I’ve been challenged to write something maudlin. So here’s my try at it, and I am writing like an American writing in what she thinks is Maeve Binchy’s voice, meaning it’s derivative of derivative Irish. Not quite Irish-American, though. Oh god, no, never that. And deep down, it is, in fact, a short little, plotless love letter to my Irish people. (Who, as it happens, also understand well what it means to be from a s***hole country. Sure and weren’t some of my first words “Mother Ireland, Mother Ireland, get off my back?”)
Maeve steadied herself on the post box, gathering her strength before heading in to Moppy O’Malley’s sitting room for tea. Moppy (now, how did she ever come by that name?) was sure to have any number of old friends there, waiting to say all the nice helpful things to her. Reminding her she wasn’t alone in this, that she had cancer’s number, that cancer messed with the Wrong One this time.
Truthfully, Maeve wasn’t up for it. She was up for a pint, but god help her, pints were off limits. No more of the drink, not for a while. Of course, Moppy would handle the drink just fine herself. And once Dervla showed up, the drink would become comedy, and if she were really unlucky, they’d be after dancing a bit eventually. Maeve would plead the cancer excuse, they’d all momentarily hush at the word, then someone would tactfully change the subject to whatever the local gombeen was scheming, and the bad moment would pass. (Having read all the Maeve Binchy books, Maeve had a fair view indeed of what was in store.)
As she peered through the dusky 4pm fog, she saw that yes, the sitting room was full of people. Maeve saw young Emer lifting up the lace curtain to spot her own arrival, and when she waved, Emer darted behind the curtain. The whole point of the curtain was not to be seen behind it. Even Emer’s four year old self knew that. But she’d been seen, so in Maeve went.
The chorus of voices began as soon as the door opened. “Ah, aren’t you looking grand?” “God, you’d never think you were sick!” “Isn’t it criminal, I’m looking like a wet week, and in bounces your woman with rosy cheeks. Maeve, you put us to shame.”
“Let me get this dripping jacket off, you lot,” Maeve complained with a laugh. “Bloody hell, why do I live in this godforsaken town anyway?”
“Ah, no lovelier city, Maeve, you know that.” They all laughed. Maeve knew. And if she didn’t, the coffee table books extolling Cork were a good reminder. Maeve had traveled. She knew there were in fact, lovelier cities. Paris came to mind, for one. But Cork did have its charms. Even if she secretly believed that even the Evening Echo boy sprinkled some generous “FFS’s” in between his calls for the Evening EchOooo.
[At this point in the story, your narrator realizes that plot really is beside the point. Atmospherics, that’s what it all calls for. But perhaps if she puts enough atmospherics in, the plot itself will arrive.]
Braced as she was for the evening, Maeve was genuinely taken aback as the shapes sorted themselves into individual faces, and realized that her beloved leaving cert teacher, Miss Kenehan, was in the crowd. Keenie, they’d all called her, loving how she force fed them Roddy Doyle books and insisted that Galway was far better than Cork, really. Fighting words in Cork, and wouldn’t Clare have been the less obvious pick, but anyway they loved the arguing about it. Keenie still looked like her glamorous 30 year old self, though she must be on for her 60s by now. She had half a cigarette left in her hands, trends toward Smoke-Free this and that being not at all of interest to her.
If Keenie was here, it meant this was serious.
“Come to say goodbye, have ye?” Maeve asked. “You’re a bit early on that, but god, it’s gorgeous to see you!”
“Ah, Maeve, always joking,” Keenie said, putting the cigarette out in the dregs of someone’s tea cup. “No, I’m here to remind you you’re not the worst of them.”
The genuineness, the heart-feltedness, the bare emotion of it brought tears to Maeve’s eyes. She’d no quip at the ready for sincerity like that. And she let the compliment sink in nice and deep for a moment.
“Light one up for me then, would ye, Keenie-O?,” Maeve said, and the moment of pathos passed. The fog set in at the window, and she’d endure Moppy’s reminiscing, and Dervla’s drinking, and even the dancing, knowing it was all going to be ok somehow in the end.
[And THAT is a maudlin story.]