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"THERE'S SOMETHING wrong with that grave," Nuala Anne McGrail informed me. She was pointing an accusing right hand at a large monument with the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Mother presiding over a grave on which the family name "Sullivan" was carved.
I had just helped her off the ground after she had made a sign of the cross to indicate that our period of devotion was over. That she accepted my help was typical of her present mood; normally she would have disdained my assistance and bounded up on her own. Nuala was the bounding kind of young woman.
"Wrong?" I asked, dreading another manifestation of my affianced's notorious psychic intuitions.
"Who was this man James Sullivan who died in 1927?" she demanded.
It was a bleak Sunday in mid-September. Mother Nature had forgotten there ever was such a thing as summer and was settling in for an early and brief autumn, which she would follow with her favorite season in Chicagoendless winter. The lawns of Mount Carmel cemetery were already covered with a carpet of leaves. A chill northeast wind was shaking the trees and adding to the carpet. The dank smell of rain was in the air. A perfect day for a visit to a cemeteryand a perfectday for the dark mood into which the beauteous Nuala seemed to have sunk.
"He was a bootlegger, Nuala. And a very successful one at that. The Italians called him Sweet Rolls Sullivan because he owned a bakery right across from the Cathedral. Where the parking lot is now."
"Whatever in the world was a bootlegger, Dermot Michael?"
Looking like a teenager, she was dressed in the standard utility uniform of young womenjeans, white Nike running shoes, and a dark blue sweatshirt, the last named in this instance representing one of my alma maters, Marquette University (from which at the end of my four years of college I did not depart with a degree). She wore no makeup and her long black hair was tied back in a brisk ponytail. None of these utilitarian measures affected in the least her radiant good looks.
"A bootlegger," I explained, "was a man who smuggled whiskey."
"To escape the tariffs?" She frowned at the offending gravestone.
My beloved was the kind of beautiful woman at whom everyone turned to look, even in a cemetery. She was tall and her body was that of a lithe woman athlete. Her pale skin and glowing blue eyes hinted at an ancient Celtic goddess as did the twinkling of bells over the bogs in her voice. The first time I saw her, I thought of such womanly Celtic deities and came to learn that on occasion she could be at least as imperious as Brigid or Sionna or Bionna or one of those gorgeous and fearsome women. Naturally I promptly fell in love with her.
It turned out that, although she had dismissed me the year before in O'Neill's pub down the street from Trinity College as a friggin' rich Yank, she had also fallen in love with me.
By the way, if you want to pronounce her name correctly,it sounds like "Noola" with the double "o" stretched out and sounding like you had a bit of Dublin fog in your throat.
"No, it was Prohibition time."
Her frown deepened.
"Well, then, whatever was Prohibition?"
Ah, the innocence of the young.
"There was a time, back in the nineteen twenties, when the Protestants in this country passed a constitutional amendment prohibiting the possession or sale of alcoholic beverages."
"You're having me on, Dermot," she insisted, huddling close, her arm around my waist. "There never was such a thing as prohibition in this country."
When the Irish say "never" like that they are not so much denying the existence of the reality in question as they are expressing astonishment that such a reality could ever be.
Naturally, I put my arm around her and held her tightly. In a couple of weeks this woman would be mineand I would be hersand I looked forward with passionate eagerness to that union.
In all its manifestations.
She was shivering as though it were December instead of mid-September. It wasn't that cold.
"It's true," I said. "Obviously it didn't work. It was a foolish law, which almost everyone violated. The saloons were closed, but speakeasies as we called them opened everywhere. Jazz music came to Chicago to entertain the flappers and their dates while they drank bootlegged booze. The bootleggers made tons of money and of course risked their lives in wars with one another."
"The Untouchables were real people then? I thought it was just a film."
Naturally, being Irish, she pronounced that last word as "fillum."
"Organized crime as we now have it in this country was the result of Prohibition."
"This poor man was born in 1898," she said, cuddling even closer to me. "He lived only twenty-nine years."
"The Italians were the most ruthless of all the bootleggers. They killed off everyone else. Killer Sullivan down there killed some of them, but they got him eventually."
I knew these things only because my parents had told me about them when we passed the Sullivan grave site on our infrequent visits to the family plot at Mount Carmel.
"His wife isn't buried here?" she asked.
The gravestone told of one Marie Kavanaugh who had been born in 1908, but it gave no date of death.
"She's still alive, I guess. She'd be in her late eighties now. They'd been married only a year and a half. I think she had a kid. I don't know whether the kid survives."
"Almost seventy years of widowhood ... Dermot Michael, don't you ever do that to me."
"I'm not a bootlegger," I said, resting my hand against her breast.
She sighed contentedly.
"Who killed the poor man?"
"Who was he?"
"Nuala Anne, when you hear the name of Chicago of whom do you think?"
"Michael Jordan," she said promptly, going through the required motion of a jump shot. "Who else?"
I didn't say, "whom else?" I had learned a few things about women while courting this one. Probably not enough.
"Well, before that, everyone said 'Al Capone' and made like they were firing an automatic weapon. He was the king of the bootleggers, the most successfulbecause he was the most brutal. A violent and vicious Sicilian.1"
"Was he the one the Untouchables sent to prison because he didn't pay his taxes?"
"Whatever happened to him?"
"He had contracted syphilis before he went to prison. He died in his middle forties. His brain was so diseased at the end that he would sit in front of a tennis net and lob balls into it."
She shivered again.
"What horrible men!"
"The drug gangs make them look like saints."
"Tis true," she said with her monumental West of Ireland sigh.
Since our engagement I had begun to wonder whether I had won myself a changeling. Normally an exuberant, not to say mercurial, and a contentious woman, Nuala had become quiet, serious and docile.
"Tis a sacrament, now isn't it, Dermot Michael? And we should be serious about it."
So that was why we had spent Friday and Saturday and much of Sunday at a retreat house in one of the western suburbs, praying, reflecting, and talking about our marriage.
Nuala's relationship to the Deity was unusual. She "half" didn't believe in Him and professed to think that it was highly unlikely that any deity would care about someone as useless as she was. On the other hand she went to Mass almost every day, in case her agnosticism was wrong. Since our engagement, she had begun to tilt in the direction of belief. The signal of thistilt was her reference to God with the womanly pronoun.
"Well, hasn't She acted like a good mother to me, Dermot Michael, and Herself sending a gorgeous fella like you to take care of me and love me and maybe fock me once a month or so?"
"It's likely to be more frequent than that, Nuala Anne."
"That will be as may be," she said with a giggle and a pat on my arm.
I must say a word here about Nuala's use of obscenity and scatology. Like all the other Irish, who are superbly skilled at such usage, she meant no harm by it. It was merely one more exercise in Irish poetry and playfulness. And their own language having no such four-letter words! She never used any of the Anglo-Saxon words in the presence of my parents or, heaven save us all, in the presence of her parents or the little bishop. My brother George the Priest was a borderline case. In this story I'll use the verb "to frig" as a substitute for the most favorite of the Irish four-letter words. Much of the time Nuala herself would use the participle "friggin'" as part of her struggle to clean up her language so that she would sound like a "friggin' proper Yank." The reader can choose which times the word is my surrogate and which times it is hers. On some occasions, however, I will revert to the Anglo-Saxon vernacular when it is necessary to convey the full sense of the conversation.
"I knew, Dermot," she had told me in the chapel at the retreat house, "the first moment you sat down across from me in O'Neill's pub that you were the nicest, sweetest, most tender young fella I would ever meet, and yourself a big handsome hunk besides. I said to meself that there's one like me own da and you'd better not let him get away. There were a couple of times when I thought you might get away, but you never did. She wouldn't let you."
Nuala was a conniver and schemer from day one. But that was all right. So was Ma, as we called my grandmother.
I knew that I was supposed to reply to her well-rehearsed candor, but I had no time for preparation. So I had to wing it. Well, there's no point in even pretending to be a writer if you can't wing it.
"Nuala, my love, there was no chance of my ever getting away once I looked into those deep blue eyes of yours and saw twenty centuries of Irish wonder and surprise and heard your voice, in which there lurked the sound of clear bells ringing through the mists and over bogs ..."
"Aren't you the grand poet." She laughed softly. "Though I think you hesitated until I took off me jacket so I could sing and you could ogle me boobs."
"I was about to say that my highly romantic reaction was confirmed when I saw that you had the figure as well as the face of an Irish goddess."
"That lot were no better than they had to be." She sniffed.
"And then you sang with that wonderful, sweet, pure voice and I was hooked."
"And yourself looking at me lasciviously all the while, but reverently, too."
"And would you ever remember the song that you sang that night?"
"Och, Dermot Michael, don't you know that I'll never forget it?"
And so in that tiny baroque chapel she sang our theme song:
In Dublin's fair city, Where the girls are so pretty I first set my eyes On sweet Molly Malone. She wheeled her wheelbarrow Through streets broad and narrow,Crying, "Cockles and mussels Alive, alive, oh!"
Alive, alive oh! Alive, alive oh! Crying, "Cockles and mussels Alive, alive, oh!"
She was a fishmonger, But sure 'twas no wonder, For so was her father and mother before And they both wheeled their barrow Through streets broad and narrow Crying, "Cockles and mussels Alive, alive, oh!"
Alive, alive, oh! Alive, alive oh! Crying, "Cockles and mussels Alive, alive oh!"
She died of a fever And no one could relieve her, And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone, But her ghost wheels her barrow Through streets broad and narrow, Crying, "Cockles and mussels Alive, alive, oh!"
Alive, alive, oh! Alive, alive, oh! Crying, "Cockles and mussels Alive, alive, oh!"
Tears poured down both our faces as she finished, tears for poor Molly who, God rest her, would be known as long as any Irish were alive in the world, andtears of happiness for our own great grace of being drawn together by Molly's song.
"Sure, didn't your Ma, and meself not even knowing about her yet, whisper in my ear that I should sing that song, and the night thick with fog at that."
There were times, and I presumed there always would be, when I was not sure where Nuala drew the line in her fantasies between metaphor and literal reality. I suspected she wasn't sure either and didn't care. Well, I had wanted mystery and wonder and surprise, had I not?
And that was why, when she had learned that Mount Carmel was only fifteen minutes away from the retreat house, she begged me to take her to the grave of my grandparents. When she was translating Ma's diary, she thought she established some kind of communication with that remarkable firebrand from her own hometown in the Irish-speaking district of the Connemara Peninsula. She took it as a given truth that Ma was looking after both of us.
I was not prepared to argue that Ma would not reach back from the graveor down from heavento meddle in the love affairs of her favorite grandson.
So we had driven over to Mount Carmelan old cemetery in which there were no more lots availableand knelt on the moist leaves to pray. My prayers were mostly happy. I was dizzily in love with Nuala and had not the slightest doubt that our marriage would be happy, though, to put it mildly, never dull.
Nuala's prayers, under the roof of trees which had lost much of their green but had yet to acquire their funereal robes of red and gold, were intense and serious. She had grave doubts about our union.
"Do you want to postpone it, Nuala?" I said to her. "I don't want to force you into something you're not ready for yet."
After all, had not she been the one who was so confident that I would give her a ring on the Labor Dayweekend that she had told the little bishop at the Cathedral (with whom she was as thick as thieves) to pencil in the second Saturday in October for our wedding?
Typical of the male reluctant to make a permanent commitment, I would have waited until spring with little protest.
"Och, no, Dermot, that wouldn't be fair."
I didn't ask what she meant by that. Like I say, I had learned a few things if not about women, at least about this woman.
"Are you having doubts about me?" I asked.
"Ah, go long with you now." She lightly tapped my arm, a sign of mild and affectionate reproof. "Aren't you the grandest man in all the world? And won't you be a brilliant husband? No woman in her right mind would let you get away."
Small chance of that happening.
"Then why are you so worried?"
"Not to say worried, exactly." She sighed. "Just not sure of meself, if you take me meaning."
That had become one of my favorite expressions in coping with my wondrous if often perplexing bride-to-be. It was a cue to her to explain what she meant without challenging her words. The secret for a man trying to understand a woman is to listen to what she means, not what she says.
"I don't think I'll be a very good wife."
I almost argued with her, which would have been a mistake. Instead I said, "Worried about being a good wife, is it now?"
"Oh, Dermot"she had burst into tears"I'm a terrible woman altogether, difficult and contentious and argumentative ..."
"I know that," I had said. "I knew it from that first night in O'Neill's."
She laughed through her tears.
"You'll need the patience of a saint to put up with me for the rest of your life ... Besides, I don't think I'll be very good in bed. I know you want to make love to me something terrible. That's what a man should feel. And I'll be a terrible disappointment."
In her Dublin manifestation, she would have said "fuck." America and Chicago were ruining her vocabulary.
"And you don't want to fuck with me, woman?"
"Dermot Michael Coyne." She slapped my arm in a more vigorous reprimand. "Such terrible language!"
She giggled through her tears and then sobbed again.
"Don't you?" I demanded.
"Sure I do." She sniffled and began to dab at her eyes. "Don't I want to more than anything else in the world? But I don't know whether I'll be any good at it, do I now?"
So that was it. I could have said that adjusting to marital intimacy requires time and patience and sensitivity. Or I might have said that there was so much passion in her lovely body when she clung to me that I knew she'd explode with desire when we came together. Or I could have tried to reassure her with soothing words.
Instead, wise man in the ways of womankind that I had become, I took her in my arms and held her fervently. The tears had stopped, she relaxed, and looked up at me sheepishly.
"Am I not a terrible friggin' amadon, Dermot Michael?"
"Ah, woman, you are," I had said as I began to kiss her.
And so that tempest had passedsweetly as far as I was concerned and with temporary reassurance as far as she was concerned. It would recur several times more in different forms.
I should make it clear that we were sufficiently old-fashioned to wait till our wedding night for our lovemaking.Well, I was anyway. Since we never discussed other possibilities, I didn't know what Nuala's feelings were on the matter. But I respected her vulnerabilityat the core of her enormous energy and strengthtoo much even to suggest otherwise to her.
To be honest I was not without some unease as we approached our wedding day and night. I was not afraid of lovemaking, not even afraid that I lacked the tenderness and sensitivity I needed to be a good bridegroom. But I was afraid of hurting Nuala.
WELL, ME BUCKO, the Adversary in my head observed, AREN'T YOU THE SELF-CONFIDENT COCKS-MAN?
"I don't like your fake brogue," I told him. "And I don't like your language."
He laughed loudly at that.
AND WHAT IF YOU COME UP IMPOTENT ON YOUR WEDDING NIGHT? OR COME OFF IN A MINUTE OR TWO?
"Not a chance. Now go away."
Obviously the Adversary is part of me, so that thought must have been banging around, you should excuse the expression, in one of the subbasements of my soul.
I was also afraid about the loss of my personal privacy. I had been an Irish bachelor, living in his own pad, for six years, counting those last two at Marquette after I flunked out of Notre Dame. I had become selfish and self-centered. How would I cope with a loud, mercurial, enthusiastic person of the opposite gender who usually bounded instead of walked, and who would surely want to remake me and my life, as Irish women always want to do?
But I desired her so much that I figured I could put up with those minor inconveniences.
At the graveside that day, she said, "I suppose you were hoping I'd never get one of these experiencesagain, weren't you, Dermot Michael? And especially not before our wedding?"
"You are who you are, Nuala. The results of your experiences have always been interesting."
The fact of the matter is that my true love is fey, psychically sensitive, whatever you want to call it. She knows things that others don't know, which is why she is such a good detective and I am reduced to being her spear-carrier when we get involved in a mystery. Moreover, she picks up psychic vibrations of which almost everyone else is unaware, like the horrors of the Civil War prison camp at 31st and Cottage Grove in Chicago or of Bealneblah (The Vale of the Blossoms) where Michael Collins was killed.
Nuala and I keep these traitsfascinating but a little scaryto ourselves, though my brother George the Priest has some inkling of them.
"Shall we dig up the grave?" I asked her.
"Certainly not!" she exclaimed. "Well, not yet, anyhow."
So. We were on the edge of another one.
In my experience, young women (especially when they are not quite yet twenty-one) are overwhelmed by the excitement of wedding preparations, an effect reinforced by the high anxiety of their mothers. I assumed that Nuala would be no different from the rest of them.
Her mother and father were coming over from Ireland a week before the wedding (their first trip to America) and it was most unlikely that her beautiful and serene mother ever suffered from high anxiety anyway. Nuala was content to let my mother (for whom yet another family wedding in which she was responsible for the bride was an unexpected opportunity) and my sister Cindy assume full responsibility.
"That one is remarkable," Mom had said to me."We walk into the bridal salon, she looks at three dresses, points to the second one and says that's it."
"And it was," Cindy had agreed. "I never heard of such a brief decision-making process about a bridal gown."
"Was it a bad choice?"
"Wonderfully tasteful," Mom had admitted. "Perfect for her. You'll love it."
"But she deprived us," Cindy had said with a touch of sadness, "of a lot of high-quality worry time!"
"She's a strong woman, Dermot," Mom had added, a touch of worry in her voice.
"Tell me about it."
"You'd never know"my father had shaken his head in amazement"that the young woman will enter solemn wedlock in a couple of weeks. Totally cool."
"No way," I had said.
I had not, however, tried to explain.
Nuala had kept up her usual routine. By day she went to Mass every morning, ran a couple of miles, worked at Arthur Andersen (which had graciously given her an extended leave for a honeymoon because they wanted her back) sang two nights a week at the Abbey Pub, was faithful to her two voice lessons a week with Madame in the Fine Arts Building on South Michigan Avenue, and even cut her first disc of Irish songs, a copy of which we planned to give to everyone who came to the wedding.
"It's commercial," the agent I had found for her told us. "It will be really big."
"Fine," said Nuala, monumentally unimpressed.
After five minutes of reflection she decided that the Casino Club was too fancy for the reception and chose instead the Grand Ballroom of the Drake and selected the menu.
She deferred to me on both decisions. At first I thought this was merely ceremonial. Then I realized that when she said, "Whatever you think best, Dermot," she meant it.
"Shall our honeymoon be in America or Europe, Nuala Anne? Los Angeles and San Francisco? Or Paris, Florence and Rome?"
"Whatever you think best, Dermot."
"Or maybe do both?"
"Whatever you think best, Dermot."
Whatever had happened to my contentious, argumentative Nuala Anne? The only time the old Nuala returned was when she announced to us, "Isn't my pompous asshole brother Laurence flying in from Pacific Palisades to vet my intended and his family and himself bringing his fat bitch of a wife with him?"
"Dear," Mom said, "we'll be happy to meet your relatives."
Mom adored Ma, but she wasn't anything like that fierce Celtic warrior who brought her into the world. Ma's language would have been worse than Nuala's.
"We won't pass muster," I said happily. "Especially me."
"There's nothing worse than a Galway man who's made a little money," Nuala continued, her jaw tense and her eyes flashing, "and thinks he has friggin' veto rights on everything that someone else in the family does."
"Derm is probably right," my brother George the Priest observed. "What responsible Irish male would want his youngest sister marrying someone like him? A writer, would you believe? No good will ever come of marrying a writer."
George was kidding, not very subtly.
"I'll scratch the friggin' bitch's eyes out," Nuala warned us. "Me ma and me da like Dermot Michael and that's enough for me. I'm not a docile little sister who does what the friggin' amadon wants her to do."
"And probably never were either," I added.
She turned on me, ready to vent her anger on me. If she was angry at her brother, then loyalty demanded that I be, too.
Instead she grinned. "Och, sure, Dermot, won't you talk circles around him now?"
"Or if not, might I not throw him through a plate-glass window?"
I had done that once in Dublin when three toughs tried to teach me a thing or two.
"Good enough for him," Nuala said complacently.
We were to meet the Laurence McGrails at my family's home in River Forest after our retreat and take them to supper at the Oak Park Country Club.
"They won't be impressed by that grand place," Nuala had admonished us. "And himself using an outdoor shit-house for the first twenty years of his life. Sure, if it's not in Pacific Palisades, it isn't any good at all, at all."
"What will he do after he decides that we're not good enough for his little sister?"
"Won't he be calling all his brothers and sisters and telling them what a terrible thing it is and then me poor parents and try to worry them?"
"Does he know," brother George asked, his family loyalty aroused, "who put the phone in your parents' house?"
"And it wasn't himself either. Or that tub of lard he's married to and herself with all them expensive rings she wears? And won't he be thinking that it was irresponsible altogether for you to spend money on a phone they didn't need, the shithead that he is?"
By Irish standards, Nuala's language around my family was relatively free of obscenity and scatology. That she was on a run just now suggested an intense dislike which I had not heard before. Heaven forfend that I ever become the target of such rage. I would dry up and wither away.
So I said, "Nuala Anne Marie McGrail, I'll not be having you use such shocking language when your poor ma and da come to Chicago."
Again warning clouds of rage furrowed her gracefulforehead and then were dissipated by her smilewhich as always filled the room with radiance.
She hugged me and murmured, "Aren't you the lovely man, Dermot Michael? Grand altogether."
"Bring along a copy of your income tax return, Derm," me, er, my brother the cleric suggested, "and offer it to them at the dinner table."
"The bastards will take it home to look at!" Nuala's ire was returning.
"I couldn't do that."
"Ah, your reverence." Nuala hugged George this time. "Still tis a grand idea, isn't it? Do it, Dermot Michael! Please do it!"
Reluctantly I agreed.
"Can he make serious trouble, Nuala?" I asked her later when I dropped her off at her house on North Southport across from St. Josaphat's Church.
"You mean prevent me from marrying you, Dermot Michael? Och, don't be daft. But he could ruin the wedding for everyone in my family and maybe some in your family."
"Not hardly," I said.
For some reason that escapes me people tend to think of me as a pushover, though I'm built like a linebacker (college not pro). Maybe it's my innocent face, dimple, and longish blond hair. Cute, they seem to think, but hardly anything more than a cream puff, physically and emotionally. Maybe Nuala's brother would have to learn the hard way.
YOU AREN'T THINKING OF BATTERING HIM PHYSICALLY, ARE YOU? the Adversary demanded in pretended disapproval, as I conducted herself up the outside stairs to her apartment. ARE YOU JUST LOOKING FOR ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY TO PLAY THE MACHO HERO?
"Only if necessary," I replied. "Now leave me alone. I'm going to kiss my woman good night."
Which I did with considerable, but appropriate vigor,much to the woman's delight. Mind you I was not invited into the apartment, which I'm sure was just as well.
The apartment was on the second floor of a wooden A-frame house which had once been an elegant home. It was the only house in the neighborhood that had survived the Great Chicago Fire which in that area had spread as far as Fullerton Avenue two blocks north. Nuala had shared the apartment with a crew of greenhorns like herself, though none of them shared her passion for neatness. The first floor was vacant. When the greenhorns were shipped back to Ireland because they were illegal and Nuala was deported though she was legal, I had bought the house at a bargain price and remodeled the second floor temporarily because I was sure she'd be back. Then I had begun the process of restoring the whole place. It was across the street from a church and a parochial school; the neighborhood was a mix of ethnics (of every hue under heaven) and gentrifying yuppies and boasted a couple of corner groceries and bars. A strip mall over on Clybourn, the nearby Kennedy Expressway, fast public transportation into the Loop, and Lincoln Park and the Lake within walking distancewhy not raise one's children here in West Lincoln Park, or DePaul (after the neighborhood university) as real estate people had recently named it?
Mind you, at the time I was making all these prudent choices, there were no children, no wife, no fiancée in the offing. I assumed that I would marry Nuala eventually, some unspecified years into the future. But about that I had no definite plans.
None that I was willing to admit to myself anyway.
So within the month I had bought a ring with which to surprise her on the Labor Day weekend along with a suggestion of a Christmas weddingonly to find that she had already chatted with her buddy, the little bishop.
The groom is always the last to know.
So the following week, I had advanced my notion of living after our marriage in the house on Southport.
I had heard then for the first time, though not the last, "Sure, whatever you think best, Dermot."
"You get a vote."
"Well, I suppose that 'Titia will like the idea of another newly married couple living in her home."
'Titia was Letitia Walsh Murray, Lace Maker, whose narrative had clarified the problem of the alleged Camp Douglas conspiracies and who had received a priceless letter from "A. Lincoln," written on that fateful Good Friday, a couple of hours before he and his wife went over to Ford's Theater to see Our American Cousin.
During the course of our investigating the Camp Douglas matter, Nuala had imagined herself bonding with Ms. Murray, a fearsome woman much like herself. Whether this bonding was metaphorical or literal, I did not know. Nor did I ask because I was sure that the explanation would not be satisfactory.
Some of the Irish, particularly if they are Irish speakers from the West, tend to live in a borderland between various worlds, all of them "real" in one way or another. When one asks them to distinguish among the degrees of real in these worlds, they are incapable of answering the question.
So, after the emotional exhaustion of the weekend retreat and mortality-reminding experience of praying at my grandparents' grave, I was not eager to face our guests at my family's home.
"You should be ashamed of yourself, Dermot Michael Coyne," Nuala admonished me with total lack of sincerity as we cuddled by the bootlegger's grave. "And yourself molesting a woman in a cemetery."
"Irish comic tradition," I said, alluding to Vivian Mercier's book which argued that for the Irish sex was a way of defying death, of asserting that life was stronger than death.
My hand was now under her sweatshirt and had found its wayon its own initiative of courseto her lace-enclosed breast.
"It would be easier, Nuala Anne, if you didn't put any barriers in my way," I said, as I slipped away the cup and felt the firm flesh and the hard nipple.
"Sure, doesn't it add to the pleasure of your exploration?"
There were two aspects of my love's complex personality that gave me great hope for our marriage. She had an almost infinite capacity to absorb affection, or to give it a more proper name, love. When I first knew her in Dublin's fair city I thought that perhaps she needed such affection because she had been deprived of it as a child. Then, when I met her parents on their pathetic but happy little farm in Galway, I understood that she was a sponge for love because she had been so totally immersed in it for her whole life. She was an actress who slipped from role to role in life depending upon the requirements of a situation, but within the changing masks she wore and her natural shyness (which she shared with most of the Irish-speaking folk) there lurked a solid core of faith in her own worth. Her concern about whether she would be a good wife was a mask, a sincere enough one, but beneath the mask, she had damn well made up her mind that she was going to be a better wife than anyone else.
Moreover, perhaps precisely because she did not doubt her value, Nuala never fended me off when I was kissing and caressing her. "Sure, Dermot me love, wouldn't I be a terrible eejit altogether, if I chose a fella because I knew I could trust him and then didn't trust him?"
So it was left to me to draw the line during our time of, as she once called it at Grand Beach, "half keeping company," and more recently of betrothal. I knew of no other relationship between young people in which that was the case.
So I delicately replaced the lace and with a quick caress of her belly, removed my hand from underneath her sweatshirt.
"You're a grand man, Dermot," she sighed. "Sure, tis meself that can hardly wait to take off all my clothes for you."
Being of my age and gender and with the hormones of my species, my fantasy had been steaming since I had first encountered her with deliciously obscene images of what I might and would and could do to Nuala when I finally got my hands on her. As our wedding night approached, this imagery often took possession of me so that I could think of nothing else. In my (relatively few) sane moments I realized that whatever would happen would be with her and not to her and would be utterly different from my exploitive fantasies. Well, partially different.
Since I'm a writer, I must try to understand the sexual fantasies of women. They hide them pretty well. My editor thinks I do a good job at it. For a man.
So I was intrigued by Nuala's telling me that she could hardly wait to undress for me. There is no law against doing research while you're courting and seducing a womanand being courted and seducedis there?
"Do you really imagine such things, Nuala?" I asked cautiously.
"Well, why wouldn't I? Sure, won't it be grand to see the light go on in your eyes?"
"Sounds like you're a bit of an exhibitionist," I said cautiously.
"Sure, aren't all of us that way? Didn't Herself design us to delight men? And so why shouldn't we enjoy it when we do? Even if they'd better enjoy us respectfully?"
"And how long have you delighted in the prospect of delighting me?"
"And yourself doing research for your stories ... Sure, don't I sometimes think you're marrying me as a research project ... And don't you already know the answer to that question? Didn't I go back to me room on that rainy night and ask meself if I'd like to undress for you?"
"And you decided?"
"That it would be brilliant fun altogether and that I'd claw the clothes off of you, too, and that you'd probably be more prudish than I am."
"Some women are very prudish," I suggested.
"That's because they're humans and not because they're women."
"So what then is modesty?"
"Modesty means that you insist that men delight in you at the right time and in the right place and in the right way and we dictate what that means ... Sure, Dermot, you don't have to worry at all at all. You do it right instinctively. Most of the time, anyway. And for the next fifty years or so, I'll edjicate you on the subject."
That was as far as I wanted to go.
"An interesting prospect," I said, patting her rear end lightly. "Maybe we should go back to my mom's."
"Aye," she said. "Still, Dermot, I don't like that grave."
"What do you think is in it?"
"I didn't say that I thought anything is in it. I said that something was wrong with it."
"Indeed you did say just that. What do you think is wrong with it?"
As hard as it is for a man to do so, I must learn the trick of listening carefully to exactly what this woman said.
"I don't know yet, darling boy, but I don't like it. Eventually I'll figure out what is wrong with it and I'll tell you before I tell anyone else."
"Now then," she said briskly, "let's go back to your ma's and face my asshole brother and his fat bitch of a wife."
Copyright © 1998 by Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, LLC.