Each week, we pick a short fiction piece from our Fairlight Shorts archives to feature as our story of the week. This week, we’ve chosen a story about community by Elizabeth Wassell.
Elizabeth Wassell was born in New York, spent long years in Ireland with her late husband, Irish poet laureate John Montague, and now lives in France. She is the author of five novels: The Honey Plain (1997); Sleight of Hand (1999); The Thing He Loves (2001); Dangerous Pity (2010); and Sustenance (2011), along with numerous short stories. She has published short stories in the Irish Times, the Dublin Review and the Moth magazine. Recently, she completed her sixth novel, At the Villa Celeste, her most ambitious book so far.
‘Christopher Quinn’ follows a couple who become suspicious about a newcomer to their community.
My husband and I live along a West Cork boreen. Heather and gorse brocade the fields, and the hedges are heavy with hawthorn and blackthorn. Some evenings, this landscape seems to exhale an almost uncanny light.
We are both in our forties, and work from home. We collaborate on ‘historical romance’ novels. Our pseudonym is Andrea Daniels because my husband’s name is Andrew and mine Danielle. The author photo on our books shows a pretty woman with fair hair and a forthright smile. We have no idea who she is.
We bought our farmhouse from a Dublin man who had refurbished it for a holiday home, but changed his mind and decided to buy property in Spain instead. The house is like a child’s drawing of a house: a rectangle with an accent circumflex on top, a door in the middle, square windows each side, two chimneys. It is perfect for a couple who work together and love West Cork.
In our latest opus, Henry VIII wonders why young Anne Boleyn mesmerises him so. Her face is clever, her complexion sallow: not his usual type at all. Perhaps it’s how her dark eyes look obliquely at him, as if she were full of secrets. It is an appalling breach of protocol to send her king such looks, but he likes them. They make him suspect that, beneath her demure exterior, she is wanton.
I say to Andrew, ‘Our version is extremely unoriginal. It’s just like all the others. I mean, how do we know how they really felt, or what drove them to act as they did?’
‘Do you feel sorry for her?’
‘Well, she must have been terrified, when she began to understand that her unproductive womb would be the death of her. No wonder Elizabeth I never married.’
‘Dani, never mind. Andrea Daniels’s readers don’t care if her version is unoriginal. All they want is sex, death, betrayal and pretty dresses.’