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Books Ireland Flash Fiction—Small Lanterns, by Beth Kilkenny


Small Lanterns, by Beth Kilkenny

We zip up our coats and begin walking, easily finding step with one another.

We pass the Baths at Clontarf, and the blood has begun to warm as we stumble over one another’s words eager to commiserate and empathise.

Childcare arrangements, the housing crisis, dogs, botox, narrative podcasts, women dying on Instagram, the fact that we will die one day, makeover shows, where to get a good haircut, freak accidents that might kill your children, swimming pools, how to do a French plait on a recalcitrant child, maternal ambivalence, work, value, writing, Sorrow and Bliss, bodily autonomy, swimming in the sea, periods, female rage, Sex Education, sex, gynaecological appointments, vaccination hesitancy, the relentlessness of daily food preparation, dense breast tissue, climate change, parents, husbands.  

Small lanterns passed between us. 

The pace picks up, an urgency propels us forward. On the right, the sea whispers. The tide is low, and the stench of the exposed seabed is drifting aggressively across the bay. A heron sits, watching on.  

We approach the Wooden Bridge and it begins to rain. We notice lights on the water, headlights on people out on the seabed picking…. what? We discuss what they might be picking, winkles, at a guess, and thoughts wander to the people who had died doing a similar thing off the south coast of England a few years ago. They must very much want whatever they are looking for, to be out there, knee deep, on an evening like this.  

The rain begins to weigh heavy. It’s hard to keep a conversation going without getting distracted by the damp beginning to seep through our runners and the sheen of water gliding off our faces.

We sit on a bench and lean back against the cold concrete of the bathing shelter. If we were lovers, this is where we would kiss.

But we are not, and so instead we lay down our untidy thoughts and bruised hearts, and place them between us; to be picked up, repaired. The cold seeps into our bones and we become aware that our clothes are wet through our coats. We sit and look across the water towards the red and white towers.

We must very much want whatever we are looking for, to be out here, on a night like this.  

Beth Kilkenny has been published in Banshee, The Waxed Lemon, and the York Literary Review. She was a recipient of the Words Ireland Mentorship Programme in 2021/22.