To the West

Alan finished the last of his smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, turned to his wife Monica, and suggested a walk on the beach. Monica agreed that a walk in the open air was just what they needed. When a young woman arrived with the bill, Alan told her, “Perfect service. Thank you. And our compliments to the chef for a superb breakfast.”

“And thank you for visiting Cuchulainn’s Pub, sir,” she said. “It’s nice to take care of courteous Americans. We hope to see you again soon.”

“You will,” Alan said as he left a generous tip.

Monica looked at Alan quizzically but let the remark pass as she draped her shawl over her shoulders and rose to leave. After twenty-three years, they had finally gone to a place where no one could find them and anything could happen. Their three daughters were out of the house, and Alan had managed an early retirement. They were both very private people, made more so by the loss of their son Kenny to a car accident when he was sixteen, a rollover on a snowy night on the back roads of New Hampshire. A New England Patriots Super Bowl poster still hung on the wall of Kenny’s untouched room. Now, this extended stay in Ireland was a way for Monica and Alan to exercise a form of freedom neither of them had ever known, and it would help them to forget, or at least to remember differently.

They stepped outside into a skinny cobblestone street that led them to the edge of town, where pavement gave way to fields of patchwork green that glittered in the morning mist. They walked down a path between plots of land separated by low rock walls that had tried their best to contain cattle and sheep for hundreds of years, with varying degrees of success.

As they moved deeper into the countryside, Monica pointed into the distance and said, “Alan, look over there! Look at those mounds in that grove of trees! Who in the world could have made those? So desolate and beautiful. Let’s go take a look.”

Something told Alan that those mounds had been built by a race of people that wanted to be left alone. There was no way he was going to intrude. He said, “Let’s just stay on the same trail.”

This was the way it would always be. During time spent together, they chafed against each other’s wills, and in time spent apart, they wondered who they used to be. When they got to the beach, Alan told Monica he wasn’t coming home for a while because he needed to figure some things out. He would stay right where he was until he was ready to return to the States. Monica wasn’t altogether surprised and even a little relieved. She had been waiting for years to hear this, but she had been holding in her own frustration and anger for as long as she could remember. She wanted to chisel the moment into a fine point.

She said, “You can’t hide forever, Alan. No matter how far you travel, you’ll never find home. Never. I tried, and I’ll leave you with one final thought, if you even care—don’t expect me to be waiting for you when you decide to come back to the States, if you ever do. How selfish, Alan. How selfish and hurtful. You’ll die over here. You’re such an idiot.”

She marched away, up the beach and back toward town as fast as she could.

Alan watched Monica crest the hill and disappear. He walked to the shoreline, gazed at the clouds, and stared out at a sea he didn’t know. Behind him were people he didn’t really understand, but how could that matter? This would be home for a while. The location was more important. He would write as much as he wanted. He would listen to the wind and watch the waves and think about the whispers of the past, and no one needed to understand why.