Anna's Odyssey



        Today is like no other day in the life of Anna Moran. I know that the very things we bury pass along the conveyor belt of time to be dealt with at a later date but I canít handle anything right now. I have decided to take to the bed. I just cannot go on.

        There are those who have nervous breakdowns and lay in darkened rooms in the process of their recovery. But what nobody seems to realise is that my life is punctuated by a series of little mini breakdowns, the worst one occurring today. I know this is a fact because I feel paralysed and remote both from myself and from my surroundings.

        I frantically scan the bedroom and try to mentally calculate if I can turn it into a bedsit. Yeah cooker in the southeast corner. Fridge south west? Would a chemical toilet fit in the wardrobe? You see how can I ever set foot outside this room again. I canít face Elliot.

        Elliot, my house mate, best friend, ally. Four reasons why I tried to snog him

  1. The lack of passion with Connor made me seek outside validation?
  2. I was randy from all the drink?
  3. My cells fancy Elliot?
  4. My eggs were attempting to avoid their watery grave?

        "Anna, telephone, its your mother," shouts Cecil.

        Why is it when I am having one of my mini breakdowns that the rest of the world just carries on as normal. Cecil up vacuuming, crunching his organic muesli and now telling me that my mother who should be more sensitive to her daughterís emotional nature is on the phone.

        I try to feign sleep but the insistent fucker keeps shouting that itís an emergency. Move body move, one step at a time.

        "Anna dear is that you?"

        "Just about," I croak.

        "Anna Iím afraid I have some bad news. Itís your Uncle Jimmy. He died last night."

        Instant postponement of nervous breakdown. I now have no option but to become organised and focused to return to Dingle. Thank you very much Uncle Jimmy.

        Thankfully I donít bump into Elliot that day. I think he was playing in some music festival in Gorey. I could apologise later but as they say, first things first on the conveyor belt of urgency. Like what will I wear? I have to buy either a nice black jacket or coat to match my black satin pants and maybe some knee high black boots and a new black bag. Christ sake funerals are almost as expensive as weddings these days.

        Connor offers to accompany me to the funeral. We hadnít spoken since the Nuala hair business so heís still a bit peeved with me. Now when Iím nervous I either like to crunch or chew and preferably not my nails. So I buy some crisps and a drink for the journey south and without thinking, I throw the empty bag onto the floor of the car. Aaah. Surely Connor is over reacting when he nearly has a fit and all but screams at me not to put the crisp packet on the floor, in the rubbish bag for Christ sake, did I not have any regard for his car, his things. Iím dumbstruck.

        Thatís the trouble with short engagements, when you have to get to know one another in instalments and is this Connor? Me being Anna asks him if he any regard for my feelings and he says that Iím too self indulgent and reactive, that I need to develop more pragmatism and detachment, that every little setback shouldnít be of mammoth importance. Well excuse me for feeling and breathing and for disposing of my crisp packet on the floor of the car. I tell him that he may as well tell me to cut out my heart and he says that there Iím off again making mountains out of mole hills. I sit in stony self- indulgent silence for the rest of the journey.

        Uncle Jimmy has been laid to rest in the Mc Carthy funeral home in Dingle in a delux top of the range coffin, no less, according to my mother. Jimmy looks much better as a corpse than heíd ever done in real life, less jowl like and younger. Death surely becomes him. I bend over and give him a kiss and wish him well in his journey to the land where the dead people go.

        My relationship with him was always one of love and hate. I loved him as my uncle and Ďcos he was a decent person but I hated him for robbing a huge chunk out of my childhood. While other children played I was either sorting out fish or serving customers. Still I bear no grudges. I ask Uncle Jimmy what with him being a new arrival to heaven if he could put in a word with the big boys and ask them to make sure I didnít do anything to fuck up my wedding to Connor ie delete all thoughts of other men, snoggable or otherwise and to concentrate on Connorís good points.

        So what if there was no great passion. Iíd had my sexual experimentation days so its not like Iím deprived or that Iím in training for a sexual acrobatics award. I want marriage and babies and everyone knows that when babies come along that libido levels drop what with the sleepless nights and raging colic.

        The funeral cortege follows the bag piper up the hill to the cemetery, his notes scattering grief to the wind as he shuffles along. What with the mists rolling in from the Atlantic I think this was an appropriate ending for my dear old melancholic uncle. There had been no time this time to banish Gran Aunt Molly to the back of beyonds. She had now taken the role of chief mourner at the graveside festooned in a black velvet cape and matching hat with this wonderful little veil shielding her eyes and oh my God a pair of red trainers.

        Molly claims she loves funerals as long as theyíre not her own. She has this special funeral face, lips turned downwards, eyes downcast and she sheds the occasional theatrical tears. She and I share a similar sense of drama. Iíd remembered not to put on any mascara so that I can manage to look every bit the tragic heroine as I dab my eyes with a dainty embroidered handkerchief Cost me a fair bit to play this role £250 but I think I got great bargains.

        Nuala, minus the hair extensions is the epitome of grief, head bent piously, hands joined together in prayer, face pinched and white. Pretentious cow. Now if she moved a fraction further over the mud she might...I have to quench my evil sisterly thought and try to replace it with love and forgiveness. Itís impossible.

        At the graveside Father Horgan says the final prayers of the dead. Uncle Jimmy would have been so proud of the turn out for his funeral. Almost the entire peninsula have come to pay their respects to Jimmy their obliging fish monger, who knew most of his customers by name and was the confidant of many. Some of the begrudgers here prefer you best when youíre dead Ďcos thatís when they start to say nice things like youíll be sorely missed, sure werenít you the kindest finest person that ever was.

        I can see Assumpta, looking fabulous in a long black coat her hair tied in one of those je ne sais quoi chignons with a few wisps hanging down for effect. Sheís also wearing dark glasses as in she doesnít want to recognised by the community down here in Dingle. I think she looks like a film star, the way she stands, all regal and totally composed. Sweet fuck when Mr Foley shifts to the left thereís Elliot. Whatís he doing here? Probably accompanied Assumpta Ďcos she hates to come here on her own without a man. I hardly recognise him dressed in a navy suit with a shirt and tie? She probably made him get dressed up cos she could only be seen with a successful man of the world. I try not to stare at them and to focus on what the priest is saying.

        The words "Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust" start me obsessing about my own mortality, like what if Iím next? The thought that poor Jimmy was going into the ground as worm fodder didnít bear worth thinking about. Poor Molly is coughing and spluttering . It later turns out that her false teeth had become dislodged and were making her gag. I watch her as she struggles to remain silent while Uncle Jimmyís body is being lowered into the ground by the grave diggers, two wizened up men with faces set in permanent grief. I place a single red rose on his coffin. It later turned out I wasnít the only one.

        My Mother suddenly announces to all and sundry that thereís to be some light refreshments available at the house if people want to drop by, spot of smoked salmon and chablis or... Just at that moment the heavens open and begin to release torrential rain. Suddenly thereís a massive exodus into cars, people running in all directions.

        "Whatever you do Anna. Mind me. Whereís my teeth? Whereís my false teeth? I canít afford to loose this set. Be a good girl and find them," shouts Molly as she practically runs after Uncle Albert to take refuge in his car. I ask Connor if heíd mind staying back to help me find her teeth but he refuses saying his new suit would get wet and thereíd be no point in both of us getting soaked now would there? I guess not but Iíll get drenched and yes I know its my Gran Aunt but leaving me here in a grave yard on my own with cadaver like grave diggers is like asking me to play leading role in the "Return of the Undead".

        It takes me twenty minutes to find those stupid teeth, there they are lodged behind a dilapidated gravestone of a Mrs West, dearly beloved wife of Donal and mother to Mary and Padraig 1931-1962. Iím so dripping wet I no longer care about the rain. Hah! See if you can beat me rain. If Iím going to get wet its best to get totally drenched. Itís a lot more liberating than trying to avoid it. I love being like this, defying the elements while the rain even tries to crawl up my nose and into my ears.

        The wettest rain must be right here on the Dingle Peninsula all them clouds right in from the Atlantic. The two grave diggers whoíre waiting for me to leave before they can bury Uncle Jimmy watch me as I raise my arms upwards and laugh towards the heavens twirling around as in manner of Winona Ryder in Edward Scissorhands, only this is rain and not snow Well its not everyday you get to dig for teeth in a graveyard in Dingle.

        Back home I go to have a soak in the bath while well wishers and nosy parker come to share in the feast in honour of Jimmy. I can hear my mother in the distance drooning on about her sponge cakes and how theyíre much richer now that sheís stopped using margarine and has started to use real butter instead. I wish, how I wish with all my heart that I could share her simplistic world vision. I could focus and attach myself onto outside things and not be too bothered about whether I following my destiny or was fucking it up. My life would be so much easier.

        I see Elliot and Assumpta at the bottom of the stairs and my heart does a U turn. I will only mention the kiss if he does. Anyhow no big deal. Whatís in a kiss or a snog?

        "Listen you two, thanks a lot for coming down. I really appreciate it you coming all this way," I say in as cheerful a voice as I can muster.

        "Anna darling so sorry to hear about your Uncle Jimmy. I personally think we come with a sell by date so thereís not a lot anyone can do. Still he was a nice man. Never said a bad word about anyone, was always generous..."

        Oh my Gawd. I hoped that she and Jimmy had neverÖ Well you know, like done it. I know Jimmy liked Assumpta but... Shut up Anna. Itís not good to think ill of the dead.

        "Dingle will miss him, thatís for sure. Do you know I was just saying to Elliot that Josie Donaghue has swollen up since she got married. Sheís like a tank. Itís terrible the way women let themselves go like that. We donít want you doing that now do we. Listen we must dash. Iím on an early shift in the morning. See you when you get back."

        "Sorry about your Uncle Jimmy," Elliot mumbles without looking me in the eyes, as in zero eye contact. No brotherly bear hug or kiss on leaving. Nothing. Probably thinks Iíd get too carried away and shove my tongue down his throat. Fuck I feel like Iíve lost my best friend. I want to die.

        Every square inch of the house is invaded this evening. Mother stuffing people whether they want them or not with her buttered sponges, and introducing Connor to her friends like an angler with a prize catch.

        "Anna and Connor will reside in Dublin after the wedding."

        "Imagine. He has his own house, bought before the prices went insane so you can only imagine the equity."

        "Look out there on the forecourt. Thatísí his car. I hope Anna realises how lucky she is."

        "I'll have two daughters in Dublin, you know Grace married to Marcus sheís had another baby, a boy, sure heís the picture of Marcus."

        I had joined the league of her successful daughters, a daughter that she could now be proud of. I had waited for this moment all my life but now that it had come I felt numb as though it was happening to someone outside of me. Is this a sign that not enough oxygen is getting to my brain?

        But where did this dream come from. The suitable husband, the house, the babies, the happy ever after ending. Was it really mine or did I pick it up in utero?

        Perhaps it was at this point that the music stopped and the dream died. I had unwittingly sown the seeds of my own destiny but had paid little attention to their growth. I had let myself get carried away with the idea of finding a husband and I found one alright only I tried so hard to make this special magic feeling between us only it wasnít there. And I thought that didnít matter.

        Iíd chosen Connor as a suitable husband and convinced myself that he was the right one for me without thinking of the repercussions of that choice. And then suddenly we were engaged and now the wedding that was looming in the distance is hurtling full speed towards me and I canít cope. Canít cope at all. Not with this forever and ever, Ďtil death us do part bit. Itís too much like a life sentence Yes I love Connor and I feel comfortable with him but thereís no passion, no real spark. He has a fabulous body perfect in fact, and one I lust after but passion can only ignite when two people are truly in love.

        I can see him now chatting away to Nuala. Theyíre talking about Curriculum development and the speech she has to give at the next general meeting. As their voices gradually fade into the background I enter Armageddon, the final conflict between my mind and my heart. My mind says Iíd never again get anyone as suitable as Connor for a husband. It also says itís too late to back out, the band has been booked people told, some already having bought presents. Six stupid kettles from unimaginative relatives. It also forewarns me of the possible reactions of my mother- nuclear war heads right on target and heading in my direction.

        But from deep inside my heart I scream that Iím not in love with Connor and that by choosing to go ahead and marry him I would be accepting a lesser form of love. I am aware that other women compromise and that they grow to love or at best tolerate their partners. Tolerate as in endure, put up with, suffer! My heart quite simply wanted more. I wanted that one magical relationship, to be able to see myself in my lover as if in a mirror and actually like what it spat out. How could I go through with a marriage based on suitability and reason rather than feeling and passion. How could I when my heartís final resting place was not in Connors and could never be.

        I know that Iím prone to some awful deliberations but thatís usually with only insignificant things like choosing which brand of shampoo or what video to watch. But the earth shattering decisions I make just like that. And just like that I decide to call the whole thing off.

        I break it to Connor as gently as I possibly can. I tell him that although I love him and think heís a wonderful guy, I canít marry him. He just stares and asks me if thereís anyone else involved and then he says it could well be pre wedding jitters, happens to lots of people or maybe my hormones are acting up. So I have to say that he doesnít have the key to my heart and he says that me being over emotional has made me become decidedly unbalanced after all. I am accused of trying to manipulate him and shame him in front of his family and friends. Not once did he say that he loved me and would do anything to keep me, absolutely anything. Now I have to ask myself if I had truly imagined a connection between Connor and I. I really donít believe him capable of loving the real crazy zany me. As tactfully as I possibly can, I wrap the engagement ring up in tissue paper and hand it back to itís rightful owner.

        My mother thinks I have taken leave of my senses and says Iím having a commitment crisis, a lot of brides to be go through this but thereís no need to call the whole thing off. She sits with me, cajoles me, even tries to humour me but I tell her that although I felt I loved Connor I was not in love with him.

        "Do you think I was in love with your father when I married him? she screeches. He was the only guy with a half- decent car round here and he had his own site for a house Look around you Anna. What about Mrs Baker or Mrs Gorman, do you think they bothered themselves with all that nonsense? They just got married and made the best of what they had. If anything they worked at their marriages to make them what they are today."

        "That may well be but donít you think that if you have to make the effort of working at something, that it isnít natural, it doesnít flow," I said trying to make her get a glimpse about what I felt.

        "Marriage Anna is a contract and not some starry eyed fairytale. Do you know what I blame, that degree of yours in college. All that mythological and philosophical jargon has obviously deranged your reasoning powers, making you dissatisfied with what you have. Now look you take a rest and youíll see a lot clearer in the morning."

        Nuala of course takes my motherís side in all of this. She tells me that Iím an ungrateful horrible cow and that Connor was too good for me anyway. Maybe he was. Then when she thinks she can influence me to change my mind she suggests me going away to a retreat centre in Kildare for a weekend to tap into my inner peace. I have to tell her Iíll think about it to get her off my case.

        I go to sleep that night and if anything my dreams confirm that I had made the right decisions in not marrying Connor. I have absolutely no regrets.

        Connor went back to Dublin the following day without saying a word. My mother when she was fully cognisant of the enormity of what Iíd done took to the bed for a week and lived on a diet of raw vodka and pills. She claimed that her poor heart had gone back into her lungs. I had disgraced her beyond belief. She informed me that I had lost my insurance policy for the future. She told me I could forget about being able to retire, that Iíd have to work for the rest of my life now and what about babies, didnít I want the joy of holding my own baby?

        I know my mother meant well in her own way but us girls can exist in our own right. Not in my motherís eyes. According to her weíre designed to be with a partner, the animals in the ark and so forth and how could she go to her grave knowing that her daughter was on her own. When I told her perhaps I didnít need a man she said that she knew me more than I thought she did and that I was like her, that I needed a reason to get up in the mornings and that it was ok now when I was young but what about when I was fifty and had nobody. I often wonder if my mother wanted me married so that I could legally have sex without anyone judging me as immoral. I was of course abdicating my rights to legal screwing and was now freely available to other men. Back on the scene so as to speak.

        And poor Connor, how could I do that to such a lovely lad. Maybe I needed treatment, it could well be a chemical imbalance, something missing, she always knew there was something faulty with the Moran genesÖMy status was now reduced to an amoeba and a very squashed amoeba at that.

        I guess you could say the Gods played their last cosmic joke on me. Yeah youíve guessed it. I Anna Moran inherited the fish shop on the condition that it was to be kept in the family name and a legacy of £50,000. The rest of Uncle Jimmyís estate was given to a young nurse that seemingly he had begun dating a year before heíd died.




Works by Nell Sullivan