He had tried to get a job, of course he had, but jobs in Ireland were scarce especially when you were unskilled. He had never worked the land like his brothers. He had never liked hard labour, never seen the point of it actually. No, he was more artistic; he needed to express himself. His father had called him a big sissy, but he didn’t care. All he needed – all he wanted – was his paper and paints and he was happy.
Of course he knew what everybody in the village thought of him and his family. They were called the awful O’Hanlon boys, and he was embarrassed by that, but when he had married Bridget things had changed. He had gained respect along with a wife and, for a while, he had been content. He had been painting more than ever and had even managed to sell a few of the paintings. That gave him some kudos in the village and with Bridget’s family – at last.
What he couldn’t bear though was how Bridget had changed. Once the first baby came along she seemed to have become another person and somehow he couldn’t reach her. She seemed bowed down with the responsibility of caring for the child, and of course by the time the second child came things had become just too much for her. ‘Thank goodness for Mary,’ he thought, not for the first time. Mary was in between deciding what to do with her young life once she had finished school, so was more than happy to earn a little money while she made up her mind.
It was the hottest of summers. Stephen lay in the long grass, staring at the cottages, staring at the home he and Bridget had lived in for what seemed eternity now. Her family had owned the cottages since the 1800’s, and they had been handed down from generation to generation. Bridget’s father Michael had reluctantly agreed that she and Stephen could live in the smaller one once they had got married. Of course Stephen had had to be grateful for this and, of course, Michael never let him forget how grateful he should be.
That afternoon Stephen had picked up his paints and brushes and was busily sketching the scene, the two cottages to the forefront, with another, distant, in the background. As he painted, lost in the moment, he saw her coming through the long grass. It was as if he was seeing her for the first time.
Mary fascinated him. It wasn’t just her ability to manage the home so well, where Bridget failed, but something almost ethereal, untouchable about her, a dreamlike quality.
Her hair was falling around her face and she swept one side behind her ear, unaware that she was being watched. But Stephen noticed everything. The way she was coming towards him, her cheeks flushed, the heat of the day making her glow slightly, as she came nearer to him carrying the bread and eggs that she had fetched from the nearby farm. She was humming slightly to herself. Stephen laid down his paints and brushes and stood up. Mary jumped. She had been so far away in her own thoughts.
‘Oh my goodness! You scared me,’ she said. ‘Didn’t see you there.’
Stephen smiled. ‘Sorry, didn’t mean to frighten you,’ he said…