Mary O’Donoghue speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her story “Safety Advice for Staying Indoors,” which appears in The Common’s fall issue. Mary talks about crafting a story that explores two points of view within the same Irish family, both stuck inside during a strong storm, both coping with loss. She also discusses her work translating Irish-language poets, her interest in stories that require the reader to connect their own dots, and what it’s like to edit fiction for AGNI while writing her own short stories, too.
Podcast: Mary O’Donoghue on “Safety Advice for Staying Indoors”
The farmer’s daughter began her fifth period, more excavating, more mortal than the previous. The toilet under the stairs flushed half-heartedly, returning red-brown effluent. Go down, go away, be off to the underworld! She pumped a second time, jangled the handle to make her point. But there would be more. Dark clumps and entrails, another six days of the end of the world.
Before I left to study abroad in Galway, Ireland, in the winter of 2020, I’d stumbled upon a lively online discussion amongst first-generation, Black Irish immigrants. From the comfort of my bedroom, I came upon a comment that stuck with me for quite some time: I have never experienced outright racism here, an anonymous poster said. It’s because the racists here are cowards. They will never say anything to your face.
On my final day in Derry, a city barely inside the northwest edge of Northern Ireland, I hired a taxi to drive me past the city’s boundaries and across the United Kingdom’s border. Through the window, the Republic of Ireland was all endless rows of barley like coiled rosary beads. I wanted to see the Grianan of Aileach, a stone ringfort originally built almost fifteen hundred years ago by the Celtic king who then ruled Donegal’s hills.
Outside the window I could hear men calling out to one another, stumbling up the street. Night, so!Safe home! Someone started singing. Then the baby stirred and the living room door clicked shut again. This time my husband heard it too. He got up, switched on the lights, checked that the apartment was locked (it was), and then turned off the lights and came back to bed. Soon he was fast asleep.
My 39th birthday was spent in the airport, but walking down Herengracht I thought, “Happy Birthday.” Not too excited being here. Looks like just another New York City to me. Of course, it’s dark. We’ll see what daylight brings.
Extracts from the Ridiculous American: A Just Plain Strange One-Sided Correspondence