An original short story by Wyn Cave
“Turn into the road down the side of the Bank, past the big house on the corner with a palm tree, then you take left and pass the sign that points to the dolmen. You’ll see the For Sale sign and it’s just up the lane.”
Cathy listened carefully as the estate agent stopped for breath and handed her the key to the cottage she’d seen advertised on the internet. Amazed at how trusting these Irish were, Cathy hesitantly fingered the key as he assured her she would be fine on her own, the last viewer had found it no bother.
“You can’t miss it,” the man insisted.
Couldn’t she? Half an hour later, Cathy realised she should have asked how far it was between each landmark, but eventually she came to a post that leaned sideways with the agent’s sign hanging from it and turned into the lane. Brambles scratched at the sides of her car and she wondered how long it had been since the last viewer, or anybody, had ventured up here.
“I could find Sleeping Beauty,” she muttered, but mustered on. Too bad if she got a puncture now, she’d be marooned herself.
It was worth it. The tiny cottage obviously needed work done but Cathy saw only her dream, and the roses climbing over the door were the finishing touch to the image she had carried in her mind’s eye. She was sold, and so was the cottage that had lain empty for so long.
As a child she had stayed for weekend sleepovers with her friend and the pair of them would listen as Donna’s grandmother talked of her own childhood far away in a magical land called Leitrim, in a way that called to Cathy. The picture the old lady painted was of wooded hills and waterfalls, so different from the city life she had left it for as a young bride.
“The grass looked greener to us at the time,” the grandmother sighed wistfully and Cathy hadn’t really understood what she meant because there was no grass anywhere near her terraced Manchester home, just a pavement outside the front door and a yard at the back.
“Someday I’m going to live there,” she vowed and the old lady had smiled at her indulgently.
“I nearly believe you will child,” she said, “and if you ever get to Carrick-on-Shannon you’ll know why I left my heart there.”
Though her own heart had been content while nurturing a childhood dream, Cathy one day realized that hearts were apt to follow distracting inclinations when hers flipped as soon as Simon happened, straight after university.
He became her everything, and life before Simon drifted into sweet nostalgic memory that was incomparable to being a woman in love. But love can do funny things to a heart; sometimes Cathy’s would sing and soar with happiness. Sometimes it hurt. Heart didn’t like it when Cathy cried.
When Simon finally broke her trusting heart, Cathy bandaged it up and gave it to her career, telling it that no man would be allowed to touch it again.
For five years she protected her heart and refused to listen when it said it wasn’t happy, that the adrenalin of winning contracts for work or the accolades she received through success were no substitute for the purring sensation of being in love. It misbehaved on a couple of occasions when attractive male clients had shown interest in Cathy, but she was too wary to set it free.
“We’ve been down that road. It’s too rocky,” she told her hopeful heart.
Poor heart. How it fluttered and pounded when it heard that Simon was free again. His new love was over, it had been a mistake. Simon was sorry for what he’d done and he had never meant to hurt Cathy, he wanted her back.
Her heart saw Simon’s tears and begged for him to be forgiven but alas, in conflict with Cathy’s head. The head won with its reminder that lightening can and does strike twice and Simon’s tears were rejected.
“I had a dream once,” Cathy determined, “and now I have the means to follow it.”
She had nothing to lose except a successful business and she could take that with her. Her sister had extended her house to accommodate a granny flat where their mother now lived and her father was living somewhere in Spain, having broken her mother’s heart in much the same manner as Simon had broken her own.
She was almost thirty years old and saw her future rolling in front of her, motivated only by reaching the top rung on a business ladder. She wanted more from life. Uprooting from all she knew and had achieved would be another type of challenge, but one she hoped that would bring a more peaceful fulfilment.
It took time while all that sensible stuff like surveyors reports were studied, while estimates for renovations were considered and legalities of ownership were finally tidied away, but Cathy kept telling herself that everything passes and one day everything had. Workmen were gone and her cottage was ready for decorating and furnishing.
This was the scene she had been waiting for, because as an interior designer that was what she was trained to do. She planned to work as a consultant from home once she was settled in and got her business advertised, and the little barn behind her cottage would make the perfect workshop.
Meanwhile, she set to work, painting her walls with the help of a local handyman who seemed able to do anything and to Cathy’s relief, charged reasonable fees. Her bank balance wasn’t bottomless and buying her cottage had made a sizeable hole in it, not to mention the cost of renovations.
The sooner she got her business up and running the better, and if Mick the handyman was going to stick around, even better again. He was a godsend and she came to rely on his advice and knowledge of the locality. But not on his instructions for directions, she decided; his were more confusing than the estate agent’s had been vague.
“You know that road left of the bridge?” he asked her, “past the shed with the red roof?” Cathy nodded, taking mental notes.
“Well, that’s the road you don’t go,” he declared, “wrong direction entirely.”
Exasperated, Cathy decided she loved these people from whose midst Donna’s grandmother had come. And she loved this place with it’s peace and timeless quality. The cottage seemed isolated but Cathy soon realized she had more neighbours than at first appeared, living ‘over beyond’ as they told her. Over beyond where, was another piece of vaguary she found charming; it seemed to mean anywhere out of view.
One day an elderly man had called to introduce himself and to offer a warm welcome to her new surroundings.
“So, you’ve come from across the water,” he informed her. “They say you’re going to be doing up houses for people and turning the barn there into a workshop for making curtains.”
Well, he had it more or less right but Cathy was intrigued. He wasn’t prying because he was stating facts. But how did he know all about her she wondered, before it occurred to her that the countryside contained a grapevine that somehow knew everything. And the strange thing was she didn’t mind, because it seemed there was nothing that wasn’t known and openly discussed in a community that was already drawing her in and making her feel almost part of an extended family.
With Mick’s help the cottage was soon finished to satisfaction and since he had no imminent work on hand, Cathy asked if he would tackle her overgrown lane and perhaps restore the patch of garden in front of the cottage from wildness.
With pleasure Mick agreed and her heart did a little bump.
“Behave,” Cathy told it, “I warned you, we’ve been down that road.”
Ok, so he had strong arms and a lopsided smile and high cheek bones; he had mad auburn hair and piercing blue eyes, and one front tooth was attractively crooked. In fact he fitted Cathy’s image of a modern day Cuchulainn with his intense presence and mastery of any chore set before him. But why was she having an argument with her heart anyway she asked herself; it was her head Cathy listened to these days.
Heart had landed her in enough trouble in the past and here it was playing those silly tricks again every time Mick turned that crooked smile her way. She still required Mick’s help and he was easy to be around, that was all, no more to it. He would start by cutting back the bushes, he said. But not the roses over the door.
“I know, leave the roses. Don’t touch the roses,” he grinned.
There was another reason why Cathy was happy to have Mick stay about but she didn’t mention it. The last few evenings she had noticed a figure on the edge of the wood, just before the last light of day dropped. It would stand there for a few minutes then disappear into the deeper darkness of the trees. Probably nothing to worry about she shrugged. People were entitled to come and go as they pleased.
When came the night of the storm, a freak summer storm that sent rain lashing and wind howling around her cottage and made her glad that her replacement windows and retiled roof would withstand the onslaught.
The sudden smack on her front door made her jump and then she froze with fear as it was repeated. She crept towards the door, then backed away again when it sounded as though someone was thumping on the other side.
“I know who you are,” Cathy shouted weakly in an attempt at bravery. “Go away. You’re about to be arrested.” Her warning sounded strangled even to her, and with hands shaking she fumbled with her mobile ‘phone to ring Mick.
“I’ll be there in two minutes,” he promised. “Don’t open the door.”
With courage returning now that she knew assistance was on the way Cathy thumped back from inside.
“I’ve seen you hanging about, I know you,” she yelled, banging with her fist.
The door was bashed again in answer and Cathy was outraged. Her brand new door, freshly painted! In a fit of anger she yanked it open and her rosebush, whipping in the wind, lashed her full in the face. For a moment she was stunned by shock, then relief. Weak at the knees and collapsing with laughter she slid down the doorframe to the front step just as Mick’s powerful motorbike tore up the lane.
“Are you hurt?” Mick gasped. “Where is he?”
“Up there,” Cathy pointed to her rose, laughing hysterically as rain soaked her hair and dripped off her chin.
Mick shook his soaking red hair. The cause of the crisis, broken free from it’s trellis, was lashing them both now as they huddled on the step.
“I thought you’d been attacked,” he said, concern written all over his face.
“I was scared,” Cathy admitted, “there was a man loitering about sometimes you see. Going into the wood at night.”
Mick began to laugh himself.
“That’s old Hugh Mac, he watches the badgers. You should have mentioned it.”
Neither of them seemed to notice that they were sitting on a doorstep in a rainstorm with their arms around one another, ‘till the rose delivered a further soaking wallop.
“Come on, we should get you indoors,” Mick urged.
“I kind of like it where we are,” Cathy replied shyly.
Heart kind of liked it too, because their lips were very close together now and Cathy’s pulse was doing a little dance, ignoring the rain lashing down on them. The warm purring feeling that Heart had been waiting to find again was growing stronger, and this time something told Cathy’s heart that the feeling was here to stay.
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