The phone rang in the Clifford's house fairly early in the morning, and Peter picked it up.
"Peter Clifford here."
"Peter, it's Oona, can I speak to Assumpta please?"
"She's getting the kids dressed, Oona, can she get back to you?"
"Oh, sure, but soon, yeah?"
"Okay." He turned to his wife, pulling boots onto several sets of unwilling legs. "Oona wants you to call her back. Soon."
She made a face. "Something wrong at the pub?" she asked. "Jeez, I hope not! We haven't recovered from the last repair bill. It makes me miss Brian Quigley!"
She finished the boots, began tugging reluctant arms into warm jackets. "There! All set. I don't envy the teachers having to get this off you lot, and then back on at lunchtime." She kissed her children soundly. "Off with you!" Peter held the door open and the kids tumbled out of the house and into the van. Assumpta sighed, and went to the phone.
"Oona, Don't tell me there's something else gone wrong there!'"
"Oh, no, Assumpta, I'm sorry, I should have said. No, I was just wondering if you could work the pub tonight."
"Tonight? Sure. Hardly worth opening these days for the handful of regulars. You got a date?" she laughed.
"As a matter of fact…." Oona said.
"Oona! I'll be there in a little while. You know you're going to have to tell me."
Seated in the kitchen, with a cup of tea, Assumpta
looked at her manager. "So….?"
Oona sighed. "I think you know Padraig O'Kelley well?"
"Sure! I've known him all my life. One of the good guys."
"Yes, he is. Especially since he stopped drinking. I heard he wasn't so great in his pre-AA life."
Assumpta nodded, remembering. "He hurt himself more than anyone else, though. And he's made his amends to Kevin."
"I think they were both so happy to come back to Ballyk. Padraig told me when Kevin got his law degree, they explored the idea of Kevin opening a practice here. And himself hasn't minded just being a mechanic, working for Edso."
"And it turned out lots of folks wanted to do their legal business right here, instead of going to Cildargan."
"Exactly," Oona said, "and now that Kev is doing so well, Padraig is happy. And we've become….friends."
"I did see him helping you out with the clean-up once. I should have suspected something!" She smiled. "That's kind of how Peter and I became `friends'. He was the only one who would do that for me."
"Well, we have gone out a number of times, too," Oona said. "Days off."
Assumpta looked at her intently. "You like him then?"
"I do," Oona sighed. "But Assumpta, you know I'm still married. Haven't seen the bounder in years, though he writes to me and the kids occasionally. Usually asking for something. But legally……."
"Would that hold you back?"
"Not really. Neither of us is young anymore, and our kids are all grown, so I'm not worried about scandal. But listen, Assumpta, you've got to keep this to yourself. He hasn't actually asked me! He wants to take me out to dinner tonight, and I'm not sure what he has in mind. But I wanted to talk to you about it. What if I did go off with him? A warmer climate, he's talked of, at least for the winters. He thinks he could always get work repairing the odd car. But what would you do? You're not ready to be here full time."
"Mmmm." Assumpta rubbed her head. "I guess I'd have to get a new manager," she said.
"Exactly. So I've been thinking," Oona looked, uncharacteristically, nervous. "Assumpta, what would you think of Dermot? You know, he's been working at a pub in Killkenny, and he helped me out a lot here. I think he could do it, and I think he's ready for more responsibility. And I know he'd love to come back here. He loves Ballykissangel. He loves Fitzgerald's."
"I know he does. And he's good behind the bar, I've seen him. I just wonder…."
"Well, you may be able to hold Paul at arm's length, but would Dermot? I can just see him appealing to his son. He's such a con artist, but I'm not sure that Dermot….Well, I think, to his credit, that Dermot loves his father."
"Yes, he does, but he knows what he's like. And he knows you don't want Paul anywhere near here."
"But you remember how he appealed to Grainne last year. He was sick, he said, just needed a place to stay. If Avril hadn't put her foot down, and if Grainne hadn't seen him at the racetrack, hale and healthy, he'd have sold off the horses by now."
"Yeah," Oona laughed, a bitter little laugh. " I just wanted you to think about it, you know? If Padraig does ask me….well, I might just say yes. But I don't want to leave you in the lurch. And breaking in a new manager, if you could find someone, might take a while. So, just think about it, Assumpta. About Dermot."
"I will," she said. "I promise I will."
Later that night, when she'd returned home after
closing the pub, Assumpta told Peter about her talk with Oona, and asked
what he thought.
"Well, I always liked Dermot. I can't think of anyone better. He knows everyone in town; he knows how to run the pub. I think we'd have to know what Paul was up to, every step of the way, but ….you know, I think it would work."
"Yeah, me too. But let's see first if Padraig did pop the question tonight."
The winter was almost over, and Dermot had acquitted
himself fairly well during the slow season, learning more about how the
bar functioned. He seemed to enjoy himself, and the handful of customers-
- the regulars, and the fellows from the football team--all seemed to enjoy
bantering with the young man they'd known since he'd come to Ballyk as
a lad. One of the things that pleased and surprised Assumpta was how well
he did with the books. He not only caught on to her system, he improved
on it, and seemed to understand the whole idea of bookkeeping.
There had been one minor crisis involving Paul, who had turned up at the pub one stormy day, begging his son to intervene with the Cliffords, to let him stay. Frankie and Fa. Sheahan talked to some people in Wicklow, and learned that Paul had been living with a woman there for the last few years, and had just been tossed out on his ear for investing her nest egg in a scheme that had turned bad.
It fell to Peter to deal with Paul. "We want you to know that when we agreed to hire Dermot, we had to make sure that he could deal with you, resist if you tried to move in here."
"What do you people have against me?" he'd whined, and Peter quietly enumerated the things he'd done to manipulate, deceive and cheat his wife and children, as well as the people of Ballykissangel.
Giving up on the one idea, Paul turned to another, asking his daughter if he could just camp out at the Yard, but Avril put a stop to that.
Assumpta called a meeting, asking Peter, Avril, Vincent, Brendan and Siobhan to talk about whether they were being cruel, about whether they should stop his children from sheltering Paul. They felt fairly sure that none of them wanted the man in the village, and so, the next morning, when Oona called from Spain to say that she and Padraig would soon be coming home, Assumpta decided to tell her what was going on.
Oona called Dermot, and then Grainne, to help them resist, and she asked that they have Paul call her. Whatever she said seemed to do the trick, and Paul bade his son and daughter goodbye. The phone number he gave them where he could be reached apparently belonged to yet another old girlfriend, and he was off to Bray.
"Not far enough!" said Ooona when she called the day after all this happened. She told Assumpta that her divorce would soon be final, and asked her boss to explore with Father Vincent the possibilities of a marriage. "Remind him about that rock," she laughed.
Assumpta did more than that. She was sure that Vincent wouldn't risk the wrath of his superiors by performing another ceremony at the old mass rock. But she remembered something an American tourist had told her, and she went to the computer to find the site. "Rent-a-Priest" it was called, an organization of married priests who had become licensed to perform marriages.
"Many Roman Catholics", she read, "have found new hope for their lives in a good second marriage, blessed by a spiritual ceremony." That evening, she broached the subject to Peter.
"Forget it," he said emphatically, "you know I wouldn't consider such a thing."
"Peter, I know the things you miss about giving up the priesthood, and one of them is marrying people. You loved that. Just read their web site, see what these men say about loving their wives and children, but continuing to feel that they are priests. They don't violate church laws, they don't perform ceremonies in churches, but they feel they still have something to offer."
With a reluctant sigh, he agreed to at least look at the web site. When he did, he pondered the idea for a long time. The following week, he flew to England for the weekend, and the weekend after that, he went off to Dublin and to Limerick. When he returned, he told Assumpta that he had been to four weddings performed by Rent-a- Priests.
"And?" she asked.
"Assumpta, I couldn't believe it at first, that's why I went to a few more. Those weddings were beautiful! So spiritual, so….well, so Catholic…in the reverence for marriage, in the faith in God's goodness and forgiveness. I met with the priests….well, former priests….and they welcomed me, wanted to hear our story. All happily married men, with good jobs, and yet this strong belief that they… we….are still priests, ordained for life." He took her hands in his. "And so, I've applied for licensing to perform marriages!"
"Yes," he said. "I'm sure there won't be many after Oonagh and Padraig, but every now and then, if someone turns up, I will consider doing it. One of the marriages I went to was for a young couple, he Catholic, she a lapsed Protestant. They let me sit in on the conversation they had with the priest when they were planning the ceremony. She wasn't interested in being baptized, not yet anyway, but she was a lovely young woman, with very sincere beliefs. She said she had a strong spiritual connection, but hadn't found a place for it, a physical home. Yet. I think she may become a Catholic someday, but even if she doesn't, her marriage struck me as being profoundly Catholic."
"So you'll do it!" Assumpta beamed at him. "Well, Oonagh and Padraig will certainly be happy to hear it. Now we just have to find a place."
"Somewhere out of doors, if the weather holds, otherwise I think they'd probably think Fitzgerald's would be perfect."
"I think you're right," she said, and she hugged her husband warmly. It wasn't often that they agreed on anything connected to the church, and they both felt good about this rare rapprochement.