‘The house was a 40-minute walk away. And she could feel the horrors closing in’

An extract from Ragairne by Deirdre Sullivan from Weave, co-authored with Oein DeBhairduin

‘Curry chips,’ she said, perching haughtily against one of the bright pink bins and taking out her phone. Her eyes flicked down, and Muireann was dismissed.

She was going to get garlic cheese chips, she decided. She wasn’t going to get with anyone at this stage of the night. There were a fair few guys in the queue, but she didn’t make eye contact. Three a.m. chipper boys were a poisoned chalice.

She’d scrolled through the apps earlier, just in case, but nothing really. She was messaging a guy called Ed, but he never wanted to meet up. Just asked her things. Not even flirty things. Weird stuff, like if you were a dog what dog you’d be and do you ever think about Fat Bear Week. He felt more like a way to kill the time than a real, warm person she could touch. She probably wouldn’t even recognise him if she saw him walking down the street. People looked so different in motion, and she had never been that good with faces. When she was in primary school they’d grown avocados from pits, and she remembered staring at hers, waiting and wishing and hoping it would grow. And when it did, it was just like any other plant. That curl of green. It was the in between time when it called to her. And maybe that was the appeal of Ed, he was a little seed. A question mark. Muireann felt a hand on the small of her back, and she startled.

‘Get me a Diet Coke as well,’ Joan said. There was a pause. She added, ‘Please,’ before returning to the bin.


Muireann ordered and waited at the counter. There was a guy beside her in a khaki shirt, which was a choice. His shoulders hunched, he was a little smaller than the others, wasn’t with them. He was wearing brown Converse, and his cheeks were flushed with drink. He looked at her and nodded. She avoided eye contact but made her lips curve up in case he’d think she was a bitch and start to shout at her. You never knew with people. They could turn.

Joan had moved to allow people to get rid of their rubbish. She was near the door, her back to Muireann. Her curls were going limp but she stood defiant, daring the world to annoy her more than it already had. Muireann grabbed the big brown paper bag, the drinks, and walked towards her. She felt the eyes of him against her, and her skin felt tingly, on alert, as though he could see through her coat to the backless dress she’d worn to the club. It had been her sister’s, a beaded twenties thing, but she had stolen it. Fionnuala was in New Zealand now; she wasn’t coming back for it anytime soon. She pulled Joan by the hand towards the road. The house was a forty-minute walk away. And she could feel the horrors closing in. The curve of Joan’s neck above her scarf. Chewing gum on pavement. Golden light. A cobweb stretched across the wing mirror of a car, glistening with dew. It was a work of art. It was a trap.

‘My feet hurt,’ Joan pulled one heel off, wiggled her toes and jammed it on again. ‘This is going to take ages.’

‘If you want to pay for the taxi, we can get a taxi,’ Muireann said. ‘I’ve nothing left till payday now.’

‘You shouldn’t have come out if you’d no money.’ Joan’s voice was whiny, as though Muireann’s money troubles existed solely to annoy her.

‘Sure, if I waited to be rich, I’d never do anything.’ Muireann smiled. Her dad wasn’t a vet and she didn’t live in a five-bedroom house in close proximity to a riding school. Joan couldn’t help her privilege, and Muireann shouldn’t let it piss her off. Although it did. Joan made a sound of chip appreciation. Muireann smiled again, a little differently.

They walked along by the canal in silence. Chewing. Muireann pointed out a lone swan, neck curled in on its body, nesting.

‘It looks like a big soft sleeping egg,’ she said, and Joan nodded, a little sadly. Her hair was in her face again.

They leaned on the railings and looked at it. Muireann’s feet hurt too. The balls of them. A sort of meaty ache. And then it came. The drama.

The balls of them. A sort of meaty ache. And then it came. The drama.

‘Pól is fully after Megan.’ Joan’s voice was soft and small, as if she wasn’t speaking to Muireann at all. There was a sing-song quality to the cadence as though she were reminding herself, or praying, maybe. It was hard to know how to respond. Muireann didn’t want to talk about this now. Or any other time. But she had to say something.

She settled for a non-committal ‘Mmm.’

Joan turned to Muireann. ‘You know they all went off to Emma’s gaff without us?’ She didn’t sound annoyed. Just stating facts.

‘Yeah, I know.’ Muireann shrugged, keeping her face as neutral as she could. ‘I just . . . I just wish my friends were my friends, you know? It’s so fucking complicated. And it isn’t that complicated to be sound.’

‘Mmm,’ again. It was a diplomatic sort of noise. Almost soothing.

‘You know I got with Pól when we went up to the house on Inishbofin?’

Muireann turned to Joan sharply. ‘I didn’t know that.’ This was the kind of thing that would have been discussed if it were common knowledge.

Joan looked sad. ‘Well we did. I didn’t say because he didn’t, like, change the way he was around me or anything after. I mean, I didn’t think he’d be my, like, boyfriend or anything but . . . oh sure lookit . . . I don’t know . . .’

The canal was black and thick-looking, like tar. The moon was waxing. The path was all lit up by golden streetlights, and Muireann thought of that weekend, in Shannon’s mother’s house, where they lay in the garden and howled up at the moon and drank vodka. When everybody else had gone to bed, herself and Natalie had gone down to the beach and taken off their clothes and run into the waves, and it had been so dark, true island dark, that Muireann had thought, We could die here, but it hadn’t been a bad thing, only a primal one, and before they’d gotten dressed, they had hugged each other fiercely and it had felt like every part of her had woken up.

An extract from ‘Ragairne’ by Deirdre Sullivan from Weave, co-authored by Deirdre Sullivan and Oein DeBhairduin, illustrated by Yingge Xu (Skein Press, 2022)