I made sure I bumped into her St. Paddy’s Day. In the harsh broad daylight, middle of Grafton Street with the Dublin shoppers and tourists out in full force.
She shimmered, rosy-cheeked, kissed me softly on the cheek. “Hello, Andy.” She’s the only one, other than the lads and me ma, I ever let call me ‘Andy.’ None of the other girls. But I was so sure she was the one. I’d met her our first film acting together, and grabbed her up. Even ma, back on the farm I couldn’t wait to leave, liked her. “Don’t let this one go,” ma said. But I was bloody stupid.
“Something’s different,” I said. Her copper hair was cropped short, modern, pixyish. It glinted, reflected the sun crooked. Ten long years with me it’d been breast-length, silky. My fingers ached at the memory.
“Right you are.” Her smile was ever the best part of her, a smile you could get lost in and not come out for days. Toward the acrimonious end of us I had seen little enough of it.
“I heard you’d hooked up again.” I shot the words deliberately, telling her it was too soon, much too soon. The shaft found its mark, and right there in the middle of the bricked-over street, her aura seemed to dim. A successful solicitor in the city, for chrissake. “Didn’t make it a month, did ya?”
“It was over long before I walked out on ya.”
“Could ‘a fooled me.” And kicked myself. I could never keep me mouth shut. Then I made it worse. “Bloody short skirt.”
“Like it?” She twirled, her ivory sweater-coat held billowing-wide like a spinnaker, forced her confidence back.
“I bet everyone on the street, everyone in the whole of Dublin city likes it.” Except me. Except me.
“Aye, there’s the rub.” She sighed, re-wrapped and belted against the chill. She knew I’d never liked sharing her.
She fixed that deep honey-colored gaze on my face, checking round my eyes. Pinned like a dart on the board. I never did hide anything from her. “You’re looking terrible anxious, Andy.”
“It’s a big gig, this film.” I was buried in process: pages of dialogue, a character to be. Scoping out the other actors filling the holes round me in the script, making ’em react the way I wanted… She could ‘a waited, run lines with me, had faith. “It’ll make or break me.”
Her laugh kicked me in the stomach. “That’s what you always say, no small roles. I’m happy for you, Andy. I hope it’s the big one.”
Five months later filming was over, and I came back to spend a day with the folks on the farm, see the old Dublin gang. You can never tell with films ’til the editing’s over, and the music added, and the critics fed, but I had a deep solid feeling about this one. The character fit like electric blue spandex. We’d had a good bit of fun together, he and I.
If I was right – and I knew I was – life would change. I’d been disappointed before, too many times. Good work lost on a cutter’s floor, script seen for what it was – a mishmash of cut-and-paste – when time came to put the bits together. But this one…
For this short while, only I knew this strange power, the rightness of it. When the movie premiered, everyone would know.
I had to tell her. I stalked our old haunts, pacing O’Connell Street from square to bridge, at closing time. I almost missed her. She came out of Clery’s department store, headed away from me. I’d know that walk anywhere, but something was odd. I sprinted to catch her, tapped her shoulder.
I should ‘a known, I should ‘a known.
The middle of her was a rounded mound. From the back I’d noticed looseness where she usually pulled her shirts tight, proud of her taut little body. She’d invariably dressed smart, but she’d added expensive. She laughed at my reaction. “Surprised? You knew bloody well I always wanted me own.”
“Is… Is it mine?” I asked, with the standard stunned gape of the male of the human species. Christ Almighty, the complications…
She flushed. “Get over yourself, Andy. Don’t ya think I would have told ya, ya bleedin idiot?”
“Are ya sure?” She’d wanted babies. Hell, I’d wanted babies – and now I could feed ’em. It’d be awkward, but I could manage, we’d manage…
“Christ, Andy. A woman knows.” A dark shadow flitted over her face, was gone in the soft afternoon. “Be happy for me, Andy.” She squinted at her cell phone’s misted screen for the time. “Have to go. Be well.”
Why’d none of the lads said a word?
She didn’t even hear me stutter I was happy for her.
Too late. It was the big one, sudden fame, everyone wanting a bloody piece of me. Me? I wanted more than anything in the world to share it with her.
She knew where to find me. She came to our old pub, McDuff’s, one night in early December. Crisp, cold out; warm, thick in. Her hair gleamed dully, reflecting the dim lights.
The lads shielding me from the new vampires vanished, leaving a sudden hole round me at the scarred oak bar. She took a barstool just like old times. “Thought I’d find you here, Andy. I knew you had it in you.” And her face was full of joy. For me?
“Heard you had the baby.” She hadn’t changed her perfume. My perfume. The gold sheath she wore, with an open gold leather coat, backdropped her coloring. Damn if she hadn’t shrunk quick back to size. “Where’d you leave him?”
“A pub’s no place for a baby, Andy. He’s with me ma.”
“Not with…” I could ‘na speak the supplanter’s name. I could ‘na ask her about him. The thought of his touch on her perfect skin…
“Sure a mott has to get out once in a while, right?” She glanced over her shoulder, and there he stood, dark, soft, impeccable, holding a Guinness for her. She took the pint from him. “Thanks, Fitz.” She looked at me. “It’s good for the nursing.”
He slid the coat off her shoulders, possessive. He put out the other meaty paw. “Congratulations, fella.”
I would ‘a been a boor in front of all me new fans had I not shaken it.
Ritual completed, the room’s air suddenly relaxed. Best man wins.
But I hadn’t. I had what I’d thought I wanted most: me face on billboards, a contract for another film with numbers me folks had never seen, talk of golden statuettes.
Even in that ratty pub, girls of all hair colors waited impatiently for the ceremony to end.
He held her gaze. “Don’t keep us waiting, luv.” He kissed her crown to mark his territory, jerked his head toward a table in the far corner where some other young couple stared our way, nodded to me.
She watched him go, turned back to me. “Would ya like to see a picture, Andy?” She didn’t wait, pulled out the zippered wallet I well remembered, showed me a snap of a fat copper-fuzzed baby, coaxed into grinning as he drooled.
“He’s a beauty.” What else could I say? I’d checked: under Irish law, and her a married woman, in spite of it being a new Millennium, I couldn’t even ask if he was mine. For the life of me, I could ‘na put out me hand to touch the plastic sleeve… but I stared long enough to make her twitch.
“Think we’ll keep him.” She closed the wallet, tucked it away. Her eyes were somber, but only for a moment. Then she twinkled as of before, when I’d bring unexpected Chinese in printed cartons to our tiny two-room flat for supper and we’d toss lines back and forth and talk ’til dawn. “I really am happy for you, Andy. It’s what you always wanted.” She left me there, joined her friends. And him.
The pack descended on me, loud and needy and obsequious, and the next time I turned round her table was empty.
And I can’t get it out of me head, this image of a growing lad, copper-topped and cradled in her lap, but looking a little like me? Too much like me?
Special thanks to Brian McInerney
If you liked this story, Pride’s Children is the continuation of Andrew’s story.