El Tango de Niamh

by Glenys Packer

"You're looking dressed up tonight," Ambrose commented, standing in the doorway of his bedroom, watching Niamh put her make up on.

"So?" Niamh said, closing her lipstick with a snap. She stood and swept out of the room. Ambrose followed her downstairs.

"Where are you going?" he asked curiously. Niamh scowled at him.

"Just over to Fitzgerald's," she said in an annoyed voice, stomping out the door. Ambrose looked sadly after her, wondering for the millionth time what he'd done wrong.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

"Give us a pint of lager, Assumpta," Niamh said, taking a seat at the bar.  

Assumpta raised her eyebrows. "You and Ambrose going out tonight?" she asked, handing Niamh her pint.

Niamh let out an exasperated sigh. "Can I not wear make up without everyone assuming that I'm going somewhere?" she snapped. Assumpta held up her hands in surrender.

Silence descended on the pub. Niamh sat absentmindedly staring out the door. Assumpta watched her, a faint frown creasing her forehead. She had noticed that lately something had been going on with Niamh and Ambrose, but wasn't able to put her finger on it.

Suddenly Niamh stood up and walked out the front door. Assumpta craned her neck, trying to see where Niamh had gone, but was unable to. A minute later Peter came down the stairs, a stack of  papers tucked under one arm. He walked over to Assumpta and put his free arm around her.

"What's the matter?" he asked, gently nuzzling his face against Assumpta's neck. "You look worried."

"I'm just thinking about Niamh and Ambrose," Assumpta said. "They've both been acting strangely.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Ambrose took Kieran's hand as they left the house. They stood waiting to cross the street, and Ambrose could see two people sitting on one of the benches outside Fitzgerald's. As he got closer, Ambrose could see it was Niamh and Sean Dillon. Ambrose suddenly felt very angry. Here Niamh was happily talking and chattering with Sean in an almost flirtatious manner, when she would hardly speak to Ambrose at all. . .

Before he realized what he was doing, Ambrose was marching angrily over to Niamh.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

"Auntie 'Sumpta?" Assumpta looked up to see Kieran standing alone in the doorway, looking worried.

"Kieran? What are you doing here, honey?" She went over and picked the toddler up. When she did, she realized he was shaking slightly. "What's the matter? Where's your mammy?"  

Kieran looked at her wide eyed. He pointed outside. "She and daddy are yelling," he said sadly.

Assumpta clicked her tongue and carried Kieran over to the bar and set him on one of the chairs.

When Ambrose came in half an hour later looking for Kieran, he found his son sitting at the bar happily drawing with Peter, who'd just gotten back from work.

"Thanks a lot, the both of you," Ambrose said apologetically to Assumpta and Peter. "I guess Kieran just wandered off while I was talking to Niamh." He took Kieran by the hand and the two left.

Assumpta looked at Peter with raised eyebrows. "I think I'm going to go find Niamh," she said, following Ambrose and Kieran out the door.

As she walked down the street, Assumpta spotted Sean Dillon standing on the bridge, staring down at the water.  She walked over and stood next to him.

"That river's far to shallow to drown yourself in," Assumpta said.

"I wasn't -" Sean began, then shook his head. "What do you want?"

"You were there when Niamh and Ambrose were fighting, weren't you?" Assumpta asked.

"What gave you that idea?"

"Call it a hunch. Now were you?"

"I was."

"Where's Niamh now?"  Sean scowled at her.

"How should I know that?" he snapped, turning to look back at the river. A moment later he pointed up the road and said, "I saw her go up that way."

Assumpta nodded and went in the direction Sean had pointed. After a few minutes of walking, she spotted her friend sitting underneath a huge oak tree. Assumpta went and sat next to Niamh.

"Do you want to talk?" Assumpta asked quietly. Niamh shrugged. "You know, Niamh, I can tell something's up. Why won't you talk to me anymore?"

"You're starting to sound just like Ambrose," Niamh said bitterly. "Besides, you're always doing stuff with Peter." This last part was said with a twinge of envy.

"Is that the problem?" Assumpta asked

"I don't know, Assumpta," Niamh replied with a sigh. "You and Peter seem so happy, so in love." She stared sadly at the ground.

"Don't you feel like that with Ambrose anymore?"

"Not really," Niamh admitted. "I see you and Peter together...and I just get so jealous sometimes. I mean, Ambrose will never sweep me off my feet and kiss me the way Peter does with you. Ambrose just isn't interesting anymore."

"And Sean Dillon is?" It was more of a statement then a question.

Niamh turned and stared hard at Assumpta. "I don't need this from you, Assumpta!" she said sharply. "And you're not exactly in the position to give advice about marriage."

Assumpta was beginning to get annoyed. If Niamh didn't want to talk, fine. "Would you rather I left?" Assumpta asked, narrowing her eyes. Niamh shrugged, and Assumpta got up and stalked off.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

"Assumpta, you haven't seen Niamh about, have you?" Ambrose asked later that evening, walking into Fitzgerald's with Kieran in tow. Outside it was raining hard, and deep rumbles of thunder filled the valley.

"No, sorry," Assumpta said, setting down the cup she was drying and walking over to Ambrose. "She was here a little while ago and didn't say where she was going."

"Would you mind watching Kieran while I go look for her?" Assumpta nodded, and Ambrose pushed Kieran towards her saying, "Stay with Auntie  Assumpta, love, while I go find mammy."

"Ok," Kieran said, happily taking his 'auntie's' hand.

" T'anks, Assumpta." Ambrose gave her a stiff smile before leaving. Assumpta watched him thoughtfully as he went out into the downpour.

As he stepped out of Fitzgerald's , Ambrose glanced across the street and noticed a light was on in the bedroom window of his house. "Perhaps Niamh's home already..." he thought to himself, crossing the street and entering the garda house.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

"Assumpta? Are you all right?" Peter asked, coming down the stairs. Assumpta  was sitting in one of the chairs holding Kieran, who was frightened by all the thunder.

"What?" Assumpta said, looking up. She'd been staring absentmindedly into the fire.

"Are you all right?" Peter repeated, walking over and kneeling next to Assumpta's chair.

"Yeah..." Assumpta glanced down at Kieran and saw that he had fallen asleep in her arms. When she spoke next it was in a low voice. "I'm worried about Niamh and Ambrose. I don't know, something's going on with them. I keep getting this feeling like something horrible is going to happen." She looked so distressed that Peter bent down and put his arms around her.

"I'm sure everything's going to be fine," he reassured her, gently kissing her cheek. Kieran opened his eyes and looked sleepily up at them.

"I'm happy, cause you don't shout like mummy and daddy," he murmured, snuggling closer to Assumpta and drifting back to sleep. Assumpta and Peter exchanged a worried look.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

"Niamh, are ya here?" Ambrose called, entering the still house. He stuck his head into the dark living room then turned around, not noticing the two jackets thrown over the back of one of the chairs. Finally, he made his way to the stairs and started up to his bedroom.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

"Niamh, are you sure -"


* ~ * ~ * ~ *

"Auntie 'Sumpta? Why are mummy and daddy so angry?"

"Mummy and daddy just need time to work things out. Everyone has problems."

"Will they ever not be angry?"

"I don't know, love."

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Ambrose reached the top of the stairs. A line of light shone under the closed door. He put his hand on the doorknob and slowly turned it.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

"Niamh, what was that?"

"I don't...oh God!"

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Ambrose slowly opened the door and stuck his head in. The scene seemed to freeze before his eyes.

Niamh and Sean were sitting on the edge of the bed. They were holding hands, and it looked like Niamh had just scooted back.

Ambrose slammed the door shut and leaned against it, breathing heavily. He couldn't believe it. Suddenly, he charged downstairs, and without putting his jacket on, ran outside. Completely oblivious to the face he was being soaked to the bone, he trudged down the road, then went and sat on the bridge wall, his back to the river.

The storm blew harder. Gusts of wind made the rain seem to be coming down with even more force then it actually was.

Loneliness, betrayal, pain, and anguish all seemed to build up inside Ambrose. They burst forth from him in a long dejected cry of "NIAMH!"

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Inside Fitzgerald's, Peter sat in one of the armchairs by the fire. Assumpta was asleep in the other with Kieran on her lap.

Peter was beginning to drift off himself, when he was awoken by the sound of an approaching siren.  He frowned, stood up and went to the door. Peering out into the night, he could see an ambulance pull up and park on the bridge.  A garda car was all ready parked there, lights flashing, amidst a group of people.

"Assumpta!" Peter called. Assumpta sat up and looked at him blearily.


"Come quick, something's happened!"

Picking Kieran up, Assumpta went outside with Peter. They joined the crowd that surrounded the car and ambulance, and made their way to the front. The gard was parting a path through the people to the ambulance. Assumpta spotted Niamh on the other side, and blankly wondered why Ambrose wasn't with her.

The paramedics were bringing a body up from the river on a stretcher. As they got up to the road, the lights from the ambulance's tail lights fell across the face of the victim.

"Oh dear God..." Assumpta heard someone next to her whisper. "It's Gard Egan."

Assumpta couldn't move, couldn't think. She just stared numbly as the paramedics carried Ambrose's body up past her. Peter put an arm around Assumpta. The touch seemed to jar her out of her shocked state. Assumpta looked up and over at Niamh.

Niamh stood, Sean Dillon's arm around her shoulder, watching the paramedics maneuver the stretcher into the ambulance. The darkness and rain combined to make it impossible to tell whether Niamh was upset and crying, or merely viewing with shock the ravages of unrequited love.