Thoughts of Patrick seeped in that night, as Kate lay on the double bed she’d once shared with him.
She’d been in Dublin on a hen weekend with friends the first time she set eyes on him. It hadn’t really been her kind of thing, and she’d felt uncomfortable in a pink feather boa and an angel halo, as they’d drifted into a little tavern called The Leprechaun down near the River Liffey. She’d prayed it was the last pub – the last drink – before she could disappear back to the B&B.
She pushed her way to the bar and there he was, throwing money into the till from his last customer. He smiled as she approached. ‘You’re my angel sent from heaven, so you are,’ he said, winking at her as she fumbled with her purse.
‘Sorry?’ she said, feeling her face flush.
He touched his head. ‘The halo – I like it.’
‘Oh, I see,’ she said, dropping a coin onto the bar, which rolled and disappeared behind an ice bucket. She was a strong, no nonsense woman – and yet this man with flashing green eyes and dark wavy hair, and an Irish lilt, was somehow reducing her to a mess. She tucked her blonde bobbed hair behind her ears, dropping more coins onto the bar.
Patrick leaned forward and put his hand on hers. ‘Stay here and talk to me. I’m bored out of my fecking head.’
She hadn’t argued. Just pulled herself onto the stool near the bar.
It was love. Yes, love, and lust too – but mostly love.
He’d walked her back to the B & B later, and she invited him in. What followed was a night of passion, that superseded anything she’d ever felt before.
In the early hours, they’d stretched on the bed, side by side. Him drinking red wine from a bottle he’d pinched from the pub, her sipping water to hopefully ward off a hangover. She soon learned he was studying literature at Trinity College.
‘I want to be a poet,’ he said, dragging on a cigarette and blowing smoke circles. ‘Not one of these penniless ones you hear about who drink themselves into early graves - a published one - a successful one.’
‘I didn’t realise there was any other kind than penniless,’ she’d said. ‘Other than Pam Ayers, perhaps.’
He laughed. ‘Or William Yeats? Now he made a real go of it.’ He stubbed out his cigarette, and turned, brushing her hair gently from her cheek. ‘Yeats was fascinated by the occult. Now that’s a bit of trivia I bet you didn’t know.’
‘Or want to,’ she said, with a laugh. ‘I don’t believe in such things, and couldn’t think of any reason I’d ever be interested in anything paranormal.’
He stared for a moment. ‘You’re very posh, did you know?’ he said, putting on an English upper-class accent.’
‘I’m not. I like posh English women.’ He paused before adding. ‘So, pretty lady, what are your dreams?’
‘Yes. Share your dreams with me.’
‘Well,’ she said, lifting her face upwards as though all her dreams would rush down from the sky. ‘I want to be a good nurse.’
‘Admirable.’ He nodded approvingly.
‘And I can’t wait to have children.’
‘Can’t wait to have children?’ His eyes widened.
‘Not your children, obviously.’ She felt her face flush.
‘But you shouldn’t want anyone’s child at your age.’
‘Why not? My mum had me when she was nineteen. And I don’t mean now exactly. I mean in five years or so.’
‘That’s not good at all.’ He shook his head, his hair falling into his eyes.
‘Well for starters, you should never wish your life away ‘I can’t wait’ is a terrible expression.’
‘Yes, it should be banned from the English language. Planning means you’re wishing away the actual moment. You can’t forward plan if you want to be with me. You must live in the moment.’
‘I didn’t say I wanted to be with you.’
He leaned forward and kissed her lips, which made her tingle. ‘You didn’t have to,’ he said, before taking another swig from the bottle.
‘And you were the one who asked what my dreams are,’ she said, sitting up, cross he’d messed with her head and confused her practical, sensible thoughts. ‘One minute you’re saying I should have dreams, the next I can’t plan them. You’re a cocky little shite.’
‘Moi?’ he said, kissing her again and pushing her back onto the bed before she could say another word.
It was three months later that the wonderfully huge bubble that Patrick had blown for them to spend time in – full of moments for living – burst.
‘I’m having a baby,’ Kate had said. She’d taken the pregnancy test that morning - stared and stared at the results, willing the little blue line to vanish without a trace. It hadn’t.
‘I’m going back to Cumbria,’ she’d continued to the wide-eyed Patrick. ‘It’s fine. I’ll live with my parents for a bit. But I’m keeping the baby.’
‘I’m going to the pub,’ he said, grabbing his jacket. That was it. That was the full length of his comment.
‘I want nothing from you, Patrick O’Donnell – absolutely nothing,’ she’d cried after him, her voice fake with confidence as he’d strode away, not looking back.
But she’d felt anything but confident. She’d wanted everything from him, because she loved him more than Boyzone and Take That wrapped together. She’d loved the way he spoke, the way his hair curled crazily, the way he teased her, the way he kissed her, the way his eyes were greener than the grass on a spring day. There was no one she would ever love more. And if she could have slept that night, she may have been able to stop the flood of tears that wetted her hair, her pillow, her PJS. She may have been able to stop her heart from breaking.
He’d stood on her doorstep the following morning - dishevelled, his eyes bloodshot, his clothes creased and smelling of stale beer. Within seconds he’d taken her in his arms and held her so tight she thought she might break.
‘I’m sorry, Kate,’ he whispered into her hair. ‘I’m here, and I’m going nowhere.’
But as he released her, and she looked into his eyes, she sensed he was far away - in his land of dreams.
He married her, despite his plans for the moment. Married her, despite his dreams. Married her, because deep down, Patrick O’Donnell, the man Kate had now lost forever on The Blue Mountains, had been a good man.
Nights dreaming in black and white and days spent inside with the blinds down, passed slowly; despite the urgency of the out-of-sync ticking clocks. Mundane tasks like filling the dishwasher clashed with the loss of Dad, and Cillian leaving. It would have been obvious to any onlooker that Mum and I weren’t coping.
We’d been home a week when I came out of my bedroom one morning in my Thundercats PJs, to find Mum had lifted the blinds. Outside the sky was thick with grey clouds.
‘There’s a storm coming,’ she said, lifting her head from the book she was reading, a steaming cup of coffee by her side. ‘Hopefully, it'll clear the air.’
I poured myself a juice from the fridge, and pulled Great Expectations from the carrier bag on the worktop, which had been there since we got back. I sat down next to Mum, intending to read the final chapter, in a hope of taking my mind off everything that had happened.
‘Your dad gave you that book, didn’t he?’ she said. ‘He'd be glad you’re reading it.’
‘That’s why I am.’ I paused. ‘I want to try to be more like him,’ I said, meeting her eye, my voice cracking as I spoke. ‘I know he didn’t get me, or understand why I didn’t want to travel, or read, or like poetry.’
‘Stop that, Isaac,' she said, laying her book down. 'I loved your dad, but in many ways I’m glad you’re not like him. Despite the front he put on, he had his down times. Always searching for something to make him complete. And he drank too much, like your grandpa.’ She touched my cheek. ‘I adored your father, Isaac, but he was far from perfect. And he, more than anyone, knew that.’ She paused for a moment, before adding, ‘Don’t try to emulate him. Just be yourself. You’re a good man. The fact you're here, proves that.’ She tapped my chest gently with two fingers. ‘Do whatever’s in your heart. Be yourself. The only thing Dad would want is for you to be happy.’
I nodded, grateful for her words.
We were silent for some time, reading, or perhaps lost in our own thoughts. ‘You know what I hate the most, Mum?’ I said, eventually, running my hand over my stubbled chin.
She looked at me, eyes shimmering with tears. 'Go on.'
‘It’s that I never really got to know him properly when we were both adults. I never got to tell him I loved him. Because I did, Mum. I loved Dad.’
She closed her eyes, and tears spilled down her cheek. ‘He knew, Isaac.’
‘How?' I said, looking away. I didn't like seeing her cry. 'I barely saw him over the last four years.’
‘He just knew,’ she repeated.
‘I hope so,’ I said, closing the book and rising, dashing a tear from my cheek with the back of my hand.
‘I know so,’ she said.
‘Shall I make some more coffee?’ I said, moving towards the kitchen.
‘I’ve had four cups already this morning,’ she said with a smile, rising too. ‘Listen, have a shave and get out of your PJs,’ she continued with what I felt was false brightness. ‘We’ve been stuck inside for too long. Let’s go and see Gus and June. It will take our mind off things.’
‘OK,’ I said, but deep down all I really wanted to do was head back to my room, throw myself on the bed and stay there until colour returned to my dreams.
‘I don’t know Gus and June that well, really,’ Mum said as we headed up their path. ‘We’ve been neighbours ever since we arrived here, but it’s all been surface talk – friendly banter – you know. It was only when your dad died I realised how kind they were. How supportive. As though they knew what I was going through.’
Gus invited us in, and it wasn’t long before June was offering us a slice of Lamington cake.
‘This is lovely, June,’ said my mum, biting into a piece and smiling as though everything was normal. ‘You’ll have to give me the recipe.’
As they talked, I took in once more the children’s paintings, the family photos, the candle burning on the windowsill. Granny Gertie, white hair framing her small face, sat in the conservatory, as she had been the day I arrived in Australia. Although this time she wasn’t talking to anyone. Her eyes were firmly closed, and a macabre thought of Anthony Perkins in Psycho entered my head. Suddenly the woman opened her eyes, turned and smiled my way; a kind, loving smile as though she knew I ached inside and out.
June burst into laughter at something Gus said, jarring my thoughts.
‘You’d laugh to see a pudding roll, woman,’ he said.
I rose. ‘Would you mind if I left you to it?’ I was looking at Mum. She tilted her head, looking puzzled. ‘I thought I might go out for a bit, that’s all.’
‘OK, if you feel that’s the right thing to do,’ she said, as though she hoped I’d change my mind.
‘I’ll be fine, Mum. Honestly.’
‘Of course,’ she said. ‘If you want to take my car, it’s in the garage. The keys are in the kitchen. Although it hasn’t been out for a while…’
‘Right,’ I said, and headed for the door. ‘Thanks, I’ll be back soon.’
A rumble of thunder accompanied me on the motorway as I headed nowhere in particular. The sun was lost behind black clouds, and rain hammered the windscreen.
I’d thought Dad was perfect; someone I could never live up to - not realising he had flaws. That he drank too much, and lived too fast. He'd never stopped to take stock of what he had, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be like him anymore.
I don’t know how I ended up at Molly Malone’s, whether I was subconsciously searching for Tilly, or just a place to hide out.
There was a man behind the bar with bleached blond hair to his shoulders, but no sign of Tilly. I bought a glass of coke, and took it to the furthest corner of the bar, where I sat for over an hour, my mind so full it couldn’t process anything.
It was as I rose to leave, that I saw Cillian come through the door. The huge man I’d laughed and cried with – the man I felt I’d known a lifetime.
He was limping, clutching a stick, and soaked from the rain. My sudden movement must have got his attention as he looked my way and smiled.
‘Son,’ he said, hobbling towards me, the stick tapping the floorboards.
I ran towards him, hugging him as if he was my lost father.
‘Ooh, ouch, ahh,’ he moaned, and I let go and stepped back. He smiled again.
‘It’s so good to see you,’ I said, ‘you stupid bloody idiot.’
He sat down, groaning in pain.
‘Have you seen a doctor? You should see a doctor,’ I said, my voice growing louder. ‘Why did you leave the hospital, leaving me nothing but a note?’
‘I needed to think.’
‘Think?’ I felt a surge of sadness that he’d walked out on me. ‘But you didn’t think how I might have felt, not having a clue where you’d gone?’
‘But I did think about you, Isaac. I knew you were OK. That you’d found your mum. It wasn’t my place to stay. I’d put you through enough.’
‘So what are you doing here?’ I sounded cross, but the truth was I was battling back tears.
‘What can I say? I missed you, mate.’
A lump rose in my throat. ‘You missed me?’
‘Too right, I did.’ He took a deep breath. ‘But I didn’t know where your mum lived, so I’ve been staying with Suki; waiting for you to turn up.’
‘How did you know I would?’
‘I knew you’d be here sooner or later, chasing that Tilly girl.’
‘I am not chasing her.’
‘No, cause not.’ He smiled and ruffled my hair, wincing from the movement.
I stared into his eyes, and after a brief pause I said, ‘I missed you too, Cillian.
‘And you do know you’ve probably broken your ribs.’
‘Yes,’ he said, rubbing his chest. ‘Seven I think, maybe eight.’
‘And you could have brain damage.’
‘Would anyone notice?’
‘Good point.’ We burst out laughing. ‘‘I was worried about you, Cillian. Still am.’
‘You should have known I’d be fine. Always am.’
‘Are you really?’
He shrugged. ‘Well, I’m pretty good at pretending.’
‘Let me get you a drink,’ I said, going to stand.
He shook his head. ‘Sit, Isaac. Please.’ He took the photograph of him and his brother out of his pocket, and a box of matches.
‘What are you doing?’ I dropped back to my seat, feeling my eyes widen.
He fumbled with the box, taking out a match. ‘Something I should have done before,’ he said, striking it. The flame glowed orange. ‘I need to move forward. I’m never going to find my brother. I need to accept that, and get on with what’s left of my life.’
'Wait!' I blew out the match and snatched the photograph. My heart began thumping. ‘Let me go into the picture.’
‘No, Isaac,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘I’m finished with Phototime after what happened to your mum.’
‘Stop saying no. I’m twenty-three. I can do what I like.’ I sounded childish.
He removed his hat and sighed. ‘You can’t, Isaac. Not in this case.’
He struck another match. I blew it out.
‘Please. Let me do this. If I can’t I’ll happily let you burn the photograph. But if I can, maybe I'll see the woman in green; the woman who took your brother.’
‘Even if I was to agree, you still can’t go in. You know the rules…’
‘That I need to care unconditionally about someone in the photograph?’
He nodded. ‘That’s the one.’
I smiled. ‘Not a problem,’ I said. ‘Let’s get this show on the road. Where’s the potion?’
I look at my hands – child’s hands, chubby fingers raking through sand. I feel the coarseness of the knitted Bill and Ben jumper against his skin. The boy giggles.
I’m the youngest boy who’s about to go missing – Gary, that’s what Cillian called him. Stay with your brother – please don’t let him out of your sight, I cry.
The man with the dog puts the camera on the rocks. He hands the boy the Polaroid, and through his eyes I watch it develop before he slips it into the pocket of his shorts.
The man ruffles both boys’ hair, and walks on with his dog.
On the cliff edge, a woman waves, her eyes on the boys. ‘Gary!’ she calls. Both boys look up, but through the younger one’s eyes, I can barely make out the woman’s appearance. She’s too far away.
‘Mum, they’ve got crabs down here,’ the older boy shouts back, grabbing a red bucket.
Her laugh carries down to the beach, and she waves again.
We’re on a small beach, surrounded by cliffs. The sky is clear and blue, the sea grey with soft, frothy waves.
Cillian had said his brother went missing in Sligo, but I’d been there so many times in my teens, and this isn’t Ireland. This is Devon, or Cornwall, or perhaps even Northumberland. I curse that I’m useless at geography, so poorly travelled.
The older boy looks towards the younger one. ‘Let’s catch crabs,’ he says disappearing behind a rock. But the younger boy doesn’t move, instead crouching to build a sandcastle.
A woman’s voice: ‘Your mammy needs you,’ she says in a whisper.
The little boy looks up at the cliffs where his mum is now talking to someone, her back to him, pointing as though giving directions. He looks at the hand of the woman in green, her thin arm, but not at her face. He takes her hand.
She races along the beach, dragging him with her, turning out of the inlet that had held him safe, and they continue on untrodden sand.
Oh God, Cillian. Cillian. I need to get back to you. This feels wrong. The woman’s holding my hand too tightly now. My legs won’t keep up with her.
The woman’s dress flaps in the breeze. My bare feet hurt as sand turns to pebbles and the sharp edges of shells. I look back. I can't see the child’s mother on the cliff anymore.
Someone approaches from behind, running. The boy finally looks up at the woman in green and sees her face.
I see her face.
‘Ahh!’ Cold water ran down my cheeks and onto my T-shirt. I opened my eyes to see Cillian staring down at me. I was back in the bar. ‘What the….?’
He put down the glass. ‘I wasn’t about to take any chances,’ he said. ‘You looked a bit odd. I was worried.’
My eyes moved from Cillian’s face, and I spot Tilly with Hank hovering by the door. She turned and met my eye, her mouth briefly turning up at the corners. I straightened, and raised my hand. She lifted hers too. Hank looked to where she was staring, and noticing me, tugged her through the open door and outside. Part of me wanted to run after her, challenge Hank to a dual, tell Tilly I’d been thinking about her non-stop, but I knew I had to stay and tell Cillian what I’d seen in Phototime.
‘She popped in to bring in a letter,’ Cillian said.
Cillian shrugged. ‘I saw her hand it over the bar. She’s very nice, by the way. I’ve been here a few times, and she’s always friendly. Pretty girl. I see why you’ve fallen for her.’
‘Cillian…’ I said, cutting in.
‘Although you may have to murder Hank, as they appear to be dating. I can get you a hitman if you need one, but it will cost you.’ He fiddled with a piece of paper. ‘But I’ve got some good news…’
‘Cillian, please stop talking.’ My heart thumped in my chest. ‘I need to tell you something. Something I’ve found out about the day – this day.’ I pointed at the photograph. ‘But you may need a large brandy first.’
‘Why?’ he said, his tone wary.
‘Because, my friend, this won’t be easy to hear.’