The Wife of Michael Cleary
by Marie Gethins
Are you a witch, or are you a fairy / Or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?
We watched and waited and brought rough woollens to her for mending.
Other days she crafted finer garments for Dublin rich folk who craved her seamstress magic. Even though it kept the rest of us in the village awake most nights, it wasn’t the clack-clack of her Singer that disturbed her husband. It wasn’t her caterwauling when she danced under a full moon, tripped along its silver path. Or the rustle of her fine taffeta skirts when she flounced past the fairy ring to church on Sundays. The charitable among us said it was pure bad luck. The honest whispered her husband was a fool to take the old apothecary house.
Coins passed from her palm into the husband’s pockets. We shook our heads. Some of us kept her name in our nightly prayers. As the husband thinned, preferring whiskey to mutton, and their field filled with rushes not oats, we watched and waited and listened.
Smack. Smack. Smack.
He called Father Ryan to bless the house. This swollen, purpled creature was no wife. A changeling, a fairy switch. Rubbing coins along her thigh, casting pishogues to taint his drink. The Father counselled she needed medicine to ease her unsettled mind. Later, she baptised another of the holy brethren in potato water, while the priest cursed her to Hell’s eternal flames.
We watched the husband grab her long amber hair, twisting like a rope as he dragged her into the stone circle. Shouting threats to fairy folk. She curled into her skirts, tears streaking silk. Our holy chant, as he doused her in paraffin oil, lit a match.
We prayed and watched and listened and waited.
Marie Gethins’ work featured in NFFD Anthologies, NANO, Banshee, The London Magazine, Australian Book Review, Reed, The Lonely Crowd, and others. Selected for Best Microfictions 2021, BIFFY50 2020, Marie is a Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, British Screenwriters Award nominee and she is an editor for Splonk. She tweets @MarieGethins.
Photograph of Bridget and Michael Cleary from from the National Archives of Ireland via Stair na hÉireann / History of Ireland website.