Home > The Last Crossing(9)

The Last Crossing(9)
Author: Brian McGilloway

On the bus, she sat across two seats, her back against the window, her legs outstretched, her feet just over the edge of the seat. Tony swung into the seat behind her and, leaning on the handrail, continued their conversation. But the opportunity to kiss had passed. He’d paid for the bus for them both and now handed her one of the tickets. She took it, then returned it to him. ‘You can keep it,’ she said. ‘My gift to you.’

 

‘You’re all heart,’ Tony laughed, taking the ticket back, putting it in his pocket, his own balled up and lying on the floor.

In the brighter light of the bus, he could see her better now and realised that her eyes were two different colours, one green, one a light hazel.

‘I’m a chimera,’ she laughed when he told her this.

‘I’m a Gemini,’ he said. ‘What’s a chimera?’

 

‘I’ve two sets of DNA. I think it means that I was to be twins in my mother’s womb but we merged or something. Or I ate my twin.’

 

‘That’s gross,’ Tony said, pantomiming disgust as he sat back in his seat, away from her.

‘My daddy used to say to me, to tell any boys I met when I grew up that I ate my own twin. That I was not to type of girl to mess with.’

 

‘Why? What’ll you do?’ Tony asked.

‘Put up your dukes,’ she said, a little sleepily, ‘and I’ll show you.’

 

She raised her own fists and swung a light punch that glanced against his cheek, mimicking the sound of the impact with her tongue clicking against the roof of her mouth as she did so.

‘I won’t mess with you so,’ Tony joked, folding his arms.

‘Good,’ Karen said, smiling mildly as she closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the window.

They alighted at her stop and he walked her the hundred yards to her flat.

‘I’ll head on so,’ Tony said, half hoping she might disagree and invite him inside, but she didn’t. Instead she took off his jacket, shivering at the renewed chill.

‘Thanks for the jacket,’ she said. ‘You’re a Derry gentleman.’

 

She opened the door. ‘Goodnight then,’ she said, pausing on the threshold.

Tony berated himself his slowness. ‘Can I see you again?’

 

‘Maybe,’ she said, then went in and closed the door. He heard the slide of the security chain inside being slipped into place.

He stood for a moment, wondering whether he should knock on the door and ask for the number, but just as he moved forward to do so, he saw the hall light go out and, a few seconds later, the small upper window light briefly illuminated. Then Karen appeared at the window and, without looking down, pulled the curtains, dimming the light.

Tony cursed himself for missing the chance at the bus stop. But then, he’d seen something in her expression, just as she thought he was going to kiss her; not fear exactly, but certainly not longing either. Maybe she’d just wanted someone to walk her home safely, he thought. But her eyes, her smile, the jolt of excitement that had caught him sideways as they stood together and her fingers touched his. He was sure he’d sensed something.

He started walking the three miles back to his uncle’s, pulling up the collar of his coat, pressing his face against the material, and breathing deep the scent of her perfume, which still lingered on the cloth. He jammed his hands in his pockets for heat, felt the bus ticket she’d handed back to him and which he’d kept. He repeated her name over to himself, trying it in his mouth, a mantra that kept him going through his journey home. ‘Karen Logue. Karen Logue. Karen Logue.’

 

 

Chapter Eight

‘Karen Maguire,’ she said, offering her hand to Barr who’d arrived simultaneous to her, three glasses of whiskey in his hand.

‘I’ve spilled some,’ he said, sucking the excess alcohol off the back of his hand before wiping it dry on his trouser leg and taking hers. ‘Richard Barr. We spoke on the phone.’

 

Karen nodded. ‘Hugh,’ she said, shifting the newspaper she’d held in one hand and clamping it between her arm and her side. A beat. ‘Tony,’ she said, her glance just missing his.

‘Do you want a drink?’ Barr asked. ‘What are you having?’

 

‘I’ll get a Coke,’ she said. ‘Sit where you are. Bit early in the day for me and whiskey.’

 

Tony watched her as she walked away. She wore jeans and a white top. Her hips had widened a little, but that aside, it was as if the past three decades had not touched her frame; her waist still pinched, her legs fine. Unbidden, he saw her as he had seen her that first night as she walked to her front door, as if time had set itself in abeyance just for her.

‘She’s aged well,’ Duggan said, whistling softly to himself. ‘Not like us two old codgers.’

 

‘Speak for yourself,’ Tony said, half-jokingly. But he considered how he must look to her; his face rounder and fuller, his body saggy, his pot belly a permanent feature, his hair thinned and greying. He took off his glasses, as if that defect might be just one too many for her.

Maguire, she’d said, not Logue. He’d expected she’d be married, a girl like her; he was still disappointed, though, that she had moved on with her life. It was hypocritical, of course; he too had married, after all. But that seemed different, somehow. And without ever having met the man, he felt immediately a sense of bitterness towards her husband.

Had she waited for long, he wondered. He’d met Ann in his thirties. He’d been back in Derry almost ten years at that stage. She was a primary school teacher, already settled into her routines and with that habit that those who work with children have of speaking to other adults as if they are infants. Ann hadn’t particularly wanted children. He remembered hearing the sobs from the bathroom the morning she took the test and found out she was pregnant.

And again, the sobs in the hospital, six months later, when she found out the child had died.

It was that which convinced her; that realisation that grief was the inevitable cost of having loved, even something which she had not held in her hands, even as she held it inside her, near her heart.

Tony had remained solid, pragmatic, dependable on the ward and when he took her home. He’d cleaned the house, bought flowers for the hall and kitchen, set up the portable TV in the bedroom for her. Once, while she slept next to him with fitful dreams, he allowed tears to slide down his face as he mourned his lost child. And, in that moment, he had remembered Martin Kelly’s tears so that, in his mind, the two losses were fused into one. The loss of this life was a balancing for his role in the loss of another. Both deprived of a proper burial; his own son’s remains taken by the hospital to be ‘disposed of’: the doctor who took him masked and shrouded as Charon.

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