Clear the Dawn – Niamh O’Donovan

With work starting at dawn, Maeve turned and pulled the duvet close. The thoughts she saw were disjointed and she knew sleep would come soon. The warmth wrapped around her.



The cool air from the window soothed Maeve’s leg. A half in, half out body piled bedclothes into a mound that gathered between her thighs. She could end up working in the office at the hotel. That’s what they wanted. That’s what the afternoon’s meeting was about. The general manager with his body hugging, tailored blue suit and brown shoes everything she hated about corporate work.

She flipped over. An arm tingled with numbness and she freed it from its wrapping. She saw open plan offices and flimsy cubicle walling in her future. She’d tried to escape her years of expensive education but they’d asked her to assist with building a new course. Tourists wanted more than just 18 holes at their luxury resorts. And it wasn’t just golf they had plans for but a full sports centre for visiting teams on luxury retreats.

Maeve blinked. She didn’t know if her eyes had just opened a moment before or if she was always staring at the wall. If she could escape thoughts of career prospects she might have some rest.

With the force to push five-star resorts from her mind Maeve’s legs clamped around the duvet twisting it with her as she turned. The night’s air was a chill on her newly freed leg and the gentle touch of soft fingers filled her mind. She reached out and brushed her own fingertips against the back of the imagined hand. It brought back thoughts of summer nights in an Italian town, the fresh pasta, a hunger sating fullness, and a moonlit night whole with passion. Neck muscles tensed and stretched and she tried to dissociate her own grip puffing up the bedding she held onto. She pulled a deep breath through her nose.

Maeve turned, wrestled with the sheets and flipped again. She had a master’s in business and almost escaped it. She’d paid off her university loans, then abandoned what that gave her. Her savings allowed her a one-year technical course that set her store in a simpler life. Greenkeeping didn’t pay the best but it didn’t make demands. It didn’t ask you to work either at home or in your sleep. Grass needed to be cut. Maintenance wasn’t just busy work, you could see the difference. You were out in the sun, or stuck out in the rain but you were out. Trees grew, even if your wages didn’t.

Maeve lifted her head then pushed it deep into the pillows. Would she even be respected in the office; looking over costings and schedules. She’d be assisting and maybe only a temporary asset for the human resource extraction machine. For now, she was assistant head greenkeeper which didn’t mean much with five workers, but they did respect her. The guys she supervised on the course tried to look busy when she was about. They’d always whinged about girlfriends over their lunches but now it was without sparing their language. Maeve kicked the duvet up and a wave of air bristled against her bare legs as the coolness reminded her of the fresh dawn soon to come.



Maeve placed her arm beneath the pillow propping her head up. The height of the pillows beneath you was a tell on your fitness. Years ago, a trainee doctor quizzed her about her health when she was in hospital; part of a medical school assignment. The doctor was young, polite, even hesitant, so Maeve went out of her way to keep her at ease. The young woman’s purple notebook with white polka dots matched her shoes; both were cute, sweet even, and both would be forgotten as professionalism replaced hopeful dreams of care. Then the young woman asked about pillows. Along with the question came an explanation of head tilt and elevation, airways, respiratory capacity and breathing difficulties. Maeve said she used two pillows. The young doctor nodded and wrote it in her notebook; maybe a present or maybe an indulging attempt to make the difficulty of her studies more in keeping with youthful colour still to the fore. It was true that that Maeve used two pillows but she always kept an arm between them. She could have volunteered that point, but doctors never seemed interested in the information patients think important.


Maeve twisted, pulled in air defiantly and drew her leg high as though to mount the mattress. She worked hard. It was physical work and the work she wanted to keep but organisational structures, HR efficiencies, and management meetings were asking something else. Her life of greenkeeping, sun, and bunker sand might be ending soon taking with it whatever bit of healthy lifestyle she had. She’d have more money, yes, but also more of the type of worry that never suited; a life she thought she’d escaped. Sleep would be an escape, only a temporary one but it wasn’t coming.


Maeve spun and laid her forehead on the bump from her two hands joined in a prayer to rest. The night sky outside her window had the steady energy and light touch of the soon to be dawn. She’d have to be at the golf course in an hour or two. The fitness from walking miles a day, cutting greens, and tending to bunkers did nothing to stop the thoughts of clogged airways, sedentary wasting, and a future sat with spreadsheets while managers looked over her shoulder.


“Exercise helps with sleep.” Maeve forced her eyes closed as birds called to greet the horizon breaking sun.



The business news began to play so she made a guess at the time; just past the half hour, maybe getting close to the new hour. Past education said she should be interested in the business news. Was she interested in business news? The volume was low and if she played it during the noise of day she wouldn’t be able to make out a single sentence. She allowed herself to quieten, the world filled with a gentle hush then the barely perceptible English radio made its march towards the front of her mind.


An interview played on and interrupted whatever trickster semi-sleep Maeve had found. Separate your mind from the words, let them wash over you. She could hear them but the meaning didn’t form, she wouldn’t let it form. She had her own thoughts and they turned to her Friday night. They’d talk about meditation when they met up; coping skills, yoga, mindfulness, stretching, expensive osteopathic chairs for long hours reviewing accounts, sales, strategies, competitive advantages, and presumptuous bosses too full of themselves to realise the type of conversations old friends meeting up on Friday nights had about them, or maybe they simply didn’t care. She tried to separate the radio’s words from her being and her thoughts from ideas of a life’s struggles.


Maeve stretched and relief came with the exertion as her chest filled full with a slow breath. Office smiles and simmering deference used to be her life and it still was their life. All the workplace strife and politeness fraught and dissected from a working life they couldn’t abandon even in the rarity of an evening of food and drinks, and friends. As the college pals trickle in in ones and twos and until the starters it’ll be catch ups with safe and sober questions about family, husbands, boyfriends, and brothers someone still has a thing for. All the mothers had bowed out.


It’s a good excuse; children. She could have had children if she had followed that path. She’s not glad she doesn’t have children rather she’s glad she didn’t follow the plan laid out for her. One made partly by him. And it was always him that stopped her from following it. She’d have had her house, and holidays, and Autumn breaks, and a sure feeling of preordained propriety. Maybe that’s what she should have. In another world she did, and in another world she was content.


Maeve flung back the covers and flicked on her bedside lamp. She’d read another few chapters and once her eyes began to sting sleep would surely come.



Maeve’s eyes popped open. It was dark, and she was cold. It wasn’t dark when she laid down after those few moments of dizziness. It was still bright then, but there was the dulled grey light just before the sun set. She’d rested for too long. Fallen from a nap to a sleep.


What had she dreamed? She closed her eyes tight and tried to burrow into the surreal world she knew she’d just left.


Had a dream woken her? Did a fright raise her heartbeat enough to scare her from slumber or was it a real world thought interrupting a slow and easy trip through uncontrolled imagination?


Maeve sat up on the bed and gathered the duvet around her. Her legs sang with energy and her mind felt on the edge of a fight. Bowing her head, she twisted her neck in an attempt to muscle some sense into sleepy thoughts so rudely interrupted. She needed rest. Tomorrow, or was it later that day, she’d be chatting and dancing with friends. Her alarm was at five, work at six and she wouldn’t be home until three in the morning. Could she sleep more? She had to sleep more. She needed sleep.


Standing and walking to her dressing table with the duvet wrapped around her Maeve checked the time. There was another three hours before she had to wake, plenty of time for rest but her shoulders were tensed and her feet were alert to every strand of carpet beneath her. Trying to avoid the scattering of shoes on her floor she went back to her bed and lay down piling the duvet up behind her.


She thought of the friends she would meet that night; sharing their bed with a partner lying next to them. Knowing they can reach out and find a hand should any pre-dawn panic take them. Cancelling was always an option; a pizza, film, bottle of wine and making a list of pros and cons on her potential new job instead of dancing with friends.


Maeve batted future worries away with a focus on her breath and pulled the bedclothes around her like a shawl keeping out the harshest weather. Something had dragged her fast and quick from a sleep she could barely remember. The darkness in her room was deep and strong as though hiding silent perils. She tried to listen to the sounds outside the window but the wind was calm and it hadn’t rained in a week.


She started to warm again, her breathing eased, and soon she lost the count of inhales as dreams of lost friends took hold.



A flop would be good. Just letting go of the grip her muscles had and falling back into the bed. She hadn’t drunk quite enough for bouncing off mattresses but she still laughed. She kicked off her shoes and making sure her head wouldn’t thump against the wall she allowed herself to drop backwards. A boozy groan escaped her mouth as she realised her jeans were still on. Hooking her thumbs into the waistband she pulled down on them and her underwear was taken too. She wiggled.


She danced. She smoked with friends, then smoked with some guy. “Oh, wow, greenkeeping!” He didn’t know what that was. Fuck golf, fuck offices and fuck decisions. She’d made her mind up.


What did it matter? Whatever she did she’d be able to afford a night out, food in the fridge and if supermarkets still did special offers on half cases of wine she’d be happy. She pulled off her jeans, stripped off her top and looked down at her chest. She gave them a squeeze to rub some life back into cloistered flesh.


The night was good. The dancing was good. The drink was good. The food was good. The chats were ok, but that wasn’t the point. It was good to see her friends and their advice was right. Do what makes you happy, and she was happy out on the course and in the elements. She was happy pushing a lawnmower, she was happy strimming ditches, and she was happy pruning trees. She was even happier she changed the bedclothes before going out.


Inhaling the fresh smell of laundered sheets Maeve threw her arms over her pillows, laid her head back and fell asleep just as thoughts of doubt on a future passing her by began to form.


By noon the sound of her phone buzzing woke Maeve. Despite rising quickly there was no throb of a hangover and the smell of working farmland invading the room was invigorating rather than nauseating. She walked to the window overlooking her small garden as she checked the message that pulled her from sleep. It was Jen asking if she was free for coffee later in the day.


The night with her friends had made her so sure of what was to come but her recall of those thoughts was muddled by a feeling of pressing crowds and images broken by blinkered vision. Looking out over her little grassy patch of garden she saw two rabbits playing in the field behind. She’d have to get the lawnmower out, but she also had to do the messages, wash her clothes, shower, clean the bathroom, and mop the floor. Maeve started texting a response but interrupted it with a stretch and a shouted, energetic yawn.


She looked up again and out at the hills that fell in the distance as though an impressionist backdrop; shades of green and darker green from fields and trees, and delicate yellow from where the grass had been cut for hay. Work mornings were always rushed with no chance to take in any view, and despite tiredness from a hard day’s work by night her mind roared loud with images of life that could only hold sway by keeping her from rest. But now she was at ease. She had rested, and with the brightness of the sunlight and time of her own it was possible to make out the colour of her thoughts.


She stretched again and padded into the bathroom as her mind’s horizon stood strong in relief. Flicking the shower switch she stripped off. The room was warmer than the cool shower and the mix of hot and cold set a store of energy in her core. The cleaning could wait, along with the washing and garden. She’d tell Jen she was definitely on for afternoon coffee and cake, and seeing as she’d be going to town she’d also make time to buy a few books, and maybe a few DVDs. She had a whole sunny Summer’s weekend to fill before she’d tell her boss to shove his office job. The decision on her future was as clear as the day. The bright sky brought light of freedom to warm Maeve’s thoughts.

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