Like Peter and Michael Donnelly, Malachy was on his way to
school when he decided to stop into Fadden's for his morning Lucozade. But
unlike those of the devious twins, Malachy McGuire's soul was as old as the
constellations themselves. To him, Layla's promising aroma was not a reminder of
a long-lost boyhood or the instigator of teenage lust. No, for Malachy, the
sight of Layla's exotic profile filling up a bag of white onions was a sign, a
resounding yes to the age-old questions of the divine.
Yes, there was a God. Yes, there was life beyond the sleepy
valleys of Ballinacroagh. Yes, there were undiscovered universes waiting
just for him. And one of them was standing right before him, in all her
astounding milky ways.
Malachy felt suddenly weak and dizzy. As his vision fuzzed over
and his legs gave way, he grabbed the nearest stationary object a grocery
shelf. Unfortunately for the star-gazing romantic, the shelf happened to hold a
pyramid display of feminine hygiene products, and before Malachy knew it he was
in a heap on the floor, covered to his mortification in specially priced,
two-for-one boxes of super-size tampons.
The clatter awoke Layla to her surroundings, and as she turned
to the front of the shop, a burning sensation instantly took hold of her body.
There, down the aisle before her, was the most beautiful boy she had ever seen.
Layla tried to breathe but found instead the start of debilitating hiccups
catches of love-bitten air that would not end until she had taken a good swill
of Marjan's famous dugh drink.
"Are you all right there, lad? Didn't hurt yerself now, did
you?" Danny Fadden asked, rounding the corner of the beer aisle, his fishbowl
eyes blinking behind thick glasses.
Poor Malachy. For the first time in his life his natural grace
had forsaken him. Surrounded by such private tokens of femininity, all he could
do was bow his red, tender face and make a run for it. He didn't dare look back
at Layla as he pounded through the grocery's door; didn't acknowledge the twins'
mocking calls of "I think ye forgot yer tail, McGuire", or even notice that he
was running in the opposite direction from school, so lost was he in Layla's
While her youngest sister was hiccuping romance in the
mini-mart, Marjan was busy in the kitchen chopping her last onion, impatient for
Layla to return with reinforcements. Frying the chopped onion with some olive
oil, she flipped the pieces about until they were crunchy but not blackened,
then set the fried charms aside for later, to be sprinkled on bowls of soup
ordered by expectant customers. Marjan considered this sizzled garnish to be the
best part of her red lentil soup, for after all, the humblest of moments can
often be the most rewarding.
Layla would not appreciate the significance of this simple
lesson until she had paid for her bag of white onions, smiled at Danny Fadden's
dazed look, averted the loitering Donnelly twins' low whistles, and quickly
returned to the warmth of her sisters' kitchen, hiccuping all the way. Only then
did she realize that she was still holding an onion in her palm, the last one
she had picked up before seeing Malachy McGuire's wondrous face. When she
unclenched her tight fist, she found that, just like her heart, the little white
vegetable was sautéed to a crisp.
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