Blog #8: In Which I Have an Irish Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving. A quintessentially American holiday. And I, the lone American on the island, was definitely the only one thinking about the meal I was missing back home.

In my childhood, on holidays throughout the year, both sides of my family blended together in one house. The tables crammed into every open space, couches pushed up against the walls. In my head the holidays blended together too. Only to be differentiated by our clothes and the weather. The Easters, the Thanksgivings, and Christmases, the Memorial Days, and Fourth of Julys.

We didn’t know the last holiday that we spent all mushed together like that would be the last at the time. I couldn’t pick out the day if I tried. Traditions had a tendency to stay the same until, one day, they just weren’t anymore.

When I took this posting, I didn’t think about the things I would miss. The moments. The mashed potatoes.

But what was I even missing? A seat at the kids table? A cramped table at my mother’s new bungalow home surrounded by moving boxes. My fathers’ empty seat and my sister’s growing baby bump. And I’d disappear into the background like usual. To be talked over and glossed over. The disappointment in the room.

My finger circled the rim of my glass, still an inch of whiskey at the bottom. “You look like you’re missing home. Or someone?” Sean was the nosy kind of bartender.

I rolled my eyes as Rory approached us at the bar. Sean poured him a Guinness. “Mashed potatoes,” I said. “I’m thinking about missing my mom’s mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving this year.”

Rory laughed. “You do know you’re in Ireland, don’t you? Potatoes are practically a main food group here.”

“Ha. It’s not the same,” I said. “It’s the nostalgia of it all, of a big family meal and a roaring fire and feeling so stuffed you can’t move.”

“That sounds incredibly American.”

“I used to spend hours in the kitchen cooking. That way I could avoid talking to anyone.”

“Oh, yes, that’s what the holidays are known for. Inviting all your family over just to avoid them.”

I eyed him. “You don’t know my family,” I tossed back the rest of my whiskey in one big gulp, “the overheated kitchen was a reprieve. Even when I was forced to mingle, it was like I wasn’t even there.”

“I’m sure that’s not true.”

“Feeling like you’re not enough in your accomplishments and life choices is also a very important tenet of American holidays.”

“And here I thought holidays were about being surrounded by the people that you love. And food.”

“Get with the program, Rory, there’s a whole level of insecurity you’re really missing out on.”

He laughed, bringing his pint glass up to his mouth and letting it linger there before taking a sip. My eyes flickered away from his lips.

“Don’t get me wrong,” I said. “I love the holidays. I love Thanksgiving. Who doesn’t love a holiday that’s all about the food? But underneath all that holiday cheer is some deep-rooted loneliness I’ve never been able to shake. Maybe it’s just par for the course, you know? On the days we are surrounded by all the people we love and should feel most loved, there’s this nagging feeling of not really being seen.”

“I’m sorry you’ve felt that way,” Rory said, his hand reaching for mine. And for a minute there I’d forgotten I was saying these things out loud. I’d forgotten someone was listening to me. Rory, of all people. But there was something about him that made me feel like I could tell him all my secrets. My usual barriers faltered around him. Because when he laughed, it wasn’t to make fun of me or tell me I was being ridiculous. It wasn’t to shoot me down. Coffee-machine breakdown aside.

I couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks.”

In the weeks since that little episode, I tried to forget the image of Rory in my little cottage. His towering figure in my doorway. His hands sorting through my things. The fire he lit. I didn’t understand him. The cranky fisherman who picked me up from a dock in Dingle and practically tossed me off his boat once we reached the island. He seemed so different that day. Like a totally different person. Did I seem the same to him? Was who I was that day who I was now?

I stared into my empty glass. His hand was still on mine. He gave it a little pat-pat and I pulled my hand back before he settled his down again. His fingers curled under into a fist. “Another?” he eyed my glass.

I shook my head. “Thanks, but I’ve got to get back. Ellis has an early errand run tomorrow and I said I’d join. If I have another I’ll sleep until noon.” I slipped a few bills on the counter for Sean and pulled on my coat.

“I owe you one, then.”

“After that emotion dump, I feel like I owe you. How about I get it next time?” He smiled. His dimples hidden under his ever-growing beard. He hadn’t shaved in a week. I didn’t hate it.

“You know where to find me.”

I walked home to the sounds of waves crashing that I couldn’t see. Surrounded by a sea of darkness, I looked up to see a sea of stars instead. Waves of twinkling stars washed across the sky. Thousands of stars I’d never seen before. Millions. I never knew just quite how many there were in the sky. It was impossible to know. Back home, most of the sky was washed out by the city lights. On a good night you could point out the big dipper, maybe the North Star. But here, wow. I wished I could capture it. Give me the best lens on the planet and let me capture this incredible sky. But even then, it probably wouldn’t do it justice. You had to be here. The earth of this rocky island beneath your feet and the north Atlantic sea surrounding you on all sides. Only then would you feel the great vastness of the world around you. The emptiness between you and the corners of the universe. Endless glittering galaxies. Peace.

***

“When I said I wanted to order a sweater, I meant like, a sweater. Just one.”

Sorcha stood proudly behind a pile of her creations, folded and stacked high. There were seven. One for every day of the week.

“I know but once I started, I couldn’t stop. You give off such beautiful energy and Niamh helped me pick the patterns and colors—she’s brilliant at that sort of thing—and Rory told me all about your clothing situation, so I thought it couldn’t hurt.”

“Well, I certainly have more than enough to wear now.” My fingers caressed the thick, woolen knitwear. “And Rory needs to keep out of my business.”

“Sounds like he needs to keep out of your room.”

 “It is so not what you’re making it sound like.”

Sorcha grabbed a crate and nestled in the folded sweaters, ranging in colors from golden yellow to rusty red, and a mix of patterns and solids. She stuffed in a few pairs of wool socks, a scarf, a pink beanie (to match my coat), a blanket, and carefully placed on top a bag pulled closed by a drawstring.

“These are from Niamh,” she said, patting the drawstring pouch. “A wee welcome gift to the island.”

“You guys have got to stop giving me things, I am happy to pay. I want to support your businesses.”

“Oh, hush, we like to spoil you.”

“What do I owe you?”

“30 Euro.”

She was such a liar. I slipped her an extra 50 because I just knew there was more in this crate than I even saw her stick in there and escaped out of the shop before she refused. Ellis waited outside with the horse and cart. I loaded the bouquets she’d ordered for the rental cottages and shoved my crate onto the cart.

“You buy a whole new wardrobe?” she quipped.

“Well, I ordered one sweater and got seven, along with a lot of other things. Sorcha is spoiling me.”

“It’s a miracle she even stays in business with how much she gives away.” Ellis loosened the reins in her hands as I settled on the back of the cart. I liked to sit back there every once in a while. I liked to watch where we came from instead of looking ahead. Sometimes things looked different as you got some distance.

“Where to next?”

“To the post office!” she said in a sing-songy tone. Ellis dropped off some letters and packages to family on the mainland and I waited on the cart. The sun was out today. A rare thing around here this time of year. And though it was cold beyond belief, the skin on my face soaked in the rays of the sun like it was a serum, warming my cheeks.

“Letter came for you, Miss Quinn,” Charlie said, appearing beside the cart. Envelope in hand.

“For me?” I took it. It’d had quite the journey. It was worn, a bit dirty. “Who would be sending me mail?”

He shrugged. I read the return address, but I couldn’t place it. Somewhere in New York. That could be anyone from back home. I’d Facetimed with my mom recently, as she settled into her new home and my sister and brother in law, when they sent me an early sonogram. The Wi-Fi wasn’t great out here but it worked well enough. Email was perfectly sufficient in reaching me. I tucked it away.

“What book are you on now?” I asked him.

A Wrinkle in Time.”

 “Oh, I love that one. It’s the kind of book I wish I could go back and experience for the first time all over again.”

“I’m only just starting it, so don’t spoil anything for me, Miss Quinn.”

“I won’t but promise me you’ll come by the café when you finish so we can talk all about it.” I held out my pinky and he wrapped his around it. “Book club snacks on me.”

“Deal,” he said with a nod before disappearing back into the Post Office. Before long, Ellis reemerged and handed me a crate of mail. She loaded up the cart and hopped back on the front, picking up the reins and leading us toward the first cottage of the day.

Ellis and I spent the rest of the day preparing a few of the rental cottages around the island for some tourists that were arriving in the next few days. Tourist season was winding down, but a few stragglers came throughout the year to hunker down and get away from home. We made the beds up with fresh linens, arranged vases of flowers, loaded some wood into the fireplaces, and turned on the heat. Ellis left some basics in the kitchens as I folded towels in the bathroom. It was busy. Monotonous. Just the kind of thing my brain needed right now.

“You okay, hon?”

“Yea, I’m almost done in here,” I said, folding the last of the stack.

She appeared in the doorway, arms folded across her chest. “That’s not what I meant. Rory said you were feeling a bit down.”

I let out a deep sigh. “Rory really can’t keep a secret, can he? I’m fine, I promise. Just feeling a bit nostalgic for the holidays is all.”

“Well, how about you take the rest of the day? I can’t roast you a turkey, but I can certainly give you a day off.”

“But we’re almost done, I can help finish up with the cottages.”

She steered me out of the bathroom and toward the door, grabbing my coat and tossing it into my arms. “Oh, go on. I can do the last cottage with my eyes closed. I’ve got it from here. Just see to the animals and I’ll see you for supper at the pub?”

“Um, okay,” I said, as she closed the door in my face.

Interesting…Ellis never shooed me away from work when there were things to be done. She might be lax on my hours but if there was work to do, it would get done. But I wasn’t going to complain about an afternoon off, even if I could use a distraction. I fed the goats and tossed out some feed for the chickens. Francis weaved in and around my ankles when I came through the door and I put out a scoop of food for him before settling by the toasty fire. This. This is what I wanted. A roaring flame. No responsibilities. A day off. I might not be able to cook up a Thanksgiving feast, but dinner with Ellis would do. That was enough.

My phone pinged, a sound I wasn’t all that used to these days. A text message from my mom lit up the screen. Happy Thanksgiving, it read. I wish I could send you a platter of food for dinner. But I don’t think it would last the journey.

I laughed at the image of some airline worker eyeing up my plate of dinner as it strapped in for the long flight. But I did get to do the next best Thanksgiving tradition. I took a nap.

***

When I woke up I only had about twenty minutes to get over to the pub to meet Ellis. I threw on one of my new sweaters from Sorcha (the rusty red one) and shrugged on my coat and was out the door in ten. Beanie weather was making it a lot easier on my hair routine. Less taming the curls and more, shoving the curls under the hat to deal with later. Good enough for me.

The village was quiet. Stores had shuttered early and there weren’t many people milling about, only a few here and there. It was like a ghost town. Where was everybody?

Through the windows I could see the lights from the pub were on and there were people inside. I pushed inside and stopped. I couldn’t be in the right place. I turned and checked the sign painted on the window. Nope. I was in the right place.

All the tables had been rearranged and pushed to the center of the pub to create one, long table. The tables were set with plates and utensils, and candles and wildflowers running down the center. The fire was lit and roaring.

“Miss Quinn,” Charlie shouted. “We’re having Thanksgiving!” His smile spread from ear to ear, his cheeks plump and rosy. Imogen, the pig farmer’s daughter, told him to shush, and he covered his mouth with his hand like he’d just spilled the biggest secret.

Sorcha was there with Niamh, finishing up the table decorations. Finn and Faye ushered the kids into their seats next to Niall. Liam was there. And so was Ellis, sporting a sly smile. They even wrangled the sheep herder, whose name I finally learned, was Hank. Sean was filling everyone’s glasses.

Jack and Lilly came in the door behind me as everyone turned and yelled, “Surprise!” Their faces beamed.

“What is going on? Is there a private party tonight?”

“For you, Miss Quinn,” Imogen said.

“Rory said you were homesick,” Finn said, snuggling up next to his daughter.

“And we just wanted to bring a little bit of home, to you.” Faye raised a glass of wine in my direction as Rory appeared beside me and helped me out of my coat. My eyes were wide and glossy. I couldn’t believe it.

“How did you do all this?” I asked him. It’d only been a day since our conversation. And since then he’d shaved a bit, leaving just enough scruff for me to see the dimples when he smiled. His eyes glanced away. Shy. Like he couldn’t quite look at me for too long.

“Didn’t take much to wrangle this lot. They’re happy to do it. You’re one of us now,” he said. “I couldn’t manage a turkey, but there’s plenty of mashed potatoes.”

And reader, there was.

It was perfect. Everyone had chipped in, bringing favorite dishes from their own family holiday meals and sharing them with everyone. Besides the mashed potatoes, there was another favorite of mine, stuffing, roasted parsnips and carrots, fried cabbage, baked ham, cranberry sauce, and so much more. Platters of food rotated around the table and my plate quickly filled up, as Sean kept all our glasses full. The table erupted into talk of the tourist season and the fishing that day and soon turned to fun village gossip. I couldn’t keep up. And I loved every second of it.

They didn’t expect anything from me. No life decisions, no grand news to share. Just their regular day. And they were here because they wanted to be. Not because some familial obligation required them to be. No elephants in the room to ignore. No family drama to navigate. And the crazy thing was, they did it for me.

Faye talked about the time one of her goats (Pippin) escaped and made his way all the way down to the village. Even Hank laughed at that one. I just sat there. A stupid smile on my face. Stomach full and happy. Surrounded by so much love.

Rory chuckled at something Ellis said, throwing his head back and letting out a loud laugh. I didn’t know how he did all this. How he got everyone in on it. How they all kept it from me. His eyes met mine from across the table, the orange light of the fire reflected in his brown gaze.

Blog #7: In Which I Fight a Demon…Coffee Pot

I rolled out of bed as the rays of the sun poured through my cottage window. Francis slept at my feet and I was convinced he was the only reason my toes hadn’t turned blue and fallen off yet. Left outside my front door sat a basket of breakfast fixings wrapped in linen. Ellis always dropped off a few eggs, fresh bread, and a glass bottle of milk, amongst whatever else was fresh, gathered, and baked that day. I swear this woman didn’t sleep. She was up before the sun and through her morning chores before my eyelids even thought about fluttering open. But I enjoyed her morning baskets. I made some scrambled eggs and toast and scarfed it down with a hot cup of peppermint tea, dropping in a large dollop of honey.

By the time the fishermen’s bell tolled in the early hours of the morning, signaling the boats shipping out for the day, I was in the café. I liked watching them disappear into the horizon, into the early morning haze that hung low in the sky. From my place behind the counter, I gazed out the windows and down to the port. I imagined the faraway places they could reach. Surrounded by nothing but open water. As the waves rocked their boats back and forth, back and forth, until I was dizzy—or seasick. I wondered where Rory was in all of it. Where he and his father decided to drop their anchor and cast out their nets. (Is it obvious I know nothing about fishing?)

There was something about a cozy café that settled my soul. It calmed my buzzing nerves. Relaxed the muscles in my shoulders. The melody of clinking silverware and porcelain and the whistle of steam from the espresso machine lulled me into a routine that felt familiar. Even after so much time had separated me and my years in customer service serving up hot cappuccinos and croissants on tiny plates.

Having worked in customer service before, there weren’t many things I couldn’t handle. I could deescalate an angry customer, secure and clean up a possible food safety hazard, and plaster a smile on my face for an eight-hour shift. It was familiar territory for me even after working in the creative corporate world for years. A rhythm I easily fell into.

Did one ever forget those years, really? The endless hours spent standing on hard tiled floors and clunky non-slip boots. The loud customers who didn’t know how to order anything, ever. Ellis’ Café wasn’t your average Starbucks. There wasn’t much of a morning rush. After the fishermen went out for the day, the crowd died down significantly. Some villagers meandered in for a coffee or a latte, and left, picking up a paper on their way out. Others stayed for hours. I liked the company. Though it wasn’t comparable to New York crowds, the flow of customers was steady and kept me busy.

I steamed milk, brewed coffee, toasted bread, and ladled soups until the sun dipped in the sky and it was time to close up. By the late afternoon nearly everyone was either at home or at the pub. Long but easy days. I loved it. I didn’t think about home or my sister and her baby or my mom and the house or my dad and his wedding. None of it. Not a single thing, not a single person. Every day I woke up, cooked breakfast, worked at the café, had a pint at the pub, and went home. I lit a fire and took a long, hot bath. I burrowed in four layers of pajamas and crawled into bed. Francis joined me and we’d both pass out until the next day.

For hours I stood behind that spot at the counter. Fixing up the cold case beside me, wiping down the counters. I looked out into the small dining room that boasted eight whole tables (two chairs each). On the opposite wall, a roaring fire. During the cold months it was lit from morning until dusk and many of the villagers who wandered in, took up the table right beside it. The best seat in the house. There was a rickety mantle that sat above the fireplace and upon it sat a few old books left behind by tourists. Mostly old romance novels and travel books, with broken spines and worn edges. A layer of dust caked the covers. Behind me was a doorway that led to the kitchen in the back where Ellis whipped up her specialties; potato leek soup was on the menu this week and it was delicious.

Steam rose in swirls above the pot. “The secret is in the fresh cream,” she said as she stirred. Puréed to a smooth pulp, the pot of soup could feed an army. It would keep for a few days at least and by then Ellis would have something else on the menu.

“I thought I was here so you wouldn’t have to be.” I chopped bacon on the cutting board beside her to be served on top of the soup. There was the stock of freshly made breads from the bakery in the village. The baked goods that Ellis made out of her own kitchen. And the produce she picked up from the market. Special delivery for Ellis and her café. She always got first pick while the pub got second. It sounded like a bit of a rivalry, but the café was the hub for food during the day when any tourists dropped by the island to explore. She needed the best ingredients to make the best recipes (or so she said).

“I’ll be out of your hair in a bit,” she said. “Cian is coming in soon to help fix the coffee machine. It’s been finicky.”

“You know I’ve actually worked as a barista before, I don’t think there’s a coffee machine I can’t handle.”

And reader, that’s when all hell broke loose.

Specifically, the coffee machine. Or as I now called it, the devil’s spawn

Picture an erupting volcano. A waterfall cascading over a rocky cliff face. A rogue wave rushing ashore. You got it? Those three things were nothing compared to the explosion of Ellis’s monstrous coffee machine. Steam and water gushed from every orifice on that thing and I fell, my feet flying out from under me.

I landed with a loud thud that knocked the breath from my lungs. My ears ringing, a shocking pain in my back. By finicky I think Ellis meant possessed by a demon. I crawled to my feet and scrambled for a plug, a pipe, literally anything that would stop the water and the steam and the sound of a train whistle from whistling until my ears bled. I grabbed the broom and whacked it as hard as I could. Water was an inch deep and my clothes were soaked through.

The door to the café swung open and there was Cian, bag of tools in hand. He dropped them to the floor. “What’s happened?”

Cian was the island’s handyman. Pretty much anyone on the island could fix a broken fence or wrangle a sheep for shearing. But if anything mechanical busted, Cian was the guy. Which was fine, I guess, in a small population of people. But also incredibly inconvenient. It was like if the entire town had one person that handled every plumbing issue, every burst pipe, every broken thing. One man to call.

He raced over, slipping and sliding until he reached me and the machine and then he too was soaked through. It took only seconds. “What’ve you done?” he shouted over the whistle.

“I don’t know,” I screamed back. “I just tried to fix it and then all of a sudden it erupted.” I didn’t tell him that I didn’t really know exactly what had broken to begin with.

I’m the only one that can fix it.”

“Well that doesn’t seem very practical.”

Cian grabbed his tools and went to work and I stepped out of the way. Far, far away from the plume of water, gripping the counter behind me until my knuckles were white to keep myself from slipping. I shivered, finally. The adrenaline waned. And now, I was just cold. Soaked to my bones. Soaked through every layer I had on.

“We’ll have to close, Quinn,” Cian said as the rush of water subsided and finally stopped. “I don’t think anyone wants to wade through water to get their lunch today.”

I nodded, numbly, and maneuvered myself into the kitchen where I stored the simmering soup and everything in the refrigerator and cleaned up the prep table. My hair frizzed and curled as it dried and I brushed it out of my face as I pulled on my beanie.

It was just a broken expresso machine. It was just a stupid machine that made coffee. And in my trying to fix it I just made it worse. I nearly flooded the café. We lost the business of a whole day. Because I just couldn’t help myself in fiddling with something that I had no business messing with. I could fix it, I thought. I’d done as much in previous jobs years ago. How hard could it be?

How hard could it be. And there I was, walking home, every inch of me wet and frozen.

And it was just a stupid coffee machine. But it was more than that wasn’t it? That stupid coffee machine was my life and everyone in it. It was every mistake I tried to fix, every flaw I carried, every broken person and every broken thing I left behind in all my decisions and all my choices. No matter what I did they would never be fixed, not the things or the people. Not my life. Sometimes I wondered if some people were just destined to leave a trail of damage in their wake, no matter how hard they tried not to. Maybe some us just break and leave behind a path of shattered glass.

And there I was still. Miles from home. Still walking on the sharp shards of my life, the edges cutting deeply into my skin. And there was nothing to stop me from wreaking havoc.

“Munster, what are you doing out this way?”

Goddamn. “I live out this way, Rory. What are you doing out here? Why aren’t you fishing?”

“Day off,” he said. “Why aren’t you at the café?”

“Technical difficulties.” I opened my pink coat and showed off my drenched clothes. My grey college sweatshirt had a darker grey water splotch that stretched across my abdomen and around the side. My jeans were stiff and soaked and suctioned to my legs. “The back too.”

“Christ.” I couldn’t tell if he wanted to help or laugh. He settled on laughing. “What did you do, flood the place?”

“Pretty much.” I kept walking and he caught my stride easily. “Cian is cleaning up my mess.”

Wordlessly, he sloughed off his Sherpa lined coat and draped it across my shoulders. “I’m cold just lookin’ at you.” He reached out, threading an icy curl through his fingers. “Your hair is practically frozen.”

“It what I deserve.” I shook my head, letting out a frustrated sigh.

“What could you do to deserve to freeze to death? It’s just a bit of water.”

“Just a bit of water? Rory, look at me. I practically flooded the place—I left Cian behind, he could be drowning for all I know and that coffee maker could be plotting his death.”

“That old thing is always on the fritz, it’s not the end of the world.”

“Well, I’m sick of breaking shit, Rory. I’m sick of trying to help or trying to fix things and just making it worse.” I didn’t realize how loud I’d gotten. I probably sounded shrill. People passed us by and I imagined them wondering what the hell was wrong with me. We’d stopped walking and I stepped noticeably away from him.

“We’re not talking about the coffee machine anymore, are we?”

I closed my eyes and breathed in a slow, steadying breath. “I’m sorry—I’m just, having a day.”

“Come on.” He started walking again, motioning for me to join him. “I’ll walk you back. You need some dry clothes.”

We walked in silence for a while and I burrowed deeper into his coat, breathing in the scent of him. He didn’t smell like fish today. He didn’t look as disgruntled today either. He looked normal. His hair wasn’t confined in his beanie and it was like it was celebrating. His curls sticking up every which way. My favorite one was the strand that fell over his brown eyes.

I gazed out at the sea as we went. The water looked fake. Like a Hollywood movie background that you’re not supposed to look too closely at because if you did, you’d notice the water wasn’t moving and it was all a lie. It was still and flat. Calm.

It calmed me.

“I thought I’d come here and figure it all out,” I said. “My life.”

My life. My job. My family.

“What’s there to have figured out? You wake up in the morning, do something you love, and have someone you love. What more is there?”

“I don’t know, I guess I thought I’d find something bigger. A purpose, maybe.”

“And you thought you’d find that by coming here.”

“I guess so. Is that stupid?”

He shook his head. “No, I think it’s pretty brave.”

“Hold on.” I squinted into the clear blue sky, my eyes searching. “Is that a pig flying by just now? Because I do believe that was a compliment coming out of Rory McLaughlin’s mouth.”

He laughed. “You’re making me regret it now. I might just take it back.”

“Too late. It’s been said and it’s been accepted. No taking it back now.”

We walked the rest of the way to the cottage in silence. An easy sort of silence I wasn’t anxious to fill. I pulled out my key and stuck it in the door, pushing it open and finally stepping inside. It was still freezing.

“I swear these walls retain absolutely no heat.” My teeth audibly chattered. Rory shuffled in behind me. He almost didn’t fit through the door and he seemed so out of place in here. In my space. In these walls that were now my home. Francis sauntered into the hallway from the bedroom, his tail perked up in a swoop. He let out a soft meow. “Francis, my love.”

I scooped him up for purely selfish reasons and snuggled him close. He was so toasty warm. Then I felt hands on my shoulders.

“Get yourself something hot before you freeze to death.” Rory gently pushed me into the kitchen and set about filling the kettle and putting it on the stove. He was making me tea.

“You know, I am an adult capable of taking care of myself.” He narrowed his eyes at me, at my clothes. “Fair enough.”

“Clothes?”

“Wardrobe. In the bedroom,” I said through gritted teeth.

He disappeared from the kitchen and I heard the doors of the wardrobe creak open. It was an antique wooden thing that I was convinced had been made at the turn of the century by some old dude with hand tools and recycled limber scavenged from the beach. That kind of antique. I hung some sweaters and folded the rest of my things in the main compartment and stuck the rest in the drawers. I’d brought as much as I could carry, literally.

“It’s quite messy,” he said. His voice sounded distant. Like he’d stepped into the wardrobe into another world. I honestly, wouldn’t mind that right now. Just as long as it was a tropical world, with a blazing sun and hot sandy beaches.

“I wasn’t exactly expecting company,” I said, kicking my boots off. Francis abandoned me and hopped up on the kitchen table, tucking his feet under him to loaf. “I’m usually a lot a neater.”

The kettle whistled. I dropped a peppermint tea bag in my mug and covered it with steaming water. Oh to be a tea bag in boiling hot water. The warmth of the mug radiated from my hands, through my arms, and spread from there. Like my own personal heat wave.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said, with a laugh. See it? When did he think he’d be seeing the inside of my cottage again? My room? “Is this all you have? You didn’t bring nearly enough clothes fit for Ireland weather.”

“Not all of us grew up on an island in the North Atlantic,” I said into my mug. The steam hitting my skin quickly thawed my face. “I brought what I had.”

“You should go to Sorcha’s for some jumpers.”

“Well, thank you for your fashion advice, but I think I’m good for now.” I’d actually already been to Sorcha’s. She wouldn’t let me buy anything from the shop except a marigold knit scarf because she wanted to make me something new. Something meant for me, she said. I said fine as long as I got a warm sweater at the end of it.

He went quiet. And suddenly, my nerves kicked in. He was alone in my bedroom. In my wardrobe. Rifling through my clothes. What else did I have in there? Lacey bras? Embarrassing socks? Grannie panties? Oh god.

My ears perked up when I heard the soft flutter of a page turning. I stormed out of the kitchen and into the bedroom.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I yanked the journal from his grasp. “This is private.”

He held up a few loose photos I’d stashed in the pages. “I found it.”

“No, you were snooping in my things.” I slipped the pictures back in without looking at them.

“It was stashed in between your clothes.”

“Yes, because that’s where I put it. I didn’t want to—” I turned away from him in a huff, but I turned back with a force. “This wasn’t yours to see or read.”

The room had a moody orange glow to it. Rory had lit the fire in my room while he’d been in here. The flickering light draping shadows across the floor, across his face.

But I couldn’t stop looking at the hard-bound journal in my hand. It’d been roughed up. Pages ripped out. Some edges warped from water. It felt like it weighed twenty pounds. 

“Is that what you ran away from?” He still had one photo in his hand, and I couldn’t look at it. I knew which one it was.

It was New Year’s Eve. I’d spent the night with my ex at this bar near Union Square with all his buddies but when it got close to midnight we’d ditched, tucking bottles of champagne in our coats and sneaking out the door. We walked for what seemed like miles, but it couldn’t have been far. But any distance felt far on a champagne high. It distracted me from the champagne nausea and the pain in my feet from the heels I decided to wear. My dress was black and made of sequins. Slinky with fringe on the bottom. Like I’d stepped out of the pages of The Great Gatsby, straight from one of his legendary parties. My pink coat dragged behind me. Our friends told us to turn around. The holiday lights were just right. He threw his arm around my waist and pulled me close, and we raised the bottles of champagne as a toast.

They’d snapped a pic.

“I didn’t run,” I said, taking the photo from him. My fingers grazed his hand and time suddenly stopped. We were so close. Practically breathing the same air and I froze, like I was being pulled into his orbit. His sea scented atmosphere. I breathed him in as I met his earthy brown eyes. I shrugged. “I just left.”

I still had his coat wrapped around me. Part of me didn’t want to give it back. But alas, I slipped off his coat and held it out for him. He didn’t take it. Instead, Rory turned back to my wardrobe, sufficiently sorted through now, and pulled out an oversized burnt orange sweater with grey elbow patches. We swapped.

He practically towered above me. And the warmth in his eyes washed over me like the flames of the fire. “His loss.”

I watched as he shuffled out of my bedroom in his socks and I couldn’t help but laugh. He’d taken his wellies off at the door. I hugged the sweater close to my still damp chest. It smelled like the salty beach air.

It smelled like him.

Blog #6: In Which I See Some Seals

The American in me was ready to go to work immediately. Anything to keep me busy. But Ellis told me things worked differently here. I’d get a week, she said, to settle in. Get some rest. Sleep off the jet lag. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. But it was tougher than I thought.

My internal clock woke me before the sun cracked on the horizon. Despite the cold, I pushed open the shutters on my window and let the sun beams and fresh air in, soaking in the golden rays. I pulled on my thickest socks and slipped into the green rubber wellies Ellis had gifted me. I kissed Frances on the nose, grabbed my pink coat, and flew out the cottage door. I said good morning to the chickens, gave some feed to the goats, and pet the chocolate brown nose of Henny the Horse. And slowly but surely, walked to the village as the sun came up.

I did this every day for a week. It was the only routine I had. The only structure to my day. And it was the best part. The ocean looked endless and it sparkled in the new days light. The early morning sun shrouded the surrounding islands in a darkness, draping shadows over the water, a grey-blue haze. None of it looked real. Not the sea or the sky, or even the people, most of the time.

Drinks at the pub with Ellis that night had been a mix of business and pleasure. I wanted a drink and a friendly face to talk to. But I also wanted to know what I was getting myself into taking on this job and this life, even if it was temporary. Ellis told me everything I needed to know. Here’s what I learned so far, reader:

First off, we already knew Ellis. The café owner. My boss. Owner of chickens, two goats, a chicken coop, and a horse. Landlord to my cottage. Owner of a few other cottages on the island that she rents out to tourists for holidays. I’ll be helping her with those as well, as needed.

Then there’s Sorcha. Sorcha is all things knitwear and textiles. She weaves, knits, and sews and has a shop in the village where she sells her goods and takes custom orders. She makes sweaters, socks, blankets, hats. Literally anything and everything. Note to self: pick up some socks next time I’m in the village. Sorcha is tall and willowy, with blonde hair and blue eyes, and likes to wear knit poncho style shawls (she sells them too!). Sorcha is also best friends with…

Niamh (pronounced Neev and it means goddess of the sea). Niamh was the opposite of Sorcha, like she was the moon and Sorcha the sun. She had pale ivory skin and midnight black hair she kept out of her face with a thick crown braid, and acted as a model for some of Sorcha’s fashions. Niamh was the local witch, Ellis said with a sly smile. That’s what the locals called her, and she enjoyed playing into it. There was no florist on the island, but Niamh utilized the local wildflowers and plants at her disposal and made small bouquets that sold in Sorcha’s shop. The witch moniker came from the crystals and potions she also sold. Niamh created smudge sticks, tea, jewelry, candles, and other things. Note to self: pick up one of everything at Niamh’s. Her and Sorcha were in their mid-thirties, not much older than me. And Niamh was the cousin of…

Finn, the pig farmer. Imogen, his young daughter lived with him, her mother having passed away a few years ago (her name was Bridget). Ellis said he was devastated and only now seemed to be coming around to how he was before. There’s always a bit of sadness in his eyes though, Ellis said. She said he needed a woman to breathe new life into him…And now that I typed that out, I need to steer clear of Ellis setting me up with Finn. Don’t get me wrong. He seemed kind and honorable (and tall and ruggedly handsome), though, on second thought, was that just Ellis talking him up? Imogen was a sweet little brunette with freckles and rosy cheeks, and clothes constantly covered in dirt. I liked her. And she loved spending time with…

Faye, the goat lady, as Imogen called her. Faye wrangled most of the goats on the island (minus the few that Ellis had). She wore her frizzy red and grey hair piled high on top of her head, wrapped in some sort of scarf or fabric to wrangle it in, though it always found ways to escape. She traipsed around the island in her high waisted pants and yellow rubber boots. Faye also sold some goods in the village. Small bottles of goat milk and logs of goat cheese that she experimented with flavors using some of Niamh’s herbs. They were a huge hit with the tourists.

Niall ran the post office and general store with his grandson Charlie. He was a small, freckled red haired boy who was so cute you could just pinch him. And Niall, though getting up there in years, was spry for his age. He was stocky, grey, and wrinkled, but his green eyes sparkled with life, and he reminded me of my grandfather. I loved him already. Charlie loved to read. And it made me realize that there wasn’t a bookshop or library in the village. Whenever someone wanted a book they had to order it from the mainland or go and fetch it themselves. Not very accessible…

There was also the enigmatic bearded sheep herder, who lived alone with his black and white dog. When it came time to shear the sheep, it was truly an all-village effort. But he was quiet and shy most of the time. Dark and mysterious. He kept to himself. Which meant that village gossip ran rampant. 

Then there was a few of the fisherman: Liam, Jack, and Lily. It was always the gossip of the village when their boats came in for the day. The rumors were wild. It was like a soap opera come to life. I won’t repeat the rumors here.

And we already met Sean, the pub owner and bartender, who was good at keeping my glass full.

And then, finally, Rory. Snarky. Cranky. Mean. Smelled like fish and saltwater. I did my best to avoid him. But, small towns, right.

The village buzzed with the morning and I breezed on by and down the steps to the port. The port was more alive than ever as boats shipped out for the days catch.

I walked to the end of the dock and sat, staring at the bright orange sky. It changed as the sun rose in the sky. From orange to yellow, to pink, and then finally, hues of purple and blue. I closed my eyes as the chilly sea breeze tickled my skin.

Maidin mhaith, Munster.”

I let out a long deep sigh. My good morning vibes, gone, just like that. “I don’t know what you just said, but it’s too early to argue with you, Rory.”

He laughed. “You know, there’s much better places to watch the sunrise.”

“Well, I don’t really know my way around just yet.” I got to my feet.

Rory looked the same as always. His wild curls protesting his beanie. He looked back at his boat and then to me.

“I can show you a spot.”

I motioned to his boat and the men working to leave the dock. “But aren’t you working?”

“My father can handle it.” He nodded in the direction of the beach and I followed off the dock, stifling a yawn. We walked through the sand, away from the port and the people.

“How’s the jet lag?” he asked.

“So much worse than I thought it would be. Ellis won’t let me work but I almost wish I could so I could get on some kind of routine and trick my body into the time zone.”

“Soon enough. She says you’ll be starting up tomorrow at the café.”

“Finally,” I said. “I have so many ideas I can’t wait to talk to her about.”

“Like what?”

“The menu, the specials, the décor, all of it. Did you notice there’s no bookshop here? I was wondering—”

“Good luck with that. People around here are very particular. They don’t like change.”

I let out a frustrated sigh and eyed him. “They don’t seem to like outsiders, either.”

“With good reason.”

We were steering into dangerous territory. We could be civil. Mature adults. But I could tell he was beginning to regret taking me on this little venture. Wherever it was.

“Where are we going, anyway? I’m sure you could’ve gotten away with murder a few miles back.”

He shook his head at me. “You’ve seen too many American movies.”

The beach was completely bare of civilization, save a scattering of jagged rocks. They almost looked like sculptures. Like they were placed there on purpose. He jogged a few steps ahead and climbed up one before turning back, reaching down for my hand. I stared at it for a second.

Scarred and callused. Tanned by the sun. I placed my hand in his expecting to feel miffed at the contact. I expected him to be grossed out by the fact that he not only was with me but holding my hand. But when our hands touched, he didn’t just hold it, he tightened his grip. When our hands touched, I felt a jolt. Like a shock of electricity passed between us. I nearly pulled away but he squeezed harder and pulled me up to where he was perched.

“Take a look.” On the other side of that rock formation lay a stretch of beach speckled with seals. They were all shapes and sizes, some babies, some adults, and they all looked like little grey mounds in the sand. They slept. Behind them, beyond the shoreline, was the sunrise.

He was right. It was definitely better than watching it from the dock.

“Holy shit,” said.

“Americans. So eloquent.”

I glared at him. “They’re beautiful.”

“They’re a protected species here now.”

“You mean they weren’t before?”

“A long time ago grey seals were hunted for their meat, skins, and even the oil in their blubber.”

“Gross.” There had to be hundreds of them out on that beach. “There’s so many of them.”

“They come here around this time of year to breed.”

“Romantic.”

“You know, some people say seals are the animals that gave rise to the myth of mermaids. And some people believe they are the reincarnation of fishermen lost at sea, called selkies.”

“Are you trying to tell me you’re actually a selkie?”

 He shrugged, his lips curved into a small smile. “Maybe.”

We sat there for a while, the only sound the crashing waves on the shore. I could sit there forever. Watch the seals slowly wake up and go for their morning swim. After a while, I snapped a picture of the seal laden beach on my phone as he climbed down the rocks. When he landed on the sand with a soft thud, he reached up for me. 

“Is that where the name of your boat comes from?” I asked as we started heading back to the port. “A mythological mermaid?”

The Clíodhna.

“No,” he said. “My father chose the name for my mother. In Irish mythology Clíodhna is queen of the banshees and rules over the fairy hills of South Munster.”

“Munster? Wow. My people are in this story.”

“Some people don’t believe that though. In other myths she’s the goddess of love and beauty. She left her home in the Otherworld to be with her lover, a mortal, but he was killed by a wave.”

“So is your mother supposed to be the banshee or the goddess?”

“Take a guess.”

“Yikes,” I said. “I think your dad and my mom have a similar sense of humor.”

When we got back to port Rory’s father waved him over to the boat. “Come on, Rory, we’ve got to go.”

“Slán.”

“Wait, so which myth do you believe in?” I asked him as he walked away. “The banshee queen or the goddess of love?”

He thought for a moment. “I haven’t decided yet.”

Blog #5: In Which I Arrive

Great Errigal Island looked as if it rose from the depths of the sea. A rocky but green fortress. As we got closer the village began to take shape. The harbor. The beaches. The port was small, but still, it bustled with the arrivals and departures of people and fish and other imports. The stairs up to the village looked sharp and steep, carved into the side of the grey cliffs. Green mounds in the distance were speckled with sheep. They really do look like cotton balls, I thought.

After Rory dropped me unceremoniously at the dock and abandoned me with my bags, I realized I didn’t know where I was expected to go. But the only place to go was up. When I turned to face the island, a grey-hair woman with a wide grin was waving at me. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Ellis. We’d talked on the phone several times before my journey. It was nice to finally put a face to the voice.

“Dia dhuit,” she said. Ellis was short and grey, her hair weaved in a long French braid draped over her shoulder. She wore a thick wool turtleneck sweater and a puffy black vest on top. Her pants tucked into a pair of red rubber wellies. She took one of my suitcases from me and ushered me toward the steps.

“I don’t know what you said, but it’s the nicest welcome I’ve had yet.”

Ellis nodded behind me to Rory’s bobbing boat, her blue eyes crinkled with glee. “I see you’ve met Rory.”

“Yes, he’s very cranky.”

“He doesn’t like dealing with tourists.”

“Isn’t this place a huge tourist attraction? Why is he even here?”

“He’s always been here. Practically grew up on the island. Been workin’ here most of his life. The fishing is a family business. He works it with his father, who took over from his father, and his father before him. And so it goes, as they say.”

“I guess he never heard of breaking the cycle.”

Great Errigal Island stretched on into the distance. And between me and the other edge contained a small population of villagers, donkeys, hares, seals, chickens and goats, puffins, pigs, horses and even some cows. There were a few small farms on the island, but a lot of the food was imported from the mainland and delivered three times a week. It not only fed the locals, but tourists too.

I was too distracted by the view to care that my lungs were on fire, ready to burst. When we reached the top of the stairs the village expanded before us. Small cobblestones avenues lined with shops and homes. I spotted a post office and general store, a small market across the way. Ellis pointed out the pub, flanked by the island’s visitors for the day and the café she owned. The one I would be working in. It had a great view. Though it seemed like anywhere on the island had a good view. The café windows looked right out into the harbor so anyone who manned the counter could see everything coming and going.

I wanted to slow down and take a look around. Really soak it all in. But my legs were on the verge of buckling and I desperately needed a nap. Ellis approached a horse-drawn cart and tossed my luggage in the back. The brown horse snorted and sneezed, and I kept my distance, throwing my duffle in the back with the rest.

“You look knackered. You’ll be wanting to get some rest then. The cottage isn’t far.”

Ellis drove us out of the village and into the wild of the island. Rolling green hills, wildflowers, and a blue horizon. It wasn’t a far drive at all, as Ellis had said. Walkable from village even, but I was grateful for the cart and the horse. I didn’t think I could walk any further today dragging those bags.

We came upon the small, white stone cottage. It was part of Ellis property; her home on the one end and the cottage on the other. In between was a barn, where she kept the horse and some goats, and chicken coop. She hopped down, fairly spry for her old age, as she’d said on the phone to me many times, and pulled out an old bronze key. She jimmied it in the hole, using her shoulder to push the blue door open.

It was the cottage of my dreams and I will do my best to describe it to you. First, a single step down placed you in the smallest of entryways. Adorned with coat hooks and a mat for my soon-to-be muddy boots. A few more steps further down the hallway and you could either take a left into the kitchen and sitting room or a right into the bedroom. Within the bedroom was a fireplace, already lit, with a full bed and fluffy duvet. A chair by the window looked out to the sea. The bathroom was through the bedroom; tiny but containing a bathtub which was more than enough for me. In the kitchen I found only the necessities: fridge, oven, toaster, a circular wooden table with a pair of chairs. I felt something rub against my leg and looked down to see a grey cat circling my feet.

“That’s Francis,” Ellis said. “He keeps the house clear of creatures. He’ll be your roommate.” She smiled and I scooped him up and cradled him like a baby as he purred in my arms.

“At least I won’t get lonely out here.”

“I’m just across the farm, if you ever need anything, of course. Go on and settle in, I put a fire on for you. I’ll be back in a bit.”

I disappeared in the bedroom as I heard Ellis close the front door, shedding my layers as I went. Boots first, then the coat, the scarf, the hat. I shuffled into the bathroom, shivering, and turned on the water in the tub. The slow steaming water filled the porcelain basin slowly but surely. I dropped in a dollop of bubbles.

I submerged myself in the hot water and bubbles and finally, for the first time in days, felt my body relax. My shoulder ached with relief and I slid under the surface of the water.

What a whirlwind. In the middle of my journey it felt as though I would never arrive. The long flight. The wine. The train and bus. The boat ride. All the places I’d seen in just twenty-four hours and I was finally here. On Great Errigal Island. Ireland. What the hell was I doing here?

I scrubbed my skin raw with a sea sponge and washed my hair with lavender scented shampoo. A new clean start would feel good. Watch out world, a new Quinn Duffy was about to step out of this tub. I dried off quickly, pulling on a soft pair of leggings and a thick, cream colored turtleneck sweater. My teeth chattered. God, it was cold here. Did the walls hold in any heat? I didn’t think I owned enough cozy clothes to get me through the winter. I dug in my suitcase for my wool socks and wrapped my scarf around my neck, before burrowing into the bed, pulling the duvet up to my chin. The fire crackled and enveloped me in its glow and toasty embrace.

Ellis blew in through the front door, carrying a plate with a steaming pile of something delicious.

“Thought you might be hungry.” She placed the tray on the edge of my bed at my feet. “Beef and stout pie.” I practically drooled on my scarf.

I sat up, pulling the tray closer. The pie sat in its own baking dish; flaky pastry baked brown and crisp around the edge. A shallow bowl of creamy mashed potatoes sat on the tray as well. I cut into the pie, releasing a plume of steam. Now, I don’t know if it’s because it truly was the best thing I’d ever eaten or if I was just so absolutely starving that even a microwaved airplane meal would’ve tasted good. But I swear, it was the best meal I’d had in years. Beef and mushrooms and onion dissolved in my mouth. Savory broth infused with thyme warmed me to the bones. And there was just nothing more comforting than a bowl of hot buttery mashed potatoes.

The sun was still up. Would be for hours. It certainly wasn’t an acceptable hour to go to bed, but I ate and burrowed in my bed by the fire and passed out. Traveling and jetlag got the best of me.

When I woke, the embers of the fire only glowed, giving the small white room a red aura. I climbed out of bed and over to the window, perching myself up on the armchair. The sun was setting. I’d slept for a few hours at least. And even though I’d just eaten, my stomach growled. Maybe I could walk across the farm and visit Ellis. Mooch another meal off of her. But I was itching to explore.

I pushed the window open and stuck my head out in the evening air, breathing it in and letting it fill my lungs. Maybe there was something to be said for the healing powers of the sea air. I already felt renewed. Jetlagged but renewed. I slammed the window shut and went to pull on my boots.

The pebbles crunched beneath my step as I followed the road back toward the village. Beanie on, scarf wrapped, boots tied, pink coat buttoned. The rosy golds of the sunset kissed the white stone cottages. It was as if the entire island was aglow. The grass shone incandescent. The hills silhouetted. The aegean blue sea sparkled. It had calmed, just as Rory had said. Hardly a ripple in sight.

Music emanated from the village. A folksy tune I didn’t know. And that music led me to the pub. It was livelier than I expected. Ellis had told me that the locals usually spent the evenings here. Where else were they to go, I guess? But I hadn’t expected a full-blown bar and restaurant complete with a live band.

“Munster!”

Laughter erupted from a group of men by the bar.

Oh, no. I would like it to be stated for the record that it was in this moment, that I seriously considered leaving. No one knew me here (except two people). I could turn around and leave and go back to my cottage and find Ellis and ask for another pie before falling back asleep until morning. So why, dear reader, did I not do that? Why didn’t I leave?

“Munster, over here.” Rory held up a glass of Guinness and waved me over to the bar. I pushed through the crowd and the men around him nodded and left. He’d lost the beanie. And his dark curls looked as though they erupted from his scalp. A curly mess. A kindred hair spirit.

“I’m sorry, were you referring to me?” I asked. “My name is Quinn, not Munster.” As he well knew.

“What’ll it be, Munster? How about a drink on me as a welcome present? Is that friendly enough for you?”

I hid my smile. “Did Ellis scold you for being a jerk on our little boat ride?

“She might’ve bit me head off a little.”

“Serves you right.”  

The bartender stood, waiting. After the hangover I’d had the entire day, just the thought of alcohol made my stomach burn. But when in Rome, eh? “Whiskey.”

“I didn’t know city girls drank whiskey.”

“Like I said before, who says I’m a city girl?”

“It just oozes off of you, truly.”

“You think I can’t hack it out here?”

“I’d love to see you try. It would be entertaining, don’t you think, Sean?” He asked the bartender.

“Well.” I shot back my whiskey and asked Sean for another. I left some coins on the bar. “Sit back and enjoy the show.”

Rory was dumbfounded. I took my glass and found Ellis at a small table near the fire. That was way more appealing than a stool at the bar. Let alone the company.

I don’t know. Maybe this island isn’t big enough for the two of us. But I signed a contract. I’m not going anywhere. At least, not for a year.

I’m a fish out of water. And in some cruel twist of irony, I’m absolutely surrounded by water. No exits. No U-turn. No Ubers. No escapes. The only way off the island was on the boat of a man I couldn’t stand. Even if he paid for my whiskey. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of being right.

Blog #4: In Which My Regrets Continue

Even through the nauseated haze I tried to push away, Rory’s scowl was a feat that could be seen from miles away. He was clearly annoyed at having to drive me. (Drive me? Do you drive a boat?). A wave crashed against the side of the vessel and I wiped the spritz of seawater from my face.

“Is it a long ride?” I sat, perched on a wooden box containing various fishing supplies. I tried to mask my shivering.

Rory shrugged. “Forty minutes or so.”

Oh god, I thought, swallowing hard. I thought of land. I thought of mountains and grass and sidewalks. I thought of anything stationary and still. I thought of walking right into the flames of a fire. The boat roughly rocked back and forth as he sailed through the choppy waves. A storm, he said. A storm offshore, a few miles out. It would pass without hitting the island. The water would settle and the grey skies would clear.

My eyes searched for a static point on the horizon. Anything to focus on. I landed on something tall and white, and odd, twirling in the distance. Not really stationary at all. My head spun.

“What’s that?”

He looked to where I pointed. “It’s the wind farm,” he said. “It’s a few miles out. Powers the set of islands out this way.”

The island, our island, wasn’t the only one. It was part of a bigger string of islands. But this one was the biggest of the string. The main island. The windmills looked so out of place. Alien, almost. Tall, white, and sleek; surrounded by ocean, they looked like something from a sci-fi film set in the future. Unattainable in the real world. Fiction. But there they were. I learned later that not only did they have the ability to power the islands, but they helped with the local fishing industry by creating artificial reefs.

“That seems pretty high-tech for some islands off the coast of Ireland,” I said. “But green energy. I like it.” I clamped my eyes shut and breathed in a slow and steadying breath through my nose.

“So, what are your plans while on the island? Come to open a boutique? Escape your boring life? A boring husband, perhaps?”

“Excuse me?” That seemed to be the only phrase I was capable of saying to this man without the threat of vomiting at his feet.

“You’re not the first sassenach to come here trying to change their life. I see your type all the time out here.”

“My type? Please. Do tell. Would love to know what type I am when you met me all of ten seconds ago.”

“People like you come here looking for a vacation or a paradise from the real world with no consideration that this is some people’s real world and everyday life. They have no respect for the people who actually live and work here.”

He kept ranting, his brown eyes blazing. “All you city girls are the same. You come here for an escape. You treat it like a tourist attraction. And then you leave and go back to your real lives, talking about how much you changed.”

I held back a laugh. “I mean, I’ve lived and worked in various cities. I’m not sure if that makes me a city girl. I left, didn’t I?”

“But you’ll go back. You all go back.”

“You seem really sure about me and my future decisions,” I said. And what was it with Brits and tourists?

My friend Oliver, English and hunky, was the same exact way. Cursing every tourist who swept through his city in four-hour increments, and deserting around 4 p.m. on the dot each day. At least they were punctual.  

“Well, we’re not Brits for one thing,” he said, and I realized I’d said the quiet thought out loud. “You do know you’re in Ireland, don’t you? Are you even Irish?”

The incredulous look on his face made me rethink my strategy. Puking on his little boat might make me feel better after all.

“What kind of a question is that? My ancestors immigrated during the second wave. From Munster, specifically, if you’re checking my qualifications. I have a DNA test to prove it.”

Twenty-two percent, to be exact.

He feigned astonishment. “Munster, really? Wow. You must love the cheese.”

I eyed him. I didn’t want to admit that I did love the cheese. I loved all cheese. But I seriously doubted that the cheese was named for the province. Right? I refused to fall for this trap….

“I won’t fall for it,” I said, digging in my metaphorical heels.  

He laughed, despite himself. And I watched as his hard, cranky façade cracked and splintered as he chuckled about a stupid cheese joke of all things. “Whatever you say, Munster.”  

I’d thought about trying to visit my homeland. But then realized, I’d have to take this boat to the mainland and back, and decided, I’m never leaving this island ever again. The boat lurched and so did my stomach. I gripped the railing, white knuckled and cramped.

“You feeling okay?”

My face was squeezed through a hole in a bright orange life vest but I managed to nod. “Why?”

He motioned to my face. “Because you’re green.”

“I guess that answers your question on whether I’m Irish or not.” I laughed but covered my mouth with my hand quickly, as if that would stop the inevitable from happening. The cream cheese croissant that I inhaled on the flight inched its way back up. It’d been sitting at the back of my throat for hours now, like a jack-in-the-box waiting to explode at the worst possible time. I kept trying to stuff it down. Close the lid and reset.

“Don’t get sick on my boat.”

“I’m really trying not to.” I jumped to my feet.

Jeanie Mac, lean over the side before you—”

You know when you were a kid, and you’d get the inevitable stomach bug during the school year as it ripped through the student population, and you’d wake in the middle of the night and creep into your mom’s room in the dark? You knew. You just knew you were about to be sick. It was coming and there was no stopping it. But for a second, you hoped that your mom would be able to do just that. Stop it. Save the day. Keep you from upchucking the spaghetti you’d had for dinner and the cookies you’d had for dessert. And even though she couldn’t, she’d get a bucket or take you to the bathroom and stroke your hair, holding it back as you cried into the toilet bowl staring at your fate for the next twenty-four hours.

My mom wasn’t there to brush my hair back this time. I grasped at the curly blonde tendrils that fell into the line of fire as I faced the splashing depths of the blue sea. The croissant was long gone, lost in a wave as Rory flew across the open water. My stomach heaved and finally, I had nothing left but air.

I plopped down on the floor of the boat and wrapped my arms around myself.

“Just hang on,” Rory said. “You’ll be able to see the island in a second.”

I rolled over on all fours, stood on my knees, and slowly, pulled myself up by the railing like I was Rose, dangling off the back of the Titanic. Luckily, I was on the right side and we were still horizontal. I looked out. There it was. A rocky and green island emerged on the horizon. My stomach settled. My trembling hands calmed.

Great Errigal Island. I was finally here.

Blog #3: In Which I Have Regrets

There I was, reader. Flat on my back, limbs thrown out all haphazardly like I was a sad little beached starfish. I swear to you a wood splinter from the surface of the pier beneath me was stabbing me in the butt cheek. But I couldn’t move. My weak, gelatin legs had given up. My arms and shoulders ached from carrying and dragging my bags across the country, and the cream cheese filled croissant I’d eaten for breakfast before we landed in Heathrow was perched at the back of my throat, threatening to make a grand second appearance any second.

The ferry boat that Ellis had promised me would be here was, in fact, not. And I lost the will to go on. I contemplated starting my new life, right there on that pier. I lived here now, I thought to myself and I swallowed back the sour bile of my breakfast. I thought of just rolling myself off the pier and into the sea. Let the waves wash me out with the tide. Disappear forever. (In hindsight I really just needed a nap and some water).

I took a deep breath, letting the damp, salty air coat my sinuses. I needed a shower. I took another deep breath through my nose. Maybe two showers.

And then a voice, thick with an accent, grumbled from above me. “You’re late.”

Wait, hold on. You’re probably wondering how I got here. Let me fill you in on the journey.

I didn’t think about the fact that if I got wine drunk on a red eye flight, didn’t sleep, and arrived in another time zone after nearly 10 hours, I might still be drunk. Could I be hungover if I didn’t even go to sleep? (I still don’t know the answer to that question).

With the flight anxiety that kicked in around the time the drink cart came down the aisle, I ordered wine. Two mini bottles came with dinner. An hour or so later I clicked my flight attendant button and ordered two more bottles. By the time the garbage bag came around to collect all the trash we’d accumulated, I lost count.

After an eight-hour flight to Heathrow, an hour layover, and another hour or so flight to Cork, I finally landed on Irish soil. Cork, home to the famous Blarney Stone (which I didn’t get to see) was an amalgamation of colors. Green hills, blue seas, and rows of rainbow houses. Boats bobbed in the harbor. A colorful coastline that had once been witness to the RMS Titanic before it set sail on its ill-fated maiden voyage. There’s a history there that I’d love to explore one day. To ring the bells at St. Anne’s Church. Kiss the Blarney Stone (on second thought…gross). Amendment: see the dungeons of Blarney Castle. Browse the fresh food market that’s been around since 1788. It’s famous even. Like, Queen of England famous (she visited in 2011).

But instead of exploring the city, I hopped on a train; carting my two suitcases, duffle bag, and a pounding headache to boot. A kind older man helped me hoist my bags onto the train and I thanked him as I pushed into the car, shoving everything into a seat and wedging myself in on top of them. For two hours, Ireland was a grey and green blur outside my window. It was dizzying.

My body slumped in the seat. The feeling of the train was almost therapeutic though. Familiar. The ride was smooth, but still, it rocked me into a sleepy lull, like I was back on the subway in New York, or to throw it back even further, NJTransit. Back in the day I slept better on those trains than I did in my own bed. A line from a poem by Shinji Moon echoed in my mind then:

“You will fall in love with train rides, and sooner or later you will realize that nowhere feels like home anymore.”

Here’s What Our Parents Never Taught Us by Shinji Moon

I felt as though I were a fish in a bowl. Observing the outside world but not being a part of it. I couldn’t feel the breeze on my face or goosebumps on my skin. Couldn’t smell the salty sea. It was like I wasn’t even there. Had never arrived. The flight, the wine, all of it had been a dream. A really weird dream. Any second I was going to open my eyes and see the ceiling of my childhood bedroom still tiled with pull out posters from M magazine and Tiger Beat. Mom really needed to take those down already.

But finally, the train halted to a stop and I rolled myself out of the car with my suitcases in tow. My boots hit the pavement and suddenly, I was immersed in the Irish air. Heavy and damp. One of the employees at the station directed me to the bus station across the street where I waited about twenty minutes for a bus to Dingle.

Dingle.

I stepped off the bus and looked around. The immediate view wasn’t much, but I followed the street toward the town, toward the pubs and other colorful buildings. And soon, I saw sea. The water speckled with fishing vessels. Tour buses littered a parking lot parallel to some restaurants boasting the best and freshest seafood in all of Ireland. I was so tempted.

Dingle reminded me of Cork, albeit a bit smaller. More contained. But just as bright and vibrant. The only town on Dingle Peninsula, it’d become quite a destination in recent years. Not only a bustling tourist attraction, but an important hub for the Ireland fishing and agriculture industry.

I thought about ending my journey here. How much farther could I go? My legs trembled from sheer exhaustion. My shoulders and neck ached. My stomach practically ate itself as I stood on that street and breathed in the scent of fried oil in the air.

But there was one more leg to the journey. The last leg. A boat ride. Or, ferry ride. I yanked my knit beanie over my head as the wind picked up (and there was no way my hair actually looked decent at this point). Colder temperatures hadn’t yet set in at home. And things happened so fast, I didn’t quite have time to prepare for this trip like I might have in another life. I packed every sweater I owned. Every scarf. Sweatpants and leggings and jeans.

I’d packed a rain parka for the inevitable and famous rainy weather. But my winter coat was a little flashy for these parts. It’s pink, for one thing. A pretty, mauve pink, so more subdued than you might be picturing. My trembling fingers hooked the buttons closed, my attempt at guarding myself from the wind whipping me as I walked along the edge of the town. It was a thick, soft fleece; fuzzy, like a teddy bear. I mean, that’s what it was called, a teddy bear coat. But don’t worry, no teddy bears were harmed in the making of this coat. But it did make me stick out like a sore pink thumb.

I stood on the edge of the pier. Pink. Hungover. Dark circles practically tattooed under my eyes. And not a damn ferry boat in sight. Ellis had said though.

The handles of my suitcases slipped from my hands and landed with a kerplunk. My duffle slid off my shoulder. And then I went down too, my knees buckling beneath me. It wasn’t my most graceful moment. But down I went. My butt plopped onto the wood planks. So, there I was—my arms thrown out at either side, my legs splayed.

“You’re late.”

My eyes sprang open. I thought I’d imagined the grumbly voice. But to my surprise, eyes stared back at me from above. Eyes. Nose. Beard. Even from upside down I could tell he wasn’t happy. A scowl etched into his face, his brows furrowed from under his grey beanie.

“Excuse me?” It was all I managed to eke out.

 “You were supposed to be here an hour ago.” The angry upside-down face disappeared, and I shot up, clutching my pounding head and upturned stomach at the same time.

“In my defense, I don’t even know what time zone I’m in,” I said to no one in particular because the man had disappeared from view. I turned around and found him bobbing up and down beside the pier. My stomach lurched. Oh, he wasn’t bobbing up and down, the boat he stood on was. It was small, and white, and definitely didn’t look like a ferry boat. Maybe I’d been imagining the Staten Island Ferry would be whisking me across the sea to the island…

“Are you the ferry that Ellis sent?” I laughed to myself, tiredly. I couldn’t even tell you what was funny. Maybe the image of a fairy with glitter and wings and little puff balls for shoes and this gruff, bearded man, was too much for my sleep deprived (and possibly still drunk) self. He didn’t crack a smile. Not even a flicker. “Please, by all means,” I said. “Don’t assist. I’m good.”

I hoisted myself to my feet in what I hoped was a somewhat graceful move, but his raised eyebrows told me it wasn’t. Throwing my duffle over my shoulder, I scooped up the handles of my suitcases and rolled them to the edge of the pier where his boat was tied.

I studied him, squinting my eyes to see through the exhaustion. My glasses were packed away in my duffle. Couldn’t get them now.

He was tall, at least a foot taller than me, sporting clunky wellies and a thick navy jacket lined with sheep’s wool. Dark curly hair sprouted out from under his beanie and the bottom half of his face was covered with a thick beard. Brown eyes. Gruff and hulking.

“Are you coming?”

“I don’t know, I’m starting to second guess getting on a strange man’s boat. It’s not like I can track our ride on Uber.” I held up my phone. It was pretty much useless out here.  

“You think I’m going to kidnap you in the middle of the ocean?”

“I am now.”

He rolled his eyes and let out a huff. “Ellis sent me,” he said. “You’re safe.”

I wasn’t so sure about that. “How do I know you’re not lying? Drivers confirm the riders name in typical Uber practice.”

He took another deep, steadying breath like I was trying his patience and stopped doing whatever it was he was doing with the ropes in his hands. “Quinn Duffy. American. Twenty-seven years old. New café manager.”

I eyed him, chin up. “Suspiciously thorough.”

“That was all Ellis told me. Now are you going to get on the boat or not? I don’t have all day to spend as a cab.”

I tossed my duffle on board and swung my two suitcases over the side. I boarded last. The boat was unassuming. On the side, in pretty little script and flaking black paint, was the word Cliodna. The boat’s name. I didn’t know what it meant. But I was sure I would find out.  

“Who are you, anyway?” I asked the mystery man who smelled like fish. He was busy doing something with ropes and anchors and other things I didn’t understand. 

For a moment. A split millisecond of time, the corners of his eyes crinkled, showing signs of a smile hidden under his beard.

“Rory,” he said. “Rory McLaughlin.”

-Q

Blog #2: In Which a Wine-Induced Email Lands Me a Job

As I sit in this cold, beige terminal and await my boarding time, I thought I’d share the email that started it all. It’s a bit embarrassing. Maybe I shouldn’t share it. But here we go. I’ve had two glasses of wine at the terminal bar and I’ve got nothing to lose. Well, nothing else, at least.

Dear Ellis,

 I’m currently sitting in my apartment with a car alarm blaring down the street. It’s been going off for two hours and I’m about to lose my damn mind. I’m one of the many people who saw the job posting for your beautiful island when it went viral online. The cozy village and café. The crashing waves and seals dappling the beach. I live in New York (lived, I guess, at this point), where buildings touch the sky and there isn’t a rolling green hill in sight. It’s all so grey, Ellis. So, so grey.

 It’s been a couple months since I lost my job. I was a writer once. I used to look forward to a day at my keyboard and now it just taunts me. To be honest, this is the most I’ve written in what feels like a lifetime.

 And this lifetime feels like a thousand lifetimes. You see, my father is getting married for the third time. To a woman I hardly know (she seems nice enough, but, what the hell, dad). My sister is pregnant and finally starting the family she’s always dreamed of. And my mother, my dear, sweet mother, has decided to sell our family home. My childhood home. My place. The one place on Earth that has always been there for me, reliable and standing tall against the world. I could always run back to it if I needed to and I would be enveloped in a cloud of familiarity and comfort. And now it will be put on the market. A measly ad on the internet for potential buyers to browse and criticize. Maybe they’ll be blossoming families, like my sister, looking for their first home. Maybe they’ll be growing families looking for their third. Either way, it won’t be my family in that house anymore. Though, I guess it hasn’t been for a really long time.

 I guess I’ve been thinking about that a lot; about my place in this world. Or, I suppose, my lack thereof. Because on top of all this, my boyfriend dumped me (it’s a long story). Talk about a juicy red cherry on top, am I right? So no, there is no we here. Just me. Just me and the last of my boxes. My lease is up at the end of this week and I’m at a loss. I’ve spent hours searching for new cities to live in. New jobs. New homes.

 And that’s when I found your job posting.

 I’ve been contemplating an escape. Not just from New York, but an escape from my life and anything that looks remotely familiar to it. And your island looks like the perfect place to go for a while. I would love to work in your café and live in your cottage and take care of the bungalows. I’m a super hard worker, friendly, and love meeting new people. And I also really love sheep. They’re so fluffy and cute. I love how from far away they look like little cotton balls. Anyway, I think your island would be a beautiful place to figure out the rest of my life. Maybe I could belong there for a little while. And as I was once a writer, I would love to write about my experience while I’m there.

 All the best,

Quinn

Sent from my iPhone

Woops. We’re in for a bumpy flight.

-Quinn

Blog #1: In Which My Journey Begins

My dear reader, let the record show that on this day in the worst year of my life, I’ve made yet another questionable decision. After losing my job and my boyfriend and moving back in with my mother, my sister found it an appropriate time to announce her pregnancy, and my father thought it was the perfect time to announce his engagement. Could it get any worse?

Reader, it can.

I was sitting amongst the boxes of my life on the floor of my childhood bedroom when my mother knocked on the door. “Are you all right?” she asked. She didn’t step into the room, just stood there leaning against the doorframe, clutching a glass of wine. Ruby liquid shone in the glass.

“I’m fine,” I said. “Just wondering how my entire life could fit into these boxes.”

“You’ve never been one to nest,” she said. “It’s a good thing too…” Mom took a long sip of her wine, nearly emptying the glass.

“What do you mean?”

“Quinny, I’ve decided to sell the house.” I had no response. My mouth just hung open, agape, like…well, I don’t know, but my jaw was on the floor, reader. “I just don’t need something this big, you know?”

“I guess, it’s too much for just you, but I’m here now—”

“But you won’t be here forever. I’ll kick you out myself if I have to.”

“God, ma, don’t I get like a grace period or something?”

“You’re twenty-seven years old, the grace period is over.”

“What about Amy? Don’t you want your future grandkid to spend the night?”

“Of course, I do, I’m not going to be homeless, I just want something more manageable. A small yard in the back, a garden, maybe. I don’t need all this space. And I don’t need all these memories.”

I forget sometimes all the memories a house could hold. Contained within those four walls was every Christmas morning, every New Year’s Day, every birthday, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day. Every report card and test that hung on the fridge. Every recital and choir concert. Every bike ride. Every first kiss. But it also held every fight, every argument. Every night gone to bed angry. Every ignored call. Every slammed door.

The ghosts of those memories lived on forever. And my mother. My poor mother (who is probably reading this now, sorry mom, love you) couldn’t escape them. She needed her own space, a fresh start. A new home to build new memories that didn’t haunt her every waking hour.

I understood that.

And she inspired me a bit.

So, I took a job. On a small Irish island, working in a café and upkeeping some local cottages for tourists. Monitoring them in the off season.

There is no Netflix. And one source of spotty internet that I will use to upkeep this blog.

Pack your chunkiest sweater, reader. We’re going to Ireland.

Here goes nothing.

-Quinn