The thing with Debbie

This week, The Kilkenny Observer welcomes Kilkenny student Keela Ayres as she presents a short story for our readers. As a newspaper, we attempt to cover as much news as possible on various topics. The inclusion of a young writer, such as Keela, with aspirations in that field, is something we are happy to promote.

By: Keela Ayres

“I need to be back in time for maths or Mr Murphy will tear the head off me!” Marky puffed as the rest of the group rushed alongside him.

Marky insisted on moving their daily smoke to lunch instead of after school, desperate to show off the lighter he had ‘borrowed’ from his father.

“Well it wouldn’t be a surprise if he did it anyway!” chimed in Harriet as they all slowed to a halt in front of the bike sheds.

Harriet and Marky always teased each other, usually doing so with blushing faces.

James and Frances sat on top of the bins as Marky took his spot in the corner.

Debbie began spluttering against the bikes, causing everyone to look over in concern.

She was out of breath already?

“You alright Deb?” began Harriet before being cut off by the flick of Debbie’s hand.

“I’m grand Har, honestly” Debbie smiled, in a way she hoped was reassuring.

It wasn’t. Harriet wasn’t easily fooled.

Everyone dived into their pockets for a leftover cigarette, causing Marky to excitedly unveil the famous lighter.

He had every right to be enamoured with it.

It was jet black with a carved golden clover.

Frances balanced her freshly burning cigarette to examine the lighter. “Won’t you be in serious bother when your Da finds out?”

Marky proudly puffed out a cloud of smoke that engulfed the shed.

“Since he started working nights, he can barely remember his own name. He never noticed.”

James and Harriet stuck their cigarette butts into the scarlet flame before passing it on to Debbie, who nodded gratefully and did the same.

While taking a drag, Debbie’s sleeve fell, revealing a zig-zag row of navy bruises.

Harriet’s eyes widened into green saucers.

No one noticed through their surging flow of chatter.

The world around her fell silent as she focused on Debbie, who she’d known since first year.

She watched her lean into her cigarette with a half-smile, the only source of heat on an October afternoon that stopped her legs from buckling.

She has never been this quiet.

Her eyes couldn’t lie.

Debbie was the furthest thing from ‘fine’.

Harriet then locked eyes with Marky, who was in his usual bumbling babble. He cracked a flushed grin until he followed her thumb, directing him to Debbie’s bruises that Harriet hoped she wouldn’t spot. James and Frances picked up on Marky’s sudden frozen frame. James began teasing him: “You’re floating away into space when we couldn’t get you to shut up this morning!

Dragging us out here just to gawk at that stupid lighter!” trying to mimic the tone of a tutting teacher.

Frances crumbled from cackling into concern when she noticed why the attention was focused on Debbie.

It wasn’t until he looked down that even James had finally copped it. Silence suffocated the shed.

They all avoided each other except for Debbie.

What would they even say? She finally broke it with a heavy glare. “If ye want something to stare at, it should be the lighter.

Quit gawking at me!”

She cautiously slid her arms behind her back.

A dead giveaway.

Harriet cleared her throat, beginning shakily: “Deb, is everything alright? We’re just worried that you’re acting differently lately.”

Debbie’s glare wavered as her maroon eyes began to well.

The dark circles underneath were an obvious sign of many sleepless nights.

She inhaled a final puff before smashing the burning cigarette against the wall.

She slapped on a grin that was comically strained.

Debbie Brenann never asked for anyone’s help.

She would have to be broken many times before she ever cracked. Her tone turned eerily cheery.

“I told you before I’m grand, stop the sappy talk!

See you all inside!”

She then evaporated around the corner without a goodbye or explanation, as if she wasn’t there at all.

The group were left with a choked sob that echoed against the walls.

They all stamped out their cigarettes, silently agreeing that something was wrong.

Debbie running from them was taking the truth away with her. Her life, they now suspected, could be in serious danger.

And if they wanted to save it, they had to start now.

Seventeen year old Keela Ayres is from Kilkenny City and currently attends Presentation Secondary School.

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