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From Long Island, which was published last month by Scribner.

When Martin entered, the bar was empty. Jim served him a bottle of Guinness, then went into the stockroom at the back, pretending he was busy, hoping that Martin would leave when he had finished his drink. When he returned to the bar, however, Martin was still there.

“My sister Eilis is back from America,” he said. “I suppose someone told you.”

“I heard, all right.”

“You used to do a line with her. It’s a pity that didn’t work out. I’d have free drink for life.”

Jim did not reply.

“Her and the mother aren’t getting on at all. They’re like a pair of cats. I don’t know what’s gotten into the two of them. So Eilis has gone down to Cush, to my little shack, on her own, to get away.”

“To Cush?”

“Yes, she’s down there on her own. She must be going mad.”

As soon as Martin left, Jim found himself feeling almost as sad about losing Eilis as he had felt twenty years before. The sadness that had lingered for six months or so after she left returned at odd times, often on a Saturday night when he went up the stairs after the pub had shut. It seemed so wrong to him that she was now back in town but that they would not meet, that she would not get in contact. She might depart once more without his catching even another glimpse of her, as though they were strangers.

In the silence, and with nothing to do, Jim decided that he would drive to Cush. But the idea of a firm encounter with her made him stop for a moment. How would he explain his decision to drive down to Cush and find her?

It would be simple, he thought; he would tell her the truth. He would recount to her Martin’s visit to the pub. He would not stay long; he would assure her of that. It was really just to see her. Would that explanation be enough?

He could hardly have asked Martin precisely where the house was. All he knew was that it was near the cliff.

In Cush, he parked the car at the top of a lane that led down to the sea. He passed a mobile home, a single-decker bus that had been cemented into the ground, and then a few modern huts. The smell was of clover and grass, and in the distance he could hear the sound of a tractor.

When he turned down the next lane, he found two houses on the left-hand side but no sign of life, no parked car or clothes hanging out to dry. If the tractor sound were not there, this could easily feel like a place abandoned.

At the end of the lane, there was a low ditch, but no set of steps leading to the strand. He stood on the ditch and looked down at the calm sea and the deserted shore. Perhaps Eilis had just driven down here and gone for a walk and was now back in her mother’s house. He was almost relieved at the thought that he might not now have to meet her. The stillness, the calm waves, the thin white clouds in the eastern sky, the empty houses, emphasized how inhospitable this place was to an outsider, someone who did not even know what house he was looking for.

As he walked back to the car, a woman standing in the gateway of the second house was studying him closely.

“You look like a man who is lost,” she said.

“I was looking for Martin Lacey’s house.”

“Martin’s not there. I heard his car blasting off early this morning, and I haven’t heard him coming back. He has to do something about the car.”

Jim hesitated. He wanted to ask her if Eilis was in Martin’s house.

“Now, you are the man that has that pub in Enniscorthy,” she said. “I am Lily Devereux’s mother. She used to talk about you. I remembered you because I had seen your name over the pub.”

Jim still saw Lily Devereux sometimes in town. She had been on the board of the credit union with him. News would spread that he had been seen in Cush. He would have to be careful what he said.

“Well, I was looking for Martin. But I’ll find him in the town.”

“His sister is there now in the house, one of the neighbors told me. She has a rented car with a Dublin registration. I don’t think I know her at all.”

“Do you know which house is Martin’s?” he asked.

“It’s beyond the judge’s house,” she replied, “below the marl pond.”

Jim made clear that he did not know what she was talking about.

“It’s the other lane,” she said. “I always call it the good lane, although this lane is good, too.”

Jim nodded.

“And is your wife well?”

“I’m not actually . . . ”

“Well, there’s plenty of time. And you would be a great catch. A fine-looking man with a nice business. I’d go for you myself if I was a year or two younger.”

“I’ll tell Lily I met you.”

“Don’t tell her what I just said. She’d murder me!”

“I’ll say nothing.”

He had the keys in his hand, ready to open the door of the car, when he stopped. There was another noise in the distance, the sharp, piercing sound of a chain saw. It was coming from over the hill, cutting through the thick silence that seemed to seep up from the strand. He sighed and put the keys in his pocket. He would walk down “the good lane,” as Mrs. Devereux had called it. If he saw a car with a Dublin registration, he would know Eilis was there.

The car, parked to the side of a small house that was in need of repair, stood out in the landscape, louder than any noise. A model he had never seen before, it was new in a way that nothing down here was new. He wondered if Eilis might see him from one of the small windows of the house and if she would come to the door without his having to knock. He stood and waited. Perhaps she had indeed seen him and decided to retreat into one of the back rooms.

He would go down to the strand, he thought, and walk by the sea. On his way back, he would stop again, and he might be in luck, she might emerge or appear at a window. He would have to let her know that he was not going to make a nuisance of himself. That would be important, but it might be hard to do were he to appear without warning at her door.

When he saw her walking toward him on the strand, he realized she would be alarmed at the sight of him no matter what. He was an intruder on her solitude. But she had seen him; he could not turn. Her hair was wet from the water. She was wearing a blue dress and had a towel under her arm. As he was trying to work out what to say, a wave came rushing in toward him and he had to dart quickly away from it.

He felt for a moment a sense of pure disbelief that this was happening. He looked down at the sand, and when he lifted his head she was there, the expression on her face not angry or fearful but puzzled, almost amused.

“How did you know I was here?”

“Martin was in the bar. He told me.”

“And you drove down immediately?”

“I saw you on the street a while ago and I worried we might never get a chance—”

“How are you?”

“Good. I’m glad to see you.”

“Will you walk back with me?” she asked.

If anyone were to meet them now, he thought, they might be a local couple taking a walk, but when he stole a glance at her, he saw that this could not be true: she did not look like a local woman. Her dress could not have been bought in Ireland. And the natural way her hair was cut, accentuated by the wetness, set her apart, as did the smoothness of her skin. But more than anything, it was the ease and confidence she had.

Her face was thinner; he could see some wrinkles at the corners of her mouth. But her eyes were bright and alert, and her gaze was focused as she turned to him and spoke decisively.

“I’m told that you are doing a strong line with a woman in Dublin.”

“Who told you that?”

“Everyone knows it.”

“Except me.”

“Is that why you’re blushing?”

He could think of nothing to say in reply. He wasn’t sure if she had really heard such a thing or if she had made it up in order to break the silence.

“And you?” he asked.

“I’m a married woman and a mother.”

“How long are you staying?”

“Four or five weeks more. My children are coming at the beginning of August.”

He noticed that she did not say her husband was coming too and was glad. He would not relish seeing Eilis with her American husband in the streets of the town.

“How is your mother?”

“Well. She’s well.”

He wanted to ask her why she was here alone, but every question he thought of seemed wrong. It occurred to him that he really wanted to ask if she had ever regretted not staying with him.

“Do you like it down here?” he asked.

“It’s so calm, so empty.”

When they came to the steps that led to the cliff, she found her sandals. He helped her climb the loose sand to the first step. As he took her hand, he thought this might have been what he came down here for, to touch her once, to have her smile as she leaned on him. And then to walk slowly behind her up to the edge of the cliff.

“My hair still feels wet,” she said. “It takes so long for anything to dry in this air.”

In the lane, he saw what she was doing. She was somehow making this encounter natural, uncomplicated. He would get no chance to ask her anything. As the early evening sunlight caught her face, her smile was a mask. But there was no strain in her voice.

“Your accent hasn’t changed much,” he said.

“Sometimes I try to sound more American, but the kids say I just sound even more Irish.”

“Have they been to Ireland before?”


“Nor you, since you left?”

“This is my first time since then.”

Neither of them, he knew, would have any trouble remembering what “then” meant. He wished he had been with her all these years, but there was nothing that could be done about it now.

It struck him that since this was probably the last time he would see her, he should say something. But then he thought it would be best to leave it.

“You look so sad,” she said.

“I feel sad seeing you.”

“Don’t be sad about that. It was the way it had to be.”

“And do you ever. . . ?”


“I don’t know. Do you ever think about me?”

As soon as he had said it, he knew how wrong it sounded. It was as if he was looking for pity or needed her to say something comforting to him. He watched her thinking; she had decided, he saw, not to respond. When he had known her, she was softer. She would have made it easier for him. Now, as they stood by her car, it was clear that she wanted him to go. She put out her hand. That was as much as she would do.

He would say nothing more to embarrass her or himself.

“I hope I didn’t surprise you too much.”

“Not at all,” she said.

“I thought we should see each other, and it would be hard to do that in town.”

When she did not answer, he reached out and shook her hand.

He walked up the lane to his car, noticing that the noise of the chain saw persisted, cutting through the air with the same sharpness as before. He stood and inspected the horizon before taking out his keys and opening the car and turning it so that he could go back to Enniscorthy.

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