Previous: Leona makes a second attempt to escape her father’s imprisonment. She is successful, and is discovered by the local doctor, Aidan Kelly. Aidan has been led to believe that Leona’s pregnancy was the result of an incident with a transient farm worker in Colm’s employ, not Colm himself, and had helped keep Leona’s pregnancy secret. Disgusted by Colm’s imprisonment and treatment of his daughter, in order to retain her dignity he insists on taking Leona into his care, and on marrying her and raising Cathal as his own son.
Cathal’s distressed cries had escalated beyond Leona’s redemption. Holding him up in front of her, dancing softly on her tiptoes, she forced a smile onto her face as she cooed to him. She raised and lowered him up and down, turned in a circle, bounced him on the spot, but her efforts were wasted on him. Leona closed her eyes, bracing for the next ear-piercing scream. She tipped her head back, sighed, and then looked straight into Cathal’s eyes, forcing her smile upon him once again through clenched teeth.
The pram was parked near the front door. She stared at it for several minutes; the very idea of leaving the house distracted her temporarily from Cathal’s incessant cries. She gathered the nerve to lay him down in the pram, draping a cloth over the opening. She angled it toward the front door, took a deep breath, exhaling slowly and shakily as she manoeuvred the pram out the opening.
The crisp breeze blew gently off the bay as Leona strolled along the quay. Cathal continued to scream from beneath the cloth. They reached the end of the quay, and Leona stopped at the edge of the pier. Readjusting her hands around the handlebar, she gently pushed the pram back and forth. The front wheels rolled slowly over the edge of the pier wall. Her palms were sweaty and slippery as she loosened her grip on the handlebar ever so slightly. She pulled back toward herself, the wheels rolling back over the edge to safety.
Cathal howled until he had completely drained himself of energy. When he was finally asleep, Leona pushed the pram toward home. Once inside, she laid him in the bassinet, and reclined back on a chair nearby, her body sinking into the cushions as she fell into a light sleep. There was a knock on the front door, and she jolted suddenly, launching herself up and staggering in a daze to answer it.
“Mrs. Kelly,” the guard nodded. “May I have a few words?”
“I’ve just put Cathal down…”
“It is a matter of some urgency.”
Leona held the door open, and Sergeant Nolan stepped passed her into to the kitchen, where he took a seat at the end of the table.
“I’ll have a cup of tea.”
Leona unscrewed the tin tealeaf jar, spooning the leaves into the ceramic pot.
“You look tired,” Nolan commented.
Leona removed the kettle from its hook over the fire and poured the hot water into the teapot.
“A baby boy was taken from Galway Regional Hospital some weeks back. Did you hear about it?”
“No,” Leona replied.
“The garda hold serious concerns for the infant’s wellbeing.”
Leona poured tea from the pot into two tea cups, placing one in front of Nolan, taking a seat at the opposite end of the table.
“When was Cathal born, Mrs. Kelly?”
“Twenty-eighth of December. That’s when he was baptized, too.”
“Have you a record of his birth?”
“Not yet, sir. I haven’t yet.”
“We do have three months to register.”
“I would have thought Doctor Kelly would be right on top of that.”
“He has been busy.”
“Too busy to register the birth of his own child?”
“There have been a lot of colds and sniffles going around. People are nervous there’ll be another Tuberculosis outbreak.”
Nolan sipped his tea.
“The parents of the missing child have described a deformity on his face. I’d like to take a look at Cathal if you don’t mind.”
Leona’s heart sank.
“Why?” she stammered.
“It’s an enquiry, Mrs. Kelly. Cathal’s date of birth is extremely close to the date the infant in Galway went missing. It will simply eliminate you from any suspicion. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.”
“Please, Sergeant, he’s been crying all morning, he’s just gone to sleep…”
“I am not leaving this house until I look at that baby, Mrs. Kelly.”
In the living room, Sergeant Nolan bent over the bassinet, resting his hands on his knees and smiling.
“Hi there,” he cooed, moving his hands into the cradle.
“Don’t pick him up,” Leona begged, holding her hand out. “Please, don’t pick him up! Sergeant Nolan, I’ve just put him down…”
She watched on helplessly as Sergeant Nolan clasped his hands around Cathal’s sides and lifted him out of the cradle. Cathal, although awake, lay peacefully Nolan’s arms, contently sucking on his hand. Leona could hear her heart pounding in her ears. Her chest was tight from holding her breath. Finally, Nolan passed Cathal back to Leona.
“I’ll see myself out.”
When Leona heard it front door close, she breathed a sigh of relief; her heart was pounding against Cathal’s small body as she bounced him gently in her arms.
The church bells echoed across the village on Sunday morning. Aidan stood before the bathroom mirror, his chin smothered with shaving cream. He slowly drew his razor blade down along his cheek, flicking the speckled froth into the sink.
From the wardrobe Aidan took the suit he wore to church every week. He looped his tie through the knots, casting a glance at Leona sitting at her dressing table in her petticoat. Blankly gazing at her reflection in the mirror, she slowly brushed her long brown locks. She placed her hairbrush down, securing her waves of brown hair back off her face into a bun. She regarded her reflection, releasing a deep sigh.
She stood from the dresser and changed into her best dress, slipping her feet into her black shoes. She reached into the bassinet and lifted Cathal out, laying him on the bed to dress him.
Leona adjusted the cloth draped over the pram as she and Aidan stepped out of the house. Aidan chuckled.
“You really do fuss over him, don’t you? Heaven forbid he saw a little bit of sunlight when it appears!”
“I’m protecting his eyes,” Leona insisted curtly.
Deidre and Artie Higgins stepped out of their house next door with their young daughter Ellen. They cheerily greeted Leona and Aidan; Deidre’s belly was swollen with pregnancy, and she was insistent on pulling back the cloth to get a peek at Cathal as she chattered away about her impending newborn. Leona was relieved when they reached the church. As Father Braden delivered his sermon, Leona glanced nervously over her shoulder from time to time.
Once Mass had concluded, the congregation dispersed. Leona spotted Sergeant Nolan at the back of the church; his gaze was already fixed on her, as if he had been watching her for some time.
“Deidre has invited us to lunch,” said Aidan.
Leona forced a smile.
“That’s very kind.”
Leona and Aidan sat together at the Higgins’ table. Deidre served mutton and vegetables and distributed the plates around to each place.
“Doctor Kelly, as our guest would you say grace for us?” Arthur Higgins suggested.
“I’d be honoured,” Aidan replied. “And please, call me Aidan.”
They bowed their heads.
The cutlery clattered as everyone ate. Deidre balanced consuming her own meal with helping Ellen. Leona fed Cathal his bottle as she picked away at her food.
“How are you coping with Cathal, Leona?” Deidre enquired.
“Fine, t’anks,” Leona replied.
“She’s very tired,’ Aidan stated.
“I don’t think I felt so tired in my entire life when Ellen was a newborn,” Deidre continued. “It took me quite by surprise. You make sure you look after yourself, Leona. And if there is anything I can do to help, you’ll let me know, won’t you?”
“T’anks, Deidre. I’m sure you have your hands full with Ellen.”
Leona leaned over into Cathal’s crib, gently touching his stomach as he slept soundly on his back. She slipped quietly out of the bedroom, gently pulling the door closed behind her. Aidan was finishing the washing up in the kitchen.
“I want to go and see Daddy.”
Jack looked around at her.
“I can understand that you miss your father dearly, Leona. I really can, but…”
“It’s been three months, Aidan. I really want to see him.”
Jack sighed uneasily.
“Okay. But you’ll leave Cathal here. Ask Deidre to watch over him.”
Leona placed portions of tea, flour and salt into the centre of the tea towel, taking the four corners of the cloth and tying them together. There was a knock on the front door, and she abandoned the parcel to answer it.
“Mrs. Kelly,” the guard greeted. “I hope I’m not interrupting. This won’t take a moment. I was
just checking in to see if you had Cathal’s birth certificate. It has been three months, after all.”
“I see. Of course. Just a moment.”
Leona slipped away from the door and crossed the kitchen to the bedroom. She reached into the bedside drawer and retrieved the slip of paper, returning to the door.
“Here you are.”
Nolan inspected the certificate. He lifted his eyes to Leona, and then handed it back to her.
“That’ll be all, Mrs. Kelly.”
Leona placed the parcel of dry goods into her bicycle’s basket. She swung her leg over the bicycle frame and pushed it into motion. She peddled up the street, passing the houses on the fringe of the village and following the Northampton Road out of town. Passing farmyards and fields, her childhood home came into view, tucked amongst evergreen trees and thicket. The wall dividing the house from the road stood four feet tall; the ivy creeping its way across the stone. Her father’s truck was parked beside the house. Leona dismounted her bicycle and discarded it in the yard, carrying the parcel up the front steps. She knocked on the door with her free hand.
“Daddy?” Several seconds passed with no response. “Daddy?”
Leona tentatively opened the door and stepped inside. Just beyond the kitchen table, she could see her father’s lower body.
The basket toppled to the ground, the contents scattering as she rushed around the table and dropped to her father’s side.
“Daddy! Daddy! What’s wrong?” She clasped his shoulders in her hands. “Wake up, Daddy!”
She looked around, as if trying to see the help she needed. She stood to her feet and scrambled back out the front door. She picked her bicycle up off the ground and pedalled as fast as she could back towards town.
Colm was dressed in white, a cross draped around his neck. Leona’s tears dripped down her cheeks as she dipped the sponge into the bowl of water, squeezing out the excess and pressing it into his skin, working it up his arm. His dying expression was solemn and aloof, not far from what he had conveyed in life. The only difference was the paleness of blood no longer coursing through his body. The dim light of the candles flickered against his pasty skin He had been dead inside for a year, and now he was dead on the outside too.
Leona heard the door open behind her, and moments later Aidan stepped inside. He draped a blanket around Leona’s shoulders, and she glared up at her husband.
“You should have never taken me away,” she spat. “He died because you took me away. He died of a broken heart.”
“I took you away because he was keeping you locked away like an animal.”
Leona looked back at her father, her lips pressed firmly together, a tear dripping down her cheek.
“When Mam died, I stepped up into her role. I was the woman of the house; I looked after Daddy and Frank. Daddy was broken, and I vowed that I would be the one to fix him. I tried to make him happy. I knew I reminded him of her, but I wanted him to love me for me.”