Danielle McLaughlin (Fiction)

Fields With Asterisks Are Mandatory

On winter mornings, with frost glittering on their spiky arms, they looked almost beautiful. ‘Would it be so bad?’ my mother used to say on those mornings, gazing at the asterisks that stood like stilled Ferris wheels in our neighbours’ fields.

Trucks from the Ministry of Asterisks brought seed: black comma-shaped pods that farmers dug deep into the earth, watched for the first barbed shoots.  But my father was obstinate, unyielding in his resistance: ours were the only fields without asterisks.

At night, while others slept, my father walked among tentacled shadows. He collected in glass jars the pus-like liquid that seeped from the asterisks; catalogued circles of scorched earth, calves born blind with twisted spines.

One evening he brought home a mutant, one-eyed lamb that writhed pink and hairless in his arms. My mother fetched the axe she kept hidden in the pantry. She handed it to him, wordlessly, and he went outside to the yard.

We packed what we could into two suitcases, took blankets, crockery, my mother’s sewing machine. Dawn broke as we drove across the border, fields of asterisks receding in the distance with the night’s stars.

This steel-grey city has no asterisks, but neither has it any fields.  My father sits all day by the window, looking out on the street below. At school, I have learned not to mention blind calves or one-eyed lambs. I compose memories, in my old language, to please my mother.  And at night, things spiked and shadowy roll through the wide open spaces of my sleep.


Danielle McLaughlin lives in County Cork. Her stories have appeared in Inktears, Southword, The Stinging Fly, Boyne Berries, Crannog, on the RTE TEN website, on RTE Radio 1, and in various anthologies. She has won a number of prizes for short fiction, including the From the Well Short Story Competition 2012 and the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen International Short Story Competition 2012.