Rhythm: A story by Amanda Redmond

Fighting Words 2019: Amanda Redmond is 14 and a student at Gorey Community School, Gorey, Co Wexford

Mom had three moods: drunkenness, anger and sadness. Photograph: Getty Images

Mom had three moods: drunkenness, anger and sadness. Photograph: Getty Images


It was pitch black. I could only make out the shimmering web a small spider was spinning. The wind coming in from the window was making the curtains sway. The gentle humming of my sister’s breath and the ticking of the clock was all I could hear. The sweet smell of fresh bedding filled my nostrils as I slid further down under the winter duvet and shut my eyes.

I started to dream of a beautiful white-washed mansion with a luscious green garden with a crystal marble fountain. Then the mansion suddenly vanished and I awoke to the front door flying open and then slamming closed twice as fast. Mom was home and in one of her usual moods.

Mom had three moods: drunkenness, anger and sadness. These three usually followed one another. Mom would get drunk straight after work, come home, get angry at us; and hit us sometimes and then cry about it the whole day on the couch and start back at square one again. But Mom wasn’t always like this, she used to be the best mom. She was rarely cross and loved us dearly, even Dad, but one day she snapped and went completely ape, throwing vases, pictures and anything near her at all three of us. The next morning Dad was nowhere to be found – not in the sitting room watching the telly, not in the kitchen cooking dinner and not in the shed where he kept his secret stash of beer. He was gone and never came back, didn’t take anything with him, not even his wallet, which Mom later burned in the fireplace.

Mom was now done having a fit as the house returned to its silence; I would usually fall asleep after hearing Mom enter the house. But tonight I just couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned and thought about happy memories that our family had shared before Dad left, but I just couldn’t get to sleep. I could hear Mom stomping up the stairs and into her bedroom. I slowly crept out of my room, down the stairs and into the sitting room. I plonked myself onto the couch and began to flick through one of Mom’s magazines. I slowly started to lie down on the couch and fell asleep.

What felt like a few minutes was actually seven hours, I was suddenly awoken to the smell of Mom’s alcohol-soaked breath breathing down on my face. “Rose, get up, ya gonna be late,” she shouted at me. Heather stood behind her, looking down at her fingers with her bag on her shoulder. I jolted up and dashed upstairs, pulling my jumper over my vest and tying my shoe laces and dashing out the door with my books hanging out of my tattered bag, Heather by my side as pristine as usual. Heather never shed a tear about Mom, but I knew it was eating her from the inside out. Soon she would snap. I could feel it.

I never liked school, but sometimes I just needed to escape the mad woman who lived in our broken house. I knew school would be soon over for the summer and Heather and I would be left alone with Mom.

After school, I dashed into the kitchen, grabbed a packet of crisps and made a nest on the couch with a bright floral cushion and a faded old blanket. I never bothered to do my homework, unlike Heather who always did. I mean, what was the point? Sure, they would call Mom about me never completing my homework but she would just say that I lived with my Dad and had no clue about that.

Mom wasn’t home yet so I could do whatever I wanted as long I didn’t make a mess. Meanwhile, Heather would do her homework, clean the kitchen and go to bed early. I only went to bed 15 minutes before Mom would burst through the door, but tonight I was in a trance of television watching and I didn’t hear her come.

As she quickly swarmed into the sitting room she started to yell. “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING UP AT THIS HOUR”? “I was . . . just . . ..” I trembled before I was quickly cut off by this monster my Mom had turned into. “I’M NOT GOING TO STAND HERE LISTENING TO YOU USE EXCUSES TO AVOID GETTING IN TROUBLE; GO TO BED RIGHT NOW BEFORE I LOSE MY MIND!”

I quickly scuttle up to bed, tears racing down my cheeks to avoid being scolded further. As I enter my room Heather is sitting up on her bed, shaking. I sit down and huddle up beside her, saying it’s going to be okay. She then whispers to be quiet. We can both hear Mom whimper outside the door. “What are we going to do?” I whisper in Heather’s ear.

“Can I come in, girls?” Mom says, holding back tears. Heather and I both look at each other, both shrugging. “Please. Girls, I know I scared you but I’m really sorry. Please let me in, girls, please.”

Heather and I decide that it’s best that we open the door and let Mom talk it out. Heather opens the door and then sits back down on my bed. Mom follows behind her and crouches down in front of my bed. “Girls, look, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. Please forgive me.” Mom puts her hands out and leans in to hug us. Heather and I both push away.

“Well, I bought some hot chocolate mix only the other day, so who wants some?” Mom awkwardly says to cover up us not hugging her. Heather and I both nod our heads, hoping she’ll leave us alone.

Once Mom leaves to put on the kettle, Heather gets up and opens our wardrobe and takes out a travel bag and starts to fill it with a few of our belongings. Without even asking her, I know exactly what she is planning. “It’s for the best,” I say, as I get up to help gather some items.

We hear Mom open a cupboard. We take our chances and dash down the stairs, out the door.

We stand on the icy ground in wellies, fuzzy pyjamas and raincoats, wondering where to turn next.

This story took shape at one of the workshops run by Fighting Words, which was founded by Roddy Doyle and Seán Love in 2009 to nurture young writers around Ireland. It is now in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Mayo, Wicklow, Galway, Donegal, Kerry, Wexford and Kildare