Hilary and Dennis could see the coast of Ireland ahead. Hilary was looking forward to a relaxing fortnight staying with friends. Everyone at work had groaned and told her to be prepared for plenty of rain, but with her fair skin Hilary found holidays of sun, sea and sand a bit boring as she always ended up reading under the beach umbrella fully clothed while everyone else ran around half naked looking tanned and terrific.
Shortly after the ferry docked they went below to rejoin their car.
“Keith says it isn’t far to their place,” said Dennis, relieved that he had safely negotiated the ramp.
“Quite a way according to this map,” said Hilary with a frown. “And it’s getting dark already.”
Keith had worked with Dennis in London before he and his wife returned to their native habitat a couple of years previously. Hilary had met them at a couple of parties and found them pleasant enough, but she was surprised that they had been invited to stay. Of course Dennis had jumped at the chance of avoiding the expense of accommodation. They had always fancied seeing something of the Emerald Isle, but anything further than Margate had seemed too much like hard work while the children were small. But now Ian, their youngest, was nineteen and home from university for the summer. He’d got himself a holiday job locally and was only too glad to house-sit for them.
“No wild parties, mind,” Hilary had instructed. But Ian was a quiet, studious lad, and Hilary felt at ease leaving him in charge.
It was nearly ten o’clock when they reached the outskirts of their friends’ village.
“Drive into the village,” said Hilary, reading from Keith’s instructions. “Go round the memorial and head back out the way you came in. On the left after the yellow house take the first lane.”
“Sounds a bit Irish to me, but I suppose we’d better do as we’re told,” said Dennis. “That must be the memorial up ahead.”
After a mile or so of winding, narrow lane they saw lights up ahead. Sure enough, it was a house.
“I suppose this must be it,” said Hilary.
At that moment the front door burst open and three little dogs ran out. Hilary could see the silhouette of a woman in the doorway, and to her relief it was Kathleen.
“Come in, come in!” she cried as Dennis and Hilary made their way up the path, struggling with their bags and trying not to step on the little dogs as they yapped and bounded around their ankles. “You’ll be wanting a cup of tea and something to eat, I expect. Now I’ve made a pile of sandwiches, or I could run you up an omelette …”
“Just let them get in the door first, woman,” said Keith. “Good to see you both!” he added, pumping both their outstretched hands. “Was it an easy crossing?”
They didn’t get a chance to answer, as Kathleen bustled them upstairs to show them their room.
“Follow me, I’m right behind you,” she chortled.
It was a good half hour before they managed to get back downstairs. Hilary could feel her stomach rumbling and wished they’d stopped on the way for something to eat. But Kathleen insisted on a detailed explanation of how everything worked and where they could find whatever they might need in both the spare bedroom and the bathroom.
It was nearly eleven by the time they settled in the front room with tea, sandwiches and cake.
“My indigestion is going to play merry hell eating this late,” muttered Dennis while Kathleen was making more tea. “I hope you brought my tablets.”
Kathleen and Keith had one daughter, a late arrival who was just eleven years old. She was in bed, but Kathleen showed them several photo albums detailing young Bernadette’s achievements. Hilary had to pinch herself to stay awake. Finally, after refusing yet more tea, they made their way up to bed. It was to prove a restless night as each had to make a couple of visits to the bathroom. Too many cups of tea late at night was never a good idea.
Hilary felt rather groggy when she made her way downstairs to the kitchen the following morning. But Kathleen was already there at the stove, her large frame wrapped in a pristine apron.
“Top of the morning to ye, Hilary!” she crowed. “I’ve a full Irish breakfast on the go. Now I meant to explain, the reason Keith told you to come into the village and go back out is because it’s difficult to see our lane coming in on the Limerick road. So we always tell people to go round the memorial and come back out. The yellow house is a good landmark, but on the inward journey by the time you see it it’s too late. Still, next time round you’re bound to find the lane all right. Help yourself to tea from the pot, or I can make you coffee if you’d prefer. Ah, Dennis! Trust you slept well. Here’s a nice big breakfast for you. Now I’ve got red sauce and brown sauce and there’s some mustard in here somewhere ….” Kathleen heaved her bulk up onto a chair and rummaged in a cupboard.
“Where’s Keith?” enquired Dennis.
“Ah, he’s taken the little doggies for a nice long walk. Up over the hill past the dairy, down past McGonigle’s, and back into the village from the other direction. You may like to go with him sometime, there’s a grand view from the top of the hill, so there is. You can see almost all the way to the coast. He’s had his breakfast already, but he’ll be back soon. You must have been tired from your journey, I’m surprised the doggies didn’t wake you earlier with their barking. And here’s your breakfast, Hilary.”
Hilary’s eyes nearly popped from their sockets at the mountain of food on the plate in front of her. She did her best, but had to admit defeat less than half way through.
“I normally only have a slice of toast or a yogurt,” she confessed.
“Ah, not to worry. The doggies will finish it off for you. They like a nice bit of sausage. These come from the butcher’s in the village, made from local pigs. We get lovely meat here, much nicer than that stuff in the supermarkets in London …”
Hilary poured herself another cup of tea. She could see it’d be a while before they’d be leaving the table. Kathleen hardly seemed to draw breath.
Young Bernadette appeared mid-morning. She’d been down to the library for some books. She was a quiet girl, certainly nothing like her mother.
That night Hilary and Dennis were late to bed again after a guided tour of six albums of Kathleen and Keith’s relations. Hilary’s head was spinning.
“I don’t think my ears will survive two weeks of this,” she whispered, slipping into her nightdress.
Dennis shook his head in despair. “Mine neither. And my stomach isn’t keen on all this rich food.
Kathleen was always gregarious, but I suppose being isolated out here has made her desperate for someone to talk to. Keith’s out at work all day, and of course Bernadette goes to school. Kathleen doesn’t drive, and I don’t suppose the buses run very often.”
“I think we’re going to have to invent a family emergency,” said Hilary with a sigh.
The following morning, being Monday, Dennis had already departed for work. Bernadette was nowhere to be seen. Hilary managed to get away with two rounds of toast for breakfast, but Kathleen insisted on feeding Dennis another massive plateful. Hilary found it difficult to keep a straight face, as Dennis whistled the popular Chas and Dave song entitled ‘Rabbit’, which could have been written for Kathleen and her incessant prattle.
Later that morning when Kathleen was making tea, Hilary sneakily rang Dennis’s mobile phone and he loudly conducted one side of a mock conversation. When Kathleen returned to the room they announced regretfully that they were going to have to cut their holiday short due to a plumbing problem at home.
“It’s not something we can expect Ian to deal with. For a start, he doesn’t have enough money to pay the plumber.”
An hour or so later they drove away, leaving the forlorn figure of Kathleen waving farewell from her doorstep. They’d promised to call in at Keith’s place of work and make their excuses.
“I feel awful, Dennis. Just look at her there!” said Hilary, waving back. “She must be really lonely.”
“She’ll get over it,” he said tersely, tipping their hostess a cheery salute. “Now we’ve got twelve days left to fill. How about we start with the Wicklow mountains? I’ve read about a lovely hotel over that way, and after our experience I don’t mind spending some money for a bit of peace.”
“Sounds lovely, dear,” said Hilary with a smile. She wouldn’t have minded a few days of retreat with a silent order of nuns, but a luxury hotel sounded even better.
By Karenne Griffin
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015