What the Wind Knows (Page 65)
“I don’t care if she’s married, Deirdre,” Maeve snapped. “I just want to hear the story. I’m tired of gossip. I want to know the truth.”
“What happened to Thomas Smith, Maeve?” I asked, deciding I would ask a few questions of my own. “You and I never talked about him.”
“Who was Thomas Smith?” Deirdre said between sips.
“The man who painted that picture,” Maeve said. “The doctor who owned Garvagh Glebe when I was a girl. I left when I was seventeen, after passing all my accounting examinations. I went to London to work at the Kensington Savings and Loan. It was a grand time. The doctor paid for my schooling and my first year’s room and board. He paid for all our schooling. Every O’Toole held him in the highest regard.”
“What happened to him, Maeve? Is he in Ballinagar too?” I asked, bracing myself. My cup rattled against the saucer, and I set both down abruptly.
“No. When Eoin left Garvagh Glebe in 1933, the doctor left too. Neither of them ever came back, as far as I know.”
“Now, who was Eoin again?” Poor Deirdre was trying to keep up.
“My grandfather, Eoin Gallagher,” I supplied. “He was raised here, at Garvagh Glebe.”
“So you’re related to the woman in the picture!” Deirdre crowed, mystery solved.
“Yes,” I said, nodding. Closely related.
Maeve was having none of it. “But you told Kevin that Anne Smith is your name,” she insisted again.
“She’s a famous author, Maeve! Of course she has aliases.” Deirdre laughed. “I must say, though, Anne Smith isn’t terribly original.” She laughed again. When Maeve and I didn’t laugh with her, she finished her tea in a gulp, her cheeks scarlet. “I brought something for you, Anne,” she rushed. “Remember the books I mentioned to you? About the author with the same name? I thought you might like your own copies, with a little one on the way.” She flushed again. “They’re delightful, really.” She opened the big bag beside her chair.
She drew out a stack of brand-new children’s books, shiny black rectangles, each one with a little red sailboat drifting across a moonlit lake on the cover. The Adventures of Eoin Gallagher was written across the top in Thomas’s bold hand. Along the bottom, each title was printed in white.
“My favorite is the adventure with Michael Collins,” Deirdre said, browsing through the stack to find it. I must have moaned in distress because her eyes shot to my face, and Maeve cursed on a sigh.
“You are a ninny, Deirdre,” Maeve groused. “Those books were written by Anne Gallagher Smith.” Maeve pointed up at my portrait. “The woman in the picture, the woman who drowned in the lough, Thomas Smith’s wife, and the woman who wrote those children’s books are all the same person.”
“B-but . . . these were published last spring and donated to commemorate the eighty-fifth anniversary of the Easter Rising. Every library in Ireland received a box of them. I had no idea.”
“May I see them?” I whispered. Deirdre set them reverently on my lap and watched as I looked through them with shaking hands. There were eight of them, just like I remembered.
“Written by Anne Gallagher Smith. Illustrated by Dr. Thomas Smith,” I read, running my thumb across our names. That part was new. I opened the cover on the first book and read the dedication: In loving memory of a magical time. Beneath the dedication it said, “Donated by Eoin Gallagher.”
They’d been professionally reproduced on thick glossy paper and machine bound. But each picture and each page, from the cover to the last line, was identical to the original.
“My grandfather did this. These were his books. He didn’t tell me . . . didn’t show me. I knew nothing about this,” I marveled, my voice hushed in tearful wonder.
“Those copies are yours, Anne,” Deirdre pressed. “A gift. I hope I haven’t upset you.”
“No,” I choked. “No. I’m just . . . surprised. They are wonderful. Forgive me.”
Maeve looked as if the wind had been knocked out of her. Her vinegar was gone; her questions quieted. I had a feeling she knew exactly who I was but had decided it served no purpose to make me admit it.
“We loved Anne,” she muttered. Her lips began to tremble. “Some people talked. Some people said terrible things after she . . . died. But the O’Tooles loved her. Robbie loved her. I loved her. We all missed her dreadfully when she was gone.”
I used my napkin to blot my eyes, unable to speak, and noted that Deirdre was wiping her eyes as well.
Maeve stood, leaning heavily on her cane, and headed for the door. The visit was apparently over. Deirdre rushed to rise as well, sniffling and apologizing for leaving mascara on my cloth napkin. I placed the books carefully on a shelf and followed them out, feeling overwrought and weak-kneed.
Maeve hesitated at the door and let Deirdre exit first.
“If his journals are still on that top shelf, they will tell you all you need to know, Anne,” Maeve said. “Thomas Smith was a remarkable man. You should write a book about him. And don’t be afraid to go back to Ballinagar. The dead have a great deal to teach us. I’ve got my own plot picked out.”
I nodded, emotional once more. I longed for the day when my pain and my tears weren’t so close to the surface.
“Come visit me, will you?” Maeve grumbled. “All my other friends are dead. I can’t drive anymore, and I can’t speak freely with Deirdre listening. She’d have me committed, and I don’t want to spend my last years in the loony bin.”
“I’ll visit you, Maeve,” I said, giggling through my tears, and I meant it.
I couldn’t face the top shelf. Not right away. I waited several days, hovering in the library only to retreat again, arms wrapped around myself and barely holding on. I’d been standing on a ledge since leaving 1922. I couldn’t move forward or back. Couldn’t move to the left or the right. I couldn’t sleep or breathe too deeply for fear of falling. So I held perfectly still on my ledge, making no sudden moves, and in that stillness I existed. I coped.
Kevin found me in the library, clinging to the ladder, not climbing, not moving, my eyes glued to the top shelf.
“Can I help you, Anne?” he asked. He still wasn’t comfortable calling me Anne, and his hesitation to say my name made me feel as old as Maeve and separated from him by six decades instead of six years.
I moved away from the ladder gingerly, still firmly on my ledge. “Will you see if there are some journals on the top shelf?” I pointed. “Maybe you could hand them down to me.” In my mind, I could hear a rush of smattering pebbles; I was standing too close to the edge. I closed my eyes and sipped the air, willing myself to be calm.
I heard Kevin climbing the ladder, the rungs protesting each step.
“There are journals, all right. Looks like six or seven of them.”
“Will you just open one and read the date at the top of the page . . . please?” I panted.
“All right,” he said, and I heard the reservation in his voice. Pages ruffled. “This one says 4 February 1928 . . . um, it looks like it starts in ’28 and ends”—the pages ruffled again—“in June of 1933.”
“Will you read me something? It doesn’t matter which page. Just read whatever it says.”
“This page says 27 September 1930,” Kevin reported.
Eoin’s grown so tall, and his feet and hands are as big as mine. I caught him trying to shave last week and ended up giving him a lesson, the two of us standing in front of the mirror, bare-chested, our faces lathered, razors in hand. It’ll be a while yet—a long while—before he needs to remove his beard with any regularity, but now he knows the basics. I told him how his mother used to steal my razor to shave her legs. It embarrassed him and embarrassed me. It was too intimate a detail for a boy of fifteen. I forgot myself for a moment, remembering her. It’s been more than eight years, but I can still feel Anne’s smooth skin, still see it when I close my eyes.
Kevin stopped reading.
“Read something else,” I whispered.
He turned the pages and began again.
Our child would have been ten years old now had Anne stayed. Eoin and I don’t talk about Anne as much as we used to. But I’m convinced we think about her even more. Eoin is planning to go to medical school in the States; he’s got Brooklyn in his head. Brooklyn and baseball and Coney Island. When he goes, I’ll go too. I’ve fallen out of love with the view from my window. If I’m to be alone for the rest of my life, I’d just as soon see the world as sit here watching the lough, waiting for Anne to come home.
“Can you hand it down?” I interrupted, needing to hold the book in my arms, to hold what was left of my Thomas.
Kevin bent down, the book dangling from his fingers, and I took it from him, drawing it to my nose and inhaling desperately, trying to find the smell of Thomas lingering in the pages. I sneezed violently, and Kevin laughed, surprising me.
“I need to tell Jemma she isn’t doing a very bang-up job of dusting,” he said. His laughter eased the tight knot in my chest, and I made myself set the book aside for later.