They were right about the shoes, every last one of them. Mama, with her disapproving look ‘you’re wearing Genevieve’s shoes, but they’re far too small you foolish girl. They’ll pinch your feet’. And Aunt Tilda with her smirk of a face ‘a big girl like you will never fit into the petite one’s shoes. Are you crazy or what?’ Even Genevieve herself, gracious as she was, wasn’t the happiest about sharing her shoes.‘I know you love them but try not to stretch them too much Isabelle, please try’.
But she’d persevered and worn them despite her feet’s protestations at being squashed at the toe and snubbed at the sides and choked altogether round the heels. They were in a sulk from the start becoming raging mad by afternoon, so annoyed with her by then that they seized up altogether and refused to take another step. ‘We’re clothes-pegged in’ they shouted up at her, their voices red and raw and blistering. They cried themselves out in the end with their whinging and fell into a comatose sleep.
And so now here she was, sitting alone for the last hour or more, left out of the dancing, stuck in a quiet corner in the thin of things, staring into her glass of punch more miserable than ever. Just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse, a man who was no gentleman sat down beside her with his hat still on and proceeded to light up a pipe. Her stomach turned at the stale tobacco smell and she was revolted by his dirty hands, his mucky shoes and his raggy beard.
She willed her frozen feet to chaperon her out of here but they wouldn’t budge one inch they were in such a state of paralytic pout. She gave up in the end determined not to panic and sat still as a rag doll feeling as numb as her feet were chanting fast prayers under her breath.
Though she was considered stupid in many ways, Isabelle, she knew better than to catch the gentleman’s (who was no gentleman) eye. She would crawl out of here on her hands and knees if she had to rather than speak to him….
We did exactly as you requested in the end, travelled to the place where you were born and scattered half your ashes there and travelled to the place where you had died and scattered the other half there.
And so there’s a bit of you over in Galway now Michael, out beyond Clifden where the fields are green with all the rain and the trees grow full and high with it and where the Atlantic ocean is more often choppy than not. They knew you as Miclín down here, one of a long line of Michaels, even still the most popular name in the county. I bet you didn’t know that now, with all your learning?
You were Father Michael before you were 30 and a missionary in Sudan for more than forty years after that. More than half your life you often said it, and so, it’s only fitting that there’s a bit of you scattered in that land too on its dense dry soil where trees grow sparse and bare if they grow at all.
They called you Mike out there loosening up your name with a twang and loosening up your strict seminary training too the more you came to know them. It wasn’t long until you wore an open-necked collar and open-toed sandals and not long either until you found a way of talking with them and laughing with them and sharing stories of your past with them. The time you got us to send over photos of the men on the bog, that was for them, wasn’t it? And the shots of the sheep and the currachs you took when you came home –for them too.
They talked to us about all of that when we met them and paid such lovely tributes to you that it made us proud. You had a real vocation Michael, there’s no denying it, a full life well lived. And though you’re dead now, I can’t see you resting in peace somehow. I see you striding on the waves instead still influencing us, walking on water like our Lord before you, a sacred presence, midway between here and there.
He misses her most on grey days like these, the kinds of monochrome days she used to light up for him, her voice slowly and surely burning off the fog, her laughter sparking the sun to life, her touch banishing raindrops, her love lighting a fire in his heart.
There was no need for umbrellas when she was around or trench coats or cloth caps. The artists on the bridge didn’t wear anoraks or paint rain soaked streets. The world was built on music back then, the music of her being, a background chant of cello and chatter that snapped and crackled and popped, colouring everything up.
The soft west wind was always on her side. It called out the sun for her and coaxed bits of blue skies to life. She made music in return for its melodies and harmonies, duets and symphonies. He stood by admiringly, alive in her company, adoring her attention, applauding her every move. She was the best friend he ever had, the only one he ever let close.
Their love ended badly in the end, a thing he’ll never forgive himself for. Something of nothing, words said too quickly rushing out by him before he could take them back. He remembers the sound of a thousand tears and the crack of two shipwrecked hearts, a feeble attempt to say goodbye, the way she turned her head away from him, how she bled his world of colour, the emptiness he felt.
He misses her most on grey days like these, the kinds of monochrome days she used to light up for him….
Whenever Jack saw red roses, he thought of the
young woman in the kitchen garden pruning her Crimson Queen roses. She wore a straw hat, Lady Marjorie, and long loose clothes made of muslin or linen or some other flowy material like that. She wore gardening gloves too, long intricate garments that stretched half way up her beautiful arms.
‘A sight for sore eyes’ that’s how he’d always describe her whenever anyone asked about the lady of the manor. The idea of her tending her own roses made them laugh. ‘Never’ they said ‘a lady of such calibre as that, Lord Durkham’s only daughter’. But Jack knew it to be true. Hadn’t he seen it himfor real and he only a boy.
If he closes his eyes for long enough these days, he can conjure the whole scene up again. The peaceful sight of the delicate dark haired lady in the garden accompanied by the sound of birdsong and huffing horses from the stables and the Master’s voice somewhere nearby calling for his dog. Jack himself no more than a child, seven or eight years old, watching how tenderly the lady touched the roses, wishing someone would touch him as tenderly as that, and would speak to him in the same soft tones the lady used for the roses too – ‘now beautiful’ she said ‘all done for another while’ gathering up her gardening things around her.
He tasted love in her voice. There was no other way to describe it, the smell of her perfume mingling with that of the roses, filling up the air with the scent of magic, intoxicating him….