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The Irish Lesson

By Pat Jourdan

Stan and Erin had visited here before, Ann did not like to ask when, it was such a shock. Obviously a rendezvous. They walked with her to the Autograph tree (or did they escort her?) George Bernard Shaw’s initials overawing all the others in sight, Jack Yeats’ little stick insect dog on the other side, more appealing. Silver-painted railing to keep peasants out, barbed wire to stop the more agile from climbing in from above. Graffiti, “But on their own property”, Stan said. The tree spread to the edge of its railings. Ann looked around. They were centuries away from the graffiti artists of New york.

Matt was there, far, far away, sitting on the ground with two other figures dressed in bright colours. (Steve had been all in black, as usual.) He had not had tea or toured the exhibition. Who was he with? He had had to walk through the kitchen garden, past the yew trees to get over there; not an aimless ramble. Even at this far away she tried to avoid meeting his eyes.

Much later, she bumped into him on the path. The papers sticking out of his pocket were now yellow, pink, blue and green – the colours of copy papers. No white paper was evident, and the book that had been stuffed into his other pocket was now a larger, flatter book, navy, glossy cover, title undistinguishable.

“Well, how goes it?” he demanded her reactions to all this. Remembering not to complain about the destroyed kitchen garden, the total abscence of any flower garden and other non-existing constituents of any usual stately home, especially the total abscence of any such building on the site, Ann said it was all very large and very secluded, and while she was saying these words, realised that was why he had bothered to come here.

Matt was being polite, she could tell; he had suddenly switched off again. Seeing Stan and Erin approaching, she said a temporary goodbye to him. “It’s nearly time for the bus again”, and fled off towards them.Where was he going If he went down that path, he would be back in the kitchen garden again. What on earth was he doing? It was like Northanger Abbey, modern-style.

The couple talked about their American friends and how, here in Ireland, they really avoided all other Americans, preferring to go silent in their presence than be identified. Suspicious.

“Oh yes”, she lied, “I do exactly the same. The second I hear an English accent, I go all quiet until they’ve passed. Bill is the only Englishman I’d talk to happily. And perhaps Pete.”

“But Pete was Irish”.

“Really?I didn’t get a chance to talk to him at the Irish class, and then he left partway through the course”

“Lesson six”, said Stan,”he left after number six. You’ve got it mixed up, he was Irish, but he did say something about being sent to England to work.

Recalled to base. The Irish lessons had been an excuse. Found not to be necessary for his project. Probably a boffin, a genius in his own scientific field, but no good at languages. Different skills. Or perhaps he had been sent to observe all of them and had finished his report. With all the cutbacks, there was no reason to fund his staying for a further four lessons. The lessons might have been refundable, but not hotel or B and B expenses.

Although, there was another difficulty. It was Stan who was the computer buff, and he taperecorded each lesson, right there in the classroon. Who would ever check whenit was switche don or off? And hadn’t Stan and Erin always gone off for a drink with the crowd after each and every lesson? They were always so exact about dates, times and numbers, Ann had noticed ; as if they entered everything up in a diary. And why husband and wife? What extra cover did they need? With all these whirling questions Ann got back onto the excursion bus, luckily sitting next to the silent Steve.

Copyright Pat Jourdan 2002


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