Saturday, January 22, 2011

PS, I Love You [Part 6 & 7]

PS, I Love You

Part 6

“WOW,” WAS ALL SHARON AND John could say as the three of them sat around the
kitchen table in silence staring at the contents of the package that Holly had emptied as
evidence. Conversation between them had been minimal for the last few minutes as they all
tried to decide how they felt. It went something like this:

“But how did he manage to . . .”
“But why didn't we notice him . . . well . . . God.”
“When do you think he . . . well, I suppose he was on his own sometimes . . .”
Holly and Sharon just sat looking at each other while John stuttered and stammered his way
through trying to figure out just when, where and how his terminally ill friend had managed to
carry out this idea all alone without anyone finding out.

“Wow,” he eventually repeated after coming to the conclusion that Gerry had done just that. He had carried it out alone.

“I know,” Holly agreed. “So the two of you had absolutely no idea then?”

“Well, I don't know about you, Holly, but it's pretty clear to me that John was the mastermind
behind all of this,” Sharon said sarcastically.

“Ha-ha,” John replied dryly. “Well, he kept his word anyway, didn't he?” John looked to both of the girls with a smile on his face.

“He sure did,” Holly said quietly.

“Are you OK, Holly? I mean, how do you feel about all this, it must be . . . weird,” asked Sharon again, clearly concerned.

“I feel fine.” Holly was thoughtful. “Actually I think it's the best thing that could have happened right now! It's funny, though, how amazed we all are considering how much we all went on about this list. I mean, I should have been expecting it.”

“Yeah, but we never expected any of us to ever do it!” said John.

“But why not?” questioned Holly. “This was the whole reason for it in the first place! To be
able to help your loved ones after you go.”

“I think Gerry was the only one who took it really seriously.”

“Sharon, Gerry is the only one of us who is gone, who knows how seriously anyone else would
have taken it?”

There was a silence.

“Well, let's study this more closely then,” perked up John, suddenly starting to enjoy himself.

“There's how many envelopes?”

“Em . . . there's ten,” counted Sharon, joining in with the spirit of their new task.

“OK, so what months are there?” John asked. Holly sorted through the pile.

“There's March, which is the lamp one I already opened, April, May, June, July, August,
September, October, November and December.”

“So there's a message for every month left in the year,” Sharon said slowly, lost in thought. They were all thinking the same thing, Gerry had planned this knowing he wouldn't live past
February. They all took a moment to ponder this, and eventually Holly looked around at her
friends with happiness. Whatever Gerry had in store for her was going to be interesting, but he had already succeeded in making her feel almost normal again. While she was laughing with John and Sharon as they guessed what the envelopes contained, it was as though he were still with them.

“Hold on!” John exclaimed very seriously.


John's blue eyes twinkled. “It's April now and you haven't opened it yet.”

“Oh, I forgot about that! Oh no, should I do it now?”

“Go on,” encouraged Sharon.

Holly picked up the envelope and slowly began to open it. There were only eight more to open
after this and she wanted to treasure every second before it became another memory. She pulled out the little card.

A Disco Diva must always look her best. Go shopping for an outfit, as you'll need it for next

PS, I love you . . .

“Ooooh,” John and Sharon sang with excitement, “he's getting cryptic!”

PS, I Love You

Part 7

HOLLY LAY ON HER BED like a demented woman, switching the lamp on and off with a
smile on her face. She and Sharon had gone shopping in Bed Knobs and Broomsticks in
Malahide, and both girls had eventually agreed on the beautifully carved wooden stand and the cream shade, which matched the cream and wooden furnishings of the master bedroom (of course they had chosen the most ridiculously expensive one, it would have been wrong to spoil tradition). And although Gerry hadn't physically been there with her as she bought it, she felt that they had made the purchase together.

She had drawn the curtains of her bedroom in order to test her new merchandise. The bedside lamp had a softening effect on the room, making it appear warmer. How easily this could have ended their nightly arguments, but perhaps neither of them wanted to end them. It had become a routine, something familiar that made them feel closer. How she would give anything to have one of those little arguments now. And she would gladly get out of her cozy bed for him, she would gladly walk on the cold floor for him, and she would gladly bruise herself on the bedpost while fumbling in the dark for the bed. But that time was gone.
The sound of Gloria Gaynor's “I Will Survive” snapped her back to the present as she realized
her mobile phone was ringing.


“G'day, mate, I'm hooooome!” shrieked a familiar voice.

“Oh my God, Ciara! I didn't know you were coming home!”

“Well, neither did I actually, but I ran out of money and decided to surprise you all!”

“Wow, I bet Mum and Dad were surprised all right.”

“Well, Dad did drop the towel with fright when he stepped out of the shower.”

Holly covered her face with her hand. “Oh Ciara, you didn't!” she warned.

“No hugs for Daddy when I saw him!” Ciara laughed.

“Oh yuck, yuck, yuck. Change the subject, I'm having visions,” Holly said.

“OK, well, I was calling to tell you that I was home, obviously, and that Mum's organizing
dinner tonight to celebrate.”

“Celebrate what?”

“Me being alive.”

“Oh, OK. I thought you might have an announcement or something.”

“That I'm alive.”

“O . . . K. So who's going?”

“The whole family.”

“Did I mention that I'm going to the dentist to have all my teeth pulled out? Sorry, I can't make it.”

“I know, I know, I said the same thing to Mum, but we haven't all been together for ages. Sure when's the last time you've even seen Richard and Meredith?”

“Oh, good ol' Dick, well, he was in flying form at the funeral. Had lots of wise and comforting
things to say to me like, 'Did you not consider donating his brain to medical science?' Yes, he's
such a fantastic brother all right.”

“Oh gosh, Holly, I'm sorry. I forgot about the funeral.” Her sister's voice changed. “I'm sorry I
couldn't make it.”

“Ciara, don't be silly, we both decided it was best you stay,” Holly said briskly. “It's far too
expensive to be flying back and forth from Australia, so let's not bring it back up, OK?”


Holly quickly changed the subject. “So when you say the whole family do you mean. . . ?”

“Yes, Richard and Meredith are bringing our adorable little niece and nephew. And Jack and
Abbey are coming you'll be pleased to know, Declan will be there in body but probably not in
mind, Mum, Dad and me of course, and you will be there.”

Holly groaned. As much as Holly moaned about her family she had a great relationship with her brother Jack. He was only two years older than her so they had always been close when growing up, and he had always been very protective of her. Their mother had called them her “two little elves” because they were always getting up to mischief around the house (this mischief was usually aimed at their eldest brother, Richard). Jack was similar to Holly in both looks and personality, and she considered him to be the most normal of her siblings. It also helped that she got along with his partner of seven years, Abbey, and when Gerry was alive the four of them often met up for dinner and drinks. When Gerry was alive . . . God, that didn't sound right.

Ciara was a whole different kettle of fish altogether. Jack and Holly were convinced she was
from the planet Ciara, population: one. Ciara had the look of her father, long legs and dark hair. She also had various tattoos and piercings on her body as a result of her travels around the world. A tattoo for every country, her dad used to joke. A tattoo for every man, Holly and Jack were convinced. Of course this carry-on was all frowned upon by the eldest of the family, Richard (or Dick as he was known to Jack and Holly). Richard was born with the serious illness of being an eternal old man. His life revolved around rules and regulations and obedience. When he was younger he had one friend and they had a fight when they were ten, so after that Holly could never remember him bringing anyone home, having any girlfriends or ever going out to socialize. She and Jack thought it was a wonder where he met his equally joyless wife, Meredith. Probably at an anti-happiness convention.

It's not as though Holly had the worst family in the world, it's just that they were such a strange mix of people. These huge clashes of personalities usually led to arguments at the most inappropriate times, or as Holly's parents preferred to call them, “heavy discussions.” 

They could get along, but that was with everyone really trying and being on their best behavior. Holly and Jack often met up for lunch or for drinks just to catch up on each other's lives; they had an interest in each other. She enjoyed his company and considered him to be not only a brother but a real friend. Lately they hadn't seen much of each other. Jack understood Holly well and knew when she needed her space.

The only time Holly caught up on her younger brother Declan's life was when she called the
house looking for her parents and he would answer. Declan wasn't a great conversationalist. He was a twenty-two-year-old “boy” who didn't quite yet feel comfortable in the company of
adults, so Holly never really knew that much about him. A nice boy, he just had his head up in
the clouds a bit.

Ciara, her twenty-four-year-old little sister, had been away for the entire year and Holly had
missed her. They were never the kind of sisters to swap clothes and giggle about boys, their
tastes differed so much. But as the only two girls in a family of brothers, they formed a bond.
Ciara was closer to Declan; both of them dreamers. Jack and Holly had always been inseparable as children and friends as adults. That left Richard. He was out on his own in the family, but Holly suspected he liked that feeling of being separated from those in his family he couldn't quite understand. Holly was dreading his lectures on all-things-boring, his insensitive
questioning of her life and just the whole feeling of being frustrated by comment after comment at the dinner table. But it was a welcome-home dinner for Ciara and Jack would be there; Holly could count on him.

So was Holly looking forward to tonight? Absolutely not.

Holly reluctantly knocked on the door to her family home and immediately heard the pounding of tiny feet flying toward the door followed by a voice that should not belong to a child.

“Mummy! Daddy! It's Aunty Holly, it's Aunty Holly!”

It was Nephew Timothy, Nephew Timothy.

His happiness was suddenly crushed by a stern voice. (Although it was unusual for her nephew to be happy about Holly's arrival; things must be especially boring in there.) “Timothy! What did I tell you about running in the house! You could fall and hurt yourself, now go stand in the corner and think about what I said. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Mummy.”

“Ah come on, Meredith, will he hurt himself on the carpet or on the comfy padded couch?”
Holly laughed to herself; Ciara was definitely home. Just as Holly was contemplating escape, the door swung open and there stood Meredith. She looked even more sour-faced and unwelcoming than usual.

“Holly.” She nodded her head in acknowledgment.

“Meredith,” Holly imitated.

Once in the living room Holly looked around for Jack, but to her disappointment he was
nowhere to be seen. Richard stood in front of the fireplace dressed in a surprisingly colorful
sweater; perhaps he was letting his hair down tonight. He stood with his hands in his pockets
rocking back and forth from his heels to the balls of his toes like a man ready to give a lecture.
His lecture was being aimed at their poor father, Frank, who sat uncomfortably in his favorite
armchair looking like a chastised schoolboy. Richard was so lost in his story he didn't see Holly
enter the room. Holly blew her poor father a kiss from across the room, not wanting to be
brought into their conversation. Her father smiled at her and pretended to catch her kiss.
Declan was slumped on the couch wearing his ripped jeans and South Park T-shirt, puffing
furiously on a cigarette while Meredith invaded his space and warned him of the dangers of
smoking. “Really? I didn't know that,” he said, sounding worryingly interested while stabbing
out his cigarette. Meredith's face looked satisfied until Declan winked at Holly, reached for the
box again and immediately lit up another one. “Tell me some more, please, I'm just dying to
know.” Meredith stared back at him in disgust.

Ciara was hiding behind the couch throwing pieces of popcorn at the back of poor Timothy's
head. He stood facing the wall in the corner of the room and was too afraid to turn around.
Abbey was pinned to the floor and being bossed around by little five-year-old Emily and an
evil-looking doll. She caught Holly's eye and mouthed “Help” to her.

“Hi Ciara.” Holly approached her sister, who jumped up and gave her a big hug, squeezing
Holly a bit tighter than usual. “Nice hair.”

“You like it?”

“Yeah, pink is really your color.”

Ciara looked satisfied. “That's what I tried to tell them,” she said, squinting her eyes and staring at Richard and Meredith. “So how's my big sis?” Ciara asked softly, rubbing Holly's arm affectionately.

“Oh, you know,” Holly smiled weakly, “I'm hanging in there.”

“Jack is in the kitchen helping your mum with the dinner if you're looking for him, Holly,”

Abbey announced, widening her eyes and mouthing “Help me” again.

Holly raised her eyebrows at Abbey. “Really? Well isn't he great helping out Mum?”

“Oh, Holly, didn't you know how much Jack just loves cooking, he just loves it. Can't get
enough of it,” she said sarcastically.

Holly's dad chuckled to himself, which stopped Richard in his tracks. “What's so funny,

Frank shifted in his seat nervously. “I just find it remarkable that all this happens in just one tiny little test tube.”

Richard let out a disapproving sigh at his father's stupidity. “Yes, but you have to understand
these are so minuscule, Father, it's rather fascinating. The organisms combine with the . . .” And away he went while his father settled back down in his chair and tried to avoid eye contact with Holly.

Holly tiptoed quietly into the kitchen, where she found her brother at the table with his feet up on a chair munching on some food. “Ah, here he is, the naked chef himself.”

Jack smiled and stood up from his chair. “There's my favorite sister.” He scrunched up his nose. 

“I see you got roped into coming to this thing as well.” He walked toward her and held out his
arms to offer her one of his big bear hugs. “How are you?” he said quietly into her ear.

“I'm OK, thanks.” Holly smiled sadly and kissed him on the cheek before turning to her mother.

“Darling Mother, I am here to offer my services at this extremely stressful and busy time of your life,” Holly said, planting a kiss on her mother's flushed cheek.

“Oh, aren't I just the luckiest woman in the world having such caring children like you,”
Elizabeth said sarcastically. “Tell you what; you can just drain the water from the potatoes

“Mum, tell us about the time when you were a little girl during the famine and the spuds were
gone,” Jack said, putting on an exaggerated Irish accent.

Elizabeth hit him across the head playfully with the tea towel. “Ah, sure 'tis years before my
time, son.”

“Sure 'tis true,” said Jack.

“No, you t'aren't at all,” joined in Holly.

They both stopped and stared at her. “Since when is there such a word as t'aren't?” laughed her mum.

“Ah, shut up the both of you.” Holly joined her brother at the table.

“I hope you two won't be getting up to any mischief tonight. I would like this to be an
argument-free zone for a change.”

“Mother, I am shocked the thought even crossed your mind.” Jack winked across to Holly.

“All right,” she said, not believing a word of it. “Well, sorry my babies, but there's nothing else
to be done here. Dinner will be ready in a few minutes.”

“Oh.” Holly was disappointed.

Elizabeth joined her children at the table and the three of them stared at the kitchen door all
thinking the same thing.

“No, Abbey,” squealed Emily loudly, “you're not doing what I tell you,” and she burst into tears.

This was shortly followed by a loud guffaw from Richard; he must have cracked a joke because he was the only one laughing.

“But I suppose it's important that we all stay here and keep an eye on the dinner,” Elizabeth

“OK everyone, dinner is being served,” announced Elizabeth, and everyone made their way to
the dining room. There was an awkward moment like at a child's birthday party while everyone scuffled to sit beside their best friend. Eventually Holly was satisfied with her position at the table and settled down with her mother on her left at the end of the table and Jack to her right.

Abbey sat with a scowl on her face between Jack and Richard. Jack would have some making
up to do when he got home. Declan sat opposite Holly and wedged in between him was an
empty seat where Timothy should be sitting, then Emily and Meredith, then Ciara. Holly's father got a raw deal sitting at the head of the table between Richard and Ciara, but he was such a calm man he was the best one for the job.

Everyone oohed and aahed as Elizabeth brought out the food and the aroma filled the room.
Holly had always loved her mother's cooking, she was never afraid to experiment with new
flavors and recipes, a trait that had not been passed down to her daughter. “Hey, poor little
Timmy must be starving out there,” Ciara exclaimed to Richard. “He must have done his time
by now.”

She knew she was skating on thin ice but she loved the danger of it, and more important, she
loved to wind Richard up. After all, she had to make up for lost time, she had been away for a

“Ciara, it's important that Timothy know when he has done something wrong,” explained

“Yeah, but couldn't you just tell him?”

The rest of the family tried hard not to laugh.

“He needs to know that his actions will lead to serious consequences so he will not repeat

“Ah well,” she said, raising her voice a few octaves, “he's missing all this yummy food.

Mmm-mmm-mmm,” she added, licking her lips.

“Stop it, Ciara,” Elizabeth snapped.

“Or you'll have to stand in the corner,” Jack added sternly.

The table erupted with laughter, bar Meredith and Richard of course.

“So Ciara, tell us about your adventures in Australia,” Frank moved swiftly on.

Ciara's eyes lit up. “Oh, I had the most amazing time, Dad, I would definitely recommend going there to anyone.”

“Awful long flight, though,” Richard said.

“Yeah it is, but it's so worth it.”

“Did you get any more tattoos?” Holly asked.

“Yeah, look.” With that, Ciara stood up at the table and pulled down her trousers, revealing a
butterfly on her behind.

Mum, Dad, Richard and Meredith protested in outrage while the others sat in convulsions of
laughter. This carried on for a long time. Finally, when Ciara had apologized and Meredith had
removed her hands from Emily's eyes, the table settled down.

“They are revolting things,” Richard said in disgust.

“I think butterflies are pretty, Daddy,” said Emily with big innocent eyes.

“Yes, some butterflies are pretty, Emily, but I'm talking about tattoos. They can give you all
sorts of diseases and problems.” Emily's smile faded.

“Hey, I didn't exactly get this done in a dodgy place sharing needles with drug dealers, you
know. The place was perfectly clean.”

“Well, that's an oxymoron if ever I heard one,” Meredith said with disgust.

“Been in one recently, Meredith?” Ciara asked a bit too forcefully.

“Well, em . . . n-n-n-no,” she stuttered, “I have never been in one, thank you very much, but I am sure they are.” Then she turned to Emily. “They are dirty, horrible places, Emily, where only dangerous people go.”

“Is Aunt Ciara dangerous, Mummy?”

“Only to five-year-old little girls with red hair,” Ciara said, stuffing her face.
Emily froze.

“Richard dear, do you think that Timmy might want to come in now for some food?” Elizabeth
asked politely.

“It's Timothy,” Meredith interrupted.

“Yes, Mother, I think that would be OK.”

A very sorry little Timothy walked slowly into the room with his head down and took his place silently beside Declan. Holly's heart leapt out to him. How cruel to treat a child like that, how cruel to stop him from being a child . . . her sympathetic thoughts diminished immediately as she felt his little foot kick her shin underneath the table. They should have left him out there.

“So Ciara, come on, give us the gossip, do anything wild and wonderful out there?” Holly
pushed for more information.

“Oh yeah, I did a bungee jump actually, well, I did a few. I have the photo here.” She reached
into her back pocket and everyone looked away just in case she was planning to reveal any more bits of her anatomy. Thankfully she only took out her wallet; she passed the photo around the table and continued explaining.

“The first one I did was off a bridge and my head hit the water when I fell . . .”

“Oh Ciara, that sounds dangerous,” her mother said with her hands across her face.

“Oh no, it wasn't dangerous at all,” she reassured her.

The photograph was passed to Holly and she and Jack burst out laughing. Ciara dangled upside down from a rope with her face contorted in the middle of a scream from pure terror. Her hair (it was blue at that time) was shooting out in all directions as though she had been electrocuted.

“Attractive photo, Ciara. Mum, you must get that framed for over the fireplace,” Holly joked.

“Yeah!” Ciara's eyes lit up as the thought hit her. “That would be a cool idea.”

“Sure darling, I'll just take down the one of you making your Holy Communion and replace it
with that,” Elizabeth said sarcastically.

“Well, I don't know which one would be scarier,” said Declan.

“Holly, what are you doing for your birthday?” asked Abbey, leaning across toward her. She was clearly dying to get out of the conversation she was having with Richard.

“Oh, that's right!” shouted Ciara. “You're gonna be thirty in a few weeks!”

“I'm not doing anything big at all,” she warned everyone. “I don't want any surprise party or
anything, please.”

“Oh, you have to. . . ,” said Ciara.

“No, she doesn't have to if she doesn't want to,” her father interrupted, and he winked
supportively at Holly.

“Thank you, Dad. I'm just going to have a girly night out clubbing or something. Nothing mad,
nothing wild.”

Richard tutted as the photograph reached him and passed it on to his father, who chuckled to
himself over the sight of Ciara.

“Yes, I agree with you, Holly,” said Richard, “those birthday celebrations are always a bit
embarrassing. Grown adults acting like children, doing 'Rock the boat' on the floor and drinking far too much. You're quite right.”

“Well, I actually quite enjoy those parties, Richard,” Holly shot back, “but I just don't feel in the celebratory mood this year, that's all.”

There was silence for a moment before Ciara piped up, “A girly night it is then.”

“Can I tag along with the camera?” asked Declan.

“For what?”

“Just for some footage of clubs and stuff for college.”

“Well, if it'll help . . . but as long as you know I won't be going to all the trendy places that you

“No, I don't mind where you g . . . OW!” he shouted and stared menacingly at Timothy.
Timmy stuck his tongue out at him and the conversation continued on. After the main course
had finished, Ciara disappeared out of the room and arrived with a bulging bag in her hand and announced, “Presents!!”

Timmy and Emily cheered. Holly hoped that Ciara had remembered to get them something.
Her father received a colorfully painted boomerang that he pretended to throw down at his wife, Richard was given a T-shirt with the map of Australia on it, which he immediately began to teach to Timmy and Emily at the table, Meredith quite comically wasn't given anything, Jack and Declan were given T-shirts with perverted pictures and a caption saying “I've been to the bush,” Holly's mum received a collection of old Aboriginal recipes and Holly was touched by the dream catcher made from brightly colored feathers and sticks. “So all your dreams come true,”

Ciara had whispered in her ear before kissing her on the cheek.

Thankfully Ciara had bought sweets for Timmy and Emily, but they looked strangely like the
sweets you could buy from the local shop. These were briskly taken away by Richard and
Meredith, who claimed they would rot their teeth.

“Well, give them back then so I can rot my own,” Ciara demanded.
Timmy and Emily looked around sadly at everyone's presents and were immediately chastised by Richard for not concentrating on the map of Australia. Timmy made a face at Holly and a warm feeling returned to her heart. As long as the kids kept on acting like they deserved their harsh treatment, it made it easier for Holly to deal with. In fact, she may even have bordered on enjoying watching them being given out to.

“Right, we better hit the road, Richard, or the children will fall asleep at the table,” announced
Meredith. The children, though, were wide awake and kicking Holly and Declan repeatedly
under the table.

“Well, before everybody goes disappearing,” Holly's father announced loudly over the chatter.
The table grew silent. “I would like to propose a toast to our beautiful daughter Ciara, as this is her welcome-home dinner.” He smiled at his daughter and Ciara lapped up all the attention.

“We missed you, love, and we're glad you're home safely,” Frank finished. He lifted his glass
into the air, “To Ciara!”

“To Ciara!” everyone repeated, and they finished off what was in their glasses.
As soon as the door closed behind Richard and Meredith everyone began to leave one by one.
Holly stepped into the chilly air and walked to her car alone. Her mum and dad stood at the door waving her off but she still felt lonely. Usually she left dinner parties with Gerry, and if not with him then she was returning home to him. But not tonight or the next night or the night after that.

to be cont'd

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