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Read an extract from Karen O’Connor’s upcoming title, Meeting Mae

Read an extract from Karen O’Connor’s upcoming title, Meeting Mae


by Sarah Gill
19th Jun 2024

Meeting Mae is a tale of family, friendship, and secrets that poses the question, does the truth really set you free?

Susan’s secondary infertility journey is shrouded in shame. She is trying to give her husband Declan the big family they’ve always dreamt of. But she is keeping a secret. A secret not even her best friend knows.

Octogenarian Mae is minding her own business when a distracted Susan almost runs her over. The women form an unlikely friendship, and they reveal their deepest darkest secrets to each other, but the unravelling doesn’t end with them. The consequences of letting her secret out almost cost Susan her marriage and the family she loves so much. Can she finally put the past behind her and fix what she has right now?

Meeting Mae is inspired by teenage motherhood.

Author Karen O’Connor entered adulthood with a baby on her hip, having her first daughter at age 17 in 1993. People looked at her. She became ‘that girl,’ one of them. Her secret was front and centre.

She deferred her college place and never took it up as the reality of being a young single mother arrived. Instead, she did a FÁS electronics course in Radio Television Servicing. Therein began her love of learning and her never-ending cycle of ‘jobs’.

In Meeting Mae, Karen wanted to touch on different choices women have had (or not had) as generations have gone by and the thousands of women who became pregnant as teenagers since the beginning of ‘modern Ireland.’ When it happened to her in 1992, some of the mother and baby homes were still in existence, although they were petering out.

Marriage was another choice. Karen shook her head at both and therein paved her future. Others had to bury theirs, keep it under the surface, never talk of it openly. Karen has had discussions with friends and colleagues over the years about their guilt, grief, shame. Quiet discussions. Secret ones. Karen wanted to explore some of this a bit more with this book.

Read on for the extract below…

Meeting Mae Karen O'Connor

While I stood in line to pay for my high-calorie, high-sympathy binge, I stopped daydreaming and noticed the queue was quite slow-moving. I shrugged and looked at the food I’d mindlessly thrown into my basket. All that was missing was a bottle of wine. I was off form. I looked around the stocky man in front of me and froze when I saw a fluorescent green headscarf. The lady wearing it was fidgeting with the pockets of her purse for the money to pay for her shopping.

It was the elderly woman from a few weeks before. I wondered did she have a different-coloured scarf for every day as she proceeded to empty her change all over the counter. With that, Stocky Guy tutted loudly and moved to another queue. The young cashier smiled apologetically at me as she started to count it out.

I wanted to run but my feet wouldn’t budge so I stayed and waited. As I looked on, I thought of my own mother, busy living out her retirement in a beautiful house in Leitrim with Dad. Driving him mad. I’d have to ring her now too. I groaned at the thought. The old dear finished up, tightened her headscarf and moved off with her two bags of shopping. I paid for my groceries and was salivating at how soon I would be tucking into a lovely sausage sandwich when I caught up with her at the door of the supermarket. Even in my bloated state I was faster than her. She seemed to be struggling a little. As I passed her grappling with her bags, something came over me. That urge to make amends after the fiasco a few weeks previously.

‘Hello! Wild day, isn’t it?’

She looked straight into me with her small unblinking eyes. I wasn’t sure if she was going to answer. I had started to waddle off when she spoke.

‘You know what they say about March?’

‘No,’ I said.

‘In like a lion, out like a lamb, deary.’

She moved on with her bags.

‘Would you like a lift with those bags? I’m going your way anyway.’

I wondered if she’d even recognised me.

‘Well now, that depends. Are you planning on paying attention to the road?’

Her eyes pierced mine. She remembered alright.

‘Look, I’m sorry about that. I feel dreadful –’

‘My arms are hanging off me here, lovey,’ she interrupted with a small smile. ‘So, if you are passing that way, I won’t say no to the lift.’

‘Give those to me then, I’ll take them,’ I said.

‘If you insist, since you’re only a young one.’ She handed the bags over and looked instantly relieved even though they weren’t especially heavy.

I led her to my car and popped the boot so we could put our bags in there. Then I opened the passenger side and frantically began stuffing the wet tissues that were on her seat into my handbag. After she climbed in, I went around to my own side of the car and, in the space of time it took me to get in, buckle myself up and start the engine, she had just managed to put her seatbelt on, fingers fumbling slightly with the buckle. We started off and I turned left onto the old main road, passing the entrance to my own estate and on towards the general area I knew she lived in.

‘So, do you work or have you babies to be minding or what do you do with yourself?’ she asked me bluntly.

‘Right. Well, my name is Susan and yes, I work, but only two or three days a week – in an insurance firm in Glenliffe. Today’s my day off.’ I couldn’t believe I was giving her all this information.

‘Nice little job, gives you time to do your chores and still get out of the house. Do you have a husband, Susan, or children?’

This one caught in my chest. I felt myself growing uncomfortable.

‘Yes, I have both. I’m sorry, I don’t know your name,’ I said, trying to change the subject.

‘It’s Mae. And M-A-E mind you, not May, oh no. My mother named me after the actress Mae West. Always thought us better than everyone else. Notions of grandeur my grandmother called it. So, Mae Hughes. And you’ve just passed by my street. I thought you knew where I lived?’

I screeched the car to a halt and was about to use a profanity when I looked over at Mae and noticed a small smile on her face. I began to reverse back a bit, looking over my shoulder. There was a line of houses just set back from the main road.

‘I just knew the general direction. In there, is it?’

‘It is, Susan.’

I turned the car and drove into the little enclave which wasn’t quite a cul-de-sac but had a green area acting as a buffer between the houses and the main road. I’d always admired this nice little row of eight or so terraced houses.

‘Lovely,’ I said as I drove along the terrace. ‘So, which one is yours?’

I looked closer at the row of houses to my right and could tell immediately. I needn’t have bothered asking. A worn and weathered house looked limply out onto the green.

‘The one with the fancy landscaping,’ Mae said dryly.

I stopped outside her home and observed it sadly.

‘I’ve been shortlisted for garden of the year at Bloom this summer.’ She didn’t even blink as she said it.

We looked at each other and she started to laugh, breaking the ice.

‘Come on so, Mrs Hughes. I’ll help you in with your shopping,’ I said, with a smile on my face.

I got out of my side of the car and around to the boot. I had her two shopping bags in my hands and had her car door opened before she’d unbuckled her seatbelt. I helped her out and let her lead the way as I locked the car and followed.

Her garden was a jungle. The hedges were so overgrown they looked like they were clawing their way up the cracked path to the front door. She fumbled in her bag and took out a bunch of keys that would have weighed a grown man down. As her door swung open, I saw inside and was shocked when I discovered it was not only the garden that had been neglected.

‘The maid’s day off,’ she said to me with a glint in her eye as she stepped in.

Meeting Mae by Karen O’Connor will be published by Poolbeg Press in July.