Sketch of an Atheist. Creative non-fiction by Anita Gracey

Stars hung from the night sky when my brother was castaway, bones lost in pj top, his pallor a dismal grey. No more savage sweep of the eyes, the Kingfisher flash of blue. We parted during lockdown, a time which was appropriate for you.

I remember he had chosen for his Confirmation name the saintly ‘Spiderman’; the priest would not allow it – God mustn’t be a fan. An annoyed teacher wrote about it to mummy. Maybe this is the moment, when him and God parted company.

On caravan holidays he would tell tales of chemical loo axemen. Men with ear-wig savagery who would eat me like I was a strawberry. Terrified I clung to teddy, I was gullible then.

Petrol bombs and riots were nothing to him in his small world – so unpretty, but he was innocent then, he shook it off like Belfast confetti. He didn’t see God on the street much, in a childhood marked with barbed violence. Armed with parents’ love he survived his teens and -the experience.

God surely wouldn’t dole out disability, to him with Spiderman’s invincibility! But two long legs became four wheels, he’d shrug saying what can you do, you put up with it, he had to. He took pride in his independence as a man of wheels, and was stubborn, a warrior strength revealed.

He got top marks in horticulture at college, but he had no real interest. Leaves shiver their neglect, soil in need of a drink and his meagre plastic plants scream ‘reject’. He refused to take root and travelled abroad to reboot. His photos were of sunny trips, anchoring girls to him, long arms around shoulders, adrift with his manic grin. God gift to the ladies he thought he was, well you gotta love a tryer was his self-applause.

Now living in a flat, he preferred to call it an Apartment, for new friends he created a whole new backstory, papered in gilt parchment

For his funeral he didn’t want a fuss, no prayers nor lament, no winged angels playing – he didn’t believe in heavenly ascent. The wake was three hours in the car park, greeting family and friends. Two at a time to view the closed coffin, a very surreal bend.

The funeral was restricted to ten people, with social distant spacing apart. We filled the space with his stories, talking from the heart. His brothers wanted to carry the coffin, but this was not his fate. So, the cars followed the hearse and we were turned away from the crematorium gate.

As an atheist Brian believed he would not be in the sunset, or the morning birdsong, or the clinging dewdrop, for him that would be wrong.


Anita has been published in Poetry Ireland Review, Washing Windows – Irish Women Write Poetry (Ed. Eavan Boland), North Star (ed. Woman Aloud), Abridged, The Poets Republic, The Honest Ulsterman, Poetry NI, The Blue Nib, Culture Matters, Sonder, Domestic Violence Anthology, CAP Anthologies, Bangor Literary Review, Sonder and Pendemic. Her work has featured in The Poetry Jukebox. She was shortlisted Over the Edge New Writer of the Year 2018 and shortlisted for Chultúrlann Poetry Competition 2020. Anita is supported by an iDA award, managed by the University of Atypical on behalf of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.


  1. A very moving piece Anita, love the poetic language, a fitting tribute.

  2. Thank-you Caroline, it was thereputic to write. It began as a poem but wrote itself to become a memoir piece.

    1. Anita that is such a beautiful and honest piece I’ve ever read, You are the strongest wee lady I have had the pleasure of been related to (aside from your great wee mammy )
      You are a one off ❤️.

      1. Thanks Marina. Mummy would have been brokenhearted at all this. But I have to keep reminding myself that Brian wouldnt have wanted a fancy funeral anyway. XXO

  3. Very moving piece and a great tribute to him.

    1. Thank-you Trish. It means a lot to hear this.

  4. Beautiful Anita, very moving. So difficult a time to have a death of a loved one. Take good care of yourself. Thinking of you

    1. You could be my biggest fan – thank-you for your continued support!

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