My mother deteriorated rapidly in her bed at MGH. She was in the final stages of her battle with cancer. It was not a pretty fight, but her beauty remained intact to the end. On Christmas Eve my mother held my hand and said, "I'm so happy I made Christmas."
"Me too." I thought about John Wayne at the end of THE SEARCHERS and forced back my tears.
"You've been everywhere in the world. You've never been to Ireland. I'm leaving you a little money. I want you to go to Ireland and find a girl like your aunts or sisters to marry. Will you do that for me?" Her grip tightened to crack my knuckles. She knew her own strength to the measure. Her grandmother had fled the Aran Isles as a girl of twelve. Nana never went back home. The one boat trip was enough for her.
"Yes, I will." There was no refusing here, despite the incestuous nature of her last demand from her second son.
"You're a good boy." She released my hand with a sigh. "Help me with the medicine."
By medicine my mother meant her morphine drip. I hit her up good. Her tender eyes rolled into heaven and I kissed her forehead. Three weeks later she passed from this life. No one in my family contested her will and six months later I received enough money to survive four months in Ireland. My good friend Camp had arranged a rental in the far west of Galway beneath the Seven Pins of the Connemarra. The renovated school house belonged to the Guinness family. They made beer.
"So it has to be grand?" I had read about the nearest town. Clifden had fifteen pubs. The guide books said nothing about women.
"It's the Guinness'. How grand couldn't it be?" Camp was English. He lived north of New York in a valley dedicated to the pleasures of the wealthy. I trusted his taste, even if the Brit had never been to Ballyconeeley. Camp was an interior designer. Straight, but still an interior designer. They knew style.
The cottage was rented until the end of the summer and I sublet my apartment at the beginning of September. My boss at the diamond exchange wished me luck with my wife hunt.
"May you make your mother happy." Manny was a mother's boy. We all are in the end.
"I'm doing this for her. I doubt there will be any women." Most Irish women like women everywhere else left their hicktowns for big cities and the guide book had indicated that a small village could get more hickster than Ballyconeeley. It was renown for its cows.
"Better you than me." The seventy year-old jeweler was in the first stages of divorcing his second wife. "I'm done with women. But you're still a young man."
"43." My father had six kids at this age. I had none.
"43. I would cut off your right ball to be 43 again." Manny slipped me a c-note. "Save it until you have a girl to take out to dinner. A yard has to go a long way with a girl from the sticks."
The flight to Dublin was six hours. I found myself a cheap bed and breakfast on the other side of the Penny Bridge. I phoned Lord Guinness to pick up the keys for the house in the West. A taxi took me out to LOdge Park. The red-headed driver was impressed by my destination.
"I helped pay for this with all the Arthurs I bought." The gravel driveway led through a quiet park to a large Georgian mansion with a nearby Victorian shed housing a steam museum. The only word for the estate was grand.
"Arthurs?" My ear was adjusted to the accent.
"Pints of Guinness. The founder's name was Arthur."
"Right." I stored this tidbit of local lore for use at a later time and tipped the driver
His house was a palace complete with medieval tapestries and 16th Century paintings. Selling beer was a good business and I thought to myself, "If the cottage is a hundredth of this barrack, then I will be living in the lap of luxury."
Lord Guinness greeted me and we drank a glass of an excellent St. Emillion to seal our verbal agreement. After my paying the rent for three months in total the white-haired aristocrat drove me back to Dublin in a gray Ferrari from the 60s. The 250 GTE hit 120 mph on the rainy motorway. The windshield wipers worked over-time. A mansion and an Italian sports car were good omen for the cottage in the West.
"I love this car, but I'm getting too old to drive it."Nearing Dublin he slowed down to 60.
"I know what you mean." Getting in was easy. Getting out required a man-servant.
We stopped at the Shelbourne Hotel for drinks. My landlord was greeted by several of the men at the bar. He ordered the finest whiskey at the bar. My rent money paid for both rounds. It was an early night for both of us. He dropped me at my bed and breakfast and I bid him fare-well.
"Enjoy yourself. My friends have spend many summers in that house."
"You don't live there."
"No, I live at the family house."
Oh." I entered the B and B thinking how bad could it be. The man had a Ferrari.
The next morning I rode the train to Galway. A bus brought me to Clifden. A taxi finished off the journey and the female driver asked, "So you'll be staying at the schoolhouse?"
"Yes, you know it." I had great expectations.
"Ah, yes, it's a fine building." She was in her 40s. Her brogue was thick than a slab of breakfast toast. The turn indicator presaged our entering a dirt track. The uneven surface would have broken the axel of the 250 GTE. "This is it."
"I guess it is." I got out of the car and shivered in my light jacket.
The lawn was overrun by thistles and the tufts of grass wavering in a wet wind. The whitewashed house was devoid of any modern design or ancient practicality. The tall walls stood facing the west. The Atlantic lay beyond the field. The color blue matched the shreds of sky visible through the tattered clouds.
"You'll be wanting to wear a few more sweaters in the house. Cold comfort." She joined my shiver. "I went to school here. The teacher lived in the upstairs. Some people say the house is haunted. What do they know. You have a good day now?"
She drove away in the direction of Clifden. I stood and examined my home for the next three months. It was not a mansion. Part of the roof was in need of repair. A neglected graveyard lay in a bog dominated by a burnt church. The wan sun slipped into a cloud bank and the rain beat on the hard dirt. I ran inside the house. The woman had been right, It was colder within the old schoolhouse than outside. The decor of the sitting room affected the height of simplicity and the furniture might have been rummaged from the local dump. The telephone worked and there was pile of peat by the fireplace. I lit it several chunks and spotted a nearly empty bottle of whiskey on the desk.
I felt no heat from the fire and smoke was curling out of the fireplace to form a low fogbank in the sitting room.
It was no mansion. The Ferrari was back in Dublin. My fingers were losing feeling from the cold and I poured two measures of Paddy into a fruit glass grimy with fingerprints. I downed the fiery antithesis of Jamison's Malted Whiskey in one go. My body shook with displeasure.
All and all it wasn't bad, because this was where my mother wanted me to be and wherever she was in the afterlife, she knew that I had obeyed the first part of her wish.
Getting to Ireland was easy.
Meeting a girl like my sisters or aunts.
That was the hard part.
There was only one way to make it easy and I finished off the bottle. It went down same as before and I wouldn't have expected anything different from a house without a Ferarri.