Once Upon a Prison Metal Time…. They feed you fairy tales with breast milk or formula. It is all formula. Little girls are really princesses waiting for handsome princes or princesses to kiss them better; whisk them off to their perfect lives. Your mother says your expectations are so high you’ll never find a prince to keep you in the style to which you are accustomed. At that moment you decide to keep yourself in the family style and better. Subscribe to a punitive regime of work and savings. Live in your new home with no floor coverings while you save for a kitchen linoleum. Delight in its arrival so much you roll on it (alone) all evening. Sleep in a thirty-year-old bed until you can buy your own. Write long letters for years (the only pastime you can afford) on borrowed furniture in the sitting room where voices echo. The fairy tale says your parents love you, do everything they can to care for you. They will not let you bleed all night from a botched tonsillectomy although the doctor lives at the end of the cul-de-sac. Then, the prison metal bed in a red tiled hospital handcuffed to a bag of blood, abandoned, bewildered. Punished? You get lots of presents, drink one-handedly from a babies feeding cup although you are seven, left alone after visiting hours with other imprisoned children, scabbed and burned, cuffed to hanging bags beside their prison metal beds and prison metal cots. That first bath afterwards turns terrifyingly red while the nurse’s aide who bathes you says “It’s ok.” When you get home, you are handed to the Home Help. A little whisper, “They nearly lost you.” The fairy tale says the charming prince will come and make it better. You long for the apprentice-turned-managing-director you haven’t dreamed of who works to treasure and look after you, just as you do him. Your heart is ripped out when the boy next door holds hands with the girl from down the parks. Even Cinderella got to go to the ball. For the first time in your life in the absence of a fairy godmother, you arrange to go to a ball (and buy the simplest of ball gowns with your own sparse bobs). Your mother is amazed you are so happy. So happy, yet with a certain pecuniary sense, you stash plastic boxes of cold sausages, bread rolls, tomatoes and a bottle of cheap red wine behind the couch in the Trinity common room to sustain you and your prince for the night and see the sun rise over Howth. You walk home wearing his tuxedo. You kiss a lot of toads. You find a prince with a silk cravat to share your style now fully floored and freshly furnished. Your mother says she has been saying novenas on her knees for you, for decades. You wake up in a nightmare. Your mother says she knew from the beginning he was wrong but “What God has joined together let no woman pull asunder”. All those fairy tales end in happy ever after. Well into the second half of your life you know that Happy Ever After is Total F*@king Bunkum. You know your own children don’t believe you did enough for them though you scoured the kingdom for their gowns and finery. Spent their hospital nights beside them on prison cold floors. Like the three little pigs (although you only have two surviving children) they have to build their own houses now, with their own princesses. The wolves will huff and puff. Walls will topple. Foundations will shudder.
Denise Garvey directs a Maths and English study centre in Galway, Ireland. She has performed her poetry at several Irish Poetry festivals, and featured in an Irish Times review of performance poetry. Her work has featured in THE SHOp anthology of Poetry, New Irish Writing (Irish Times), Skylight magazine and Happiness is Vital. She is working towards her first collection.
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