On a Hiding to Nothing
by Theodora McKee
(This would take place somewhere in episode 3.6 or 3.7)
It was late at night, after a busy day at the bar, and Leo was giving up
in his efforts to make love to his wife. "Have you ever heard about faking
it, Assumpta? I understand a lot of women do that. You don't even care enough
to pretend you're interested."
"What are you talking about, Leo? I'm just exhausted."
"Yeah, you're always tired, or it's that time of month, or I've said something
that riled you. Always some excuse. You just cringe when I touch you."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," she said, turning over. God, she hated
this conversation. Why had she thought marrying Leo was the answer?
"I was lulled by that one time….just after we met in London. Do you remember
that night? Do you? You were passionate, loving, really into it. Except, now
that I think of it, you kept your eyes closed the whole time. Tight closed."
"Were you thinking of him? Thinking it was him making love to you? His hands,
She didn't answer, just glared at him. He was right, though, she thought.
She had been so desperate to have someone want her after that scene in the
kitchen, and so she went to bed with Leo. But she couldn't help herself, she
couldn't avoid the fantasy of….But she couldn't tell Leo that.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said.
"You know, Assumpta, I should have suspected something. Why did you come
to London? What were you running away from? I see how he looks at you. How
you look at him. Something happened, didn't it?"
"Nothing happened, " she said wearily. "I just decided to get away for a
while. When I met you, I thought we could recapture what we'd had before,
but maybe I was wrong, maybe you can't go back. This doesn't have to do with
anyone else. Whatever it is you suspect, you're wrong."
"I know I'm on a hidin' to nothin', and I know I'm not wrong about that."
He got up from the bed, and rummaged in his trousers for the pack of cigarettes
he'd left there. "I'd never have thought it of you, Assumpta, falling for
a priest. An English priest. I thought I knew you, but the girl I knew would
never have given this guy a second look. You've always hated the clergy….and
"I still do," she muttered.
"Yeah, right. With one big exception. Father Clifford. What a joke. And
he's not much of a priest, is he, sleeping with you? How long were the two
of you having an affair?"
She sat up, angry now. "I never slept with him, you're just looking for
an excuse. I told you, our trouble doesn't have anything to do with anyone
else, especially not with Peter….Father Clifford."
He blew out a mouthful of smoke. "I don't believe you." He pulled on his
clothes. "I'm going for a walk,' he said, slamming the door behind him.
She sat there, with the blankets pulled up around her, staring at the door.
"God help us," she thought, "I don't believe me either."
Part 2: Whose Business Is It?
Niamh had just come out of her house, wheeling Kieran in the pram, when she
saw Leo carrying suitcases to his car. She hurried over to him.
"Leo? Where are you off to?"
He made an effort to smile at her. "Oh, Ballyk can't hold me, not a sophisticated,
cosmopolitan like myself." He gave her a brief hug. "Take care of yourself,
Niamh, and of Kieran." He waved as he got into the car.
She turned resolutely back to the Gard house, and picked the baby up, calling
to her husband as she entered the house. "Ambrose!"
"What?" he said, looking up from his desk.
She bit her lip. "I'm so upset! I just saw Leo, and he's leaving. Did you
"No, but I can't say I'm surprised."
"What is wrong with that girl?"
"Yes, Assumpta! She's letting a perfectly good man – a man who's desperately
in love with her – walk out of her life. What is she thinking?"
Ambrose hesitated. "It's really not our business," she said. "But I guess
what she's thinking is that she's not in love with him."
"Yeah, but what I can't figure out is WHY? I mean he's a real catch."
"Maybe she's in love with someone else."
"Oh really," Niamh said sarcastically. "And just who might she be in love
Her husband just looked at her. Niamh flushed, "C'mon, that's not serious,
is it? I mean we all know they have a thing for one another, but for God's
sake, he's a priest! She can't think that's going anywhere, and she has no
business even thinking about him. If she'd given him a chance, Leo would
have driven him out of her head, don't you think?"
Ambrose shook his head. "Niamh, I'm not comfortable having this conversation.
It isn't my business, nor is it yours. I've got work to attend to here. Let
it go. It's Assumpta's business."
"But….:" Niamh stammered.
"No buts," he said, turning to the papers on his desk.
This conversation made her even angrier. "I'm going to talk to her!" she
said, flouncing off.
"Niamh," he said warningly, but she paid no attention, slamming the door
behind her as she left.
The baby was startled, but she murmured to him and put him back into the
pram for the short walk across the street. "Assumpta!" she called, and her
friend called from the kitchen.
Pushing the pram before her, she entered the kitchen, glaring at the publican.
"What's wrong with you?" Assumpta asked.
"You're what's wrong with me! I just saw Leo leaving….you're letting him
go, not trying to stop him?"
"He didn't want stopping," Assumpta said firmly, turning to the dish she
was preparing for the lunch crowd.
"That's not what it looked like to me," Niamh said. "The poor man is broken-hearted."
"Oh, and I'm not?"
"No, I don't think you are," she said coolly. "Not at all."
"Niamh, this is my business. Leave it."
"I won't. I'd like an explanation. You're letting a perfectly good man walk
away from you, a man who loves you, who married you. Why?"
"Niamh, go away. I have lunches to make. And I don't want to talk about it."
Niamh sat down at the table. "I will not go away, not till you tell me why
you let him go."
Assumpta hesitated for a moment. "Because we were both miserable, " she said.
"Is that a good enough reason?"
"He seemed pretty happy to me. It was you, wasn't it, who was miserable?"
Assumpta stopped her work for a moment, looking at her friend. "And if I
was, do you really think he could be happy?"
Niamh drummed the table with her fingers, and after a silence, decided to
say it. "Ambrose says it's because you're in love with someone else."
Assumpta looked at her sharply. "That's ridiculous. It doesn't have to do
with anyone else." To herself, she added, this is becoming my mantra.
Assumpta was finding it rather a relief to be alone again, not having to
worry about Leo's unhappiness and better able to deal, as she had for some
time now, with her own. She was glad to see that Peter was finding it easier
to come to the pub; she sensed how difficult it had been for him to see Leo
in her life. The undercurrents between them were still there, but they were
managing them as they used to, with a combination of denial and avoidance.
He didn't stop in after closing to help her clean up, as he had in the past,
and there were very few opportunities to be alone together.
But one evening, he did come by, knocking at the door.
"We're closed!" she said, but he knocked again.
"Assumpta, please, I have to talk to you for just a minute."
She unlocked the door. "What is it?" she asked with concern, "you look awful."
"It's my mother," he said. "She's very ill and I have to go to England right
away. I think there's a plane I can catch tonight. But I didn't want to leave
without saying goodbye." He started to leave, but she caught his arm.
"I'll drive you to the airport," she said. "I don't think you're in any shape
to drive yourself."
"Really, " she said.
He hesitated. "Thanks," he said. "I'll just go back to the house and get
my things. If you're sure….."
"I'm sure," she said firmly.
Half an hour later, they were in her van, and each of them remembered the
first time they had driven together, when she saw him trudging in the rain
and offered him a lift.
"I hope your mother recovers," she said.
"No, my sister said I'd better hurry because she probably won't. She's had
two heart attacks in the last few years, and she never really got well again.
This one may be the last."
"I didn't know you had a sister," she said.
"Yes, and three brothers."
"Hmm. I guess there's a lot we don't know about one another." He looked out
"I'm an only child," she said. "I've always thought it would be nice to grow
up in a big family."
"It was," he said. "So does that explain…." He stopped.
"What?" she said faintly alarmed at what he might be asking.
"Your loneliness," he said, glancing over at her.
"My what?" she asked, astonished.
"I'm sorry, Assumpta, I didn't mean to offend you."
"No, I'm not offended. Just….surprised, I guess. No one's ever said anything
like that to me." Inwardly, she thought, " Nobody else ever noticed." She
tried to concentrate on her driving.
He was silent for a while.
"Do you think we could be honest with one another?"
"That would be a novelty," she said. "I'm sorry, Peter, I didn't mean to
sound sarcastic. It's just been very hard for us to be honest with one another.
For a long time."
"I know," he said, sighing. "But I figure there's nothing to lose now. Since
I won't be coming back."
"You're not coming back? Why not?" she said, aware of a sinking feeling in
"Because I `m a failure as a priest," he said, his tone bitter.
"Peter, why would you say a thing like that? You know I'm not an expert on
clergy….but everyone in town thinks you're a very good priest."
"They don't know what's in my heart and soul."
"Hmmm," she said. "Do you want to tell me? You said we might be honest with
He was gnawing at his thumb. He turned to look at her, watching her pay attention
to the road. "For one, I was consumed with jealousy of Leo. I wanted your
marriage to fail. And that's a bigger sin than any I know of. The biggest
failure on my part. What kind of priest….No, what kind of person wishes that?"
"A human being maybe," she said tartly.
"Do you know that Leo confronted me with my feelings?"
"He asked me if he was on a hiding to nothing, that I was the only one who
could answer that."
"I think he was confronting you with my feelings," she said slowly. She took
a deep breath and went on. "He thought my feelings for you were the reason
for….well, for a lot of things."'
"Assumpta, are you saying what I think you're saying?"
"If you don't know the answer to that, Peter, you're the only one in town
who doesn't! Yes, I…have feelings for you."
He covered his face with his hands. "It's amazing how something can sound
so exhilarating and so depressing at the same time."
"I'm not sure I like that depressing bit."
"You know what I mean, though, don't you?" he said plaintively. He reached
over and grasped her hand on the steering wheel. "I love you, and I've
messed that up as well as my job and my life. But the idea that you might
love me back makes me feel almost happy. Then I remember that my mother is
dying, and that nothing may come of how we feel."
She struggled for a moment with angry feelings, but managed to keep her voice
soft as she asked, "Why not?"
This time his silence lasted longer, and as they neared Dublin, and the airport,
she wondered where this talk was taking them. "Assumpta, do you think that
we can talk about this after …?" He couldn't finish the sentence.
"I hope we can," she said. "I would want to."
"You think it's me that can make you happy? Leo didn't, did he?"
"No, but do you think I would have married him if I'd known that you loved
"Didn't you love him then?"
"No. He was a friend, and I used him badly." She shook her head. "I thought
it was hopeless, my feelings for you, and that maybe he could drive you out
of my head. But it never worked." She hesitated, then decided they had come
far enough for her to tell him the rest. "You know, I couldn't bear for him
to touch me. Just once, when I ran away from Ballyk and you, we had one night
"Don't. Please." He shuddered.
"No, I want to tell you this. I let him make love to me, having a fantasy
that it was you. It was you I wanted, always. So I made excuse after excuse,
until finally he got the message. That it was never going to work between
us. I could act the wife in the pub, or if we went out for dinner….but never
in the bedroom." She was choking back tears now, trying to focus on her driving,
and he was very quiet.
When they reached the airport, she pulled into a parking space, and got out
of the car just as he did. "I'll stay with you till your plane leaves," she
said. He started to protest, but nodded in agreement, and she took a seat
in the waiting area while he went to look into flights to Manchester. She
had her eyes closed when he came to sit next to her.
"There's nothing till 6:30," he said. "You'd better go home."
"Not yet," she said, eyes still closed.
"A little." She leaned her head against his shoulder, and after a moment,
he put his arm around her and pulled her closer.
"As though we were an ordinary couple," he thought, just as she turned and
said softly, "I guess we look like any two people; no one would guess that
we're a married woman and a Catholic priest."
"Shh!" he frowned.
"Get used to it, Peter, we're going to be the biggest scandal that ever hit
Ballykissangel." She smiled ruefully. "That is, if you decide that something
can come of it."
"Assumpta, go to sleep," he said. "My plane doesn't leave for hours, and
I want to just sit here. We'll have plenty of time to think."
"Okay," she said, enjoying the moment as much as he. She thought that there
was no way to know what would happen in the days, weeks, and months to come.
If she and Peter found a way to be together, there would be no way of avoiding
the pain of others – Leo, Peter's family, her friends, the Church. And Peter's
own pain, his struggle, if he decided to leave the priesthood. She wished
she could be with him during this awful time of his mother's illness, her
probable death. But somehow, despite all these thoughts, she was aware that
for the first time in years, what she felt was happiness. She knew that she
felt closer to Peter than she'd ever felt to anyone else, and she snuggled
into his shoulder, his arm tightening around her, and then, for a while,
they both fell asleep.