Poetic justice, a new short story by Moya Roddy

A young woman attends Cúirt and court in the same day and suffers the consequences

Moya Roddy, author of Fire in My Head

F***in’ mad, Stacey thought, eyeing the crowd milling outside the theatre. Imagine goin’ to hear poetry this hour of the morning. Across the entrance to the building a large banner blazed: Cúirt International Festival of Poetry and Literature. The word ‘Cúirt’ had a fada on the ‘u’. Stacy wondered what ‘Cúirt’ meant? Something to do with courting? Isn’t that what her granny called snogging? Having a good court, she’d say, except she pronounced it curt. Not that Stacey could imagine her granny kissing anyone. Or anyone kissing her. Still she must have done, otherwise her ma wouldn’t be here. And if her ma wasn’t here she wouldn’t be standing outside a poxy courthouse waiting for her case to be called. Her granny shoulda kept her tongue to herself.

Stacey shook out a cigarette, lit up. It was mainly middle-aged women across the road, although there were a few girls her own age, one of them chatting to a gink with glasses. What kind of poetry do you like? Me hole! Going to a f***in’ poetry reading and she was up for stealing a bloody hair straightener. Top of the range though; she’d been hoping to sell it to her sister-in-law whose hair frizzed if you sneezed near her. Would ye look at them, gab, gab, gab. Wonder why no one this side of the street was talkin’? Except barristers and solicitors and they were only talking shite.

I could be over there, Stacy suddenly thought, I liked poetry at school. When I went. F***! I’ll be feeling sorry for meself in a minute. Where the hell is Dennis – She scanned the foyer of the courthouse, just in time to see him speeding towards her like a giant bat in his black gown, hair and spit flying.

‘Stacey, sorry, I got caught in Court 2. You won’t be called before 12.30. I had a word with the magistrate.’


‘What am I supposed to do? Hang round this bleedin’ dump for all morning?’

‘You could go into town, I suppose.’ He looked at her sharply. ‘If you do any shopping, remember to pay for it!’

Stacey gave him the finger. Not that she minded Dennis. He was alright. Mostly.

‘F*** off.’

‘Sorry. Have to go. 12. 30. Here. Don’t be late.’

‘Ye sound like my mother.’

Stubbing out her fag, Stacey watched him rush back in, gown ballooning, documents slipping.

Asshole, she thought, tripping down the steps.

The poetry crowd had begun to drift in. As she crossed to the other side of the road Stacey stiffened, certain they were watching her.

Relax, I’m not going to nick your bag. Not today anyway.

Stupid cows, she liked the thought of putting the wind up them.

From inside the theatre a buzzer sounded. Stacey stopped, lingering at the bottom of the steps, awkward.

‘It’ll be starting soon,’ a woman nudged her.

‘I’m not going.’

‘It might be good. It’s free anyway.’

Stacey shrugged.

She watched the woman push open the doors, disappear inside. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed the traffic lights at the junction had turned green.

Cheaper than a cup of coffee, Stacey decided, joining the tail end of a queue, her eyes glued to the ground. Anyway she didn’t want to risk bumping into Ryan up town. C***. Didn’t even show up this morning although she’d asked him. Told him she was up anyway. Just as well. Great impression he’d make on a judge.

The warmth hit her as she slid into a seat. It was next to the exit so she could do a runner if it was crap. Around her, mouths opened and shut like the goldfish in her granny’s flat only noisy. Her granny was going to kill her when she found out. Why did she do it? An impulse. The feeling of being able to. A crackling sound interrupted, a voice erupting from a large speaker. Stacey listened to the usual warnings about exits, entrances, not taking photos, turning off mobiles. When the announcements was over there was silence, a feeling of expectation. After a few minutes of nothing, a hippy-looking man ambled onto the stage.

‘You’re welcome,’ he beamed, ‘to this year’s annual Cúirt Festival ...’

Stacey’s fingers tapped her thigh. She felt trapped sitting there. Like in a holding cell. Everyone clapped when the man finished, the sound increasing as a woman scuttled out from the wings. ‘Thank you. Thank you. I’m delighted to be here,’ she beamed. She was slight, nervous looking, the papers in her hand trembling.

Just like that woman, Stacey thought. The one she’d robbed, the one they hadn’t caught her for. Shook all over she had, handing her the purse. Stacey hadn’t meant to scream at her so loudly, it was the way she’d reacted made her.

She squinted up at the stage. What must it be like walking out there, having everyone cheer. All those eyes looking, expecting something. She’d die. Like being in the school play, only worse. Not that she’d ever been in one. Never been asked.

The woman fumbled, began to read.

Stacey’s mouth twisted into a sneer. F***, she hadn’t even learned the poem. Stacey looked to see if anyone else minded but no one seemed arsed. Signs on, she’d never had Mrs Brady for English. She wouldn’t have stood for that. Ye got a real bollicking if you couldn’t say it off. The poem was over in a flash and when only a few people clapped Stacey felt sorry for the woman. As soon as she began a second poem, Stacey realised she hadn’t heard a word of the first. She couldn’t listen.

Slumping in the seat, Stacey closed her eyes. The woman’s voice had a kind of soothing rhythm or maybe it was the words; half-listening she felt her body relax, settle, the rush of blood slow. God, she was tired. Tired, fucking tired. The voice grew fainter and fainter, vanished...

Stacey woke with a start. People were standing, pulling on coats and jackets. F***, the time! She pulled out her mobile. Twelve twenty-five, she was alright. A new crowd was standing in front of the theatre when she came out; ducking round them Stacy saw Dennis pacing up and down outside the courthouse. Spotting her, his eyebrows shot up.

‘Didn’t know you liked poetry,’ he commented as she hurried up the steps to join him.

‘I don’t. Are we going in?’’

‘We’ve got another few minutes. Wasn’t the reading any good?’

‘I fell asleep.’

He looked at her, the way guards do when they want you to incriminate yourself.

‘Alright, I used to like poetry at school. One poem anyway. Can’t remember, something about going into a wood.’ She knew it by heart – old Brady had made sure of that – but she wasn’t going to tell him.

‘Do you mean Yeats? The Song of the Wandering Aengus?’

Stacy shrugged.

‘”I went into a hazel wood, because a fire was in my head –”’

‘Yeah, that’s it, so,’ Stacey interrupted. She didn’t like the idea of him knowing it. Spoiling it.

‘What did you like about it?’

‘Nothin’, I dunno. It’s how I feel sometimes, s’pose. There’s like a f***in’ fire in me head.’

She shouldn’t be telling him this. Tells him too much.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Ah f***. Listen, you gotta get me off. I can’t go down. It’ll kill my mother and me granny. You won’t see me here again. I promise. Cross me heart.’

‘You said that last time. You know it won’t be easy. There’s your previous.’

‘I didn’t mean it when I said it last time. I do now. I’ve got a boyfriend Ryan, we’re gonna like, get a place together.’

‘Tell me about the poem? The fire in your head.’

‘What for? It’s like, nothin’, like seeing red ...’ Stacy shuts up. It’s embarrassing talking like this.

‘Is that what happens,’ he pursued, ‘before you take something, you see red?’

‘Maybe. Dunno. Sometimes. You’ll get me off, won’t ye?’

‘I’ll try. Behave yourself in there. No temper.’

Stacey listened to the proceedings, trying not to catch the judge’s eye. F***in’ woman magistrate, the worst. Feel they have to punish you.

At the end of his plea, Dennis sat down; seemed to change his mind.

‘Might I request this case be adjourned for reports?’ he asked, standing up again.

The magistrate sniffed. ‘I don’t think I see any need for reports. Young lady, I meet your kind far too often in my court, you’re a disgrace.’

‘Your Honour, I think ... My client gave me some new information … which may have some bearing.’

‘What sort of information?’

‘What I’m proposing is a psychiatric report. You see my client told me before she commits a crime, that, as she put it, her head goes on fire, she sees red –”

‘What the f***,’ Stacey screamed, jumping to her feet.

‘Young lady, one more word out of you –’

‘That was private, dickhead! What are you telling the whole world for!’ Stacey’s heart was thumping, the room spinning.

The magistrate banged the table. ‘I warned you.’

‘I’m not f***in’ mad, I’d rather go to f***in’ prison.’

‘That’s precisely where you are going. I sentence Stacey O’Connor to six month. Leave to appeal withheld.’

‘Bastard!’ Stacey shouted at Dennis as they led her away, ‘f***in’ bastard!’

This story is from Fire in My Head, published by Culture Matters, and to be launched online on Thursday, October 14th at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway by Rachael Hegarty. Join here.