Digging

A short story
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So one day a farmer—his name was Seamus Sullivan, and this was in County Mayo, not far from Knock, where, when Seamus was fifteen, the Virgin had appeared—says to the wife, "I'm off up the field, then," and he goes off in his boots in the early afternoon with the dog at his heel and a shovel in his hand. His only idea is to be out there, as far from the house as he can go without leaving his own bit of land, digging; what he wants is the heft and smell and slide of his own earth at his command. He doesn't wonder whether a man can own something like land; he owns this field and the dirt within it, and the field goes straight down to the center of the earth.

So he goes after the roots of a furze bush. It's the first edge of spring, and thin lips of yellow show here and there on the bush. This digging is hard work, starting away from the thorny bush to make sure he's beyond the spread of the roots, but it's a long day ahead with nothing else he need do, and he dedicates himself to it. He's forty-five, still strong enough to spend the whole day driving the shovel in and piling the good dirt out. But the furze is a shallow weed, and after only an hour the excuse work is mostly done, the thorny bush as root-exposed as if he were planting it instead of casting it out. So he pulls it to the center of the field and sets it afire. Then he goes back to crouch beside his dug pit and roll a cigarette with his dog lolling beside him while the bush burns. It's a pitch-filled thing, a furze bush, so it burns hot and fast. As he tosses the damp end bit of tobacco and paper away, he sees the wife standing down by their house, shading her eyes to watch the last of the flames. Bridget is just a girl still after two years of being married to him, who's older than her husband ought to be. That's enough; he stands and takes up his shovel again.

Maybe the sun comes out for a few minutes, and he feels so good, digging in the thin sunlight in his field, that he wonders why he doesn't do this once a week. His muscles are limber, the rhythm steady, and then his shovel hits something not dirt. Even that, even the challenge of going now into the next layer of his land, where rocks will complicate the digging—even that feels good. He moves the shovel back a few inches and drives it in again and lifts up the dirt and sees there, mud-encrusted and bent, a chalice, the gold pale and shining where his shovel has struck it.

So there stands Seamus, rubbing the dirt from the cup with his broad, calloused fingers for a few seconds before he looks guiltily down the slope to see if Bridget is still watching him. She isn't, so he has a chance to decide: Will he keep digging and see if he can find more? Will he take just this one thing? Will he have a good look and then, tenderly, tuck it back where it came from and replace the dirt and pray for the grass to grow over it all?

In this same midafternoon, in Cork instead of Mayo, Mary Alice O'Driscoll comes hurrying along the road into Clonakilty, tears in her pretty eyes. She's nineteen and a strapping girl, tall and strong, and she has dreams. This is a difficult situation, being a strapping girl with dreams, because nobody believes the combination is natural. Her sister Rosie is the beauty, and people assume she has dreams, but Mary Alice is sturdy, and her mother, a practical woman, sees no reason for Mary Alice not to marry Jimmy Curtin, who owns his own boat and has the hope of a house when his father passes on. He's a hard worker and a decent man, and if Mary Alice would just be reasonable, she'd see that decency is quite a bit to get in a husband, and Jimmy's not that old, not forty yet, and he fancies the girl.

Mary Alice is reasonable, so she has already abandoned any number of dreams without ever having mentioned them to anyone—gracefulness, for example, and a piano, a quick wit in conversation, a holiday in Switzerland, and a wedding in Saint Colman's Cathedral, in Queenstown, the most beautiful thing she has ever seen and as far from Rosscarbery as she's ever been—but now her mother says she can't go to the dance on Saturday in Glandore. Missing the dance shouldn't matter, given all those other things she knows she'll never have, but it does matter. Mary Alice believes her heart is breaking. So she's on her way down the road to complain to her aunt Margaret, who was the strapping sister herself and knows where you end up if you don't hold on to some dream—where she is, housekeeper to the priest.

So here's Mary Alice, her head up so that the tears won't spill, tapping at the kitchen door of the priest's house, tapping and tapping, and not until Father Moran himself, a book in his hand, pulls open the door does she realize that she has come into town with her apron still on and her hair still in last night's plait. Not that Father Moran is tidy, standing there in his stockinged feet and his hair mussed as if he has just waked up and here it is almost time for his tea.

"Oh, Father," she says, "I'm sorry to bother you. I was looking for Aunt Margaret."

"You were, of course," he says, but because he has, indeed, only just waked from a doze in his chair, his voice is much curter than he intended, and Mary Alice loses her hold on her tears, and they fall from her pretty eyes in two silver lines down her face.

She has no idea how lovely she looks to Father Moran, who isn't a young man but also isn't old enough to be her father.

Father Moran himself hardly has any idea of how lovely she looks to him, at this dusky moment in the kitchen when her aunt Margaret isn't there and he's barely awake and can't tell exactly who he is, priest or man, but he manages to say, "Here, now, what's this all about?"

Mary Alice can't say what it's all about, not to him, not in his stockinged feet, and so she sobs four times, trying to think of an appropriate thing to say to a priest, and says, "I was thinking of Saint Colman's Cathedral."

Father Moran has seen Saint Colman's Cathedral, so he almost understands why this girl—he has known her name at some moment, though it escapes him now—weeps so hopelessly, and he's touched by it, and moved to transfer his book from his left hand to his right, and to reach his left hand out to touch and comfort her. He means to pat her shoulder in a fatherly, priestly gesture, but his hand takes itself instead to her cheek, where the tears are cool against her firm, warm skin.

As soon as she has spoken, Mary Alice begins actually to think of Saint Colman's, its soaring beauty, and how she'll never be a bride there, never have a life that includes a piano or quick wit or holidays, all because her mother won't allow her to go to the dance in Glandore this Saturday night, where some young man might magically appear who would love her, and when the priest's gentle hand touches her tears, she has no choice in the matter; she covers his hand with her own and presses it to her face, and before either of them is quite certain why or how such a thing could happen, his book is on the floor and their mouths are sweet together with salt tears on all their lips.

By now Seamus has come in for his tea, with his chest full of his secret. Bridget sees that he has got something going on, something that makes him feel big this evening, and she wonders about it as she cuts the bread. He's been nowhere, just up the field the whole afternoon, digging. She has her doubts about whether potatoes will grow there in the second field, the sun's so poor below the hill, but the potatoes are his business. What is hers is this house, this empty house, with no child in it.

"Come up," he says behind her, and she hears the dog clip from the corner and into his lap.

So, Bridget thinks. So. And she cuts the bread thicker. When she has finished, she cooks him a buttered egg and brings out the last jar of her sister's blackberry jam. Her sister has the five boys and two girls. "Is it Christmas?" he asks when he comes to the table, but he's gentle about it, and she smiles just a bit, pouring the tea. "The field's ready, is it?" she says, and he says it is, nearly.

After the meal he goes out with the dog and smokes again, looking up at the field where the cup and four gold bracelets lie hidden in the dirt, though he can feel their presence still behind his ribs. He has dug them a deeper hiding place up there, and will leave them for now. He has nowhere to sell them, and no idea how to explain where the money came from if he did. Besides, he thinks the gold isn't that kind of treasure. It's something else, and he has spent the afternoon trying to get it figured out—how the gold stands for something ancient and splendid and connected to him. He has decided that when he's got it straight in his head, the time will come and he'll go to the priest and tell him what he's found, and ask him to write to the proper people so they can come and get it and take it to the museum. They'll make a card for it, he thinks, saying SEAMUS SULLIVAN, COUNTY MAYO. All day the idea of that card has been growing in him, a weighted restlessness in his chest, as he's been digging. He'll plant potatoes there when the time comes. It's no sin, he's sure, to take his pleasure privately now, thinking of himself as a man with gold in his field. No sin, either, to turn to his wife in bed tonight and take that pleasure as well; and when the time comes, when the washing up is done and the fire's banked and the two of them sigh into their rest, he does so, and she answers him gladly, a rare easy sweetness between them. As he falls asleep, his last thought is of the shimmering power of gold hidden in a field; hers is that these moments may get them a child.

Before that happens, back in the kitchen in Clonakilty, Mary Alice, weak in the knees, and Father Moran, utterly without a thought in his head, linger through the long moment of their kiss as if dependent for balance on their joined mouths, as if suspended from each other's lips, or from their hands on her cheek. And then, of course, they hear a sound from somewhere, a reminder that Aunt Margaret hasn't vanished from the earth, that priests and girls with pretty eyes aren't free to kiss in kitchens in this world, and they lurch apart. For a single second they stare at each other, blankly, and then the horror gathers. She turns and flies out of the house and down the narrow street of the town, eyes dry now and nearly blind. As soon as she's free of the houses, she turns off the road and sets out across the fields for home.

A mile or so along, as she's walking more slowly but still not daring to think of anything, she sees below her the ring of standing stones that people call the Druid's Altar. The light is failing fast, and the stones take on the look of giant shawled women, some standing, some kneeling. She takes herself down from the little ridge to them, between them, into the center of the circle.

"I've kissed a priest," she says aloud.

Maybe she sways with the enormity of what she has done, and it's just an illusion that the stone women stir, but Mary Alice O'Driscoll doesn't wait to see whether the women are welcoming her or casting her out. She takes to her heels, down across the fields in the twilight, and rushes into the kitchen, where her mother is getting the tea with a scowl on her face. Breathless, she says, "I'll marry him, Mother—I'll marry Jimmy if you say." What else could she do, a girl who would tempt a priest and bring stones to life by confessing it? If she didn't marry as quick as that, who knows what shame she might bring on them all?

So, say that was a Tuesday, in March of 1910. By Sunday, when the banns are read for Mary Alice O'Driscoll and James Patrick Curtin, Seamus Sullivan has been laid to rest (that weight in his chest was his heart failing, and he never knew, dreaming of his neighbors thumping his back in congratulation when the gold came pouring out of his land, and he may be dreaming it still, if heaven is as it should be), and Bridget's brother Pat has walked the three fields and found them poor, Seamus's plan for potatoes in the second field foolishness. He'll let it go back to grass and put his own sheep on it. He does that, and takes Bridget to keep house for him half a mile away, and when her son is born, in the winter, he'll be the one who insists the child be named Kevin, for their father, instead of Seamus, for his own. By that time, down in Cork, Mary Alice will be amazed to find herself a little in love with Jimmy Curtin, whose awkward chatter covers a thousand apt generosities, and when their first child is born, the next year, his name, without question, is James. Nor does the family hesitate when the chance comes for them (three more of them now, all strapping children), through the death of one cousin and the emigration of three others, to move to a small house in Galway. And of course the boys will follow their father and become fishermen. In fact, the only question that ever disturbs Mary Alice arises when her James comes to her at the age of fifteen and says, "Mother, I've a calling to be a priest." "You have not," she says, but he scowls and says, "Why not? I've the marks, and Father Kennedy says—" And what can she say but "I don't care what Father Kennedy says, you'll be no priest"? That's as close as she'll ever come to allowing herself to remember the forbidden salty kiss in the kitchen, and that's a story she'll never tell to a soul.

Seamus's story of finding the gold never gets told either, and the gold is never found, so when Bridget dies, with Kevin only eleven, his uncle Pat sees no reason not to take him off to America, where things will have to be better than they are at home with all the mess there is now. It's 1922, and who knows how things will turn out? So off they go, leaving the two houses to fall down around themselves, and if South Boston doesn't vault Pat into the prosperity he expected, it does vault young Kevin into a world of street corners and movies and—once he leaves school, at just fifteen—pubs and nicknames and fistfights. He's one of a gang of fellows on the corner of E Street and Bowen; they all live at home, work here and there on the docks and in the factories, fight about anything, spend their money foolishly, and try to impress girls. When Kevin's twenty, he falls mad in love with a girl five years older, and before he knows what he's about, he's going to be a father. It's 1931 now, and he sees no way to avoid taking his bride back to the cramped flat over the barbershop and Uncle Pat's vicious hospitality. He's twenty-one when his son, Lyle, is born, and twenty-two on Christmas Eve when, far gone in drink, he decides to swim the icy Charles River to sober up before going home to the wife and kid.

This same Christmas Eve, 1932, back in Galway City, James Curtin, who has put away his wish to be a priest as his mother once put away her wish to go to Switzerland, proposes marriage to Norah Silke, who turns him down. Two months later he marries her sister Maeve. They have a daughter, Roísín, and then another daughter, Mary, and then sons; before the sons are old enough to go out on the boat, which James has always hated, he sells the boat and buys a poor bit of land. But he has no talent as a farmer, and when his children offer to leave—Mary for America, one son to be a priest, another for Australia—he's glad to have them go. He's a harsh man, and real poverty makes him more so; but he's no worse than other fathers, better than some, which Maeve tells the children so often that even she believes it.

So when Lyle Sullivan and Mary Curtin meet at last, in 1960, at a huge company picnic on Cape Cod, they could have a load of stories to tell each other, but they don't. Mary doesn't work for the company; she has come with a girlfriend who does, and the girlfriend insists that Mary's perfectly welcome. Her whole life—she's twenty-four—Mary has worried about being where she doesn't belong, and she has never quite figured out where she does belong. When she knew she was going to America, she was terrified and excited; once she got there, she was so homesick that she'd have gone back if she'd had the money, and if the ones at home hadn't needed the money she sent. She can't imagine living her whole life so far from home, but now that she's been here a year, she can't imagine what life she'd be living if she were still there. So even here, at a picnic, she doesn't dare go very far from her friend and doesn't join in conversations. That's where she is when Lyle first sees her.

He doesn't know that she looks a lot like his grandmother Bridget, who wore her long, dark, curling hair much the way Mary wears hers, in a soft bun high on her head, and whose mouth had a similar sweet patience. He doesn't know what Bridget looked like because he has never seen the one photograph of her, which his mother hoards, along with the eight other things that belonged to his father, Kevin, in a locked metal box in the back of her closet. He won't even find that box until after his mother's death, three years later; when Mary comes back from Ireland to marry him, she'll have cut her hair and taken to setting it on brush rollers for the bouffant effect that is the American style in 1963. This day on Cape Cod all he knows is that she looks good to him. He doesn't even think of her as pretty, although she is, and it's a good thing he doesn't. Long ago he developed the unconscious habit of avoiding anything that might distract him from his duty to his mother, so he never speaks to girls he thinks of as pretty. This isn't his mother's fault: she's not old in her mid-fifties, not bitter or pitiful. True, she has always tried to impress upon Lyle the dangers of drink and wild friends—but hasn't she good reason for that, since drink and wild friends killed her young husband and left her with a son to raise and no skills beyond laundry work, which she couldn't do anymore after she hurt her back, when Lyle was only seventeen? Not exactly her fault, or his, but it has come to this: Lyle lives the life of a middle-aged husband, although he's only twenty-eight. He's good at his office job with a hardware company, frugal, responsible. He likes some television programs, and he likes to drink a beer or, more rarely, a little whiskey and play a game or two of Hearts in the evening with his mother in the oddly comforting cloud of her cigarette smoke. He's not unhappy, and he's not particularly eager to marry, but still, this pretty day on Cape Cod, the girl in the dark skirt and soft blouse looks good to him, and he keeps an eye on her, the way she's shy but cheery, and when he passes almost accidentally near enough to hear her talking with her friend, he hears that she's Irish, and he's a goner.

He doesn't recognize that he's a goner though. He has never been a goner before. As a teenager, back in Vermont, he kissed a few girls and longed in a shameful way for others, and once, after he brought his mother back to Boston to live, he dated one woman three times. But he hasn't been a goner. He thinks he feels sorry for this girl, so far from home, and that in itself is so unusual for him that it's almost dusk, almost time for the fireworks, before he finds a way to meet her.

She's alone at last—her friend has gone to get them some more lemonade. She's alone, crouching to spread the blanket where she and her friend will sit to watch the fireworks, and dusk is coming on, and the ocean is stirring, and she hasn't the least hint how appealing she looks to Lyle. He sees the domesticity of her task, and remembers the quick, dancing, foreign murmur of her voice. He isn't given to imagining (Mary's friend, who works in his department, calls him rude and bossy), but he imagines that she might be lonely, and that's what he means to ask her when he comes up beside her—he means to say something like "You're far from home," in the sort of joking tone he assumes men use with women they haven't met yet. Instead he says, "Hello—I'm Lyle Sullivan, from Production Control," just as if it were a staff meeting. Mary gives a little leap, she's so startled.

She has been thinking not of home but of underwear, actually—about the difference between Irish underwear and American underwear in her admittedly limited experience. Her job is minding the children of the Cunninghams, in Brookline, who lent her the fare to come over. The oldest of the Cunningham children is a girl, twelve, rather pretty, who has been teasing her mother for pettipants; for days now Mary has been wondering in odd moments just what pettipants might be, whether they're something she ought to buy. In April she finished paying her debt to the Cunninghams. She now sends half her small salary back to Roísín each month and saves most of the rest, but she has a bit she keeps out for pleasure, and she's wondering if the cost of pettipants (whatever they are) would match the pleasure of them. That's what she's wondering when this fellow comes up and startles her.

She blushes, because of the underwear and because he's the fellow she noticed earlier and asked her friend about and because he has recognized, as she knew someone would, that she has no right to be at the picnic.

He blushes, because he didn't mean to startle her and didn't mean to say such a stupid thing, but there they are.

Mary straightens up and puts out her hand. "I'm Mary Curtin, from Galway," she says, and she smiles, because she's relieved at last of the dread of discovery that has tagged behind her all day. "I don't work for the company," she says.

He's handsomer than she thought, though she thought him handsome enough in the sunshine and from a distance.

She's lovely, looking up at him with that smile, and the quick, cooing way she says doon't and coompany; he nearly forgets to shake her hand.

Maybe the first of the rockets goes up then and bursts in gold and silver in the sky. Or maybe Lyle gathers his wits and asks where Galway is, or where she does work, and they talk a little more before her friend comes back and Lyle takes his leave. They won't turn out to be the sort of couple that reminisces about their first meeting; years from now, when their younger son, Jimmy, asks her, bitterly, "How did you end up with him, anyway?" she'll just say, "I met him at a picnic." If in saying that she remembers any of this—the fireworks, and how the crowd around her made a full, reverent chorus of their pleasure while she hugged to herself the thrilling certainty that shy, handsome Lyle Sullivan from Production Control fancied her—she won't say so.

It'll be their older son, Kevin, when he's about ten and curious, who asks his father, "Did Mom used to be pretty?" Maybe the question lurches Lyle back to this moment, standing in the dark beneath the brilliant, slow explosions of light, studying how straight her back is; then she turns and bends toward her friend and something in the tilting of her body wallops him with a desire so harsh he makes a sound. Maybe that's why his answer to his son is so harsh—"What difference does that make?" He can't answer his son directly, can he? Or tell how he was utterly certain, talking to her, that if he put out his hand and touched the spun darkness of the hair at her temple, her smile would only deepen?

So. No stories get told this night, and the story of this night will never be told, even between them, but it goes on for all that. Lyle goes home a goner, Mary goes home just as bad, and then the waiting part begins, because this is still 1960, long before young ladies began telephoning young men, and this is still Lyle, who hasn't stopped being cautious and mostly content just because of the way a girl he met says "It's grand, so," and makes him imagine touching her hair. When he can't get her voice out of his head but begins to be afraid that he doesn't remember it quite right, he still has to work his way around to finding out where she is, and that involves her friend in his department, and with one thing and another it's well into September before he telephones her and asks her to a movie. She says yes, and says yes when he calls her again, although it's October by then; this is the pattern of almost involuntary patience she'll never quite lose and he'll never quite recognize as patience, which will make him even more impatient with everyone else in his life, including his sons, who don't practice it in his behalf. But by the time he calls her again, to invite her to Thanksgiving dinner to meet his mother (things have gone that well, or that inevitably), she's gone.

Years later she'll tell stories of her childhood, of Irish people and Irish adventures, funny stories and inspiring stories and now and then a sad story, but she'll never tell the story of how she answered the doorbell and took the telegram that was addressed to Mary Curtin and stared at it as if it weren't her own name. She'll never explain how distant her own horror at herself seemed when she read the words MOTHER DYING and heard herself thinking I'd be too late. She'll never admit that she doesn't know what she'd have done next if her employer hadn't come into the corridor then and asked what was wrong.

But she doesn't have to know that, because Mrs. Cunningham does come into the corridor, so Mary does the right things. She explains, she apologizes; she has the price of the ticket back in her savings; she must go; she doesn't know if she'll come back. She does it all with dignity and calm, the telephoning, the packing, the leaving itself, and not until she's on the plane and night has fallen does the terrible thick guilt of it begin to squeeze her across the chest.

She lands at Shannon, takes the Galway bus, and gets out in the still early morning in Oranmore. A man happens to come up the footpath and sees her, and he says, "You'd be the Curtin girl, come back from America," and when she says, "Yes," he says, "Sorry for your trouble," so she knows, as she walks the last three miles, that she's too late, and she doesn't need the black ribbon on the door of the house to choke her with grief and regret, and she doesn't need Roísín's bitterness to make her feel the tug of the halter of shame at the nape of her neck, but she gets it anyway.

Roísín opens the door to her and turns back into the house without a word. It's left to Mrs. Joyce, who has come to help, to ask, "Would you see her?" So Mary steps unwelcomed and unembraced into the front room, still in her coat, and touches her mother's hand for the last time. She knows what her mother would say, what a load Roísín has carried alone this past year. As she stands there in the cold, Mary accepts Roísín's bitterness as just, and bearable. She believes that before spring she'll be back in America; if the Cunninghams don't want to sponsor her again, Father Martin may find her someone else. Or she can get some kind of work here and save.

But when she leaves that room, meaning to put her suitcase in a corner and take up some task in preparation for the wake, her father has come in the house, and Roísín dries her hands to embrace her. "I was taken strange," Roísín says, "seeing you there so American in your coat. You're welcome, Mary," she says, "you're welcome home again. The tea is on."

Mary's mortally tired; she hasn't slept for thirty hours. She kisses her sister and turns to kiss her father, who stands beside the fire. "It's good you've come," he says, "with Roísín off in Galway City now."

"Off?" Mary says.

"Oh," Roísín says, with the breath of a laugh, "I didn't write it to you, but Michael Joyce and I are being married. In Christmas week."

Mary stares, Roísín grins, Da folds his arms and snorts. "Did you think you were away?" he says.

For just that one moment Mary believes they have killed her, but in the next moment she is simply lost, unhappy, and at home.

Right then, without a cup of tea or a bit of rest, she accepts their tribal, intimate revenge, begins her penance for the sins of abandonment, hope, desire.

She takes on her mother's work and then her sister's, and protects her heart with prayer and exhaustion. She doesn't recognize the slow creep of hopelessness, doesn't know she's sinking, settling into the suffocating bog of it, until Lyle's letter arrives in mid-January and she finds herself unable to breathe.

It's only a letter, and rather short, though she reads it a dozen times. He writes about the weather, which is bad in Boston this winter, and says he's being promoted at work. He doesn't mention that his mother has had a stroke and that he spends his evenings now, after the nurse has gone, trying to pretend she isn't drooling, trying to pretend he doesn't understand her demands for cigarettes he'll have to hold for her. He never does tell Mary about that first year, or the guilt that stains his relief when he finally puts his mother into a nursing home and lives alone but still not free of her in the apartment they shared for so long. In the same way, Mary never tells him about Da's growing strangeness—the way he has taken to shouting up the chimney and hiding food and sometimes staring at her as if he suspects her of something—or Roísín's small, breezy cruelties. She writes instead of the weather and farming in Oranmore; he tells her about Irish politics, and she tells him droll bits about Irish people; she wonders about movies, and he tells her she's missing little. After the first year she asks him about world affairs, and he mentions his mother's illness; he writes vaguely of hoping to travel, and she mentions her sister's babies and her youngest brother's departure for work in England; she asks about his work, and he explains why buying a house is more sensible than renting. The courtship is odd and awkward, but it sustains their hearts through a long dark time.

And then one day in the third year, a week to the day after his mother's death, Lyle drives to a travel agency. His only idea is to be going somewhere, away from the empty apartment and the closet full of his mother's things, to be making arrangements, putting large and permanent things in motion and order. He writes a check; in four days he'll be on an airplane for Dublin, where he'll get a train to Galway and a bus to Oranmore. He figures he can take a taxi from there, or rent a bicycle, or walk if he has to. He doesn't question the propriety of paying an unannounced transatlantic call on a woman he has met only three times; he wants to see her, and she has always said yes, and he has nowhere else to go.

At the same moment—though it's late afternoon there on the small farm in County Galway—Mary is sitting on her bed dabbing a wet rag on the cut on her cheekbone Da's punch opened. She's panting, but not as badly as she was, and although she keeps a wary eye on her door, she isn't really afraid. Still, something will have to be done: she'll clean herself up and walk to Galway and speak with Roísín. She can't talk him past these sudden rages anymore, and with nobody left at home except her, he'll eventually knock down somebody who doesn't love him.

Five days later, as two elderly gardai lean smoking against their car with her suddenly cooperative father, Mary searches under his bed for the shoes he says he's got to have if he is to go with the lads to Saint Bridget's Hospital. She finds a plate of moldy potatoes, two copies of Key of Heaven, three knives, and a sock stuffed full of one- and five-pound notes. And the shoes. She runs to the car with the shoes, her heart pounding, and says, "Da," and he meets her eyes with his sly ones and winks. For an instant there in the thin sunshine he's the father of her best childhood mornings.

"Your mother made me them stockings," he says.

"Did she," she says.

"She did," he says, yawning. "Fine heavy stockings. I'm off, so," he says, and throws the cigarette away.

She watches the car down the yard, and she's crying, of course, but she'd hardly be human if some corner of her heart weren't preparing to wake into something new, if some corner of her mind weren't calculating how much money a sock could hold. So when she imagines that the fellow wobbling along the road now on a bicycle looks like Lyle Sullivan, she tells herself, I'd not be human if I didn't think of him now, but in penance for that humanity she stands a minute longer, waiting for him to pass by and prove her foolishness.

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