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, his mouth?"

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 the English."

"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 know?"

"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 with?"

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.

"In here."

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 the window.


"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 her stomach.

"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 the
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 one another."

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 me?"

"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 together…."

"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.