Home > My Life in Shambles(20)

My Life in Shambles(20)
Author: Karina Halle

“You’ll get used to it,” Padraig says quietly, leading me over to the living area.

“I heard that!” his grandmother calls out from the kitchen.

The living area is beyond cozy, with a roaring fire at one end, a plush couch, and two doily-accented armchairs. In the middle is an old wooden coffee table littered with brochures and a guestbook. Even if the next few days end up being crazy, at least I can say I stayed in a genuine Irish house in the country.

“Where’s me oul’ man?” he asks. He’s only home for a few minutes and already his accent is deepening.

“He’s in the cottage taking a nap,” she answers from around the corner. “You’ll see him later.”

We sit down on the couch and Padraig puts his arm around me, and I settle into him like it’s second nature, and for a moment there, I really believe this could be real. It feels real, being with him like this. Just easy and casual and protected by his big burly mass in this quaint, cozy home.

Then his grandmother comes out, putting her hands on her hips and stopping in the kitchen doorway, eyeing us. “Now, do ye want a mineral before yer tea?”

A mineral?

“Just tea is fine,” Padraig says.

“Ah, go way outta that. She looks tired. She needs a wee mineral. I’ll get some for ye both.”

She disappears, and I look at Padraig. “A what?”

“Old folk like to force feed it on ye,” he whispers in my ear, causing very inappropriate shivers to cascade down my back. “It’s just 7-Up.”

“Oh.” I never drink soft drinks. My mother never had them in the house growing up, and if I ever indulged she told me I’d just get fatter. Which, in hindsight, was probably a healthy thing to do, even if it didn’t come from a health-conscious place.

Still, when his grandmother delivers us two glasses of 7-Up and says she’s going back to “wet the tea,” I end up drinking half of it in one go. Guess I was thirsty, or perhaps just deprived of corn-syrupy goodness.

By the time she comes out with the pot of tea, I’ve finished the glass. She looks mildly impressed and says to Padraig, “Yea, see, yer wan needed a good mineral. She looks the picture of health already.”

I watch as she pours us tea, her hands remarkably steady. “Now, please, one of ye explain what’s going on here. Padraig, ye never mentioned a lass when we talked and now here she is. This is like hen’s teeth, you know it.”

“Well,” Padraig says, sitting up straighter. He takes his arm out from around my shoulder and puts his hand on my knee. “I have something to tell ye and I’m glad you’re sitting down. I figured I would wait for Dad to wake up…”

“That would take donkey’s years,” she says. “Now, what’s the story, I ain’t getting younger.”

Padraig gives me an anxious smile, squeezing my hand before turning to his grandmother. Here we go. “Valerie isn’t just my girlfriend, Nan. She’s my fiancé. We’re getting married.”

A big, heavy pause fills the air while his grandmother frowns, scrutinizing us. Finally she leans back in her chair and gives us a dismissive wave, looking the other way. “Oh, away with ye. Yer codding me, aren’t ye?”

Padraig laughs gently. “I’m serious. We’re engaged.”

She looks back at us, arms crossed and lips pursed. “I’m supposed to believe ye? Where’s her ring? Yer a real eeijit if you propose without a ring. Didn’t yer mother teach you better than that? I know she did because I raised her better than that.”

I’m not sure at first what Padraig is going to say, but from the way he’s not looking at me, I have an idea.

“I don’t have a ring because I wanted to ask Dad if I could use Mam’s. I think it would mean a lot to him, and to Mam, if I could give that ring to Valerie. Let the ring live on. Do ye know what I mean like?”

I keep the smile plastered on my face though I don’t feel good about it at all. I know Padraig is coming from a good place, albeit a desperate one, and I am not one to judge what someone does to appease their family, because, believe me, I’m no angel in that department. But it does feel like he’s not taking the implications seriously.

However, it does seem to work on his grandmother because her features soften. “Merciful Jesus in heaven, yer serious.”

He nods, his grip on my knee tighter. “We’re very much in love and that ring would do us a great honor.”

Ouch. The very much in love part. Who knew I would feel something from that?

She stares at him some more, then at me. Finally she says, “Yer father might just have a heart attack when he wakes up to this news.”

“But he’ll be happy, yea?” he asks, his tone anxious. This is all he’s wanted, the whole reason for doing this.

There’s a twinkle in her eye as she sips her tea. “We’ll have to wait and see, won’t we?”



I wasn’t shocked that my nan didn’t believe me at first. After all, the only times my family has seen me with a girl was when someone I was briefly hooking up with was photographed in the tabloids. Announcing that I suddenly have a fiancé is, as my nan’s colorful words put it, as rare as hen’s teeth.

But she did believe it, especially as I gave the story about the ring. Which, I didn’t at all feel bad about until Valerie practically berated me in the car earlier for even suggesting it.

I know why she thought it wasn’t a wise idea. The last thing I want is for it to seem like I’m spitting on my mam’s grave, but the truth is, it would mean something to my dad. As long as he never finds out the truth, then he can die knowing I found true love and that this love pays tribute to the love between my parents.

When it comes to jinxing or cursing future love for me though, I’m not worried. Maybe it seems like crying wolf to Valerie, but I was honest with her when I said I wouldn’t be getting married to anyone. A fake engagement is enough, even though sometimes when I look at Valerie I’m hit with this feeling, deep in the seat of me, that what we have could become something more under different circumstances.

But these circumstances are what we have and she doesn’t know everything. She doesn’t know what I’m really going through and hopefully she doesn’t ever have to know. Hopefully my father won’t either.

When we’re done with our tea and my nan has warmed up to the idea that Valerie is my fiancé, she gives her a quick tour of the place and I grab our luggage from the car. She puts Valerie in the biggest bedroom upstairs, with the best view over the back gardens, cottage, mews, field, and forest. No surprise, she puts me downstairs beside Major’s bedroom.

“Well, hello young fella,” Major says as he steps out of his room and sees the three of us in the hallway. “Didn’t know you’d be by. It’s been a while.”

“And he’s staying a while this time, aren’t ye boy?” Nan says, nudging me with her sharp elbows.

“What’s that?” The Major says loudly, gesturing to his ear.

“She said I’m staying a while,” I say, raising my voice.


“I’m staying a while!”

See, the Major got his name because he was a major in the army back in the day and is always sharply dressed in a suit, like he is now, even though he doesn’t go anywhere except the pub. But unlike the character in Fawlty Towers, he’s not senile, just hard of hearing, and he refuses to wear a hearing aid.

“Ah,” he says with a nod. He claps his hands together and smiles. “Good.”

We make quick, albeit loud, introductions to Valerie, then my nan takes her around the property, to the archery set-up in the walled garden and the falconry mews (an owl is the B&B’s logo, and it’s what we’re most known for).

Meanwhile, it’s time for me to say hello to my father.

I take in a deep breath and head over to the stone cottage, which is where I actually grew up.

I open the door and step inside and am hit with a wave of nostalgia. The smell of the stone in winter, the wood burning on the fire, the dust of the thick rugs and woolen throws. It’s been a few years since I’ve been back and yet I’m instantly transported back to when I was a child.

There’s two bedrooms, the toilet, the small kitchen, the dining room with the same round table, the living area, and just off of that, a tiny alcove lined with books where my mother would spend her time reading and writing poetry.

It hurts, as it often does when I come here.

The loss of her.

Such a fucking loss.

I was sixteen when it happened and I’ve never been the same since. There is a part of me that’s deeper than my heart and my soul where she resided, a part missing that I’ll never get back. It’s the infinite space that a mother takes up that becomes a black hole when she’s gone. After time, it stops spreading, it stops eating the stars within you, but it’s still there. Just this black, hungry pit that makes you ache to your bones with loss.

I imagine my father feels the same. He was never the same after, either, and our relationship collapsed under the weight of our shared grief. We turned on each other and away from each other.

I stare at that chair in the alcove, picturing her with her reading glasses on, the lamp illuminating her notebook, scribbling away with her tongue half out of her mouth in concentration. When she wrote her poems she was consumed. My nan framed several of them and hung them up all over the B&B, so proud.

I close my eyes and think, please understand what I’m about to do and why I have to lie.

I open my eyes when my hand starts to shake, feeling numb. I make a fist, refusing to let this ailment become my focus, and turn toward my parents’ bedroom. I can’t ever stop thinking it in plural.

The door is already open a crack so I slowly push it open.

The room smells sterile and sharp.

My father is lying in bed and sleeping, only a thin sheet over him, covers piled at his feet.

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