Irish Balderdash: Nenagh Bridge


nce upon a time, there was a young woman named Nenagh, who wished for romance.  Every night, she left her village, stood by the lake, and wished for adventure, for a new world, for a searing embrace.  One evening, she found a pure white lily floating on the surface, and she reached for it.  A selkie erupted from the water, grabbed Nenagh in his arms, and pulled her beneath the waves to his home.  Where she disappeared, a bridge bloomed from the ground, and so the town was named in honor of her passion, and his magic.

by Emily Markussen Sorsher

Irish Balderdash: Roscrea


n idyllic town, Roscrea is the hidden jewel of Ireland.  It was home to a convent, built in the medieval era for nuns who vowed to sing at all hours of the day.  They sang to the plants, which grew massive and fed the village.  They sang to the lace they crocheted, which shone like pearls and brought in money to expand the building’s walls.  After the war, the convent was abandoned, but if you stand at its doors, you can still hear the music, and it will lift your soul out of the puddles and into the sky.

by Emily Markussen Sorsher

The Institution


he likes to watch them.  The skaters, I mean.  Every year I bring her a Christmas card with skaters on it, to remind her how much she looks forward to this scene.  Little girls in wool stockings and gangly boys with snowballs behind their backs – Father used to wait by the edge of the pond when we skated.  I know she remembers.  She doesn’t say so, but she does.

We got lucky, my sister and I.  When she came here they only had one open room, and it had a view of the hill and the pond below.  We would never have been able to afford it, but they hate to move patients once they’ve gotten into a routine, so she stayed.  Nearly ten years now.  I know she watches the outside world from here, like the princesses in the fairy tales she used to read to me when we were young.  Now she is the damsel in distress, here in the castle tower, waiting for Prince Charming.  Or maybe not.  He’s the one who put her in here in the first place.

A few times a year we go out to pick daisies on the hillside, or walk past the trees.  I tell her stories of Johnny Appleseed and she looks at me with insect eyes and nods solemnly.  The drugs don’t let her smile anymore.  She used to try, so they upped the dosage.  They said smiling made her unhappy.  And she was.  Smiling reminded her of everything she used to be, and would never be again.  That’s why she needed restraints…but she’s better now.  Now she can work on her painting, and her pottery.  They even sell some of her projects in the shops downtown, though of course she doesn’t know that.  The profits help fund the institution – if she’d found her talents earlier, she might have gone in a different direction.  But she had been a princess even then.  Married her prince, wore her gown, had a beautiful little girl of her own.  And then her palace shifted, and she began to fall.

There are sisters like us down on the ice right now.  I see them holding hands, shrieking at friends, whispering secrets into cherry red ears.  I wonder how many of them will watch their sister, their big sister who was the star of the stage and the belle of the ball, come apart at the scenes.  Whether the first drunken evening will register as a true problem, or whether they, too, will excuse it as a mistake.  Whether they will find their baby niece on the doorstep with a note saying “I can’t”.  Whether they will see the manic smile on sis’s face when she waves goodbye to the husband she once adored.  Oh, how she laughed.  Her ecstasy was contagious, it always had been.  But the character of it changed.  Men came and went, her daughter forgotten to my care, her bills unceremoniously shredded with careful fingers and placed in the flower beds.  The neighbors finally contacted her husband – she was lowering property value in the neighborhood.  No one knows how low values can go in situations like these.

Exasperated and embarrassed, he had taken her straight to the Northampton State Mental Hospital, and then telephoned the family.  There had been no divorce.  He was within his rights, as he constantly reminded us.  He sent no Christmas cards, and did not visit.  It was just as well.  It was best if nothing upset her.

I watch my niece glide quietly over the rough ice.  The other children avoid her, and she’s used to that.  Despite my best efforts to familiarize her with her peers, she already shows signs of the illness.  A bad example, set when she was just a baby, indelibly inked onto her spirit.  The family wonders what will happen to her when the episodes arrive.  Perhaps a bedroom next to her mother.

They do not recognize each other.  My sister watches the skaters from the safety of her room, and even if we were on the shore of the pond, she would not know her child.  But even from this distance, I can hear the girls’ tiny giggle, slowly evolving into a laugh as she spins in circles, tighter and tighter.  Her shout carries into the institution’s walls.  For a moment, I think my sister’s eyes show her old intelligence, her daring, the spark of a kindred spirit nearby.  And then the narcotic cobwebs descend, and she turns to her finger paints.  The expressionless faces on the Christmas card mirror the recipient’s own empty eyes.  Below, the child with the demonic grin keeps laughing.

* * * * *

This story is one of a series of works inspired by the Smithsonian Institution’s photo archive, made publicly available on Flickr. If you would like to, choose an image from their collection and create something – be it prose, poetry, audio, or visual art – inspired by it, and send it to snakeoilcure [at] gmail [dot] com.

100 Words: Feet First

baby, soft and daring, waiting on a precipice.  In it for the danger, the challenge.  Carefully he pulls himself up, grasping the crib to support his wobbly body.  Step one, accomplished.  He is finally tall enough to throw his leg over the infernal cage where his parents confine him.  One chubby calf at a time, he maneuvers himself over the top, towards freedom.  Step two.  He hangs, toes dangling twelve inches from the carpet that will cushion his inevitable crash.  He lets go, drops heavily, rolls over, and giggles.  His father watches silently from the door, grinning unabashedly.

by Emily Markussen Sorsher


ossibly, there was not enough coffee in the world to get her through this night.  Certainly, there was not enough of it in her cup.  But she knew that if she left her carrel at the library there would be no hope of return.  In the Campus Center, friends had finished finals, or were ignoring the fact of their existence.  Her only hope of avoiding a party was to stay here, insulated and low on caffeine.

Amanda re-read the sentence for the fourteenth time.  It skimmed the surface of her brain but left no lasting impression.  She went on to the next one anyway.  And the next.  And the next.  Minutes burned by as students one by one accepted their defeat and headed for the door.  Finally, she was alone.

An experimental shake of the head.  Still functioning.  Absentmindedly she took a drink from her empty cup, and spat out coffee grounds and stale milk.  Amanda gagged slightly.  In the background, a low chuckle.  Slow shivers down her spine…wasn’t she the last one there?  Her rational mind’s voice floated through her head, telling her to stop be silly and get back to studying.  Deep breath.  Best to stand and stretch, just in case.  She turned three hundred and sixty degrees, just to be sure.  Alone.  As she had mostly expected.

She had to finish her review.  She sat down, trying not to look over her shoulder but not entirely succeeding.  Her eyes caught a flit of movement.  Frantic, Amanda jumped up, and turned around again – still nothing.  “Hello?”  No response.  Of course not.  She wavered between checking the stacks where the air had moved, and heading straight for the exit.  Bravery or idiocy won.  She walked in what she hoped was a nonchalant manner over to the blue volumes of European history and early Communist theory, looking out of the corner of her eye down each aisle.  Nothing.  Nothing.  Nothing…what was that?

In the middle of the third aisle was a sodden patch of carpet.  Gross, thought Amanda, even as her feet carried her in that direction.  It didn’t smell like anything.  She knelt down next to it, stuck her finger on the edge of the wetness.  The liquid was slightly greasy, and a very dark red.  She gasped.  The lights went out.

She wasn’t sure if the cackle she heard next truly emanated from the next aisle, or whether it was all in her head.  Amanda ran with both hands out back to the end of the aisle and dashed to the door marked “Exit” in radioactive green.  Her bag, notes, and empty coffee cup were forgotten.  Tears streamed down her face as she told herself what a coward she was.  She did not look back.

On the floor of the stacks, next to red bottle, her literature professor passed a joint to his colleague and giggled convulsively.  “Undergrads are so easy,” he wheezed.

The White Dress

he had been waiting her whole life for the white dress. For years, she had planned the meal that she would eat, the song that she would dance to, the women who would envy her when she wore that dress. Once, in high school, it was short, fluffy, with cap sleeves and a bow in the back. That was short lived. In college, it was long and gauzy, completed by bell sleeves and a corset back. She wanted to look like one of Tolkien’s elves, recently materialized from the mist over a lake. Ethereal in the afternoon sun. But she didn’t have the hair for it. So usually, it was a princess-style ball gown, with jewels aplenty and a tiara on top. Every little girl dreamed of being a princess, just for one day.

Her mother had spent years considering this as well. Nothing too gaudy, nothing too ostentatious. Mother was a practical woman. And Mother was paying. So she chose simple things, without flounces or buttons or lace, with minimal rhinestones in favor of pearls. No train. Trains made her look silly. That dress is not right for this occasion. You can’t wear that. Honestly, what will the neighbors think? Be realistic. This isn’t a royal wedding, you know.

er grandmother had no strong opinions on the matter. But that white was the wrong white. White had looked different when she was younger. This white hurt her eyes. What about something with pleats? Don’t they have anything with sleeves? Well, back when she was young, they wouldn’t have worn anything like that. But I guess that’s the style these days. A heavy sigh, a shake of the head, a shrug of disenchantment and disappointment. Whatever you like, dear. I don’t have much to say about it.

Her sister rolled her eyes and glared at her. You know, this was really draining, having to watch her try on all these dresses. She wouldn’t care that much. It was just a dress, after all. Must you always be the center of attention? Little miss pretty pretty princess? Everyone is doing all this work just for you. Don’t you care about how hard this is on the rest of us? Whatever. You’re so selfish.

Her best friends told her to be true to herself. Here, this is the one you used to like. Don’t let your family talk you out of it. You love it. Why are you changing your mind? It’s your day, you know. You should get what you want. Pay for it yourself, if you have to. You can always make up the difference someplace else. You have to choose something. Do what makes you happy. This will make you happy.

The men stayed out of it. This was wise. Her father’s opinion was somehow communicated through her mother, though he professed not to have one. This just meant Mother got an extra vote.

A suitable dress was found. Of course it would need changing. A different neckline. Different shoes. Different accessories, and different hair. Honestly, honey, it’s not that difficult – a four hour drive for alterations, breaking in three pairs of shoes, finding earrings that matched for under $20. Simple things, to look perfect on your special day.

Oh my. Turn, pause, turn the other way. Can you move? Can you sit? Well, you won’t be sitting, anyway. Can you breathe? Let’s try it with a different veil. A tiara? Well, it’s your decision.

On the day of her wedding she was her mother’s delight, her grandmother’s pride, her sister’s best friend – everyone’s porcelain doll. They were all so proud of her. It wasn’t clear why. She smiled until her cheeks hurt, said hello to all of the right people, held her flowers just so, said I do. She didn’t feel like herself at all.


omen are supposed to like flowers. Something about the fragile petals, the soft colors, the innocence of their beauty.  Silent, weak, unprotected, unassuming. Their thorns have been removed. Sometimes they’ve been specially bred to have no thorns, no prickly leaves, no unpleasant odor. This makes everything a bit easier.

He brings her flowers. Of course he does. It’s what men are supposed to do, after all. They have no stamens and no pistils, these sexless flowers. They come wrapped in noisy cellophane with a bar code, taking them out of the timeless romance and into the local supermarket. Her girlfriends are all jealous of her good fortune. Flowers, chocolates. Nice restaurants where the cocktails are made of exotic fruits and strange liquors. What a catch he is. And he asks for so little in return. Wear this ring, and be mine. I promise to take care of you.

It’s a temptation. She isn’t particularly keen on bills, errands, money, what will happen to her after she falls down, or gets old, or both. The flowers mean that none of this is her concern. She is taken care of. Her time can be spent  arranging roses in crystal vases. Making sure they’re comfortable. She can quit her job, if she likes. She can spend more time at home, in the garden, making sure all of the flowers are just so. He knows this makes her happy.

he leaves a patch of weeds in the back, letting them grow wild. It’s a perverse desire to have them choke out all the  pretty pink impatiens, the geraniums, the gardenias. It’s not so large anyone would notice. She’s hidden it carefully, so the neighbors won’t know. And he would never see it, anyway. He doesn’t notice the garden, though he crosses through it every morning on his way to work, and every evening when he comes home to a hot dinner and a warm wife.

The space is temporary, given over to plants that inevitably shrivel up and die, leaving the scent of decay and translucent brown petals on the ground. It is an endless pit of wasted funds, new bulbs for new seasons, new bushes, new trees, every month a new addition when the old blossoms wither and die. Their time is transient – they aren’t really worth all the effort, but they are all the more gorgeous for being insubstantial. She throws them sullenly into a vase on the counter.

She never liked flowers. She was only in it for the chocolate.