Seamus panicked when he saw the tiny bundle in his wife’s arms.

“What have you done?” he asked Maire.

She stood in the doorway, calmly dipping a finger into the little font of holy water they kept on the hallway wall. She blessed herself and thee bundle. The light from outside spilt around her. She wiped her feet on the plastic mat that protected the hall’s red carpet and closed the door. Seamus blinked in the dimness.

“Maire? What have you done?”

She smiled at her husband and held out the squirming, chubby-faced baby. It was wrapped in a white shawl.

“Where did you…?”

“He was under the blackthorn bush,” she said. “In the new park.”

“The police… The parents…” Seamus could feel sweat prickle on his forehead. He had a sudden image of his wife’s face on the front of The Sunday World. “Oh God…”

“Look,” Maire said.

Seamus shook his head.

“If we hurry we can get it back to the parents before they call the police. Maybe we can say it was all just a silly mistake.” He reached for the child.

Maire pulled the baby away from her husband’s grasp.

“No Seamus. Look!” She jerked the baby upwards, so that its face was level with her husband’s.

The baby squealed in anger at this rough treatment. He flailed his podgy arms and twisted his face into a mask of newborn fury. His head became a mass of creases. He screwed up his eyes and twisted his mouth, making ready to scream.

Then he noticed Seamus and, in an instant, his expression changed. The baby’s face seemed to blossom like an opening flower as expressions first of surprise and then joy spread across his face.

And Seamus saw his eyes.

They were golden.

Seamus stepped forward, drawn closer. The baby reached out a hand to tug on Seamus’s grey beard.

The golden irises were flecked with violet.

Seamus raised a hand to his mouth in surprise. The baby released its handful of wiry hair and gripped Seamus by the little finger. It gurgled happily.

Seamus ignored it. He was staring at his wife.

“A foundling?”

She nodded. Her smile broadened.

“The answer to our prayers,” Maire said.



Thirty-six years. That was how long Seamus and Maire had lived with broken hearts.

Eighteen hours. The length of time their first baby had lived. Thirty-six years ago.

Two. That was the number of other babies who had started to grow inside Maire but died before they were born.

One thousand. The number of times a day Seamus looked at his wife and wondered if she was thinking about their lost children.

Strange, Seamus thought, how everything could be reduced to numbers. The facts were all there, displaying their whole lives, undeniable and precise. Yet those numbers said nothing of the excitement and joy. Nothing at all of the pain and loss.

Paul. Connor. Liam.

Those would have been the names of their children.



“He was under the blackthorn bush. I was walking back from the shops, across the park, and I heard him crying. I pulled the branches apart and there he was.” Maire was sitting on the edge of the sofa in the living room. The baby was in her lap, his head bobbing slightly as he struggled against sleep.

Seamus sat in his armchair. The one that most precisely faced the television set. The one with his shape imprinted upon it in a deep groove.

“You know what he is, so you do.” Seamus checked his watch. He didn’t want to miss the news. Just a few moments ago the thought that his wife had stolen some normal child had terrified him. Now he was praying that the story was on the news. Praying that all this was just some ordinary madness.

“He’s the baby we’ve always wanted, Seamus. He’s a gift. A wonderful gift.” She looked down at the baby, smiling.

“He’ll have to go back,” Seamus said. “They can’t stay for long.”

Maire ignored him.

The baby stirred. A pale hand reached out and clawed at her chest.

“Oh!” Maire gasped. Then her smile widened. She reached with shaking fingers to the buttons on her blouse, undoing them clumsily. She shrugged a bra strap off one shoulder.

“Maire? What the…” Seamus gaped as a pale pearl bubbled on his wife’s dark nipple.

“Oh god!” Maire pulled the baby to her breast. He clamped his mouth to her nipple and began sucking greedily.



“Hold him.” Maire pushed the child forward towards her husband.

Seamus looked up from his newspaper.

Maire was standing above him. The baby had been with them for a week. It had completely taken over their lives. Every minute of the day revolved around the baby’s demands. Everything they did, they did for the baby.

Seamus was exhausted but Maire did not look tired at all. The years seemed to be falling off her. Her hair was still silvered by age but her mouth, for so long puckered and pinched by sadness, now curled in an almost permanent smile. In her brown eyes he saw a flicker of the young girl he’d fallen in love with. She seemed to dance around the house. And the more the baby demanded, the happier his wife seemed to become.

“Please,” she said. “Go on! Just for a wee while.”

Seamus sighed and, stiffly, held out his hands. Maire jigged a little dance of delight and handed him the baby. She wiped her hands on her skirt, and headed for the kitchen.

“I’ll just make the tea,” she said over her shoulder.

Fair-haired and pale the child stared up at Seamus, unblinking. Seamus met the baby’s gaze and stared back into its golden eyes.

“What are you doing here?” Seamus whispered

He pulled the baby into his chest, holding it in the crook of one arm. He ran his free hand across the remnants of his wispy grey hair.

The baby burped. White foam bubbled at the corners of his mouth and his eyes widened as though in surprise. The violet flecks in the baby’s irises glowed brighter. He gurgled a laugh and his tiny mouth split into a gummy grin.

Seamus stroked a curl of hair from the baby’s forehead.



“Why can’t you just accept that we’ve been given a wonderful gift?” His wife pleaded with him.

“Because its impossible. He isn’t real,” he replied.

She nodded to the baby in her arms.

“Liam is real,” she’d said.

“Don’t call him that!” Seamus had shouted. Maire started crying. The baby started crying.

Seamus stood up and stomped out of the room. In the hallway he stood, shaking, his face wet with tears, and listened as Maire tried to calm the child.

She didn’t understand, he thought. It couldn’t stay. They were going to lose another baby.

“Haven’t we suffered enough?” Seamus looked at himself in the mirror that hung at near the front door. His eyes were red and full of tears. He didn’t want to cry anymore. “I can’t go through this again.”



Seamus was dozing off his Sunday dinner in front of the television.  Tyrone were beating Cavan ten to three at half time and Peter Canavan had just scored another point.

Liam lay in his pram next to Seamus’s armchair. The baby was squirming uncomfortably and grumbling to itself. He rubbed at his nose with a chubby hand and grimaced.

“Apfft!” The baby sneezed.

A look of shock and terror spread across the child’s face. He opened his mouth and let out a heartbreaking wail, driven by all the force his lungs could muster.

“Jesus!” Seamus leapt from his seat and staggered. He was befuddled for a moment by torpor, surprise and the couple of tins of Smithwick’s he had drunk with his dinner. Scratching his head, and steadying himself against the sofa, he leant over the pram.

“What is it?”

The baby wailed louder. His arms and legs waggled impotently and his face was turning red.

Suddenly very sober, Seamus felt a shiver of fear run down his spine. He leant closer to the baby.

“Not yet,” said Seamus. “Surely not yet.”

The baby’s wailing subsided as he became aware of Seamus’s presence. The howling was replaced by piteous sobs of confusion and anger.

Seamus picked up the baby, jogging it gently in his arms as he walked around the living room and talking softly to the child.

“You’re alright,” he said. “There, there, there. Sure there is no need for all that noise.”

In a few moments the baby was pacified, and Seamus sat on the sofa, perching the baby on his knee and bobbing him up and down.

“Ach you’re a good boy, aren’t you Liam?” The baby gurgled in agreement. “You are indeed.”

Seamus was chatting to the baby for several minutes before he became aware of Maire standing behind him. He grinned, slightly embarrassed. Maire was crying again but this time, he could tell, they were tears of happiness. She snuffled in a tissue for a second and, composing herself, sat beside Seamus on the sofa.

“He’s beautiful,” she said.


They sat for a moment, beside each other, admiring the baby. He stared back at them, quiet now.

“He can’t stay,” said Seamus.

“I know,” Maire said. She put a hand on her husband’s arm. “But that is the future.”

“The longer we keep him, the worse it will be.”

“Not now, Seamus, please.”

“We’ve got to face the facts. One day – maybe tomorrow – he’ll have to go back. They can never stay for long. And then we’ll lose him, just like the others. I don’t think I could take that, not again.”

“Jesus, Mary and Holy Saint Joseph!” Maire turned to Seamus, the anger in her voice was plain even though she was almost whispering so as not to upset the baby. “Sometimes you are a selfish shite! Do you not think I know how terrible it is going to be? Do you not think I know how much it hurts to lose a baby?”

“I just…” Seamus shook his head. “I don’t –”

Maire cut him off.

“No Seamus. Listen to me. Everyday I ask God why he took my little boys away. I imagine them growing up. I imagine their birthdays and going to school and weddings. I imagine what jobs they’d do and where they’d live. I walk through town and wonder which of the girls they’d have married. I even named their grandchildren. Every day I add something to the pile of things we’ve lost. I know it hurts.”

Maire reached out and stroked the baby’s chubby hand. Its tiny fingers gripped her thumb.

“But I’m glad we tried, Seamus. I would rather live this life without them than never to have tried. I wouldn’t change that. Everything worth doing in life means taking risks. Everything worth doing means that we might get hurt. Maybe badly hurt. But some things are worth the risk and the suffering.”

The baby held out its arms and Maire took it from her husband.

“Liam is a gift Seamus. I know he can’t give us back our real babies. And I know we won’t have him for long. But we can enjoy now, for as long as it lasts. We can ignore the past, for a while anyway. We can worry about the future later. We could just enjoy what we have now.”

She patted the baby’s bottom.

“He needs changed.”

Maire stood up, the baby perched high on one shoulder, and went to the door.

“Couldn’t we just be happy, Seamus. Just for this moment.”

“Wait,” Seamus struggled out of the sofa.

“What?” Maire snapped.

“I’ll do it,” he said. “Let me change him. You watch the telly. Coronation Street is just starting.”



Seamus parked the car and took the bag of nappies and baby milk from the boot. It had been a long day at work, and he was tired, but the thought of Maire and the baby waiting for him brought a smile to his face. He was singing I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen, filling in the words he’d forgotten with tuneless humming.

Maire met Seamus in the hallway. Her eyes were rimmed red and her face was wet with tears.

“Liam’s sick,” she said.

Seamus felt his knees buckle and the world begin to spin. He dropped the bag of shopping and steadied himself against the door.

“He’ll be alright,” Maire said. “If we take him back.”

Liam lay in the crib they’d bought. He was hot with a fever and the sheets around him were soaking wet. He looked even more pale than normal and, though he lay quietly, his face was contorted in pain.

Maire pulled a fresh blanket from the pile next to the crib and wrapped the child in it. She stroked his forehead and gasped a sob. For a moment Seamus thought she was going to collapse, but she straightened herself and handed the baby to Seamus.

“He’s getting worse,” Maire said. “We have to go now.”



The little park was new. A blue sign with twelve yellow stars showed that it had been paid for by the European Union. Seamus remembered when the pig market had stood here, but that was long gone and for many years this space had been derelict. Then the peace process started, money came, and the park was built.

Everything changed.

Except for the blackthorn bush.

No one had moved it when the market was built. In those days no one would have dared. The story went that in the thirties Cullen, the man who was building the market, couldn’t get anyone dig up the blackthorn. Incensed at what he saw as silly superstition, he took at it himself with a shovel and an axe one afternoon. It was really a job for ten men, the bush was old, thick and deep rooted, so Cullen didn’t get very far. Tired and angrier than ever at the end of the first day, he swore he would come back and finish the job. That night, however, Cullen had a stroke and never left his bed again.

So the bush, and the little hump of green on which it stood, was left alone, inconvenient but inviolate.

Even in the twenty-first century the superstition was strong enough that, when it came to flattening the old market, the blacthorn was left alone.

So the bush sat, ancient and undisturbed, at the heart of the new park. A sign, Seamus had thought, that it was never wholly possible to escape from the past.



It was dark and the rain, driven by a bitter wind, had emptied the park of the usual groups of bored kids and drunks.

Maire led her family through the night, her long coat flapping dramatically in her wake. Seamus scurried behind, shivering in a light jacket. He gripped Liam tightly to his chest, feeling the heat of his fever even through the blanket and his clothes.

Seamus stumbled over a broken paving stone. Maire turned and grabbed his arm, steadying him.


The park was small. In moments they reached the blackthorn bush. It writhed in the wind. Long branches scraped at the ground while others whipped the night sky.

“What do we do now?” Seamus looked at the baby’s flushed face and then up into his wife’s eyes.

“I suppose we put him back where I found him,” Maire said.

Seamus looked up. Low clouds were ripping across the sky. The wind was getting stronger.

“We can’t leave a baby out here on a night like this,” he said and pulled the little bundle closer to him. “Lets take him to a hospital. They’ll help him.”

“He’ll die!” Maire reached out again. “You know it.”

Seamus stepped back.

“Maybe not. They could cure him. He could stay.”

“He will die.” A voice came from behind the bush. Seamus and Maire turned to face it.

A girl emerged. She was young but her clothes were old-fashioned. She wore a black cardigan and skirt with a white blouse. She reminded Seamus of his mother. Her hair was black and her face was fine boned and pretty.

Only her eyes, glowing golden, revealed her nature.

“I’ll take him now.” She reached out.

Seamus stepped back.

“I can’t,” he said. Tears were stinging the old man’s reddened cheeks.

“You must!” The young girl started forward, insistent.

“Wait, please,” Maire reached out and put a hand on the girl’s arm, smiling gently. “Just give us a moment.”

The girl nodded. “Be quick.”

Maire walked to her husband. He was clutching the baby fiercely to his chest now.

“Our baby!” He was sobbing and barely able to speak.

“Yes,” said Maire. “Our baby.” She patted her husband gently on the shoulder, then, standing on her tiptoes, she reached up and kissed his wet cheek. His beard bristled comfortingly against her chin.

“Now we are going to save him. Even though it means we have to let him go,” she said.

“Not again.” Seamus shook his head.

“Seamus. Seamus. It isn’t like before. Can’t you see that? He’s going to live and grow and be beautiful. He’s going to live.”

“But we’ll lose him.”

“We will always have him here,” Maire touched her husband’s chest. “Just like our other boys.”

“How can you be so strong?” Seamus kissed the baby on the forehead and held it out for Maire to take.

“Ask me that tomorrow.” Maire smiled, pulling the child close. “We’re saving him, Seamus, not losing him.”

The young girl was standing beside them.

“Will he be happy?” Maire asked.

“Who can say?” said the girl. She studied at the two old people and the child. “I think so.”

“Will he remember us?” Seamus asked.

The girl took Seamus’s chin in her hands, pulling him close to her face, staring into his eyes. For a second the girl was gone. Her face twisted and sharpened into something different. Something fierce. Her eyes brightened. Seamus’s cragged face was lit in the night. She gripped his mind.

“You loved him,” she said after a moment. Her face relaxed and her mouth shaped to suggest a smile. “He will remember that love. I will tell him of you.”

Maire gave her baby a last kiss on the forehead and then gave him away.

The girl stepped behind the blackthorn bush and she and Liam were gone.

Seamus wiped at his eyes and nose with the sleeve of his jacket and pulled his wife closer with the other arm.

“I thought we were a family, at last,” he said.

“We were, Seamus. We are. We always have been.”

“Such a little time,” he said.

“Long enough,” Maire smiled up at him. “Long enough.”

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