In the kitchen, she smoked a Gold Flake and drank a cup of tea. About a half-a-hour they’d be finished the main course, what with the chatter and the sipping of the wine—the best claret from the wine merchant in Cork.
Sometimes, living in a small town made you really happy. There was such a feeling of security in it. It wasn’t big-headed, but she knew she was well-respected and generally well-liked, and the two didn’t always go together. But, there were times when Ballytierney would make you want to run away. Want to go as far as you could get, from the nosiness and the narrowness and the hardened ignorance you saw sometimes the kind where the person was so ignorant they didn’t even have the least inkling of it, and they were accepted or at least tolerated too, in the town.
Maggie would think then of London or Dublin or any of those big anonymous places, where there could even be a solace in the loneliness. If you put one of the ignoramuses of Ballytierney, or any other small rural town in there, well you had to wonder if they would even survive a week.
The telephone rang, its urgent sound making her start, stub out her cigarette and stand up, all so quickly, that she felt dizzy for a second, and had to slow herself down.
Duty was duty, though, and it was hers to answer the telephone unless one of the priests picked it up first, in which case, she would be expected to fade back into the scenery. Well, none of them would pick it up now. They were all occupied in the dining room.
Maggie’s heart took uncomfortable leaps around her chest when she heard the gasping and crying tones on the other end of the phone. It wasn’t the first time someone had rang the parish house, in dire straits, not by a long chalk, but maybe it was because her own nerves were all on edge tonight, that Maggie actually sat down on the hall chair.
She needed to take a grip of herself. This wasn’t going to get them anywhere.
“What is it, my dear?” She made her voice calm, concerned, flattened the worry out of it.”
“He’s dead, laid there…dreadful, dreadful…oh, God.”
The voice rose, and you could hear the hysteria just about to take over.
“Can you tell me who you are?” Keep it simple. That was the best.
“Mary, Mary…oh, I’m sorry…I’m in such a state, oh, oh,”
There was silence and tension tugged at Maggie’s throat. She was gripping the telephone receiver so tight that it was making her hand go into a cramp. She made her fingers loosen.
There came a loud sigh.
“I’m sorry. I’m better now. It’s Crowe. Mrs. Crowe.”
They lived in that big place, Inishowen House, and the woman was rarely seen out around the town. He was a bit of a mystery, rarely seen and reportedly in bad health. Young Father Tom went out and visited him.
“Father Lally came out earlier didn’t he, anointed your husband, I think?”
It was taking a bit of a chance; overstepping the mark even but she needed to calm the woman and remind her that her husband’s death wasn’t a surprise. Or was that being harsh? It was well known that death, even when expected, came as an awful shock.
“No, you don’t understand Miss Cahill. My husband didn’t die of natural causes. Not at all…” The ragged sobbing started again. What on earth did the woman mean? Not die of natural causes? Wasn’t she just suffering some sort of shock, surely? The best thing might be to get one of the priests. The canon definitely wouldn’t thank her for this, but she was out of her depth. Maybe Father Timothy or even young Father Tom…
“You don’t understand, Miss Cahill. He’s been hit. On the head, blood everywhere. Someone came in here, with an iron bar and beat a dying man to death.