The first six years of Finn’s life were, for the most part, wonderful. His mother, Eileen, was a beautiful and adoring woman whose only goal in life was to make him feel adored; and he did. She had given him the name ‘Kael’ for two reasons: one, as a reminder that she would always be faithful in her devotion to him; two, in hopes he would have that characteristic in himself one day. It was something she valued even though she knew the dangers that came with it. Even though he was young, one of his favorite memories of his mum was how she would keep a nightlight on for him every night, because she knew how frightened he was of the dark. It was a small, but caring gesture that was not lost even on a young boy. Another fond memory was how she would cradle him in her arms during storms and sing Gaelic lullabies softly in hopes of calming his anxiety. It was not all easy going for them, however. Her parents were cruel and never tried to hide the fact that they hated that she had a child out of wedlock. The father’s name had never been revealed and would die with Eileen.
They were very strict in their religious beliefs, so when their daughter became pregnant it brought them great shame and with that a growing hatred for the babe growing in her belly. He was not tolerated at the table with them, which was a blessing more than a curse, because they spent the entirety of it berating Eileen and reminding her of how her life was now as worthless as she was. Even though their words wounded her deeply, she never let on to Finn that she was falling apart.
Their favorite place to visit was Ballygally Castle. She would walk the castle with her blond headed boy, filling his head with stories of knights and dragons. It was their escape from the hell her parents had created for them at home. When it was just she and Finn, Eileen was happy. She wished his father had kept his promise to take her away on the ship he worked on, but she was just a girl of 16 when Finn was born.
One morning when Finn was just six years old, she stole him away from school and the horrors of their home-life. More than anything she wanted to run away with him and leave the pain behind. All she needed was him, nobody else mattered. Had her parents known she kept him out of school for the day, they would have had both their heads. She did not care because by this point she was doing all she could to keep her head above the water. If she did not get away with him, Eileen knew she would never make it. So they left. As they boarded a train to take them to the ferry that would deliver them to Scotland and a whole new life. She had no idea how they would survive on the little she had scraped together, but it had to work. Finn couldn’t help but notice the way she kept looking behind them as if she thought they were being followed. Each time he asked her if everything was okay, she simply smiled and nodded saying, “Aye, a thaisce (my treasure). No worries for you.” She held his hand tightly as if she was afraid to let it go. “Mam, where are we going?” Finn questioned, knowing deep within him that something was wrong. She leaned down, kissed the top of his head and then walked with him to a stand that sold sweets. “Here, Finn. What would you like while we wait, love?” She asked, pressing a cool sterling pound coin into the palm of his small hand. Tentatively he reached forward to pick up a bar of chocolate, his favorite, anticipating how lovely the rich confection would feel as it melted on his tongue. With a smile he handed the silver piece to the pretty young woman manning the stand.
Eileen sat with him on a bench as he ate his candy, anxiously checking her watch every few minutes. She could not fight the feeling their time together was growing short, so she pulled the perplexed lad into her lap. “Listen to me, my darling. We are running from Gran and your Grandfather. In Scotland we will be free, do you understand? It will just be us and we will be so happy. Would you like that, my love?”
Being six, he did not know how to process all his mam was saying to him, but he nodded, seeing she had more to say.
“I love you with all of my heart, Finn. You’re everything I could ever need to make me happy and you do.. so much. I will always love you no matter what and I will always be with you no matter where life’s road may take you,” she said, trying not to cry. Whenever she spoke of her love for her son, she got choked up. He looked frightened now, so she smiled widely and took his hand. “They have castles for us to explore in Scotland. Ones you have never seen. Do you think we will spot any dragons?” The change in her demeanor set Finn’s mind at ease. They sat happily chatting about the different kinds of dragons they could see, completely forgetting their worries. Only five minutes remained and it appeared they would make a clean break from the turmoil that had been dragging them down for so many years. Finn rested his head in his mother’s lap as she toyed with his hair. She often did this to soothe him during storms or any time he was afraid.
The sudden tug of her arm by her father almost pulled her from the bench and onto the dock. Eileen did not even need to turn to face her assailant; she knew it was her father.
“Why isn’t the little bastard in school today?” He said it in a whisper, but each word was filled with venom.
“I wanted to..” Eileen started as she felt herself falling apart on the inside.
“Get him and get into the car. It’s shameful when the school calls to report him missing. Were you too stupid to call in him this morning?”
Finn looked questioningly at his mother, hoping she would break free from her father’s grip and run to the ferry with him.
“Mam? What about our adventure?” he asked, already knowing her answer
Softly, in a voice of one utterly defeated, she answered, “We have to get on the car with granddad now, darling.”
She went to take his hand, but her father beat her to it. First, however, he slapped him hard across the face, making tears well up in his deep blue eyes. Something in Eileen snapped when she saw her son being struck. Catching him completely off guard, she pulled her child from his grip as tears fell down her cheeks.
“Don’t you touch him,” she said, shakily.
There would, of course, be repercussions. There always were, but she would not stand by and see her cherished one be harmed by anyone no matter how terrified she was of them. When they got into the car, Eileen pulled little Finn into her lap and wrapped her arms around him tightly. The thoughts going through her head scared her. She felt selfish for even thinking them. After all, she was all Finn had in this world. Her fingers swept through his hair as he laid his head on her breast, snuggling closer in order to feel safe.
“Are you okay, aingeal beag (little angel)?”
Outside the car people were busily visiting shops, stopping to gossip with friends, and going about their day without living in fear. Couples stole kisses as they sat outside cafes drinking coffee. What must it be like to have such a life? Surely Eileen had no idea, but she knew none of it would ever be hers or Finn’s so long as they were stuck at home with two people that loathed them. Her son would never know what it felt like to have a family that adored him, and it killed her inside to think of the sadness he would endure in his life. He was so innocent, gentle and kind, but the world was not. It scared her to think of him ever losing the beautiful qualities he had. Her long flaxen hair enveloped her resting child like a blanket, making him feel safe.
All too soon they were home again. Once inside she received a firm slap across the face and a verbal lashing that was worse by tenfold. Both parents descended on her like vultures and were relentless in their berating her. Finn was afraid and did not understand why everyone was so upset. He cowered behind his mother, clinging to her sweater for comfort. The second time Eileen’s father struck her, it knocked her down. She sat on the floor, tears flowing freely. Her faithful child could not bear seeing her so broken and hurt, so he stood in front of her, little chest heaving; giving him the appearance of being brave although he was frightened.
“Leave her alone!” His voice was full of false bravado which he had hoped would not be too apparent.
For a time there was silence while the grandparents sized the small blond up. He was usually silent around them as he was well aware of the hatred they held for him. Grandmother was the first to react.
“You do not raise your voice to your elders, you little bastard,” she seethed, her eyes narrowing in disgust as she looked at him.
Grandfather did not speak at first but spanked the impudent youth repeatedly as hard as he could. Still, Finn held his ground, because he wanted to protect his mam from any further pain.
“Get. Out!” the older man shouted, his finger pointing upstairs towards the room Finn shared with his mum.
There was a pause, because he did not know what to do. His bottom was sore and he was afraid his grandfather would be harsher with him if he did not do as he was told, but he was worried about his mum too. Eileen looked up through her tear soaked lashes and gently squeezed her son’s hand.
“It’s okay, my little one, do as granddad says. Go upstairs and read a story, so you can tell me all about it when I get up there. Be a good boy now, and do as I say, love.”
Feeling somewhat comforted by her gentleness, he nodded and went to their room to lose himself in a story of dragons and sorcerers. They were his escape from the terrifying world around him. Sometimes he liked to pretend he was the valiant knight and his grandparents were the dragons he had to slay. It was dinner time when his exhausted looking mum finally made it up the stairs. She carried a tray with cottage pie and two glasses of milk, which she set down on the floor next to Finn. He was lying on his stomach, head resting on his hands and thoroughly engrossed in his storybook.
“Time to eat, sweetheart,” she smiled kindly.
When he looked up, he noticed she looked very sad. Finn sat up and threw his arms around her neck, holding her tightly.
“I love you, mam.”
“I love you, my beautiful boy,” she whispered into his ear. “You are so brave and strong just like the knights in the stories. I’m so proud of you.”
It made his heart swell with pride when he heard her words. She was the one person in the world that always made him feel special, like he was the best thing in the world. Of course to her he was. The two spent their evening enjoying each other’s company. Later, he fell asleep in her comforting embrace while she ran her fingers through his hair.
Finn awoke suddenly in the night, feeling something wasn’t right. When he went to cuddle closer to his mum, she was not there. He waited a bit before going to look for her, assuming she had wandered off for the toilet or possibly some water. Being afraid of the dark, he did not want to walk around if he did not have to. Theirs was the only room with a nightlight, which his mum had purchased for him as soon as she realized he was frightened of the dark. He lay in bed listening for any sound that would indicate she was near. It never came.
How could he know that the very night his mother’s life ended, another man far away was being reborn; a man that would change his life completely.