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The Lace Makers of Glenmara


Learning to Sew

What you need:

A sewing machine, your mother’s, yes, the sky blue Singer, its hum a lullaby from infancy, you in a Moses basket at her feet, grabbing bright threads

Notions (tools and thoughts in equal measure), such as

Scissors, three to six inches long, sharp pointed, pinking shears, thread clips, buttonholers, seam rippers --- there will be edges to neaten, material to cut

Tissue (dressmaker’s and Kleenex)

Tailor’s chalk and tracing wheel, for dots, dashes, cutaway marks, arcs, outlines, traces, what has been and what will be

Pins, for forming attachments

Needles --- sharps, betweens, milliner’s, darners, tapestry, embroidery, beading, for all that must be pierced and adorned and joined together

Pin cushion, apple-shaped, with a felt stem, to keep pins from getting lost

Thimble, your mother’s, gold, on a chain, a tiny loop soldered to the top; wear it on your index finger so you won’t prick yourself, or around your neck, to remember

Measuring tape, for determining shape and size, yards, inches, centimeters, the distance from here to there

Thread --- mercerized, nylon silk, textured, floss

Fabric, swatches and yards and bolts, wool, silk, linen, net, whatever will come next, whatever will be made

The pattern?

Will it come from a drawer at the fabric store --- McCall’s, Butterick, Simplicity, names from your childhood, the instructions in an envelope, the outcome preordained? Or will you make it up as you go, letting the spirit guide you, trying to pick up the loose threads, fix the holes, make something new? Each step, each diagram, fig. 1, fig. 2, fig. 3, revealing itself in time?

You hesitate, thinking of past mistakes, when you threw the pieces across the room in a fit of anger because nothing was coming together the way it should, and you cried over a misshapen collar or sleeve, lying prone in your lap as an injured child.

And yet you must press your lips together, pick up the thread. Don’t be afraid. You’ll find your way.

This is a place to start.


Chapter 1


That Irish Rain



Kate had been traveling the road for hours, the rain her sole companion. It was an entertainer, that Irish rain, performing an endless variety of tricks for her amusement. It blew sideways, pounded and sighed and dripped. It hailed neat little balls of ice that melted off her hood and shoulders. She did her best to ignore it. She knew the type. She was from Seattle, after all, the city of her birth, life, and heartbreak. She’d left a few days after the separation on a day much like this nearly a month ago. She didn’t know if she’d ever return, but the rain, or its cousin, followed, along with the memories that had driven her from that place.

The story was simple enough, or seemed to be, on the surface, as stories often are. She adopted a deadpan delivery in the telling, an amusing shtick, as if she were a warm-up act at a comedy club. She’d told the story on so many occasions, drawing laughs and knowing nods and sympathy, that she had the timing down pat. Three minutes. Three minutes was all it took to dissect the end of a five-year relationship.

It came down to this, she said: Ethan ran off with a model. A girl with black hair and pale skin and aquamarine eyes and a sizable trust fund. A girl who would have been courted by princes and lords if she lived in another time and place. A girl thin and angular as a praying mantis, who wore Kate’s designs at her failure of a fashion show and claimed to be her friend.

The model spoke five languages, was a champion fencer and violin virtuoso. Kate lacked such impressive qualifications. She knew enough French to order three courses in a café or ask directions to the train or toilet, so long as accents and dialects weren’t too strong. She could run a seven-minute mile. She thought of herself as pretty, not beautiful. Petite, not tall. She tended to be lucky at cards, though little else relating to games of chance. She loved Fellini movies and popcorn and chocolate cake. And she loved Ethan, still, after everything that had happened.

She couldn’t stop thinking about him, imagined making arguments far more winning than she was capable of in real life. Real life was empty rooms. Real life was eating and cooking for one. Real life was less laundry and a cleaner apartment. (He was a pack rat and a piler --- he should have come with a warning.) Real life was waking up alone. Which was all right, because she was furious about the betrayal. Furious, yes, though still in danger of succumbing to the impulse of forgiveness, as she had before. No more. She was resolute, intent on enjoying this sojourn as much as possible, keeping sorrow at bay. The road lay before her, plain and simple, offering two ways to go, forward or back, no forks or splits or detours, just wide-open fields of lumpy, foxglove-strewn green. The road made no excuses or apologies. It didn’t have to. It was what it was. It went on, walls of moss-bearded stone hemming in the narrow lane, past ruined farmhouses with half-collapsed roofs and blackened eyes. She’d been walking and hitching for nearly a month, in the far western part of the country now, one of the few areas in which signs of civilization were slim to nil. She liked it that way. She’d toured Dublin in four days. Dublin, both grand and gritty: the halls of Trinity, the Book of Kells, the Georgian streets, the museums, with glass-encased mannequins and mummies with tattered clothes and bad teeth and marble eyes; heroin addicts stealing her backpack (she gave chase, recovered the bag, she could be swift and fierce when she wanted to be); housing estates and suffocating smog. There were two sides to everything. Two sides, if not more.

She’d taken one bus, then another, heading for the mythical west, buses that didn’t take her as far as they were supposed to, missing connections, finally breaking down entirely, the station agents saying new vehicles would arrive within the hour, then two, then three, claims that took on the air of fairy tales. In the end, she grew tired of waiting and set off on foot, eventually winding up here, exhaustion making the scene all the more surreal.

Each step she took left a mark, some visible, some not, marks that said, I was here, I exist. That was one of the reasons people went away, wasn’t it, to forget, to reinvent themselves?

She’d been a quiet person at home, had let the gregarious people in her life --- Ethan, her friend Ella, even her mother --- take the lead, happy to be the soft-spoken sidekick who offered the occasional sage remark, witty aside.

She was on her own now. It felt strange, yes, but she was ready for something new, to be someone new.

The air smelled of grass, damp, dung, and peat smoke from a distant fire, though she saw no indications of life in the immediate vicinity, other than cows and sheep. They weren’t the sheep of her dreams, white and pure and fluffed, but dingy and yellowed and matted. Maa, said the sheep. Maa, she replied, the exchange bringing her to the point of tears, because it was something Ethan might have done, when they were easier together and kindnesses and clowning were possible. Maa? as if the animals had lost their mother, as she had done, that February.

No crying, she told herself sternly. She could keep herself in hand, smile in spite of everything. It wasn’t so hard, really. You can choose to be happy.

She didn’t mind the rain, not usually, but this was too much. I should have picked some place drier, she thought ruefully, like Spain. But even Spain had its challenges that year, with legions of stinging jellyfish, blackouts, and a plague of voles consuming crops and gardens; she’d read about it in the paper.

Shouldn’t the weather be nicer by now, so close to the first of May? She took shelter under a rhododendron, its blooms surrounding her with pinked fragrance, and nibbled on an energy bar, which tasted like sawdust in the best of circumstances, and these, assuredly, were not. She wasn’t hungry --- she was never hungry at the beginning or end of a love affair, this one, especially, this one that was supposed to last. Everyone had been so sure she and Ethan would get married, that she would catch the bouquet at the medieval wedding they attended that March (the couple being devoted not only to each other but to the Society for Creative Anachronism), the event at which he left her, if not at the altar, just southwest of it, next to an ice sculpture of a knight in shining armor that had begun to melt, a moat of water at his feet, his sword soon no more than a toothpick.

“I can’t breathe,” Ethan said as they filed out of the room after the minister pronounced the couple man and wife. The turreted stone house in Seattle’s Denny Regrade neighborhood had been transformed into a castle, festooned with tapestries, standards and heraldry, the wooded grounds a miniature Sherwood Forest, a formidable scene, especially after multiple flagons of ale.

“I know what you mean,” Kate whispered in a mock-English accent. “This corset is an iron lung --- though you do look rather comely in those tights.” The scent of prime rib and roast vegetables drifted from the banquet hall. She wondered how she’d manage to eat, wished she’d brought a change of clothes. She would have liked to slip into something more comfortable, but it wasn’t that sort of wedding. It was a theme party, and the bride was determined to have her way, mutton sleeves and all. Kate felt, by turns, amused and ridiculous.

“No.” Ethan avoided her gaze. “I mean, I can’t do this anymore.”

“This?” She didn’t let her smile falter, wouldn’t let him spoil the evening. “We can leave if you want, but Sean will be disappointed you missed the joust.” And she, too, because she’d hoped they could dance afterward. The bride’s parents had hired a pipe band, already skirling away. A jester tumbled down the great hall, narrowly avoiding a priceless Ming vase, jingling his bells. Fire eaters gulped flames on the balcony. She wondered if they ever burned their tongues.

“No. Us.” He let the words sink in a moment. “It’s over. I’m sorry.” He moved away, tottering slightly, loose from his moorings, though others probably put it down to drinking. Before he reached the exit, a friend reeled him in, clapped him on the back, and he allowed himself to be caught in this way, obviously grateful for the distraction. Within moments, he was raising toasts and laughing. He was, among other things, resilient --- and clever enough to know Kate wouldn’t follow and make a scene.

She stood there, speechless, her expression not unlike that of the roast pig in the center of the feast, mouth agape, minus the apple. At first she’d wondered if witnessing the exchange of vows, the pledge of fidelity, the till-death-do-us-part, had unnerved Ethan. She could understand that. She could wait. She wouldn’t pressure him. She got a ride home with Ella, figuring she and Ethan would kiss and make up later, as they always did.

She was wrong. That night, he moved in with a friend, saying he needed the time and space to think. He left most of his things behind. Whenever she called, he was out. She wondered if he was even living there, but where else could he be? She waited two weeks, counting the days, until his friend finally took pity on her and confessed that Ethan had been seeing the model for months, that they were, in fact, soon to be engaged. Instead of Ethan and Kate moving to Manhattan to pursue their dreams (he in finance, she in fashion), it would be Ethan and The Model. Kate was left with no boyfriend and few buyers for her debut line. The concept hadn’t “clicked,” her rep, Jules, said; she needed to try something more “high concept” --- never mind that she thought she had already, following his advice against her best instincts. The only takers were two small local boutiques, the money she earned hardly enough to pay her expenses, meaning she would have to start doing alterations. She was sick of letting down hems, making allowances, mending buttons and holes, tasks people could have done themselves if they’d only taken a few minutes. Less than it took to bring the garments to the vintage clothing store, Ella’s, owned by her best friend, where Kate tried to make ends meet. Her fingertips were rough from the work. Seamstress hands. Her mother had them too.

“I have to get out of here,” she’d told Ella. Not just the shop --- the city, the state, the entire country. To Ireland. Land of her ancestors, land of the green, of rainbows and magic and pots of gold.

She and her mother had intended to go together, but her mother’s cancer had accelerated, taking her before they made the trip; she made Kate promise to travel on her own, left her a small inheritance to finance the venture. Then Kate and Ethan meant to visit, as part of a European tour, which Kate had thought of as their future honeymoon, and Ethan, she now realized, probably hadn’t.

There she was, halfway around the world, heading down this potholed, split-lipped road that went God only knew where. Trying to forget the way Ethan’s hair stuck up in the morning, the way he made her coffee and burned the toast, the way his eyes held so many colors --- flecks of green and gold and brown and blue. She’d never seen eyes like that before, had been seduced by them the first time he’d asked her a question in a college literature class seven years ago. They had been studying Thomas Hardy that term. Had that been a bad sign? They were friends in the beginning. She watched him date a succession of people, waiting to be chosen, waiting for the night she and Ethan would drink too much, fall into bed, and become inseparable.

She’d be more careful next time. She’d only date men who chose her first, when they were sober and sure. She’d only date men with solid, reliable eyes, eyes that had settled on being one color, say brown. Yes, brown. If she ever trusted herself enough to date again.

Bells. There on that Irish road, she heard bells. Had she frozen to death? Were they rung by angels? Fairies? The wedding jester, returned to mock her? Or was it a beast of a man wielding chains, who would murder her in the ditch, the news of which would eventually reach Ethan, plunging him into paroxysms of guilt?

No, she wasn’t famous enough to rate the media coverage, though she’d dreamed of being known for her designs, once; she would be a footnote on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer obituary page, “Local aspiring fashion designer dies on lonely Irish lane.

She shrank into the bushes, waiting for whatever it was to pass or put her out of her misery.

A horse snorted, hoofbeats plodded. A wagon appeared, painted with exuberant flowers, an ode to Peter Max in mod red, yellow, and green, canvas stretched over the top. A stocky traveler held the reins to the portliest equine she had ever seen. The man and his colorful cart looked as if they’d stepped out of a fairy tale or the Beatles film Yellow Submarine.

She stared at him through the leaves in surprise, and he, at her. “Haven’t washed away yet, have you?” he asked.

She shook her head. The branches showered her with water, drops pattering on her hood in hollow applause.

“Where are you headed?” He wore a canvas coat, vest, jeans, and, rather incongruously, brand-new sneakers, his skin tanned as cognac and heavily lined. There was a natural openness in his face she rarely encountered at home.

“Someplace dry,” she replied with a half smile, dipping her chin slightly.

“You won’t find it standing there --- though those leaves are rather becoming on you.”

She fingered a length of honeysuckle vine. “The arboreal look is very in this season.” She felt her cheeks begin to color.

“Is it now? You’re giving the wearing of the green a whole new meaning.” He tipped the rain from the brim of his hat. “Would you like a lift?”

She brushed the lichen from her jacket, hesitating. Instinct told her to trust him. Besides, she had to consider her options, her present situation. There was nothing but the road and the sheep and the drip-drip-drip of rain. And then there was him, offering her what could be a pleasant alternative. Perhaps it was time to take a chance. He looked harmless enough.

“Can’t stay out in this weather, that’s for certain,” he continued. “You’ll catch your death.”

She imagined herself expiring in a field like a tragic heroine in a Victorian novel. “Or drown.” She held out her hand, palm up, catching raindrops, letting them fall.

“Come on then.” He patted the seat beside him. “Hop up. I could use the company.”


Chapter 2


William the Traveler

In all his days of wandering, William the Traveler had never seen a face so wistful, hope and sadness intermingling. Her skin had the delicacy of fine porcelain, her eyes luminous too, the sort of eyes that revealed every emotion, by turns pensive and filled with mirth. Her hair had a bit of chestnut in it, a wave too, teased by the mist. She’d pulled her hood forward as if to keep the elements and the rest of the world at bay, but a few tendrils crept out, tentative curls clinging to her cheeks, reaching for the light. She hadn’t been eating much, he guessed. Her bones were already too close to the surface, angles pressing against pale skin, which only added to her aura of fragility. And yet she had strength too, apparent in the intensity of her gaze. Nor had she lost her sense of humor, bantering with him there by the road. He spread a plaid blanket across her legs, draped another over her shoulders to ward off the chill. (He was glad he’d cleaned them that week, so they didn’t smell of travel and horses.) It would take a while for her to warm up. Her teeth were still chattering. He wondered how long she’d been out in the weather, if she knew where she was going. From the bewildered look in her eyes, he doubted it. She put on a show of being sure of herself, but the shaking of her hands (he was sure it wasn’t just because of the cold) gave her away. He offered her a sweet damson. They weren’t local, too early in the season for that. He’d bought them in Galway as he was passing through, unable to resist. He liked a good plum.

She thanked him and took a bite, juice dribbling down her chin. She swiped it away with the back of her hand. No ring, though there had been once, a faint tan line all that remained of the promise.

She traveled light, with only a small backpack and sleeping bag. Judging by her expression, there were other things that weighed her down, not that she let them, not completely. There was fight in her yet. He saw that in the sense of wonder with which she took in her surroundings, in the way she looked at him with those sparkling green eyes.

“Where are you from?” the traveler asked.

Kate told him.

“My nephew went to Seattle once. He was mad for the music scene. Can’t stand the new stuff myself, though I don’t mind a good craic.” The man paused. “Pipes and the fiddles are more my speed. You been to one?”

She shook her head.

“Not much for crowds, eh? Don’t like them myself either,” he agreed. “But craics are different. The music brings everyone together, so no one is a stranger.”

“Yes, the music.” The Irish tunes called up something in her. She felt them in her veins, a deep place that moved her to tears. It wasn’t sadness, not entirely. It was everything at once --- joy, pain, hope.

“I see you know what I mean,” he said as she blinked back tears.

“I’m sorry,” she said, dabbing her eyes with her sleeve. It was the tiredness, that was all, lowering her defenses.

“No need to apologize. It’s a gift to feel things keenly.”

“There’s something about being here, about the songs...” Her voice trailed off as she tried to explain.

“How long have you been in the country?” he asked.

“Three weeks or so. I don’t even know what day it is anymore. I’ve lost track of time.”

“That can be a good thing,” he replied, adding, “but it’s the first of May, in case you’re wondering.”

“Already?” She pushed her bag under the seat with her foot. She hadn’t brought much: a pack stuffed with clothes and toiletries, a sketchpad and pencils; a digital camera, the memory card filled with timed self-portraits taken next to various tourist attractions. Frame after frame showed her smiling determinedly in front of the entrance to Newgrange, the Blarney Stone (she couldn’t bring herself to kiss it, and a gang of boys cheered her escape, shouting that one of their da’s had wee-ed on it after drinking with his pals). A day here, a day there, taking in the major sights of central and southeast Ireland, traveling by bus and on foot, each morning promising a new adventure.

But her most prized possession was the golden thimble that had once belonged to her mother, Tallulah. Her mother had asked a jeweler to solder a loop to the top, so that it could hang from a slender ribbon, like a charm, attached to the top of Kate’s bassinet when she was a baby --- and now to a chain around her neck.

“People spend too much time chained to the clock anyway. On holiday, are you?” the traveler asked.

“Yes,” she said, “and looking for inspiration.”

“I thought you might be an artist.”

“What gave me away?”

“I can see it in your hands.”

She glanced at her fingers before tucking them in her pockets. “I wouldn’t make much of a hand model, would I?” she said.

“No need to be. They’re lovely hands, small, but capable. A callus here and there to let people know you mean business.”

“I used to.” She wasn’t so sure anymore, though she kept telling herself things would get better. “Tomorrow is another day,” her mother used to say, right up to the end.

The traveler handed her a handkerchief. “Thought you might want to dry your face a little, not that there’s much point until the weather stops carrying on like this.” He paused a moment, seeming to sense she was holding back. “You’re too young to give in to disappointment. The joy will come again, and when it does it will be all the better because of what you’ve suffered. Love is life, you know.”

Ethan had read that line to her, when they were studying for a test in their second English class. “Tolstoy,” she said faintly.

“The very one.” The traveler kept his eyes on the road while he talked, but it felt as if he were looking right through her.

“So you’re a reader of books --- and people?” she asked.

“I like a good story.”

“It looks like you could run a mobile library with the collection you have back there.” She gestured to the stacks of books underneath the canvas cover, hardcover and paperback, well thumbed, by the look of them: Edna O’Brien, William Trevor, John Banville, James Joyce, Roddy Doyle, Samuel Beckett, and Thomas Pynchon, among others.

“I have time for extensive reading. It improves the mind.”

“I love Edna O’Brien’s work, The Country Girls Trilogy in particular.”

“Of course you do. And Joyce?”

“Yes, though my mother was his biggest fan.”

“She must be a fine woman, your mother. Few are up to the challenge of taking him on.”

“Yes.” She gazed at the surrounding country, as if to see it with her mother’s eyes, the colors saturated as an oil painting, the sky dusky pearl over fields of foxglove and lupine and wild narcissus, the textured brushstrokes of velvet mosses and tussocks of shaggy green and gold, brilliant in the sun. And then the rain started again, extinguishing the light, the chill settling over her once more.

They sat in silence for a while. Kate listened to the tap of the rain on the canvas, on her hood, the traveler’s hat; the beat of the horse’s hooves, the jangle of the reins and bridle, the creak of the wheels, the wind in the grass. “I feel as if I’ve gone back in time,” she said.

“There’s a magic here, it’s true. That’s why I can’t leave this place. Not for long.”

“How do you make a living?” she asked.

“Other than as an amateur philosopher? No pay in that, that’s for certain.” He laughed. “I get by fixing things. There’s always something broken that needs to be fixed.” They journeyed for hours, swaying to the rhythm of the wagon, tracing one of the minor routes taken by farmers and soldiers and pilgrims and seekers and famine survivors over the centuries. Kate dozed, dreaming of Ethan again. This time, he was hand in hand with someone new. She tried to call after him, not caring how she humiliated herself, but the sound wouldn’t come. As she struggled to speak, her body turned inside out, nothing left of her but a scrap of cloth, which a homeless woman picked up from the littered sidewalk and used to patch a hole in her jeans, a large needle in her roughened hands.

Get out of my subconscious! she wanted to shout. Instead, she woke, mouthing air like a beached fish, cheek pressed against a sack of grain.

“Bad dream?” the man asked.

She rubbed her eyes and sat up. “But only a dream.” She would not let it get the best of her. She shook off the dust of sleep and took in the scene at hand. The sky had cleared again, a gilded blue now, terns circling overhead. “It looks like heaven,” she said.

“Sometimes. Others hell, all gray and miserable. Never can tell what the next day will bring. At least it keeps things interesting.”

“Do you ever get tired of traveling?”

“Me? No. I was born to it. It’s not for everyone, though. Most people need to settle.”

She heard cheers coming from over a rise to the west, rising and falling in waves. “What’s going on?”

“The Saint Brendan’s Festival,” he said. “They’ve got activities planned for two weeks, I hear. The feast day is coming up later in the month.”

“Saint Brendan. Which was he? Not one of those who met a horrible death?” Her mother had an encyclopedic knowledge of the saints, her parents Irish, education parochial, a book of saints among her belongings, handed down through the generations, the stories of martyrdom scandalous and lurid enough to make the modern tabloids.

“No, he had it good, compared to some. Brendan the Navigator,” the traveler said. “Set off to discover the world with a band of monks in a coracle. Patron of boatmen and travelers.”

“A coracle. Aren’t those small boats for traveling by sea?”

“Yes, with ox hides stretched over a wooden frame.”

“Doesn’t sound sturdy enough for the ocean,” Kate said. “Did Brendan and his crew make it?”

“So they say. Takes someone with a strong stomach and conviction to venture out in a coracle, that’s for sure, but Saint Brendan and the monks had faith and God on their side. The boat had some sort of power in it --- drop the c in coracle and you have oracle, as my grandmother always said. That must have been true for him too. I suppose he and his men fared well enough, though they didn’t find the paradise they were looking for, and the sea, no doubt, presented its challenges. It can be wicked, that sea.”

“I don’t think I could have managed a trip like that --- I’d need a bigger boat and a life preserver,” she said. He laughed. “A smart girl you are --- or at least a careful one --- leaving little to chance.”

The land looked greener there, if that were possible. A green that vibrated in its very intensity. A green of dreams. “Where are we?”

“Near Glenmara. The end of the road. Can’t go more west than this, unless you take wing or boat. I’ll drop you here.” He pulled on the reins. The horse stopped, tossed his head, eager to move on. “You need to get warm. The town’s just over that hill.” He pointed in the direction from which she’d heard the cheering.

“Why don’t you stay awhile? See what happens.”

Kate hopped down from the wagon and stretched, muscles sore from the ride. “Is it so special?”

“It could be, if you let it.”

She shouldered her backpack. “Aren’t you coming?”

He shook his head. “I’d best be getting on.”

“I could go with you.” Already she missed the rhythm of the wagon, the ease of his presence.

“You don’t want to do that,” he said. “It’s not as romantic as it seems, this traveling. It’s dirty and hard, but it suits me.”

“Where are you headed?”

“Another camp on a beach somewhere. I like to hear the sound of the sea. I’ll know when I get there. So will you, maybe sooner than you think.” He clicked his tongue and the horse set off, the pace slow, yet steady. She could have caught up with him easily if she tried.

“Wait,” she called after him, standing at the crossroads beneath the weathered sign with its faded lettering and arrow pointing the way: Glenmara. “I don’t even know your name.”

“William,” he said over his shoulder, before turning to face the road again. “William the Traveler.”


Chapter 3


A Village at the End of the World

The turnout hadn’t been what Bernie hoped for. She’d done all the right things, advertised in the regional papers, sent press releases to the tourist boards, to no avail. Tour buses bypassed Glenmara in favor of towns with museums, workshops, and more significant histories. Their village, like so many other dying Gaelic hamlets, possessed an obscure narrative, the kind that mattered, if at all, to those who lived there, not that many remained. It was a run-down little place that tried to put a bright face on things --- despite there never being enough money or jobs, especially now that the fishing industry, if one could call it that, had collapsed.

To be sure, the ruined abbey off the coast counted for something --- not much left now except the limestone foundations, where the nuns had died of fever, or, more likely, the residents joked, sheer boredom. The town didn’t have a holy shrine, Pictish fort, or standing stones nearby, though someone once floated the idea that a particular boulder in Declan Moore’s field was blessed, which worked for a time, until the priest called them on the lie. Father Dominic Burn-in-Hell Byrne was forever ruining their fun. The seventy-five-year-old priest made note of everything, kept close watch over his flock. He considered Bernie one of the devoted. And she was. Up to a point.

“Did you notice the chip man is using the newsletter to wrap the kippers again?” asked her friend Aileen.

“He is not,” she said, aghast. She was the sole editor and writer of the four-page paper, the Gaelic Voice, having taken over the duties from her husband, John, after his death last year. The crime blotter, which she’d added recently at Aileen’s urging, was especially popular:

Man calls Garda, complaining his neighbor won’t stop playing Frank Sinatra at 2:00 a.m. Garda tells him to be patient. The woman is suffering from a broken heart. Woman calls Garda, says there’s a rat sitting on her couch, watching the football match; would he please get rid of it? Garda asks if the rat is a fan of Manchester United.

“Is,” Aileen said with a pin in her mouth. “What’s the circulation now?”

“One hundred, including the surrounding villages,” Bernie said. “If I had my way, all the towns up and down the coast would have their own Gaelic papers. A Gaelic newspaper empire.”

“Careful. You’re starting to sound rather Machiavellian.” Aileen laughed. “You going to have an English edition too?”

“That’s cheating.”

“More like subtitles, you know, in films? It’s a known fact the language is dying out. There’s no getting around it, sad though it may be.”

“I’ve never been much for known facts, and it’s my mission to keep the language alive. John would have wanted it that way. I do too.” They could go on like this for hours, debating the merits of the village, the people, themselves.

But another day was ending, not much different from the last. The vendors were packing up for the day or nodding off in their chairs. The only people wandering the streets at that hour were a group of restless teens and a couple of aging pub regulars --- Denny Fitzpatrick, their friend Oona’s da, and Niall Maloney, dressed in trousers, jumpers, and caps. They weren’t the sort who’d be interested in the lace.

“If we had a beer garden or an espresso stand, people would come,” Aileen said. “My son’s got an espresso bar in Galway. Keeps the bookstore open. He couldn’t run it otherwise. The shoppers go for coffee first, he says, Yeats second.”

“What’s the world coming to, that Yeats should come second to anything?” Bernie loved poetry. She and her husband had read it to each other every night before bed. She hadn’t imagined she’d forget the sound of his voice; she would have given anything to hear it again. “We can’t sell espresso,” she added. “It would spoil the lace. People are forever spilling things.”

“I suppose you’re right, though I could use a shot of something right now. I didn’t sleep well last night. The Change, you know.” Aileen had been having hot flashes. She was a striking woman, and if she didn’t keep bringing the matter up, people would have thought she was younger. Not that there was much chance of fooling anyone in Glenmara, where everyone knew everyone else’s business, or thought they did.

Aileen had never felt comfortable with her looks, not realizing that her flaws --- the slightly too large nose, the gap in her teeth, and her whippet-thin figure --- were part of what made her interesting. She wouldn’t listen, no matter how many times Bernie reminded her of that. “You’re my friend, Bee, it’s your job to tell me what I want to hear,” Aileen would say.

“Try valerian tea,” Bernie suggested. “I heard that helps.”

“Probably causes cancer.”

“These days nearly everything causes cancer, or so they think, for at least five minutes. Try to enjoy life and not worry so much. You only live once.” That had been her mantra since John died, especially in the beginning, whenever the inertia descended and she sat at the table in the morning and found that hours had passed as she stared out the window, the cup of tea by her elbow gone cold, her Labrador, Fergus, whimpering at her feet, his brow wrinkled with worry.

“I’m not programmed that way --- especially when I can’t get any damned rest. I’d kill for a good night’s sleep. I used to be such a good sleeper---”

“Yes, I remember,” Bernie replied. Aileen had slept like the dead when they were girls. “You snored something awful.”

“It was the adenoids. Been better since I got them out, though now I think I’m getting a nose whistle.”

“Maybe you should form a band.” Bernie smiled. They were forever teasing each other about the good and the bad. Bernadette Anne Cullen and Aileen Mary Flanagan had been friends for forty-four years. They couldn’t believe how quickly the decades had gone by, the loves and disappointments and fights and marriages and deaths they had witnessed. And there they were, sitting at that collapsible table with the stiff little legs that could be snapped up or down --- an exact replica of the one at which they’d sold lemon ices on the road during the summers when they were girls --- together, after all that time. Nothing could keep them apart for long. They were like family, Aileen said, without the excess baggage.

“Ha. Ha. Should we go, then? Everyone else is throwing in the towel.” Aileen tossed a dish towel, its edge embroidered with lace, into the basket at her feet for emphasis.

Someone let out a whoop down the road that died quickly, not enough voices or enthusiasm to sustain it. When Bernie was a girl, there had been coracle races in the bay and hurling matches in the fields and dancing all night long. Now, the few young people in town hung around the bar. They were the glowering sort of teenagers indigenous to many a sleepy village, seemingly angry about everything. Aileen’s daughter Rosheen, too. Sixteen-year-old Rosheen had recently announced that she was changing her name to Jane, muttering something about Gaelic shite. She’d gotten another tattoo and pierced her nose and was at that very moment smoking cigarettes with her friends nearby. She and Aileen tried to ignore each other.

“Bernie? Did you hear what I said?” Aileen asked.

“Just a little longer.” Bernie was in no hurry to return to the empty cottage. She and John never had children. She only had Fergus, the brown Lab, resting now at her feet, for company.

Fergus, who’d been young once, his fur lustrous and thick, who ran through the lanes and over the hills, chasing rabbits and robins and foxes. Fergus, dear boy, aging too.

“Why? Are you expecting a visiting dignitary?” Aileen asked.

“You never know who might come down the road.”

“Nothing interesting has come down that road since Cromwell’s soldiers attacked in the 1600s. And they nearly killed everyone.”

Bernie was about to admit defeat when she saw a young woman cresting the hill. “There,” she said. “What did I tell you? A tourist.”

Aileen squinted in the direction Bernie indicated. “It’s a miracle --- though she might have had the decency to bring a friend along. Who travels alone? Do you think she’s a criminal?”

“You can’t be serious. She hardly seems the type.” The girl looked like a sprite, with great dark eyes and pale skin and a tangle of long hair down her back, steam rising from her shoulders like mist.

“They never do.”

“You watch too many crime shows.”

“What else is there to do around here in the evenings except play cards and make lace?” Aileen said. “Don’t get your hopes up. She’s not going to stop here. Why should she? There’s nothing of interest. No clubs, no posh shops, no gourmet restaurants, no Internet cafés. She’ll move on. Everyone does.”

“No, no, no....” Bernie imitated Aileen’s grating voice. “Let’s say yes to everything, just this once. This will be the week of yes. Let’s try it and see what happens.”

“I said yes to Rourke, and look where that got me.” Aileen snorted, adding, “I told you. She’s going.”

The girl glanced back in the direction she’d come. Second thoughts, perhaps? Understandable. They had them every day, or at least Aileen seemed to.

The visitor turned toward them again, and Bernie exclaimed. “Ha. See? She’s staying, of course she will.”

“Only because there’s nowhere else to go at this hour.”

Bernie nodded with satisfaction. “Here she comes. Don’t scare her away.”

Excerpted from THE LACE MAKERS OF GLENMARA © Copyright 2011 by Heather Barbieri. Reprinted with permission by Harper Perennial. All rights reserved.

The Lace Makers of Glenmara
by by Heather Barbieri

  • Genres: Fiction
  • paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0061772461
  • ISBN-13: 9780061772467