Half Stone Walls and Kissing Frogs - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Half Stone Walls and Kissing Frogs

Keira, a thirty-something, graduate student from Baltimore, spends the year in Dublin, working her thesis. Frustrated over her research, she takes the Dart to the city of Howth where she experiences the magical, mystical Ireland and a chance at prince charming.

Half Stone Walls and Kissing Frogs

Keira’s eyes blurred out of focus. She’d rubbed them dry hours ago. Plastic vials of dry-eye solutions lay nearby, empty. A horrible, relentless, headache throbbed behind her temples and after three days of pain relievers and caffeine, her brain refused to function. Somewhere deep inside, her brain imploded.

“I’ve…I’ve had enough.” Nothing made sense. The research outcomes for her PhD dissertation weren’t making sense, and hadn’t made sense since she began correlating the numbers last week. Too many outliers. The outcomes skewed, numbers all over the place and her preconceived conclusions wrong, absolutely wrong.

But Wrong! How could they be wrong?

Normally, she’d call Dr. Swanson, the chairman of her committee. She was living in Dublin for the year too, working on her own research project, while Kiera worked on her dissertation. Times like this, she knew she’d made the right decision to follow her here instead of trying to write her thesis at home in the States. Too many distractions at home. Unfortunately for Keira, Dr. Swanson had decided to take three weeks off and travel throughout Europe with her family. Besides, she’d just tell her to take a break for a few days and start over. “Sometimes the obvious is the biggest obstacle,” was her mantra.

“I can’t do this anymore. One more minute in this apartment, staring at these statistics! I swear I’ll quit my thesis or worse.” She signed out of her notebook, barely controlling an overpowering urge to throw it out the window.

“Where the hell is that backpack?” Keira Fitzgerald searched through the tiny bedroom closet and found the bag jammed in a corner in the back, and under a pile of shoes and dissuaded clothing. She dragged the blue-gray bag out of the closet and flipped it easily onto the bed. Unzipped, she found a wrinkled blouse, a pair of worn sandals, a flash drive and several notebooks full of overlooked notes. “Damn, that’s where they were. All those hours I spent looking for them.”

rock wall (5)She tossed them on a pile of notepads, stacked on the corner of the desk. Keira replaced the items with a pair of jeans, t-shirts, socks and underwear from a pile of unfolded laundry in the corner of the room. In the kitchen she rifled through drawers until she found several gallon sized plastic bags and filled them with toiletries from the shelf in the bathroom and whatever she could cram inside. “Sun block…just in case. Even though it was summer in Ireland, the weather was more likely to be overcast and rainy than sunny. A few days in the sun would be a luxury, but too much to expect. She sighed at the thought. A little warmth would go a long way.

A cold breeze rambled into the room and reminded her to lock the 18th century windows. The layers of paint and warping made them difficult to shut completely, but with some force, she managed. She pulled the shades half-way down. Keira surveyed the room. What else? Her computer stared back at her, with expectation.

No! No way!

She grabbed her purse, checking for keys, credit card and added her hidden stash of euros. Twisting the apartment door key into the lock, she checked her pocket one more time, touching her apartment keys with her fingertips. She’d locked herself out of the apartment too many times, so she always double checked for her keys. Phone? She reopened the door, found it in the bathroom behind the toilet, returned to the kitchen to collect the charger and stuffed them into her purse and lastly re-stuffed her purse into the bloated backpack.

“God knows I have to get out of here,” she almost screamed. She took a deep, controlling breath.

She scurried down three flights of narrow wooden stairs and onto a side road behind Exchequer Street in a touristy section of Dublin. Pausing for a moment, she pulled her thin jacket closer to her chest, trying to decide what to do next. She decided on the Dart.

She took a taxi to the Dart at Pearse Street Station and so avoiding the long walk through Trinity College.

Once inside the aging, brick structure, she shifted the weight of her backpack to her right shoulder and moved towards the ticket window. A man, dressed in an official uniform, a proper hat included, looked at her from behind a glass partition.

Where to go? She hadn’t thought of a destination, only that she needed to get away from her apartment in Dublin.

“May I help you, Miss?” His gray-white handlebar mustache wiggled under his lips.

“Yes, but a minute please.” Her eyes flew over the list of arrival and departure times on the board overhead. Her eyes rested on the city of Howth, the end of the line. The end of the line, just like me…at the end.

“Howth, please, one round trip ticket to Howth.”

“Ah, Miss, it’s a lovely day for a trip to Howth. Enchanting place.” He paused for a few seconds while his attention drifted to another place but quickly coughed his way back to business. “Excuse me, Miss. Wish I was going myself. A walk along the Cliff Loop. Now that’s the way to spend a day.”

She smiled at him and passed the money through a slot at the bottom of the window and in return, he passed her a ticket. “Use the entrance to the left.” He pointed his finger over her head.

“Thank you.” She followed his directions and soon faced a row of waist-high, metal turnstiles. She slipped her ticket into a slot, a bar opened, she walked through and reclaimed the ticket on the other side.

She found the platform and gaged her waiting time by the digital clock overhead. It was eerily quiet. She shifted her backpack to her right shoulder.

“What am I doing? I better let Dabney know where I am.” One look at her apartment, disheveled and wild, everything thrown all over, she knew she’d be worried, maybe even call the police.

“Hey, Dabney.”

“Are you okay? I came from your apartment and when you didn’t answer, I let myself in. What a mess. I thought you were barricading yourself in for the week. I was coming to rescue you…drag you out of your place for some real coffee. Since you never answer your phone anymore.” She heard an announcement over an intercom.  “Where are you?”

“I’m at the Pearse Station waiting for a Dart to Howth.”

“Howth?”

“It’s the farthest station on the line. At the end of the line, like me. I’m taking a few days, maybe stay the weekend. I’ll have a breakdown if I don’t get away from that thesis.”

“About time. You’ve been here since last fall and never taken a break.” Silence. “Hey, you want some company?”

“Give me a few days…Maybe the weekend?”

“Understood.”

“Got to go. Dart’s coming.”

Keira watched as train cars flashed passed her creating a rush of wind pushing against her. She stepped back just as the dart came to an abrupt stop. The doors opened automatically, and she stepped into a nearly empty car. She decided on a seat facing the windows and doors, perpendicular to the forward motion of the train. Two older women followed behind, one walking adroitly with a cane and another supporting a cloth bag, filled to overflowing with grocery and bakery items, Keira recognized a package of freshly baked lemon scones and her stomach growled without shame.

As the automatic doors closed with a crisp, snapping sound, the two women plopped into their seats,  About three empty seats ahead of her, she noticed a father with his son. In the seat across from them sat a teenage couple. They clung together; their arms and legs wrapped around each other in a torrid suspense. Hope they don’t decide to do it on the Dart. She turned away.

Ah, sex, how she missed that too.

Several well-dressed men entered the car at the Tara Station. She eyed their lap-tops and mentally noted the familiar brand names. Technology was the center of her world like the fashion scene was for others.

She watched as one of the large women stood, holding the poles for balance. “Molly, ours is the next stop. Can you stand without falling?”

The seated woman smiled and tried unsuccessfully to pull her body up. Keira left her seat and walked over to the second woman.

“Here, let me help you.” She offered the woman her hand and the woman pulled her weight against Keira’s body. She managed to pull herself into place and Keira helped her to steady herself. The Dart stopped and Keira helped as the two struggled out the doors. She thought for sure that the doors would slam on the two before they could pass through the doors safely.

“Bless you child,” the second woman called back. “A bright Irish morning to you.”

How odd. What a strange thing to say.

mapannShe returned to her seat and immediately began thinking though the statistics that would describe the actual number of seconds required for passengers to enter and leave the trains. Enough. It’s already been done. She shook her head and watched as the train made its next stop.

The sign read, Connolly, The open air waiting area was covered with layers of graffiti. “An American inspiration,” she chided her country. As an American, she felt a tinge of responsibility for the mess on the countryside walls.

The Dart moved on. Outside her window, she watched as the suburbs and harbor transformed into countryside. The scene blurred and the Dart whirled past groves of spindly trees, dirt roads, and rows of tidy houses “Clontarf RD Station” and then past Killester; she lost track after Kilbarrack, absent in her own thoughts.

A streak of sunlight pierced her eyes and she turned away from the stinging rays. She stared into the window on her side and was startled to see her reflection staring back. She examined her thirty-something face. It was pleasant enough but rather ordinary. Mousy brown hair, tied back in a pony-tail, dark brown eyes, straight, narrow nose and a small mouth. Even without make-up or creams, her skin was tight, smooth, but she had good skin, always had.

Even Adam had commented on her skin. Ah, Adam, that break-up proved a messy business. She really loved him, maybe still did. So charismatic. A born actor with all the right words and smooth moves. Good looking too, Kiera would have married him but finally came to her senses and let him go. He was a jerk. It wasn’t only him. I was a jerk too.

She shook her head in disbelief at her own thinking. “Three years and I’m still willing to take the blame for the breakup. He didn’t want a marriage, he wanted a patron, someone who was willing to financially support him while he pursued his acting career and overlook his so called artistic liaisons. Three years ago, but still not enough time to erase the hurt and shake off the control he held over her, still held over her. Dublin provided the change of scenery she needed to heal from the unhealthy relationship with Adam.

“Next stop Howth Junction.”

Her attention turned towards the young boy standing, holding the support pole as the train came to a stall. She watched as the father said good-bye to his son. Wonder what the statistics say about single parenting in Ireland? Single fathers, single mothers? Instinctively, she reached for her cell phone to search for answers but stopped. She closed her eyes. No stats! No numbers! No wonder she was falling apart.

“I’ll see you next weekend.” The boy smiled, with hesitant eyes, and once outside the Dart, he waved good-bye with his child’s hand.

The father mouthed, “I love you.” Keira sensed a sadness in their parting, something that couldn’t be measured in numbers.

“Howth, end of the line, Mind the Gap.” A prerecorded voiced announced.” The doors opened in perfect synchrony.

Howth

She stepped out onto the opened-air platform and a soft breeze caught her off guard. She inhaled a cleansing, deep breath.

On her right, the tiny ticket booth stood empty. A simple card read: Closed until 2:00. Last train to Dublin leaves at 4:00. She’d have to find the tourist center on her own and walked out of the Dart Station.

rock wall (2) (2)On her left the bay spanned out beyond her vision. She took in another breath and watched as a dotted trail of tardy fishing ships sailed towards the harbor and their berths. Walking with slow even steps, she followed the promenade along the harbor, passing a row of moored ships bouncing in place. On the decks, fishermen worked, preoccupied with cleaning and packing the fresh fish into iced containers. Somehow, they managed to keep their balance in spite of the slippery decks doused with sea water and fish remnants. Keira bypassed a queue of talkative vendors standing alongside the ships, waiting, ready to claim their orders. She continued on, following the cement walkway, passing unopened restaurants, busy fish markets and finally entered the tourist center building.

“Hello, Lass. What can I do for you this morning?” A middle-aged woman with speckled brown and gray hair, questioned. She faced Keira, standing behind a tall counter covered with an array of pamphlets.

“I’d like to rent a room for a couple of nights, maybe three.”

The woman’s spectacles slid half-way down her nose and Keira felt the woman’s eyes assessing her. “By yourself are you?”

“Yes. I can pay credit card or cash.” Keira noted an ATM machine in the corner of the room.

“Well, it just so happens I’ve a room available. It’s in my own house, a bed and breakfast, off the main street, across from the bakery. Kitchen privileges but you’ll have to share a toilet. There’s a common bath.” When Keira cringed at the thought of sharing a toilet and bathroom, the volunteer suggested. “I’ve another room, really a flat. You have your own toilet and a shower, but it costs more and I need a four night booking. Breakfast included.”

After a feeble attempt at negotiating the price, Keira took the flat. “Here are the keys and my card with my cell phone number. My name is Midge O’Rourke,” which matched the nametag on her cardigan. Then she circled her name on the business card. “Your room should be ready by noon.”

Then she opened a map and laid it flat on the counter. “Here’s the way,” and she drew a line on the map.” She babbled on about sites and hikes, what to see, but Keira wasn’t listening.

“I’ll be here until 2:00 and at the house around 3:00.”

“Thank you.” Keira half-smiled as she shifted her backpack and took the brochures from the volunteer’s eager, outstretched hand.

“The sun’s out. A fine Irish morning, a fairy day for sure. You should be able to catch a scent of coconut from the yellow gorse on the heathland today.”

Keira answered with a blank stare.

“The yellowish evergreen shrubs, covering the slopes. You’ll know them when you see ‘um.”

“That sounds nice. Thank you.” Keira turned her back to the woman, opened the door and left. The couple waiting behind her, eagerly filled the vacated space in front of the counter.

Outside, Keira breathed in the sweet air, filling her lungs to bursting, until an unexpected cough forced her to exhale. She caught her breath and stood quietly for a moment, her mind encircled with possibilities. The peace and rhythm of the harbor waves, the warming sun and the noisy sounds of gulls and kittiwakes filtered over her.

She checked her watch. It read 10:15. With two hours to fill, she decided to try the Cliff Walk, but as she passed a weathered building, a make-shift restaurant, her stomach growled, demanding food and her throat ached with thirst. At first she tried to shake off the sensations, as she always did, but then decided to get something to eat.

She found the only empty table on an outside patio. The other tables were already occupied with chatting and energetic customers, Locals or tourists? She couldn’t tell. A Tour group she finally decided.

“And what can I get for you, Miss?” A woman about her own age and height, but much thinner, appeared at her left.

“Coffee, please, American, if you have it.”

“Yes, we do. Would you like a mug?”

“Definitely. I’ll also have an omelet, cheese omelet.” Keira handed her the menu. “A bowl of oatmeal too. With cream.” The waitress smiled and walked away. She returned with coffee and a small pitcher filled to the top with fresh cream.

Keira added a heaping serving of the cream to her coffee and took a sip. Perfect! She drank half the cup and began to feel more awake, alert. With the mug in one hand, she unfolded the tourist map, searched over its contents and decided the Lower Cliff Loop looked promising as a starting point. She looked up from her map, searching for visual cues in the distance. Easily she identified the Yacht Marina, a cement building housing toilets and another eatery marked the places in her mind.

Her breakfast order appeared quickly and she refolded the map. Famished, she devoured every morsel of food, and realized she couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten a full meal. She paid the check with her credit card but instead of leaving, had to sit down again. Her stomach felt like it would explode, so she took an extra few minutes to take in the place while it settled. Finally, able to stand, she hiked the short distance to the Trailhead.

On her left, peeking out over the hillside appeared a line of tidy, colorfully painted houses. Their backsides faced the harbor, each building clinging tightly against the steep cliff. Cement zig-zag stairways led the way from harbor to back door while the front entry of the houses faced the one lane road.

Keira stopped across from a warm- yellow house outlined in shutters. A few yards away, two men caught her attention. They shared a laugh, clearly enjoying the moment. Their youthful, confident faces, presented a contrast to the half-circles of white hair growing on each side of balding heads. Obviously twins, their identical collies sat regally imposing, alert and waiting for a movement command. Keira passed by overhearing a jumble of words but nothing coherent or worth contemplating. She was good at eavesdropping, but had no inclination to do so right now.

She continued along the path in a somber mood, but almost ready to turn back, when, without warning, the ruins of an ancient wall unfolded before her. She found herself staring at the skeletal, stone remains of an immense fortress, now jutting over the landscape in an odd- shaped circle. In the center of the property, and near the road, stood a palatial building. A home? It looked like it might be occupied but it was closed off with metal, ornate gates, locked tightly. Her eyes wandered over the grounds. Eroded platforms, uneven arches of stones and half standing walls stood against the Irish Sea. Her imagination ignited slowly like a soft flame suddenly alive.

Keira closed her eyes and paused as a light wind skimmed across her forehead and the warm rays of sun touched her face. Her eyes gently opened. There in the harbor, she watched a pair of open Picards rowing in rhythm towards the bay, while a carvenal and a group of wooden ketches, masts filled with the wind, raced out to the sea. Their forms melted out of vision and her mind’s eye followed a trio of English clippers delivering some kind of cargo. Perhaps wood. A Viking ship sailed into sight with its masts full and the decks covered with ant-like activity. Its crew, busy, capturing loose, belligerent sails with muscled arms, while other men yelled in the distance.

She felt through layers of generations, men, women and children, villagers lining on the landing below in anticipation or fear, waiting for the arrival of ships that defined their lives. Norse, Celts, Vikings or perhaps a Roman convoy? English? She sensed their excitement and dread at the same time.

Keira’s overactive imagination proved predictable, especially when it came to the sea. Most of it had to do with her grandfather Fitzgerald. His mother’s family were watermen from the Eastern Shore and his father’s family had worked the Baltimore docks for generations, even from the beginning of the colony.

She spent her summer breaks with her grandparents in Baltimore. In the cool predawn mornings, her grandfather would take her down to the docks to watch containers unloading, take her fishing along the Patapsco River or just sail down the Chesapeake. Sometimes he’d take a few of the neighborhood kids along. He enjoyed the audience and the chance to repeat his seafaring stories. He retold stories of high adventure on the seas, Baltimore clippers running through British lines and men lost at sea. He delighted in repeating stories of love lost and found, the impossible love between proper maidens and pirate rum-runners or Irish adventurers in general. He was a great storyteller.

After a while the stories turned real and Keira had a difficult time separating fact and fantasy. She exasperated teachers and her parents along the way. To her, these were real stories, adventures, as alive as life itself.

Though her adult life revolved around numbers and the challenge of research, these flights of imagination fulfilled the fanciful child inside her head. She could scare herself silly with pirates and sea monsters or take tea with a princess on a stone wall in a forgotten flower garden. She’d forgotten that part of herself.

It’s moments like this. I know I should’ve been a storyteller, maybe a writer. She let out a light giggle. Yeah, right. Try living on storytelling. A writer? No way.

Keira felt an urge to look down and noticed the wall in front of where she stood. It seemed oddly familiar. The irregularly shaped rocks had been stacked in unpatterned, wavy rows and lines. Granite stones, perhaps sandstone? All held in place with some ageless formula, a recipe of thick mortar. The stones lacked a sense of order and reasoning, but at the top, all was level and even.

Then she remembered where she’d seen walls like this one. As an undergraduate at Mt. St. Mary’s College in Maryland, she’d driven Rt. 550 past Camp David with her roommate, Allison, many times. Allison lived in one of those historical summer residences in Cascade Summit and Keira recognized the similarity between these stone walls and those bordering Allison’s home from the road.

Keira was fascinated. The stone walls in Maryland were topped with large chunks of white quartz instead of the mixed colors and varieties of stone staring at her now. She ran her hand over the time-weathered, smoothed edges and unfortunately, a not so smooth stone, pricked her finger. She put the bleeding finger into her mouth, while she groped inside her bag, hunting for a band-aide. She pulled out a crumpled but usable one, tore apart the cover and fit in snuggly over her cut.

“Isn’t there a fairy tale where a princess pricked her finger? She fell asleep and had to wait for her true love to find her, and then kiss her awake.” She spoke out loud and laughed. “Not a bad way to meet prince charming and forget the thesis, forget life. Just wake me when my prince arrives.” She felt a little better, somewhat refreshed and her body grew lighter.

Keira sensed someone standing next to her. She turned to her right and noticed a woman, staring off a short distance from where Keira stood. Keira couldn’t help but study her. She wore what seemed to be a homeless outfit: a faded-blue, cotton skirt, falling below her ankles, and covered with a long whitish apron, a stained, smeared cotton blouse, and a tinged wrap of some kind covering her shoulders. She wore boots, black and thick leathered. Strays of unruly, brownish-red curls peeked out from under a cap propped on her head and her white skin revealed blotchy red spots dotting her face.

She was focused on something or someone below and Keira followed her gaze.

“Eabha, what are you doing? Come back here. It’s dangerous.” An exasperated male voice called from an edge of beach far below. “Are you visiting one of them?”

“Off with you, Maitias. I’m just fine, taking a breath of fresh air.”

Keira stared open-mouthed at the most amazing man on the grassy ledge below. He stood tall, his muscles budging under a body wrapped in leather armor and animal skinned clothing. The curls and color of his hair matched the woman’s next to her. He stood ready, holding bow in his hand, a quiver on his back. Magnificent male! Just looking at him, made her body tremble in excitement.

“Am I experiencing the Irish version of the Outlander?” Keira laughed.

Surprised and irritated at the same time, the woman turned towards Keira. “Outlander?” That book again, she mumbled under her breath. “Are you one of those amateur time travelers? Fancy yourself a witch? Sorcerer? Not looking for rocks or stones for passing through, are you?”

Keira stood frozen. Is the woman serious?

“Well, it doesn’t matter, you must have the sight if you’re talking to likes of me.”

“Eabha, it’s not safe. The ships are coming in.” Maitias called. “I’m coming to get you me-self.”

“Ah, I’m coming.” She waved at Maitias, held up her skirts and started down a trail, through an open gate Keira hadn’t noticed before.

“I’m Eabha. I’ll be at the Abbey Tavern this evening. The food is decent and the pints unending. Now that’s the place to find a man from your own time.”

Keira looked at her in surprise. “Find a man from my own time? Thank you, no.” she shook her head. “Not looking.”

Eabha smiled.

“What kind of tavern is named after an abbey?”

“Who do you think supplied the beer in the day? Those monks in the Abbey were known for their special brew. The good sisters had their own recipe too. That’s why the place survived as long as it did, especially against the Vikings. Tamed the bad and rewarded the good, they did.”

“Eabha!”

She grumbled. “Coming!”

She turned to Keira, “His turn to wait. He doesn’t like it very much.” She looked into Keira’s eyes. “And what do they call you, Miss?”

“Keira, Keira Fitzgerald.”

A seagull screamed and Keira turned her head at the distraction. Her cell phone rang at the same time and she automatically looked down at her back pack. When she looked up, her eyes caught the last of the woman disappearing into a thick mist, the man walking along side of her. Like a kitten extending its paws, the fog stretched out over the bay and blanketed them and the ancient ships in the harbor.

“What was that all about?”

Her phone left a message ping. She begrudgingly gave into the phone, pulled it out of her backpack and clicked on the message file. Your room is ready. She rolled her eyes in exasperation.

She continued to stare into the distance, waiting for the fog to lift and to discover where the two had gone. The message on her phone beeped a second time and she automatically looked down. I hate that phone. When she looked up, the mist had disappeared and so had that woman and that magnificent specimen of a man.

Then she remembered what the woman had said to her. The sight? Whatever was she talking about? She shook her head. Suddenly weary, she decided to retrace her steps to the harbor and find the road that would lead her to downtown Howth and eventually to her room. Thankfully, the walk back to the harbor proved shorter than she remembered and once there, she easily found the turnoff to Howth proper.

The Abby Tavern

Halfway up the road Keira stopped, her senses overwhelmed. An ancient ruin of stones, a church of some sort, rose before her. She double checked her map for the location and realized that this must be the place the strange woman had told her about. She called it the Abbey. What was her name? The woman? Eabha? An odd name.

With the map still unfolded in one hand, she closed her eyes and stood still. Stretching out her free hand, she rubbed her fingers over the fragile edifice, absorbing the scent of ancient peoples and animals stained into the walls.

Keira opened her eyes slowly. Her mind studied, analyzed, the structures around her, ancient and new, mixed in together. Handfuls of wildflowers grew out of cracks in walls and birds roosted in naked arches in an overgrown garden. The walls crumbled in places creating caves which could be mistaken for fairy homes.

Thinking of fairies? Next I’ll be imagining leprechauns and pots of gold. Oh. Well, it is Ireland. She forced herself to continue walking, until, finally stopping at the entrance to the town. Nearby she found the front of a three storied home marked on the porch with a number matching the one on her map. A ceramic pot filled with tulips, marked the rental.

She thought the house charming. Its walls appeared freshly painted and the shutters, edging the windows, had been sanded and stained recently. A small fence and pots of flowers arranged neatly on each side of the entry, gave the place a tidy, uncluttered look. She fit the key into the lock and the front door lock clicked open. She walked into a short entryway, the parlor on her left and a small kitchen on the right.

“Hello.” she called, waiting a few seconds for a response. Silence. When no one answered, she closed the door behind her and began climbing a short flight of stairs which ended on a small landing above. Keira searched for a room number until she stood in front of a door with a matching number. She placed the key in the lock and the door opened with an odd squeak. Cautiously she peaked inside.

Pleasantly surprised, Keira closed the door behind her and stepped into the Irish-Victorian era.  She stood in what must be a miniature parlor, with a mini- kitchen to the left of the room. More a flat than a room, she recognized a bathroom and a separate bedroom, all decorated with pillows, lace and quilts. She headed towards the bedroom, placed her backpack on a side table and stretched her body over the bed. She closed her eyes and fell into a deep, timeless sleep.

A jiggling sound woke her. Her eyes opened sluggishly. She sat up confused. Where was she? It took her a few seconds to recognize her surroundings, the tin ceiling, the wallpapered room, and the odd lamp on the table next to her bed. Again, she heard something pushing against her door. A key jiggled inside the lock but the lock refused to budge. She wanted to get up but she could barely move. Her mind working awake but her body lay motionless, paralyzed asleep.

Without warning, the noise stopped. Her head cleared and she managed to sit up. Finally able to inch her way out of bed, she crept ever so quietly towards the door. Standing back, gathering her courage, she finally opened the door but kept the chain attached. “Hello?”

No answer. So she unchained the door and peeked outside, down the hallway. All was quiet. Probably noises from outside.

She reentered her room. Through the lacy sheers blowing over the open windows, she realized that the sky had turned a pale gray and the sun missing. What time is it?

A few clouds passed over a rising moon and the sounds of night life floated inside the room, enticing her. She decided to go out. The Abbey Tavern she remembered. Keira refreshed herself in the bathroom and headed down the stairs.

The woman from the tourist office greeted her as she approached a common room next to the front door. “Is everything to your liking, Miss?” She laid down a book she was reading and looked over her glasses.

“Yes, very nice, thank you, Mrs. O’Rourke.” She hesitated. “I’m supposed to meet someone at the Abbey Tavern. Is it nearby?”

The woman pushed her glasses back up her nose and looked up at Keira. She rose from her chair and opened the front door. She stepped outside and Keira followed. “The tavern is on the next block behind us.”

Keira felt confused. “Behind us?”

Mrs. O’Rourke added, “Over on the other side.”

“The other side?” She only saw lightless buildings and what looked like a thicket.

“Another way then. To get to the Abbey, go down to the end of the block,” she pointed with an arthritic finger. “Turn left and follow the road until you reach the third building on the right, the green one. Climb the back stairs and go around front. You’ll see the sign at the top of the stairs.”

A concerned looked passed over Keira’s face.

“You’ll be safe. Our streets are safe after dark. Anyone who stops you, you tell them you’re staying with me.” Keira started to move away, but stopped and turned. “The woman’s name is Eabha. She said I had the sight. Do you know what she meant?

“The sight?” She looked blankly at Keira and smiled. “Nothing of consequence, my dear, only an Irish superstation. Go on now. Have fun. ”

She watched as Keira walked down the road, shook her head from side to side, and stepped inside the house. The door shut securely behind her. Eabha, what are you up to?”

Keira rechecked her small purse for her room key and headed down the road with a full moon lighting her way. After a few minutes, she found the back of the tavern which was located behind the green building just as Mrs. O’Rourke had described. Carefully Keira climbed the rail-less, rickety steps, thinking the whole thing could collapse under her feet at any time. Once at the top of the stairs, she followed an equally unstable porch to the front entrance. She paused for a moment, surprised and relieved that she’d made it.

She stared at a thick wooden door, studying the hand hewn panels of wood, strapped into place with leather and timeworn, forged iron. She stood motionless. It stood tightly closed between her and what awaited inside. A strange feeling, almost a premonition, prevented her from opening the door. What awaited her behind this ancient door? She didn’t know.

The door gently opened without her permission. It slowly creaked open and she peered into a dimly lit room. In the far corner of the room, two men played an Irish tune. One strummed a tenor banjo while the other whisked a tipper over his bohran, creating that haunting drumming sound. The music drew her into the room.

As she stepped inside, she noticed clusters of people, probably regulars, sitting in ill-matched chairs in groups of fours and sixes around equally mismatched, tavern tables. They looked up at her with curious but tired expressions. Not a friendly group, she noted. The bar to her right was nearly empty, except for two men dressed in fishermen’s garb, talking intently with the bartender at her right. She made her way towards one of the vacant stools on the far end of the bar and sat there several minutes before a weather worn, bartender walked over to take her order.

“What can I get for you, Miss?” The man wore a gray-brown pony-tail and his leathery, muscled body and confident swank reminded her of the sailors she’d seen earlier that morning.

“A pint of Guinness, please.” She hesitated, “No, I’ll have a Harp and a cold glass, please.”

“Your first time here? Tradition is you order a Smithwick on your first visit.”

“A Smithwick? I’ve never tried one.”

“It’s an ale, the original recipe brewed by monks. Fits the tavern’s theme.” She turned around at the unfamiliar voice coming from behind her. She faced a broad-chested, athletically built man with a round face and very blue, deep-set eyes. Dark reddish-brown hair waved across his forehead and his full smile reminded her of someone.

Keira stared at him, tripping over her thoughts. Definitely nice looking, seems friendly, but the last thing I want, I need, is getting involved with some guy in a tavern half way around the world.

“My name if Devin. Devin Malloy.” He watched her, waiting for a response, but she continued to stare, making him uncomfortable.

“Will it be a Smithwick then?” the bartender questioned, impatiently.

What harm in having a beer with this guy. “Yes, yes, a Smithwick,’ she turned to Devin. “Keira, my name is Keira.”

“May I buy your first drink at the Abbey Tavern?”

“Yes. No! Thank you, I buy my own drinks” Her response sounded rude even to her. “Sorry didn’t mean to sound so rude.” Her tone softened. “Please join me.”

Relieved he sat down on the empty stool next to her. “American?”

“Yes.”

“American too, from Maryland, originally from Baltimore. I come here every year for two to three weeks.” The bartender delivered the drinks.

“And you?”

“I grew up in Baltimore.” And with an air of arrogance, she added, “But I’m here this year finishing my dissertation at Trinity College. Statistics.” Usually, the mention of the word statistics or dissertation precluded any further unsolicited, male attention, but surprisingly, not this time. He actually seemed interested.

“At Trinity? Impressive. What’s your topic?”

“Well…I actually attend an American University but working here for the year. Less distractions.”

“And your area?”

“Education. Actually education technology.” She took a sip of the brew and the liquid felt soothing against her throat. “The university received a huge grant to study the effectiveness of video games in influencing achievement in middle school. Want to see if there’s any correlation between the two.”

“That’s a huge task.”

rock wall (3) (2)“Sure is, but my subject area is math. Pre-algebra to be specific.” She turned away, somewhat ruffled. Not like her to be so chatty about her work.

“Did you actually design the video game?”

“Partially. I had some impute but couldn’t have done it without help. It’s been a long, tedious process.” She needed to change the subject rather than be reminded of those frustrating results back at her apartment. “You’re on a holiday?”

“Yes and no, I’m doing a kind of research too. I come from a long line of masons, a family trade going back centuries, or so I’ve been told. My people repaired and built stone walls all over Maryland and Pennsylvania. On a visit here a couple of years ago, I noticed the similarities between their work and the stone walls here in Ireland, particularly how the mortar and the stone fit together.” He took a thick swallow of his drink. “My family emigrated from Ireland to America. So not a coincidence, I guess.”

“I noticed the similarities too. I’ve seen some of those walls you’re talking about. Thurmont area? Did your dad happen to do any work near Mount St. Mary’s?”

“Not sure. As a kid I remember him talking ratios of lime, sand, Portland cement. But I never understood what he was talking about. And he’s gone now. Died right after he sold the business.” He paused. “Never bothered to ask him about his work. One of my life regrets.” A breezy humming of voices floated over the bar. A burst of laughter exploded behind them.

Devin looked over the bartender’s shoulder into the distance as he took a sip of beer, but then turned and stared at her. The way her head was titled, her hair wavy over her forehead. He froze. In that moment, he realized he’d seen her before, no, actually knew her. Did she remember him? The childish ring from the Cracker Jack box? He didn’t think so and decided to keep the realization close to his chest.

He coughed. “So here I am, exploring, maybe write a paper. Enjoying myself in the process. Beautiful place, Ireland.”

“Another round?” the bartender asked.

“Yes, I’ll have a Guinness and …” He turned to Keira.

“I’ll have that Harp now.” She answered his questioning gaze. There was something in that gaze that suddenly made her uneasy. “And a menu, please.”

“Good idea. I’ll order a cheese board for starters. Some apple butter on the side?” The bartender nodded his head.

“Apple butter? A reminder of my childhood. My grandmother made a batch every fall, and we’d sit around the kitchen table dipping Berger cookies into bowls of apple butter right out of the kettle.

“Berger cookies? From dow-nee-corner?”  Devin broke into his Baltimore accent.

“And we ate em on the stoop! Sno balls too.” She laughed. “AHm from Bawlmer Merlin, hun. Wouldn’t happen to have a Natty Boh on tap?”

“Why don’t we claim a table and try ordering one?”

“Sure.” She slid off her stool, feeling more at ease. She was actually enjoying herself and this Devin guy seemed nice enough. No pretentions, an easy-going manner, in some ways like meeting up with an old friend. Yes, he felt like an old friend. The defensive wall she’d built after Adam soften.

Smiling, Keira grabbed her beer, turned and faced the tables behind her. She hadn’t noticed before, but Eabha occupied a chair at one of the tables. She was dressed in a tidier version of her afternoon attire. The twins sat across from the table and all were focused on Midge O’Rourke who stood near the group, talking intently. Mrs. O’Rourke? I thought I’d left her at the bed and breakfast.

As Keira studied her, the group let out an unexpected roar of laugher, catching her off guard. She jumped slightly in surprise. Mrs. O’Rourke had been telling a joke.

The other tables were occupied with a mix of women, sailors from the wooden ships and the fishermen she’d seen on the wharf this morning. Half of the men sported modern day clothing, jeans, t-shirts and sneakers while the other half wore loose-fitting, linen shirts, and ankle length pantaloons. One of the men wore hand-knitted stockings under his slops, another, a short, wool jacket dotted with rows of wooden buttons. Their shoulder length hair, tied back with ribbons or plaited, and their leathery-lined faces gave them a wind-battered look. It seemed an odd bunch.

She turned to Devin with a questioning eye. His clothes, although a little odd, didn’t give her any hints, but his face, though unlined, had a reddish wind-blown casing over it. His hair hung loose over his ears, a little long but not unusually so. Was he one of them? Had he been on one of those ships?

“Are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”  He answered his own question. “But why not? This is Ireland isn’t it?” A wonderful grin spread across his face.

“Yes, so I’ve heard, ghosts are part of the Irish experience but no room for ghosts when working with statistics.”

“Yeah, well, yes.” He pulled out a chair for her.

“Thank you.” She sat down and scooted the wooden tavern chair under the table. “So you’re not a mason?”

“No, broke with masonic tradition. I’m actually an architect. So I can’t say I’ve completely broken with the building trades.” He took another sip and erased a trail of white foam on his upper lip with the back of his hand. “Sorry.” He offered when he realized she was watching him.

A thick-waisted woman, wearing an odd patterned apron over a long gray dress, appeared out of nowhere and placed a wooden platter on the table. Keira recognized the dark veined blue cheese and maybe a variety of white cheddar. A small hill of grapes and berries stood to one side. The woman left and retuned with a basket of crackers and a bowl of apple butter.

“Will there be anything else?” Keira tilted her head to one side, trying to decipher the woman’s thick Irish brogue. But no, she didn’t think it was Irish after all. Perhaps a dialect?

“Do you happen to have any of Guinness stew left?” Devin asked. The woman smiled in pleasure. “You like me stew, do ye?”

“It’s the best around. I’ve had it three nights running.”

Devin looked at Keira for approval. She nodded. The word stew caused her stomach to growl again.

“Yes, two bowls of stew.” Keira almost laughed. She hadn’t eaten stew in years. “By chance, do you have Natty Boh on tap?”

“Never heard of such a thing. Must be one of those foreigner’s drink. It doesn’t sound very nice.” She turned her back and left only returning with the stew a few minutes later.

They no sooner finished their bowls when the banjo and the Irish bohran drum jumped into tempo, inciting a hearty jig. Keira watched the people at the tables come alive. They challenged each other with merriment, a twinkling in their eyes. Teasing each other with laughter, they scooted out of the chairs and formed a circle. A mysterious dance unfolded. The hops and steps, the beat and rhythm, instinctual to the dancers and mesmerizing to Keira.

Without thinking her finger began to tap and then her foot followed. Impulses traveled through her arms and legs. She could hardly keep from joining them. Devin grabbed her hand. “No,” she laughed. “I can’t dance. I’ll embarrass myself and you too.”

He smiled a warm knowing expression.

“Can’t dance? Nonsense. It’s a dance from the soul.”

His hand held firm and she felt her body rise from the chair. The two joined the circle. Devin’s feet matched the pace of the others, but Keira stood still, laughing. This was absurd. She could never hope to keep up. But somehow, somewhere deep inside, a dance emerged. Her feet came alive on their own and before she knew it, she was stepping, twirling and swirling with the others. Devin laughed and she laughed back. She wove her body back and forth through the human circle, until the banjo player quit from exhaustion. The drummer lasted slightly longer.

The dancers worn and breathless, stood in quiet reprieve. Hands at their sides and knees, lungs drinking in air. Then with a silent clue, they walked back to the tables, collected their belongings and began exiting out the door.

Eabha nodded to Devin; he nodded back, standing off to the side, trying to reclaim his breath too. Eabha took Keira’s hand and started to say something to her, but the door banged open with a loud thud. Maitias stood in the entrance, his body filling the arched entrance. A menacing scowl formed over his face. His eyes scanned the room and finally rested on Eabha. Taking in a deep breath, he walked towards her. With a firm voice, in a tense whisper, he stood over her and said, “Eabha, you promised not to go meddling.”

Eabha retorted, “Maitias, I’m just being friendly.”

“You’re meddling and you know it.” He glared at Eabha with the most beautiful eyes Keira had ever seen. Liquid pools deep with blue, Keira couldn’t help but stare, fascinated, captivated.

He felt her stare and turned his eyes toward hers. She couldn’t break from his hold and felt her body drifting, rootless, and moving slowly into deepness, a crevice. She shuddered, felt something cold running through her blood.

Devin sensed a struggle and walked over to her side. He took her hand. “Keira? Are you okay?”

Devin looked at her with a quizzical smile and followed her stare to an empty space.

“Keira. Look at me. Keira”

With great effort and struggle, her brain, her reasoning overpowered and she forced her eyes from Maitias’ hold and moved towards Devin’s face.

“Keira!”

Keira returned a vacant, empty stare. Frozen in place, she recognized Devin’s eyes, searching into hers. Devin’s eyes were the same deep pools of blue but calming, comforting and they held her without repression.

Devin grabbed her shoulders to prevent her from collapsing.

A slight tingle, a warmth flowed through her body.

With a deep breath she awoke, the fresh breath opening her senses.

“Keira?” He held her hand.

“Yes.” she swallowed. “Out of breath. Sorry. Not use to all that dancing.” With her hand, she wiped a row of beaded perspiration from her forehead and felt a cool cloth wipe across her face.

Not able to surrender his hand, she followed his steps back to the table and wobbled into her seat. She stared at Devin for seconds. She opened her mouth to ask a question, but the word sounds escaped her.

The waitress intervened. “Devin, you need to get the Misses back to her room.” Her ruby circled cheeks puffed full under dark serious eyes. “Enough for one day, don’t you think?”

Devin agreed. “I’ll get her home safe. Should be easy enough.”

“She’s rented a room from Midge O’Rourke. Do you know the place?”

“Sure do. I’m renting a room there myself.” He turned towards Keira with sheepish eyes. “I was the one who tried to unlock your door this afternoon. Had the rooms confused.”

Keira smiled. “A likely story.”

“Better get her off.” The woman turned away.

“Great stew.” His words followed her.

She turned and faced him, “Go on with you now.”

Keira heard the woman’s giggle or was it hers? The room filled with laughter and then a swishing noise blanketed her senses.

 

The Cliff Walk

She opened her eyes and stared up at the ceiling in an unfamiliar place. Where was she? Panic? She felt her head floating on a stack of pillows and her heavy body supported by a soft mattress. Covered with a quilt, she dared to wiggle her toes and felt them free of shoes. Her ears caught the tapping of a fluttering curtain over an open window where a morning gray peeped through. Recognition. Mrs. O’Rourke’s room, her room, the one rented for the week.

Was that a snoring sound? She sat up, gently, feeling her head swirl, and managed to look through the open bedroom door to the sitting area. Keira saw Devin propped up in an overstuffed sofa chair with a crocheted blanket stretched tightly over broad, muscled chest. As if sensing her gaze, he turned in the chair. His head slipped down and he stumbled awake. His wide blue eyes opened slowly and he sat up straight. She watched as he swept his hand over his thick hair and brushed it off his forehead. He appeared disoriented but smiled at her gaze.

“Quite a night, don’t you think?”

“I think! What happened? How did I get here?”

“You passed out. We thought to call the ambulance but you seemed okay. I volunteered to take you back to the bed and breakfast. Called a cab. Mrs. O’Rourke opened the door, gave me a key.” He fumbled in his pocket and held up a key. “I told her I couldn’t leave you alone, especially after all the goings on last night.”

Her eyes narrowed. “All the goings on last night? What exactly was going on last night?”

“A bit too much fairy brew is what I wager.” He teased.

She stood up and realized she was still wearing yesterday’s clothes. At least he hadn’t tried to undress her. She walked into the sitting room. “Thank you, I guess?”

“The least you can do is buy me breakfast for rescuing you from the fairies.”

“The fairies? Is that what it was?”

“Meet you downstairs in an hour?” She threw a questioning look. “My room’s across the hall.” Her face relaxed; he was making sense. “I need some time to clean up.”

“Me too. I smell awful.” Was that horrific smell reeking from her pores?

“Meet you downstairs. Mrs. O’Rourke promised a pot of American coffee.” He walked towards the door and unlocked the dead bolt. “Do you have plans for today, later on?”

She hesitated. Where was this going? Nowhere, she decided. Breakfast was all she was willing to give. “Well…”

“I was thinking of hiking the cliffs. Make it a day. Want to join me? I’ll ask Mrs. O’Rourke to pack us a lunch.”

His wide-expressive eyes and vulnerable grin undid her. She couldn’t refuse but still, “I’m not sure.”

“If you have other things to do,” he countered.

She felt the heat crawl up her face and her reddened cheeks gave her away. “No, really I would like to go. I’d plan to hike the cliffs anyway.”

He studied her. “I’m not forcing you.”

“No, no.” she shook her head. “It would be nice.”

He smiled, an edge of victory on his face.

She followed him to the door and smiled as he turned to her in the doorway. “Meet you downstairs. I shouldn’t be long.”

She fumbled with the bulky iron key before finally locking the door and then spun around with her back propped up against the ancient door. The stiff wood felt hard, almost therapeutic, against her back. What am I doing? Going off on a picnic all afternoon with some strange man who’s obviously in tune with fairies or whatever.

Her body slid off the door and she walked into the bathroom. She looked for a shower, but quickly realized her only option was a bath. Fumbling with two faucets, she blended the hot water and cold water into a warm compromise and filled the clawed tub to just below the rim. She reached for a glass jar labeled, “Fragrance for the Bathe,” and pulled out a sachet, stuffed with dried flowers. She sniffed at the bundle. Keira wasn’t a fan of scented soaps or candles. Their sticky, sweet pungent smells left her feeling nauseous but this smelled different, promising. She dropped the pouch into the tub of water, curious. Immediately the delicate scents of flowers dispersed throughout the room; creating a light airy scent. This is nice.

Her eyes studied a jar full of handmade soaps. She lifted the lid, expecting the worse, but instead, a delicate honey suckle fragrance drifted into her face. It smelled wonderful too. She grabbed a bar and splashed it into the bath water. She undressed, tossing her clothes into scattered piles across the floor. Then she slipped her body gently into the warm sensuous water, the surface hot and steaming and her body released a slight shiver.

She stretched her legs and lifted her swollen feet, resting them on the other end of the tub. She laughed. Her toes stuck out like barnacles on a shell.

Her face dropped below the surface of the sweet-smelling water for a few seconds before she returned to the surface for air.

“Ah.” Every muscle in her body soften and her eyes closed against her will.

The next sound came from a sharp, pounding noise. Someone was beating on the door and calling her name. “Keira? Keira? Are you in there?”

With a quick jerk, Keira sat up. She stood and forced her body out of the tub. Soap trails lingered down her limbs and breasts. She grabbed a thick white robe hanging on a hook nearby and covered herself, tying a thick towel belt around her waist.

“Here. I’m here.”

She peeked through the tiny hole in the door and saw Devin’s worried expression. She opened the door slightly.

“I’ll be right down. Promise.” She smiled.

“You sure?”

“I’m sure. I think I fell asleep in the bath.”

He laughed. “Apparently so.” He grinned at her. The ends of her hair were wet and stringy and where the bathrobe opened and exposed her neck and upper chest, her skin glistened with tiny drops of water.

She noticed his eyes lowering and grabbed both edges of the robe and held them together with one hand. “Downstairs. Twenty minutes?”

“Fifteen?”

“Fifteen.” She closed the door and ran into the bedroom. She dumped everything out of her backpack and onto the unmade bed.  Where were those jeans? Clean undies, socks? She picked out an unsoiled but wrinkled t-shirt and slipped on her only extra pair of jeans.

Thinking shorts might be a better choice, she looked out the window. The curtain fluttered from a slight wind pushing inside and the few clouds drifting by looked harmless. Shorts might be too cold, though the afternoon sun might prove uncomfortably warm. She’d go with the shorts.

Keira decided against make-up but added a thick layer of moisturizing cream to her face. Shaking her hair loose of clinging water droplets, she tied her hair back into a pony tail and fastened it with an elastic tie. She looked up into the mirror and studied her face. She liked her face. It was a nice face and she smiled into the reflection before her. Her look, the natural look, worked for her, suited her lifestyle. It always had.

She glanced at the oversized grandfather’s clock as it chimed. Her fifteen minutes were up. She grabbed her backpack, filled it with a tube of sunscreen, her ID, and cell phone and walked out the door, pulling it closed with a force that strained her biceps. The rusted key clicked the lock and she headed downstairs.

Devin must have heard her clomping steps and greeted her at the base of the steps. “Hey, good morning.”

“Coffee? Do I have time for a cup of coffee?”

He stood studying her, his head slightly lifted to one side, waiting for something. “Oh, yes, good morning,” she mumbled.

“That’s better.” He straightened his head. “Sure plenty of time. You are on a holiday after all.” She shifted her backpack and followed him towards the kitchen, across from the main living area.

She set her backpack next to his on an oak settle in the entryway and surveyed the tiny kitchen space.

One wall, lined with painted cupboards, was separated in the middle by a sink and a curtained window above. A slight breeze caused the edged ruffles to sway back and forth, giving the room a graceful feel. A yard of the same tiny-flowered print hung below the sink, firmly held in place with a makeshift rod and hiding the plumbing along with an odd assortment of kitchen items. A second wall was completely covered with white painted cupboards and a refrigerator rested along a third. A small table set for tea or coffee requirements, stood between the refrigerator and a vintage 70s stove. A plate of scones sprinkled with threads of ginger, waited off to the side of the tea cups. Keira noticed only the percolator coffee pot on a cold, gas burner.

“Coffee is still warm, but you’ll have to drink it here. No to-go cups.”  He poured coffee into a teacup and handed it to her.” She looked at him with an odd expression.

“No mugs either.”

She searched over the table looking for a dairy substitute. “Cream is in the refrigerator and you’ll find raw sugar in the bowl. Mrs. O’Rourke left for the tourist center. Said we should make ourselves at home. Just lock up.” He opened the refrigerator door and offered her a white pitcher of cream. “She made lunches.” She topped off her coffee cup with a good amount of cream.

“Hmm. Wonder what kind of fairy dust she sprinkled over the lunches.”

“Wait until you try her scones. There’s something other world about them too.” He laughed.

She smiled. She liked his laugh. It was genuine, real.

Keira finished the black lukewarm coffee and reached for a scone. It disappeared in three bits. Delicious! She grabbed another one to take with her. “Well, let’s go.”

“Keira, we have all day. No need to hurry.” She felt his eyes linger into hers.

“Drink it black and fast. Wake up, brain.” His brows narrowed in question. “My usual routine.” She added sheepishly. “Maybe a second cup? These teacups don’t hold very much.”

She reached for the pot and filled her teacup, this time adding a brown lump of sugar and an even more liberal amount of cream. Devin shifted over to a map lying open near the sink. “There are actually three hikes we can take.” He looked up at her and she moved to his side, stirring the rich dark coffee with a tiny silver spoon. “These are the less strenuous ones. I’ve hiked them many times. They all start at the Dart Station on the harbor. I thought we’d start there, a quick walk from here, and then take the Lower Cliff Loop. It takes about 2 hours. It goes around Balscadden Bay and along the cliffs.” He traced the trail with his finger. “Once we’ve reached the Summit we can head back to our bed and breakfast or take in the Howth Castle or we might take the longer Trimline trail back to the Station. Depends on the weather.” He straighten and glanced at her. She was watching him intently. “Of course there’s the Bog of Frogs trail.”

“Bog of Frogs? You’re kidding. Sounds too enchanted for me.”

They laughed in unison.

“If you’re up for more enchantment?”

“Sure. Why not. Just as long as I don’t have to kiss frogs.”

“You’d give up the chance to find prince charming?”

. Prince Charming? A little corny but sweet. She looked up at him. There wasn’t a place for prince charming or any man in her life, but she couldn’t stop her eyes from searching his.

Devin held her gaze, tightly. The light fluttering through the window cast a slight cherry shade of red into her chocolate eyes. Her lashes were long and gracefully held onto her smooth, cream-colored eyelids. He felt something stir inside.

She too felt a rising excitement, a tingling of chemistry inching through her body. A kiss would be perfect right now.  But instead of holding his stare, she forced her face to pull away and looked down at the map. This was not going to happen, she thought. It’s a friendly hike. That’s all.

Recovering with a deep sigh, Devin managed to straighten his body. “It’s longer, takes about three hours. But we can begin at Balscadden Bay and decide when we get to the Summit whether to continue to Red Rock and the Bog.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“Well, if you’re ready then, let’s go.” He opened the refrigerator and found the lunches. He put one in his backpack while she rinsed her cup and placed it in the sink. He handed a bagged lunch to her and a bottle of water. “You owe me for lunch and breakfast too.”

“Noted.” She smiled while placing both items in her backpack. She stepped outside and waited on hand-hewed stepping stones.  As Devin finished up inside, she pulled tightly at her pony tail collecting the loose strands of hair floating over her face and wrapped the thick unruly wad with an elastic band. A slight chill hovered through the air, but not a hint of a cloud appeared overhead. The sky was expansive, endless and held her stationary.

She listened as Devin closed the door firmly and lock the door. He followed her stare into the sky as a flock of birds glided overhead. “What a great day for a hike.”

He took the lead and she followed behind on the narrow sidewalk until reaching the Abbey. As if on silent signal, they both stopped at the same time, outside what was once the main sanctuary. In silence, they stood next to each other gazing through roofless columns and over crumbling walls to the back of the see-through church.

“The place inspires me. Each time I see it, it’s like I’m seeing it for the first time.” He stood motionless, a bird cawing from the distance. “I’m always in awe of the workmanship. The roof collapsed centuries ago. Remarkable. Most of the walls are still intact.” Beyond them, a small group of people were quietly exploring the remnants of the Abbey. With an air of respect, the visitors avoided stepping on the flat tombstones, which were all that remained of the original flooring.

“The floor is gone, but the masonry work! So many walls still surviving. They look as sturdy as ever. Amazing.” Devin said.

They walked a short distance to the Dart but instead of turning right towards the station, they turned left towards the cliffs. “That’s Balscadden Bay.” He pointed out to her. “You probably saw it yesterday.”

“I did.” She turned her head and caught a glimpse of the twins standing in the same exact place as yesterday. The twin collies sat regally at their feet. The two men were in the middle of heated but friendly discussion.

Devin raised his hand in acknowledgment. The man facing Devin, waved back. The other one turned around and smiled in recognition. “Ah, taking the cliff hike? Good day for it.”

“Yes, but we hope to make it to the Bog of Frogs.” He added,

“You met Keira yesterday.”

“Not formally.” He had a warm smile and lively eyes. “Glad to meet you, Miss Keira. We’re known as the O’Gadain twins. I’m Niall and this is my brother, Owen.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“A student at the university, I hear.”

“Yes. Working on a thesis.”

“Needed a break from the pressure? Results not fitting into place like you envisioned?”

“Yes.” How could he know?

“I’d like to hear more about your thesis.”

Keira nodded, not quite knowing how to answer him.

Devin turned to the man, “Not today of course. I’ve promised a hike.”

“Nice to meet you.” Keira said. Devin took her hand and pulled her gently away from the two men. Once out of range, he dropped her hand. “Those two are talkers.” He studied her face for a reaction. “Once they start on their stories and the Howth legends, it’s hard to get away.” The warmth from his hand lingered on hers and she almost reached up to his. Instead she turned back but the men had disappeared.

She turned back to face Devin. “This entire place has an odd feeling. I feel pulled into something. I’m not sure what.”

“I know. Me too. Doesn’t matter how many times I’m here either. I’m drawn to this place.”

They continued walking and let the silence settle between them. The sounds of human voices and edgy birds floated up from sailboats and from car motors whizzing past.

The slight incline took them past the clump of houses on Balscadden Road. She stopped in front of one particular house, the outside plastered in white stucco and topped with a blue roof.

Keira broke the silence first, “Yeats lived in this house. I didn’t notice the plaque yesterday.”

Devin read the words cemented into the wall. His voice changed into a poet’s voice and the words took on a life of their own.

Balscadden House

  1. P. Yeats

Poet

Lived here 1880-1883

“I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

 

Dreams? How long had it been since she thought of dreams? Or anyone to share them with. Her university work, once a dream, now a fixated drive to achieve and accomplish, overriding the rest of her life, but still a dream.

Keira broke the silence, “Interesting word, dreams. Its meaning buried under layers of words.”

“I agree but it’s not the words alone. You have to experience that kind of ache to fully understand. I think this poem reveals vulnerability. He exposes all,” Devin spoke. “This poet has his dreams to offer, nothing more. He has no wealth, no fame, only his life. Take me as I am. Be gentle.” Devin looked over the row of houses into the bay. His eyes focused on the dancing rays of sun striking the water below.

“It was a long, long time ago, Keira.” He answered her soundless question. “I offered her all I had, I gave her myself, but I wasn’t enough.” He turned towards her and smiled sheepishly, vulnerable. “And you?”

“Me too,” she answered. “It was three years ago but seems like yesterday.”

“I had a feeling. So you buried your life in universities and statistics and I go chasing after the ghosts of brick layers.” He reached for her hand, an invitation, and she lifted hers into his in response. They walked on ahead.

The ruins stretched out before them. The scene overwhelming. He stopped almost in the exact spot where she’d first seen Eabha yesterday.

Was that only yesterday? She thought.

Absentmindedly he released her hand.

Keira looked up at him and followed his stare into the bay. He appeared to be watching an odd-shaped fishing boat approaching the harbor. It was inching its way into the harbor with a noisy flock of gulls chasing after the stern, fighting for the cast-off fish entrails.

“One of my favorite spots.” He turned to her. “This is where I first noticed similarities. The similarities between the stone walls of Ireland and Maryland. For a long time, I focused on the mortar. I was convinced that the paste, the glue was key to understanding the structure of the walls. I started with modern day formulas, recipes combining exact amounts of sand, lime, Portland cement and in some cases even seashells. Then I moved on to older formulas, some going back to the pyramids and into antiquity.” He glanced over the bay. “But the more I researched, the more I talked to the masons, the more I came to realize that mortar isn’t the most important part after all. Things like gravity load, thrust, selection and placement of stones, each effect the longevity of a stone wall. Not just the mortar.” He looked back at Keira. “I couldn’t see the big picture. It was all these things but more important, human minds thought through the process and human hands put it all together. Combining the parts to the whole to make a masterpiece. Human skill, artistry.”

She stared at him hard and suddenly understood. “My thesis is like that.” She turned towards the bay. A gentle breeze lifted loose her curls from the side of her face. “I realize now, the more I fight the statistical results, the less progress I make. Numbers are numbers. They can’t lie. I know that. But they’re part of a something bigger. Some human component skewing up results?  Something I can’t see. I’m so frustrated. I should be able to see what it is.”

“It’s ignoring the humanity, Keira.” She stared up at him, but he cast his eyes down onto the stone wall and ran his hand over the time-polished line of rocks on top.

“Ouch.” A jagged-edged stone had cut a tiny hole into his finger. He placed it in his mouth trying to stop the red liquid from oozing out.

“That happened to me yesterday.” She glanced down at the place. “I think it’s the same stone that cut my finger yesterday.” She held up her finger to show him the tiny cut.

He pulled out a package of band-aides from his pocket.

“If I guess correctly, Eabha should be appearing at any moment.”  She reached for the band-aide and took it from his hand. “Let me help you.”

“Eabha?”

“As soon as I cut my finger, she appeared.” His eyes were quizzical. “Probably a coincidence. Never mind.”

“You saw Eabha here?”

She tore open the packaging. “What kind of man carries a package of band-aides in their pockets?” She shook her head as she placed the pink strip on his finger.

“Habit. Pencils pricks and paper cuts can really mess up blueprints.”

“I understand. I admit I keep band-aides in my purse. Rarely need them. Some childhood obsession, I guess.”

A coconut fragrance enfolded them as they stood silently, quietly, searching deep into each other’s eyes, testing. Then his head slanted towards Keira’s face and she reached up to his and brushed his lips gently against hers. The touch was soft and sweet.

A thick cough broke the magic of the moment, and the two stepped apart. A father and mother hiking with their five children walked past. The father smiled at Devin and Keira.

“Nice day for a walk,” he announced, a squint of humor in his eyes. The children held back their giggles, covering their mouths with their hands. Devin and Keira waited until the group walked on, ahead before breaking into laughter. “Busted!”

“Well.” Devin traced the sky with his eyes. “A few clouds are coming in. They look harmless enough, but the weather is never predictable. We need to get going.”

Keira took out a bottle of water from her backpack and emptied half the bottle into her mouth without breathing. She replaced the half-empty bottle into her backpack. “I was thirsty,” she answered his quizzical look.

“Really?”

He laughed. “Ready?”

She nodded her head yes.

“The parking lot is up ahead and then once we round the Nose of Howth, we’ll be hiking the cliffs. With a day like this, we might see some seals.

“Or mermaids,” she teased.

“Mermaids?” he looked at her seriously. “No, not on these cliffs. Too far from Denmark.”

“Denmark? Hans Christian Anderson.”

“That’s what I hear.” He added. “But who knows? If one of the more adventurous ones decides to swim the distance and appears on the beach… ”

“Would you fall under her spell?”

“A mermaid spell? I can’t say for sure. They’re very enticing, beautiful creatures and I’m a mere mortal. A desirable mortal, at that. It’s all in her siren song you know.”

Keira looked into his teasing eyes and he questioned, “Would you be willing to fight for me?”

She blushed, at a loss for words, she finally added. “Sure, I guess.”

“Hmm. Not very encouraging. We’d better stay away from the trails down to the beach.” She smiled up at him. “I’m worth the fight,” he added with a serious tone to his voice.

“Well, that remains to be seen.” Her eyes danced but she thought, you just might be.

He threw his head back and released a deep warm laugh.

His laughter proved infectious and she took his proffered hand, smiling.

As they walked through the rest of the morning, they did spot a few seals rolling and tossing at the bottom of the sea-cliffs but no Mermaids.

Now and then, the dirt-packed trail turned away from the cliffs causing the line separating shore and sea to disappear. Then the Gorse plants, now speckled in intricate blooms of gold and yellow, lined the trail and defined the path.

On the cliffs below, they noticed the thickets of bracken grew in semi-seclusion from the sun and wind.  The roots held, fastened like stalagmites onto caves and crevices on the steep overhang below. It must be the spray and mist tossed from the sea refreshed them in greenness and quenched their thirst, they both thought, independently.

Keira questioned. What lost treasures and forgotten possessions lay hidden under the roots of those bright green fronds? Perhaps, a pirate’s box of Roman coins, a lost lover’s letter or a child’s toy swept into hiding with a high tide? Reflected light caught Keira’s attention. Down below, protruding from a crevice, she recognized the shining object as a polished fragment of a glass bottle.

Keira caught the scent of coconut wafting through the air and something else she couldn’t identify. Perhaps it came from the wildflowers sprouting tall in-between the close-knitted packs of flowering wild heather. Perhaps the heather?

“It’s all so lovely,” Keira broke the silence. “But my stomach’s growling.” As if on cue, her stomach let out a rebellious roar.

“Impressive.” He pointed to a turn in the path. “The Summit’s not too far from here. Should be some benches nearby.”

Keira followed him through the narrow trail that lead to a group of wooden benches off to the side. They settled on a make-shift bench with a view of Baily Lighthouse in the foreground. Here the distinction between the Irish Sea to the north and Dublin Bay vanished.

The two sat silently, taking in the view while they ate. Only the slight voices of a family getting into a car, the squawk of birds overhead and the waves crashing on the shore penetrated the air as they unpacked the lunches.

Mrs. O’Rourke had packed them a ploughman’s lunch: dried meats and a lump of cheese, several slices of thick, wheat bread, and tiny packets of mustard, two hard-boiled eggs, and several pickles. For a sweet, she’d placed shortbread biscuits, neatly wrapped in waxed paper, on the bottom.

“Devin, thank you for ordering us lunches.”

“Good, isn’t it?”

“Mm.” She nodded in agreement as a piece of thick cheese dissolved in her mouth. “Delicious.” One of his endearing smiles spread across his face at the compliment. “After a while, you learn who the best cooks are. Mrs. O’Rourke is the top of the list.”

“You really know this place.”

“Yes, I guess I do.” He looked off into the distance.

“Something primordial, huh? The sea, your heritage? Those stone walls?”

“Yeah, those stone walls. Connected to them in some way.”

“For me, it’s the peace of the place.” She dropped her hands into her lap. “I feel the peace. The endless churning sea, the Abbey, the ruins, even the castle.”

“Hm.”

“Prayers layer this place like the stones walls. Centuries and generations of people praying, asking for favor, imploring or pleading for safe passage for the ships and their crews. Life and death.”

“Prayers of thanksgiving too. No greater joy, relief when ships pull into port safely. That’s true, even now.”

She didn’t respond. They sat in solitude, sharing a meditative moment.

“I haven’t thought about prayers for a long time.” Keira’s words pierced through the quiet.

“You can’t live near the sea and not know about prayer. You can’t visit a place like this and not feel the need, the necessity.” He said more to himself than to her.

“My grandfather always told me to pray, but, he also said to be careful what you pray for.” He looked at her. “The answer may not be what you thought.”

“A wise man, your grandfather.”

They both stood at a silent, understood signal. “We should get going.” Devin was the first to fit his backpack over his shoulders and covered his head with an Oriole’s baseball cap. Keira stood and put on her backpack. She covered her head with her own cap but pulled her ponytail through the back opening.

“The sun’s getting hot.” A gentle breeze passed over them, but the cloudless sky offered no signs of protection from the sun’s rays. “Do you want to continue on to the bog or we can head back to town.”

He studied her face.

“The Bog of Frogs, please.”

“Curiosity over reason it is?” He started down the trail. “You’re planning on kissing frogs, then?”

“Kissing frogs? No, or maybe I will,” she laughed but then added. “If it means finding a handsome prince.”

“A romantic, eh? A romantic statistician. Now that’s an enigma.”

He held out his hand and she reached out, touching his palm with her fingers. They continued on, passing through nature’s dominion. A fragile but formidable kingdom held in place with the force of the sea, the land and the sky.  Awesome beauty. They were captured in the moment. Kiera was caught in the moment.

Finally turning from the sea, they continued walking through a golf course before reaching a field of peat. A thick earthy smell of decaying vegetation rose from the surface, a good smell.

“Here it is.” Devin raised his hand over the peat.

Keira’s eyes surveyed the thick, dark bog, a sort of a wetlands of rotting sledges and mosses. “Yes, but where are the frogs?” The only sounds were the golfers and a few birds.

“They’re smart enough to stay out of the heat. We might be able to poke out a few resting under a rock or hiding under a layer of peat. That is if you’re really serious, but they probably won’t cooperate.”

“I doubt they’d appreciate a kiss anyway. I guess I’ll pass. Have to find my prince the old fashion way.”

He reached over to her and pressed his one hand into the small of her back and pulled her against his body. With his free hand, he lifted her chin and her eyes poured into his. “Do you mind if I kissed you instead? In the old-fashioned way? A kiss would be a terrible thing to waste.”

Before she could answer, he removed her hat and let it fall to the ground. Keira felt his lips on hers causing a current of sensations to flow through her body. Her legs weak from the tremor of emotion, but his strong arm held her close while he finished the kiss.

He released her, slightly, but then drew her body back to his. The second kiss was more demanding, more indulgent. She pressed back with her own want and need, her body numb, frozen in place as craving overwhelmed her.

His hand moved down her back, gently, massaging her skin while pulling her body closer to his. A scream startled them and broke their trance. Helpless, they stared overhead as two large birds attacked each other. One of them screamed and something whizzed down from the sky causing them to jump apart. A golf ball lay on the ground next to their feet. A few inches more, it would have hit them on the head.

They laughed in relief, easing the intensity between them.

They watched as one bird flew away. The other circled back, wings outstretched, aiming towards the ground and the white round object below. He screamed at the two of them, standing so close to its prey, and flew up over their heads, threatening. Circling closer, he let go a white gooey mess which landed directly on Keira’s head.

“Ugh. Bird shit.” Keira cried as the mess dripped down over her cheeks and onto her shoulder. She backed away from Devin and shook her hair not unlike a freshly bathed dog. A few pieces of the mess flung out of her hair, nearly landing on Devin.

“Hey, careful.” Devin tried to muffle a laugh. He began rifling through his backpack for an exercise towel and the rest of his water. “Here.”

She reached for the offering and proceeded to clean off what she could. She looked up at him and they both burst into laughter.

She threw the towel onto the ground. “A kiss followed with bird shit,” Keira laughed. “And my friends wonder why I’m still single.”

“Frogs and birds do go together. Maybe the birds thought you were kissing a frog.”

“Frogs don’t kiss like that,” she smiled.

“I’ll take that as a compliment.” She felt the red color creeping up her face.

A whirl of noise took them by surprise. This time it was Eabha, flying through the air, driving a golf cart at a breath-taking speed. “Hey, you two. She stopped the cart, but left the motor running. She pushed the skirts of her renaissance dress between her thighs and turned to Keira. “What happened to you?” She caught Devin’s mischievous glance. “Looks like you’ve been target practice for the gulls.” She looked over the bog but didn’t see anything unusual. Then she spotted the green golf ball. “A golf ball! Stupid bird, thinks the golf ball’s a frog.” She shook her head. “They don’t like anyone messing with their frogs. But a golf ball? That one needs spectacles.” She shook her head. “You need to get that mess out of your hair before it hardens. I’ll take you back to O’Rourke’s.” She turned to Devin. “Sorry, only room for one.  You’ll have to hoof it on your own.”

“Not a problem.”

Keira searched his face for reassurance.

“Go ahead, Keira. If I don’t see you at Mrs. O’Rourke’s, I’ll meet up with you at the Abbey Tavern later on. Might stop at the castle.”

“Okay,” Keira smiled and scooted into the cart. Eabha put the cart in gear and sped off, challenging Keira to hold on for dear life. Once Keira felt her body balanced against the force of the cart, she turned back to catch a glimpse of Devin, but surprisingly, he’d vanished. She guessed he’d disappeared into a corpse of trees near the edge of the bog for shade and relief from the afternoon sun. The day proved hotter than she’d expected.

Keira turned her head forward and then looked over to Eabha. She started to ask her about the Castle in the distance, when the cart hit an unexpected pothole, and Keira felt her body lifted into the air. Only her hands, gripping tightly to the side pole, kept her from flying out. Just as suddenly, gravity pulled her bottom down onto the seat with a hard thump. Keira could only stare ahead, knowing her death was eminent.

The cart made a heart-halting stop in front of Mrs. O’Rourke’s. Keira froze, taking a few seconds to catch her breath. She felt a tingling soreness from the bumps and bruises, but she didn’t see any blood and her limbs appeared intact. Keira looked over to Eabha and felt her stare burn through her face.

With a mumbled thank you, Keira stepped out of the cart.

“Be warned. Devin’s a different kind of lad, Keira, special he is. Special.” Eabha let go of her stare. “Tread lightly, my Dear.” With that she drove away, disappearing into the next road, a small parade of cars honking after her.

The Missing Piece

Keira dug her key from the bottom of her backpack, but the door was unlocked. She pushed the door open and walked into a quiet parlor. Thankfully, it was empty and she hurriedly climbed the staircase to her room. Again the door was unlocked. This time she cautiously pushed the door open, while her eyes surveyed the room.  Nothing seemed amiss but she checked the rooms anyway before locking the door.

She went straight to the bathroom. With a dry hair comb, she began scraping off the matted, dried goo, but in the process, inadvertently released a second layer of fresh poop underneath the first. The reek proved overpowering, something awful. After several scrubs of soap, water and muscle, she managed to remove a most of it, but the stench in her nose and sinuses lingered. She reached for this morning’s leftover bar of soap, made a lather with her hands and massaged the soap around her face and head.

After rinsing and repeating the process several more times, she felt satisfied. Keira looked up into the mirror and saw a soapy head of hair and a dripping face.  She began laughing at the reflection. “Keira, you’re a mess. Where are your priorities? You should be working. Instead you’re hanging out with strange characters, taking fairy tale walks. Getting involved with a man you met at a tavern and cleaning bird poop out of your hair.”

She froze. Her thesis! Her mind clicked, the missing pieces revealed. Suddenly she understood the roadblock. Devin was right. She’d been ignoring the human aspect. Not necessarily the students’ attitudes, but the Teacher’s attitude! Their influences over students decision making and attitudes. Early on, her chairman had warned her about the huge impact and influence of teacher attitudes on educational studies but she’d ignored the warning. With this revelation, came the knowledge that she’d already collected the data but she’d buried it, tossed it aside. It was already in her paper! She just hadn’t been able to connect the dots.

But all her work, her computer, everything was in her flat in Dublin. She glanced at the clock on the wall. The last Dart to Dublin left in 30 minutes. She could get a good start if she worked all night, two for sure.

“Devin,” she whispered out loud. What about Devin?  His presence, so mysterious. Those kisses so madding, addicting. She could taste his lips even now and feel her body quiver. But it wasn’t entirely a sexual attraction either, something deeper too. He forced her to feel again and she didn’t know if she could allow that to happen. Could she trust him with the vulnerable side of herself? Her mind clouded with indecision. She had just met this guy. Really, didn’t know anything about him. She decided. For now her thesis was the priority, not Devin.

Keira didn’t have time to wait for Devin’s return, explain the need to return to her flat, and still make the last Dart back to Dublin. How to contact him? She didn’t have his cell number and her only thought was to leave a note. But where? His room, maybe? With luck it would be unlocked too.

On a side table, she spotted an unused pad of flowered stationary and a matching pen. Tearing off the top sheet of paper, Keira wrote several lines, trying to explain her quick departure. When she read the note back, the words sounded wrong, hollow and impersonal. She sighed. Not enough time to rewrite, but added her cell number at the last moment instead. Call me. I’ll explain later.

She didn’t see any envelopes and folded the paper in half and wrote Devin across the top. She left her room and walked across the hall to Devin’s. As she suspected, the door was unlocked and she pushed the door open, easily. Inside was a rather large room with a full-sized bed, facing an open window and a small table with two overstuffed chairs. Matching night stands and a pair of odd shaped lamps edged the bed frame. Off to the left a half opened door revealed an empty closet. Like her room, Devin’s had been cleaned but unlike hers, the room lacked any hint of his presence. No bag, no suitcase, shoes, dirty clothes and not even snacks. Was he even a renter? Maybe he shared the common bathroom around the corner, but still where were his toiletries? Surely he wouldn’t leave them in a common bathroom.

She stepped outside, careful to leave the door securely in place. The bathroom door was open and she peeked inside. The room was completely empty. An unopened package of bar soap, a hand towel and two rolls of toilet paper had been placed on top of a small cabinet, which was locked. She pulled back the thin curtain hiding the combination shower-bathtub. Nothing.

She stood in the hallway, perplexed. Why was Devin’s room empty? He’d led her to believe he was renting a room across from her. There was one more door but she didn’t know of any other renters. She moved towards the door but it was locked. Could that be his room instead? She wondered.

Keira tried peeping through the tiny peephole but couldn’t see anything.

She looked down at the letter in her hand. Now what? I can’t slip it under the door. Crumple it? Leave it downstairs on the entry table? Anyone could read it.

Once in her room, she stuffed her belongings into her backpack, found the return ticket and stuck it in her pocket. Not worried about leaving anything behind, she still had the room rented for the rest of the week.

“I’ll be back. Should just be a day or two.” She headed down the stairs and decided to leave the note on the entry table. She placed a candy-filled crystal dish on the corner to hold it down. “Hope you get this Devin.” She hesitated. Maybe she could wait for him? She wanted to wait for him, but knew she couldn’t. If she delayed now, she’d have to wait until tomorrow and tomorrow was too far away.

The thought of those his lips on hers, maddening.

She opened the front door and tried to close it behind her, without slamming it shut, but the wind proved too forceful. The door banged hard on its own but not before a gust of wind circled its way inside and blew the note off the table. The thin piece of stationary whirled into the kitchen and fell to the floor landing near the trash receptacle.

It All Comes Together

Keira didn’t return to Howth the next day, nor the day after. Once, back at her apartment, she dropped her backpack on the couch and booted up her computer. Then she searched through a box of flash drives. “This is it!” she laughed. “Now I can do this.”

Devin interfered her mindset but she shook off the thought of him. I hardly know him but I feel like I know him. We do have a connection, I’ll admit that. A kindred spirit? Maybe it’s just the magic of Ireland. But not now. I’m so close.

She worked through the night, unmindful of her surroundings, the time of day or night. Around 5 a.m. she suddenly stopped, stood and dug through her bag for her phone. No messages. No Devin. She thought he’d call, but then, maybe, he didn’t get her message. Can’t worry now. Have to finish this.

After another sleepless night and finally mentally emptied, she stared into the computer screen. Slowly she realized, I’ve finished! It works! It’s all come together. Giddy with release, she clasped her hands together and pushed them forward while her head rolled back over her shoulders, bones cracking and snapping at the joints. Without delay, she copied her findings onto a USB flash drive, emailed a copy to her chairman and sent a copy to the cloud.

Now she could focus on Devin.

Her stomach let out a roar and suddenly her bladder revolted. She just managed to get to the bathroom to relieve herself, when she heard something tapping gently on the window.

A bird or a beetle of some kind? An unpredicted hail storm? Kids fooling around? The sprinkling sounds continued but with intermittent timing. Curious, she finished her business in the bathroom and headed over to the window. She pressed her head against the glass of the locked window. Was that a person’s shadow she saw down below? A man’s shadow? Could it be Devin standing on the ground below her window? It had to be him.

With a strength of force, she managed to open the sticking, unscreened window, but when she looked down to wave at him, she was met with a shower of pea gravel and ducked. The tiny stones stung her face and arms before scattering, noisily over the floor like a wave of marbles.

Laughing, she called down below, “Devin, enough.” He immediately threw up another fistful of the gravel. Keira ducked and yelled, “Stop! I’m coming down.”

He’d gotten the message; he’d found the note. She ran down the stairs and rushed out the door, nearly colliding with one of her neighbors. “Oh, sorry,” she said, bumping her aside a second time. Her mind stood firm. It was focused on finding Devin.

She slammed through the building’s back entrance, stopped as it banged close and looked at the empty place where Devin had stood. Keira became confused. She walked over to the spot where she could look up into her window. A pile of tiny stones lay at her feet, but no Devin.

She noticed a round object, greenish and yellow and walked over to it. Rays of bright sunlight bounced off the object, blinding her for a few seconds. A stone?  She picked it up. Immediately she realized it was much too soft for a rock. The thing jumped off the palm of her hand and hopped away. A frog? Or was it a toad?

Once, she knew the difference but that was years ago. In elementary school? Her class had created a Venn diagram to differentiate between the two. One had slimy skin, the other had dry skin. Toads can’t give you warts. She remembered that at least.

“Frogs are princes, toads are toads.” She made a disgusting face as she rubbed her hands down the side of her jeans, wiping off the slick of gooiness.

“Devin? Devin where are you?”

She turned towards a rustling of bushes. Windy. Just the wind. Frustrated with this hide and seek game, she whimpered, “Devin?” Then a furry critter ran out from under the bushes startling her as an animal headed for a tree. A determined cat followed close behind but was out maneuvered. It stopped at the tree, turned its head, trying to catch the scent of its prey, and then jumped up into the branches and disappeared.

“Devin?” she whispered.

“Hey,” A familiar voice came out from the bushes behind her.

Startled, she turned to the sound of his voice. “Hey.” Relieved, she began laughing.

He stared at her with a quizzical smile.

“Definitely a frog. I picked up a frog. A frog turned into a prince.”

“What?” He smiled at her silly words but then drew her body next to his. He kissed her hard and long.

She stepped back, trying to keep back tears of exhaustion and relief.

“Are you okay?”

“I’ve been up for two nights, forgot to eat. When I saw you under the window, I thought I was fantasizing but definitely felt the gravel.”

“Sorry.” He held up a Styrofoam cup filled with a fresh supply of tiny stones and miniscule pebbles.

“I came downstairs but you were gone, disappeared.”

“I’m here now.” He emptied the gravel on the grass. “Needed reinforcements.”

“I didn’t expect to see you. I was hoping, but…”

“Well, you left terrible directions. Good thing your friend showed up.”

“My friend?”

“Dabney?”

“She showed up the same day you left and found your room empty. Apparently you weren’t answering your cell phone. But she found the note you left and waited until I returned to the house. She could be a police detective. All her questions.” He whistled. “I passed the test, but not without the help of Mrs. O’Rourke and Eabha.”

“Mrs. O’Rourke and Eabha?”

“Mrs. O’Rourke told her she could stay in your room since it was already paid for. She moved right in.”

“Moved right in? She didn’t waste any time.” At her dry, sarcastic comment, he let out a deep warm laugh.

“I took her to the Tavern that same night. The regulars were gone but Eabha introduced her to the twins. Apparently Niall took a liking to her and the two went out on his boat for the day.”

“Swim with the mermaids? Chase after dragon-headed Viking Ships?”

He looked at her with a twinkle in his eye. “Something like that.”

He drew her close to him and kissed her firmly. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed back with a fierceness that surprised them both.

He drew away from her. “Pack your things, Keira. You’re going back to Howth with me.”

“I can’t…”

“Yes, you can.” He stared down into her willing eyes. “Yes, you can,” he repeated softly, knowingly.

It was true. She could leave for a few more days. Most of the important changes had been made. She had a final draft of her of her thesis and had to wait for her chairman’s approval. Dr. Swanson wouldn’t be able to get back to her for at least a week. She’d have plenty of time to work on it later.

Following Dr. Swanson to Dublin had been a good choice. If she’d stayed in Maryland, Keira wouldn’t have make this kind of progress on her dissertation and…she wouldn’t have met Devin. Suddenly her feelings for Devin surfaced.

“I’ll wait here.”

“No, come upstairs. Someone may have called the police.”

“I’ll take my chances. Less temptation out here.”

Keira laughed and began walking towards the door. Devin followed. “I promise not to force myself on you.”

“So you say. I’ll wait here.” He sat down on a frumpy couch in the lounge and took out his cell phone.

“I won’t be too long.”

“Sure.”

She pressed the elevator button, but it was stuck as usual and she began the hike up the stairs to the third floor and her flat.

Keira reached for the door knob but stopped, frozen. The door was ajar. She felt inside her pocket. No keys. Did I forget to close the door? This wouldn’t be the first time. How many times had she done this and then scared herself into a panic?

She hesitated at first but gently pushed the door open, peeking inside. Cautiously, she surveyed the room but remained in the doorway. At first, nothing seemed out of place, but then she spotted a miniature plastic, black caldarium situated precariously over a pile of dishes near the edge of her kitchen sink. The toy leprechaun pot was filled with cheap, gold foiled candies. Odd! Even as a child, she didn’t like the taste of the candy coins. Why would someone leave a Leprechaun pot full of them?  

Then her eyes stopped at the sight of a canvas duffle bag half-way hidden behind her couch and next to it, a roller suitcase.

“Hello, Keira.”

She raised her hand over her mouth to stifle a scream. “Adam!” She stepped back into the hallway, startled and afraid.

“Surprised?” He stood and smiled at her with that madding brash, confident grin.

She knew that smile well.

He brushed his blondish bangs comfortably over his forehead.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

“Is that the way to greet the love of your life?” He walked towards her, but she stayed in the hallway. “You did say that at one time.”

“That’s far enough, Adam. That was a long time ago. I’m over you now.”

“I doubt that.”

“You need to leave.”

“Maybe, maybe not. Just hear me out.” He sat down on a kitchen chair. “It’s okay to come in, I won’t attack you or anything.” She stepped over the doorway but stayed close to the door. “It’s a strange thing. I thought it was over between us but then for some odd reason, I began thinking of you and the more I thought about you, the more I realized that I may have been wrong about letting you go.”

“Ran out of new material?”

His face took on that concerned, hurt expression that she grew to hate and despise during their relationship. So pathetic.

“I apologize for surprising you. I tried texting, email, twitter, whatever, but like always, you never answer your messages.”

“I changed my addresses after you left me.”

“Oh, sure. Makes sense.” He face gave an understanding appearance. “So I texted a few of our old friends and found out you were in Dublin working on your thesis. I must say, I was impressed. A PhD program, Kiera. I knew you were a smart one.” When she didn’t respond to his flattery, he continued. “Anyway, I joined a troupe of actors working in the UK and Ireland for the summer and here I am. Thought you’d like to see a performance. Actually a leprechaun legend. I’m quite good. Starring role and all that. ”

“Good for you, but now you have to leave.” She folded her arms.

“I thought, maybe we could start over again. Rekindle that fire.”

“Let me guess. You’re looking for a place to stay.”

“Good one. I guess I deserve that.”

“You’re not staying here.”

“I’m already here, Keira.” He answered her with a menacing tone in his voice but then added pleasantly. “How can it hurt? Only a few days. Look I even brought you a pot of gold. I know how you love chocolate.”

“A prop in your play?”

“Ah, Keira.”

You need to leave, Adam. No compromise. You can sleep on the sidewalk for all I care.”

“You don’t mean that?” He stood and began walking towards her. Helpless, she felt the arc of electrify between them, pulling her to him. She stepped forward but suddenly remembered Devin.

She stepped boldly in front of him. “I mean every word. Leave.” She pointed her finger towards the open door.

He sat down again with a smirk on his face. “You owe me, Keira. I’m not leaving.”

“Yes, you are.” It was Devin. “The lady asked you to leave.” He stepped into the room.

Adam rose from the table and extended his hand. “Adam, Adam Doyle.” When Devin didn’t offer his hand, Adam let his hand drop to his side.

“A misunderstanding you see. She invited me here. Told me to stop by anytime.”

He turned to Keira.

“He’s lying.”

“Ah, Keira, that’s not what you said on the phone.” He looked to Devin for sympathy. “She called me, begged me to come back.”

“Get out, Adam.”

“Mr. Doyle. We can do this the easy way or the hard way. I overheard, you’re an actor. I’m sure you don’t want anything to happen to your face.”
“Yes, of course.” He sighed and then picked up his duffle bag in one hand and released the handle on the roller suitcase. “No reason for threats. I’ll just get my pot of gold and leave.” As he began walking towards the door, he stopped to face Keira. “We were so hot together. Thought you’d want to have a go at it again. Your loss.”

Her face turned red. She rushed over to the stack of dishes in the kitchen, picked up the Leprechaun pot and threw it into the hallway. The gold foiled coins skittered over the wooden floor and spun to a sudden stop.  “Get out.”

“That wasn’t necessary.” Adam revealed an angry, threatening face.

Devin stepped between the two. Adam started to say something, but the words froze in his mouth. He stepped into the hallway where he dropped his bags and faced the door. The angry words loosened and he said, “You threw the coins. You pick them up or, better yet, have your latest pick them up for you.”  Devin slammed the door in Adam’s surprised face.

Keira ran to Devin. She was shaking and began sobbing uncontrollably. He held her close and she managed to bring her emotions under control. The two stood silent, listening to Adam picking up the coins, cursing under his breath. They heard a loud kick at the door, but it stood fast. Devin had locked it.

Keira recognized the security guard’s voice. “Excuse me, Sir, but you need to leave.”

Adam responded, but the words muffled through the door.

“All guests have to be registered ahead of time. Your name isn’t on Miss Fitzgerald’s list. I would know if it were.”

More muffled words.

“Miss Keira?” It was the security guard knocking at the door. Keira opened it. “This gentleman says he’s a guest of yours.” He pointed to Adam, standing behind him. “A misunderstanding of sorts, he says.”

“No misunderstanding. George. I know him from the States. He showed up here unexpectedly, uninvited, thinking he could stay with me, actually threatening me when I told him to leave.” She could see anger twisting over Adam’s face.

“Thank you, Miss. I’ll take care of the situation. But you should know, I received several complaints from other residents. Loud voices and something about rocks thrown on the windows.”

“I understand. It won’t. Thank you.” Keira closed the door.

She heard George’s voice through the door, “I have your photo on the security camera. If you come back, you’ll be arrested for trespassing.”

Return to Howth

Keira packed quickly while Devin locked and relocked the windows. He eased himself into the hallway, checked the area around the floor and then the stairwell to make sure Adam wasn’t lucking about. When Devin felt comfortable, he nodded to Keira and the two left together, rushed down the stairwell and out the front door. There they huddled together under a drippy rain while Devin hailed a cab. One appeared within minutes and they quickly arrived at the Dart station. Once inside the building, Devin told Keira to wait while he purchased the tickets. She watched as he ran his credit card ran through an automated machine and saw the two tickets appear.

“Let’s go.” He waved to Keira while looking nervously towards the entry to the building.

“Devin I don’t think he’ll follow us, He’s mean but he’s lazy and wouldn’t want to get his hair wet. My guess is that he’s already shacked up with someone else.”

“I know his type, Keira. Doesn’t like to lose. Best we get going.”

She picked up her backpack and followed him through the bars and up the stairs to the platform where a large crowd had already formed. They waited in silence but Devin kept his eye on the stairwell. She sensed his edginess.

“Here’s the train. It’s coming.”

The train stopped. The doors opened in synchrony and the two mixed in with the entering crowd. For the first four stops, they stood, holding onto rails at opposite sides of the car, but as small groups of people exited, Devin and Keira found an empty seat, where they sat in silence for most of the trip.

Keira involuntarily shivered against the remnants of wet from the rain. She felt Devin’s arm circle behind her and pull her close to him. It felt good, comforting, and a warm sensation flowed over her skin. Nice. She looked up at him. His eyes were closed. She studied his profile, the nooks and crannies of his skin, the way his eyebrow dipped over the ridge over of his eyes. She knew that face, sure she’d seen it before. But where?

He opened his eyes and smiled. “What?” he asked.

“Devin, have we met before?”

He laughed. “What makes you think that?”

“Next stop, Howth. Mind the gap.”

Devin stood and grabbed her suitcase. “We’re here.”

They arrived to find a fine mist blanketing the station and the harbor. Dark clouds dulled the sky with a promise of rain, maybe a storm. The unexpected chill caused Keira’s body to quiver and Devin pulled her close to his body to warm her. The two walked out of the station huddled together, one figure with eight limbs, creating a comical silhouette.

Fortunately, Devin spotted an empty cab, with its motor running and only a few yards from the platform. “Mr. Aideen. Can you take us to Mrs. O’Rourke’s?”

“Ah, Devin. Mrs. O’Rourke’s is it? Get in. I’m waiting on a tourist but we’re not scheduled to leave for twenty minutes.” Through the rearview mirror, he watched the two jerk open the doors and sprint into the back seats.

“And this is Keira?” He winked at the mirror. “I saw you at the Abbey Tavern the other night. You keep a good step with the music.”

She blushed at first, but then quickly recognized the driver, “You’re not so bad yourself, Mr. Aideen.”

He drove them back to Mrs. O’Rourke’s room and board. They jumped out of the taxi just as the storm unleased its full power over them. Laughing they made it inside soaked to the skin.

Devin hung up his wet overcoat on an entryway hook and Keira, her thin jacket. He picked up her backpack and the two headed up the stairs. He placed her backpack on the landing in front of her room.

They looked at each other with expectant eyes. Devin released a sigh and took her hands in his. “Keira, I made dinner reservations for us.”

Her eyes opened in surprise.

“But I can cancel.”

“No, no, of course not. Dinner sounds great.” Suddenly she began shivering. “I’ll need a hot bath to get my circulation working again.”

He wanted to wrap his arms around her, warm her with his body, but he hesitated.

“Half an hour?”

She nodded.

“I’ll come knocking in thirty minutes. Check on you. Make sure you haven’t fallen asleep in the bath again.” He added. “Keira, I’m looking forward to this evening. Dinner first? We can talk over dinner.”

Keira froze and stepped back. “Talk?”

“Just talk.” Deflated he added, “No drama. Just talk.”

Her body relaxed. “Okay. Just talk.”

“Nothing to do with frogs, I hope.”

“Well, now that you mention it.” She turned and opened the unlocked door. She stopped and turned to Devin. “Just which room is yours?”

He pointed to the room next to hers, not across from her room. “Mrs. O’Rourke had me move. Something about an invasion of slimy bugs, tree frogs.”

“Why did I even ask?” Now she’d be looking in every corner for crawly things.

True to his word, thirty minutes later she heard a sharp knock against her door. She peeked through the tiny hole in the door and recognized Devin.

She opened the door, her hair was pulled back into a pony tail and she wore a long cotton skirt, blousy top and rain boots.

He looked at her odd outfit. “You won’t need boots nor a jacket.” She looked down and then back up to his face.

“Oh?”

“I checked the weather. It’s bad. This rainstorm isn’t going to let up anytime soon. So I arranged to have dinner here, downstairs.”

She gave him a quizzical look. “Well, actually Mrs. O’Rourke called. She’s stuck at Niall O’Gadain’s house. You met him the other night. One of the twins. She’s stuck there until the storm lets up. Told me to heat up the pot of Irish stew in the refrigerator which I’ve already started. It’s ready.”

“You got off easy. I bet she made bread too.”

“No, but there’re two loaves in the kitchen, fresh from the bakery this morning. I do have a nice red wine to go with the stew.”

“Well, that’s something.” She smiled. “Dessert?”

“Imported Italian chocolate bars from Milan?”

“How’d…”

“You left them in the room. When Dabney arrived, I saw them on the side table and hid them in my pocket.”

“What?” He reached into his pocket and pulled out three large chocolate bars with Cioccolata Venchi scrawled over the wrappers.

“You should thank me for keeping them safe from your friend.”

“I knew you’d be back. For the candy at least. Too good to leave behind.”

She reached for the candy and then folded her arms around his neck. He kissed her gently. “I came back for you too. Though the chocolate was my first concern.”

Something smelled heavenly but… They both looked at each other. “The stew.” Devin ran down the stairs to rescue their dinner, now on the edge of ruin. Keira took the extra minutes to replace her boots with a pair of running shoes. She looked into the full length mirror. Hmm. Not the most flattering outfit, but it fell nicely in the right places and it would keep her warm. Besides, she wasn’t trying to impress anyone. Still…

She found Devin in the kitchen ladling thick stew into two oversized bowls. He handed her one and motioned towards the living room.

She held onto the hot bowl and walked toward the ancient fireplace. Her body, still cold, shivered in the warmth coming from the blazing heat.

As she stood in front of the burning logs, she noticed a card table, off to the side. The legs and chairs reminded her of the set her grandparents had used for card games. The table stood on spindly, metal legs, and the top was covered with one of Mrs. O’Rourke’s table cloths and two matching napkins, folded into triangles. A basket of bread and a plate of butter and wedges of cheese sat in the center of the table. She smiled at a small crystal bowl filled with apple butter next to the basket. Two wine glasses and a breathing bottle of wine completed the setting.

“Sit down, please.” He walked into the room with his bowl of stew. “Nice, huh?”

“Ah, yes, very nice.” He kissed her gently on the forehead.

“But what about Dabney?”

As if on cue, the landline rang. He balanced the bowl on the table and with a free hand, picked up the receiver. “Hey, yes. She’s right here.” He handed her the phone receiver.

“Ah, Dabney. I was wondering where you were.”

Silence.

“Fine. Okay. Right. Bye.” She giggled and then looked up into Devin’s inquiring eyes.

“She was caught in the storm too, returning from Ireland’s Eye, but they made it back to the harbor. Rescued by a helicopter. They’re with Mrs. O’Rourke and gang.”

“Should be a lively evening.”

“Hmm, sure you didn’t plan it that way?”

He smiled. “Stew is getting cold.” He poured her a glass of wine and handed it to her. “Would you mind if I did?” he poured a glass for himself.

“No, of course not. This is perfect.”

“Glad you like it.”

Sipping her wine, she noticed a single candle burning brightly in the front window. “How odd. My grandfather used to leave a candle burning in the window, but only during storms. Must be an Irish thing.” She took another sip of wine and a taste of cheese. “He told a story. About a maiden. She’d fallen in love with a sea captain and him with her. When his ship put out to sail, she promised to keep a candle lit in her window so he could find his way home, even in the most horrible storm. She lit a candle every night for five years, even though her family and friends tried to convince her to let go. They were certain the sea captain would never return. Either he met his fate at sea or found the arms of another woman. She didn’t believe them. So at the end of five years, her father ordered her to choose a husband among the young men in the village or he’d choose someone for her. The maiden suddenly took ill and became bedridden. One night she was so ill she couldn’t get up to light the candle in the window and though she begged and pleaded no one would light it for her.” Keira paused to think about the ending, but Devin continued.

“She died that night and her sea captain arrived the next morning. His ship had arrived late into the night in the middle of a harrowing storm. Though he searched the streets for the maiden’s burning candle in the window, he couldn’t find her. Instead a kind couple opened the door to his searching knock.  He was a few houses away.”

“You know the story, then? But how?”

Devin pulled out a plastic child’s ring from his pocket and placed it on the table in front of her. Keira stared at the ring and then at Devin in disbelief. Slowly she picked up the ring and laid it in her hand. The tiny green frog was still glued to the top of a semi-closed ring.

She stared into his face searching for a resemblance.

“Daniel? Are you Daniel?”

“Yes, I’m Daniel. Daniel Devin. I got tired of the Danny Boy nickname.”

“I gave you this ring?”

“Yes, you did. Something about remembering me forever.”

She laughed, “No way. I found this in a Cracker Jack’s box. As I remember, I told you girls don’t wear frog rings and I gave it to you. What else did I say?” She paused. “Frogs could turn into princes and princes into frogs. And girls were always princesses.” She laughed. “I used my grandmother’s Kool-Aid packages for fairy dust. You guys hated it.”

They laughed at the memory and Keira added, “You spent the summer with your grandparents too. The house behind my grandfather’s?”

“I hung out with you and some of the neighborhood kids. Your grandmother provided Berger cookies and apple butter for us. Your grandfather was like the pied piper with all his stories and adventures in the harbor.”

“How many summers?”

“Hm. I was about five the first summer. Turned fourteen that last one.

After that I stayed home and hung out with my high school pals.”
“Me too.” She paused. “My grandparents died within a year of each other. By then I was a senior in high school.”

“I’d heard they’d passed away. My grandmother sold her house and came to live with us. I never thought about returning. But I always kept the ring. A souvenir of childhood summer days and my first love.”

“I do have to admit, I had a crush on you. I was hurt when you didn’t come back. I waited for you all summer.”

“Burning a candle in the window?”

“Well. Not strictly speaking.” Laughing, she put down her glass of wine. “Had to grow up sometime.”

Devin turned serious. “Keira, I was engaged to a woman I thought I loved, but in the end I couldn’t marry her. I couldn’t marry her because a nagging voice kept after me. Then I found the plastic ring in a box of my old toys, and I knew I had to find you and give us a chance. But I never expected to see you again.” He reached for her hands nearly knocking over the half-empty wine bottle. Her hand flew to her mouth surprising a giggle. “Keira, I know we aren’t kids anymore, but somewhere during those summer visits, I fell in love with you. Having you nearby, now, only confirms my thoughts, my feelings for you.”

Keira pulled her hands away from his. “Devin, children, yes, summer crushes, yes, but we’re adults now. We aren’t those children anymore.”

“I know. It’s not logical thinking but finding you here isn’t logical either.”

“I’m not saying no but we need time. I need some time.”

“I know. So here’s my plan.” He rose from his chair and taking her hand, he led her to the parlor couch. She sat down and he sat down next to her.

“Keira, I would like to marry you, but with the following restrictions.”

“Marry? Restrictions? That’s a first.”
“Are you interested in what I have to say?” She giggled in nervousness. She wasn’t sure

where this strange conversation was heading.

“Hear me out. First, you need to return to your university in Maryland and finish your

PhD. I want to see you graduate, walk across the stage with a diploma in your hand. In the meantime…”

She smiled, relieved. How many men would understand the need to finish, the importance of what she was trying to accomplish?

“While I’m waiting for you to realize that we’re meant to be together, I’ll keep busy working on projects and assignments for my firm. And I’m going to write that article on stone walls.” He stared at her hard, “No proposal either. I’m not going to complicate your life now, when you’re almost done with your dream. Meanwhile you must promise to be my girlfriend, wear my frog ring and keep the light burning.”

She didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. He handed her the ring. “Imagine your friends when you show them. I can see jealously written all over their faces.”  He turned somber. “You don’t have to wear it, just keep it nearby.”

She smiled, took it from his hand and put it the first knuckle of her pinkie finger. She hugged Devin. “It’s worth a try. Isn’t it?

“Definitely, worth a try.”

“But Devin, I’m confused. What about Eabha, Maitias, the ships, the fairy tale stuff? Frogs in the bog?”

He kissed her.

“At least you don’t kiss like a frog.”

He tossed his head back in laughter and wrapped his arms around her, and she pressed close to him. Breathing hard, they kissed again, long, slow and intense, stirring desire deep inside. His hand slipped under her blouse. She didn’t resist and pulled him closer.

“We can finish this upstairs, Keira. Only no questions right now. Except for the frog, prince charming thing. Come upstairs and you can judge for yourself. Whether I’m frog or man!”

Bang! Without warning, a heavy gust of wind slammed the door open. Keira and Devin jumped apart. Dabney and Mrs. O’Rourke stood in the doorway and then turned, trying to close the door behind them. Without warning the wind exploded a second time, but this time banging the door shut. A framed picture over the entry table wobbled and fell to the ground with a crash.

Midge stared at the broken mess and then at Devin and Keira.

Dabney laughed, “Hey you two. Looks like we’re interrupting something hot.” Keira rolled her eyes and straighten her blouse.

Mrs. O’Rourke gave them a suspicious look. “The only hot thing allowed in my house is a roaring fire, but I see you two have managed to let it burn out. Devin, my lad, I’m trusting you to get it going again.”

She turned to Keira, “I’ll clean up the broken glass.” In the kitchen she noted the sink full of empty dishes. “Hm. See you enjoyed the stew. Keira, perhaps you can start on the dishes.”

“Sure. That’s the least I can do. The stew tasted great.”

Dabney eyed the half-empty bottle of wine on the table and joined the two women in the kitchen, searching the cupboards for glasses. Mrs. O’Rourke handed her two glasses from an open shelf. “If you’re pouring, I’ll have a taste too.”

Dabney poured a generous portion into each glass. “Let’s raise our glasses in celebration!” She turned to Keira. “Do we have something to celebrate?”

“Oh, yes. Devin and I have decided to be boyfriend and girlfriend.” Dabney looked at her with a surprised expression. “It’s a trial thing.” She held out the plastic ring for Dabney’s inspection.

Dabney started laughing. “Keira? Boyfriend and girlfriend? A frog ring? Well, let’s drink to that.”

Mrs. O’Rourke held her glass high over her head, “Yes, let’s drink to that but Devin, I must say that ring is pathetic.”

 

***

Eighteen months later

 

***

Devin and Keira

Devin completed his research on stone walls and published an article in a prestigious architectural magazine that was picked up by the Smithsonian. Meanwhile Keira finished her thesis and after surviving numerous rewrites, additions and deletions, she earned her PhD. On graduation day, she crossed the stage and received her credentials, knowing that Devin was in the audience, sharing in her accomplishment and completion of her dream.

That same day, Devin offered her an engagement ring and she accepted, though the frog ring remained on her pinky finger. They decided to hold the wedding ceremony in Baltimore, down by the harbor where they’d spent summers as children and grew up listening to her grandfather’s sea stories. The guests feasting on crab cakes, coddies, Berger cookies and Natty Bohs, danced until the full moon dipped into the Chesapeake.

Dabney suggested Howth as a destination wedding, but Devin and Keira vehemently opposed the idea. “Absolutely not!” Neither understood what exactly was going on in Howth. Ghosts, fairy dust, people from generations past caught up in some kind of time warp?  No chance encounters with Mermaids, ships of old, Eabha and Maitias or drinking Abby beer.

They thought there might be some connection with those stone walls but regardless, they didn’t want to take chances on the possibility of a frog prince-charming exchange.

 

Eabha and Maitias

On Devin and Keira wedding day in Baltimore, Eabha and Maitias had a terrible row in Howth. Facing each other, only the stone wall between them, they yelled and screamed at each other. It went on for days and even those who lacked the “sight” felt uneasy standing near the ruins.

Eabha began crying and pulling out her hair, “I can’t go with yea, not yet, not now. Only wait a little longer.”

Maitias’ veins began popping from his forehead and Eabha thought he’d vaporize on the spot.

“Calm down, Maitias.” She touched his shoulder.

He looked Eabha in the eye and told her, “The threshold is nearby. It’s time to leave. Our time in this world has come and gone too many times.”

But she shook her head no. “I like being in the future, roaming back and through our time and theirs.” She saw the pain in his eyes and spoke softly. “Maitias, if only you’d been contented with building stone walls like the rest of your family. Instead, you choose the sea and I spent my life, waiting for you, waiting for you to return from your voyages. When you didn’t return the last time, I waited every day, every hour, hoping, watching for you, lighting a candle every night and placing it on my window sill. Lit it every night, so that you might find your way to me.” She stared into his eyes. “Every day, here in this place, on this side of the stone wall, where I now stand. I waited. Even as I died, I waited for your return.”

“I know, but I’m here now, to bring you through. I’m here, Eabha.” He sighed. “I came back for you and waited, but now it’s time to leave. I can’t leave without you and I can’t leave you here.”

“And our people? Those who carry our blood in their veins? Who’ll watch over them?”

“Not our business, Eabha. You know that.” His voice tightened. “Each one has to find his or her own way.”

“What about our Devin? Keira comes from the Fitzgerald clan and you know they can’t be trusted. She’ll only bring him trouble and heartache.” She looked out past to the sea. “It’s the Celtic influence.”

“It’s not our business, Eabha. No matter what we think.”

“Better a frog than married to the likes of them.”

“That’s dangerous talk. Think about what you’re saying.”

She sighed and looked out over the harbor, searching for a sign, some direction. Perhaps Maitias was right. She’d put this off for so long. Meddling in other people’s destiny was a dangerous sort of power, and she knew in this moment that she needed to move on, otherwise she might never be able to leave, ever.  She’d be trapped in some hidden power.

“Alright, my love, alright. It’s time. Devin must be left to his own destiny.” She bowed her head in defeat.

“Are you forgetting something?”

Her eyes twinkled. “No, I haven’t forgotten. Just waiting for the right time.” She bent down and gently pushed something round out of her apron pocket. They both watched as the tiny confused creature blinked its eyes and hopped away.

“And?”

She sighed and pulled out a leather pouch followed by three gold coins. She let the coins tumble to the ground.

He walked to where they had scattered over the ground and picked one up. After turning it over in his hand and squeezing it with his fingertips, he shook his head in disbelief. “Eabha, they’re not even real. It’s filled with chocolate.”

“I had to improvise. Bought them at one of those Euro-dollar stores. You know how difficult those leprechauns can be.”

He answered with a laugh that filled the air. “What else, Eabha?”

She pulled apart the opening to the leather pouch and turned it inside out, releasing a trail of fairy dust into the air. The tiny sediments glittered against the sunlight and twirled off into the distance.

“And?”

“That’s all, Maitias. I promise.”

“Are you ready then?”

“I am.”

Maitias smiled and his blue eyes danced at her. With ease of strength, he lifted her over the stone wall and gently took her hand. Together they walked towards the thin place near the old ship’s landing where the Viking ships had once sailed.

 

Mrs. O’Rourke

Mrs. O’Rourke attended the wedding in Baltimore in America. She turned the trip into a holiday and spent two weeks with her second cousin, Mildred, in Frederick, Maryland. Upon returning home, she continued to rent out rooms, volunteer at the tourist center, enjoy the Abbey beer on Friday nights, and every Sunday simmered a pot of Irish stew on her stove for visitors. When she passed on, she willed her home to her daughter who lived in Galloway. She had no need of the house and decided to sell it to a young couple from the area. The husband was a grandson of one of the twins, Niall O’Gadain. Like his grandfather and granduncle, he loved the sea and had a fine collection of sailing vessels which he sailed whenever his job allowed. His young wife was a born storyteller repeating the stories she’d heard growing up in the Bay. She found work at the tourist center and volunteered her time giving tours through the Howth Castle and the ruins by the sea, those marked by the half stone wall made by human hands, long ago.

 

 

 


About the author

Ann Marie Bezayiff

Ann Marie Bezayiff received her BA and MEd from the University of Washington in Seattle. She is an author, blogger, columnist and speaker. Her columns, “From the Olive Orchard” and “Recycled Recipes from Vintage Boxes”, appear in newspapers, newsletters and on Internet sites. Ann Marie has also demonstrated her recipes on local television. Currently she divides her time between Western Maryland and Texas. Contact the author.
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