While breathlessly awaiting more of the many unfinished stories here, I found myself writing this, kind of inspired by the Lundy's wonderful "Funeral Guest" series.
Assumpta sighed, but realized she had to attend this party. It was, after all, to honor her boss, of whom she was truly fond. She had been trying for several years to enjoy social occasions as she once had, to dance, to eat and drink with pleasure. The pall over her life had gone on too long, she told herself. She never even thought any longer of what had put her into this state. She liked her job with the EU, liked Brussels, liked her colleagues. But there was still pain when she thought of Ballykissangel, her lost home, her old friends. Every now and then, she wondered if she could ever return to the town where she had spent most of her life. She found it very hard to be festive. She knew that Luc, the man she had been going out with, was eager to have their friendship move to a different level. He was a truly nice man, a Belgian, kind, intelligent, good-looking. And she had a sense of what he felt for her. He had asked her once, when she had turned away once again from his embrace, whether there was someone else, someone she loved.
"No," she had said, "not anymore."
"But you cannot get past it?" he'd asked. "This old love? I suppose it is your ex-husband?"
"No," she'd said, "not him."
"Well, Assumpta, we all have old loves. They cannot stop us from having new love, not forever."
"I know," she'd said. "You're right, you're right. I don't even know if that's it. It was a long time ago, and hopeless even then." But she had refused to continue the conversation. She never let herself think about this subject.
The party was quite nice after all, she thought. Her boss was very happy to be thus celebrated, the food was excellent, she had had two glasses of very good wine, and enjoyed dancing with Luc, who was as attentive to and appreciative of her as always. "It is time to move on," she thought. She had just lifted her glass again, in another toast, when she glanced up and saw someone walking purposefully toward her table. Oh, my God, no! she thought, as he reached her side, his face white and drawn.
"Assumpta," he said softly.
"Peter." She swallowed hard. "What on earth are you doing here?"
"I'm in Brussels for a conference," he said. "I work for Catholic War Relief, and we're having an international meeting in this hotel. I passed this room and glanced in. I couldn't believe what I saw. I never thought I would find you here."
She realized that Luc and others seated near her were paying close attention to this conversation, and she stood up and gestured to him to move away, walking to an empty table.
"I've been working here for two years, for the EU." She could not take her eyes away from him, and his had never left her face. He put out his hand and gently brushed her cheek.
"You look wonderful," he said, "just as I remember you." She smiled ruefully, trying to ignore the feeling she got from his touch.
"I thought I might never see you again. In my mind, you're always in Ballyk. Behind the bar."
"Not for a while now. I leased the business to Brian, and Niamh runs the pub. She looked up at him. "Catholic War Relief?" she said. "I think of you still in the pulpit."
"No," he said. "I left the priesthood more than a year ago."
She tried not to show her surprise, and the quick burst of feeling that came with it, a feeling she refused to name. She tried to sound cool, disinterested. "Really? What made that happen?"
He tried to take her hand, but she shook him off. Her heart was pounding, but her head said NO! It's too late! Don't go there again!
"You," he said softly.
She flinched, turned away. "Peter, I have to get back to my party. It was good to see you again, and I wish you well...." She began to walk away.
"I'll call you," he said. "Tomorrow."
She didn't answer, and went back to her table. Luc looked at her quizzically. "Well, I think perhaps that was the old love." She didn't answer, and for the rest of the evening, she was subdued, quiet, remote.
When Luc drove her home and asked if he could come up, she said, "I'm tired. Let's call it a night."
He shook his head. "Oh, Assumpta."
"What?" she said with a touch of annoyance.
"Nothing, good night." He drove off and she went up to her small apartment. Nothing will come of this, she told herself. He can't call, I didn't give him a number. This will pass. It's over. That really is "it".
The next day, the phone on her desk rang, and a familiar voice said her name, just her name. "How did you find me?" she asked.
"You said you worked for the EU. I had a hard time tracking you down until I thought to ask if there was an Ireland department. And there you are."
"Assumpta, have dinner with me tonight, please."
She hesitated. "Peter, I don't think that's a good idea. Why don't we just leave well enough alone."
"Because it hasn't been 'well enough', nowhere near. Assumpta, you returned all my letters unopened. Please give me a chance to talk to you."
"Letters?" She was confused.
"Please, Assumpta, one dinner."
She sighed. "Okay," she said. "Dinner." She named a small restaurant in her neighborhood. and a time. And spent the rest of the day wondering if she was foolish even to agree to that much. She left work early, went home and took two aspirin, a nap and a bath.
Asking herself what she thought she was doin, stirring things up again, she walked slowly to the restaurant. He was there, looking nervous, and when they were seated, he said as much to her.
"I'm scared to death," he said. "I'm so afraid that I'll say something to make you run away from me again. I remember the last time we saw one another."
"Peter, I've had it! Relationships shouldn't be this hard!""The last words you ever said to me," he said, "were 'write me a letter'. So I did. I left for England the next day and I wrote to you, every day, for months and months. And every one of them came back unopened. 'Return to Sender'. Why did you do that, Assumpta, why wouldn't you read them?"
"It won't be, Assumpta! We can work it out!"
"I don't think so. And even if we did work it out this time, would I ever be sure? Would I ever get past worrying that you had regrets, that you were sorry to have given it all up for me? Would our differences eventually overwhelm us Would we argue and fight and be miserable all the time?"
"No! I think we'd overcome....."
She cut him off. "I don't want to listen to you. You just confuse me! I want you to leave me alone. Maybe I'll go away, try to make a life for myself, get over this."
"But Assumpta....." Again, she cut him off.
"Listen to me, please!" he insisted. "There are things I need to say to you!"
"Write me a letter," she said, and left the room.
"I never saw them," she said slowly. "I left town right after you did. I never got a letter."
"Niamh!" they both said at the same time.
"Why would she do that?"
She sighed. "I guess she thought she was doing the right thing, protecting me from you. And you know how she felt about your vocation. She could bear us being friends, but that's all." She tentatively touched his hand. "It might have been....interesting....to read those letters."
"You can!" he said, clasping her hand tightly. "I've saved them all, and all the ones I didn't send. I kept writing to you, sometimes it was the only thing that kept me from total despair, seeing what people are capable of doing to one another. I'd come in after a day interviewing war survivors, and I'd write to you. I had to believe that I'd find you again. You're the most important thing in my life, Assumpta. That hasn't changed. Nothing has changed. Not for me."
Still holding her hand, looking at her intently, he said, "What about you?"
She looked down at their joined hands. There was no fight left in her. "I don't know," she whispered.
He brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it, and when she looked at him, she saw his eyes fill with tears. "Assumpta," he said.
"Please, can we go? Somewhere we can be alone?"
They walked slowly to her building, her hand clasped tightly in his. When they reached her door, she hesitated. "Why are we doing this?" she asked.
He held the door for her, and once inside, he took her other hand. "Because I want to kiss you," he said, "and I didn't want to do that in the restaurant." With that, he drew her close, and after so long, after so many steps and missteps, at last he did kiss her. She sighed, putting her arms around him, her head against his shoulder. For a long moment, they stayed that way, savoring the closeness.
When she pulled away, it was her eyes that were filled with tears. "Oh, Peter, why in God's name, ARE we doing this? It's too late, much too late."
"No," he said, "it's not too late, not if you still think you could love me. I know that I love you. I want to spend my life with you. I asked to be released from my vows, hoping that somehow, someday, I would find you, and I wanted there to be no questions anymore. No worries in your mind. No conflicts in mine." He drew her back to him and kissed her again. "I love you," he whispered in her ear, and "I love you", his voice muffled in her hair.
In the morning, she looked at him, asleep in her bed, and wondered how she had ever thought it could be over. Her feelings for him were as strong as they were all those years ago, and she was finding it hard to remember why she had ended it, how she had felt when he'd gone back on his word. "I won't let you down," he had said. And then he had. But this morning, after last night, that was all gone. Whatever else had happened in the years between, she had never gotten over her love for this man. She had tried, God knows she had tried, always hoping that in time, she would get over him. But this morning, at this moment, all the differences, all the pain, the anger, no longer mattered. She knew, with a new certainty, that life was too short not to live it with the only man she had ever really loved.
With a sigh, she turned over and went back to sleep. When she woke a bit later, she saw the pillow next to her empty except for a note. "Assumpta," she read, "I looked through your cupboards and all I could find was coffee. I guess you've given up your national heritage! I've gone out to look for something scrumptious to go with the coffee. Back soon. I love you. P."
She smiled, and went to shower, but when she came out to find him still gone, she began to simmer. He came in to find her standing, arms folded across her chest. He grinned at her and put some parcels down.
"Where've you been?" she demanded.
"Didn't you see my note? I went out to get some things for breakfast. I found a shop near here with melons and some gorgeous baked stuff."
"And that took you so long?"
He became aware of the coldness in her voice. "Assumpta?"
"You've been to church!" she said accusingly.
"Yeah, I stopped in at the church around the corner. So?"
"You've been to confession! Do you know how offensive I find that, that you'd need to confess your 'sin' of last night?"
He came close to her and put his arms around her. "You're wrong," he said softly. "I didn't go to confession. I went to thank God. For everything. For finding you again, for feeling my love for you stronger than ever. For thinking that you still care for me. And for last night."
She hid her face in his chest for a moment. When she raised her head, there were tears in her eyes. "Peter, you see I haven't changed. I still jump to conclusions. I'm still suspicious. I still speak before I think."
"I don't want you to change," he said. "I just want to get on with my life. With our lives. Starting with breakfast, okay?"
She sniffled. "Okay."
Over their breakfast, Peter leaned across the table and took her hand. "Assumpta, I have something to ask you."
She swallowed a mouthful of croissant, suddenly wary. "Yeah?"
"Could you find out what's required in this country to get married? How long you have to wait, stuff like that. Could you find out today?"
"Because I want...." He took her other hand. "I guess I should ask you first." He looked at her intently. "Assumpta, would you consider marrying me?"
Her eyes widened. "Peter, are you sure?"
"Oh, God, yes, I'm sure! Would you?"
"I....I don't know," she said. "I haven't thought about that in a long time." Then she smiled, a wicked little smile. "But yes, Peter, I'll consider marrying you."
"Blast! That didn't come out the way I intended. Assumpta,what I meant to ask is WILL you marry me? Tomorrow or the next day."
"What? Are you mad?"
"Yes, I am mad. Mad about you. Mad to make this right at last."
She rubbed her head, frowning. "Why so fast?"
"Because I have to go to Africa, on Sunday at the very latest. This project will be the last I'll do so far away, but I'm committed to it. And I want to make sure you don't run away from me. I want to know that you're my wife, and that you're waiting for me."
She took a deep breath. "You're serious?"
"Oh, yes." He shook his head, smiled. "You think this is fast? How long have I been in love with you? Four years? Five? From the day you picked me up on the road to Ballykissangel? It may have taken me a while to realize it,but I think it was there from the beginning. And for at least three years, I've dreamed of being married to you. This isn't happening the way I thought it would. I thought if I ever found you, I'd woo you, convince you we were meant to be together. But there's no time for that. If you marry me, when I come back, I'll work hard at being romantic, we'll go out, we'll go dancing, to the theater, whatever you want. We'll work on getting past our differences. But for now, we have just five days, and I want to marry you."
She began to pace, and he pulled her down on his lap and held her tightly. "Is five minutes long enough to think about it?"
"Peter, why don't we wait till you get back! See how we feel then? Give us some time to catch our breath."
"No," he said soberly. "I feel this is urgent, to do it now. I could be gone for six weeks! I don't want to risk coming back and finding you gone. Please, Assumpta, why not? I think you feel the same way I do." He looked worried. "Assumpta?"
It took her a while to answer, then she laughed. "Okay, let's do it!"
"Ohhh," he sighed with relief.
She stood up. "Now I'm going to get dressed and go to work. Believe it or not, there's a priest at the EU that I'm kinda fond of, and I'll ask him."
"A priest? That you're fond of? Should I be worried?"
"Pere Etienne is sixty! I was on a committee with him, and he's so much the opposite of Father Mac, I couldn't believe it! I assume, Mr. Clifford, that you'd insist on a priest?"
"I wouldn't insist on anything. I want you to be happy." He held her arms and looked at her. "Assumpta, I think the way for us to have a life together is to know what's important. I will always love the church, and there are things that are so much a part of who I am, it would be hard to give them up. So yes, I would like to be married by a priest, because I'm not sure I would feel married if we weren't. But I know what's important, and that's that we ARE married. If you don't want a priest, well, I'll rethink it."
She looked at him fondly. "Peter, I gave up thinking about this a while back, but I remember what I wanted. What I still want. And what I don't. When I started to....have feelings about you, I had to do a lot of thinking. I never expected to have those feelings about a priest. I asked myself....and I think I asked you, if I'd have to go to church. Well, I do go to church, for weddings and baptisms and funerals, for people I care about."
"And sometimes for a bit of peace and quiet," he said.
"Mmm," she agreed, smiling. They both remembered that day, the first time he'd ever touched her, when he looked at the wound she'd suffered. "Peter, remember that it was part of my life too. I'm not sure I would feel married, either, if there weren't a priest. I sure didn't...." She stopped, then went on. "Anyway, I thought if we had children...." A small frown. "You do want children?"
He smiled. "God, yes! The sooner the better, too much time lost."
"I'd always known that one of the things you'd want is for them to be baptized, and to go through communion and all that. I suppose I could live with it. But I won't go to church, except for things like that, important things. And I'll want to tell them what I believe, when they're old enough to make decisions for themselves. Can you live with that?"
"I can. When I gave up being a priest, I was able to start to reconcile some of my own doubts."
She smiled. "You? Doubts about the church?"
"Do you know anyone who hasn't?" he smiled back,. "But don't hope for too much. I haven't changed either. We'll both compromise, and I suppose we'll argue a little. Maybe a lot. It's easy to say yes now to things that may come up in the future. But doubts, differences, all of that......What's important is that we face 'em together. So you will? You did actually agree to marry me?"
"I did," she said. "And by a priest! So we'll have to find one."
"Actually, one of the men on my team is a priest. He knows about you, about how I've prayed that I'd find you, how much I want to be married to you. I don't know about your Pere Etienne, but I think Father Sweeney would do it."
She started to go into the bathroom.
"You haven't ever said....."
She closed the door, but after a moment, put her head out, toothbrush tucked in the corner of her mouth. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I do."
"I love you, okay?" The door shut firmly, leaving Peter smiling broadly, his hand on his heart.
That evening, Assumpta dialed a familiar number. A voice answered, "Fitzgerald's".
"Hi Niamh," she said.
"How is everyone?"
"Fine, we're all fine. We miss you, but."
"Niamh, I have a favor to ask."
"Anything! You know that."
"I want you to come to Brussels tomorrow."
"Nothing's wrong. I just want you to stand up with me. I'm getting married."
"Married! Oh, Assumpta, of course I'll come! You didn't say anything, in your letters, about it being serious, you and Luc."
"It's not Luc I'm marrying."
"No?" She sounded disappointed. "Who then?"
"You'll meet him when you get here. No more questions. But Niamh?"
"I'd rather not have all of Ballykissangel know about this, so keep it quiet, will ya?"
The next afternoon, Niamh got off the plane, carrying two large boxes and a small case. Assumpta grabbed a box and tried to hug her friend with her free arm. "What on earth did you bring?" she laughed.
"Well." Niamh's eyes were sparkling. "I thought you needed a choice of wedding dress, so I brought mine and....your mother's! You had it in the back of your closet, you know, all these years." They had been walking through the airport, and Niamh suddenly stopped. "It is going to be a real wedding this time, isn't it? With a dress? Not a registry office?"
Assumpta smiled. "It's going to be in a small chapel at the EU. I'm not sure about a dress, but there will be a priest."
"Well, well!" her friend exclaimed. "And what brought that about?"
"The groom," Assumpta said airily. "And because I know what's important."
"Now come on, tell me about him, this mystery groom! Not Luc, you said, but he was the only one you ever mentioned. Some other European?"
"No, not a European. He's from the UK."
"Whirlwind courtship then? How romantic." Niamh was beaming, thrilled by this turn of events. She'd always wanted something like this for her friend.
"Romantic, yes. Whirlwind....kinda. But he's an old friend, I've known him for years."
"Did I ever meet him then?"
"Oh yes." Assumpta came to a stop, and Peter came out from behind a pillar, where he had stood to watch the two women approaching. "Behold the bridegroom."
Niamh's smile faded, and she stared at him. "Father Clifford?" She stepped backward, looking as though she might faint. Peter reached out and took hold of her. "Niamh, it's all right. I haven't been a priest for a long time now."
"And we've decided to forgive you," Assumpta said. "For not sending me his letters."
"Oh! I...." Niamh didn't know what to say.
"Don't worry about it, Niamh," Peter said. "It's all worked out anyway. We decided that, in spite of your efforts to keep this from happening, we couldn't get married without you, so here you are. But we would like you to keep this secret for a while."
"Oh," she said. "But Assumpta, I already told Ambrose that you were getting married. I had to....to explain why I had to leave today. Make sure he could look after Kieran."
Assumpta grimaced. "Okay, everyone can know you came to see me get married. But not that it's him. We don't want the town gossiping about us, not yet."
Peter took the other box from Niamh, and he and Assumpta each put an arm around her. She still looked shocked, bewildered, but as they walked off, the other two laughing at her, chivying her, she began to relax and to enjoy being part of this, part of two old friends marrying. Part of a love story she had resisted knowing about, resisted helping in any way. Secretly, though, she was glad it was happening. And at the end of their wedding ceremony, she told them so.
She had to wonder sometimes if it had really happened. It was hard, some days, to believe that they were married, with Peter so far away in Africa. The impromtu wedding had turned out beautifully, Peter's brothers so warm and welcoming to her, the chapel sun-lit and filled with flowers, the organ well-played. She supposed that she'd always thought, if she married again, that it would be Brendan Kearney who would walk her down the aisle, not her boss. But she'd been determined not to be the subject of Ballyk gossip. Peter would have been happy to shout it from the rooftops, and he had pressed her as to why she wanted to keep their marriage a secret.
"Peter, if you'd grown up as I did, with every busybody in town rehashing my parents' troubles, you'd understand. Someday they'll know, I'm sure we'll go back for a visit or something, but for now, I want to enjoy being married to you without a lot of talk in my hometown. I know what they're like. All right?"
Secretly, he thought she feared that the talk would be about the possibility of the marriage failing, not wanting the likes of Kathleen Hendley putting a curse on it. But he didn't challenge her, and they rehearsed Niamh as to how she could avoid identifying the groom, naming the husband. He worried about Assumpta's crisis of confidence, but he was sure he would, in time, help her to get past it. He'd known what a chance he was taking, persuading her to get married so soon after they'd met again, but he wanted this so desperately, and he had no qualms.
They'd had a modest reception, his few colleagues, more of hers, his brothers, and of course, Niamh, standing in for all of Ballykissangel. The next day, they'd had a long, chatty breakfast with her old friend and his family, getting to know one another. Then the visitors had planes to catch, and they had three days to be alone. He had gotten to know her body as he did her mind and spirit, asking about a number of scars.
"Poor Michael," she'd laughed, telling him of the fall from a tree, the biking accident, the tangle with a horse, "my childhood really kept him hopping!"
He'd touched her breast. "And is this one where that bastard, Peter Clifford, broke your heart?"
"Twice," she answered. "Just a crack the first time, shattered the second."
He'd rested his head there, listening to her heart beating. "There'll never be a third time, I promise. I'll make it up to you, if it takes a lifetime."
Assumpta had found it hard not to break down in tears when they said goodbye at the airport. He'd held her close, promising to call whenever he could, to email when he could get the computer to work, to finish his work as quickly as possible. But his calls and emails were sporadic, and with her life falling too easily back in the old routines, she cherished the memories to remind her. His appearing at her boss's party, their attempt to have dinner, their first night of lovemaking, the wedding. Peter's brother Rob called her every few days, calling her "Mrs. Clifford" and teasing her about her absent husband.
But one day, the voice that asked for Mrs. Clifford was not Rob's.
"Who's calling?" she asked.
"Assumpta, is that you? Father Sweeney here."
She held her breath. "Is something wrong? Is Peter....?"
"He's ill, very ill," the voice said. "Bad case of malaria."
"I'll come," she managed to choke out.
"No!" he said, "we don't want to risk that. I waited to call you until the doctors thought he would be able to travel. We're arranging for him to be taken by ambulance to a plane, and on your end, he'll be met by a tropical disease team from a hospital in Brussels. They're good at it, you know, the Congo and all that. I'll let you know when he's arriving, you can meet them at the airport."
"Okay," she breathed.
"I should tell you, he looks bad, almost worse than he is. Lost a lot of weight, most of his hair. He's delirious a lot of the time, talks to you. I think he'll get well faster if you're with him."
"I'll be with him," she said.
Memory had always been a powerful force in their relationship. With most couples it seems to be so, especially if the path has been one of tensions, denials, regrets, drama. There had been, perhaps, too much drama in theirs, but it was always a bittersweet pleasure to revive those memories. While Peter was still in hospital, she would sometimes pick up his spirits by telling one of "their" stories.
"You do realize, don't you," she asked one day, "how much UST there was between us from the start?"
"UST?" he asked, leaning back on his pillows.
"Unresolved sexual tension."
"Oh." He smiled. "Oh yes, I'd say so." He reached out and traced with one finger the faint scar on her forehead. "The first time I ever touched you, when you got this, I held your face in my hands and fought down the urge to kiss you."
"And do you remember the night we captured Quigley's ram and let it go?"
"That was the first time you acknowledged that you....liked me."
"Really? I thought that was pretty obvious when you told me you were being sent back to England. At the grotto? I wasn't sure why that upset me so, but it did." She held his hand, stroked it. "There were times, at the pub, when you left your hand on the bar, waiting for change or something. I'd fight an urge myself, to touch you."
He shook his head. "Back then, I never thought that you....."
"Half the people in town knew!" she said.
"Well, everyone in town knew how I felt, even before I did! Remember the night you went out with that rock singer? I thought I was cool, but when the two of you walked out, everyone in the pub turned and looked at me!"
"Hmmm," she smiled. "Enda, yeah. I remember looking out into the audience for you when I kissed him, in the play. You had left!"
He nodded. "I couldn't stand to see you kiss him. I remembered how close we had come....how much I wanted that kiss."
"I know. See? UST."
He reached out for her, pulling her over to the bed. "I think I'm suffering from that right now," he murmured into her ear. She blushed, looking around to see if the nurses were close, and then leaned in to kiss him, a long, loving kiss. "Me too," she whispered.
His illness had become one of the things they looked back at, those terrifying weeks, and in retrospect, they saw them as in some ways a blessing. If there had been any doubts in either of their minds as to the intensity of their love, the depth of their bond, that crisis had erased them. She had sat by his bedside until the nurses forced her to leave, to get some sleep. And when she was discharged, still weak and fragile, it was her tenderness as she cared for his poor body, her encouragement as she dealt with his depression and doubt, her acceptance of his need to talk to a priest, all the nursing skills she hadn't known she had, that helped him to recover. His brothers had come for a few days each, taking turns so that she could go to her office, catch up on some of the work on her desk. But it was Assumpta who had taken care of him, body, mind and soul. They remembered the day he had dared to look at himself in the mirror, how appalled he'd been to see his emaciated frame, the stubble of hair just beginning to grow back, the pallor of his sunken cheeks only partly obscured by the beard he'd grown. She'd looked into the mirror with him. "C'mon, you're gorgeous! Nicholas Cage has nothing on you. It's just different, that's all."
"Well, I'll have to remember that you prefer me skinny and bald." He'd managed to smile. "And unshaven."
"Now, I didn't say I preferred it, just that I love you as much this way as when you're fat! And clean-shaven and needing a haircut."
Assumpta didn't say those words, "I love you" as often as he did, and though he knew, it was still wonderful to hear.
In time, he regained his strength, as well as his hair and some needed pounds. She knew that he wanted, needed to go to mass, and since he was still weak, she went with him, offering up her usual silent prayer when she had to be in church. "God," it always started, "you know that I'm not sure you're here...." She sat while the congregation knelt or stood.
The next day, she took him to the door of the church the first time, hesitating as she let go of his hand. "Can you make it inside alone?"
"Of course," he said, "sure."
"Peter, you know I can't bring myself...."
"It's all right, Assumpta."
After that, it seemed that Pere Etienne, who had become close to Peter, or some other friend, would take him. Once, when Father Sweeney was in town, she came home from work to find him, Pere Etienne, and another man she recognized as the neighborhood priest, all in her flat, drinking coffee.
"Three of ya?" she said acidly, the old Assumpta having returned.
Peter grinned. "Four!" he said, and she had to laugh.
In time, he did all those things he had promised. They went out to dinner,
alone or with friends from work. He brought her flowers, got tickets to
concerts, plays,opera. They took the train to Paris for a long weekend,
went to England for the baptism of a new baby in his family. They talked
of going to Italy, but though it was in both their minds, they did not
mention going to Ireland. He had done some work from home for CWR, setting
up meetings, planning needed interventions, but finally, he was ready to
go back to work, in another war-ravaged country, but just for two weeks,
and not as far as Africa. They had been together now for so long, it wasn't
easy for either of them to be separated again. He called every night, and
it helped, just to talk over their days, to say "goodnight." She fretted
about his health, and about his emotional state, which had
remained vulnerable since his illness. His project this time involved looking at hospital care for children orpaned by war or terror, and she worried how this would affect him.
One night, he spoke of several children in the hospital ward he'd visited. "There's this one baby," he said, and she could hear the tears in his voice. "She was the only person found alive in a bombed-out building, clutched in her mother's arms. The only identification they found was a chain round her neck, with a crucifix and her name. Josefina."
"That was my mother's name. Josephine."
"I know. It made me think.....Assumpta, she looks so much like you. Like you must have looked as a baby. Her leg was shattered, poor thing, and she's had several surgeries. So patient, never cries. The nurses all love her, they call her 'Drinda'."
"Sounds like you're in love," she said fondly.
"You know," he said, "I think I am."
(And that's it. It does lead fairly directly to The
Funeral Guest, and also explains how the Lundy's "Drinda" became the
daughter I've called Josie. I can't think of anything that would take them
back to Ballyk except Ambrose's death, and Niamh needing her. I do seem
to need to tie up loose ends, and I think this, indeed, is "it.")