The Big Issue Short Story Competition

The winner of The Big Issue ( is Annie Kilmartin from Co. Wicklow, Ireland.  Her prize is a three-night retreat.  Her winning story is entitled “Facey Clifford.”  I am looking forward to meeting Annie and learning more about her writing when she comes to work at Anam Cara.

“Facey Clifford”

Everybody loved Facey Clifford. It was only strangers who reacted badly, mostly they just looked away, but sometimes they would spit on her. One time, on our way to school a woman threw holy water over Facey’s head, so Magso Murphy, who suffered from bad wind, let off a volley of farts and the woman was never seen again. Children were different though; they would walk straight up to Facey and ask her why she looked so horrible.

“What happened to your face missus? It’s desperate looking!” And Facey would tell them she fell into a fire when she was only a baby.“Jaysus, that’s terrible missus. Did it hurt an awful lot?” And Facey would say that she couldn’t remember, but that it probably did.

One Hallowe’en, we all dressed up as Dracula and got a bus to a posh part of Dublin. Our mammies didn’t know we’d left the flats and would have killed us if they’d found out.  We hopped the 16a bus and arrived in full regalia to a place called Rathfarnham. “Help the Hallowe’en Party,” we roared at the top of our lungs. One lady gave us packets of Spangles, they were sweets you could only get in the North. I tasted them before because me Da brought them back after he was up there painting the side of a ship. Anyway, what was I saying about Halloween? Oh yeah, we had a great time in Rathfarnham and came back laden down with sweets and chocolate. Most of the poshies were very generous but when they didn’t cough up the good treats Facey took her mask off and frightened the bejasus out of them.

We had a great life when we were kids. Everyday we went to the Bayno for the free bun and cocoa, in the summer there was robbing the orchards and in the winter we snuck in the back of the DeLuxe cinema. Our childhood was short-lived though, because at 14 we had to work in the local biscuit factory. Some of us wanted to go to Secondary school but there was no free education and anyway our mammies needed help with the housekeeping money. The biscuit factory was terrible hard work and we dripped sweat in the heat of it. We had to be in by 6 in the morning and work straight through till the Angelus bell, with only half an hour for our dinner. Our wages were €3.50, we handed up €2.50 for our keep and the other pound was for sweets, cigarettes and the pictures. By the middle of the week there wouldn’t be much in the kitty so we’d all club together to send Facey off to the DeLuxe pictures. That way we got value for our money because Facey was brilliant at acting out the parts. She could even sing the songs if it happened to be a musical. One time she performed, ‘The Sound of Music’ and that was only on the dinner break.

Facey Clifford had a good life if we stayed local, but if we went further afield some people could be very disrespectful.  One Friday, we went to Bewley’s Café, we heard they had lovely coffee and we had never tasted coffee in our lives. We were just sitting down when a woman opposite jumped up and complained about the look of Facey. The manager listened to her complaint but instead of throwing us out he told her she was a right ignoramus and told her to leave the premises immediately. We all cheered when that happened, and then the manager (who was a fine thing) handed us the cakes she left behind, and said they were on the house. We ate half of them with our coffee (which was brutal) and then we wrapped the rest in serviettes and brought them home to our mammies.

It wasn’t too long before we all got married and went to live in the wilds of Crumlin, Walkinstown and Drimnagh. Facey fell in love with this lad from Marrowbow Lane called Tommo Deegan, but he was in love with Maisie McNally and when they tied the knot it was a sad day for Facey. Everyone settled well in their new homes and it wasn’t long before they had armies of children. Maisie and Tommo Deegan had 17. I only had the two so I stayed local and got me gran’s flat when she passed on. Facey never got married and we used to joke that she’d had a narrow escape, as Tommo Deegan must have been a bull in the bedroom to have fathered 17.

The years passed and life went on, Facey enjoyed her freedom while the rest of us were washing nappies and pushing prams. Every weekend, she was down the local telling jokes and singing Tom Jones. Facey was a great comedienne and won loads of trophies, which took pride of place on the Clifford’s mantelpiece. When Mr. And Mrs. Clifford died Facey was left an orphan, she had been their only child. They both died of dementia and Facey took care of them until they passed away. Over the next few years, all the mammies and daddies in the flats died, first the men, and then the women. The joke was that the women poisoned the men so they could go to the bingo every night. The truth was, they died from puffing on fifty a day, no one knew back then that smoking was lethal.

Anyway, what was I saying, yeah, after Facey was left an orphan, she took to the begging. I think the begging was just for something to do and because she loved talking to people. The local biscuit factory had closed down and Facey was on the disability, her lungs were in a terrible state after inhaling all that flour. She used to beg outside the Protestant church, she steered clear of the Catholic one because she knew the Parish priest (a creeping Jesus) would be out looking for his cut. All the locals would stop for a chat when they saw Facey begging, or to find out what was on in the cinema but when strangers stopped it was a different matter. Some of them were so horrified by Facey they gave her all their small change. One time, she even got a twenty-pound note from an American tourist. Facey would shake the can and say, “help the woman and her dog”. Her dog was a little mutt called ‘ Quick Draw McGraw,’ he was a tiny Jack Russell and could fit in the crook of her arm. He was called ‘Quick Draw’ because if he didn’t like the look of you he just cocked his leg, aimed and fired. Facey loved Quick Draw with all of her heart and when he went blind she wouldn’t hear of him being put down and carried him around in her shopping bag. Every weekend, the two of them went to the DeLuxe pictures, he even had his own seat beside her in the front row. When Quick Draw died, Facey was never the same again. She gave up the begging and even stopped going down the local; her heart wasn’t in it anymore. She still went to the pictures, but cut a lonely figure, sitting there without her Quick Draw McGraw.

Everyone was heartbroken the day Facey Clifford died. It was the woman from the St. Vincent de Paul who found her, sitting upright in her bed, she was only 47 years of age. She hadn’t been seen for a couple of days and her next-door neighbour got worried when she heard the same record playing over and over again. It seemed like Facey had been preparing for this occasion for some time because in the wardrobe was a skirt and blouse marked ‘funeral wear’ and her good shoes were polished and set by the door. On the mantelpiece was all the begging money with a note to St. Anthony saying that half was for him, (for finding everything she’d lost), the rest was for the black babies.

Facey Clifford’s funeral was huge, all the neighbours, school pals and their armies of children came to give her a good send off. The church was covered in flowers from the dealers’ stalls and the choir sang her favourite song, ‘The Green Green Grass of Home’ by Tom Jones. Tommo Deegan read a Psalm called ‘I Fought the Good Fight’ and Magso Murphy recited a lovely poem and never once broke wind. There was only one part of the service that nobody liked and that was when the priest said, “Francis Veronica Clifford is now with God, and because she is now with God, her face will be perfect.” We all agreed that the priest (a culchie blow-in) was a terrible eejit because as far as we were concerned Facey Veronica Clifford had always been just that.

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