Riverside Living

by Roisín O'Donnell

Baby’s breath, I think it’s called. That antique lace of blossoms under which they’ve built a nest. They have a right. No one ever asked them how they were planning to finance it. Or investigated their credit history. The things they’ve used are gnarled and sharp. Brittle grass, snapped reeds and wiry moss. Splintered twigs and saxifrage. Raspy-edged Alder leaves. And yet their nest looks soft. And she, head tucked under a night-fluttered wing, looks even softer. She has a right. No one ever asked her if she was entitled to maternity leave. If her job was stable. Or what she was planning to do about day-care. No one ever glanced to her webbed feet for a ring. And he. Cruising in golden evening light, his long neck gilded to a regal hue. Circling the dark wind-furrowed water, never drifting far from where she sleeps. His jet eyes scan the river bank, his dripping beak held high. He has a right. No one ever questioned his intentions. Or asked if he had health insurance. Or how he planned to support a family. Together, they wait. Her white body compassed by a mossy halo. Calm. Composed. Reflections rippling. A postcard of serene. But heaven help any wildling fox that ventures from the undergrowth. Any misdirected mallard. Any creeping water vole. They’ve built a nest. They have a right. They will hiss through razor teeth that snap and slice. Wings will spread. And arch. And rise. And rise.

Roisín O’Donnell lives in Dublin, with family roots in Derry. Writing since a young age, her stories and poems have been published in journals internationally. Her work features in Young Irelanders, and in the award-winning anthology of Irish women’s writing The Long Gaze Back. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the Forward Prize, she has been shortlisted for several international writing awards, including the Cúirt New Writing Prize and the Wasafiri New Writing Prize. She has received honorary mentions in the Bath Short Story Award and the Fish Flash Fiction Prize and was a prize winner in the Carried in Waves radio competition. She is the current recipient of a literature bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland. Her debut short story collection “Wild Quiet” will be published by New Island Books in spring 2016.