This novel was written during Nov 2002 as part of the nanowrimo competition - write a novel in a month!
Chapter 1. In the beginning
I watched my wife and son die in front of my eyes. I sat in front of the TV and watched the towers crumble knowing for sure that they were both inside.
The fact that I had been intending to divorce my wife didn't really make it any easier. Guilt! Guilt was putting it mildly. I had planned to let her know but I had left it way too late. As for my son Seamas, he was completely innocent. Heartbreak and guilt for months afterwards public and private. Guilt dominating though; because now who would I tell that we were splitting up? Even she wouldn't have known if she had miraculously walked in the door. It wasn't really as if there was 'another woman' ready and waiting to take her place now was it?
I produced locks of hair for DNA matching and I had a small private funeral for Seamas who would have been 29 later that month; but she was never found.
After 29 years of Manhattan subways it all seemed pointless and I had to get out of there. I had never been to Mayo even though my mother talking about Mayo over the years made it part of my makeup and gave me a familiarity with the ancestral place that a mere tourist or blow-in could never have. I knew the place names from Attymass to Porturlin from Irishtown to Straide. I felt like I had fished the Moy, walked Uggool and played golf at Mulranny even though I had never set foot in the place. Also that summer of 1970 in Greenwich Village gave me certain wistfulness and desire to see the place at least.
You might think I was a right bastard not telling my wife that I was planning to split before she died. Well, first, I wasn't expecting her to die - obviously - and especially not in the manner that she did. And second, she was the one who once upon a time had spent time in hotel rooms with another man but hadn't exactly been upfront about it. It had hurt badly at the time and even more so perhaps because now, it was effectively an unresolved affair. A clean break was the only answer.
As I prepared by doing a bit of background reading and packed what I thought I would need, I became more and more into the idea. Eventually I was extremely enthusiastic about the trip. I quit my job on the subway and looked around for sources of cash. I planned an extended trip but didn't want to have to work. I would have cashed in some stocks but the market was still in freefall at that stage such that it would mean taking a real hammering on the value. I held on to them in the hope that normality would return in a year or so. I took out a hefty $10,000 loan from the credit union instead. I still had the apartment and bit of cash in the bank to come back to assuming that I would want to come back. A loan of 10 Grand for 'home improvements' on the strength of a putative insurance payout or whatever compensation may emerge when the dust settles.
It's surprising how easy it is to leave a life behind. It was surprising how much my life revolved around Seamas and my wife. Of course Seamas' own wife, now a young widow, was due to make me a grandfather very shortly but her family were taking good care of her in the meantime. It think seeing me around the place only caused her even more grief than she could handle.
I booked an Aer Lingus flight to Shannon. He agent selling me the ticket said it was as good a price as the online price but it seemed pricey enough at the same time. Already I was thinking about how long the $10k would last me. I also had to buy walking gear, waterproofs, maps, guide books and it wasn't long adding up. My mother's tales about Mayo always seemed to involve descriptions of wild windy weather across a wet landscape, standing on tall cliffs looking out across the Atlantic swell facing into the rain. "Grand soft day thank God" she told me was merely a euphemism that didn't come close to describing west of Ireland weather - so be prepared. I bought the double-skinned mountaineering-type breathing fabric with lots of zips and Velcro to allow you to batten down the hatches in the teeth of a gale or rainstorm. A compass, a blackthorn stick (I ditched that very soon after arriving when I realised how naff it was), a Swiss army knife and a water bottle and I was ready to face whatever I might come across. Of course in search of the past I also brought some of the past with me - part of my mother's legacy.
The flight was due to leave a respectable time in the early evening departing from Kennedy (the New Jersey Newark AL flights had been cancelled so I had to cross the City). First shock was the loss of my Swiss army knife - security binned it when it emerged from the X-Ray machine - how could I have been so stupid?
In mid Atlantic I started to wonder what the hell I was doing. Mayo seemed like a golden dream of freedom when shooting up and down beneath the pavements of Manhattan with the dead-man's handle in my grip. But here and now in the dark over the sea it seemed to lose its attraction. Wet and Windy Why?
Why indeed? I was just your ordinary guy setting out to find his Irish roots as a kind of therapy for the great loss that people perceived I had suffered. Back at home they humoured me. But I guess I wasn't even admitting to myself what was really going on. My mind went back again to 1970 - as it had been doing more and more frequently ever since last September. I hadn't sold my guitar until 1973 or so the year we got married and moved to New Jersey. But in 1970 the guitar, song-writing, Dylanesque stuff was all that I cared about. Then in 1971 Joni Mitchel's weird tuning system took over and blew my mind - Blue that wonderful album - and thank goodness for CDs giving a new lease of life to scratchy old rock and roll records - Little Green, This Flight Tonight. The aptness of the song-title side-tracked my thoughts back to reality. Just as the titles rolled for the inflight movie shortly after the so pretty girls from Aer Lingus had finished wining and dining us. Can't for the life of me remember now what the movie was - or should I say "film" now that I was at least sort of on Irish territory. "The Flicks" my mother used to say - although I don't think even she was old enough to remember real flickering images on the silver screen. Just definite that there were no air crashes, exploding buildings or hostage crises on tarmac involved!
The flight touched down in the middle of the night - or so my body told me when I stumbled off the airliner into the early morning terminal at Shannon. An interminable long yawning wait for bags. The couple standing next to me at the carousel were discussing a fellow passenger who was kicking up a stink about the delay. From what I overheard he was a well-known politician - an Irish Government cabinet minister - and he was making his important presence felt about the delay with his bags. A tall thin guy, he really knew how to kick up a fuss. A rather embarrassed-looking senior police office (I think they call them Garda) in attendance - an aide-de-camp or similar - looking a bit appalled at the unseemly bad manners of the man but obviously had to put up with it. All the other passengers had gone and still no sign of my bags.
"Did they lose them on ya?" said a fat young airport attendant noticing my lack of bags.
"I'll show ya where the lost luggage is.... Do ya speak English?" he added noticing my lack of response. In fact I was having considerable difficulty understanding his accent.
"Yes I sure do." I replied after another slight lag between ears and brain as this new accent hit my speech recognition centres.
"Ah American…" he added sagely with a tinge of sorrow (or maybe that was my imagination). I had known a lot of Irish in Manhattan and New Jersey but few if any had accents like this guy's.
"Here y'ar now" he said outside the locked door that said "Lost Property"
"They'll be open at 8:30, " he added helpfully
"What time is it now?" I replied. My watch had lost its sense of time too it seemed. I hadn't reset it on the flight and now I couldn't remember if it was to go forward five hours or back five hours.
"It's just after 7 o'clock - in the maawrning that is." He said, continuing:
"Sure, have a cuppa, buy the paper, get the juices flowing before you tackle that lot." He said helpfully with a wide grin and then he absconded as he rolled gently across the terminal building floor pulling a cart and leaving me to my fate of lost-luggagedness.
I started walking in ever increasing circles away from the lost luggage room, just keeping it in my ken so that I didn't lose my bearing. Past the newspaper stand - big bundles of morning papers still being unwrapped by a dark-skinned shop assistant - no American papers - just the Irish Times, Irish Independent, The Examiner. Past the coffee shop which had a few disconsolate souls looking at their watches, sipping coffee, glancing at the departure screens and reading a book in rota. The next shop was selling turf in boxes - "A BIT OF D'OULD SOD" the green white and orange packaging screamed out. I was glancing back over my shoulder to check if the luggage people were open for business yet when I tripped over a stray luggage cart. "That looks familiar" I thought and then out loud:
"Hey! That's my bags!
I looked around for someone to complain to, but no one, apart from the coffee drinkers and someone who was taking a great deal of interest in the turf display. My next thought was that I had been robbed but no - everything seemed to be there intact. "If only I put my Swiss army knife in there" I thought.
Outside a strange early morning spring sun slanted down on rent-a-car lot. I threw my bags in the trunk (the Herz kid handing me the keys corrected me calling it the "Boot").
"I'm heading to Mayo in search of my roots?" I asked him. He looked at me quizzically and with a kind of grunt:
"Follow your nose then take a left for Ennis." he said simply: "And that'll take you to Mayo - 'bout a 100 miles." I could understand his accent much more clearly than the luggage man although I wasn't so sure about his directions. They did have a mini road atlas in the glove compartment though and I spent a bewildered minute or two trying to grasp the geography of the Irish west coast and check which motorways to take. Then I set off on the yellow brick road to Mayo.
Finally, the search had begun.
This is the first chapter of a 50,000+ word 'novel' written in November 2002.
Also available are two chapters extracted from a second written in November 2003.
The origins - Write a novel in a month - nanowrimo