KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 9: Spring 2018
Flash Fiction: 949 words

The American Cousin

by Roberta Beary

Clare was late, as usual. By the time she entered the bar, everyone else was there. Even the American cousin had made the trip. The only one missing from the wake was Clare’s father, Sean, dead two days. Her mother had been gone these 20 years. Clare moved through the bar, greeting the O’Reilly relatives. I’d like to introduce you to my 15-year-old daughter, Molly, that’s what I’d say if she were here, she thought. Just then the American cousin came into view. Clare froze. Then forced herself to relax, unclench her fists, and breathe from her diaphragm. She accepted a whiskey from the tray her cousin held.

—It’s been a long time, Clare. Sorry about your dad. How you holding up?

Clare forced her lips to form a thin smile as she walked away. She found an empty seat by the bar and hummed along with the O’Reillys who were singing, “In Dublin’s fair city where the girls are so pretty, I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone.” As she hummed, her mind was on her daughter.

Clare had been almost 18 when she got pregnant. Her news wasn’t hard to hide from her father, early on. Back then she wore baggy tops and long, wide skirts. But after she began spending too much time in the toilet, vomiting every morning, her father confronted her and she admitted she was pregnant. She had thought her father would be angry. Instead he was more worried about the neighbors finding out than about the pregnancy itself. Clare knew her father to be the kind of Catholic who balked at taking orders from priests. So she wasn’t surprised when he quickly arranged for her to visit the American cousin, whom Clare had never met. Her father said she would be making the trip to New York alone.

—You mind your cousin, he had said as she boarded the first of three trains to the airport.

The flight out of Shannon was on time and by that evening she was in her cousin’s cramped Queens walk-up. The next morning they took the subway to Manhattan. The clinic was filled with girls her own age. As Clare signed the consent form, the cousin she barely knew spoke.

—I’ll be right here the whole time. Everything will work out. And when it’s over you can go home, with no one the wiser, except your dad.

When the nurse called her name, Clare didn’t answer. Her cousin grabbed her by the arm, and dragged her to the nurse, who took her to an exam room where an old doctor stood at the sink, drying his hands. He didn’t speak to Clare, directing his orders to the nurse instead. Clare remembered her legs shaking in the stirrups, the feel of cold stainless steel, and the nurse roughly spreading her legs farther and farther apart. Then the doctor’s voice came, from a place faraway.

—All done. About 14 weeks, female.

When Clare sat up, she didn’t feel anything. Then, as she began to walk, cramps came in waves. She always would remember the pain as like nothing she had experienced, even worse than her worst monthlies. The nurse said the cramps would soon subside. And if they didn’t, Clare was to take two Tylenol every four to six hours and make sure to follow the directions on the label. And no, they didn’t have any Tylenol to give her. The nurse walked back to the waiting room. Clare sat very still, doubled over in pain.

She glanced up but the American cousin was gone. After a long hour of excruciating cramps, she saw her cousin walking towards her, holding two Bloomingdale’s shopping bags.

—Sorry, I got held up. You okay, Clare? You don’t look so hot.

—It hurts.

—Aw, c’mon now, your dad said you’d be good. You need to suck it up. See all these other girls? They’re here for the same as you, and some have had the same as you and are waiting for their ride. You don’t see any of them complaining. You should be happy. Another week and I would’ve been in Atlantic City playing the slots with my boyfriend. Who always makes sure to use a condom. You get what I’m saying, Clare?

Fifteen years later, her memory of the rest of that day was a blur. She knew her cousin had gotten the two of them on a city bus to Queens. All she could remember about the ride was that she couldn’t stop moaning and clutching her belly. But the next day, when she flew back to Ireland, it was as if she had never been pregnant. Except on certain days, when Clare would imagine her daughter, what she would have looked like, and how old she would be. Over the years, her father never again had spoken of the pregnancy. Neither had Clare. Some things were better left alone, she thought as she wandered through the bar, accepting condolences, and anyway now it’s too late. Suddenly, she felt a hand tap her shoulder. She turned around, finding herself face to face with the American cousin, who took a gulp from a tumbler. Clare had to bend to hear her words, which came out in a rush.

—C’mon, Clare, how long you going to hold a grudge? Not even a hello? I mean it’s not like I forced you. To get rid of it, I mean.

Clare opened her mouth but found she had no voice. She pushed past her cousin to the bar and started humming to herself again. She had always loved “Molly Malone,” ever since she was a little girl.


Publisher’s Note:

“In Dublin’s fair city where the girls are so pretty...” is from the popular Irish folk song “Cockles and Mussels” (aka “Molly Malone”) written by James Yorkston in 1883.

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