What the Wind Knows (Page 69)
The sound grew stronger, drifting in with the tide, and I stepped toward it, listening for the whistler to finish his tune. It warbled and broke, and I waited for an encore. When none came, I pursed my lips and finished the song for him, the sound breathy and soft and a little off-key. But I recognized the melody.
They can’t forget, they never will, the wind and waves remember Him still.
I’d called to him before. I’d screamed his name across the water until I was hoarse and hopeless. But I called to him again.
His name hung precariously in the air, weighty and wishful, before it teetered and fell, sinking like a stone beneath the surface. The lough whispered back with liquid lips, slow and sighing. Tho-mas, Tho-mas, Tho-mas.
The bow appeared first, shifting in and out of sight. The lough was playing hide-and-seek. There it was again. Closer. Someone was rowing with steady strokes. The pull and release of the paddle through the water mocked a hushed endearment, the sound of his name becoming the sound of his voice. Coun-tess, Coun-tess, Coun-tess.
Then I saw him. A peaked cap, broad shoulders, a tweed coat, and pale eyes. Pale-blue eyes clinging to mine. He said my name, low and disbelieving, as the small red boat split the fog and slid toward the shore, so close I heard the oar scrape the sand.
Then he was standing, using the oar like a Venetian gondolier, and I was sinking to my knees on the rocky shore, crying his name. The little boat bellied up to the beach, and he stepped out onto solid ground, tossing the oar aside and pulling his hat from his head. He clutched it against his chest, like a nervous suitor come to call. His dark hair was shot with silver, and a few more lines creased the corners of his eyes. But it was Thomas.
He hesitated, teeth clenched, gaze pleading, as though he didn’t know how to greet me. I tried to rise, to go to him, and he was suddenly there, swooping me up and holding me against him, the swell of our child cradled between us, his face buried in my hair. For a moment, neither of us spoke, our burning lungs and pounding hearts stealing our speech and robbing our senses.
“How is it that I’ve lost eleven years, and you haven’t aged at all?” he cried into my curls, his joy tinged in sorrow. “Is this my child, or have I lost you too?”
“This is your child, and you will never lose me,” I vowed, stroking his hair, touching his face, my hands as delirious as my heart. Thomas was wrapped around me, so close I felt every breath, but it wasn’t enough. I drew his face to mine, frantic, afraid I would wake without kissing him goodbye.
He was so real and so wonderfully familiar. The scrape of his cheeks, the press of his lips, the taste of his mouth, the salt of his tears. He kissed me like he’d kissed me the first time and every time after that, pouring himself out, holding nothing back. But this kiss was flavored with long absence and new hope, and with every sigh and second that passed, I began to believe in an afterlife.
“You stayed in Ireland,” he choked, his lips skimming across my cheeks, down my nose, and over the point of my chin, his fingers cradling my face.
“Someone told me once that when people leave Ireland, they never go back. I couldn’t bear the thought of never going back. So I stayed. And you stayed with Eoin,” I said, overwhelmed.
He nodded, his eyes so full and fierce that tears trickled down my face and pooled in the palms of his hands.
“I stayed until he told me it was time to go.”
On July 12, 1933, the day after Eoin’s eighteenth birthday, Thomas lowered the little red rowboat from the rafters in his barn and packed a small suitcase with a box of gold coins, a change of clothes, and a few photographs. He thought he might need something that had belonged to me in 2001, something that would guide his travel, and slipped the diamond earrings I’d sold Mr. Kelly into his pocket; he’d bought them back the day after I pawned them. He had the empty urn that once held Eoin’s ashes, and he knew the verse I’d recited that day on the lough, the poem by Yeats that spoke of fairies and riding on the wind.
But Thomas was convinced the diamonds, the dust, and the fairy words made no difference whatsoever. When it was all said and done, he simply hitched a ride to 2001. The moment the boat was returned to the lough, it began to sail toward home, slipping through the ages, parting the waters, and calling the mist. Eoin had watched it disappear.
We left the boat on the shore, the paddle in the sand and the lough behind us. Thomas was wide-eyed but unafraid, his suitcase in his hand, his cap back on his head. I doubted much about Thomas would change, regardless of the decade he called home. For eleven years, two months, and twenty-six days, he had patiently waited. He’d worried that I would be gone, that he would have to find me in an unknown world and across an ocean. He expected to find a son or daughter half grown, if he found us at all. And what if time took him somewhere he didn’t want to go, and he lost everything? It was the legend of Niamh and Oisín all over again.
And still he came.
13 November 2001
Friday, 9 November 2001, was the day I arrived. Eleven years, two months, and twenty-six days were condensed to one hundred thirty-four days. Anne’s ten months in 1921–22 were reduced to ten days when she returned. I’ve tried to puzzle it out, but it’s like trying to wrap my mind around the creation of the universe. I spent ten minutes studying a child’s toy in Lyons department store yesterday—the store still exists! The expansion and contraction of the toy—Anne called it a Slinky—made me consider time in a whole new way. Maybe time is coiled into ever-widening (or tightening) circles, layered and wrapped around the next. I spread my arms as wide as I could, lengthening the coils of the Slinky, and then I pressed my hands together, flattening it between my palms, intrigued. Anne insisted on buying it for me.
I told her my new theory on time and toys last night as we laid in her glorious bed. It is enormous, yet we sleep spooned together, her back to my chest, her head beneath my chin. I can’t quit touching her, but she suffers from the same insecurity. It will be a while before either of us can bear any type of separation. I was in the shower—so much hot water coming at such a wonderful velocity—and she joined me after a few minutes, her eyes shy and her cheeks pink.
“I was afraid . . . and I didn’t want to be alone,” she said. She didn’t need to explain or apologize. Her presence there led to another discovery. The shower is delightful for a variety of reasons. But apparently there is a limit to the hot-water supply.
The trip to Sligo made me appreciate Anne a little more, if that is possible. I can’t imagine the fear and intimidation she must have felt that first time, trying to navigate a new world (and new clothes) while pretending to be someone who was well accustomed to it. We ended up purchasing a wardrobe that looks much like my old one. Peaked hats, white button-downs, and trousers haven’t gone out of fashion. Suspenders have. Vests have. But Anne says the style suits me, and I can wear whatever I like. I’ve noticed I dress like the old men. But I am an old man—even older than Maeve, who has taken all of this in remarkable stride. We went and paid her a visit today. We talked for hours of the years I missed and the loved ones who are now gone. When we left, I embraced her and thanked her for being a friend to Anne, both now and then.
Anne’s going to write our story. I’ve asked if I can pick my character’s name, and she agreed. She also wants me to pick our child’s name. If it’s a boy, he will be Michael Eoin. I’ve had more trouble thinking of a name for a lass. I don’t want her to be named for the past. She will be a girl of the future, like her mother. Anne says maybe we should call her Niamh. It made me laugh. Niamh is one of the oldest names in Ireland. Niamh, the Princess of Tír na nÓg, the Land of the Young. But perhaps it is fitting.
Anne is even more beautiful than I remember. I haven’t told her—I don’t think women like comparisons, even with their old selves. Her hair is glorious. She makes no effort to control it here, and it curls with complete and joyous abandon; it curls the way Anne makes love. She laughs at her burgeoning belly and her swollen breasts and the way she waddles and can’t see her toes, but all I want to do is look at her.
We’re going to Dublin in the morning. Anne says eventually we will see all of Ireland together. I recognize old Ireland beneath her new clothes. She hasn’t changed much, Éireann, and when I look out at the lough and up into the hills, she hasn’t changed at all.
Dublin might be hard for me. I went back very little in the ten years after Mick died. He lurked around every corner, and I had no wish to be there without him. I wish he could see Dublin with me now, and I wonder what the world would have looked like had he lived.
We’ll go to his grave at Glasnevin when we’re through, and I’ll describe all the ways the world has changed for the better, even in Ireland. I’ll tell him I found my Annie. I wish I could see his face; he took her loss so hard. I’ll tell him I found my girl, and I’ll ask him to keep an eye on my boy.
Eoin is very present. He’s in the wind. I can’t explain it, but I have no doubt he’s here. Anne showed me the books—The Adventures of Eoin Gallagher—and I felt him beside me, turning the pages. Then she handed me a box teeming with letters Eoin had insisted she keep. Hundreds of them. Anne says she never understood why he hadn’t sent them. They are dated and bundled in decades. There are more from the early years, but at least two for every year of his long life, and all of them are addressed to me. He promised he would write. And he did.