A MOTHER’S LAST WISH by Peter Nolan Smith

After the last holidays of 2006 my mother entered the final stages of her battle with cancer. These last rounds were not a pretty site, but her beauty remained intact to the end. Several days after the New Year my mother held my hand and said, “I’m so happy I made Christmas.”

“Me too.” I thought about John Wayne at the end of THE SEARCHERS and forced back my tears.

“You’ve been everywhere in the world. You’ve never been to Ireland. I’m leaving you a little money. I want you to go to Ireland and find a girl like your aunts or sisters to marry. Will you do that for me?” Her grip tightened to crack my knuckles. She knew her own strength to the measure. Her grandmother had fled the Aran Isles as a girl of twelve. Nana never went back home. The one boat trip was enough for her.

“Yes, I will.” There was no refusing here, despite the incestuous nature of her last wish for her second son.

“You’re a good boy.” She released my hand with a sigh. “Help me with the medicine.”

By medicine my mother meant her morphine drip. I hit her up good. Her tender eyes rolled into heaven and I kissed her forehead. Three weeks later she passed from this life. No one in my family contested her will and in August I received enough money to survive four months in Ireland. I had a new computer and the germ of an idea I wanted to nurture into a gem of a book. The west coast of Ireland

My good friend Camp arranged a rental in the far west of Galway beneath the Seven Pins of the Connemara.

“That would be great.” My Nana came from that part of the West. “What kind of house?”

“It belongs to a very aristocratic family.”

“So it has to be grand?”

“How grand couldn’t it be?” Camp was English. He lived north of New York in a valley dedicated to the pleasures of the wealthy. I trusted his taste, even if the Brit had never been to Ballyconneely. Camp was an interior designer. Straight, but still an interior designer. They had style. “Are you in or are you out?”

“Count me in.” I had read about the nearest town. Clifden had fifteen pubs. The guide books mentioned nothing about women.

“One more thing. Buy yourself some Wellingtons.”

“Wellingtons?” I knew that the Irish-born Duke had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. “Are they cookies?”

“No, rubber boots. You’ll be needing them.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Good luck with your writing and with your finding a bride.”

“Thanks.” I’d be happy with one out of two.

At summer’s end I sublet my apartment and my boss at the diamond exchange wished me luck with my wife hunt.

“May you make your mother happy.” Manny was a mother’s boy. We all are in the end.

“I’m doing this for her. I doubt there will be any women.” Most Irish women like women everywhere else left their hicktowns for big cities and the guide book had indicated that a small village could get more hickster than Ballyconneely, which was renown for its cows and windy moors.

“Better you than me.” The seventy year-old jeweler was in the first stages of divorcing his second wife. “I’m done with women. But you’re still a young man.”

“43.” My father had six kids at this age. I had none.

“43. I would cut off your right ball to be 43 again.” Manny slipped me a c-note. “Save it until you find a girl to take out to dinner. A yard has to go a long way with a girl from the sticks.”

“Thanks.” I stuck the hundred dollars deep in my wallet. It had to be good luck.

The next days’s flight to Dublin took six hours. Customs and immigration went quickly and I caught a taxi from the airport into the city. The sky was crowded with low clouds trailing veils of rain. There was little threat of sun.

“Ah, so this your first time to Ireland?”

“Yes.”

“Well, get used to the weather. It’s either raining, just rained, or about to rain. You got a good pair of shoes?”

“Yes.” Heavy boots and also green Wellingtons.”The driver recommended a cheap bed and breakfast on the other side of the Penny Bridge. The room was clean with a window overlooking an alley of brick walls. I didn’t bother to unpack my bag and went to the front desk to I phoned my new landlord.

“So you made the flight over here okay.”

“Yes, sir.” I was respectful to my betters and elders.

“Why don’t you come out here to pick up the keys for the house in the West. The taxi driver will know the way.”

“I’ll leave now.”

I pulled on my cap and buttoned I caught a taxi outside on the street. The drive on the motorway was a short one. Upon arrival at the landlord’s address the red-headed driver whistled in appreciation. The gravel driveway led through a quiet park to a large Georgian mansion with a nearby Victorian shed housing a steam museum. The only word for the estate was grand.

“What’s this man do?” He impressed by my destination.

“I think he sells beer.”

“A lot of beers from the looks of it. Me and mine must have helped pay for this with all the Arthurs I bought.”

“Arthurs?” My ear was adjusting to the accent.

“Pints. The founder of brewery name was Arthur.”

“So you know the family?” I had never met them.

“There’s only the one, but I only know them from the glass in my hand. Good beer. Good people.”

“Right.” I stored this tidbit of local lore for use at a later time and tipped the driver.

He drove off and I walked up to the front door.” Selling beer was a good business and I thought to myself, “If the cottage is a hundredth of this barrack, then I will be living in the lap of luxury.”

The door opened before I had a chance to ring the bell.

“Welcome.” A silver-haired gentleman greeted me with a handshake and ushered me inside the house. “See you had no trouble find the place.”

“None at all, sir.” It was a palace complete with medieval tapestries and 16th Century paintings. I tried not to stare. This much wealth was usually reserved for museums.

“Call me Robert.” He was tall and slender. His clothing suggested a life of grace.

“Yes, sir.” Shaking off my place in the world was not easy, despite Robert’s bonhomie.

The two of us sat in the kitchen and conducted the business of exchanging money and keys. The big room was colder than the outside. We drank a glass of an excellent St. Emillion to seal our verbal agreement.

“You’ll find the house easy enough. It’s the first one on the right before Ballyconneely. There’s peat for the fireplace, but I suggest getting a hot water bottle for bed. Houses out that way are not centrally heated like back in the States.”

“Thanks for the advice.” A light rain pattered against the lead window. I was glad to have my cap.

“One more thing. The phone is on, but only for incoming calls. You want to use it for calls?”

“No.” I knew no one in Ireland and international calls were expensive.

“Okay, smart thing. You’re writing a book, so I hear?”

“Yes.” It was about a black pimp in Hamburg. The subject matter seemed out of place in this house and I closed the subject by saying, “A quiet place without any interference from the modern world should be great for writing.”

“The old schoolhouse is quiet.”

“Glad to hear it.” I also wasn’t telling him about my mother’s last wish.

“Let me drive you back to Dublin. We can go for a drink at the Shelbourne. It’s the best bar in town.”

“I’d like that.”

Robert’s ride was a gray Ferrari from the 60s. The 250 GTE hit 120 mph on the rainy motorway. The windshield wipers worked over-time. A mansion and an Italian sports car were good omen for the cottage in the West.

“I love this car, but I’m getting too old to drive it.” Nearing Dublin he slowed down to 60.

“I know what you mean.” Getting in was easy. Getting out required a man-servant.

We stopped at the hotel on Stephen’s Green for drinks. In the bar my landlord was greeted by several of the men. He ordered the finest whiskey at the bar. My rent money paid for both rounds. It was an early night for both of us. He dropped me at my bed and breakfast and I bid him fare-well.

“Enjoy yourself. My friends have spend many summers in that house.”

“You don’t stay there?”

“Oh no, we stay at the family house.”

Oh.” I entered the B and B thinking how bad could the guest house be. The man had a Ferrari.

The next morning I rode the train to Galway. A bus brought me to Clifden. The town was small, but five bars crowded the main square. The rain fell with ease. A taxi was at the curb. A beer could wait.I got in the back.

“Where you going?” The fortyish woman’s accent was thick than a slab of breakfast toast. Her face was worn from hard work. Gold glinted on her left hand. Her married status eliminated the driver from my list of eligible.

“The old school house in Ballyconneely.”

“Right, it is.” She stepped on the gas and we traveled down a two-laner too narrow for the passage of two cars. The sea was to the right on occasion and small farms rolled over the small inland hills. To the north mountains fought for my attention. Their summits were blunted by clouds. Not a single person was working the fields. They belonged to the cows.

“Here we are.” We were passing the ruins of a church.

“There?” My great expectations diminished to utter disappointment. I had been scammed by his Lordship.

“No, that’s the old Protestant church. It burned down unexpectedly in 1920. Stayed burned too. The schoolhouse is that one.”

“Oh.” A squat white house lay across a gully from the ghostly church.

“Ah, yes, it’s a fine building.” The turn indicator presaged our entering a dirt track. The uneven surface would have broken the axel of the 250 GTE. “This is it.”

“I guess it is.” I got out of the car and shivered in my light jacket.

The lawn was overrun by thistles and the tufts of grass wavering in a wet wind. The whitewashed house was devoid of any modern design or ancient practicality. The tall walls stood facing the west. The Atlantic lay beyond the field. The color blue matched the shreds of sky visible through the tattered clouds.

“You’ll be wanting to wear a few more sweaters in the house. It’s cold inside.” She joined my shiver. “I went to school here. The teacher lived in the upstairs. Some people say the house is haunted. What do they know. You have a good day now?”

“Thanks.”

“You need a ride, call me. The name’s Peg.”

“I will.” I watched, as she drove away in the direction of Clifden, then turned to examine my home for the next three months.

The old schoolhouse was not a mansion. Part of the roof was in need of repair. A neglected graveyard lay in the bog separating the schoolhouse and the burnt church. The wan sun slipped into a cloud bank and the rain beat on the hard dirt. I ran inside the house. Peg had been right, It was colder within the old schoolhouse than outside.

The simple decor of sitting room reflected its use as a summer house and the well-used furniture have been rummaged from the local dump. I lifted the phone. There was a connection. I blew in my hands and bent over to pile peat in the small fireplace. The prehistoric carbon lit fast and generated a soft heat, although smoke was curling into the room. Something was wrong with the flue. The old schoolhouse was no mansion. A nearly empty bottle of whiskey was on the desk.

The view out the window was bleak. The wet grass gave way to savage gorse. The sky was descending to the earth. No houses were in sight. Finding a woman here was going to be a challenge.

I poured two measures of Paddy into a fruit glass grimy with fingerprints. I downed the fiery antithesis of Jamison’s Malted Whiskey in one go. My body shook with displeasure.

“Cheap whiskey.”

I had a second glass and sat by the fire. The glow within matching the glow from the peat.

All and all the old schoolhouse wasn’t bad, because this was where my mother wanted me to be and wherever she was in the afterlife, she knew that I had obeyed the first part of her wish.

Getting to Ireland was easy.

Meeting a girl like my sisters or aunt was the hard part.

There was only one way to make it easy and I finished off the bottle. It went down a little smoother than before and I wouldn’t have expected anything different from the old schoolhouse.

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