Featured Story

Fiona Malone’s Fesh

By Veronica Jorge

Fiona Malone spit on a corner of her shawl and wiped at the murky mirror. “Well now, truth be told, the Malone fair looks bypassed me.” She picked up a small statue of Saint Anthony. “And you’ll be saying it’s nothing to do with you, I’m sure.” She set the icon back on the dresser… upside down. “You’ll stay that way ‘till you make it your business and throw a wee blessing my way.”

Fiona smoothed the wrinkles in her blouse, but they found their way onto her forehead, already creased with worry, as she fussed over her appearance and mumbled. “Rent past due and me with no money. The owner out of patience and threatening to thrust me out onto the street. And cursed with a name through no fault of me own.”

Fiona tugged at her dress, too tight at the hip, and pulled her shawl about her. “At least I’ve been endowed in the right places.” She stuffed her wiry hair under her green felt cap, latched the cabin door, and set out.

She lugged her catch to sell at market, her wheelbarrow and her buttocks bouncing across the wooden bridge.  “Luck of the Irish.  Whoever came up with that fairy story? I’d be happy with selling all ma fish today. Ahh, and maybe find a fine man to cook for.” She sighed. “But who would want the likes of me?”

A sound interrupted her soliloquy.

Thuh thump, thuh thump, thuh thump . . .

Fiona rushed a sign of the cross over herself. “Saints preserve us!”

She considered that the sound could only be that of Molly’s wheelbarrow.  Yes. That Molly. The Molly Malone who died of a fever because no one could save her; Fiona’s great-grandmother. Thanks to that legacy, most of the townspeople shied away from her. It didn’t matter that she was hearty and healthy, and that medicines easily cured fevers and sickness nowadays if anyone did take ill.

“Anyone in their right mind knows you can’t inherit a fever. But like mother always said, God rest her soul, ‘People like to believe the worst about others.’ ”

Fiona encouraged herself. “The Good Book says there’s no communication twixt the living and the dead.” She decided to address Granny directly and remind her. “I love you, Great Granny, but you go on now to your eternal rest. I appreciate your wanting to look after me, but it’s best you go back up to heaven. It wouldn’t be right for you to be breaking the rules. I’ll be fine, Great Gran. You go on now. Me love to all the Malones.”

Fiona signed herself again for good measure, placed her hand over her heart, and spun around. “Oh, my goodness. ‘Tis only Mr. Pippin and his wooden leg.” She stamped out the perspiration on her face with her shawl and laughed at herself.

“Good day to ye, Mr. Pippin.  How goes it?”

He answered not a word and thumped past her, grumbling and cursing under his breath as was his custom.

“Poor dear. Lost his right leg to a mangy dog. Pain might be easier to bear if he had lost it to bravery for a nobler cause. Tsk. Tsk.”

Fiona’s barrow creaked over the cobblestones. Some sellers crowded her out, afraid of the bad luck she might be carrying.

“Oh, Mother Mary,” pleaded Fiona, “have mercy on me poor soul. Your blessed self knows what it’s like to be ill thought of with tongues wagging all day about ye.”

Others made a bit of room, so she wouldn’t be offended and have a mind to toss any bad luck, or a curse, their way. Sometimes a compassionate customer bought from her. But alas, her fish fed mostly her and the stray cats.

“Only fault of the Malone women is being too trusting,” she muttered. “That’s our problem. Easily carried away by soft-spoken words and what turn out to be empty promises. The good-for-nothings had their way with my great gran down to me own mum, leaving our women alone and with child. Malone, Malone. Always alone. Oh, Mary if only your grace would change me fate and me name!”

Fiona arranged her fish. “Plump up, me beauties. You must look your best today so you’ll be taken to good homes. It would break me heart to see you rotting, laying out on the street beside me.”

“Fesh! Fesh!” cried Fiona.

No one drew near today.

“Fesh!  Fresh fesh!”

The day wore on.

No one bought.

Fiona twisted the fringe of her shawl around her finger and looked up to heaven. “Saint Anthony, I’m sorry I turned you upside down. Your head must be aching as much as me own. Forgive me. Please Mary, intercede for me with your precious child. Don’t let me be cast out of me home.” Under her breath, she whispered, “Oh, Jaysus, help me.”

Fiona’s hoarse voice, choked with tears, croaked out anew, “Fesh! Fesh! Fresh Fesh!”  

“Is it now?” asked a stranger.

“Indeed it ‘tis,” her trembling voice answered. “Caught by me own dear self.” Fiona squared her body, trying to stop the nervous shaking, and set her hands on her wide hips.

The man eyed her.

Fiona crossed her arms over her breast. “As fresh as your roving eyes. Now away with you. It’s only fish we’ll be selling here.”

“Forgive me, darlin’.  But you’re a fine catch indeed.”

Fiona picked up a herring and threatened to hurl it at him.

The stranger backed up. “No offense intended, I promise you.”

“Hmpf!”

“Will you give us a smile so we’ll know we’re forgiven?” His eyes glistened with warmth and merriment.

Fiona smiled.

“You’re quite a beauty.”

“Go on with you now. Enough of your teasin’.”

“’Tis truth I’m speaking. Have you never been told you’re fair?”

Fiona blushed and fussed with the hair strand peeking out from under her cap.

The stranger clapped his hands. “Now to business,” he said, and pointed to the fish. “How much for the heap?”

“In earnest?”

“As sure as my name is James Hugh Callahan.”

The fish kept slipping out of Fiona’s hands. The paper wrapping alternately wrinkled and ripped.

Mr. Callahan extended his hand to pay her.

Fiona examined his nails, clean and trimmed, and the bulging veins of his strong hands. She kept her own hands at her sides. “Place the money on the cart.”

“As you wish. I’ll look forward to buying fish from you again.” He tipped his hat. “And seeing you again.” He winked and parted.

Fiona’s fingers fumbled picking up the coins. She folded them into a cloth, tucked them into her bosom, and patted her chest. Hands folded she closed her eyes and said, “Thank you, sweet Jaysus, Mary, and Joseph . . . and you too Saint Anthony.”

The squeaky wheels from Fiona’s wheelbarrow sang all the way home.

Her dreams skipped beside her. “Said I’m a beauty, he did. Longing to see me again, he is. Fiona Callahan,” she mused.

“Don’t be fallin’ into the trap of sweet words like your kin afore ye,” her conscience chided.

Fiona set down the wheelbarrow. She spread her hand and held it up in front of her. “I’ll not be givin’ me heart nor me body to anyone won’t warm up me finger with a smart gold wedding band.” She shook the thought out of her head. “Marriage? Mrs. Callahan? That would be too much to hope for. Or would it?” she giggled.

Stepping into the cottage, Fiona ran to her dresser. She picked up the statue of Saint Anthony and kissed it. Fiona stood him upright in his usual place pushing aside her hair brush and tweezers to give him extra room.


Top 10 Things I Love About Books

  1. I can visit new places without ever leaving home (which helps when you don’t have the time or the money for a trip).
  2. The taste of words that touch all of my senses and emotions.
  3. The pictures that books form in my mind and make me want to learn to paint, which leads to my ever growing list of books to read, and new things to learn. (Audible longing sigh.)
  4. Collecting the multicultural parts of me from around the world, like a jigsaw puzzle, and piecing myself together.
  5. Discovering hidden parts of myself and the heart of others.
  6. Growing to love new characters.
  7. Making friends of fellow readers and writers across the globe.
  8. The wonder of stories to connect us and show us who we are.
  9. Like the hummingbird that can fly backward, delving into the past to make sense of the present.
  10. And last, but not least.  Wait for it.  Drum roll please. The power of words to change the world!

Veronica Jorge is a Manager, Educator, and former High School Social Studies teacher. She credits her love of reading and writing to the potpourri of cultures that make up her own life and to her upbringing in diverse Brooklyn, NY.  Her work-in-progress, a young adult novel based on a search into her ethnic roots, explores identity, belonging, and self-discovery. Her genres of choice are historical fiction, where she always makes new discoveries; literary works because she loves beautiful writing, and children’s picture books because there are so many wonderful worlds yet to be imagined and visited. She currently resides in Macungie, PA, but she’s still a Brooklyn girl at heart. How sweet it is!

Veronica Jorge

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