“Bobby, will you please get your sister out o’ that muck?” Rosie Hennessey was trying and failing to wrangle her three children as they played in the parkland of Belfast’s Botanic Gardens. A student in the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the nearby university, she had not long picked up her youngest Shannon from nursery and her two boys Robert and Sean from school. Her mum was looking after them tonight and she didn’t have the time or the patience to bath her daughter before taking them round.
“Mammy, she’s sat in a puddle.” Exasperated, Rosie looked over at the wee girl, her face turned upwards to the sky, staring into space. Rosie followed the little lass’s line of sight and found herself now too gazing up at the ghostly moon, just visible against the blue sky.
The tot pointed up. “Moon, Mammy. Me go moon.”
Rosie scooped her daughter up, mindful of her soggy and muddy behind.
“One day darling. You never know – you just might.”
“No!” Shannon stood, her small hands balled into fists, defiant.
“But ye canny run around with your hair like that. C’mere an’ let yer granny put it up in nice wee bobbles for ye.”
“NO!” The little girl stood her ground.
“If you don’t co-operate, madam, I’ll take you to the barbers and get it all cut off. Like yer brothers here, all shorn in to the wood.”
The small child stopped her rage and smiled. “Yes please, Granny. Yes please.”
Dressed in her older siblings’ hand me down tee-shirts and joggers, she was engrossed in a book. Her mother knelt down beside her. “Shannon Patricia, what are you reading now?” The girl lifted up the tome so her mother could read the title from the cover – “Cosmos” by Carl Sagan.
Rosie Hennessey graduated with a Masters of Science degree, with honours. Her mum and her children were there to see her receive her scroll. At the reception, she chatted with her professor.
“So, what are your plans now eh Rosie? A career in the ESA?”
“I have an interview with that new French satellite company on Monday.”
“Ah, Chouinard Espace. Well, good luck with that. I’m sure your mother and your lads will be proud.”
“Fuckin’ lezzer.” The boy cat-called as she walked by. “Come here and suck my dick – that’ll convert ye.”
Despite the swift passing of the decades of the twenty first century and changes in society, sexual slurs and homophobic comments were still in use on the backstreets of Ormeau.
The teenager turned round. Clad in a hooded jacket, jeans and boots, indistinguishable from the youths sat on the wall behind.
“I would suck yer dick but I’d need a fuckin’ electron microscope to find the fecker first.”
Puzzled, the lout looked to his cackling mates for clarification.
“What did the bitch say?”
“She says yer cock’s so wee, she’d need a magnifying glass to see it. She’s no’ wrong!”
Blushing with embarrassment and rage, the youth jumped off his perch.
“I’ll bloody murder ye, ya skank.”
Shannon turned around and threw back her hood, balling her hands into fists. “Come ahead, ya wanker.”
“Shan, you’re a bright girl,” her mother said as she dabbed the blood from her daughter’s chin. “Why do you keep getting into fights? It’s not ladylike.” Neither am I, the young woman thought.
Rosie had watched her troubled youngest child grow up into this thrawn young person. When Shan was little she had taken her to doctors and psychologists but their testing had been inconclusive. The child displayed masculine traits, yes and eschewed all things feminine but that was probably down to the influence of her older brothers than any gender mis-alignment, they said. Shannon went through a very girly phase in her pre-pubescent years, almost over-compensating for her tomboyish phase. When adolescence arrived and with it menstruation and blossoming womanhood, she made no fuss.
Shannon dropped out of school when she was 17. Her mother managed to get her a low-level job in her department at CE Satellites and she was managing to stay out of trouble. She had boyfriends and girlfriends for sure, but no-one special. Robert and left home and moved to the US to be a musician. Sean had gone to university in London to study painting.
“I don’t know where they get it from,” Rosie said to her daughter. “You’re the only one who seems to take after me.”
With assistance from a grant from the Chouinard Foundation, Shan went to their main hub of operations in Amiens to study mechanical engineering for satellites and planetary orbiters. She went up in the European shuttle Tempest Two to help launch the first of CE’s sustainable “Clean Space” communications satellite Gyes. While there, she met daughter of her boss. They went on a couple of dates, including a concert by the Japanese pop band The Flaming Hearts but their brief fling soon fizzled into a friendship.
“One day you’ll be my boss, Col,” she had teased her girlfriend.
“Non, non, cherie. I will have my own company. Then you can come and work for me?”
Shan moved back to Belfast after her Granny died. Sure, Bob and Shay came for visits but their mum was lonely, she could tell.
“Ach, away and have your own life, love,” Rosie had urged but all the same, Shan found a nice wee flat in Lisburn, close to her old stamping ground and more importantly, her mother. She continued to work for CE Satellites, becoming a valued technician and engineer.
When she was 26, her older brother Sean was killed in an accident near his studio in London. Their mother was bereft – “My boy, my beautiful boy.” Robert and his wife and kids came over for the funeral but all too soon had to return to Seattle. Rosie fell into a deep depression. Then the doctors gave Shan the worst news – Rosie had early onset dementia and was rapidly worsening. Shan took a leave of absence from work, sold her flat and moved back into her childhood home on the Ormeau Road to be with her mum.
Rosie, the bright young woman who had graduated top of her class only 23 years before dwindled into a shadow of herself.
“Sean,” she yelled, “bring me a Jameson’s.” A lifelong abstainer, Rosie had turned to drink in her decline. She had also become confused as to her offspring and family. Shan sat with her one evening, looking through old snaps on her pad.
“There’s my boys.” Rosie wagged a finger at a picture of Shannon and her brother Robert. “My beautiful, beautiful boys.”
Shan laughed. “That’s me, Mammy. Me and our Bobby.”
“Aye,“ her mother said. “My boys, Bobby an’ Sean.”
After her mother was cremated, Shan made an appointment at the local hospital. She hoped it wasn’t too late.
Three years later, there were forms to be signed and leases to be arranged. The small apartment in Tama New Town was a bit of a dump, but until Cee-Cee Incorporated got back about the job, it would have to do. The landlord picked up the pad and peered at the signature.
“Here are the keys, Mister…” He struggled to read the foreign name.
“Hennessey.” His tenant replied. “Shawn Hennessey.”