Friday, 2 October 2015



Written by Sandra Behan
This was a piece I wrote for Arena (The Excuse)

I gripped your head in a headlock with my right hand, tentatively dropping the food down your throat.  Within seconds, you started coughing and retching.  Your head jerked backwards and forwards involuntarily in my arm.  Your face was distorted as you struggled to breathe.

Instinctively, I rushed to the kitchen and grabbed the suction tube.  As I walked towards you, you dug your legs into me.  Pushing as hard as you could, you forced me away.  Your eyes bore into mine, pleading with me.  I recognised that glare and turned away.

I watched you as your blonde hair fell wildly around your face.  Your weary body shook frantically.  Your eyes rolled in your head and your lips turned purple.  I turned and walked away, fighting the urge to help you.

The kettle whistled urgently as it came to the boil in the next room blocking out the noise of your gagging.  In a trance, I took your mug from the shelf in the kitchen and levelled the coffee on to the spoon, adding two sugars and a straw, just the way you liked it.

Suddenly the house fell into silence.  I waited a few moments before walking back slowly into the room with your coffee in my hand.  My heart beat louder with each step.  Terrified I bent over you, my hand shook as I placed my fingers on your neck.  Nothing.

Your foot dangled precariously over the footrest.  The Ugg boot that I had struggled to put on you that morning lay on the ground.  Lovingly, I laid your head back on the headrest and closed your still blue eyes.  You looked so calm and peaceful.  Your body felt warm to the touch.  I took you in my arms and rocked you gently back and forth.  Brushing your hair back from your face, I placed a kiss on your lips.  

Walking into your bedroom I found your beloved quilt, the one Mum had spent many loving hours making for you.  She had woven all the different patterns from your favourite dresses into it.  You brought it everywhere with you since she died.

I picked up the phone and dialled 999.  Through my sobs, I explained what had happened. I hung up the phone and waited.  The silence was broken by the wailing of sirens in the distance.   I looked out the window.  Through the trees I saw the flashing blue lights coming towards the house.  The ambulance pulled up outside.

I opened the door and the medics rushed past me. I pointed at the sitting room unable to talk.  From the hallway, I heard them say "stand clear" for the third time.

My body shook uncontrollably as the awful reality hit me.  I would never see your beautiful face again   When they came out. They looked at me and shook their heads. 

As I sobbed they wrapped a blanket around me and placed a cup of strong sweet tea in my hands.  I watched them lift your twisted body on to the stretcher.  They laid you on your back, only this time you did not scream in pain.   At long last you were at peace.

“Sleep, little sister, sleep,” I whispered. 
Words 541

Friday, 28 August 2015



Written by Sandra Behan

I drove into Fenton’s Car Park at the Glen of Imaal.  Black clouds concealed the top of the mountains and the sky threatened rain.  A strange feeling came over me as I stepped out of my car; the air was cold but fresh. 

I remembered the last time I climbed Lugnaquilla. I had struggled towards the end and you reassured me,
“Don’t look up Jane just take one-step at a time; you’re doing great,” you said.
A tear rolled down my face as I reminisced. 

I sat down on a rock to lace my worn boots.  As usual I struggled to zip my gaiters, you had always helped me with them. I dressed in layers, body armour, waterproofs, scarf and gloves.  You would be impressed.  I checked my GPS and made sure I had spare batteries. 

You loved the mountains and walked every Sunday, come rain or shine. You always phoned me as you sat on top of your latest pinnacle, with a well-deserved coffee and cheese sandwich.

You encouraged me to join you on the mountains in the past couple of years.  You taught me how to read maps and use a GPS.  I loved your motivation and passion for nature.   

I cautiously walked up the wide gravel track used by the Army as a firing range. I had checked it was safe to climb, there was no red flag flying so I kept going.  I didn’t notice the steep but short ascent of Camara Hill. The track levelled off and Lug looked daunting in the distance. 

I walked steadily, sometimes in a daze.  A bolt of lightning tore across the sky and a roar of thunder made me jump.
My mind drifted back to that fateful Sunday morning in 1977. I was at mass in my local church. I saw you from the corner of my eye. You always stood in the same spot at the back of the church.

You had black shoulder length curly hair, vibrant blue eyes and a charming smile. You wore a long navy coat with brass buttons and thick navy corduroy trousers.  You walked over to me with a cheeky grin on your face to shake my hand,
“Peace be with you”, you said.
You held my hand a little longer than you should have and I felt the colour rise in my cheeks.
When mass was over, you waited outside the church. Boldly, you introduced yourself as you leaned against the wall.  A cigarette hung out of the side of your mouth.  

We chatted and laughed the whole way down the Navan Road in a cloud of white smoke.  I detested cigarettes and you gave them up for me.  From that day, we became inseparable.


The memory sustained me through the walk up Lug. I stopped half way and ate a bar of chocolate to give me energy.  You warned me not to eat too much until I reached the top; it would slow me down, you said.

As I climbed the final kilometre, the terrain got steep and rocky. The clouds closed in overhead and a shower of hailstones as big as cotton balls came out of nowhere.  I pulled my hood up; pulling my scarf tight around my face.

I was tired and had to push myself to keep going. Counting steps when it got difficult, I could hear you whisper,
“Don’t look up Jane; take one-step at a time. You’re doing great.”
My heart lifted as I took the final few steps, my feet and legs ached. But it was worth it.  I scrambled the last 20 steps over stones and rocks to the summit. The landscape was barren; it had a harsh feel but was spectacularly beautiful.

I used the cairn as a windbreaker and sat down with a flask of coffee and a cheese sandwich. The sun chose that moment to break through the dark clouds in great watery shafts of gold.  I could feel the tears sting my eyes as I carefully lifted the urn from my bag and placed it beside me.

When I was ready I walked to where the ground dropped away steeply into the valley. I scattered rose petals, took the lid of the urn and watched as your ashes fell and then rose, high over the cliffs.

“Goodbye my love,  I whispered.

Words 724

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Check-up

Fox and Polo travelled in convoy on the road to Mullingar. Anzo was ahead in Fox; she flashed her hazard lights as she turned into the Applegreen garage, I drove in behind her. It didn’t take a genius to work out what she wanted. I rolled down my window,
            'I need a coffee fix,' she gasped.
'Say no more Drama Queen' I giggled.
With two coffees to go we continued our journey. We drove into a large industrial estate. A sign directed us to a big grey warehouse. We parked-up.
Anzo was glued to her iPhone as usual; she jumped when a man in blue overalls tapped on her window.
'You're next love,' he said.
 Flustered, she leapt out of her car; laptop, iPhone, cup of coffee flying everywhere. She patted Fox on the bonnet as she passed.
            'You’ll be fine bud; I’ll be waiting for you.'
She gestured for me to go with her. We entered through a luminous green door, into a sterile room with white walls and metal seats.
Anzo skulked to the counter. The clock opposite her struck 9am.
            'Sorry I’m late, I thought my appointment was 9.10, not 8.10,' she said apologetically.
'It's alright love; can I have your driving licence please?' The man said with a cheeky smile.
Anzo's good looks and charm got her out of many a bind.
She emptied the contents of her bag; loose change, pens, elastic bands spilled out; no sign of her licence.
                        'I’ll have to check my car, I’ll be back in a minute, sorry.'
Five minutes later she strolled in, licence in hand. I shook my head,
'What am I going to do with you, you’re a nightmare,' I laughed.
            She handed over her licence. The man looked at her with amusement.
'Go easy on Fox, she’s been through the mill,' she said.
            'Don’t worry love, we’ve seen worse,' he joked.
            A keen social media guru, Anzo took a photo of her little Fox on the forecourt, she posted,
'Say a prayer for my beep, beep.'
            'Mam, Fox is remarkably clean and shiny.' Its nice elegant body gleamed,
'No thanks to you,' I murmured under my breath.
In the small hours of the night before, she bribed her nephew to clean Fox. He disposed of the endless empty coffee cups, chocolate wrappers, pistachio nutshells and small change before polishing Fox up for her big day.
I observed Anzo with pleasure as she paced up and down. She was wearing gold flip-flops, revealing her flaming orange toenails, a multi-coloured Superdry sweatshirt topped off with a pair of sunglasses; essential for the cloudy, rainy day, of course! 
She paced back and forth until the man behind the desk finally called out her name,
            'I'm afraid she didn't make it', he said.
            'Is it bad?' she asked apprehensively.
'Break imbalance was 81%; it can’t go above 50%.' 
'Exhaust emission was 0.43; it can't go above 0.20.'
 'There was no water in the wipers; we’ll let you away with that, need I go on?' he said.
'Okay, so that's not good, poor little Fox,' she said.
The mechanic reassured her that Fox would make it next time.
In true Anzo style, she put a sad selfie on social media with the caption,
'Poor beep, beep failed.'
'Never mind Fox, I still love you,' she said
Next it was my turn; I was so busy laughing that I didn’t hear my name. The man called me a second time. He asked me for my keys. Like mother, like daughter, I couldn’t find them!
This time the joke was on me as I emptied my bag; pens, loose change, hair brush. No sign of my keys. In a state of panic, I lifted my bag for a final time; my keys winked up at me from my seat.
'Ha, ha', Anzo laughed.
            She then took a photo of Polo and posted it with the caption,
            'I hope you fail Polo.'
Polo was put through its paces,
            'I bet you have no water in your wipers', Anzo sniggered.
            'I look after Polo, unlike a certain someone'.
My quiet confidence irritated Anzo. My name was called. I made my way to the desk with a smug look on my face. I returned waiving a yellow NCT Certificate in the air.
            'You passed, you little wagon.' Anzo grunted.
'Don’t you mean Volkswagen?' I said.
Anzo took a photo of me, cert in hand. The caption read,
 'Polo passed; better luck next time Fox.'
Words 748

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Across the Miles for Christmas

Across the Miles for Christmas

written by Sandra Behan

(This story is in memory of my Aunty May who died on 26 October 2009
May She Rest in Peace)

You travelled for twenty years alone from London to Ireland in all weathers to spend Christmas with us. Uncle Peter died on Christmas day as he knelt beside you in Ealing Abbey; his heart had given out unexpectedly.

You arrived in your red coat and scarf with arms full of gifts. Your cheerful voice and big smile warmed the house. My girls ran to hug you, all chatting at the same time fighting for your attention. You bent down and spoke softly to them. You reached into your handbag and sneaked them a chocolate treat when you thought I wasn’t looking.

I asked you to sit down and rest but you would have none of it. ‘Where’s my apron?’ you would say and we would spend hours chatting while peeling endless vegetables for the Christmas dinner.

I remember the year you danced around the kitchen with the Turkey, holding its legs. The children screamed as they ran for cover. We fell around the place laughing.

You turned on the Christmas tree lights, brandy in hand and a big smile on your face. I can still hear you say ‘play Daniel O’Donnell for me’ and without complaint I played Daniel’s Christmas Carols and we sang at the top of our voices.

On Christmas Eve when all the chores were done we would all sit together around the fire, the girls sat crossed legged on the floor and listened to every word, their eyes dancing with excitement as I read “It was the night before Christmas”. You always insisted they open one present from under the tree, which they did with giggles throwing wrapping paper everywhere.

I was in work when I received the news. My mum said you were in intensive care. I panicked. I was shaking as I hung up the phone. My friend took one look at me and asked ‘what’s happened, I couldn’t speak’ she put her arms around me. All I could say was ‘it’s my aunt, I have to go to London’.

The train journey home was spent on my laptop booking the earliest flight possible. When I opened my door there was an envelope on the mat, I picked it up and recognised the writing, I couldn’t read your letter through my tears. You stuck euro coins to the letter as you always did saying they were left over from your holidays in Ireland. I grabbed my passport and threw some clothes into a suitcase and was out the door in twenty minutes. I phoned my mum before I boarded the plane and she said you were holding on for me.

When I arrived at the hospital my mum and my sister were waiting for me. I took one look at their puffy eyes and I knew. I went straight to your Ward. I had to stop myself from running. I put on gloves and a gown to go into the Ward. You were lying very still. I ran to your side fighting back the tears. I called your name and you opened your eyes. I will never forget that look. I asked you if you knew I was there and you opened and closed your eyes in quick succession.

You drifted in and out of consciousness. Your body was shutting down. I pleaded with you to fight and told you I would look after you. You opened your eyes and tried to focus on your surroundings, you tried to speak but the words wouldn’t come out. Over and over I told you to fight.

My girls flew to London to be by my side. We sat by your bedside on your last night and reminisced. The girls filed and painted your nails and combed your hair. You always took such pride in your appearance and liked to look your best.

The doctor called us in and said you were getting weaker; he turned off the machines and took away the tubes. The room fell silent and all that could be heard was your laboured breathing. We joined hands around your bed and prayed as you floated away.

I kissed you for the last time and let you go.

Words 699

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