Alice Kinsella, from Claremorris, Co. Mayo, has been named as the winner of the first-ever All Ireland Scholarships Alumni Creative Writing Competition award. Read her story Window below...
Window, about the unique connection between mother and newborn son, was chosen by judges Sinéad Gleeson, Donal Ryan and Joseph O'Connor from a shortlist of 12 entries narrowed down from the near-100 submissions initially received.
The competition, which was run late last year, was open to all recipients of the All-Ireland Scholarship Award since its inception in 2008. Alice Kinsella was awarded an All-Ireland Scholarship in 2011 after completing her Leaving Certificate in Balla Secondary School, Co. Mayo. She went on to study English Literature and Philosophy at Trinity College.
My son is born during a particularly hot July. Our new eco-friendly house is designed for west coast winters. We sweat away in futuristic humidity. I become obsessed with water.
I sit by the nursery window, rocking this warm bundle to sleep.?Outside, I can see trees, a mountain, the ivy clad wall of an abandoned building. We live in town, so I am lucky to have a view like this.?I'm trying to make a habit of reminding myself how lucky I am.
I can also see two streetlamps.
By day I don’t notice them, but by night, when the day’s heat breaks into a vicious, urgent rain, the lamps bring water into focus. They look like light peeking through a crack of an open doorway. Two doors in the sky.?
It seems to rain only at night. The summer is late in its ending, the days still hot, people still filling the beaches. But at night, rain. The water, white in the light, sprays.
Perhaps this is one of the things I’m not noticing properly.
The nursery, dimly lit and quiet, feels hermetically sealed from the world. It is too dark to see if drops are hitting the glass. The triple glazing blocks out all sound. All I can hear is the gentle pant of the baby’s breathing. His breath is warm and milky. A little sour, not in a bad way, like a rich yoghurt.
Outside, through window, I see the two white torches of furious rain. I wrap my son in a blanket and nudge the window open to the cooling splashes.
When morning comes, I forget to look for the street lamps. There is too much to do. Changing feeding laundry pain medication bathing rocking burping repeating. It’s easy to forget things.
When I look out the window by day, I see the mountain, the ivy, the relentlessly blue sky of this summer that will not end. I hear the traffic cutting through town, on the way to and from the beaches that hug the bay.
The town is a baby. Lulling asleep in the cradle of the bay. The two mountains, postcard iconic. To the north, the father’s table, and closer, softer, the mother. Atop the woman mountain the queen’s grave is perched like a mocking nipple.
In the hospital they wanted me to feed faster. They have me use shields, little plastic hats for my nipples. Now the baby gets confused by the softness of my skin. His world is plastic, bottle teats and silicone, while I milk myself, a sore and heavy farm animal.?
At night my son sleeps well. I know this because I watch him. Sleep when the baby sleeps, everyone says. Ha. I sit in the rocking chair in the nursery, the small weight of heat asleep in my arms. I vary, to keep me alert, between watching my son, and watching the white of the doorways fill and empty with rain.
I watch my son in the bath. His shocked face is soothed by the warm water. He knows this better than the cupping of my hands or the rotating light projections on the bedroom ceiling. This is familiar to him. Not two weeks ago he was a creature of water.?
The sound of the rain fuels the obsession. A rhythmic pelting on the windows, like a jar of pennies spilled on the floor.
When the baby is unsettled, I pat his bum and make shushing sounds. In the womb his bum was close to the beating of my heart. The shhhhing lulls him like the lap of amniotic fluid.
One day, I bring the baby to the sea. It doesn’t rain and I’m disappointed. He sleeps in the sling and I look at the blue waves, the kite surfers, the children collecting shells. I’m glad he’s asleep, this isn’t the sea I want to show him.?
I use a silicone breast pump. It suctions around my breast and the ducts tingle at the force of the milk letting down. Through the clear silicone I see how it sprays like a garden sprinkler.?The bottles fill the top shelf of the fridge. Curvaceous. A flock of plastic swans. The first milk of the day is blueish, translucent like Poe’s beautiful dead woman. Later on, as the breast empties, the bottles are topped with a thicker cream separating on the top. Fatty. I imagine a cat sticking her head in a tin pail. There’s more than he can drink and it curdles in the fridge.
One o clock, three o clock, five o clock. I open the window. After weeks of heat. Sweaty wards. Waking up sweating. Swollen hands and feet. Blood hovering constantly just under the surface of my skin. The heat of healing on torn tissue.?
Now, the nights hold hours I have lost. The unravelling of cold, a full emptying and refilling of my lungs, like a dying animal at a watering hole. There is time to listen to the baby’s fast and steady breathing, to watch the water fall from the sky in its certainty.
I throw away the shields. He drinks for longer. He drinks in his sleep. I open the window so the rain will keep me alert.?
Sometimes the rain is so gentle it looks barely there. There are no drops on the glass of the window, but in the crack of light I see it. Swirling in the gusts like dust particles in a ray of sun.
As August runs into September, it rains. On the other side of the world the Amazon is burning. The lungs of the earth. We're running out of air.?
The more I stay awake the less I can sleep. Sleeping becomes abnormal, neglectful.
On still nights, the doors in the sky show the plumb line trajectory of the raindrops. One after another after another. Without the influence of wind, they can’t help but fall straight down.
Most days I feel like I am, in one way or another, neglecting my child. If we stay in, I worry he is sheltered, not getting enough vitamin D. When we go out, he may sit in a nappy longer than usual, or inhale fumes while waiting at traffic lights. If I meet every need, I worry he'll be precious. In that way, love itself becomes neglectful. I'm starting to think I'm the problem.
I stay up all night. When it grows light, we go for walks. Him, oblivious, wrapped to my body. Around the corner and up the hill. Grey pavements. We walk around the grounds of an old convent. Here, the trees are old and there’s a smell of home. Pine resin and drizzle. The baby turns his face up to the droplets. The velvet of his brow crinkles. Like everything, this is new to him.?
When the baby latches, I am instantly thirsty. It’s as if the association of drinking reminds me how little water I've consumed today, like how the sound of waterfalls makes people need to pee. Later, I read that the release of oxytocin causes thirst as a woman needs to drink more to keep up with milk production. I haven't fact checked this yet. I keep forgetting to.?
I also forget to fill a glass of water before sitting down to nurse. It's like there's a hole in the pocket of my mind, my only focus is the baby, looking after the baby, everything else (work, wonder, little tasks) is spare change.?
At times my let down, the rush of milk from duct, takes the baby by surprise. When I pull back my breast so he can cough, the milk shoots up, a white geyser, and soaks us both. More often than not I just wear underwear. It’s too hot anyway.
The days end prematurely. Heat hangs in the dark. The clouds gather and break. The doors in the sky open.
The light inside the house is blue. A duck egg. A bruise. I drive to the sea.
With the baby in the sling, I walk the promenade. He sleeps. The waves roll in and in and in. I taste salt on the wind.
There are people in the water, even though it’s autumn now, and the temperature has dropped into single digits. Their heads dip in and out of the water, like cormorants. I imagine the cold coating their scalps with each kick of the swell, the body’s involuntary shiver, as if unexpected fingers were running through your hair.
With that kind of cold, you feel the heat in yourself. The inside of your mouth, your stomach. The beat of blood in your ears.
In the sling, the baby stirs.
There's a storm. The first of a new season. The wind drives the rain at speed. I rock the baby and hover by the window, opening it just a fraction of an inch.
The rain becomes chaotic. I have to focus to be sure it isn’t a blizzard, a sandstorm. The wind is coming from different directions, like sea currents. The movement reminds me of murmuration of starlings, flying over the dunes at dusk, a thousand individuals moving as one beating wing.
On my chest the heat of the baby is causing localised sweating.
The doorways in the sky illuminate the rain as it falls harder. At my breast the baby sighs. There's milk on his eyelid, smeared on one cheek.?The fluorescence catches the sheets of water, turning them white. The slices of light show what’s happening somewhere constantly, just out of sight.
Find out more about the All-Ireland Scholarships here.