By Colm Fagan
A young woman lives to regret her involvement in her mother-in-law’s death…
I haven’t had a day’s peace since I first set foot in this house. It’s brought nothing but bad luck, to me and my family. If that wasn’t enough, the neighbours think I’m a witch and a murderer. And it’s all the fault of that woman, Sadie Cleary. She never forgave me for marrying her son, Tom.
Unlike most of the couples around here, my marriage to Tom Cleary wasn’t a made match. We fell for one another on the first day we met, at a cross-roads dance in Carrahanna. We were married within the year, and we’ve hardly been apart a day since.
Five of our children are still alive; the eldest, Katie, is thirteen; she is due to finish school this year and has been offered a position in Leonard’s drapers in Athdowney – or at least she had been offered a position until word got out of our troubles. I hope they won’t try to renege on their promise now.
We have a fine farm: forty acres of good land and ten acres of bog. I know that’s nothing compared to farms in the Midlands and places like that, but it’s big for these parts, where most of our neighbours don’t have two ha’pennies to rub together.
Tom inherited the farm when his father died. That was shortly after we started going out together, in the spring of 1900.
The cause of all my troubles was Tom’s promise to his dying father that, in return for inheriting the farm, he would look after his mother for the rest of her days. He swore that he would always keep a roof over her head, and that she could stay in the house and call it home for as long as she lived. God blast him for making that promise.
It’s ruined our life together.
Sadie Cleary never accepted me as the new woman of the house. She hated me from the day she first clapped eyes on me until the day she died.
According to her, I couldn’t cook to save my life; I couldn’t darn a pair of socks; I was useless at milking cows and rearing children.
She told the world – her son, her grandchildren, the neighbours, anyone who’d listen – how useless I was and how little she thought of me. She even turned my own first-born, Katie, against me. But no matter how bad things were while she was alive, they got ten times worse after she went to the other side.
I’ll never forget the day she died. It was a beautiful spring morning. The children were at school and Tom had gone to Bailcoo to buy a heifer.
Sadie and myself were the only ones in the house. She went out, as she always did, to feed the scraps left over from the breakfast to the ducks in the pond below the house. She had been gone a while when I heard a terrible scream.
Out I ran as fast as my legs could carry me, down the yard, heading in the direction of the scream. When I reached the pond, there was Sadie in the water, hands flailing, and she roaring like a jackass.
I tried to reach her but my arm wouldn’t stretch far enough.
Then I saw a long branch lying close by. I thought of picking it up, then thought again, and left it there.
I’m sure she knew what I was thinking. My last memory of her before she went down is the venomous look in her eye, as if to say, “I know what you’ve done, you wagon; I’ll get you for this, Maisie Mulligan.” And she did.