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Wild Geese

by Carole Bellacera

It is the beginning of Jessica's second week in Dublin when she meets the tragic artist in St. Stephen's Green and falls in love for the first time in her life.  No matter that she is almost eight years older, with a husband back in the states and two teenage children.  He smiles at her and she is lost.

He watches her studying his painting of a Belfast street scene.  It is a melancholy oil of young boys throwing stones at a British armored car.  The smile he gives her is quizzical and laced with sadness.  His dark hair falls onto his high forehead in a boyish tumble, an invitation to a woman's hand.  His face is young but his dark eyes are ancient, as though he has seen many terrible things.  "What do you think?"  His voice is soft; it is not a Dublin accent.

His question fills her with despair, but she can't tell him that.  "Are you from Belfast?"  she asks instead.

He shakes his head.  "Not anymore.  I've lived here for the last year.  And you're from America?"

"Yes."

Others are passing by, but no one stops to look at the paintings he is selling.  Instead, they turn away from the bitter-sad eyes of the Belfast boys and walk on.

"Ostriches,"  he tells her.  "The people in the South think if they ignore the Troubles, they'll go away."  Then, changing the subject, he asks about her.

They talk, learning about each other.  He discovers she is in Ireland doing research for a novel she wants to write.  It is a childhood dream.  Writing a book.  It has taken her forty years, but she knows, this time she will do it.

His name is Liam.  He tells her he was a political prisoner at Long Kesh in Northern Ireland for twelve years.  Since he was nineteen.  He doesn't tell her what he was in for and she doesn't ask.

"I didn't kill anyone,"  he says.  It was at Long Kesh where he indulged in his life-long desire to paint.  Prison corrected him, he tells her, in the sense that he no longer participates in illegal activities against the British crown.  Yet, his nationalist sentiments are evident in his art.  A sardonic smile punctuates his statement,  "This is the way I fight back now.  So far, it isn't illegal."

A chill settles around them as the afternoon wans away.  Liam packs his paintings into a beat-up Audi and they walk down Grafton Street to a dark cafe.  He orders tea.  Jessica has coffee.

This is research, she tells herself, gazing into his dynamic brown eyes as he describes his childhood in Belfast.  The bonfires, the explosions and sporadic gunfire.  The marches of the Orangemen on July 12th that fuel the sectarian hatred.  The raids on the Catholic neighborhoods by the RUC.  The clanging of the trash bin lids as the mothers and children warn the men of the impending raids.  The rubber bullet that killed his fiancee just a few weeks before their wedding.  She wants to gather him into her arms, wipe the pain from his face.  Mother him, love him.

Make love to him.

 Shocked at her thoughts, and feeling his intent eyes upon her, eyes that can see into her mind, she looks away.  She forces herself to remember who she is.  Jessica Langston, happily married wife of Dan, mother of Karen and Danny.  A steady, hard-working woman who has given twenty-three years to her family.  A woman who has sacrificed her own desires to be the wife and mother she is supposed to be.  Now, for the first time in her life, she is doing something for herself.  The trip to Ireland.  The book she is going to write.  And Liam?

"I've never been unfaithful to my husband,"  she says when he stops talking.

He nods as if that hadn't been an unusual thing to say.  In his soft musical accent, he says,  "Would you come to my flat?"

He takes her hand.  They leave the cafe.  They don't talk as they walk through St. Stephen's Green.  Shivering, Jessica hunches in her sweater.   He takes her hand and tucks it into his jacket pocket.  She likes it there.  It feels right.  Birdsong filters through the early evening stillness, and somewhere in the park, a child calls out to another.  They pass through the gates of the park and reach his Audi.

"It isn't far,"  he says, starting the engine.  "Just a bit down Baggot Street."

"That's good,"  Jessica sits quietly, her hands folded in her lap.  She won't allow herself to think now.

Although it is after seven, the summer sunlight streams through the windows of his room in the boarding house.  Liam closes the shades and takes her into his arms.  They are both trembling.

His kiss wounds her, and at the same time, is balm to her wound.  Her body blisters at his touch and is healed.  She weeps in his arms when their loving is over, even though it isn't really over, will never be over.  She doesn't know if she weeps because of her infidelity or because what she'd just shared with Liam can never be anything but temporary.  He holds her and tells her of his dreams to see Ireland reunited by peaceful means.  As an American, she is still learning about the Irish problem; she doesn't really understand it, but she loves his intensity and passion.

She tells him how an alcoholic mother drove her to seek solace in the backseat of Dan's car in high school, how that had resulted in an unwanted pregnancy and marriage.  Karen had been the unwanted baby, but by the time she was born, she was no longer unwanted.  The marriage had been good, too, even if it lacked the romance she'd always dreamed of as she'd written her stories in high school.  Now, with Liam, she is living the romance.  How can she not love him for that?

Her last two weeks in Dublin speed by.  Liam takes her to The Garden of Remembrance, a monument to the patriots who'd died for Ireland.

"The wild geese,"  he says, staring up at the statue of the geese poised for flight and the dying Irishmen beneath their wings.  "They symbolize all the people who emigrated from Ireland...the ones who were deported.  The others who left to escape the famine."

Pain is etched on his face, as if he knows personally of the suffering.  Jessica's hand tightens on his.

The day before her departure, he takes her to Kilmainham Gaol.  "The fifteen leaders of the 1916 Uprising were executed here."  They are standing in the gaol chapel.  "Joseph Plunkett and the woman he loved were married right here just hours before they took him away to be executed."

His voice is so sad, it brings tears to Jessica's eyes.  He turns to her; his face is thin with yearning.  "Don't go back, Jessie."

She brushes the dark lock of hair from his forehead.  "I have to go home."

He is silent.  When he takes her back to the hotel, he kisses her lips tenderly, and for a moment, it is like the first time.  But he releases her and turns to go.  She watches as he walks down the sidewalk and turns the corner.

He isn't at St. Stephen's Green the next morning.  When Jessica arrives at his boarding house to say goodbye, the landlady tells her he checked out an hour before.  No forwarding address.

As the Aer Lingus 747 takes off from Dublin Airport, Jessica gazes down at the emerald fields crisscrossed by stone fences.  Sheep graze peacefully on the landscape in a pastoral scene that is somehow surreal through Jessica's tears.  Far below, the wings of birds in flight flicker in the pale sunlight, painting a smudged shadow upon the green hills and valleys.

It is too far away to tell if they are wild geese.

 


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