By Rebecca Demarest
We had already been driving around Ireland for a couple of days when we came across Kinvara. It is a tiny town—really just a fishing village—which is only on the map because Dungaire Castle broods over the bay. And because both the town and the castle were right next to the road, my mother, my friend Sarah, and I decided it was an opportune place to stop for lunch on our way from Galway to Limerick. It was the castle more than the bay that drew us to Kinvara as we had made it a point to stop at all the druidic ruins and castles on the map. I had even insisted on pulling over to take pictures of a ruined church in the middle of a cow pasture. I was slowly running out of film because I considered myself somewhat of an artist at this point in my life, capturing the decay of humanity with my mother’s old Minolta. In fact, I don’t think I had really seen any of the places we had stopped what with the lens constantly between me and the buildings, limiting my field of view.
We finally found a public parking lot by the bay and the tide was out, so far out in fact that it exposed the slimy bay floor. I insisted on slipping and sliding down the quay steps and out onto the rocks in order to get some low angles of the fishing boats and hookers actually resting on the rocks. Within moments, I was pinwheeling on the algae, but I kept my balance by some miracle and ended up staring at the ground where I saw a glint of gold among the seaweed stained rock. I picked it up, much to my mother’s dismay, and trotted back up to the top of the quay.
I let the camera bump against my chest as I trotted over to the car, rubbing at the gunk on the disk. It was round and I thought I could make out some detailed swirls where the tides hadn’t worn it entirely smooth. “Take a look at this!”
“It’s disgusting, there’s slime all over it.” My mother craned her head around for a better view as I tried to pry off a particularly clingy piece of seaweed. “Is it a coin?”
“It would seem so, but I can’t really tell yet. I’ll wash it off when we find someplace for food.” From what I could tell it wasn’t a Euro, but there was no indication as to how old it might actually be.
Sarah and mom led the way into town and found a pub for lunch, and I went straight to the bathroom to wash my hands and my new found treasure. As I came back out, the waitress was at our table, taking drink orders.
“Excuse me, do you know what this is?” I handed over the coin, which was worn nearly faceless, but still had the vague imprint of a harp and some sort of abstract design on the opposing side.
“O’ course! I’s an old two-penny, from afore the Euro. Here.”
She went over to the bar and drew down a small bowl, pulling a tarnished but legible version of the coin out from its useless brethren.
“’Ave this one, too. I’nt worth much now, ‘s it?”
After trying to trade a new Euro two-penny and being refused, I sat with both the coins on the table, turning them back and forth. I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed that the coin wasn’t some old mysterious artifact fallen from some old smuggler’s boat, but it was rather pretty in its own way and I pocketed it with vague ideas to turn it into a necklace later.
After feasting on sea-food chowder made from mussels and clams literally picked up off the empty bay floor, we exited the raw-beamed establishment to find a cat firmly ensconced on our car. And he was not moving.
The orange and white tabby lay high up on the bonnet, propped on the windscreen wipers and was very determinedly asleep. Not knowing this cat personally, none of us were willing to risk his claws and teeth to dislodge him so we could continue our drive-by tour of the green isle. Cajoling, prompting, and timid prodding had no effect other than to make him wiggle farther into the crack between the bonnet and the windscreen. I even tried rolling the old Irish two-penny across the hood in an effort to get him to play. Nothing.
“Ye have a bit o’ a problem, don’ ya?”
We all jumped at the sound of his voice. We had been so focused on the cat and trying to get him off of the car that the town had sort of faded behind us. We hadn’t even heard him coming, though his old-fashioned, hard heeled shoes should have given him away. He was ancient, but not the kind of ancient you expect to die of a heart attack in front of you. He was wrinkled, gnarled, and, standing straight as he was, he barely reached five feet, maybe four inches. He dug his thumbs under his brilliant green suspenders which held up his brilliant green, slightly too short trousers, exposing slouching tartan socks which matched the faded tartan shirt.
“Th’ kitty thear. He’s a bit o’ a sweet-hart, but a rascal no’ the less.” He strode over to the car and picked the cat up by the scruff of the neck. “Kit-Cat’s ’is name,” and he tossed the tabby towards the bay. Kit-Cat landed with a yowl five feet from the car and sat with a scowl towards the old man and promptly started to wash his hip. The old man dusted his hands, chuckling. His eyes sparkled with mischief as he turned conspiratorially to us. “Ye jus’ need t’ be firm with ‘em. Kine o’ like lasses, eh?”
He shook hands around the three of us, and when I grasped his palm, it was warm, sure, but surprisingly like tree bark. I looked down to see his fingers covered in calluses but not at all gnarled from arthritis, as one comes to expect when dealing with someone who appeared as old as he did. I looked back at his face and his eyes caught and held me. They were an incredible shade of green, one that I had only found on this little island. It is the kind of green that doesn’t come out in dyes or paints, it doesn’t hold in pictures or paintings. This shade of green is so alive that it shames the rest of creation.
He let go of my hand and I stumbled a step backwards, slightly bewildered by the contact. His thumbs slipped back into his suspenders and he rocked back onto his heels. “So, ye lasses be stay’n long, then?”
“Ah, well, no actually,” my mother flustered. “We just stopped to take a look at the castle and had lunch in the pub over there. Great food.”
“Yeah, they’re chowder was A-MAZING and I just can’t get enough of the soda bread!” added Sarah.
“Well, three pretty lasses such as ye’selves should fine a goo’ lad hereabou’ wit a fine piece o’ land and settle don! Ye’d be a nice little improvement to the scenery, ye sisters would.”
The three of us tittered and fumbled over an answer. We’d been getting the sister thing a lot on the island, but for some reason, from him, it made us blush.
“Well, we aren’t sisters.”
“No, no, I’m her mom, and this is her friend!”
“Noh, you be lyin’ ta me! Ye three be sisters, non a day t’over twenty, non a day! Well, I stan’ by wit I said. Ye find a man wit some land and settle don ou’ here. Much bettah than tho’ musky, dirty cities. Irish land, tha’s where ye’d be happy, lasses.” He gazed pridefully over the heather and gorse stretching up into the hills over Kinvara. “Ye ne’er know wha’ll find ye on Irish land.”
We turned to look up at the land which supposedly held the key to happiness, and indeed, we felt a surreal sense of calm emanating from those hills. I opened my mouth and turned back to him to ask a question about the name of the town, but he was gone. At some point during our contemplation he had left us.
My mother and Sarah turned back as well and we stood there staring at the spot of pavement that had previously been occupied by a very curiously attired, small, old man. Now, most of the time when a writer says that someone stood open-mouthed, it’s metaphorical, but I mean it literally. We all wanted to say something, but none were actually willing to say it, and so were arrested mid speech.
I turned a slow circle, taking in the rapidly filling bay, the small high street full of green grocers, pubs, and tea shops, Dungaire Castle standing stoically on the bluff, and above all of that, the brilliant green land. Kit-Cat still sat on the pavement, but was now staring expectantly at me. I stared back.
“I don’t suppose you know where he went, huh?”
He only blinked once and then stood and turned in one fluid motion and trotted off towards the fish-mongers stall. Meanwhile Mom and Sarah had collected themselves and were slowly getting the car ready to go. Sarah tucked her long legs into the back seat while at the same time tried to stow the extra soda bread in our snack cooler. Mom stood flipping through the map and information folder to find our address for that night.
“What a funny guy.” Mom said, deliberately absently, as she flipped through print-outs.
“Yeah, and with those pants and everything.” Sarah sat with the seatbelt half across her body, staring out at the bay.
She shook her head and finished buckling the seat belt and mom slid the folder back into place, throwing the necessary maps and printouts on my navigator’s seat. “He must have so much fun yanking the tourists’ chains that come through here.”
I looked down at the Irish two-penny still in my hand and rubbed my thumb across the nearly erased harp in the copper. It was warm and soft and felt comfortable resting in my palm. When I looked up and across the bay at the boats that were just starting to float again after low tide, I was smiling. I got into the front seat and picked up the maps in preparation for finishing our drive to Cork and the next hostel. I paused while putting on my seatbelt because my camera was in the way. I took the strap off of my neck and reached around to set it on the seat next to Sarah, who was busily falling asleep once more. I turned back to the front and slipped the maps into the door and buckled myself in. I was ready to see what would find me on Irish land.
About The Author
Rebecca A. Demarest is an award-winning author, book designer, and technical illustrator living in Seattle, WA with her husband. Together, they maintain a household jungle, cater to a dog-like cat named Cat and a Portuguese Water Dog named Teal’c. When she isn’t writing, you can find her at the Bureau of Fearless Ideas teaching the youth of Seattle how to get their ideas onto the page, crocheting, embroidering, and playing lots of Dungeons and Dragons. She is currently working on the sequels for everything, so, before you ask, yes, you’ll find out what happened to Benny, Sophia will keep sticking her nose in dangerous places, and Thea will find the seedy underbelly of Oz.
Rebecca’s website: http://www.