I’ll be honest: writing about my trip to Ireland is a little bit difficult. It’s a little bit difficult because it was 1) seven years ago, and 2) my last laptop ate a lot of my photos but really, the primary reason was that 3) I got sick on the plane, had a mysteriously mostly painless ear infection which gave me severe vertigo which required drugs which seemingly faded my memory.
I do know that we managed to snag a ferry to the island even though the weather was poor and the water was choppy. On the way out, I stood on deck. The wind whipped my frazzled hair against my wet skin, pasting it to me in a way never featured in hair product advertisements. How is it, I wondered, that some women seem immune to this? How, no matter what weather besieges them, do they maintain perfect, flowing locks that effortlessly rise and fall with the wind? I wiped my matted, tangled hair from my eyes. Our guide walked over as I battled myself. Somehow my few tour guides have all been dashingly handsome, tall, well-read, and funny; and all very much not interested in me. We made small talk: me casually swiping at my hair and trying to keep my jacket from blowing off, probably saying something dumb; him, standing there with ice blue eyes and day old stubble, cracking on with witty jokes, apparently born for misty wind and boat decks.
We docked and I used this as an excuse to scuttle off the boat. He gave me a quizzical look which I naturally interpreted to be related to my overt awkwardness when, in fact, I was less scuttling and more staggering from the inner ear imbalance. Apparently he thought I was somewhat drunk but somehow not relaxed.
The group left him at The Bar and boarded a small bus which carried us over grassy terrain split apart by low rock walls. Sheep and cattle grazed with the grey sea as their view. Our driver, over an old-school crackly loudspeaker, explained that over large swaths of time, ancient Irish had dredged up seaweed and turned the rock of an island into something inhabitable by manufacturing their own soil. While everyone mumbled a semi-interested “ooh,” I considered how depressing the first handful of years must have been creating dirt. “They carried it up in baskets from the sea, day after day, month after month, for years until they had land they could grow on.” A cow paused to bellow at us as we passed by.
We stopped by a man in a tweed cap next to some sheep. The driver chatted with him for quite a while until he turned to the rest of us and mentioned an old abandoned church we could go gawk at while they caught up. “Still doin’ the tours then, Jerry?” the local man asked.
Back in the island town of Killeany, we perused through the Aran Sweater Market, buying bulky wool sweaters and silver earrings. Almost everyone picked up a claddagh ring if they didn’t already have one and showed it to our guide as if this was something new to him. An actor, he feigned delight and surprise beautifully.
I wandered down towards the docks to wait for the ferry back, stumbling as I went. I sat down on a rock wall on Krusty Krab Road (really) to watch the gulls, soak up the faint hints of sun, and breathe in the salty air. I closed my eyes. “Mind if I sit down next to ya, then?” a voice said. I opened my eyes, my vision slowly coming into one view. My head felt like a bobbing helium balloon.
“Sure,” I said. The man was dressed in dark tan corduroy pants with a long wheat tweed overcoat. His chin length hair was slicked back with, evidently, his own grease and a large unkempt bushy beard covered his face. Long strands of mustache curled into his mouth.
“You on holiday then?” he asked. I nodded. “All types come over here. All types. For the green. The luck of the Irish. The beer. The girls.” He winked and began singing a modified Molly Malone. “In Galway’s fair city / where the girls are so pretty / I once met a girl named sweet-” he gestured.
“Liz.” He made a face.
“Alice?” he asked. I nodded. Somehow no one seemed capable of pronouncing my name and all defaulted to Alice. So I went with it. “Cormac.” He sucked his gums and began fidgeting in his coat pocket. Producing what looked like wet popcorn, he smeared it across his teeth, pulling his index finger out with a pop. He let it sit for a moment before removing the wad and placing it back into his pocket. His teeth were yellowed and spotted with black.
We glanced off in the distance. The gulls called out to each other and skimmed the water. A setter jogged over and sat beside me, placing is long snout on my knee and nuzzling my hand. I absentmindedly ran a hand through its soft fur. He cast a wary eye on my new friend.
“D’ya like horse betting, Alice? Is it legal in the States? I love a good bet. I’ll bet on anything – car races, bowling, rugby, anything. But horses are my favorite. D’ya know, my wife- of twenty years, saints above- left me over the horses. She said, ‘Carmichael, if you don’t quit the bettin’ and the drink, sure ‘n’ I’ll leave ya.’ And she did!” He repeated his wet popcorn routine with a smack. “Can you bet in America on horses?”
“I think so? I’m not really sure. I don’t think it’s all that popular in America.”
“Isn’t it? No! Well.” He paused for a moment. “Say, you married Alice?” I shook my head regretting not throwing on the odd ring that morning. “D’ya want to be? How could ya not- girl like you. D’ya want to get married? To me?”
“Umm….” A couple began to walk towards us. They gave me that do-you-need-help look and I did my best to communicate that yes, I would like some help, please but they kept walking. My four-legged companion yelped after them but leaned against me. His brown eyes rolled up to me as if to say, “I tried.”
“Think about it- Alice and Mickey McCarthy. I’ve got quite a bit of money, ya know. Big house- like a castle it is, with wings and all- outside of Galway. You could come live there- you’d never even see me! And you could bring your friends! I bet you have loads of pretty girl-friends and they could all come live with ya on acres and acres of land. Each of ’em could have their own wing. And we’d go to the races and place bets!” I did my best to keep a steady face given the proposal and his sudden name change. He began to look a bit stricken at my lack of a response. “Or not! Or not! We could go to America! Or you could stay here and I could go to America! D’ya know I saw you in Galway at the hostel?”
I stopped petting the dog for a moment. “Sure, on College Road.” A low chuckle. “You were in the window- very pretty sight. Couldn’t forget a sight like that.”
He had seen me from the street in my floor to ceiling clear glass, curtain-free shower window the day before. He leaned in a bit laughing. The dog grumbled. From around the corner, I spotted Hannah who I had befriended at Dun Aonghasa earlier in the day. She waved. I stood up abruptly. “I have to catch the boat. My group is leaving,” I said. The dog followed.
“I’ll see you on,” he said. “Don’t forget my offer! If I don’t see you on, I’ll find you in town!”
“Who was that?” Hannah said, scratching the dog behind its ears.
“Not sure,” I replied. “He gave me different names. Wants to marry me. Saw me naked.”
On our boat ride home, he skulked around the boat looking for me. Every so often, Hannah would grab me by the shoulders and shove me under a seat as he passed by. “Have you seen a girl?” he asked a passenger. “Reddish hair? Green eyes?” The man gave him an annoyed stare that translated roughly to: you’ve just described a very large portion of the population, sir.
Six months later, I sat in the dark, spooning ice cream into my gob. Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown was touring the Aran Islands’ Inishmore. She was interviewing a local fisherman named Michael Carmichael.
I grabbed my phone and began frantically texting Hannah. “You’re never going to believe who’s on TV right now.”