Something to the West

Alan finished the last of his smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, turned to Monica, and said, “Let’s take a walk on the beach.”

“The open air would be nice,” she said.

The waitress arrived with the bill, and Alan said, “Wonderful service. 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 found time to see Ireland. Alan had managed a comfortable early retirement, and now they could move through their lives in a less deliberate manner. 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.

They figured a stay in their ancestral homeland would encourage a better future. Instead, things had been going from bad to worse. Alan continued to drift away. Monica couldn’t understand what she had done wrong or how to repair their numb, wounded life, and she wasn’t sure if it mattered anymore. She had her own issues to face. Her days were passing with diminishing grace, and she didn’t know what was left.

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.”

“The Sidhe,” Alan said.

“Who?”

“They shouldn’t be bothered.”

“Who’s not to be bothered? I have no idea what you’re talking about, Alan. Are you the one not to be bothered?”

“Let’s just keep to the trail.”

This was the way it would always be, Monica thought. 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 said, “Monica, I’m not coming home for a while. I’m sorry it amounts to this, but it does. I need to figure some things out. This is the right place. I’ll stay here until I’m ready to return to the States.”

Part of Monica had been waiting for years for this. She said, “You can’t hide forever, Alan, and I’ll make you a promise. No matter how far you travel, you’ll never find home. Never. I tried to give you the most beautiful home I could, by God. Everyone knows that. And this is what’s left? 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. How selfish and hurtful. You’ll die over here. You’re a lost soul, Alan, a lost, ruined soul.”

She marched away, up the beach and back toward town as fast as her legs would carry her.

Alan watched Monica crest the hill and disappear. He walked to the shoreline, gazed at the clouds, and stared out to the West at a sea he didn’t know. Behind him were people he didn’t really understand, but he didn’t care. He felt at home, here. The location was magnetic. 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.

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