Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Ethel Rohan now lives in San Francisco. She received her MFA in fiction from Mills College, CA.
Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from over thirty online and print journals including Cantaraville, Word Riot, Identity
Theory, mud luscious and Prick Of The Spindle. She is a brazen chocoholic. Her blog is
Ronnie stacks his Legos, building a wall.
"Doctor Frank will put her away this time for sure," I say.
Ronnie drops the blue Lego from his grubby hand. "Shut up! You don't know that."
"She's really lost it now." I make that rolling action at my temple.
Ronnie jumps up, knocks over the plastic wall. "You don't know nothing."
He runs from the bedroom. I almost go after him, but don't want to go out there, not while all that's going on with Mother.
I wait in Ronnie's bedroom, looking out the window. Our garden's almost all concrete, just weeds here and there, and a small
grass area behind the coal-shed. Dad put the concrete slabs down last year, said there was too much work in keeping a lawn. I
think about everything he buried alive under there: grass, flowers, beetles, worms, spiders, only the weeds able to survive,
Hurts like hell to fall down out there now. The concrete's good for hopscotch, though. Not that many children come to play in
our house. Mother doesn't like people coming around.
Maybe I'm only alone in Ronnie's room a few minutes, but I get to notice how quiet the house is now that Mother's not
screaming and Dad isn't shouting. I listen real hard in Ronnie's doorway, but can't hear a sound from my parents, Doctor
Frank, or Ronnie. I never not hear Ronnie. Even when he's not home there's always some trace of him: a tap he left running,
toy he didn't turn off, that smell he leaves that's a lot like bread and licorice. I move out onto the landing, creep to our parents'
bedroom door. There's nothing. I get down on all fours to peep through the bottom crack. Not a shadow moving. For a
second, I think the house is empty, that they've all gone and left me behind. I move downstairs, my heart banging.
From the living room doorway, I see the bump on the couch.
I tip-toe over, and lift the red blanket. "Boo!"
Ronnie gasps, ghost-faced. I laugh. He doesn't think it's funny. I can't stop laughing.
I turn the TV on, an episode of "Happy Days." Ronnie's so sucked-in by the show he doesn't hear the footsteps sound
overhead, creak down the stairs. I wait a few minutes, and follow Dad and Doctor Frank into the kitchen.
Dad and Doctor Frank continue talking, like I'm not there. Doctor Frank is sitting in my chair, writing on a sheet of paper.
"It's very important," he says, "to make her feel useful, that's critical."
Dad's neck jerks up. "Go back inside."
"I've just been with your mother again," Doctor Frank says.
I know he can't remember my name.
"Your mother's not well, you understand that?"
I nod, feeling my face redden.
His already small eyes narrow and he pushes his glasses further up his nose.
"We're doing all we can for her, okay?"
He said that last time he was called out, too. I hate him.
Doctor Frank looks at my father over his glasses. "They'll be feeling the strain."
Dad turns to me again. "Go out, please."
I can't move.
Doctor Frank stares. He's wondering if I'm already showing signs of what Mother's got. I look right back at him, letting him
know that I know what he's thinking, that I heard him last time, going on about family history and how so many on Mother's
side suffered from their nerves.
Look all you like, my eyes burn into him, I'm not my mother.
Dad talks to us from the hall, raising his voice over the TV. Dinner's ready. I elbow Ronnie in the ribs, bring him back to the
present. He howls, running after Dad.
I follow him into the kitchen. "I didn't touch you, liar."
Ronnie doubles over, squealing.
Dad crosses the room, whacks me across the arm with the wet tea towel. "Don't you hit your brother again, you hear me?"
My mouth hangs; tears heat my eyes.
"I have to get going," Dad says.
"Where?" I ask, drying my arm.
"Work of course."
Dad works at the hospital, the general hospital, not the mental one where Mother has to stay from time to time. An orderly, he
shaves the male patients mostly.
"What about Mother?" I ask.
"Doctor Frank gave her something to make her sleep. She won't wake until well into morning."
Ronnie cries harder.
"Come on, son, up you go." Dad lifts Ronnie into his chair.
He reminds us of the rules, and adds that we're not to call him unless it's an emergency.
"What if Mother wakes?" I ask.
"I told you, she won't," Dad says. "Doctor Frank took care of that."
After he leaves, Ronnie and I look across the table at each other.
I wave a fish finger. "They're good."
"It's going to be all right," I add.
He drops his fork, crying again.
I walk around the table, sit next to him. I create a face on his plate: two rounds of crumbs for eyes, a fish finger for a nose,
and a line of beans for the lips.
Ronnie and I stand outside Mother's bedroom, our breathing fast and loud. I love how he looks right then, after he's brushed
his teeth and I've rubbed the soapy washcloth over his face, his cheeks and lips red and eyelashes damp. He smells of mint and
"Let's say goodnight to her," I say.
Ronnie steps back, shaking his head.
"Scaredy-cat," I say.
"Dad said not to."
I reach for the door knob.
"Don't!" Ronnie says.
I walk to Mother's bed. I look back at Ronnie. He's right where I left him, wide-eyed and sucking on his pajama sleeve.
Mother's asleep, her hands tucked under her cheek on the pillow, and mouth slightly open. Her long black hair is free of the
French Twist she almost always wears, flows over the pillows. She looks beautiful.
Miss Mitchell at school says things are either one thing or another, but that's not true. For all her lovely hair, smooth skin, large
eyes, and delicate mouth, my mother can look so ugly sometimes she makes my breath catch. Like today when Ronnie and I
came home from school. She said she'd put poison in our soup, that we'd all be better off dead.
I tuck Ronnie in bed, tell him a pirate story. He begs for another story. I tell him I'm too tired. He won't let up.
Some time during the night, Mother screams. I run to her room. She's sitting on her mattress, her back against the wall, pulling
at her blankets and shrieking. She sees me, and jumps about the bed. I try to calm her down.
She begs me to close the wardrobe door, says she can see monsters coming for her. I walk over to the wardrobe, assuring her
there's nothing inside except shoes and clothes. I ask her to stop shouting; she's scaring Ronnie.
"Help me," she says, "please."
"Stop it," I say. "There's nothing there."
"I don't believe you," she says.
I pull the wardrobe door wide open. "See," I say, "nothing."
"Liar," she says. "Why are you doing this to me?"
I reach into the wardrobe and push back her clothes. The hangers screech. Mother puts her hands over her ears. I remove the
blue suitcase she uses for the hospital, and step inside the wardrobe.
"No!" Mother says.
I shut my eyes, sit down inside the wardrobe, and pull my knees to my chest.
"See," I say when my voice returns. "Nothing."
Mother twists her yellow sheets in her hands.
I tuck Mother under the blankets and stroke her hair, singing "Mollie Malone," her favorite.
Her eyes close and tears stop.
I sit with her until she's breathing evenly, asleep again.
I find Ronnie curled on the landing outside his bedroom door, still sucking on his pajama sleeve.
"She's okay," I say. "She's asleep."
He nods and lets me take him by the hand, put him back to bed. I point at the green trains on his pajamas and tell him about
all the places we'll travel to together someday, laughing, always laughing.