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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 23: 28 April 2024
Microfiction: 257 words
By Bayveen O’Connell

The “R” Word


I look at my little girl, her hair growing back bit by bit, her skin less ghostly every day. At each check-up I’m told by tight-lipped consultants that, though the healthy platelets are up, she isn’t “out of the woods yet.”

“Again?” she sighs. Another chest infection preying on her immune system, another tiny plastic spoon of luminous yellow Amoxicillin I hold out to her. She swallows, makes a face, and glares up at me. “Don’t say ‘Good girl.’”

A morning radio bulletin interrupts “Ferry Cross the Mersey” and she pauses over her cereal. She loves that song. The first time she heard it, she said: “Where’s the Mer Sea? Is that where mermaids live? Can we go when I’m better?”

Explosions have occurred at reactors at a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl in the USSR. Highly toxic radioactive clouds are likely to drift over Europe in the coming days causing a risk of radiation exposure. Geiger counters around the world recorded...

I try to steady myself, my hands on the countertop as I watch her mouthing words she’s just heard and watch her eyes narrow as she percolates them. I keep her indoors, I isolate her from the Petri dish of her peers, I pack her off to the GP at the semblance of a sniffle, and now I don’t know how many more bloody risks I can handle. The song comes back on but she talks through it. “Mum, will other people be sick like me?” And I have to turn away.



*Publisher’s Note:

The River Mersey empties into Liverpool Bay in northwestern England. “Ferry Cross the Mersey” is a song written by British musician Gerry Marsden and first recorded in 1964 by his band Gerry and the Pacemakers. A video clip from the 1965 film Ferry Cross the Mersey which features the band performing the song on the ferry is available on YouTube.

Bayveen O’Connell
Issue 23 (April 2024)

is an Irish writer who loves art, folklore, myth, history, and travel. Her short fiction has been nominated for Best Microfiction and the Pushcart Prize. She’s currently working on a collection based on surviving childhood cancer.

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