Memories can be precious… I will never forget my first day with Helena. The euphoria of the previous evening had not diminished-it had grown if anything. Our kiss in the moonlight had remained just that-a kiss. It hardly occurred to me that there could be anything else (but I am notoriously slow in these matters). Helena tells me she appreciated what she saw as my restraint.

I was up early and pestering the kitchen staff to prepare me a picnic basket. As an Aussie, it had taken me a while to adapt to the practice of tipping, but Switzerland, Austria and Germany had taught me the importance of Trinkgeld. Joe, in Dublin, had explained how, especially in the Hospitality industry, tips were an essential supplement to a barely living wage. In the kitchen I was lavish, and the harried breakfast staff seemed delighted to divert some of their energies to help a lovesick tourist.

Lovesick! The concept struck me like a bombshell. My inner observer was raising a quizzical eyebrow but noted the fact that it seemed to be true. My eagerness to see Helena again had me prowling ’round the hotel’s public rooms at seven o’clock in the morning, while our arrangement to meet at breakfast was for eight. I couldn’t even settle to read a book! .The endless time passed though, and at last, there she was.

There is a certain subtle quality to kisses that constantly surprises me, (not that I’m an expert), an elusive communication factor that I cannot analyse. When I kissed Helena in greeting that morning it was not the same kiss as that of the previous evening. Somehow, both of us had moved on, and, miracle of miracles, by exactly the same amount, to exactly the same place!

We drove to Ross castle and I parked the car. I hadn’t done any rowing since college, but I’m sure it is like riding a bike, some skills you don’t forget. I hired a boat-bought it more likely, I thought ruefully, (sometimes I forget I’m a millionaire).

I carried the picnic basket, and Helena, in addition to her handbag, carried a small holdall. It looked quite heavy and I offered to take it.

‘No,’ said Helena, ‘It is something I must do.’

I rowed us across to the island of Innisfallen. Lough Leane is a large lake but the island, thank God, is not in the middle. One kilometre, two? I don’t know and I didn’t care. The weather was still fine, a little brisk perhaps, but all to the good as I worked up a bit of energy propelling the boat. I was happy as I beamed at Helena, but she sat increasingly solemn, clasping her holdall, unwilling, it seemed, to put it down.

‘What have you got there?’ I asked jokingly, ‘The crown jewels?’

‘Not what. Who.’ said Helena seriously. ‘Michael Patrick O’Donoghue. I promised to bring him home.’ She sighed. ‘Poor Michael, he made me promise that I would bring him back to Killarney. We didn’t have much money. He had a little bit of Super coming. But a promise is a promise. I said I’d bring him home. The O’Donoghues were the Lords of Ross, and their spiritual home was Innisfallen. I must take his ashes to the monastery.

Once on the island, we took the ashes to the ruins of an ancient monastery where Brian Boru, the famous High King of Ireland is said to have received his early education. Somehow, scattering ashes is not a skill often practised and we were both at a loss how to proceed. Nature came to our assistance. A great gust of wind swept through the ruins as we emptied the urn. Michael Patrick had rejoined his ancestors.

Helena seemed sad but relieved that her task had been accomplished. There is always a feeling of anticlimax, a ‘what do I do now’ feeling, when a distant goal is reached. Tactfully I busied myself with the picnic things. The spot we had chosen was sheltered from the wind by a grove of trees but had a fabulous view of the lake and a diminutive Ross castle outlined against the sky on the mainland.

I produced the many goodies packed by my friends in the kitchen and spread a colourful plastic sheet on the damp grass. I laid out a fine selection. There was a cold roast chicken, ham, salad, olives, freshly baked bread, a chunk of what looked like locally made butter, hard-boiled eggs, pickles, chutneys and a bottle of Rhine Riesling. They had not forgotten a corkscrew, two stainless steel goblets and all the necessary cutlery

‘There,’ I said, ‘How’s that.’

‘Marvellous,’ said Helena, casting aside her gloom, ‘Suddenly I’m hungry. Let’s eat.’

The rest of the day was a delight Back in the car, we drove to all the local places listed in the tourist guide but mostly we talked. At first, I guided the conversation towards Helena, her story, the story of her husband. I empathised. Somehow, of all the women I had known (not many, I admit,) I felt for her a surpassing tenderness, something so overwhelming, that it eclipsed passion.

Then, tentatively, I told my own story.

I felt that my only chance with her was to be completely honest: The lottery win; my attitudes to travel; my involuntary acquisition of Bonnie; my discovery of feelings; about my relationship with Bonnie; about Fritz; about leaving her in Frankfurt; about phoning Bonnie in my loneliness; and about meeting her tomorrow in Shannon.

‘How was I to know that I was going to fall in love with you?’ I asked ‘What do I do now?’

‘Today you helped me in a way I can’t begin to express.’ Helena soothed.’ Let’s go back to my room and draw up a flow chart. Maybe we can work something out.

‘You really helped me this morning. You were so supportive that I owe you. It is time I did my good deed’

We went back to her room.

 

© Copyright H.St V.Beechey October 1996

 

 

Next Episode: Good Planning

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