by Thistle

(translated from the Hungarian by Thistle, edited by Margaret Pattison)

‘I can’t believe that they just left us here…’ steamed Assumpta.
‘They need warmer clothes.’ Peter stepped closer to the barrel.
‘Yes and those “artefacts”…’ Assumpta mocked.
‘Yapp,’ said Peter calmly and looked up to the stars. ‘You know the stars?’
‘Just as well as anybody else… Why?’
‘It’s a clear night. I can show you some constellations… ’
‘Some what?’ Assumpta looked up too.
‘You know…  Ursa Major… Cassiopeia, Venus… The stars of your star sign… What is your star sign?’
‘It suits you…’ Peter smiled. Assumpta shrugged.
‘What is yours?’
‘Where are they?’
‘Come to the cars. We can see better without the firelight.’

They went to the Fiesta and leaned against the doors.
‘See, there is Venus. If you go left, there are three stars in a row.’
‘Yes.’ Assumpta blinked.
‘Those and that one on their left side is the bow of your archer. And that and that faint one is the arrow…’ Assumpta nodded.
‘Nice. And where is your Libra?’
‘Not too far… It’s just more above us.’ Peter looked up and Assumpta did the same.
‘There is the second brighter star and a few more around it.’
‘I see. Ouhh…’
‘What?’ Peter looked down to her.
‘Just my neck…’

Peter went and sat up on the edge of the engine hood of the Fiesta over the right wheel. He waved to her.
‘Come up, and lean your back against the windscreen.’ Assumpta was more cautious.
‘It might dent the hood…’
‘Oh, come on!’ Peter shrugged. ’I’m on the edge where it’s strong enough, and you're not heavy enough to leave a mark! And this car is a wreck anyway...’
 ‘It’s your car…’

Assumpta climbed up, and leaned back beside Peter.
‘Well, it is easier this way.’ Assumpta smiled. ‘Like a sun bed.’
‘Yes. We used to watch the stars like this at the Uni…’ Peter nodded.
‘Wow… our local saint was so romantic in his youth…’ Assumpta smirked. Peter laughed.
‘I didn’t use the stars to woo a girl… and I am not a saint, you know.’
‘Not to woo a girl…?’ Assumpta frowned. ‘So that is the reason!’ she told herself quietly. Peter looked at her.
‘You are… hmm.’ Assumpta studied him suspiciously.
‘What?!’ Peter started to feel uncomfortable himself. Assumpta took a deep breath.
‘Peter, are you gay?’
Peter cried out.
‘No! I’m not gay! How can you ask that?!’
‘Sorry, you said that you didn’t use the stars to woo a GIRL…’ Assumpta was abashed. Peter heaved a sigh of relief.
‘Oh, that! Assumpta, I really didn't use them for courting. I studied astronomy!’
‘Astronomy…? Not theology?’ Assumpta was surprised again.
‘Of course I learned theology at the seminary, but I have an astronomy degree…’ Peter explained slowly and moderately.
Assumpta tried to smile apologetically.
‘Oh, I see. Sorry about …that…’
Peter shrugged with a cynical smile.
‘Forget it… I think it is an occupational hazard…’
‘No Peter, I’m really sorry… Just you know… You are good with the housework; you wash the dishes with gloves… People could think…’
‘Think that is too feminine?’ Peter pulled up his eyebrows.
Assumpta nodded.
Peter shook his head.
‘It’s simpler.’ He sighed. ‘After all, I live alone. I must do the housework; the parish won’t pay a housekeeper for me… I had to learn to cook, and wash and everything… Oh, and the rubber-gloves: I’m allergic… ’
Assumpta nodded and they stayed in silence for a moment.

‘So what did you use?’ asked Assumpta and a smile played on her lips. Peter frowned.
‘To what…?’
‘To woo…’ Assumpta laughed shortly. Peter leaned back, and sighed leisurely.
‘I think I used our rock band…’
‘You were playing in a band?!’
‘Yes.’ Peter shrugged and studied the stars above them.
‘And what did you play?’
Assumpta smiled and shook her head unbelievingly.
‘And what was the band’s name?’
‘Starfish. We all studied astronomy.’ Peter looked back at Assumpta, who tried to process the information.
‘Good name.’
‘Yes. And what did you do at the Uni?’
Assumpta smiled shyly.
‘I was at the school news. Small articles, tabloids…’
‘That much more useful than a band…’
‘Yeah, but what for…? I tend a bar now. You could use your experience with the people at least… ’
‘Yes, with the people…’ said Peter, but he averted his eyes.

Assumpta tried to catch his look.
‘What what?’
‘You seem sad.’
‘No… Just... That thing that you thought about me… bothers me more than it should…’
‘It is natural. And I’m really sorry…’ she said quietly. Peter growled.
‘Forget it… ’

‘It’s really cold here…’ Assumpta said after a few quiet minutes.
‘Yes. We should get in the car.’
‘Good idea…’

In the warm car Assumpta tried to bring back the friendly mood.
‘So you were a normal guy with a band and girlfriends and everything?’
Peter lost his talkative mood.
‘I am still a normal guy, I just can’t have girlfriend…’
‘I know.’
‘You know what?’
‘That you are a normal guy.’
Peter scoffed.
‘Thank you. It took a long time for you…’
‘I just had to work on it,’ Assumpta said musingly. Peter got curious.
Assumpta considered the situation for a minute and she thought that it was the perfect moment for the naked truth. Or the truth at least. In clothes.
‘Look, I’m in the dark woods in an adult hetero man’s car…’ she answered recklessly. Peter was surprised but he didn’t show it. He tried to think of it as a theoretical discussion.
‘That is a brand new perspective.’ He didn’t look at her.
‘Yes,’ Assumpta said expectantly.
‘But I’m still a priest.’ His eyes studied the excavator and the bushes behind the barrel.
‘Yes. But it is just a theoretical thing.’
‘It is not for me,’ Peter declared categorically and looked at her full of meaning.
‘No, I mean that you are the same guy as at the Uni. Your physical existence…’
‘Yes, but I am a priest,’ Peter repeated himself.
‘But you have the same desires and needs as a normal guy…’
‘Of course I have. Can we drop that ‘normal’ attribute?’
‘Yes. So if you have this all, then the priesthood is just a theoretical thing…’ Assumpta reasoned as a lawyer. Peter was too tired for an argument but curious about her meaning.
‘From that viewpoint… yes.’
‘Good,’ Assumpta finished her train of thought shortly. Peter was disappointed. He had expected a bigger conclusion.
‘Good? Why is that good?’
‘Good for me, because I know now what could happen. Women always think ahead.’
Peter rolled his eyes to the sky.
‘But    I     a m     a     p r i e s t!  You don’t have to think about anything!’
Assumpta looked in his eyes.

After a long minute Peter swallowed.

Another moment passed and Peter looked down, defeated. Assumpta smiled.

‘You know that is not a good justification?’
‘It should be. Why not?’ asked Peter tiredly.
‘You have nothing to fear from those who know and respect priests and the church. The dangerous people are not interested in theoretical things. But you repeated the same thing again and again.’
‘I give up…’ Peter laughed.
Assumpta shot back immediately, ‘The priesthood?’
‘No. This conversation.’ Peter shut his eyes to close out the disturbing thoughts and the annoying girl.
‘Oh. So you don’t want to insist on that sentence anymore?
Peter let her offend him. He knew that he had lost this battle at the beginning.
Assumpta was triumphant. She gave him the final hit.
‘Good. So… Would you like to kiss me?’
Peter’s eyes opened and looked at her with a smile and incredulous eyes.
‘What?’ Assumpta asked innocently. Peter gathered the last pieces of his modesty together, but he smiled in doubt.
‘I can’t!’
Assumpta lifted her head cheekily.
‘Oh, I told you before!’
Assumpta played on.
‘I can’t remember… sorry. So?’
Peter felt like he couldn't find the exit in this maze.
‘You are crazy…’
Assumpta was in her lawyer-mood again but her eyes sparkled.
‘Maybe… Maybe I just want you to see another perspective.’
‘And what will you do if it happens? If I can see that other perspective?
‘Kiss you.’
Peter was flabbergasted.
‘I see. So do you think, that if we were in this same situation without my vocation… We couldn't do any other thing than kissing…’
‘Something like that… Do you not agree with that?’
‘Sumpta!’ Peter fiddled with the handle.
‘I agree…’ Peter confessed finally.
‘What now?’ He looked at her.
‘Of course.’ Peter snorted. ‘What is in your head now?’
‘Nothing, I am just …glad.’
‘Why?’ Peter wasn’t sure that he wanted to know.

‘I am sitting here at night, in a dark wood, under the stars, with a young, handsome, hetero man, who confessed to me that he wants to kiss me… It is so romantic…’
‘Crazy girl…’ laughed Peter. ‘You want me to lose my head?’
‘You can?’
‘Of course I can.’ He was over his agony. He just smiled and let the things happen.
‘Have you before?’
‘Have you lost your head before?’
‘So I made you lose your head?’
‘Then why don’t you do anything?’
‘I can’t use that sentence from before?’
‘Then I don’t know.’
Assumpta’s voice softened.
‘You want to do it, and you don’t know anything against it… Why don’t you do it?’
Peter looked at her with his love in his eyes.
‘I don’t want to scare you.’
Assumpta touched his hand.
‘I am not scared of you.’
Peter looked down shyly.
‘I am scared of me.’
Assumpta put her hand to his chin and lifted his head.
‘I can defend you… if you let me.’ Her face was just a few inches away.
‘How can you…?’
‘With my magic…’
Assumpta smiled and gave a short kiss to his lips. Peter reached for her and she snuggled closer.
He nuzzled her face and whispered, ‘I knew that you were an Irish fairy… No  woman could turn my head so much…’
‘You admit it?’ Assumpta whispered too and caressed his face.
‘Kiss me…!’

The fire in the barrel slowly died, the only light came from the stars.

Brendan went to the excavator and sat on the top of it. Leaned against the cockpit, and pulled out his flask from his coat. He watched the two or rather one shadow in the Fiesta. He drank a gulp, and smiled. Fished out Siobhan’s old mobile phone from his pocket that she had given him for emergencies, and rang Peter.

Peter broke his lips away from Assumpta’s.
Assumpta smiled shyly, and leaned back in the seat. Peter frowned at the unknown number.
‘Peter Clifford.’
‘Hi, Peter, it's Brendan. I am here. At the excavator…’

Peter swallowed hard and pushed off the line.
He looked at Assumpta nervously.
‘Brendan is here. I think we need your magic. Now.’
Assumpta smiled confidently.
‘No problem.’  She kissed him and leaned to open the door on his side. ‘Go, talk with him.’ Peter reluctantly climbed out, and shivered in the cold night. Brendan nodded to him and he went there.

‘Hi, Peter. We decided with Siobhan and Michael that we will take turns. I am the first guard.  So what do you want to do…?’
Peter was embarrassed. ‘We… Assumpta was cold and I thought… I just… ’
Brendan studied his face.
‘Peter. You are my friend. But I want to know your intentions. If you let her down…’
‘No! I won't. I just need time.’
Brendan lifted up his voice.
‘You had time.’
‘Yes, but…’
‘She has gone through enough trouble in her life. Because of me, her parents, you…’
‘I want her to be happy.’ Peter tried to be reassuring. He was surprised by Brendan’s weird reactions. He had never seen Brendan so excited.
Brendan exhaled nervously, but he calmed a bit.
‘Take care of her.’
‘I promise.’
‘Right. Go back. She is waiting for you.’
‘Yeah… Good night Brendan.’
‘Good night.’

Peter was confused. He got in, and shook his head.
‘So?’ Assumpta turned to him.
‘He was weird. He was like...  as if he were your father.’
‘Were?’ asked back Assumpta, surprised. ‘You don’t know…?’
‘You never heard about the Shame of the Fitzgeralds? You don’t know why Kathleen hates me?’
‘No. The Shame of Fitzgeralds?!?’ Peter felt like he missed some episodes in a TV series. ‘What are you talking about?’
Assumpta sighed.
‘Follow me back to the Fitzgerald’s. I will tell you.’
She got out and went to her van.

They went in to the empty and dark bar. Assumpta made a coffee for Peter, and he put a log in the fire. They sat down.
‘So what is this mysterious story?’
Assumpta smiled and snuggled closer.
‘All Fitzgeralds were redheads.’
‘And you are… What’s that word... auburn?  That is the big issue?’ Peter shrugged. Assumpta took his hand.
‘The tragedy is that my father also wasn’t a redhead,’ said Assumpta meaningfully.
‘But you said that all Fitzgeralds were… Oh my God. Brendan?!?’ Peter stared at her. Assumpta nodded.
‘Yes. Brendan wasn’t acting like my father. He is my father. Kathleen is related to the Fitzgeralds. She hated that I was born. Everybody knew at first sight that I can't be a Fitzgerald... that my mother cheated on my father.’
‘But Brendan is just a bit older than me! Maybe fourteen - fifteen years?!’
‘He was 19 when I… When I was conceived… My mother was older than he by ten years. I don’t know what happened and how. Brendan never told me.’
‘Yes. My father was a good man. He and my Mum had tried to have a child of their own, but it was unsuccessful. He accepted me, and raised me like his own child. Brendan went to the University. He didn’t know about me until he came back later. But I had a life by that time… He always loved me… And when my parents died, he started to take care of me. He told me then. Of course, I knew it before. A child can feel if something is not OK with her.’
‘Oh my…’ Peter stroked her back. Assumpta shrugged and smiled bitterly.
‘Oh come on, it can’t be more romantic… The shame of the village, the illegitimate barmaid lured a priest…! Like a two hundred year old novel…’ Assumpta scoffed, but Peter hugged her to him.
‘Sumpta. You know you are not a barmaid. And you didn’t lure me. I fell in love with you.’
‘In the people’s eyes there is no difference.’
‘There will be. You know, I promised Brendan that I would take care of you. And I want to. I want to be with you, to live with you… If you do, too…’  Assumpta took his face in her hands and kissed him hard.
‘I guess that was a yes.’ Peter smiled.
‘Yes.’ Assumpta looked down shyly. Peter kissed her forehead.
‘Go to sleep now. Tomorrow we will talk about the details, OK?’
‘All right.’

They went to the door.
‘Good night, Sumpta.’
Assumpta put her arms around his neck, gave him a short kiss and whispered,
‘I love you, Peter…’
‘I love you, too.’ Peter smiled broadly, and he removed her arms from his neck. ‘I have to go now. Sleep well!’
‘Good night!’

Next day Peter went to Fitzgerald’s early in the morning.
‘Hey, good morning!’ Assumpta smiled.
‘Hi. How are you?’ asked Peter kindly, and followed her to the kitchen.
‘Better now that I know that I didn’t frighten you away…’ She closed the door behind them. Peter went closer, and lifted his hand to caress her face.
‘You can’t. I’ll be here.’ Assumpta blushed and looked down.
‘You really don’t mind?’
‘Why should I mind?’ He pulled her to him. Assumpta bent her face to his chest.
‘I thought… Brendan never found anyone… Everybody knew about me and he couldn’t do anything against prejudice. I thought that would be my fate too…’
‘Shh, Hon. I love you. I called Father Mac this morning. I have to go to his office in the afternoon. Are you prepared for the scandal?’
‘My life is a scandal… But if I’ll have you in it…’
‘Your life is a wonder. And I want to do everything to make you happy. ’ She lifted her head and kissed him.
‘I love you. But go now. I have to open.’
‘You want a hand?’
‘No. Not now. Just go.’

After the scandal broke out they went for a short trip to England. Peter introduced her to his family, and they spent a week in the happiness of paradise.

A week later they went back to Ballyk armoured with each other's love. Their friends got over the shock and they were with them.
The gossip did well for the business and when they declared their engagement everybody was delighted with it. Even Father Mac. He found out that day that Ballyk’s next curate would be a 77 year old man…