This is my first BK fanfic. And truly, if I fiddle with it anymore
it will no longer be recognizable as English so will go ahead and post it
now! Thistle, from another forum, suggested a wonderfully Freudian reason
for Peter's awkward finger-twisting in his `break-up' scene with Assumpta,
and I knew I had to use it here. Thank you, Thistle! (One more thing: I borrowed
briefly from one of my favorite non-Ballyk ST scenes, in case any of you
"Are you cold?"
"You feel cold."
Peter had gripped Assumpta's hand so tightly as they sat in his tiny, freezing
car that he could still feel it an hour later as he lay soaking in the warm
bath. He had been morosely reviewing the events of earlier that evening, as
he and Assumpta "guarded" Brian Quigley's construction site in the Killnashee
wood while their friends dashed home for warmer clothes. The bath was the
one place he could go for a think, without the constant interruption by parishioners
wanting the curate's ear "just for a moment, Father." For that brief time,
he would allow himself to concentrate on his own problems, those to which
he could give no time
during his public life.
Tonight, as on many previous nights lately, Peter's meditation centered
on the Möbius strip of his relationship with Assumpta: no matter how
he worked it,there were no two sides. His feelings of friendship and love
were permanently intertwined, turning over on each other into infinity. Still,
he had determined to keep his struggle an internal one until tonight. Assumpta
had been so close, and at last he could not help himself. He had to touch
her, even if only her hand, even if only for a moment.
The soap slipped from its dish and landed with a splash at Peter's feet.
He watched the ripples it made and he sighed, feeling again the hopelessness
at letting his resolve slip, confusing things, confusing him, mucking up his
most precious possession—-Assumpta in his life. It had been all over her
face as she got in her van to leave. Peter had gestured helplessly at the
departing vehicle, as if attempting to erase his actions and put things right
A flash of lightning through his tiny bedroom window awakened Peter from
an unsettled sleep. In the gloom he made out the ancient alarm clock on the
bedside table: half-eleven. Still in need of comfort and contemplation, and
unable to sleep anyway, he decided to go up to St. Joseph's to pray before
the Blessed Virgin. Even after the mockery of the "sweating" Infant of Prague,
Peter found great comfort in his devotion to Mary, possibly a legacy of his
mother's faith. Donning a warm jumper and jeans, Peter headed down the stairs.
He was still so distracted that he forgot to duck and smacked his forehead
hard against the low ceiling.
Rubbing his head and feeling woozy, he tugged on his coat, opened the front
door and stepped outside. A cold, stinging rain splintered down on the empty
Assumpta suddenly appeared at the low hedge bordering the garden, Fionn
whimpering miserably beside her on his lead. "Assumpta?" Peter called tentatively,
thinking he might be greeting a figment of his imagination.
"Oh, hello," Assumpta said casually, secretly relieved when Peter had opened
his door, making her arrival look like chance. She had actually been standing
out in the wet for ages, plucking up the courage to knock.
"Assumpta, what are you doing out in this?" Fortunately, it didn't occur
to Peter that she would only head out in this weather with an purpose in mind.
Assumpta squinted at him.
"Sunbathing." Peter knew he'd walked into that one, and motioned toward
"Please. Come in out of the weather."
Assumpta walked up to the house, yanking along a still-protesting Fionn.
Peter held the door for her. Assumpta unhooked Fionn's lead and he immediately
made himself comfortable on the warm, dry floor in the kitchen next to the
cooker. Assumpta perched on edge of Peter's small sofa, not taking off her
coat, not speaking, and not quite sure why she'd come. Her emotions were still
swarming close to the surface after Peter's tortured display of affection
earlier that evening, and though desperate to talk about it, feared that what
he might be say would break her heart.
Peter lingered indecisively in the doorway, then awkwardly seated himself
next to her. There was a polite, uneasy silence that neither seemed to know
how to break. Assumpta's eyes darted nervously around the room, her gaze coming
to rest on the black blazer, Roman collar like a sucker in the front pocket,
draped over a chair.
Peter's mouth opened as if to say something, then closed again. Assumpta
took a deep breath and asked the question that had sent her slogging up here
through the rain, in the middle of the night: "Peter, what do you want?"
He turned his head away so she wouldn't see the tears, shaking his head,
trying to will them back. His hands were folded tightly in his lap, knuckles
white. Assumpta lightly touched his arm to focus his attention. "Peter, talk
Peter lost his battle, fat tears rolling down his cheeks as he sobbed raggedly,
"It's no good. I'm useless. I just can't handle it!"
"Can't handle what?" Peter's outburst alarmed Assumpta. She realized that
she depended on Peter to be the collected and rational one, and here he was
"Everything! All of it. The Church. Ballyk. You. Miracles. Being a priest.
You name it, I can't handle it!" Peter held his head in his hands, weeping
Assumpta, usually so practised at counseling her friends through their troubles,
had no idea what to do; indeed, her first instinct in the face of such naked
emotion that she knew she played a part in provoking was to flee. "I—I'd better
go," she said, moving to get up.
Peter grabbed her hand, pleading, "Assumpta, don't go. Please."
Peter lifted his eyes to Assumpta's, holding her disbelieving gaze with
his own, for the first time not breaking away as he had done countless times
across the bar at Fitzgerald's. The only sound aside from the storm was their
nervous, shallow breathing as they stared across three unrequited years of
wanting each other. There was a mighty thunderclap, and the lights flickered
out. Neither moved. Peter's grip on Assumpta's hand tightened, and one last,
slow tear trickled down his cheek. Assumpta tenderly brushed it away with
her thumb. Her touch reverberated through Peter like a great bell being rung,
every nerve standing on end. Peter reached over to her, for a wordless moment
holding her angel's face in his hand. Something ticked over in him, and suddenly
there in the dark they were no longer priest and publican but simply man and
woman. "Assumpta," he whispered urgently, pulling her to him in a kiss.
Under normal circumstances, as if there could be normal circumstances, both
would have wanted their first encounter to be gentler and more romantic, but
after so long waiting, there was no time. The coupling was quick and clumsy,
as befit lovers with much passion but little practice. Peter and Assumpta
wrestled out of their heavy, wet coats and managed to tug away a few other
crucial bits of clothing in their rush: lashing kisses, gasping, grazing
bites, moans, tender laughter, limbs entwined, safe the darkness and sound
of pounding rain.
Peter awoke at first light, alone, in his bed. For a long, tortured while
he stared at the ceiling, going over last night's unexpected, incredible encounter
with Assumpta. Unwillingly blushing, he pulled the counterpane over his head
and tried to convince himself that it had only been a storm-influenced dream
rather than the irrevocable act that would forever change things between them.
That proved impossible. He could still feel her, smell her, taste her. It
had happened. He had been weak and selfish, and had ruined everything. Heavy
with chagrin and guilt, Peter roused himself from bed, dressed, and went
to St. Joseph's to prepare for morning Mass.
At noon, Assumpta was behind the bar at Fitzgerald's, absently serving lunch
and mentally distancing herself from the unreality of her and Peter's lovemaking.
It was so unthinkable as to be laughable, but here it had happened. She hadn't
had time yet to compose what to say for the next time she saw Peter. She'd
first have to determine how she felt about it, and was damned if she knew.
After dozing lightly in each other's arms, Assumpta had slipped away to dress
and leave before the sun rose and someone caught her sneaking out of the curate's
house. As she snapped the lead onto Fionn's collar, she had caught Peter
watching her. His expression of pained confusion baffled her, after she thought
things had finally been settled between them. She had left then, without
The front door rattled, signaling a customer. Assumpta shook her head, hard,
trying to gain a grip on the day. Siobhan Mehigan came in, taking her customary
seat at the end of the bar. "A bottle of Harp and a sandwich, please, Assumpta--what's
that?" Assumpta's hand flew up to the hickey she'd noticed on her neck in
the mirror and attempted to mask with make-up. Siobhan grinned conspiratorially.
"Sure, it's good to see you getting out and about, anyway." Assumpta smiled
tightly, wanting to confide in her friend, but saying nothing.
Peter ached to confide in someone as well; indeed, his friend Brendan Kearney
had come to him with a similar situation involving Siobhan several months
ago. Brendan had a level head and understanding nature. Still, it was too
much to burden him with news as explosive as Ballykissangel's curate and Fitzgerald's
landlady spending the night together.
Peter was struggling mightily with what had happened, wondering if it was
a new beginning or a definitive ending. He loved being a priest, but that
part of him was now mortally wounded. He needed guidance from his Church.
Fr. MacAnally, Peter's parish priest and immediate superior, had agreed with
Peter's request to meet the next day. If nothing else, Fr. Mac would provide
the cold, unsentimental assessment Peter thought he needed.
As they sat in the empty sanctuary of St. Joseph's, Peter kept the consultation
purposefully vague. He unwilling to reveal everything to Assumpta's worst
enemy, and yet still hoped to get answers. Fr. Mac was having none of it.
"You don't fool me. Shall I tell you what the problem is? Assumpta Fitzgerald."
Peter was caught short, surprised he was that transparent.
His pulse beat visibly against the tight Roman collar around his neck as
he stuttered, "I hope you don't think that—-nothing's happened."
"Is something likely to happen?"
"No." Peter, never the best of liars, knew he wasn't at all convincing.
With Fr. Mac's strongly-worded advice fresh in his ears, Peter headed down
to Fitzgerald's for the conversation he dreaded. He wasn't sure which would
be worse: telling Assumpta his decision, or that telling her gave the decision
finality. There would be no going back once he spoke the words aloud. He opened
the reception door, the entrance he always used when hesitant to face Assumpta
head-on. Assumpta's good friend Niamh Egan, with her infant son Kieran, was
on her way out. At the other end of the bar, Brendan, Siobhan and Dr. Michael
Ryan were celebrating Niamh's saving of the wood from her father's road construction
project. Peter smiled an uncomfortable hello at Niamh, chucked Kieran under
the chin and greeted the assembled in a subdued manner, all the while looking
over to Assumpta.
Upon seeing him, Assumpta's hand again touched the now-fading mark on her
neck. Siobhan caught this, looking from Assumpta to Fr. Clifford and back
to Assumpta, who met her eyes briefly before turning away. Peter motioned
toward the kitchen. Assumpta softly told the regulars that she'd be right
back, and to let her know if any other customers came in. Siobhan watched
Assumpta follow Fr. Clifford from the room, unwilling to believe the connection
she'd just made.
Assumpta shut the door quietly behind her and fussed with the electric kettle
and tea towels, doing everything possible not to face what she knew was coming
when she saw the pinched expression on Peter's face. Not to face it, because
as soon as Peter entered Fitzgerald's, Assumpta had realized exactly how she
felt about their night together, about him. For his part, Peter kept his
distance, remaining across the room. Eyes red, and only moderately in control,
he told her that he wanted to be a priest more than her lover.
Assumpta swallowed hard and gripped the old Aga's oven handle tightly with
both hands, as if it would ground her, drain away the anger and heartbreak
into the floor so she would not have to feel it. So close, so close, and now
their chance had gone. Then she retreated behind her usual screen of acid
self-defense, hissing low so those out at the bar could not hear: "Fine. Go
on retreat. I wouldn't want you to make any decisions based only on one night."
This took Peter aback. As much damage as he had already done, he was desperate
for her to know he cared for her far beyond that. But it came out all wrong.
"It wasn't—-I couldn't-—I had to choose, Assumpta," he finished desperately.
Assumpta looked hard at him. She had not missed Peter's unconsciously twisting
an imaginary wedding band on his ring finger during his entire speech, actions
betraying his words. Still, Assumpta did not comment, because this much she
knew: once he chose the path he felt was right, no amount of persuasion would
change his mind.
Suddenly she could no longer bear to be in the same room with their shared
grief, and ended their conversation with the pronouncement, "At least I know
I made the right decision." Peter, not understanding, watched Assumpta hurry
back into the bar, yanking the kitchen door open with one hand while quickly
wiping her eyes with the other. He clenched his jaw, almost as if attempting
to keep him rooted in place rather than chase after her. Whatever her decision
was, it didn't matter for him now. It was over. For what seemed the millionth
time, and the last, he let the tears well in his eyes.
Unbidden, an old conversation between him and Assumpta played on an endless
loop in Peter's head as he drove out of Ballykissangel.
"Do you ever want what you can't have?"
"What stopped you?"
He'd never wanted more for it to be untrue.
Author note: Pt. 2. takes place three years after "Changing Times!"
but as I've never seen Series 4-6, it's in a state of Series 3 suspended animation
with a few updates—one exception being Ambrose is still alive.
"It's been long enough, hasn't it?"
Peter turned the postcard over in his long fingers. One side was a typical
Irish calendar shot of Trinity College in Dublin, the other an address: "Fr.
P. Clifford, St. Mary's Hall School, Lancashire, England" and that cryptic
message, written in Brendan's distinctive scrawl. It had arrived in the morning's
post and distracted him all day at school. Now, standing alone at the bar
of the local pub with his solitary evening pint, he had time to mull its implications.
Since Peter left Ballykissangel, he and Brendan had kept up a sporadic,
arm's-length correspondence. Peter tried to get Brendan to use email, but
Brendan was a pen-and-paper man as traditional as his three-piece suits.
So, every few months and at Christmastime, each would receive a letter or
postcard from the other with the latest news: from Brendan, the birth of
Aisling, his and Siobhan's daughter, and his being made Headmaster of the
Ballykissangel National School; from Peter, his mother passing away and his
adjusting to life as a teacher. Brendan, probably sensing the delicacy of
the subject, didn't mention Assumpta, and Peter never asked. Brendan had
requested Peter come back to perform Aisling's christening, but Peter had
demurred. It was too soon then and he feared for his emotional sanity, going
back to the town that had broken his heart. Lately, however, Brendan had
been pushing for him to return, if only to meet the little girl who had already
heard so much about her "Uncle Peter."
He lifted his glass from the bar and sipped it contemplatively, wondering
if he was at last ready. At the table behind him, a group of students broke
into drunken song. He winced, still unused to a rowdy English pub even several
years removed from the cozy surroundings of Fitzgerald's. At times, his years
in Ballyk seemed more like a novel or TV show than real life. Perhaps it was
easier to deal with if he thought of it in those removed terms, as though
they happened to someone else.
Peter caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the bar and ruffled
a hand through his hair. It was longer, curlier-—and uncharacteristically,
unrulier—-now than when he was the curate at St. Joseph's. Seeing himself
framed against the too-bright lights and the wrong people, Peter made his
decision. He finished his pint in one practised gulp and walked out into the
bustling road, buffeted by the
Friday night pub crowd. It was the May Bank Holiday weekend soon. When he
got home, he'd go online and buy a plane ticket. Then he'd send off a postcard
of his own.
Peter boarded the early morning flight out of Manchester, stowing his rucksack
in the overhead bin and taking a seat on the aisle, the better to unfold his
long legs comfortably. When the plane was airborne he took a worn paperback
from the pocket of his jacket, some light reading for the short hop to Dublin.
He managed a chapter before the print grew fuzzy, his mind wandering as flight
fatigue set in.
His last return to Ballykissangel had been after several weeks away on retreat,
as suggested by Fr. Mac to refocus his vocation. It had been in the wake of
Peter's personal crisis with Assumpta, not that he had disclosed the details
to Fr. Mac, confessor or no. As Eamonn Byrne gave him a lift into town from
the bus station, Peter was feeling as enthusiastic and committed as the day
he left the seminary. But then he was swiftly crushed by Niamh's news of Assumpta's
marriage to Leo, confided unwittingly at Peter's insistence. He knew then
that he loved Assumpta, and that no amount of prayer and isolation would
change it. Only Peter's willpower stood between his vocation and his heart.
Now that Assumpta was with someone else, he was positive that the choice
to remain in the priesthood was the right one to make.
While Assumpta remained in London, Peter fell back into the daily rhythms
of his life in Ballykissangel: saying Mass at St. Joseph's in the morning,
performing parochial duties in the afternoon and having a pint with the regulars
at Fitzgerald's in the evening. Occasionally, he'd even help Niamh out as
she looked after the pub while its owner was away. He would clear away empty
glasses, wash windows, or entertain Kieran, with whom he'd become great pals.
He was gradually regaining his equilibrium. Assumpta's absence played no small
part in it, though Peter didn't admit that to himself.
One fine Tuesday afternoon a few months after his return, Peter had an appointment
to meet with Niamh to go over arrangements for Kieran's christening. He fairly
loped down the hill, reveling in the gorgeous day, feeling better than he
had in ages. The sky was as bright a blue as when he first came to Ballyk.
That is, before the rain came and he had hitched a lift into town—-
Ah, don't go there, Peter admonished himself lightly, determined to keep
his good mood.
Seated at the kitchen table in the Garda stationhouse, Peter asked, "Where's
Ambrose today?" He nodded toward the empty office across the hall.
"On foot patrol, hunting up some crime," Niamh, making the tea, said over
her shoulder without a hint of the indulgent smile usually offered when commenting
on Ambrose's single-minded dedication to his job.
Niamh placed a mug in front of Peter and sat down across from him with her
own. She seemed preoccupied. Peter attempted some small talk. "I hear your
dad's thinking of starting his Ballykissangel festival up again—"
Niamh broke in as if unaware he was speaking. "I had a call from Assumpta
"Oh?" Peter's expression went beyond the polite, priestly interest Niamh
expected; his face had lit up like a child receiving a present.
She continued, tentatively, feeling somehow as though she was taking that
gift away, "She's renting out Fitzgerald's to a tenant and is using the money
to go in on that wine bar in Dublin she was talking about last year. She isn't
coming back to Ballykissangel."
Blinking rapidly, Peter felt the breath knocked out of him. He was baffled.
Wasn't he past this? Hadn't he made his decision to be a priest? Why should
it matter to him now whether or not Assumpta came home?
Niamh took Peter's silence for lack of comment, so went on. "There's something
else." Peter didn't know what bigger news there could be for him than Assumpta
leaving Ballyk forever. "Leo and Assumpta are expecting a baby." Now Niamh
was working herself into an indignant lather. "I was all for them being a
couple, but they've only just gotten back together and now they're rushing
into parenthood, and doing it away from everyone she knows—Father, are you
Peter, hands trembling in his lap under the table, was unable to mask his
distress in time. "It is good news, Niamh," he said in a voice that didn't
seem to be his, smiling as benignly as he could manage. "Maybe motherhood
will be good for Assumpta, soften her hard edges a bit. And she couldn't have
chosen a better man," Peter finished unconvincingly. "And anyway, we're here
to discuss the most important day in Kieran's life. Let's concentrate on
that, shall we?"
After he and Niamh settled on the readings and hymns for the christening
Mass, Peter headed back to St. Joseph's befogged by emotions he'd kept tidily
away these past few months. He knelt before the statue of Mary, votive candles
flickering at her feet, his head resting in his hands. He loved this church
and the town, but at this painful and unavoidable evidence of the reality
of Assumpta's marriage, Peter knew his staying on in Ballykissangel had been
a mistake. He'd never entirely escape his feelings for her, least of all in
the town to which she was inextricably linked for him. He'd fallen in love
with them both together, and to distance himself from one, he'd have to leave
Fr. Mac seemed discreetly pleased at Fr. Clifford requesting a transfer.
His patience had long ago worn thin with the curate who had challenged him
over and over rather than following orders as a good subordinate should. Fr.
Clifford's inability to scrub Assumpta Fitzgerald from his mind was as good
a reason for him to go as any. He determined that Peter's last priestly duty
in Ballyk would be Kieran's christening. Peter bargained to be allowed to
say goodbye to his congregation, to which Fr. Mac agreed—-"but Father, don't
be honest," he had spit through clenched teeth as they stood in the gravel
forecourt of the Cilldargan
parish house. And so, before those he loved gathered in St. Joseph's, Peter
made the second painful going-away speech of his priesthood. He had been transferred
back to Manchester to work at a school there, he said. His mother was poorly,
so it was a blessing that the church had chosen this moment in time to send
him home. Honest.
Alone in the sacristy after everyone else had gone on to Brian Quigley's
to wet the baby's head, Peter changed into civvies and retrieved his rucksack
from the long, low wooden cabinet against the wall where he'd once secreted
One-Tooth Tommy's remains at Brian's request. The tall sanctuary door creaked
tentatively, and Brendan appeared. "At least you said goodbye before leaving."
Peter smiled, but not with his eyes, acknowledging the unhappy circumstance
of his departure but not elaborating. "Will you walk me out, Brendan?"
Peter woke with a start at the flight attendant's touch on his shoulder,
thankful the seat beside him was empty for he had leaned a good way over into
it as he dozed. "We are landing in a few moments, sir. Please return your
seatback to its fully upright position." His stomach suddenly filled with
butterflies. He tied a loose shoelace on his hiking boot, buckled his seat
belt and took a deep breath as the plane descended into Dublin.
As Peter exited the baggage claim into the arrivals hall, he was surprised
to see Brendan among the meeters-and-greeters crowd, customary newspaper folded
under one arm. They clapped arms on each other's backs. "Are you here to
collect me?" Peter asked, giddy at the sight of his old friend but perplexed
at his unexpected appearance.
"I thought I'd give you some company for the bus ride back to Ballyk."
Peter felt the first twinge of something going on, as though he was being
steered. "I'm a big boy, Brendan. You didn't have to take the time out of
your day to come and fetch me from the airport."
Brendan shrugged, squinting in the late morning sunlight as they exited
the terminal. "Well, if a headmaster can't give himself the day off now and
then, what good is the position?" Peter laughed as Brendan continued, "We've
shared lots of bus rides, including your first into Ballyk. Well, most of
it anyway, `til a confessional fell from the sky. As I recall, you thought
you'd walk the rest of the way." Before Peter could dwell on the reference,
Brendan chuckled neutrally, patted him on the back, and they walked on to
the bus stop.
This time Peter took a window seat, wanting to take in all of the scenery.
"It was fancy of you to fly in," Brendan observed in his gently mocking way.
Peter shrugged. "Now that I'm a teacher and not a curate, I can keep a fiver
here and there for myself. Got a cheap internet fare. You should look into
it, Brendan. The web is a wonderful place."
Brendan smiled. "Sure, webs are for spiders, Peter."
As the bus rumbled out of Dublin on the N11 towards Wicklow Town, Brendan
regaled Peter with stories of Brian's preparations for the festival taking
place that weekend. "He ran out of ideas to borrow from other towns, so had
to come up with some of his own. But no ram crowning this year! Siobhan is
quite pleased but still keeping an eye out for caged livestock." It warmed
Peter to hear these slices of life, not realizing until now how much he'd
missed the everyday gossip of the locals.
Later, when they drew closer to Ballykissangel, the conversation waned as
Peter directed his full attention out of the window. He found himself enchanted
with the countryside all over again: the emerald fields and hedges; snug,
low-roofed cottages; grazing cows and sheep. Glimpsing St. Joseph's steeple
off in the distance, peeking out over the springtime green of the trees and
clad in its eternal scaffolding, he felt the visceral upwelling of happiness
of a person returning home after a long time away. The tear in his eye surprised
him, and he wiped it away surreptitiously before Brendan could notice.
The bus crossed the bridge over the River Angel and turned left, letting
off in front of Kathleen Hendley's shop as always. Peter stepped out, noting
with a strange relief that "Fitzgerald's" was still above the pub in its familiar
yellow-on-blue lettering. Possibly the tenant thought it too recognizable
to change, or just
couldn't be bothered to repaint. Overhead, strung between the two buildings,
fluttered the old banner for the Ballykissangel festival.
The two men walked up the busy road to the school, where Peter would leave
his pack until Siobhan was able to drive them out to Brendan's that afternoon.
"Are you sure it's no trouble to put me up? I can always find accommodation
"Not at all. That way I can keep my eye on you." Peter wasn't sure what
to make of that, but the twinkle in Brendan's eye assured him it was a joke.
Once Peter had secured his belongings in Brendan's office, he rubbed his
hands together eagerly. "So, where's Aisling? Is there a chance of meeting
her before lunch?"
Brendan nodded. "Niamh has her during the day. She's sort of the child-minder
for the village now."
Peter's eyebrow went up. "Just how many babies have been born around here?"
He immediately regretted the question and smiled uncomfortably, acknowledging
the accidental and unwanted opening of that Pandora's box. Brendan understood
and answered the question as if there was nothing amiss. "There's Kieran,
Aisling, and you know Niamh and Ambrose had another this year…all sorts. Let's
go down and get my girl." Peter appreciated Brendan's discretion; he must
have realized how painful the topic was for his friend.
They ambled back down the hill that curved through the village, through
the festival crowds, past the carnival rides and food vans and children rushing
about with balloons and confetti eggs. No one seemed to recognize Peter yet,
possibly due to the civilian dress and longer hair.
"Manchester started up an Irish Festival a few years ago," he commented.
"More professionally done than this one, but it's missing the one thing I
love about this-—the town and the people."
Brendan huffed in agreement.
Peter indicated St. Joseph's with a tilt of his head. "How's the new curate
getting on? Though I suppose he's hardly new anymore."
"Fr. Aidan? Fine. He's quite earnest, and a bit less pot-stirring than the
last one we had here." Peter grinned, giving Brendan a friendly shove with
At the sight of his old house and the rushing memory of the intimacies that
took place there, Peter went as bright red as the front door but recovered
himself quickly. He gazed up at the cerulean sky and then around at the bustle
of fairgoers. Somewhere a sound system had been set up, and "Celebration"
by Kool and the Gang wafted above the crowd. He took a deep, satisfying breath
of the clear country air. "I never forgot this place. This is like coming
"There are a lot of people here who miss you, Peter," Brendan said.
Peter only had time to acknowledge the statement with a cursory nod before
a moppet with a tangle of long, curly red hair and a pink gingham dress came
toddling speedily up the street towards them. "I running! Mummy! Look," she
was calling behind her. Though her features were obscured by her movement,
Peter recognized the hair from the few pictures Brendan had sent. "This is
Aisling, yeah?" he said, but then noticed with some apprehension that Brendan
had stopped walking. Rather than moving to collect his daughter, he instead
seemed to be hanging back, watching the scene unfold.
Brendan put his hand on his friend's arm, almost as if trying to warn him.
"Mary!" The voice calling up around the bend after the little girl was female,
sharp—-and familiar. And calling Peter's mother's name. Then Fionn came bounding
up the road on a lead shortly revealed to be held by Assumpta Fitzgerald.
She always has that dog with her, Peter thought nonsensically.
Assumpta caught Mary about ten feet away from the two men, swinging her
up over one hip. "No more running away like that, young lady, or I'll put
Gard Egan on you!" Then she looked over at Peter, almost incidentally, and
their eyes met for the first time since their conversation in Fitzgerald's
kitchen. She gave a start of recognition but did not look surprised to see
Peter and Assumpta stared at each other as she continued to struggle with
her squirming daughter. He took in her details quickly, almost unconsciously:
hair even longer than the day they first met, halfway down her back and caught
up in a loose ponytail that left tendrils free to frame her face; features
softer; body curvier in sweater and skirt. Her eyes, however, were just as
dark and challenging as ever. And just like that, the carefully crafted life
of denial that Peter had constructed for himself since leaving Ballykissangel
blew away with the breeze that was gently lifting Assumpta's bangs from her
forehead. Several boys shouting and kicking a football came up on either side
of the small party and passed it between the men and Assumpta, unaware of
the drama playing out. This snapped the players back to the moment.
Brendan tried again. "Peter, it wasn't supposed to happen this way--"
Peter cut him off, spinning him around by the elbow. Assumpta held her ground,
seemingly satisfied to wait for Peter to make the first move. Mary continued
"What's going on?" Peter asked, voice rising with confusion. He realized
now that this trip had been a setup, that at least Brendan and Assumpta had
been in on this. They must have known he would not have come voluntarily under
these circumstances. Seeing Assumpta was painful enough, but to face her
child by another man-—and with his mother's name, for God's sake-—was an
emotional gut punch Peter was not prepared to take.
Before Brendan could answer, Mary lost patience and began to shriek, "Mummy!
Down!" The two men turned back around as Assumpta shushed her soothingly.
Mary obligingly putting her head on her mother's shoulder, and looked over
at Peter with a toddler's typical reticence toward strangers. It was when
she was at last still that Peter registered her pale green eyes and then the
thin, rose-colored lips that looked just like his mother's.
The phrase knocked around his head: lips that look just like my mother's.
Assumpta watched Peter closely as the tumblers clicked and the realization
washed over him: the startled look of disbelief; his fingers alternately clenching
and fanning as he attempted to grasp the enormity of the truth standing on
the road before him; then, a stillness that Assumpta took for acceptance.
She decided it was time.
She smiled at Peter cautiously, began walking over to him with their daughter.
Mary lifted her head, and she regarded Peter with quiet curiosity.
In spite of the carnival bustle all around, he could hear himself breathing.
Peter and Assumpta stood across from each other amid the crush of
Ballykissangel festivalgoers on the main road, not having seen each other
since he left on retreat three years ago. Peter took deep breaths, trying
to center himself after being knocked for six by what he‘d just discovered.
Assumpta, hesitant and trying to gauge Peter’s expression before making a
move, was holding her lovely little girl Mary--their little girl--in her
Peter shook his head slowly, struggling with the shocking flesh-and-blood
reality of his child before him. “Not here. Not now,” he said as evenly as
possible, mindful that Mary was watching him, the stranger, keenly. He didn’t
want to alarm her, but at the same time was not at all prepared for this meeting
here on a public street. He hadn’t been given a choice—apparently, as Brendan
had tried to explain, it wasn’t supposed to have happened this way—but there
were so many emotions churning through his system that Peter felt it best
to get some distance and regroup, before saying or doing anything, regardless
fate had presented him.
Brendan, who had been walking with Peter when they had unexpectedly
run into Assumpta, recognized the storm brewing in his friend and gently took
him by the
elbow. “Let’s all go back to my house and sort this through.” Peter yanked
his arm away and feeling as if in slow motion, walked past a stricken-looking
Assumpta and Mary, who was already distracted by the balloon vendor up the
street. Peter ached to reach out there and then to gather his precious little
in his arms but kept walking, down the hill, through town and across the
bridge over the Angel. Aware of Brendan catching up, trying to bring him back
calling as little attention to the scene as possible, Peter kept walking.
It was well past closing time when Peter stumbled back into Ballykissangel.
Lost in anguished and furious thought, he had managed to walk all the way
to Cilldargan and had more than a few morose pints at his old haunt, the Glenwood.
It had started to rain lightly. Waving off several offers of a lift from
passing cars, Peter sang football chants and old Motown tunes to himself
along the dark road back to Ballyk, dimly aware of looking foolish. The only
other times he could remember getting this drunk alone were when each of
his parents died and he could not immediately face the pain. Trudging woozily
up the hill toward the church, he saw the windows in his former house lit
and someone moving around inside. He felt a sudden longing for his old, neatly-defined
curate’s life, with Assumpta at arm‘s-length.
Yapping caught Peter’s attention. Kathleen was coming from the opposite
direction, walking her aggressive little dog. She had obviously heard he was
in town because she didn’t look surprised to see him but merely sniffed, “Good
evening, Father,” before going on her way. Ironic, he thought; at least one
thing in Ballykissangel was just as he remembered it.
Brendan was waiting up for him, both worried and irritated when he
opened the door to a sheepish Peter, who nodded in half-hearted greeting.
“Sorry if I caused any anxiety.” Brendan, severe expression on his face, sat
down on the sofa and indicated the chair next to it.
Peter continued on into the kitchen: “Brendan, I don’t want to talk
about it, alright? I’m a big boy. I just need to sleep on it.”
“Peter, I know this was traumatic, but it’s not like you to run away
from problems. You were always the strongest advocate of facing them head-on.
Believe me, I know that this can be the best thing that’s ever happened to
Peter held up his hand, eyes flashing warning. “Brendan, enough. You
knew exactly what was going to happen yet let me walk right into it!”
Brendan countered evenly, “You are my friends. You created a beautiful
little girl and Assumpta was ready for you to meet her. I wanted to help.”
Peter rounded on him. “Help! Helping would have been to let me know
three years ago when she was born!” There was a tentative knock on the front
Brendan answered and wordlessly motioned the caller in. It was Assumpta,
who smiled cautiously at Peter.
“You weren’t easy to find.”
Peter swallowed. “Let’s go outside.“ He took her by the hand, hard,
and was unwittingly electrified by her touch.
Assumpta leaned up against her van, unsure of where to start. Peter
did the same a few feet away from her, so many questions to ask but so much
well. He could only manage a sharp, hostile laugh, his breath turning to
mist in the cold rain.
Assumpta began tentatively. “We didn't really get a chance to talk
Peter answered flatly, “No.”
“I was out walking Fionn and Kathleen mentioned seeing you, erm, weaving
back into town towards Brendan‘s.”
Peter nodded, arms folded, directing his eyes up at the night sky.
She said neutrally, but with some apprehension: “Peter, would you
look at me when I'm talking to you?”
“Assumpta…” Peter shifted his weight and rubbed his eyes tiredly.
“Where’s Mary tonight?”
“Niamh has her until I get back.”
Peter couldn’t help his next remark. “What, from telling me about
the past three years of our daughter’s life?”
Assumpta didn’t have an immediate response to this and watched as he began
to pace, hands running through his hair, growing more agitated until he turned
a few feet from her and, in a primal scream of grief, wailed, “Why didn’t
you tell me?”
Assumpta‘s own, long-nursed pain overcame any guilt she‘d allowed
herself to feel as she spat out furiously, “Because you left me! You made
your decision, and it was for the church! You had no right to know!” She
was on tip-toe now, finger jabbing in Peter’s direction.
Peter was disbelieving. “I just went away on retreat! You moved away
and married another man!”
Assumpta immediately retorted, “ANOTHER man? Did I have a choice?
I was pregnant, the father was a priest, and I didn’t want to ruin things
for his--vocation!” The word carried all the bitterness she could muster.
Emotion combined with the lager was getting the best of Peter. “You
had a baby. You had my baby, and you didn’t tell me! I could have been there
her! You just don‘t think, do you, Assumpta?” He leaned against van’s cab,
elbows on the roof, head in hands.
The fire went out of Assumpta then, a hand shakily sweeping her wet
hair out of her face. “I—I wasn’t ready to tell you until now. I wasn’t strong
enough to face you until now.”
“Ready? Assumpta, you’ve kept me from our daughter all these years.
What’s your readiness got to do with it?” Too spent to continue for the moment,
Peter turned to head into Brendan‘s house, giving Assumpta one last heartrending
look. “People call me ‘Father’ all day, and here I was one all this time.”
Assumpta watched Peter walk through the front door and shut it dully
behind him. She remained, motionless in the dark for some time before climbing
in the van and driving slowly away.
From behind the heavy curtains in Brendan’s front window, Peter watched
Next morning, Peter donned his old rollneck jumper, jeans and hiking
boots and set off for a long walk directly after enduring an awkward breakfast
with Brendan. It wasn’t fifteen minutes before he heard a bike approaching
from behind, then a cheery but guarded, “Ah, Father. Wondered when we’d see
you again.” Niamh overtook him. She was on her way to her father’s to do her
weekly Saturday cleaning. Peter was genuinely pleased to see her though her
address caused him to wince, given recent events. They embraced.
“Niamh, it is alright to call me ‘Peter’.”
At that her expression turned knowing, but she merely continued with her
opening thread of conversation. “Brendan said he was going to try and get
you down here for the Bank Holiday weekend. Are you enjoying my father‘s festival?”
Peter’s brow wrinkled skeptically. “Have you not spoken to Assumpta
at all since last night? You must have heard that I met her—our—daughter yesterday,
a bit unexpectedly for me.”
Niamh looked down, tacitly admitting it. Peter sought her eyes for
the truth. “Did you know Mary was my daughter? Ah, everyone must have. It’s
literally all over her face!” The fleeting relaxation he had been enjoying
on his hike vanished.
Niamh pushed the bike along beside her as they walked toward Brian‘s.
“Assumpta never made any announcements about who the father was, because she
knew we would assume it was Leo. Of course, Kathleen figured it out. She
always did have a sort of sixth sense about these things. And Ballyk is a
small town, so the rumor spread quickly.” She stopped, wanting Peter to have
the best explanation she felt he was owed. “Assumpta wanted to tell you herself.
She warned us not to breathe a word of it to you. But things ended so badly
between you two. She honestly thought you were gone for good, and thought
marrying Leo was the best choice for her future. When she found out about
the baby it seemed to make even more sense.”
At this Peter began tugging at his right eyebrow, which Niamh remembered
well as his unconscious sign of agitation. “Is Leo in Ballykissangel too?”
Niamh held up her hand in gentle rebuke. “I’ve said more than I should
have already. Go to Assumpta. Let her tell you those things.” She caught Peter
by the arm to focus his attention. “Father--Peter--she cares for you a great
Determined now to face Assumpta, Peter paused briefly outside the
main door to Fitzgerald’s before gingerly ducking inside. The bar was empty,
oddly just as it
had been the last festival for which Peter had been in town. The interior
was miraculously unchanged, save for bright new lighting fixtures. Peter’s
heart lifted a little at the sight of the turf fire going, the pumps gleaming,
the sunlight filtering softly through the waterglass windows. He was momentarily
transported back to a time when things weren’t so complicated and, unrequited
feelings for Assumpta aside, he had been happy. Entering Fitzgerald’s was
like walking into the embrace of an old friend.
He heard a rummaging in the kitchen, the rattle of beer bottles in
a crate, and for a moment almost thought Assumpta would appear, complete with
bandage on her forehead. However, it was an unfamiliar woman, an older brunette,
who appeared at the kitchen door with a bar towel over her shoulder and a
warm smile on her face. “What can I get you?”
“Nothing, thanks—I was looking for Assumpta Fitzgerald?”
The woman nodded. “Ah. She’s out at the moment, but is working tonight.
Can I tell her who came by?”
Peter was already out the door. “No, no. I’ll just come by later.
By now it was lunchtime. Peter took the steps into Hendley’s two at
a time, willing to face the proprietress if it got him something to eat healthier
than a hot dog at one of the food stands and cheaper than up the road at Quigley‘s
Prawn Cracker. Sure enough, Kathleen was behind the till and received him
with a frosty, “Good morning,” as he sidled past, not even bothering with
“Father” this time. As Peter was regarding the wrapped-sandwich selection
in the cool display, the bell on the front door jingled signaling another
“Father Clifford, I presume.” Father Mac’s voice had lost none of
its drawling, dripping invective.
Peter smiled tightly, extending his right hand. “Father MacAnally.”
Father Mac kept his hands clasped behind his back as Kathleen looked
on with appropriate disapproval. Peter was unsure exactly what Father Mac
knew of his
situation, but had a good guess. Still, he wasn’t in the humor to find out.
“Just in for a visit, Father,“ he said, pleasantly as he could manage.
“A short one, I hope,” Father Mac hissed. “You’ve already made enough
trouble for people here.” In that painful moment, Peter had his confirmation
and felt genuine remorse for having lied to his confessor about his night
“I’m sorry, Father.”
After that, Peter hiked back out to Brendan’s rather than risk running
into any others in town who would feel the need to voice their disapproval
over his parental situation. He felt the woman at Fitzgerald’s would probably
mention to Assumpta about the English stranger who was asking after her; in
any event Assumpta would be there for work later. Peter sat in Brendan’s comfortable,
worn sitting-room chair as afternoon wore on to dusk, then evening. He picked
absently at the fabric on the arm, trying to arrange his thoughts objectively,
wanting to approach things rationally and productively, to avoid another
confrontation with Assumpta like last night‘s. He had a daughter to consider
Brendan did not return home; maybe he had headed straight to Fitzgerald‘s
from his day out. Peter sighed heavily and zipped his windcheater. Now or
This time Peter used the entrance marked “Accommodation”, the one
he had always used when hesitant to face Assumpta head-on. Peter felt as
though a spotlight shone down on his head, so complete was the shift of the
room’s attention to him standing in the doorway. Fitzgerald’s on a Saturday
always a busy place, with the locals, weekend-go-to-town farmers and even
some from nearby villages; now there were even a few fairgoers in the mix.
From her place behind the pumps where she was drawing a pint, Assumpta regarded
Peter coolly. Brendan, Siobhan and Padraig were in their customary seats at
the far end of the bar.
At first Peter was frozen, not sure what to do, eyes darting from
Assumpta to the three friends.
Padriag noticed him first. “Father Clifford! Come join us!”
Siobhan turned in her chair. “Ah, Father! Yes, come sit with us for
a bit. Assumpta, another bottle of Harp and a—pint of lager, right, Father?”
Peter nodded hesitantly. The only barstool available was his old usual, which
happened to be directly in the middle of the bar near Assumpta. She wordlessly
placed the beer mat, then the pint, in front of Peter, eyes challenging him
to speak. The other three seemed to sense the undercurrent of awkwardness
but typically did not draw attention to it. Not wanting to embarrass either
of their friends, they simply sat and chatted with Peter about other, inoffensive
like religion and politics.
Assumpta was uncharacteristically quiet, leaning against the back
counter and chewing a green apple. Peter had wanted to talk, but realized
she was waiting
for him to make the first move. He never could find the right moment. A
busy bar wasn’t the ideal place for this kind of private discussion, anyway.
Came the inevitable moment when Assumpta reached for the old brass
hand bell and rang it vigorously. “Last orders, please!” Eventually the remaining
patrons rustled themselves up from their tables and shuffled out the front
door. Peter didn’t move, making brief, meaningful eye contact with Assumpta
before glancing at Brendan.
Brendan put his hand on Siobhan’s shoulder. “We have a sleeping daughter
to collect from Niamh.”
Siobhan, always so quick to read the situation, clapped Peter on the
back and got up from her barstool. “Good to see you, Father.”
Padraig alone seemed oblivious. “I better go, too. Never know what
Kevin might be up to. I trust the boy, but teenagers are a completely different
animal! Father, you coming?”
Brendan cut in, whispering something in Padraig’s ear. Padraig nodded
and he followed Brendan and Siobhan out. “G’night, Assumpta. G‘night, Father
Assumpta bolted the door shut and turned, facing Peter, leaning against
the door briefly. Peter smiled awkwardly.
Assumpta went back behind the bar, searching on the shelf beneath
the till and coming up with a bottle of wine. Peter chuckled warily. “Last
time we started a conversation like this, you ended up barring me.”
“Don’t press your luck then,” Assumpta shot back tartly, rooting around
Peter had much to ask her, to confront her about, but in that moment
realized that at the root of it all and in spite of himself, he loved her,
and couldn’t help what he said next.
“I’ve missed you, Assumpta.”
Her reply was gentler now, her expression remarkably unguarded. “I
Assumpta poured each of them a glass and then leaned on the counter,
taking a sip before nodding toward the kitchen door. “Let’s go sit down and
have a proper
The kitchen was low-lit, still with the cream walls and green trim,
the Aga giving off its slow heat. The kitchen, where almost every important
conversation they’d ever had took place. The last time they were here, Peter
had told Assumpta that he’d chosen the priesthood over her.
They sat across from each other at the familiar wooden table. Peter
cleared his throat. “Is Mary here?”
Assumpta motioned to the baby monitor on the counter, red light indicating
it was on. “Upstairs. Just moved into her big-girl bed a few weeks ago and
she has a habit of wandering.” Peter winced at one of the many milestones
he had missed. Assumpta realized as much, and gingerly put her hand on his
where it rested on the tabletop. “We have a lot of catching up to do, don’t
He turned his hand over and grasped hers tightly. “Yes.”
They each took a drink, unsure of what to say next.
Peter nodded toward the monitor, their daughter‘s light snoring causing
its indicator to blink in response. “How did you come up with the name ‘Mary’?”
Assumpta rolled her eyes. “Oh, don’t be clever. You know it’s after
“Sorry. I didn’t realize I’d ever mentioned her to you by name.”
It dawned on Peter that Assumpta had gone to some lengths for this
information in order to name their child after his mother, and he was moved.
“Thank you, Assumpta.”
Assumpta looked at him levelly. “I didn’t do it for you.”
Peter shifted uncomfortably in the old chair, puzzled at her meaning
but saving his emotional strength for bigger topics.
“So,” Assumpta said, voice cracking and for an instant betraying her
anxiety, “what sort of teaching do you do?”
Peter cleared his throat. “I’m not sure how much Brendan has filled
you in, but I’m at a boarding school just north of Manchester. Father Collins
knew I loved working with kids, and it removed me from the day-to-day…temptations
of running a parish.”
Assumpta was unable to help herself. “Did you not fall in love with
anyone there, too?”
Peter was offended. “Cheap shot.”
Assumpta shrugged. “It’s the truth, isn’t it? For you and me, it’s
Peter answered as indignantly as he could manage, “I never said I
was in love with you.”
Now it was Assumpta’s turn. “Oh, please.”
Peter relented. “Fair enough.” He took a breath. “Were you…in love
At this Assumpta abruptly got up from the table, going over to sink
and briefly leaning over it, eyes closed, collecting herself. Then she spoke
slowly and deliberately, her tone not inviting comment, all the while facing
“Leo found me in London right after you’d told me your decision to
stay in the Church. There was no future for me in Ballyk, and Leo offered
me the security I thought I wanted. I was straight with him about the baby;
he knew she wasn’t his. It wasn’t any sort of grand gesture. He just wanted
me by any means, and for awhile I could go along with that.
“After a few months more Leo came to me with the suspicion that my
heart was with the baby‘s father, and that he was on a hiding to nothing.
We separated shortly before Mary was born, and divorced as soon as the law
allowed. I used him and broke his heart. That wasn’t right. He still hasn’t
spoken to me. I don’t blame him.
“I was making a good life for myself and the baby in Dublin—finally
went in with my friend in that wine bar, and rented Fitzgerald’s to Oonagh,
the woman you met here earlier. Then a few months ago, I decided to move back.”
Assumpta squared her slim shoulders and turned to face Peter, gripping
the edge of the sink for strength just as she had the oven handle three years
previously during their last—and to her thinking then, at least, final—conversation.
Peter‘s eyes had not left Assumpta the entire time, but now as he
digested her story he closed them and sighed. “What brought you back to Ballyk?”
Assumpta shrugged. “It’s home. Everything and everyone I love is here.”
She was looking at Peter so hard she thought he might melt. Still, he interpreted
the remark to mean that, since he hadn’t been in Ballykissangel when she returned,
she must not love him after all.
That’s one question answered, he thought resignedly. There were other
things to be addressed, though. “Does Mary know me? Does she know…who I am?”
“She knows she has a daddy who doesn’t live with her, but she doesn’t
know it’s you, no.”
Peter slumped in his chair, defeated, feeling confirmed as a complete
non-entity, an accidental participant in this entire scenario. He cleared
his throat again, this time to stop the tremble in his voice. “Why not?”
Assumpta moved back to the table and sat next to him this time, heart
shredded at the hurt she had caused him. “I thought it was best she not know
her father was a priest just yet. When she got older, maybe she’d understand.
Then I realized that after moving back here, everyone figured it out so quickly
she would have heard it anyway. There was no protecting her from it.”
Peter was exasperated. “What, from me?”
Assumpta shook her head emphatically. “No. I mean from finding out
and having to answer for it. That is what I feared for her, that sort of confusion
and guilt that I grew up with when the Church inserted itself into my parents’
marriage and made it a living hell for all of us.” Now she took Peter’s hand,
surprising him a little. “Once I faced my worst fear, I was able to see beyond
it to what was right. And that was you.”
In that instant, realizing the earnestness of all of her intentions
toward their daughter, Peter silently forgave Assumpta. He exhaled, feeling
as though he’d
been holding his breath almost since he‘d landed in Ireland.
“I wonder how the word never got to me in England. The gossips around
here certainly would have spread the news up the chain of command.”
“I warned everyone not to on pain of death. And that I’d cut off the
They chuckled briefly at the joke, appreciating a moment of levity
in the midst of the heavy conversation.
After a moment Assumpta turned somber again. “Brendan told me your
mother died. I’m sorry.”
“Did you ever tell her about what happened between us?”
“No. She was so supportive of my vocation, even to the point of almost
wrecking her marriage, that I couldn’t let her know. She went to her grave
believing I was blissfully happy in the priesthood, which I’d convinced myself
I was, too, up until I met you in the road outside of St. Joseph’s yesterday.”
This was said matter-of-factly, without rancor.
The church bell tolled the hour, pealing strongly in the clear night
air. Peter remembered something, broke their handclasp and retrieved a small
velvet pouch from his shirt pocket. Into his palm he gently shook out a delicate
garnet rosary. “It was my mum’s. I’ve carried it with me since she died. I’d
like for Mary to have it. Not necessarily to encourage religious devotion,”
he added hastily, “but more as a remembrance of her Granny Mary. Something
of my family.”
Assumpta shook her head again, at first leaving Peter disappointed
until saying, “Why don’t you give it to her yourself? Come by tomorrow morning
when she‘s awake.” A pause as she noted Peter’s skeptical expression. “It’s
alright, Peter. They’re still not my beliefs, but they’re her Dad’s. And that’s
part of her, too.”
The next morning, chill in the air, Peter knocked on the door at Fitzgerald’s.
Assumpta, expecting him, answered almost immediately. They had an awkward
moment of greeting, both feeling as though they should kiss, or at least hug,
but neither comfortable making the first move. “Go on through. She’s in the
kitchen eating her breakfast.”
As with their previous meeting, Mary suffered from the usual toddler
shyness in front of Peter. She didn’t quite grasp what Assumpta‘s gentle,
“Mary, this is your Dad,” but they were the most powerful words Peter had
ever heard. He was desperate to gather Mary up in his arms and kiss those
round cheeks, but settled for a seat next to hers and sliding the rosary in
its bag toward her.
Excited at the prospect of a present, Mary put down her toast, was
intercepted by Assumpta with a wet cloth to clean her hands, and allowed Peter
to open the pouch for her. At the sight of the rosary, her eyes widened. “Beads!”
she exclaimed delightedly, then “Thanks!“ with a brief lean of her head toward
Peter in acknowledgement. He found himself trembling, fighting away sobs,
this seemingly insignificant acknowledgment on her part meaning so much to
Assumpta saw his difficulty and came to his aid. “This was your granny’s,”
she said, meeting Peter‘s eyes. “Your Granny Mary, your Dad’s mother.”
Mary, not understanding the abstract concept of a person who wasn’t
there, nodded obligingly, then returned her attention to the sparkly beads
and large silver crucifix at the bottom. “Who’s that?” she asked, pointing.
“That’s Jesus,” Peter answered, unsure of how far to go with the religious
aspect but delighted at the interaction with his daughter.
“Jeezis,” Mary said definitively, then proceeded to pull the rosary
over her head to wear as a necklace. Assumpta went to remove it, but Peter
nodded silently his assent. Mary giggled, delighted with herself. It seemed
a postcard family moment, but as Peter sat there perched on his chair still
wearing his zipped-up windcheater, he knew he was only a visitor.
Still, he was determined to make the most of it.
“Can I have a little more time with her?” he asked.
Assumpta was secretly thrilled at this, had hoped for it, but characteristically
didn’t let on. “We were going to spend the day at the festival. You’re welcome
to join us if you like.”
At lunchtime, Peter bought them all hotdogs at Mary’s request and they sat
on the banks of the Angel to eat. He coaxed Mary onto his lap and within seconds
had her demonstrating her command of “Incey Wincey Spider”, complete with
hand motions. Watching Peter and Mary’s hands together crawl the spider up
the imaginary spout, Assumpta realized with a start where Mary had gotten
her long fingers. Her defenses were melting, and she couldn’t help herself.
“You’re a natural.” Peter and Assumpta smiled warmly at each other over their
“Would you like to go for a walk? Mary loves tossing stones into the
water.” Peter, releasing Mary to run, drew himself up tall, mockingly impressive.
“That’s good, because I am an excellent stone-tosser. I’ve hit a Coke
can at ten paces.”
Mary ambled along the bank, chucking rocks into the water and squealing
with delight the larger the splash they made. Peter and Assumpta were a short
distance behind her, Assumpta’s hand unconsciously darting out now and then
to stop Mary from falling in.
The day had grown warm and Peter was feeling reflective. “You must
have known how I felt about you.”
Assumpta snorted with skepticism. “How would I know that?”
“Assumpta, are you serious?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “Well, I had no idea.”
Peter was genuinely shocked. “I thought the dogs in the street knew.”
“You think I would have gotten married, had Mary on my own, if I knew
how you felt?”
Peter admitted his darkest fear. “If you were in love with someone
else, sure, why not? But you weren’t, were you?”
“I...I liked him. I thought in time he would drive you out of my head.”
This was the closest Assumpta had ever come to verbally admitting
her feelings for Peter, who now twined her fingers in his. “Weird, isn't
it? How something can sound so exhilarating and depressing at the same time?
Assumpta, if I’d only been honest with myself then, I could have been honest
with you, and all this could have been avoided.”
Assumpta touched his face with a merciful hand, absolving him as he
had already done her. “You’re here now.”
The two caught up with Mary, and Peter gathered her and Assumpta in
an embrace, kissing each of them tenderly on the head.
That evening, Peter looked after Mary while Assumpta worked behind the bar.
He gave Mary her bath, read her a story and sang her to sleep in Assumpta’s
rocking chair. Then for a long time he sat beside her bed, stroking the
sleeping child’s hair and weeping silently with joy at the intense and wonderful
turn his life had taken in the past two days.
After closing, Peter shut Mary’s door softly and stole away downstairs
as quietly as possible, descending into the darkened bar. The lamp on the
reception desk glowed softly as Assumpta leaned over an account book, her
face even more delicate by the weak light of the single bulb. She heard Peter
and stood up as he came to the foot of the stairs, philosophical expression
on her face that Peter
couldn’t read. Before he could say anything, she spoke.
“I didn’t take his name, you know.”
Peter was not expecting this line of conversation. “What, Leo’s?”
Assumpta’s eyebrows raised briefly as she shook her head. “Nope. I
stayed ‘Assumpta Fitzgerald’, even on the marriage certificate.”
Slowly it was dawning on him, but he wanted to be sure. “Why?”
She fixed him with her eyes, her meaning clear now. “His wasn’t the
name I wanted to have.”
For the first time, Peter realized that their one night together wasn’t
just a result of his passion for her. The feelings he had fled to England
to avoid were evidently hers as well. It always came back to her, and all
at once it hit him: she was the mother of his child; she had raised Mary alone,
thinking that it would protect Peter’s priestly career; and she loved him.
Peter found his legs threatening not to hold him up any longer, but he managed
to take the few steps
over to where she was standing behind the desk. His emotions were so strong
that his heart hurt from their force, yet he managed to whisper, “I love you,
Assumpta,” before taking her face in his hands. “In spite of everything, because
of everything. I love you.”
“I know.” For the first time Peter could remember, Assumpta was crying
unabashedly, tears splashing down her cheeks and onto his hands. “I know,
and I love you too, Peter.” He held her and she wept. Something unbidden suddenly
yanked Assumpta back to reality. She gently broke away and backed up against
the desk, not looking at Peter, wiping her years away. “When do you go back
This time Peter had been honest with himself, so he could be to her
as well. He took her chin in his hand and brought her eyes to his. “I’m not
going back to England, Assumpta. You’re here, our daughter’s here…”
“But you’re still a priest. What is to be done about that?”
“I don’t know. I’ll have to speak to my bishop. But it’s done, Assumpta.
As soon as I discovered you and I had a daughter together, my priesthood was
effectively over. I want my life to be here with my family. Nothing is more
important to me than that. I just hope you‘ll have me in it. Whatever you
want, I‘ll do it. Just please don‘t run away from me again.”
Assumpta was overjoyed. “Oh god, he’s speaking in clichés now,”
she laughed, hugging Peter tightly for a moment before starting up the stairs.
On the darkened
landing, she stopped and turned, looking quizzical. “Are you not coming
Peter equivocated, remained at the foot of the stairs. “I don’t think
I should. I’ll spend the night at Brendan’s, and be by here first thing in
Assumpta lowered her voice, sure now of what she wanted. “Come upstairs
with me, Peter.”
Outside her door, Assumpta took Peter’s hand. “You’re shivering.”
Peter was suddenly all schoolboy awkwardness. “Well, we’ve had…sex,
but we’ve never…made love before.”
Assumpta looked at him more earnestly than he’d ever seen. “Peter,
if you really are uncomfortable with this, you can go. But I think you want
to be here, just as I do.”
Again Peter answered, but this time in a hoarse whisper against Assumpta’s
ear, “I know.”
Standing next to the bed with its fluffy down comforter, Assumpta
and Peter tentatively pulled each other into an embrace, lips touching briefly
and then more urgently. His hand moved to the small of her back and pulled
her closer. She ran her fingers through his hair, then started working on
his shirt buttons. Peter tugged her T-shirt over her head, tossed it to the
floor, and was kissing her neck,
desperately wanting. For a brief moment Peter feared Assumpta would realize
what was going on, who with, and push away, but she didn’t. She just moaned
softly and brought him down to the bed on top of her, then giggled nervously
when they were at last completely disrobed.
Peter’s index finger traced the line of her curves. “You’re beautiful.”
Assumpta, inexperienced, bashful, attempted to curl up but Peter wouldn’t
let her. “Now is no time for modesty,” he teased gently. She laid back, shadows
of the leaves from the tree outside her window playing against her bare skin
like a feather fan.
“Are you ready to do this?” Peter asked quietly. He was sure of his
feelings, but when her shining smile confirmed they were mutual, all apprehension
Peter yawned and stretched, tired and happy. “I wonder what the village
Assumpta chuckled, cuddling up to Peter. “The priest and the publican?
That will keep the gossipers going for weeks. But our friends will be happy
for us. It was Brendan who talked me into meeting with you. He convinced me
that you wouldn’t hate me. He thought there was hope that we might end up
“What, in bed?” Peter snapped in mock disbelief.
Assumpta gave him a playful tickle and laughed. “I don’t know if he’d
got us that far, but Brendan did think you and I were destined to be together.”
“Huh! Who’s talking in clichés now?”
Assumpta whacked him with a pillow and continued. “Niamh came to me
as soon as you two had spoken yesterday morning, to be sure I knew you were
coming back to talk to me, that you hadn’t run away again.”
Peter rolled over, gently clearing Assumpta’s tousled hair from her face.
“Sure I was going to come back, was she?”
“You know Niamh. She’s sure about most things.” Peter smiled, and
was about to speak when Assumpta broke in. “I’m sorry, Peter. I’m sorry I
stayed away. I should have rung, or written. It just seemed like the right
thing to do at the time even though now it’s obvious that I made a mistake---“
Peter placed his index finger over her mouth, shushing her. “Assumpta,
I’m here now. I won’t let you down.” He kissed her again, sure that he could
never do it enough to make up for the years they had missed but determined
The bells of St. Joseph's pealed for early Mass. Peter and Assumpta
lay dozing in the big bed in the apartment above the bar at Fitzgerald's.
The bright morning sun streamed through the curtains, and Peter awoke. For
a time he watched Assumpta, until she squinted her eyes open and caught him.
She swatted at him lazily. "Don't look at my morning face, would you?"
Peter leaned over and kissed her chastely, then fell back on his pillow
and stretched luxuriously. "Let's have a lie-in this morning. Fitzgerald's
doesn't open for another few hours, and I can go to vigil Mass tonight."
Assumpta reached over, languidly tousling Peter's curly hair. "I suppose
so. Landlady makes the rules, right?"
Peter responded with mock petulance. "Who says you're in charge? I
don't know why you won't let me put my name on the bar. After all, you took
"What, "Clifford's'? Huh! It would cost a fortune to get the sign redone,
and the electrics were just refurbished!"
Peter nuzzled Assumpta's neck. "Now that you're letting me have the
odd look at the accounts books, I have a fair idea of what we can afford."
"You're one to talk about odd-looking!"
Peter didn't take the bait this time, instead looking her in the eyes,
saying seriously, "It was the best investment I ever made."
"What, buying out Oonagh's share in Fitzgerald's with your inheritance?"
"Yes, that," Peter agreed, gently tracing her face with his fingers,
"but I was talking about my plane ticket from Manchester when Brendan invited
me for that Bank Holiday weekend."
"It was worth all the dirty looks from certain villagers, then?"
"Well, we know who are friends are now, and you've gotten good at telling
everyone else to go jump in the Angel."
Assumpta chuckled softly and touched the tip of Peter's nose. "Someone
once told me that priests were all theory and no practice."
"Priests maybe, but husbands are a different story...and anyway, you
should know! You and I had our L plates together, and we got a lot of practice
in to become fully licensed at this man-and-wife stuff."
Peter smiled mischievously, tickling Assumpta, kissing her neck as
she squealed. She laughed out loud, taking a swing at him with her pillow,
but Peter caught it mid-throw and easily tossed it to the floor.
He and Assumpta continued to wrestle playfully until finally he had
her pinned by the arms, and his expression changed. He leaned in, finding
her mouth with his, beginning a slow-burning kiss that looked to be on its
way to developing into something else when there was a knock on the door.
Grudgingly they pulled away from each other, Peter propping himself
up on his elbows and answering, in a half-exasperated sing-song voice, "Who
A small voice answered, "Me, Daddy!" Peter groaned good-naturedly, his morning
fun over for now.
He and Assumpta shared one last look, then tapped their wedding rings together,
a silent "I love you". "Come in then!"
The three-year-old opened the door and launched herself the few feet
to the bed, all curly red hair and billowing nightdress, welcomed by her
parents with good morning hugs and pecks on the cheek.
"You sleep well, darling?" Assumpta asked.
"Yes, Mummy, but can I play with Aisling today?"
"Well, we'll first have to check with Niamh. She wanted us to go visit
her family today. Okay?"
A girl of about six appeared at the door then, lingering until she
was noticed. Peter did first. "Come on Mary, you too." He motioned
toward the bed, and she cheerfully climbed up with the rest.
A moment of silence, then Peter shouted, "All change!" and there was
a happy scrum as the four jumped around the bed. This game continued for
several minutes until, exhausted, they took a break.
As the girls nestled between their parents, the younger one asked with her
still-developing grammar, "Daddy, tell us again the story of how you met
Peter and Assumpta smiled at each other over their girls' heads; they'd
come so far from that day, so long ago.
Peter wrapped the little girl up in his arms and began. "Well, Rosairie
Clifford, I was walking in the pouring rain on the road into town when a
small green van pulled up alongside me, and the beautiful woman who was driving
it rolled down her window and asked, 'Can I give you a lift? I'm going to