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I ,  C a r o l i n e

by Nuala Ní Chonchúir


I wanted to go home to Mallow; I wanted to take the big boat back across the sea to my own place. Even though I was sick, Dr Gilligan didn’t give me any medicines; he didn’t even have a black bag. When my coughing got too bad, my Mama used to hold my head over a bowl of boiled-up water that had a minty smell. She would cover my head with a cloth and put the bowl under my face and tell me to breathe from the bottom of my belly. She rubbed my back. Dr Gilligan didn’t do that. He got angry with me and told me to buck up; he rouged my cheeks and said I was to smile.

On my last day, I sat on the bed in the caravan, waiting to talk to the people who wanted to see me. My breath rootled and rattled in my throat like a clatter of old spoons; I felt hot and weak. I cried a lot.

‘Please let me go home,’ I said, ‘please, Doctor, please let me.’

‘Oh, not this bloody nonsense again.’ He stared down at me and poked at his teeth with one nail. He found something stuck there and lifted it close to his eyes to look at it. Then he popped it back in his mouth. I coughed and coughed; it was hacky and sore and blood spluttered onto my dress. ‘For goodness sake, Caroline!’

Dr Gilligan rushed around trying to find something clean for me to wear. He pulled things out of the wardrobe and my trunk, then stuffed them back in. I watched him get angry and throw all my clothes about; I laid my head on the pillows, put my hand to my mouth and died. That made him really annoyed; when he noticed. He shook me a few times and called my name but I was already gone. He put me into his carpet bag and brought me straight to the College of Surgeons and that’s where he sold me for a lot more money than he paid to my Dada and Mama.

The surgeons placed me on a marble table and sliced through my skin with a small knife; I was like an apple being cut up for tarts. They looked at all my bits and pieces, lifting them out and writing things about them in a book. Afterwards they put me in a pot and boiled the flesh off my bones until I was the clean skeleton that I am now. They gave me to the museum when I was finished.
Dada came to look for me but he was too late.




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