Saturday, 27 December 2014

American Wake

            His mother called a couple of days after he got his Green Card. He could almost feel her tears flow down the phone.

            “You’ll surely come home for Christmas, Sean. How many years has it been now – seven, eight?”

            He’d been dreading the question. Besides, why go back now? He’d settled into his own Yuletide customs. Work late Christmas Eve, then a big night out on Bainbridge with the lads; hungover as hell on Christmas day he’d barely make dinner with the cousins on Long Island. Before you knew it was over, back to work again Stephen’s Day.

            Things were finally going well with the flooring business, and with the Green Card he could put the deposit down on the house up in Pearl River. Fix it up by the summer, have his mother over for a couple of weeks, take her up the Catskills, the usual.

            It wasn’t that he didn’t miss her but it was a small town back home and you never knew who you’d run into.

            His mother was waiting at Shannon. He hadn’t been able to say no and in the warmth of her hug all his apprehension drained away.

            It was all good, the sight of familiar places, the deep green of the grass that he’d forgotten. His sister had the big breakfast ready the minute he walked in the door, the perfect taste of the tea, the smell of the fry. The visits to aunts and uncles, the first night down the pub - all of it coalescing in a swirl of Christmas lights, smiles, hugs and jet lag.

            He stayed off the main streets. You never knew who you’d run into and as the days counted down to the return flight he began to relax.

            He shouldn’t have gone to the disco. The DJ played all the old familiar songs and every step of the way home provoked a memory.

            He only went to mass on Sunday to please his mother. He’d barely been inside a church in The Bronx except for weddings and christenings.

            He went through the motions, more interested in the crowd than the proceedings - guitars and folk songs now rather than incense and the old hymns. Fr. Joyce still ran the show, his face creased with age, far less sure of himself than when he was curate and they used to argue about faith.

            He was thinking about the big job in Pelham that he’d bid on when the mass ended. He was shuffling down the aisle in the thick of the crowd when he saw her. 

Her hair was shorter but there was no mistaking the color, and anyway James was ushering her along. He had filled out and there were flecks of grey in his hair.

            Sean tried to turn around but the crowd pushed him forward. He lowered his head and was almost past them unnoticed when Fr. Joyce called out, “I thought that was you, Sean!”

            The crowd parted and there she was holding firmly onto two fidgeting children.

            He’d always imagined that the girl would look like her. But no, she was bland and uninteresting like James. The boy though had his mother’s sensitive green eyes and the perfect shape of her face.

            James dropped his wife’s elbow and over-eagerly thrust out his hand. “I’d heard you were home, Sean, you never called.”

            Sean muttered some banality.

            “I’m sure he’s too busy for us now.” His wife stated calmly.

            She hadn’t changed much, just a little older but it suited her. She held his eyes unflinchingly and the years drifted away. She was as lovely as ever.

            Then the boy dropped his coloring book. As she rose from picking it up, their eyes met and for an instant she was her old self again. She took his hand as if to shake it but instead squeezed it gently.

            Then she was gone in a flurry of embarrassed goodbyes, off home to cook the Sunday dinner.

            “I suppose you’ll be having the American wake tonight, Sean?” Fr. Joyce diplomatically broke the silence as Sean counted the devastating hours until the flight from Shannon.

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