"Roots", by Erinn Geraghty
She had never really left home. A thick tendril, like a wintery root, still connected her soul to the lushness of Irish soil. The root shied away from London suburbia as though the ground were dashed with lime.
This tendril, a callous of greying bark wrapped around a quivering string of raw green yearning, was not a healthy one. It was a weed that strangled her with memories and ideas of how much better life would have been if she’d never left home.
It tethered her to a man who liked her little, and loved her less. Each child she bore was a thorn in her sole, a sharp shock with every step she took. A searing pain that prevented her from starting the journey back. Over time, the root wound its way around her children’s throats so tightly that each bore a heavy red weal, but it did not take them.
Eventually, the children fled, and the thorns of responsibility were rejected by her body at last. But left in their wake were soft pink voids, and the root etched its way into her. Each year it grew, fed well on regret and longing. It pulled her back, so hard that she stumbled through life, so hard that sometimes it was all she could do not to fall to her knees with the force.
The root wormed its way behind her eyes, so all reflected in them seemed pale and lacklustre. It ravaged her olfactory senses, so everything smelled stale and rancid. It writhed its way to her chest and constricted her heart, so it was emaciated and sickly. It grew into her bones, drew the marrow from them so they became powdery and brittle.
Never did it let go. It grew on, spiny branches impaling her mind, and fat bitter buds swelling in her soul.
The weed was a parasitic skeleton, and she was simply the flesh glove that encased it. So virulent was its growth that it totally ravaged her body. Her floury bones ached too much, the weakened heart was failing, and always she was too fragile to go home. Yet she clung to impotent hope - she would say; soon. She would say; when I’m feeling better. She would say; next year. And the root of regret became fatter, safe in the knowledge that she would never be at peace now, and so it would always have a host.
The sapling root became a tree which consumed her completely with its sole intention, a yearning infection. It was so powerful that it exuded a poisonous aura that withered any other seedlings around, obliterating gentle spring bulbs that would have blossomed within her a fresher kind of feeling. It eliminated plants that would have lain down roots where she stood, that would have extended fragrant fronds outwards and been alluring in their beauty, so that those around her would have been drawn in. But there was no room left within her now.
And it was not till death was almost upon her that the insidious root shrunk back, and allowed its tendrils to creep out and find another host. It did not need her any more.
All that was left was a shell, a vacancy. And it was only then, when her eyes refocused, that she truly saw her children, who were with her but apart from her too. The hollow chamber the parasitic weed had left behind now echoed with their loss. It reverberated around her in a never-ceasing cacophony, thrumming her atrophied heart every time it bounded past. And she saw - too late - how cruel the root had been, how it had deafened her with its siren song and drowned out everything else. For so long the singular thread of remorse been part of her, for so long she had strove for a home that wasn’t even there any more, she had neglected the rich soil that surrounded her, until it become a sour grit.
She should have sowed something better.
Blank faces surrounded her.
Winner, 2nd prize, While There's Still Time: Writing about putting things right
About the author
Erinn Geraghty was born in London and moved to Ireland ten years ago. She is currently a First Year Arts student studying English, Psychology, Philosophy and Sociology at NUI Galway. From a young age, she has always enjoyed making up stories, poems and plays, and the writing bug sank its teeth in again after she won second place in a local poetry competition. She hopes to start working on a novel next summer.