"The heart knows what the heart wants and the mind knows nothing of the heart."
But then they look away and the feeling is gone, leaving me to wonder if it was ever there at all - until it happens again and I am reminded that I am fooling myself, that I will always, always be second best, the consolation prize. I may have her body but he has her heart.
Some of them know and they look at me with silent pity. They wonder
why she married me and they wonder why I stay. But most of all, they wonder
why he let her go.
* * * * *
After the wedding reception, when I gave him the petition, we were only just balancing on the line. When he asked me if I wanted him to stay I couldn't answer, we would have crossed the line. I guess my silence was an admission in itself.
The play, well they said we were 'incendiary'. I guess it isn't hard to play yourself in a situation so close to your own.
Our midnight talk in the bar would have to go down as one of the defining moments of our relationship. I'd had too much to drink and I started asking him questions that I shouldn't have. He was uncomfortable and I knew it, but I kept on going anyway. He made an excuse and left. When he came into the bar the next morning I lost my temper and told him to sort out his priorities and then threw him out.
Soon after this, the beauty contest stirred everything up when the tall, blonde super model walked into town. She sized up the village and made straight for him. Basically, I saw green…and then red. He was my territory and she was invading. Eventually he and I worked things out and we weren't at each other's throats any more.
Then came the big one. We had been having minor confrontations for awhile, but nothing too serious. The plan was to flatten Kilnashee Wood to build a road. Some of the locals had a problem with that. He and I went down (separately) to bring the protesters provisions. We ended up alone together in his car waiting for the others to come back. After each attempting to make small talk I said something that I think startled him. When I shivered and turned away he asked if I was cold and took my hand. Instead of letting me go when I denied it, he held on, enclosing my hand in both of his. When the car pulled up the moment was broken but we had each seen enough to know that we were in trouble.
He came to see me the next day and dropped a bombshell. He was going on retreat. I demanded to know if that was it and he said that it was. He was leaving me and there was nothing I could do about it. That night I cried my self to sleep for the first time in years.
The next morning I made my decision, if he was going to leave then so would I. I went to London and got married to someone that I had loved once and thought I could love again. I was wrong. We came back to the village and after the initial shock everyone seemed happy for me, everyone except him. To anyone else it probably seemed like he was pleased but not overly interested. He didn't show it, but then, he didn't have to, I knew him well enough.
The night of the 'battle of the bars' started the wheels turning for the final stretch. When the girl from the other pub was singing 'Love is Teasin' my eyes were drawn to him and the words '…forgive me love, if I forsook you…' kept playing over and over again in my head. He looked over and caught me staring at him and I looked away quickly but it set the pattern for the rest of the night. One of us would glance up and catch the other's eye and then look away.
Over the next several weeks things did not improve. He and I kept our distance. The once dangerous but easy bantering and teasing was gone, replaced by a safe but unsatisfying reserve. If anyone noticed they didn't say anything. My husband wasn't adjusting to village life very well; he always had been and always will be a city slicker at heart. One night I went out to look for my wandering spouse, but as I walked past the church I saw him instead. He looked upset and tense. He went back into the church and I followed. I tried to get him to talk but after telling me that most of it was my fault anyway and that I put ideas in people's heads, he brushed me off, again. I left fighting tears, again.
The next major development was when I sent him into the kitchen to help my husband. I came in a short time later to find the latter absent. The look on his face was enough to tell me that something had happened and that it concerned me. Considering the two men involved it couldn't be good but I let it lie, stupid maybe, but ignorance is bliss. When my so-called husband packed up and left, my meddling best friend convinced me to go after him, he deserved an explanation.
When I returned I was told that his mother was ill and that he wouldn't be back for a while. When he did come back he was different. The walls he had placed between us were gone and the distance between us had disappeared. The night he returned set in motion a series of events that changed my life and his. We were double booked to baby-sit. The two of us, alone, in a house, together, was asking for trouble. We both welcomed it. We talked for a while and he made me laugh. Then he went quiet. When I got him to open up it was a rather surprising confession. He began by telling me the polar bear joke.
"The baby polar bear goes to his mum and asks 'Am I really a polar bear?' She replies 'Of course, you've got white fur, you eat fish, you're a polar bear'. He is not satisfied and asks his dad who replies 'Of course, you've got white fur, you eat fish, you're a polar bear. Why do you ask?' 'Cos I'm freezing'."
He finished by asking why he was always thinking of me. By this time he was crying and I pulled him into my arms. I held him while he cried and I held him when he had stopped. When he started to kiss my neck I was shocked but it felt wonderful. And so for several long moments I gave into temptation and let him go. Then I snapped back to reality and pushed him away. He was still committed to something else and until he worked out what he wanted I wasn't going to take advantage of his vulnerability.
Later that night I went to his house and demanded to know what he wanted from me. He said he wanted time to think things through. I told him it wasn't what was in his head that I needed to hear. The next morning after the court case I tried to get away but he caught up with me. He put his hands on my shoulders and rested his forehead on mine and stated that we needed to talk. I agreed. We went to what has become known as 'our' spot by the lake and there we finally got everything off our chests. That night at the food fair, he told me he loved me. I grinned at him and told him to take off his collar before he said things like that. We were so wrapped up in each other we didn't notice everyone staring at us. I only came back to earth when I felt someone tugging on my sleeve. I looked up, and saw that the attention of everyone in the room was focused on us. I suddenly realised that he and I were standing far too close. At some stage he had taken my hand over the bar and we had been engrossed in each other for the last ten minutes. I glanced at him. After a moment of indecision he shrugged and whispered to me that they'd know soon enough anyway. I took a deep breath and turned to face our friends.
* * * * *
I shake my head, trying to clear my mind, and look at Niamh.
"Take a photograph, it'll last longer."
I glare at her but she just grins back unashamedly. I walk to the empty
of the bar to collect the empty glasses. At first glance you wouldn't pick
us for a couple. I'm Irish; he's English. I'm impulsive; he's logical,
I have a quick temper; he has the patience of a saint. I take sides; he's
a mediator. I dislike the Church; he used to be a priest. We are so different
and yet we fit together so well. The priest and the publican. It sounds
like dream, but for us, it became a reality. Turning back, my eyes linger
on him once again. He is listening to Padraig relate some story or other.
He looks up and searches the bar, his roving gaze stopping when it reaches
me. I smile and so does he, and this time, neither of us looks away.
Outside, it is freezing. The wind howls and the rain lashes against anything in its path. Inside, it is warm. The laughter carries through the room and merriment prevails. I sit, unnoticed at one end of the bar. I am just another stranger who will stop briefly and then move on.
She turns and seeing me moves over to take my order. She doesn’t recognise me, and though there is no way she could it still stings a little. She is as beautiful as ever but there is something in her face that was never present when she was with me. It is contentment, and I regret that I could never make her happy.
As she returns with my drink, the kitchen door opens and he steps out. Raising a finger to his lips to still the imminent greetings, he steps quietly up behind her. Slipping his arms around her waist he whispers in her ear. Laughing, she turns in his embrace and to catcalls and yells of encouragement, they kiss.
They all know and they think of me with silent pity. They still wonder why she married me and they still wonder why I stayed. But no longer do they wonder why he let her go, because in the end, he didn’t.