The Fabulists :: Chapter 15

The Fabulists

It was after midday; that much she knew. As usual, she dressed before waking Larry. He looked at her coldly. She supposed he thought it was the manly thing to do. Oh yes, keep the woman insecure, that was the way these young lords thought; keep her begging for you. Well, it wasn’t like that at all. It helped her to maintain a clear conscience, in fact. She could have his perfect body without giving a damn for his feelings. And boy, how greedy he was when she let him near her. That was the sexiest thing of all, holding him off until he was half crazy, so crazy that he was blind to her flaws and blemishes, with only one imperative in his steaming brain.
She went to the toilet along the hall and as, when she returned, he hadn’t stirred, she made tea and toast and brought them to him. He accepted his breakfast without a word, and she watched his lean, stubbled jawbone as he masticated, and the way his black hair casually fell over the nape of his neck. She smiled. At last, at long long last, she had learned enough to be in control. And he really was so beautiful, with those long smooth hands which had never known work, with his long smooth body to match.
One night she had gone for a drink with the girls in Camden Street and had lain her eyes on him, but from the first moment, though she wanted him badly, she had arranged it so that he thought he was the one who had spotted her. How subtle women can be, she mused, when we don’t really care. He, on the other hand, had been crude and direct, as she had guessed he would. He was young, drunk and handsome, so she allowed hi to think himself immortal and perfectly potent, and that a woman like her was his plaything as of right.
She still relished how his face dropped when she answered him as if he had asked her the time. `Yes, I’d love a ride,’ she said. There are moments in life which, if we pounce on them, make us free. She hadn’t blushed and her heart had barely quickened, because as she said it she knew it was all a matter of flattery and a game.
`More tea,’ Larry said.
She brought him the tea and sugar and milk without resentment. He was fifteen years older than Arthur. She turned on the radio. In fifteen years time would Arthur be like this, lording it in an older woman’s bed and treating her like dirt, unaware that his machismo was her best defence against him? And would she warn him? No. No, it had to happen like this. He had to learn the hard way.
The radio was tuned to some music station, but they paused to mention the presidential election count.
`It’s looking like Mary Robinson will be the next President of Ireland,’ drawled the mid-Atlantic voice. Tess stared at the radio, then with shaking fingers searched the airwaves for more substantial news. She had forgotten about it, as if she hadn’t realized that every last vote had to be counted and that real people did this.
`Is she in?’ came from the bed.
`Not yet,’ she said quietly.
`It’d be cool to have a woman President,’ Larry said as he
dressed.
Tess looked at him sharply. Cool! Now she wished that Mungo was here in his stead. He was the only one she could think of who would understand the near-panic she felt in case Robinson didn’t make it. History was not in her favour, but maybe, just maybe, something odd was happening to history.
`Kiss your hero good-bye,’ Larry said, leaning over her. She caught the whiff of stale sweat, all that remained of his wild heaving the night before, and was mildly disgusted.
`No,’ she said.
`Oh. In a bad mood, are we? That time of the month, or something?’
`Oh fuck off, Larry.’
He threw up his hands and made a face. `I reckon it’s time for a tactical withdrawal. See you tonight?’
`No. I want to be with adults tonight.’
`Ah you’re not that old,’ he said, lifting the underside of her hair in his hand.
`Out. Out now, and don’t come back. I mean it.’
He laughed. `I’ll give you a call,’ he said. The door closed behind him.
Right now she truly meant it. She didn’t want to see him again, but from somewhere a voice warned her that winter was setting in and there might be cold dark nights when she would long for the flattery of his attentions which would rid her of her own leaden presence.
Where was Mungo now that she needed him? The analysis continued on the radio. She had, it seemed, held her own in conservative rural areas. It was down to the transfers. Tess fidgeted. Why the hell was this so important to her? Her life would go on as before, of that she had no doubt. She thought about it for a while and came to a tentative conclusion. It was something to do with the way she could see herself. That was it. Something about the way she regarded herself, even with-out having to think of it.
`Come on!’ she groaned at the radio.
The telephone rang downstairs and after some hesitation she answered it.
`Mungo! Thank Christ. Where are you?’
`In a phonebox on Ormond Quay. She’s going to win, Tess.’
`Oh God I hope so. There’s talk in the house about a party if she does. Would you come?’
`Of course.’
`I’ve to go shopping before I go to Fairview. Will you meet me tonight?’
`Outside The Ranch, ten-thirty. Win or lose, I’d like to get drunk.’
`How are you, Mungo?’
`I’m okay.’
But his tired voice suggested otherwise.
It was much later than she thought and already dark as she walked into town. She joined a crowd gathered at a shop win-dow. The several television screens were tuned to the same im-ages, the three candidates and their political sponsors waiting in a line on a stage for the announcement. She could see by their expressions that the men were beaten and that, although she wasn’t smiling, the woman had won. Then, noiselessly, those around her smiled and clapped as she was pronounced President-elect.
`A commie in the Park,’ one man said. `I never thought I’d live to see the day.’ But no one paid him any heed. As the cam-eras zoomed in and the woman smiled as she turned to accept congratulations, Tess realized she had wet herself.
She was baffled by depression. It had happened more than once before: when she’d had most reason to be happy her emotions went into reverse, leaving her miserable. She was late, but as Arthur watched television and she cooked dinner, she picked up a little. Then Brian came home from work.
`She made it,’ he said.
`You seem happy.’
`Why wouldn’t I be happy? I voted for her, didn’t I?’
`Did you?’ Somehow, had she thought about it she wouldn’t have guessed.
`Well, she’s for divorce, isn’t she? And you and I want a divorce, isn’t that so.’ She was surprised by the friendly, al-most sympathetic way he said that.
`She doesn’t have the power, as President.’
`Maybe she doesn’t – but then again, maybe she does. The news’ll be on in a minute. Are you coming in to watch it?’
`What about the dinner?’
`Why don’t we bring it inside?’
He tested the potatoes before draining them in a cloud of steam as she stood by, uncertain. He seemed to have taken over and she felt superfluous, but then she gathered up the plates she had set. He had by now drained and buttered the peas and checked that the chops were well done, and now he served the food onto the plates she held out. He carried in Arthur’s plate and cutlery as well as his own and she followed with hers.
`We’re eating in here this evening, Arthur pet. To see the new President.’
Arthur said nothing but seemed pleased to stay on his belly beside the fire. They ate in silence as the Angelus bell rang on the television. As she watched Brian with a curiosity she had not felt in years, she felt that the battle between them had, by some process or miracle, come to a peaceful end.
It was a rush back to work. They were busier than usual that night and Tess wondered if it was a coincidence or whether some had come out to celebrate. Wanting to think, she had walked to work and as her shift drew to a close her concentration faltered several times and it was only luck that she didn’t drop anything. All night the customers had talked about the new President, and finally she realized what had left her bewildered earlier in the day. There were others, many others, who had yearned for her to win. It was like being found naked in the middle of the street and being greeted with friendly approval instead of being clapped into jail. Of course she had known that others would vote for her. Of course she had known that. But what she had not realized was that it was so important to others, and that they could, and would win.
She finished late but Mungo was waiting for her and she hugged him, pressing her cheek against the thick cloth of his overcoat, holding him as tightly as she could, and to her relief he hugged her back in like measure.
`Would you mind if we didn’t go to any party?’ she asked him.
`I’d prefer if we didn’t, as a matter of fact.’
`Good.’
`Will we get a bottle of whiskey?’
`Yes. Let’s do that.’
Party or no party, she wanted to be in her own room. It didn’t matter about the noise, in fact it would be fine, but as it turned out the house was quiet apart from a television in one flat. Mungo opened the whiskey while she made the bed, flap-ping the sheets vigorously in case there was any lingering odour belonging to Larry, or some stray masculine hair in a fold.
She brushed the hair out of her eyes as she accepted the glass.
`Have you a toast?’
`To the next generation,’ he said after some hesitation, and then he smiled.
`To the next generation,’ she echoed doubtfully. Their glas-ses clinked, and they drank.
`Mungo, there’s something sad about you this last while. I mean you were sad when I met you, but you’re like that again.’ Even as she said it, she realized that he somehow knew about Larry, and although she dreaded his reply she found herself asking if there was anything he would like to tell her. He looked at her with those lovely eyes and she could see that, oh yes, he knew, but he would not cast it up to her, he wouldn’t accuse her of anything. In a way, she wished he would.
`It’s Aidan,’ he said after what seemed a long time. `I have to make my peace with Aidan. I’m going back to Wexford tomorrow.’
`How will you do that?’
`I don’t know. Remind him, perhaps.’
`Aren’t you afraid he’s too young?’
`Yes. But there’s something urgent about the present. I’m afraid that if I wait, the chance won’t be there.’
She held him as she had done on the street, but now she could feel the warmth of his body. He left his glass down and held her in return, and she closed her eyes tightly, wanting to lose herself in this.
They continued drinking in front of the two-bar electric fire, sometimes talking, sometimes falling silent for minutes on end. They were so easy with each other that she had to fight back the urge to confess about Larry, not out of guilt but to say that it was a frivolous affair, now over, which only served as a contrast to her feelings about Mungo, her only true friend.
He had lightened up and now began to tease her. She countered, and soon they were laughing continuously as every nuance assumed a double meaning. A lot of it was crude, but very funny, and even as she laughed she was aware of how desperately she wanted to laugh like this; and then they were on a roll, the repartee coming instinctively, and she was lost in it; she had given herself up to what she would afterwards recall as pure happiness.
He was happy too and when their laughter died away, and they were groaning at the aches and tears it had left in its wake, he suddenly held her tight, as if he wanted to cling to something he saw in her. Then he relaxed and broke into a smile.
In bed they giggled, tickling each other until they were shouting and laughing again. She wasn’t sure when the laughter stopped and passion began, but she ached for him as his fingers slipped between her moist lips, and this was all she wanted.

* * *

Had they finished the bottle or what? Mungo was feeling shaky; his stomach was sour and his skull seemed as if it would split just over his eyes, in the middle.
Yet he hummed as he left his bag, and the two rods which he had bought in Mary’s Abbey, on the overhead rack. As the train pulled out of Connolly Station he hummed again, this time to the percussion of his fingers on the table. It had, turned out to be a night which would console him in the troughs of despair which he knew lay ahead, but whose future reality he now ignored. There had to be happiness. It was as valid, as necessary and as true as its dark twin. And to make sense of living, to balance all the heartbreak which he saw around him and in himself, he had a duty, and if it wasn’t too grandiose, he had a duty to life itself to fight his way towards being happy. It would be a contribution towards balancing things out, as it were.
These thoughts didn’t come in a rush. They had wandered into his head, between waves of forgetfulness, growing like connective tissue, as the train passed Sandymount Strand, and as it went slowly around Killiney Bay. It wouldn’t be easy.
He walked briskly from the station in Gorey, up the Avenue and out the Hollyfort road. There was a light drizzle and the clouds were oppressively low and grey and he feared that it would be dark before he could hitch a lift; but just past the town boundary, the first car going in his direction stopped.
`The bould Mungo,’ Jim Begley greeted him. He knew Jim from primary school. `Are you going fishing or what?’
`Good man Jim,’ Mungo said with feeling, as he put the rods and his bag into the chaos of the back seat. `I got a rod for the young fella in Dublin.’
`God I haven’t seen you since the funeral,’ Jim said. `How’s the oul’ farmin’ treatin’ you, anyway. A big change from the Big Smoke.’
`Tough enough, to tell you the truth.’
Jim looked him over, assessing the unusual admission. `Huh,’ he said then as he leaned forward over the steering wheel and glared ahead. ‘Farmin’ – the last car on the road.’
`Ah,’ Mungo said, looking out the side window at nothing in particular, `I’m not cut out for it. In the city you do your job, five days a week, and you get your cheque at the end of it.’ He had almost added – if you have a job. `I’m doing it for the children, really. They need the freedom and the fresh air.’
`You mean the cleanin’ out the dung and the smell of silage!’ Jim guffawed, as if he had been waiting for the chance to say that for years.

And so they talked. As they turned up from Hollyfort, through the great canopy of trees and rhododendron leaves, up past the Protestant church, Mungo asked him about a good place to fish, as he wanted to be away from the ghosts of their own place with Aidan.
`The Bann down there used to be as good a place as any, but sure it’s gone to a trickle now. Hould on for a good sup of rain, I’d say.’
Jim was continuing on to Monaseed, so he left Mungo off at the crossroads and he walked the rest of the way, his collar up against the drizzle. The day was fading as he arrived, and the yard lights were on, the squeals of pigs telling him where Connie was. He went around the back and sure enough she was in the pig house looking tired and harassed by the buffeting pigs. She struggled out of the pig house and bolted the door, the buckets still in her hands. In her old clothes and welling-tons, a scarf around her head and her hips noticeably widening, she looked like a drudge, and it was his fault. She crossed the yard and he waited for her to look up. Her reaction was instant.
`Oh you decided to come home. How kind!’ She flung the buckets from her without breaking stride and disappeared into the house. He picked up the buckets, sticky with wet meal, and rinsed them under the yard tap before going in. He left his bag and the rods in the kitchen and went upstairs.
As he changed into his working clothes he heard Ethna calling and running upstairs to greet him.
`Daddy!’ She burst into the room and into his arms. He raised her to his face and her eyes locked onto his, possessing him totally.
`Did you miss me miss?’ He pinched her nose gently and carried her downstairs, where Aidan was waiting, half-smiling, agitated but silent. Mungo ruffled his hair and led him, hand on his shoulder, to the kitchen, asking him what needed to be done before dark.
`Did you bring me anything daddy?’ Ethna butted in.
`We’ll see,’ he said, relieved that he had. `We’ll see. We have to help Mammy first.’

`You needn’t bother,’ Connie said, standing at the door. `It’s all done.’ She kicked off her wellingtons and barefoot, washed her hands and took meat from the fridge. Steam from the pot of potatoes had settled on the window and drops of moisture trickled down behind the half net curtain. The chil-dren lowered their eyes as Mungo took off his wellingtons again.
`Well, let me see what we have here,’ he said as cheerfully as he could manage, and opened his bag with a theatrical flour-ish. The children raised their heads again, with hesitant smiles. Connie put the chops on the pan and stepped into her shoes, anger sitting on her like a troll.
`I think we have something for Ethna!’ Mungo said, reach-ing into the bag down to his elbow before producing a large box of crayons.
`Colours!’ she exclaimed, and grabbed them.
`And what else?’ She had a crayon half out of the box, but left it aside and looked in what seemed like alarm from Mungo to the bag and back again.
`More colours!’ Mungo declared. It was a kaleidoscope, and he put it to his eye and revolved the lens against the light.
`Let me Daddy, let me,’ she squealed, and he surrendered it.
Aidan had been patient, perhaps because he had guessed what his present was. He smiled as he unwrapped and examined it. Mungo was ready to tell him how to assemble it, but he had already worked that out.
`And who’s the other one for, Da?’
`For me of course. I had to get myself something. We’ll have to go on a fishing trip now, I suppose. There’s no use having fishing rods if we don’t fish, is there?’
`When?’
`The first wet Saturday. And this,’ Mungo said, laying a slim, gift-wrapped box on the table, `this is for Mammy.’
Connie was tending to the chops, and looked over her shoulder.
`Well, we might as well have something out of that house,’ he said softly. `Go on. Open it.’

Mungo and the children waited. He could see that Aidan was tense as she hesitated before wiping her hands on her apron and opening the package. It was a plain gold necklace.
`It’s antique,’ he said. `Victorian.’
`Go on, Mammy, put it on,’ Ethna said, a forgotten crayon in her hand.
`I’m not dressed for it.’
`Do you like it?’
She put it back in the box and returned to the cooker. Aidan lowered his eyes again, but Ethna took the necklace and put it on.
`Stop,’ Aidan said, wanting to laugh.
`Look Daddy,’ Ethna said.
`Oh you’re lovely,’ Mungo said. `But it’s Mammy’s. I’ll get you one like it if you want,’ he said, taking it from her and re-placing it.
`No. I like my presents,’ she said, and busied herself with her crayons.
Mungo went to the sink and leaned back against it.
`It’s well for some,’ she said without facing him. `Gallivant-ing around Dublin and splashing out money like a gentleman. Or like a pimp maybe would be more like it.’
`I got us a few presents. That’s hardly splashing out.’
`The dinner’s ready,’ she said, and he brought the plates to the table as she filled them.
Over the following days and nights they exchanged words only when necessary. He felt exiled again, as he had done after Aidan’s accident, but now he had no streets or libraries or crowds in which to lose himself, no noise to drown out his thoughts, and he might as well dance a tango as jog in a place like this – a tango with the pet sheep. At least he could still laugh. Such wild thoughts and the memory of his last night with Tess might well keep him sane.
Saturday was overcast but dry. Aidan was disappointed and moody.
`Sure we’ll go anyway – you never know our luck,’ Mungo said. Connie was going to Gorey to shop, and agreed when Mungo asked her to bring Ethna with her and to leave Aidan and himself in Hollyfort. It was a short walk down the steep hill to the river, where from the bridge he could see that Jim was right, it was much shallower than he remembered.
They elected to try the lower side and gained access through the yard of a derelict cottage. A herd of cattle stared at them. Mungo didn’t hold out much hope for a catch, but they assembled the rods and impaled the worms they had brought in a jar and tried their luck, casting and hauling back their lines in a rhythm which soon relaxed Mungo. The river was divided farther down by a large island, which was covered with oaks and dead fern, and Mungo wondered if they might try their luck there when he spotted a crane, almost invisible against a pile of stones.
`Look,’ he whispered to Aidan.
`What?’ Aidan whispered back.
`See? Just where the river divides?’
`I don’t see anything.’
The bird rose and flew down river.
`Oh yeah …’ Aidan said in awe.
`It’s a crane. Come on,’ Mungo said. `If he was fishing down there, maybe there’s trout there.’ As he said this Mungo realized it was an admission that he knew nothing any more about fishing, if he ever did. The river was shallow here, and strewn with stones, and the water rushed loudly around and over them. They wouldn’t catch anything, he thought, unless they were tiny; and gripped by a memory or the shadow of a memory, Mungo brought Aidan across the river and onto the island. Aidan gazed up at the enormous oaks, some of them centuries old. Mungo waited for him. There was something special about the place alright. It seemed untouched, apart from the attrition of storm and season. The bronze of the dead fern and the packed leaves appeared to give off a warm light, despite the greyness of the day, which now, somehow, seemed to be outside.
`They’re oak trees,’ Mungo said.
`I know that.’

`Sorry.’
`I never saw so many.’
`How old would you say they are,’ Mungo asked him as they walked on.
`A hundred years old?’
`A least. Maybe two, some of them. Maybe if we find one that’s blown down, we can count the rings.’ They came to the river again. It was quiet here and they found a deep pool.
`Ah,’ Mungo said. `I’ve a feeling we’ll have better luck here.’ There was less room, so they carefully dropped their hooks into the water. Mungo decided he would not ask Aidan unless the boy caught something. He knew it was cowardice; they were unlikely to catch anything, but after some minutes Aidan was startled by a pull on his line.
`Da,’ he whispered, going pale.
`Let him bite,’ Mungo whispered back. `Let him bite. Don’t you pull unless he does.’ There was no turning back. He would ask him, and this special afternoon would be ruin-ed. Yet there was no perfect time.
`Da! He’s getting away,’ Aidan shouted. The line had tautened.
`Pull!’
Aidan yanked the trout from the water but the line caught in an overhanging branch and the fish resisted with such vigour that it seemed it would get away, but Mungo hauled in the branch and caught the fish, holding it for Aidan to unhook and then giving it to him. Aidan dashed its head against a large stone, and Mungo was struck by how he did this without compunction, as if he had done it all his life. When he was sure the fish was dead, Aidan turned to Mungo, his eyes shining. It wasn’t a large fish, but it was decent enough.
`Good man,’ Mungo said. `You got him. Will we try for another?’
`We’ll get loads,’ Aidan said, flushed with confidence.
They fished again, and several times Mungo tried to broach the question. Then, tentatively, he did.
`Aidan, the way you handled that trout showed me that you’re not a little boy any more. So, I want to tell you some-thing, man to man.’ He cleared his throat and rubbed his run-ning nose with the back of his hand. `You remember the fire, of course.’
`Yes.’ Aidan’s face clouded over, but there was no turning back.
`What you don’t remember is that I started it. Not deliberately, I hope I don’t have to tell you. But it was my fault. I was drunk, and I went in to see you and Ethna. You know that chair that used to be beside your bed. Well. I sat on that just to look at you.’ Mungo had to pause for a few moments before going on. `I’d been wondering …’ He paused again. `I’d been wondering what great thing I’d done to deserve a lovely child in my image, you know? The room was dark,’ he hurried on, `but I could see you well enough with the light from the landing. The only thing was, I was smoking a cigarette. Don’t ever smoke, Aidan. I had already looked at Ethna, but with you I sat down. And I must have fallen asleep for a second, because I don’t remember what I did with the ciga-rette. So I went to bed and was out like a light. It was your mother who saved you, Aidan. I carried you out of the room, but it was your mother who took the cover off you and put out the flames. Then she took Ethna out and rang for the ambulance. I couldn’t. She was screaming at me to let her see you and to ring for an ambulance but I couldn’t let go of you which I should’ve. So she did all the real saving, Aidan. Your mother and I haven’t been really on good terms since then. Have you noticed that?’
Aidan nodded.
`Don’t ever think that that’s your fault, by the way. The fault is all mine. Maybe a little of it is your mother’s, but most of it is mine. And the fire is all mine. I’m telling you this because I want your forgiveness. Now I don’t want you to say you forgive me if you can’t. I want you to think about it, and then say what you feel, yes or no. How does that sound?’
Aidan nodded again and they continued fishing in silence and caught four more, three for Aidan, who cheered when Mungo caught his. They were small, but they would make a fine supplement to dinner.
Connie and Ethna were late, but Aidan filled the car with his excited description of the afternoon. Ethna curled up her nose at the dead fish, but ate her share that evening.
Connie and Mungo watched television when the children had gone to bed. He was glad he had spoken to Aidan, and resigned to what Aidan would say, if anything. Perhaps he would forget, and leave him wondering. And Connie, it seemed, had softened a little. The necklace was in her dressing-table drawer, and her tone to him was civil, at least. He caught a glimpse of her, and she seemed relaxed, even content.
She went to bed before him and he thought back over the day, or rather, he let the scenes of the day pass through his mind again. He turned off the television and lay on the arm-chair for a while, casually tracing the faint cracks in the ceiling plaster which he hadn’t noticed before. Then he roused him-self, locked the doors, pulled out the plugs and turned out the lights.
The light was off in the bedroom, but he knew that Connie wasn’t asleep. He stripped and felt his way into bed and lay on his side, his back to her. As had become a habit at this time, he immediately thought of Tess, but his reveries were halted by what seemed like the smell of perfume. Cautiously, he took a noseful of the scented air. There was no mistaking it. Connie was wearing perfume, something she never did unless for a special occasion. He quickly thought back to earlier that night. Could he have missed it? No. Perhaps when he was smoking he might have, but not now. She had definitely put it on since coming to bed.
It could only mean one thing, couldn’t it? Jesus, why had he to second-guess her all the time? Did he want to? Nevertheless, he turned, expecting her to turn as well. But she didn’t. This was ridiculous. They were married for more than ten years, and she was making him feel like a virgin teenager. He raised his hand to touch her shoulder. His fingers were so close to her he thought he could feel her heat, but then he withdrew them. Connie was so self-contained that she could wear perfume for no other reason than her own pleasure. And that, he decided, was what she had done. More luck to her.
He turned away from her again, and with difficulty resumed his reveries. He would think this out another time, but for now it was pleasant to think of Tess, to fortify himself by re-calling yet again their last night together, and in this way he fell asleep.

* * *

She took the cup of coffee in both hands and sipped. He was late, and if he didn’t turn up within the next five minutes she would have to go. Eileen was clearing a table.
`I’m going up,’ Tess said. Yes, she was lucky and she was happy. If she didn’t look too far or too deeply, it didn’t take much. As long as it didn’t rain. It was overcast and what look-ed suspiciously like drops of rain were marking the Liffey. A new tape started with a song which seemed to be called `Lady Day’. She looked around to Eileen at the counter. Tess took another sip of coffee and looked at her watch.
`Sorry I’m late,’ he said, touching her on the shoulder and sitting in front of her.
The light drizzle had abated. They crossed over the Ha’ penny Bridge and walked through Temple Bar to Dame Street until they found a good vantage-point outside the Oak Bar. The crowds had gathered behind barriers on both sides of the road as far down as they could see, and the road was empty apart from the good-humoured guards who were joking with the crowd.
Then there was a murmur of recognition from the crowd as the woman who danced with her cross in O’Connell Street seemed to come from nowhere. As usual, her grey hair was tied back neatly. As usual, she smiled brightly as she bran-dished the cross. But now she walked with happy abandon, though she never deviated from the white line in the middle of the road. As she showed her cross to the crowds to her left and right she seemed to chant something, and Tess thought it was a religious protest; but as she came nearer and was audible Tess broke into a happy smile. Everyone was smiling, even the guards, who made no attempt to move her.
`Ooh ooh,’ the woman was repeating happily, `a Lady President, Dia’s Muire dhuit. Ooh ooh, a Lady President, Dia’s Muire dhuit.’ And she continued down the road, unmolested, until she was out of sight.
`Isn’t that great?’ Tess said, turning to Mungo, her tears threatening to spill over.
`It is,’ he said. `It’s great.’
It was another few minutes before they heard the roar of the army motorbikes coming out of Dublin Castle, and Tess could feel the expectation of the crowd and strained upwards and forwards on her toes to make sure she would see.
Then the cavalcade came into view and she saw the old presidential Rolls-Royce, and the cheering began. Tess was shaking, but waved frantically as she spotted the President waving and smiling in her direction, and in the instant that she passed their eyes met and the President’s smile and wave was especially for her, she knew.
For a moment she was stunned.
`Did you see that?’ she shouted, turning to Mungo, `she waved at me!’
`At you?’ he laughed.
`I thought she waved at me.’

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