He’d watched from the kitchen window as the disembarking passengers made their way from the pier, some of the day-trippers stopping to hear the prices the jarveys were offering, most of the islanders sitting into waiting cars. It didn’t take him long to spot them – the couple coming past the hotel now, following the directions he’d given over the phone. They were older than he’d imagined: mid- to late fifties, probably. He’d told them to come as soon as they’d got off the boat. We won’t be too early for you? the man had enquired. You will not, he’d told him. It was almost eleven o’clock, but he’d been up since dawn, as usual.

He drew his thumb along his left cheek. He hadn’t shaved in days, but it was too late now; he’d have to do. And if they smelt drink off him, it was none of their business, anyway. They’d as good as invited themselves.

But no point being ignorant; he would offer them tea. He’d cleared a spot on the table for the two cups and saucers and the matching plates, the last of the good set with the rose pattern on them. On a separate plate, he’d spread out some digestive biscuits and Bourbon creams from the Spar. Good enough for them. He’d left his own mug over by the range, far enough away that they wouldn’t be able to see into it or get a whiff of what was inside.

Michael the man had said his name was when he rang to arrange the visit. He’d rung the hotel first and they’d passed on the number. The bold Mi- chael hadn’t given much away over the phone. He’d said something about how his late uncle, the priest, had been fierce fond of the island and the people of the island. He was cute enough and only mentioned the other business in passing – how he’d heard so much about it over the years and wouldn’t mind having a look.

Michael had taken off his jacket and now he walked with it slung over a shoulder. He was a farmer, all right; you’d know by the go of him – feeling and looking awkward being idle on the glorious day that was in it.

The woman stopped and took a drink from a bottle of water. She turned to look down at the bay, then called to her husband up ahead and they both stood for a few moments, admiring the view of the glittering emerald sea and the pale grey and blue mainland beyond. With a view like that, people thought you must have money. That was how their minds worked nowa- days. It all came down to pounds, shillings and pence. Well, by golly, this pair was in for a shock.

Now, they were seated at the table. The woman – Eithne was her name – had nibbled on a digestive. But Michael had eaten a good few of the bis- cuits and downed the tea. She was a nurse in Roscommon; he’d been in and out of hospitals enough to know the kind she was. He’d taken against her from the start because the first thing she’d done when she’d come in was go over to the window above the sink and look out and declare that if she were living here she’d knock out that wall and put in those French windows. The view, she said, was only fabulous.

They’d each had a good look around the room by now, in the country way, and would have taken in the piles of old newspapers, the bits and scraps from the shop and pub long ago, the cardboard boxes full of God knows what. Take me as you find me: that had always been his motto, and he was hardly going to change now.

They’d brought a box of After Eights – always a sign of meanness, he’d learnt over the years. He’d ignored it when she’d put the box down on the table, just to let them know it was nothing to get excited about. He might be able to pass it onto someone again, come Christmastime.

After the usual chat about the weather and the time it had taken them to get to the island, Michael said, ‘Well, you know what’s brought us.’

‘You said on the phone.’  page97image14048

‘We just thought we’d have a look,’ Eithne said.
‘You’ve come far enough, anyway,’ he said.
‘Well, it was worth it for the view, if nothing else,’ she said, smiling.

‘Hold on a minute, so, and I’ll get it’, he said and he got up and went over and opened the door and went into the room, closing the door behind him. This had always been the good room, but over the years the cardboard boxes and tea chests, and the piles of clothes had taken over; the light from the Sacred Heart lamp had got dimmer and dimmer beneath its coating of dust. He made his way to the sideboard, opened the centre door and took out the cardboard box. He’d only been in last night, checking it was still where he’d thought it was. He could hear the two talking in low voices in the kitchen. He’d left the stick in the bedroom – he didn’t want them think- ing he was a cripple – and he had to steady himself against the jamb before he opened the door again.

They stopped talking as soon as he stepped back into the kitchen and turned and watched him carry the box towards the table. Michael cleared some of the dishes away to make space.

‘Hunky Dorys,’ Eithne said, referring to the writing on the box, ‘I remem- ber those from years ago.’

They’d still had the pub at the time. Hunky Dorys, Tayto and peanuts were all they’d sold in the line of food.

He pulled up the two flaps of cardboard and lifted it out, still wrapped in pages from The Connaught Tribune from October, 1981. That was the month he’d gone to Dublin to collect the few possessions after Martin’s funeral. Nobody else to claim them. Not a sign of her ladyship. Fifty-two, Martin had been – twelve years after he’d left the priesthood. Would he have lived any longer if he’d stuck it out?

The landlord had been in an awful hurry to clear the place and he’d almost missed the tartan holdall. That was where he’d found it later – wrapped in a towel at the bottom of the tartan holdall. He’d thrown the whole lot into a suitcase and taken it back down on the train and out on the boat. Most of the stuff was useless, only fit for burning or dumping, but he’d stuck it in the box and hid it in the scioból, in case the mother might see it. (Lord help us, but she was bad enough as it was.) You’d think Martin would have had the decency to wait until she was gone, at least.

Now, Michael reached out and lifted it off the table. ‘Gosh, it’s heavier than you’d think.’ He turned it around slowly. It was badly tarnished, no doubt about it. ‘Imagine that,’ Michael said, his voice quiet.

‘Oh, isn’t it beautiful,’ Eithne said.
The two seemed genuinely taken with it.

Michael tilted it and ran a finger along the inside. ‘You could nearly smell the wine,’ he said.

‘Hardly, now,’ Eithne said. ‘Here,’ she said, reaching out to take it.

‘It would have cost a fair few bob in its day,’ Michael said.

‘You can bet,’ Eithne said. ‘Look at all the detail along the rim and the base.’

‘The workmanship is tremendous,’ Michael said.

‘You said it,’ Eithne said. She put it back down on the table. ‘Well, there you have it,’ she said.

He said nothing, waiting to see when they would show their cards.

‘I’ve heard tell of it over the years,’ Michael said. ‘From the parents, and from Father Kevin himself. But, look it, they’re all dead now, God rest them. Every last one of them.’

‘That’s the way,’ Eithne said.

Father Kevin: that was the bastard’s name. It was Father Kevin who’d come to the island that summer long ago, looking to improve his Irish. He’d stayed in their house, this very house, for a month or so. The mother thought it was great, having a priest under the roof. The meals he got! He’d taken a shine to Martin – not in that way, mind – and somehow had got it into his head that Martin had the makings of a priest.

Martin had always been the delicate one and the mother had fretted over him and how he would make out on the island. The sean lead didn’t take much persuading. It was clear from early on that he never saw Martin – though he was the elder – running the shop and the pub. And what else was there for him to do on the island. ‘We’ll make a man of him,’ he’d over- heard the bould Father Kevin saying to the sean lead. And indeed they did!

The killing thing was, it was he, not Martin, the teachers in the National School had always singled out for his Irish and English essays. He was the one getting the top marks in Maths and History. But he was too busy that summer to be sucking up to the priest; he’d been off out in the boat with Peadar Jimmy most of the time, fishing for lobster and crab. Next thing he knew, Martin had the cardboard suitcase packed and was heading off to the boarding school down the country.

One thing for sure, Martin wouldn’t have drunk the place into the ground. And he wouldn’t have sold the licence to Aldi in Galway in the end, either.

‘Awful sad, really,’ Michael said now, ‘the way things ended up.’

He said nothing in reply to this. But, maybe now, he thought, we might be getting somewhere. Eithne was looking towards the window, where the sky sat blue and plain, as if she had decided to stay out of things; or was biding her time, more likely.page100image13896 page100image14056

The silence seemed to make Michael uncomfortable, forcing him to speak again. ‘Not that you can blame anyone, I suppose,’ he said.

Well, he thought, for a start you could blame that bitch of a woman that lead Martin astray and then fucked off when he got sick. And that fucking uncle of yours. Now that he remembered it, wasn’t there a framed photo of the good Father Kevin somewhere in the house still. Wherever the hell it was. They could take that away with them free, gratis and for nothing. Now that would be a good one!

‘When Father Kevin presented your brother with the chalice there on his ordination,’ Michael continued, ‘I suppose nobody could imagine what happened would happen.’

(He’d be a good man in Macra, no doubt about it; well able to talk shite all night.)

‘Why would they,’ Eithne said.
‘Father Kevin was fierce upset when he left,’ Michael said. ‘Stop!’

‘I suppose that’s only natural,’ Eithne said. She looked over. ‘I’m sure your family were upset too.’

He nodded. ‘They were,’ he said. (‘God has surely put a curse on this fam- ily,’ his mother had said when they finally told her. She had never got over it to the day she died.)

‘In them days, I suppose, it was unheard of,’ Michael said. ‘When you look at it, though, it took courage.’

‘It certainly couldn’t have been easy,’ Eithne said. ‘No way,’ Michael said. ‘To leave when he did.’

‘It was the sixties, wasn’t it?’ she said.

‘1969,’ Michael said. ‘A different Ireland.’

‘It sure was,’ she said.

They were silent then. From outside came the sound of seagulls shrieking.

‘Gosh, it’s so peaceful here,’ Eithne said.

Michael sighed.

In the distance now, they could hear the clip-clopping of horse’s hooves. ‘That must be one of those jarveys we saw,’ Eithne said.

Michael nodded. ‘Must be.’

Then, cute as you like, Eithne had taken the yoke out of her bag. ‘You won’t mind if I get a few photos, I’m sure,’ she said, and before he could say anything she was pointing it at the chalice.

Michael grinned over at him. ‘You can do anything with them phones they have these days,’ he said, seeming a bit embarrassed.

‘There,’ Eithne said, holding the yoke up to show Michael.

‘Grand,’ Michael said. ‘Perfect.’

She slipped it back into her bag. ‘I suppose we should go and have a look round the island, now that we’re here,’ she said. ‘It’s way too nice a day to be stuck in.’

‘That’s right,’ Michael said. ‘Let this man get on with things.’
The two of them stood up together. He got to his feet now, as well.page102image13736 page102image13896 page102image14056

‘Is there any place in particular you’d recommend us to see?’ Eithne said.

‘Ah, sure, we’ll see what’s to be seen,’ Michael said. ‘The boat isn’t until six, anyway.’

Eithne made a move towards the door, but Michael lingered behind. ‘All we’re asking is that you have a think about it,’ he said, glancing towards the chalice.

‘I suppose what Michael’s trying to say….,’ Eithne began.

‘I think he knows well what I’m saying,’ Michael said. ‘Come on.’

He followed them to the door.

‘Isn’t this just glorious,’ Eithne said, as she stepped outside.

‘Well, thanks for the tea, and everything,’ Michael said.

‘Not at all,’ he said.

‘Bye now,’ Eithne called, waving from the gate.

Michael stopped at the gate and pointed to the overgrown hedge laden with red flowers. ‘What’s this you call this again?’ he said.

‘Fuchsia,’ Michael said. ‘That’s what I was thinkin’.’
Eithne waved again from the road.
‘The best of luck,’ Michael called. ‘We’ll be in touch,’ and they were gone. He shut the door and went over to the range and took a gulp from the mug. He hadn’t sent them packing at all, he’d let them go. They’d slipped through his fingers. But they’d be back, more than likely. But they needn’t be expecting another céad míle fáilte. He’d make sure of that.

No doubt they’d have a story to tell when they got home. The old man liv- ing in squalor on the island. You should have seen the state of the place, he could imagine the woman saying. A sad case, your man would say.

He looked over at the chalice on the table. He had known Martin hadn’t been cut out to be a priest from the start. But Martin had been taken in by all the shite – the fancy boarding school, the colourful vestments, the pomp and ceremony.

If it had been him, not Martin, would things have been any different? Would he have stuck it out to the end? The women would have been a problem. He had seen it himself – some of them fussing over you, others leading you on in small ways. He’d often told himself he’d have had no problem getting a woman if only he’d had a collar round his neck.

There was worse. He might have gone the other way. He sometimes won- dered would he have been one of the ones you see on the television every so often. Men in their sixties and seventies, some in their eighties, even, with the hoods of their anoraks pulled tight or with scarves wrapped around their faces as they are led away from court. Could he honestly say he mightn’t have ended up like one of them?

He went over to the table and lifted up the chalice. It was the first time he’d ever really looked at it. He rubbed the silver hard with the cuff of his jacket, seeing if he could get a shine on it. He turned it upside down, studied the hallmark imprinted on the dull metal. It had to be worth a few bob. But, soon as he felt up to it, he would take it out and bury it in the ash pit. They could go to hell. He raised it up in front of his face, held it so the cold rim was touching his lips. He could get the taste of the wine, surely.

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