It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”, where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fiction’, with the first part of my new short story, ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn’…
The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn – Part One
When Megan Quinn was born, nobody made a fuss.
Her mother, glistening with barley water and after birth took one look at her and promptly fainted. As the midwife -her belly a dough of Welsh cakes and dripping- breathed and bossed, the father and his sister smoked and sweated, their concerns not yet with the baby but with the mother, the children and the washing half hanging in the mangle, now forgotten following the first furious contraction. Once the cord was cut, Megan, fresh to the world, a brand new button, was briefly left to blink in the basket used for gathering potatoes from the allotment, her small pink body swathed in a brushed cotton bed sheet, her forehead still sticky with mucus, faeces and placenta. As afternoon swayed into evening and the sun set on the Snowdonia mountains beyond, Megan had been dressed by her mother in a towelling nappy and vest, her face mopped and her tuft of blonde hair smoothed. A pot of tea made and six biscuits set, Megan, swaddled in her potato basket, was tucked in by the fire hearth, the day’s mangled washing drip-drying above her head as she gently drifted to sleep. Life in the Quinn household returned to normal.
By the time Megan reached the age of seven, the Welsh town of Mold, which her family had called home for five generations, had become like a friend to her. Their house, a modest, terraced affair, sat perched on an outcrop of oaks and factories that circled the edge of the town like the moat of a castle. To the West were the peaks of Snowdonia, majestic and unfettered at the challenges Mother Nature and man hurled at them; to the East, the distant chimneys of industrial Liverpool stood pumping out great plumes of smoke, soot and smells. Flanked by these giants as Mold was, Megan often found it strangely comforting to think that the mountains and chimneys stood like soldiers on guard protecting her and her beloved town. ‘Mold,’ she would say to no one in particular while she turned the mangle in the stone yard, for Monday was always a wash day, even if there was talk of another war looming, ‘you may sometimes find yourself tired with all these immoveable mountains and giant chimneys each as high as Jack’s beanstalk. But, my dearest Mold,’ she said, ‘you must instead think of it as this: you, my sweet town, are a row of books, important books, sat on a shelf. Therefore, you must regard the mountains to one side, the chimneys to the other your bookends. For without them, you may well collapse in to a heap. Do you hear me?’ And, with that, Megan would squeeze the last of the water and suds from her father’s overalls and consider her beloved Mold well and truly told.
As the days rolled into weeks that tumbled into years, Megan Quinn began to quietly grow. Her siblings, all older by some good ten years, grew too, most marrying into the local community, and each emerging from the family cocoon as adults in various stages of happiness, pregnancy or apprenticeship. By the time Megan was 11, the only sibling without a wedding ring was Dorothy, Megan’s second eldest sister and some 12 years older than Megan. Megan would always watch Dorothy with the furrowed brow of the curious. Dorothy, it seemed to Megan, appeared to be unaffected by the rampant fever that would strike other girls Dorothy’s age or younger – and that was the fever of love. Each morning, Dorothy would rise at 5 a.m. when the cockerel in the Jones’s yard two doors down would trumpet his horn. It was a time when the low morning mist from the Irish Sea to the North would float its way along the shores to the towns and the villages, and the soft shadows of the night would slowly receed to reveal the haze of the day. Dorothy would tiptoe to the yard at this hour, use the wooden lavatory and then, nightgown billowing in the breeze, return, door creaking, feet padding on the stone kitchen floor to the basin, where she would promptly splash her face with the mountain cold water poured by Mother the night before, always inhaling a sharp breath as she did. It was a routine familiar to Megan, for Megan had taken, in recent months, to rising straight after Dorothy, quietly and immediately, the bed they shared top-to-tail still warm with her sister’s sleep. Once up, Megan would tiptoe down the stairs upon where she would place herself at the bottom rung, pull her nightdress over her feet and, resting her chin on her palms, sit and watch her Dorothy’s daily rituals unnoticed.
Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012
Thanks for reading! Part 2 of The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn will be out on next Friday’s Fact or Fiction post. Have a lovely weekend.
**Look out for my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**