I sat on the bench outside listening to James Taylor sing his mellow, yet sad, song “ but I always thought I’d see you again” I duetted with him. Then he went into that last bit in a different tune and I thought yet again how it would be perfect without that, took another sip of my red wine – not a good year, not a good vineyard, not a good country, but who cares I thought as I looked out from the cliff over the sea to the distant headlands. Fairhead, Mull of Kintyre, and maybe, if I screw my eyes up, that dull, darker grey is one of the Hebrides? The afternoon sun was unusually warm for Donegal, it hadn’t rained for 2 days, which for Donegal almost meant a drought. “Yes” I said out loud, to no-one, for there was no-one to enjoy this view with “I’ve picked the right time to come”.
I hadn’t been back to Donegal since leaving the university in Coleraine ‘over the border’. There had been a border once, where soldiers would check your car if you were unlucky, and tear it apart if you were sassy to them. There still was a political border, but you only noticed you’d crossed over when the road signs changed and adverts offering ‘40% on pounds’ appeared. I didn’t really understand what that meant. Pounds were worth 1.40 euros? We give 40% better exchange rates? I never found out, not needed as I had euros with me and cards if I needed them; even Donegal accepted Visa now, there had been a time when there was only cash in places like this ... ah, another time, another place. I took another drink and returned to the article in last Sunday’s paper (today being Saturday). Time was unimportant. “News is still news if you haven’t heard it” as an old man had told me in a bar in Donegal (town). A seagull drifted past to see if I’d put out any more bacon rinds. They had got used to checking me out as I often put out food on a flat rock near the edge.
I’d booked this place on the spur of the moment, I had plenty of holiday left, I was stressed out to the max. and this place came up beside my email “newly finished cottage for rent”. I looked at it on-line, then at the position on Google Earth. Right enough, the land it was on was still moorland on Google. Street View confirmed that; but the position looked fantastic. Now “newly finished” is Irish for “nearly finished”, but I expected that. There were some wires coming out of walls that were just tied in knots (doorbell? Wall lights?), the cooker worked, the log fire worked, the beds were made. Yes, it catered for 6 people, I could nearly sleep in a different bed each night of the week. I didn’t of course; but I did use one room for luggage and another to sleep in. The third, the double bed, I left empty. Too raw, not ready to sleep alone in a double bed yet.
Maxine left on April 3rd at 12 noon precisely. The taxi arrived and she left. That was that. She left no forwarding address. That last weekend she hadn’t spoken to me at all, literally, not one word. She just started packing. Again, I was not entirely surprised by her leaving; she hadn’t loved me for years, had disliked me for at least 12 months, and hated me for the last few weeks; but the manner of her leaving was a surprise. She had clearly planned it, but she said nothing; then when she started packing she just refused to talk. I’m not a violent man, never have been, she knew I wouldn’t hit her or force her to speak. I watched her leave. Sat down and drank a bottle of whisky (good whisky – the 12 year old Glenmorangie, what a waste), woke up 19 hours later on the floor in the living room with a dry mouth, a headache and several emails asking why I wasn’t at work. That latter was easily dealt with; my employer is understanding. I nearly poured all the alcohol away, I knew I could easily become an alcoholic without Maxine’s steadying hand. I have 35 different whiskies – including Swedish, Indian, and German – and that’s what put me off, it really was a collection (and some of the bottles were seriously expensive), otherwise the lot, the wine (one bottle from the year I was born), the beer could have all gone. I swore off drink for 2 months, until I was on an even keel again.
Maxine left no forwarding address, as I said. But her mail kept arriving. I was tempted to tear up the bills and let her stew when her cards were stopped; but I didn’t. It wasn’t that I expected her back. I’d actually changed the locks to prevent it happening anyway, but I think we both knew that this was the last episode in an inevitable saga that would not come back for a new series. I put her mail into a box and when, after 2 months, it was full and I’d still had no word, I taped it up and sent it to her parents. Two days later she rang me, furious.
“You fucking, malicious bastard”
“Hello Maxine, glad you’re alright”
“Why did you send that mail to Mum and Dad?”
“What else should I have done with it? I had no forwarding address-”
“Of course not, you swine, I never want you to know where I am again, ever”
“Okay, so why didn’t you tell the bank, the shops, the tax the –”
“Don’t take that superior tone, you fucking pig”
“Should I burn your mail then?”
I began to lose my temper, I always tried to keep my temper in our fights, but it never lasted. She just irritated me deliberately I think “What the fuck should I do with all the crap that you signed up for and that keeps arriving at OUR house now that YOU’VE decided to fuck off with no warning?”
“Don’t swear at me”
“Just answer the bloody question or I’ll hang up and next time I’ll send the letters with no postage so your parents can pay for receiving all your junk mail” This was unfair of course, they weren’t to blame for our marriage breaking down. Okay they were never much help, but it still wasn’t their fault. You’ll notice I haven’t told you why she left. You know I didn’t beat her (never, ever hit her), was I unfaithful? No. Was she unfaithful? No. The truth was we had just learned over the years that we were as unsuited as it was possible to be. We began to argue about everything. Then we argued about nothing. Perhaps we damaged the children by staying together, but I like to think we both did it for good motives even as our relationship dissolved like rice paper in rain. When P. left for America I broke down in tears, Maxine just told me it would be alright; she didn’t hug me or put an arm round me, she just had no interest in me except as a fellow lodger. I realised then that at some point one of us would leave, she was the stronger of the two of us, so she took the plunge. Only problem was she hadn’t told John and Jane, her parents, two of the most conventional people you will ever meet. I knew why she hadn’t told them, they would overreact like it was the biggest disaster since the Tokyo earthquake. Yes, I admit it, it was malicious to send the mail to them. I knew what I was doing. It was a small revenge, but a worthwhile one. But still, what was I meant to do with all the mail?
“I’ll set up a forwarding address with the post office”
“About ... time” She was talking rationally so I missed out the ‘fucking’. “What about the rest of your things? I know you aren’t coming back; should I clear them out to charity shop or is there a friend I could deliver them too so you can pick them up?”
She laughed, her genuine ‘hee hee’ laugh, not the phone laugh she used for polite conversation “You were always quite thoughtful, even when I was a bitch to you. I’ll let you know by email okay?”
“Take care Maxine, I’m sorry we didn’t work out, it would have been nice to grow old with someone who I knew for so long ... but I know we’d end up killing each other”
“Take care yourself, Terry” and that was it, the last time I spoke to her. We emailed the names of solicitors and the process has begun, I never want to see her again, but I don’t wish her ill. I just want to get back to a free mind again. That’s why I’m here.
“Donegal? Ireland? Where it rains all the time?”
“No, Donegal on Ibiza. Yes of course Donegal, Ireland. As to the rain, so what? I’ll spend wet days reading and warm days walking. And, best of all, I’ll have no internet or mobile phone coverage”
“Really? But –”
“No! This time I’m not available to anyone, not work, not family, no-one” I was talking to my brother, he and I get on well; we meet for a drink every couple of weeks or so. His wife Michelle is convinced that I’m a wife beater or a paedophile or something. It must be my fault that Maxine left. We had been too good at covering up our huge arguments from the family. I wondered if he was a little more concerned that he would be sole lawn-mower, doctor-taxi, story-listener for the old folks for three weeks. Well, tough, I was going. If I didn’t get out soon I’d crack up.
My doctor had told me that “Tranquilisers just hide the problem Terry, you need to wind down for a while else you’ll get addicted to them and still have the problems”. I already knew I had an addictive kind of personality; I was actually sure he was probably right. Time to break out for a while. And that’s when the advert about Donegal appeared beside my email. Google mail can read your mind and send targeted adverts apparently. Wow!
.... There is more of this story ...