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Authors: Doreen Finn

My Buried Life

BOOK: My Buried Life
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‘Authentic and edgy, this is a sharply observed and extremely witty contemporary novel. Whether writing about lust, longing or loss, Finn’s writing is sensuous and insightful. Her description of Eva’s struggle with alcohol is especially visceral. A work full of beauty and truth.’

– Niamh Boyce, author of
The Herbalist.

‘In language that is both lyrical and exquisite, Doreen Finn brings us on a journey of loss, love, hope and redemption. We are captivated by this superbly plotted and perfectly paced story.’

– Mary Stanley, author of nine novels,

The Umbrella Tree
Searching for Home

‘Doreen Finn has created a loaded pistol in Eva Perry, an embittered poet whose creative voice has been silenced by a series of personal blows. When Eva returns from New York City to her native Ireland with the death of her estranged mother, a tangle of family secrets begins to unravel. Finn’s language showers sparks as Eva confronts her own difficult nature and her family’s clouded past.’

– Janet Fitch, author of
White Oleander.

‘With insight and compassion, Doreen Finn takes us on a journey of understanding with Eva, an uneasy returned emigrant with alcohol issues. In lush, atmospheric prose, Finn charts Eva’s griefs, old and new, and her path to forgiveness and light.’

– Nuala Ní Chonchúir, author of
The Closet of Savage Mementos.


Doreen Finn


First published in 2015

by New Island Books,

16 Priory Hall Office Park,


County Dublin,

Republic of Ireland.

Copyright © Doreen Finn, 2015.

Doreen Finn has asserted her moral rights.

PRINT ISBN: 978-1-84840-407-6

EPUB ISBN: 978-1-84840-409-0

MOBI ISBN: 978-1-84840-408-3

All rights reserved. The material in this publication is protected by copyright law. Except as may be permitted by law, no part of the material may be reproduced (including by storage in a retrieval system) or transmitted in any form or by any means; adapted; rented or lent without the written permission of the copyright owner.

British Library Cataloguing Data.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

New Island received financial assistance from The Arts Council (
An Chomhairle Ealaíon
), 70 Merrion Square, Dublin 2, Ireland.

To my parents, Ted and Yvonne Finn.

Thank you both for everything.


y brother was my favourite person in the world, and he died when I was 16. He was a long time dying when it finally happened, yet I live with the aftershocks still. They tremble around the spaces I inhabit, quieter now, but still daring me to forget him, challenging every attempt I make at redemption.

It happened so long ago, but it’s all I can think about today.

Maude suggested I might read aloud something about my mother, a eulogy of sorts. You must be joking, I’d retorted. She hadn’t been. I did not speak at my brother’s funeral; to do so at my mother’s would be ridiculous. A list of her failings, scrawled on airline stationery aboard the red-eye from Kennedy the night before last, might make for interesting listening. Despite self-medicating on in-flight whiskey and a fistful of Ambien, high-altitude sleep had danced beyond my reach. Somewhere over the Atlantic’s tumultuous darkness I gave up groping blindly in the half-light for rest that would not come, and instead began to compile grievances. The incomplete catalogue crackles in my pocket. Someday I will refine it, hold everything up to the light. For now my head is too crowded, the sting of buried hurts rising like late-summer sap. Today, I bid my mother adieu. It will be short. I will not linger. I can’t.

I could have sworn the sun was shining this morning when I woke up. It was definitely one of those multicoloured September days, a jumble of yellow light at summer’s lapsing, green leaves that haven’t yet begun to consider turning, the whirring of airborne insects cutting through the quiet, and all that clean, apple-scented air. Now I wonder if I was dreaming, or just hung-over. Now, vertical sheets of rain feel as though they’ll pierce my skin. I’m not complaining though. I can hide behind the deluge, maybe even fool some of the people near me into thinking that I’m crying. I assume that my closed eyes are keeping condolences at bay; certainly it means that I can’t witness any pity or sympathy that may be coming my way. I’m not sure how I feel. Actually, I don’t really feel anything at all. Except cold. And more than a little wet. My New York trench coat is useless here beside the open grave. Maude’s hand rests in the crook of my arm. I cover it with my free hand. She squeezes my fingers.

The priest’s words blend into something I can make little sense of. I imagine the raindrops splattering his small black Bible, wrinkling the tissue-thin pages in darkening spots. He has nothing to offer me, no comfort or insight that I could take from the occasion and ponder later.

The topsoil threatens to slide into the cavernous grave. The dutifully gathered shift as one around me, their shoes sucking the muck, betraying a collective desire to be gone, back to warm offices, dry cars, solitary kitchens.

I don’t blame them.

Wet hands press my cold flesh. Murmured words sweep over me, blending in a toneless wash of indecipherable sound. Earth hits the coffin lid.
I try to focus on the eyes that line up in front of me, jet lag and a headache distancing me further from the kindness and awkward, fumbled mumbles of sympathy and solidarity. Out of sight, another graveside party sings a hymn, a slow, ponderous swell of sound. I hope my mother wasn’t expecting that. It was enough having to organise the funeral. Thank God for Maude. She leans in to me, tells me she’ll see me back at the car. A man offers her his arm and she takes it, her steps careful across the slick ground.

One by one, people leave. Mud the colour of espresso clings to feet and legs. The deluge continues its monotonous tattoo against every solid surface, echoing around the silent graves. Trees drip silver rain. It runs like mercury off the late-summer leaves.

A discreet cough. The gravedigger stands respectfully to the side, his spade slung across his shoulder. The gravestone is every bit as shocking as I’d imagined and leaves me swimming in grief I thought I’d buried years before.
Andrew Perry. Son, brother. 1970–1988. Rest in peace.
A couple of decades earlier and he wouldn’t have been allowed to lie in consecrated ground. At least that much has changed.

My abominable mother. Could she have found a better way to drag me back from New York? The last cosmic joke she could throw my way. I bet you’re laughing sweetly now, Mother dear. Plummeting to your dark eternity. Dropping dead so I’d have to come back and pick up the pieces I’d scattered so gracelessly to the wind.

This isn’t what I’d planned, not what I’d imagined. I didn’t need to see Andrew’s grave. No reminders. No gravestones. No sitting on cold marble, weeping my aching guts out over someone who was never coming back. I can see them from where I stand, other mourners at other graves, throwing flowers into the abyss. What a waste.

Again the cough. I ignore him, the man with the spade. I have two people in this grave. He can wait.

Cemeteries depress me. The futility of visiting graves is not lost on me. I prefer the physicality of concrete reminders. A letter, yellowed with age, thumbed to transparency. A comb with a strand of hair. Poems. A bar of music. Grave kissing is for those without the lives of the departed sewn into the fabric of their days. Unfortunately for me, my seams are stitched so tightly I can hardly breathe at times.

I kick at the soggy earth. I’m empty. I retreat, and the man with the spade slides silently towards the slippery mound.

The mourners’ black car waits for me. The driver reads a newspaper, some tabloid with a red banner and a soccer player’s wife on the cover. A takeaway cup of coffee rests on the dash. The smell of burnt espresso is sweeter than Armagnac and fills the car like hazy desire. One inhalation and I’m gone, to a village coffee house, all bistro tables under a striped awning on warm days, conversation competing with the cacophony of traffic, a table with a view and a book to read when it rains, the outside world blunted by fogged windows.

The driver turns to me, his heavy frame expanding the material of his navy jacket. Dark thread stretches at the shoulder seams. ‘Your aunt went on ahead. She said she’ll meet you at the hotel.’

‘Thanks.’ I rub a hole in the fogged window. I can barely make out anything beyond the blurred glass. ‘Actually, just take me home.’ The last thing I want is more condolences from people I don’t want to see and others whom I’ve never met. It isn’t a big funeral, not by Irish standards, but there are still people there who’d want recognition of their attendance, want to tell me how much my mother will be missed. The truth is that I don’t miss her, and I don’t want to hear how others do. Let Maude handle it.

The driver does not offer to help me change my mind. I suppose years of delivering the bereaved to their doorsteps has taught him not to interfere.

We wind our way through lunchtime traffic. I’ve stopped trying to recognise streets. Nothing is familiar to me on these widened roads, this motorway where there were only fields, the enlarged houses, the empty apartment blocks reaching out of what seems to be every corner, long, glassy arms stretching to the sky. If this is Dublin, I don’t know it.

The rain continues its staccato on the car roof. The driver has the radio on low. Bank problems, job losses, foreclosures, political scandals. It seems as though time has bent in on itself and nothing has changed in the years I’ve been away. On the surface everything is different, shinier, newer, but the soul of the place is still the same. Greedy, self-absorbed, corrupt.

The driver and I don’t speak. At my request he changes from the news to a music station. Miles Davis blasts his way into the car, and I lean back, close my eyes, surrender to the hangover that drills my temples, the base of my skull, every nerve ending in my head. The half bottle of Jameson had seemed like such a good idea at the time. It always does.

The lavender oil in the bath clears my head slightly. A single candle glows like a Chinese lantern in the gloom. I sip from the tumbler of whiskey that sits on the edge of the white tub. Waterford, cut-glass, polished to perfection. Barely used. I’ll make up for all that neglect.

My apartment in New York isn’t much bigger than this bathroom. My mother kept the original black-and-white tiles, the floor-to-ceiling shelves. The cast-iron bath sits on claws. The fireplace, never lit, lets in a stream of outside air. It cuts through the steam like a knife. I shiver, either from the sudden cold on my hot face or because it’s been eleven years since I lay in this bath and nothing has changed. The mottled glass in the window still clouds with the heat of the water, the lavender soap still melts in the same dish. The place is spotless, scrubbed by my mother twice a week. It’s cleaner than any kitchen, and she lingers in every corner, on each shining tile.

My mother. All her rage and disappointment finally caught up with her. So much of it aimed at me, her perceived notions about her only daughter. She hardly knew me. I left, and my mother forgot me, cut me out of her life as simply and easily as if I’d been made of paper and she the sharpest blade.

I’d had to go, had no choice but to leave, or I would have died here, choked slowly to death in the corners of a house full of shadows.

Trying to conjure her is always difficult. What I see is her anger, the fire that never cooled. Her death was something for which I’d been bracing myself for years. I can almost smile at the ordinariness of it. A heart attack while gardening, collapsing over spring bulbs, her straw hat hitting the ground first. I have yet to shed a tear over her passing. I gave up crying over my mother years ago. Too much of a waste, of tears, of time, of any emotion. My mother, a woman capable of shattering icebergs with her eyes, has yet to merit my sorrow.

BOOK: My Buried Life
6.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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