Lorna was nervous but tried not to show it – especially to Kevin. He drove competently and seemed unaware of her tension. Of course she had known for months it would come to this. There had to be an end to the hiding some day. And now she was going to have to present him to her parents. She shuddered …. or thought she had; thankfully, Kevin hadn’t noticed.
They passed a small wood in a hollow, the trees still wearing their autumn leaves but some already lying on the road, jewels of yellows, oranges and reds, mixed with green, glittering with the wet of a recent shower. In that wood one summer, in her teens, a picnic and a boy, hands trembling exploring, fast-beating heart, her virginity gladly given. at The memory sparked a little arousal; she looked out the passenger window in case it showed in her face. Kevin could be very perceptive …. often just when she didn’t want him to be.
As they drove through the Sligo village she remembered so well from her childhood and teens, she began surreptitiously to do her breathing exercises. Approaching the side road, she had a sudden impulse to say nothing, to just keep going. “Left ahead,” she said instead. And, a little further, “Turn right there, Kevin. Right … that’s the house.”
Slightly uphill from the parking space, the path ran up to and curved along the house to the front door. The house, traditionally whitewashed and, with the exception of the conservatory added to the end, pretty traditional in appearance too. The treetops, grown taller, visible behind the roof, the fuschia bushes growing along the path and the cotoneaster hugging the house wall. Bel, kept inside the house so as not to frighten the expected visitor, barking an intruder warning.
The engine switched off, Kevin looking at the house, then at her. “Looks lovely”, he said and sounded as though he meant it. She turned to him, smiling brightly: “Get the bags, will you? Do the traditional male thing. I’ll carry the wine and the flowers.”
He kissed her quickly, grinned and got out of the car, leaving her free to do her breathing exercises unobserved. In …. hold, two, three, four, five. Out, two, three, four, five …..
Walking up the path, Bel barking madly now, hearing the crunch of gravel. As Lorna got near the door, she called out to the dog. The barking stopped a second at voice recognition, then started again – welcoming this time. The outer door opened, her father there, the skin around his eyes crinkling as he smiled. A hug, careful with the flowers, and a “Fáilte abhaile, a stór.” Then the appraising look at Kevin, the hand stretched out: “And to you too, young man.”
Her father turned and opened the inner door. There was her mother, holding Bel back by his collar as he whined and wriggled, his tail whipping from side to side. Lorna put the flowers and wine on the table and went to the dog, giving him her hand and, while he lathered it with his saliva, hugged her mother cautiously. Then she took the dog to introduce him to Kevin. Of course Bel could smell her on the stranger and that made the introductions easier.
After the greetings, matters proceeded through stages – coffee and tea and biscuits, inquiries about the journey, traffic and road surfaces, comments on the weather, a little local news, as Bel gazed at Lorna and thumped his tail from time to time, her mother jumping up regularly to check on the cooking, the aroma growing around them.
And so to dinner, the table set with the best delf and cutlery, grace said by her mother; Kevin, her atheist lover bowing his head respectfully and agnostic Lorna chiming “Amen” at the end. The dinner delicious of course and greatly enjoyed by Kevin, her father appreciating the Rioja selected by Kevin and brought with them, the flowers they had brought now with some fern leaves picked by her mother, making a nice display in the vase in the window, the westering sun filling the dining area with gorgeous light. The conversation flowed around her job, Kevin’s, Lorna’s parents’ farm, the local area …. It was all going so well. Lorna wasn’t fooled for a moment.
A little after dessert, her father stood up. “Come now, Kevin …. I’ll show you around a little of our wee farm. We have to walk a little of that dinner off.”
Kevin got up eagerly, then hesitated, glancing towards Lorna. “You can do the washing up tomorrow, Kevin,” she smiled. “Go on, while there’s still light to see.”
The two most important men in her life walked out the back door, Bel eagerly escorting them, her father putting his cap on his balding head and picking up his ash stick on the way.
The men’s voices faded and the women turned to meet one another’s eyes, then quickly down to the table, going about their shared tasks with the ease of custom, of practice thousands of times through the years …. and the tension slowly building while desultory conversation centred around the tasks. Then, so soon, all the washing-up done and rinsed, their hands dried and the kettle on the ring for tea. Her mother turned to her and said: “He seems very nice.”
“He is”, she replied, knowing it was an opening shot. “I’m serious about him,” she added, as though this were not obvious, the first of her lovers down through the years that she had ever brought to meet her parents. She was hoping to head off the barrage.
“But Lorna, how could you! Of all the fine men you could have had!”
“He is a fine man. I already told you he’s black but I didn’t think …”
“Lorna Patricia, you wash your mouth out this minute! You know very well that neither your father nor I are racist.”
“But it’s different when your daughter wants to marry one, is that it? ‘We’re not racist but …’ ”
“No, Lorna, it has nothing to do with that – we’re not bothered by the colour of his skin …. that’s not it all.”
“Then what is it? Is it because he’s not a Catholic, then? Because, as I think you know, I’m not much of a one myself!”
“That’s not it at all, Lorna. That’s between you and God …. and between Kevin and God. That’s what He gave you free will for.”
“Then what on earth is all this about? What’s wrong with him?”
“Oh Lorna, do you really not know? Can you not see?” Her mother’s voice rising in a wail.
“No … no, I can’t. See what? What’s wrong?”
“He’s from Dublin, Lorna. Dublin! He’s a jackeen!”