Season 4, Episode 1
The day was bright and warm, with an easy breeze and the soft scent of flowers in the air. It was deceptively beautiful, and Niamh was having none of it. She crossed the street, only glancing for oncoming traffic, and headed for Fitzgerald’s. The door was locked, of course, but Niamh had the key. She opened the door, and then quickly closed it behind herself. The dim light inside was a relief, and so was the stale smell of Chinese food. No one had bothered to wash up. Assumpta was lying in a hospital bed, and the pub was left to tidy itself, it seemed. Anger clenched in the pit of her belly, and Niamh forced herself to take a deep breath. Then she collected the plates from the nearest table, and headed into the kitchens. It was the least she could do for her friend.
“Niamh?” Ambrose. She heard the door shut, and went back into the bar to find her husband looking around at the mess. “Ah, there you are. I called after you on the street.”
“Did you? I must’ve been somewhere else.”
Ambrose cocked his head and gave her a compassionate raise of the brows. He was such a good man. And kind. But she didn’t want kindness now, and she didn’t want company. “I’m just going to wash up at bit. Can’t leave this like it is, can I?”
“Niamh, you should be resting.”
“I’m all right.” She began to stack more plates, scooped the forks and knives up and dropped them into an empty glass.
“You’re not. You’re upset.”
“Of course I’m upset!” she said, slamming the plates down. “Has there been any news?”
Ambrose shook his head. His face was long and pale, and she knew he was just as worried as she was. A wave of guilt washed through her, tears burned her eyes. She turned away from him, wiped at her face.
“Niamh.” He touched her shoulders, and she couldn’t hold back the sobs any longer. She threw herself into his arms, and they went tight around her. She felt him kiss her ear.
“Niamh, luv, it’s going to be all right.”
“It could’ve been you.”
He pulled away, searched her face. “What are you on about? Assumpta was – it was an accident.”
“Yes,” Niamh said between hiccoughs. “An accident. It could’ve been…you. Or me. Assumpta’s only twenty-five and she…twenty-five’s so young.”
“Calm yourself,” Ambrose said, as he led her to a chair. “I’ll fetch you some tea, shall I?”
Niamh shook her head, grabbed his hand before he could leave her side. “Accidents happen all the time. Remember that statue that nearly fell on your head?”
“I’m not likely to forget that.”
“Neither am I. What if I have an accident? If Assumpta can die at twenty-five, who’s to say I can’t?”
“Assumpta didn’t die.”
“Who would take care of Kieran?”
Ambrose rolled his eyes, took a deep breath. Then he pulled up a seat beside Niamh, and took her hand. “I’m his father. If something were to happen to you, of course I would care for him. He’s my son.”
“But what if we go together?”
“You’re turning morbid on me.”
“What if there’s an accident with the car? What if we go off a cliff?”
“What? It could happen. I’m not feeling as indestructible as I did yesterday. And Kieran needs parents.”
“He’s got parents.”
“When we’re gone,” she insisted.
With a sigh, he looked down at their clasped hands. “I thought we’d agreed that your father-”
“I don’t want my father raising my child,” Niamh said. “He’ll have Kieran living a life of crime before he’s walking. No, he needs real godparents – not just someone in name, but someone who can really care for him. Someone who can teach him right from wrong. Someone who will love him like we do.”
“No one will love him like we do, Niamh. And we’re not going anywhere.”
“You don’t know that. Assumpta certainly didn’t know what was going to happen when she went down in the cellar last night.”
“Look, she’s going to be all right.”
“You don’t know that, either. The christening is next Sunday, and I don’t want my father or your mother named as the godparents any longer.”
“Then who do we ask? Who do you want? Assumpta?”
She looked into his wide, blue eyes, into the depths of the question behind them. No, not Assumpta. They both knew it couldn’t be her.
The door opened then, and Niamh jumped. The look on her face must’ve been terrible because the moment Liam saw her, his own expression fell. “Oh, no. It’s bad news, is it?”
“No news,” Ambrose said quickly, as Niamh tried to wiped at her face and get her emotions under control. She felt hot and angry, and she didn’t want to share her grief with intruders. Fitzgerald’s was her refuge, her shade.
Donal glanced anxiously between Niamh and Ambrose, and then closed the door and followed Liam to the bar. Niamh tried not to care, and went back to clearing glasses. But the boys didn’t take the hint.
“Fitzgerald’s isn’t open,” Ambrose told them.
Donal and Liam exchanged a look, that at any other time might’ve been comical. Now it just made Niamh sick.
“Then where do we go?” Liam asked. “Come on, Niamh. Make us some tea.”
“I could do with something stronger,” Donal said quietly over his crossed arms.
“You will not. It’s ten in the morning,” Ambrose objected.
“It’s been a helluva morning,” Liam said diplomatically.
The door opened again, and they all turn to see Niamh’s father walk in holding a fussy Kieran. Brian looked instantly relieved when he saw Niamh, and he handed the baby over to her. “Make us a sandwich, there’s a good girl.”
“Make it yourself.” The baby was a welcome weight in her arms, and more comforting than Niamh had expected. She pressed her nose to the top of his warm head and inhaled. Her son. Her beautiful little boy. She kissed him, and he settled against her, his pudgy little fingers pulling reassuringly at her hair.
Brian, unaffected by her rebuff, turns to Ambrose as he sits at the bar. “Any word yet?”
“None,” Ambrose told him. “When Niamh returned this morning, Assumpta was still unconscious.”
Brian nodded, but Niamh could see the frown on his face, the worry in his downcast eyes. And then in the next second it was gone, and he was looking at her. “Sandwich?”
“I’ll take one of those, too,” Liam said with a nod.
“And me,” Donal said, raising his hand.
She looked to her husband for support. Here was the kind, gentle man who had told her she was over tired and should rest, now staring at her as if the last ten minutes hadn’t happened. Wasn’t he supposed to watch over her? Wasn’t he supposed to be her gallant knight, and fend off the mean ogre and his henchmen?
“And what about you?” she demanded, shifting the baby to her hip.
“Well,” he said, his face lighting at the prospect of a sandwich, “if it wouldn’t be too much trouble.”
He’s beyond tired, beyond distraught, and as he sits and watches her lie there, silent and pale, he thinks if she dies, he might just die, too. He can’t imagine living in a world without Assumpta. He tries, but it’s not in him. His mind wanders to the shape of her wrist, to the dark circles haloing her eyes, to her unnatural stillness. He’s never known her to be still. Even in their quietest moments together she is energy and cleverness; so very full of life.
Her fingers are cold, and he slips her slender arm beneath the blankets. He held her hand once, using her cold hand as an excuse. He’d said a lot of penance to make up for that moment of weakness, but he would’ve said more for another minute in that car – and there’s no absolution for a want he doesn’t regret. How could he regret her? How could he deny the gift that she was? That she’d give him?
Peter has always thought himself a happy man. He’s considered himself lucky to have known the grace of God, and to have found himself there. He’s helped people, guided them, touched lives – sometimes more than he intended. He’s wanted for nothing.
And then they met by chance on the side of the road in the middle of a rain storm that had come out of nowhere. Divine intervention? The thought now makes him snort because from in that first short ride in her van she challenged him, insulted him, and made him smile. She wasn’t daunted or humbled or polite. She was simply Assumpta; indignant and combative, wry and irreverent, and she touched him that day without even meaning to. And every day after. She’s made him think, forced him to see and understand, allowed him to find his own voice, taught him to fight. She’s helped him, guided him, changed him – certainly more than he intended. She’s loved him. She’s changed him, irrevocably.
Peter never knew loneliness until he met Assumpta Fitzgerald. And now he fears he will never know anything else.
Siobhan stood at the sink, filling the teapot, looking out the window. The movement of the tree caught her eye, and her sleep-deprived brain latched on to that gentle sway. When the knock at the door startled her back to herself, the pot was over flowing.
“It’s unlocked,” she called, dumping half the water, and then settling the kettle on the stove. She turned to see Brendan looking at her, half hidden by the door. He looked awful. “Oh God. Assumpta?”
“Peter just called,” he said. “She was awake and talking. Michael says she’s doing very well.”
The relief that flooded Siobhan was so strong that she went light-headed for a moment, and she leaned on the white worktop to catch her balance.
“You look like hell. You should rest.”
“I could say the same to you.”
“I’m not pregnant.”
“No, you’re not,” Siobhan snapped, sharper than she intended. Why could Brendan always stir her up? What was it about him that made her want to hit something? “It’s none of your business what I do, so.”
“None of my…Siobhan.” He said her name like she was one of his wayward students he had to reason with. But she didn’t want to be reasonable, and she certainly didn’t want to be talk to like a child.
“Thank you for telling me Peter called, but if you don’t mind, I’ve got three farm visits this morning, and I’m already running late.”
“You’re exhausted. What are you trying to prove?”
“Prove?” It was almost laughable. How long had he known her? “I’m not trying to prove anything. I’m trying to make a living. I’ve got a child to support.”
He looked sufficiently chastised, and Siobhan felt a guilty spark of victory, but it winked out the moment he said, “I can help. With money.”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph. You’re a school teacher. I out earn you three to one. I don’t want your money, Brendan. I don’t need your help.”
His face went stony and unreadable, and for a moment Siobhan thought she’d sorely miscalculated. But then he thrust his chin up in that pompous way of his, and turned a cold shoulder, just like she knew he would.
“You needed my help to make our bastard well enough!” he said, and then slammed the door on his way out.
Our bastard. He’s actually said the word, and it cut deeper than she might’ve expected. She didn’t think she’d ever forgive him. She certainly didn’t want to.
Niamh is troubled; Peter can see it in her face. She’s worried. She’s tired. They’re all tired, sitting there at the end of the bar – Brian, Paraig and Siobhan. But Niamh is the one who nods to him, and he follows her down and away from the others. She says she’s noticed Father Mac’s name on the board for services through the rest of the week. Her eyes are questioning, imploring, and all Peter can do is nod. She asks if it’s a question of faith, which is almost laughable, but not quite. He tried to assure her that his faith is intact, though it’s a lie. Peter lies now, apparently. When did he start that? She offers to listen, if he wants to talk. He wonders if she’s willing to offer absolution, too. He tells her he’s fine. He thanks her, orders a sandwich take-away – something fresh to busy her for a moment somewhere away from him. It was harder going into Fitzgerald’s than Peter expected, and harder facing his friends. They know now. He tells himself that they knew before, but now it feels different. Now he’s made his confession public. Priests simply don’t go to pieces over non-practicing publicans.
Peter decides to wait outside, away from Brendan’s look of quiet concern.
Assupta Fitzgerald. Only she would defy God’s will and go on living after He struck her down. Father Mac chuckled lightly to himself at her bedside. Well, at least she had the decency to look like death.
She’d fallen asleep again, and he thought to pray for her for a while. He didn’t make a habit of praying for the ungrateful and unfaithful but, well, he still had some compassion in his stodgy old heart. He’d seen the state of her feet when the nurse changed the wrappings, and Assumpta would be suffering for some time to come. Burns like that didn’t heal overnight. He prayed she wouldn’t suffer too much.
“What’s going on here?” Father Clifford stood in the door, puffed up like a partridge. The man looked positively on the edge, and that would do nothing to dispel the rumors that were most certainly flying.
“Just visiting,” Father Mac told him lightly. He stood, favoring his stiff back and right leg. He’d been sitting too long.
“What? Assumpta? You must be joking.”
“We had a lovely chat before she dropped off to sleep again.”
Peter’s eyes narrowed on him. He didn’t like it when his curates questioned his motives. “Can I speak to you outside, Father?” Peter asked, already halfway to the door. He opened it and stood expectantly, waiting as Father Mac indulged him.
Once the door was closed, Father Mac dryly informed him, “She’s not a damsel in distress, Father Clifford. She doesn’t need protecting. Least of all from me.”
“She’s a woman who’s just been through a severe trauma and hasn’t yet had time to recuperate, and you’re – just what are you doing here, Father? Just what do you hope to achieve?”
“I’ve known Assumpta Fitzgerald since she was born. I christened her. I do not need your permission to visit her bedside at a time of crisis!”
“She doesn’t want you.”
And there was the rub. “You think she wants you, though?”
“I know she does.”
That kind of certainty, of arrogance didn’t come cheaply. Father Mac had been confident that Peter’s confessions would hold all his deepest, darkest secrets, but now he wasn’t so sure. He searched his angry face, his blood-shot eyes for answers, but didn’t find anything more than a man in pain. Peter was not one to hide his feelings, and that, in the end, would hurt the Church.
“I wanted to be sure…that she was sure,” Father Mac admitted. “I don’t want to petition the Cardinal if there’s going to be a change of heart.”
“It doesn’t matter if she’s sure or not. I’m sure,” Peter insisted. “I want my release. That should be enough.” His anger faltered then, and his eyes slipped behind Father Mac to the closed door. “She’s in hospital.” It was a quiet sort of plea. “You’ve upset her.”
She had been upset, and Father Mac carried that guilt heavy on his conscience. “I was just asking questions. Questions that needed to me asked.”
“Not here. Not now.”
“Has it ever occurred to you that you might not be the first priest to feel this way? Why can’t you simply…deal with these emotions privately? Why must you announce them to the world? Flaunt them in the face of the Church?”
“Privately? You mean…what? An affair?” Apparently the thought hadn’t occurred to him.
Father Mac sighed. The man was beyond difficult. “Assumpta’s not a Catholic.”
“But I am! And I’ve taken vows. We’ve not so much as-”
“She’s a married woman!”
Peter paled a little, faltered. “Yes. I know.”
Father Mac knew he’d broke through the blind love and found the tiny bit of reason still left in the man. He lowered his voice, softened his words. “Peter. I understand. I do. But think for a moment. Assumpta Fitzgerald isn’t going anywhere. It’s still possible to have her in your life, to share your like with her in a platonic-”
“Oh, come on!”
“So, then, it is about the sex.”
“It’s about love!” Peter said, passion and fury reddening his face. “Love. And free will. And doing right by Assumpta. I can make her happy – as happy as she makes me.” And the poor sod believed it, that Father Mac could see clearly.
He shook his head. “You forget yourself, Peter. You’re just a man. No man will ever make Assumpta Fitzgerald happy. Not for long.
“Oh, Peter. I have never been so right.”
Father Mac’s words are heavy in his head as he makes his way up the street from the bus stop. He is drained, physically and spiritually, and he can’t find a calm for the rage that bubbles in his chest. He wants to lash out, he wants to hold her, but he can’t do either. Assumpta was still sleeping when he left her, but he simply couldn’t sit there any longer.
No man will ever make Assumpta Fitzgerald happy.
He sat by her bedside and tried to pray; for her, for him, for them both. He wanted to ask for guidance, for forgiveness. Prayer had always been his comfort. He needs comfort now.
Brian Quigley comes out of Peter’s house, and Peter stuffs down the feeling of violation. He asks Brian what he wants. Brian tells him that Peter’s home is meant for the local curate, and it’s fairly clear that’s not Peter anymore. Brian’s kicking him out. He says it’s nothing personal. He claps Peter on the arm and give him a wink, and says something about how he expects Peter now has a new place to hang his hat. But, it’s not like that. He can’t just move into Fitzgerald’s. He’s still a priest in name, even if not in spirit. He’s a priest who can’t pray. He’s fallen.
He held his limp son across his chest and shoulder, smoothed over the rounded little back, warm and solid beneath his hand. The evening was lovely; Ambrose wished he was enjoying more of it. They walked slowly down the sidewalk, an evening constitutional after a satisfying supper, or at least that’s how it had started out. But his wife began to dither on almost immediately about dying and responsibilities, and while Ambrose was the single most responsible person he knew, that didn’t seem to be enough for Niamh.
“What about Paraig?”
What about Paraig? They hardly knew Paraig. They didn’t socialize, and while Ambrose would allow that under any other definition Paraig would be considered a good friend, if not particularly close, they were talking about naming him godfather to their son, and Paraig simply wasn’t that good of a friend.
“He’s done wonders with Kevin on his own,” Niamh continued, not really needing anything more than the occasional non-committal grunt to continue the conversation on her own. It was easier to let her talk it out, to reach the logical conclusion on her own. She invariably did, anyway, sooner or later.
“Of course, Kevin’s not much of a challenge on his own. And two of them might be a bit much. Or, perhaps Kevin would be a big help to him. He is old enough to babysit now. Why don’t we ever have him babysit?”
Paraig smoked and Paraig drank too much, and he was too old to be worrying about a baby as young as Kieran. Paraig had raised his son, and Ambrose wanted to raise his own.
Down the street Ambrose spied Brian coming out of Henley’s, but not as quickly as Father Mac apparently did. Father Mac intercepted him, pulled him aside, and the two of them stood close, talking. There was something afoot there. Something nefarious, to be sure. Both men glanced around before continuing their conversation.
“Then it’ll have to be Siobhan,” Niamh said with a finality that caught Ambrose’s attention. He glanced at her. She didn’t seem terribly happy with her decision, and when she looked at him he could tell that she knew he wasn’t either. “She’s a good person.”
“Upstanding,” he agreed.
“And she’s nurturing. She’d have to be looking after all those animals like she does.”
“Of course.” And she drank too much, and was too old. And they didn’t know her any better than Paraig.
“I do wish Assumpta…” Niamh didn’t finish her thought, but she didn’t have to. After a year and a half of courting and two years of marriage, Ambrose knew his wife very well. Assumpta was Assumpta. There was no way to get around that. And no parent in their right mind would give her their child.
“Brendan’s a teacher,” Niamh said, distant and unenthusiastic. “He’s good with the children, I’ve seen it for myself. He’d make a good father, I think.”
But not as good as Ambrose, and certainly not to Ambrose’s son. And Brendan was just as old as the rest of them. And he drank.
“Siobhan and Brendan together, then?” Niamh asked, though it was clear she wasn’t really wanting an answer. They both knew that it was the only logical choice, no matter how Ambrose hated it. They would ask Siobhan and Brendan to be Kieran’s godparents, and Ambrose simply couldn’t die. Ever.
“We’ll need to ask them before the christening on Sunday. Oh, with everything that’s happened do you think that Father Peter remembers that Kieran’s christening is on Sunday?”
“Niamh, luv, he didn’t even say mass. He has other things on his mind. Father Mac will do it.” And Father Mac had apparently finished his conversation with Brian because he gave him a pleased pat on the shoulder as they walked away from each other.
“I don’t want Father Mac,” Niamh insisted. “I like Father Peter.”
Ambrose was still distracted by what was going on across the street or he never would’ve said, “Yes, well Father Peter likes Assumpta Fitzgerald a little too much now, don’t he?”
Beside him Niamh stopped dead. “What did you say?”
Niamh wasn’t a stupid woman, and she wasn’t blind. She knew as well as they all did how much Father Peter fancied the knickers off of Assumpta – and Ambrose worried that wasn’t much of an overstatement.
“I like my priests chaste,” he said, knowing that it would earn Niamh’s wrath and not caring. After all, he wasn’t the one who’d taken a priest’s vows, and he wasn’t the one breaking them. A man should live up to his promises – even the difficult ones that he later regrets. Without his word, a man was nothing.
Niamh looked at him with that one thoughtful expression he hadn’t yet learned how to read. “You don’t know that,” she said, though perhaps, perhaps she thought he did. He wasn’t about to take a chance on it, though, and he kept his tongue.
Naimh saw Father Peter up head, slowly making his way down from the church. He looked distracted, distant, and she pulled the pram over and stepped on the brake.
“I’m going to talk to Father Peter,” she told Ambrose, and ignored the face he made.
Peter didn’t seem to notice her walking straight for him, and when she called out to him, he looked up blinking. “Niamh,” he said. He didn’t seem pleased.
“Walk with me, Father?”
“Now isn’t a good-”
“Father.” She used her stern mother’s voice that always seemed to work on Ambrose, and Father Peter fell into step beside her. They headed toward the bridge.
“Do you need counseling?” he asked, almost as an afterthought. His eyes skimmed over the lazy water in the river, and he seemed almost churlish. That wasn’t like Father Peter at all. “I’m sure Father Mac-”
“I don’t want Father Mac.”
“Niamh.” He sounded very tired, very beaten, and Niamh’s heart went out to him.
“I rather think it’s something to do with Assumpta,” she said gently, but he still flashed her an irritated glance. At least he’s seen her. “I’m just guessing, of course.” He didn’t confirm or deny, and she gave him until they reached the middle of the stone bridge before she said, “Out with it, Father.”
“Please,” he said quietly, with a shake of his head. “Just…call me Peter, all right?”
“So, you are leaving the Church, then?” She had trouble keeping the disappointment from her voice.
“I can’t really talk about this with you, Niamh. It wouldn’t be right.”
“Fath – Peter. Peter. That’s going to take some getting used to.”
“Does it bother you?”
“A bit,” she admitted. “I’m sorry.”
“No. No, don’t be sorry. You’ve nothing to be sorry for.”
She stopped then, in the shade, and a cool breeze lifted the hair from her neck. “Can we speak plainly? If you’re not going to be my priest, then I do hope you will be my friend.” He smiled, and she felt a small sense of relief. “I want you to christen my son.”
His smile disappeared. “Niamh, I can’t-”
“Of course you can.”
“No, really. I can’t. I’m out of Grace.”
It took a moment for Niamh to catch her breath again, and then another moment for her brain to think of anything to say. And when she did, “Oh,” was all that came out. And then a clumsy, “I hadn’t realized,” followed. She started to walk again, just so she wouldn’t have to look at him. He followed.
“Realized what?” He sounded confused, but Niamh just shook her head, not wanting to say the words out loud. Why hadn’t Assumpta said anything to her? Hadn’t she trusted her? Assumpta was her best friend. “Niamh, hold on a moment.”
“It’s just…it’s something to get used to, isn’t it? You not being a priest. You and Assumpta. Assumpta and you. I really thought she’d tell me if anything happened. I mean, she’s never really been forthcoming about her love life. It was pulling teeth to get her to say anything at all about Enda Sullivan-”
“Niamh,” he said, in that familiar, calm, reassuring tone. “We haven’t.”
“Nothing has happened.”
He shook his head, and have her another small smile. He looked very tired, and she felt guilt for questioning him. “Oh.”
“You look relieved. You don’t approve.”
“No, no. No, it’s not as simple as that. I’ve been a Catholic all my life, Fath…Peter, and certain habits die hard. A married woman and a priest?”
“Yes, well. I’m sure the rest of the village is likely to agree with you.”
“And still…” She grinned. “It’s wonderfully romantic, isn’t it?”
“Forbidden love – it’s quite sexy, that. Oh, God, I’m going straight to hell.”
And then Peter gave her a real laugh, and she instantly felt so much better.
“Niamh, you’ve lived here your entire life. How difficult am I going to make things for Assumpta?”
“Very,” she said honestly.
“Will she lose business?”
“Yes. Though…I can’t think that Kathleen has ever willingly stepped foot in Fitzgerald’s before, so maybe not the business that really counts. BallyK will come around. Everyone likes you. And Assumpta, well, like her or not, everyone loves her here. How is she, by the way?”
“Tired. In pain, I think. The burns on her feet look painful.”
“When will she be coming home?”
“And then what will you do?”
He looked at her, and then looked away, up at the tree cover overhead, and then down the road they were walking along. With a wince and a shrug he admitted, “I don’t know, really. I’m basically unemployed, and as of Saturday, homeless.”
“What? My father has kicked-”
“He’s preparing for the new priest, I’m sure, Niamh. It’s all right.”
“You’ve got a place lined up, then?”
“Not as such, no. You wouldn’t happen to have a spare couch, would you?” She hesitated, and he quickly added, “No, no. I should’ve have asked.”
“It’s not that, Fath…Peter. It’s not you. It’s just….well…with Kieran and Ambrose…and the new baby on the way…”
“What? Another? Oh, Niamh! That’s wonderful! I hadn’t heard.”
She beamed, she couldn’t help it. “We thought to announce it the night of the food competition, but well…and then we decided we’d keep it to ourselves for a while, you know, until things settle a bit.”
“Niamh, I’m really happy for you.”
“Thanks…Peter. But it doesn’t help your problem.”
“Not a problem,” he said lightly. “I prefer to think of it as a challenge.”
“Forgive my presumptuousness, but won’t you be staying at Fitzgerald’s?”
He shook his head, and his face darkened. “I think it would be better for Assumpta if I didn’t. At least for a while and people see that I’m not about to grow horns or sprout a tail.”
Niamh linked her arm with his, and they started walking again. “That could take a while, you know.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “But it looks like I’ve got one convert.”
He’s saying good-bye as he pulls the books from the shelf, as he takes the crucifix from the wall and carefully wraps it. The boxes are getting full. When did he collect so much? He arrived with a rucksack and now he has enough to fill a house. Where will he put it all? It won’t fit in his car. He’ll have to rent storage, he decides, and then wonders where the money will come to do that.
He’s never wanted for anything, but now he wants. He’s never had any money, but now he’s poor. His vocation is gone, and now he’s unemployed. Now he’s homeless. He’s lonely. He’ll go back and sit with her tonight.
There’s a bang at the door and then the sound of footsteps running. Children, no doubt, acting out on their parents’ whispered condemnations. Rocks and sticks and hastily scrawled messages – he expects them, so they won’t be a surprise. Peter opens the door to see who it might be and is met with flames. The door’s on fire. It takes a moment for him to react, but then he runs into the kitchen and pulls the pot of boiling spaghetti off the stove, and tries to douse the flames. The only flare larger, hotter. The flames of hell, he thinks. God is angry. God has forsaken.
He runs out the back door and through the night. He forgets that he has a telephone, and he runs for help. He calls into the darkness. He cries out. Nobody hears him. He is alone.
The lights are on in Fitzgerald’s, and he rounds the corner to reach the door. They’re all there, and they stand when they see him. They know something is wrong and they’re frightened. Peter speaks, he points, and Niamh calls the fire brigade. Paraig fetches the extinguisher from behind the bar. They all rush out, and Peter follows as if in a dream. The air is cool and heavy, and he’s sweating as he reaches his little house beneath the church. It’s engulfed, and the fire is beautiful as it reaches high toward the stars above, towards the heavens. It roars as it devours, and it lights the faces of the people who have come to help. He is surrounded by friends.
He is alive, and Assumpta is alive. They are not forsaken, he thinks. They are blessed with a new beginning.
Series 4, Episode 2
It’s night, and lights flash red. The camera PANS to survey the scene; the fire brigade, police, several groups of on-lookers. We see Kathleen standing by herself, looking shaken in her night clothes and dressing gown. She crosses herself, and then catches sight of Ambrose. He meets her gaze, and starts for her, but she slips back into a cluster of people, and then hurries away. Ambrose watches her go, and then looks up at the church spire, and then the remains of Peter’s house. He checks his watch, makes a frustrated face (you know how adorable he is when he does this), and then turns and heads to his guard’s car.
The camera pulls back and we see the whole chaotic scene. Peter’s house is destroyed. Kathleen’s small figure is running down the street toward her shop.
It was late and she hated hospitals, and still Siobhan found herself at St. Andrews at one in the morning. Brendan was there, too. He left with Peter once Ambrose told him to leave the scene of the crime. Brendan could always be counted on in a crisis. It was too bad the rest of the time he was a cold fish. She smirked as she thought it. He hated when she called him that.
As she rounded the corridor corner, she saw them; Brendan tall and stately, handsome in that way that she tried not to think about too often, and Peter in a sweatshirt and jeans, smeared with ash and dried sweat, looking as haggard as she had ever seen him. Peter wasn’t a handsome man, but he was kind and he had a warm smile and an expressive face, and she had always liked him. Peter she could count on for anything, crisis or not. He was the one who finally convinced her to keep her baby, and who reminded her that she had something to offer a child; that she was worthy.
“I’m not leaving her, not with some maniac out there,” Peter said firmly. Someone burned down his house, and he was smart to think he was the target of hate. Siobhan had worried that he’d simply turn the other cheek again. It was about time Peter saw there could be real ugliness in the world. She knew he had counted everyone in town as his friend, but that simply wasn’t true. And, even if it was, friends could hurt just as deeply as a perfect stranger. Deeper.
And there were rumblings throughout BallyK of the disgraced priest and Assumpta Fitzgerald. Ballykissangel – town of the fallen angel. The name suggested that it had happened before, and would no doubt happen again. Some had used the word tawdry to describe the two of them, but Siobhan disagreed. What was tawdry about two people whose friendship shifted into something more? Into love? Just because it was forbidden by convention? It might’ve been tawdry, perhaps, if he hadn’t loved her but slept with her anyway. Tawdry would’ve been her having the love child he wouldn’t acknowledge while he sat two stools down at the local pub and pleasantly sipped his stout.
Siobhan straightened as she walked down the long corridor.
“She’s safe enough here, Peter.” Brendan’s voice was warm and deep, and Siobhan refused to give into the sigh that her heart demanded. “You’ll give her a fright if she wakes up and sees you like that.”
“I’ve got no where to go,” Peter said quietly, looking lost. “I’ve got no money, no home, no job. No vocation. What have I to offer her but scandal? Brendan, what am I doing? Why am I doing this to her?”
Brendan looked up then, and met Siobhan’s gaze. His eyes were tight, his jaw was set. He didn’t know what to say to Peter, but Siobhan did. That’s why she followed.
“Right, so,” she said. “You’re with me.”
Both men looked at her blankly.
“Peter,” she clarified. “I need a man about the house, helping to set up the nursery and do some heavy lifting – Dr. Ryan says I’ve to back off that – and you need a place to kip for a while, do you not? You cook four nights a week and do the washing up, and I’ll provide room and board until you sort yourself out. Fair enough?”
“Er…thank you.” Peter looked a little stunned as he glanced to Brendan and then back to Siobhan. “But…but Assumpta…”
“While you lads were here gaping I had a word with the guard about Assumpta’s safety.”
“Of course. That’s why we pay him, isn’t it? For times like this.”
“Times like this,” Peter echoed.
“Oh, we may be a sleepy little town, but we do have our moments.” She couldn’t help the smirk, and then the glance at Brendan. They did indeed have their moments. “Brendan will wait here until Ambrose arrives. He shouldn’t be too long now, I don’t think.”
“I…I don’t know what to say,” Peter said. He didn’t want to leave, that much was plain, but Siobhan knew he would if for no other reason than to spare Assumpta further gossip. And anyway, she’d drive him back to hospital in the morning.
“Right, so. You’re with me.”
The rain came down hard as they drove to Siobhan’s crofthouse, and Peter was lost in thoughts of Assumpta and the fire and ham sandwiches. He pushed a fist into his belly to stop the gurgle, and lamented the forgotten spaghetti sacrificed to the fire. Maybe Siobhan would offer him tea, though she seemed lost in her own thoughts behind the wheel. Years of training had him about to ask if she wanted to talk, but then he thought better of it. Who was he to offer counsel?
Her house was warm inside, and a little stuffy, but it was a welcome weight after the chill of the rain. He stood in her den, not sure what to do or say, when she pushed a towel and washcloth at him.
“Wash up and I’ll make us some tea.”
His stomach grumbled again, and he found himself nodding. Upstairs in the loo he stripped off his clothes, and looked at himself in the mirror. Old and sad, that’s how he looked. Beaten. Tired. Old. Why did she love him? What was there to love now? He wasn’t his own person anymore, he was a blank. Would he become Mr. Assumpta Fitzgerald? And if he did, would that be such a bad thing? Maybe that’s what he could offer her, though he wasn’t entirely certain what that was.
The shower helped him feel marginally better, as did the chamomile and biscuits. Siobhan left him some folded clothes on the other side of the door, and while they were too short for him, the flannel shirt and sweatpants are comfortable enough, softened through years of washings.
“Don’t let it get out that I’m wearing women’s clothes,” he quipped over his cup. “People might talk.” He got her to smile.
“I’ve only the one bed, but it’s big enough. Tomorrow we’ll clear out the nursery enough to set up the spare bed I’ve got in storage in the barn. I’m going to assume you’re too knackered to live up to your wicked reputation, Father, and play the part of a gentleman.”
He smiled for her, and then chuckled. “Wicked? Is that what they’re saying about me?”
“Yes.” And then both their smiles faded.
That night, once they were settled in the bed, blankets divided between them and lights doused, Siobhan said softly, “I am happy for you, Father. Finding someone, I mean. We don’t all get that. Everyone assumes they will, but…well…”
“Thank you,” he said, almost in a whisper. He was moved and tired, and the emotions in him were difficult to tame. “But I think, perhaps, you’re selling yourself short.”
“You’re on about Brendan.”
“He is the father of your child. And the two of you have a wonderful friendship-”
“I’m going to stop you there, Father.” She didn’t sound upset or angry, but still Peter felt he’d pushed too far. He wasn’t her priest anymore, or her confessor.
“A favor, Siobhan?”
She snorted. “Another one?”
“While we’re in bed together, would you mind not calling me Father?”
“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Assumpta sat shivering on the side of her hospital bed with her feet in a tub of cold water. She looked down at her raw toes. Cold water was the only thing that kept them from burning. “Ambrose? Why are you here?” And why wasn’t Peter? She felt small and vulnerable, two sensations she wasn’t used to, and didn’t like. She wanted Peter, and hated that she wanted him so badly.
“Just doing my job,” Ambrose said. He sat in the far corner of the room where, from the look of his uniform, she suspected he’d been all night. She knew he was smiling at her without even looking at him. She also knew he didn’t feel it. Ambrose did that a lot. It was one of the things that irritated her the most about him.
“And how is sitting in a hospital room your job? Don’t you have parking tickets to write, or something?”
“You were in the ward, you know, but the woman next to you kept screaming in her sleep – bad reaction to morphine – and Father Peter insisted you have your own room.”
“Did he?” she said, trying not to give too much away, and knowing that she had. God, where was he? She’d woken to Ambrose instead of Peter - not that she expected to wake to Peter, she tried to tell herself, except that she had. He’d been there at some point, though the memories were hazy and disjointed. His big, kind face full of worry, smiling with relief, and his warm hand on hers, on her arm, on her face. And sun. It was all a jumble in her head, but he had been there, of that she was certain…of him she was certain. So where the hell was he?
“He did…Assumpta? Are you all right? You’ve just gone very white.”
And then it hit her. Her vision tunneled and she pitched forward. She felt Ambrose catch her, and heard him yell for a nurse. There was a rush of commotion, and all Assumpta could think was breathe, breathe, breathe…
Sweat broke out on her face, and her feet began to burn again as they laid her on her back. Tears pooled in her eyes, spilled over her cheeks and into her ears. Breathe, breathe, breathe…
Someone was calling her name, but they were too far away. Hands were on her. Something was fit over her face. Where was Peter? Her feet were on fire. She was burning and screaming like a witch at the stake.
Waking up next to Siobhan wasn’t as weird as it might’ve been, and as Peter tucked into the eggs on toast she put in front of him, he thought how lucky he was to have a friend as good as Siobhan. She was a woman of quiet strength and loyalty.
She’d just taken her seat when there was a knock at the door. Peter waved her down. “I’ll see who it is.”
The morning was damp and cool, and Brendan stood on the front stoop, propping his bike up against the house. He glanced up at Peter and took a moment to take in Siobhan’s clothes. He pulled a paper bag out of the basket on his bicycle, and handed it to Peter.
“Thought these might be useful. Paraig is setting up a clothing donation box for you at the station, but I figured you’d need something in the meantime.”
“Thank you,” Peter said, and a moment of emotion caught him. He cleared his throat and quickly ducked his head, and gestured for Brendan to follow him in. Siobhan was looking at Peter when he turned, and this time he wasn’t able to look away fast enough. He was supposed to be their priest, and he’d let them down. He’d let them all down. He didn’t deserve their compassion or their friendship.
“Get dressed,” Siobhan said. Somehow she knew he needed the direction, and she gave it as easy as ordering a pint. “I’ll wash up down here. Brendan? Coffee?”
As Peter escaped up the stairs he heard a gruff, “No pillow or blanket on the couch? Siobhan? Where did he sleep?”
“Drink your coffee.”
Peter shut the door, and then locked it. He never locked doors, not even the door to his house, but he purposely pushed the little button and felt a bit better when he heard it click. Tears slipped down his cheeks, but he ignored them. He didn’t look in the mirror. A pair of trousers, a belt, and a white buttoned shirt. No shorts, but then, Peter would’ve felt odd about wearing another man’s shorts. At the bottom of the bag was a pair of black socks, neatly folded, and a toothbrush and razor. Peter’s own socks were all gone. His toothbrush and razor, gone. Inconsequential things, and still…
New beginnings, he told himself as he stripped off the borrowed clothes and put on charity. The choices he made had a cost, for both him and Assumpta. If he’d kept his tongue and not phoned her to tell her he loved her, if he’d not followed her out of the courthouse desperate for a moment alone with her, for a touch of her hand and hair, she would’ve been protected from the village’s scorn. If he’d never made a confession in Niamh’s kitchen and fallen into Assumpta’s arms, if he hadn’t turned his head and opened his mouth against the soft, sweet flesh on her neck...
If he hadn’t, then they might’ve danced around each other for years, slowly driving each other mad until either she left, or he did. He thought he had lost her once, when he returned from retreat to the news that she’d gone to London. And then he found out she’d married, and he thought he’d lost her all over again. But that was ridiculous, and he’d tried to tell himself that. He couldn’t lose something he never had. And still, it had broken his heart. Every time he looked at her that first week back, every time he had to refer to her as Mrs. MacGarvy…
And she was still Mrs. MacGarvey. And he was still a priest.
He heard the phone ring, but didn’t think anything of it. He dressed, and folded Siobhan’s clothes, and was about to brush his teeth when he heard Siobhan’s call.
“Father! Peter! Quickly!”
He dropped the toothbrush in the sink and yanked the door open – it popped unlocked. Siobhan was at the bottom of the stair, and Brendan stood behind her.
“It’s Assumpta,” she said. “I’ll take you there.”
Ambrose stood in the corridor, arms crossed, chewing on the inside of his cheek. As tired and hungry as he was, he still felt a little shaky from adrenaline. He’d never in his life heard anyone scream like that – gut-wrenching, heart stopping, agony. The nuns had run in, and then the doctors, and in the end they’d had to lay across her to hold her still while someone injected her with something that sapped her strength, and she fell into unconsciousness again. All Ambrose had been able to do was watch impotently from the side of the room, and try not to get in the way.
He looked up when he heard the footsteps running down the hall, but he knew it was Peter even before he rounded the corner. His face was red and panicked, and if Ambrose hadn’t grabbed his arm and pulled him to a stop Peter would’ve, no doubt, run right in.
“She’s better just now,” Ambrose said quickly over Peter’s protests. “Just listen. Michael Ryan is in with her. He’ll speak with us once he’s done examining her.”
“I need to see her-”
“She’s all right,” Ambrose tried to assure. “She had a fit of some sort, but-”
“Oh, my God.” Peter tried to push ahead, but Ambrose firmly held him back.
“Let me go!” They struggled until Ambrose managed to Peter back and against the wall. He might be the larger man, but Ambrose had the hand to hand combat training. And priests were basically pacifists, anyway.
“Why did you ring if you weren’t going to let me see her?” Peter angrily demanded. The vein on his forehead was bulging, and for a moment Ambrose regretted every having phoned Siobhan’s. But then he thought better of it.
“Because,” Ambrose said, “if it was Niamh, I’d want you to ring me.”
Peter looked into his eyes for a moment, and then glanced away and nodded. “Thank you,” he said quietly, and Ambrose relaxed his hold, stepped back. “That means a lot.”
“I’m not saying I approve,” Ambrose clarified, and he raised his chin authoritatively.
“You disapprove, then?” Peter asked, still not looking at him.
“I…I’m not saying that, either. But I don’t suspect that you need my approval.”
“No,” Peter agreed. “But I’ve always considered you a friend, and I do care what you think.”
“Even if it’s not what you want to hear?”
Peter slowly nodded. “You’re an honest man, Ambrose. And you’re a good husband and father.”
“And you’re a priest.”
Peter’s mouth thinned, and then he nodded again. He looked at Assumpta’s door, His expression shifted from worry to grief, and Ambrose felt something inside of him clench.
“Look,” he said, “it’s not for me to judge. But…but I’ve always considered you a friend as well…and Assumpta, after a fashion…”
The door opened just then and Dr. Ryan stepped out, a stethoscope draped over his neck. He looked at Ambrose and then Peter, and then offered them both a small smile in greeting. “I’ve sedated her, so she’s sleeping. Peter, don’t wake her.”
But Peter had already pushed past him, and into the room. She was lying on the bed looking still and peaceful, head lolled to one side, face slack. Peter slowed as he reached her bedside, and then he whispered something Ambrose couldn’t quite make out.
“She’s going to be all right, I think,” Michael said quietly to Ambrose. “But this next while is going to be rough.”
Ambrose nodded, but his attention was on Peter, who kneeled beside her bed, and bowed his head over his clasped hands in prayer. He looked like a priest, and Ambrose found that reassuring.
Then Peter sat back on his heels, and shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said, and though there was very little voice behind it, Ambrose could still hear him. He looked at Assumpta, reached out as if to take her hand, and then didn’t.
If it was Niamh, Ambrose thought. If it was Niamh.
He didn’t approve, he couldn’t, but Ambrose knelt beside Peter, genuflected. “I’ll pray with you, Father. For her and for you.”
“Not for me,” Peter muttered. “Just her. Pray for her.” His face was red, and his eyes moist.
He looked like a man in love.
Peter wore his heart on his sleeve, Brendan thought as he watched Peter run into the hospital from his seat in the back of Siobhan’s truck. He shook his head. The man lacked subtlety. Siobhan slammed her door and started toward the hospital entrance, and Brendan had to scramble out to catch her.
She seemed surprised.
“Siobhan, I…what I said back at the house-”
“Don’t fret yourself over it. I’m not.”
“It wasn’t…I didn’t mean it.”
“You were jealous,” she corrected.
He wouldn’t go that far. But he’d been surprised that she and Peter had shared a bed. It was a bit shocking, really, knowing the both of them like he did. “Of course, you know I won’t say anything,” Brendan assured. Even though nothing had happened, rumors like that could be devastating to her veterinary practice.
“I don’t really care what you do,” she said, and Brendan wasn’t quite sure how to read that remark. She didn’t sound angry, but he felt the strike of her words anyway. She was upset, maybe. Disappointed? Annoyed? When she turned toward the hospital again, he reached out and touched her arm.
“This is how it is, then?”
When she looked at him, he took a step back. No, she wasn’t angry or disappointed or flippant, but he didn’t know the expression on her face. He’d known her twenty years, and suddenly she was a stranger standing in front of him. “Siobhan, have I ruined our friendship? Is this going to be a wall between us?”
“This? You mean my baby?”
“My child. You can’t have it both ways, Brendan.”
“Both ways? And which ways are those? As I recall, when you told me we were going to be parents you absolved me of any responsibility. I didn’t absolve myself.”
Her blue eyes flickered to his for a moment, and then she looked toward the building. “What are you saying? You want to be a father to this baby?”
“I want…” He wanted things to go back to the way they were. He was too old for this; he’d been a bachelor for too many years.
“I thought long and hard before I decided to be a mother,” she said, turning and heading toward the door again. Over her shoulder she finished with, “Do the same, will you?”
“I have,” he called after her.
She stopped and met his gaze. “And?”
“How did you decide you wanted to be a mother?”
She smiled, and finally he was able to read her expression. She was sad.
He was there when she opened her eyes, sitting bent over in the chair pulled from the corner of the room with his forehead pressed into the edge of her bed. She lifted her hand, rested it on is head, and when he looked up at her she realized his hands were clasped together. She’d disturbed his prayer.
“Sorry,” she said. Her throat was scratchy. “Don’t stop.”
He shook his head. “How are you feeling?” His face softened as he smiled at her, and the dark circles under his eyes seemed to deepen.
“You look terrible,” she said. She knew she must, too. It was difficult to keep her eyes open, even for Peter.
He chuckled. “Brutally honest.”
“You’re not sleeping. You should sleep.”
He shrugged. “It’s over rated.”
“Peter,” she admonished. She reached for him, and his hand was there, in hers.
“I love you.” His smile faded as he said it, and she could feel the fear and desperation in him.
His eyes went red and teary, and she reached up to touch his face, cup his cheek, and he turned his head, placed a warm kiss in the center of her palm, and then took her hand in his. He stared at her knuckle, licked his lips. “Peter, you’re scaring me.” She was too tired to be scared. All she wanted was for him to crawl into the bed with her, and hold her close.
“I’m scaring you?” he said with a half-sob, half-laugh. “I almost lost you.”
His smile broadened a little, relaxed, and she felt content just to look at him. There was something comforting in his face, and in the way he gazed at her. “I’ve missed you,” he said. Her eyes slipped closed.
His thumb ran over the back of her hand and she gave him a little squeeze. “I’m going to be all right, you know.”
“Of course you are.”
“Sweet dreams, Assumpta.”
There was a slight warm pressure at her temple before she slipped away.
Three days with very little sleep, and Peter rested his forehead against the window as Siobhan drove him into town. The bed they’d pulled out of storage was comfortable enough, as was the room, which was slowly beginning to look like something other than a broom closet. But he still slept fitfully when he slept at all, and he still couldn’t pray.
He was to see Father Mac that afternoon, and once he picked the groceries from the list Siobhan gave him, he was going to take the bus to Cildargen. And then he was going to do whatever had to be done to be rid of the collar he felt was still choking him, even in Brendan’s borrowed shirt.
Siobhan switched off the radio in the middle of the song, and Peter glanced at her. She was a quiet woman by nature, but he couldn’t help but feel that she was a bit too quiet, even for her. He’d seen her in Fitzgerald’s on nights where she had them all in stitches for hours on end, and those times seemed very far away.
“Is everything all right?” he asked as gently as he knew how.
“So, you don’t want to talk about it?”
“Now, to which it might you be referring?” She gave him a pointed look. “Thank you, Peter, but no.”
“Sometimes it helps to talk.”
“Shall we talk about you and Assumpta Fitzgerald?”
They bumped along for a couple of moments, and Peter watched the trees go by. He did want to talk about Assumpta, and about the jumble inside him. But he couldn’t – it wasn’t right. “I’m just feeling my way through this,” he said quietly.
“As are we all.”
“I’ve only ever wanted to be a priest.”
“Did you think you’d never fall in love?” she asked, with a mild curiosity. There was no reprimand there, and no accusation, and he felt comfortable enough with his honest answer.
“Eh. I always thought I would,” she admitted. “I waited for it to hit, you know. I thought I’d be married by twenty-five. But then, twenty-five came and went, and the lads who asked me out came fewer and farther between. The night this child was conceived was the first time I’d been with a man in over a decade, and the first time I’d been kissed in nearly that long.”
“Do you love him, Siobhan?”
“I want to be loved, Father. Peter. Sorry.”
“But do you love him?”
“He’s one of my best friends on this earth.”
“Yes, but do you-”
“I don’t have an Assumpta.”
He didn’t know what to say to that, but any response would’ve been swallowed up anyway, because as they rounded the corner and headed toward the bridge into town, the street was flooded with people. And then he saw Fitzgerald’s straight ahead, and his heart dropped. Someone had thrown red paint across the front of the pub.
Siobhan pulled over, and they got out, and as they forced their way closer Peter realized that it wasn’t just paint, it was an A painted over the door, sign and windows.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” Siobhan muttered in disgusted shock, and then her eyes went wide. “Is that Assumpta?”
Peter shook his head, even as he scanned the front of the crowd. It was her. She stood with her dark hair limp and un-brushed, still in her hospital gown and huge medical boots, with a heavy cardigan that tied around her waist. Ambrose and Niamh were beside her, and all three stared up at the ruined pub. Peter practically ran to them.
She turned to him, and before he even realized he was going to do it, he opened his arms, and she stepped into them. They hugged each other tightly. “What are you doing here?” he said to the top of her head. “You should be in hospital. Assumpta, you’re going back this instant!”
“They want to drive me out,” she said to his chest, and his heart twisted.
He turned his frustration on Niamh. “Why isn’t she in hospital?”
“Once she heard about the pub she started to walk back. I thought to save her feet,” she said cattily, and Peter took the hint. She was just as worried about Assumpta as he was.
Someone in the crowd shouted, “Whore!” And Assumpta was instantly out of his arms. She turned away from him, hugging herself, and Peter looked back to see who had said it. Ambrose scanned the crowd, too, eager to nip any disturbance in the bud.
“You’re going to find out who did this,” Peter asked him.
“Of course,” he said, though he didn’t sound all that certain. But then he began to wave his arms, and disperse the on-lookers. “All right, nothing to see here,” he shouted. “You’re all blocking traffic!”
Peter stepped beside Assumpta and tried to take her arm, but she shrank from him, her wide eyes still full of the A. “Come on,” he gently urged. “Let’s go inside.”
“I’m fine,” she said with a shake of her head, but she started to hobble toward the door anyway. Her every step looked painful and by the time she made it to the bar she was out of breath and unable to hide her wince.
“Assumpta, please,” Peter pressed. Even with his help she still had difficulty climbing on to the bar stool. “Hospital-”
“Back off, God boy, I’m not going anywhere.”
“At least soak your feet,” Niamh said. “I’ll bring over some salts later. And I’ll pick up that salve from the chemist.”
“No, I’ll do it,” Assumpta insisted, though she was already leaning heavily against the bar. She looked completely knackered, and Peter was tempted to pick her up and carry her kicking and screaming back to St. Andrews.
“Let Niamh help,” he urged, with a bit more force.
“I said I’ll do it,” she bit out.
“And I said I’ll do it, so the both of you, calm yourselves,” Niamh commanded. “Peter, get her a juice.”
“No electricity,” Assumpta bitterly reminded. “They’re all off by now.”
“A fizzy water, then,” Peter said, hurrying behind the bar. There were several shelves of soft drinks, and he opened one for her and poured her a glass. When he sat it down in front of her, he crossed his arms and leaned on the bar, much like she was. But she didn’t look away, or avoid his gaze, and he looked into her eyes. Behind the gruff anger, she was frightened. And tired.
“They burned you out,” she said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was about to be kicked out anyway.”
“But it’s because of me.”
“It’s because of us,” Peter gently corrected. “And I’m not sorry. Not for any of it.”
“That’s not true,” she challenged.
“Well, not for the bits that matter,” he compromised with a grin. “I won’t regret how I feel for you. Not even for a moment.”
The door opened, and they both jumped. Siobhan looked in. “I’m off to Cildargen to run some farm visits. You’ll be here, I reckon?” she asked, nodding to Peter.
“Before you go,” Niamh said, “would you mind helping me get Assumpta upstairs and into proper clothes?”
Assumpta immediately objected, but Niamh forced her off of the stool, and Siobhan took her arm, ignoring the string of complaints and insults.
“She’s not all right,” Niamh said quietly next to Peter.
“I’ve got eyes.”
“So, what are you going to do about it?
“What can I do? Be there for her. Help her. I can’t force her back to hospital.”
“Run interference for her,” Niamh supplied. “She’s got enough to worry about, what with the pub and her health and taking care of you. She doesn’t need to deal with that rubbish outside.”
“Taking care of me?”
“Oh? Have you another career up your sleeve that I’m not aware of?”
Peter narrowed his eyes at her. “You know me better than that, Niamh. I won’t be a burden to her.”
“The pub is barely making a living for one person right now.”
“Well, I know it’s been a bit of a struggle for her, but-“
“Not a struggle, Peter. She’s barely breaking even at the end of the month. Why do you think she insisted on tending the fuses on her own? Do you have any idea what an electrician costs per hour? This place is falling down around her, and she doesn’t have a penny to spare.”
“She’s told you this?”
“Who do you think tended the pub while she was away getting herself married, and then getting herself unmarried? I’ve had to do the books, and I can tell you, Peter, there’s nothing there. I don’t know where the quid for the new paint will come from. I expect I’ll speak to my father and see if something can be arranged. And something will have to be done with the fuse box…”
“No. No, I’ll take care of it.”
Niamh raised her brows dubiously. “And just how do you expect you’ll do that, I wonder?”
“I…I don’t know.”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re as bad as her, you know that. Pride is a sin, Fath…Peter. Look, I’ll take care of it – and don’t argue. She can’t have a scarlet A on the front of the pub. It’s bad for what little business she’s likely to get after this.”
Peter is still in the darkened pub, waiting, and having a rough time of it. He paces back and forth a few times, looks up the stairs, and then heads out into the sunlight.
Outside of Fitzgerald’s. There are still a few gawkers, and people who point as they pass. The vandalism is the biggest thing that’s happened to the village in a while. Well, vandalism and the scandal of a fallen priest and the local publican getting it on – because you know they’re all talking about it, whether it’s technically true or not. Some think it’s a disgrace, some are simply disappointed because they liked Father Peter and they don’t want to have to get used to yet another priest, and some just like the gossip. There are a few who condemn it outwardly, but who love the tragic romance of it. One or two are simply in denial.
Peter hurries away from them, and finds himself heading up toward the church.
Peter walks up to his burned house. The front door is boarded up, so, he goes around to the back.
Peter steps into the charred remains of his house. PAN through the room, taking in the melted crucifix on the wall, the burned books and bible, the fallen ceiling. Peter steps around this and into the shot, and then carefully takes the stairs. The bedroom is blackened. On the chest of drawers by the door he picks up what looks like a black string, but as he runs it through his hands we see that it’s his rosary. CLOSE UP on his fist closing around it.
The rosary had been his grandfather’s. The evening he graduated seminary, Peter’s mother took him aside, and with tears her eyes she told him with a shaky voice how proud she was of him, and how much his father would’ve liked to have seen that day. And then she handed him a small white box, bound with a blue ribbon. It was the only time Peter remembered seeing his mother cry, and one of the very few times she actually said out loud that she loved him. She was a kind woman, and a nurturing woman, though not an emotional one. But Peter knew it would’ve killed her to know that he was going to leave the priesthood if the cancer hadn’t taken her first.
He looked at the white and wooden beads in his hand, worried them, wiping the smear of soot from them. At thirty, it was the soul sum of his worldly possessions, which was fine for a priest, but what did he have to offer Assumpta? Niamh was right. He couldn’t allow himself to become a burden. He needed to get a job. Something during the day so he could help her out at the pub at night. Something to bring in some money so she wouldn’t have to fret.
Still thinking of money, Peter looked up and saw Kathleen in the crowd. She saw him at just about the same time, and he was surprised. Instead of the self-satisfied, righteous smirk he expected, she looked genuinely worried. He stepped off the curb to cross to her, but she backed up and then scurried into her shop.
Paraig called out to Peter, then, and trotted over to him. “I just heard,” he said. “Is there anything I can do? How’s Assumpta? Do you need a place to stay?”
“Assumpta’s…” He let his thoughts of Kathleen go for the moment, and turned to his friend. “Assumpta’s Assumpta. Holding her own. And, no, I’m fine. I’m with Siobhan for the time being, but thanks.”
Paraig glanced back at the pub. “What a mess. Any idea who did this?”
“Ambrose is on it.”
Paraig nodded grimly. “If you think of anything I can do – dinner or anything-”
“I’ll let you know,” Peter said with a nod.
He caught sight of Siobhan coming out of the pub, and quickly excused himself before hurrying over. He gave Siobhan a wave of thanks and then ducked into the cool darkness. Assumpta wore a long, denim skirt and light jumper, along with the large and unwieldy medical boots, and was just hobbling into the kitchen with Niamh clucking behind her when Peter walked in.
“You need a rest,” Niamh scolded.
“I need a drink,” Assumpta grumbled.
Peter followed them in.
put the kettle on, but then I have to run some errands. I’ll pick up
you need from the chemist-”
“Niamh,” Assumpta groaned.
“-but you have to rest. Take a lie down. Peter here, will fetch things for you, and clear up a bit, won’t you Peter?”
“Whatever she needs.”
Assmupta did hear it, the annoyance on her face spoke volumes of what she was hearing. But she was beyond exhausted, and Peter owed Niamh a huge debt of gratitude for fighting this particular fight. Assumpta was far more likely to take her advice than Peter’s, which was mildly disconcerting when he thought about it; years of habit, he tried to tell himself, of fighting the pull that was between them – and between her and the Church.
But he wasn’t the Church anymore, he was just Peter…or he soon would be.
Assumpta took a locked box down from one of the cabinets and set it on the table before gingerly taking a seat. Niamh rolled her eyes, threw up her hands.
“You talk to her,” she said to Peter. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” And then she left.
Peter leaned on the chair next to Assumpta. “Don’t do that now,” he gently urged. “Take a rest.”
“I don’t have the luxury of rest,” she said, unlocking the box. She pulled a set of books from it, and a roll of receipts.
“Oh, Assumpta! You can’t honestly – you’re beyond knackered, and you want to settle your accounts now?”
“I have to…I’ve been away too long.”
“You’ve been in the bleeding hospital!” She looked up at him, at his language. He’d shocked her, and if he was honest, he’d shocked himself a bit, too. Peter didn’t know the last time he’d used that particular word.
“I’ll look at them later,” he told her.
“I don’t want you in my books!” she snapped, and this time it was his turn to stare. “They’re my books. It’s my pub.” Was she angry with him? Or was she hurting? A bit of both, he suspected.
“Right, then. Your pub. Got it. But Assumpta, please. Let me help. You don’t have to do this alone. Not anymore.”
She rested her head in her hand and sighed, and Peter had to fight the urge to touch her head, her hair, to try to soothe her. “Is there aspirin?” she asked.
He fetched her the tablet bottle from the spice cabinet, and a glass of water to go with it. Then he took the seat next to her. “I wish you’d go back to hospital. You’re not up for this.”
“Well, I wish someone hadn’t redecorated the front of my pub,” she quipped darkly, and then swallowed down the tablets.
“Let me help.”
“What do you know about running a pub?” She opened one of the books, and began flipping through the ledger.
“Peter, I don’t have time for this. Or the strength,” she muttered under her breath, and Peter realized she hadn’t so much as glanced at him since he came in. A sinking feeling settle in his stomach.
“Assumpta, look at me when I’m talking to you.”
She glared at him, but as he looked into her eyes, her expression softened, and she teared, looked away. That sinking feeling turned into a clench, and a bit of panic wormed through him.
“What do you want from me?” he asked, and her face crumbled. “Are you having second thoughts? In the light of day, surrounded by the entire village…and what they’ve done to the pub…it’s very different than when it’s just you and me in the safety of our circle of friends. And even they are having some difficulty with-”
“They’ve said something?” She looked horrified.
“They’re trying to understand. But then, so am I. And if you’re having second thoughts, Assumpta, I need to know.”
She swallowed, and her throat hollowed a little as she said, “Does that mean you’re having second thoughts?”
Her brows rose as if to look at him, but her gaze remained on his hand on the table. “Would you still leave the priesthood?”
“Are you asking if I’m leaving for you? I am. I’m leaving to have a life with you. I’m leaving because I’m going to marry you.”
She looked at him then, and the barest hint of a smile turned the edge of her mouth up. “Marriage.”
“I want to be your husband.”
“I have a husband,” she said.
“Yes, but you’re….when we…by the lake, when we talked…”
“We didn’t talk about marriage.”
“But, of course we…you don’t want to marry me?”
It was as if she’d dumped a bucket of cold water on him – a sensation, funnily enough, he was familiar with. He felt his cheek spasm, and he knew his eyes were round with fear because his heart was hammering in his throat. “You’re having second thoughts.”
“No, Peter, I’m not. Not at all. Nothing’s changed in how I feel about you, but…but nothing’s changed. I can’t talk about marrying you – I can’t even think about marrying you because I’m still married, and you’re still a priest, and I’ve got a pub to run-”
“I’ll help you.”
“No!” She seemed to startle herself by her intense reaction because she sat back in her chair and looked sheepishly at him. “I mean, yes. Of course, yes. But…but it’s my pub.”
“I don’t want it, Assumpta. You must know-”
“I do. Peter, I trust you. It’s not that. It’s just…” She went quiet for a moment, stared off into nothing through the table. She looked thin and so tired Peter couldn’t believe she was still upright. She looked sick. Pained.
“When I was younger,” she began again, “I thought I was going to be someone else. I thought my life was going to be something different. I thought I wanted something different. My father always told me I was going to run the pub, that it was my inheritance and my family legacy, and I thought, at sixteen, that I’d rather die. And then my father passed away, and then mom…and then the pub was mine, and I came home. It’s not what I thought I wanted, but it’s what I have. It’s all that I have.”
“Not all,” Peter whispered.
She sighed, and smiled to concede. “You’re missing my point.”
“What did you think you were going to do with your life?”
His question seemed to surprise her, and she looked at him, searched his eyes for a moment. Then she smiled and ran a hand over her face. “Just something else. Not better or worse, just…something else.”
“Let me help you upstairs. You can deal with all of this tomorrow or the next day,” Peter urged.
“You’re joking, right? I’ve got to open up in a couple of hours.”
“What?” Peter nearly came out of his skin.
“The money for the new paint has to come from somewhere.”
“Assupta! You almost died a couple of days ago! You were dead!”
“I don’t know how I’ll open without electricity, though.”
Peter pointed a stern finger at her. “You are not to touch that fuse box.”
“Hello!” A male voice called from the bar, and a few moments later Brian Quigley poked his head in the kitchen door. “Oh. There you are. I hope I’m not interrupting.” Of course, he didn’t sound anything of the sort, and he walked right in without waiting for a response. Peter was relieved he didn’t take a seat. “I heard you were up and about again. Though, from the looks of you, I’d say they sprang you early.”
“What do you want, Brian?”
“I’ve come to make an offer.”
“An offer for what?” Assumpta asked.
“Brian, this isn’t a good time,” Peter said, forcing himself to be diplomatic.
“On the contrary. I think it’s the perfect time. In light of recent events, it occurs to me that you might consider an offer on Fitzgerald’s.”
“No,” Peter said firmly.
“What kind of offer?” Assumpta asked over him.
Brian looked between them, smirked, and then addressed Assumpta. “Oh, a generous one.”
“Well,” Brian amended, “given the repairs that need to be made, and the amount of money I’d need to invest in the place before I’d be able to open it-”
“It’s open now,” Assumpta said flatly. Brian looked around, and she added through clenched teeth, “you’re in here, aren’t you?”
“Yes, well. I’m sure we can come to some amicable arrangement.”
“Make me an offer, a solid one, and I’ll consider it.”
Brian nodded, gave Peter a smug glance, and let himself out.
“Are you serious?” Peter asked her once they were alone again. “You’d sell to Quigley?” She didn’t answer, but stared down at the open book in front of her. “Assumpta…what were we just talking about? You said the pub was all…Assumpta, look at me. Do you want to leave BallyK?”
She shook her head. “I will, though. If you want to.”
“I don’t. No, of course I don’t. But it might be easier, and if you do want to go, I’ll go with you.”
She sighed, and relaxed back in the chair. “Oh, Peter. Brian’s as broke as we are. He can’t afford this place any more than I can.”
“Then why go through the motions?”
She shrugged, and her eyes slipped closed for a moment. “It’s what we do.”
“Come on,” Peter said, standing. He held out his hand to her. “Let me take you up to bed.”
Assumpta looked up at him, and raised her brows, grinning. It lit her whole face.
“To rest,” he said with a roll of his eyes, but he didn’t bother to hide his own grin.
“Too bad,” she mumbled, and slipped her hand in his.
The interior of Fitzgerald’s, the only light streams from the windows. Niamh is clearing up, wiping down tables, holding her aching back. Kevin is sweeping the floor, and Paraig is scrubbing down the bar. Peter enters from the kitchen with a tray of ashtrays, and begins distributing them.
But, I don’t understand why we’re opening the pub tonight. Especially if Assumpta’s not well enough-
Because it’s what Assumpta wants.
But, it doesn’t make any sense. There won’t be any customers. Well, other than us.
Then you tell her we’re not going to open. And while you’re at it, get her to go back to hospital, will you?
(He looks at the stairs for a moment and contemplates)
So, what time are we opening?
The lights flicker on a few times, and then stay on, and there the hum of a building coming to life. Everyone cheers.
Liam emerges from the trap door behind the bar, followed by Donal.
Thank you for that!
It’ll work for now, but I make no promises as to how
long. It’s a real
piece of work down there.
You’ll have to change out the whole system, not just the board.
There’s wire down there more than sixty years old.
It’s dangerous. Someone could get hurt.
Yes. I’ll keep that in mind.
Siobhan walks in. Paraig gives her a nod hello.
How is herself?
Is she, so? Well, that’s good. Now, what can I do to help?
In walks a tall, thin, slightly boggle-eyed man in a black priests suit and white clerical collar. His hair is curly on top, and has gone a bit frizzy. He has a broad, toothy grin that makes him look slightly manic. He approaches the bar.
What can I get you?
How about a pint? And chips? You have chips?
We have crisps.
Then crisps it is!
You’re Scottish, aren’t you?
Glaswegian! How did you know?
(he extends a bony hand, Peter shakes it)
Father Christopher O’Neill. I’m the new priest.
Ah. I’m the old priest.
Bit of a demotion, this. Yes, I’ve heard of you. Father Clifford.
Right. Thanks to you I had to endure a five hour
In the end I assured him that I have never in my life had a lascivious
thought of man or woman or animal. God, lying to a priest.
How many Hail Mary’s will I have to say for that one?
He laughs at his own joke, and looks quite mad doing it. Niamh and Ambrose share a disconcerted look, and then she puts a pint down in front of the priest. He makes a show of wiping tears from his eyes. Yes, he’s that amused.
Ah, then. He doesn’t come around here too often, I hope.
Father Mac? Er…uh, no.
That’s something then. Of course, I need lodgings. Burned my house down, did you?
Peter, however, is not amused, and gives the man a stony stare. Father Christopher doesn’t seem to either notice, or care.
Any chance there’s a room here?
YES! Twenty-five a night, including linens and breakfast.
(he raises his glass to her, and smiles insanely)
(he motions to Niamh with a jerk of his head and a glare, and she meets him near the phone)
Breakfast? What are you doing? Assumpta can’t cater to
She can’t even take care of herself.
(with a satisfied smirk)
But then, she’s got you now, doesn’t she?
Barely able to keep her eyes open, Assumpta sat on the edge of her bed and watched as Peter slowly and gently removed her ridiculous medical boots. He was tender with her, and part of her loved it. The other part wanted to reach out and hit him over the head. She wasn’t a wilting flower, and she didn’t need coddling. She didn’t want it. He had never fussed over her before, at least not overtly, and she was worried her accident would set a precedent. Yes, she was tired, but in a week, in a month she would be her old self again, and she didn’t want either of them to grow accustomed to late night foot baths.
He eased her left foot into his lap and, as he began to unravel the bandage he cradled her calf in his large, warm hand. Her skirt was pulled modestly up to just below her knees, and still she felt exposed. And part of her loved that, too.
Assumpta cleared her throat to cover her grin, and then took a deep breath. “What’s he like? The new priest?”
“Annoying.” He said it like a petulant five year-old, and she laughed a bit.
“You don’t like him. Wonder of wonders.”
“And just what is that supposed to mean?” he asked, in mock offense. He looked up at her, and she felt her smile grow. She was so transparent, so obvious. So was he.
“You wouldn’t be jealous now, would you, Peter? This new man coming in, taking over your flock, hearing the secrets you used to collect, offering guidance and wisdom while you tend my feet…”
“Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.”
“Are you suggesting-”
“No,” he said quickly, and with a smirk as he bent over his work. “He’s just not very priestly, is all.”
“Yeah, well, Father Mac probably thought the same of you.”
“And he’s disrespectful to Father Mac.”
“I’m disrespectful to Father Mac.”
He pulled the last of the bandage away and a small gasp escaped his lips. “Oh…oh, Assumpta.”
Her foot didn’t really look that bad any longer. Most of the black, dead skin had fallen away, and the new, raw skin – while still red – wasn’t quite as angry as it had been. The blisters on the bottoms of her toes were very painful, though, and the one on the ball of her foot had bled again.
“You must be in agony.”
“It burns,” she admitted. He lowered her foot into the bath he’d made, and she had to shift to allow it to sit comfortably in the water. The burn eased a bit, and the tension between her shoulders eased. Maybe she shouldn’t be so resistant to late night foot baths after all.
Peter cupped water in his hand and dribbled it down her leg, wetting and smoothing over her ankles and lower leg. “Does this help?”
When he began on her other foot, and slowly unwrapped the bandage, Assumpta realized his hand was shaking.
He didn’t respond, and when he pulled the bandage away, and he took a deep breath, Assumpta touched his head. “Are you all right? Does it look that bad?”
“I want so badly to touch you,” he whispered, not looking at her. His words were thick with emotion. But then he carefully and chastely placed her second foot in the tub and sat back on his heels. “It’s late. I’ll go.”
“Siobhan’s. I’m staying with her until you and I can get things…arranged. I traded washing up with Niamh, so she’ll cook our new curate’s oatmeal and sausage in a couple of hours-”
He went still and silent, and when he looked at her, the intensity in his eyes stole her breath away. “You know it’s not a good idea. You’re tired. I’m tired…”
“None of this was a good idea,” she said flippantly, but she felt anything but. “It hasn’t stopped us yet.”
“Something has stopped us, because I haven’t kissed you yet.”
“Oh, you noticed that?”
“Yeah.” He smiled, and as their gaze lingered, it began to fade.
He shook his head, looked back down at her feet, and pulled the salve from the table by her bed. “I’ll finish here before I go.”
“No. I can do that.”
“Let me. Please. I’ve got to do something for you.”
She touched his shoulder, and it immediately sagged. He looked back up at her, and she lightly touched his cheek, cupped his face. He pressed a kiss into her hand.
“Peter, none of this is your fault. You have nothing to atone for.”
“I love you.”
“That’s not a sin. Not even for a priest.”
“I thought I lost you. You died-”
“I love you.”
He went willingly to her, sat beside her on the bed and wrapped his arms around her. She held him as he held her, and a powerful wave of emotion crashed through her. She felt her eyes prickle and then tears formed; a lump grew in the back of her throat. Her heart hammered, and it scared her. The depth and power of what she felt – it was terrifying and thrilling, and more than she thought she could handle. She ran her hand through the hair at the back of his head, and he squeezed harder. Her lips brushed against the soft skin just below his ear, and then the stubble just beside it. She felt him shiver, and it sent a thrill through her as well. She kissed his jaw, his cheek, and hovered a breath away from the corner of his mouth.
“We’re treading close to that sin now,” she whispered.
“I want the sin.”
She pulled back to look in his eyes, but he was serious, and it frightened her. His lips trembled, a tear slipped down his left cheek.
“God help me,” he whispered.
A terrible crash shook the entire building, and they jumped into each other’s arms, and in an instant the power blinked and then went out. Peter jumped up, and silhouetted in the moonlight he pointed a finger at Assumpta.
Before she could stop him, he ran out of her flat and down the stairs.
Outside Fitzgerald’s. Night. The moon in conveniently bright as there are no streetlights and we need to be able to see the scene.
Peter runs out the door and, as he sees the front of the pub, his face one of disbelief. The camera PANS back and we see more of the front of Fitzgerald’s, and then what he’s looking at. The street is deserted except for Assumpta’s blue van, motor still running, sticking halfway out of the front of the building.
FADE TO BLACK.
Series 4, Episode 3
They destroyed her pub. For the first time in her life she was poised to be truly happy, and they destroyed her pub. It wasn’t enough to accuse her of adultery in the most public of ways, no they had to go and put a big bleeding hole in the front of her pub. And wreck her van.
“You all right, Assumpta?”
Ambrose stood next to her, and she was doing her best to ignore him, which wasn’t really that difficult, as tired as she was. And the flashing lights were a bit distracting, too. Ambrose had called in the “big guns,” as he put it, from Cildargen. He’d intended the comment to be comforting, she thought, but instead it confirmed just how worried he was. Not that she needed confirmation, all she had to do was look at him looking at the front of her pub.
“You’re insured,” Ambrose said, by way of asking.
“Yes.” She glanced over at Peter across the street, giving his statement to yet another junior officer. She was glad he was there to talk to them. Her feet ached terribly.
“Well. That’s something,” Ambrose said.
“Yeah. Thanks.” She didn’t like how satisfied he sounded. Or how calm he looked. “They’re going to move on to bombings next, aren’t they?”
“Are-are they?” His cool exterior slipped. “No, I should think not. They drove the van into the building when they knew it was empty. I shouldn’t think they were trying to hurt anyone.”
“They torched Peter’s place while he was making spaghetti. That’s attempted murder.”
He wasn’t looking quite so satisfied any longer.
“Why not come back to my house, and have yourself a lie down,” he placated. She hated it when he did that.
“You don’t look so good.”
“Well, you’re no raging beauty, either.”
“I mean it, Assumpta. It’s going to take some time for the insurance officer to turn up. Let Niamh fuss over you some. It’ll make her feel better.”
“Yes. Let’s make Niamh feel better,” she said dryly, but she didn’t move. She wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction, even though her feet burned and her head was starting to pound. “Ambrose, what’s going to be done about this?”
“Well, when the insurance money comes-”
“Not this,” she said, waving her arms at the gaping hole. “All of this! Someone’s trying to hurt us – or at the very least scare us. And they’re doing a fine job of it. And last I checked, terrorism is a crime in this country. Are they going to catch whoever’s doing this?”
“Well, of course,” Ambrose said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. He really was so naive.
“But who would do this?” She was asking herself more than him, really. The paint she might’ve expected, the angry looks and whispers behind hands she certainly had. “Any number of good Catholics are seething right now in BallyK. But who would do this? Who would…?” Emotion got the best of her, and she stopped before her voice broke. She was too tired.
“Top of the morning to you!” called a thick Scottish brogue. And then in the next moment a tall, slender man in a priest’s frock stepped beside Assumpta and whistled his amazement at the destruction before him. “Trouble parallel parking?” he asked. “I thought I heard something last night."
“You must be the new priest.”
His face lit up. “My reputation precedes me!”
“As does your description,” she said flatly.
“Fantastic! Now, what can be done here? You weren’t hurt were you?” And then he looked her up and down as if seeing her for the first time. “Good God, woman! You weren’t in there when the van hit, were you?”
Assumpta glared at him, but fatigue and pain finally won out, and she turned and limped toward Ambrose’s house, and passed Peter and the officer on the way. “I’m going to have a lie down,” she said. “I hate the new priest.”
He smirked, she knew, without even looking at him.
Niamh carefully opened the door balancing the tea tray on one hand, and peaked inside. Assumpta, on the bed with a blanket thrown over her, didn’t move. Quietly, Niamh tip-toed over to the dresser and slid the tray on it. She would need something when she woke, and Niamh thought a Nutella sandwich and a few biscuits would do nicely.
“Should I leave?”
Niamh turned to find Assumpta peaking up at her from under the quilt. She looked like a miserable little girl. “Of course not,” Niamh told her. “You rest up. I’ve brought you some lunch when you’re ready.”
“Leave Ballykissangel,” Assumpta clarified. “Peter and I, we should leave.”
“Leave?” She’d threatened to leave before, and Niamh felt the same moment of panic as she did that afternoon in the kitchen when Assumpta announced she was going to London. “You can’t go.”
Assumpta looked out the window. “We talked about it. A bit. Peter said he’d go with me, and I thought, if I sold the pub-”
“Sell the pub? Are you serious? You’re not thinking straight. You love the pub.”
“Well, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to buy it now. Except maybe your father, and I wouldn’t get very much out of him.”
Niamh sat on the bed beside her. “You’re over-tired. You’ll think differently once you’ve had a good rest.”
Assumpta didn’t say anything, but stared out the window again. It was very disconcerting to Niamh how delicate she looked, and pale, though Assumpta was generally on the pale side. Niamh went to the tray and poured a cup. “Would you like some tea?”
“Why did he have to be a priest?” It came out almost as a whisper, and Niamh wasn’t sure that she was meant to hear it. Assumpta closed her eyes. “Leo wasn’t a priest. Why couldn’t it have been him?”
“No,” Niamh agreed. “I never really understood that.”
Assumpta peaked at her. “Why Leo’s not a priest?”
“Why you don’t love him.”
“I…” She looked at her fingers and, Niamh thought, at the ring that she no longer wore on her left hand.
“Why did you never tell me how you felt about Peter?” Niamh asked and Assumpta rolled her eyes.
“You’ve got to be kidding!”
“I’m serious! There I was, practically throwing men at you-”
Assumpta scoffed, but there was a smile there. Finally. “What men?”
“Enda Sullivan for one. Was he a good kisser?”
Assumpta’s smile turned into a playful glare.
And just because Niamh knew she had her, she asked, “Is Peter?”
The glare faded then, and Assumpta looked back down at her hands.
“Oh, come on,” Niamh pressed, regretting her miscalculation. “I told you all about Ambrose when we were courting.”
“Well, we’re not courting. I’m a married woman, and he’s a…” She dropped her head into her hands. “God, why did he have to be a priest?”
“Because you wouldn’t have looked at him if he wasn’t,” Niamh told her, and Assumpta looked at her with an expression of shocked hurt. “Well, I’m sorry, but you know it’s true. Any number of eligible bachelors have sauntered through that door in the last six years, and you’ve not given even one of them a second look.”
“Any number?” Assumpta asked, outraged. “Name one!”
“What? He’s a tall, handsome man with a good job, and he’s good with children-”
“But he’s Brendan!”
“And Peter’s a priest!”
Assumpta looked away, tears welling, and head shaking. “You’re supposed to be my friend.”
“I’m sorry,” she said quickly, but Assumpta was already moving. She swung her legs off the bed and slipped her socked feet into her medical boots.
“This is why I never said anything to you,” she bit out.
“Assumpta, I’m sorry.”
“Why I never said anything to anyone. Not even Peter. There are some things that can’t be said.”
“Assumpta, please. Please stay. I’m sorry.”
“This is why I married Leo, why I thought…” Niamh stopped her from standing with a hand to her shoulder, and Assumpta sighed. “I know it’s wrong. Do you think I’m an idiot? Of course it’s wrong.”
“It’s not wrong,” Niamh said gently.
“It is. That’s why you said what you said. It’s why someone set his home on fire, and why they destroyed my pub. It’s why we can’t stay. Thank you for making it clear for me.”
“No, no, Assumpta, please. I was…I’m so sorry-”
“Niamh, you’re my closest friend in BallyK, and even you-”
“No. No, I’m very happy for you both. I am. I’m not having trouble with the idea of you and Peter together, I’m just…he’s always been Father Peter to me, and it takes a bit of squinting to see him as anything else. I’ve never really thought of priests as men. Can you imagine Father Mac kissing anyone? Can you imagine him in love? Because I can’t.”
“I don’t know. He’s just so…priestly. He’s good and nice and…I don’t know. How did you do it?” Niamh felt her face go hot as she asked, “When did you first squint at Peter?”
“What? Was it last Christmas at the party? Or…when the two of you were rehearsing that play together? Just how much did you rehearse?”
“I’m not going to be made fun of.”
“I’m not. Honestly,” Niamh said. “I’m just trying…”
Assumpta narrowed her eyes at Niamh, but didn’t object. Reluctant acceptance.
“Is he a good kisser, then? I don’t expect he’s had much practice, and Ambrose needed a bit of practice when we first started dating. Oh! I wonder how much practice he’s had at…the other.”
Assumpta dropped her head in her hands. “Niamh, stop. I know what you’re trying to do, but I’m not that sort of woman.”
“What sort of woman is that?”
Niamh rolled her eyes. They were far more alike that Assumpta wanted to admit. All women needed to talk about their love – it’s how they knew it was really happening. And Assumpta had been quiet far too long. So, Niamh looked thoughtfully up at the ceiling and tried to picture Peter in her head. He was always smiling.
“Well, he hasn’t always been a priest, has he?” Niamh said. “I wonder when he first squinted at you. Oh, God! Was it love at first sight?”
Assumpta gave Niamh an incredulous look.
No, probably not, Niamh decided. Assumpta wasn’t really the romantic type. “What was your thought when you first saw him?”
“Niamh,” Assumpta groaned.
“What? Tell me. First thought.”
“How should I know? Probably, ‘Who is this idiot walking in the rain?’” She wiped at her chin and her face lightened a bit as she remembered. “He was soaked.”
“I don’t know why I never noticed that before,” Niamh said, and when Assumpta looked questioningly at her she added, “When you talk about him, you look like you did in school.”
“How was that?”
Assumpta glanced down at her knees, and swallowed.
“He makes you happy. I know he does. In a way Leo never did.”
“In a way no one ever did,” Assumpta admitted.
“When did you fall for him?”
She shrugged. “Dunno.”
“But before you collected those signatures to keep him here?”
“I was in denial for a long time.”
“When you were giving him driving lessons? That was a long time ago. Has it really been that long?”
“I don’t know. Honestly. There wasn’t some moment when I suddenly decided that I…” She shook her head. “I didn’t want to care for him. I didn’t want these feelings. They’re confusing. Conflicting. How can I care for this man when he represents everything I despise? He’s a priest. It’s all so complicated.”
“It’s romantic,” Niamh said.
Assumpta looked doubtful. “It feels a little nauseating, to be honest.”
Niamh nodded. “That’s love.”
A flash of fear washed over Assumpta’s face, and she awkwardly stood. “I’m going-”
“Stay. Rest a bit longer.”
“I can’t. It’s all buzzing about in my head. And you have me thinking things I don’t want to think about.”
“Peter,” she said on a sigh, and her shoulders relaxed. She stared at the wall for a moment or two, before shaking herself out of it. “I’m too tired for this conversation.”
“When did you first tell yourself that you couldn’t have him?” Niamh gently asked.
Assumpta opened her mouth as if to speak, hesitated, and then, still looking at the wall said quietly. “After your Hardly A Wedding Reception. And Ambrose proposed. And you and he were sitting there, so very happy, and I’d made a killing that night in stout, and I looked about and my eyes just happened to land on Peter. And I thought, ‘Why do they always do that?’ And then I thought, he’s so…”
“Goofy. Silly. Sincere. Good. Kind. Honest.”
“He is all of those things.”
“And I told myself, ‘No. Stop looking at him. He’s the Church.’ And I couldn’t seem to stop. And then he smiled at me…and I…felt the flutter.”
“In my belly.”
“Oh! The flutter!”
“And I thought, ‘That’s about right. He’s a priest. Of course he’d have to be a priest, wouldn’t he? Look away, Assumpta.’”
“And then you looked away?”
Her hands were shaking, and she fisted them together. “Please, Father, give me strength,” she murmured under her breath. It was the hundredth time she’d done that since waking, and He has yet to answer her prayer. Kathleen stood on the street corner, watching as they boarded up the front of Fitzgerald’s, waiting for – and hoping for – some sign that God wanted her to turn around and walk away. The van had been cleared already, towed down the street to O’Kelley’s garage, but people still whispered and pointed as they passed. Father Peter stepped out of the front of the pub, winced in the sunlight, and offered a friendly wave to the snickering passers-by. They tittered and scoffed, and his face fell a little, but when he glanced at Kathleen, he offered another smile. A sad smile. He waved a little, deposited a garbage bag next to the bench by the door, and then went back inside.
God works in mysterious ways, she reminded herself, for surely that was the sign she’s asked for. Kathleen took a deep breath, prayed for strength once more, and stepped off the curb.
Father Peter was on his knees inside the dim pub, sweeping glass and debris from the floor to a small dustbin next to him. He looked up when she stepped through the hole, and though he was clearly surprised, he looked happy to see her. She couldn’t imagine why.
“Kathleen,” he said.
He hesitated for a moment, and Kathleen thought he was going to correct her, but he must’ve thought better of it, because he nodded sadly, and then went back to his sweeping.
“You’re all right, Father?”
“And…Assumpta? She’s all right, isn’t she?”
He glanced back at her, and she didn’t like how closely he studied her face. Just what was he looking for? “She’s sleeping,” he finally said. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“Oh no, Father. But…but I think I can help you.”
He sat back on his heels, and laid the hand broom on the floor. “Oh?” He looked a bit surprised, a bit suspicious, and Kathleen felt her shoulders begin to tremble. She clasped her hands tighter together.
“Well…you were very helpful to me, when my home…you helped me rebuild…and well, this is just…” The pub looked very like her house had, all broken and ruined. And his home had burned – they said he’d lost everything, absolutely everything, and she’d purposely done nothing to help, to help either of them, when they both had helped her. She hadn’t wanted to.
“At first I thought, well, serves you right. Cavorting around – and you a priest! It’s unholy. It’s not right. But, well, others have done what you…but they didn’t tell anyone. They kept it hidden, as if I didn’t know. As if God didn’t know. And, well…at least you’re honest about it, I think. Father Mac says you’re leaving the Church.”
“I’m leaving the priesthood, not the Church. I’m still a devout Catholic, Kathleen.”
“So, then…” She took a step back. He didn’t mean what she thought he meant – he couldn’t. But when he raised his brows and his stare turned pointed, she knew that he meant exactly what she thought. “I see. Well.” Completely devout. They were talking about s-e-x. She looked around, hot-faced and flustered. Several tables that used to be by the wall were smashed. “Someone could’ve been killed.”
“Kathleen, did you see who did this?”
“Will you be ex-communicated?”
“Ex-com…Kathleen. I’m in good standing with the Church. I’ve done nothing wrong – absolutely nothing wrong. I’ve talked to Father Mac and asked for a release from my vows, is all, so that I can marry the woman I love inside the Church.”
“Assumpta MacGarvey is already married.”
“But not in the Church. She’ll be granted an annulment. We’re doing it right, or as right as we possibly can, given the circumstances that we’ve found ourselves in.”
“Yes…well.” She swallowed. A priest talking about marrying, it left her sick. But then, so did the nightmares she’d had three nights running, and the guilt that had her so twisted in knots she wasn’t able to eat.
“Kathleen, if you know something about what happened here-”
“Paddy Murphy. I saw him run from your house after the fire, and again last night. He fled on his motorbike after Assumpta’s van-”
She gave him a stiff nod. The secret was out. It was no longer her responsibility. “Really? But he’s…”
“A good Catholic? We all have a different idea of what a good Catholic is these days, don’t we?”
“I did what I had to do, Kathleen. I’m sorry I’ve disappointed you.”
“It’s for God to judge, not me, I suppose. And not Paddy Murphy.”
“Thank you for telling me this,” Peter said, and so sincerely that Kathleen felt her face heat again.
“Yes, well…” She turned and picked her way back through the rubble to the safety of the outdoors.
“All I’m saying is that you could make more of an effort to help them feel accepted,” Niamh grumbled as she angrily stirred beans on the stove. Of course, that wasn’t all she was saying, but Ambrose bounced his son on his knee and kept his tongue. “It’s bad enough when total strangers say things in the streets-”
“This is Ballykissangel. There are no total strangers here.”
“-but to have your friends look at you funny, really it’s no wonder she’s talking about leaving.” She slammed the spoon on the workbench.
Ambrose cooed at his son, who looked up at him with a broad, delighted, wet smile. If only he could get Niamh to look at him like that instead of the scowl she threw him over her shoulder.
“I haven’t said anything to her,” he defended. “That was you.”
“What do you think will happen to BallyK with the two of them gone?” she asked, as if she already knew the answer.
Ambrose did, too. Nothing would happen. It never did. “Life goes on.”
“And I suppose life would go on without me as well, would it?”
“Not for me,” he said quietly. He kissed little Kieran’s fuzzy head. “I don’t really understand why you’re so upset about this. It’s not like she’s said they’re leaving. It’s only natural that they’d think about it, though, given all that’s happened.”
“Well, she thought about going to London, and look how that turned out!” Niamh slopped a couple of spoonfuls of beans into two bowls, and dropped a piece of toast from the toaster into each.
“She’s back, isn’t she? She always comes back.”
“She never should’ve left.”
He waited for her to serve them, and take her seat before he placed Kieran in his and belted him in. Then, he bowed his head and said a brief grace.
“I don’t want them to go,” Niamh said. “You’ll figure out who’s behind all this, won’t you? Of course you will.”
Ambrose took a bite, and his son fussed, so he gave up his toast. Kieran squealed with delight and tried to put the entire piece in his mouth.
“Say something to him, will you?”
“Me? What would I say?”
Niamh sighed and stared at the beans in her bowl as she slowly stirred. “You could tell him that you’re fine with it.”
“I’m not fine with it.”
“So, you want them to be miserable?”
“I want them to be who they are. A priest and a married publican. It sounds like a bad joke, doesn’t it? They weren’t born that way, you know. They made choices-”
“This is Assumpta, we’re talking about. Assumpta and Peter. Our friends. People that we care about. People that we live next to. People who have been there when we needed them. Who was it who counseled you when you thought you wanted to be a priest? We wouldn’t have Kieran if not for Peter.”
“You were almost Father Ambrose.”
“No, I never got that far.”
“We could’ve been them. Don’t you see that?”
He didn’t. He couldn’t. And suddenly he lost his appetite. He shoved his beans about as he muttered, “I love you, Niamh.”
“I love you, too,” she said miserably.
“No. I love you, but if I had become a priest, I would’ve stayed a priest.”
She glanced at him, clearly hurt. “You would’ve stayed a priest? Even if you saw me every day? Even if it would mean hearing my confession?”
“And marrying me off to some other man?”
“What?” Now she had his attention. Niamh often got emotional in arguments, but she never said anything she didn’t mean.
“And christening my son, knowing that he could’ve been yours but wasn’t? You’d stay a priest?”
“What other man?”
“You don’t think I’d stay single my whole life, do you? Just because that was the choice you made? Just because you love your honor more than me?”
“What other man, Niamh?”
“I would’ve had my Leo.”
He felt as if he’d been slapped, and it took Ambrose a moment to find his tongue. “Then…you wouldn’t have had me.”
“And that would be it?” She was on the verge of tears, and Ambrose felt emotion welling in his stomach.
“That would be-”
“Ambrose.” Peter was standing in the door, and Ambrose jumped when he said his name. “Ambrose, don’t say it.”
“We were just-”
“I know. Trust me. There are some things that can’t easily be taken back.”
Peter looked warm and smeared with ash. He stepped into the kitchen, smiled at Kieran, and then looked at Ambrose again.
“Peter, can I make you a plate?” Niamh said, while she continued to look sadly at Ambrose. He tried not to notice, but she was difficult to ignore.
“Ambrose, Kathleen stopped by Fitzgerald’s. She said she saw who set fire to my place, and who drove Assumpta’s van into the bar. Paddy Murphy.”
“Paddy?” Niamh said with a disbelieving shake of her head.
But Ambrose nodded. He knew Paddy. They’d all been in school together. “He’s fancied Assumpta for as long as I can remember,” Ambrose said. “Makes sense.”
“Sense?” Niamh objected. “But Paddy? He’s…”
Ambrose stood, placed his napkin on his plate. “Yes, people can surprise us,” he pointedly told her. If Niamh could’ve married another man, then…then he didn’t know what, but it churned something inside him. “Even people we think we know well.”
She didn’t look at him, but stiffly said, “They can.”
Ambrose turned and gave Peter a nod on his way out, and heard Niamh say, “Wait, please.”
He was about to turn again, relieved that she wouldn’t leave things so tense between then when he heard Peter say, “Of course,” and the sound of a chair being slid across the floor.
Ambrose hesitated, stinging, but didn’t turn back.
The flat was her parents’; the furniture, floor rug, even the paintings on the walls were theirs, some of them chosen and placed before she was even born. It had never occurred to her to change any of it – running the pub left little time for fanciful things like redecorating. But now that she’d spent most of the day on her couch staring at beige flowered walls and faded curtains, she wondered how much longer she was going to live in her parent’s home, and when was she going to make a home of her own. Not that she had the money for furniture or paint or carpets. Or the energy to do anything more than stare at walls. Maybe she should just sell the lot. London was generally nice in the summer.
She looked back down at the stack of papers and forms on the coffee table in front of her. It would take weeks to fill out the insurance forms. Years. Decades. She slipped off her boots and gingerly propped her feet up on top of the pile. They ached. So did her head.
There was a knock at the door, and she called for whoever it was to come in. She wasn’t about to answer it herself.
“It’s Peter!” he called from the bottom of the steps, and then she heard him bound up. The tension in her shoulders drained away.
“You’re not welcome without tea,” she said, and he smiled for her. She found herself smiling, too. How did he do that? She’d been sitting there for the better part of two hours feeling overwhelmed and out of place, and just one smile from him and already her world began to right itself.
“One pot of tea, coming up,” he said on his way to the kitchen. She heard him fill the kettle, and pull two mugs from the cabinet. “Have you eaten?” The refrigerator door opened. “You should’ve called. I could’ve brought take-away or something.” Then he reappeared in the doorway, and leaned on the jamb with his arms crossed. A slow smile spread across his face again. He nodded to the papers at her feet. “Anything I can help with?”
“Claims forms. The adjustor was here taking photos this afternoon.”
“Do you know Paddy Murphy?”
“Paddy Murphy?” That was a name she hadn’t heard in years. “How do you know Paddy?”
“He was one of my regulars.”
“That sounds like Paddy,” she said with a chuckle. “Quiet and thoughtful. I don’t think I’ve seen him since I came back from uni.”
“Kathleen said she saw him set fire to my front door.”
“What?” She couldn’t have heard him correctly.
“And she saw him running from the pub after the van ran through the front wall. She said he jumped on his motorbike and fled the scene.”
“Paddy? Paddy Murphy?”
“Ambrose has gone to talk to him.”
Assumpta looked back down at her lap, but she didn’t see anything except the round-faced, freckled boy with the soft voice chewed nails that she’d known in primary school. “I thought he’d moved,” she admitted. “Didn’t his father move to Spain, or Portugal, or someplace? He was here in town?”
“I took his confession every week.”
The kettle whistled, and Peter went to fetch it. He returned with two cups of tea, and he settled on the couch beside her. She took the offered mug. They sipped, and she watched him. When had she started missing him so badly?
“Are you going to Siobhan’s tonight?”
“Are you worried about staying alone? I could stay.”
“No. It’s safer if you don’t.”
“Is that what we’re doing? Are we playing it safe?”
“I’m sitting a bit close for safe,” he whispered so close to her ear that she shivered. And then he shifted away from her a bit. “But you’re probably right. I have to go to confession tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow’s Sunday. Mass at seven, and then confession.”
“Are you serious?”
He playfully leered at her. “I’ve willfully entertained impure thoughts.”
She couldn’t help but laugh. “Have you now? And you’re going to confess them to the new priest? How about you confess them to me instead?”
“No.” He looked at her, on the verge of laughing, too. His gaze lingered on her lips. “No, not about that. I haven’t…I’m going to confess that I haven’t prayed since your accident.”
“Oh, Peter. It’s been weeks.”
“I’m aware of that, yes.”
“It was just an accident, Peter. You know that, right? Regardless of what any number of people in this town thing, it wasn’t God-”
“I know. It’s not a question of faith. I still have my faith. But I…I don’t know how to explain this. I just can’t pray. I feel…I don’t know. I feel that I need contrition. That I need forgiveness first.”
“But for what? You’ve done nothing-”
“I’ve failed, Assumpta. I’ve failed, and I wanted to fail. I need forgiveness for not being the man that I thought I was, or the man that you want me to be.”
“Peter, you are the man I want you to be. That’s what makes this so difficult. I’ve never wanted you to stop being you. I l…”
His brows rose, and he met her gaze. “You can’t say it, can you?”
She tried to look away, but he touched her chin, and pulled it back toward him.
“I love you, Assumpta Fitzgerald.”
“I’m MacGarvey now.”
“Not in your heart.”
“No, just in London.”
“Did you ever tell Leo that you loved him?”
She shook her head. “I didn’t.”
“Maybe you don’t love me, either.”
“Desperately? Really?” Peter’s face lit up.
She felt a giddiness in her belly, and smiled down at her feet.
She had to look at him, and when she did, his mouth was a breath away from hers, and tilted, poised for a kiss. “Me, too,” he whispered, and then he pulled away, stood. From the stairs down to the street he looked back, and his face was every bit as red as hers must’ve been. “Goodnight,” he breathed. And as he walked out into the night, Assumpta touched her own lips, closed her eyes, and smiled.
The room was starting to look less like a storage closet and more like…well, not a nursery. But at least they were making progress. Siobhan sat heavily on the bed and pulled another box to her. Books, shoes and batteries. How they all ended up in a box together she’d never know. Best to clear them out, in any case.
The front door opened and closed, and then Peter called a happy, “Hello!”
“I’m in your room,” she yelled down. “Bring another rubbish bag, will you?” She glanced up at the wall, at the crucifix he’d hung over the head of the bed. It had been hers as a child, as had much of the contents of the boxes in the room. It had been a Confirmation gift from her grandmother. She liked the idea that Peter slept under it now, and that her child would someday soon.
“One rubbish bag,” Peter said as he entered, smiling. She hadn’t seen him that happy in a long while.
“And how is Assumpta?” she asked, taking the bag, and then shaking it out.
“Good. Better, thanks.” He glanced around the room. “The boxes under the window, is it?” He went for them, knelt, and began to strip off the tape.
“You look very happy, and very relaxed. Did you and Assumpta…?”
He glanced up at her with his boyish face and an innocent, curious expression. “Did we what?”
Siobhan smirked. He knew what she was asking. “Right. None of my business.”
“That hasn’t stopped half the town from asking.”
She chuckled. “You’re the best gossip we’ve had in years. And some of us need you to live vicariously through.”
“How are you feeling?” he asked, studying her a little too intently for comfort.
She pushed the shoe box away, and pulled another up from the floor. She was feeling tired. “I’m fine, Fath…Peter.”
“Is there something I can do?”
“You’re doing it,” she said as she pulled opened the next box. Magazines. Now why had she saved those?
“I mean, is there something I can do to help you and Brendan?”
“I know what you meant. And no, there’s nothing you can do.”
“You just seem miserable at a time when most women-”
“I’ve never been most women. And I’m not miserable.”
“Are you not happy about the baby, Siobhan?”
“I am. You know I am. But, it’s more complicated than that. I’m in my forties, and I live in a small town where people know I’m prone to have a few too many pints, and no one is likely to believe this child was conceived by Immaculate Conception. It’s a difficult thing to grow up a bastard in a Catholic parish.”
“So, then, you and Brendan have decided against marriage.”
“Marriage? Father, that’s never been a consideration.”
“But why? The two of you are friends – the best of friends – many a lasting marriage has been built on less.”
“He doesn’t love me.”
“And, do you love him?”
“We’ve been through this.”
“But you never seem to answer the question.”
She glanced at him, and then away. “That’s because I don’t know how I feel about him at the moment. I do miss him, though. It’s been more difficult to sit in the pub, not being able to enjoy a pint, so I’ve been avoiding it at times, and now with Fitzgerald’s closed for the immediate future…”
“Invite him here. Make him dinner.”
Siobhan had to laugh. He really didn’t know the way of things. “It’s no use.”
“But, if you have feelings for him…”
“Feelings, perhaps. But not of the sort you have for Assumpta.”
“Then what sort do you have?”
“Just…when you and she are in a room together, there’s this awareness. And when you exchange a look with her…I don’t feel that when I look at Brendan.”
“Then what do you feel?” he pressed.
“I don’t…” She’d never been good with emotions, or putting words to them. Maybe that’s why she was still alone. She stared down at the glossy magazine, at the white and brown calf looking back at her, its tongue playfully licking the side of its face. Animals had always been easier. They never required explanations.
“At the pub, when you’re sitting with Brendan, sharing a pint – or, when he came home with you that night, the night the two of you conceived – how did you feel then?” Peter asked.
“Content. Like I knew where I was, and where I belong. Comfortable.”
“You just described, nearly word for word, how my mother explained love to me. She and my father were married thirty-five years before he died.”
“I’ve also just described the company of a good dog.”
“Invite him to dinner, Siobhan. What is there to lose? At worst it will be a good meal between friends. And it’ll give the two of you a chance to talk.”
He wasn’t going to give up, she could see it in his expression, so she sighed and said, “I’ll think about it.” Then she went back to sorting.
“But why can’t I go?” Kevin asked for the hundredth time. He was a good lad, and didn’t often ask for anything, but the class trip to Manchester to see football was simply out of the question. Paraig wished it didn’t have to be.
“Because I said no.”
“But dad, everyone’s going.”
“Everyone’s not going,” Paraig told him.
“Everyone who matters,” Kevin grumbled.
“You mean Alana.”
Kevin made an embarrassed face, and Paraig tried to hide his smile. His son had finally reached the age where girls were becoming interesting. “Not just her,” he said quietly.
Alana’s father was a dentist, and her mother worked at the Cildargen library. “I’m sorry, Kevin. I’ve said no. We’re not going to discuss this again.”
They walked along the street toward the Church, Paraig too warm for comfort in his dress shirt and trousers, and Kevin sullen and miserable. “Why not have Alana over for dinner sometime?”
Kevin gave a non-committal grunt. It was more than most boys his age would give when disappointed, and Paraig once again felt blessed for his son. He put his arm around Kevin’s shoulder and gave him a playful squeeze.
“I am sorry, son.”
When they rounded the corner, and passed through the church’s iron gates, Paraig caught sight of something he thought he’d never see. Peter stood in a shirt and tie, hair meticulously in place, next to Assumpta Fitzgerald…or MacGarvey. Whatever. But it was Assumpta in a flowery frock that hung down far enough to almost cover her thick, padded boots. She looked nervous, as if she expected a bolt of electricity to strike her at any moment and, if she dared to set foot in the church, Paraig thought it might happen.
He was grinning as he passed her, and caught her eye.
“What?” she demanded.
Paraig shrugged, but this time didn’t try to disguise his amusement. What would be the point? “Guess everyone turned out to meet the new priest,” he said instead.
She grunted, and slipped a hand into Peter’s. Kevin’s eyes went wide. Paraig nodded to them, and steered his son to the cue forming to get into the church. He’d have to have a talk with him soon, so he could explain things and answer questions before his friends had a chance to.
The pews weren’t packed, but there were more worshipers than usual as they took their seats.
“So…Father Peter?” Kevin asked in a whisper.
“Uh-huh,” Paraig said, waiting for the question.
Paraig gave a small nod. “Yep.”
“Well…yeah,” Kevin said.
Paraig glanced at his son, proud that the boy was able to reason things through on his own. He had a mind in that head of his, and a heart in his chest. “So…you understand?” Paraig asked him. “You’re okay with it?”
“Yeah, I guess.” He shrugged, and then grumbled under his breath, “Adults are stupid.”
The new priest came out of the Sacristy dressed in the usual white and green robes. He looked like a scarecrow in a frock, really, all eyeballs and teeth. A hush fell over the assembly as he took his place at the podium.
“I’m Father Christopher Angus Michael Raferty Douglas Rocko O’Neill. I’ve got about forty other names, but I can never remember them, so you can just call me Father Chris. Or Father O’Neill. Or, for the adventurous, Padre.”
Peter crossed himself, took a deep breath, and began. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been…nearly a month since my last confession.” He sat back on his heels, and tried to gather his thoughts. “It’s been nearly that long since my last prayer, too.”
“Alright,” said Father Chris. “Do you have anything to confess?”
“I just did. I haven’t prayed.”
“I mean any real sins.”
Peter peered through the screen at the man in the shadows who looked bored. He was actually yawning. “Not praying is a sin, Father. I’ve not made time for God in my life – for a month.”
Father Chris sighed heavily. “Fine, then. Ye’ve not prayed. Is there anything else? Lustful thoughts, perhaps?”
“Well…yes, I’ve had lustful thoughts, but I’m not asking forgiveness for them.”
“I don’t regret them, and I don’t intend to try to stop them anytime soon.”
“I forgive you.”
“No! Not for that! I want absolution for not praying.”
“What about taking the Lord’s name in vain? Have you done that?”
“What about disrespecting your superiors?”
“I don’t – no.”
“Have you committed adultery? Murder? Theft?”
“Father, I can’t find it in my heart to pray.”
“And why is that, do you think? Guilty conscience? Have you beaten your wife?”
“What? I’m not married.”
“Your girlfriend, then? Don’t tell me it’s your boyfriend.”
“Father,” Peter said flatly, forcing himself back down to a clam, even tone. “Father, I’m asking for your help to reconnect with God.”
“Oh, you don’t need my help with that.”
“Yes, I think I do.” Peter was finding it difficult not to grind his teeth.
“You’ll pray when you’re ready.”
“That’s not how it’s supposed to work.”
“But, it’s how it does work. I’ve seen it time and time again. Man loses faith, man finds faith again. Or not. It’s a craps shoot, really.”
“I’ve not lost my faith! I love God, and I know his love. I have no doubts.”
There’s another sign from behind the screen. “Peter. Why must we play this game? We both know why you haven’t prayed.”
“Look. God trusts that you’ll make the right decision, right? That’s why He’s given you free will.”
“I have made the right decision.”
“Then why haven’t you prayed?”
“You’re saying I’ve made the wrong decision,” Peter said. Of course he did.
“I’m saying that you think you’ve made the wrong decision, or you’d be on cloud nine right now.”
“But, I love this woman.”
“Good for you, then. Do you have anything else to confess? Anything entertaining, perhaps?”
“Then I forgive you your sin of omission in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Peter emerged from the confessional into rows of gawking Catholics feeling worse than he had when he’d gone in. Eyes on him, he quickly headed for the door. He reached for his collar, and then realized it was a tie. Kathleen saw him falter. Her gaze was like ice.
Peter pushed the door open and stepped out into the sun. He yanked his tie looser and unbuttoned the top button on his shirt. Only then could he breathe.
“Peter!” Brendan called from the street. He waved his arms. “Peter! It’s Assumpta!” The look on Brendan’s face was enough to stop Peter’s heart in his chest. He took off at top speed, and Brendan ran with him.
“Siobhan called…find you...” he gasped as they ran. “She…fainted.”
“Oh, God.” They rounded the corner, passing people and comments that Peter didn’t even give a second thought. “Where is she?”
Peter slowed only to open the door, and then bounded up the stairs two at a time. Siobhan was at the top.
“She’s all right, now.”
Peter pushed past her anyway, and found Assumpta lying on the couch with Dr. Ryan kneeling beside her taking her blood pressure. He held up a finger to stop Peter.
“I’m all right,” Assumpta said, thought she looked as white as the walls. Even her lips were white.
Michael pulled the stethoscope from his ears. “What have you eaten today?”
“What did you eat last night?” When she looked blankly at him he added, “The memory’s not any better, is it?”
“What’s wrong with her?” Peter demanded. “Is the all right?”
“He’s blood pressure is low. And her heart…” Michael smiled clinically at Assumpta. “I want you to meet me at hospital in the morning for some more tests.”
“No, I can’t possibly-”
“What kind of tests?” Peter asked.
“Just some usual, run of the mill stress tests. The kind was going to run before you checked yourself out,” he said pointedly, almost fatherly to Assumpta. “The irregular heartbeat is still there which, under the circumstances, isn’t anything to worry over much about. I’d half expected it. But I want to be sure that there’s no lasting damage to the muscle tissue.”
“But I’m fine,” Assumpta protested.
“She’ll be there,” Peter assured.
Michael looked between them. “Right, then.” He gave Assumpta stern look. “And, I want someone to stay with you tonight.”
“What? No! I’m all right!”
“So, there is something wrong.”
“No, no. But, I want someone here to fetch things for her, lift heavy objects. There’s to be nothing at all strenuous,” he said to Assumpta. “Do you hear me?”
“You’re stressing me out right now,” she grumbled, but Michael continued over her.
“And, I want you monitored. If you faint again I want someone here – preferably to catch you. Your brain has had enough trauma for the moment.”
“I do not need a babysitter.”
“I can stay,” Brendan said. Peter had forgotten he was even there, and he was about to object when Brendan raised his brows expectantly at him. They all knew where Peter wanted to be, and they all knew why he couldn’t.
“Good,” Michael said. “And see that she eats something, will you?” He looked back down at Assumpta. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“I’ll just run home and pack an overnight bag,” Brendan said, and Siobhan glanced at Peter before touching Brendan’s arm.
“Erm, Brendan…a word?”
They followed Dr. Ryan out, and Peter knelt down next to Assumpta, took her hand.
“Do you feel sick?” he asked.
“I’m fine.” She touched his face, and he felt his eyes water. All the fear in him, the panic as he sprinted down the street balled into an anxious sort of relief. “Honestly. Peter, I’d tell you if there was something to worry about.”
“I could stay with you.”
“There’s no need.”
He turned away to inhale deeply.
“Peter, what is it?”
He smiled for her. “I love the way you say my name.”
“I know. I love the way you say mine.”
There was something in her voice, some easiness that he rarely heard in her that pulled him towards her. He smoothed the hair from her forehead, ran a finger over the back of her ear. Her mouth was slightly open, and her eyes hooded as they followed his.
“Assumpta, I can’t do this.”
Her thin brows furrowed. “Do what? Peter?”
“I should walk out that door now. I should hurry on to the streets and parade around until half a dozen people notice me and see me head off away from here. But, when I look at you, when I touch you, suddenly I don’t care what the rest of the town thinks – or, at least I don’t care as much as I want to stay with you. It’s none of their business if I stay the night in your flat, or even your bed. We’re grown people.”
“But it’s not only us that we have to think about.”
“I don’t like being jealous of Brendan.”
“No, and I don’t like being jealous of Siobhan. But this is temporary, yeah?”
“How temporary? Have you spoken to Leo?”
“Erm…not really, no.”
That was not the answer Peter had expected, and he sat back on his heels, trying to process what it meant. “Are you going to?”
“Don’t worry. He knows our marriage is finished. He even asked if I wanted an annulment. But he also asked if I wanted you.”
“And what did you tell him?”
She looked away, sighed, and covered her face with her hand. Then she peeked at him. “It was a difficult conversation. And, it was before I knew how you felt. I thought you’d closed the door on me. That’s it, you said. And I thought that was it.”
“I really thought I was doing the right thing. The right thing for both of us. I’m forever trying to do the right thing. Even now, even when I don’t want to.”
“That’s because you’re a good man, Peter Clifford. You’re the best man I’ve ever known. I told Leo then that what I feel for you, I could never feel for him.”
A bubble of warmth and affection burst in him, and Peter felt himself grin like a fool. “What did he say to that? Do I need to watch my back?” He gave her a little chuckle.
“He begged me to stay in London. He said I needed some time away from you, and I agreed. I almost stayed, because coming back meant seeing you every day, knowing I’d ruined my marriage because I cared for a man who would never have me. That’s what makes it all so horrible. Leo feels for me the way I feel for you, Peter. And I know how he felt when I told him we were finished, because I know how I felt when you told me. I knew what I was doing to him, and I did it anyway.”
She took a breath, and stared up at the ceiling. “He was my best friend for a long time, and I’ve hurt him in the most intimate, painful way possible. I choose you, Peter, but I’m still married to him. And, as much as I want you here, in my home…and in my bed…I can’t…I simply can’t do that to him.”
Peter nodded. “We’ll do it right. Of course we will. But, I don’t know how long the Papal release will take. It could be months.”
“I’ll ring Leo tomorrow.”
And for a moment the just stared at each other, relaxing into a new level of intimacy. When Peter’s eyes began to stray back down to her mouth, he cleared his throat and stood. “Right. Then,” he said, and pointed at the door. “I’ll go parade about the streets, then, shall I?”
“If you breathe a word of this,” Brendan said as he placed a plate down in front of Assumpta, and then sat beside her with his own dinner.
“Eggs on toast. Your secret’s safe with me. Anyway, who would believe me? Brendan Kearney cooking? It would spoil your confirmed bachelor image.”
“I have an image then?” he joked before taking a bite of burned banger.
Assumpta shrugged. “Don’t you?”
He glanced at her as she ripped off a corner of toast and popped it into her mouth. Did he? He liked the idea of being a confirmed bachelor, man on the town. No ties, no commitments. No responsibilities. But he wondered just how confirmed he was, and who it was that confirmed him unmarryable. And then he wondered why Assumpta had said anything at all.
“Siobhan asked you to speak to me, didn’t she?”
“Siobhan? About what?” Her confusion was genuine, Brendan decided. Assumpta simply wasn’t the type of person to misdirect.
“Never mind,” he said, and focused on his eggs. But he could feel her eyes on him, and when he glanced at her, she raised her brows expectantly.
“No,” he said emphatically, pointing an emphatic finger at her.
“Oh, come on, Brendan.”
“I don’t want to talk about her.”
“You brought her up!”
“Shall we talk about your failed marriage then?” he snapped.
Her mouth dropped opened, and she looked at him, stunned and hurt. “That’s a low blow,” she said quietly.
“It was,” he admitted, embarrassed by his outburst. Siobhan was getting to him, and he didn’t like it one bit. “I’m sorry. Very sorry.”
“Brendan,” she said sitting forward, “if she has you this wound up, why not do something about it?”
He shook his head. “There’s nothing to be done. She’s made it very clear that she wants nothing from me. Not even money for the child.”
“She said that?”
He looked down at his plate, pushed his eggs about. “I always thought she had a thing for me, you know? Since we were kids.”
“It sounds as if you have a thing for her.”
He glared at her. What did she know about it? Assumpta was the last person who should give romantic advice.
“What?” she asked defensively. “It’s a perfectly logical leap to make, after what you just said, and the fact that you happen to have fathered her-”
“I’ve known her forever,” he said. “She’s one of my closest friends. I care.”
“But you don’t love her?”
“No. I thought maybe…and then I see you and Peter, and…no. I don’t feel that for her.”
“What do you mean you see me and Peter?”
Brendan glanced at her, cocked his head. Was she really so obtuse? “The way you look at Peter. They way you’ve always looked at Peter.”
“I don’t look at him any differently than-”
“You blush when he walk in the room, Assumpta.”
“I do not blush!”
“I’ve been noticing it for some time now. When the two of you are standing too close together, and he says something to you, you give him that secret little smile of yours.”
She looked horrified. “I do not have a secret smile!”
Brendan smirked. “No, of course you don’t.”
“Well. It’s not like that for me and Siobhan.” He made a show of cutting up his sausage, though he’d lost his appetite. Assumpta played with her toast.
“What would you say…” Her voice was low and the words came out slowly. “What you say if I told you Siobhan was leaving?”
It was as if everything in the kitchen vanished and all that was left was Brendan and those two words, Siobhan and leaving. “She’s…she’s not.”
“Belfast,” Assumpta said. “There are clinics there with regular hours, and affordable childcare, and the anonymity that a city can offer and BallyK can’t.”
He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. His gaze slipped past Assumpta, past the pub’s walls, to an hour before when Siobhan had stood on the sidewalk and invited him to tea. And that was it, wasn’t it? She was going to tell him over tea that she was taking his child and leaving. “Oh, God.”
“Brendan, look at me. Brendan.”
He found it difficult to focus.
“Brendan, that panic you feel, that terrible twisting in your gut at the thought of losing her – that’s not simple friendship.”
He shook his head. “She’s leaving? When?”
“I asked you what you would say if she did, not that she actually was leaving.”
“A man doesn’t panic like that unless his heart is involved.”
“What?” He felt anger burn in his cheeks, felt his heart jump up to the back of his throat. He jumped up from his chair and shouted, “You bloody…!”
“Those were my thoughts exactly,” said a male voice, and Brendan turned to find Leo standing in the doorway. Brendan glared back at Assumpta, but she’d gone completely white again, her eyes wide, and her mouth open. She hadn’t expected him.
Leo stood still and taut. “Love what you’ve done to the place, Assumpta. I can see your plan working already. But I must say I didn’t expect you to be keeping company this late. Or, at least, with a layman. You are a layman, aren’t you, Brendan? Haven’t become a priest since I saw you last? Or, have you moved up to a cardinal, Assumpta? I understand it’s difficult for you to settle with the bloke you’ve got.”
“Leo…” Her voice sounded thin, and Brendan worried she might faint. “What are you doing here?”
“I brought the annulment papers.”
“Oh. I was going to ring…well, thank-”
“And I’ve come to beat the bloody hell out of the priest.” He looked between Brendan and Assumpta. “Either of you know where he is?”
“But maybe it’s not the priest anymore. Maybe it’s you now,” Leo said, sizing Brendan up. “Am I right? Are you shagging my wife?”
“Leo, you need to leave,” Assumpta said.
“No,” Leo told her, his angry eyes never leaving Brendan. “I’m your husband still. He’s the one who’s leaving.”
“I’ll call the guard,” Assumpta warned.
“It’s late,” Brendan told Leo, as amicably as he could. “There are no rooms here. You’ll have to go to the next town over for-”
With a guttural yell, Leo charged him, and they went flying back into the cooker. Brendan, with his height, managed to twist them around, and Leo hit the wall hard.
There was a whimpering sound, and then the heavy thud of a body hitting the floor, and Brendan turned to see Assumpta crumpled next to the table, her body shaking and rigid. He tried to get to her, but a moment later a fist slammed into his jaw. Stars blinked at the corner of his vision, and pain erupted in his mouth where he bit his tongue. Leo went after him again, and in a moment of quick thinking Brendan managed to knee him in the stomach, and then roll to the side.
“Assumpta!” he called. He started toward her on his hands and knees when Leo grabbed him again.
“Get your hands off me!” Brendan shouted. “Leo, stop! Leo! Look at her!” He felt Leo falter.
When he was free, Brendan hurried to her. He held either side of her face and pinned her head to the floor. “The guard! Across the street! He’s got a car! Hurry, we’ve got to get her to hospital!”
Leo stumbled to his feet, and then was out the door.
“Hold on Assumpta,” Brendan cooed, and a few drops of blood slipped from his lips to her forehead. “Help is on the way.”
Series 4, Episode 4
“But Of All These Friends And Lovers”
The scene opens at the hospital in Cildargen, and it’s night. Brendan sits on a waiting room chair, elbows on knees, head in his hands. When he looks up we see that his jaw is bruised and swollen. The camera PANS back and we see Leo pacing in front of Brendan looking upset and intense. Ambrose stands near the corridor, watching the others. He wears pajamas beneath a dressing gown – he was in bed when Assumpta had her seizure in the last episode (I’m going for continuity here).
We hear a door slam open.
Peter bursts through the hospital door in jeans and Siobhan’s borrowed sweatshirt, with Siobhan close on his heels. Peter looks manic, and runs to Ambrose, but then he sees Leo, and he falters. CLOSE UP on the intense look of angst/pain/shock on Peter’s face. (You know the one.)
Wondered when you’d show up.
(ignoring Leo, and turning to Brendan)
What happened? How is she? Is
she all right?
She had a fit. Mike Ryan is with
A fit? Oh,God.
Before you work yourself up, she
was conscious and talking by the
time we arrived.
By the time you arrived? You mean
she wasn’t before?
Who called you, Father?
Funny, that. My wife has a fit
not half an hour ago and someone
rings you, but when she was
electrocuted not one person thought
to let her husband know.
I’m sorry, it just…it didn’t
occur to me.
To ring me? Or that she’s my wife?
I’m not going to fight with you
She’s my wife!
Yes, but she’s my-
He nods down the corridor to Dr. Michael Ryan hurrying toward the waiting room. (I have a soft spot in my heart for Dr. Michael Ryan. He’s the one bit of sanity in BallyK.)
She’s resting. I need to run
more tests, but I think she’s
going to be all right.
Thank you, God.
You can see her now. No, Peter.
I’m sorry. Just her husband.
Slowly, a satisfied smile spreads across Leo’s face, and he goes to Assumpta’s room. Peter watches him go. (This is a good place to note that I'm not a Leo hater. In fact, I think he's a fascinating character that was completely under-utilized. Leo is a writer - so I assume he's a man of words. I was always waiting for that great monologue from him that would explain his relationship with Assumpta and give us a better insight into her complexities. Of course, Leo was there for the triangle, which made for some delicious tension and sparks of jealousy and angst, but looking back at scenes where Assumpta is rude to him, or aggressive, or acerbic, or simply ignoring his very existence, I see how patient and kind Leo was, and loyal. I think he really did love her, and that's the Leo I write.)
I want to see her.
She’s very weak. It would be
better for her if you wait until
she’s had a rest.
(pointing down the corridor)
Her husband. He has rights.
And I don’t?
No, Peter, you don’t.
I’m her priest!
Michael gives him a hard look. Peter’s not fooling anyone.
Mike, what caused the fit?
I suspect she hasn’t been taking
the medications I sent home with her.
She doesn’t seem to remember that
I prescribed them. It’s that short
term memory problem that I explained
before. She’s going to need a lot
more assistance than she’s had, and
knowing Assumpta, that’s not going
to be easy. But she can’t drive, at
least for the foreseeable future, and
she must take her medications on
time, and remember to eat. And
rest. No heavy lifting, and no
(glaring down the corridor)
Why is he here?
He says he brought annulment papers.
Oh, thank God.
(tugging at his arm)
Come on. We should go.
No. I’m not leaving.
No stress, remember?
Tell that to Leo.
I’ll stay, Peter. Let’s not
have a scene.
I’m not going to make a scene,
but I’m not leaving her.
(exchanges a look with Siobhan)
I’ll stay with him. You go and
have a rest yourself.
(handing Brendan her keys)
I’ll leave my truck with you,
so. Come on, Ambrose, you
can drive me home.
Siobhan and Ambrose leave, as does Michael, who gives Peter a warning look on his way out. Peter and Brendan exchange a glace of mutual understanding (Brendan is a smart man, and he gives the best looks), and then Peter miserably takes a seat.
Why did she have to marry him?
He’s not a bad bloke, I reckon,
but she doesn’t love him, and
she married him anyway, and now
he’s in there with her, and I’m…
You’re still a priest, Peter.
A priest who can’t pray. What
kind of a priest is that? I’m
hardly a priest.
(miserably shakes his head)
(takes the seat beside Peter)
Siobhan is making dinner for me
(at first looks annoyed at the change of subject,
but then glances at Brendan, and his expression lightens)
Is it? She’s said she doesn’t
want anything from me, but…
What do you want?
I want to know why it hurt so
bloody much when Assumpta told
me she was leaving BallyK.
Siobhan is leaving? She told you
No. At least, I don’t think
she is. I think Assumpta was
just trying to make a point –
one she damn well succeeded at –
and well…I care, Father, but
it’s never love. Is it? No.
Have you ever been in love?
I’m in my forties. I’ve fancied
a girl or two in my time.
But you don’t fancy Siobhan?
And yet, when you thought she
was going to leave-
I know, I know! It makes no
Is it at all possible that
you’re ignoring the obvious,
Love isn’t all romance and
butterflies in your stomach.
Oh, come now. I’ve seen how you
look at Assumpta.
And you’ve seen how we fight.
Yes, I have. And I suspect there
are some butterflies there, too.
My point is that-
I’m not in love with Siobhan.
And…and I’m half certain that
she’s in love with me. And if
I were to marry her, wouldn’t that
be the same as Assumpta marrying
Are you in love with someone
Then, it’s not the same.
You think I should marry her?
Well, there’s the child to think
about. The Church says-
What do you say?
It’s not for me to decide.
I’m asking your opinion.
But the Church-
The Church doesn’t know me, you
do. What do you think?
I think…I think you should examine
your feelings for her and try to look
at them as honestly and objectively
as you can. And, I think that many a
happy and successful marriage has
been based on friendship rather than
love. I also think that no one
should marry unless they really
want to, and are willing to commit
everything to that marriage.
I’ve been a bachelor a long time.
I’m going to walk.
(walks off camera)
God, what am I doing? Please help
The camera PULLS BACK to find Leo standing in the doorway.
You might’ve been honest with me.
Peter looks up, startled.
I came to you for advice. You might’ve
told me I didn’t have a chance with
You married her.
I married your wife, didn’t I?
I might’ve been all right with
it if you’d just been honest. I
love Assumpta, she’s the only
woman I’ve ever loved – will ever
love – but I might’ve been okay
knowing she chose you instead of
me if I hadn’t married her first.
I might’ve said, “Leo, you old
fool, you squandered your chance.”
It would’ve broken my heart to
see her with you, but I still
might’ve been able to live with
it, because as much as I love her,
I need her even more. She’s the
love of my life, yes, but she’s
also my best friend. No one knows
me like Assumpta. No one challenges
me, or makes me life like she can.
She’s seen me at my best, and my
absolute worst. We’ve shared
years together. Years. I might’ve
been able to walk away before,
content with friendship, if you’d
been honest and I hadn’t married
her, but you weren’t and I did, and
I won’t lose her now without a fight.
No? She’s my bloody wife, the city
of London says so, and you’ll
stay the hell away from her or,
so help me God, I’ll kill you.
Leo turns and walks back into Assumpta’s room (having finally delivered the monologue I'd hoped for). Peter watches him go, looking devastated.
Paraig’s living room. He’s sitting in his chair watching the telly, smoking a cigarette. He chuckles a little.
Kevin reluctantly enters and hovers near the door.
Erm…Dad? You said…the other
day you mentioned…about Alana…
What about her?
Well, you said…I could invite
If her parents say it’s all
right. How about Thursday for
I’m assuming you’re cooking.
Kevin quickly ducks out, leaving Paraig smiling.
Niamh’s kitchen. Niamh is at the table feeding Kieran in his highchair. There is the sound of a knock at the front door.
(calling from the other room)
Peter! I’m in the kitchen.
We hear the sound of footsteps, and then Peter steps into the door frame. He smiles, but looks miserable.
You’re just in time for lunch.
Mushed carrots and apples.
Sounds delicious, but I’ve eaten.
What can I do for you?
Oh. Right. I don’t suppose
you need a babysitter this evening.
A babysitter? What’s going on?
Nothing. Siobhan has plans for
the evening and I got the boot
is all. Just thought, seeing as
You’re welcome to stay here.
There’s a match on the teley.
I’m sure Ambrose would like the
So, why the long face? You
don’t approve of Siobhan’s
No, it’s nothing like that.
I’m quite hopeful for her, in fact.
Is that a fact? Then it must be
Assumpta. How is she doing?
Fine, I hear. She should be home
soon, if she’s not already.
Mmm. I’ve heard Leo’s back.
Back is an understatement.
What’s that supposed to mean?
Peter…Peter, she’s not back
with him, is she?
He’s going to try to woo her.
No one says woo anymore. Can you
imagine Assumpta wooed?
He’s not going to let her go.
Let her go? Is she a wild
She’s a wife.
And what? You’re worried she’s
going to perform her wifely duties?
What? No! I hadn’t even considered
that! What are you trying to do
Oh, relax, Peter. She started
refusing him favors a long time
I don’t want to hear things like that.
Well, you should. She stopped
sleeping with her husband, who I’m
given to believe is quite gifted
in that department –
Niamh! I mean it!
just after a particularly
emotional fight with you in
the Church one night.
Wait – what?
She didn’t go into specifics,
but it was suggested that
you were upset and said some
horrible nonsense about Assumpta
not being a friend. She came here
directly and had a good cry over it.
She did. And, after half a bottle
of Jamison, she came to the
conclusion that all men are beasts,
and she didn’t want to be married.
She said that?
She said it was a mistake that
she married Leo, and that it was
all your fault because you put
thoughts in her head. “What sort
of thoughts,” I asked. She was
a bit vague on that. But, she
said that she didn’t want to make
love to Leo anymore even though
he knew just how to touch her
because it made her feel like
a whore – her word – and wasn’t
it terrible that a wife should
feel that way about her husband?
And that she didn’t understand it
because she’d never felt that way
with him before – not ever - and wasn’t it
terrible that she didn’t feel
like a wife at all? And I said
it was because I was being
sympathetic, and because
she’d had so much to drink, and
she looked at me with tears
streaming down her face, and
she said, “I’ve lost him.”
“Who?” I said, “Leo?” And she said,
“Peter. He won’t talk to me.
He won’t even look at me now.
We were friends at least, and
now I’ve lost him.” And that
was the last coherent thing
she said before she started
She could never lose me. Not
even if she tried.
I’ve known Assumpta long time, Peter.
A long time. And, I’ve never
known her to drink to excess,
and I’ve never seen her cry like
that, not even when her mother
died. Leo can try to woo her all
he wants, Peter, but she’s already yours.
Paraig’s living room. He hasn’t moved from his chair. Once again Kevin slinks in the door and hovers as if to make a fast get away.
So…I was wondering…
Well…how do I ask her?
What do you mean?
Well, I can’t just walk
up to her and ask her.
She’ll say no.
Why would she do that?
Come on. You were married.
You know about girls.
(with all seriousness he now sees the situation calls for)
Oh. Yes. I see. You can’t
just walk up and ask her,
No. So, you see the problem.
I do. You can’t just ask
her, but if you don’t ask
she can’t say yes.
She can’t say no, either.
Yes, there is that risk.
But with women, there’s
always a risk, son.
I don’t know what to
say to her.
Well, what do you two
usually talk about?
(hanging his head, mumbling)
I haven’t actually talked
(turns off the telly)
Have a seat, son.
Siobhan’s kitchen. The table is trimmed and Siobhan, in a lovely silky blouse and skirt, sets a roast on a platter in the center of the table just as there’s a knock from the door. She looks over and we see Brendan’s figure behind the curtains.
Brendan enters with a bottle of wine.
Something smells wonderful.
It’s just a roast.
She pulls a tray of rolls from the oven.
(holding up the wine)
There’s a cork screw in the
Brendan fetches the cork screw while Siobhan pulls two wine glasses from the cupboard. Brian opens the wine and pours while Siobhan has a seat. Then he hands her a glass and sits opposite her. There’s a moment of awkward silence, they both smile self-consciously at each other, and then Siobhan puts a spoonful of potatoes on her plate. Brendan follows suit, and starts cutting the meat.
Assumpta’s living room. Night. Assumpta sits slouched on her couch with her feet propped up on a pillow on the coffee table. She stares anxiously at the stair leading down to the front door. Leo comes in from the kitchen.
Leo leans down to collect her cup, and Assumpta shrinks from him.
It’s cold. I was just
going to wash it up.
(self-consciously handing him the cup)
Leo takes it, and the heads back to the kitchen, but he stops short and looks at her over his shoulder.
It’s me, Assumpta. You know
me. What are you afraid of?
Why are you here?
I brought the annulment
papers. I told you that.
Oh. Right. I forgot.
You look knackered. You
should go to bed. I’ll kip on
(after a moment of studying him)
I am knackered.
Right then. Up you go.
He helps her up, and gives her a reassuring smile. She returns it, and then shuffles into her bedroom.
Paraig’s living room once again. Kevin sits on the couch looking concerned. Paraig is still in his chair.
So, you want to share a laugh
with them, but it has to be a
If you can manage clever on
a date then you’re a better
man than I. But yes, something
clever. Or, at least something
I could come up with a list.
Siobhan’s kitchen. Jazz plays in the next room, and the table is well tucked into. Siobhan, fork and knife in hand, is laughing, and Brendan chuckles himself as he talks.
…and then Paraig asked,
“Is that why you don’t drive?”
Siobhan doubles over with laughter, and Brendan joins her.
Eagan living room. Night. We see Peter’s face by moonlight. He’s lying on the couch unable to sleep, staring out the window. The baby starts crying upstairs, and Peter sighs and gets up. He slowly climbs the stairs. As he passes the door we heard Niamh from the bedroom.
It’s your turn.
(calling through the door)
I’ve got him. I’m up
Thank you, Peter!
You’d let our house guest
take care of your son?
Yes, I would.
Peter flips on the lights in Kieran’s room, and the baby is standing in his cot, howling.
(picking Kieran up)
Now, what could possibly
be that bad? Dirty nappie,
is it? No, you seem dry
enough. How about a
bottle? Would you like that?
Are you hungry, little man?
Peter sways and coos, and kisses Kieran’s head as he walks out of the shot to take the baby down to the kitchen.
Assumpta’s bedroom. Dark. Assumpta stands in her window, and is a contrast of moonlight and shadow. The curtains slowly billow around her as she stares out into the night. (This would, of course, make for a great clip in a music video, which is important to plan for in the production phase of a show, because music videos don't just make themselves, you know.)
How are your feet?
She startles, and the camera PANS to the open door, and Leo silhouetted in it.
I…no. I was sleeping but
I had a dream.
(looks back out the window)
Must’ve been a nightmare.
Leo hesitates, and then steps cautiously into the room.
Maybe we should talk about
Mm. Bad idea. If things
are all right you don’t ask
questions, and if they’re
not you don’t want to hear
I deserve that. I was a
right fool for not listening
to you that night. I’m sorry.
Yeah. I am.
Assumpta looks at him.
I was scared. Worried.
I kept thinking that once
we found our routine
everything would be fine.
Everything was not fine.
No…I wanted it to be like
that summer in Rome.
We never made it to Rome.
It was a great summer.
(smiling at the memory)
The Eagan kitchen. Peter is pacing with Kieran, who is screeching at the top of his lungs on Peter’s shoulder. Peter is looking tired and haggard.
Come on, mate. You’re not
hungry, you’re not wet – I
know I’m not much to look at but…
Niamh enters, bleary-eyed and robed.
Here. I’ll take him.
Go back to bed, I’ve got him.
He gets like this sometimes
when he’s cutting a tooth.
I’ll walk him a bit.
I’ll walk him.
Really, you don’t need to-
You need your rest. You’re
But I’m not deaf.
Niamh, I’ve got him. I’ll
take him for outside for a walk, and
you can Ambrose can get
Well, if you’re sure. Here.
Give him a biscuit. He’ll
gnaw on that a bit and tire
Niamh pulls a box from the cupboard and hands Peter a cookie.
Right. Thanks. All right,
Peter shoves the cooking in the baby’s mouth and Kieran immediately latches on to it, still whimpering a bit.
You’re a genius!
I’m a mom. You’re sure you
Now I do! We’ll just have a
nice, relaxing walk around the
block, won’t we, Kieran. There’s
a good lad.
You’ll make a good daddy.
Peter smiles at this, touched.
Siobhan’s house. There’s moody jazz on the radio, and the camera PANS across the empty kitchen, with the remains of dinner still on the table. The PAN continues into the living room, where articles of clothing are shed in a trail that leads through the living room and up the stairs.
Assumpta’s bedroom again, and she’s still by the window, but now Leo’s next to her, and they’re both looking out the window as the curtains billow around them.
Why don’t you paint anymore?
I wasn’t good enough.
Come on, Assumpta. Don’t play
that game with me, we both
know that isn’t true.
There isn’t time. I have a
full-time job trying to run
That isn’t it.
And it takes money to paint –
money that I don’t have.
You would make money painting.
And be the painting publican?
I don’t think so.
He touches her cheek, and she turns her face into his hand before looking up at him. We finally see her honest and vulnerable in that way she was with Leo that night they shared a night cap, and tried to be with Peter while he swallowed an entire glass of wine in under a minute.
It hurts too much.
I thought it might be something
(looking back out the window)
There’s too much emotion
wrapped up in my painting.
It always made me churlish.
(with a smile)
You were a challenge
when you painted. But then,
when weren’t you?
(jabs him playfully with her elbow)
You’re one to talk.
I know. I’m impossible.
(with a smile)
Does he know? Does he know
how talented you are? Does he
understand who you are on the
I’m not that person anymore.
Does he appreciate you? When
you look in his eyes do you
know him like you know me?
Assumpta drops her head and slowly shakes it no.
Then why him?
She shakes her head again.
No, luv. Tell me. Why him
and not me? You’ve already
got me, I’m right here. And
I know you – not just the
landlady bit that BallyK knows,
but the artist part of you,
too. And the lover. And the
raging philosopher. I’ve
seen you give your last fiver
to a street urchin and face
down a bike gang when they
stole your parking space.
Parking’s murder in Dublin.
I know why you hate
the Church. Does he?
Assumpta hesitates, and then again shakes her head.
I know what you’re like
first thing in the morning
before you’ve had your coffee,
and I love you anyway. I know
what you’re like when you’re
happy and painting and have
had one too many glasses of
wine. I know what you smell
like after lying in a field of
heather to watch the stars,
and what you taste like with
dew on your lips. I know what
it’s like to fight with you and
make love to you until I don’t
care who wins as long as I can
lose myself in you. You’ve
always been my best friend,
Assumpta, and no matter what
happens, you will always be
We were young together. You
can’t have that with anyone else.
Leo leans forward and kisses her lightly, gently.
I love you.
He kisses her again, one small kiss follows, and then another until she begins to kiss him back. Her arms slip up and around his neck, and as she leans into him, the kisses deepen.
The street in front of the pub. Night. Peter transfers Kieran to his other shoulder, and happens to glance up.
Assumpta’s window from the street. The room is dark, but we can clearly see Assumpta and Leo locked in an embrace by moonlight.
Peter on the street. The camera slowly CLOSES IN on him as his face shifts from open-mouthed shock to disbelief to abject horror.
SLOW FADE TO BLACK.
Series 4, Episode 5
Kieran was finally asleep, draped limply over his father’s chest. He’d been up all night, poor lamb, and now his clock would be all turned around. Ambrose was asleep, too, though Niamh understood that less. How anyone could sleep not knowing, was beyond her. She worried, and it twisted in her belly along with the coffee, Nutella toast, fried eggs and porridge. And the cake. And the ice cream – but that she blamed on the baby. It was always wanting ice cream in the morning these days.
Niamh paced the living room. Not quite seven, and already the day was a complete disaster. She was never going to forgive Assumpta, if what Peter said was true. But it couldn’t be true. It just couldn’t. He was mistaken. He’d misconstrued.
She glanced out the window just like she had every minute for the last two and a half hours, ever since Peter stormed out into the dark. Ambrose hadn’t been able to talk any sense into him, and neither had Niamh. She’d begged Peter to stay, at least until the sun came up. He hadn’t listened, and it scared Niamh. When was Peter not sensible? It scared her to see him like that. Truth be told, she’d never seen anyone like that – that completely out of control. A man in that state might do anything. Even Peter.
A door opened, and through the window sheer Niamh saw Leo step out into the morning. She couldn’t tell his expression, but he walked slowly, purposefully to his car. He unlocked it, opened the door, and then looked back at Fitzgerald’s. Assumpta was in her bedroom window, looking down at him. She raised her hand as if to wave, but touched the glass instead. And then, Leo got in his car and drove away.
Niamh didn’t even bother to dress. She hurried across the street in her robe and slippers, her hair pulled back in a braid, and was about to pound on Assumpta’s door when she thought to try the knob. Leo hadn’t locked it behind himself.
Assumpta was in the kitchen when Niamh found her, dressed in a robe of her own. Her hair was fluffy and disheveled, and her eyes looked dark against her pale face. She stared at the closed refrigerator.
“Well, then?” Niamh demanded. “Is it true?”
“Tea’s the thing,” Assumpta said, distracted and distant. In fact, Niamh thought at first Assumpta didn’t know she was there, until she added, “Would you fancy a spot of tea?” She moved to the cupboard, and pulled the tea tin down.
“Is it true? Peter’s beside himself, you know. Devastated.”
“Peter?” This seemed to spark something in Assumpta, and she turned to Niamh and met her gaze. She looked just as exhausted as Niamh felt, and…faint, maybe. Sick.
“Assumpta? Has something happened? Are you…I’ll ring the doctor.”
“Leo signed the papers.” She nodded to a bundle of folded papers on the table. “It was a rough night.”
“But…is he gone?”
“Like he was never here,” Assumpta said in a far-off sing-song. “Just like that, he signs his name and it never happened. Only the Church has that kind of power. Right? It’s Leo, and I’ll never see him again. God, Niamh. It’s Leo.”
“Assumpta,” Niamh said, stepping closer, touching Assumpta’s arm. She wanted to be sure Assumpta heard her when she said, “Peter saw you last night. Kissing Leo.”
“What? No, he couldn’t have.”
“He said he did. And then he left.”
For a moment Assumpta just looked blankly at her. Then she blinked and shook her head. “What?”
“Assumpta, he left. Ballykissangel.”
“He was out walking the baby last night, and when he came back he was in a terrible state – crying and shouting, we couldn’t get him to see reason. Ambrose thought to take his car keys, but Peter punched him in the face…or, at least he tried to. I don’t think Peter’s had much experience punching people. Assumpta, I don’t think he’s coming back.”
“No…no.” She wobbled a bit, and Niamh reached out to brace her. “No, Peter wouldn’t…he can’t leave. He wouldn’t.”
“He might. If he saw what he thinks he saw. Did you kiss Leo?”
Assumpta struggled out of Niamh’s grasp and braced herself against the workbench. She took a deep breath and shook her head still lost in disbelief. “Peter’s gone?”
“Assumpta, did you do more than kiss Leo?”
In the next moment Assumpta’s eyes lighted, and she lunged for the phone. She quickly punched in the numbers.
“Siobhan! Siobhan, is he there? Oh, oh, thank God. No, no…I’m on my way. Just…don’t let him leave. Please.”
When she hung up she turned to Niamh with tears in her frightened eyes. “You’ll drive me?”
Siobhan slowly poured milk into the tea, and stirred as she listened to the conversation playing out in her living room.
“Brendan, please. I’m asking as a friend.” Peter had calmed down considerably in the hours since he’d stumbled in, shaking and beside himself. But not enough.
“And I’m telling you as a friend – no.” Brendan was both compassionate and strong. And tired, Siobhan thought. It had been an eventful night for all of them.
“Just let me go,” Peter said, and when Siobhan glanced over at him, he was hanging his head. He still wore the wrinkled pajamas and t-shirt he’d arrived in, and his hair was a mess. “I need to go.”
“You need to speak to her,” Brendan gently insisted.
“I can’t. You know I can’t.”
“Then listen to her. Give her a chance to explain.”
“What could she possibly say? It’s better that I leave. A fight with her now would only make it harder to live with.”
“Peter,” Siobhan said as she leaned against the door jamb, tea in hand. “She might say something you want to hear. We’ve all seen how she is with you, how she looks at you-”
“And I saw how she was looking at…her husband.” He winced as he said it. “God, it’s not even like she cheated – he’s her husband. Her husband. I’ve no right to feel this…no right at all. Please, Brendan, please. I’ve got to get out of here.”
“Now, think this through, Peter. This is Assumpta we’re talking about. You know her-”
“Do I? Do any of us? She went out of town for a week and got herself married. You can’t predict a woman like her!”
“You can’t predict any woman,” Brendan grumbled, and then he glanced guiltily up at Siobhan.
“You could if you’d get your head out of your arse,” she insisted, and then she turned and went back into the kitchen. “I’ll put the kettle back on. I wish I could drink.”Brendan cleared his throat and, while she filled the electric kettle, Siobhan heard him say in a quieter, lower tone, “Peter, you do know Assumpta. Probably better than anyone in some ways.”
“I thought I did.”
“She kissed him,” Peter said in a harsh whisper.
“And you think she slept with him, too, is that it?”
“Well, what if she did? I’m not saying she did – but if she did, Peter, is that it?”
“Is what it?”
“Does that change everything? How you feel about her?”
“How I feel about her? How I feel about her?” he asked, incredulous.
“If she slept with him, but she comes here to tell you that she chooses you – that she wants you-”
“Are you mad? If she slept with him, she’s staying with him,” Peter said with finality.
“You really don’t know anything about women, do you?” Brendan said, amused. “Have you never had a girlfriend?”
Peter’s voice went sharp and hard. “She was kissing her husband. In her bedroom. At one in the morning. She’s changed her mind about me.”
“The question I’m asking is, have you changed your mind about her? Would it make a difference?”
“If she slept with him?”
Brendan nodded. “Yes.”
Peter began to say no, but then hesitated, and Siobhan peeked in at them. Brendan glanced up at her and raised his brows in acknowledgement while Peter just sat there like a lump looking miserable and exhausted. He slouched forward, elbows on knees.
“She did sleep with him, didn’t she? She made love to him.” He looked as if he might be sick on the rug. “And why wouldn’t she? She’s his wife. His wife. It’s her duty, isn’t it? The Church says-”
Siobhan stepped forward. “Peter, stop thinking about it.”
“Then it matters?” Brendan asked.
“Matters? Of course it matters!”
“Then…then you don’t want her anymore?” Siobhan asked.
Peter looked at her as if he didn’t understand a word she’d said.
Brendan sat forward, and took a deep breath. “Look, Peter, if it matters, then you need to stay and say good-bye. You need to do it right. End things properly. And if it doesn’t matter, then don’t ask her about it, because if it doesn’t matter, then it doesn’t matter. You see? The two of you move forward from here.”
And Peter did see. Siobhan could read it on his face. His eyes watered, and he dropped his head. “I can’t do this,” he muttered. “I’ve made a horrible mistake. I’ve ruined everything.”
Siobhan heard a car on the gravel drive outside, and turned to go to the front door. Behind her she heard Brendan’s soft voice say, “Yeah, I know what you mean.” Her heart dropped, and she touched her stomach as she opened the door.
Assumpta was out of the car before Niamh had it stopped, and she ran to the house past Siobhan, who stepped back and let her through. Assumpta stopped short in the living room doorway. Her face melted from panic to relief, and then to fear as she took in Peter’s state. The expression he wore was painful to look at; fear, hope, agony. Assumpta opened her mouth, closed it, and then opened it again to say, “I’m sorry.”
Peter stood by the couch, dark circles around his eyes, his hair a mess, his face shadowed with stubble. He stared at her shoes as he said, “Please, please don’t.”
She stepped to him, but he stiffened, and Siobhan was certain that if Assumpta had taken another step he would’ve run.
“Peter, look at me.”
He shook his head. “We’ve been here before. I can’t do it again.”
“It’s…it’ll be all right. You don’t have to say it. I’d rather you didn’t, actually. What I saw last night spoke volumes. Let’s just leave it at that. Mrs. McGarvey.”
“Mrs. McGarvey,” she echoed under her breath. It took her a moment of searching before she said, “Peter, you weren’t meant to see that.”
“But I did!” he shouted, and suddenly he was looking at her, glaring, furious. Siobhan had never seen him that feral, that raw. It scared her. “Do you have any idea what it does to me when I see you kiss other men?”
“What? That was a play!”
“And what was last night? Midnight rehearsals?”
She pursed her lips and took a step back. “No,” she said firmly. “No, it wasn’t. And last night I was Mrs. McGarvey.”
Brendan cleared his throat. “Peter, don’t…”
But Peter did. “I was leaving the priesthood for you!”
“And I got an annulment for you!” she snapped right back, and pulled the folded papers from the jacket pocket. She shoved them at him, and then turned to leave. “Wait.” She looked back over her shoulder. “You were leaving the priesthood? Were, Peter?”
His eyes glistened as he stared down at the papers he held still pressed against his chest. He stood dumbstruck.
“Leo left this morning,” she said, and then, as she walked to the door she said, “He won’t be back. I’m not Mrs. McGarvey anymore.”
“Assumpta,” he said to stop her. His voice waivered, and she didn’t turn to look at him. “Assumpta…did you…” He swallowed, and behind him Brendan shook his head. Siobhan held her breath. “Did you eat something? Have you eaten?”
“I don’t know,” she said after a moment.
“I love you,” he said.
Siobhan caught the small twitch of her lips, the barest hint of a smile, as Assumpta relaxed a bit, nodded, and then headed out the door.
There were no words for the depth of her exhaustion, for the weariness and grief and sense of loss that weighed down her belly, for the hum of joy and relief that swirled around the rest, or for the hope that was still kindled somewhere deep inside her. She almost lost him. She knew how very close he had been to vanishing from her life, and she suspected that if it weren’t for Brendan and Siobhan, Peter would be gone. He would’ve left without saying good-bye, and she never would’ve found him again.
Assumpta shielded her eyes from the sun that broke through the heavy clouds. It would rain again, she knew, but later. For now the air was warm and moist, and the light burned her eyes, even closed. Niamh sat up and spit one last time, then she swung her feet back into the car and pulled the door closed. For a moment she braced herself on the steering wheel.
“Better?” Assumpta asked.
“In a couple of months, maybe,” Niamh grumbled. The morning sickness bothered her more than it had for her first pregnancy. “But I don’t feel as bad as you look.”
Assumpta grimly snorted. Leave it to Niamh to tell her the brutal truth.
“What’s going to happen next? With you and Peter, I mean.”
“I don’t know,” Assumpta said.
Niamh watched her for a moment, but then gave up on whatever she might’ve said and pulled back out onto the road again. The fields on either side of them were the warm, deep green of late summer, and they rippled a bit as the wind passed over them.
“You left your annulment papers with him.”
“Assumpta, if Peter were to leave-”
“He won’t leave now. Not today.”
“I know. But, if he were, would you still mail those papers in?”
“Yes? Just like that, with no time to think about it?”
“I’ve hurt him enough.” Him being Leo.
“He would take you back,” Niamh said with a certainty that Assumpta didn’t feel. It had been a difficult, painful night, and when Leo had finally left, they had both cried.
“Do you think…could we not talk about Leo? Ever.”
She felt Niamh’s eyes on her, but Niamh remained silent.
Outside Fitzgerald’s Brian stood overseeing the last of the work Liam and Donal had done to mend the front of the pub. Fresh paint, a new window, and sign. The place looked good as new. Assumpta stared for a moment after she got out of the car. A fresh start. She couldn’t afford a fresh start.
Brian nodded to her, and she crossed her arms and walked to him.
“What do you think?” he asked, all smiles.
“Thank you,” she said. “The insurance money should be here soon.”
“Good, because the inside is another matter. And we need to talk about the wiring. We’ll have to replace the box, of course, but the rest of the place-”
“Brian, I can’t do this now.” Suddenly she felt a stone heavier, and all she wanted to do was have a lie down.
“Where’s Leo, then? I’ll discuss it with him.”
Assumpta froze. She didn’t mean to react as if she’d been stabbed, but she did feel a pain right through the center of her. The loss was profound. Leo had been a great friend to her through the happiest part of her life. He’d been the sort of friend who could turn up after years of absence and she still knew exactly what he was thinking; the sort one wanted to fall in love with, but didn’t always manage it. And now he was gone.
“Dad!” Niamh snapped. “She said not now!”
“What?” Brian said. “I heard Leo was back, and if she needs help managing her affairs-”
“I don’t need help managing my affairs.”
“But surely now that you’ve got yourself a husband, he will-”
“He won’t. Not as long as I live,” Assumpta said, and headed toward the pub’s door.
“She’ll deal with you later, Dad,” Niamh said, and then she hurried after Assumpta.
It was pleasantly cool and dark in the pub, and Assumpta sighed in relief. Niamh helped her on to a stool, and she leaned heavily against the bar.
“I’ll put the kettle on,” Niamh said before she disappeared into the kitchen, and then Assumpta was alone. She wanted to cry, to sleep, to scream, but she just sat there.
The door opened behind her, and then closed. Brian took a seat next to her, dropped his hat on the bar, and an envelope in front of Assumpta. “It’s a generous offer,” he said, “considering the amount of work I’d have to put into this place.”
“You’re making me an offer? With what?”
“That’s my problem.”
Assumpta eyed the envelope. Brian Quiggley had never made a generous offer in his life, and he certainly wasn’t about to do it when times were lean. But curiosity won out, and she pulled a folded piece of paper out. She choked.
“Is this a joke?” she asked.
Brian gave her an enigmatic grin. “You know me better than that. I never joke about money. Think about it. Talk it over with your husband…or your priest.”
Assumpta followed his gaze and found Peter standing silhouetted in the doorway, the outside light like a halo around him. She couldn’t see his face, but his stance was tense, and his hands were fists at his side.
Before she could finish the question he rushed to her, slipped an arm around her middle and pulled her up against him. He looked intently into her eyes, and he was about to kiss her when Brian gasped. Peter hesitated, his gaze slipped from her eyes to her lips, and then to Brian who looked as if he were having a heart attack; all wide eyes and gaping mouth.
“It’s always going to be like this,” Peter said in hushed tones. “You know that, don’t you?” He looked into Assumpta’s eyes again, and her stomach flopped, her chest buzzed. “People will always be watching, judging. We’ll never have anonymity. We’ll never be able to just walk down the street, holding hands like normal people. Like everyone else. Assumpta, I can’t offer you the life that Leo could.”
“I don’t want Leo,” she said, and then she reached up to gently pull his head down to hers. Their lips met, emotion burned behind her closed eyelids. His mouth was warm and soft; he pulled her tighter. But the gasp behind Assumpta startled them apart, and she turned just as Niamh fled into the kitchen.
“Niamh,” Assumpta called after her. She turned back to Peter, and couldn’t help the small smile. “I should go after her.”
Peter nodded over his own shy grin. “Yeah. I’ll deal with this one,” he said, and gestured to Brian with his shoulder.
Brian, for his part, looked as if he might be sick. “I was grossly misinformed,” he said.
In the kitchen, Niamh was furiously scrubbing the worktop with a sponge.
“Niamh? Are you all right?”
“I don’t know why it startled me,” she said, not looking up. It’s hardly a surprise.”
“It was a surprise to me,” Assumpta said. “Peter turning up so soon was the last thing I expected. And…well, it’s the first time we’ve done that.”
Niamh threw her sponge at the sink and tightly crossed her arms. “He’s a priest!”
The accusation stung. “He’s leaving the Church!”
“Has he left yet?”
Assumpta took a step back, and tilted her head in frustration. “We’ve been over this. You’re my best friend in this bleeding town, Niamh, and if you’re against us-”
“I’m not against you!” Assumpta looked dubiously at her. “Well, I’m not! It just startled me, is all.”
“This really bothers you.”
“No. Yes…no, I don’t know. Oh, Assumpta, I want you to be happy. Really, I do. I’ve wanted you to meet someone for ages now. And Peter’s…”
“Wonderful? Kind? Smart?”
“I just can’t help but see him as a priest. As my priest.”
“He’s your friend,” Assumpta insisted.
“I know. Of course he is. It’s just…it’s weird.”
“Thank you for not saying it’s wrong.”
There was a moment of stillness between them and Assumpta wondered if she was going to lose two friends in the same day. Two friends, the bar, BallyK…all for Peter. She would lose everything for a man. When had she become her mother?
Then Niamh smirked and cocked her head to one side. “So. He’s a good kisser?”
“Niamh!” Assumpta felt her face go red.
“I don’t suppose he’s had much in the way of experience. But I’m sure with some practice…”
“I think I liked it better when you were startled.”
Niamh’s smile broadened, and she stepped to Assumpta, embraced her, and whispered to her, “I hope you will always be as happy with Peter as I am with Ambrose.”
“Thank you, Niamh. You’ve no idea what that means to me.”
“How long have we known each other? I may have my moments of madness, but you are my best friend.”
As tired and over-wrought as she was, Assumpta simply couldn’t hold the tears at bay. She turned away, motioned to the door and muttered a quick, “I’ll just…” before she headed back into the bar. And then she froze. Brian and Peter were seated on stools, and Peter held the folded paper from the envelope. He shook his head.
“It’s her pub,” he said. “Her decision.”
“But, if Leo’s not, as you said, coming back…”
“I’m not your man, Brian.”
Brian sat back and gave Peter an appraising look. “So, you can take care of her when this place tanks?”
“Assumpta doesn’t need taking care of. And this place isn’t going to tank.”
Brian gave a non-committal grunt. “Maybe, maybe not. What is it you do for a living these days?”
Peter sat up and glared at Brian, then tossed the paper on the bar. Assumpta stepped forward, and both men jumped a little. “I think we’re done here, Brian,” she said, and once he looked between her and Peter, he gave a little nod.
“You don’t have to give me an answer now. Sleep on it.” He stood and collected his hat. “I’ll order the fuse box. Until it’s installed I’d avoid burning all the lights at once.” Then he eyed them both, and left.
Assumpta picked up the paper and envelope, and tucked the one into the other. She waited for Peter to ask the obvious questions, but when she looked up at him, he was smiling at her.
“I’m going to make you lunch,” he said.
“I am. And then I’m going to have a lie down, because I don’t know about you, but I’m knackered.”
“I am a bit, too.”
“Oh,” he said, pulling her annulment papers from his back pocket. “These are yours. I think they have to be mailed somewhere.”
“Yeah.” They were stiff in her hand, and the paper was warm from his body. “Peter…about last night…”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“But…but I think it does. I know it does. I almost lost you, and last night-”
“No. It doesn’t matter. How does an egg sandwich and crisps sound?” he asked as he headed toward the kitchen.
“Niamh’s having trouble with this,” she told him. When he hesitated she added, “Oh, I think she’ll come around. Just don’t be to…un-priestly.”
He smirked, stepped to her, and leaned in. A breath away from her he whispered, “I love you.”
“Yeah,” she said, giving in to a huge smile. “Like that. Very un-priestly.”
“Just wanted to be sure I had my definition straight.” He stepped away from her then, turned and went into the kitchen. “Ah, Niamh,” he said loud enough for Assumpta to hear. “And how are you on this heavenly day?” And, Assumpta’s heart tightened a little for him as she stifled a chuckle.
The afternoon was comfortably warm, and Peter watched the curtain play in the breeze. Assumpta’s couch, Assumpta’s coffee table, Assumpta’s window open and streaming with sunlight – the only thing missing was Assumpta. He lolled his head to the side to see her open bedroom door. An hour before he’d watched her disappear through it, and he had smiled and wished her a pleasant rest. Was she sleeping? Did she want a spot of tea? He could make her a sandwich. He could fetch her another blanket if she was too cool, or…no. He should let her rest. She needed rest.
He told himself that even as he walked quietly to the door and leaned against the jamb to peer in. She was on her back, a limp hand resting on her belly, head turned as she stared out the window. She didn’t look cold our hungry, and she wasn’t sleeping. She smiled a little, and without looking at him, she held out a hand to Peter.
“Sit with me,” she said.
He couldn’t resist, and he sat on the edge of her bed, hyper-conscious of where he was as he took her hand. She gave him a little squeeze.
“Can’t sleep?” he asked.
“I keep thinking about that kiss.” She looked at him then, with a soft, contented expression. “And Brian’s face.”
“And Brian’s offer?” he asked.
“Is it a good offer?” And when she cocked her head to the side, he added, “I’ve never been good with numbers. I’ve no idea what a pub might go for-”
“You want me to sell?”
“I want you to do what’s best for you,” he told her, and she looked away, somehow disappointed with his diplomatic response. He squeezed her hand. “But I’ve got to be honest, I can’t imagine Fitzgerald’s without a Fitzgerald in it.” This earned him the smallest of smiles. “I won’t pretend to know everything you’ve already given up to be with me, Assumpta, but I know it’s cost you. I know it will continue to cost you. I never wanted that.”
She tugged his arm. “Will you lay with me?”
It wasn’t a good idea, but Peter couldn’t deny her. She was asking for comfort, and he would provide all that he could. He slipped his shoes off, and rolled to her, spooned up behind her, and let her place his arm snuggly around her middle. It wasn’t sexual, he told himself, though his body responded. Her hair smelled of shampoo, her neck of soap. She sighed, and he felt the breath leave her, and he found himself inhaling in time with her.
“It’s not a good offer,” she said quietly, and then she swallowed. “But I don’t think I could get any better. Not with the repairs that have to be made.”
“Well, then,” Peter said. Then the matter was settled.
“But it would be enough for us to start over somewhere else,” she added. “If that’s what you want.”
She was thinking of him. After everything she’d been though, after everything she’d suffered because of him, she was still considering him first. He nuzzled the back of her head, kissed her hair.
“It’s your pub, Assumpta. It’s your decision.”
“It affects you now.”
“Rest now.” He kissed her shoulder. “Brian doesn’t need an answer right away.” He kissed her again, and she turned enough to meet his gaze before her eyes slipped down to his mouth. “I’ll go back to the couch, I think.”
“I’m not married anymore,” she whispered, touching his cheek.
“But I’m still ordained.”
“Peter, you’re in my bed.”
“I’ll be saying penance until I’m eighty.”
“So, we’re waiting until the Pope says we can go at it, are we?”
There was something so wicked in the way she asked it, and so exciting. Peter tried not to grin too broadly. “Just until we’re married.”
The phone rang before he could respond, and she shifted and then reached over him to answer it. Peter rolled on his back, and she stared down at him, smile forgotten, as she pulled the receiver to her ear.
“Hello,” she breathed. She was half lying on top of him, and he could feel her every inhale pressed against his stomach. Pale skin, dark curls framing her heart-shaped face and hooded eyes that suddenly went wide. “Father Mac! Erm…just a minute.” She handed him the phone mouthing, “For you.”
Father Mac was ringing for Peter at Assumpta’s home. Brian must’ve already paid him a visit. The receiver was warm from her ear, and Peter met her intense gaze as he said, “Hello?”
“Father Clifford.” The condescending sing-song shook him from his comfortable arousal, and Peter jumped up from the bed, dislodging Assumpta with a shriek of protest. Guilt pounded in his head, stole his breath, choked him as he gasped, “Father Mac!” He was a priest, whether he felt it or not, and he squeezed his eyes shut against the realization that he’d willingly gone to her bed, had lain against her, under her, wanting. He’d spend his adult life pushing those desires away, berating himself for his physical weaknesses, schooling his thoughts away from the carnal, forcing himself sexless, teaching himself to be embarrassed and ashamed for being a mere man.
“You will come to my office now.” Father Mac’s crisp command was unavoidable.
There was a click as the line disconnected. Peter stared at the phone so he didn’t have to look at her.
“Are you in trouble?”
“I don’t…” He wanted to say he didn’t care, but he did. “I have to go.”
“Peter. Peter, look at me.”
He shook his head. “I should’ve left hours ago. Father Mac shouldn’t have found me here. He shouldn’t have known to look for me here.”
“We didn’t do anything wrong. We haven’t done anything.”
“I did,” he told her.
“Do you love me?” he asked, and his chest tightened, his stomach churned. He didn’t know why he needed to hear the words, but he did.
“Peter, you know how I feel about you.”
“Do you love me?”
“Peter, look at me.”
“Tell me!” He glared at the wool rug. His face went hot. “I love you, Assumpta. I love you so…” He shook his head again. “I’ve got to go. Father Mac…” He stepped to the door, and she stopped him with a small hand to his arm.
“I do love you, Peter.” Her voice was small, frightened. “Will you look at me now?” It was a plea that touched his very soul.
Her eyes were wide and worried, and she looked at him with concern. “I love you,” she said. “I love you like I’ve never loved anyone else.”
A tear slipped from his eye as relief and joy bubbled up and over the guilt. He took her hand from his arm and lifted her fingers to his lips. Then he whispered, “I have to go.”
“I’ll be here,” she said.
She’d scrubbed the floor for most of the morning, and it was beginning to look clean again. Assumpta stood, stretched her aching back, and then caught herself on a nearby table as a moment of dizziness washed through her. She kept forgetting to stand slowly.
The hammering in the cellar stopped for a blissful moment, and Assumpta looked out the open door to the beautiful late summer day. Breezy and sunny. People chatted and laughed as they passed, and she found herself smiling. Peter was always happy on sunny days, and she expected he’d turn up any moment with a grin. She could do with a little grin from Peter. They’d left things a bit tense, and she’d half hoped he’d stop back at her place after he’d spoken with Father Mac. She understood why he didn’t, though. Her body had hummed when he’d curled up behind her and kissed her shoulder. Even now she shivered thinking about it.
Liam and Donal started hammering again, and Assumpta told herself it was all for the cause. The new fuse box meant she could open again, and she desperately needed the cash flow. It was going to be difficult for the next year, at least, but she would repay Brian for his help. She still didn’t know quite why he was doing it – though she was certain Brian Quigley never did anything that didn’t directly benefit himself. Perhaps he still thought she was going to sell to him. Assumpta glanced around at the mess. It would be easier to sell, that was for sure.
Niamh bounded through the door with Kieran on hip and a shopping bag in hand. She looked bright and sunny, just like the day outside. Pregnancy agreed with her.
“Oh, Assumpta! You shouldn’t be on your feet like that.”
Assumpta glanced down at her slippers. She’d graduated from the unwieldy medical boots, and wiggled a foot for Niamh to see. “I’m all right.”
The lights flashed on and then off again, and Assumpta nodded toward the cellar door. “Liam and Donal are righting the electrical.”
“Are you sure that’s safe?” Niamh asked, dubiously.
Assumpta shrugged. “Your father seems to think so. And besides, I promised Peter I wouldn’t touch the bloody thing again. Speaking of which, I hate to be one of those women, but…you haven’t seen him today yet, have you?”
“Peter? I haven’t. One of which women?”
“Oh, you know. The kind of woman who can’t go a whole day without seeing her…”
“Boyfriend?” Niamh supplied with a knowing grin.
“Whatever we are. I think…” She glanced down at her cloth, uncomfortable. She wasn’t normally one to share these sorts of things, but she needed to say it out loud, needed someone else to hear it to make it real. And, Niamh was looking at her with an expectant sort of excitement that Assumpta really didn’t want to disappoint. “I think he sort of proposed yesterday.”
Niamh’s eyes went wide. “Did he know?”
“I’d say he did. Sort of. Well, he said it like he assumed it would happen, which isn’t really the same thing, I supposed, and still…”
“Your stomach did cartwheels?”
“Mm, something like that. I’ve only just gotten out of one marriage, though. I’m not sure I should be so happy to jump into another one so soon.”
“But you are.”
“God help me, but I am.”
Niamh squealed in delight, and shifted Kieran to her other hip. “Will it be a Church wedding, then?”
Assumpta rolled her eyes. Leave it to Niamh to race ahead.
“And Father Mac will do the christening,” Niamh continued, though Assumpta’s face must’ve reflected the horror she felt at the thought, because Niamh quickly said, “Or Father O’Neill. I don’t know why I said Father Mac. Of course it wouldn’t be Father Mac.”
Assumpta took a step back, and when that didn’t buy her enough air, she turned and leaned on the table. “You think he’ll want a baby, then?”
Niamh’s hesitance spoke volumes. Of course Peter would want a child. Assumpta had seen him with Kieran on any number of occasions – and with that little foundling that was left on his doorstep. He was a natural nurturer and would make a brilliant father.
“Assumpta?” Niamh cautiously asked. “You want children, yeah?”
“So now it’s more than one?” She couldn’t imagine managing the pub with even one little Kieran in tow, let alone a litter.
“You’d make a wonderful mother.”
“I’d make a lousy mother,” Assumpta corrected.
“But if Peter wants one-”
“I can’t think about this right now.”
“I don’t want to be a mother.”
“Not even to Peter’s baby?”
“Look, Niamh, I’m not like you. Not all women feel that…need. And not all women would make good mothers.”
“But you could have a girl and she and Kieran could get married-”
Assumpta wasn’t in the mood for Niamh’s blind enthusiasm. She headed back toward the kitchen. “I’m done with this conversation.”
“Assumpta! I’m sorry!”
“Forget it,” she said, and let the door shut behind her. The morning’s coffee had gone cold, and the stale, bitter smell filled the kitchen. She poured it out, rinsed the pot, and then put the electric kettle on for tea. She heard the phone ring in the other room, and then Niamh answer it. When she pushed the door open, Niamh was shouting into the receiver.
“Just a moment and I’ll fetch…what? It’s a poor connection, Peter - what? Rome? You’re going to Rome? In Rome? Peter? No, let me get Assum…When will you be…Peter? Peter, hello?” Niamh looked at the phone, and then slowly hung it up.
“That was Peter?” Assumpta asked, though she didn’t need to. The stone in her chest where her heart used to be told her all she needed to know. “He’s in Rome?” He’d called to say good-bye. Assumpta felt her insides drop, her hands go cold. The Church stole him away. “Tell me he said he’d call again. Please.”
Niamh gave her an apologetic wince. “It was a poor connection.”
“Yeah. I’ll say.”
Series 4, Episode 6
“Life Goes On”
It’s night, outside Fitzgerald’s. The rain is pouring down, and the street is empty save for a lone figure hunched against the storm. We follow them into the pub where the lights are bright, and soft, popular music is playing in the background. Brendan is sitting at the bar, and he turns and brightens as the figure shakes out of her coat and we see that it’s Siobhan, looking very pregnant. She hangs up her coat at the door and gives Paraig, behind the bar, a nod. Then, she awkwardly sits on the stool beside Brendan, who helps her up.
Are you working behind the bar, now?
She’s in a mood.
Easier to do it ourselves.
He holds up two tea tins, and Siobhan chooses the Lady Grey.
She’s always in a mood these days.
Well, she’s in a foul temper tonight. She
shouted at Niamh until she cried. Of course,
Niamh seems to be crying all the time now.
Ambrose says it’s because she’s carrying again
but I don’t remember her so weepy the first time.
(nodding to Siobhan)
And she’s not weepy.
Well, thank you very much.
Breeding women do tend to be emotional.
Good God! You don’t think Assumpta’s breeding,
She’s not a heifer, and neither am I!
Brendan looks at her with a soft smile, and Siobhan seems unsettled.
Assumpta’s not pregnant. She doesn’t have
Oh, come now, Brendan. I don’t glow. I’m
fat and ugly.
Brendan Kearny! What the devil has gotten
Can’t a friend pay another friend a compliment?
If said friends are you and me, then historically,
Brendan chuckles and then happily sips his pint while Paraig slowly and inconspicuously inches away from then with a smirk on his face.
Oh, Siobhan, go on.
No, you go on. Just what are you up to?
(leaning in to her)
Nothing. I was just remembering last Tuesday.
Oh, are you now?
I thought you might be.
ASSUMPTA bursts out of the kitchen with a armful of clean ashtrays, and bumps into Paraig, who immediately tries to side-step her. Assumpta steps to the same side, though, and then again, and again. They both stop and Assumpta glares at him.
Get out of my way!
She turns to see Brendan and Siobhan kissing sweetly, and she grabs one of the ashtrays as if to throw it at them, but Paraig stops her, takes the ashtray from her, and shoves her backward into the kitchen.
Let go of me! What the hell is wrong
I could ask the same of you! Do you have
any idea what it’s taken them to get
to that point? That was real, bonafide flirting,
It looked like a lot more than that
Look, I know you’re miserable right
now, and believe me when I tell you
I have some idea of what you’re going
through, but that doesn’t mean that the
rest of us have to suffer with you.
Brendan and Siobhan deserve whatever
happiness they have together. They’re good
people, and they’ve been good friends to
you. We all have.
Assumpta steps back, and looks away, stunned and mortified by the reprimand. And hurt. And embarrassed.
Look, I’m sorry, Assumpta. Honestly.
But, I’m tired of walking on eggshells
around you. Life goes on, Assumpta.
Maybe for you.
For all of us. Life goes on.
It’s been more than a month. Not a call,
not even a post card.
Well, he is a priest. What did you
expect? Theygo where they’re told.
How dare you? That’s it…you’re barred!
Come on, Assumpta…
I said get out! You’re no longer welcome
here, so you keep your bloody
opinions to yourself, you hear!
She chases him into the bar, and then out on to the street, while he protests, and when he’s gone she takes a moment and realizes what she’s done.
She turns Brendan and Siobhan are staring at her.
What? You want to be barred, too?
Come on, Brendan. I might have a small
bottle of something in the house.
Brendan and Siobhan get up to leave, but as Siobhan puts on her coat, Brendan hangs back. He watches Assumpta with concern for a moment as she angrily clears the glasses from the bar.
Oh, get out.
If you want to talk.
It might do you some good.
He’s coming back you know.
Of course he’s coming back!
He’s just got some things to work out.
(in a low whisper)
He could at least call.
He could. It’s Peter. Don’t give up on him.
She gives a small nod.
Good girl. Will you be all right here?
Fine. Go home with your girlfriend.
Girlfriend, is she?
Have you slept in your bachelor pad at all
this week? Then you’ve got yourself a
The both smile, Assumpta’s is begrudging and watery, and Brendan’s is warm. He gently kisses her forehead.
Do us a favor, yeah? Don’t drink tonight.
Oh, how ever will I pass the time?
(with a light chuckle)
See you soon.
Brendan and Siobhan leave and Assumpta looks around her empty pub.
Another early night.
She turns and looks toward the registration desk, and the phone. Then she braces herself against the bar.
Don’t call Leo…don’t call Leo...
don’t call Leo…don’t call Leo…
don’t call Leo…
The door to the pub opens and Father Chris looks in. The place is completely empty except for Assumpta sitting at the bar with a book open and a box full of receipts next to it. She’s hunched over, head in her hands. He closes the door.
(without looking at him)
Oh, I’m not here for a pint. I’m organizing
the refreshments for the Church’s summer
festival and I was told you might donate some
You were told wrong.
Oh, I don’t think so.
I’m not donating.
(taking the seat next to her)
Doing your taxes? A bit early in the season
for that, isn’t it?
I said I’m not donating.
Oh, I heard you. Not going well, is it?
No, it’s not. I’m losing money hand
over fist. But let’s get something
straight – even if I had a million pounds
to squander, I do not make donations
to the Church.
Hmm. Not a Catholic, are you?
(with a toothy smile)
That sounds like a challenge.
Is there something you’d like to talk about?
Are you deaf?
(leaning playfully toward her)
Are you playing with me?
Are you insane?
Are you a Gemini? I love this game. Now
you ask me a question.
What is wrong with you?
Hmm…what’s your favorite colour?
Not a question. Point one.
He nods to her box of receipts.
How much are you short?
Assumpta slams the book shut, puts the receipt box and calculator on top of it, and carries them in to the kitchen. She slams them all on the table, and then leans heavily against it. The door opens behind her, and when she turns the priest is standing against the door jamb, his face uncharacteristically stern.
I said get out! You can’t do this, you know.
The Church can’t go everywhere it
pleases. Not anymore. This is a private
It’s not the Church you’re angry at.
Like hell it’s not!
You’ve been disappointed by one man
after another. I know about your father.
It wasn’t your fault you know.
Of course it wasn’t!
But it wasn’t the Church’s fault, either.
Exactly what I’d expect a Vatican puppet
to say. Congratulations on spouting the Pontiff’s
dogma so capably.
And now there’s Peter. Another man who’s
disappointed. You’re worried he’s not coming
Do…do you know anything about…have you
talked to Father Mac? Has he heard-
He won’t talk to me…Father Mac. I’ve been
to see him about a dozen times and he won’t-
No, he won’t. Even if he could, he wouldn’t.
I just spout pontific dogma.
Have you tried praying, Miss Fitzgerald?
What? You are mad.
You might just give it a go.
Give it a go? You’re raving. I can’t ask God
to help Peter give up the Church for me.
You might ask Him to help Peter make
the decision that’s right for him.
And what about what’s right for me?
Well, you have that all sorted, don’t you?
Assumpta Fitzgerald needs no one’s help,
isn’t that right? You’ve got a rigid dogma of
your own, don’t you?
Assumpta glares at him, and then he gives her his insane, toothy smile and leaves. She slams her fist on the table, hard enough to scatter the receipts. She cradles her hand against her chest. She looks shell-shocked and worn.
(whispering to herself)
Don’t call Leo…don’t call Leo…
don’t call Leo…don’t…
She sits in her living room, on her couch, curled around a bottle of whiskey. Her head swims and it’s difficult to think, and that’s what she wants. The muddle dulls the pain, dulls everything, and she can breathe again. Breathe and drink. Drink and breathe.
She ignores the knock at the door, ignores Niamh calling her name. She’d be lousy company anyway, so she closes her eyes and imagines black velvet. And then she drinks again.
And suddenly Niamh is there, saying something, looking bothered. But Assumpta’s not. Now she knows why her mother did it, now it all makes sense. The drink, the nights alone in the dark, the hating of everyone and everything, the wishing they’d all just go away…the soft heaviness that comes when the brain stops, and the feelings stop, and everything is still and cool and easy. All of it.
Niamh asks her if she’s all right, and Assumpta laughs. It’s odd, really, because she doesn’t feel particularly happy or amused. She doesn’t really feel anything, but she laughs anyway, and then chokes. Niamh takes her bottle from her. Niamh’s a bitch. Assumpta wants to be left alone. She doesn’t need friends. She doesn’t need anyone. People just leave in the end. Niamh will leave, too. It’s just a matter of time.
The kettle goes off, and the sound hurts. The curtains are opened and the light hurts. Coffee and bacon and toast, and Assumpta’s stomach revolts. She doesn’t make it to the loo in time. The smell on the floor makes her retch again.
Niamh says she’s just like her mother, and Assumpta agrees. Niamh says enough is enough, and Assumpta agrees. Niamh says Peter will be back, and when he is, he’ll be horrified by what Assumpta’s let herself become. She says Peter’s not dead, and it’s time to stop mourning him. It’s time to remember the people who care about her, the people who are still there. It’s time to start living again.
But, Niamh doesn’t understand. None of them do. She doesn’t understand the want to call Leo – and Assumpta wants it so badly she thinks she can taste it…or, maybe that’s just the bile. Where’s her whiskey? Why is Niamh crying? How is she going to clean up the mess? Leo would know. Leo held her hand at her mother’s funeral. Leo told her she was gorgeous while they were standing in front of the Mona Lisa. Leo helped her buy her first car and saw every performance of every play she performed at school. Leo would hold her now and brush the hair back from her hot face and tell her that everything was going to be all right, and even though she wouldn’t believe him it would make her feel better. It always did.
“Don’t call Leo…don’t call Leo…don’t call Leo…don’t…”
She knows she shouldn’t call him, but she can’t remember why. Thinking hurts, she needs more whiskey. She needs to sleep.
Niamh says that maybe she should call Leo. And then she leaves.
Assumpta knew she would.
It was the oil pan. It was always the oil pan. Paraig unscrewed the last of the bolts and pull the pan from its slots. Yeah, there was the hole as big as his finger. Well, at least that would be an easy fix. He pushed himself out from under the car, wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, and calculated cost in parts and labor.
The voice startled him, even though it was all too familiar. Paraig turned to see Assumpta standing at the end of the car, arms crossed, wearing loose jeans and a jumper that was far too large for her. Her hair was pulled back in a loose knot, and she looked pale and tired and very hung-over.
“You were only telling the truth,” she said, “and…I’m sorry.”
“Erm…well…” Paraig was momentarily speechless. Assumpta Fitzgerald simply didn’t apologize – and she certainly didn’t apologize and mean it. Only, he was fairly sure that she just had. “It’s all right. I shouldn’t have opened my big-”
“No. You were right, and I was wrong. Brendan and Siobhan do deserve to be happy.”
“Yeah…so. Then. I’m not barred anymore?”
“No…I’m sorry about that, too.”
“Assumpta, are you…are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” she said, and then she stepped away, turned and headed back up the street to the pub.
Paraig looked down at the oil on his hands, and then back to the woman walking away, still not sure what to make of her.
A sunny afternoon. The church festival is in full swing, with kiosks and venders set up around the fair grounds, and fiddle music and children running about, parentless, and laughing and the sounds of bleating sheep. Brian, the Master of Ceremonies is on the stage announcing something or other as we PAN in on Niamh and Ambrose walking happily together, hand in hand, with little Kieran strapped to his father’s back. Something catches Niamh’s eye and she nudges Ambrose to look. Siobhan and Brendan are sitting on a bench under a tree eating ice cream and sharing a laugh. They look incredibly happy. Father Mac and Father Chris walk by, and nod to Niamh and Ambrose as they pass.
Fancy a bite?
Ambrose nods, and we CUT TO:
Interior of Fitzgerald’s. The place is packed and bustling, and people are enjoying their drinks and burgers with some lively contemporary music. Assumpta is serving a table an arm load of sandwiches and chips, while Liam, behind the bar, pours drinks. Kevin comes out of the kitchen wearing an apron, and carrying a couple of plates of fish and chips, and we see through the swinging door, Donal frying up orders and looking harried.
Niamh and Ambrose work their way through the room to the bar and take seats next to Pariag, who’s just finishing up his lunch and pint.
A couple of burgers, there, Assumpta.
Assumpta nods and disappears into the kitchen. Liam places a soda down in front of Niamh and a pint for Ambrose. Niamh nods toward the kitchen.
How’s she doing?
Hard to know. She hasn’t said but two
words all day.
Paraig nods his agreement to Liam’s assessment.
That’s all I’ve gotten.
Assumpta comes out for a plate for Niamh and Ambrose.
This place is really hopping.
Everything all right, Assumpta?
She leaves, disappearing back into the kitchen.
And those would be the two words.
The festival was still in full-swing, though the sun was starting to sink, and the shadows were cool and deep. Assumpta walked up the hill to the church feeling lost and cold. It stood just as it had her whole life, behind the iron bars of the fence that held it in. As a child she’d thought it beautiful, now it just reminded her of him.
She crossed her arms tighter, and told herself she was just going to sit in there for five minutes. Five minutes should be enough to exorcise him for one evening surely.
At the door she hesitated again. What was she doing? Sitting in a church to think about her never-was boyfriend? It was insane. It was sick. He had most certainly moved on with his life, and that’s what she was supposed to be doing, too. Only she wasn’t. She got up every morning, showered and dressed. She cleaned the pub, and then opened for lunch, and tried to answer questions put to her. It was difficult not to scare the customers, but Niamh was helpful with that. Niamh and Ambrose, really. They were manning the bar while Assumpta slipped away for a bit so that she didn’t yell at the patrons for being so stupidly shallow and petty. Who the bloody hell cared if their pint didn’t have a head on it? Or their chips didn’t have enough salt? Or if the vinegar was off? It was vinegar. When was it ever on?
She took a deep breath and told herself to get it over with. Five minutes, and then she’d be able to sleep that night. Maybe.
The door was heavy, and she grunted as she pushed it open. It seemed to get heavier every time she visited. Everything inside was just as she remembered it. The altar, the windows and candles and holy water. She circumvented that and scurried to the back pew, careful not to look at the life-sized crucifix in the apse. The last time, for some inexplicable reason, it had reduced her to tears. Seated, she sighed. He had been there. At one point in time, he sat where she was sitting. He breathed the air she was breathing. God, she missed him so…
“Has Hell frozen over?”
Father Mac, behind her, startled her enough to gasp. He stood in his collar, staring condemningly down at her, managing a scowl at the same time.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” she grumbled, and then she turned her back to him. Father Chris was never in the Church in the evenings, and she usually had a couple of moments privacy. No one was supposed to know about her Churchly excursions. Especially not Father Mac.
“I’ve divided my duties for the time being,” Father Mac said, almost conversationally. “For some reason Father O’Neill is getting a fair number of complaints. Oh, why can’t we make priests like we used to?”
“Why make priests at all?”
“Why? For women like you, apparently,” Father Mac bit out.
“I…I didn’t ask him to love me,” Assumpta shot back.
“But you didn’t ask him not to, did you?”
“Have you never been in love? Do you really have no idea what it feels like?”
Father Mac purses his lips, narrows his eyes. “You find the strength to move on.”
“You’d lie to me? Here?” Father Mac challenged. “Miss Fitzgerald, I will remind you in whose house you now sit.”
But he didn’t need to remind her. She was painfully aware of where she was, and why. She served meals and drinks at the pub, and when everyone went home she locked the doors and went to bed and tried not to think that she’d have to go through it all in the morning again. Day after day of pretending, of moving through space, of doing what people expected of her. If she didn’t brush her hair, Niamh commented. If she didn’t bother with eating, Michael Ryan always seemed to know and she had to listen to yet another lecture. If a bottle was missing from her inventory, Brendan watched her with concerned eyes – and she couldn’t take the concern anymore. She couldn’t take the eyes.
“Everywhere I go, people stare at me. Some are curious, I suppose, but mostly they hate me. I took their priest from them. He’s gone because of me. He’s gone, and I just thought to sit here for five minutes of peace before I have to face them all again.”
She felt Father Mac shift beside her, and she thought for one horrifying moment that he was going to take a seat next to her.
“I do know,” he said. “What it feels like, I mean. It’s as if a part of you dies. You’re never the same person afterward. The ache eventually goes away, but the hole in your center never does.” His revelation startled her all over again, sickened her. She didn’t want to empathize with him – not him – but she felt the tears prickle anyway.
“You gave her up, did you? Just like a good man of the cloth.”
“She gave me up. And I found the strength to move on. Just as you will.”
“What if I don’t want to?”
He then whispered, “I’ll leave you to your peace.”
She stands in her bedroom window letting the night’s chill envelope her. The season’s changing and the nights are getting longer, the rains have come and they threaten to drown what’s left of the sun. People are drinking more, but not at her place. Brendan and Siobhan left at about seven, and Paraig shortly after, and there wasn’t much point in staying open past that. Actually, there wasn’t much point to opening at all, but if she hadn’t Niamh would’ve said something and Assumpta’s tired of Niamh saying something.
Niamh’s right, of course. They’re all right, whether they understand or not. Two month gone and not a word. He’s changed his mind, moved on. He just got caught up in the moment, she thinks, just like she did. But now he’s come to his senses, and it’s time she did, too. She’s too tired to want him anymore, and too tired to hope. She’s even too tired to hate him for it. He’s gone and life goes on. If only he’d not come back after that first retreat, or if only she hadn’t come back after marrying Leo. They might’ve been happy enough in London if she hadn’t seen him again. And, she might’ve opened that wine bar there if he’d never said he loved her, if he’d never kissed her, if he’d never talked about marriage she might’ve had another life with her best friend.
No. These are just the fantasies she tells herself. There never would’ve been a happy life with Leo in London, just like there wouldn’t have been with…
She can’t even think his name, and it makes her sick. She’s let him do this to her. She’s let herself hurt, and for what? A man? And a priest. And a liar.
Niamh rubbed her belly to sooth the kicking inside, and then she took another chip. She and Siobhan shared a plate at the bar while Brendan and Paraig shared a laugh in their usual seats. They’d both finished three pints, but Siobhan didn’t seem to mind. “I’m driving,” she’d said with a shrug. The chips were far more interesting.
Assumpta leaned against the wall, nursing a cup of tea, lost in thought. She didn’t seem at all troubled, so Niamh let her be while she and Siobhan talked baby cots and bottles.
Assumpta looked up, though, when the door behind Niamh opened, and Niamh turned to see Enda Sullivan, complete in his alligator boots and felt hat, saunter in. And he did saunter. Niamh had been taken by that saunter once upon a time, but now he met Niamh’s gaze, nodded a hello, and then turned his attention on Assumpta.
“Whisky, so,” he said with a lazy smile.
She nodded and poured.
Niamh hadn’t heard from Enda in a year or so, though she did occasionally see Fergal on his way to or from school. “How have things been?” she asked him.
“Oh, just so, you know?” Then he noticed Niamh’s belly, and Siobhan’s beside him, and his eyes rounded. “I won’t ask the same.”
Assumpta placed his drink in front of him and then went back to her tea.
“You’re looking well,” he said to Assumpta, and then he raised his glass to her before he sipped.
“That you are. I was thinking of getting a spot to eat later. Care to join?”
For a moment Assumpta didn’t react, and Niamh held her breath, waiting for the storm to hit. Had Enda been living under a rock for the past few months? Did he really not know what Assumpta had been going through?
“There’s a Thai place in Cildargen that opened a couple of weeks ago. Reviews are so-so. Thought I’d make up my own mind. You do like Thai, don’t you?”
“I like Thai,” Assumpta said. “I’m not sure I like you.”
“I’m not seeing anyone. Not even casually,” he told her quite plainly. “It didn’t work out with Aileen.”
“Mm,” Assumpta said, a truly non-committal grunt.
“So, how about it? We’ll eat some Thai and I’ll try to coax a full sentence out of you, and then I’ll bring you back here where you can stand with your tea cup and watch your friends get drunk.” He glanced at Niamh. “Or eat chips. Whatever. What do you say?”
Niamh smirked. He didn’t have a prayer.
Assumpta sighed. “Niamh, you’ll watch the bar for me, yeah?”
“What?” Niamh gasped, but Assumpta was already on her way to the coat rack and her jacket. She turned when Enda didn’t follow. “You’re buying. I’m not taking my purse.”
“Right!” he said, hurrying over to her.
“And I won’t talk if I don’t feel like it, so don’t get your hopes up on a fabulous conversation.”
Niamh gaped as they left, and when the door shut she turned to Siobhan, who was looking just as shocked.
“Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?” Siobhan asked.
“She’s going to sleep with him,” Paraig said grimly. Did you see the look on her face?”
“No, she’s not. It’s Assumpta!” Niamh insisted.
Brendan stared at the door thoughtfully in a way that made Niamh nervous.
“She’s not, is she?” she asked him.
“She’s a big girl,” he said. “She can make her own decisions.”
“She’ll be self-destructing all over the place next,” Siobhan said. “Reckon we aught to do something, do you?”
“Let her be,” Brendan said. He took a long swallow of his pint. And then they sat there for a while without talking.