Tanya Farrelly works as an English Language
teacher in Dublin. Her work has been
shortlisted for both the Hennessy and RTE
Francis MacManus Awards. Her stories have
been published in literary journals such as
West 47 Online and Crannog Magazine. She
has won numerous prizes in writing
competitions, including runner-up prize in
the William Trevor International Short Story
Competition 2008, and the Mitchelstown
Short Story Competition 2009. Her work has
also been broadcast on RTE’s Sunday
Miscellany. She is studying for a PhD in
Creative and Critical Writing at the University
Graham sat motionless in his apartment. The light had
begun to fade, color rinsed from the daylight hours, leaving
everything black and white like a chiaroscuro sketch. He’d
been sitting like this for several hours. He stared through
the window at nothing in particular. Lights shone in
apartments across the square, dotted throughout the
building like beacons in the night. People moved
purposefully about and were unaware of his existence.
The shrill ringing of the phone disturbed his reverie. He
didn’t move, but let it ring on. He figured it was his
mother. He wondered if she’d heard, if somehow it had got
out already. Perhaps the neighbor’s children had heard at
school and rushed home to tell their parents. Did you hear
what Mr. Lynch did? Were they talking about it now? Was
he, Graham Lynch, the topic of over-dinner conversation in
the houses of every student at St. John’s? He, who had
always kept to himself and not bothered anybody? Anger
rose in his chest like bile.
Graham stood up and crossed the room. He didn’t turn the
light on. He preferred to sit in the dark. Anonymous. He
squinted at the CD’s on the rack, took one down and
fumbled at the player. The voice of Leonard Cohen filled
the room, his gravellish tones proclaiming that “everybody
knows.” The telephone began to ring once more. He
turned up the volume and sank back in his leather chair, the
rhythm of the music blotting out his thoughts. He closed his
eyes against the semi-darkness and wanted to disappear.
He had been working in the school for almost a year. He’d
been lucky, found the job immediately after finishing his
diploma. Others had not been so lucky. Positions were
few, and it was often who you knew that made the
difference. Graham did not know anyone in the service. He
had secured the position on merit alone. He enjoyed his
job. At least he had until now.
Mr. James kept him waiting. He sat nervously at the other
side of the big wooden desk and wondered what could
possibly be the reason for this summons. He wracked his
mind trying to recall whether he’d had any run-ins with the
seniors lately. They liked to see how far they could push
you. They acted up particularly with the younger teachers,
the graduates like himself. Graham usually ignored their
smart-ass remarks and they soon tired of trying to provoke
him. Mild mannered Mr. Lynch.
Mr. James—the head of the school—opened a drawer and
fumbled with some papers. Graham glanced about the
room. There were paintings on the otherwise bare walls,
impersonal prints by some modern artist whose work he did
not recognize. He tried not to bite his lip, which he did
when he was nervous. He crossed his legs, affecting a
relaxed manner, but quickly uncrossed them again and
straightened in the chair. He studied Mr. James’ whitish-
grey head bowed over the papers. Since he started
working here he had respected this man. He was nothing if
In the distance Graham heard the muffled tones of the
receptionist making an announcement over the intercom.
There were no speakers in this room. He began to idly
muse whether this was about the school newspaper that Mr.
James was keen to start. He had mentioned it to him
before, knowing that Graham was of a literary bent and had
published several pieces in journals and broadcast his work
on RTE radio.
Mr. James shuffled his papers, ensuring that each sheet lay
parallel against the next, before laying them to the side.
Graham cleared his throat. Mr. James smiled quickly before
his face resumed an almost too calm expression.
“We’ve had a complaint from one of the parents,” he said.
He smiled again, the sort of smile that some one gives you
before telling you bad news. Graham’s mouth was dry. He
tried not to fidget with his hands as he waited for him to
Mr. James nodded. “You have a girl called…” He glanced
down at his notepad, “Susan Allen in first year Maths?”
“Susie, yes. She’s a good student.”
Graham pictured the girl. She was a quiet little thing, very
mannerly, shy. She didn’t mix with the other kids. He
often saw her at the break-time alone.
“Her mother called me. She seems to think that you’ve
become too…friendly with the girl.”
“Friendly?” Graham wondered what he could possibly mean.
Mr. James watched his face.
“This is a very sensitive subject, Graham, and not one that I
like to have to deal with. You’re an excellent teacher…”
Graham’s mind reeled. What exactly had this woman said?
His face grew hot.
“What do mean ‘friendly’?”
Mr. James leaned forward, his hands clasped on the desktop.
“Apparently the little girl has been saying things.”
“What sort of things?”
”She said that you and she have a special relationship. That
you’ve dropped her home from school…”
“I’ve never dropped her home from school.”
“She’s said things to her friends...”
“What exactly has she said?” he asked.
“I understand that girls of that age can develop crushes,
Graham’s mind raced. He envisioned this timid little girl in
his classroom. Had he looked at her in a particular way,
treated her differently from the other kids? What had he
done to give her such crazy notions?
“Listen, Mr. James, I’ve never touched that child, any child,
and if you’re suggesting…”
His hands were shaking.
“I’m not suggesting anything Graham, but the mother has
got wind of these stories. She’s up in arms, I can tell you,
and so we have to investigate.”
“Graham, I have to suspend you until we sort this out. I
have to be seen to be doing something. You understand?”
“For how long? What am I supposed to do in the
meantime? I mean, should I speak to this woman?”
“We’ll be in touch Graham. As soon as we can. Nobody
wants this to go on any longer than is necessary.”
Mr. James stood and extended his hand. Graham shook it
heartlessly. His pulse was thumping in his ears.
In the corridor he passed one of his colleagues. He couldn’t
remember whether he’d answered her greeting. Didn’t
quite hear what she’d said. He walked on, looking straight
ahead of him. He passed a group of students huddled in the
corridor, waiting to go into class. Their voices were loud.
They pushed and shoved one another playfully.
“I’m telling Sir.”
“Sir,” a voice roared. “Sir, Aidan’s trying to—”
More laughter, as the speaker was grabbed by their
classmate, their protest a resounding scream.
“Ger-off me you.”
The sound of their laughter haunted him. He walked out
through the school doors, headed for his car, and didn’t
pause to talk to anyone.
The CD played out. In the silence, he heard the television
of the old woman overhead. She was in her eighties and
half deaf. When he moved in she kept him awake all night.
Those were lonely nights, staring at the ceiling, thinking
erratic thoughts. He fantasized about how he might go
upstairs, murder the old woman and get a decent night’s
sleep. At dawn the infernal television played on, and
Graham had to face a class of boisterous twelve-year olds
with three hours of intermittent sleep. Would he do so
He crossed the room to close the blind. He looked out
across the grass. An urban fox barked nearby, probably
hiding in the copse of trees. A predator unseen,
misunderstood. Had nature intended for him to be this
way? He had spotted the animal once, disappearing into
the undergrowth away from mankind. On the third floor of
the apartment block opposite, a man stood at a window.
The room was brightly lit behind him. Graham watched him
for a moment. Then the man pulled the curtains, leaving
him alone in the dark.
Morning came. The alarm clock rang and Graham sat up in
a hurry. He stopped the buzzer and threw his legs over the
edge of the bed. Then he remembered that he had
nowhere to go. The day loomed ahead of him, empty,
foreboding. He was a man waiting on a sentence to be
passed. He contemplated the paralysis of waiting.
Wondered what he could do to make the time bearable.
And if they decided that he was guilty, what then? He
refused to think about it.
Outside, the day was light. He drew back the curtains and
light flooded the room. There was a premature hint of
sunshine in the sky. He opened his wardrobe, took out a
pair of jogging bottoms and a T-shirt. He needed to get
out. It was too claustrophobic inside. He needed to run, to
feel the air on his face. He dressed quickly, urgency for the
outdoors gripping him.
Graham opened his apartment door, hoping that he wouldn’
t meet any of the neighbors, and jogged lightly down the
stairs. He stepped out into the light, turned his face up to
the sun’s warm rays. There was no one around. He
stopped to do a few short exercises before jogging in the
direction of the park. A few cars passed him on the road.
He jogged on, not looking at anyone. He hoped that none
of his colleagues would pass him on their way to work. He
didn’t want to have to explain himself. He could just
imagine one of the women pulling up by the curb, asking
him if he was on a day off, and then pronouncing his luck at
not having to attend school that day. Luck, some luck, he
thought. This sort of thing didn’t happen to women. It
shouldn’t have happened to him. He thought of all the
times he had endeavored to keep his private life private,
and to what end? His steps quickened as he entered the
He ran past the fish pond and round the perimeter of the
playing field. His pace increased as he considered the
injustice of the situation. His breath came in short gasps.
His lungs began to hurt. A middle-aged woman with a wire-
haired terrier on a lead leaped out of his way as he charged
past them. His thoughts raged. He could have understood—
not understood but been less surprised—if it had been one
of the other girls. Some of them were precocious, too
advanced for their age. They made lewd gestures in class,
often asked him personal questions, and rejoiced in
embarrassing him. They were the sort of girls to get a man
into trouble, too many hormones spiralling out of control.
Susan Allen was practically invisible. A scrawny little thing,
quiet and obedient in class. She was intelligent, and for this
he had noticed her. But how, how could such an
insignificant child have the power to ruin his career?
His steps slowed. He had not run in some time, and it was
not long until he began to tire. He stopped, stretched a few
times and looked around as he tried to calm his thoughts.
He sat on a bench nearby. Turned his face up to the sun
and closed his eyes. He wasn’t ready to return to his
apartment yet, to the claustrophobia and the waiting. He
imagined how it must feel to be locked up. Nothing but the
four walls around you, breathing the same stale air each
day. He would go crazy, he thought, if he couldn’t get out.
It was not surprising that so many prisoners took their own
lives. It was their only form of escape.
In the distance Graham spotted two boys entering the park
through a gap in the railing. They were both dressed in
slate grey trousers and wine jumpers, the uniform of St.
John’s. One of the boys had his jumper tied about his waist,
the sleeves of his school shirt rolled up, and a football
tucked under his arm. They didn’t notice him. The last
place, he supposed, they would expect to meet a teacher
during school hours was in the park.
The two boys shrugged off their schoolbags and began to
kick the ball around. They looked so young and free,
Graham thought. One of the boys stopped to take his shirt
off. He reached up an arm to wipe the sweat from his
forehead. His skin was pale, his body lithe. He moved with
incredible grace after the ball. Occasionally they would
shout to one another, imitating sports commentators: “Duff
coming up on the left-hand side, passes to Keane…oh and it’
s a goal! Right in the back of the net, Robbie Keane. What
a performance!” Suddenly the boy did a cartwheel. He
followed it with a tumble, then ran across the grass, hands
waving madly in some sporting ritual. The other boy
doubled over laughing before carelessly chasing the ball.
Graham envied their camaraderie, the ease with which they
communicated. He had never felt that way with anyone,
not since he was a child and life was simple. Since he was a
teenager he was edgy. In groups he could fade into the
background, let others take the light. He knew that people
thought him odd. An outsider.
He looked at his watch. It was ten o’clock. He guessed he
couldn’t stay here all day. The heat was rising now. He
could feel it on the back of his neck, a pleasant burning
sensation. He got up, shook himself, and began to jog back
along the path. The boys continued playing ball, oblivious
to him, involved only in their own enjoyment. He
contemplated stopping by the school, but Mr. James had
said he would call him. There was no point in pushing it.
He had toyed with the idea of talking to the girl, but
dismissed it, knowing that it could make things worse. He
wondered would he have to meet with her parents. What
sort of people were they? Would they understand? Would
he, in their position? Or would he protect his child to the
point of irrationality, as so many parents did. He could only
hope that they were reasonable people, or that the little girl
would see the trouble she had caused and repent.
SCUM. He saw the word as soon as he jogged into the car
park. It was sprayed in bright red paint across the
windscreen of his car. Graham hurried over, dabbed the
paint with his forefinger. It was wet and smudged on the
glass. He looked around quickly, but the car park was
empty, the culprit long gone. He wondered if anyone had
seen. He hoped none of his neighbors had noticed when
they came out to go to work. He went round to open the
driver’s door. More graffiti ran along the side of the car.
“Lynch likes little girls.” My God.
He began to rub frantically at the paint with the end of his T-
shirt. He couldn’t let people see this. Unfortunately the
letters had already begun to dry on the black metallic body
of his car. His mind whirled. How the hell would he get it
off? Perhaps he should move the car up the road to where
the neighbors wouldn’t see it. In despair, he realized that
most people would have left for work already. Any number
of them may have seen it. Had anyone seen the offender?
he wondered. That, he supposed, they didn’t see. People
were great for turning a blind eye to the important things.
He hurried into the apartment block and raced up the
stairs. He took a bucket from under the kitchen sink and
filled it with warm water and washing-up liquid. He threw a
sponge into the bucket, and hurried as fast as was possible
down the stairs. He began to scrub at the windscreen. The
paint was drying fast and was reluctant to come off. On the
body it had already dried and didn’t budge. He leaned
heavily on the sponge, scrubbed and scrubbed, but to no
avail. Finally he threw the sponge into the bucket, and with
his head in his hands wondered what on earth he could do.
He ran back upstairs. Hunted in the utility press amongst
the paint trays and rollers. At the back of the press he
located a bottle of turpentine. It might destroy the
paintwork, but it was his only option. He hurried back to
the car park. “Good Morning.” One of his elderly neighbors
was on his way into the building, a newspaper under his
arm. “Morning,” Graham echoed. The man had clearly not
seen. Pouring some turpentine on a corner of the cloth, he
began to rub lightly at the body, praying that the metallic
paint wouldn’t be destroyed. It worked. Quickly Graham
rubbed at the rest of the lettering. Beads of sweat formed
on his brow. Who the hell did this? he wondered. Was it
the girl’s parents? Surely not. He figured that she came
from a fairly reputable family. One of the students,
perhaps? In that case the whole school would know. His
heart thumped. Whoever had done it, he was pretty sure it
wouldn’t be the last of it. People had long memories. His
name was tainted now regardless of the outcome.
He couldn’t even report this vandalism. To do so would only
put a spotlight on his predicament, and all he wanted was
closure. His hands and clothes stank of turpentine. He
showered, and decided to visit his mother. He needed
support right now, a friendly face. He would tell her he was
on a day’s leave. He didn’t want to upset her. Besides, he
was too embarrassed to tell anyone.
His mother lived in a terraced house in a neighborhood from
which he was glad to escape. When he had bought the
apartment, she was upset. She didn’t understand why he
wanted to move out. There were only the three of them
living at home: his mother, his father, and himself. Graham
had told her that if he wanted to buy property, that now
was the time to do so. Prices were rising rapidly, and if he
didn’t get on the ladder now, he might not be able to.
He also tried to explain that he needed his privacy. “Don’t
we give you privacy?” she’d asked. But she didn’t
understand the kind of privacy that he meant. He needed a
place where he could be alone, where he didn’t have to
pretend to be somebody else. There was a third reason,
which he didn’t tell her—the need to escape from his father.
He didn’t want to insult her by telling her this. Nor could he
place blame where it was so subtly called for.
He and his father had a terse relationship. When one of
them walked into a room, the other quickly departed.
There was no spoken reason for their discomfort in each
other’s company. It was something unsaid, but strongly
present. His father was a gruff man. Graham figured that
life had disappointed him. With this he could empathize.
But he could not excuse his behavior. Graham had grown
up trying to prove himself, trying desperately to win his
father’s approval, but nothing he did ever seemed to gain
his father’s recognition. Instead he undermined him at
every opportunity. In contrast, his mother’s love was
He pulled up in front of his parents’ house. Next door a
small child was standing up on the window sill inside an
upstairs window. She tapped on the glass and waved.
Graham shook his head. These people didn’t deserve
children. He glanced back at the car as he walked up the
drive. The paintwork was unharmed. All traces of
accusation abolished. When he opened the door, the warm
fresh smell of clothes drying assaulted his senses. It was a
smell of the past—Sunday nights with his mother trying to
get his and his father’s clothes aired for the week ahead.
“Mam,” he called.
His mother was in the kitchen sorting out the washing.
“Graham! What are you doing here at this hour of the day?”
Her face broke into a smile. She put the washing down on
the table and went to kiss his cheek.
“I’m on a day off,” he said. “I was due some holidays.”
“Would you like a cup of tea?” his mother asked.
“So would I,” she said. “Be a love and put the kettle on.”
Graham smiled and went into the kitchen. He took the
mugs down from their usual place in the cupboard, rinsed
out the teapot and waited for the water to boil. His mother
followed him into the kitchen and sat down at the table.
“Don’t put any sugar in mine,” she said. “I’m trying to cut
back. Sylvia was diagnosed with high blood pressure last
”I don’t think you need to worry about that, Mam.”
His mother had no bad habits. She didn’t drink, didn’t
smoke, and went to bed reasonably early, but she was
obsessive about her health. She had the figure of a woman
twenty years her junior. She was naturally pretty and wore
not a screed of make-up. He thought of all the young
overweight women he knew. Young girls in the school, all
puppy-fat. Not to mention some of the female staff, women
in their twenties who spent their time in the canteen
discussing calories and Weight Watchers points, to no avail.
He used to joke about it with his mother when she asked if
he had a girlfriend.
“None of them are as beautiful as you Mam.”
She would laugh when he said this, and with that the subject
would be closed. He dreaded his parent’s questions.
Graham was about to sit down to drink his tea when his
phone rang. He looked at the screen and saw the number
of the school flash up.
“Sorry Mam. I’ll take this outside,” he said.
She nodded, and sipped her tea. His heart thundered in his
“Hello Graham? Colin James here.”
“Mr. James, how are you?”
“Fine Graham. I’ve been speaking to Susan Allen’s
parents. They’re talking about going to court, Graham.
Now they’ve suggested that they will accept an out-of-court
“Yes. They haven’t mentioned a figure yet. They’re
basically putting the idea out there, probably waiting to see
what sort of a reaction they’ll get from you.”
Graham’s heart thudded.
“Look Mr. James. If they want to take this to court, then
that’s what they’ll have to do. I’ve done nothing wrong.
I’ve hardly even looked at that child. There’s no way I’m
going to pay these people anything.”
“Very good Graham. I’m meeting with them later this
afternoon. I’ll let them know where you stand.”
Graham hung up and stood looking at the phone. His hands
trembled. The mention of going to court had shaken him,
but there was no way he was about to pay these people off.
It would look like an admission of guilt. If they pursued it,
then he would go to court. At least he would have the
opportunity to clear his name.
His mother was sitting at the kitchen table where he’d left
“Sorry Mam. It looks like I’ll have to go into work after all,”
he said. “One of the other teachers has called in sick.”
He hated lying to his mother.
“That’s a pity,” she said. “Well, never mind. At least you
had the morning off anyway.”
He poured the tea down the sink, rinsed his cup and left it
on the draining board.
“Are you okay?” his mother asked. “You’re very pale.”
“I’m fine, Mam. Honestly.”
“I hope you’re looking after yourself over there.”
She said this on most of his visits. It was her way of saying
that he’d be better off at home with her. She was
convinced that he couldn’t do anything for himself. She
often asked him if he’d lost weight—forgetting that he had
always been thin—implying that he was starving himself to
“I’ll see you soon, Mam.”
He bent down and kissed her cheek. Her skin smelt of
cocoa butter. It was a comforting, familiar smell.
“Did you wash the car?” she asked.
“Yes, it was filthy after the rain.”
She stood in the door and watched while he got into the
car. She waved as he pulled away. He saw her turn to go
inside as he drove out of the estate. His left temple
throbbed. He felt as though his head might implode with
pressure. Slowly, he drove home.
When he entered the apartment, he hesitated. Then he
wandered from room to room checking that everything was
okay. The graffiti had unnerved him. He almost expected
an intrusion, some more damage to be done to his
property. He knew that he was being irrational. Yes, some
one had spotted his car, but they would not know which
apartment he lived in. Not unless they had followed him.
Graham turned the lock on the front door. He didn’t feel
safe in his own home anymore. His head hurt and his
stomach was nauseous. He had never coped well with
He went to the press and took out some painkillers. He
swallowed two with water, and pulled the blinds. The
sunlight hurt his eyes. It was early afternoon, but tiredness
had overcome him. His earlier burst of energy had
dissipated on the reception of that phone call. Slowly, he
undressed. He threw his clothes on the bedroom chair, and
slipped beneath the cold sheets. Soon, he succumbed to
He woke to a loud banging. He sat up in bed, his heart
beating fast. Had they come for him? How long had he
been asleep? He was disoriented. He groped in the dark
for his phone to check the time, but it wasn’t to hand. A
door opened nearby, then slammed. The noise had been
someone pounding on his neighbor’s door. That was the
worst thing about apartments, he thought. So damn noisy.
Sometimes it was like living in a hotel.
He threw the covers back, got out of bed and looked around
for his phone. Instead he found his watch and brought it to
the window. He pulled the curtains open a crack and
peered at the face. It was almost four o’clock. He had
slept for several hours. He threw his dressing gown on, and
went into the living room. His phone was on the coffee
table. He picked it up and saw that he had two missed
calls. Damn. He checked the number. It was the same
one as earlier, Mr. James’ extension at the school. He went
to the tap, ran himself a glass of water before sitting down
to return the call. His head still hurt.
As he listened to the ringing tone he almost held his breath.
Perhaps he was too late and Mr. James had gone home for
“Mr. James, it’s Graham Lynch here. I’m sorry I missed
He sat up straight in the chair as he spoke, bracing himself
for what his employer had to say.
“Graham, yes. I was hoping to get in touch with you. As
you know I met with the Allens this afternoon. It seems
they’ve done a U-turn. The girl admitted that she made the
whole thing up.”
Graham didn’t know what to say. He slumped in the chair.
“You did the right thing, not giving in to them,” Mr. James
added. “Some of these people, well, they’re out for all they
“Do you think that’s what it was, some sort of scam?”
“I think the little girl developed a crush on you. She made
up lies to tell her friends, but she didn’t know the damage
she would cause.”
Graham nodded. Mr. James was not about to accuse the
Allens of making up lies. Perhaps they were genuinely
trying to protect their daughter.
“Thanks Mr James. I appreciate your calling to tell me.”
“I’ll see you at school, Graham. Tomorrow?”
He hung up and sat there in the dark, staring at nothing.
Light shone though a chink in the curtains. He wasn’t ready
for daylight. Not yet. He hoped it wouldn’t be awkward at
school tomorrow. He wondered how many people knew of
the girl’s lies. Would it be enough that she had confessed
the truth, or would people look at him and question his
innocence in their own minds? Perhaps he should look for a
transfer. Begin afresh, someplace where no one knew him.
Where no one would make assumptions based on truth or
lies. He had done so before, changed his whole lifestyle in
order to preserve his privacy.
Graham sat for some time in silence. Gradually, the pain in
his head began to ease. He turned on his computer. There
were several new messages in his inbox. He clicked on
one. It was a profile from a member of a site he had signed
up to, a place where he could meet people without the
scrutiny of the public eye, without the judgement of society.
He scanned the profile. Lawyer. Twenty-six. Would like to
meet someone for friendship. Maybe more. He read on. It
seemed he had many things in common with this man. He
read the entire profile, then scanned a few more before
returning to the first. He began to write, his fingers moving
with great speed over the keys. He poured forth all that he
kept hidden from those who were close to him, those who
would condemn his difference.