Saturday 1 February 2014

Maureen Mac Consaidin

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2014

     Maureen Mac Consaidin had always considered herself blessed as a result of her rearing, had always thanked The Lord that her childhood had been completely happy. This natural joy she had bequeathed unto her own three children, Padraig, Eleanor, and Giselle. These three children had grown up valuing work, and had always been keen to chip in chores to their happy household. Maureen’s husband, Grandpa Tadhg, served in the Irish Army, and so wasn’t at home as often as he or his family would have liked.
     Alas, Maureen had one foible: cigarettes. It was the only vice that she had ever indulged in and she had allowed them to herself after Padraig’s, the eldest, birthday party when he had turned one year old. She had heard that cigarettes could be very relaxing and since she was slightly stressed from looking after all of the children at the party she had tried one from a friend who had stayed behind after the festivities had finished. The first cigarette had made her extremely dizzy and somewhat nauseous, not at all relaxed. She stubbed out half of it, saying to Siobhan, the friend who had supplied her,
     ‘These things are only sickening.’ She soon craved another one though and after Siobhan had left her place Maureen conjectured that a small packet of smokes would be a better experiment, the more likely to allow Maureen to better judge their efficacy.
     Her second cigarette she smoked completely and the only thing that she had liked about it was the grandeur of blowing out a large cloud of smoke at regular intervals. Apart from that she didn’t really like them, didn’t like the dizziness and sickness, but she had bought a pack now so she may as well smoke them. She smoked them over the course of that week, disgusted with every sickening puff, but she had resigned herself to allow this vice as it was her only wicked indulgence. ‘None of us are perfect’ she would invariably think as she stubbed out another smoke. Besides it was probably good having an evil habit as no person could be entirely clean, noble and healthy. A bit of filthiness was part and parcel of the human condition.
     This then was how she continued, even fifteen years after the last of her brood had left home, filled with self-loathing at each puff on the cigarette, vowing to herself that she would give them up tomorrow. The net result was that she was diagnosed with emphysema at the age of sixty-three (never having formally exercised regularly) and was told that she would have to spend the rest of her life on an oxygen tank. Naturally she would have to rid herself of the smokes instantly.
     Grandma remained without any smokes for the next week and had started on the nicotine patches, having purchased two weeks’ worth on the way home from the doctor’s. She was back on the smokes on the eighth day after her diagnosis of emphysema. She had awoken that morning after a dream where she had been pleasantly smoking, blowing out plumes that seemed to envelop her in warm security, promising her greatness with clouds shaped as castles and palaces. The cravings were virtually undeniable when she awoke and she reluctantly gave in. Her first smoke while on the oxygen tank, in her car just outside the local shop, did not live up to the expectations of her dream, not in the slightest. She finished the cigarette anyway, promising herself that it would be the last, a foolish piece of business, the rest of the pack would be destroyed the instant she got home. Instead though when she returned home she turned on the TV, made herself a strong tea, and lit up another smoke while the tea was brewing.
     ‘Forgive me, Father, I know not what I do.’
     My mother, Giselle, was the first to find out that Grandma Mac Consaidin was smoking again, having called over for a weekend a few months after her mother began using the oxygen tank, to celebrate her landing an executive job with a very prestigious Dublin law firm, the result of many years of highly praised legal work and, of course, her very high marks at university. Giselle had found a dropped piece of ashen tobacco in the kitchen and, suspecting that her mother was ignoring the doctor’s advice, she had went into Maureen’s room and found half a packet of cigarettes tucked well under her mattress.
     When Padraig was told he was livid. He rang his mother and read the riot act to her. He denounced her in such strong terms that Maureen swore to him that she would give the fags away again. She convinced her eldest son that she was not ready for a premature death and, indeed, destroyed the last of her cigarettes the instant she got off the phone with him. She put a nicotine patch on, prayed to Christ for guidance and strength, and passed the rest of that day without a single puff.
     Christ must have been Waiting for her prayer because I dreamed He had He Visited her that night in her dreams, Having Come with the requested Guidance.
     ‘My sweetest Maureen,’ He Began, ‘leave the ill omens of this befouled burning bush, sunder their ensnaring invisible hold, for My Sake and you and your loving family’s.’
     ‘My Lord I have tried, tried so very hard, but I just can’t do it.’
     ‘My Promised Kingdom is open only to the worthy, to those who daily add to all our joy, but not to those who daily poison the gift of life. Ware! Maureen, that cankerous weed pushes thee further and further from your just Paradise.’
     ‘Surely You wouldn’t deny me my Heaven?’
     ‘You deny yourself. Pluck this offending bush from thee and your just reward is assured.’
     ‘Just one more smoke? Then I promise I will quit for good.’
     Christ Considered this for a little under a minute, then Deciding,
     ‘Another cigarette is an abomination before My Father. Three breaths of this noxious curse alone can be granted. But a single intake thereafter will banish thee from Me throughout eternity, with no recourse for return.’
     ‘Thy will be done.’
     Grandma, or so I continued to dream, then awoke suddenly, bolting upright in bed feeling both very, very frightened and very, very ecstatic. She then got out of bed and turned the light on. She selected a cigarette, and stared at it intently for two minutes, seeing herself poised between perdition and Paradise.
     ‘Three puffs, that’s all, three puffs and this sickness will be finished.’ She lit the cigarette and took three long draws. After the third she viciously stubbed the rest and once again broke up her remaining smokes and flushed them down the toilet.
     ‘Amen,’ she said, watching once more as the unwelcome bane was flushed away.
     She went back to bed, first kneeling by its side and praying for courage. She felt Christ listening whilst also feeling a growing euphoria. She got under the blankets, her euphoria steadily growing and she went to sleep soon after with a wide, joyous smile.
     Grandma was found dead the next morning by Padraig, having called over to make sure that she was verily off of the smokes. When his mother hadn’t answered his knock he had let himself in with his own key. All of the children still had a key to their parental seat. He called an ambulance when he couldn’t find her pulse and when the paramedics arrived they soon pronounced her dead.
     ‘No signs of struggle, rigor mortis is normal, and no signs of any haemorrhaging, she’s even smiling. She must have peacefully passed away in her sleep. I’m sorry,’ said the paramedic who had examined her.
     Grandma was buried a few days later and there were about one hundred people at her funeral. Giselle took it the hardest and cried almost constantly throughout the entire day of her mother’s funeral. It took her a week to recover and from that day forwards laughs a lot less. Maureen’s husband, Tadhg, was informed of his wife’s passing away and was allowed back to Clare for the funeral. After the coffin was lowered and the clods heaped upon it he decided to give up his service, with nothing now to work for, and to spend the rest of his days at home. He would always wonder if he had somehow caused or contributed to Maureen’s death with being away so much. If it hadn’t been for the army and too much travel he could have been a strong force to prevent that first experimental cigarette of hers. He misses her greatly, feeling unaccountably responsible for her death, and visits her grave every Sunday.
     I miss you too Grandma, we all do.

     If you've been enjoying Denis' stories on this blog you may also enjoy his debut novel, This Mirror in Me, available on Kindle for US$3.87 at The novel tells the story of Tonia Esqurit Ailbe, a mathematics professor, and her unusual Saturdays ritual, staring at herself in her dressing table mirror and actively socialising with friends and family. It is the only way, for one reason or another, that she can achieve her life's dream of having her home as the centre of a vibrant social hub. If you don't have a Kindle you can download the app for free.


  1. Wow. Good story. I was waiting for the 'too much travel' part and was justly rewarded. You managed to make it an integral part of the first story by linking it to the conflict in the very end. Brilliant.~


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