Almost

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It’s the end of an almost perfect holiday. The expectations had been set on medium to low: get out of the metropolis and breathe, which is something, all things considered. But then we found ourselves in our holiday town, under a blue sky, welcomed by all, bristling amongst Irish tourists bedecked in shorts, t-shirts and face masks, patting perspiring brows and glowing in the treat of this blast of summer. Who’d of thought it? We knew better than to jinx it by announcing it. That didn’t go too well the last time, as we pinched ourselves with delight, basking and chanting our good luck until three days in a significant person took a tumble. This time we just rolled with it. We accepted it as we trotted through the town with the dog, to the oohs and aaws and outstretched hands of outdoor seated coffee sipping holiday makers. We’re all in this together and this is damn good we tried not to say out loud.

Turquoise ocean swims were a daily feature. The discovery of the peppering of the water with large jellyfish of an uncomfortable stinging variety failed to deter, most of the time. We dodged and dove, splashed and sprawled – spread eagled star fish floating, staring up at the sun. We held onto every precious second of it, knowing as we do that it’s a rare thing, the lot of us in this element together, teenagers and parents as one, exhilarated. We held onto it knowing things are about to change. The current economic situation has forced our hand. One of us will be living and working an eight hour flight away all too soon. We pushed it down and did not speak of it, this impending rupture. We wallowed instead in these precious moments, capturing them fully to draw on in mid-winter. We wallowed in the contagion of the good holiday mood all around us, in the welcome and the cheer and the suppressed thoughts about the pandemic.

We were, however, brought down from our holiday cloud temporarily one sunny day. A little blip which we’ll write out of our collective memory very soon. We had arrived at our usual spot and were setting up, removing the picnic rug and chairs from the boot, about to savour all the beauty, when a semi-clad white haired and sparsely bearded man appeared on the brow of the hill. He ran towards us.

‘Hello’, I said, cheerily, reefing the picnic bag out.

‘Can I have a quiet word with one of you?’he said, panting. A quiet word. That sounds quite lovely.

‘Yes’, I said, offering the opportunity to the other one of us. He’s prepared, you see. We’ve been coming here for well over a decade now, across the commonage, down to the beach. This time it’s been a little different though, due to a newly erected sign which precludes camper vans, quad bikes and recreational vehicles to protect the flora and fauna. When we saw the sign, we phoned our friend who lives here, to check it out further. She gave us the back story. Quad bikers had been arriving in increasing numbers. There was an accident. A helicopter had to rescue a very injured party. Enough was enough. The neighbours got together and put up their own little sign first of all, followed by the official sign about the campers and quad bikers. It didn’t apply to us she said. Go ahead and enjoy your days. If anyone asks, you have permission. Simple as.

He went around the side of the car for the quiet word while I slid down on the picnic rug with the kids, trying to hear and trying not to hear. All I could make out was the word welcome, which didn’t sound very welcoming. It was brief enough, this exchange.

‘As far as I’m concerned, you’re not welcome’, he said.

‘Thank you’, the other one of us said.

‘You’re welcome’, the man said, grazing past us like a bull. The Bull McCabe.

We looked around the beautiful landscape, devoid of people, except for McCabe now swimming solo in the expansive bay and we wondered. About how a person could have the gall to tell a family they’re not welcome. About how a person could want this all to himself. It stood in stark contrast to everything else we were experiencing and everything else we knew. The welcoming, the well wishes, the communal feeling that we should all enjoy this as much as we can. It’s been a tough year for everyone, after all. We knew he was wrong and we knew we could prove it. But still, for that day it niggled, our confidence shaken. We packed up, went elsewhere, to a beach populated with lovely friendly holiday makers and we swam with them, dodging the sting of the jellyfish which seemed less menacing now in this new light.

We shook it off. A couple of days later we returned to the beautiful beach for the other one’s birthday. It’s his dream to be there on his birthday and this one was better than most as he swam with his sons and with me, basking in it. With no sign of the bull. That evening we ate out as a family – for the first time since my own birthday back in February – devouring and savouring it all together, at ease, pushing the future weeks down, down, all the way down into oblivion. A round of complimentary birthday drinks from the owner helped considerably with this.

*

I had a three tiered pandemic survival strategy at the start of this. Well I had many a three tiered pandemic survival strategy. But one of them was to exercise, eat healthily and become a fervent lotto player. I’ve stuck to them all. Marque 3 set me up on the phone to play lotto, which was a little dangerous, all these things I could enter at the touch of a button, so I swapped back for the real deal. A physical ticket for physical money. It’s become a little worse lately, this desire to win. It would keep the other one of us here with his family instead of that eight hour plane ride away for months on end. I’ve upped my dedication to playing. Hell bent on saving the family. And I almost did.

On the Saturday, a day after his birthday, I bought a Quick Pick in the Gala store in Clifden for that night’s draw of €7.3 million. On the Monday the news that the winning ticket was bought in Clifden flashed on my phone in a message from my mother. I was back in Dublin, the ticket safely binned in Clifden. I tortured myself. What if the scanning app on my phone that I checked the ticket with was wrong? Can you actually trust an app at a time like this? Did I misread it? Did it say Congratulations instead of Sorry? Was I too tired from packing up to notice the difference? Should I start to make my way back to Clifden to chase down the bin that’s been carted away at this stage? Do I wait to hear that it was a different shop that sold it, and then breathe again?

When the unwelcome news came that it was indeed the same shop and it was indeed a Quick Pick winning ticket the nausea set in. I’d thrown the winning ticket away. Then someone else stepped forward, claiming it. Having got word and rifled through the bins. Obviously.

I came pretty close it seems. Not close enough to keep him here and Storm Ellen was a testament to how I feel about that. But close enough to realise how lucky we are, in the greater scheme of things, to have been together for a wonderful holiday week, bolstered for the future now whatever that brings.

*

He’s leaving on a jet plane today.

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