Amusements by Aingeala Flannery

We are delighted to present an excerpt from AmusementsAingeala Flannery’s first novel, published by Penguin Sandycove.

In County Waterford’s seaside town of Tramore, visitors arrive in waves with the tourist season, reliving the best days of their childhood in its caravan parks, chippers and amusement arcades.

Local teenager Helen Grant is indifferent to the charm of her surroundings; she dreams of escaping to art college with her glamorous classmate Stella Swaine and, from there, conquering the world. But leaving Tramore is easier said than done. Although they don’t know it yet, Helen and Stella’s lives are pulled along by tides beyond their control.


star of the sea

I was in love with Stella Swaine. We met on our first day back after summer vacation. By met, what I mean is truly met. Of course, I already knew who she was. My brother Christy and his buddies called her “Stella Swoon”. She dropped her satchel at my feet, kicked it under the chair, and sat down next to me. Stella Swaine: a kohl pencil around her eyes, a silver stud in her nose and lava red hair flowing over her shoulders, down to the sleeves of her school sweater. Klimt’s Danae might as well have walked into the art room.

I could feel her taking the measure of me. She glanced down at the floor, where my new Doc Martens were slowly murdering my feet.

‘Are they ten holes?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Cool.’

And that was the start of it all.

There are things you need to know about what it was like growing up in Tramore. Some unwritten rules:

Young people from the estate are easier than young people from the upper town.

Stay away from townspeople and jackeens.

Don’t go drinking at the top of the cliff.

Stay away from the salt marsh, it’s full of quicksand and perverts.

Get out before you turn twenty, or you’ll have to play by the rules forever.

It was the girls’ story. The guys didn’t have to play by any rules, a few digs was all they would get if they got out of line. And whatever their transgression had to be serious, criminal, and they had to be caught in the act.

Stealing cars, breaking into houses, setting fire to gorse, breaking windows, pounding the shit out of the son of a local warden or county councilor. For any of them, they would be flaked. You didn’t have to do much if you were a girl to get in trouble. Having a cat was enough. Once you were warned, and you were warned many times, there were no good words about the consequences.

There were degrees of consequence. The rumors would start. At school, people mumble behind your back, but within earshot, about what a dirty bitch you were. Or a liar. Or a band. Your talent for blowjobs would be etched with Biro feathers in offices and bathroom doors. Notes were circulating and ending up in your school bag, dirty scraps of notebooks that diagnosed you with crabs. Around town, people would stop talking to you because a teacher, or someone’s mother, cousin or neighbor – basically, any curious person who had nothing better to do – had comments about you. You would be sent to Coventry, and you would stay there until someone popular decided you had served your sentence, and you would be reinstated. From that day on, you would keep your head down.

Pregnancy was the ultimate consequence. We all knew that, because we’ve been told (many times) that it was a no-brainer for any girl galloping through the sand dunes, especially in the company of a city dweller. They could knock you out just by looking at you. It happened to three girls in our school. Nicki Power, who had a baby boy and found herself married to the brother of the young man who got her into trouble. And Louise Hearne, who was to be taken to Liverpool by her mother to dispose of it. When they got back, all the guys pretended not to know her for fear of being blamed, even though the dogs on the street knew that Oscar Mulcahy was responsible. I swear, you would have thought babies were contagious, as everyone avoided it.

The one I knew best was Geraldine Halpin. I have this memory of her, after everyone had stopped talking to her, sitting against the handball court in her woolen socks and kilt, hairy white knees tucked under her chin. She was deep in conversation with Stella, who didn’t give a fuck on a Sunday what anyone thought, and in hindsight, she probably only bonded with Ger because Stella was contrary like that. Geraldine Halpin was beginning to show herself. She didn’t come to school one morning, or the next day, or the next day, eventually the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months until she completely disappeared from our minds.

Amusements is published by Penguin Sandycove

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