The aging waitress turned around with the written order, and glanced cheerily across to the other table.
“Don’t worry, Mrs Coleman, I haven’t forgotten you and your special sandwich with no mayonnaise…. it’s coming. I’ll just pop in the kitchen now and check to see when it’s ready. I bet you thought I’d forgotten…. but you know me, I never forget.” Her hand instinctively found the door as she looked in their faces.
“That’s all right, Bernie, I know you these twenty years and I’ve never known you to forget an order. Sure you’ve kept this wee place running in spite of…. himself….. sure old Quinn never shows his face here. It’s you who keeps the place in the black…”
“Oh well, he has been good to me, you know…” She pushed open the swinging door to the kitchen.
Phshttt noises hissed from the lips of the locals in disagreement and contempt at “himself”. “Sure he’d be lost and in the workhouse only for you…”
“Oh away with the pair of you now, you’ll be making me forget me orders from the two visitors we have here, and them big spenders I’m sure,” She nodded with a wink in their direction and was glad to catch their eye to see that they felt included in the quasi-public discussion... “and you’ll be making me forget me own wedding!” She laughed in a way that no one could take offence at, certainly not the pair of newcomers who were obviously enjoying her antics, and she disappeared like the white rabbit into the kitchen and the door swung closed behind her..
The newcomers smiled and nodded in return as she sailed through the door with an extra busy air, trying to conceal what had surely been a disappointing episode in the phone box. Bernie collected the mayo-free sandwich in its brown bag from the kitchen and, returning quickly, passed it without a word to the two locals, and the man slipped it into his pocket. Then she delivered Stephanie and Ian their long-awaited sandwiches and tea and coffee. “ I’m sorry it has no side salad .. the kitchen is almost closed..” The coins jingled in Bernie’s pinafore as she fussed about the bar polishing, cleaning away imaginary dust in case a sudden rush of customers should descend on the place, and looking every few moments at the big clock above the bar. The two locals eyed her for a long moment and judging the time right they offered a goodbye announcement to the back of Miss Boyle’s freshly permed hair.
“Well, we’ll be off then so Bernie,…and if you bump into us later we might have a chat ?”
“Yes, yes, no later than half past ten, er after I close up here. Bye bye now, mind how you go”
The Colemans murmured a final farewell and nodded and smiled to the couple as they brushed sideways past their table towards the door.
“Rain looks like it’s easing, Bernie!” was their last contribution, and they were gone into the night air.
Bernie hadn’t heard them and she made no attempt to respond, busying herself instead with polishing and dusting and collecting the single glass that interrupted the glossy wooden perfection of the counter. She listened as the band picked up with familiar tunes next door, and she began to hum along with the waltzes and foxtrots of the dance now under way with the wedding party. The pair of newcomers munched their food and began to enjoy the music too and murmured approval and touched heads as they leaned towards each other in delight at their own company. They were both music fans.
“Be nice to dance wouldn’t it, Stephanie?”
“Mmm yes, but we can’t gate-crash the wedding, and there’s hardly room here to swing a cat…”
They both laughed genuinely, as Bernie glanced at the clock once more and noted with a grunt of satisfaction that twenty minutes had elapsed. She made her way to the glass door, for another attempt on the phone and noted with some relief that the rain had stopped for the moment and that the stars were out. The door swung open, the bell pinged, and she disappeared again into the night.
She pressed her coins home in anxious anticipation…..brrr brrr
“Michael? At last!….Where have you been all evening my dear man?”
There was a long interval of her nodding and murmuring assent while the speaker on the other end of the line explained something evidently of great interest to Bernie. She suddenly burst into a huge smile and said with a sigh, “Well, thank God you’ve got it all sorted out finally…those solicitors have made you wait and by God they cost a pretty penny, but Michael it means that we can get on with it at last, isn’t that the truth my poems
Again a long wait while Michael added further detail.
“Well I can only say thirty years is a great long time and we have both had patience without limit..and now the poor soul’s gone she can have no complaints about us.”
Michael evidently agreed for she laughed at his remark and raised her hand to knit back a wisp of grey hair, and in so doing she spilled the small change from her hand all over the concrete floor of the phone booth. It didn’t matter to her at all now. She ignored the spinning coins as the cars outside the glass door moved to make room for a limousine trying to get close to the kerb.
“All right, in about half an hour then…there’s only a couple of people in there, and sure they’ll be gone and finished in a wee while…I’ll see you then Michael. Mind how you drive, and remember the window isn’t safe…. Don’t bang it too hard like last week…. No accidents now, after such a long wait,” she tittered self-consciously. “Uh–huh, yes, about half ten,….. mmmm, bye now,” Bernie sighed with relief.
Replacing the phone, she gathered up the coins from the floor, pushed them into her pinafore pocket, and dashed again into the café. She stood for a moment in the corridor smiling broadly and humming to herself, and turning the phone conversation over again and again in her mind. Unconsciously, she knitted up the wisp of her hair and murmured out loud, “Now, let’s see how these two are getting along.” Ping.
The toasted ham sandwich was gone and the drinks were low in their cups. She automatically offered a refill…and they gladly accepted.
“You’re a very happy woman …have you won the lottery or something?” he enquired as he sipped his refill.
“Oh better than that. Michael and myself have just seen our way clear to get married soon after easter in the church just up the road from here.”
“Well congratulations, … and who is the lucky Michael?”
“Oh, Michael? He’s a farmer, you know, from two miles up the road…he has a few acres and dairy cows you know….. we couldn’t do it till now you know because of the business of his land inheritance, but it’s sorted out now and we are doing what we planned to do these thirty years….”
They both nodded in approval, and sipped away at the extra coffee and mentally filled in the thirty year gap in the story…a familiar enough tale in that part of Galway.
“ As a matter of fact we are going up to the priest’s house down the motorway tonight when Michael gets here so we can arrange the exact date for our wedding…I’m so excited…. Oh, you must think I’m awful silly. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time and now it all seems to be worked out….please forgive me for leaving you so often when I had to phone.”
Ian suspended his long sip at the drink and touched Bernie’s wrist lightly, “Oh please, it was no trouble at all…it’s lovely to see someone so happy and to see something work out well in today’s troubled world, you know…” The couple turned to each other, half closed their eyes,and nodded and smiled in agreement. “We’re actually finished now so if you’d like to take payment for the sandwiches we’ll let you get on your way to your meeting at the priest’s,” added Stephanie thoughtfully.
“Oh there’s no rush… he won’t be here for half an hour or so…… take your time”
“No…. we’d like to have a look in at the wedding dance next door before we go”
“They wouldn’t mind if you joined in the dance, you know. Sure, lots of folk from the village come along to these dances after weddings and join in,” her voice dropped to a confidential whisper and her eyes rolled slowly in the direction of the music.
“That might be nice,” they looked at each other, widened eyes and smilingly nodded in agreement at the idea.