Vincent Holmes was born in Dublin and has been living in Galway since 1978. He worked for the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht for more than 30 years. Vincent earned a Master’s Degree from National University of Ireland, Galway. Over the years he has written short stories in Irish that featured on Raidió na Gaeltachta’s Peann agus Pár programme, Comhar the Irish literary magazine and a miscellany articles to both the Irish Times and Raidió na Gaeltachta. He is the General Administrator and an occasional contributor to The Galway Review.
Seven years married
By Vincent Holmes
The late Autumn of 1984 heralded my tenth visit on the job to North Mayo. As is usual it was pouring rain as I turned into the drive of the guest house that is situated three miles from Belmullet. Anyone looking at me would have thought that I had fallen into the sea. I was drenched, soaked through, tired and hungry. My host, a widower, made every effort to give me a kind hearty welcome but his heart wasn’t in it. It was just three months since his wife had died and he had lost his spirit on her passing. Loneliness pervaded every nook of the house. A kind of loneliness overcame me too as I thought of my own darling wife who had been left alone for days also due to the duties of my work. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that we would be seven years married this same week. My host’s low ebb was very apparent in the stilted small talk we made, and with more than a modicum of self-pity, I regretted, in hindsight, choosing his guest house as was my wont.
I asked, struggling for something to say, after conversing sombrely for a minute on his loss;
“Are there many visitor’s about?”
“Not many” he replied “ we have one lady visitor from France tonight.”
In that moment I got a blink of a glance of Josiane. In that instant she had crossed behind AJ, my host, heading from her bedroom to the bathroom at the end of the long corridor. AJ was telling me of the location of my own room but I heard nothing of his chat. Sweet God in heaven, no woman could be that beautiful. My breath caught in my throat – this was beauty beyond beauty, and she was every bit of it.
“I’ll turn on the electric under-blanket”, AJ said helpfully.
“Don’t “, I replied. “I’ll eat it later” – my soaring heart and fantasy already miles from his presence.
Who was she? What in the heck was she doing in a remote and isolated Belmullet? Where was her man? A little smile of pursuit appeared on my lips. The briefcase and bag we thrown on my bed and in that action work, loneliness, hunger, drenching and wife were suddenly forgotten. Whispering voices crept into my head “Seven years married.”
France, French, how would I greet her? I knew five French sentences. Nay, I was only codding myself, I had five words of French. What would I do? What would I say? It didn’t matter a whit my pulse was racing. I threw off my soaking coat and decided I would shave, shave for the preparation! Preparation? Preparation for what? The razor slid smoothly across my cheek and I stared in the mirror. As sure as anything Robert Redford was staring back at me. Errant wisps of hair were brushed across my pate and after a quick scouring under the armpits, a change of shirt, and a quick brush of the teeth, I was ready! After a final glance in the mirror and a tucking-in of my beer girth, tightly under my belt, out I went.
It was usual for AJ to have a flaming turf fire lit in the parlour. I stood momentarily outside its door, with half a French greeting forming on my lips. I opened the door by way of a grand entrance. There was no one inside.
I sat by the fire expectantly, staring into its flames, listening intently for any little noise that would announce her arrival. While I was in the middle of a dream, she glided in the door. Mon Dieu! A vision of pure loveliness. Her silk-like hair flowed caressingly down her back, her pert breasts danced freely under her light woolen top. Her kind brown eyes looked confidently and unflinchingly in my direction. Her cheeks were those of Aphrodite hewn from marble. Her lips were soft and seductive and her face was that of the Virgin. A graceful loving smile shone from her. My pulse stopped, froze. Time stopped. Words failed me.
“Bon soir” blurted out almost unknowingly as I was too smitten by her spell, her beauty and allure. With a huge effort, I tore my eyes away from her and stared into the fire for fear that she would think I was ogling her a temptation to which any man in his right mind would yield. “Allo” she responded quietly. The voice and music of an angel. My head was in turmoil. One half of my mind was trying to find a word, any word in French with which to communicate, the other half was floating stricken and afflicted by a yearning for love.
How do you say “Sit down” in French? How do you say “welcome”? How do you say “Oh my Juliet come hither into my arms?” And then, as happens an entire sentence of French that every pimply male teenager learns at school from an abler pupil popped into my head;
“Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” Crikey, It was on the tip of my tongue to say it but “Voulez vous sit down?” came out instead.
“Yourr Frrench iz likeh my Inglish not so gud, Oui?”. Oh my sweetness the accent alone would trigger a priapic outcome. In the heat and confusion of the moment I responded in Irish, the language of my upbringing.
“Gabh i leith isteach a ghrá!”
“Comment?” was her confused reply.
Both of us laughed at the melange of languages. Our keenness to communicate overcame our language difficulties, she spoke in broken English and I spoke in very broken French pulled from the grave of my schooling. Even with the language challenge we managed to get to know one another. She was a dancer, a danseuse contemporain, with the Theatre de Paradis in Paris and I was in paradise just conversing with her.
My conscience spoke to me again. “Desist! You’re seven years married, you’ve done nothing to bring solace to your host the chief purpose of your visit.” I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I would bring AJ out for a pint or two and invite Josiane too. AJ could act as chaperone. Haltingly I explained the proposal to her. A moment’s hesitancy flashed across her eyes but it quickly replaced by trust as she placed her confidence in us both as we headed out into the darkness of black, stormy, Belmullet night. The first step had been taken.
It did not help matter’s that my car was parked at the furthest corner of the small carpark. As luck would have it, the bulb was blown too in the yard light. AJ walked confidently ahead into the night his measured paces taking him towards my car with his spirits uplifted with the chance of a pint, company and a temporary respite from his lonely and sad abode.
“Merde, je ne vois rien du tout” she laughed, gingerly making her way, swallowed up in the darkness. In the pitch darkness nothing was visible to me either.
“Over ici” I encouraged, and taking a steer from my voice she walked straight into me. My nose buried itself in her hair. Her fragrance overwhelmed. A perfume of beguilement and seduction.
My heart exploded. Draw her to you, smother her with kisses, it screamed. Had AJ not turned on the lights of the car to aid our progress, would step two have been taken in that moment?
We looked a right sight rushing in the door of Paddy Conroy’s pub from the howling gale. Every head turned in unison in our direction. Eight pairs of eyes looked at AJ and myself for a split second and then at the French lady for an eternity. You could read jealousy, desire, lust and eagerness clearly in those eyes. Mortal sins came two-a-penny and the sixth, ninth, and tenth commandments took a mental hammering too that night. Was I in my element! The supreme show-off conversed in English with AJ the chaperone, French with Josiane and Irish with Paddy Mór. My French improved in direct proportion to the amount of pints consumed. She drank Harp, surely the drink of an angel. We spoke on every topic under the sun and when the conversation turned to family she remembered she wanted to call home in Paris. It suited my devious plan very much not to tell her that the large sign behind her back with guthán written on it was a public telephone nestling in a corner of the pub. I omitted to mention too that AJ had a telephone back at the guest-house. I am not one to miss an opportunity when it presents itself and I saw an opportunity coming in the telephone kiosk that was located in Church St – a short distance away. I concocted an excuse to go out in the storm to the kiosk having ensured first that we had the correct loose change for the public telephone. In went the two of us into the kiosk. I offered up a prayer in the hope that its door would jam even for a minute, but it didn’t happen and alas we managed to get the international operator on the line without any difficulty. In a twinkling, I found myself outside of the kiosk again, in the rain. It was a gentlemanly exit and withdrawal in order to afford her the opportunity of having a private conversation with home. Another opportunity to execute step two had slipped away.
We returned to the guesthouse shortly after midnight. AJ announced that he was off to bed and bade us a tipsy goodnight, crooning his way out of earshot. Josiane and myself continued our chat into the night back again in our cosy parlour. The howl of the gale outside and the patter of raindrops on the window added to our comfort. All we were missing was a bottle of wine. We were old friends now, two souls brought together by the serendipity of life. The dying embers of the fire attracted her and she kneeled down stoking the embers with the tongs. There was an uncertainty in her look as if some message was radiating to her from the embers. I stopped talking. The silence affected her presently. She turned in my direction and all she said was “ Quelle bonne fortune” and in single movement she put “step two” in train. She kissed me lightly on each cheek and without saying anything else she slipped out the door. It closed momentarily then it opened again, just her head appeared and she winked at me.
I felt as if I was wedged in my chair, I could not move a muscle. It was as if five hundredweight of cement were weighing me down. Did you ever see the likes? What was in the wink? French women, of course, were notorious for their bed antics. The answer came to me in a flash and I raced in the direction of my room. In one wild flurry in the dark, I threw off my clothes, except for my underpants and after a hasty brushing of my teeth I jumped between the sheets of the bed to wait.
A large crucifix adorned the wall overhead.
“Say a prayer and bolt the door” a voice ordered in my head. “Lead us not into temptation, lead us not into temptation.” it urged. Seven years married. The eternal debate echoed through my head. I imagined her tip-toeing in my door, her nightdress slipping to the floor, her arms around my neck and her sweet French seductive whispers in my ears.
“Layoff” said the voice in my head. “ Be faithful to yourself, your faith, your wife”. “Don’t sin!’
The internal debate raged interminably.
“Go on, ya eejit, opportunity comes to to pause, not to stay.”
A heightened libido caused me to toss and turn ceaselessly. It was then I heard the light knocking on the door. Surely, it wasn’t happening! My mind screamed
My heart whispered,
“Stay out, go away!”
My body stiffened like a rod.
“No, this is not happening”, but the knocking came a second time. It had to be the branch of a tree hitting the window in the storm. Where are there trees on the North Mayo coast? I sat up in the bed and cupped the bedclothes up to my chin.
The reply stuck in my throat.
It was a loudly whispered timid and anxious “Oui?”
“Good man, unplug the electric blanket” said the voice outside in a strong Mayo accent.
The following morning the note on the breakfast table read
“Chèri, tu es très très gentil. J’ai deja un chagrin d’amour. Je n’ai besoin d’un autre. Josiane”
When I left the guesthouse, it was still pouring rain and my car’s front-right tyre was flat.
© 1984 Vincent Holmes. Translated from Irish and first broadcast in Irish on Raidió na Gaeltachta’s Peann agus Pár.