by Keiran O’Sullivan
The chill in the air was unseasonable for Cork, even at this time of year.
There was actually a frost, and everywhere you walked through town, people were remarking about it. How many years it’d been since they’d seen the like of it; how many more it’d be before they were likely to see it again.
Keiran O’Sullivan however, was too lost inside his own head to consider the uniqueness of the weather now. He only knew that the cold went straight through him, and he shivered. He pulled his collar up tighter around his neck, then cupped his hands together and blew into them, trying to return feeling to the fingertips that had gradually gone numb while he’d been too preoccupied to notice.
The man who had spent so much of his life carefully ticking off every passing moment of time to keep from being consumed by it had, in recent days, allowed it to overtake him. He had been so distracted that he’d made no note of the advancing date on the calendar, and almost missed the holidays, entirely.
Today was the twenty-fourth of December. It was nearly Christmas in Ireland, but even though he was technically home for the holidays after so many years of wishing it to be so, he found his mind continually fixed on other things.
His thoughts led his head to tilt toward the heavens above. His eyes followed an instant after, and he tried to peer beyond the heavy curtain of steel clouds firmly blanketing the sky, to imagine the Sera beyond them in her orbit against the black.
The whole of his being tilted, it seemed, to that ship so far and unseen over Earth. That was where she was, and where she was, his thoughts could never truly be far away. His right hand reached over and twisted the ring on his left, and he realized once more, all over again that the reason even the familiar ground beneath his feet did not feel like home in this moment was because Liis was not at his side there.
Home could only now ever be a location in which he’d see the fire in her eyes flash at him across the room. Home was only where he’d be able to take her in his arms, and to share her rare, and even more rarely shared moments of laughter.
Home could never again be any place, not even Ireland, in which she was not.
Keiran’s first intended stop in Cork today was the cemetery. Through the gates, and along the well-kept path, he made his way slowly, as he ever did, toward his mother’s final resting place.
There he did the same things, these small but significant rituals, that he always had. He'd say a prayer, and tidy up a little, and leave fresh roses; her favorite. He'd tell her how much he wished she was still walking the earth beside him instead of teaching the angels a thing or two up in Heaven, before settling to simply stand beside her a while in silence.
He never could predict how long these visits would take; no matter how many times he’d come here before. It was a span of time that defied planning or description, and only after he felt he’d properly paid his respects to the woman who’d raised him, could he bring his feet to finally carry him on.
Keiran was unusually nervous this day and he didn’t even know why- he tried to dismiss it as the phantom echoes of the uncomfortable emotions he’d been dealing with, ever since William Lindsay had left.
He worried about what Will might be getting himself into, in this moment or any other moment in a point in time far removed from Keiran’s reality. He wished he’d been a bigger man and in the moment they’d parted, he’d been able to give Will the forgiveness he’d wanted.
He prayed to God he’d get another chance.
As he observed his breath making small puffs of steam in the air when he exhaled, it stirred in him a particular, and particularly comforting memory: he wished, just for a moment, that he’d never given up smoking.
He trudged, at last, toward the steps of the Church of Christ the King at Turners Cross. He looked up toward the building’s ever overwhelming architecture, to the outstretched statuary arms of the Lord that greeted him. They appeared ready to welcome him into the sanctuary and offer him peace, but as unworthy as he felt today, he didn’t know if even being here could lighten the burdens that weighed so heavy upon his shoulders.
His boots struck heavy upon each step, and he nodded to people filing in and out of the building all around him, even so early in the day. He’d missed Mass today, but promised himself, and would soon promise his sister, that he’d do his best to be present for it tomorrow.
His aim in coming was to confess, though he found he was torn about waiting to do so after seeing the long lines of people and for the first time in his life considered just leaving instead. His heart seemed to divide against itself as he considered his family, and the last report he’d had about Carrick. Today, just this once, he wondered if the Lord wouldn’t forgive him for spending his time another way.
A young boy suddenly ran past him. The lad was dressed to perfection in a fine, small suit. The vision of his blond hair, which was bristly and fighting every which way against the effort his mother had obviously made to smooth it down, brought back a memory in Keiran so strong, he soon found himself sitting in the nearest available pew.
His hands shook as he took a last long drag of his cigarette, before indignantly smashing its remains to dust and ashes on the ground beneath his boot.
He had been waiting awhile, pacing, smoking, pacing some more, and now at long last, he heard the familiar sound of the front door, squeaking open.
He’d purposely stayed just around the corner from the humble brick house that had once been his home. He couldn’t risk Carrick seeing him, but he just couldn’t let this go, either.
He couldn’t bring himself, this time, to let her actions go unanswered.
The moment to confront her was here, and he wondered upon seeing her naturally bitter expression how he had ever once thought her so beautiful. Features that had seemed sublime were now merely severe and disappointed. High arched brows framed eyes that had never offered him approval. Tight ringlets of dark hair that fell far beyond her shoulders covered a chest which held a heart forged of pure steel.
Immediately she saw him, standing by the gate. He waited for her to approach, never getting any closer to her than she was willing to get to him.
“What’re ya doin’ here, Keiran. You know that-“
“I just have to ask you a question,” Keiran said, his breath quickening as he fought back the biting tears behind his eyes. “How could you do it, Maggie? Was I really ever that bad? Did I ever treat you with an’a’thin’ less than…”
“Is over and done with now, O’Sullivan. Be on yer way then.”
“Over.” Keiran’s voice dropped. “Yeah, it is. Never to happen again. An’ is not that you just didn’t tell me, ya gave me the wrong date on purpose…”
“It would’ve confused the boy,” Maggie shrugged, “to have you there.”
“His first Communion. How could you just…” tears filled his eyes, and he closed them. “A day that will never come again. I’m still his father, Maggie, I should have been there.”
“Go, Keiran.” Maggie insisted, backing slowly toward the house. “Before he sees you here.”
-=/\=- Keiran O’Sullivan
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