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Image by Luke Hodde


with the martello journal

Ghost Mother

by abby connolly

I walk past the house sometimes and though I see it from the street, occupied by unknown
people, I only ever imagine it from the inside looking out. She told me a story once about the
magic in her family and I like the idea that there is something special about the blood I have
inherited from my mother’s side.

Her own mother had been plagued with supernatural afflictions, shooting up in bed with
premonitions and predicting deaths. There’s something different about Irish magic even
though it can look miserable- powder-faced wakes and jealous fairies and circling omens.
Everything wrings of death and yet there’s a comfort in it. Paving roads around hawthorn is
ridiculous but important. Saluting a magpie is silly but necessary. Black cats are good luck,
unless you’re a Protestant, or at least that’s what I’ve been told. I don’t have my mother’s
eyes, but I have her superstitions.

“She’d come down the stairs in the morning with a name on her tongue,” my mother would
tell me of my grandmother, “And sure enough they’d be in the next day’s obituary.”

Her name had been Bea and she smoked like a trooper, saw sorrow in tea leaves and reared
nine children, almost dying twice on hardwood floors of that house, husband begging for last
rights as she mothered and mothered again. She lost two, one as a baby, one as a man, and
there were rumours she foretold their deaths, rumours she had heard the dreaded banshee, met
eyes with a black dog. She refused to use loose leaf tea after that. It never gets easier.

I complained that it was a shame she never taught anyone how to read the leaves, but I
suppose if misery is all you can predict it’s just a learnt kind of pessimism. She did a
kindness. She did say black dogs were only messengers though, that in the rare old times
dogs were protectors of labouring mothers.

They stood watch, and if a man killed a woman’s dog it was his duty to be her protector
during the birth to keep child-snatching spirits away. It was a law, she said. I thought that was
funny, imagining Webster, a small Yorkie with spindly legs and high pitch yap, standing
guard looking like a sock gone through a hoover.

Once, my mother told me, Bea had been sitting in the hall on the telephone when she saw the
front door swing open all on its own. A man in a hat and a trench coat walked in and fell right
to his knees before keeling all the way over. He gripped his chest and before landing flat on
the carpet simply evaporated. This hadn’t been Bea’s first ghost encounter, but she was no
less riled by it. When her own husband passed through the door that evening, he said well,
wasn’t that funny because when they bought the house he had been told by a neighbour the
previous owner had died of a heart attack right there in that doorway.

He hadn’t told Bea at the time because he knew how she was with things, and he half worried
she’d invite any lingering spirits in to stay. There was already barely a moments peace
between the kids and all the local ladies she had over for tea and biscuits. He didn’t need
even more ectoplasmic arses on the pews, I suppose.

“Did they say what kind of hat he wore?” she asked as if it was of the utmost importance.

I never knew the inside of that house and I can’t see ghosts, but I still conjure them up every
time I walk down that street. The house is bigger than the one I grew up in though it isn’t far
away. I don’t think anyone died in my house. All I know of it is that it’s draughty and was a
sixties build, and the police commissioner used to live there once. My father’s parents grew
up in a grey house full of bad religion and I knew it, I knew them, and they had only stepped
though the veil when I was already an adult, but they were always more ghostly in life than
even the second-hand memories of my mother’s parents. Their house was big but empty.

Nothing hid around their corners except for pictures of Jesus with moving eyes. There are
different kinds of everlasting life.

Soon my parents’ house will be sold, and I won’t have a reason to come back here anymore
and to pass by the ghosts. The place swells with them, they’re in the bricks and the concrete,
undulating soft under the hard bricks of our world. I forget about it when I’m gone, when I
drift, and only seem to remember when life loops me back here.

My siblings are all flown, my parents travelling in opposite directions and the nuclear family
nucleus all exploded and adult makes me wonder where my ghost would settle. Maybe I’d
wander back here and dwell where I already know ghosts sit around, making tea.

As I pass the house a woman jogs by me on the path with a black dog on a lead and I feel
some comfort. I never met them but maybe they met me. My mother says they would have
liked me. She says she can feel them too sometimes. I know where they’re buried but I don’t
visit empty boxes under earth. They’re more here, as close as sitting on at the phone table on
the other side of that door, still nattering and bustling, darning socks and sewing wedding
dresses and insisting teabags. Still full of life all these years later.


“And the priest said, ‘peace be with you’ and she said ‘a moments peace? Now that
would be the miracle, father’.”

Abby Connolly is based in Dublin and has had fiction and creative non-fiction published in Sonder Magazine, Puca Magazine and on Porridge Magazine's website. Her art has also been featured in Bealtaine magazine and she hopes to write and paint more dedicatedly in the future if and when time allows.

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