The kids were off, see, it was the goddamn summer break, and back then the house was too small for us: Linda was pulling down double shifts at the haberdashery to break the worst of the car loan, and I’d been between jobs awhile, so it was me on duty at home. That was the year I was working towards baptism, so the TV was tuned to The Word on channel 423 and the Lord was coming to me via these blasts of static down the aerial—I had head-aches, stomach-aches, heart-aches like nobody’s business and shouting in tongues gave me some relief. But it weren’t just me and the Savior—I had all four of the kids bitching and bawling, choking on LEGO, feeding raisins and slug pellets to the dog. As the preacher said, the situation weren’t sustainable. Two weeks in, I said to the boys no, I said fuck this shit, I switched off the gospels and slapped their backsides until they got into the car and I drove them to the river and I said get in. They said no. I said you get in or help me God I’ll call your Ma and I’ll tell her what you done to Miss Lady Fluff back in that kitchen. You get your stupid mother-fucking arses saved. So in they got, Jake who was ten and the twins and baby Ivor, only four. Repent, I said, repent for fuck’s sake, tell the Lord Jesus you want to be good or I’ll give you what you done gave that dog. Ivor said, me Daddy my turn so I dunked him and he came up like a fish, the mouth going paw-paw-paw it’s cold. It was, too. Then the twins went down, only I lost hold of Francis and when I went to grab him from getting swept off, I lost hold of Robby and then Jake leapt in and the two of them went whoosh around the bend in the shore. Oh God oh fucking Jesus, I shouted, and I waded after them, and Ivor was screaming on the bank and when I reached them Jake had Robby out on the pebbles. I pushed him off. Robby looked like an old doll tossed out a car window. I knelt down and prayed. I prayed and God said what the fuck Al I’m trying to do fifty million things here already. I got up and ran back to the car but there wasn’t anything to help in there and when I ran back again Jake was doing punching his brother’s chest like on a cartoon emergency and then Robby sat up. Jake was crying. Ivor started crying and I said fuck’s sake and he said where’s Francis. Well, shit. They got divers and nets and scanning machines but no joy. Days and months going past and me standing there on the bank like some Johnnie Doe Useless until the detective goes shit Al, get you on home, son. Only by then Linda had done quit on me too: she’d took the kids down to her crack-head sister’s trailer behind the IHOP. Now Jake’s in business with his cousin Joey and Youth Services have his number. Linda still calls me up Saturdays. She says go to church you son of a bitch and ask forgiveness and I done tried that but how do I know what’s forgiveness? Ivor works in the whipped cream factory these days and he says I need to get out of the house because it’s too big for one old man, and maybe next week I will.
Valerie O’Riordan‘s stories have appeared in The Lonely Crowd, LitMag, Fugue, Sou’wester, Litro and other publications. She received her PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester, where she worked as fiction editor of The Manchester Review. These days she is Senior Editor at The Forge Literary Magazine and a member of The Fiction Forge, an international writing collective.