|Written by:||Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)|
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|Written by:||Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)|
Nancy Julien Kopp
Nora drummed her fingers on the kitchen table. She'd gone through the "How was your day?" chatter with her husband. Now it was time to introduce a more important piece of conversation, one that might make Kurt sit up and take notice. He sat opposite her engrossed in the evening paper. She slipped past him and snatched the spoon lying on the stovetop. Look at him, she thought. He resembles a statue reading his nightly paper more than a live human being.
"I'm going to Ireland." Nora stirred the stew with a frenzy and recovered the pot. She slammed her spoon in the spoon-rest, splattering gravy across the stovetop. Kurt's newspaper never even twitched.
Nora returned to the table and sat down hard. "Are you deaf? Do you have any little bit of awareness that I was speaking to you, Kurt?"
"Of course, I knew you were talking to me, Nora. You're always talking to me. Only don't ask me what you were saying." His head burrowed deeper behind the black and white print.
"Then you'd better put the paper down and pay some attention to what I'm telling you. I'm going to Ireland next Tuesday. I'd appreciate a ride to the airport, but if it's too much to ask..."
Kurt threw the paper on the floor and leaned across the table. "How can you sit there and calmly tell me you're going to Ireland? Are you mad?"
Her stomach twisted into knots, but Nora ignored the discomfort. "I've always wanted to go, wanted to walk the land of my ancestors. It's not the first time you've heard it from me."
Kurt leaped to his feet and paced the steamy kitchen. "What is so appealing about a poor little British controlled country? My God, my people came here from Germany, but I could care less about walking the earth there. How would you fend for yourself alone? Forget it, Nora, forget it!" He stomped out the door, slamming it behind him.
Nora quietly prepared to leave on her dream journey. She phoned Jessie on Sunday afternoon. "Your dad hasn't spoken a dozen words to me since I told him I was going to Ireland. He knows it's something I've wanted to do for the last thirty years."
"Mom, tell him again. You've got everything ready."
"He's the most stubborn man on earth. Nothing I say will make him think this is a good idea."
Jessie said, "Go on this trip, Mom. Walk your Irish land and find your roots. Stay in those quaint hotels we read about. Sip tea by a peat fire. Look up old records and find out what kind of people your great-grandparents were."
"I will, Jessie, I will. That land has been calling to me too long, and I won't give it up now. Your dad can be damned!"
Tuesday morning Nora left a note for Kurt. She took a taxi to the airport and boarded a British Airways jet that would carry her to her heritage. She'd placed her husband and children first for years. This time she rated first place. She pictured Kurt's surprise when he found the note she'd left. His dark brows would rise straight up to his receding hairline. He'd crumple the note and throw it on the floor before he ever reached the part about the dinner she'd left in the fridge. She regretted leaving the meal. Maybe he'd choke on it, and if he did, it would serve him right. Who was he to resent his wife following a lifelong dream? Nora rubbed her stomach in hopes that it would settle down.
Hours later, Nora shuffled down an unremarkable airport jetway and into Ireland. The airport teemed with travelers. "Now what?" she mumbled to herself. The sign proclaiming Baggage Area directed her feet. Framed posters on the walls pictured Dublin in all its glory, and as she passed them, Nora's fatigue disappeared. This fifty-something, slightly overweight Irish-Amreican would love every part of her journey from this moment on. She strode past other more leisurely paced travelers and followed the arrows to the baggage claim area.
A tall, good-looking man smiled at Nora while the baggage circled the carousel. She frowned at him and grabbed her bag, which had the good sense to appear at exactly that moment.
Outside, she hailed a taxi and collapsed in the back seat while the driver stowed her luggage in the trunk…no, it was called a boot she reminded herself.
The small man grinned as he settled himself into the driver's seat. "And now, where would you be wanting to go, Miss?"
Nora leaned forward. "I love your accent. It's wonderful!"
The driver turned to face his passenger. "Miss, you're in the middle of Dublin. It's not me who's got the accent, I'm thinking."
Mikey Dolan, the driver, gave Nora a tour-guide ride to her hotel. "This is Grafton St. You'll find every gift you want here." Farther on, he pointed a crooked finger at St. Patrick's Cathedral. "St. Pat's is a must stop, Miss, whether you're a believer or not." With each mile, the churning in Nora's stomach eased.
Once settled in a small hotel, she called Jessie. "I know it's the middle of the night for you, but I wanted you to know that I'm here. Everything went fine."
Jessie yawned into the phone. "Mom, did you want something else? You surely didn't call and wake me up to tell me nothing is wrong, did you?"
"Oh no, nothing more. Except… Jessie, did your dad call you when he found my note?" Nora held her breath until Jessie's lilting laugh came through the phone.
"Oh, so that's it. You wanted to know if Dad was upset when he discovered you'd left. Well, upset is putting it mildly. I listened to a good twenty minute tirade." Jessie yawned again. "If that's all, Mom, I have to get up in a few hours. Have fun, and don't worry about Dad. He'll calm down."
"Worry? Why would I worry about him? I'm where I want to be, and I don't care a fig what he thinks." Angry at her impossible husband, Nora slammed the phone onto the cradle. "Sorry, Jess.," she whispered.
The next day, Nora strolled through the streets of Dublin following the map in her dog-eared guidebook. She savored street names like St. Stephen's Green and Waterford Street, smiled at pub signs, and peered into dozens of shops on the famed Grafton Street. She observed the everyday happenings of the neighborhood around her hotel. Ireland seeped a little more into her bones each day. Twice she thought the tall man from the baggage area at the airport passed her. He smiled at her and appeared about to speak, but Nora lowered her head and hurried in the opposite direction. What could he possibly want?
One evening she sank into a chair at The Cock's Crow Pub and picked up the menu lying on the table. Her feet hurt, and her stomach rumbled. She couldn't remember when she'd last eaten.
"Excuse me, but I seem to run into you everywhere--the airport, the hotel, the rainy streets of Dublin, and now here in the pub."
Nora raised her head to find the man she'd encountered several times since her flight landed. His face was inches from hers. "Quite a coincidence. Now, if you'll excuse me,…" She returned to the menu.
"My name is Jerry Halloran. Here's my business card. I'm an American, too. Here on holiday. I've always wanted to walk the land where my ancestors were born."
Nora stared at Jerry Halloran. He'd repeated the words she'd said to Kurt so many times.
She laid the menu down and smiled at him. "Would you like to sit down and have a hot drink with Nora Hass who has also dreamed of walking the land of her ancestors?"
"Thanks." He took off his coat and rubbed well-manicured hands together. "Chilly out there, isn't it? Not like Florida, by a long shot."
"Is Florida your home, Mr. Halloran? I'm a native of Ohio myself."
From that beginning, she learned that he was in Ireland for the first time. Like her he'd had a yen to visit from the time his grandmother spun tales of the land she'd left behind four decades before.
When he laughed, smile lines crinkled at the corners of his blue eyes. Nora kept chattering, hoping she'd say something that amused him so those lovely lines might appear again. How long had it been since Kurt laughed at her conversation?
Later, she lay in her big bed and played the evening over in her mind. She hadn't talked or laughed so much in years. She rolled over and grabbed the phone
"Jessie, you'd better remind your dad to put the trash out tomorrow morning.
"Trash? Mom, what's going on?
"Nothing at all, Jessie. I'm having a marvelous time, but I don't want to face a mountain of trash when I come home."
"Oh, do you plan on coming home? Dad doesn't seem to think so. He rants and raves a little more each day you're gone. He calls you that ungrateful woman, but he's all right.
Nora said good-bye and pulled the comforter up under her chin. She dreamed of Kurt posed atop a mountain of trash like some mad conqueror.
Nora tried on three different outfits the next morning. "Silly woman," she murmured when she finally settled on a sky blue pants suit that complimented her auburn hair. Jerry Halloran waved to her from the small table by the large window. She joined him without hesitating.
Jerry held the chair for her. "You look ready for a day of sightseeing, Nora. Let's go through these guidebooks and decide what will be first on today's list."
"Jerry, I want you to know I'm not a woman who takes up with strange men everywhere I go. You made sense, though, last night when you said we were both strangers in this country, and we should explore it together. I think you were right. It will be more pleasurable to share the experience with someone else." Besides, who wouldn't want to be seen with a handsome man like this?
He smiled, and his eyes showed those little lines again. "I'm glad you agree, Nora. We're going to have a wonderful time. Now, let's eat, for we've a full day ahead."
Nora laid her napkin across her lap, a shiver of pleasure running up her spine.
The next few days flew as Nora and Jerry visited Trinity College and strolled through St. Stephen's Park. They delved into museums and art galleries soaking up Irish history. "Look at that!" became a common cry. They ate pub lunches and dinners in quaint neighborhood restaurants. They talked only about the now, never the before of their lives. But Nora sometimes felt uncomfortable when he gazed at her in silence. That's when she started chattering, and she had a hard time turning it off. No wonder Kurt didn't always listen to her. Her mind drifted across the sea to home. Did Kurt go out to eat now or stop at Jessie's on his way home each night? Jerry's voice brought her back to Dublin, and she pushed away thoughts of Kurt and focused on helping plan the next day's agenda.
One day they hired a car and drove out into the countryside, stopping often to take in the scenery. While passing through an especially lovely village Jerry said, "No wonder Ireland is the land of writers. What an inspiration this place is."
They left the car and tramped the misty hillsides, out of breath more often than not. "This is not for middle-aged American tourists," Nora complained at the top of a high hill. She turned, expecting polite commiseration from her athletic companion, but Kurt's round face sat atop Jerry's slim body. She shook her head to clear the disquieting image. "It's time to go if we're to return the car by six.
Nora was startled when Jerry reached for her hand before they hiked down the hill, but she didn't protest. Why fight something that felt so nice, so warm and safe?
At dinner that evening, Jerry set down his tankard of ale, and got a serious, almost sad look. "You're so easy to be with, Nora. I feel like I've known you all my life." He put his
hand on top of hers and curled his fingers. " I'm not quite sure how to say this, so I'll blurt it out and be done with it."
An alarm in the back of Nora's head rang loud and clear. The heat rising through her neck wasn't the usual hot flash. She put her hand to her cheek and pulled the other one free. "What shall we eat tonight?" She chattered on and on. Anything to avoid where Jerry Halloran seemed to be heading with that last statement. She had no idea how to handle the situation. One minute she adored him, and the next he frightened her.
Jerry smiled at her mindless prattle, and his blue eyes appeared to reflect the light of the candle on the table. "Nora, you know where this is going. Don't fight it. You obviously don't care about your husband. If you did, you wouldn't have come over here without him. You never mention him to me. You're here in the Emerald Isle with me wearing an emerald green satin blouse that matches your eyes. There's little doubt we're both here alone by choice."
Nora bit her bottom lip and twisted the napkin in her lap. "Jerry, I've loved seeing Ireland with you, sharing these wonderful days, but a holiday romance is not part of my itinerary.
"And why not? That first day in the airport you had an aura of uncertainty and sadness around you, but that's disappeared. You've blossomed here with me to help you enjoy Ireland to its fullest. I'm attracted to you, and I thought you felt the same way.
Blossomed? Blossomed, indeed! Through clenched teeth Nora responded. "You know nothing about me or my husband or my marriage, Mr. Halloran. My husband gave me this trip because he worships the ground I walk on. He's been my life's companion for more than thirty years, and I can't imagine a life without him in it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a phone call to make." She rose like a queen and left without a backward glance. He'd never know what was true and what she'd made up.
She turned and called across the crowded pub, "No, you wait, Mr. Halloran. You wait right there until you find some other gullible woman to walk this land of your ancestors with you. You help her blossom next!"
Nora went straight to her hotel room, ignoring the desk clerk, who greeted her when she marched by. She grabbed the phone and dialed familiar numbers. "Jessie? It's time for me to come home. I miss your dad so much. He's a grump, but he loves me, even if he's forgotten how to say it. "Besides," she thought, "Kurt and I blossomed together long ago."
"Mom, are you crying? What's happened?"
"Nothing. I got a wee hit on the head in the pub, and a lot of things suddenly seem pretty clear to me. Now listen to me, Jessie. Don't you dare tell your dad I'm coming home. I'll send you my flight information in the morning. Remember what I said. Don't say a word to your dad." Nora replaced the receiver and searched the face of the woman in the mirror. What if Kurt didn't want her to come home? Where would she be then?
The mountain of trash returned to her dreams that night. Kurt paced the top of the mound, waving green carnations and crying. She woke in the dark and sat straight up in
bed. It was the end of sleep for the night. She got up and started to pack. She'd loved the land of her ancestors, but it was time to learn if she could ever go home again.
Nora exited the jetway in Cincinnati and scanned the crowded waiting area. She found no familiar face. Hadn't Jessie disobeyed her and told Kurt? Surely she would have done so. That was Nora's plan, after all.
She headed towards the baggage claim with slow steps and a lump in her throat. She adjusted the carry-on bag on her shoulder and rounded a corner. And there he was, running down the corridor waving green carnations.
When Kurt reached her, he pulled Nora close and whispered in her ear. "Dear God, how I missed you."
Nora put her arms around her husband and hugged him tight. "Did you remember to take out the trash?" Her heart soared when he answered. "Of course I did. Would you want to come home to a mountain of it, Woman?"