Heaven On Earth

Entry by: Obergo

24th January 2018
John took the keys from the little bowl 0n the shelf under the till and walked towards the door to lock it. Catherine was moving between the tables with a pink cloth, giving them a last wipe.
“Can you stay for a drink, Catherine, before you head off to Achill?” John asked as he reached up to bolt the top lock. Catherine lived on an island 45 minutes drive from the pub.
It had been a big evening for them. A couple, Brian and Shauna who had grown up on Achill, gone off to college, fallen in love, and moved to Dublin, had come in for a drink.
They were all from Achill and goodwill had flowed between them all as delicately and surely as a nerve. Catherine had been careful to busy herself for little bursts as the couple told the story of falling in love and marriage. John on the other hand, who hadn't been back to Achill, other than for Christmas Day, for 23 years, had been unselfishly curious, the curves and heights of the happiness they described had seemed as inaccessible to him as Venus standing on a clam. He enjoyed the story, asking for gaps to be filled, and atmosphere to be explained in ways that kept the four of them locked into conversation for two hours, Catherine responding to Brian’s slight nod whenever he and Shauna were coming to the end of their glasses.
John made his way back across the bar and asked Catherine to stay for a drink again, adding, “It would just be nice.”
Catherine threw the cloth in the sink and said yes.
John smiled as he turned to the big Jameson dispenser on the wall, and poured himself a generous helping. Catherine filled a glass of wine from the end of the bottle Shauna had been drinking, and bent down to throw it in the recycling box.
John noticed suddenly how small Catherine’s frame was as she straightened up. She always dressed well, John thought. She wore tight clothes, and now in her leather trousers, low cut top, and her efficient, self restrained movements, she looked lovely. There was something about Catherine which let her away with her clothes, she wore them in entirely different way to a woman in the city, or even from the TV. She just didn’t seem slutty, John thought, it came off as an act of generosity, like an aunt who remembers to warm the visitor’s bed with a hot water bottle.
And now at close to fifty like him, Catherine was a little frayed, which had the effect of softening men around her, their own instinct to harden sapped by something too recognisable, sapped by the evidence of the effort of survival. Her nose was always a little red around the nostrils, which gave her the appearance she was at the beginning or end of a cold.
“What did you make of those two then?” John said.
Catherine lifted the bar top and sat on the stool Brian had been on. John leant against the back of the bar.
Catherine had turned off the main lights as part of her last wipe routine so they sat under the warm glow of the few left on overhead. Outside, the street was quiet and the air was almost warm.
“They were lovely weren’t they John? So happy. And she was beautiful.” Catherine offered.
“I hope they drove carefully on the road out. He’d four pints in him,” John said.
“Ah yeh, sure he’ll be grand.”
They sat for a moment in silence, then Catherine began, “I’d love for my girls to go to college, I’ve been into the school to talk to about it – “
“You could have gone to college Catherine,” John interrupted.
“I had no idea back then John, as soon as I was out of school, I was helping in the shop and then marrying Seamus, and then having kids, and the mother, and the aunts, and I wouldn’t have had time for it anyway.”
“But do you ever feel trapped out there Catherine?” The words fell from John’s mouth.
“What sort of question is that John?” Catherine started wiping crumbs John couldn’t see from the surface in front of her.
“No, look, sorry Catherine, I mean look at me, I left, left my father high and dry, I haven’t gone to college and fallen in love, no one finishes my sentences, that clearly wasn’t my lot, but I suppose we are like three points on a line.” John said.
Catherine looked at John. He went on, “You stayed, I’m stuck in 45 minutes away in Westport, and that pair went off and started again.”
“Good for them,” Catherine said.
John folded his arms and looked at the floor. He was a little annoyed now that Catherine wouldn’t admit to whatever was keeping her busy when Brian and Shauna told the story.
“Catherine, do you love Seamus?” he said.
“What kind of question is that?” Catherine took a final swig on the glass of wine, and went around the bar to pour herself another one, leaving John’s question unanswered until she was sitting on Brian’s stool again.
“Of course I do,” she said.
“But I mean, what is that Catherine?” John said, looking her in the eye.
“We have two beautiful girls and a lovely house, and we don’t cheat on each other,” Catherine said.
“But I mean love, Catherine,” John could feel something stirring in him, “I mean to die of passion not boredom, not duty, or stillness, or popping in to see the mother in law, I mean the thing that keeps you up at night, that could mess everything up if you don’t respect it. Look, I don’t have it, I have something terrible, I am sat here on my own, but when those two sat here tonight I saw it and I do want it. And I know you noticed it, so talk to me, we have known each other since we were eleven.”
“Ah, John” Catherine was holding the stem of her glass.
“I don’t know, I think, Catherine, well, I’ll tell you what I think and you can tell me what you think. I think there is some truth in the notion that people who have lived close to each other, like on an island for generations, can actually lose the ability to love each other, or when there is no love around them, they become really good at just empty “living”, like sheep, Catherine. Maybe for the women, their hair styles become more tightly done, but always a version of the time when they had once felt alive, when they were about 22 or something.
“The number of people on that island that have just knelt to the business of their routine and left things beyond that unnamed, forgotten or distrusted -
“Men, like my father, leak out into their workshops, onto the land and into the bars. They are all together in their experiences, in the details of their routines, in the small variations of their routes from breakfast to lunch and lunch to dinner. And women, what do the women do? Drift into their homes, become carers and fixers. And this man and that women marry each other and both find a meaning in fulfilling the roles passed down to them by older generations and see them as fixed and essential as the seasons or the tides.
“And you know what Catherine? Then couples just forget about each other. And they get lonely. My dad loved my mum, I mean he loved her, I think the way Brian and Shauna were in love here tonight, then she died, and he just took on his role on the island and he was left with nothing. No other options. The man rotted. And he had started rotting into me.”
Catherine had been staring at the wall behind the bar, and swallowed quickly as a silence began.
“Ah pet, nothing rotted into you, you are a great man. At the end of the day, it is very hard when there is a death in the family like that, and you, only a baby at the time. God help us, your poor father probably just felt the weight of the world on him, and never really pulled himself together.”
“Yeh,” John said.
“And I don’t know, I don’t feel Seamus and I have forgotten about each other. I mean we still have a healthy life, you know, physically, I suppose.”
“Well that’s good,” John said.
The bar was quiet again. Outside the wind was still and the evening had relaxed into night with the quiet slip of the tide from the shores of the islands around the bay. Silent long legged flies had slipped through windows which had been accidentally left open, and somewhere across town a woman picked up a phone, buoyed by something in the air, to call an old friend and forgive herself.
“I mean, OK, a dream, if I could have a dream life, what would happen?” Catherine said, mainly to smooth over the fact that she had mentioned her sex life.
She pointed at the bottle of red wine beside John and he passed it over to her to top up.
“Dream John." She swallowed looked up and to the right. "Well. I suppose, I have this dream that the likes of Pierce Brosnan or Liam Neeson, might come to the island and fall madly in love with me. Actually, I have it intricately thought out,” Catherine placed both hands on the bar and leant over to John, speaking across the top of the wine glass.
John clung to his whisky, holding it close to his lips, as Catherine explained how it would all happen.
Finally he said, “Prince Charming, coming to sweep you off your feet Catherine O’Malley, I can perfectly understand that”.
Catherine laughed, “It keeps me going. It’s just nice to feel desired, you know, I suppose the rest of it is just detail.”
“Oh, I know, Catherine laughed, “It keeps me going. It’s just nice to feel desired, you know, I suppose the rest of it is just detail.”
John turned and filled his glass again with whisky.
“Or being a marine biologist,” Catherine suddenly said. “Another dream is that I am a marine biologist leading research into whales.”
John raised he eyebrows and pulled his chin back to question her.
“Really," Catherine said, "I absolutely love whales, dad used to fish for basking sharks in Keem and I guess, it was through that. I have seen some amazing documentaries. It's a whole other world, with a whole different set of rules., and the fact that it is all underwater. I love it."
John smiled and said, "I feel the same about the land, I suppose. Just knowing it is out there, the sheer beauty and chaos of it, it makes me feel ok. But it was just when I saw those two tonight Catherine, I was so curious about that love, it feels so far away from me. Like they knew each other and you could see they made love or whatever, but it was in their laugh.”
Catherine, now on her fourth glass of wine, was on a roll.
“John, I’ve never told anyone this before, but sometimes I dream about whales, but that I am a whale, moving in this enormous shoal, and I have a whale partner, who feels as if he is part of me, I read somewhere that whales have all these hyper sensitive ways of feeling, so they have a bigger emotional spectrum. Anyway I get this strange, like, erotic flicker about the whale, you know, because of the size of them?”
“Catherine, your fantasy is shagging a whale?” John was laughing.
"No, John, I am a whale too, you devil, it’s..” she was laughing too much to finish the sentence.
“I know,” said John finally, “it’s about feeling."