Money was exchanged and Bernie pointed the way to the room where the dancing was taking place. They paused hand-in-hand before following her finger gesture.
“I’m not really dressed for dancing, Ian. And I don’t really have a lot of fancy clothes …. Can’t afford it because of the house and single income you know. Just keeping the boys at school is a drain on my income….especially after losing the other house,” Stephanie confided to him in a whisper.
He was understanding and supportive, and showed it in nods and murmurs of assent.
“I know it’s not ideal…but we can just have a look in mmm? I’m not dressed for it either, but I just poems
/love'>love dancing…. She…er… never used to like to go dancing you know, Stephanie…matter of fact she was never that interested in music at all....one of our main disagreements,” he laughed lightly in self-mockery.
“Well, why not?” they both tittered quickly and, leaning towards each other, touched heads and kissed lightly.
Further down the passageway they pushed open the door and a wave of loud music hit their ears. A chaotic polka was halfway through and most of the couples had stripped off coats and shawls and were sweating profusely as they tried to keep out-of-shape legs in time with the over-fast music. The newly-weds were dancing together, for the first time that evening, and the red-haired girl was feeling somewhat content at last, and she was enjoying being in the arms of her young man.
“ She must have tracked him down in the bar with his mates….” observed Ian confidentially, “…looks like it’s all finally going smoothly…..hmmm?”
“…For the moment at least…” concluded Stephanie, in one of those loaded remarks that women are so expert at throwing in, apparently without thought.
Ian and Stephanie stood to one side for several minutes, hand-in-hand, watching and tapping their feet till the dance appeared to be losing its momentum and people began to drift away from the floor. At last, judging that their street clothes would more or less blend in with the semi-dressed informality which now prevailed, they joined in a slower waltz and a two-step which followed. Their eyes caught Bernie linking arms and chatting animatedly with a tallish broad shouldered man in a bulging tweed jacket in a quiet corner of the room.
“No doubt that’s the lucky Michael, Steph,” he nudged her with a smile which captured their joint pleasure at seeing the old couple so happy. She turned her head as they moved around the floor and smiled broadly in response.
Only a few dances passed , then the proceedings started to draw to a close with the band announcing the last waltz, to the relief of most of the non-regular dancers, who could thereafter go back to serious drinking till the early hours, more their usual practice at weddings. Stephanie and Ian decided enough was as good as a feast, and stepped off the floor. The newly-married couple disappeared from the room, and by the time the waltz had ended, they reappeared in travel clothes. The time had come for the new husband and wife to depart, even though they were only bound for a hotel on the Galway Road, a few miles away. They were pressed and glad-handed by the noisy crowd towards the street door of the hotel.
The shiny white limousine, hired for weddings locally, had pulled up to the kerb near the phone booth and the couple stepped up. Turning back, Kate threw her bouquet as she went. One of the bridesmaids caught it amid screams of delight. Then, hugging the others as if it was the last opportunity for a life
time, even though they would see them next week as usual, the couple moved to step into the car. Distracted by the laughter and clamour of friends, Malachy forgot to open the door for her but the chauffeur did it with a professional flourish . Then ducking and stepping inside to the white leather seats they looked picture-perfect through the windows, just like in magazines and movies. He put his arm around his pretty bride and they waved as the door was closed by the chauffeur, who then trotted smartly round to the driver’s door and settled into the seat. They were waved off by the small crowd, jostling good-naturedly after slightly too much to drink and over-exhaustion at the fast polkas. At the front of the group was a smiling bridesmaid who held the groom’s gaze just too long, as she had held his hand just too long at the reception greeting line. Darkness had descended now. The previously starry sky was clouded over and promised changeable weather. The limousine started to pull hesitantly away and Malachy waved a last farewell through the window to the crowd, especially to the chief bridesmaid and her special smile. The wave of the red-haired bride disguised the thoughtful glance she gave towards the smiling young woman she had known since school.
On the wet footpath, watching the limousine depart, Ian and Stephanie made tentative arrangements to meet the next day and kissed and hugged warmly over and over again. They got into their respective cars with repeated waves and farewells. With an anxious glance at the tyres to check whether they had suffered from the building site’s nails, he inserted the key into his passenger door and leaned across inside to lift the little locking knob inside the window on the driver’s door. The key did not work in the broken lock on the driver’s side. Stephanie smiled as she saw what he was doing. It was so normal, so human, she thought. She liked it. She liked him, very much. Then she opened her blue door, freshly washed at the carwash that afternoon, and got gracefully into the driver’s seat. The Ford pulled slowly away , and the Audi driver beeped at her as she started to roll down the hill, and she smiled and dropped her eyes in embarrassed shyness. With her indicator flashing she waited a moment at the main crossroads for the light to turn green, and then she turned right and slowly, carefully picked up speed to the west and Priorstown. Ian pulled out of the cleared building site and dodged into the thickening traffic flow, accelerating rapidly up the hill and out of Portaisling , trying to catch a glimpse in his mirror of her yellow indicator lights as she turned for Proirstown.
The mirror also showed the limousine pull free from the small crowd and gradually diminish in size. The small crowd of watchers kept it in view until the road bent, as if it was the last time they would see the pair. In a few moments the sleek white vehicle turned the bend where the road left the row of terraced houses and disappeared in the glare of the bright motorway lamps. As his own car ascended the hill Ian could catch glimpses of the lights of the limousine as it wove its way towards the hotel away in the dark countryside.
Bernie and Michael left the hotel door humming a tune just as the limousine freed itself from the crowd. They got into a Mini parked next to where the Audi had been on the building site. The old farmer opened the door for Miss Boyle, who fussed over his lack of an overcoat on the cool night and then got in, all-a-fluster and laughing, and held the window firmly while closing the door firmly without a bang. Up hill they went slowly, in a straight line for the motorway. Heavy trucks roared along the link road and over the concrete bridge to the motorway as Miss Boyle and Michael swung the Mini down the sliproad towards the priest’s house. Michael took care not to join the traffic too fast…his eyes weren’t as up to night driving as they had been thirty years ago. Bernie slipped her hand lightly on top of his as he held the gear stick, and he turned momentarily towards her and smiled. They joined the main traffic stream.
Along the winding road west and under the concrete bridge carrying the motorway, a blue Ford ducked out of sight on its way back to Priorstown twelve miles away. In the starry darkness the grey Audi left the motorway and turned its back on the roar of trucks speeding east. He put his foot down and the speedometer quickly showed fifty five, and flicking on the music of the radio , the driver settled into the hour’s journey home. Portaisling returned to its quiet traffic-free self as if nothing had disturbed it for decades.