A zigzag of lightning cracked against the sky. Beth jumped.
"What you need," Eamon said, "is a Guinness and black-currant. For the nerves."
Beth was drawn to brogues, Emerald Isle kitsch, the shillelagh-and-tea-cloth brand of Irishness. Now she had invented a match game of family members and favorite drinks to help keep track of all the relatives -- a kind of mnemonic device in a glass. She even had one for herself: a rich dark stew of stout and syrup.
When at last their plane taxied down the runway and took off, the flight became an airborne booze cruise, the passengers' demands for little bottles of liquor noisy and unabating. Beth took out Speak Irish Now and read while she drank her little bottle of chardonnay. Foreign-language primers always seemed inordinately preoccupied with the weather.
"I think it's flichshneachta out there," she said.
What was that? Eamon asked.
"You'll get a lot of flichshneachta in Ireland," he said. He explained Beth's interest in the Irish language to the passenger beside them, an ancient man with a throaty, incomprehensible Cork brogue and a carpeting of dandruff across the shoulders of his suit jacket.
"No one has Irish anymore," the man said fiercely. He might have been objecting to shoes of a certain era, or an outdated dance step. He ceremoniously offered Beth a throat lozenge, and then joined Eamon in pretending they needed Beth to order extra cans of beer for them.
When they stood to deplane in Dublin, the man offered Beth a cold hand. "Ní thabharfadh an duine sin deoch uisce duit," he said, and then vanished.
"What did he say?" Beth whispered.
"He said you wouldn't give a man a drink of water."
AT customs they had to separate; Eamon and his Irish passport with a gold harp printed on the cover went to the left, Beth and her eagle-stamped one to the right. He walked backward and waved to her as he got in line with the other Irish citizens -- a young mother with a yowling baby and three stooped old men. Eamon looked oversized among them, a giant boy in a white sweatshirt scarred brown down the front with stout.
Yet Eamon was, after a decade in America, adulterated, only a partial Irishman, an uncomfortable Hibernian hybrid. "Resident alien," the card in his wallet declared him, like some half-recognizable species -- a turnip with a human head. He had always wanted to live here, he often said as they drove in heavy traffic toward Manhattan's show-off of a skyline, but he had always wanted to stay back home. "My detoured leprechaun," Beth told him, stroking the predictable cleft in his chin. "Cleft-chinned smithy of my soul."
But here they were, in the real Ireland, beyond the litter of Claddagh rings and Erin go bragh, the high-stepping of Riverdance on videocassette. Beth joined the long line for citizens of other countries, mostly Americans. Elderly members of a tour group were loudly exchanging greetings: "Top o' the morning to ye." The customs agents in their booths looked upon everyone, Beth thought, with unchanging expressions of glum suspicion. Maybe they didn't like such smarmy American aping of Irishness. Eamon himself hated Saint Patrick's Day, with its green-beer drunkenness and plastic bowler hats. Once, she had gotten him a card with a shamrock on it, and he'd laughed, but it hadn't been the laugh she'd wanted.