The sky is thick with stars. I can hear the cows, their hooves shuffling in the grass and their breath snorting in the soft night air. I am lost, happy for the barbed wire fence and the six-foot grass berms that line the narrow road.
My father’s cousin, my first cousin once removed, at least I think that’s what they said. We went over all that when I met him for the first time last week, traveling around the Ring of Kerry with my mother and my aunt. We visited them all, the Tarrants in Limerick, the Deneheys in Waterville, finally finding Jackie in the modern ranch house he’d just built to replace the old family stucco farmhouse next door – a picture postcard of old Ireland.
Jackie is middle-aged and single. He has the big head and kind, drooping eyes of my father - a pleasant man, a deliverer of fish. We all stand in the kitchen. Jackie is genial, with lots of Ochs and Ahhs, but his laugh freezes on his face when I joke about coming back to marry him, that I’d love to fix up the old, abandoned house.
But what would I do with the children, I thought to myself later, Have I completely lost my mind? Would they live with their father and come to visit me every once in a while? Why am I trying on these ridiculous scenarios?
After I see my mother and aunt off at Shannon, I turn in the car and head back to Cahersiveen on the bus. I have no idea why. I listen to some music in a pub, the long Irish evening daylight stretching eerily towards midnight.
I thumb…mother of god, at my age. Whoever it was drops me off at the foot of what I think is Jackie’s road. And now, walking up the hill towards Jackie’s place, hearing the breath of the cows, everything smelling like loneliness, when the headlights of a car come bouncing up the road behind me.
"Can we help you then?" asks the young man, leaning out the window, over the woman. "Are ya lost? Where ya headed? Och, well now, Jackie’s off on his route. You can stay the night with us if you like."
I climb in the back seat, the old car smells of peat and cigarettes. I’m Jimmy Fitzgerald, but they call me Jimmy Caper because my grandfather came back from a trip to America with the word.
We drive past the old stucco farmhouse, then Jackie’s ranch, and head up the next rise to a little house with no lights. I sit in their tiny living room and eat the ham and cookies they put out. We watch a movie with John Wayne and Raquel Welch on a small TV. I sleep in my clothes on a little bed off the kitchen and leave before dawn, wondering if I’ve lost my mind.
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