Spring 2020, Volume 28

Fiction by Eoin O'Donnell

The Christening

They baptised my cousin at 12.30. I sat at the end of the fourth pew. I couldn’t really see anything because everyone was gathered round the font. All the children were invited up to see. I didn’t think I was considered one of the children so I stayed put and watched from a solemn distance. I was sixteen. I didn’t want to be here. Personal reasons rather than religious. I didn’t want to be around my parents or cousins. I didn’t want to be around anyone.

I couldn’t hear the priest because Susie was crying. Poor little chicken. She was six months old. Fifteen-and-a-half years younger than me. I’d probably never know her and that made me a bit sad. When she got to sixteen I’d be thirty-two. My heart raced at the thoughts. I’d be old. But at least I’d be able to do what I wanted.  

After the ceremony we all stood around in the church because it was raining. Photos were taken. People chatted. I stared at my shoes. To make everything worse Mam had taken my iPad away. She said: “your head is constantly stuck in it”. She said she wanted to see my beautiful face and that I would get a bad neck if I continued to watch my shows. She talked a lot of rubbish.

“Amy, let’s go,” she yelled across the alter. Dad waved the car keys.


We went back to the house. There was a large crowd. An excuse for the family to get together. I counted maybe thirty people. My aunt swanned around asking if everyone was okay for a “beverage” or “some nibbles”. I didn’t notice her getting anything for anyone. I certainly wasn’t interested in the food. There were sandwiches of all descriptions. Chicken, egg, tuna, salad, cheese. They came out on big trays, resting on tinfoil. My mam brushed by me and told me to smile and said there was lamb curry for dinner.

I lingered at the dining table trying to look like I was doing something. I was the oldest cousin of ten and all of them bar two boys were babies—crawling, barely walking. The two boys were about thirteen. They found the dumbest things hilarious but if anyone spoke to them they would go silent and then snort with laughter afterwards. I could hear them talking about me. I wanted to kill them. The adults just ignored me. They probably thought I was still 5-years-old and interested in dolls and sweets. Well, I still loved sweets. I crammed a hand full of jellies into my mouth and looked over at all the usual ones in the kitchen. Holding their drinks, scoffing their faces with the sandwiches. But there was someone new there. I could hear her. She wasn’t Irish. She had an accent. Spanish or Italian. Tanned skin. A big friendly laugh with dark eyes. Her hair was in a simple ponytail, a pretty summer dress with flat shoes. It was like she made no effort but was still stunning. She was amazing.  I wished I was older and that she was my friend. I poured some coke into a wine glass and pretended it was an alcoholic drink, sipping at it, taking my time even though I just wanted to gulp it down. I had drunk alcohol before but wasn’t really bothered. People said my palate would change. I’d like it when I was older. Everybody says everything will happen when I’m older.

I had intermittent conversations with various adults. But whenever my confidence was rising I always spied Mam with a knowing smile. Was she smiling at me or for me? Did she think I was an idiot or was she proud? Either way she made me self-conscious. I would go red and blather on and the conversations ended soon after. I was terrified she was going to volunteer me to help bring the trays of food around. Mortifying. Give the teenager a job to do.

I retreated to the playroom and stood awkwardly among the kids. There were toys on the floor and cartoons on the telly. None of them noticed me at first. I suppose I was just like a giant grey blur. They probably thought I was a grown-up. I sat down among them and smiled as I became a prop for them to climb over, under and around. I had made some friends, sort of.  I lost track of time. Then the door opened and Mam was there. She was gesturing towards me with her right hand, a clear drink in her left. She was a bit tipsy. She smiled like the Joker when she was drunk.

“Amy—come here, sweetie,” she whispered, urgently.

I stood up, sheepish, and stomped over to her. I knew what she was going to say.

“We have a job for you,” she said and put her hand on my back and lead me towards the kitchen.

“Do I get paid for it?”  

“You’re hilarious,” she laughed.

“I don’t want to be a waitress,” I protested.

“Don’t be so dramatic, Amy. We need your skills.”

The adults were all gathered at one side of the room. Like they were waiting to jump out and shout ‘surprise’ at someone. Turns out they wanted a team photo.  

Mam handed me a camera and turned to the crowd and announced: “My Amy is brilliant at photos. She’s always taking snaps, aren’t you dear?”

They all cheered. My aunt’s husband pushed his camera into my arms and then several other people plonked their phones before me on the counter. Did these people never hear of photo sharing? I sighed and lifted the camera and, Jesus, it felt impressive. It was like its sheer weight gave it authority over any smartphone. I held it up and looked through the viewfinder. Angles and light looked okay to me. I clicked the button.

“Take a couple,” I heard a voice say so I clicked some more.

There was another cheer and then instructions to take more with the phones around me. I felt dizzy. People tapped in their passwords and shoved their phones at me. Then my aunt’s husband announced for everyone to get in position again. I had seen him looking at what I had taken and he obviously didn’t like what he saw. He waved his arms like an air traffic controller and everyone stood back in. Nobody invited me over.


After the photos Susie was passed around like a parcel. I was dying to hold her. She would cry and moan depending on which position she was in. Babies can be so fussy. When I did get my paws on her it wasn’t for long enough. She was gorgeous but only smiled occasionally. Tickles didn’t work. Pick-a-boo seemed to do the trick and she made you work. But once she grinned it made your day. All the other babies were incessant smilers. Like serial killers. They got boring quickly. Susie was gorgeous. You wanted to eat her up.

Someone took her out of my arms and she disappeared. I wondered if I’d ever see her again. I checked my phone but nobody was online. My Dad had warned me not to be “staring into my hand” all day anyway. I stood up and left the room with purpose as if I had somewhere to go. I decided to go upstairs. It was still raining outside so it was my only option. Maybe I could find a television or just lie down.

The house was huge. I tried the door into a bedroom at the back of the house. There was someone in there and I immediately jutted back, apologising. I turned to leave but the voice called out.

It was the lady from the kitchen.

“Come in,” she said. “I need someone to talk to.”

I peeked back in and saw her gesturing to come in. I shut the door and stood by the wardrobe. I was very mannerly. She was smoking out the open window. She told me to come over.

“You’re freaking me out,” she said and started to laugh. “Sit down.”

I went over to the bed and sat on the edge.

“I’m Amy,” I said.

“I’m Sara. Pleased to meet you.”

I thought she was going to stretch out her hand to shake it but instead she offered me a cigarette. I shook my head.

“My parents are downstairs.”

I didn’t want one but I thought it would be better to have an excuse.

She continued to smoke. Looking unbearably cool.

“Don’t worry about your parents. If you don’t want to smoke then don’t smoke. Don’t do anything because of your parents.”

I could listen to her all night.

“What age are you?” she asked.


“Ah, just a little chick. A little seed.”

My face went red.


“Older. I’m thirty-two. I wish I was sixteen again. That would be lovely.”

“It’s terrible. It’s boring,”

She smiled and smoked.

“Are you in school?”

“I’m on summer holidays.”

“Did you have exams this year?”

“No. I had exams two years ago. And will have exams in two years’ time. I’m in the middle. I’m nowhere.”

She drew long on the cigarette and said: “What do you call the big state exam in Ireland?”

“The Leaving Cert.”

She went quiet. Thinking.

“What’s it called in Spain?” I said.

She looked at me, mock offended.

“I’m French,” she said and winked at me. “Can you not tell by my beautiful accent?”

She hammed up the sentence and then it was obvious she as French. I went red again. She noticed my embarrassment and said: “It’s called the Baccalauréat.”

I tried to say it but failed so she repeated it slowly for me.

“Call it the bac,” she told me, smiling.

“Did you pass it?” I asked. Was it okay to ask that?

“I think so,” she shrugged. “People don’t care about my school exams now. Sometimes the things you think are important are not important after all. I&rsq She seemed to be distracted by the rain outside. I was dying to ask her “but what”. This was vital information.

She stubbed the cigarette out on her shoe and popped the butt into a spare box. She closed the window.

“Important things will present themselves,” she finished.

Then she started to laugh and apologised.

“I sound so stupid,” she said, composed herself and looked at me. “Are you a cousin of little Susie?”

“Yeah. I’m the oldest grandchild.”

“Oh, lovely,” she said. “I was the youngest grandchild. I miss my family.”

“Are you a friend of the family?”

“We’re neighbours. Our house is over there,” and she nodded towards the window as if I knew where to look.

Then she sighed but it was a funny, joyful kind of sigh.

“I came up here. To escape.”

“Me too,” I said, quickly. “My parents are annoying. They only care about boring stuff.”

“They care about you, I’m sure. You’re not boring.”

We sat in silence.

“I have to go serve the food. I made the lamb curry. It’s always sandwiches at these things. I wanted something different. Make sure you try it.”

She winked at me and then disappeared out the door.

I watched her leave. Then I went over and sat where she had been and looked out at the rain. I noticed that the bedroom window faced over the back kitchen. There were puddles on the roof. I opened the latch on the window, stood up on the windowsill and squeezed out through the gap. The rain was heavier than it looked but I didn’t mind getting wet. There were lots of cigarette butts all over the roof all slushing around in the water. The back door was open and I could hear Mam in the kitchen below. It was like she was handing out plates. I was getting hungry. I turned and climbed back in through the window.  




BIO: Eoin O'Donnell is a writer from Dublin, Ireland. His work has appeared in literary journals such as Adelaide, Turnpike, the Charles Carter and Keroauc's Dog. He tries to write every day but gets distracted by music, cooking and Harrison Ford movies. You can follow him on Instagram @eod81