The Recurring Dream of an Atheist

By Roberta Beary

The camera clicks on the weeping bedsore. “In case of a lawsuit,” the nurse says. I tell her it’s him who hurts Mary when she tries to wash him, not the other way around. “He’s stronger than he looks,” I say. Eddie’s eyes flick open. “Stop telling lies,” he says. “Go get your sister, I want to go home.” The nurse taps the morphine bag. “This should last the night,” she says on her way out. Through the glass I see my sister, Mary, asleep in a chair, hands folded in prayer inside a thin, brown cardigan. Violet bruises bloom above her wrists. When I turn around Eddie looks fierce, the chief of a dying clan. His stare is a frozen bog that calls me to come closer, and I cower before the first blow of the belt. How many years ago? When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things. I hug the morphine tap, turning it three times. Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. The one I would ask forgiveness died a lifetime ago. I cross myself the way she taught me. Eddie’s mouth is moving. In another moment he will accuse me, scream for help. But his words, when they come, are a pantomime of moving parts. My face moves close to his. “I know,” I say. “I saw the bruises.” Eddies tries to make a fist. His hand knocks down the crucifix as he collapses back on the bed. “Do you want the Last Rites,” I ask the deflated balloon. It nods. I put on my Roman collar and take out my beads.


Roberta Beary identifies as gender-expansive, and writes to connect with the disenfranchised, to let them know they are not alone. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Rattle, KYSO Flash, 100 Word Story, Cultural Weekly, and Flash Fiction Festival Two. She lives in County Mayo, Ireland.

3 thoughts on “The Recurring Dream of an Atheist”

  1. More than brilliant, and much more…

    There is something magical about perfect, precise writing. Here, a Catholic family’s history, dominated by the abusive Eddie, is painted for us with the minimum of brush strokes. Small fragments are enough to create characters, and we feel emotions through understatement and (barely) kept control, even in the final act of revenge. And all this using precisely 300 words—not one more, not one less.


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