The fire burned low, so that it was only embers in the hearth, and still we sat side by side. It was our wedding night: outside our new home, neighbours still whooped and hollered; games were played, the men were rough on Poitín and the women flushed with envy and desire. And still we sat, like wax dolls in our finery, my dress like a shroud around my feet, tripping me up if I walked, pulling me down to earth so that my whole body felt filled with mortality. If I glanced at you – not often in my shyness – your hand was always at your collar, strangling you into respectability.
The time drifted by and still we sat. Limbs trembled from exhaustion and anticipation while eyes sought refuge in the sinking flame. You coughed nervously. I thought with relief you were about to break the awful silence with some ready jest, the kind of smiling tease that had made me first look at you. Instead you shifted in your seat and sank back into taciturn reproof.
Where was my Jamie, where was my man? When we walked in lanes in summer, you picked dog roses and put them in my hair. Let others sneer at our lover’s clichés – I pressed them that night and tried not to hope that your handsome laughing face meant more than to turn my head, that your words, so quick so witty, meant more than fools gold. Where was my laughing boy, who carried me over a stream in winter, strong arms around my waist, swinging me over mud and laughing at me fright? Had he run away, frightened by this stern man with shuttered eyes and hands that were so still, resting on his knees as if in church? My Jamie would not sit in silence.
I stared into the fire and remembered; long hot summer days, your hand in mine, dry skin rough calloused by work; your voice rising in excitement. How many fields, how soon and for how long, the cow from O’Ryans, the money your father left you. I let the words wash over me, only dimly aware of their meaning, these words in this place, spoken between man and woman. Your home, your mother's plans, your prospects - oh! You laid them out before me like a cloth of gold, like rippling fields of corn in August. My heart took flight when I realised the grave nature of your talk, that I was divine in your eyes and beloved.
Now we sat like mourners, in the night: bound by enchantment and rooted to the cold flagstones. Did you look at me and marvel, at the cold composed line of mouth and the pallor of my cheek? What did you think, then, of the girl you called your little bird? Did I look like matron of the parish, impossible to imagine in mirth or in anything but disapproval?
The fire stirred and the crumbling coals settled. Far out in the night an owl called and the wind sighed gently through the eaves. The candle guttered and you stared at it - you turned your head and tilted it towards the shuttered windows, as if you were listening for some sign, some token that would reconcile us to ourselves. Whatever the object, it worked - you turned to me with a face suddenly relaxed in the dying light the first glimmer of a smile creasing the corners of your eyes. Without warning the blood rushed to my cheeks, and tears to my eyes. You reached across and softly touched your finger to my lips. I caught your hand and clung to it. The dark fell at last as without a word, the silence of our vigil was broken.
Saturday 28 April 2007