The Shine Journal - The Light Left Behind

Journeys Through Grief








Ethel Rohan




Shane often wondered what his life would have been like if Ava had fallen for him and not Frankie. He’d probably never have left Dublin. He and Ava would have found a little house together, close to her parents. They’d have married and had kids: two boys and two girls, mosaics of their parents’ coloring, features, shapes, and mannerisms.


He didn’t know why he’d gone to San Francisco. It was Australia he’d intended to go to, Melbourne. San Francisco supposedly a short stop along the way. Eighteen years later and he was still in that foggy, glorious city. Had no intention of leaving.


No, there was no “Shane and Ava,” no kids, no life in Dublin. It didn’t just feel like it hadn’t happened, either. It felt like it had all been—Ava, the house, and kids—, all been and all taken away: snatched.


He thought about the other him a lot: the man he would have been if Ava had picked him over Frankie. He felt he’d have been a better man, more complete. He’d have been brighter, shinier, sparkier. Better.


He’d chosen Melbourne to run to for no good reason other than he liked the sound of the name. Mel-bourne, a strong, powerful name, the type of name that promises to let you start over, reinvent yourself. Must have been the “bourne” in Melbourne that made him think about change, about fire and flames and ashes and rising up out of the rubble: made anew.


He’d stayed in San Francisco for lots of good reasons and also because by then he’d figured out that there was no point in traveling any further trying to outrun himself, there no place outside him that was going to fix what was inside him.


He got so angry sometimes he wanted to break something. Got into such a rage on occasion he pictured himself hurting Ava. She’d chosen Frankie and crushed him and sometimes, so help him, he thought she should pay for that. More than slapping her, though, he thought about making love to her. In his dreams, waking and sleeping, they made love so beautiful it was holy.


Sometimes he thought Ava must feel him making love to her, sense him touching her soft skin, breathing-in her sweet milky smell, tasting the salt and sugar of her. He remembered. Sometime, sometimes, when he closed his eyes and waited just so, he could hear her calling him all the way across the ocean, a sound that started off faint as church whispers and climbed to the keening of mourners, a sound that made his heart bleed.


The hurt and pain and regret and anger and love had all diminished over time, of course, but it wasn’t gone. He didn’t think it would ever be gone.      



Bio: Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Ethel Rohan now lives in San Francisco. She received her MFA in fiction from Mills College, CA. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from over twenty online and print journals including Cantaraville; Word Riot; Identity Theory; mud luscious; and Prick Of The Spindle. She is a brazen chocoholic. Her blog is

Motivation: As an immigrant I know what it is to be torn, to wonder at the life and loved ones we left behind. I have two hearts, the heart that loves my current home and the heart that loves my home of origin. I know regret.

Photo: Fabio Pereira

Editor: Pamela Tyree Griffin

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