Category Archives: short stories

The canvas can do miracles

Art for art's sake

Art for art’s sake

‘Mmm, I like this,’ said the voice behind me.
I turned and saw a woman who was taking a close interest in one of my paintings. She glanced at me briefly before turning her gaze back to the painting that was hanging from the railings on Merrion Square. It was a Sunday morning in early May and the place was busy with tourists taking in the colourful canvases. I had recently managed to get a pitch at the city’s most popular outdoor art market and I liked the friendly atmosphere. It was proving to be fruitful for me and I had met some interesting people.
‘Good,’ I said, following the woman’s look to a seascape I had painted a few months earlier. On a breezy day in September, I remembered, when the wind was fresh and clouds scudded across a blue sky. ‘Do you recognise the scene?’
She stepped closer to the painting, her eyes roaming over the canvas. ‘No, but I like the energy. And I think that you’ve captured the moment beautifully.’
I raised an eyebrow in response and looked at the painting that I had called Sea-scape. It was one that I had painted quickly, the idea for it coming almost fully formed at the moment of conception.
That did not happen often, and I was immensely satisfied with the result. And so, it appeared, was someone else.
‘Where is it?’ she asked, looking at me.
‘It’s from the end of the West Pier in Dun Laoghaire, looking across Dublin Bay to Howth. There was a yacht race on that day but I was only interested in the small boat just beyond the harbour entrance.’ I pointed to red brushstrokes that showed the boat with a white sail flapping in the wind. It was being lifted by an incoming wave and the two sailors, in their yellow lifejackets, were holding on to the side rails. In the middle of the bay yachts were racing; and beyond them the sun glinted off windows on sea-facing houses in Howth.‘The single boat is eye-catching,’ she said.

The Beacon, Baltimore

The Beacon, Baltimore

‘Do you sail?’
‘Not now, but I did once upon a time. I lived in Baltimore, in west Cork, and I’m familiar with scenes like this. They were always exciting, and that’s what I remember best.’
The woman was, I suspect, in her mid-thirties and she had short, dark hair that just reached the collar of her cream-coloured blouse. The handles of a leather bag hung on a shoulder and she twirled sunglasses in her hand.
‘But since I moved away, and that’s a long time ago, I’ve no family there anymore…this painting brings back memories.’
‘Happy ones, I hope.’
She grinned. ‘Yes, very happy ones.’

It was nice hearing such positive words, something that I never expected when I finished my first painting. I was in my late teens and liked visiting galleries with my mother and listening to her talk about her favourite artists. So, after a few false starts, I began painting, something that I kept secret for as long as I worked on it. A month or so later I nervously removed the old cloth and revealed my maiden effort.
‘Very good,’ Mum said ‘and remember how good it makes you feel because others will feel it too. And that’s a wonderful thing.’ She gave me a hug, and told me again that she loved what I had done.
She had always dabbled in art, but began to take it seriously after my father died.
He had been killed in a car crash and I remember the sound of her cries as she rocked herself to sleep. Losing the man she loved was painful, beyond words, and it was her love of painting that saved her, and me. I didn’t understand that at the time, but looking back I see how strong she was, and that her search for peace was something that she had to do to give her life meaning.
Over the years she sold many paintings at local fetes and Arts & Craft fairs. That was a great source of pride, but there was more to it, a deeper feeling that I could not see, but knew was there.
‘It’s all about finding peace of mind,’ she told me as we sat in the studio one day ‘and the clarity it brings.’ Then she pointed to different features in a painting and how they worked together to make a coherent, pleasing story. ‘One day you’ll understand,’ she said, squeezing my shoulder.
I nodded, but it took many years before I finally understood what her words meant.

‘And I really like the rhythm,’ the woman said, as my artist friend on the next pitch gave a thumbs-up sign.
‘And what rhythm is that?’ I asked, as another person stopped to look at my wall of paintings. I had discovered that talking with a potential customer was good as it attracted others, and I had a quick word with my latest visitor.
‘The rhythm of life,’ replied the woman turning to the painting. ‘The little boat has left the safety of the marina and is struggling in the waves as it heads into the bay where the water is calmer. And then there is the far-off land, past the big yachts, that the little boat may one day reach.’
I nodded.
‘It’s like a metaphor for life,’ she added and crossed her arms.
‘And do you interpret dreams too?’ I asked, and that got a laugh.
She shook her head. ‘No, but I have been dreaming about finding a painting like this, and I’d like to buy it. So, how much is it?’ she asked, before turning again to the canvas that might just be on its way to a new home.
I checked the price on the back and she said ‘I’ll take it.’ We shook hands and I asked her if she painted.
‘I don’t, but I’m a musician and I love paintings even though I can barely paint a garden fence.’
It was my turn to laugh.
‘And I hope that you have a good place for it,’ I said, as I began wrapping the painting.
‘I have a blank wall in a room where I like to read and listen to music, so it will suit perfectly. It’s a lovely room but it’s been waiting for something like this to complete it. And I’m delighted to have found it.’ She was happy and so was I, as I knew my painting was going to be appreciated.
‘So, what more can you tell me about it?’ she asked, stepping back to let a couple walk by.

I spent a decade living in London where any number of attractions demanded and got my attention and painting wasn’t one of them. I went to plenty of art galleries and exhibitions but I didn’t lift a paintbrush until I returned to Dublin.
My mother had passed away years before and I often walked on the West Pier in Dun Laoghaire as I reacquainted myself with the place. The tangy smell of the sea air and the breeze, sometimes gentle and sometimes strong, were always a draw and I loved it. And with my mother’s old brushes by my side I made quite a few paintings of scenes from the pier, many of which I had, thankfully, sold.
And it was with great anticipation that I accepted my friend Sheila’s invitation to go sailing from the yacht club. ‘Just do as I say,’ she said as we sat in her boat before setting-off.
She was an experienced sailor who was enjoying her new boat, and on a sunny day in early July we were ready to sail. Having often stood on the West pier as boats made their way into the bay I was delighted to be finally enjoying the experience.

Dun Laoghaire marina...to the sea

Dun Laoghaire marina…to the sea

‘You ok?’ Sheila asked.
‘Aye, aye, Captain,’ I said, grinning from ear to ear.
Past the lighthouses and into the bay the water began to get choppy.
I grabbed the hand-rail and rocked up and down and back and forth as we bounced about like a cork. I was a little nervous but not afraid, especially as I was with Sheila who knew what she was doing.
No, it was more like I was thinking about something else, but I couldn’t quite work out what that was.
Sheila pulled ropes, shouted instructions to me and used the tiller to guide us to calmer waters. It was demanding, and I had no time to think of anything other than what I was told to do.
After four or five minutes in the bubbling water Sheila shouted something and I managed to do what she wanted and the sails filled. The boat lurched forward and I was suddenly lifted into the air, before plopping back down. It had all happened in a heartbeat but I felt as though I had been flying. I knew it was crazy but I couldn’t deny that something was different.
Then a wave then hit the boat and completely drenched me. Sheila looked over, a look of concern on her face.
‘Are you alright, this is a bit rougher than I had expected,’ she said.
I didn’t remember my reply but Sheila said that she was surprised when I began to laugh, and embrace the choppy waters like an old sea dog.
Back in the yacht club Sheila asked me what had happened. She thought that I must have banged my head, and if I did it was only to knock some sense into me.
Sailing about later that afternoon I thought about my ‘flying’ incident.
When I was lifted into the air all sense of fear disappeared and I experienced an unexpected calmness. It was quiet, and I felt and understood everything around me. I had been released, that was the only word that made sense to me, and I had found my happy place. And the thing was that I could ‘feel it’ just like my mother had said all those years ago.
The sun was a big, orange ball falling into the sea as Sheila and I talked about our trip and I told her about my epiphany.
‘Oh to be beside the sea, is that it?’ she said with a knowing look, and I happily accepted her offer of another trip into Dublin Bay. The sea had given me something special, and I tried to capture it in my paintings. It was difficult, but sometimes I got close and for that I was thankful.

‘And that’s why I called it Sea-scape?’ I said, ‘because it was at sea that I escaped into a new freedom.’
The woman smiled. ‘I understand, and thank you for telling me that. Now, whenever I look at the painting I will be able to see you being bounced around before finding your happy place. It’s a wonderful story.’
I nodded. ‘And I hope that you find yours.’
She put the painting under her arm, slipped on her sunglasses and was about to leave when she turned to me. ‘I have, and it’s called Sea-scape.’

The canvas can do miracles

The canvas can do miracles

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Filed under Art, Dublin, short stories

‘It’s for You…’

Crisp and clear

Crisp and clear

A chilly, breeze blew across the cobblestones and the wedding group shivered, again. The photographer waved his hands wanting us to get closer and, when all was ready, he looked through the eyepiece and said out loud ‘Cheese.’
We grinned, smiled or whatever as the flash went off, briefly lighting the grey afternoon.
‘Don’t move,’ cried the photographer ‘another one, please.’ When he was finished we broke into small groups and stood about chatting about the ceremony while older weddinggoers, more familiar with such events, headed for the comfort and warmth of a car, and onto the hotel. It was a few weeks before Christmas and the day was crisp and clear, with the sun only a temporary, but welcome, presence.

We climbed into Tony’s car and we drove along the Coast Road, past Clontarf and a windswept and empty Dollymount Strand where the  last vestiges of the setting sun were reflected in the windows of the houses that looked upon Dublin Bay. And just beyond the beach, in the dark waters, the white horses were galloping ever closer.
At the hotel in Howth I stood in front of a big fire and warmed my hands. ‘Don’t hog it,’ cried Kate as she discreetly eased past me and bathed in the warm glow. She couldn’t hide her delight and cooed with pleasure. ‘I would love a hot whiskey, darling,’ she said and kissed me on the cheek.
‘You and the rest of them,’ I said and went to the bar.
I also bought drinks for Tony and Claire and went back and re-joined Kate who had now recovered and was ‘warm all over.’ That was great as I once again stood in front of the blazing coals. It was invigorating and soon I stepped away and let some other freezing souls enjoy the fire of Howth.

Fire of Howth

Fire of Howth

Bill, the groom, was my best friend and we had met on our first day in school. Growing up we played football for the same club; robbed orchards; mostly liked the same music; learned to drive within a few months of one another and later chased girls. It was the best of times, and I now wished him the best of luck in the new phase of his life that was just beginning. He and Caroline met at a barbecue two years ago, and he was now happily wearing a new wedding ring. And a smile wider than Dublin Bay.
I was delighted for the new couple and accepted a drink when Tony came back from the bar. It was early and the noise level was already beginning to rise. What would the night bring, I thought, and deep down an idea began to form? I tried to grab it but it was too quick for me, so I let it go and downed a mouthful of a creamy Guinness. ‘Cheers,’ I said to the other three, and ‘here’s to a great night.’

The conversation around the dining table was lively, as the eight of us had plenty of fun ribbing one another, something that we had done for years. That night it was particularly entertaining and helped along by mucho vino. They say that it loosens the tongue and Dave was on fine form telling jokes. ‘You dirty old man,’ laughed Kate when Dave told a particularly rude one. The time passed quickly and, with the speeches over, the dancing started. The DJ turned the music up and soon the floor was packed with giddy dancers.
Over the next hour or so I met and talked with friends and Bill’s cousin, Alex, who I had not seen for a long time. He had moved to Los Angeles and was doing very nicely in the music business and living near the beach. He invited me to ‘drop in’ anytime and I carefully put his business card away. And it was just after he joined the dancers that the idea came back, and this time I got a hold of it. I grinned, lost in thought, and then went off to find Kate, Tony and Claire. It was going to be a team effort but I knew that I would be singled out as the ringleader. I didn’t care, and for Bill, who had played pranks on me before, it was ‘pay-back time’.

I gathered the merry pranksters together and I laid out the plan.
‘You’re mad, he’ll never fall for it,’ said Kate, shaking her head.
But Claire loved it. ‘That’s a great idea, Joe, and crazy enough to work,’ she said and looked at Tony who was grinning his face off.
We spent another ten minutes going over the plan until we were happy. ‘Well, Claire, are you ready?’ I asked.
She took a last sip of wine, smacked her lips and nodded. ‘Let’s do it,’ she said and took up her position beside the public telephone at the end of the bar.
I spotted Bill dancing with an aunt, and I nodded for the game to begin.

Claire picked up the phone, dialled the front desk and asked for Bill. ‘I’m calling from California. Can you get him quickly, please, as this is costing me a fortune.’ She kept a straight face and her American accent was acceptable, especially as it was dulled in all the background noise.
Tony and I watched as a staff member came up the stairs and was pointed over to Bill. He leaned close to hear what she was saying and then he was off down the stairs two at a time. We let him get to the bottom before we made our way to the small landing, and waited.
Behind us, Claire now playing the part of Bill’s old, Californian flame, Debbie, waited as the receptionist handed over the phone.
‘Hello,’ he said and Claire answered with a big, friendly ‘Hi, there, Bill, what a surprise, eh?’
I could see him hold the phone close to his ear, concentrating on the words coming ‘all the way from America’. He was relaxed and crossed one foot over the other and talked with ‘Debbie’. Tony tapped me on the back and whispered, ‘He’s going to kill you.’ I nodded as Bill kept talking. I could just hear him say ‘…how did you find out?’ when Claire put the phone down. She was laughing hard and had to wipe the tears from her eyes.
‘Hello, hello, hello…’said Bill as the line went dead. He shook his head, handed the phone back and turned around. Then he stopped at the bottom of the stairs and looked up. It was like a scene from a movie when he saw us and we couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
‘I’ll kill ya, Joe,’ he cried and scampered up the stairs.
He didn’t, thankfully, and The Night of the Caller has not been forgotten. And as time moves on I am very much aware that somebody out there has my number, and is just waiting to ‘make that call’.

'It's for You...'

‘It’s for You…’

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Filed under Dublin, Humour, Ireland, short stories

Teacher Hooked

Hook you like...

Hook you like…

It was a bitterly cold day shortly before Christmas and the class was restless. The room was packed as we prepared for English, which was always one of the most enjoyable classes. The teacher, Mr. Stores, or Dick as he was commonly known, was considered to be one of the best in the school and, although not a pushover, we could get on pretty well with him. This was important as most of the other teachers were much older than Dick and we had little or nothing in common with them. He was like an older brother, and we felt an affinity that was to our mutual benefit.
That was until one fateful day.
On that particularly sharp and windy morning Dick came into the class, took off his coat and cast his eyes about for a spare hook. When he could not find one he proceeded to remove coats from a hook near the lectern and let them fall to the floor. Then he placed his coat on the now free hook and, tapping its pockets to ensure that nothing was left in them, started the class by asking ‘Well, class, what do we think of Shakespeare’s use of irony?’

The class was distracted and barely paid attention to his question after this unbelievably, crass act. It was a bad moment, and to use one of his pet phrases ‘a Rubicon had been crossed’. Furtive glances were exchanged and heads were shaken in disbelief as thoughts of revenge silently grew. We soon focussed on the lesson, while conjuring up all sorts of cruel punishments for Dick’s despicable behaviour.
Over the next few days many suggestions were offered ranging from the diabolic to the downright inventive, all generating much mirth. It was no surprise that the most colourful suggestions were thought up by someone who has since become a leading politician. A talent for deception and the ability to laugh at another’s misfortune is an essential for such a career, and Kelly had it in spades. When I think about it now I’m sure that he was must have been emotionally damaged at an early age, or maybe he was just nasty git. The best suggestions came from those in the back row, always a source of nefarious thinking, and, appropriately, the winning idea came from one of the boys whose coat Dick had dropped onto the floor. And, like all great endeavours it was deceptively simple, but it needed careful preparation.

And above all, timing.

Gummed up

Gummed up

The plan called for a nice, shiny new hook to be made available to Dick at the start of our next English class. Unbeknownst to him we had removed the screws from a hook and substituted them with a large blob of wet, sticky chewing gum. This mouth-watering work of adhesive genius took five of us an entire lunch-hour to prepare and our jaws were sore from all the chewing. Mine were numb and I thought that I had had a rough time at the dentist. My face as red as a cardinals hat when I finished and offered my blob to one of the ‘engineers’. Murphy’s job was to join all the blobs and have a trial run. He did it with great commitment as coats were hung and the resistance factor calculated. After stringent testing he decided that more gum was needed and Connolly was sent to the local shop for supplies.
When the final solution was prepared and tested, under the watchful eyes of the entire class, the shiny hook was pressed into position and fingers were crossed in anticipation. ‘Well done, Murph,’ someone shouted and we all cheered. The engineer smiled, took a bow and slipped casually into his desk.
There had been many pranks played on teachers over the years and our magnum opus would definitely to be remembered. The story would go around the school like wildfire, and with everything in place we waited in scholarly silence for the coat tosser to get his comeuppance.

Ring-a-ding-ding

Ring-a-ding-ding

Shortly after the school bell rang we heard the sound of Dick’s steel-tipped shoes coming down the corridor, and the tension in the classroom rose a notch. ‘All things come to those who wait,’ whispered Doyle conspiratorially into my ear as he leaned over from the desk behind. I grinned and followed the other thirty pair of eyes as the door opened and the lamb walked easily to a silent, sticky slaughter.
Dick put his case down and, as usual, looked about for a spare hook. His eyes moved along the line of coats before landing on the shining beacon that almost cried out for his attention. ‘I’m free,’ it seemed to say and he grinned in surprise at his good fortune. He walked across the front of the class, took off his coat and, as the moment of truth was reached, carefully placed it on the hook. It held, thank God, and we collectively breathed a sigh of relief.

The class started with a discussion on the merits of the sonnet form but our attention was elsewhere. It was difficult not to keep an eye on Dick’s coat but nothing happened for the first ten minutes or so. As time passed without incident we begrudgingly cursed Murphy for his obvious brilliance as an engineer. Dick moved about the room, as was his style, asking questions and developing an argument that was informative and lively. I made a contribution and sat back, as the first movement of the Dick’s coat was spotted.
All eyes darted to and from the hook as its adhesive support began to stretch like only quality gum can. It moved slowly, like a river of pink lava against the wooden panelled wall. I looked at Dick and wondered about his possible reaction when he realised what had happened. ‘It might turn nasty,’ had been the general opinion, and we were about to find out.
Dick continued to walk about as his overcoat continued its inexorable, downward slide. It was a wonderful sight and it killed off all the idle chatter in the room. The quiet was bordering on the religious as the thick, pink line began to unravel and fray.
‘There she goes,’ Doyle sniggered under his breath.
Dick turned abruptly and asked. ‘Well, Doyle, have you got something to share with us?’ He raised his brow waiting for an answer, but none came.
There was total silence in the room as the gum, having performed beyond all expectations, its elasticity stretched to the maximum, finally and gloriously broke.
We all turned to see Dick’s coat lying on the floor below the thin strip of glistening, pink gum that was about three feet long.
Dick was furious, and he snatched his coat up and roughly brushed it before tossing it over the back of his chair. Breathing hard and staring at us with fire in his eyes we braced ourselves for the inevitable explosion. To our surprise, though, he put his hands up in a gesture of surrender and uttered just one word. ‘Sorry.’ It was a comment that earned him a round of applause and cemented our new, mutual understanding.

Scene of the crime

Scene of the crime

 

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Belle of the Ball

The Campanile

The Campanile

It was a photograph that triggered the memory like they so often do. As I turned the page of my newspaper I noticed the group of happy revellers as they celebrated and danced the night away at the Trinity Ball. I smiled and cast my mind back to the first time that I had been there on a warm, May night many years before.

The Ball, as everyone called it, was the best night out in Dublin, and that time Peter and I were determined to make it a night to remember. And with that in mind we invited girls that we knew only slightly – but fancied a lot. When they accepted our invitations we were walking on cloud nine, and suddenly in a desperate search for dress suits. We spent the next few days running from one dress hire shop to another but without any success. It was all getting a little nervy and panic wasn’t far away. The high demand for suits was making it impossible to get anything suitable and our big night was beginning to look in doubt. However, after many, anxious phone calls and much scratching of heads Peter’s uncle saved the day. He was part-owner of a theatre costume company and when we dropped in to see him, he put us right.

‘I still think that you boys would look better as a pair of pirates – I’ve plenty of eye-catching stuff upstairs. Want to check them out?’ he said before laughing out loud.

He’s mad, I thought, and stared at him.

‘I wouldn’t worry about him’, Peter said when we left the shop ‘he’s always like that. He loves playing games on people. He’s a real messer.’

After what seemed like an eternity of waiting and planning, the big night finally arrived. My mother said that I ‘looked the part’ while my young brother said I looked like Fred Astaire or maybe a gangster. With those thoughts in mind Peter and I went to collect the girls, with two bunches of flowers on the back seat of his dad’s car.

Bouquet for a belle

Bouquet for a belle

Jenny looked great in her long white dress and Peter was delighted when she kissed him on the cheek. A few minutes later we pulled up at Shelly’s house and I felt my heat beat a little quicker. My throat dried up as I rang the bell, and when her mother opened the front door I barely managed ‘Hello’. Her friendly smile eased my nerves, but the sight of Shelly coming down the stairs made my heart jump. She looked wonderful in a long, black dress and her blonde hair fell to her shoulders. She was fabulous, a picture that burned itself into my excited brain. I awkwardly handed her the bunch of flowers and she smiled her thanks. After a quick sniff she took one out, broke the stem off and stuck the red bloom in her hair. Suddenly she was like an exotic Spanish dancer and I beamed my approval.

Our excited chatter lasted all the way into the city where we had booked a table at Nico’s Restaurant on Dame Street. This was really pushing the financial boat out but it didn’t matter one little bit. The place was buzzing and we had a great time and lots of laughs. The night had started well, and many of the diners wished us well as we left the restaurant and walked to Trinity College where a long, noisy queue was moving slowly.

Music from the festivities reached over the old building and people were dancing and singing as the queue made its way to the gate. There was magic in the air and I felt it when Shelly put her hand in mine and we moved with the music. We swayed our way through the gate and entered a wonderland of bright lights, colourful tents, fun and music.

‘Let’s dance,’ Shelly said and we skipped off to the old Exam Hall where a band was whipping up a storm. The place was manic and I had never seen such a frenzy of excitement as the band upped the pace. It was brilliant and Shelly loved to dance – and boy could she dance! She didn’t mind my clumsy efforts and laughed when I almost fell over trying to do some fancy turn. She doubled up and a stream of happy tears shone on her face. She said it didn’t matter and that I was actually better that most of the other guys anyway.

When the band finished we left and walked about for a while taking in the sights and sounds. Across the cobble-stoned yard a disco blasted out the latest hits while inside a pink-coloured tent unsteady groups were barn dancing. Or at least that’s what it was supposed to be! Looking down on it all was the bell tower – the campanile – from where someone had tied a bicycle with its light flashing. ‘How did they do that?’ asked Shelly as we gazed up wide-eyed.

Let's swing again

Let’s swing again

‘I’ve no idea’, I replied ‘but…I’d hate to be looking for a lift home later!’

The night passed as we danced, swung and screamed on a brilliantly lit chair-o-plane, chatted to friends and watched a very adult Punch and Judy show. And before we knew it the sun was rising and the bright, colourful lights began to lose their sparkle as all around us revellers began to drift away. The music had dropped off as, arm-in-arm, Shelly and I walked across the yard and again looked up at the flashing, bicycle light. ‘Hey, it’s still winking at us.’ I said.

Shelly stopped and looked at me. ‘Yes, and thanks for a wonderful night. It’s been really great fun!’ Then she leaned close and we kissed.

‘Memories,’ I thought now, remembering Shelly, the belle of the ball, on that warm, wonderful night.

Here comes the sun...

Here comes the sun…

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Saved by the Book

Sail Away

Sail Away

1

She turned over and winced when a sunbeam cut straight past the sleep in her eyes. A small guttural sound involuntarily escaped from her throat and she pulled a pillow over her head. The sunbeam had woken her and she knew that change had come. There was no going back and, for better or worse, she was moving on. No, no…the worse doesn’t come into it, that’s over. Fool me once, she thought, her breathing even and loud with her nose pressed against the mattress. Yeah, you’ve caused me too much pain to go back, she said, hearing the words reverberate in her head and was genuinely surprised at the thought.
But then all things change.
Standing in front of the mirror she brushed a few loose hairs from her face and exhaled, loudly. The first thing she noted were the eyes; the eyes that had seen her boyfriend with another woman yesterday. They were red and sore and she shivered when she realised how tired she looked. She hated what she saw but didn’t look away. Not even her droopy shoulders could do that as she wanted to remember this image and imprint it on her brain. She did that and then stepped under the shower for a long, cleansing of both body and soul.
Images of Roger, her Roger, kissing a woman outside a restaurant on Merrion Street kept coming to her mind as she dressed and made coffee. She tried to push them away and eventually surrendered to the intrusion while she packed some clothes in a bag. She had been to see her dentist on Merrion Square and was making her way to St Stephen’s Green where she spotted Roger. From across the street she recognised his familiar, confident steps as walked up and then embraced a woman with shoulder blonde hair. This was not a friendly, work-colleague kiss on the cheek greeting, but something much deeper. She remembered feeling her mouth falling open as Roger and the woman looked at each other before going into the swanky restaurant. The pain from her visit to the dentist was forgotten as she wondered what to do. I can’t handle this now, she decided, and hailed a taxi that took her home.
The doorbell sounded near eight o’clock and she took a deep breath, went to the door, and opened it.
Thinking back on what happened she saw it all from above, as if she was having an out-of-body experience. It helped not to be part of the story, to be removed from it, but she knew she wasn’t fooling her herself.
‘What’s wrong Shelly?’ Roger said when he saw her red eyes. He had to know that she had been crying but had he been rumbled? ‘Are you ok?’
He leaned close to kiss her but she stepped back. ‘What’s the matter?’ he said, his eyes clear and wary.
The moment that had been on her mind all day had arrived. ‘Who is she?’
Roger’s brow lifted. ‘Who…who are you talking about?’ He opened his hands out in a ‘I-don’t-know-what-you’re-about’ gesture and their eyes locked.
Shelly kept telling herself to ‘keep cool’. ‘The woman you went to lunch with today. The blonde you kissed like there was no tomorrow, that’s who.’
Roger’s nostrils flared and the sneer gave him a nasty look. He didn’t move and Shelly could almost see and hear his brain working as it considered and weighed her words.
Since she’d known him, about sixteen month now, he had always been sure of himself but not in an overt and pushy way. He was confident, she liked that, but now there was an arrogance that she had not seen before. And she didn’t like it.
‘Spying on me, are you?’ he said, his words mocking and dangerous. He stood tall, looking down on her, every movement and gesture now threatening.
‘I was coming from the dentist when I saw you with…her. It was an accident, that’s all. I mean, why do you think that I was spying on you?’ Even as she said the words she wondered if she had gone too far. It was done now and she knew that the next few moments would make or break them.
Roger drew a hand over his mouth, the sneer a tight line now. ‘She’s a friend if you must know, and she’s…’
‘Go on say it…it’s not like you to be stuck for words.’
Roger stepped forward an raised a hand.
Shelly, to her own great surprise, didn’t flinch. ‘That’s it…lash out. Is that the best you can do?’
Her words taunted him and for a long moment he was undecided. She could see the guilt in his eyes and knew he hated being found out. She had heard stories about men beating women but she never for a moment believed that it would happen to her. But now as she looked at Roger with his hand raised, she realised that she might soon have her own story to tell.
‘You’re not worth it…no way,’ he said clearly and lowered his hand. Then he opened the door, glanced back over his shoulder, and left.
Shelly stood in the hall staring at the lock on the door as she felt her pulse begin to slow. She didn’t want to break the moment and waited…and waited until she was ready, and walked over and turned the key in the lock.
It was over, they were over, and she went into the kitchen and put on the kettle. I need to clear that bad taste from my mouth, she thought, putting a spoonful of coffee into a cup. Later, as she sat at the table, she began to shake. It was a strange, knife-edge type feeling that she hadn’t expected; she didn’t know what to expect, but she had reached a new place where there was no room for Roger. He hadn’t even challenged her, confirming his guilt, and the blonde was welcome to him. He was a cheat, a two-timing liar and, painful as it was, she was better off finding it out, now.
Later she called her mother who invited her for dinner. That was all she needed right now, and then she went for a long walk on Sandymount Strand where the salty air and cawing seagulls helped her to think about other things.

 

After a big hug and a cup of tea Shelly told her mother the whole story.
‘You’re better off…and that was very brave. It could have turned nasty.’
It was a close run thing and thankfully nothing like that happened. Roger the Rat had run down a sewer and she hoped never to see him again.
‘So what are you going to do?’ her mother asked.
Shelly had thought about that when she was walking on the beach. It took a while but she had decided to call her friend Rachel who had a shop in Skibbereen, west Cork. She was always asking her down and now she was going to take her up on the offer for a month or so. School had just closed and her work as a junior school teacher meant she was free.
‘At least that’s some good news, so when are you heading off?’
‘Tomorrow morning. And don’t worry, my apartment is fine. Everything…will be ok.’
Shelly was up early the next morning and put a suitcase and a small bag of clothes, shoes, books and other bits and bobs in the boot of her car and drove away. The day was sunny and she hoped that it was sign of something good.
Her phone pinged. It was a text from Rachel. ‘Your room is ready. Take care.’
She replied. ‘Just leaving. I’ll bring wine. Thanks.’
She took one last look around, got into the car and headed south.

2

‘Where shall I put these?’ asked Mark, pushing a box of books into a corner of the shop.
Andrew turned. ‘You can leave them there for now as I want to move a few more things about first. Then we’ll have a better idea of where they should go.’
That made sense Mark thought. ‘And there are half-a-dozen posters as well,’ he said tapping the tall, white tube.
Andrew nodded. ‘That’s good, because the last time the printers forgot them and it was…well, let’s just say it wasn’t good.’
Mark grinned at the understatement. He had been working in the bookshop for three weeks now and liked the way Andrew spoke. He was articulate, had more to say about writers than his English teacher in school and didn’t talk down to him. They were equals, nearly, and he liked that.
Andrew looked around the shop. ‘Ok, I’m going to get a coffee, fancy one?’
‘Sure.’
‘Right then, you mind the shop for a few minutes,’ then the bell jangled as Andrew opened the door and crossed the street.
The smell hit him before he opened the door and stepped into T R Coffee, the most aptly named shop in town. Rachel, the owner, pushed the cash drawer closed. ‘Morning Andrew, and how are you today?’ she asked.
‘I’m good thanks, and can I have two cappuccinos and Danish pastries please.’
‘Mark with you today?’
‘Yes, and for a seventeen year old he’s doing fine. He’s a great help.’
Rachel looked over. ‘And I’ll also have an extra pair of hands later.’
‘That’s a good idea with the holidays kicking in.’
Rachel nodded. ‘Exactly, and it’s very much appreciated.’
Andrew let two customers pass. ‘I know, as I have a book launch in a few days and Mark’s been very good.’
Rachel handed over the coffees and cakes and Andrew paid her. ‘Do come along, I’m expecting a good crowd as the author is local,’ he added. ‘You must know Ian Reed?’
‘The photographer?’
‘That’s him, and his new book is, from what I’ve been told, a very entertaining read…with great photographs.’
Rachel smiled. ‘Thanks, and can I bring a friend?’
‘The more the merrier. Thanks,’ he said and stepped onto the sunlit pavement.
He and Mark moved tables and chairs about until they were satisfied with ‘the look’. The shop, Turn The Page, was narrow but stretched a long way back where old stock was stored in an adjoining room. Andrew also used the room as a studio where he painted, and Mark was impressed with the canvasses that lay against the wall. ‘Are you going to sell those? he asked.
‘Hopefully,’ said Andrew ‘and we’ll find good places for them later.’
And they did before Mark went home, and Andrew locked up.
The old shop was looking good and his aunt Lilly, who had left it to him, would be happy. The place was busier than ever, and although he was not going to make a fortune, having regular Readings by aspiring authors and showing off works by local artists all went to lift the shop’s profile. And the fact that Des, one of his sailing friends who he owned a boat with, ran the nearby radio station in Ballydehob that often mentioned the shop, all helped.
Running a bookshop nowadays demanded thinking outside the box, and it never stopped. It was so different to working for a hedge fund in London, but he’d done that and didn’t miss it. Apart from the money, of course, but he had made enough, and he was happy not to be in that rat race any longer. There was more to life than making money and being under constant pressure, and now he was enjoying himself. He wasn’t going back.
After making dinner he put on his painter’s garb and enjoyed the strong sunlight as he added to his latest work. It wasn’t quite finished, yet, but it was close. Later, he thought, closing the door and heading upstairs to bed.

3

Shelly worked hard in her first days and Rachel was delighted. ‘You should have come sooner,’ she quipped when Shelly wiped her brow.
‘Being on my feet all day is tiring,’ Shelly said ‘but good. I feel as though I’ve lost a few pounds, and that’s never a bad thing.’
‘It happens,’ said Rachel ‘and better than going to the gym.’
They both laughed at that.
It was on the second night that Shelly told Rachel her story. Rachel hadn’t asked, wasn’t going to, but Shelly wanted to talk. Needed to talk.
‘You’re better off, Shelly, he sounds like bad news.’
‘That’s one way of putting it…but he was a real charmer when he wanted to be. That’s what fooled me for so long. Bastard.’
Rachel leaned close. ‘You’re here now, so forget the past and enjoy the future. I mean, you never know, nobody does, what might happen.’ She shrugged and Shelly smiled ‘Thank you’.

The bookshop was packed as Andrew talked with Ian Reed and his publisher. A good crowd was always welcome and that sort of news spread long after the launch was over. Mark was operating the cash register while Des poured wine for the guests. He was busy and waved Andrew over. ‘Have we more wine?’
‘In the store, but we’ll start now and people can pay attention to the author instead,’ said Andrew.
‘The voice of experience, eh.’
Andrew winked. ‘You wouldn’t want the guests to forget about buying a book now, would you?’
Rachel and Shelly arrived in just before the speeches and grabbed glasses of wine. ‘Nice place,’ said Shelly looking about the crowded shop. ‘It’s quirky; I like it.’
Ian Reed spoke well, told a few funny stories, and signed plenty of books afterwards. The local newspaper had sent a photographer who was busy snapping guests who were enjoying the night. The launch was a success and Mark had never seen so much money in the till.
Andrew came over to get wine for the author. ‘Hi Rachel, it was good of you to come.’
‘Delighted, Andrew,’ she replied ‘and this is my friend Shelly.’
Andrew’s eyes flicked onto Shelly. ‘Hi there, I suppose Rachel has you working all hours.’
Rachel made a face and Andrew shrugged.
‘You bet,’ Shelly said, and Rachel slapped her on the shoulder.
‘No fighting, please, at least not inside,’ said Andrew taking wine over to the author.
Rachel pointed to paintings in the window. ‘Andrew paints these, and…’
‘And you have one in the lounge,’ offered Shelly ‘I recognise it.’
‘Very good, you’ve been paying attention.’
Later when Shelly was reading through a book Andrew stopped. ‘Ah, that’s a really positive book and well worth a read.’
It was what she wanted to hear. ‘That’ll do nicely,’ she said.
He pointed to a sign near the door. It was a square of white, with black letters that read You Can, You Must, You Will.
‘Very profound,’ Shelly said, liking the message.
‘Those words are from the book,’ Andrew said ‘and I think they’re great. I put them there for people to see, and they like them.’
Andrew topped up their glasses with the last of the wine. ‘I’ve been busy all day so – Cheers.’
They clinked glasses and chatted for a while before Andrew had to talk again with the author. ‘I hope you like the book,’ he said. ‘It’s been nice talking with you.’
Rachel had a signed copy of Ian Reed’s book under her arm. ‘You look happy,’ she said to Shelly. ‘What’s happened?’
‘Nothing really. I bought this book on Andrew’s recommendation and we chatted for a bit.’
Rachel turned and spotted Andrew. ‘I’ve known him for years. He’s a nice guy, and a very good sailor..’
‘..and artist,’ added Shelly.
‘Of course, and he’s made this shop a very ‘happening’ place. Look,’ she continued ‘the place is still packed and that cash register has been ringing all evening. The town needs a place like this.’
Shelly sipped her wine. ‘Have you never…you know..’
Rachel laughed. ‘No…I know him too well. It’s just one of those things.’
Rachel and Shelly waved to Andrew when they were leaving.
‘Enjoy the book,’ he replied nodding to Shelly.
‘Well, guess who’s made an impression?’ Rachel said outside as they walked back to the apartment.
Shelly chuckled. ‘I liked talking with him, that’s all. And thanks for the invitation, I really enjoyed myself.’
Rachel put an arm around Shelly’s shoulder. ‘You’re very welcome…and thanks for being here.’

4

Two days later Andrew helped Mark tidy up after the Book Club members had finished their monthly meeting. As it was the holiday season there were only a few participants but two of them bought new books. ‘I really enjoyed the other night,’ said one man ‘there was a great atmosphere in here. Well done, Andrew.’
‘Thanks, and keep spreading the word.’
Mark was cutting photos of the launch from the local newspaper and pinning them to the notice board on the wall opposite the cash register. ‘It went well, didn’t it,’ he said.
‘It sure did, and the publisher called me earlier to say thanks. He was impressed, and maybe, we’ll have more launches. It’s what I wanted to hear.’
Mark nodded.
‘Coffee?’ asked Andrew, repositioning the one remaining painting in the front window.
‘Thanks,’ Mark said, clipping the edge of another photo.
Andrew checked his watch and didn’t realise that it was nearly midday. No wonder I’m hungry, he thought, and headed across the road to Rachel’s shop. As he approached he could smell the coffee and checked that he had enough money.
As he opened the door Andrew was suddenly aware of the strange, quiet atmosphere. The place was usually a hub of chatter but now all he could hear was one voice, and he recognised it. It was Shelly’s and it was pleading.
‘Please go Roger, just go away,’ she said from behind the counter to a man Andrew didn’t recognise.
‘Don’t you dare tell me what to do,’ the man shouted and Shelly stepped back nervously. ‘Nobody tells me to go away…nobody.’ His voice was louder and Shelly was slowly curling into herself as she leaded against the wall.
The nine or ten customers in the shop were all struck dumb and silent.
Andrew took a step towards the counter. ‘What’s the problem?’ he asked.
The man turned and snarled ‘It’s none of your fucking business; now get lost.’
Andrew noticed Rachel behind Shelly, a look of total dread on her face. ‘That’s what you’re going to do,’ he said, watching the man carefully.
The man stared at Andrew, stepped over to him and swung a punch. Shelly and everyone in the shop screamed as Andrew ducked and swept the man’s legs from beneath him with a scything kick. The man hit the floor and Andrew stood over him, daring him to continue.
Seconds later the man scrambled to his feet and without a backwards glance left the shop. A loud cheer went up and Andrew grinned like he had just beaten Mile Tyson. ‘Thanks,’ said Shelly ‘I really appreciate that.’
‘Yeah, thanks Andrew, I’m impressed,’ Rachel said. ‘Where did you learn that?’
Andrew touched the side of his nose. ‘You don’t want to know…believe me.’
Andrew looked at the two women. ‘Well, is somebody going to tell me who that was?’
‘My ex-boyfriend,’ said Shelly ‘and he’s crazy. He hates not getting his own way…and that’s why I broke-up with him. He was impossible to be with.’
‘In that case I hope that he’s now got the message,’ said Andrew, looking over to Rachel.
‘Oh yeah, loud and clear,’ added Shelly before reaching up and kissing Andrew on the cheek. ‘Thanks again,’ she said and went behind the counter and into the kitchen.
Rachel was smiling. ‘That was some surprise Andrew, really.’
He shrugged.
‘And, to show my appreciation coffee and cakes on me today. Ok?’
Of course it was ok, and Mark was wide-eyed when he told him about the incident. ‘It sounds like something from cowboy movie,’ added Mark, shaking his head.
Andrew almost swallowed his cake. ‘Thanks, but I think you’ve been reading too much lately.’
Mark grinned and had an even stronger reason for liking the man who chased thugs out of town and painted lovely seascapes. Interesting, that was the word he was looking for, he thought, before taking another bite from his delicious, free pastry.

5

Andrew had just uploaded a post to the bookshop’s blog, when there was knock on the window. It was Shelly.
‘Hi there,’ he said opening the door ‘this is a nice surprise.’
Shelly had two cups of coffee and a bag with donuts. ‘I brought these to say thanks.’ She looked around the shop. ‘One of them is for your assistant. Is he here?’
Andrew shook his head. ‘No. I let Mark go early as he’s playing in a golf competition in the local club. So, I guess you’ll have to drink that.’
‘I guess so,’ she replied.
‘I’m posting photographs from the book launch to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, so give me a minute.’
‘You’re a jack-of-all-trades?’
He looked up. ‘Well, if I don’t promote the shop nobody else will, so…’
Shelly understood. ‘I didn’t hear any music the other night,’ she said trying to work out who was playing.
Andrew sipped his coffee. ‘I know. Before Mark left I was painting…and I like to listen to music when I do so.’ He turned his head. ‘Come on, I’ll show you.’
The storeroom was tidy with racks of books dominating one wall. Opposite, Shelly saw tins of paint, brushes and a number of finished works. The window, at the back, was large and looked onto a tiny garden that was now bathed in early, evening sunshine. There was an easel in the middle of the room and the painting that Andrew was working on.
‘It’s not quite finished,’ he said, sitting on a high chair ‘but it’s close.’
Shelly immediately liked the blues, some strong, some light, making it look very natural. It was a scene looking across a beach and out to an endless sea that rolled onwards to a horizon. She could almost feel a salty breeze blowing. ‘What are you missing?’ she asked, sitting on a wooden box by the door.
Andrew looked at Shelly and then at the painting. ‘I don’t know.’ He drank some coffee. ‘It happens like this sometimes.’
‘What does?’
‘It’s like you’re going down one road, seeing nothing else, when suddenly a completely different idea or perspective shows itself. It’s like coming to a fork that you hadn’t anticipated.’
‘That’s interesting.’
‘Yeah, and I’m not sure if that’s called inspiration or luck. Maybe they’re really the same thing!’
Maybe, thought Shelly, looking at Andrew as he studied the painting. Rachel reckoned that he was two or three years older than they were, probably thirty, and his clear blue-grey eyes, collar-length fair hair and easy composure were attractive. And she couldn’t forget what he’d done to Roger.
He looked over. ‘I take it that you were not expecting your visitor today?’
That was a nice of putting it, Shelly thought. ‘No, I was not. I can only say that he knows where Rachel lives and he put two and two together…’
‘And got five.’
Shelly laughed, spilling coffee on the floor.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said ‘it’ll add to the story of the shop.’
Shelly wasn’t expecting that. ‘Roger would have started screaming if that had happened.’
‘He’s a bully…and unhappy.’
It had taken Andrew only minutes to sum up what Shelly had been thinking for months. Maybe she was too close to the issue, that sometimes happened, but she was still impressed at his insight. ‘Yes, you’re right. He was great fun when things were going his way, but I noticed him change recently.’
‘Any particular reason why?’
‘I began saying no to him. No, I didn’t want to go to this place or that, and he began to lose interest in us. Then I saw him with another woman, and when I challenged him about it he stormed out. He hated not being in control.’
‘A bully, and hopefully he’s learnt something from his visit.’
Shelly nodded.
‘Otherwise it was such a wasted journey, don’t you think?’ he added casually.
This time Shelly smiled.
‘And what’s your plan? Are you staying here for a while?’
Shelly put her cup down. ‘I’m a school teacher on holidays, so I’m going to help Rachel for the next month or so. It’s getting busier by the day and I know she appreciates the help. And I’m…thankful that she invited me down.’
‘That’s what friends do.’
‘And thanks for what you did today. I mean, I was scared stiff when Roger started shouting at me. He was crazy, and God only knows what he might have done.’
Andrew brushed a stray hair from his brow. ‘I know, but he didn’t and that’s all that matters.’
There was a long silence between them with only the quiet playing of Myles Davis’s trumpet intruding. It wasn’t uncomfortable, and Shelly noted how relaxed she was when she found herself looking at her feet in a square of sunlight. It was a funny thought, and she liked it.
‘Do you fancy sailing sometime?’ Andrew asked.
Shelly was surprised. ‘Sailing?’
‘Yes, the thing people do when they put a boat into the sea.’
She laughed at that.
‘I’d love to but you better tell me what to wear, and what to do as I..’
‘What is it?’
‘I can’t really swim,’ Shelly replied nervously, hoping that Andrew was not going to cancel the outing.
He was unfazed. ‘Well, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve never lost a passenger yet. Ok?’
Shelly offered a relieved grin. ‘Fine; and when is the big day?’
‘I think that tomorrow evening would be good, say six o’clock.’
‘Fine, I’ll clear it with Rachel.’
After Shelly had left Andrew put on another CD and thought about the day. It was so unplanned, but then nobody ever knew what was going to happen. But it had, and as he contemplated the painting he reached for the brush and made a few strokes. Yeah, that was what it needed, he thought, remembering how the sound of Shelly’s laughter filled the room. He liked that, and maybe he would hear more tomorrow. He made a few more strokes, sat back, and was happy. On The Beach was finished.

6

Shelly had a lot to say when she returned to the apartment.
‘Going sailing, are you?’ said Rachel, unable to hide a grin.
‘Like I said, he invited me and I couldn’t very well refuse, could I?’
Rachel was laughing. ‘No you couldn’t, not after what he did to Roger the Rat.’
‘That’s what I mean.’
Rachel topped up their glasses. ‘And I know he’s a very good sailor because I’ve been out with him.’
‘And…?’
Rachel shook her head. ‘I told you before, nothing happened. I guess it’s chemistry…or the lack of it. There are somethings in this life that you just can’t force.’
Shelly nodded. ‘You’re so right, and maybe he’s just asked me out after the incident in the shop. Make me feel better.’
Rachel sipped her wine. ‘It’s possible…but then again.’
They laughed out loud, all memories of the nasty incident with Roger blown away in a heartbeat.

‘My friend Des was out in our boat and he should be back by now,’ Andrew said slowing the car as they came into Baltimore. The small village was busy with flags and colourful bunting flapping in the steady breeze.
‘What’s all this for?’ asked Shelly.
‘There’s a big regatta next week, and it’ll be manic here. It’s not to be missed.’
Shelly had borrowed Rachel’s sailing gear and she was excited when they walked to the sailing club and met Des. There was plenty of activity around, and after putting on her lifejacket Des helped them push away. Here goes, she thought.
Andrew looked over. ‘Done this before?’
‘Once, on a school holiday.’
‘Then you’re an expert; so, just try and relax. Ok?’
Shelly nodded as Andrew passed her a rope. ‘Hold that,’ he said, and as he moved the tiller the wind filled the mainsail. They were off, and in a few minutes the boat was heading away from the busy quay at a steady rate.
‘You ok?’ asked Andrew.
‘Yes, this is great,’ Shelly said, listening to the sail as it rippled in the breeze. ‘Where are we going?’
Andrew pointed. ‘Straight out, then left past the Beacon and we’ll go around to Kedge Island. And after all that fresh air we’ll be ready for a bite in Villa Carlotta.’
‘What’s that?’
‘It’s the best tapas bar in west Cork.’

As the boat rocked back and forth Shelly’s stomach got used to the movement and she was feeling fine. She had been worried about getting sick and making a fool of herself, but now she was enjoying the experience. ‘This is great, and thanks for the invite.’
‘You’re welcome, but it might get a little choppy soon, so hold on.’
‘Yes, Captain,’ she replied and Andrew winked.
He was right and before long Shelly wasn’t feeling quite so comfortable. The ferry to Sherkin Island passed by and Andrew waved over, but Shelly kept her head down. She was concentrating hard when they passed below the Beacon and barely noticed the people waving down at them.
‘It’s choppier than I’d thought it was going to be,’ Andrew said. ‘Are you ok?’
Shelly nodded and felt water splash her face. She looked up to see a wave hit the boat side-on tossing her to the other side where she banged her knee. ‘Ahh,’ she cried out and Andrew leaned down to help. In an instant the boon swung violently, smacking into his head and over he went into the sea.
‘No,’ Shelly screamed when she saw Andrew lying face down as the boat moved away. She was in a panic and started shouting HELP and waving her arms at the people on the cliff. She was getting further away from Andrew, and with heart pumping, she heard a voice in head shout GO.
She jumped.
The water was cold and she splashed and swam as waves lifted and dropped her. GO, GO, GO the voice kept shouting as she struggled, doggy-paddling like crazy. She thought her heart was going to explode when she stretched for Andrew’s lifejacket. On the third attempt she got a hold, and with a massive effort, her arms, legs and every part of her screaming in pain, turned him face-up. He was unconscious and there was blood coming from a cut above his left eye. ‘Oh Jesus,’ she cried as the boat continued to float away with each passing wave. She couldn’t believe what had happened, and put her hand under Andrew’s head to keep it above water. She kept crying out HELP and wondered if they were going to survive. As the blood trickled into the water she heard herself saying over and over ‘Please don’t let him die’.
They floated close to the cliffs and Shelly had to use her feet to stop Andrew from banging against the jagged rocks. She had no time for being scared and, with strength she never knew she had, they moved away from danger. The swell was getting worse and they waited, rising and falling, for about twenty minutes until she heard the sound of an engine getting close.
Two men helped pull Andrew and her aboard before another was left off to sail Andrew’s boat back to the club.
‘What happened?’ asked one of the men examining the injury to Andrew’s head.
Shelly told him as best she could, not taking her eyes off Andrew’s face.
There was a crowd of onlookers at the quay where an ambulance waited. ‘He’s hardly breathing,’ said the medic, ‘that’s not good.’
The ambulance raced along the narrow roads, its siren screaming and blue light flashing, as the medic worked on Andrew. There was real concern on his face and Shelly was in silent shock as she looked on. At the hospital Andrew was rushed into an emergency room and Shelly feared the worst. And started to cry.
Half-an-hour passed before a doctor, stethoscope around his neck, opened a door and came over to her. ‘He’s a lucky man,’ he said.
She was surprised, and relieved. ‘Lucky?’
Andrew had been knocked unconscious and the cut above his eye was deep and needed a dozen stitches. ‘Well, if you hadn’t flipped him he may well have drowned. He was knocked out and…’
He didn’t finish the sentence; he didn’t need to.
Rachel arrived and threw her arms around Shelly. ‘Des called and told me what happened. How is Andrew? And how are you?’
Shelly was wearing pyjamas and a nightgown and looked both tired and relieved. She told her story and Rachel shook her head a few times. ‘That’s crazy, Shelly, absolutely…I don’t know what to say.’
Shelly brushed her hair back. ‘I know, but that’s…’
Rachel’s eyes suddenly were open wide. ‘I…I didn’t think you could swim.’
Shelly twisted her head from side to side. ‘Barely, but I just had to try and save Andrew…so I jumped.’
‘Jesus, Shelly there’s never a dull moment with you, is there?’
The two women were smiling and wiping tears away when a nurse came over and spoke to Shelly. ‘Andrew would like to see you,’ she said and they walked down the corridor.
Andrew was sitting up in bed, a stack of pillows behind him. There was large white plaster on the cut above his eye that was now closed. He was looking at her with his one good eye and even that looked tired. ‘Thanks,’ he said, his voice quiet and thicker now. ‘You saved my life.’
Shelly waited for a few seconds before sitting on the edge of the bed. ‘I’m just so happy that we’re talking, that’s all I wanted.’
Andrew understood. ‘They told me that you dived in…that was a very brave thing to do, especially as you can barely swim.’
Shelly steepled her hands, fingertips touching her nose. ‘I had to…there was nobody else around.’
‘Mmmm.’
She shook her head slowly. ‘I told you that I could barely swim, but when I saw you in the water I had this powerful feeling that I had to do something. My leg was hurting like hell and from somewhere inside I heard this voice screaming.’ She took a deep breath. ‘It said GO, GO, GO and I knew what I had to do. And that’s when I jumped in.’
Andrew leaned his head into the pillow and was silent for a while. ‘That’s crazy.’
‘In the book that I bought in your shop one of the positive thoughts was ‘Let go, and go’. And that’s what I did.’
Andrew managed a crooked smile and Shelly saw a tear roll down his cheek. ‘Thanks. I’m sorry that this happened,’ he said ‘it was meant to be…’
‘There’s plenty of time for that,’ Shelly said, as she leaned close and kissed him.
Andrew exhaled loudly. ‘I was saved by the book, eh.’
Shelly smiled.
Andrew’s head began to hang to the side and his breathing slowed.
Shelly sat with him, holding his hand until he was asleep. Her one-eyed seafarer with the plaster across his damaged brow almost made her laugh. She would laugh later with Rachel, and now couldn’t wait to tell Andrew what she was thinking. She had saved his life and, maybe she had saved her own, too. It was a positive thought and one she knew the Captain would understand.

The Beacon

The Beacon

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Filed under Art, Dublin, Ireland, short stories

Aroma Memory

‘I’m getting gooseberry,’ said the lecturer, sniffing deeply from the glass. He looked up, enjoying the moment, closed his eyes and was lost in contemplation of the swirling wine. The class was busy as we sniffed our glasses, following his lead, trying to understand the wonderful aromas filling our nostrils. Mumbles of agreement soon filled the room as we began to understand the beauty and power of the smells that we were experiencing. It was a moment to remember, but nothing like one that I had experienced some years before.

It was Christmas Eve, and I was on my way home with the last of my shopping, when I passed the front door of my old school. It had been many years since I had left the place and in all that time I had never darkened its doorway. ‘Why not?’ I thought, and skipped up the steps and knocked on the large, carved door. The sound echoed in the hallway behind, and seconds later I heard footsteps approaching.

I introduced myself to the Christian Brother who opened the door, and I could see that he was intrigued as much at my presence as I was at being ‘in school’.

For whom the school bell tolls...

For whom the school bell tolls…

‘Come in, come in,’ he said and we shook hands warmly. ‘This is a real surprise, and Happy Christmas,’ he added and I could only smile and agree.

We chatted as we walked down the hall and he told me about teachers who had passed on since I was a pupil. He pointed to lines of dusty, class photographs many of which were fading and showing the unmistakeable yellowish hue of old age. Times past indeed, I thought, when my guide asked if I would like to see the ‘old place’. Considering that ten minutes before I hadn’t even thought about this, I was now looking forward to a walk down memory lane.

The place had changed somewhat since my time, that was to be expected, with rooms altered and corridors painted in bright colours. The stairs were smoother than I remembered, and the view of the local church from the top of the building was unchanged, except that acid rain had added to its aging beauty.

Desks were tiny and the blackboards not nearly as massive as they once appeared, where algebra, Latin verbs, dates of famous battles and hand-drawn maps of foreign places had once held my attention.

I was really enjoying the unplanned visit and was unprepared for what happened next.

As I pushed open the door to my old classroom I was suddenly stopped in my tracks. The smell of the place hit me like a slap in the face and I was instantly transported back to those carefree days. There was no doubt about the images that filled my mind, and I could see all the desks and my former classmates. They hadn’t changed, and I slowly looked about the small room where coats and jackets hung from crowded hooks. And schoolbags lay on the floor.

The teacher was at the front of the class writing neatly on the blackboard, as tiny flecks of white chalk drifted away. I saw where I used sit and felt a nervous shiver run up my back.

It was a very, real sensation that was only broken when my guide walked past, the loud creaking of the old floorboards breaking my dreamy connection.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked, noting my bemused look.

‘Yes, thanks,’ I replied and took a last, deep breath before leaving the room. Up until that moment I had never thought much about the sense of smell, but since then I have come to view it differently, and especially its power to stimulate and rekindle memories that I thought were gone forever.

Desk life

Desk life

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Get me to the church…sometime!

King of the Road

King of the Road

‘Are we there yet?’ cried a voice for the umpteenth time, kicking off another out of laughter.

This was the fun memory of our journey from the hotel to the church in an old, London bus that, at times, seemed to be about to give up the ghost. It was a close run thing that made the swing through north Wicklow memorable, if not a little nervy.

‘All aboard,’ called the conductor when the last passenger climbed on and took a seat. The atmosphere was akin to that of going on a school outing and there was much joking about Back To The Future comments. Or was it Back To The Past?

All aboard!

All aboard!

We set off for St Patrick’s Church and after a short drive we arrived, only to find out that we were at the wrong St Patrick’s Church. This was one time when our patron saint’s fame wasn’t helping matters. Confusion reigned until our true destination was established and we headed off, again. And now that we were on ‘the right road’ the noise levels increased as we went down the motorway, where cars sounded their horns as they passed. Seeing a red London bus is a novelty at the best of times, but one with stuffed with weddinggoers on the road was a rare sight.

The old bus twisted and turned as it made its made along the winding road into Enniskerry where the fun was about to begin.

‘Are we there yet?’ shouted someone and a chorus of imitators followed.

We were already late and furious phone calls went back and forth relaying our position. Our expected time of arrival, however, wasn’t quite so certain.

The bus drove into Enniskerry drawing much attention from onlookers. The journey up to that point had been mostly on the flat and, as the bus began its climb up the hill that it had to take, a silence descended on the passengers. The hill is incredibly steep and as the bus moved forward we were all holding our breath. The sound of the gears grinding as the driver switched was painful, and outside I could see onlookers shaking their heads. It was a nervy few minutes but finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we crested the hill and a roar of relief filled the bus.

The rest of the journey was uneventful, and if the Beatles had their Magical Mystery Tour then we certainly had ours. It had been an unforgettable experience and ‘Get me to the church…sometime,’ was about right!

Are we there yet? - Yes

Are we there yet? – Yes

 

 

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Filed under Dublin, Ireland, London, short stories