Authors: William Trevor
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary
Cheating at Canasta
Table of Contents
The Dressmaker’s Child
Cahal sprayed WD-40 on to the only bolt his spanner wouldn’t shift. All the others had come out easily enough but this one was rusted in, the exhaust unit trailing from it. He had tried to hammer it out, he had tried wrenching the exhaust unit this way and that in the hope that something would give way, but nothing had. Half five, he’d told Heslin, and the bloody car wouldn’t be ready.
The lights of the garage were always on because shelves had been put up in front of the windows that stretched across the length of the wall at the back. Abandoned cars, kept for their parts, and cars and motor-cycles waiting for spares, and jacks that could be wheeled about, took up what space there was on either side of the small wooden office, which was at the back also. There were racks of tools, and workbenches with vices along the back wall, and rows of new and reconditioned tyres, and drums of grease and oil. In the middle of the garage there were two pits, in one of which Cahal’s father was at the moment, putting in a clutch. There was a radio on which advice was being given about looking after fish in an aquarium. ‘Will you turn that stuff off?’ Cahal’s father shouted from under the car he was working on, and Cahal searched the wavebands until he found music of his father’s time.
He was an only son in a family of girls, all of them older, all of them gone from the town—three to England, another in Dunne’s in Galway, another married in Nebraska. The garage was what Cahal knew, having kept his father company there since childhood, given odd jobs to do as he grew up. His father had had help then, an old man who was related to the family, whose place Cahal eventually took.
He tried the bolt again but the WD-40 hadn’t begun to work yet. He was a lean, almost scrawny youth, dark-haired, his long face usually unsmiling. His garage overalls, over a yellow T-shirt, were oil-stained, gone pale where their green dye had been washed out of them. He was nineteen years old.
‘Hullo,’ a voice said. A man and a woman, strangers, stood in the wide open doorway of the garage.
‘Howya,’ Cahal said.
‘It’s the possibility, sir,’ the man enquired, ‘you drive us to the sacred Virgin?’
‘Sorry?’ And Cahal’s father shouted up from the pit, wanting to know who was there. ‘Which Virgin’s that?’ Cahal asked.
The two looked at one another, not attempting to answer, and it occurred to Cahal that they were foreign people, who had not understood. A year ago a German had driven his Volkswagen into the garage, with a noise in the engine, so he’d said. ‘I had hopes it’d be the big end,’ Cahal’s father admitted afterwards, but it was only the catch of the bonnet gone a bit loose. A couple from America had had a tyre put on their hired car a few weeks after that, but there’d been nothing since.
‘Of Pouldearg,’ the woman said. ‘Is it how to say it?’
‘The statue you’re after?’
They nodded uncertainly and then with more confidence, both of them at the same time.
‘Aren’t you driving, yourselves, though?’ Cahal asked them.
‘We have no car,’ the man said.
‘We are travelled from Ávila.’ The woman’s black hair was silky, drawn back and tied with a red and blue ribbon. Her eyes were brown, her teeth very white, her skin olive. She wore the untidy clothes of a traveller: denim trousers, a woollen jacket over a striped red blouse. The man’s trousers were the same, his shirt a nondescript shade of greyish blue, a white kerchief at his neck. A few years older than himself, Cahal estimated they’d be. ‘Ávila?’ he said.
‘Spain,’ the man said.
Again Cahal’s father called out, and Cahal said two Spanish people had come into the garage.
‘In the store,’ the man explained. ‘They say you drive us to the Virgin.’
‘Are they broken down?’ Cahal’s father shouted.
He could charge them fifty euros, Pouldearg there and back, Cahal considered. He’d miss Germany versus Holland on the television, maybe the best match of the Cup, but never mind that for fifty euros.
‘The only thing,’ he said, ‘I have an exhaust to put in.’
He pointed at the pipe and silencer hanging out of Heslin’s old Vauxhall, and they understood. He gestured with his hands that they should stay where they were for a minute, and with his palms held flat made a pushing motion in the air, indicating that they should ignore the agitation that was coming from the pit. Both of them were amused. When Cahal tried the bolt again it began to turn.
He made the thumbs-up sign when exhaust and silencer clattered to the ground. ‘I could take you at around seven,’ he said, going close to where the Spaniards stood, keeping his voice low so that his father would not hear. He led them to the forecourt and made the arrangement while he filled the tank of a Murphy’s Stout lorry.
When he’d driven a mile out on the Ennis road, Cahal’s father turned at the entrance to the stud farm and drove back to the garage, satisfied that the clutch he’d put in for Father Shea was correctly adjusted. He left the car on the forecourt, ready for Father Shea to collect, and hung the keys up in the office. Heslin from the court-house was writing a cheque for the exhaust Cahal had fitted. Cahal was getting out of his overalls, and when Heslin had gone he said the people who had come wanted him to drive them to Pouldearg. They were Spanish people, Cahal said again, in case his father hadn’t heard when he’d supplied that information before.
‘What they want with Pouldearg?’
‘Nothing only the statue.’
‘There’s no one goes to the statue these times.’
‘It’s where they’re headed.’
‘Did you tell them, though, how the thing was?’
‘I did of course.’
‘Why they’d be going out there?’
‘There’s people takes photographs of it.’
Thirteen years ago, the then bishop and two parish priests had put an end to the cult of the wayside statue at Pouldearg. None of those three men, and no priest or nun who had ever visited the crossroads at Pouldearg, had sensed anything special about the statue; none had witnessed the tears that were said to slip out of the downcast eyes when pardon for sins was beseeched by penitents. The statue became the subject of attention in pulpits and in religious publications, the claims made for it fulminated against as a foolishness. And then a curate of that time demonstrated that what had been noticed by two or three local people who regularly passed by the statue—a certain dampness beneath the eyes—was no more than raindrops trapped in two over-defined hollows. There the matter ended. Those who had so certainly believed in what they had never actually seen, those who had not noticed the drenched leaves of overhanging boughs high above the statue, felt as foolish as their spiritual masters had predicted they one day would. Almost overnight the weeping Virgin of Pouldearg became again the painted image it had always been. Our Lady of the Wayside, it had been called for a while.
‘I never heard people were taking photographs of it.’ Cahal’s father shook his head as if he doubted his son, which he often did and usually with reason.
‘A fellow was writing a book a while back. Going around all Ireland, tracking down the weeping statues.’
‘It was no more than the rain at Pouldearg.’
‘He’d have put that in the book. That man would have put the whole thing down, how you’d find the statues all over the place and some of them would be okay and some of them wouldn’t.’
‘And you set the Spaniards right about Pouldearg?’
‘I did of course.’
‘Drain the juice out of young Leahy’s bike and we’ll weld his leak for him.’
The suspicions of Cahal’s father were justified: the truth had no more than slightly played a part in what Cahal had told the Spanish couple about Pouldearg. With fifty euros at the back of his mind, he would have considered it a failure of his intelligence had he allowed himself to reveal that the miracle once claimed for the statue at Pouldearg was without foundation. They had heard the statue called Our Lady of Tears as well as Our Lady of the Wayside and the Sacred Virgin of Pouldearg by a man in a Dublin public house with whom they had drifted into conversation. They’d had to repeat this a couple of times before Cahal grasped what they were saying, but he thought he got it right in the end. It wouldn’t be hard to stretch the journey by four or five miles, and if they were misled by the names they’d heard the statue given in Dublin it was no concern of his. At five past seven, when he’d had his tea and had had a look at the television, he drove into the yard of Macey’s Hotel. He waited there as he’d said he would. They appeared almost at once.
They sat close together in the back. Before he started the engine again Cahal told them what the cost would be and they said that was all right. He drove through the town, gone quiet as it invariably did at this time. Some of the shops were still open and would remain so for a few more hours—the newsagents’ and tobacconists’, the sweet shops and small groceries, Quinlan’s supermarket, all the public houses—but there was a lull on the streets.
‘Are you on holiday?’ Cahal asked.
He couldn’t make much of their reply. Both of them spoke, correcting one another. After a lot of repetition they seemed to be telling him that they were getting married.
‘Well, that’s grand,’ he said.
He turned out on to the Loye road. Spanish was spoken in the back of the car. The radio wasn’t working or he’d have put it on for company. The car was a black Ford Cortina with a hundred and eighty thousand miles on the clock; his father had taken it in part-exchange. They’d use it until the tax disc expired and then put it aside for spares. Cahal thought of telling them that in case they’d think he hadn’t much to say for himself, but he knew it would be too difficult. The Christian Brothers had had him labelled as not having much to say for himself, and it had stuck in his memory, worrying him sometimes in case it caused people to believe he was slow. Whenever he could, Cahal tried to give the lie to that by making a comment.
‘Are you here long?’ he enquired, and the girl said they’d been two days in Dublin. He said he’d been in Dublin himself a few times. He said it was mountainy from now on, until they reached Pouldearg. The scenery was beautiful, the girl said.
He took the fork at the two dead trees, although going straight would have got them there too, longer still but potholes all over the place. It was a good car for the hills, the man said, and Cahal said it was a Ford, pleased that he’d understood. You’d get used to it, he considered; with a bit more practising you’d pick up the trick of understanding them.
‘How’d you say it in Spanish?’ he called back over his shoulder. ‘A statue?’
,’ they both said, together. ‘
,’ they said.
,’ Cahal repeated, changing gear for the hill at Loye.
The girl clapped her hands, and he could see her smiling in the driving mirror. God, a woman like that, he thought. Give me a woman like that, he said to himself, and he imagined he was in the car alone with her, that the man wasn’t there, that he hadn’t come to Ireland with her, that he didn’t exist.
‘Do you hear about St Teresa of Ávila? Do you hear about her in Ireland?’ Her lips opened and closed in the driving mirror, her teeth flashing, the tip of her tongue there for a moment. What she’d asked him was as clear as anyone would say it.
‘We do, of course,’ he said, confusing St Teresa of Ávila with the St Teresa who’d been famous for her humility and her attention to little things. ‘Grand,’ Cahal attributed to her also. ‘Grand altogether.’
To his disappointment, Spanish was spoken again. He was going with Minnie Fennelly, but no doubt about it this woman had the better of her. The two faces appeared side by side in his mind’s eye and there wasn’t a competition. He drove past the cottages beyond the bridge, the road twisting and turning all over the place after that. It said earlier on the radio there’d be showers but there wasn’t a trace of one, the October evening without a breeze, dusk beginning.
‘Not more than a mile,’ he said, not turning his head, but the Spanish was still going on. If they were planning to take photographs they mightn’t be lucky by the time they got there. With the trees, Pouldearg was a dark place at the best of times. He wondered if the Germans had scored yet. He’d have put money on the Germans if he’d had any to spare.