Hennessy New Irish Writing: November 2018 winning story

Indigo by David Horgan

Illustration: Saoirse Reddin

Illustration: Saoirse Reddin


I’m indigo. I hope I’m not violet. I want to be indigo. Indeed, I do!

Spectrum – noun- plural spectra.
1. The bands of colour as seen in a rainbow, forming a series according to their wavelengths.
2. A similar series of bands of sound.
3. An entire range of related qualities or ideas.

“Stevie’s on the spectrum,” I heard Mum say that to Auntie Lex. She said it in that whisper where her voice stops but her lips keep making the shapes of the letters. I practised it in the mirror but I can’t do it the way Mum does. She talks like that when she doesn’t want me to know what she is saying. The last time she used it was when she told Dad that Auntie Lex had been to the doctor and she had “the C word”. When Auntie Lex came around I asked her if the C word was bad and she said yes. I had seen an advertisement on television so I said,

“Is it Chlamydia?”

She just laughed and said that it wasn’t that bad. Then I told her that an advertisement – noun was

1. Advertising and
2. A public notice advertising something. I think she liked that.

Dad doesn’t like it and he told Mum it wasn’t normal to give definitions of words and to carry a dictionary around in your pocket. I said,

“Actually, Dad, it’s a pocket dictionary. So you do carry it in your pocket.” Dad got cross and said I should look at him when I was talking to him. Mum said,

“Leave the poor child alone.” I asked Mum if I was a pauper and she got cross too.

Pauper – noun.
A very poor person.

Kevin O’Leary has over twenty freckles on his face. I told him that at break time and he said if I said that again he would tell teacher. Later, we were doing a survey and Gordon Kerr asked me what my favourite colour was so I said indigo. All the boys laughed. Then I asked Gordon what his favourite colour was and he said red. I laughed but nobody else did.

Teacher shouted at me today. We were doing what Teacher calls adding, which is when you take two small numbers and add them together, only instead of numbers we use pictures of five apples and three apples and then we colour them in. Then we use cubes instead of apples and we count out five and another three of them. Then we draw eight apples. I told Gordon I preferred addition and he didn’t know what that meant. So I told him.

Addition – noun.
Adding, being added.
2. A thing added to something else

That was the first time Teacher shouted at me. After that, when we were supposed to be colouring our apples I started thinking about how fast light travels, which is 300,000km per second. Then I wondered what you would get if you divided it by 6 and I started writing down 50,000 but I only got as far as the second 0 when teacher asked me what I was doing.

“It’s a bit complicated,” I said.

“Are you trying to be smart?” she asked. So I said yes. Then I said

“I am indigo.”

Teacher didn’t say anything. I think she likes indigo.

Mum and Dad woke me very early on Thursday morning. I said it was 6.27 and that I get up at 7.35. Mum said we were going to Dublin to see a professor.

Professor – noun.
A university teacher of the highest rank.

On the way I read my dictionary except when Dad was talking to me. He asked me where I would like to go on holiday if I could choose anywhere in the world. I said I didn’t know and Dad got a small bit cross and he said

“Just use your imagination.” Mum put her hand on his and raised her eyebrows. I’ve practised that in the mirror too but I can’t do it the way Mum does. Then I said,

“The Nile Delta – the cradle of civilisation.”

Dad made a funny sound and said,

“What about bloody Disneyland?” So I said

“I mean the Nile Delta and bloody Disneyland.” Then Mum and Dad laughed so I did too.

When we got to Dublin we didn’t go to a university we went to a hospital instead.

University – noun.
An educational institution that provides instruction and facilities for research in many branches of advanced learning and awards degrees (same origin as universe).

Hospital – noun.
An institution providing medical and surgical treatment for persons who are ill or injured. (from Latin hospitium = hospitality).

We went into a room which had some toys at one end and a table at the other. A man was sitting at the table and he smiled at me.

“Hello, Stephen,” he said, “I’m Professor Singh.” I didn’t say anything because I was thinking that he didn’t look like a professor because he didn’t have a white coat and he didn’t have a row of pens in his top pocket. I was wondering why he had something wrapped around his head and I was trying not to think of the song Mum sings. I really wanted to start singing

“Sing, sing a song. Sing it loud, sing it long,” because his name was Professor Singh. Then he told me that he was wearing a turban and that he was a Sikh so I said,

“Sikh (pronounced seek) noun.
A member of an Indian religious sect, founded in the Punjab, combining elements of Hinduism and Islam.” Professor Singh smiled but Mum started to cry and I remembered that she gets travel sick sometimes. After that the professor asked me some questions and then he said I could do a jigsaw. I asked if it was a Ravensburger jigsaw and the professor looked at the box and said

“Indeed it is.”

I liked it when he said that. He tipped all the pieces on to the table. Then I put a piece in the middle to make the jigsaw. Professor Singh said,

“Why are you putting that piece there?” and I said, “Because that’s where it goes.” After that professor Singh told me to go and play with the toys, so I did even though I didn’t know what to do with them. He talked to Mum and Dad but he looked over at me as he was talking to them. I was going to shout over,

“You’re not being a good speaker and listener” because Mr O’Sullivan at school says that a good speaker and listener always faces the person they are having a conversation with and always looks at them. I tried it but then he said I was staring into his eyes the whole time.

Conversation – noun.
Informal talk between people.

I noticed something under a pile of other toys and I pulled it out. It was a plastic model of Mars. Then I found Jupiter. So then I began to search for all the other planets. Then I put them in order of their orbit around the sun, which is Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. I didn’t know if I should use Pluto or not because I read that scientists don’t think it’s a proper planet any more, but the plastic model was there so I used it. Dad said that he didn’t think it was appropriate for a boy of my age to be reading the newspaper.

Appropriate – adjective.
Suitable, proper.

I left a space for the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter but there were no plastic models of the asteroids. I searched through all the toys again but there were no models of the moons. There should have been one for Earth, two for Mars, 16 for Jupiter, 18 for Saturn, 11 for Uranus, eight for Neptune and one for Pluto – if you count it as a proper planet. Then the professor called me over.

“I see you’re interested in the universe,” he said.

“Indeed I am,” I replied, “but that’s not the universe – that’s just the solar system with some parts missing.” Then I told him all the parts that were missing and he smiled.

“I’ve been having a chat with your Mum and Dad,” he said.

“I know,” I said, “you’ve been talking about social interaction, imaginative play and the triad of impairments now referred to as a dyad.

Triad – noun.
A group or set of three.
2. A Chinese secret organisation.

Impairment – noun.
Damage or weakness. Then Dad started to cry so I said,

“Are you travel sick, Dad?”

We were in the car on the way back and I was still thinking about the missing parts of the solar system.

Solar – adjective.
Of or derived from the sun.
2. Reckoned by the sun.

System – noun.
A set of connected things or parts that form a whole or work together.
2. An animal body as a whole.
3. A set of rules, principles or practices forming a particular philosophy or form of government etc.
4. A method of classification or notation of measurement.
5. Orderliness, being systematic. I was thinking that system was one of the words I liked best. I reached into my back pocket but my dictionary wasn’t there. Then there was a terrible noise, which reminded me of a humpback whale because I had seen a nature programme about them and Mum and Dad started shouting at the same time. I could see their lips moving but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I shouted to Dad that he had to turn the car around and he shouted,

“What in God’s name for?” and I shouted,

“In God’s name for my dictionary, I left it where the asteroids should be.” Then Dad said,

“We are not driving all the way back to Dublin for a bloody dictionary. We can buy you a new one.”

I just couldn’t breathe then because I was thinking so many things at the same time. I was thinking of the stain on the front where Mum had put her coffee cup and it looked just like Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, and I didn’t want a new book because when I was only five and before I decided that you don’t draw in dictionaries, I had drawn a tiny rainbow next to iridescent – adjective.

1. Showing rainbow-like colours
2. Showing a change of colours when position is altered, and I had drawn a sheep next to quadruped – noun. A four-footed animal.

Mum was making the sign Mr O’Sullivan makes with his hands when he is asking how upset you should be about something. He holds his hands out with a small gap in the middle and says,

“Should you be this upset?” Then he holds his hands far apart and asks

“Or should you be this upset?” He told Miss O’Leary that this was called knowing how to regulate.

Regulate – verb.
To control or direct by means of rules and restrictions.
2. To adjust or control (a thing) so that it works correctly or according to one’s requirements.

I tried to tell Mum how important this was but when I opened my mouth that didn’t come out at all – it was just a loud noise that seemed to be coming from somewhere else. After that, I don’t remember the journey home very clearly. I just remember Mum coming into the back of the car. She was shouting at Dad and he was shouting at her. Then I covered my ears and I put my head down on the car seat and that funny noise was all around me and all I could see were the little square patterns on the car seat and a tiny piece of a cracker with a grain of salt on it.

Noise – noun.
A sound, especially one that is loud, harsh, confused or undesired.
2. (In electronics) disturbances or fluctuations which interfere with the sound or picture or data being processed.

I must have fallen asleep because I woke up as Dad was carrying me out of the car. I was half asleep and half awake. I haven’t found a good word in my dictionary for that, yet. Dad was talking to me in little whispers and he was saying,

“Just through the door, little man,” and “just up these stairs, little man.” I wanted to say that I wasn’t little and I wasn’t a man, but I was too tired. Then Dad put me into bed with my clothes on and I was too tired to say,

“This is not what I usually wear in bed.” Then, just before I fell asleep, I saw Dad putting my dictionary on the pillow beside me and I thought a few things at the same time. I thought how strange it was that I didn’t remember us turning back to Dublin and I thought I would try to give Dad a hug and I would count to five really slowly and try not to go all stiff. Then Dad whispered,

“Sometimes I just don’t know what you want, little man.” So I whispered,

“I want to be indigo.”

Indigo – noun. A deep blue dye or colour.


David Horgan
David Horgan

David Horgan was born in Birmingham. Having a Kerry-born father and a Cork-born mother, every childhood summer was spent in Ireland. David is a national school teacher and now lives in west Cork with his wife, three grown-uppish children and a cat who is definitely planning something fiendish. Up to this point, David adopted the “write it, then shred it” approach to his writing. He now plans to write more and shred less