The Fiddler’s Daughter

THE FIDDLER’S DAUGHTER

It was faint at first, faint but unmistakeable.  It grew stronger as the wind turned and carried it towards her, only to be drowned by the howling and shreiking of the gale through the trees.  Crooked trees.  Silhouettes, bent straining over the dark lane.  And there it was again, rising and falling, now louder, now softer as the wind sighed and then ebbed.  She knew the melody, even from those few notes.  She wanted to run.  Run back along the dark lane.  Run away from the music, away from him, away from everything.  But she had nowhere to go to.  No one to turn to.  So she carried on.  Feet splashing in the dark puddles, bare legs wet from the driving rain, water seeping through her coat.  And all the time, the music twisting, tumbling, floating, drawing her ever nearer.

He would be home.  Seated on the wooden chair beside the fireplace, left leg tucked underneath, playing that tune, the one he only played when he was alone.  His fiddle in the left hand, bow in the right, his body swaying with the music, eyes closed for a brief instant to savour that rise to the C sharp and then open again as the melody plunged down a full octave to a lower D.

She could imagine the state of the house; the fire out, the dishes still on the table from breakfast, the beds unmade, the washing not done.  Her face burned as she felt the anger rise in her.  And it would be her that would have to remake the fire, prepare the supper, tidy the house before she ever sat down to her homework.  That bloody fiddle!

The fiddle had been part of her life ever since she could remember.  She would have certainly heard it when she was still in her mothers womb.  Her first vague memories were of listening to her father playing, the flames in the fire dancing to his reel.  One day when she was almost five, her father put down his fiddle to answer a knock at the door, leaving Aoine alone in the room.  The little girl picked up her father’s fiddle and out of curiousity drew the bow across the strings to what sound it would make.  Delighted with the effect she produced she repeated the process again and again.  Hearing the sound of his fiddle, her father came back into the room.  On seeing her father she became frightened at being caught, fiddle and bow in her hands, her father normally reacted angrily to anyone who touched his instrument.  This time, however, he gently took it from her, sat her on his knee and explained how it worked.

“Would you like your own fiddle, darling?”  he asked.

Because she wanted to please him, to be loved by him, without thinking, she said “Yes”.  And so for her fifth birthday he bought her a quarter fiddle and started to teach her; at first affectionately, patiently.   As time passed, however and she became more accomplished, he became more demanding and impatient.  As she grew so the quarter fiddle was replaced by a half fiddle and then a three quarters and finally the full fiddle and with them the half hour lesson lengthened to an hour and then an hour and a half till finally, upwards of two hours most days were spent on the fiddle.

“Fergus, for the love of God, you’ll tax the child.”  her mother had said one evening when they had both been practicing almost non stop.  “Give the poor girl some rest.  She’s still got her homework to do.”

“You’re not tired are you?”  her father asked.

“No, Daddy.”  the ten year old replied.  And so the lessons went on.

When Aoine was thirteen, her mother suddenly became ill and was confined to bed.  At first her father said it was flu.  But a week later she was still in bed and the doctor was asked to call.  He immediately sent her mother into the hospital for tests.  Two weeks later her father took Aoine aside and told the girl her mother was dying from cancer and there was nothing that could be done but pray and wait.

Despite Aoine’s best efforts at nursing, her mother became weaker by the day, spending most of her time sleeping.  Even eating became an effort and eventually Aoine had to feed her soup, spoonful by painful spoonful, wiping her mouth and praising her when she had managed the half cup.  There were many long nights Aoine spent in the chair besides the mother’s bed, waking several times during the night to attend to her mother’s needs, to reassure her or to hold her hand.  Her homework suffered and she missed many days of school, sometimes even falling asleep during the lesson after a particularly difficult night.  The teachers were kind understanding the reason for the girl’s poor performance.

Her father did the best he could, but could not bear to see his wife so ill, drifting in and out of consciousness.  He would tip toe into her room, embarrassed.  If she was awake, his wife would make an effort and ask what he was doing that day in order to give him a reason to be out of the house.  It was while her father was away, Aoine would occasionally pick up the fiddle and sit by the bed softly playing the melodies she knew were her mother’s favourites.  One in particular she knew would please her above all others.  A slow air, called;  ‘The ship is leaving the harbour’.  There were times she was in the middle of the melody, her mother would awake out of the haze of pain and hum the tune, sometimes even whispering the words she had loved to sing when she was courting.

Aoine’s mother had met her father in the neighbouring village when he was playing with three other musicians at a local wedding.  As she told Aoine later, as soon as their eyes met, they fell in love.  It was there that she first heard him play the melody that was to become her favorite, wrapping itself round her heart, binding her to him for ever.

They courted for almost two years.  If he was playing at a dance when she was present, he would play the tune, the melody drifting across the room to whisper its message of love in her ear.  She would often then begin to sing, at first softly and then more loudly as the room grew quiet to listen to the response her perfect voice made to his wooing.  Like the lyrics and the melody, they were matched perfectly.  Together they would soar above the room and the mundane life of that small village beneath the shadow of the mountain.

When her mother could no longer eat, the doctor suggested taking her into hospital.  What’s the use?” her father replied.  “You’ll only prolong the inevitable, making her suffer in the process and away from those that love and care for her?”  And so she stayed a few more precious days until one evening, Aoine arrived late home from school to find the front door open and the fire out.  She instinctively knew, rushing upstairs to find her father beside the bed holding her mother’s hand, staring in disbelief eyes red raw with the tears that stained his cheeks.

The whole village came to her funeral.  Her last request was that he should play her favourite melody before the coffin left the church.  And so he played, the music filling the church with its tragic notes.  Like the fiddler, the mourners listened and wept, remembering the woman who had been the light of his life and loved by all.  It was the last time he was to play the melody in public, nor was he ever asked to.  But sometimes in the lonliness of the night when she was gone to bed, Aoine would hear the soft lilt of the melody from below as her father played staring into the fire and his memories.

Aoine finally arrived at the cottage and pushed open the door.  Her heart sank when she looked around.  The place was a mess, She slammed her bag on the table, took off her coat and without a word, set to lighting the fire.

“Don’t mind that now.”  said her father.  “Listen to this.  I’ve finally remembered that tune Liam O’Connor played that the one night.  Sit down, you’ll pick it up in no time.”  He caught her arm.

She pulled it away fiercely.  “Later” she said.  “I’m cold and wet and you’ve let the fire go out again.”

“A bit of fast bowing and you’ll soon be warm.” he coaxed.  She put on her coat again, picked up the bucket and went out to get the turf for the fire.  Outside, she raged against the wind, “God!, why do I have to put up with this?”

After they had eaten the dinner she had prepared in silence, she took the plates out to the kitchen to start the washing.  Her father caught her arm again “Leave those till later and come and sit down.  I’ve that tune all day, the one Liam …”

“I know, you said already.”  She interrupted.  “I’ve got homework and then there’s the washing to do.  You promised me you’d have it done by the time I came home.  I haven’t a shirt for tomorrow.”

“Just five minutes.”  He said, as he picked up his fiddle and started to the play the tune he had been practicing..  “Go on.”

There was no telling him.  He would insist until he had his way.  “Just five minutes.”  she said. Moodily she picked up her fiddle and started to follow, but her mind soon started to drift.  She began to day dream.  As she had often done before, she thought of her mother and imagined that she had not died but had gone away on a long journey.  That it had all been a mistake and now she was coming back for good.  And although comforting, the dream only made the reality more wearisome when she was awake.

Her reverie was interrupted by her father tapping his bow on her leg.  Some thing he always did whenever he felt she was not concentrating.  She hated it.

Rage boiled within her.  She stood up.  “Will you stop doing that!”  she shouted.

“You weren’t concentrating.”  he replied

“So what.”  she retorted.

“A good fiddle player must always concentrate, otherwise the music becomes mechanical with no emotion.”

“I don’t want to be a good fiddle player.  I want to be a nurse.”  She put down the fiddle noisily on the table took her bag and went upstairs to her room.

“You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t practice.” he called out after her.

“I don’t care.  Who says I want to get anywhere?”  and she slammed the door behind her.

And so their life together continued, dominated by the music and the fiddle.

Her schoolwork suffered because of it.  The teachers made allowances for her, assuming her homework was incomplete because of the duties of running the household virtually singlehanded.  Every evening was the same, she would get supper and then it would be practice.  She hated practicing mainly because her father was such a perfectionist.  After about five minutes into a piece he would stop and point out how this particular passage should be bowed or how.. usually some other minor point of detail.  She hated being interrupted, above all she detested him tapping his bow on her leg, however gentle, when he wanted to draw attention or when he felt she was not concentrating.  Sometimes she would move her chair out of his reach. but he would pull her towards him or else move to be closer.  Even in public he would tap her leg or arm, a humiliation that caused her to blush with anger and embarrassment.

They would play for an hour, or two, or even three, for him it didn’t matter.  It was as if the music was his conversation and he had been silent all day or else talking to himself.  Time vanished when he played, but not for Aoine.  She was well aware of still how much there was to be done.  Of the maths exercises she didn’t understand but still have to had completed by the morning.  Occasionally she would seethe with fury as she played thinking of how late she would be to bed before she finished..  It would be then he would tap her leg with the bow to show he had noticed her concentration wandering.

It was easier in the Winter as there were fewer sessions in the evenings in the bar.  Sometimes Aoine would come home at find the fire blazing with supper ready from the oven.  But these occasions were all too rare.

As the days began to lengthen almost every evening found them in some bar or other sometimes local, sometimes travelling two or three hours to get to a venue.  The landlord would usually slip her father a few pounds and free drink knowing that a good fiddler would bring in custom and make those who came in for a quick one stay a little longer.  If it was known Fergus was playing then often  men would bring their wives as well and many was the request for this and that tune.  There’d be singing too.  Her father had long learnt all the favourite songs of  those who fancied themselves as singers, the tunes being selected to show off their voces to best effect.  There was many the good voice in the area, and the occasional conceited crow amongst the nightingales.

Fergus was also much in demand for weddings, funerals, dances and other social events.   His fiddle was like the pages of a history book, each tune requested evoking a memory for someone in the room.  Maybe it was a favourite song a mother, long since gone, would hum when ironing.  Sometimes the request would be for a song that was popular when the couple was courting.  Now long past their prime they would squeeze each other’s hand and be transported for a brief moment to the golden days of their youth.  Inevitably on such occasions they would be home late and it was Aoine who would have to be up early for school the next day or during the weekend and holidays first her chores and then the part time job which provided her with a little pocket money and helped with the income for the household.

It was the ‘sessions’ she dreaded most.  These were evenings when her father would be joined by other fiddlers or musicians, someone with a bodhran, or a guitar or very occasionally uilleann pipes.  It would be at those sessions that she would be required to play most of the evening with the group often for almost an hour without let, jigs sliding into reels and then into hornpipes or mazukas.  She felt no love for these tunes and played them mechanically.  Her mind would wander, thinking of a recent conversation she had had with a friend, or of the homework she would have to do when she returned home.  A light tap from her father’s bow on her leg would remind her that he was aware of her lack of attention.

During the breaks in the music, if the session was local she would join her friends but would have to reluctantly leave when her father started to tuned his bow again.  Recently her father had started to make her play solo in public, she hated being the centre of attention and blushed all the way through her performance.  She was aware of all eyes being focussed on her, all the more acutely now that she was starting to change into a woman.

During the Summer the local players would be joined by tourists; emigre Irish from England and the States, Germans and Frenchmen who camped in the field near the church, some of whom she thought didn’t bother to wash until they got back home.  Her father had a reputation and many would come especially to hear him play.  Often he would be asked about points of detail about bowing or technique.  Although a modest man she knew he enjoyed their reverence.

And then there were the women.  They were usually foreigners between twenty and fourty, with almost always the same unkempt look.  Often they too were fiddle players who would drift in and join the sessions and gradually latch onto her father, when they were the worse for drink.  The first time one came home with her father, Aoine was outraged.  Though some years after the death of her mother, she could not imagine her father with anyone else.  The woman stayed a week.  Aoine got used to the women eventually.  They never lasted more than a few days before her father would gently but firmly put them on the road again.  Although he liked female company he was satisfied with his life the way it was.

Aoine did badly in her leaving exams at school.  It was her father’s fault.  If he wasn’t dragging her round the bars of the County in the evening, he was practising at home making it impossible for her to study.  She expected to do badly, but the results were even worse than she imagined.  Her father showed little concern.  “Never mind you can always make a decent living from the fiddle, if you practice that is.”

“Decent?  Is this what you call decent?  Scratching a few pennies from handing out a begging bowl in the bar or at weddings.”

A few days later, they were in a local bar, at a session.  Aoine was in a bad mood.  Her father kept interrupting her with some helpful comment about her playing.  She asked him to let her play uninterrupted.  Just as she was completing a particularly difficult passage, he tapped her on the leg with the bow to suggest a different arrangement.  Aoine snapped.  She threw the fiddle down on the ground, breaking the bridge in the process.  “You play it!”  She shouted at him and stormed out.

Later that evening when her father came home he called her with the broken fiddle in his hand.  There was no answer.  Noticing her door open he went into her bedroom.  Most of the few clothes she possesed were gone.  Aoine had packed and left.

Fergus heard nothing of Aoine for over a week and then it was via his cousin, Sean.  Sean’s daughter, Moira was working in London.  She had phoned to say that Aoine had arrived one night on her doorstep asking if she could stay until she ‘sorted herself out’.  Naturally she had said, Yes.  Aoine was now working in a local bar and was fine.  She didn’t know her plans or if and when she was going back to Ireland.

The only communication Aoine received from her father was a short letter, he wasn’t used to writing, saying she was welcome back at any time.  He had repaired her fiddle and went into the details of the damage done and how it had been repaired.  Bloody typical!  She thought.  Damned fiddle again.  She screwed the paper up and threw it into the bin.

Aoine drifted from job to job, casual work in bars or hotels.  She now moved in permanently to her cousin’s house as one of the housemates had gone to live with her boyfriend and so Aoine took over her room.  She moved around in the emigrant Irish community, mostly friends she knew from her own area who had left for London some time before.  Time passed and realising she was doing nothing with her life eventually she enrolled for night classes at a local college.

She had a couple of boyfriends but when they became serious or started talking about going on holiday to Ireland she dropped them.  That is until she met Kevin.  By that time she had passed her college exams and had started her training at the bottom of the ladder to be a nurse.  Hard work it was, all the studying and at the same time being on the job, but it was something she had always wanted to do.  She met Kevin at a St Patrick’s night in one of the pubs in Kilburn.  Born in England of Irish parents he was desperate to find his roots and was in some ways more Irish than the Irish themselves.  He was studying music at the Royal Academy.  Just my bloody luck, Aoine muttered to herself to fall for another musician and Irish too.  However, they got on well together and started to see more of each other.

A year later and they were back at the same pub.  Aoine went up to where the band was sitting and began talking to a couple of members of the band whom she knew.  She had drunk more than was good for her.  For some unknown reason she picked up her friend’s fiddle.  “Do you mind?” she asked.

“Not at all.” her friend replied.  “Do you play?”

“A little, I’m a bit rusty.  I haven’t played since I left Ireland.”

“Never mind, play anything, sure they’re all too drunk to notice anyway.

Aoine tuned the fiddle and started to play.  It came out spontaneously, subconsciously, the old lament that her mother had loved so well and that her father had played so often.  The pub suddenly became silent, people stopped talking, the bar staff stopped serving, the chink of glasses stilled, their customers turned to watch the fiddler.  The music spoke to everyone.  It transported them.  Time stood still and it seemed as if the moment would last for ever.  When she finished, Aoine woke as if from a dream to hear the applause, whistling. banging on the tables.

“Christ you were great!”  Exclaimed her friend.  “Rusty?  I wish I could play like that rusty or not.”

“Thanks.”  Aoine replied nervously.  She started back to her table, people opening the way for her, still applauding.

“I’ve never heard anything like it!”  Kevin said excitedly, kissing her on the cheek.  “Where did you learn to play like that, you’ve a real talent.”

“From my father.  He was” she corrected herself,  “is a fiddler.”

“Well, he must be something special.”

“Oh, he is that.”

All the way home Kevin spoke about the evening.  Aoine barely paid attention.  She was thinking of her mother, of her home, of her father and the evenings they played together.  She started to cry.

What’s the matter?  Kevin asked.

“Just tired that’s all.  Let’s get to bed.  I’ll be alright in the morning.”

It took weeks of cajoling by Kevin before Aoine went back to the pub again and took up the fiddle.  “You know.” he said one evening.  “You ought to take up the violin and study it seriously.”

Aoine had been to concerts with him and had seen the female soloists in their long black dresses

“Your pulling my leg.”

“No honest.  Why don’t you apply to the academy.  We could both study there together.”

“Now you really are taking the micky.  I’ve never studied music in my life.”

“All the more reason to go the academy.  With your natural talent and the theory they’d teach you, you could really be something.”

“I am something.”  Aoine replied.

“I didn’t mean it like that.” Kevin apologised.  “Will you think about it.”

“Yeah of course I will.”  she said.  “Along with winning the lottery.”

Four months later saw her standing nervously outside a large white door in a marble hall, wearing a short black dress, clutching her instrument, stomach in knots with nerves.

“God what am I doing here?”  She asked herself.  Kevin had been very persuasive.

She was ushered in.  “Miss?, er”  said a balding man with a grey beard shuffling through a set of papers.  There were three people on the panel.

“O’Reilly.”  replied Aoine.

“How do you pronounce your first name?”  Asked a younger woman Aoine dubbed ‘twin set and pearls.’  “Enya?”

“Ah no, that’s spelt E N Y A, she’s an Irish singer.

“Yes” replied twin set.  “Beautiful voice.”

“I’m Aoine, pronounced a bit like Enya but with an O at the beginning instead of the E.”

“Is is Irish?”  Asked twin set.

“Yes, it means Anne.”

“Well, Miss O’Reilly.  What do you have to play for us?”  asked grey beard

“Well er, first some Dvorak, then Brahms and…

“We’ll start with the Dvorak and see how we go from there.”  Interrupted greybeard.  He was making her nervous.

She played the Dvorak tolerably well, but no better than any music student at a provincial university.

“You didn’t really enjoy that did you?”  asked twin set.

“Well, er.”  Aoine began to feel her face flush, her palms go sticky.

“Aoine.  Relax.”  twin set said kindly.  “Take a moment to compose yourself.”

They paused, Aoine breathed in and out, thankful for the pause.

She nodded,  “I’m ready now.  Thank you.”

“Aoine, play us something you really like.”  said twin set.

“Well, I’ve prepared …”

“Not what you’ve prepared,  God knows we’ve probably heard it almost a thousand times.”

“Play us something you play at home in Ireland.”

“Well its usually jigs and reels and things like that.”

“Excellent!”  off you go.  She could see grey beard scowling.

Aoine closed her eyes to begin with and imagined herself in Sheehan’s bar back home, she played a medley that her father had arranged and which she knew was popular.

When she opened her eyes half way through, she saw twin set’s feet tapping out the music, the man in the middle was leaning back in his chair his foot too was tapping away.  Grey beard sat motionless waiting for the music to end.

“Brilliant!”said twin set.  “Well done. We haven’t had so much fun in years at an interview.”

“Anything else, perhaps a little different suggested the man in the middle.”

Aoine picked up her bow and played the slow lament.  Twin set closed her eyes.  The man in the middle took off his glasses, and leant on his elbow.  Grey beard stared out of the window.  When she had finished there was a long silence.

“That was beautiful.  The man in the middle.  What’s it called?”

“The ship is leaving the harbour.”

Twin set took a pen and wrote the name in her notebook.  “And do you know who has recorded it?”

“I don’t think anyone has.”

“What a pity.”  said twin set, “Well let’s hope that you’re the first to do so.”

After a short discussion on her background, her academic achievements, her inability to be able to read music etc.  Aoine was allowed to go home.

In the busy daily routine of the hospital, Aoine almost forgot the interview.  Much more important to her were her nursing exams.  She was delighted when the letter finally came through saying she had not only passed, but had achieved the highest marks in her group.  Kevin congratulated her, almost formally.  “Well done, but wait till you get into the Royal Academy.”

“If.” added Aoine.

“When.” corrected Kevin.

Some two days later Aoine returned home.  As she came into the lounge Kevin held out a letter addressed to her from the Royal Academy.  It had been opened.  “I’m ever so sorry, Darling.”

“She barely read its content.  ‘Regret to inform you, blah, blah, blah.  Wish you every luck in your career etc, etc.’

She screwed it up and flung it in the fire.  “You could apply somewhere else, there’s plenty of other music schools that would take you.”  Kevin said.

“I don’t want to go to bloody music school, not if they are all like that set of bastards.” she added with venom.  “And why did you open my letter. I hate that.”

“I, er.  I thought it was addressed to me.”

Bollocks. she thought. She knew he had lied.

The next day Kevin handed her another letter from the academy.  This time unopened and with a hand written address.  She took it into the toilet and read it while she had a pee.  Kevin hovered outside nervously.  “Well?”

“It’s from twin set.”

“Twin set?”  he asked puzzled.

“One of the panel who interviewed me at the academy.  What a kind Old Bitch.”  she meant it affectionately.  She tossed the letter to Kevin.

Dear Aoine,  By now you will have received your letter of rejection.  I am so sorry, however I did agree with the decision of the panel, though not for the same reasons, perhaps.  You have a rare and natural talent which I am afraid might be stifled by the more formal classical education which we offer.  Play the music you like in the way you know best, please yourself and then you’ll please the world.  With every best wish.  yours sincerely,  Susan Wainwright.  ps let me know when you record “The ship is leaving the harbour.”

“Well nice to know they’re not all stuck up cows.”  Aoine said as she took the letter back from Kevin.

Two weeks later she received a letter from Ireland.  She didn’t recognise the hand writing but she knew it was from home.  She opened it nervously.

Dear Aoine,  This is Mary Doherty.  I’m looking after your father now.  I think he finally realised he couldn’t look after himself so he’s got me in to do the cleaning and cooking and the washing.  I just thought I’d write and let you know, he’d be too proud to write and let you know himself, that your father has won the All-Ireland Fleadh as the best fiddle player in the whole of Ireland.  You probably won’t get the news in the English papers, but I thought you should know.  We’re all very proud of him in the village as I am sure you will be.  God Bless and hope to see you home soon.  yours Mary.

“Bad news?”  enquired Kevin.

“No.” smiled Mary.  “Good news from home.”

“Oh?”

“It’s my father.  He’s been named Fiddler of the Year in Ireland.”

“Great.”

It was then that Aoine’s thoughts started to turn towards home.  Must go back soon, she said to herself, promising to write to her father and congratulate him.

Time passed however and she never did.  She was so busy and doing well on her new ward, the ITU.  She loved intensive care, knowing that everything you did could make a real difference.  She was commended by all, not only for her knowledge and skill but as much for her manner.  As one patient’s wife put it tearfully when she hugged Aoine goodbye, her husband had been finally released to go home.  “God bless you Anne, and thanks for all you’ve done for Bill.  You’ve got more healing in them hands and voice of yours than in a dozen surgeon’s knives.”  Aoine never forgot the remark and it made her proud of what she had become.

It was July and Kevin had been invited to a drinks party at the Royal Academy with the rest of his year to celebrate his graduation.  Aoine did not want to go but Kevin insisted.

“I don’t want to meet that crowd again.” she said.

“You won’t, in any case if you do they won’t remember you.”

“Thanks for nothing.”  she replied moodily.

Aoine wore the same dress at the party as she wore for her interview and immediately felt out of place amongst the long summer dresses the other women were wearing.  Kevin was mainly with his friends leaving Aoine to help herself to the drinks, which she did somewhat to excess.

“Hello, it is Aoine isn’t it?”

Good God! thought Aoine. Twin Set.  She recognised me.  “Er yes.”

“How are you?  Have you made that recording yet?” she seemed genuinely pleased to see Aoine.

“No, I haven’t, but I will one day.

“I’m sure you will.” Just then Kevin appeared.

“Hello Darling.  You’ve met Professor Wainwright, I see.

Twin Set turned to Kevin.  “Oh we’re old friends.  I’m almost signed up to be her manager if she does get a move on.  Very talented indeed.”

Kevin blushed.  “Excuse us Professor but I’d like Aoine to meet Professor Roberts.”  He steered her in the direction of the..

“Oh Christ!”  Aoine muttered, “It’s Grey Beard.”

“Who?”

“Never mind.”

“Professor, this is my er, my fiancee, Anne.”

Aoine bristled.  Why did he refer to her as his fiancee, and besides her name was Aoine, not bloody Anne.

Grey beared peered at Aoine for a moment.

“We’ve met before.”  Aoine said.

“Have we, I don’t remember.”

“You were on my interview panel.  I was the one who played the Irish music.”

She hadn’t told Kevin this.  He squeezed her arm to suggest they move elsewhere.  Aoine ignored him.

“Ah yes I remember now, the fiddler.  Sounds more like an accountant.”  and he laughed to show a set of badly worn and stained teeth.

Aoine felt incensed, the drink was hightening her emotions.

“Do you know what you need?”  She asked with a fixed smile.

“No. what?”  grey beard was puzzled.

“That pole taken from out your arse, you mightn’t be so blood rigid then.”  Conversations nearby started to silence as people listened to the row that was ensuing.

“There’s no need to be rude.”  Grey beard retorted.

Kevin tugged at Aoine’s arm,  “We must be going.”

Once again Aoine felt the tap of her father’s bow.  She wrenched her arm away from him.

“Rude?  She said to Grey Beard. You were so bloody ignorant you didn’t even listen when I played at my interview.

“Perhaps it wasn’t very good.  Which is precisely why you were not admitted.”

“You know what the trouble with you lot is?”  Aoine addressed by now virtually the whole gathering who had stopped to listen.  “You’ve all got it here.”  She tapped her head.  “But you’ve got fuck all there.”  She beat her chest above her heart.

“Come on Darling.  Let’s go.”  “I’m awfully sorry Professor.  Anne’s a nurse and has been under a lot of strain recently.”  He added playfully to Aoine.  “Really Darling, you shouldn’t drink so much when you’re tired.”

“Piss off you spineless wimp and don’t tell me how to run my life again.”

She ran from the room leaving Kevin behind to make the best excuses he could.

Kevin returned two hours later having, he hoped, smoothed ruffled feathers at the Academy.  He intended to have sharp words with Aoine but she was not there.  It was only the next day that he noticed some of her things were missing.  She had gone for good.

No amount of phone calls or letters could persuade her back.  He even turned up at her cousin’s unexpectedly to be met at the door with a blank denial that Aoine was there.  She was lying he felt sure.  Gradually he got used to the idea.  In fact, she wasn’t suited to his lifestyle.  Perhaps he should go out with one of his colleagues at the academy, at least they’d have music in common.

It was about five in the morning, early September when Aoine heard the phone ring.  She had come off a late and just gone off to sleep.  She ignored the phone hoping it would soon stop.  It didn’t.  When it kept on ringing she put her pillow over her head to muffle out the sound.  She heard her cousin enter her room.

“Aoine, it’s a Mrs Doherty from Ireland, it’s your father.”

Aoine lept up and ran to the phone.

“Aoine, its Mary Doherty.  Your father’s had a stroke.  It’s bad, he may not.. she broke off in a sob.”

“I’m on my way.”   Within a few hours she was speeding towards home in a car she had hired at Dublin Airport.

When she finally arrived it was already dark.  She pushed the door open.  Mary Doherty came down the stairs from her fathers room.

“Oh, Aoine.  Thank God you’re here.  He won’t last the night, the lord have mercy on him.  I think he’s only been waiting for you.  He’s been unconscious since the stroke.  The priest’s been and given him the last rights.”

Aoine went upstairs.  Her father lay on his back, dressed in pyjamas and covered over with a white eiderdown.  On the bedside table was his beloved fiddle, with him to the end.  His eyes were closed and he was breathing erratically, he wouldn’t last long.

Aoine took her father’s hand in hers.  She lent over to kiss his forehead and then whispered in his ear.  “Da, it’s Aoine.  I’ve come home.”  She thought she felt a momentary feeble tightening of her hand.

She sat for a while.  His breathing became shallower.  Her eyes lighted on the fiddle.  She took it up.  Perhaps somewhere the music could communicate what words could not.  She started to play the slow lament.  His breathing eased.  Suddenly his eyes opened and he seemed to look at her, give one last sigh and was gone.  Aoine put down the fiddle and stroked his hair.  “Bye Da.”  she kissed him again.  “Say hello to Ma from me.”

Aoine picked up the fiddle once more and started from the beginning the slow lament.

The night was still, smoke hung low from the chimneys in the village.  Not a sound could be heard except the strains of a slow lament moving up the valley visiting each house to say that Fergus O’Reilly, the best fiddle player in the whole of Ireland had passed and that his daughter Aoine had come home.

 

Marsalforn Gozo, 1/1/2001