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“The Fire Inside”
Marissa Treichel (Macquarie University, Australia)



There’s not a skerrick of summer left. It’s as if it never was. Rain has sponged through my coat and is sogging my shoulders, the Cailleach’s icy breath cutting straight to my spine. I quicken my step down Ballyfermot Road, past Dirty Aggie’s and Larkin’s Shop. Everyone closing their shutters and going home to escape the weather. Except Joey’s Chipper. My stomach beats from the wafts of salty deliciousness. Nearly home. Then what?

Bikes come bumping along the cobbles behind me. My ears are wrenched up as my beanie flies off and my head is capped with cold. Dangling my beanie by its orange pom pom, it’s that Protestant boy with the crew cut, smirking alongside his eejit friend.

He wheedles, ‘Come and get it.’

I grip my empty charity tin and think about throwing it. ‘You, fecking Prod!’ The boys ride off to the railway bridge, whooping and giggling. The Devil may break your legs.

The bell of St Patrick’s Cathedral counts four tolls and the sky dips itself in red then purple. Turning into Cloiginn Park I slow, watching for Ma. Our house looks normal as any. Pansies in the altar by the front door, aerial tied hostage to the chimney. I scoot down the lane to our backyard, hugging the rubblestone, past old bits of lino from sliding Corrigan’s Hill at the weekend. Slip in behind the hen house. The yellow windows of the kitchen and sitting room scan the yard. Ma and my brothers will be having egg sandwiches with warm tea and lashings of sugar and milk. Nice fire going already. I lean against the fence and watch the trail of smoke merge into the coal sky, fuar rain pattering my face. Shifting the tin to my other hand—why had I shown her?—I rub my numb nose and cheeks with my palm, skin tingling. The tin’s label has turned soggy and my fingers are white. I can’t go in, but I’ll catch my death out here. I look at the rust-holed corrugated wall of the hen house, and get an idea.

At school on Monday, a man from the St Vincent de Paul Society came and said we were to collect money for the poor.

‘Whoever collects the most by next week will get a prize,’ he said, and held out a porcelain statue of Our Lady. ‘To remind you to be good,’ he added, as if doubting we knew what that was. Our Lady’s kind face beamed directly to me. All the girls wanted her but I think, maybe I can win. I knocked on every door from Crumlin to Ballyer rattling my blue and white tin, and the heavier it got the prouder I was. At open doors I puffed my chest: ‘WE HELP PEOPLE,’ my badge announced. They were thrilled. Here you go love and aren’t you a wee dote and what a lovely wain. My tin was bursting when I got home, fifty pence poking its head out the slot like it couldn’t wait to help. I waltzed in to show Ma, so pleased I forgot myself. She smiled and took the tin. Then she pulled the lid off. There was another lid under that, a shield of thick foil, wrapped tight. Ma got a knife and pried the secret lid off.

The queer look came over her, and she said quietly, ‘Aren’t you clever, Roisin.’ Then she took her leather handbag and poured the coins clattering in. Fished one out and granted me a ha’penny as thanks. I didn’t want it, but put it in my pocket. Next day, she sent me to collect more. I came back with barely a rattle. Couldn’t bring myself to thieving, though I knew what was coming. Ma knocked me senseless on the kitchen floor, smacks keeping time with her words, ‘You are a bad, useless, girl.’ If my brothers were home, they couldn’t help. I get paralysed too when it happens to them. I tucked my legs and elbows in and she laid into the soft of my back with her slipper. Thinks she’s Tony Byrne. I only cried once, and that was by accident, air knocked out my mouth before I could stop it. I have a trick: I soar out of my body and hang with Jesus on the kitchen wall next to the mug shelf, his sad eyes keeping me company. I like his brown hair flowing around his huge heart and the flames bursting out of it.

So this afternoon before I went door knocking, while blessing myself I asked a couple of favours. Dipping my finger and thumb in our little font by the door, cold patch dripping down my forehead, I gazed into the scene above the holy water—Mary smiling by a pond, robe draped about her like folded wings—and pleaded shamelessly for help. Could she take the crazy out of Ma? The beam of sunlight falling over her shoulder glowed, like she was thinking about it. Ma called from the kitchen, ‘Get a move on, Roisin.’ Putting my beanie and coat on I asked Saint Jude, helper and keeper of the hopeless, to please fill this tin. Even so, no one felt called to give. Just the stumbling man outside Mooney’s singing Jennifer Gentle and breathing whiskey in my face, patting his empty pockets.

Today the nice families furrowed their brows and said softly, ‘Go home, Love.’ I’m mortified as I realise, they know I don’t help people.

My hands are half dead with cold and my teeth are chattering like wind-up falsies from Nimble Fingers. Checking no one’s at the windows I scramble onto the ramp, belly in the muck and drag myself inside the hen house. Draw my bare legs in from the glaze. The chickens let out a worried ‘Croooo’ and eyeball me, but they don’t stir from their roost.

‘Hello, Girls,’ I whisper.

‘Hmmmm,’ they croak back. I tuck my knees under my armpits, waddle over and put the tin between mounds of droppings. My nostrils are turning inside out with the stink, but there’s no rain. Nora, Deidre and Primrose, our pretty ladies are fluffed up together on the high wooden roosting bar—no pecking order when it’s freezing—their claws tucked in. Deidre is a sweet dove with her pale grey down. Dad always flattered golden Primrose. I lean my head in to catch a little warmth. My body feels chilled, as if the blood has drained out. Wish I could hold the Girls, one under each arm, but they’d squawk enough to wake the dead. I ease my soaking self into the muck and shake the prickling from my feet, pulsing blisters on my heels the only part that’s warm. Soon as the lights go out I’m in.

It’s Christmas soon. Like summer, that’s for other kids now. Last year Dad called us to the red velvet sofa to share presents. Squished next to the tree loaded with paper ornaments from school, plastic saints and Santy looking grand, he gave me a new rosary with pink beads and white string. I breathed the clove and orange from Ma’s pomander ball, listened to the pop and tick of the coal burning. We kneeled in front of the sofa all hushed and cozy as Dad led us in prayer, ‘Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, fill me with love and concern for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those who live with me…’ At this point my brothers and I looked at the brown and orange tiles Ma had smashed around the fireplace. When Dad was here she usually just beat the house—which is preferable, unless you’re a house. We did nine Hail Marys and one Our Father, ‘ach saor sinn ó olc. áiméin.’ Dad slid Bob Dylan’s ‘Nashville Skyline’ record on and we danced in front of the fire, smashed tiles and all. ‘Throw my troubles out the door, I don’t need them anymore,’ the gold edge of Dad’s Bible shining on the sofa arm.

Dad’s been gone since May. He’d just become a Pioneer after my eldest brother’s Confirmation, tiny white shield pinned to his jacket to let everyone know not to offer him a pint. Other dads drank their wages at the pub. If the drivers weren’t striking, he would have been on the 78 bus. But he was walking home, and on his way down Parnell Street a great ball of fire erupted and didn’t stop till every shop front was blown out, shattered glass and blackened buildings, cars and people flying. A car bomb parked outside the Welcome Inn. Then two more went off. I’m not the only one to have lost someone, everyone keeps telling me as if that’s a consolation. At the wake, Mrs Morrison put down her teacup and picked up my face. She said, ‘You’ll get over this in time, Roisin.’ Which is not correct. I’ll never be one of those grown-ups who look twisted, trying to be cheerful when you can see their insides tell a different story. Dad was true. When we watched the news, scraps of homes and staring wains behind a reporter, I’d cry watching Dad’s face as much as those bleeding and crying on the screen.

I’m squinting from the icy air whipping through the yard. Tucking into my coat I feel the last puff of warmth wick away. Dinner from the kitchen is making my mouth water. It’s Wednesday. They’re having mashed potatoes, bacon and cabbage. I let the warm saliva pool behind my rigid lips, try to thaw them out. At an Improving Experience at school last month—penance and reflection and all—we had to be silent a whole day. Hours of hymns, prayers and priestly talks. Finally they let us out for lunch. We surged down the stairs, mouths shut, eyeing each other off and walking faster and faster, no one game to break into a run. I saw the log swing and couldn’t hold it in for another second. Burst out, ‘Bags the front!’ It echoed across the playground while my friends, the nuns, the whole school stared like I’d committed all the mortal sins at once. Can’t yell out now even if my gob wasn’t frozen shut. Mr O’Keefe next door wouldn’t be happy. I think of his face boiling, ready to blow after our last stone fight in the lane, and smile. I’d felt like the Queen of Méibh. The Girls have tucked their heads under their wings, back to sleep. I’d like to do the same. My ears are completely numb and my frozen breath has settled on the wool at my chest, the hairs whitened into tiny crystals. The stinging in my toes has faded. Can’t feel them at all.

The house is dark. One last minute to be sure they’re asleep—I haven’t frozen half to death to wake Ma now. I listen hard, there’s just the falling cry of a willow warbler. I’m clumsy coming out the little hen house door, steadying myself on stiff legs. Picking my way to the backdoor, the overgrown grass crunches under my t-bar sandals. The air is crisp, otherworldly, and starlight glints from the lid of the coal bunker. I make it to the concrete landing. It’s colder here in the open, but I’m home at last. I reach for the handle. It’s wet and my fingers have no bend, sliding like I’m polishing the brass. I look at my hands and tell them how to work. With a final squeeze I can feel the handle start to turn. The door is locked.
It’s so terribly cold. Should I knock? I imagine Ma’s face, smug as she lets me in. I pick up my tin, and sit with my back against the door. I’ve stopped shivering and realise, I’m comfortable. Toasty. I rest my head on the wood and look out through half-closed eyes to the sleeping neighbourhood, white powder decorating my lashes. The yard is grainy and glowing, as if God has lit a candle. I hear a whistle and bodhrán playing. Jesus is on the landing, and there’s Dad a few steps away, ready for a hug. His cheeks are creased and happy as ever. Ma is bonny in the mornings. She’ll bring me a mug of tea filled with sugar, steam pouring off. I see a white barn owl swoop, come to snatch a little creature from the lane.



Christian Andersen, Hans. “The Little Match Girl.” New Fairy Tales, Second Volume, Nye Eventyr, 1848.
Derry Girls, Written by Lisa McGee, directed by Michael Lennox, Netflix, 2018.
Doyle, Roddy. The Woman Who Walked into Doors. Minerva, 1996.
Dylan, Bob. “Tonight I’ll be Staying Here with You.” Nashville Skyline, Columbia Records, 1969.
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Kathryn Ferguson. Nothing Compares. Featuring Sinead O’Connor, produced by Michael Malley, 2022.
Larkin, Ken editor. Ballyfermot Memories, The Ballyfermot Heritage Society, 2014.
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Online publications:

Alamy. Stock photos Irish children, 1970s. alamy.com/stock-photo/ Accessed 19 Oct. 2023.
Catholic Online. The Rosary in Irish-Gaelic, catholic.org/prayers/prayer. Accessed 02 Oct, 2023.
Etsy. Vintage Holy Water Font. etsy.com/au/listing. Accessed 10 Oct. 2023.

Extreme Weather Watch. Dublin Weather in 1974, extremeweatherwatch.com/cities/dublin/year-1974-december. Accessed 10 Oct. 2023.

Nimble Fingers Toy and Art Store. Our History, nimblefingers.ie/pages/history. Accessed 20 Oct. 2023.

Pinterest. Irish children 1970s. pinterest.com.au/search/pins. Accessed 10 Oct. 2023.
Wikipedia. Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dublin_and_Monaghan_bombings. Accessed 10 Oct, 2023.
Wright, Gregory. “Celtic Goddess, Cailleach.” 2022. Mythopedia, mythopedia.com/topics/cailleach. Accessed 12 Oct. 2023.



Marissa Treichel is a writer and choreographer based in Byron Bay. She is the director of The Cassettes 80s Flashmob Dance, and is completing a Masters in Creative Writing at Macquarie University. Marissa is currently birthing her first novel, and she’s looking forward to eating the raw placenta.

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