The Galway Girls
Saying goodbye at the airport had been a mistake.
There’s a guilty conscience for you. I could have embraced my family in the privacy of Mam’s kitchen, then had a good cry over a steaming cup of tea as soon as they left. Yet here I waited in the chilly departures hall at Dublin Airport, gripping Stephen’s hand. As if that could keep him from leaving.
We stood together near a wall, inches from the river of people moving through the terminal. Stiff with dread, I kept my eyes on the flights’ display where the digital clock ticked down inexorably. It was easier than watching my husband’s set face, pale in the wintry morning light. Or looking at Jamie’s, his spots standing out on his pinched features.
Stephen’s hand tightened around mine. “Right, then—we’ve got to get into the security queue.”
“I know.” My voice shook. Forcing myself to release Stephen, I turned toward Jamie. “One more hug for your mam?”
I’d begun to embrace our teenage son gingerly, always bracing for a rebuff. When Jamie didn’t move, I wanted to burst into tears. But seeing his woebegone expression, I put aside my own hurt. “It won’t be for long—we’ll be together in March—”
He suddenly threw his arms round me with such force I nearly lost my balance. “Mam, why won’t you come to Vancouver?”
“Son, we’ve been over this,” said Stephen.
“Don’t you want to be with us? What’s the big deal, leaving Ireland? You’ve no job, we don’t have a house, so there’s nothing to stay for.”
“A little respect,” Stephen warned.
“Jamie.” I loosened my hold on him to meet his brown eyes, so like my own. “You know I’ve things to sort in Galway.”
Stephen put in, “You’ve been telling your mam you’re going to love Vancouver, that you’ll be grand without her.”
“But Mam…Dad—” Jamie colored. “You said you’re not…um, separating after all. Married people are meant to be together, everyone knows that.”
Every fourteen-year-old certainly did. “Please understand,” I said, my heart aching. “The farm needs looking after. And your dad is supporting me in this.” I patted our son’s narrow shoulders and smiled crookedly. “If you think you’ll miss me so much you can always spend the winter with me in Ballydara.”
He backed away instantly. “Aw, Mam, you know that’s not on.”
“I didn’t think so.” My voice quavered again. The temptation to put my husband and son first was nearly overpowering. But this task I’d set for myself—it was now or never. “We’ve made our family plan, and we’ll stick to it.”
“We’re really cutting it close.” Stephen pulled me into his arms for one last, hungry kiss. For an instant, the passion and familiarity of his mouth made me forget everything around me. Then I remembered we were in a busy airport, and that I was hurting the two people I loved most.
I broke the kiss, bracing for Jamie’s recent refrain, Mam, Dad, enough PDA’s! But he stayed silent. After the months of estrangement between myself and his father, I sensed my son would rather we kissed in public than not at all.
Stephen pressed his lips to my temple. “You’ll not change your mind about…you know.” The yearning in his voice almost undid me.
Unable to speak, I shook my head.
“But I could…” He swallowed hard. “I’ll ring the office, change the ticket—the team can manage a few more days without me.”
I kissed Stephen one last time. “It’s better this way,” I said, trying to sound as if I was sure. “You’ll ring me?”
“As soon as I can.” Breaking our embrace, he picked up his bulging briefcase. “Off we go,” he said to Jamie, and the pair of them stepped into the flow of people. They didn’t look back.
A knot in my chest, I watched Jamie’s curly brown head until he and his father were out of sight. I’m doing the right thing, I told myself. Exiting the terminal, I walked slowly toward the car park, scuffing my shoe against some blackberry vines growing over the footpath. It was a mystery, how that bit of green could thrive in the city when I simply couldn’t.
As I neared the airport chapel, a small oasis in the middle of all the concrete and cars and roars of aircraft, I slowed my steps. It was Sunday, after all, and we’d had to skip Mass. I was tempted to go inside. Light a candle for my aunt Rose, make a vow for the life I was choosing for the next few weeks.
You really don’t really have to be in Galway, a small voice said inside me. Yet another part of me knew how desperately I needed closure on the farm—and the way it had come into my hands.
Squashing my doubts, I walked determinedly past the little church. Still, my conscience nudged me. A proper wife and mother would have gotten on that plane to Vancouver…