It was raining quite heavily in Limerick city when the Considines came mutely out of the consultant's rooms last April after getting the bad news. The doctor had used long medical words and phrases, but they did not cloak the message at all.
Donie could go anytime and there was not long left one way or the other. It might be weeks and it might be a few months at most, but it would not be much longer than that.
Donie had driven down to the Regional Hospital for the appointment and diagnosis but, without anything being said, Catherine sat behind the wheel to drive them home. The windscreen wipers swished sympathy against the glass when she switched them on.
The traffic was heavy so they had to drive slowly and carefully until after they crossed the Thomond Bridge and headed out into the suburbs and the open country beyond. They were silent until they got there.
Then Donie said that he had been well prepared for the bad news and had not been so shocked at all. Catherine said back she had been ready for it too and, because of what Donie had been through for the past year, the sons and daughters would be toughened up for it as well. They'd had 44 good years together and good kids, she said, and there was a lot to be thankful for.
How was he feeling this minute? Donie said he was fine, no pain at all through the day, and he added it was hard to believe it was nearly 50 years since their two families had brought them together for the matchmaking ritual in Lisdoonvarna above in the Burren of Clare.
Did she remember how nervous he was that evening with his father and uncle in Curtin's pub? Had he shown it? He had seen her before at the Sunday Masses and had fancied her.
Had she seen him before that? She saw him playing football said Catherine, and she had heard from her friend Maggie Curtin that he had brought her home from a country dance and had been a decent lad enough.
But she did not know that much about him before that matchmaking session in Curtin's. Her father had told her to kick his shin under the table if she did not want to go through with it, but she had liked the fact that Donie was nervous but looked her straight in the face during the meeting, and she did not kick her father's shin under the table. She was content enough, and twas well known in the three parishes that the Considines were a decent family.
“Isn't it strange enough,” said Donie after a while, “that we never ever talked about that matchmaking meeting even though we've always talked about everything else.”
“There was no need for it,” said Catherine, “it went well and we were both satisfied and the families were satisfied and that was the way it was.”
They stopped for a pot of tea and a sandwich on the way home, and Donie took his medication whilst Catherine phoned the adult kids with the bad news, softening the edges of it in the telling, and afterwards, before hitting the road again they talked more about their first meeting in Curtin's and, two afternoons later, their first date at the famous Spa Wells in Lisdoonvarna where they drank a glass of the spa water each and then danced away the afternoon hours in the attached ballroom.
"That was when I discovered you could waltz like a fairy," said Donie, "and your brother Paud was waiting to bring you home in case I went looking for a good strong court in the bushes after the dance.” They laughed together at that.
Later, on the last miles home, Donie said it was a mortal sin they had never again visited Lisdoonvarna after the matchmaking session. He told Catherine he had decided there was no way he was going to allow the Almighty to remove him from Ireland before this year's wild matchmaking festival begins in September and they would go up again, have a celebratory drink in Curtin's, still going strong, stay overnight in either the Kincora or the Hydro hotels, and dance a last waltz the next afternoon at the Spa Wells on the very floor where they had danced their very first dance.
Maybe there were tears in Catherine's eyes when she laughed and agreed, but her hands were steady and sure on the wheel. Just like always.
I watch the local death notices across the media. Donie is still alive and kicking because he has not featured there.
The September matchmaking season has begun again in the mythical magical Indian Summer town in the stonelands of North Clare. The afternoon dances are drawing the crowds to the Spa Wells as the bands play.
If you happen to be there any afternoon, then it is likely that the silvered couple waltzing serenely past you are Donie and Catherine. That probability warms my hard heart.