I started out in the late morning winding through Dublin as I always do, bouncing over the crosswalks, picking up Brian as he was walking along Tara Street for reasons unknown and taking him to The Long Hall on South Great Georges Street which was completely out of the way but which is where he said he was going and at The Long Hall, sitting just inside the entry area staring up at, jesus, is he watching cricket for christsakes? was Cathal and so I had a pint and the another because I hadn't seen him in a year and just as I was finishing the first pint and thinking "'tis time to go," Saorla came in and I hadn't seen her in possibly three years, and then after two pints and a long dreamy memory as she was talking of a walk along the quays at Cobh years ago when we were the ones – just briefly but absolutely passionately ya know - I certainly needed the two cups of coffee that stretched the visit further so it was, yes, a long time before I crossed the Liffey on O'Connell Street and finally started really heading north. "If you were just dropping Brian there," she would ask later, "how did you get inside to find Cathal?" But the question was unnecessary and the answer obvious to both of us.
I finally poured some diesel into the Skoda in Monaghan. Stopping for coffee again as well, recalling certain holy days spent here instead where we were because here seemed so different to those of us born and raised north of the line. I found myself pulled into St. Macartan's Cathedral stepping through the Stations of the Cross as I had at fifteen when I momentarily felt rescued by religion, and then, again with conscious decision, I drove around the lake and walked the football pitch where, on another Sunday, I had played perhaps the best game of my life, shutting out a much superior side in a cross-border attempt to unite us Catholics peacefully through the art of sport. I came out of the match with a broken wrist and now as I feel the bump where the bone has healed not quite correctly and look at the clouds scraping across the otherwise blue sky I understand time and distance as a long line wandering among the trees of an ultimately deep forest that Ireland has not had in written history, where your vision is so limited by the wealth of nature's growth that all you have are memory and expectation.
In the next half of an hour, through Aughnacloy and Omagh and onto the Great Northern Road and into and out of Strabane, all places which things large or small, personal or historic, had marked indelibly, and finally across the Foyle into the left-side of Derry and past the walls and the murals and the pavers that have known it all and up the hill a touch. Galvin, sitting on the stepstone at his door says, "Christ-mate, she's going to murder you, have you looked at the time?" but when we go further up to get Sinéad another hour vanishes as we stare down the hill at the river flowing saying nothing, just smoking and considering, as we have since we discovered the escapes of alcohol and nicotine so long ago. I do not come north often. It is far too difficult and I love it in ways I can not tell you.
It is full dark as we roll through Donegal, Castlefinn and Killygordon just lights in the night. Into Stranolar and across this river to Ballybofey: she is at Gallen's across from
Tomorrow we will stand beside our friends as they marry, and drink, and toast the future and recall only a past that fits into the present we have embraced. She will joke about my insuitability for marriage and I will, at times, get slightly embarrassed because probably both she is right and I might indeed want more than I will ever have. But before the night ends at The Barley, we will snog like wild teens as the smell of the peat fire mixes with her perfume in her hair in a way that makes me insane.
And on Sunday we will go back together, and even dropping Sinéad and Galvin in
copyright 2006 by Ira Socol