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Short Story Time: Night of the Quicken Trees

December 3, 2009

This story is another in the collection Walk the Blue Fields by Claire Keegan. Although I was rather ambivalent about this story when I immediately finished it a few days ago, I find that I like it more in retrospect. The story is preceded by an excerpt from something called “Feet Water,” which Keegan refers to as an Irish fairy tale. I looked for it in my Children’s Book of Irish Fairy Tales, and couldn’t find any mention of it, but I’ll take her at her word. The fairy tale seems to be about a superstition about water used to cleanse people’s feet at the end of the day. Supposedly, one must always throw the washing water out at the end of the day so as not to bring bad luck into the house. What an interesting way to begin a story–so charming yet also rather ominous.

The actual story begins with the introduction of Margaret–a superstitious woman who has just moved into the house of a recently deceased priest. The house is a duplex, and she happens to live next to an eccentric widower who lives with a goat. It really is one of the oddest set ups. As one might imagine, something weird happens with Margaret and her “feet water,” and the story proceeds from there.

I am surprised that this story has grown on me, but I have found myself chuckling about the goat or pondering the unique Irish superstitions and fairy tales. This story is surely one of the strongest in this collection. (I’ve read all but one so far.) The writing is beautiful, and since I didn’t give a teaser yesterday, I’ll provide one today–a part of the story’s first paragraph.

Margaret Flusk had neither hat nor rubber boots nor a man. Her brown hair was long, flowing in loose strands like seaweed down her back. She wore a big sheepskin coat that fitted her to perfection and when she looked out at the mortal world it was with the severity of a woman who has endured much and survived. When she moved to Dunagore she was not yet forty but it was past the time when she could bear a child. That power had left her years ago and always she blamed it on that night of the quicken trees.

From The Night of the Quicken Trees, a story in Walk the Blue Fields: Stories by Claire Keegan, p. 131.

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