This week on our Woman’s Words fiction series, Donegal author Caitriona Coyle shares a taster of her debut novel College Girls.
Writing this book was a life-long dream of Caitriona’s, who began writing after taking early retirement from her teaching career in Dublin.
In her debut novel, the Carrigart-based writer draws on her own experience of residing in the capital to tell the humorous and poignant story of College Girls. Caitriona has shared a sample of her novel for DW readers to enjoy as a short weekend read:
It’s the 1970s, and Cathy Logue (19) has left Donegal and her sheltered boarding school life to begin a new adventure in the capital.
She moves into a shabby apartment in the heart of Dublin, where she meets new people, including Rosie, a friend who opens Cathy’s eyes to betrayal despite being great fun.
The young Donegal woman also comes to discover a vibrant hippy movement – far from the turmoil of the Troubles at home.
At 8 o’clock we walked quickly up North Circular Road having stayed too long in pub. He produced a bag of grass from his coat pocket, unsettling me a little, rolling a huge joint as we hurried along. I hadn’t smoked dope before although I craved the experience; this would be another feather in my bohemian cap.
The film had already started and I found it difficult to get my bearings in the dark, packed cinema. We located seats eventually five rows back from the screen amid viewers who whispered aggressively at us to sit down for God’s sake.
Bob Dylan was on stage singing about a ‘Masterpiece’ wearing a strange mask that gave him an other worldly appearance.
The air around us was rank with the pungent smell of hash, while up on the screen a bunch of people talked in a dark room and I wondered when Joan Baez or Joni Mitchell would start singing.
Dokie lit the joint, sucking heavily on it, passing it to me who mimicked him perfectly, holding the burning smoke in my lungs, exhaling loudly as my head swam, my vision misted. Dylan was now standing in a garage followed by a man who sat on a stage reading a poem, wearing the mask I had seen earlier. My sense of confusion began to mount as the volume grew louder with Dylan on stage backed by five guitars. The sound was big’ the song was ‘ISIS’ and I knew I was seeing things when his face flashed before me covered in flour, white and ghastly.
Pins and needles like electric shocks ran down my arms and into my hands, followed by waves of heat that gripped my body, vice-like, relentless. I struggled to breathe then a terror seized me. I pushed past Dokie, fleeing; telling him I was choking, running through the foyer out into the street. He followed me, confused and shocked as I lunged at passers-by asking them to help me, screaming out that I was having an epileptic fit.
There were puddles on the ground and I ran to them, splashing dirty water on my face to stop the burning in my head while Dokie tried unsuccessfully to calm me down. “I need to go to the hospital!” I shrieked, “I’m dying, I’m dying.”
Uncertainty for a moment, then he remembered we were near the Mater. He propelled me along until the Emergency sign came into view and I ran towards it, an oasis in the desert.
I had no sense of decorum, grabbing a young intern, shouting about dying and epileptic fits. Emergency was busy with sprained ankles and broken limbs and I was aware that something dreadful was happening to me with nobody coming to my rescue.
At last two nurses put me in a bed, pulling the curtains around; Dokie unsure whether he should remain by my side as I drew his attention to the cute little creatures who danced on the drapes, smiling and winking at me. Suddenly I knew everyone in the place as I peeped out from my sanctuary, amazed that so many people from home were there.
“Hello Miley, great to see you” waving furiously.
“Hey Frances, what’s the craic?” a little hurt that no one replied; maybe they couldn’t see my in my cubicle. Eventually the doctor in charge arrived with four young interns in his wake. Shining a light into my eyes I saw the concern as he invited a junior doctor to give his opinion. They whispered about dilated pupils, brain haemorrhage, much to my disappointment.
“No doctor” I said. “My eye has been like that for two years; happened when I was seventeen.”
There were relieved faces, particularly that I was making sense, and they discussed my Adie with pleasure and fascination.
“Can you remember exactly how it happened?” an enthusiastic young intern asked me, the others watching, fascinated.
“Oh yeh, I remember well. It was a dark winter’s morning, I went into the bathroom and switched on the light and something weird happened to my right eye, my head felt funny too; when I looked in the mirror I noticed one pupil was much bigger than the other and it stayed like that ever since.”
“Did you see an ophthalmologist at that time?” another young intern, not bad looking, smiling at me.
“Yeah I did. He put drops in my eye, it was horrible; then he told me not to worry, it was a common enough condition.
I was beginning to enjoy myself. They listened, nodding, focused on the head doctor who warned them about jumping to diagnoses, then turning back to me he wondered if I had taken any form of drug in the cinema. Embarrassed, I told them about the dope, five pairs of eyes blinking, the nice looking one trying not to smile. They left me pulling back the curtain, revealing Dokie sitting in the corridor looking tired, drained. Slowly I began to realise that I wouldn’t die as the terrifying symptoms abated. I was given a valium and left to rest for an hour or so.
Dokie insisted on putting me in a taxi; we walked to the rank not a word spoken between us.
It was almost dawn as I walked up the drive to 91. Trying to find my keys, the door opened revealing an eastern looking man I didn’t recognise. He gestured, waving to someone as I passed him in the doorway. Rosie was at the bottom of the stairs in a shabby velvet dressing gown. The door slammed; she turned towards me and I smiled, throwing my eyes up to heaven.
“You wouldn’t believe the night I had” I needed to tell someone. She produced a crumpled packed of Gold Bond from a velvet pocket and sat on the stairs, lighting her last cigarette, “we’ll share it.” I sat beside her.
“Well, what the hell happened to ya?”
Like a warrior clutched from the jaws of death I relived the events of the doomed evening, able to laugh then about most of it.
“What did you say the film was called?”
“Renaldo and Clara.”
“Well it sounds like a load of shite; sure that old crap would put anyone off the head.”
I agreed with her, still unsure whether I imagined the white-faced Dylan. We finished the cigarette and she rose slowly to go.
“I never liked Bob Dylan singing anyway; do you know what he sounds like?” I shook my head. “He’s like a young calf roaring in a bucket.”
College Girls by Caitriona Coyle is published by Austin Macauley.
Available at Eason’s Bookstores, www.austinmacauley.com, and amazon.co.uk.
If you are a local writer of short stories, novels or poetry and would like to be featured on Woman’s Words, email email@example.com.