She came to get a Mass card signed, for her mother. He asked her to come in, to sit with him. She had stayed, he felt, so as not to offend him. He never meant to touch her but when she stared into the fire, the priest looked at the white line on her scalp where the dark red hair was parted. He'd reached out simply to feel the heat of the fire on her hair. That was all he had meant to do but she had misunderstood the gesture and reached out to clasp his wrist.
Always, they met in out-of-the-way places: on the rough strand at Cahore or Blackwater, in the woods beyond the common paths of Avondale. Once, they ran into Miss Dunne on the strand. She was walking towards them and it was too late to turn away but just as they were about to meet, she turned towards the sea. She had not on that day nor ever since given any hint that she had seen them.
The seasons passed and winter came again. They got away, travelled north to The Silent Valley and stayed in a little guest-house near Newry town. That night, over dinner, she caressed the stem of her glass and told him she couldn't stand it any longer. If he could not leave the priesthood, she would not see him this way again. They had gone to a heritage park the next morning on the way home, walked backwards through the ages, from Viking yard and house through the crannogs, and wound up at a Neolithic tomb. There, they had stood at the edge of an artificial lake where a crude, wooden boat was half submerged. The water's surface was thick with dandelion seed. Acold breeze hissed through the reeds but they were silent, locked in the knowledge that nothing again would ever be the same.
Now, she is married.
He remembers that night in the parlour, her smooth, freckled arms. How she sat on the edge of the bed in Newry town and sewed the button back onto his shirt. The next morning, their last, they had lain in bed with the window open and he'd dreamt the wind had blown the freckles off her body. Later that morning, when she turned her head and looked at him, he said he could not leave the priesthood.
The blue night has spread itself darkly over the fields. He pushes the timber gate and listens to the sound it makes closing behind him. He stands there and looks at the world. The spring has come, dry and promising. The alder is shooting out, her pale limbs brazen. Everything seems sharper now. The night has braced itself against the fence posts. The rake is a shining thing, well loved and worn.
Where is God? he has asked, and tonight God is answering back. All around the air is sharp with the tang of wild currant bushes. A lamb climbs out of a deep sleep and walks across the blue field. Overhead, the stars have rolled into place. God is nature.
He remembers lying naked with Lawlor's daughter in a bed outside of Newry town. He remembers all those dandelions gone to seed and how he said he would always love her. He remembers these things, in full, and feels no shame. How strange it is to be alive. Soon, it will be Easter. There is work to be done, a sermon to be written for Palm Sunday. He climbs the fields back towards the road, thinking about his life tomorrow, as a priest, deciphering, as best he can, the Roman language of the trees.
Excerpted from Walk the Blue Fields by Claire Keegan. Copyright 2007 by Claire Keegan. Excerpted by permission of Grove Press.