Lana Pedersen’s travels take her back and forth across the width of Ireland. Here are two more of her Irish Firebrands adventures.
Chapter 10: Lana and Frank have finished their pub crawl in Dublin, but Frank is a little the worse for wear. How will Lana get home?
THE session crashed to a close with triumphant hoots from the musicians and uproarious cheers from the patrons. When the din subsided and the barman announced, “Time, now!” Lana took Frank’s arm, and they shuffled along with the crowd to the damp outdoors.
“Looks like we’ve put the town to bed,” Lana said.
Frank had downed a pint at dinner, and one in each of the bars they’d visited during the pub crawl and on their own – and it showed. Lacking the press of a dense crowd to hold him up, he swayed like Foucault’s pendulum. He yawned. “Well, I don’t know about the town, but I could use a bed, myself. There’s that hotel I know, nearby – we can stop there for the night.”
“That’s right. We. You and me.”
“Um – I didn’t exactly plan for that.”
“Well, I did, Darlin’ – I’ll take care of it all. You just come along – for the ride.”
All evening she’d enjoyed crossing swords of coquetry with him, and she knew that even when in his cups, he was quite capable of making a dangerous double entendre. The emphasis he’d employed alerted her that he intended behaviour that had nothing to do with giving her a lift.
“I didn’t plan for that, either. Tell you what – I’ll hail a taxi. You can get out at that hotel, and the driver can take me on to Busáras. The bus can drop me where I’ll have about a kilometre to walk home.”
“Not at this hour! That’s not safe for a woman.”
“Am I any safer with you?”
“Ah, Lana, it’s a hard one, you are. Soft on the outside, steel on the inside–”
“Flattery will get you nowhere, Frank.”
He mulled that over … and sighed. “Well, let’s find my car and go home, then.”
“Um – no offence, but you’re in no condition–”
“Well, then, you drive.”
“But I’ve never driven a car with right-hand drive.”
“It’s not hard to switch – I drive a left-hand in France.”
“What if I get in the wrong lane?”
“You’ll be grand. Just remember, right or left, the driver’s always in the centre of the road.”
“But I don’t know how to get there from here.”
“Not to worry. I’ll navigate.”
“In your condition?”
“Listen – you don’t want to get a room, and we can’t stop in the street – unless you’ve an interest in trying the bed in a Garda holding cell.”
He had her, there. “Okay. Can you get me as far as Trim? I’ll drop you at the hotel there, and bring your car back in the morning.”
“Darlin’, I can get you anywhere in Ireland.”
“Well, let’s go, then. Which way’s the river?”
“Where are we?” She led him to the corner and he squinted up at the street sign mounted on the side of the building … and then he pointed– “That way.”
She took his arm and they crossed the street. It was a harrowing trek – the paving bricks glistened with moisture that she feared might prove to be too slippery for her companion’s unsteady tread, and when back on the footpath she shrank from dark doorways that alternately sheltered lovers or lushes, and she recoiled from alleyways that reeked of urine and echoed with retching. This was not the pretty face of Dublin. They don’t call this neighbourhood ‘Temple Barf’, for nothing.
It was encouraging to see the River Liffey ahead, shimmering under the street lamps as they approached the Quay. After crossing to the riverside she was unsure of which way to go, and so she was glad when he turned and proceeded confidently along the footpath. Then his wandering feet led him too close to the low wall that guarded the river’s brink, and she had to steer him back towards the kerb. She felt faint with relief when they finally reached the car.
Lana shivered in the breeze off the water while Frank fumbled for his keys. When he produced them, he handed them over without protest and placidly permitted her to bundle him into the passenger seat.
She slid behind the wheel and adjusted the seat and mirrors. “You buckled up?”
“Sure, sure.” He was still groping for the straps.
She reached across his chest for the buckle. He promptly wrapped his arms around her and pressed his cheek against her hair.
“Ah, you smell good!”
“Thanks. You smell like beer.” She tried to untangle the straps.
“I could eat you alive!”
“Well, you’re too pickled, for my taste. Now, let me go, so I can buckle you in.”
“I’ll start with your ear, like this–”
He sighed and released her. “Are all American women like you?”
“I don’t know. Are all Irishmen like you?”
“Some of ’em try to be – but there’s only one Frank Halligan!”
Thank God for that! Talk about losing your inhibitions!
Lana smoothed out the straps, drew them across Frank’s body, fastened the buckle – and then he seized her hand and pressed it against his abdomen. Electrified by the intimacy of feeling his muscles moving under his shirt as he breathed, she watched his eyes glitter in the darkness as they searched her face – and then he leant towards her … and ever so gently he nuzzled her nose.
This unexpectedly lover-like caress paralysed her with anticipation, and she waited breathlessly for his lips to touch hers – but instead he leant back and slowly released his grasp on her fingers … then he trailed one fingertip across the back of her hand…. Goose bumps galloped up her arm and across her shoulders.
“Time to go home, Darlin’,” he said.
The spell broke with an almost perceptible pop. The sudden release of tension startled her, and she felt both relief and regret.
“Right!” She put the key in the ignition, stepped on the clutch and started the car. Then she switched on the headlights, and the dashboard blazed with dials: to her dismay, it looked like the cockpit of a helicopter. Fortunately, she already knew how to drive a standard transmission. All she need worry about was shifting left-handed, and staying on the correct side of the road.
“All right, Navigator – how do I get out of here?”
“Just signal and go. Stay out of the bus lane, and you’ll be grand.”
She put the car in gear and nervously eased it out into the street; then she accelerated slowly and felt her way through the gear lever pattern. A blue and yellow bus overtook her, but other traffic was sparse. Better to do this at two in the morning than two in the afternoon, I guess.
“Where do we cross the river?”
“Not here. Too many one-way streets. We’ll get out of town first.”
Ahead on the right, she saw a lighted web of white girders that leapt the river in a graceful arch that was replicated, wrong side up, in the dark waters beneath the span. That’s Ha’penny Bridge. A bit later, they passed a colossal illuminated edifice with a cupcake-like rotunda, crouching on the opposite bank above its inverted reflection in the river.
“The Four Courts. You don’t want to go there! Now, Guinness Brewery’s coming up, and then the road forks. You want to bear left.”
In a few moments, the serrated silhouette of the Guinness warehouse gables loomed up, and Lana merged left. The fork in the road swooped away from the Quays in a sharp S-curve that she negotiated with a feeling of euphoria. Maybe this won’t be so hard, after all. She relaxed her stranglehold on the steering wheel, and the feeling crept back into her fingers.
“Not much. Stay on the N4. It turns into the M4. Follow it to the M6. Then wake me up.”
Panic seized her. “What do you mean, wake you up?”
Frank laughed. “Nothin’, Darlin’! I won’t leave you alone.”
“You’d better not!”
But slowly their trek through the sleeping suburbs of Dublin began to show a resemblance to drives she’d taken through suburban America. Indeed, what Lana could see of the motorway in the dark reminded her of the George Washington Parkway, with its lanes buried in woods and sporadically spanned by the odd bridge. The biggest difference was that the slipways were on the left.
Then they passed a brown sign that bore a white line drawing of a fish leaping above wave-like squiggles, and the inscription, ‘An Life – R. Liffey’. The road noise altered as the car crossed a bridge over flat black water between tree-lined banks. Dublin was behind them.
(Drogheda is the site of one of the massacres committed by Cromwell during the 1600s. Click on the image for a description of this remnant of the town wall.)
Chapter 18: Lana and Dillon have gone to Drogheda, where they’ve made some unexpected discoveries about Dillon’s late wife:
“What do we do now?” she said.
He sighed sharply. “It’s too late to do anything about this, today.” He folded the paper and put it into the inside breast pocket of his jacket.
His tone provided a potent reminder that he was not one to suffer frustration with tranquillity. If she didn’t want to find herself on the receiving end of that frustration, she’d have to come up with a good distraction…. Then the elephant reared its head, and she blurted out, “How about visiting Mo’s grave?”
He turned upon her in a way that made her think of a rabbit caught in the headlights, darting and dodging its heart out– “Mo’s grave!”
Lana recalled the word she’d washed down the drain…. Now, what have I done? She’d give him a chance to fudge his way out of it. “Didn’t you say she’s buried here?”
Dillon looked cornered. “I did.”
She was committed, now. “And you said you’d go – if I went with you.”
His gaze gripped hers for a long, breathless moment – and then he grabbed her arm and ran with her back to the truck. Once behind the wheel, he piloted the pickup in grim silence across the Boyne and through a massive stone barbican, and then threaded a warren of lanes below a bluff from which a Martello tower brooded. Upon emerging into the suburbs on the other side of town, he made an abrupt turn into a hillside churchyard and halted the truck with a jerk.
Dillon was out the door in an instant, and when Lana reached for his outstretched hand, he seized her wrist and hauled her unceremoniously across the seat and out of the cab. Then he raced up the slope, dragging her stumbling beside him as he dodged between the tombstones.
Blog text © 2016 Christine Plouvier. Excerpts © 2012 – 2016 Christine Plouvier. All Rights Reserved.