Previous: Leona struggles with the care needs of a newborn baby, but is reluctant to seek help from her community out of fear of the truth about Cathal’s identity being discovered. Cathal’s arrival in the village attracts attention from the local guard, who is aware of the disappearance of the baby from Galway Regional Hospital, and becomes suspicious of Cathal’s origins.
Cathal sat still on the examination bed in Aidan’s office, as Aidan peered through his otoscope into Cathal’s ear.
“His ears look fine,” Aidan confirmed to Leona.
“It just seems like he can’t hear me,” Leona insisted. “Whenever I get him to try and say a word, he just stares at me blankly.”
“It could be the cleft palate. Children with a cleft palate can have a higher chance of hearing difficulties. Fluid can’t drain from the ear well. It collects inside and can affect hearing and cause infections.”
Aidan moved his finger side to side in front of Cathal’s face, and Cathal followed it with his eyes.
“He should be speaking by now too, shouldn’t he?” asked Leona.
“Children with a cleft palate sometimes have problems with speech because they can’t make the usual sounds with their mouths.”
Sitting across the floor from Cathal, Leona rolled a small red ball toward him. He caught it, meeting her cheers of joy with a baby-faced glare.
“Cathal, can you say ‘Mammy? Ma-mmy?”
Cathal lowered his head, not breaking his cold stare. Leona huffed.
Leona sat back, stunned.
A wave of joy washed over her and filled her heart at the sound of his voice.
“That was so good, Cathal! So good! Now just say ‘Mammy’.”
Leona’s delighted smile slipped off her face as the cold seer of disappointment pierced her heart.
“Just say Mammy!” she exclaimed.
Leona scrambled forward and snatched the ball from Cathal’s grasp. His deadpan frown was screwed up as he cried.
“No toys until you call me Mammy!” she screamed.
She smacked him several times, and he howled in pain and distress. She took him by the arm and marched him into the nursery, throwing him against the wall and slamming the door behind him. She leaned her back against the door, sinking down to the floor with her face in her hands, wailing over Cathal’s screams.
She sat there for some time, and after a while her crying subsided, but Cathal’s did not. She stood up and opened the door. She looked into the room at Cathal, sitting on the floor, screaming and clutching his arm. Panic set in as she rushed into the room.
Leona sat silently in a chair next to Aidan’s desk as he fixed Cathal’s arm in a sling.
“It’s broken,” Aidan stated. “It will be in a sling for about six weeks.”
“He fell while I was changing him on the table,” Leona said quietly. “I had my hand on him, and my body close to the table as always, but he was wriggling around. I caught him before he hit the ground, but his head still hit the shelf.”
Aidan lent over in front of Leona and looked her in the eyes.
“It’s alright,” he insisted. “It was an accident.”
He stood up straight and put his hands in the pockets of his white coat. Leona smiled up at him.
“I’ll see you at home later.”
When they arrived at the house, Cathal ran ahead, going straight to the nursery. Leona followed him, entering the room and sitting down on the edge of the bed, where he lay curled up in a ball. She placed her hand down upon him, and Cathal flinched.
“Cathal, come here and give Mammy a cuddle.”
He didn’t budge, and was like a dead weight as she tried to lift him up.
“Listen, Cathal, what Mammy did was very wrong, and I’m so, so sorry.”
Cathal looked at his mother, frowning.
“I hate you.”
The alarm clock sprung to life on the bedside table, the trill piercing the predawn silence. Aidan lifted himself from the bed, taking his suit from the wardrobe. As he knotted his tie in the mirror, he observed Leona in the reflection: she remained in bed, lying on her side, the sheets tangled around her body.
“Leona, are you awake? Cathal needs to get up.”
She dragged herself from the bed and shuffled to the kitchen. She stirred porridge in a large cast-iron pot over the wood-fired stove, and spooned a helping into two bowls. Aidan and Cathal arrived at the kitchen and sat at the table. Leona served them their breakfast and took her own seat. They pressed their hands together and closing their eyes.
“God, we thank you for you goodness, and you kindness,” Aidan prayed, “and for this food we thank you now. Amen.”
The moment she scraped the last mouthful of porridge from her bowl, Leona stood from the table and disappeared back down the hall. Aidan looked at Cathal.
“You can play in your room until you go to school, son.”
Aidan returned to the main bedroom. The door was slightly open, and he peered through the crack.
“Leona?” he softly called.
He listened for a moment, but there was no answer. He slipped into the room and sat down next to Leona, who was lying on her side, staring into her reflection in the mirror across the way from her side of the bed.
“Leona, what’s gotten into you this morning?”
Leona said nothing.
“It’s Cathal’s first day. At least get up to see him off.”
Aidan sighed, stood up and left the room, closing the door behind him.
The school was a twenty-minute walk down the road. Cathal was joined almost immediately by Ellen and Robert Higgins from next door, and more children tagged on to their group as they walked. The neighbouring properties and farms began to shrink and condense into colourful townhouses as they reached the edge of the village. At the school gate, Ellen turned to Robert and Cathal, looking down at them.
“Now, boys, meet me right back here at the gate this afternoon, alright?”
“Okay,” Robert timidly agreed.
“Don’t be scared, you two. You’ll be fine. Behave yourselves, you hear?”
At lunchtime Aidan walked home to check on Leona. He had done this since they had married; Cathal had usually been asleep, and he and Leona would eat lunch together.
Aidan stepped into the house; Leona wasn’t in the living room or kitchen. He followed the hallway down to the bedroom.
“Leona?” he pushed the door open a little further. “Leona!”
She lay on her side, vomit dripping from her mouth.
“Leona! Leona! Wake up!” Aidan shouted, shaking her.
She stirred, her eyes fluttering open. She turned her head, shielding her eyes from the afternoon sun streaming through the curtains. She propped herself up onto her elbows.
“Leona, are you okay?” he frantically asked. “What have you taken?”
“Painkillers. And wine.”
Aidan wiped a tear away from her eye.
“I’m here now,” he insisted. “I’ll take care of you. Let’s get you cleaned up. We can’t have Cathal seeing you like this. He’ll be home in a few hours.”
Aidan helped Leona sit up on the edge of the bed, leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees. She was still wearing her nightdress. She closed her eyes and sighed heavily before standing to her feet.
“Easy, easy,” Aidan insisted. “Here, step into your slippers.”
She slid her feet into her slippers and shuffled across the room to the hall.
In the bathroom, Leona plunged her face into the basin full of water, shaking her head from side to side and blowing air out through her nose and mouth. She lifted her head, pushing her wet hair away from her face. She wiped her hand across the mirror, looking bleakly at her reflection.
The bell chimed at three o’clock, and as agreed, Cathal and Robert met Ellen at the school gate.
“How was your first day?” she enquired.
“It was grand!” Robert exclaimed.
“Come on, let’s get home.”
Cathal walked down the hill from St. Joseph’s with Ellen and Robert. When they arrived at their house, they turned into their gate.
“Bye, Cathal! See you tomorrow!”
“Bye,” Cathal called, waving as he continued on to his way.
Cathal found Aidan in the kitchen.
“Hey there, son,” he greeted. “Your mam’s resting; she’s not too well this afternoon. I’ll make you a malt milk and get you a biscuit.”
The following afternoon, Leona was in the kitchen when Cathal arrived home from school. As he ate his snack, Leona kept busy around the kitchen, and she spent the afternoon cleaning the house. When Aidan arrived home from work at four o’clock, she briefly acknowledged him and kept on with her work.
“Has she been like this all afternoon?” Aidan asked Cathal.
“Yes,” Cathal replied.
After dinner, Leona served dessert and cleaned up the dishes. Aidan put Cathal to bed and then returned to the kitchen. Leona was vigorously drying the plates and placing them noisily on the shelves.
“I’m glad to see you’re so lively today,” Aidan commented. “Don’t you think it’s time to stop for the night?”
Leona didn’t stop.
“Leona, you’re making a lot of noise!” Aidan exclaimed firmly. “I’ve just put Cathal down to sleep; he has school and I have work in the morning.”
Still Leona didn’t look his way. Aidan sighed.
“Leona, what’s wrong? Are you angry because Cathal is going to school?”
Leona stopped and rested one hand on her hip. She couldn’t look up at him.
“I’m sorry,” she said gently. “I know I shouldn’t be so upset about it…but I’m just so scared for him. He can hardly speak, let alone hear.”
“He’ll be okay,” he insisted. “He’s a very brave boy.”
Aidan touched her shoulder.
”You’ve had a long day. Go and lie down. I’ll bring you a cup of tea.”
Leona and Aidan sat opposite Father Braden in his office at the church.
“The aim is for children to have good quality, understandable speech by the age of five or six, so they can start school already able to participate fully in class and communicate with their peers. Cathal has a problem speaking and listening, so it has become apparent he has a learning difficulty.”
“Father, Cathal has a cleft lip and palate,” Aidan explained. “He can’t properly close off the mouth and nose while speaking…”
“Unfortunately these problems are outside the knowledge of my teachers. I suggest you educate him at home or place him in a special school, where they will be better equipped to handle him.”
“Father, he’s not retarded. His condition doesn’t affect his mental ability.” Aidan revealed a stack of papers, placing them in front of Father Braden. “These are his drawings. He sits at the table for hours after school doing them; I can hardly keep up the supply of paper from work. He’s a very clever child, his art skills are outstanding. He’s been drawing detailed pictures since he was three years old; he’s talented beyond his years…”
“There will be no more discussion on the matter, Doctor Kelly. My teachers simply do not have the time or resources to focus on one child and let the rest fall behind.”
Aidan looked at Leona, then back at Father Braden.
Aidan dragged the desk into the middle of the living room, and pushed the chair in
behind it. He stood the blackboard on its easel in front of it.
“All set,” he said. “The blackboard is broken, but still usable.”
He stepped up to her and kissed her on the forehead.
“I know you’ll be glad to have Cathal home again.”
“Yes, I will.”
“Just kept encouraging him and telling him he’s doing just fine. He’s only in the first grade after all; there’s nothing to worry about just yet.”
Cathal sat by the living room window, gazing out at the road. The children passed by the house, laughing and chattering on their way to St. Joseph’s. Leona appeared in the doorway.
He turned to look at her, his brow furrowed and lips pouting.
“Why can’t I go with them?”
“Because you’re staying home with me now,” Leona said, stepping into the room. “It’s what’s best for you, Cathal.”
“But I want to go with them!”
“You’re not doing that anymore, Cathal. Now come on and do some drawing at the table.”
Leona sat next to Cathal, watching on in fascination as he drew stick figures on the
piece of paper before him.
“Your art skills are outstanding, Cathal.” Leona leaned in closer. “They’re telling a
story, aren’t they, Cathal? Would you tell it to me?”
“No,” Cathal grunted.
Leona sat back, sighed.
“I’ll make you something to eat.”