Black Laces by Marcella O’Connor

Noel O’Donoghue is a popular Kerryman with a bright future ahead of him. He’s engaged to a beautiful woman, playing football for his county and has a stake in his father’s hotel to look forward to. But when Sean Roughty returns from Dublin, an old childhood friendship is rekindled and Noel finds himself developing dangerous feelings for Sean.

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Read Chapter 1 of Black Laces below

      A silence can mean everything. An entire history can be played out with no words.

      Silence sifted through the gorse-engorged glen, then the wind rushed in to fill it. An illusion of stillness settled on Cumeenduvasig before a herd of red deer flurried down the mountainside. Somewhere a gate was clinking. The Reeks were unmoving, punctuating the sky like a smothered exclamation; they watched over without comment.

      I had an excuse to be going up the mountain. Training was due to begin again. I couldn’t show my face in that session if I was a complete slob. I had a club social coming up, so this would be my last chance to get out for a hike. Yet I knew there was another reason I had snuck out so early. There was something rattling in my head that I couldn’t let go of.

      The night before Cat had said, “I think we should set a date.”

      We were both pissed and she was curled up in the crook of my arm. My alarm clock ticked for three beats. For a moment, air was missing from my lungs.

      “Yeah?” I said finally.

      “Yeah. I mean, don’t you think we should?”

      The pause before my next answer was cinematic.

      “We should, definitely. But we should figure out the cost and everything first, like.”

      “I could borrow from my parents,” she said.

      “Ugh, do you know, as much as I want to start out life in debt to your parents…”

      “You know your parents would help us out,” she said.

      “I just think we should have a bit more put aside. A house built. It would hardly turn out well if we rushed it.”

      “It doesn’t have to be a big deal. We could do it in the registrar’s office.”

      I laughed because I was bluffing.

      “I know you don’t want that. I want you to have everything you want. A nice dress.

All of your friends and family,” I said, “And anyway like, what’s the rush?”

      “I just don’t want to be engaged forever. It’s like being in limbo,” she said, “I just want to be with you.”

      I twirled one of her blond curls round my finger.

      “It won’t be forever. Another year maybe and then we’ll do it right.”

      “OK,” she said and nuzzled into me. I slowly let out my breath feeling like I’d just won a game of cards against the devil.

      I turned this conversation over in my head as I went up Mangerton. My track suit bottoms rustled in time. I was running now, each footstep jabbing into the mud and rock. The burning in my legs made sense.

      “What do I want?” I asked myself.

      I came to the place on the mountain where the steepness leveled off. The grass kicked in the wind, but other than that, I was the only thing that moved, tearing through the stillness.

      To my right, the hunched shoulders of Torc Mountain. The Long Range River spread out at my feet, fog impaled by blue mountains just beyond. The Upper Lake, Muckross Lake, Davies Fields, the old road to Kenmare. I named the things off like they were my own, even the little pond four hundred metres below that no one had ever named. Shehy, Tomies, the Purple Mountain, Friar’s Glen, the Windy Gap. The path curved round and faced into the mountain and the Punchbowl loomed ahead of me like some great cathedral. Fog boiled out of it. The wind roared with more conviction. The Devil’s Cathedral. 

      Now the way was steep again and the wind began to scream. An icy rain started. The hail came battering down. I wondered how does everyone else have their lives so together? The wind belted me. It blew hail into my face. Hail seemed to be getting me from every angle. I pulled the hood of my jacket up, but hail came at me from below like an uppercut. This was the kind of wind that had a hag’s voice in it. If there was a hag, then clearly she was roaring at me to go away.

      I held my hood in place with one hand and kept walking. I staggered against the wind and climbed up a small bit to a big pile of glacial boulders. Some old houses were built into the rock. This was where the friars used to flee from invaders. I sat into one of the ruins to wait.

      I kneaded my hands together to warm them up. The mountain was supposed to clear my head up so I could sort things out. I tried to focus on Cat and instead started to wonder who would be in the local watching the soccer on the big screen. Yes. Brilliant. I was having a crisis and I was thinking about the pub. But then, I was practically reared in the local, so maybe it all made sense after all.

      All along the walls of the local, there are photos of the Kerry teams from times past. Brian Fitzgerald is there and so is Mossy Moynihan and so is my grandfather and his teammates. All the Kerry team photos are there, the black and white ones and the fading colour ones where all the footballers have bushy hair. There’s one photo of my father holding the Sam Maguire, and if I look at it out the corner of my eye, I can trick myself into believing that it’s my own face rehashed behind the glass The black hair and the square chin could have been my own. It was only the severe eyebrows and old-fashioned hair cut that set us apart. Whenever things felt unsteady, that wall of photographs was there as proof that life could have some order to it.

      “Jesus. Maybe I don’t know what I should want anymore,” I thought, “Maybe I’m just too young. Maybe I’m just not ready. Or maybe I just don’t know what I should want. I can’t get cold feet over marrying Cat. We’ve been going out for years. That’s the way it goes. What should I want from life? Besides a house and the hotel?”

      With the same suddenness that it arrived with, the storm blew off and set out to torment some other place. My pants seemed frozen to the back of my legs as I stood up. I wanted to keep moving to get the blood flowing in my limbs again, so I walked around the punchbowl toward the Horse Glen, slapping my red hands together like two useless fish. A little black figure made its way along the cliffs. I watched him move wondering if he was real.

      “Jesus. He’s more of a lunatic than I am,” I thought.

      Who would be up Mangerton on a day like today, when the weather was in one of its more schizophrenic moods? The tourists didn’t usually appear until May. I watched him as he made his way down toward me. The blackness of him turned to dark blue and soon he was near enough that I could make out a pink face, a black hat and a blue jacket.

      “Some storm,” he said when we were close enough to salute each other. There was something very familiar about him and I wondered if he was local.

      He searched me again. Recognition blossomed on his face and he said, “Noel O’Donoghue, I don’t believe it.”

      “Sean,” I said, “You’re back, you are?”

      Just like that, my life began to unravel in my lap like a dodgy jumper.

~ by yearzerowriters on November 13, 2009.

18 Responses to “Black Laces by Marcella O’Connor”

  1. I didn’t know about this one.

    I’ve read your some of your short stories, and I wondered what the longer stuff would be like…

    The pitch sounds like it could go Brokeback. No bad thing.

    And I liked the switch from him going up the hill to the night before. You always seem to be good with pacing.

    I’m curious, as I am with Daisy’s book…do you find it hard to write a male character?


  2. Well, Oli, my friends actually jokingly call the book Halfback Mountain. I didn’t find it difficult to go male, but then I cheated. Noel likes men. I like men. We’re not too different.

  3. so engaging! i’m looking forward to reading the rest soon.

  4. …so is there that much between the sexes?

    I don’t know, a lot of female authors use male characters or protags…not all, but it seems common…why? I guess with your one it makes sense, but, if she’s reading this, why did Daisy choose to write Babylon with a Daniel and not a Danielle? Not a criticism, just curious…

    Also, I read ‘Wise Blood’ by Flan O Connor and her main character was male, but hung up on religion, salvation etc…at least, I think he was…he didn’t seem to have much of a sexual side to him, or an animal side…so i wonder if she just hung the theme on him and didn’t try to ‘write a man’…

    Also x2…I’ve tried to write female characters…and i’ve never tried to write them as women…is this a mistake?


  5. is it really a big deal to write characters of other sexes? i don’t think twice about it. i guess you could get all frederic lacan and make it like a female author is garnering power in writing as male; or not. but there are so many other broader cultural gaps, among many, that are a bigger leap than just sex alone.
    marcella writes it seamlessly!

  6. Thanks, lads. You know, I’m thinking (and I don’t want to sound sexist) that maybe it easier for females to write males than vice versa. Because to sound convincingly male, all you have to do is make your character seem a bit distant and vaguely surprised when an action has consequences. I think male characters are allowed to do things that female characters aren’t (as far as stereotypes go). A male character is allowed to be distant without explanation, but a female character is expected to redeem herself by being vulnerable.

    • Lovely to see you being your uncontroversial self there, Marcella :). The biggest compliment I’ve ever been paid was last month when Erica Friedman, CEO of Yuricon, the lesbian manga publisher, reviewed Songs and said I’d got Sandrine spot on as a teenage girl. It shouldn’t be difficult for male writers to do vulnerable – a writer who can’t make THEMSELVES vulnerable – of either gender – isn’t really good for much. So they should be able to do it for their characters.

    • wow, marcella you totally nailed it. i don’t think it’s controversial at all to be, well, truthful, right? of course there are sensitive, heartfelt men who communicate and are in touch with their feelings. (sobs.) but most aren’t. it’s that tension with women that makes for so many bad romance stories. it would be totally unbelieveable for a female character to have male emotional tendencies. i just wouldn’t buy it.
      fantastic insight.

      • Dan, I agree that your teenage lesbian was spot on. It read like you weren’t trying too hard to go for vulnerable.

        Jenn, the whole distant male/vulnerable female stereotype annoys me a little bit. Which is why I find the stories on year zero so refreshing. I like writers here sometimes write women who are just as emotionally stunted as the male stereotype and men who are vulnerable.

  7. Marcella: Every time I read something that you’ve written, I forget that I’m reading. All the boundaries between me and the story fall away. It’s amazing.

    Oli: I always forget Flannery was a woman. I always refer to her as “he” or “him.” Telling? I’ve never been able to write women. Never have and never will. I remember when I was a kid, I kept going into the men’s bathrooms in restaurants. I just felt weird in the ladies loo. I should probably stop there, before I get too weird and stuff. But, re:writing, I think it comes from the fact that I’m almost always disengaged emotionally, and women are very much in the moment of their feelings. Not something I could even begin to understand.

    • Ha, strangely enough, Daisy, when I was a small child, I had to go to a therapist about my “gender identity” issues. Basically, I told a teacher that I wanted to play football professionally when I grew up. When I was told that only boys play football, I cut my hair off and told everyone my name was Marc.

      When I was younger, I also refused to write female characters. Because I grew up reading books where boys like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer went on adventures and girls aspired to babysit with their friends, I had no interest in female characters. I thought that the narrative voice in my head was male because I wanted to do “male” things.

      Just for the craic, you should take a short story you’ve written and change the protagonist over to female. Don’t change anything about her behaviour or thoughts, just give her a physical sex change. I bet the result would be damned interesting. Personally, I would love to read about an emotionally distant female conversing with crack heads and having macho friendships.

  8. Jenn – yeah, it’s not that big an issue, but it’s been in my head for a while now. Today I was trying to think of male authors who had written female characters and what kind of characters they were. Can’t think of many…Clarice Starling in ‘Lambs’…and she was a masculine woman in a man’s world…need more examples, I think…

    Marcella – i agree, a little. Men seem to be easier to write. But maybe it seems like more of a gap because more women have writeen male characters than vice-versa [is that true?]…so if a man writes a woman then he’s under greater scrutiny? Also, the Lacan factor…if women see it as empowering to write as males then they might also feel a sense of invasion if men tried to write them…? I guess it’s true that this was probably more of an issue a long time ago…now, it’s probably race more than gender that is discussed…

    oh yeah, I have no evidence for this, I never do…just my thoughts.


    • Oli, Lady Chatterly’s Lover had a convincing female lead written by a male.

      • Yeah, that’s a good one.

        I’ve just thought, Ibsen’s Dollhouse too.

        Both women’s lib books? So, as neither Lawrence nor Ibsen were women, did they just wear the theme to write it?

        I don’t know, I just looked at that last sentence and I’ve forgotten what I’m trying to say…i need to think about this more…

        I liked your idea about changing the sex of the protag in one of our stories…i wonder…’Benetta Platonov’??


  9. Daisy – when i read your interview, i had to wiki Flannery to check she was still a woman, ha.

    I like your male character…but i wouldn’t call him male…in the parts I’ve read he comes across as almost sex-less…which is understandable as he’s got a lot of other things to deal with…in this respect, he was very similar to Hazel Motes in Wise Blood. And I’m glad of this, as I find it condescending to hear the usual shit of men ‘think about sex every seven seconds’…not when they’re schizophrenic they don’t!

    I think your Daniel serves as an exmaple maybe of what i was trying to say before…it feels like you’ve written the character as a struggle or theme, and not a man…does that make sense?

    Quick question for you and Marcella [sorry, I’m probably pissing you off but this is really interesting to me today]: when you edited did you try and masculinize your characters more or did you not think about it?


    • I was in a real male mindset when I wrote Black Laces as I was hanging out with a gang of young footballers. I didn’t edit for maleness, but I did try and edit myself out wherever I accidentaly appeared in the book.

  10. Loved it. It’s very good to see your work here Marcella, receiving some of the attention it deserves.

  11. Love that last line.
    Michel Faber gives good girl in ‘The Crimson Petal & the White’.


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