump straight into the cool water.  There were great smells coming from the kitchen which were a combination of fish and the sweet smell of cinnamon. The sound of classical music was drifting out of the open windows. Klara recognised the piece immediately. Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. Farmor loved Grieg.

Ava heard the car pull in and came out onto the veranda wearing her old white apron with the traditional orange Dala horse print. Klara noticed that she moved a bit slower than last year, but still with grace.  They got out of the car and Klara ran up to Ava and threw her arms around her. 

“Farmor. Oh my God. It’s so good to be back”.

“Welcome home Klara dear. You look wonderful.”

You look great Farmor. It’s so good to see you. Oh my God I missed you.” Klara turned towards the car. “I brought a friend with me this time. Dad did tell you that my boyfriend was coming?”  

“Yes. Yes he did. He told me you were bringing someone special with you this year.”

Richard had taken the bags out of the car and was walking towards the veranda. Ava was standing watching him. She placed her hand on her heart. She knew that face from long, long ago. 

“Farmor. I would like to introduce you to Richard.” 

Ava smiled, “You are very welcome to Sweden, Richard.” 

“Thank you Mrs Lundgren. It’s lovely to finally meet you. Klara has told me all about you.”

Klara beamed on seeing Ava’s reaction. “Richard has a present for you Farmor.”

“Oh how sweet of you Richard. Please, call me Ava. Come inside. I’m sure you must be thirsty in this heat”

Inside the summer house it was cooler. Richard was looking at the Piero Della Francesca print on the wall above the sideboard. He remembered when he was young his grandfather told him that he’d met the angel in the middle. He believed him of course.  

Ava arrived in from the kitchen with a large glass jug filled with a ruby red liquid that was clinking with ice cubes. She set it down on the table and Klara poured out three large tumblers. 

Klara savoured the bitterness of the juice, “Berry saft. Just what I needed. Richard, give Farmor your gift” 

Richard handed Ava the parcel that was still tucked under his arm. 

“Open it Farmor.”

Klara was watching closely as Ava slowly opened the box and peeled off the many layers of tissue paper. When Ava saw what was inside, tears started to flow down her cheeks. It was a replica of the angel in the Piero Della Francesca. 

“Thank you, Richard. I’m not sad. I promise you. You’ve made an old lady very happy. You are very kind.”

Richard looked over at Klara. He leaned forward and squeezed her hand. He could clearly see the close bond that Klara had with her grandmother. “It was on a shelf above my grandfather’s bed for as long as I can remember. He called it his guardian angel.  I believe it belongs with you Ava.”


Baptism of Christ – Piero della Francesca

The Write Club

To save some the effort of reading this blog, it is not about planning. It’s not a true story. It’s fiction.

About two months ago I joined The Sea Road WriteClub and it’s nice to have to make things up for a change. It’s challenging but good fun too. The man behind The Sea Road WriteClub is Gary Quinn, a writer, editor and very patient writing coach. At the end of the course Gary has merged two groups to form, (and I hope you don’t take offence lads), what you might call in our case- a ‘middle age’ short story club (as opposed to a book club). Gary is still at the helm, guiding and maintaining order. It’s early days, but after one meet up on Zoom and a short story each, I can tell it will be a good laugh.

So, encouraged by Gary, I am going out of my comfort zone and putting up my first fiction short story below. I would highly recommend Gary’s writing courses for anyone, anywhere (thanks to Zoom) and of any age!

Way Up High

   “Look Frank. Look, it’s the Eiffel Tower.”

   Danny was shaking Frank’s shoulder to get his attention. Frank kept playing his DS and shrugged him away.

   “Get lost Danny.”

   Frank was just about to get to the next level in Super Mario Bros and Danny’s shaking wasn’t helping his chances. Besides, he was still pissed with Danny. When they had got on the plane Danny got his own way, of course. “I bags the window seat,” he’d said and, of course, Mum let him as usual.

   There’s only two years between them but Danny always got his way. Frank knew it was pointless to argue. He could see his Mum was tense with all the packing and getting to the airport. She said he could sit at the window on the way back. He knew it would be night when they were coming back.  It’s not the same, he thought.

   Frank’s Mum was sitting reading her book beside him in the aisle seat and his Dad was sitting beside the girls, reading the paper with his earphones on. Frank’s big sister Carol had come along on the holiday this time. She was minding Sheila, who was colouring in her Princess colouring book. The food had come and gone. They were all allowed get a sandwich and share a large packet of M&Ms. Of course, Danny dropped some on the ground and had to squeeze down to pick them up. He was so annoying, Frank thought.

   Danny wouldn’t give up and kept shaking Frank’s shoulder. “I swear Frank. it’s the Eiffel Tower.” Frank gave in. “Danny, you just made me lose a life.” He leaned over to look out the window and there it was, the Eiffel Tower.

   “Wow,” was all Frank could say at the sight. All was forgiven.  There it was, the Eiffel Tower way off in the distance below them. It was tiny. A miniature figure standing tall above the morning haze. He looked at it between his thumb and forefinger and studied it carefully. It really was amazing.

   “Mum you got to look at this,” he said, as he nudged his mother. She put down her book and pretty soon the three of them were huddled together looking out at the Eiffel Tower. “Can we go to the Eiffel Tower some day Mum?” Danny piped up.

   “Of course we can,” she replied. Mum never said no, Frank thought. He liked that because he knew that she actually would love to bring them but whether it happened or not was another story. He thought how cool it would be to pop down from the airplane and land on the top of the Eiffel Tower like the kind of thing Super Mario does in his DS game.


   Frank could remember that day as if it was yesterday. Their excitement on seeing the Tower, the thrill of the skiing holiday ahead of them. That was back when things were going well at home and when they had their fair share of holidays. How times have changed, Frank thought to himself. Anyway, he was interrailing with the lads now and having a great laugh. He reckoned he’d passed his third-year exams and he was happy to be over half-way through college. The last few days had been full on, especially Antwerp, and last night Frank took it handy compared to the others. He left them, half-comatose in the Airbnb in Montmartre and said he’d meet them all at Gar de L’Este at 2pm to get the train to Stuttgart. His cousin Johnny promised he would get Frank’s rucksack to the station. Without saying anything Johnny knew the significance of the date and that Frank needed to be alone for a bit.

   From the Airbnb Frank figured it would take one change on the Metro. He stood looking at the metro map and decided he would aim for Trocadero Station. That seemed like a good idea. He made his way down the steps, swapping the early morning sunlight for the busy underground world beneath the city. People were rushing by on their daily commute and he watched with a detached interest.       

   Hopefully the pickpockets aren’t up yet, he thought. His Mum had warned him and insisted he took the ‘fanny pack’, as she jokingly referred to it, using an American twang. Her old sense of humour was returning and he was glad he had the money belt.  He checked it for the fifth time already that day. It kept everything safe. Well, so far anyway. Turns out all the lads had one.  The metro pulled in and he squeezed into the corner beside the door, trying not to get in the way. Everyone looked so well dressed around him he thought. No eye-contact. That suited him fine.

   An ad caught his attention on the metro. It was an image of two surfers. Probably Biarritz, he thought. He had tried to get the lads to go there but he was out-voted. They wanted to head east to Germany, Budapest and Croatia. Next on the list, Frank thought, and in fairness Ryanair fly there. He remembered the family holiday when they spent three nights in Biarritz. The surf was awesome. He remembered when they opened the hotel balcony door they could hardly hear with the roar of the waves. Danny turned it into a game. Opening and closing the door to let in the roar. It was like canned laughter where you could turn it on and off. Later in the evening he and Danny had stood out on the promenade watching the surfers riding the waves. He wished he could join in but knew that at the ripe old age of 10 he wouldn’t last a minute with those waves. They would make mincemeat of me, he thought. That day Danny and Frank made a promise that they would come back when they were older.

   He also remembered the day back home when he and Danny took the SUP board out without telling Mum. It was the May before they went to Biarritz and Mum had popped to the shops. The sun was shining and it seemed like a good idea to drag out the SUP board from where it had been lying at the side of the house for the winter.  Frank remembered thinking that they would stay close to the shore so they wouldn’t need the lifejackets. But the water was very cold and Danny fell in and had to cling on to the board. He was making it very hard for Frank to paddle and a cold wind was blowing them further away from the shore. Danny started to cry.

   “I’m scared Frank. I’m freezing.”

Frank thought about what they said in the lifesaving classes. You have to encourage and keep the spirits up.

   “Keep kicking Danny, you’re doing great. We’re nearly there Danny – keep kicking. Well done Danny. Nearly there.”

   It took all their strength to get back to shallow water. Frank jumped in and hauled Danny with the board onto the beach.  They had been dragged way down from opposite their row of houses but were happy to get back on the sand. Frank remembered how scared he was that day. How things could have turned out very differently. He remembers his mother running down the beach towards them and how he played it all down. He could see the look of anxiety on her face. He knew she was angry but too relieved to hold on to it, knowing they had learned a very hard lesson.

   When he finally arrived at his Metro stop Frank was glad to get back out to the sunshine. It was already getting hot and there were more tourists milling about. They all had the same idea obviously. He stood for a long time taking in the sheer scale of the Eiffel Tower, now just across the river from him. A lot bigger than the first time, he thought.

   Never in his life did he expect to be so blown away by something man-made. It looked so modern, yet it wasn’t. His eye followed the iron girders from the latticed arch between the four vast pillars, right up to the pinnacle. Frank couldn’t imagine anything more majestic, where engineering is in complete harmony with art. He figured that Leonardo DaVinci would probably approve.

   Crossing over the bridge, Frank thought about that day exactly five years ago. The mood always changed in the house around this time of year coming up to the anniversary. He was glad he was away, even though he knew it was a bit selfish of him. They all had their way of dealing with it. The girls with their music and Dad getting stuck into his work. Sheila had gone off the rails a bit for a couple of years around the time of her Junior Cert. Getting in trouble in school and he knew she was drinking.  Carol came back for a while and tried to look after everyone until she broke with the pressure of it. They were all broken of course, but thankfully life was gradually getting back to the new normal.

   His father had aged at least ten years over-night, but it was his mother Frank worried about most. Afterall she was there that day. She had to live with the memories in her head. A horror show that must have played out on repeat, over and over.  But in recent months it was getting better. She began to laugh again. Her dark sense of humour has probably kept her alive, Frank reckoned. But there was a time when they all thought they would lose her too. Not just because of the crash. She was broken up pretty badly, but her spirit was shattered. It was the anger and guilt she felt because she was spared and Danny wasn’t. She knew it wasn’t her fault of course, but on a deeper level she blamed herself. Frank thought about that phone call from his father exactly this day five years ago and how when he picked up the phone his father’s voice had taken on a strange tone.  He knew immediately that something terrible had happened.

   “Frank, it’s your Mum. It’s your Mum and Danny. There’s been a terrible accident. I’m heading to the hospital. I’ll ring you when I get there.”

   He knew his father was crying and it frightened him.

   Walking across the bridge towards the Eiffel Tower Frank paused to look down at the river below. He was always drawn towards water. He watched a boat that was taking some tourists along the river. Himself and Danny were saving to buy an Opi that Summer. They were lucky to have the sea at the end of their garden. They were going to sail out to the islands every day. Or so they said. Mum wasn’t too pleased at the thoughts of the garden filling up with yet another boat. Between kayaks, SUP boards, the inflatable dingy and the old Measel, all stored at the side entrance of the house, it was getting very cluttered. But Dad of course was all for it. Frank thought that if he ever had kids, he’d buy an Opi and sail out to the islands with them.

   Making his way to the other side of the bridge, Frank could see the queues beginning to form at the base of the tower. He was glad he got there early. He stopped by a stall and bought a souvenir key-ring.   It caught his attention because the little Eiffel Tower was almost exactly the same size as the first time they had seen it on the plane. He attached it to the loop on his small backpack and headed towards the ticket booth. The cost of the ticket would be a big chunk out of today’s budget Frank thought in amusement. Less beer money. Probably not such a bad thing.

   It was a drunk driver that killed Danny. Mum and Danny were coming back from a physio appointment and one minute they were listening to the radio and the next minute it was lights out. Frank didn’t want to think about it, but he always imagined how it must have been for his mother knowing instantly that Danny was lying dead beside her. The fire brigade had to cut her out of the car. She had a broken leg, a fractured wrist and broken ribs. Danny on the other hand looked totally unscathed but his internal brain injuries were catastrophic. Luckily, he wouldn’t even have been aware of what had happened.

   Frank thought about the days that followed the crash. People coming and going, Dad in and out of the hospital. Relatives and friends dropping dinners, cakes, sandwiches. The day of the funeral. Danny’s team doing the guard of honour and everyone crying. Dad was pushing Mum in the wheelchair behind the coffin with Danny’s favourite ukulele version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow playing in the church. Frank couldn’t think of the singer’s name. He was a big Hawaiian lad, he remembered.  People were so kind and they were heartbroken too. Danny was loved by everyone. He was the joker in the family. It was clear that in his short fourteen years on the planet he’d had a big impact on many people.

   Having stopped off to take in the views half-way up the tower Frank was thinking how he was glad the Eiffel Tower was still standing. He remembered watching the fire at Notre Dame on the news only a few months before and listening to Emmanuel Macron promising to rebuild it in five years. They went to see Notre Dame yesterday. The shell of the cathedral was eerily impressive with the mangled mass of burnt masonry and metal sticking out. Five years was a big ask but, on saying that, the scaffolding was up and restoration was already full steam ahead. Paris had suffered its own share of trauma. The security was evident in the Metro stations. They had nearly cut Paris out of their trip because of the terrorist attacks but they felt a sense of duty to go. It had been their original plan and besides, they got a great deal on an Airbnb. An ill wind that blows and all that, Frank thought to himself.

   When he got out of the lift at the viewing platform at the top it was pretty crowded. He took no notice and found a spot at the edge facing the river. He stood staring out over the city taking in the sight below him. Paris, the city of great art, food, and culture.  He loved the quiet hum of the expanse below.  He admired the way the streets splayed out with a sense of purpose and how the Seine teased this order by beautifully meandering through.

   At times Frank focused on different views of Paris’s landmark buildings. He saw the Sacre Coeur on its hill in the distance. They had spent the evening in Montmartre yesterday, climbing to the top and wandering around the streets looking at the artists. That was before they went for food and then later to the bar down the road from the Airbnb. He saw the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysee. He remembered the time his mother had told him how her Grandparents visited the Arc de Triomph but, when they arrived it was closing for the day. Her grandmother had spoken in her flawless French to the concierge, saying something like, “Excuse me. Do you realise that this gentleman (referring to her husband) fought in the battle of the Somme in defence of France.”  With that the concierge stood to attention and saluted the old man and took them on their own personal tour of the Arc de Triomphe. Frank loved that story. He thought about his own grandmother and how she had passed peacefully only months before the accident.

   Staring out over the city, many thoughts were racing through Frank’s mind. I’ll find a bistro, grab a croissant and ring Mum when I’m done here. She’d like to hear that I made it to the Eiffel Tower. She would definitely remember Danny asking if we could come here. They will want to know how the holiday is going and that I’m still alive. I’ll fill them in. Well, a sanitised version, he thought with a chuckle.

   They had gone down with Sheila to visit Carol in Wexford. To get away for these few days. Carol had a new baby and, in all fairness, Frank conceded that he is cute, as babies go.  The baby’s name is Michael Daniel, which was nice. It was great to see how much Mum and Dad doted on him. In fact, Mum jokingly said that grandchildren are much nicer than children. So, she is getting better. Life goes on, I guess. He thought about how lucky he was that he got to share the first part of his life with Danny.

   Looking up at a cloudless blue sky Frank could see the vapour trails of airplanes flying above Paris.  He enjoyed the thought that there was probably someone looking down from way up high. Smiling to himself he quietly said, “Look Danny, Look. It’s the Eiffel Tower.”