Peter and Assumpta have just released the ram, and are taking a break from their exertions. Assumpta is looking at him, sensing his unhappiness. "Don't you want to go home, then?" she asks.
"Home doesn't enter into it," he answers, "you go where you're told."
"Where do you want to go?"
"Where I'm wanted," he says emphatically.
She hesitates. "Have you talked to Father Mac?"
"Yeah." Bitterly. "I mean, what is his problem?"
"Oh, because I'm English."
"No, worse than that, you rock the boat."
"How do I do that?"
"You encourage people to think for themselves! What the clergy does--the lot of you--is holding this country back. But as priests go...."
"We could do a lot worse." She looks away, afraid she had already said too much, but adds, almost to herself, "not that I sometimes don't wish......"
"What?" He looks at her intently.
"Never mind," she says. "Nothing."
They start to shove the crate back into the van. Peter hesitates. "Assumpta?"
".....me too." He turns to the task at hand, and after a moment, she
Peter Clifford left his superior's office, as usual, in a simmering state of anger and resentment, feelings he struggled mightily against. He thought that of all the vows he had taken when he became a Roman Catholic priest, it was "obedience" that gave him the most trouble. Particularly in this parish, dealing with the rebellious feelings that Father Mac invariably induced in him. "I need a drink," he said to himself, as he walked purposely to the pub which he occasionally stopped at when he was in Cilldargan. Not the friendly, comfortable atmosphere of Fitzgerald's back in Ballykissangel, but it would do for the cool-down he wanted.
Half an hour later, having drowned his anger in a pint of lager, he stepped out into a rare sunny day, and in a somewhat better state of mind, went towards the bus stop. He wondered why he'd taken the bus today, leaving the Javelin behind. Maybe he'd known that it wouldn't have been the best of ideas to drive home with his anger bottled up or having had a pint or two to uncork it! As he ambled along, looking into the shop windows, he suddenly saw reflected a familiar face. Assumpta Fitzgerald had just come out of the market and was juggling four sacks of groceries as she reached her van.
He crossed the street and took two of the bags from her. "You look like you could use an extra hand," he said cheerfully.
"Peter!" she exclaimed. "What a 'providential' gift you are!" She piled a third bag into his arms and reached into her pocket for the keys. She opened the rear of the van and put her sack inside, then took the ones he held. "There!" she said. "Safely stowed." Hands on her hips, she looked at Peter. "What are you doing in Cilldargan in the middle of the day? A little early for pastoral duties, is it not?"
"Had to see Father Mac for my weekly scolding," he said.
"Ooh, that must have been nice for you."
"Yeah," he grinned, "loooovely."
"Well, at least it's over for this week," she smiled back. "Where's your car parked? D'ya need a lift?"
"Yeah, all the way back to Ballyk," he said. "I was on me way to the bus stop."
"Well, hop in. Remember that we're used to carrying the clergy." He remembered the first time she'd said that to him, and was pleased that there was no edge of hostility this time. She maneuvered the van through the midday traffice, and soon they were on the road that led back home. "Peter," she said tentatively, "I'm famished. I have some cheese and fruit, and was planning to stop at the lake for some lunch. Would that be all right? I'm sure I have enough for both of us. But if you're in a hurry....?"
"No," he said. "That's a lovely idea. It's such a beautiful day." A small voice niggled at him, Not wise, it was saying. He answered it back silently, What's the harm?
When they reached the lake, she parked, and taking a package from the floor behind her, she led the way over the path to where there was a small bench that overlooked one of her favorite places in County Wicklow. She handed him an apple and a chunk of Irish cheddar, and motioned to the thermos of coffee. "Mmmmm, perfect," he said, taking a big bite of apple. "I hadn't realized that I was hungry meself. And I can't remember the last time I had a picnic. They sat quietly, looking at the beautiful lake and the hills around it. He thought that this was the first time they had been alone together since the night they looked after "their" baby, the one that had been left on his doorstep.
Assumpta wrapped her apple core in a twist of newspaper, and leaned back into the bench. "Peter," she murmured. "I need to close my eyes for a spell. If I fall asleep, kick me in ten minutes. I don't want to get home with a bunch of spoiled groceries."
"Okay," he said, standing up to walk closer to the water's edge. He turned to look at her, her head back, eyes closed, her small feet in their boots stretching out in his direction. For a long moment, he gazed at her, something he never allowed himself to do. He had to be content, most of the time, to steal small peeks at his lovely friend, and it was a pleasure for once just being able to look at her. She was so beautiful, he thought, and this time he didn't censor the thought. He'd known for some time that he had feelings for Assumpta that were dangerous for him, but he also knew that he would never act on them. He smiled to himself, thinking that if he did, she would probably clobber him! So he was safe there. He walked a little ways up the path, and when he came back, her eyes were open and she was watching him with an inscrutable little smile.
"Ready to go?" she asked.
They made their way back to the van, and both were silent, peacefully
so, on the drive back to Ballykissangel.
"Come on, let me see that again!" she said, pulling it out of his pocket. "You passed!"
"So let's go," she said, moving around to the passenger's side of the van.
"No, Assumpta, you drive. I'm shook up. Can't believe he passed me, I thought I made so many mistakes."
"Well, you got it the honest way," she said, smiling and pointing to his open shirt. She still had his clerical collar in her pocket.
"Yeah," he said, unable to shed his nervousness. He climbed into the left side of the van, and put his face in his hands. After a moment, she got in and started the car.
"What was that about then?" she asked, "that comment about 'your wife'?"
He was silent for a moment. "When I told him that I wasn't 'Father' Clifford, he just assumed that you....."
"Yeah." Then he smiled. "Judge Bradley calls you my 'girlfriend'. You know how it is, Assumpta, people jump to conclusions."
"A far-fetched conclusion," she said, stealing a sideways look at him.
"Mmmm," he agreed. His nerves were quieting down as they drove the road back to Ballykissangel. "Is it so far-fetched?" he said quietly, almost to himself.
She kept her eyes on the road. "Isn't it?" she said, in the same musing tone.
He looked at the scene outside his window, and didn't answer. She was aware of his tension growing again.
"Peter," she said.
"Don't worry about it. We're friends, and if some people jump to other conclusions, that's their problem, you're just reacting to the whole thing today, deciding to forgo the 'priest perk', passing your driving test...on your own. I'm proud of ya."
This time his silence lasted longer. As they crossed the bridge over the Angel and neared the pub, he looked at her and smiled. "Thanks."
"For putting things into perspective for me," he said.
"Hmm." This time she looked at him. "For both of us, I should think."
He nodded. "Still, it does make me wonder....."
"Nothing," he said, as they pulled up to be surrounded by the denizens
of the pub, eager to see who had won the bets.
The rain had stopped for the moment, and there were jagged clouds scudding past the moon, but at least there was moonlight, and the air was fresh and pleasant. She breathed deeply, clearing her lungs of the fetid bar air, and her mind of resentment and annoyance. She chattered softly to the dog, about the evening, the houses they passed, and when they stopped on the bridge, about the river flowing below them. They kept going, up the hill that led past the church, and both stopped when they came to the red door of the curate's house. There was a light on downstairs.
"Shall we stop then and say hello to Peter?" she asked Fionn. "Haven't seen him all day." She knocked gently, just in case he had gone to sleep, but he opened the door very quickly.
"Assumpta," he said, sounding surprised.
"Fionn and I were taking a walk, and he said he hadn't seen you today, so we thought maybe you'd like to join us."
He looked up at the sky doubtfully, just as rain began to spatter the ground behind her. "Why don't you come in for a few minutes instead," he said. "I've just made a pot of tea."
She was taken aback, but said, "Okay." Leaving Fionn just inside the door, she said firmly, "Sit."
Inside, she looked round at the shabby, neat parlor before joining him in the kitchen. He'd noticed her looking, and said, "Clergy housing. Everyone's cast-off furniture, but things are a bit more cozy in here."
She sat down at the table, feeling suddenly uneasy, off balance. She took the cup of tea from him, glad to have something to turn her attention to. He seemed grateful too to focus on the tea.
She looked over at him. "You didn't come to the pub today."
"I realized that I hadn't seen you since yesterday. Last night, actually."
He looked at her, saying nothing.
"I looked for you during the play," she said tentatively. "You left?"
"Just for a few minutes," he said.
"Hmm," she mused. "Important minutes, yeah? At the end there?"
He was trying to sound casual, disinterested. "I guess."
She looked around the room, decided to risk saying what had come to her mind. "Peter...."
"I have a confession."
He raised his eyebrows.
"Not that kind!"
"Oh, go ahead then," he smiled.
"Well....I was a little disappointed when Enda was able to play the part. I sort of wanted...I was wondering what it would have been like...to act that last scene with you."
He hesitated. "Yeah, I was...curious...too, I guess."
She stood up and crossed to his side of the table. "I did what I had
to, I'm not proud of it." Quoting from the play. He looked down,
not responding. But she went on anyway. "I didn't fall in love...not with
him." She walked closer to him. "We have one night...maybe just an hour."
Her voice was low, intense. She put her hand on his face. "If it's a sin,
there'll be no repeating it." She bent to him, silencing him with
a gesture before he could speak, and finished the scene where they'd been
interrupted at rehearsal. He couldn't help responding to the kiss, and
it went on quite a bit longer than the one on stage the night before. She
pulled away, almost reluctantly. They looked at one another. "Curiousity
satisfied," she said, then took a deep breath and walked out of the room.
As the front door opened, he heard her say, "C'mon Fionn, home."
And the door closed behind her, leaving him still sitting at the table
in his kitchen.
It was the first time they had spent such a long time together, alone, if they didn't count the baby, who was sleeping peacefully now in Peter's arms after a bout of wailing. Assumpta had tried holding him, rubbing his back, which had worked to soothe him earlier. Since they had no bottles, no pacifier, this time he had given the infant his knuckle to suck on, and that seemed to be the solution. They talked quietly, not wanting to wake him again.
"You were really good with him," he said, smiling at her. "You'll make a good mother."
"You'd make a good father," she said, then, "Ooops! I guess not."
They were both silent for a moment. She decided to change the subject. "Why are you so set against this baby being adopted?"
"Oh, no!" he said. "I'm not against adoption, I think lots more people should adopt unwanted kids. But I think whoever left this baby here may regret it. I mean, she didn't drop him in a dumpster, she didn't even leave him at the church, where it could have taken till morning to find him. She left him here, and made sure I'd find him straight away. I just think we shouldn't jump to conclusions about her motives."
"You could be right," she said. "I can imagine if the mother is a young girl, afraid of her parents' reactions, scared of a scandal, she might be mixed up, uncertain."
"I'm sure it's happened before," he said.
"Oh yes," she answered. "More often than you'd think. Even here in Ballykissangel."
"You know, Assumpta, what you said about this kind of thing being the church's responsibility...."
She widened her eyes. "You're not going to agree with me, are you?"
"Well, in a sense. We go on acting as though young people haven't discovered
sex. We don't give them any direction."
"So what are you going to do about it?"
"Doc suggested I talk to the youth group."
"You? I'll bet Father Mac will have something to say about that."
He grimaced. "Yeah, I suppose so. But I think I have to do it anyway. I'm not sure what I'll say; I'll have to really think about it." He looked down at the baby. "Michael said it would be a novelty, a priest talking about sex."
"Hmmm," she agreed with a smile.
"You know, I hate that, being looked at as if I were some kind of....aberration."
"Oh Peter, I don't think anyone looks at you that way." She glanced away. "Half the women in town have little crushes on you. Everyone thinks you're a really good priest, but some folks just might consider your profession...more like a waste."
"Yeah, right," he said, not believing her. Then he yawned widely.
"Listen, why don't you sleep for a bit as long as your charge here is quiet. It's almost 5:00, and I better go. I think Father Mac will be here soon to claim this one as his own, and I don't think he'd like finding me here."
He nodded. "Yeah, you're probably right. But thanks, Assumpta, for helping me out. We got this lad through his first night in the world nicely. We make a good team."
She stopped at the door, rousing her dog. "We do at that," she said. "Goodnight, Peter...."
"G'night," he called softly, and closed his eyes, willing himself to
sleep, to push away his last words to her, and hers to him.
Everyone cleared out after the confrontations in Peter's shed, Niamh home to rest, Brian to exult in the return of his "funny' books and even more in the news that Niamh was pregnant again, Assumpta back to the pub. Peter sighed as he locked the shed once more, relieved that the revenue men, if that's who they were, seemed to be occupied with something other than the affairs of the residents of Ballykissangel. He went into the house, thinking he might weave some of this into Sunday's sermon. He was still struggling with it when there was a knock on his door.
"Assumpta," he said as he opened it to find the young publican at his doorstep, with her van parked behind her.
"I've come for my beer," he said with a half-smile. "And to thank you for sheltering it."
"I'll help load it."
"I was hoping you'd say that," she said, "no one else seems to be around."
He unlocked the shed and they began to carry crates of the illegally
imported liquor to the van. He hoped that Assumpta's financial woes wouldn't
lead her to do something as risky as this again. The party to celebrate
Niamh's pregnancy should get most of it drunk and out of the way, and Brian's
paying for it might give her a little extra cash to pay for the latest
round of repairs. When they'd finally emptied his shed, they leaned against
the van, taking a breather.
"Assumpta," he said tentatively, "I want to apologize if I offended you this morning."
He wondered if she really didn't remember his saying that he cared for her. "When I said....."
"Oh Peter, I wasn't offended. More...surprised I guess."
"I shouldn't have thought it would come as such a surprise."
"Well," she said, looking away from him, "I thought we had an unspoken agreement....not to say things like that to one another."
He was quiet, his turn to be surprised. "I guess we did. Do." He looked down. "But....Assumpta, why are you really thinking of leaving Ballyk?"
"All the things I said! The business is hardly making a profit, the building is falling down around my ears. I'm sick of it."
"Niamh said you might want more of a life, to meet someone, fall in love, get married."
"Well, everyone thinks about that!" she retorted, annoyed that Niamh would say something like that to him. "Present company excluded."
His turn to look away. "Don't be so sure."
"Peter, stop it! Don't say things like that! You're a priest!"
"Well, I know that, Assumpta. But sometimes I can't help wondering....what if I wasn't a priest?"
That took her breath away. Did he know how often she fantasized about this very notion? "If you weren't a priest?" she repeated.
"Yeah. For starters, what kind of relationship do you think we would have if I weren't a priest?"
She wasn't going to answer that. She was beginning to get angry. Why was he doing this to her? She couldn't believe that he would lead her on this way, put ideas into her head. She went round to the front of the van and started to get in.
He followed her. "Now I think I really have offended you."
"You have," she said. "That isn't something either of us should think about." Or is it, she wondered silently, not for the first time, waiting to see what he would say.
He turned towards the house. "I know. I'm sorry." He went back inside, flinching as he heard the roar of her motor. She must have gunned it.
Hours later, with the party seemingly stalled, Siobhan and Brendan
came in, triumphantly bringing news that the "revenue men ain't the revenue
men!" They were the fraud squad and Paul Dooley had been arrested. Kathleen
was almost giddy with relief, and both Brendan and Father Mac silently
toasted Peter for his agreeing to get them out of potential trouble for
tax evasion. Brian seemed triply relaxed, though he denied that he'd been
in the least worried.
As the party finally began to rock, Peter took a chance and sat down next to Assumpta, each drinking a bottle of imported beer. They compared labels and laughed. He looked at her watching Niamh and Ambrose dancing, their faces aglow with the thoughts of impending parenthood.
"Is that what you're looking for, Assumpta?"
"I don't know what I'm looking for!" Then, more softly, "but whatever it is, I'm not likely to find it here." She paused and looked at him. "Am I?"
She was dumbfounded by the tenderness, the love, in his eyes as he looked at her. It shook her to her core. Where on earth was this headed?
"You can find it anywhere," he said.
She smiled ruefully. "Do you really believe that?"
"Why not?" he said, as he tipped his bottle to clink against hers. "I'm a man of faith, aren't I?"
It seemed as though they talked all night, holding hands, admitting
how long they had been in love, each with the other, making plans. He thought
Father Mac would want him to leave as soon as possible, once he'd been
told. But he wanted her to know that it could be six to twelve months before
he would be released from his vows. Would she wait?
"What else would I be doing?"
"I don't know, I just don't want you to run away from me," he said earnestly. He would go to England, to tell his family. Then he would like her to come to Manchester to meet them, his brothers and their wives. He told her some of the ideas he had about training for a new profession. She agreed that teacher certification was a good idea, that he would be a good teacher. He was also thinking of counseling or some other kind of Social Work.
"It sounds like you've been thinking about this for a while," she teased.
He was more serious when he answered simply, "I have. A long while." Then he smiled. "But there's also a position as barman I've been considering."
"Hah!" she said, laughing. "We might well be both looking at new vocations! Unless the Food Faire lulls them all into accepting us."
In the heady atmosphere of love and no sleep, they were
almost giddy, and at least at this hour, it did not matter what anyone
else thought about them, family, churchmen, friends, neighbors. It would
be their secret for a few days, but they both knew, from this moment, that
their lives would be spent together, their differences resolved, the difficulties
transcended. Just before dawn, they agreed that he'd better leave, to get
some sleep, to plan his talk with Father Mac, to begin the process of leaving
the priesthood. But it was not easy to end this magical night. They stood,
holding one another tightly, kissing goodbye again and again, and the future
seemed to belong to them alone, bright with hope and love and a shining