How Come It Lasted

by Thea McKee

A look into the future.  Don't worry about the year, this is a parallel universe, and the time is…

    Peter Clifford came home one cold, rainy afternoon, and as he entered the house, he heard some choice expletives coming from the bedroom. "Assumpta? Something wrong?"

    He found his wife sitting at her desk, looking into a mirror. "Grey hair is what's wrong!" she said. She put the mirror down. "Peter, what would you say to my having my hair colored? I won't start thinking about plastic surgery for the wrinkles just yet, but maybe color over the gray?"

    He looked at her. "I love your hair!" he said. "I can't imagine that you'd want to do anything to it! It's beautiful, just … different." He reached out and stroked her hair gently. "Your face too. Wrinkles, tsk! You're beautiful," he said with a tender smile. He bent down and kissed her.

    "Yeah, yeah, yeah," she said, secretly pleased. She looked over at him. He carried his years well, still trim and tall, and if her hair was gray, his was white, and there was much less of it. He was still the best-looking man she knew. How had so many years gone by? Scandal survived, children grown, painful joints persisting, friends lost to illness. And here they were, still together. She smiled to herself, thinking that in Ireland, with divorce now available, there seemed to be fewer couples surviving the rigors of a long marriage. She could think of only a few people who seemed to still love one another. She looked over at Peter, who had sat down to read the e-mail, and with a sly little smile, she thought of how much she did still love him.

    He raised his eyes to hers, smiling back. "What?" he asked. She told him what she'd been thinking. There were no longer any secrets, they shared their thoughts and feelings openly. She knew women who insisted that their husbands didn't really listen when they talked, but she knew that Peter did listen, and that he treasured their openness as much as she did.

    She watched him reading, and knew from his expression that he'd gotten to the message from their son. John and Josie were both so much like Peter, calm, loving, gentle, listening patiently, never judging. She had had her bad time when John was a little boy and seemed to be following his father's path into the church. But she'd gotten past it, so that when, as a college student, their son did decide to go to seminary, she'd accepted it gracefully. On the outside. But it was no secret that she'd been greatly pleased when he decided to leave the clerical path and go back to university to get a degree in philosophy. He was teaching now at UCD, near enough to come home often, and for them to go in to take him to dinner, but he still emailed almost every day. Josie had fulfilled her childhood dream and was a doctor, here in Ballykissangel, having taken over Doc Ryan's practice.

    Assumpta sighed, thinking that she'd never stop missing Michael Ryan. Or Brendan, dead two years now. Siobhan before that. Padraig too. That's what came of having older friends; they died and left perpetual holes in her life. Especially those who had been there, during the turmoil of those early days of her relationship with the man who became her husband. Thank God, she still had Niamh, though Sean was gone.

    She turned her thoughts back to her children. Josie had married a good man, also a doctor, and had given them the joys of grandparenting. Caitlin was the one who took after her. Fiery temper and a careless tongue masked her kind heart. A beautiful young woman, pursuing her career in theatre and television. She remembered when Cait had been an intern at the TV station in Dublin, and how she had prattled on to someone at work about her family, mentioning the party she was going home for, to celebrate her mother's fiftieth birthday. How could Caitlin have known that Leo McGarvey had once, briefly, been married to that mother? All the children knew there had been a short, early marriage, but his name hadn't been familiar. When Leo turned up at the party, Caitlin had casually introduced him to her father, thoroughly bewildered by the hostility her older colleague showed Peter. Assumpta shook her head.

    Peter had seen this. "What's wrong?" he asked.

    "Just remembering," she said.

    "A bad memory?"

    "Mixed. I remembered when Caitlin met Leo, and, not knowing the whole story, let him know about my birthday party. How he turned up, and things were a little unpleasant for a while. I guess you took care of that, didn't you?  You know, when I think about our kids, though, I can't come up with any bad memories, any bad times."

    He raised an eyebrow. "Want me to remind you of a few?"

    She laughed. "No thanks!" She went over and sat down on the arm of the chair and put her arms around him. "We've been really blessed, though, Peter, haven't we?"

    "We have, my love, indeed we have. Children, grandchildren, health. And love, the greatest blessing of all."

    She bent down and kissed the top of his head. "That's what I was thinking. How come we survived all the bad stuff, and all the things that divided us, and here we are still together, and when you say `I love you', I know you still mean it?"

    He pulled her down onto his lap. "Of course I mean it!" he said. "Assumpta, once I admitted to myself how I felt about you, I never looked back or away. I guess everyone has tough times; we're strong enough, lucky enough, to have gotten through them. And now, with the pub safely in the hands of Dermot, and me retired, we're great. With lots of time to spend together. I love being with you, always have. "

    "Well, Peter, even though you sometimes drive me mad, and sometimes make me angry, you've always been the best husband I know." He smiled. "Of course, you never make me angry," he said in a teasing voice.

    "Ah, but we don't bore one another, do we? And you know I still love you, old man."

    "Old man?" he said in mock indignation. "Do I have to show you that I'm not so old?"

    She laughed, holding him tightly. They were mostly content just to be in one another's arms, to be close, but they still made love often. Of all the things they had given one another, her love of theater, his of opera, their children, the home they had made, it was their passion for one another that was one of the strongest things in their marriage, the glue that held the rest together. She hoped fervently for long life for them both, knowing how terrible it would be for either of them to lose the other. She thought of Niamh, who'd lost two husbands. She believed that her friend was content enough these days, back in Ballyk , living near Kieran, who had married Aisling Kearney, and with Emma and Danny in the farmhouse next to hers. Lots of grandchildren. "Would I do as well?" she wondered, and shivered even at the thought.

    She stood up, a bit stiffly. "Time to start dinner," she said, and moved toward the kitchen, with Peter's arm around her. They did this most evenings, something else they had learned to love doing together, putting together the meal they would share. A good life, she thought, with a smile. A very good life. She looked at the refrigerator, covered with photographs and clippings. Children, grandchildren, friends. Lots of poetry. Her favorite, a quote from Tennyson, which came to her mind several times a day.

Though much is taken, much abides; and tho'
we are not now that strength which in old days
moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are.
She touched it with the tips of her fingers. "Remember," she admonished herself, "how much abides."