Siobhan MacDougall steered her red Subaru Forester away from Shore Road to the right, following the long and winding driveway leading to her parents’ farm. She was glad to be back in Inverness County, and she had chosen the longer route along the Northumberland Strait. The view toward the Misty Mountains was stunning, and on this cold autumn afternoon, true to their name, the peaks were covered with mist.
She checked the twins in the rearview mirror and sighed. They were both sleeping, and, once they got out of the car, they would be hungry and cranky. She had looked forward to an undisturbed chat with her mother, but that was not going to happen as things were at that point. Maybe tomorrow, she thought.
She parked the car beside the large, three-door garage and noticed her brother’s vintage red Mercedes convertible. Kieran had a penchant for antique cars since he was a child. She smiled. Mom will be pleased to have the whole family at home, she thought. I just hope Dad can make it.
Siobhan walked over to the house where she saw her mother already waiting on the veranda of the old farmhouse. She wore a long dress, fittingly colored for the Nova Scotia autumn, earthy tones with sun dried rich, ochre and terracotta tones.
She is so beautiful, Siobhan thought. Her father always said that her dark, brown hair and beautiful green eyes were the first things he noticed before he fell in love with her only a few moments later.
“Hi, pumpkin,” her mother greeted her when she came up the stairs. They hugged.
“Hi, Mom. It’s good to be back home again.”
Her mother nodded at the car. “Where is the rest of the family?”
“Oh, the kids are sleeping in the car, and I will give them a few more minutes,” she answered. “Paul had a last-minute business meeting in Sydney. He will be here later in the evening.”
“Good,” her mother said joyfully.
Mother and daughter stood on the porch, close to each other, holding hands, and enjoying the beautiful scenery around the Misty Mountains, but the mother’s smile slowly faded, and her mind seemed to drift away.
I miss my love, she thought, but I shouldn’t worry so much. He will be back soon.
She looked at her daughter and, still, after all those years, she was in awe of the miracle that had happened. Her hands went on her abdomen where, underneath her dress was the large scar where the bullet had hit her. She clearly remembered the sheer pain and fear. She was not afraid of meeting her maker. Her fear was about being separated from her love forever.
The wound was serious. Her uterus had endured some serious damage, and the doctors at the hospital in Belfast had given her only a slim chance of ever having children. In the end they were wrong, and after only two years she gave birth to a girl, followed by a boy three years later.
It had been her decision to establish a home and start a family in Nova Scotia with its close resemblance of the Irish island and its culture. She remembered the dreadful year that she was separated from her husband. He had stayed in the United States, not with intent to find employment, but to keep her out of harm’s way.
Eventually they were reunited, but assignments by his new employer kept him away from home much longer than she appreciated. She hoped he would return for good sometime.
Noticing the change in her mother’s face, Siobhan wrapped an arm around her and leaned her head against her shoulder.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” she said. “He’s fine.”
Her mother nodded. She wanted to answer but was interrupted by a phone ringing inside the house.
“Let me get that,” she said. Her face suddenly showed a hint of tension. She had been waiting for a call.
“I will be back to help with the children,” she turned back to her daughter with a smile. “Ask Kieran to get the luggage.”
She went into the house and quickly proceeded toward the kitchen where she picked up the phone from the wall.
“Good afternoon, Maire.”
“A good afternoon to you, too, Margaret.”
“Maire, I just received the word that there will be lobster at the harbor tonight. Best time for a pickup will be around 17:30 hours.”
A gleeful smile ran over the woman’s face, and all her worries seemed to have disappeared. A quick look at the clock assured her she had about thirty minutes.
“That is good news, Margaret. Thank you very much for calling.”
“Have a good day.”
“Good day, Margaret.”
Her daughter had followed her to the kitchen, and, leaning in the doorframe, she looked at her.
“Dad?” she asked.
Her mother nodded and grabbed the car keys from the board on the wall.
“Sorry, dear,” she said to her daughter. “I feel so guilty leaving you alone so suddenly.”
“It’s all right, Mom. Go get him.”
“I will be back in about an hour or so. Say hello to the kids for me.”
Maire rushed outside the house, but instead of going straight to the garage, she took the small walkway leading to the back of the house. She saw the large chocolate lab lying in the sun and apathetically observing the attempts of a small fox at the faraway tree line trying to catch a mouse.
“Hey, Buster,” she called out to him. “Come, let’s go and get Daddy.”
The dog, amazingly vital, jumped up and ran right past her toward the garage where he jumped onto a pickup truck’s cargo area. There he sat, impatiently waiting to be driven wherever destiny would take him.
The drive into Margaree Harbour and then on to the fishing wharf at the Margaree River Bridge took a little more than fifteen minutes.
The wharf’s parking area was surprisingly full, but Maire found a space close to the little souvenir store. She took the thick leather jacket and a woolen scarf from the passenger seat and stepped outside the car. A brisk wind went through her hair. She closed her eyes and inhaled the fresh, salty sea air. Buster had jumped off the car and already sat at the dock’s water line, expectantly looking into the distance toward the strait.
Maire counted eight fishing boats, which was enough to occupy almost the entire dock.
She scanned from boat to boat, and noticed some familiar faces, but not the one she had hoped to see. She went to take her place next to the dog. She had her arms wrapped around herself to protect from the cold wind and looked at the new bridge over the Margaree River.
The bridge, part of the beautiful Cabot trail, connects Belle Cote in the North, and Margaree Harbour in the South. She was still saddened that the old and beautiful wooden bridge had been replaced by a functional concrete structure only a few years earlier.
Maire turned her attention toward the entrance to the Northumberland Strait, her face illuminated by the sunset, hoping to discover a small fishing boat that would bring back her beloved husband.
The fishing grounds of Inverness County were lavish, but the uneven character of the coast and the absence of a large harbor made living as a fisherman difficult. Many of the men who owned only small sized boats were also farmers and often had to divide their time between the two professions.
She knew most of the fishermen, and she was aware of the hard life most of them had. It reminded her of a past life in a world her children had never seen.
Erin Grá Mo Chroí, she thought. Ireland, my own true love. The lyrics of this beautiful, old song had been written for the many who were forced to leave their beloved island, might it be the famine, or harassment by the British intruders.
On the day that I did part, well it broke my mother’s heart. Will I ever see my dear ones anymore? My thoughts will carry me home to that dear little isle so far away.
Maire and the dog waited silently and patiently until suddenly she noticed a small spot on the horizon. A few more minutes went by before she could make out the silhouette of another small fishing boat. Her heart raced.
Maybe that is he, she thought.
Her beating heart reminded her of the first time she had laid her eyes on that young man sitting at the bar. She knew immediately she was in love and it took all the courage she could muster to talk to him. She remembered her mother’s angry voice when she left her alone in the kitchen. It didn’t matter. She had seen the love of her life and there was no holding her back.
She also remembered how nervous she was, and how she managed to keep the feeling of anxiety under a clout of playful cockiness.
Their love had lasted through good times and bad times, and nothing would change that. She thought of their first years as a married couple in a small flat in Belfast near the railway tracks, and the noisy electric convector, their only heat source during the winter. There were times they didn’t see each other for months, and they cherished their time together even more. Life was different now. They could afford more luxuries, and they had children and grandchildren. Life was good, but, still, she wished they could spend more time together.
Maire walked slowly to the one remaining open space at the landing pier’s opposite side, anticipating the boat needing to dock there. Buster had decided not follow her.
By the time she arrived at the boat, it had already docked, and she saw the tall man shaking the skipper’s hand before he, carrying a red duffel bag, jumped onto the pier.
The bag landed harshly on the ground when Maire jumped into the man’s arms and hugged him with all her strength. And so they stayed for a long time. No words were spoken. When she finally let go, they kissed passionately.
They had no need for words as they walked arm in arm along the pier and toward the car in the distance, where the dog was already waiting on the truck’s cargo area frantically wagging his tail.
As they walked down the pier they passed by the “Chum Bucket,” a small boat that apparently had seen better days. It was truly in need of some fresh paint. A head popped up over the boat’s railing, and they noticed an elderly man in his sixties, who, judging by the oil smears in his face and the once-upon-a-time blue overall, had been working on the diesel engine of his boat.
“Hey, Mike,” the man yelled as soon as he noticed the two people. “What’s up with the haircut?”
The couple stopped, turned around, and the man addressed as Mike answered, “Hi, Pete.”
His hand went through his hair.
“It was pretty hot during my last assignment,” he grinned. “Needed to keep a cool head.”
The man in the boat laughed.
“So,” he shouted. “How long are you staying this time?”
Pete Callahan was not one of those men who could conceivably maintain a conversation at a normal speaking volume.
“I could use your expertise here,” he hollered on. “I just can’t get this damn engine back to work.”
“No more assignments, Pete. I am retired now.”
Hearing those words, Maire looked up to her husband, and her face lightened up.
“I can finally do what I was born to do,” Mike continued while looking into his wife’s eyes. “We will run the farm and work the land.”
Then he turned back to Pete.
“And, yes, I will take care of your engine,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Well, thank you and happy retirement,” Pete yelled.
“Thank you, Pete. Have a good night.”
The couple turned away, and when they reached the car, Mike threw the red duffel bag onto the car, greeted by an ecstatic dog. He entered the car from the passenger side while Maire started the engine, but left the car running idle.
She looked at her husband.
“Is he safe?” she asked.
“He is safe,” he said.
She knew he would give her more details when he felt the time was right for it. Right now it wasn’t the time.
She backed the car up, shifted into the forward gear, and steered the car toward the main road. She set the directional lights, checked traffic, and took a right turn.
Once on the road, they remained silent, and Maire took her right hand off the steering wheel to nest it into her husband’s hand.
Then she turned and looked at him, “You are going to let your hair grow a bit, aren’t you?”
“Anything you want, my love,” he said to her and he smiled. “Anything.”