I can still see myself, back then.

My secret power was that I could become invisible.

Mum taught me how. She didn’t mean to. But after Nicola-get-out-of-the-fuckin-way and Nicola-will-you-ever-let-your-father-into-the-loo-so-he-can-do-his-business had sunk into my toddler brain and pissing on the floor hadn’t helped, I copped it – just disappear, so she can’t see you.

On her first day back on the drink when I was four and a half, I learnt the other trick: Don’t ask questions. When she came roaring into the living room one of the nights my father left, I tried it out: Before the first letter of my name came out of her mouth I settled on the floor at the end of the couch where Jimmy always sat, tucked my knees up under my chin and watched the bits of dust float past me, like little stars in the sunshine. I wanted to be one of them, a little star, and I curled up tight, taught myself to breathe slowly and quietly, listened to Mum’s faraway voice lash Jimmy and Paul. Waited there till my father came home from one of his jobs around Sligo and then Mum might fire something under the grill for tea.

At national school, I was always careful about when I made myself invisible.

The teachers were suspicious of me. One of them told me I was too cute, but she was ancient and it wasn’t long before she left. I tried not to disappear in class. On the playground Gemma McGarry would get the other fourth class girls to whisper ‘slut’ whenever I walked past. I had to disappear next to the concrete wall every break-time. There wasn’t much I could do about it inside school. Eventually, ‘slut’ turned into ‘crusty slut’ and Gemma and her crowd of girls would skirt an arm’s length around me. I didn’t dream that when we went to the Mercy me and Gemma would be best friends by the end of First Year.

Maybe she wanted to be a slut, too.


It was handy to go invisible on the families.

I have been through five families. The first one only lasted three weeks, but that wasn’t their fault. Mum managed to convince my social worker that she could manage just fine, now that she was on her own again. She wouldn’t tell anyone why her latest man had kicked her back out to the other side of the estate. The second family took me in for the summer I turned eight, when Mum went back to your man for more. He only let her stay the summer with him, then turfed her out after she lost her job at the bread factory. I went back to the house with her, but I didn’t say a word. The third and fourth families were for the odd week here and there, they hardly counted. Mum always called them my holidays. Family number five though, they were a new thing to me.

First off, when I walked in the front door, Mrs Shaughnessy reached out, both arms open. Like she wanted to give me a hug. I was twelve years old, way past hugging people I didn’t know. My social worker sort of shook her head, and Mrs Shock let her arms drop, sort of like a deflated balloon. My heart sank. I could just tell it was going to be hard to disappear on this one. See, they have to want you to not be there so you can make yourself invisible. This one was going to be tricky. She wasn’t just a watcher, she was a wanter.

Mrs Shock led me into the front room, the room without a telly, and told me to make myself at home. ‘Yes, Mrs Shock,’ I said.

Then she told me to call her Mary. ‘Yes, Mrs Shock,’ I said. I’d heard of women like her, from some of the other girls, but I’d never met one before. One of the ones that wasn’t taking me in for the money.

The more she wanted to get into whatever I was doing, the more I went the other way.

That was when trouble started. I got the curse, it leaked through my skirt in the middle of class. Found I couldn’t make myself invisible anymore: I had to fuck off out of the house if I didn’t want to be noticed. Three missed tea-times in a row and she’d report me to the social worker. I’d be on warning after warning, out with Gemma and the girls, sculling back any drink we could get our hands on, trying our best to get away from them all, having some fun, a spliff, some tabs down by the Garavogue River when one of the lads had enough.

Mrs Shock drove me mad with her soft eyes and her but why’s. Always trying to get me to talk, then talking at me when I wouldn’t bother saying a word. By my fifth out-of-hours review, the social worker copped where this was headed, let Mrs Shock off the hook, moved me on to the next family.


The current family is one I’d heard of from another girl like me. The hostel house. That’s what it is, a hostel you sleep in and get your fish fingers and chips in. Anne O’Leary runs it on her own, fits her five children around it, and never mentions her husband or how he went off with the hairdresser. Sligo is small enough that we all know the story.

I do everything I can to stay out of the place, hang out in the McGarry’s house whenever I can, just up from my old house in Garavogue Villas. Gemma and Linda are sitting on the sofa beside me, watching You’re A Star. Tommy, their dad, is in the armchair reading the Sunday Mirror.

How long do you have to stare at someone before they’ll turn around? With Tommy, it only takes a few seconds. But he’s a suspicious bastard, always waiting for the next wrong move. He trained in the army. He didn’t stay long, but he was stationed over in Kildare and no one ever found out what happened. Ray Gorman reckons he killed another soldier. (That’s the word around town, anyway.)

‘What’re you gawping at?’

‘Nothing,’ I say. Nobody can find out about us or he’ll flip.

‘You set for tomorrow?’ Linda asks. I’m supposed to see the social worker about my school attendance record.

‘Yeah, it’ll be the usual crap,’ I say, and keep quiet about how I really feel. My tummy is at me, and I feel like crying whenever I think about being lectured at by that woman. Or worse still, the quiet gaps where she doesn’t say a word. But three social workers down the line, I know that the best thing to do is shut up and let them see what they want to see, fill in the blank parts of you to suit their own ideas.


‘Trouble will find you,’ Mum said the last time she let me stay with her.

She had that edge on her, the one she gets when she’s mixing other stuff with the drink. I kept my mouth shut, hunted around for the remote control. I kept my hands busy.

‘You’ve always been one that attracted bad stuff,’ she said. ‘Just like your father. Useless git.’

I didn’t say anything, I didn’t tell her I’m nothing like my useless father and nothing like my useless mother. Even though I could’ve shouted it in her face.

I shrugged, and that was enough to wind her up.

‘Mark my words, missy, you’ll fuck up bigtime and you’ll be lucky if you live to regret it. You think you’re so clever. Hah. Wait’ll you see the kind of crap life has waiting for you.’

That’s when I put the hole in the door. In fairness, it was a cheap hollow wood door, but when I let a kick fly at it, I was shocked that my foot went all the way through.

Mum’s face froze, and the rest of her did too. She looked so funny standing there that I almost laughed.

‘I’m out of here,’ I said. She didn’t stop me, she didn’t care enough.


It’s the day after my fourteenth birthday. I’ve got the pink phone Tommy gave me stuffed into the back pocket of my jeans. I don’t care that he didn’t have the box for it. The outline of it feels good against my left cheek, reminds me of yesterday afternoon. I couldn’t stay out past six, the family I’m with had an appointment with my social worker, and I’m already on a last warning. I’m old enough now to know when to show up and keep my mouth shut. Too bad Mum won’t do the same.

She still won’t take me back, says I’m too much trouble.

I just want my freedom.

My room this time is on the back of the house. Sun shines right into it first thing in the morning, wakes me up and wrecks my head. Same crap peach curtains as my last room.

This is the room I go to when I’m not in school, or when I’m not over at McGarry’s, or when I need to sleep. Magnolia walls and the window left open to stop the mould and a new bed every September. I’m the first one to sleep on this one so far. Lucky me.

Tonight, we get to celebrate before he heads off for the weekend. I told Mrs House (that’s what I call her behind her back) I’d be over at Gemma’s, and I will. But the McGarry girls – Gemma and her two sisters and her mum – are heading up to Enniskillen to do some shopping for Christmas, so me and Tommy will have the place to ourselves. We’ll watch a DVD maybe, have some fun. He’s the first man I’ve ever been in love with.


It feels different with Tommy. Not like the flat kisses of boys, where I know they’re trying to figure out how far they can push it. With Tommy, it’s more like that tingling feeling you get when one of your mates brushes your hair or runs the straightener through it.

Me and Gemma used to talk about what we’d like to be when we grew up. We would do up each other’s hair, put loads of coloured hairclips in and have bits of it up. I always said I’d have a pink salon in town, my very own place with pink chairs and a pink sign out the front and everything else in black. That was when we were little, though. I still think I might try and get into hairdressing, if I can stick school long enough to get onto a Fás course.

Sometimes when everyone leaves me alone and the house is empty and quiet, I sit up on the bed and pull the quilt up around me and I daydream about what I could do if I wasn’t here, didn’t have to put up with other people’s houses and social workers and bitch mothers. If I could just feel like I feel when I’m with Tommy, all the time. Melt into him.

Tommy started noticing me when I turned into a woman. I’d always hung out in their house, back as long as I could remember. When I’d started calling down to the girls I’d only lived five doors down.

I knew things had changed when he called me by my real name, and not just love, like he called all his girls. I caught him watching me a few times, back when I turned thirteen and I finally fit into a proper bra.

The first time Tommy got me on my own, he just kissed me. Later, when Gemma and Linda and Lily and Jamie fell back into the house with whipped cones from the ice-cream van, he whispered, ‘Don’t tell anyone. Our secret.’

I still haven’t had my time of the month. And even though I’m wrecked tired, sleeping is hard.

When I finally drop off, I keep having the same dream: I’m swimming through the air, my legs have turned into a tail with fins and I’m going as fast as I can. Sometimes it’s Mum, sometimes it’s my father, but tonight Tommy is next to me. When I wake up, I’m reaching out, like I’m grabbing onto him, or pushing him away.


A stone taps the window of the bedroom. I have my own room since that last girl beat me up over a broken CD player.
It’s Gemma, I don’t have to look out. She can’t stand Mrs House or the brats, so she always just fires a stone up at the window to let me know she’s here.

I lean out the window to see what she wants. I only saw her in school an hour ago.

‘C’mon up to the Four Lights,’ she says.

Sounds better than sitting in this place. I sneak downstairs. Mrs House has left her handbag on the last step; she must be going out again. I find a fiver in her wallet and head out for chips with Gemma.

She’s full of bounce as we walk along the path past the old jail and she tells me about a girl from our class, up the duff by a fuckin buff. We both laugh hard at that one, but on the inside I imagine telling Gemma that she’s going to be an auntie.
‘Got a smoke?’ she asks, but I don’t, I’ve been cutting down on them ‘cause Tommy says he doesn’t like the taste of John Player Blue on a girl.

The girls are waiting for us outside the chipper, and I have to be careful to keep my secret. I’m all excited with a little Tommy growing inside of me and this means I’ll be able to get my own house and no more of other people’s families and I’ll have my own money and I almost tell Gemma and the girls but then I think of what Tommy would do if I told them first.

So I breathe it all in, invisible, until Tommy gets back from Manchester. Waiting.

Deep breaths, try not to remember the last afternoon I melted into Tommy, lost myself and didn’t have to be me, free of the hassle and no family and six different houses in my fourteen years, and nothing that would let me say MINE. Better than vodka, even.

I text him, even though Tommy had said never to ring him or text him again.

Miss u loads Mega news 4 u :-D Nx

I panic a bit as I hit send. Tommy can be funny about things.

The night he gave me the phone I’d sent him a message. Just a howya text. He had almost lost it with me then, I heard it in his voice when he rang me back.

‘Don’t you ever do that again,’ he said. ‘I gave you that phone so I could ring you, got it. There’s some credit on it, ring your friends if you want to. But I don’t want to hear from you.’

His voice sounded very calm, but I could hear his breathing, fast and harsh.

‘Right,’ I said, hoping I sounded cool. I didn’t want him to be pissed off at me. ‘I was just trying it out.’

He had hung up without saying goodbye.


MEET M @ D OLD ABBY @ 9. T x

It’s Tuesday, and I’d already had a row with Mrs House over some dirty dishes. She starts at me when she catches me in the hallway with my jacket on, did I do my homework and don’t I know it’s a school night and I’m on probation already and I shouldn’t be going out, and on and on.

‘I’ll ring the social worker,’ she says, like that’ll make me stay.

I walk fast down The Mall and turn onto the bridge. My hand keeps sneaking up to my belly. I’m excited to see Tommy again and now I’ll finally get to tell him about little Tommy, about my baby and I’m set now.

My heart is flying it, I can feel it thumping against my ribs, and I slow down a bit, check my hair is still smooth, look down at my skirt and skinny top. I have my push up bra on, and my breasts look massive now. It took me ages to figure out what to wear, I wanted to look cool and pretty and sexy.

I want to look the way I feel. I want to look like my life is just starting new.

The sky is just getting proper dark, and the outline of the abbey ruins is black against the low clouds. It doesn’t feel like rain, though. I didn’t bring my jacket.

At one end the black railings only poke a short way over the stone wall. Someone has tipped over a wheelie bin, and I step onto it, grasp the metal, pull myself up onto the wall.

From up here I can see the whole of the abbey, all the way down into the inside.

I think I can see Tommy’s outline over by the far wall.

The streetlights cast long shadow across the old stone and cut grass. I can hear the sounds of a sitcom from someone’s open window.

The cold slips past me.

Everyone else in Abbey-quarter is sitting inside in front of the telly. Sligo is mine. From up here, I can see the entire town, how it will be, my whole life spread out in front of me and for the first time since I can remember, I don’t want to disappear, I don’t want to make sure I don’t get caught.

The invisible world doesn’t matter anymore.

My hand holds the low part of my belly and I’m floating up over the black metal railings, swimming through the night air to the grass on the other side.

I walk over to Tommy. He’s leaning against the wall of the old stone abbey, his arms crossed, waiting for me.

‘Well,’ he says. All edges.

The hurley leaning against the wall beside him is invisible, and the flex of muscle under his skin is invisible and the edge of his brain that has turned is invisible.

I don’t see any of it; I have a new baby inside of me and my life ahead of me.

Celeste Augé

Celeste Augé is the author of The Essential Guide to Flight (Salmon Poetry, 2009) and the short story collection Fireproof and Other Stories (Doire Press, 2012), which was longlisted for the 2013 Frank O’Connor Award. Her poetry has been shortlisted for a Hennessy Award, and she has received a Literature Bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland. In 2011, she won the Cúirt New Writing Prize for fiction. Celeste lives in Connemara, in the West of Ireland, and teaches creative writing to undergraduates at NUI Galway as well as in a community setting.

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