The woman in my bed woke up screaming. Hysterically.
Legions of demons with pitchforks were chasing her, I thought with some lack of sympathy. And herself believing that there were only good angels.
Strong, resourceful spear-carrier that I am, I struggled out of the depths of sleep and put my arm around her. She was as stiff as a redwood tree.
" 'Tis only a dream," I said bravely.
She continued to wail.
"They're all around us!"
" 'Tis only a dream," I insisted. "I'll turn on the lights."
"Don't!" she begged. "I don't want to see them."
"Who don't you want to see?"
"Whom," she sobbed and collapsed into my arms.
I felt the soaking-wet cotton of her Notre Dame sleep tee shirt with the word "Irish!" scrawled above her breasts in gold--a redundant label if there ever were one.
"Whom?" I corrected myself.
"The spies, you friggin' eejit!"
That was a new one. I didn't like it. Often her nightmares were a warning that we were about to embark on one of our mystery tours. There are costs in being married to a fey woman from the Gaeltacht.
"They're part of your nightmare. They're not real."
"They are too real!" She clung to me in desperation."They're all around us."
Two other presences stumbled into the room, one large and canine, the other small and human.
"Are you all right, Ma?" Nelliecoyne, our seven-year-old daughter, asked.
A very large muzzle nudged around my arms--Fiona, our senior citizen wolfhound. Like the woman in my bed they were both fey. Three of the dark ones in my house--wife, older daughter, and hound.
She eased out of my arms so as to embrace the little girl and pat the big canine on her massive head.
" 'Tis only a nightmare, dear," she said to the little girl.
"Aren't they the terrible things altogether, Ma!"
Since she was speaking English with a brogue, Nelliecoyne pronounced the "th" words as though they began with a "d" as in "dey da terrible dings." She talks brogue only with her ma, and with me sometimes, when I'm around. Otherwise, she talks either Chicago English (with its flat "A") or Irish. Trilingual, like I say, just like her ma.
"Did I wake herself up?" The woman put aside her hysterical mask and became an anxious mother.
"Sure, Ma, don't you know that lightning could strike in the backyard and that one would sleep right through it?"
"That one" was her little sister, Socra Marie, a reformed two-year-old terrorist, doing her best to act like a three-year-old "big girl" and losing sometimes to her exuberance.
"I'm fine now, dear. You and Fiona can go back to sleep. Doesn't your da always take care of me when I have these nightmares?"
"Da says that creative people have them all the time."
"And isn't Da always right?" She sighed.
"And doesn't he always take good care of you?" Nellie replied with her own sigh.
They both sighed together. These were West of Ireland sighs that sound like the advent of a serious attack of asthma.
As spear-carriers go, Da isn't the worst of them.
After hugs and kisses the dawn patrol departed. The woman reclaimed the protection of my arms. She was still trembling.
"Can I turn on the lights now, just to be sure?"
She huddled against me.
"All right," she said dubiously.
You just want to screw her.
She's my wife.
You're taking advantage of her fright.
I turned on the lamp at the bedside. Cautiously the woman turned away from my chest and glanced around our bedroom.
"Well, they were here when I woke up."
Her long hair was in disarray. Her face red from tears. She was still shivering. Her sleep shirt was askew. Her eyes darted around, looking for monsters. She was nonetheless gorgeous.
As in all matters, the woman's collection of sleepwear was variable--from outrageously erotic to dull. Moreover, her choice in night garments was not an indicator of her interest in sex. So the blue-and-gold shirt was hardly a hint--not that I needed much of a hint to want her.
I am going to make love to her. She's in her shy West of Ireland mode. Can't beat that.
Only if she asks you. Don't be a horny Notre Domer all your life.
"It was just a dream, Nuala Anne."
"Sometimes dreams are true."
She disengaged from me and lay back on her pillow, still trembling.
"They're just reviews of the day, aided by that last drop of the creature you had at dinner."
"A lot you know."
"Cindasue talked about spies at dinner last night . . ."
"They're all around us, Dermot Michael. Won't we have to fight them!"
I didn't like that one bit.
"Well, we'd better get back to sleep."
She reached for a tissue on the nightstand and wiped away the tears. Almost nine years of marriage and a little gesture like that still destroyed me altogether, as she would have said.
"I'm sorry I woke you up," she said.
"I don't suppose, Dermot, you'd ever want a little ride now, would you?"
"I could be talked into it."
The result was marital sex--a gentle, tender, healing journey down a familiar path which was always new towards a sweetly explosive finale somewhere in a field of flowers. Perhaps, I thought as she slipped back into sleep, this is why God or evolution or someone created marriage.
I have been working, if that's what poets do, on a cycle of poems about marital love. I suspect that the reason God and the evolution process made men and women so much alike and yet so different was to provide surprises in the marriage union. If herself ever stops surprising me, I'll know that our marriage is in trouble.
Reversing the stereotypical expectations, I remained awake, wondering and worrying. Nuala Anne, my glorious and treasured wife, was in one of her labile moods, something that happens to your dark ones intermittently. The problem was that she wanted another child, a second son for the Mick (Micheal Dermod, our son and so far our middle child) to fight with, though there was no sign that our self-possessed five-year-old was looking for a fight with anyone. "Four is a nice number, isn't it now? A nice round number?"
Her first three pregnancies caused serious problems. Nelliecoyne proved difficult to carry and difficult to bring into the world. After the arrival of the Mick, my wife went into postpartum stress. Socra Marie showed up after twenty-five weeks, weighing eight hundred grams. I was uneasy about what might happen next, but I have enough sense not to argue. Then, despite considerable, and admittedly pleasant efforts, she did not conceive.
"Maybe someone is sending us a message," I had suggested very tentatively.
"Maybe," she admitted.
Earlier in the week we had our problems with the dogs--our large and amiable snow-white wolfhounds, Fiona and Maeve. On nice days, as Nuala determined them, they would accompany her and the kids across the street to the local Catholic school, where they perform for the entertainment of all parents and children present.
So on Monday evening I had received a call from the pastor of the parish, a humorless little man who considered our family one of the many burdens he must patiently bear.
"I'm calling about your dogs."
"They are very big dogs, Mr. Coyne."
"They're very gentle and loving."
Unless someone tried to harm Nuala Anne or her children. Her husband, the canines figured, could take care of himself.
"I have been receiving complaints, Mr. Coyne, about their presence in the school yard in the morning."
"How many complaints, Father?"
"That's not the issue. Parents are worried about the safety of their children. Would you tell Mrs. Coyne that I must insist that the dogs do not come to the school yard anymore."
"I will relay your concerns to Nuala Anne, Father. I never try to tell her anything."
"I would, Mr. Coyne, if it became necessary, request assistance from the police in this matter. I also wish she would stop bringing them into church. It is unseemly to have such large beasts in church."
"I'll inform my wife of your decision to ban her dogs from the parish."
Passive aggressive jerk!
Nuala's face, on her couch across the study, threatened explosion.
"Just one complaint," I had suggested.
She had risen from the couch to her full height without comment and strode down to the room where the kids were doing their homework under the supervision of Ethne, our nanny who was working on her doctorate in elementary education at nearby DePaul.
I had followed along wondering what would happen. All three of the children were engaged in creating crayon-colored designs on drawing paper.
"Is there anyone in the school yard," she had demanded, "who doesn't like the doggies?"
"Mrs. Carson." Nelliecoyne had not looked up from her art. "She says they're dangerous."
"She's a bitch," the Mick had added.
"Bitch, bitch, bitch!" the little one confirmed.
Ethne had giggled.
"Where did you learn those words?" my wife had demanded, her face turning a pleasing shade of crimson.
"From you, Ma." Nelliecoyne had continued to work on her color scheme.
"I don't ever want to hear it from you ever again! Do you understand!"
Their father, fearing for his life, kept his mouth shut, lest he erupt into laughter.
"You just keep your frigging mouth shut, Dermot Michael Coyne."
Back in our study, she had picked up a phone and called the rectory. I lifted the one at my easy chair.
"Father, my husband tells me that you have banned my doggies from parish property."
"Ah . . ."
"I will bring the children to school tomorrow morning without the dogs and tell everyone there that you have banned them at Ms. Carson's request."
"Ah . . . I wish you wouldn't do that . . ."
"Nonetheless I will."
She was talking Chicago English with just a touch of Trinity College superiority.
"Well . . ."
"Well, what, Father?"
"That would be very embarrassing."
"I'm sure it would be."
"Uh, suppose you bring them over on a leash, a kind of compromise . . ."
Passive aggressive jerk.
"I will have to consult my husband about that."
She had hung up the phone triumphantly and thrown herself into my arms.
"Showed that gobshite, didn't I, Dermot Michael Coyne!"
What happens when she gets that angry at you?
I'll never suggest that her mutts are a threat to the common good.
The next afternoon we had our second crisis with the hounds.
It was a remarkably warm and sunny April day. We were outside superintending Socra Marie's first ventures on her Christmas present tricycle, accompanied by most of the children in the neighborhood and some of the mothers, including our friend from down the street, Cindasue McCloud Murphy of the Yewnited States Coast Guard and her daughter Katiesue, Socra Marie's inseparable friend--on her own brand-new tricycle.
Tone-deaf our small one might have been, but she has more than enough muscular coordination. She mastered the little vehicle with ease and to great applause from the spectators.
"She a being shunuff good, ain't she, Ma?" Katiesue said.
Then a large man with receding hair and unshaven face lumbered down the street towards us. He was wearing a dirty white down coat, open to his potbelly--our neighbor Mr. Klein, owner of a small but apparently successful trucking company, allegedly "connected." I had never met him but he had a local reputation for irascibility.
I am a retired high school wrestler and linebacker in good shape and about six feet two and a half inches tall. Usually when other men size me up in a bar, for whatever reason, they figure I'm a pushover because of my light blue eyes and blond hair and innocent face. Fortunately for all concerned, this innocence is rarely challenged.
"You Coyne?" he demanded, his beery face two inches from mine.
The kids and their mothers stepped out of the way, save for my wife, now in the Gráinne O'Malley mode and doubtless wishing that she had her canogi stick handy.
"I think so," I said pleasantly.
For a pushover like this guy I didn't need any more testosterone than my normal supply.
"I have three young daughters," his nose almost touching mine.
"Congratulations," I said backing away from his body odor. "I have only two."
"I don't want that prevert who walks your dogs talking to my daughters."
"Mr. Damian O'Sullivan is not a pervert, sir," I said mildly. "He is an artist and he owns a major electronic company."
Which he had inherited from his late father, who also thought he was a pervert because he was a painter of dogs and little children. He was also a "jularker," as Cindasue called swains, to our nanny.
"I don't care what the fuck he is." Klein sneered, once again enveloping me in his body odor. "He's a convicted felon."
"Watch your language around children, Mr. Klein," the virtuous Nuala Anne warned him, with perhaps a touch of hypocrisy.
"You a downright ole polecat, Mista Klein," Cindasue, arms around both our little girls, informed him.
"The next time I see that prevert with your dogs talking to my little girls, I'll beat the shit out of him."
He shoved me, perhaps a mistake.
"I'll advise Damian to avoid your corner, Mr. Klein. I should warn you, however, that our Irish wolfhounds might take some exception to that."
Canis Gaius Hibernicus is the technical name for our beasts.
"I'll shoot your goddamn dogs!"
He swung a fist at my jaw, missed, and bounced ineffectually off my chest. I grabbed his arm, twisted it behind his back, and sent him sprawling on the newly emerging grass.
"That was a misdemeanor, sir. And you are engaging in disorderly conduct, which is another misdemeanor, and your threats may constitute a felony. All in the presence of witnesses. I suggest that it would not be good for your business if these charges should appear in public."
He struggled to his feet, considered charging me, then thought better of it.
"I have to protect my daughters," he said, tears pouring down his face. Then he turned and lumbered back towards his house a half block away.
"Show's over, folks," I said, inordinately proud of my masculine restraint. "Let's get back to tricycles . . . I have a phone call to make."
"Vermin!" Cindasue proclaimed.
"Shunuff," her daughter and ours agreed.
My wife squeezed my arm in approval and sighed loudly. Perhaps the contretemps had ended too quickly to suit her.
"Gobshite," she whispered softly, so as not to shock the children!
I called Mike Casey, superintendent emeritus of the Chicago Police Department and head now of Reliable Security. I told him the story.
"Scott Klein is all right," Mike said, "till he starts on his afternoon beer, then he becomes a problem to everyone. His company does good specialty work, but they could lose some of their contracts pretty easily if he got his name in the papers. We'll have a talk with him. I suspect he may want to move out of the neighborhood. I'll have some of our off-duty cops keep an eye on him until then."
That was that. Unofficial power used quickly and sternly. What choice was there?
Peter Murphy, Cindasue's husband, came over after supper to make sure everything was all right. He is some kind of shirttail cousin of Mike the Cop, as they call the superintendent.
"If he had attacked you," Peter observed, "I know two Irishwomen who would have torn him to pieces."
"Even if one is Scotch Irish," I agreed.
"I've had dealings with both," he said with a laugh.
Nuala Anne was not amused. However.
"Dermot love." She hugged me. "There are people out there that don't like us."
A couple of nights later, after we had dinner with the Murphys, her dreams began.
Copyright 2006 by Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Ltd.