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Details from… by Maria Kenny


Maria Kenny’s “Details from…” gives us the visceral experience of a Dublin caretaker helping their partner of sixty years who is falling into dementia. Flash fiction has precious little space to develop the elements of fiction. But with poignant dialogue and curated detail, this story’s foundation built on character is broad and strong enough to support an unreliable narrator, a tense change, and a twist in the narrative arc.

Kenny’s Author’s Note explores the ways in which we never really know the lives of those we brush past each day. Here we more than brush past these characters; we share some time in the lives of Kay and Mick, who’ve lived six decades together, who’d met “so hopeful at fifteen.” Grab a hankie and please enjoy “Details from…”  —CRAFT


 

Kay folded her arms and looked across the table at her husband. The young woman peeled potatoes at the sink. Kay had told Sarah there was to be no home help, she could mind her own husband.

“I like your scarf, such a beautiful pink,” Kay said, making an effort.

The home help turned and smiled. “Thank you, it was a gift from my mother.”

Kay sighed. At least the girl wasn’t foreign, and she had to admit that Mick seemed more relaxed when the girl was around. He even laughed.

“Can I help you with something,” he said, rising out of his chair.

“Sit down Mick, let the girl do it herself, sure isn’t that what she’s paid for.”

The girl’s back stiffened. Kay didn’t care; if the girl had to be here, she was going to earn her wage.

“Sorry, I’ve forgotten your name again.” The girl opened her mouth to speak but Kay continued, “Could you throw a hoover over the front room before you go.”

Kay sniffed and closed her cardigan around her. She would wait until Sarah rang later and let her know exactly how she felt having a stranger in her house.

“Mick love, the lunchtime news is on.”

Kay made a show of taking her husband’s arm and leading him out of the room. The girl laid the knife down to assist.

“I’ve got him,” Kay said.


Kay stood in the kitchen two nights later. Mick clutched her arm. The clock read two in the morning.

“Come on love, let’s go to bed,” she said.

“Kay, I’m so sorry,” he whispered.

Kay reached her hand up to rub his back.

“It’ll be okay. Sure I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”

In bed, he curled into her and she held him. Fear radiated off him, a cold blanket that chilled her. Her arms tightened around him as she recalled the many years before when they had met, so hopeful at fifteen. She counted the years, coming up to sixty. They had hoped to be blessed with more children, but after the heartbreak of three miscarriages, Kay moved all her energy onto her daughter, Sarah. All that time passed and still she couldn’t imagine a life without Mick.


The next morning Mick was quiet. He’d dressed in his good clothes. Kay wondered where he thought he was going. Last week he had insisted they go to an old estate he said they knew. He’d been so upset, she had no choice but to go with him. When they’d arrived, she looked around bewildered. She had never been in this part of the city before, but seeing the desperation in Mick’s eyes, she lied and said she recognised landmarks. Her eyes stung with the strain of holding back tears as he hugged her and said he knew she’d remember. During the bus trip home, he held her hand, squeezing it now and again.

Kay tried not to think of how she was losing him and how, soon, she would tell Sarah that maybe they should start preparing for when they couldn’t look after him. How the situation was getting beyond her control. Several times now Kay had found herself with him at the front door in the middle of the night, once in the back garden, his eyes wide as she struggled to remain calm.


They sat in the doctor’s room. Kay looked at Mick, unsure what was expected of her.

“Has his condition deteriorated?” she asked the doctor.

Mick took her hand.

“Kathleen, your memory lapses are getting longer, and though by times your memories are clear and vivid, we feel the tablets aren’t doing as well as we had hoped. Do you remember anything from your last time here?”

Kay turned to Mick.

“Think Kay, try hard to remember,” he said, patting her hand in his.

Kay closed her eyes. A door opened in her head. Through it she saw the same doctor sitting in the same room, she and Mick facing him. His words floating across the fog of her mind, becoming clearer and louder.

“We cannot say how fast this disease progresses…”

Kay interrupting him: “My mother had Alzheimer’s. I know all about it.”

Fear seizing her heart as she recalled her mother not knowing who she was, crying, scared.

The doctor describing new drugs and Mick nearly pulling the prescription from his hands. How she’d stilled Mick, putting her hand on his thigh, focusing on a reassuring smile.

“It’ll be fine pet,” she had said.

And then she’d asked the questions she most feared the answers to.

Staring out the window of that room, she saw herself at the table with Sarah, her beautiful daughter crying. Wiping her tears in her pink scarf Kay had bought for her last birthday. Kay making a joke, saying it had cost a fortune, half her pension, and would she not use a hankie.

And finally she saw herself making Mick and Sarah promise to put her in a home when the time came, that she wouldn’t want them to go through what she had with her mother.

She lifted her head to answer Mick.

“I remember.”


Later, after the calming of the doctor’s voice, the certainty of her husband, Kay stands to leave and Mick, standing too, pulls her into his arms. He smells of memories, his touch a familiar comfort.

“Please,” she whispers.

“Please what, my love?”

Kay struggles to control her trembling mouth, but she can’t stop the tear running down her cheek.

“Don’t send me away. I know I said, but please don’t put me in a home.”

The sob coming from her throat won’t be silenced.

When they leave the room, a young woman stands beside the window in the waiting room. She turns as the door opens, her mouth half open. Mick nods at her.

“What a beautiful pink scarf,” Kay says as she walks past, already wondering what she’ll cook for dinner.

 


MARIA KENNY has lived in Dublin all her life. She works with children with special needs in a primary school. Her short stories and flash fiction have appeared in journals in Ireland, the UK, and Mexico such as The Ofi Press Magazine, The Galway Review, Amethyst Review, The Cabinet of Heed, and The Casket of Fictional Delights. She was longlisted for the WoW award 2016, highly rated in the Maria Edgeworth Short Story competition 2018, and was shortlisted for the Kanturk Flash Fiction Competition 2019. She is also a featured writer for the online journal The Casket of Fictional Delights. She is currently in the throes of editing her second novel. She tweets @mpkenny1000

Author’s Note

Sometimes in ordinary conversation, when you’re thinking of nothing to do with writing, a small comment can topple a full story into your head. This is what happened with this story. I was discussing with a friend how art is critiqued. During the course of the conversation he mentioned ‘details from,’ which basically, in his words, meant that the critic is zooming in on a small section of the painting, discussing the finer details and later revealing the whole picture. As my friend spoke, an image of a woman sitting in a doctor’s office came to mind. Behind the doctor was a window that she was staring out of. Due to the wonderful mechanics of the brain, I had the whole story within seconds and don’t recall the rest of the conversation with my friend as I had begun writing it in my head.

I knew Kay had Alzheimer’s, but I wanted the reader to believe it was her husband. Alzheimer’s is such a horrible, robbing disease. Not only stealing away memory, but essentially the life of the carrier. They are not the person they were, except in moments when lucidity returns and presents the most terrible beauty. Recognition, realisation, only for it to be taken away again.

We get small glimpses into other people’s lives. A teenager might bump into us at the train station without apologising and we will bemoan the youth of today, maybe not realising that said teenager has just lost her mother, or self-harms, or has just failed an exam. The lady who skips us in the queue and has the audacity to look us as if we did wrong, might have a child in hospital, or an abusive husband, a mother who keeps wandering off, as is the case with Sarah…

The point being, we never know what is going on in anyone’s life and we are so consumed with our own that, truthfully, unless it affects us in some way, we don’t really care. We all believe we’re not that important in the grand scheme of things and yet we worry about what other people think of us—we behave accordingly and begrudgingly envy those who step outside the norm whilst also condemning them.

For me this story is more about how society does not pay attention, how quick we are to judge without thinking that there may be an underlying reason for someone’s inordinate behaviour.

In our interactions with others, we never get the full picture, only details from…

 


MARIA KENNY has lived in Dublin all her life. She works with children with special needs in a primary school. Her short stories and flash fiction have appeared in journals in Ireland, the UK, and Mexico such as The Ofi Press Magazine, The Galway Review, Amethyst Review, The Cabinet of Heed, and The Casket of Fictional Delights. She was longlisted for the WoW award 2016, highly rated in the Maria Edgeworth Short Story competition 2018, and was shortlisted for the Kanturk Flash Fiction Competition 2019. She is also a featured writer for the online journal The Casket of Fictional Delights. She is currently in the throes of editing her second novel. She tweets @mpkenny1000