Many a Twist – Sheila Connolly

“What do you think?” Gillian Callanan asked nervously. “It’s not been easy for me to do much lately, what with the baby coming. And Harry’s been so busy trying to sort out clients that he hasn’t been around as often as I’d like. He’d like to be, I think.” Maura Donovan looked at her obviously pregnant friend and wondered whether it was the very unfinished home or the impending birth of her and Harry’s child that had made her so frazzled. Probably both, Maura guessed—not that she had any real experience with either pregnancy or home decoration. But Gillian had asked for her opinion, and she wasn’t going to weasel out of answering it. “I think it’s a great place. It’s got the right amount of space for the three of you, and the view of Ballinlough is terrific. It’s all on one floor. It’s close to where you’ll be working—” Gillian interrupted with a snort. “If ever I work again. We still haven’t touched the studio space, and it’s filthy.” “We’ll round up a bunch of the regulars from Sullivan’s and scrub the place down for you. I’ll offer them some free pints.

Location: great. Size: perfect. Access: easy. You’ve got a decent road right in front, but it’ll be quiet because whatever cars go by, the studio in front will block the noise.” “If I ignore the fisherman swarming about six months out of the year.” “I thought fishing was quiet.” “Once you’re out on the lake, it is. But it’s the getting there that’s noisy, and once the men are done for the day, they’ve been known to lift a few bottles on the way in.” “Is that legal?” Gillian shrugged. “Live and let live, we say. But this place has been empty for so long that those who fish here often have forgotten that it’s a home.” “Maybe I can ask Sean Murphy to keep an eye on things.” “Your faithful garda—what is he these days? Friend? Or more than friend?” “I don’t know,” Maura muttered. “But I’m sure he’d help.” “Don’t trouble yourself.

Harry and I will work things out. Harry can always offer them his services as an accountant, which might hurry up their exit.” “Is he having any luck?” Maura asked, feeling a bit anxious. Harry Townsend had been a modestly successful accountant in Dublin, but then his great-aunt Eveline, who’d lived in the local manor house near Maura’s pub, had passed away not long ago, and Gillian had turned up pregnant. Gillian and Harry had been on-again, off-again for years, but now they seemed to be firmly on, and Eveline’s passing had provided just enough funds to buy the decrepit house and former creamery overlooking a small lake, Ballinlough. Harry had given up his apartment in Dublin and was trying to make a go of his business locally, but he’d been struggling. Maura knew in theory that a lot could be done by computer these days, but she had no idea what the timeline might be for setting himself up and finding clients in West Cork. The baby, on the other hand, had a very definite timeline. And no matter how Maura tried to reassure Gillian, the house was still just short of livable. Being so close to the water, there were damp problems, and little maintenance had been done for at least the past ten years. Maura really was going to have to step up her game, corral some of her patrons, and make sure the essential things got done on time. “Okay, Gillian, tell me this: What absolutely, positively has to be done before the baby comes?” Gillian gave some thought to the question before answering. “I’ve little experience with infants, but I’m going to guess the child should be warm and dry, so at least his or her room should be finished and done right. You know, heating, double-pane windows, proper ventilation. And I’m told they soil their clothes every time you turn around, so there’d best be a washer and a place to dry clothes.

Something like a basic kitchen, so I can keep Harry and myself fed without too much work. A place to sit, and somewhere to sleep. God help us, there’s next to no furniture—I’ve been living in rented flats in Dublin for years with none of my own. Harry’s been promised a few bits and pieces from the manor house, but I’d feel terrible watching black mold creeping up eighteenth-century end tables. You’re lucky, up the hill there—you get more of a breeze.” “Has your family come around yet?” “Do you mean, have they forgiven me, or have they actually visited here?” “Either one. Does anyone on your side have any baby things they can recycle?” “I doubt it,” Gillian told her, looking resigned. “My ma’s still not speaking to me, and my sisters resent me because I’m the one who got away, took myself off to Dublin, and called myself an artist, while they were stuck here having babies and going to Mass with Ma. You’d think they’d be eager to come lord it over me now, wouldn’t you?” “And Harry has no one on his side, right?” “Exactly. And you’ve seen the attic at Mycroft House—there are no discarded cribs lurking in the shadows there.” “What do we need to do right now? Heck, didn’t people use to put new babies in a laundry basket to sleep? It’s not like they need fancy furniture and matching sheets.” “Good point. The kid won’t mind, at least not for a few months.” Gillian hauled her bulk out of the chair she’d been sitting in. “Come on, I need to move.

Let’s go out the back and admire the view. We’ve got a couple of very used plastic chairs out there.” “Fine,” Maura said and followed her to the back of the house. It was a view worth admiring. The lake was, in Maura’s Boston-raised opinion, just the right size: not so large as to be intimidating but large enough that sound didn’t carry off the water. Gillian’s house ran north-south, so the back view looked west, toward the setting sun. There were few houses in sight, only the gentle hills beyond the lake. Maura could hear the distant lowing of a cow—but then, she could hear that from almost anywhere in West Cork. Still, it was pretty and peaceful and surprisingly soothing. Gillian shut her eyes and leaned back in the rickety chair. “I suppose I should enjoy this as long as I can. I expect this child might have other ideas.” “I’m told they do sleep sometimes,” Maura replied. “You have any idea if it’s a boy or a girl?” “None. Harry would prefer a boy, I think.

Someone to carry on the line, not that it matters anymore. But that’s a male thing, I think. I’ll be happy either way.” Maura wondered to herself whether Harry would stay the course. He’d been something of a—heck, what did they call it these days? Player?—for most of his adult life. He’d shown no signs of settling down until recently, although he was in his midthirties, as was Gillian. The two of them had danced around the idea of marriage, but it still hadn’t happened, child or not. “You have a doctor and all that?” Maura asked. “I’ve been to the clinic, and there’s a visiting nurse who comes around. Since I’m not exactly young for a first-time mother, I’m told I should have this child in hospital, although there are midwives around. And midwives in hospitals, for that matter. Don’t worry. It’s taken care of.” “And when do you have to be out of Mycroft House?” “The National Trust has been very kind to let us stay while we get things sorted out, but I think they’d like to have the place open for tours by the summer. We’ve already inventoried who gets what.

And the O’Briens left in a huff as soon as Eveline died. As you might guess, I’m not exactly keeping up with the housecleaning these days.” “I’m told there’s a service you can hire to clean for you,” Maura volunteered. “Yes, over at Union Hall—I know a couple of the people there—but I’m not sure what money we have, and I’d rather save it for more important things.” Maura was feeling more and more useless. She really wanted to be able to help Gillian, but all this baby stuff was completely foreign to her. She’d never had any brothers or sisters since her father had died and then her mother had vanished when she was young, leaving Maura with her grandmother. She’d never done any babysitting in her Boston neighborhood because nobody paid for that there, calling on relatives most of the time, and Maura had needed to work to bring in some income, even when she was in high school. She knew which end of a baby was up and that they needed constant feeding and cleaning, but that was about all. Gillian laughed, startling her. “Ah, Maura—if only you could see your face! I know you want to help, and I’m glad to have your company.” Maura smiled in spite of herself. “Okay, but let me do what I can, will you? The least I can do is paint or move furniture around.” “Don’t fret. I’ll ask.

I know—we can’t do this alone. Shouldn’t you be off about now?” “I told Mick I’d be in by five and cover the evening shift. So I guess I should be going. Is Harry picking you up, or should I drop you off at Mycroft House?” “A ride would be grand. Let me check in with Harry.” Gillian managed to get up, then made her way carefully into the house. She was back in under a minute. “Harry said he’d be eternally grateful if you would see me home.” “No problem. You ready to go?” “Let me pee once more. Thank goodness the plumbing here works.” Waiting for Gillian, Maura turned back to the view. The days were growing longer, but the sun was already hanging low. She’d meant it when she said it was a lovely place. A good place to raise a child.

But she was still having trouble seeing Harry settling in here. Maybe he’d be able to find a small office he could afford in Skibbereen or even Cork city. Someplace he could set up a desk and files and a computer connection, away from the interruptions of a squalling baby. Gillian came out the door on the side. “Ready?” “Let’s go.” Two It was nearly dark as Maura drove along the Ballinlough road toward the village of Leap, where Sullivan’s occupied a central place on the village’s only main street. The building had stood there for centuries, leaning against a rock face behind, and its former owner, Mick Sullivan—usually known as Old Mick—had done his best not to change anything at all in the decades he’d managed it. In a way, Maura could understand that: if there was an Irish equivalent of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the shabby dark pub fit the bill. She had followed the same rule when she’d found out that Old Mick had left her the pub in his will, thanks to an agreement he and her grandmother had come to without ever bothering to mention it to her. Maura had always been wary of new situations, so she’d taken her time sizing up the place before deciding on any changes—or whether any changes were needed. The staff had already been in place, and all had stayed, much to Maura’s relief. “Young” Mick, in his midthirties, was the quiet mainstay of the place. Jimmy was less dependable, but he came as a package deal with his young daughter, Rose, barely seventeen, a sweet kid who was pretty enough to draw in some customers. Then there was Old Billy Sheahan, a longtime friend of Mick’s who, thanks to a deal with Old Mick, enjoyed free rent in his tiny rooms at the end of the old building, not to mention a steady supply of fresh pints of Guinness. But Maura had quickly recognized that Billy was an asset: he knew everybody and everything about them and the region and its history, and Maura wasn’t sure she would have survived the first few months without his steady guiding hand.

Along the way, he had become the grandfather she had never had, and he was welcome to keep his warm corner by the pub’s fire as long as he wanted it. The pub was a small place with room for no more than two hundred people (which was also about the total population of the village) if they crowded together and used all the available space in the pub, but the people kept coming, first out of curiosity to see what the new young American girl would do with the place, and then because it seemed that they actually liked her—and because she hadn’t changed things much. The only real change was that Maura had brought back Irish music to the place, a long-standing tradition that Old Mick had let lapse in his later years. The music attracted a few younger faces and a greater number of women, but it didn’t really change the feeling of the place. And that was fine. Maura parked her car on the street and walked into Sullivan’s, drawn by the warm glow of the windows facing the street. She was greeted by the familiar odor of smoke—a heady mixture of burning peat and wood—topped off with a bit of stale beer, a dollop of woolens that hadn’t been washed since fall, and a dash of cow. She raised a hand to Billy in his accustomed seat, and he smiled at her before going back to his conversation with two men she didn’t recognize. She made her way to the bar, where Rose and Mick were keeping moderately busy filling pints and making coffee from the gleaming stainless-steel machine—it had been languishing in the cellar under Old Mick, and bringing it upstairs and getting it running was another positive change she’d made. “How’s Gillian?” Rose asked, watching her row of pints settle with an experienced eye. “Large. Kind of overwhelmed with all the stuff that has to be done at the house, and she can’t begin to do most of it in her current condition.” “And where’s Harry, then?” Rose asked. “Drumming up work, she says.” “Is he serious, do yeh think?” “About staying around? Staying with Gillian? I hope so, to both.

I think they’re still kind of feeling their way along with all these changes. Are you too busy to talk for a minute?” Rose checked out the room. It looked like most of the men held glasses that were at least half full. “I’ve time enough, I’d say. Can I make you a coffee?” “Please.” Maura watched for a few moments as Rose set the machine to brewing a single cup for her. After a couple of minutes, Rose slid it in front of where Maura was perched on a barstool. “Yeh wanted to talk about something? Yeh’re not thinkin’ of firin’ me, are yeh?” “Good heavens, no!” Maura protested, laughing. “Not unless I know you’ve got something better lined up, or you decide to leave your da to Judith and head for the big city. Why don’t we move to that corner? It’s a little more private.” Once they were settled, it was Rose who picked up the thread. “I’ve been thinkin’ . No, that’s fer another time. What were you after talking about?” “Gillian. And Harry.

There are things that have to be done, since they’ve got to leave Mycroft Hall and move into their new place soon, and even together they don’t have the time or energy to get everything done. And not enough money to hire people. So, when I was driving back down here, I was wondering if we could put together some sort of shower for them.” Rose cocked her head, looking curious. “A baby shower, are yeh thinkin’? That’s pretty much an American thing. Here there’s some that still hold it’s bad luck to bring any baby things into the house before the child is born.” “What, the poor kid has to come home with not a thing to wear? That doesn’t seem right. And I’m thinking not just a baby shower but more. Sure, Gillian needs stuff for the baby, and she won’t mind hand-me-downs, but Harry’s not very handy around the house. He’s never had to be. You think it might be possible to put together a shower with the guys, maybe out at the house, where they do some of the heavier work? I mean, we don’t have to call it a shower. It’s like another American custom: a barn-raising. All the neighbors get together and help build the frame for a new barn. It takes a lot of people to raise it and nail it together. Or so I’m told—I don’t know of many barns in Boston.

” “I’ve not heard of that, but I like it. And instead of tea and little cakes, you give ’em a keg and bread and cheese?” Rose grinned. “Maybe an all-day thing, where they could drop by and put in a couple of hours each. Ní neart go cur le chéile, right?” “Huh? Is that Irish?” “It is. They made us learn a bit of it in school. The words mean something like ‘there is strength in unity,’ but the idea is that yeh’re better off workin’ together.” “That’s exactly what I was thinking. When would be a good time? We’ve got to get the place warm and dry before they bring the baby home.” “More important, when’s the baby due?” “I don’t know the exact date, but probably too soon. So we should jump on this ASAP?” “I’d say so. And the men’ll get caught up in their spring chores soon enough. Shall I ask Judith what she thinks?” “Please! How’re she and your dad getting on?” Rose laughed. “I’d say she has him well in hand.” “Have they set a date yet, or don’t they plan to?” “Judith won’t let him slip away that easy. Before summer, I’d say.

” “Where is he, by the way?” “She has him out today looking at cows to add to her herd.” Maura laughed. “That I’d like to see. Well, think about the shower idea, will you? Do you need a break, now that I’m here?” “Let me run over the road and pick up a bite fer me supper. Judith will feed me da.” After Rose slipped out on her errand, there was a brief lull, and Mick came over to talk to Maura. “There was a call fer yeh while yeh were gone.” “On the pub phone, you mean? Who was it?” Calls on the pub’s landline were rare. “Business, it seems. Some muckety-muck from a company I’d never heard of asked to speak to the owner. I said yeh were out, but yeh’d call them back later.” “Am I supposed to call tonight?” “I’m guessing the mornin’ will do well enough.” “And that’s all they said?” Those few times the pub’s landline rang, rarely was it a call for her. “They didn’t tell you why they wanted to talk to me?” “That they did not. Don’t worry yerself about it, Maura.

They probably want to sell you something.” “Then it’ll be easy to say no, since we haven’t enough money to buy much of anything.” The next time Maura looked up, Garda Sean Murphy was coming in, followed by another garda she’d never seen before. Trouble? Sean didn’t look anxious, so it couldn’t be too bad. When he was close enough to be heard, he said in an oddly formal way, “Maura, I’d like you to meet Sergeant Conor Ryan. He’ll be joinin’ us at the Skibbereen station, and I’m showin’ him around, like.” He turned to his companion. “Sergeant, this is Maura Donovan—she’s the owner of this fine place fer the last year. But her family’s from up toward Drinagh.” The new sergeant extended his hand. “Good to meet yeh, Miss Donovan.” His handshake was firm and no-nonsense. “Welcome,” Maura said. “It’ll be nice to know someone who’s newer around here than I am. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea?” Sean looked at the sergeant for guidance.

Conor Ryan gave a small nod, then sat, and Sean happily took a seat next to him. Maura put two and two together and realized that the new garda was senior to Sean, although Sean had been at the Skibbereen station for more than a year. Maura nodded at Rose to start two coffees, then turned back to the men. “Are you from around here, Sergeant?” “I’ve just been transferred from the big station in Limerick.” “I’ve never been there. The pub here keeps me busy, so I don’t do a lot of sightseeing. Are you enjoying Skibbereen?” “I can’t say as I know it well yet. Yeh’re American, are yeh not?” “I am, from Boston. But my father was born here.” “Yeh’re young to be running a place like this.” Rose handed Maura two cups of coffee, and she slid them across the bar to the men before answering. “I inherited it from a relative of my grandmother’s. Luckily, I had some experience with bars back in the States, and I’ve had help learning how things work here.” She realized with some surprise that the man hadn’t smiled yet. She had a feeling that if she’d committed a crime, she’d be feeling pretty guilty right now, which was ridiculous.

He was, well, kind of scary. She wondered why he had left Limerick—had it been his decision or someone else’s? “Well, I hope you like Skibbereen.” Should she compliment Sean on his policing skills, or would that open up a whole can of worms? She didn’t feel like explaining how it had come about that she knew the Skibbereen gardaí so well. She was relieved when Sergeant Ryan cut off the conversation and he turned to Sean. “Murphy, we have other stops to make, do we not?” “Of course.” They both drained the half-finished coffees, and Sean slid some coins across the bar. “Ta, Maura,” he said. “Good night, Sean. Nice to meet you, Sergeant.” He didn’t respond. Not exactly a warm and friendly guy. She watched as the two men left. From the rear, they looked oddly mismatched: Sean was not particularly tall, fairly slender, and plainly the younger of the two. This sergeant person was taller, definitely broader, and seemed to be made of granite. His back was arrow straight, and he looked as though he was absorbing every detail of her pub without even moving his head.

And he definitely made her uncomfortable. Mick came up behind her at the bar. “What was that about?” he asked quietly. “New guy at the Skibbereen gardaí, it seems. I’ll have to find out more from Sean. Did we need more gardaí around here? I thought crime was pretty low,” Maura commented. “Maybe it wasn’t his choice. Where’d he say he’s from?” “Limerick.” “Ah,” Mick said. “Rough place, that. He’ll probably be bored here in a week. But maybe someone wanted him here or wanted him out of his former station. I wouldn’t want to cross him.” “I know what you mean,” Maura told him. The evening flowed on at its usual pace.

Rose came back with her supper; Mick went out to find some of his own. In between pulling pints, Maura reviewed her own to-do list. She had survived winter in her cottage thanks to Mick, who had shown her how the heating system worked. The pub was generally cleaner than it had been when she arrived. She was still learning how to attract musical groups to play. So far they’d sort of invited themselves once they’d heard that Sullivan’s was having music again, but that wasn’t a long-term solution. From what Maura had heard from other people her age, mostly back in Boston, you had to promote on social media to bring in customers, and she’d never had the time or seen the need to mess around with that. Did it make sense to learn now? Jimmy came in around seven, looking peeved, but that was Jimmy’s usual expression. Nothing ever seemed to make him happy, and that included his job and now his lady friend. Well, Jimmy’s happiness was not her problem, Maura reminded herself. All she needed from him was that he show up more or less on time for his shift and do what he was supposed to do. Maura had a sneaking suspicion that Rose was preparing herself to make a move in a new direction—maybe that was what she had hinted at earlier?—and once she did, Maura wouldn’t feel obligated to keep Jimmy on board. Heck, if business kept getting better now that there was the music, she might find more people wanted to work at Sullivan’s. Would it be worth the effort to serve food at Sullivan’s? Full meals? Lunches only? What kind of staff would that take? Would she have to upgrade the equipment? What permits would she need? Now she remembered again why she kept shoving the whole idea on a shelf and ignoring it. She would talk to Rose about it—later.


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Updated: 16 June 2020 — 22:48

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