I met him in my sister's garden in Enniskerry. That is where I saw him first. There was nothing fated about it, though I add in the late summer light and the view. I put him at the bottom of my sister's garden, in the afternoon, at the moment the day begins to turn. Half five maybe. It is half past five on a Wicklow summer Sunday when I see Seán for the first time. There he is, where the end of my sister's garden becomes uncertain. He is about to turn around - but he doesn't know this yet. He is looking at the view and I am looking at him. The sun is low and lovely. He is standing where the hillside begins its slow run down to the coast, and the light is at his back, and it is just that time of day when all the colours come into their own.
It is some years ago now. The house is new and this is my sister's housewarming party, or first party, a few months after they moved in. The first thing they did was take down the wooden fence, to get their glimpse of the sea, so the back of the house sits like a missing tooth in the row of new homes, exposed to the easterly winds and to curious cows; a little stage set, for this afternoon, of happiness.
They have new neighbours in, and old pals, and me, with a few cases of wine and the barbecue they put on their wedding list but ended up buying themselves. It sits on the patio, a green thing with a swivelling bucket of a lid, and my brother-in-law Shay - I think he even wore the apron - waves wooden tongs over lamb steaks and chicken drumsticks, while cracking cans of beer, high in the air, with his free hand.
Fiona keeps expecting me to help because I am her sister. She passes with an armful of plates and shoots me a dark look. Then she remembers that I am a guest and offers me some Chardonnay.
'Yes,' I say. 'Yes, I'd love some, thanks,' and we chat like grown-ups. The glass she fills me is the size of a swimming pool.
It makes me want to cry to think of it. It must have been 2002. There I was, just back from three weeks in Australia and mad - just mad - into Chardonnay. My niece Megan must have been four, my nephew nearly two: fantastic, messy little items, who look at me like they are waiting for the joke. They have friends in, too. It's hard to tell how many kids there are, running around the place - I think they are being cloned in the downstairs bathroom. A woman goes in there with one toddler and she always comes out fussing over two.
I sit beside the glass wall between the kitchen and garden - it really is a lovely house - and I watch my sister's life. The mothers hover round the table where the kids' food is set, while, out in the open air, the men sip their drinks and glance skywards, as though for rain. I end up talking to a woman who is sitting beside a plate of chocolate Rice Krispie cakes and working her way through them in a forgetful sort of way. They have mini-marshmallows on top. She goes to pop one in her mouth, then she pulls back in surprise.
'Ooh, pink!' she says.
I don't know what I was waiting for. My boyfriend, Conor, must have been dropping someone off or picking them up - I can't remember why he wasn't back. He would have been driving. He usually drove, so I could have a few drinks. Which was one of the good things about Conor, I have to say. These days, it's me who drives. Though that is an improvement, too.
And I don't know why I remember the chocolate Rice Krispies, except that 'Ooh, pink!' seemed like the funniest thing I had ever heard, and we ended up weak with laughter, myself and this nameless neighbour of my sister's - she, in particular, so crippled by mirth you couldn't tell if it was appendicitis or hilarity had her bent over. In the middle of which, she seemed to keel off her chair a little. She rolled to the side, while I just kept looking at her and laughing. Then she hit the ground running and began a low charge, out through the glass door and towards my brother-in-law.
Reprinted from The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright © 2011 by Anne Enright. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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