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PAIRS (part one of six parts)
Blog Posted:12/28/2011 2:29:00 PM
Many people seemed to enjoy the previous story, so I am risking a slightly longer one now....it is a love story set in Ireland of the 1990s
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Portaisling is a small village off the main road between Galway and Athlone, long since bypassed so that it is today a sleepy shadow of its former busy traffic-choked self. There is not normally a lot of traffic on the road even in summer, and in wintertime a visitor could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps the twentieth century and its traffic loads had completely forgotten Portaisling. The network of sliproads, underpasses, bridges, and motorway lanes nearby ensure that any extra traffic in the village could only be because of some local event with solely parochial ramifications. Despite the efforts of the highway engineers, however, the size and positioning of the buildings down its main street allow Portaisling to retain an air of a place of potential excitement but temporarily overcome with sleepiness. The village’s main street runs steeply down to the south , flanked on one side by grey limestone terraces of two-storey houses, interrupted here and there by a pub, a tiny grocery shop, and a hotel, and on the other side by the walled demesne of Fitzwarren House, now in ruins. Some properties down the hill have been demolished as slums and have been reduced to rubble-strewn building sites.
About three o’ clock one Sunday afternoon in February, a grey Audi rolled smoothly down the steep slippery hill into Portaisling and , unable to find a space to park along the kerb, the driver pulled the car quickly into a cleared building site at the roadside, unsure about the quality of the rough surface and slightly worried whether his tyres would be flattened by rusty nails, and switched off the engine. He had been looking out for the blue Ford neatly parked next to a phone box outside the Fitzwarren Hotel a few metres behind his now stationary car, and the forty year-old squinted up his eyes against the sun’s glare off the wet road, trying to see whether there was a woman in the blue car or not. Uncertain, he switched off the music of the radio and pulled his tall frame awkwardly out of the low-slung driver’s seat and, fastening his double-breasted jacket carefully as he would for a job interview, he strolled the few metres up the hill towards the Ford . The driver’s door of the blue car swung open and a smiling agile woman stepped quickly out and took a few short steps towards him with arms outstretched.
They fell into a tight hug and held it long, like old friends who had been separated for years. A warm kiss and more hugs and words of greeting were showered on each other, leaning back within their embrace and smiling as they surveyed each other’s face, and then returning to a closer clasp for several moments, standing in the shiny glare of the wet road in front of the radiator grill of her car.
“At last…Stephanie… I’m so glad to see you…. after all this time”
“It’s so good to be able to put my arms around you at last after all this long time, Ian.”
“Oh, I feel the same.”
They gradually slackened their smiling embraces and turned away from the sun’s penetrating glare, and hand-in-hand they stepped slowly on to the footpath.
“What shall we do then, Steph?”
“I don’t mind, I just want to talk and be close,” she raised his hand to her lips and kissed it lightly, smiling like a teenager.
“Looks like the rain’s going to come back. This place looks ok, Ian, …shall we go in?”
“Sure, it’ll do…why not?”
The brightness outside had dazzled their eyes so that the interior looked gloomier than it really was. Nevertheless it was certainly dim. Behind the polished and painted front of the Fitzwarren Hotel the shadowy interior had several possible ways through, one room leading to another and another. He pushed open the nearest glass door and made enquiries. It was a noisy room holding several members of a wedding party. Embarrassed at interrupting he asked briefly if the café was open and was duly directed. A young man with sraight white teeth and wearing a carnation in his fomal wear brusquely pointed Ian down the passage and muttered, “Down there, fella, first room on the left.” The small café was situated in a room which could be seen into through another glass door. It was almost empty save two old-timers, obviously locals, seated in intimate silence watching newcomers out of the corners of eyes which seemed permanently focused on ornaments behind the bar. A small bell pinged as they entered, announcing the arrival of fresh customers. The hand-holding pair chose the one table in the no-smoking section. Not that it made much difference. Only three tables, one of which was already occupied by the two locals, were available in the entire room, and the room was filled with cigarette smoke regardless of the existence of little cards on the wall indicating “Smoking” and “No-smoking” sections.
After some minutes the ping of the bell induced the arrival of a small lady who bustled in, apologising for the delay in serving what were obviously her last real customers of the evening. She instantly reminded both of them of the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, and, leaning closer and touching heads, they shared the whispered thought and smiled silently. She busied herself around the café and fussed over the newly-arrived couple, making an effort to catch up with what she felt were the interminable several minutes they had waited while she had been outside telephoning.
“Still raining, Bernie?” the locals asked, deliberately establishing their bond of intimacy in the face of the two strangers.
“Just spitting now,” she threw the remark over her shoulder.
Crumbs on their white tablecloth were swept efficiently into a practised hand, and messy plates were piled up and carried away, all this action accompanied by a continuous stream of chatter about the weather and the traffic outside being aggravated by the wedding party parking too many cars. Finally she returned with a pad and pencil and enquired what the couple would have to eat. Did they want a wine list? Would they like the home-made soup which could quickly be warmed? She used the third finger of her pencil hand to knit back a strand of wetted grey hair which fell loose over her scribbled notes. Something from the grill before it was switched off? Maybe a sandwich? Maybe you need a moment to choose…? . As the sixty-something lady busied herself with the preparations and repeatedly knitted back the hair strand, she willingly shared her recent life’s details with the pair.
“You’re in a very happy mood with the world after such a wet and busy day…?” offered Ian.
“Oh yes, well…” she hesitated with a tiny melodramatic touch, “ I’m getting married next month.” She uttered the reply with a matter-of-fact air and not a little pride and satisfaction.
The pair caught each other’s eyes sideways in amused disbelief. Probably some imagined notion in the head of this white rabbit from the backwaters of County Galway.