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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

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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Serendipity – what a surprise!

Bewleys - colour fun

Bewleys – colour fun

The aroma of coffee was strong and intoxicating, but then it always was in Bewleys. Paul and I were sitting in one of the red banquettes enjoying sticky buns, surrounded by the hum of lively conversation that was unique to the place. It was now almost midday and the sun was shining, filling the café in a magical light. It lit the stained-glass window opposite sending shafts of red, blue, yellow and green light dancing across the floor. I had to admire the craftsmanship that was now seen at its best in a kaleidoscope of shimmering colour.

‘They really are something else,’ Paul said, noting my interest in the window and the changing colours.

‘Yes…they are brilliant.’

Paul continued. ‘They are by Harry Clarke, Ireland’s greatest stained-glass window artist. The man was a genius!’ We looked closely at them, watching as tiny motes of dust floated aimlessly in the shafts of technicolour light.

‘You’re not joking,’ I replied ‘they’re fantastic.’ Of all the times that I had been in Bewleys – and they were many – I had never seen the windows in such a wonderful light and the effect was exciting.

Paul offered. ‘I studied his work when I was in college, and I’ve been a fan ever since. The detail is so good that it takes your breath away. He was a real artist.’

‘Absolutely,’ I agreed.

‘He’s done plenty of other work,’ Paul added, ‘all around the country. Some of the best are in a church in Castletownsend, in west Cork, and well worth a look the next time you’re down there. You should check them out.’

I looked forward to my next visit to Baltimore, from where I could easily visit the small town where Harry Clarke’s windows were waiting. We had a date.

Over the next couple of weeks I did some research into the works of Harry Clarke and was impressed with what I found. He learned his craft from his father, before attending college where he was awarded gold medals and scholarships. He worked on various commissions and also did many illustrations for books. But it was his skill as a master worker in glass that made his name and ensured his place in art history, before he died, aged only 41.

St Barrahane's Church

St Barrahane’s Church

And so it was on a bright day in early May that I drove down the hill, around the tall sycamore tree in the middle of the road that acted as a natural roundabout, and pulled up outside St Barrahane’s Church in Castletownsend. I climbed the 52 steps (one for every Sunday in the year!) and looked out at the still, blue waters of Castlehaven Bay where small boats bobbed in the warm breeze. It was a tranquil scene with only the sound of gulls cawing as they swooped and played in the sunshine.

HC's - Rich colours

HC’s – Rich colours

The old door creaked as I pushed it and stepped into the cool, quiet darkness. I waited for a few moments in the stillness taking in the atmosphere, and then walked slowly up the aisle. Above the old, weathered pews the sun shone through three colourful windows that were created by James Powell of London, the most famous glassmaker of his day.

HC - a lifelike image

HC – a lifelike image

But it was the works of Harry Clarke that drew me forward. Then I stopped, lost in wonderment, as I was bathed in the myriad shafts of colour. The images on the glass were so lifelike, infused with sunlight, that they might have been moving. In the quiet, almost eerie, silence I felt that I was not alone. The work is indeed the stuff of genius, and I was happy to have made the journey.

 Leaving the church I noticed a ship’s oar at the bottom of the stairs that led to the organ balcony. It was from the Lusitania that had been sunk not too far from where I stood, in May 1915. I ran a finger along the blade and felt a shiver run up my back. It was a surprise to come across a reminder of that day when almost 1,200 people lost their lives, now resting awkwardly with the beauty and calm of Harry Clarke’s window.

Outside, I was confused by what I had just experienced. I was delighted to have seen Clarke’s work, and I was now determined to find out about the tragic events that had brought the oar to this beautiful place. The old saying that ‘one thing leads to another’ never seemed so true. Serendipity indeed.

Castlehaven Bay

Castlehaven Bay

 

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Let’s Dance – A short story

Let's Dance

Let’s Dance

Five months and it still hurt, but not quite as much.

Jenny stepped from the shower and grabbed a towel. Last night was the first time that he hadn’t intruded on her dreams in weeks, but here he was again. Go away, she cried, and pulled the towel harder. He used to pop into her mind without warning, his presence a painful reminder of too many tears. She had to change her life, let go of the past, move on, and after a long conversation with Anna, an old school friend, she had packed a bag and driven to Baltimore.

The small west Cork town was quiet, a million miles away from the hurly-burly of life in Dublin, and working in Anna’s coffee shop was different, and it suited both women. Anna didn’t mention the break-up and Jenny didn’t want to talk about it. It was what Jenny needed, and soon one day became another, with the late spring sunshine promising better times to come.

*

Anna had a pot of tea on the table and slices of toast on a big plate. ‘Breakfast’s ready,’ she said out loud.

Jenny came down the stairs and, walking into the kitchen, took a deep breath. ‘Oh, that smells, lovely.’

Anna buttered her toast and reached for the marmalade. ‘Sleep well?’

Jenny stretched her arms high and yawned. ‘Hmmm, it was wonderful.’

Anna nodded, sipped her tea and turned the radio down. More bad news about the economy was not going to intrude. ‘I can see that.’

Jenny was looking over the edge of her cup. ‘Oh yeah.’

Anna put her cup down. ‘Definitely. To me you look like someone who has had a great weight lifted off their shoulders. Released, but I’m not sure if that is the right word. I’ll think of it later.’

The sharp trill of a trawler’s fog horn in the small harbour, about two hundred yards away, got their attention, momentarily.

Jenny smiled and held Anna’s gaze. ‘Thanks, that’s very kind of you.’

Anna held her hands up. ‘By the way, I’m not trying to pry, but you seem so much lighter today.’ She paused, picking up her cup and swirling it easily. ‘I felt I had to say it…that’s all.’ She took another sip.

In the six weeks since she arrived in Baltimore Jenny had said nothing about the break-up. She didn’t know what to expect when she arrived, but the change had certainly been good for her. Getting away from familiar, but painful, surroundings was what she needed, and the new, daily routine occupied her mind. She had made more cakes and apple tarts since she arrived than she could ever remember. They were popular, sold well, and Anna was delighted.

She had both hands wrapped around her cup, the heat making her fingertips tingle. ‘I appreciate what you’ve done for me, Anna, I really do. And yes, I do feel better today. I don’t know exactly what to put it down to, but being here has been very important. I won’t forget it.’

Anna nodded. ‘You’re welcome. I’m just happy to see you smile. It does so much for you.’

Jenny pursed her lips. ‘I know, Anna, I feel it too. For the first time in months I actually feel as though I have stepped through a doorway into a better place. A brighter place.’ She looked through the long window, out to the harbour that lay beneath a blue sky. She loved it and let the image itself burn itself into her mind. ‘Maybe we’ll talk tonight…over a bottle of wine.’

Anna smiled. ‘Good, and I’ll make dinner.’

‘Deal,’ Jenny said and they both laughed.

*

The day was fine; the sun bright and casting long shadows.

In the café a steady flow of customers kept the women busy. ‘I told you that those apple tarts were great, Jenny. I think that you should patent your recipe. You could make a fortune.’

‘There are three more in the freezer, if you need reinforcements.’ Jenny finished making another sandwich and passed it across to the customer. A cup of tea followed, and again the cash register popped open.

It was mid-afternoon when Anna leaned close to Jenny. ‘You may not have noticed but you’re getting some attention.’

Jenny turned, arms folded. ‘What are you talking about?’

Anna moved her head slightly, her eyes quickly taking in the man sitting at the window table. ‘That’s his second coffee. And he hasn’t taken his eyes off you since he sat down.’

Jenny felt her face flush, but she took a peek. He was reading a newspaper and his skin suggested Latin blood. His dark hair contrasted with a white shirt, and when he reached for a pen in his shirt pocket he looked up. Their eyes met, and he smiled.

Jenny felt her heart flutter. She was excited, but brought down to earth immediately when the doorbell rang and another customer walked to the counter. ‘A coffee and a slice of apple tart, please,’ she said reaching for her purse.

*

‘How long did you guys live together?’ Anna asked, pouring wine.

‘Two years six months….and three days. And I didn’t know that he was cheating until the very end. He said that he was working late, trying to climb the corporate ladder, and I believed him.’ Jenny shook her head at a memory and sipped her wine.

‘But..’

‘But he was climbing into his secretary’s bed. The bastard. He always came home, no matter how late, so as to keep me off guard. He was good, really bloody good. I didn’t see it coming Anna; it was such a surprise.’

Anna rested her elbows on the table. ‘I’m sorry for the poor bastard.’

‘What?’ Jenny snapped, a look of total surprise on her face.

Anna held up a hand. ‘I mean, any man who let you go is a poor bastard, because he doesn’t know what he’s missing. He’s a fool, that’s why.’

Jenny put her glass down and started to cry. Anna sat beside her and put an arm around her shoulder. ‘It’s his loss, darling. In the time you’ve been here I’ve seen you come from the darkness into the light. You’re like a beautiful butterfly.’

Jenny sobbed.

‘You deserve better, Jenny, much better. You have so much to give, so find someone who will appreciate you.’ She rubbed Jenny’s shoulder. ‘My mum used to say ‘Let go of what you can’t change, and be kind to yourself’. She knew what she was talking about.’

Moments later they sat arm in arm as Jenny dried her eyes. ‘Thanks, Anna, I needed that. You’re very good.’

‘I know, and that’s why I’m going to open another bottle.’

*

Two days later Anna and Jenny shut the café and walked down the quay to a Salsa Dancing class in the local school. It was the opening night and Anna was happy that Jenny had agreed to come. Since their late night talk Jenny felt much better, her mood reflecting the improving weather.

They joined the small queue, paid at the door and took in the chatter and growing buzz of excitement. There were about thirty people inside when the teacher turned off the music and introduced himself. He was Pablo, the man who had been in the café, and again he looked at Jenny, and smiled.

Anna playfully nudged her. ‘Best foot forward.’

Jenny didn’t take her eyes off Pablo. ‘I think it’s time to dance.’

‘Go girl,’ Anna said, taking a step back as the teacher purposefully made his way across the floor.

Dancing

 

 

 

 

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