Hey again :) This one's probably a bit out there haha, but oh well. Sure, isn't that what fiction's for?
Don't be too concerned about the political stuff. It's not that central to the story - more a means to an end. ;)
Troubles of Their Own
Assumpta doubted whether anyone was glad to have her back behind the bar... Well, there was that travelling businessman who, despite her obvious repulsion, had been most determined to flirt with her all evening. A glance in his direction confirmed that he'd now become so drunk that sleeping with his face in a pool of spilled stout on the bar seemed a perfectly reasonable course of action. Niamh was glad too, she supposed, but mostly because she was now free from her bar keeping responsibilities. The regulars, however, were not so pleased. They much preferred Niamh's smiling face to Assumpta's 'perpetual bad mood and general unpleasantness'; they'd made that much obvious in the three days since she'd returned from London.
Sighing, Assumpta wondered why she'd even bothered to come back to Ballykissangel. What was there to stay for, after all? She'd asked herself the same question a few months earlier, when she was considering moving to Dublin. Then, her answer had taken the form of a pair of breathtakingly deep eyes that had stared piercingly into her own and declared, "I care about you". She snorted scornfully at the memory. No, he didn't care about her. He didn't want her; he had made that perfectly clear.
But, in London, there was someone who did want her, someone who would do absolutely anything to be with her. She knew that; he'd told her that, time and time again. So, why didn't it make her feel any better? When she'd been there with him, showered with his constant attention and assurances of love, she'd been able to smile. She'd almost been able to convince herself that she was truly happy, that this was what she wanted. But, back in this place, surrounded by so many reminders of what she was trying so hard to forget, Assumpta was finding it increasingly difficult to believe that Leo's love was enough.
'Hey, Sunshine!' called Brendan, sarcastically, snapping Assumpta out of her thoughtful trance, 'Where's Niamh tonight?'
Her reply was delivered with an equal measure of sarcasm.
'Oh, she's probably sitting around with a box of tissues lamenting the fact that she no longer gets to spend her evenings staring at your gorgeous face, Brendan.'
'Oh, that's lovely, that is!'
'But really, Assumpta, where is she?' Siobhan asked. 'I haven't seen her or Ambrose all day.'
'She'd be helping Ambrose pack for Dublin, I expect - making sure he matches all his socks to his underwear...'
'Ambrose is off to Dublin?'
'Yeah, on Monday. He's been called up there, along with loads of other village gards. They're trying to maintain a strong street presence, because of all the unrest.'
'Oh, yeah,' Padraig piped up, 'I've been hearing all about it on the radio. There's been bomb threats and all, apparently.'
'From whom?' asked Siobhan.
'Pfft. Whom do you think?' scoffed Brendan.
'But... bombing? That's not really their style, is it? And why Dublin?'
'Well, my guess is that they want to scare us out of supporting the fight in the North. They'd be hard pressed if it wasn't for help from down here...official or otherwise... But they won't do anything – too risky. It's a lot of talk from a couple of extremists, I'd say.'
The discussion was continued with great interest, but Assumpta preferred to go and mop up near her friend the sleepy businessman. Usually, she'd be the first one to loudly air her opinions on all things political, especially something as unusual as this, but she just didn't have the strength, tonight. She knew it was probably selfish, but she thought she had enough troubles of her own, without taking on those of the entire country.
Despite the fine weather, there was nothing pleasant about being outside. The streets were scattered with gards, and a sort of ominous anxiety hung in the air. This, Peter thought resentfully, was not what he'd pictured when Father Mac had suggested he go on retreat. There must have been dozens of peaceful, lovely retreat venues across Ireland's beautiful countryside, but our beloved and ever-frugal Father Mac evidently thought that a cheap Dublin seminary would do just nicely. Peter couldn't even stay on site. He and the other priests in the retreat program had been booked rooms in a nearby hotel, because the seminarians occupied all the beds in the dormitories.
Still, it wasn't all bad. The mentor assigned to Peter, Father Gillan, was a gentle man of about sixty-five, who seemed genuinely interested in giving wise counsel to the priests in his care. Peter liked Father Gillan, and had been able to share openly about his struggles in a way he hadn't expected. Not surprisingly, Father Gillan had encountered such problems many times before, and was well versed in helping young men figure out the difference between mere temptation to be fled and a more serious problem. The seminary did have nice grounds, too, and Peter had grown fond of a particular bench by a small brook, made almost private by a couple of large willow trees which partly obscured it from view. It was here he sat to reflect and pray, and it was here he had written the letter now in his hand.
Stopping at the small post office halfway between his hotel and the seminary, Peter regarded the letter. The handwriting in which he had addressed it was sloppy; he'd done it hastily, wanting to get the thing posted before he had a chance to change his mind. Now, he hesitated, wondering whether Father Gillan's advice had been wrong. Shaking his mind free of the thought, he quickly dropped the letter into the post box and walked away.
With a few free hours to pass before he had to be back at the seminary for the evening session, Peter searched for a way to distract himself from the letter. Sitting on the bed in his hotel room, he switched on the TV. More about the possible outbreak of violence... Peter had initially thought it was all just media hype, but, judging by the amount of police officers about, he guessed there must be some real concern. He offered up a quick prayer, lay back on the bed, and exhaled heavily. Not wanting to hear any more, Peter switched off the TV. His own troubles were quite enough for today.
It had been a quiet Sunday evening in Fitzgerald's. The businessman had moved on, leaving only Siobhan, Brian, Donal, Liam and a quite jittery Niamh.
'I've told Ambrose I don't want him to go tomorrow. Sure, what if he should die, and leave Kieran orphaned and me widowed and destitute? But he doesn't care about that. He seems to think it's some great honour that he's been called to help protect his country. Well, what about protecting his family?'
'Niamh, Ambrose is not going to die,' said an exasperated Assumpta. 'Look, it's like Brendan said, it's all just a bunch of talk. Ambrose will go on up there, parade around the streets of Dublin feeling very important, and be back here by Friday when it's all blown over. So stop worrying, okay?'
'Okay?' Assumpta repeated.
Assumpta fetched Niamh another drink, and a lazy silence set in as everyone became lost in their own thoughts.
A few minutes later, a breathless Padraig burst through the door.
'They've... they've done it!' he panted.
'Who's done what, man?' asked Brian, impatiently.
'They've done it!' Padraig repeated. 'Turn on your radio, Assumpta.'
Assumpta complied, worried by Padraig's panic-stricken expression.
The pub was silent except for Padraig's laboured breathing and the grim voice of the news anchor on the radio.
'Official reports confirm that explosives have been detonated at three separate locations in Dublin city, this evening. The significance of, and connection between, these locations is unknown. The locations of the incidents are as follows: the Griffin Park Garda Station, Saint Gabriel's Seminary, and Sacred Heart General Hospital. The extent of the devastation caused is still being determined, but at least four deaths have been confirmed.'
Everyone was too shocked to speak, except for Brian.
'Did she say Saint Gabriel's Seminary?'
No one responded.
'Only, that sounds awfully familiar. Did Father Mac go through there?'
'Does it matter, Brian?' asked Siobhan, irritably.
'No... no, I suppose not.'
They all sipped their drinks pensively, while listening to the live coverage on Assumpta's radio.
Suddenly, recognition sparked in Brian's eyes, and the colour drained from his face. He brought his hand to his mouth, and said, very quietly,
'I know why Saint Gabriel's sounds familiar. It's where Father Clifford's gone for his retreat.'
Everyone froze. Assumpta felt sure she'd be sick. She completely forgot how to breathe, and had to grasp hold of the bar for support, to stop herself from collapsing. Padraig began making his way around the bar to help her, but he didn't get the chance. Before anyone really knew what was happening, Assumpta had grabbed her coat and keys, and made for her car.
They were probably shouting after her, but she didn't hear them. All she could hear was the pounding of her heart and that awful news anchor on the car radio.