I was unexpectedly rescued from Christmas by my co-worker. Cheryl poked her head around the corner of my gray walled cubicle.
“Good morning!” she said, her brown eyes shining out behind heavy black eyeliner.
“Morning. You’re awfully chipper this morning. What’s up?”
Cheryl ran her many ringed fingers through her short spiked green hair, the bangles on her wrists chiming.
“We won!” She whispered excitedly.
“We did? Awesome. What’d we win?”
“We won the lottery for attending the winter solstice celebration at Newgrange in Ireland!”
“No way! Ireland? How cool!”
“Yes way. Wanna come?”
I blinked at her.
“Do you, Amanda Alexandra Pinkerton, want to come to Ireland with Rob and me to see the sun come up from the inside of a 5000 year old tomb?” She asked again slowly.
Did I want to go see the sun come up where? My brain slowly lurched into motion. Who cares – do I want to go to Ireland? Hell yes.
There was an annoyed shush! from over the cubicle wall from us.
“Doh! Sorry,” Cheryl whispered back. The person who shushed, Diane, grunted in reply. Diane was a notorious squelcher of fun. We called her The Troll.
“So when do we leave?” I asked, glancing at the calendar in my email program.
“December 16th. We land in Ireland on the 17th and join a tour. Solstice is on the 21st, and we fly home on the 23rd from Dublin.”
“Next year?” I said, advancing my calendar forward.
“No silly, this year!”
“That’s less than two weeks away! What about Christmas?”
“Screw Christmas. We’re talking Ireland!”
“I don’t have any vacation time.”
“Neither do I, but who cares? This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!”
“And how am I going to afford this adventure?”
Cheryl smiled, “Trust fund baby!” Rob, Cheryl’s live in boyfriend, was the only son of a banking magnet. Even though they had money, he and Cheryl lived modestly. Cheryl worked and Rob went to school when he wasn’t busy playing online games.
“No way, Rob would never buy my ticket. A flight, less than two weeks away at Christmas time is got to be 3 billion dollars.”
“Cheryl!” A high nasally voice called.
“Oh shit, Rodriguez is here.” Cheryl waved farewell and walked casually for her boss’ office. I heard her greet her boss with a cheerful, “Hi Ms. Rodriguez!” as if nothing had been going on. Cheryl routinely sailed into work late and never got any real flack for it. I was jealous. She could spend all day talking to her co-workers and never be at her desk, and it was fine. Sure her boss put on a good front, grouching in front of the other managers, but Cheryl assured me that it was all an act. Ms. Rodriguez was a push-over. Me, I had to be at work on time or early every day; had to list where I was when I wasn’t at my desk; had to do extra busy work above and beyond my job description. I envied her for her green hair and wild jewelry. Conservative – that’s me.
I looked at the calendar again. A vacation to Ireland would be very nice right about now. I could miss the annual ‘beat up on Amanda’ fest that my parents seemed to relish so much. I could, if I claimed jet lag, even miss Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I could even skimp on gifts – as I would need every penny I had to actually get to there. Rob was a wonderful guy but a plane ticket to Ireland was a lot of money for a friend of a friend.
A black finger-nailed multi-ringed hand dropped a sticky note over the pod wall. I picked it up.
“We’re going – ask your boss for LWOP.” Leave Without Pay. How am I going to feed my cat if I take a week off without pay?
My phone rang.
“Don’t worry about your cat. Go for the gusto,” Cheryl said and then hung up. Psychic to boot! I glanced at myself in my rear-view monitor mirror. My skin color had faded from the late summer tan and was now a more usual transulcent white. My green eyes had purple sagging cirlces under them, and my lips were chapped. My brown hair was limp. Maybe I could crop it, dye it purple. It’d match the circles under my eyes then. Yeah, I was jealous.
Break time came and we went for our usual walk around the shopping center next to the office where we worked.
The first words out of her mouth, as soon as we were far enough away from the Continental Annuity Referral Service building, were, “So – did you ask for time off?”
“No – she’s been in meetings all morning.”
“But you are going to ask, yes?”
“I will. Maybe hell will freeze over and she’ll agree to give me leave without pay.”
“Why not? You’re a hard worker.”
I had been working for CARS, a marketing firm that specialized in insurance, for five years, and had hated it from the first day but somehow I never did leave. They paid well, the benefits were great, and I even liked most of my co-workers – but it just wasn’t what I’d had envisioned doing for the rest of my life. I started when I was twenty five. CARS was going to help me land that big marketing job – designing ads for Hollywood. I had a degree in art and design from the local university. My big aspirations were flattened shortly after being hired when my co-workers at the time told me they had been working for CARS for years and had never moved upward or had any chance at training to become a designer. You get a paycheck, and you’re not flipping burgers, I reminded myself.
We window shopped as we walked. It was December and the strip mall was busy. Couples and families were out shopping for the latest gadget that came in the latest color all so they could keep up with the neighbors.
“Is anyone else coming on the trip? I don’t want to be the third wheel.”
“The prize was for four tickets, so I am going to ask my sister if she can come along. You like Carrie don’t you?”
“Oh sure, I like her. Isn’t she due to pop any day though?” Carrie was Cheryl’s half-sister. Her stomach, when I saw her over the Thanksgiving weekend, looked like a basketball. <talk about cheryl’s jealousy of her sister and her marriage>
“Not for another month. I’m hoping her doctor says she can go.”
“Maybe she’ll have the kid in Ireland.”
Cheryl laughed, “She’d probably name it something Irish then, like Molly or Fergus.”
“She still doesn’t know what gender?”
Cheryl shook her head no and pointed out a truly garish orange stripped shirt hanging in the window.
“That’s almost as obnoxious as HR Girl,” I said.
“Speaking of…” Cheryl said. We walked past the corner coffee shop and waved at our co-workers getting their mocha lattes with skim milk because they were on diets.
“Oh look, she’s mixing with the plebs,” I said. HR Girl, as we called her, was our Human Resources Assistant. She was as fake in her dealings with employees as her dyed red hair and her acrylic nails.
“She went out of her way to say hi to me this morning,” Cheryl said with a shudder.
“Did she call you by a pet name?” She always called me Mandy which drove me nuts.
“No. She still calls me Cherry every once in a while though. Fucking idiot.”
Yet another thing I liked about Cheryl; she called it as she saw it.
My boss, Madeleine Martin, had returned from her meeting. She invited me in.
“How is that report coming along?” she asked.
“I’ll have it to you before noon.”
Ms. Martin would be called matronly if she’d only smile occasionally. However, she wore a perpetual scowl below her bifocals and immaculately coiffed white hair.
“Cheryl won a trip to Ireland,” I said.
“Yes. I know.”
Oh man! She heard us talking. That was one of my main ‘goals’ on my yearly review. Less gossiping on company time.
“She invited me to go with her. Do you think it would be possible for me to take unpaid leave?” I rushed on before she could say no, “Or I could work extra hours before I go and when I come back. It’s just that I’ve never been to Ireland. I’ve never been out of the country. It’s a once in a life…”
Ms. Martin raised her hand, interrupting me.
“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I agree.”
“I went to Ireland when I was a little girl. It was for my grandmother’s funeral. She was a Kennedy – but only a distant relative.”
“Of who?” I blurted out.
“Silly girl, don’t you know your own history? John F. Kennedy of course.”
She looked past me at the picture on the wall and was silent for a moment. I almost asked for confirmation that yes, I’d be going, but she went on.
“My grandmother’s funeral was held in a fancy church in downtown Cork. Oh, you aught to see Cork. The church was very ornate with wonderful pictures of the resurrection.”
Oh yippee. Rampant Catholicism strikes again. I was nominally Catholic, but only because my mother had insisted that I be baptized. My father was Protestant but not enough to refuse my mother anything. We went to church every Sunday when I was still living there. She still asks if I went to mass every time I call.
I tuned back in. Ms. Martin had been talking the whole time. This was probably the longest conversation we’d ever had.
“I remember at the wake there was a park nearby. My cousin and I went over to play – the adults too busy to notice us. There were a scattering of mushrooms groaning next to a hawthorn tree. My cousin Sean said it was a fairy ring and dared me to step into it.”
“And be taken away by the sidhe, only to return one hundred years later? Not this girl. Sean did though. Nothing happened, but he was never quite the same. Ireland is like that though – full of magical places and once you see it you’ll be changed forever.
“So of course you can go. I wish I was going with you.”
I thanked her and left the office, glancing at the picture on the wall that was behind me. It was a montage of photos. One photo I noticed was of an exceptionally green field and a tree with white blossoms on it. A hawthorn tree in Ireland?
“Oh Amanda, don’t forget that report.” Ms. Martin called after me.
“To you before lunch, Ms. Martin,” I assured her.
A few minutes later, Cheryl poked her head around the corner, “And?”
“I have been approved to go to Ireland.” Our idiot grins matched.
Ms. Martin’s door shut with a thud. We both flinched.
“Excellent! I’ll tell Rob. Do you want aisle or window?”
“Are you sure? That’s still a lot money.”
“Dude – Once In A Lifetime. Don’t let something small like money get in the way of destiny.”
“Destiny my ass. Tell him I’ll pay him back monthly.”
“SHHHHHH!!!!” Diane hissed at us.
“Whatever,” Cheryl said ignoring our co-worker. She looked at me with a raised eyebrow.
“Either one. I don’t care,” I said, giving in.
Cheryl ran off to call her boyfriend and I settled into my chair and gazed at my computer.
I was going to Ireland.
When I told my parents I had been invited to Ireland they were surprisingly supportive both emotionally and financially. Mom loaned me her suitcase that was also a backpack, and Dad said he hadn’t known what to get me for Christmas, so he was going to give me money anyway. I was very grateful. Mom asked me to take pictures of all the churches we were going to. I didn’t tell her we were on an Ancient Ireland tour – she’d probably freak out that we were going to see Pagan sites. My neighbor Sam said he’d watch my cat and get my mail if I brought him a bottle of whiskey. I added that to my list of gifts to bring people from Ireland. So far it was still under a page long.
I was reviewing that list when Cheryl, Rob and a stranger found me in the airline terminal.
“Amanda – this is Vanessa Rodenheimer,” Cheryl introduced me to an over-weight lady with blonde hair showing dark roots, a small pointed noise, and pale blue eyes. She was a friend of Cheryl’s from her photography club. According to Cheryl, Vanessa was spunky and inquisitive. My first impression was that she may be inquisitive but was almost certainly obnoxious as evidenced by the smile full of bleached white teeth and the agressive handshake she gave me.
“Have you been over seas before Amanda?”
I admitted I hadn’t.
“Well – don’t you worry. I’m an old hand at it. As the oldest of the group, I’ve undoubtely been to more places than any of you.”
Rob asked if she’d been to Tokyo.
“Oh Tokyo is amazing. You absolutely should go. I went to the public bathes there and someone stole my shoes. Can you believe it? Anyway…”
“Too bad Carrie couldn’t make it,” I whispered to Cheryl. Carrie was due sooner than we’d thought and her doctor forbade her from flying. She said she’d hold out on giving birth until we got back – neither of us believed her.
“It’ll be fine. Vanessa just likes to make a strong first impression. You’ll get used to her.”
We boarded the plane from Phoenix to JFK. Rob sat next to me, and we had a companionable trip. I read a fantasy romance book I’d picked up in the Phoenix Airport about a lady who goes back in time and falls in love with a Scottish lord. Cheryl was on the aisle and Vanessa was across the aisle. They chatted most of the way, but that’s not surprising. Cheryl could talk a mile a minute if she had enough caffeine and sugar. Rob was a still-waters-run-deep type of guy. He had sandy brown hair (for this trip), and had taken his nose ring out, but still wore bone ear plugs in both ears. His eyes were mahogany colored. He was just short of six feet tall – so putting him in the middle seat seemed wrong. He said he didn’t mind though.
JFK airport was full of people. Luckily I didn’t have problems with crowds. We stood in line checking into Aer Lingus for an hour – only to learn that our flight was delayed.
“Figures,” Vanessa said in a loud voice, “We should have stuck to an American carrier instead of some foreign one. Air Cunnilingus – bah!” The clerk behind the counter flicked his eyes toward our group and I felt the first urge to apologize for our friend. Instead I glanced at Cheryl who shrugged.
The flight finally arrived. Rob and Cheryl were in the seat behind Vanessa and I.
“So, Amanda Pinkerton, what’s your story?”
“My story, um. Which part do you want to hear?”
“Um, like, where do you know Cheryl from?”
“We work together. She’s one of my best friends.”
“Best friends – she didn’t tell me that. How nice for you.”
Was I supposed to be suspicious of something? I wasn’t sure what she wanted from me.
“And you are in the same camera club?” I asked.
“Oh yes. Cheryl’s the best photographer of the group. She’s our little photoshopwizard!” With that she turned in her seat and gave Cheryl a big grin.
She was wearing a large diamond ring on her left hand.
“Are you married?” I asked, trying to be polite.
“Oh yes – Paulo. He’s Panamanian. This isn’t my wedding ring though. I didn’t bring any of my good jewelry; theives you know. I just got this in the Phoenix Airport. It’s a cz diamond – that way, if I lose it, I won’t be devistated. Besides, it certainly gives a good impression, don’t you think?”
“It looks very expensive.”
“Exactly. When I was Cheryl’s age, I was married to my second husband. We were stationed in Panama. We were in the Navy. Paulo was my poolboy. Unfortunately we moved to Alaska before I realized that I’d rather be with Paulo than my husband at the time. We broke up, and I worked in the state penitentiary just to get by. I married my third husband when I lived in Montana. I worked on a dude ranch. I love horses – don’t you?”
I shrugged. I’d never meet a horse, so I didn’t know if I’d loved them or not.
“I hope we have a chance to ride in Ireland. Anyway, after husband number three bit the dust, I had a chance to go back to Panama where I hooked up with Paulo. He’d gone into business for himself and was very successful. He’s good looking and he’s rich. How could I not marry him? Are you married?”
Oh thank God, I thought and looked longingly toward my book, which was tucked in the seatback pocket next to my mp3 player.
She finally fell asleep just as the sun was rising over the clouds in the distance. The pilot came on to say that it was light rain in Shannon and we’d be over land and landing in about 30 minutes. My eyes felt like they had pebbles in them. Vanessa started to snore softly in my ear. Looking out the window, the clouds parted and I caught my first glimpse of Ireland. It looked wet, and green. Undoubtedly green, with fields marked out in irregular rectangles. The trees became larger as the plane descended. Wow, I was in Ireland.
We took a taxi from the airport to a hotel where our tour bus was waiting for us. It was a small bus – not as big as a Grayhound. The seats were above the driver and the windows large for better viewing of the countryside. We stowed our suitcases and piled on. Vanessa had wandered away somewhere and showed up just as the tour guides were introducing themselves.
“This is Seamus McGowan and I’m Deidre O’Leary, and we welcome you to the Gaellines Tour of Ancient Ireland…” Deidre was a short, dark haired lady about my age I guessed. She had a smattering of freckles across her nose. Rob mumbled something about her being cute, so Cheryl punched him in the arm. Vanessa said, “She is cute, but he’s cuter.”
Seamus McGowan was tall and thin, with black wavy hair. He walked back to where we were sitting and handed Vanessa a paper she’d dropped. She flirted with him, and he smiled at her, and then looked at me. I had a frisson, like I’d touched an unshielded electrical outlet. A clear blue eye winked at me under long dark lashes. His smile was slightly lop-sided, which gave him a mischievous look. My heart rate leapt up, and I felt myself blush. He turned and walked away, showing a compact behind cased in tight blue jeans.
“I know what I want for dinner,” Vanessa said. I had to agree with her. I glanced at Cheryl and she nodded. Rob rolled his eyes.
Our first stop was the Burren, which is northwest of Shannon. The clouds were moving across the sky like the sheep that were moving across the fields; slowly withrandom bursts of speed. It was cool, but not freezing. We turned off the “larger” road on to a smaller winding road that led through someone’sbackyard, Seamus the guide telling us that it was sometimes better to take the pathless traveled. We pulled off at a widespotand looked at a guide marker – which turned out to be unreadable.
“Never you mind,” Dierdre said, “From here you can see the edge of the Burren, which is made up of karstic limestone.” Dierdre pointed through the bare branches across the street at a grey hill that looked like it had been folded.
Not greatly impressed, we piled back on the bus and continued. The trees grew, showing mossy trunks and naked branches. Then the road twisted its way up a rise, and we caught sight of the real Burren. It was stark and would have been depressing except for the fields that were green even though it was December.
Our next stop was the Poulnabrone Dolmen – a passage tomb. We parked and sloshed our way out to the structure. It looked like a stone card house. There were cracks in the rocks, called grykes, around the structure, making it seem like the whole mountainside once floated like ice on a frozen sea.
“This is your enterance; a passage tomb,” Seamus said. He was standing next to me, gazing at the dolmen.
“Huh?” I said, caught off guard by the ‘your’.
“A passage tomb,” he said catching my eye. I blushed. He continued in a slightly louder voice, “This tomb dates about 2500 BC. The remains of many people were found here, and archeologists think the bodies were de-fleshed elsewhere and then placed in the tomb. A passage tomb means that there was a passage leading to the actual burial chamber. Obviously this passage is not very long.”
“Long enough to do the trick though,” he said to me in an aside.
I blinked at him, but he moved on to answer someone else’s question. Was he flirting with me?
Vanessa was poking around in one of the grykes, and let out a yelp.
Seamus was at her side in an instant.
“Oh, the rock moved and I thought I was going to fall in,” she said, batting her eyelashes at him.
He helped her to a more solid area, and moved off.
“He wants my body,” she said to me in a soto whisper as we got back on the bus. She smiled at him and tossed her blonde hair. Maybe if she’d lost fifteen pounds she could get away with wearing the tight sweater she had on, but as it was, a part of her hung out over her too tight jeans – like a muffin coming over its cup.
Our next stop was a cave that had two underground waterfalls. Not necessarily an ancient site, but worth the visit. Vanessa bought a lot of postcards in the gift shop and was late in getting back to the bus.
We stopped for lunch at Doolin, which was a wide spot in the road.
“Don’t you eat or drink while in Ireland – you’ll be under its spell forever,” Vanessa said.
“You mean don’t drink or eat while in faerie land,” Cheryl corrected. She was our resident expert on all things fey.
“This is fairyland,” she replied, and sipped her Guinness. One Guinness lead to two, then to four, like compounding interest. Her voice rose in equal increments. Diedre asked Vanessa, in a very polite manner, for a moment of silence so that she could announce that the bus was leaving.
“Where to now, Seamus?” Vanessa demanded.
“Cliffs of Moher.”
Exhaustion started to catch up to me as we crossed the street from the parking lot to the site. There were shops built into the hill, as well as a visitor’s center. It reminded me of Bilbo Baggin’s house. We went up the hill to look over the edge. At the steps leading up to O’Brien’s Tower, Vanessa decided she needed a little lie-down so plopped herself down on the steps. Cheryl, Rob, and I went up to the Tower to see the full view of the Atlantic.
“Come see this view,” Seamus said and directed me off the pavement and into the mud. Over the edge and to the right was a formation of stones that looked like it could have been a road at one point.
“I call it the Stone Circle of Moher,” he said. I zoomed in with my camera and he was right. The formation did look like a circle of standing stones.
A wave of dizzyness made me almost drop my camera.
Seamus grabbed my arm to steady me, “Let’s get you away from the edge.”
He led me back to the pavement and protective wall with one hand on my forearm and another at the small of my back gently guiding me. His touch was light but ready to keep me steady. I felt safe, and then awkward because my tired mind suddenly reminded me how sexy he was and how utterly plain I was. I turned to say something but he had moved off to talk to some other girls. I could still feel the heat of his palm on my back.
I caught up with Cheryl and Rob at the bottom of the hill. They were talking to a park ranger.
“Oh no, no worries at all – she’ll be fine. We just wanted to make sure she wasn’t sick.”
I looked a question at Cheryl.
“Vanessa,” she said to me and thanked the ranger. We walked back toward the gift shops.
“I guess she passed out and scared the shit out of the staff,” Cheryl continued.
“Yeah – how embarassing! Diedre’s taking her back to the bus. She’s been very nice, but I can tell by her eyes that she’s pissed.”
“I should have been watching her more closely,” Rob said.
“No honey, that’s my job. She’s my friend.”
“I thought she didn’t drink – at least that’s what she said on the plane yesterday,” I said, spinning a rack of postcards. I didn’t see one of Seamus’ stone circle.
“This morning you mean – it’s still the same day,” Rob said.
“We’ll sleep when we’re dead right?” Cheryl said with a smile, ” And yes, it was my understanding that she was ‘on the wagon’ as well.” Cheryl didn’t drink and never had. Rob enjoyed the occasional beer – especially when watching football games, but none of use were heavy drinkers.
“She needs to watch herself,” I said.
Cheryl nodded and Rob grunted in agreement.
Seamus gathered us all back at the park enterance.
“Off to Dingle and our lodging for the evening.” For some reason he was looking at me when he said that. I raised my eyebrows at him, but he didn’t say anything else.
On the bus, Vanessa had recovered and was complaining loudly that she didn’t get to shop. Diedre assured her that there’d be many more opportunities.
We took a car ferry across the Shannon and traveled down through Tralee and on to Dingle. It was less rocky that the Burrenarea, but still green with sheep and flowing hills.
We stayed in a no-frills hotel. Vanessa had thrown a fit when she found out we were going to be sharing a room, but unfortunately the hotel was full. Diedre, who in my estimation should be sainted for her patience, apologized and offered Vanessa her own room. Vanessa looked at her like she had bugs crawling out of her nose and said she’d make due with me.
Dingle Town was noted for its music, so we stopped at a pub advertising a Traditional Night. The pub was at the bottom of the hill next to a small bridge. It was painted bright yellow with silhouettes of people dancing. The walls inside of the pub were also yellow. Traditional Night turned out to be their version of open mic night. Various people stood up and sang or told stories. Seamus sang. I don’t remember all the words, but the chorus was ‘will ye go lassie go?’.
“I’d go pluck wild mountain thyme with him anytime,” Cheryl whispered to me. Rob bought us a round of drinks; Cheryl had a soda and I tried a shot of Irish Whiskey. Vanessa had the first of several Guinesses.
“I really enjoy the bubbles,” she told me.
The host of the evening, a red-haired blue eyed fellow named Roy, came over to our table.
“Got a song for us from America?” He asked.
Cheryl, Rob and I shook our heads no, but Vanessa nodded and said loudly.
“Oh sure – Amanda’ll sing us one, won’t you Mandy?”
Everyone turned to look at our table.
“Excellent!” Roy said, and hauled me out of my seat.
I stood frozen before the suddenly huge crowd in the suddenly overly warm pub. The fire, which was cheery a moment before, became a furace. I caught Deidre’s eye from across the room. She gave me a thumbs up. Luckily Seamus didn’t seem to be around.
I looked at Cheryl, who said “Sing some AC/DC”
“Oh God no,” I hissed back. Cheryl shrugged.
“Sing! Sing!” the crowd started to chant.
So I pulled out the only song I could think of – Loreena McKennit’sversion of “She Moved Through The Fair.” Cheryl jumped up and sang it with me. When we finished – to kind applause instead of hurled beer mugs – I gave her a grateful hug.
“See,” she said, “all those years in choir have paid off.” I giggled.
Vanessa stood next, without promting, and sang a dirty song about a tinker. I thought we’d be tossed out, but no, the crowd ate it up – singing a clapping along. When it was over she bowed dramatically and then gave me a sneer.
“Five years of private singing lessons,” she said, and ordered another beer and a shot. Vanessa obviously wanted to compete with me, but for what?
When Vanessa’s beer and a shot came and Cheryl suggested she might want to slow down. Vanessa snapped at her.
“Hey, ” I said, “She’s just trying to look out for you.”
“Of course, because you are all so very interested in my welfare,” was her ambiguous reply. She stormed off.
Cheryl declaired that she was exhausted and headed out after Vanessa, leaving Rob and I to finish up our drinks.
“What do you think of Vanessa?” He asked me.
The answer popped out of my mouth before I had a chance to edit it; “I think she’s a spoiled little bitch.”
Rob laughed when I clapped a hand over my mouth.
“I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to say that. Must be the whiskey. She is driving me nuts though.”
“Maybe she’s off her meds,” he suggested.
I shrugged, and then asked him if he was serious. He laughed until he realized she had left us to pick up her bar tab.
We stumbled home to the hotel about an hour later. He walked me to my door and said, “You’ve got a pretty voice – and you’re pretty Amanda. Don’t let anyone tell you different.” Then he hiccupped. I laughed and said good night.
My roommate was passed out, fully clothed, on the bed. An empty six-pack holder and a few bottles were scattered near the foot of my bed.
“Lovely,” I said, hoping she didn’t snore.
She did. Finally, I’m in bed after 30+ hours of being awake, and my roommate snores. I tossed and turned and must have fallen asleep at one point because I dreamed. I don’t usually remember what I dream, but the exhaustion must have caused my brain to be overactive.
I dreamt I was standing out in a field so green it hurt my eyes. In the distance, up a rocky hill, was a standing stone circle. A flock of sheep were grazing around it. I walked toward the circle, my feet squishing in the mud. I noticed I was wearing Wellington boots and my underwear. Lovely.
As I approached the circle, a large ram appeared on the rock above me.
“Who dares approach this sacred space?” A deep melodious voice demanded. The voice was familiar and I realized it was a deeper version of Seamus’ voice. Looking around quickly, I was relieved when he didn’t appear. All my poor self-esteem needed was a really attractive guy to see me in my undies and a pair of olive green plastic boots.
“Who?” the voice said again.
“I’m Amanda – who are you?”
“Amanda Alexandra Pinkerton, I’ve been waiting for you.” The ram charged down the hill at me, its eyes blazing red.
The ram hit my body just as a loud snort woke me. I rolled over and stuck my head under a pillow.
In the morning we checked out and got on board our cozy bus. We were off to see a Woolly Mammoth and some medieval beehive huts made out of stone. Everything was made out of stone in Ireland. Vanessa was the last to board. She gave me a bright smile and said a cheerful hello to Cheryl. She was wearing an ugly orange shirt.
“Isn’t that the shirt we saw in the store a few weeks ago?” I asked Cheryl.
She glanced at Vanessa, and then snorted. I hid my giggle and said hello when she sat next to me.
We drove in silence for a while, watching the light break up the morning fog. It was going to be cold today, with a chance of showers in the afternoon, but the morning was beautiful.
“Tell me again why you don’t have a boyfriend?” Vanessa asked me.
“Uh, because men suck? I don’t know. I just don’t.”
“You’ve had a boyfriend before though, right?”
“So what happened?”
I looked over at Cheryl. She and Rob were looking out the window and not paying attention to us. The rest of the bus, the other 15 people, seemed to be wrapped up in their own conversations. There was no escape for me it seemed.
“My last boyfriend was an abusive controlling jerk, so I left him.”
“Yes it did,” I said, hoping that would end the conversation.
“How abusive – did he hit you?”
“Only once, but that was enough.”
“You should have kicked his ass. How long were you together?”
“About three years.”
“Why’d you stay so long?”
“I thought I loved him.”
“You poor thing. Well, you know what they say…”
I sighed, “No, what do ‘they’ say?”
“You gotta get up on that horse again after he throws you. My second husband was like that – he never hit me though. He’d just tell me how stupid I was. I got him back though. I fucked his best friend and told him all about it.”
I looked at her in surprise.
“He apologised afterward. Told me I was his one true love.”
“After you slept with his best friend,” I stated, confused.
“Yup. He was very nice to me after that.”
“Wow. I’m surprised he didn’t murder you.”
“Nah. He was a push-over. I tell you what, men just want one thing; sex. Once you prove that you control the sex, they’ll always fall in line.”
I had my doubts about that.
“How long as it been?”
“Since I left Mike? About two years.”
“No, silly. When was the last time you had sex?”
I looked at her in shock. Thank God the older lady in front of us had her headphones on, and didn’t hear us. Cheryl caught my eye and made a face. I blushed.
“What’s wrong, Mandy?” Vanessa asked.
“Nothing. I just wasn’t expecting that question – in the middle of a bus from of strangers from someone I’ve only meet yesterday.”
“Bah – you’re too sensitive. They don’t care if we talk sex.” Her voice got progressively louder. A guy about my age glanced back and smiled.
“See,” Vanessa said with an elbow to my side, “What do you think of him?”
“He’s cute I guess,” I said, reluctantly checking him out.
“I bet you could get him to take you out to dinner tonight.”
“Because you need to get laid, girlfriend.” People’s heads turned toward us.
I pretended to look for something I dropped under my seat for a moment.
Vanessa laughed at me.
“Do you mind?” I asked. She poked me again with her elbow.
“Come with me tonight – I’ll show you how to pick up men.”
Luckily we pulled into the Dunbeag Promontory Fort just then, so I was spared from replying.
Vanessa, like my mom, was aghast that I didn’t have a steady boyfriend and wasn’t married yet.
“I told Cheryl she should get Rob to marry her before he gets out of school and inherits all that money, that way she’ll be established with the family and will have a better outcome in the divorce.”
“They’re not even thinking about marriage yet and you already have them divorced?”
“It’s the way of the world. You’ll learn.”
“How about kids?”
“I don’t think Cheryl wants kids just yet.”
“No silly – you. Do you want kids?”
Didn’t I want kids? Mike and I had discussed it, and I thought I was pregnant at one point. Then when we broke up, I was releived that I hadn’t had a kid. When I said no, she said she agreed with me. Kids would just get in the way of having fun. She was on husband number 4 and had remained good friends with all of her previous husbands, and none of them had wanted kids – “Well, except the first husband, but we won’t go into that.”