LATEST WINNER: A MEMORY OF LAVENDER

By Patricia Feinberg Stoner

Patricia says: I’ve always been a writer, both professionally and as a hobby. Born a Londoner, I spent four years living in France and published a couple of books about our experiences there. Now I’m happily settled in West Sussex with my husband and a spaniel called Maisie.

I remember. I opened the little book of Yeats’ poetry today and it crumbled out at me. The blue heads are grey dust now, but the ghost of lavender on my fingers took me back.

It was a sunny day, a rarity for Dublin. “A gift from God,” he said. I smiled and said nothing. We set out for the island. Was there an island? I have searched for it many times since, on maps and then on the internet, but have never found it. I know we went there that day.

The ferry was an old fishing boat, the skipper grown grey and tired from battling the waves and the winds. The few tourists he could muster kept him at sea, while his sons brought home the fish. We called him our Charon, and laughed at him the way youth will always laugh at the inevitable.

As the island neared, we stepped forward, eager. We spoke of watching the sun set, but the ferry man was stern. “Last boat at six sharp. Miss it and I won’t wait for you.” We promised solemnly.

* * * 

And the other people. Were there other people? There must have been, but they have melted like ghosts. I remember only him, and me. We walked along a little path, and the coarse grass pricked my feet, for I went barefoot in open summer shoes. At a stand of sea lavender, he bent and picked three stalks for me, and I rubbed their warm, furry heads between my fingers, releasing the heavy scent before tucking them into the poetry book I carried in my bag.

At the foot of a small cliff there was a cove, the path to it slippery and steep. I was afraid, but he held me firm, and at the bottom we embraced and laughed, exulting at our daring and our triumph.  

Patrick. Not the Patrick I married later, some thirty years ago, but another. Padraic. Black Irish, the hair dark, dark over blue, blue eyes, the skin almost impossibly white. Padraic Aidan Duffy. Of course, everyone called him Paddy. Everyone except me. I called him Padraic, or Patrick, and sometimes Ric, and sometimes my love.

Two days before, he had given me the little silver Claddagh ring I still keep in my jewel box. Were my fingers ever so slender?

The sand was soft and deep, and we kicked off our shoes and walked to the water’s edge.  He went in first, leapt back with a yelp and a laugh. “It’s feckin’ freezing!” The profanity was shocking and delicious. I didn’t swear, then.

We found a place, sheltered from the wind, safe above the greedy lick of the tide. We ate. What did we eat?  Barm brack, surely, and a scrap of cheese, but not much more. We were poor, then. We drank water we had brought with us, warm now and a little stale, but it tasted sweet to us. We quoted Yeats to each other – Will you dance, Minnaloushe, will you dance? and laughed at ourselves for wild romantics.

We sat and watched the sun go down, and for a moment I remembered. “The ferry?” I murmured, but he shushed me and tightened his arm around my shoulder, so I snuggled into him and watched as the sky went from scarlet to palest blues and lilacs and greens, and then to dark. On the shore, far across the water, pinpricks of light sprang into life, and when we looked up, they were there in the velvet blackness above.

Later we made love under the stars. Romantic? Yes, but I remember the sharp bite of stones under my bare skin, and something – an insect? a plant? – stung me, so that I had a sore spot on my shoulder.

Afterwards he brushed the hair from my face, and looked into my eyes and whispered, “I will leave you . . . never.” I stroked his cheek, and he took my hand and kissed the Claddagh ring. 

The night was soft, and we slept, but when we awoke the world had disappeared into white. We clung together and shivered until the sea mist lifted enough for us to make our way back up the steep rocky path. We walked towards the landing place hand in hand, and as we stood and waited for the morning ferry, he kissed me again, and again whispered, “I will leave you . . . never.”

Not long after that day we parted. Why? The reasons are lost, lost with the island and the wild lavender and the tears I must have cried. Now when I call Patrick my love, when I snuggle into his comforting arm on a cold night, it is not wild Padraic that I think of. But today the Yeats and the lavender call me back, and I remember.