Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Sea and the Silence - Peter Cunningham



Where I had grown up, in the Meath countryside more than an hour’s drive from Dublin, all our shopping had been done in the store of the nearby village. The Shaws, on the other hand, never shopped in Sibrille, but bought everything in Monument. Once a week, Ronnie drove me to town, where I handed in my grocery order at the counter of Wise’s, the grocers, and then made my way up into the teeming section known as Balaklava where at the tiny, fly-blown premises of Shortcourse, the butchers, I ordered our meat.

In those first months, being in Monument pierced me, but, in time, she became as I had thought of her on my very first visit: a port that was more Mediterranean than Irish, not just because of the sense of relative plenty in an Ireland that was striving to survive on war rations, nor because of the exotic faces one encountered when ships were in, but because Monument herself, in her architecture of terraces and arched doorways, her labyrinthine streets, lanes, courtyards and back steps and her almost Moorish churches discovered behind an ancient palisade or beyond a rusting portcullis might well have been forged in a distant land and floated in one foggy morning from the sea.

I made my way with Hector in by the never-locked backdoor of our lighthouse and climbed the curving stone steps. The child looked up at me and smiled in such a recognizable way that, for a moment, I was swept away on a flash flood of memory. Later, in the middle floor with its cheery fireplace, I sat with Hector on my knee and beheld the panorama laid out below. In Sibrille, we saw the sun down all the way to the sea horizon, and everyday the point at which it plunged moved so that I could measure off its progress on the windows of the lantern bay. The sea lay flat when the wind was off the land, as it was that day, allowing a glazed path of red to run all the way from the sun to the lighthouse. I felt tired much of the time, which was not at all unusual, I had been told, in the year that followed one’s first baby. I slept a lot and often when Ronnie was late, he spent the night downstairs on the big sofa so as not to wake me.

As we watched the sunset, I heard a car drive down the causeway. It was a long, sleek maroon car with enormous brass headlamps, I saw as I looked out. It pulled in before the house and Ronnie got out and straightened his hair with his hands and put his cap on. Because of the sun’s reflection on the car’s windscreen, I could not see the driver. Ronnie stooped forward, saying goodbye. I saw a woman’s hand reach out, a thick, gold band at its wrist. Ronnie held the tips of the fingers briefly, then as the hand disappeared, he straightened up and turned around and looked directly up at me.

We lived, in the main, independently of his parents, and, each evening, I prepared a meal and set a table in the lantern bay and we both sat down after gin and had dinner together.

‘How is my family?’ he asked, throwing his cap on a chair. He leaned to kiss me, then Hector.

‘We’re well, thank you.’

I watched as he poured us drinks, his steady hand, the long, reassuring curve of his back in its tweed jacket. There was no tonic to be had then, so we took our gin with water and a tiny drop from an old jar of bitters.

‘Cheers.’ He clinked his glass to mine and looked at me warmly across the rim of it as he drank. ‘You look lovely.’

‘What did you do today?’ I enquired.

‘The usual. Pottered here and there. Chased up a few contacts that may shortly have land for sale. Looked at a young horse in Eillne.’

‘I see.’

‘Reggie Blood’s. Good strong gelding, just broken. Popped a pole on him.’


‘Asked Reggie to have him dropped over.’

We sat, a pitcher of cold water between us. As he ate, Ronnie mewed with pleasure.

‘You know, when I told someone, can’t remember who, that you cook this, they didn’t believe me. They said, “Monkfish? You must be mad!”’

‘Mr Wise told me about it.’

‘I’ve seen the locals throw away barrels of them on the slip. Think they’re so ugly they shouldn’t be eaten,’ Ronnie said and grinned.

‘Goes to show that you should never judge by appearances.’

He looked up at me sharply, then resumed his meal.

‘Where’s your car?’ I asked.


‘Your car.’

‘Oh, in Monument.’

We brought down the things to the kitchen. I put the kettle on the range and husbanded a quarter spoon of precious tea into the pot.


‘Beg your pardon?’

‘Why did you leave your car in Monument?’

‘Oh, I see. Got a lift out, thought it might help the ration book.’

‘From whom?’

‘A client, or should I say, fingers crossed.’

‘Her car was big enough.’

‘Was it?’

‘Enormous, I would have said.’

‘American, so I expect it was.’

We heaped the plates and dishes in a pile beside the sink. Ronnie looked at his watch. ‘Fancy a turn out the rock?’

‘Who is she?’

‘Oh, just someone who wants to hunt and all that. The usual. Looking for a place.’

‘And have you got one for her?’

‘Showed her a few, yes.’


‘Never asked, although she’s called Mrs, so I expect she must be. Now. How about it?’ he asked, putting his cap on.

‘I don’t think so, thank you.’



Ronnie’s eyes bulged. ‘Iz..?’ His mouth had dropped open. ‘Are you… you’re not… you don’t think…’

I turned away.

‘Oh, God,’ Ronnie said. ‘I mean, she’s just a client. She’s nothing. You don’t think..?’

My tiredness suddenly gained the upper hand. ‘Of course, I don’t,’ I said and sat down.

Ronnie lurched to his knees beside me and caught my hands. ‘You are so beautiful, I would die,’ he said.

I felt my tears rise.

‘Each time I see another woman I think how lucky I am to have you,’ he said. ‘If I thought that anyone might come between us, I’d sooner jump into the sea.’


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Genre –  Historical Fiction/Historical Romance

Rating – G

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