Aoife was already sat in the cafe on the seafront when Margaret got there. She looked like she had been crying again and her heavy dark coat was zipped right up with a chunky cream coloured polo-neck just visible underneath. Aoife gave Margaret an almost scornful look as she sat down - almost chiding her with a stony silence for being a few minutes late - while the real undertones of blame and guilt played out as they usually did.
“D’ya want another coffee love?”
Aoife shook her head.
“You don’t mind if I have a quick cuppa - I’ve been running around all day.”
Aoife looked at her watch but said nothing in response. They still had twenty minutes to go to their allotted appointment time. Margaret got up and ordered a cup of tea from the counter. Returning to the table she sat down again after first taking off her already opened coat, still damp from the rain earlier. Margaret sat cradling the cup with her hands and smiled as beneficially as she could in the face of Aoife’s ongoing iciness.
“I hope seeing this lady helps you love - I really do - but I am worried that it might be a bit of a let-down, that she might not say what you want to hear.”
Aoife looked sharply at Margaret and then spoke, “I think it’s worth a shot. Anything is worth a shot, I mean Jesus what else have we had to go on. Nothing! Blanket fucking silence. Don’t know whether she’s dead or what. Could be in a ditch somewhere in the country. I mean how could she do this to us…... the….. fucking bitch!”.
Margaret looked around her, half-embarrassed, even though she knew there was no one else in the cafe and the server had already gone out to the back.
“Aoife I’m sure you don’t really mean that.”
“I am so angry with her.. for everything.. for leaving us like this. I’m so FUCKING angry you wouldn’t believe it! So yes I do mean it, I fucking do mean it!”
After speaking Aoife glared at Margaret, as if challenging her, until Margaret looked away without responding and momentarily looked out of the window.
“I look at mums on the street with their teenage daughters and I can’t understand why they are having that and I have never had it. Why has this happened to me? What have I ever fucking done to deserve it - besides the obvious - having sex and getting pregnant. Fucking catholic Ireland - this country makes me fucking sick!”
Margaret didn’t really know what to do, or say, when Aoife got like this. It felt like all of Aoife’s anger was directed at her even though deep down she knew it wasn’t really like that.
“Maybe the psychic will have some news for us, maybe she will be able to give us a lead, give us some idea of where she is.”
Aoife shrugged her head and looked away. She seemed collapsed again after her outburst. Margaret finished her tea and they both, wearily, got to their feet without speaking or looking at each other.
The ‘clairvoyant’ as she called herself lived on a street just off the Bray seafront. Aoife had heard about her from a friend at work and had told Margaret that she was thinking of going to see her. Margaret had been reluctant at first but had told Aoife that she would come along, more to be there for Aoife in case it amounted to nothing as out of any real hope that the visit might reveal something new.
Annie Murphy operated from the front room of her one-bedroomed bungalow. An advertisement board outside advised that Annie had a ‘gift’ which had been in her family for generations. As Aoife knocked on the door, a light appeared to come on, almost simultaneously, and a faint musical noise could be heard from deep within the bungalow. After the front-door had been opened, and pleasantries and money had been exchanged in the narrow entrance hall, Annie ushered Margaret and Aoife into the front-room. The walls of the room were dressed in deep red velvet fabric and a green, and gold, patterned cloth covered the circular table where Annie obviously sat. On the table were various objects including a crystal ball, a large jagged clump of amethyst and a pack of Tarot cards. Annie was dressed in brightly coloured flowing robes - hiding a plump body - with a red scarf, detailed with silver embroidery, loosely covering her head and shoulders. Silver rings and bangles rattled on her fingers and wrists, and brightly coloured rouge smudged both her lips and cheeks. Annie gestured for Aoife and Margaret to sit down, and waited for them to do so before she took her seat. Aoife sat by the table, nearest to Annie, and Margaret took the seat by the wall, at the back of the room. As soon as Annie was seated her eyes narrowed to engage Aoife and Margaret with the beaming intensity of a submarine headlight. She drew her breath in sharply as if her perceptive powers had already detected something.
“I sense you have come about someone in particular, not just for yourself.”
Margaret looked across at Aoife who shifted nervously in her seat.
“Don’t tell me anything. Let me see if I can make who it is… materialise.”
Annie reached forwards slightly, towards the crystal ball, and closed her eyes at the same time as her hands softly hugged the sides of the ball. Aoife looked back at Margaret as a low rumbling-like chanting emanated out of Annie. As the chanting slowed and the sounds were clearer, and louder, it became obvious that Annie was going through the alphabet. Suddenly she stopped and widely opened her eyes.
“S…..T! I am not sure which one. Maybe somewhere on the cusp. I hate it when this happens!”
Aoife looked back again at Margaret, with a slight shrug, as if to suggest that Annie might be onto something. Annie closed her eyes again and proceeded to go through the same ritual as before.
“T!” shouted Annie - defiantly - her voice louder this time, so much so that Margaret almost jumped out of her chair. The look of complete disappointment on Aoife’s face must have been obvious to Annie but she ignored it and closed her eyes, and proceeded with T. The lilting accent of her Irish Traveller background was more apparent as Annie spoke in florid sentences.
“There is a beautiful young child before me, maybe even a young infant. He’s running around in a big open space. He wants you to know that he is very happy, beautifully happy. He says he was very young - really young but beautiful - when he passed, but that the passing was peaceful and beautiful. He passed into a paradise garden with beautiful flowers, and beautiful, regal marble statues everywhere he looked.”
Annie opened her eyes again.
“Might you know who I am talking about?”
By now Aoife had crossed her arms defensively, and a look of furious disbelief was etched on her face.
“Maybe this isn’t who you came for. But he’s here. I am telling you he is here. Right in front of me! He is pleading with you to remember him. Begging you to notice him. I am asking him his name but he seems to have trouble remembering it. But he knows it begins with T.”
Just after speaking, Annie roughly grabbed hold of her crystal ball and raised it into the air slightly, as if to demand that the universe spit out the boy’s name. The ball appeared to jerk and levitate, pulling Annie to her feet as it rose higher into the air. Like the sudden silence that accompanies a lightning strike, immediately before the following thunder, Annie then yelled out “THOMAS” and the crystal ball thundered back down towards the table.
Margaret found herself strangely forced to her feet as if some act of magic had caused it to happen, and her hand shot to her mouth in a useless attempt to disguise her shock. Annie smiled at her knowingly as Aoife turned around sharply to see what all the fuss was about. With both women now looking at her, Margaret fell to the floor shaking, and then lay coiled with her limbs encircling her. Aoife stood up and looked down disbelieving, clearly disgusted with Margaret.
“Ma what the fuck….what the FUCK is this about?”
Annie reached out a hand to touch Aoife’s shoulder and pressed the first finger of her other hand against her own lips, gesturing Aoife to be quiet.
“I often have this effect on people. Don’t be surprised. The gift is a powerful thing”.
By now Margaret had got to her feet again and a bewildered, stunned look occupied her face. Annie gestured for Margaret and Aoife to swap seats, and as Margaret sat in front of her, Annie eagerly reached for the pack of tarot cards on the table. Margaret sat frozen in front of her, a prisoner of what she thought Annie might know or reveal. Annie dealt the cards repeatedly, and then spread them out in a hexagonal formation covering most of the table. Turning some cards over and dealing other cards on top of them, Annie continuously formed a symmetrical pattern until there was just a single card left that she placed in the very centre.
Annie picked that card up again, and held it away from herself, towards Margaret, so that both the card and Margaret were in her eye-line. Looking from one to the other, Annie eventually placed the card back on the table, facing down. Closing her eyes and tilting her head upwards again, Annie began to speak in a slow deliberate voice, in a timbre suggestive of something final, and not to be questioned.
“T is for Thomas, T is for Tragedy, T is for for Tombs, T is for Tribes. T is for all the terrible things that have come to your door. Generations of people face me, telling me tales of all the terrible trauma - tragic women who have passed their whole lives being carers in tribes, women who have looked after everyone and lost everything, women who have lost everyone and been left alone. But T is also for tomorrow and T is also for treasure. For underneath this secret killing stone, treasure lies buried!”
With that a light appeared to come on automatically overhead, and Annie got to her feet saying what a long day it had been and how the reading had really drained her. Aoife’s face shook momentarily and her mouth initially hung open, stunned that the reading should be over so soon. She looked to Margaret for some sort of reinforcement, but Margaret just looked away and stared down at the floor.
“What about S?” demanded Aoife.
“Another time child - another day will belong to S”.
“But you started on S and then you moved to T, you could have been on the right track.”
“T came forward. Thomas presented himself to us”.
“Who is this fucking Thomas? I’ve never heard of him.”
“Please my child…be patient……be patient.”
And somehow, within seconds, Margaret and Aoife had been ushered out, and the front door shut firmly behind them. Outside it had started to rain again. Aoife looked viciously at Margaret and, shaking her head wildly, she threw her hands up in the air as she spoke.
“What the fuck, what the FUCK was all that about?”
Margaret said nothing but little tears formed behind her eyes, unable to properly come out and fall. Looking at the ground again she quickly started moving away.
“Will all passengers for flight EI 192 to Dublin please proceed to gate 18”.
The final call, the last barrier between here and there, between where she had fled from and had, now, to return to. Sinead looked at Laurent and tears were quietly creeping down his cheek. Sinead sensed Laurent’s feelings of uselessness - unable to be with both of the people he loved most, when they most needed him. Silently, Laurent and Sinead got to their feet and walked quickly towards the departure area.
“Look after her for me Laurent” said Sinead.
“I will, call me when you can.”
The flight attendant’s upturned face slightly scolded Sinead for being late and she asked Sinead to board quickly and find her seat. The plane was very full and Sinead overheard the airhostesses talking as she passed, saying that they were just waiting on one other person now. Sinead found her allocated aisle seat, sat down, and closed her eyes.
A few moments later, after hearing the noise of dragging movement coming down the aisle, and slowly getting nearer and louder, Sinead opened her eyes again and saw an older woman standing immediately beside her seat. The woman was holding her boarding pass, two large plastic bags and a walking stick, as well as a sizable handbag strapped tightly over her shoulder. Looking around her, the woman seemed to be waiting for assistance from the cabin staff but none of them were near enough to notice. The woman called out quietly to them, for help, and then muttered, annoyedly, to herself. Sinead hopped up and offered to assist her. The lady looked at Sinead and smiled, and as she did Sinead noticed the sharply angled, radiant face of a woman in her early seventies, with natural grey-blonde, thin hair bluntly cut. Then the woman’s face returned to its former state.
“I am very annoyed” she announced, finally hoping for an audience, as Sinead placed the woman’s bags in the overhead locker. Sinead tried not to look directly at the woman again. She didn’t mind helping but she didn’t really want to engage with the woman and have to listen to her throughout the journey. The woman’s seat was in the middle, next to Sinead, and she sat down and Sinead then retook her own seat.
“I am very annoyed” the woman said again, this time more definitely.
Sinead sighed internally but then thought to herself that the woman obviously needed to get something off her chest, so she turned towards her and asked the woman why she was annoyed - hoping to get it out of the way as quickly as possible. The woman proceeded to tell Sinead that her earlier connecting flight, from Malta to London, had been an hour late and that when she had arrived in London, there was nobody to meet her at the terminal to transfer her on - to this flight - hence her nearly missing it. The woman said that she had asked for an escort when she had checked in at Malta and she seemed to be blaming an ‘Indian-looking man’ whom she called a liar. She went on and on, saying how she knew the man who ran the airline and would be letting him know what she thought of how he treated his customers. Sinead thought that the woman seemed like the sort of international traveller who had probably been used to getting her own way all her life, and she felt it hard to feel any real sympathy for the woman. Sinead tried changing the subject, asking about Malta but the woman continued with her thread, needing to get it all out. Sinead listened absentmindedly, and when it seemed as if the woman had finished, Sinead added a final “At least you’re here now.”
Seemingly satisfied with unburdening herself, the woman settled back into her seat and unrolled a blanket from the large handbag now resting by her feet. She did seem calmer now and, looking at her sideways, Sinead noticed that the woman had closed her eyes and looked almost like she was dozing already. As the plane started moving out, Sinead could hear an air hostess behind her talking to a young mother.
“Isn’t she gorgeous! How old is she?”
“Five months just gone.”
And the baby’s older brother, looking out the window, repeatedly questioning his mother.
“Are we going backwards?” and “Why?”
In front of Sinead, a group of older Irish women sat, nervously talking away.
“I don’t know how the likes of Mrs George fits into these seats.”
“She goes to Lanzarote every single year.”
“Does she - really?”
“Yes - every year, she goes on a package.”
“How does she fit in - I really don’t know! How does she fit in?”
Sinead looked at the woman beside her, who was moving in her seat again, and they both smiled - the knowing smile of a listener-in, a similarly equal outsider. Sinead rested her head back and closed her own eyes. Quickly she slipped into an exhausted dreamlike state.
In the dream Sinead found herself back at her childhood home but her family didn’t seem to live there anymore. The people now living there seemed to be odd and were behaving strangely. An older woman kept trying to get Sinead to come into the house, saying that they would help her to find her family. But Sinead didn’t really trust them. One of the other women started screaming at her and then a man grabbed at her arm, trying to pull her inside. For a minute Sinead thought the man looked like Margaret’s husband. But the image of his face was flashing and changing, and he also vaguely looked like the parish priest and Sinead’s old maths teacher. The man was hurting her wrist now and calling her bad names. Sinead was screaming and kicking, and trying to get away but the man wouldn’t let her go. Sinead started crying out for her mum, asking her to come and help her. Then the siren of an ambulance started - screeching - getting louder and brighter as its red light flashed nearer.
“Would you like any drinks from the Trolley?”
Sinead jolted in her seat and stared up at where the voice had come from. There was a blonde air hostess, with hair neatly scraped back and a face full of bright makeup, looking back at her.
“I think you were out there for a minute. Can I get you something to drink?”
Sinead remained flustered for a moment but relieved to be out of the daydream.
“Yes I’ll have a gin and tonic please.”
Sinead stretched her arms up and sat back into her seat again. But by now a new stream of worry had entered her already brimming head. What if her family weren’t living in the same house anymore? What if she couldn’t find them? What would happen to Ella? What then?
Sinead realised that she had never thought of her family in any present tense. They had remained frozen in her memory, back at the time that she had left. Almost as if they had never lived in any way beyond that. What would they look like now? How else might they have changed in the meantime? And how would they react to Sinead just turning up after all this time?