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“No wonder people drink in this country, the weather drives them to it,” said Greta as she sipped her 15th cup of tea that day. Marie, Greta’s younger sister by 16 months, threw open the caravan door and squinting up at the low, grey skies said, “I think it’s brightening up.” “You’ve said that every single day since we got here,” replied Greta, “I’ll put it on your gravestone.”
The caravan belonged to Marie and was tucked into a sand dune on the edge of Farmer Griffin’s field just outside the village of Ventry in County Kerry. When Marie invited Greta, an expat living in Hong Kong, and her boys to spend part of their summer break with her, Greta jumped at the chance to spend quality time with her sister and nephew, and for her three sons aged 8 months to 6 years to experience ‘real Ireland’.
The relentless rain kept everyone but Marie inside. Every morning, Marie stepped out into the rains, over the dunes and into the sea. She told Greta the water was actually warmer when it rained. An hour later she would return, her legs purple with the cold and her waist length hair matted like seaweed. “It’s lovely once you get down and you feel so alive afterwards,” she told Greta. Greta remained unconvinced. She likened swimming to banging your head against a wall and the only pleasure in it was when you stopped.
The rain alternated between down pour and drizzle for five days now. With no running water, heating, radio or TV for entertainment except endless cups of tea and chat, the quality of the sisters’ time together deteriorated as did their tempers with the dragging of each passing day. Chatting had become dangerous after Marie suggested on day two to a session of “Tell me five things that are good about me and five things that are not.” It ended with Marie sulking until tea-time.
Their immediate neighbour, Celeste was one of Marie’s oldest friends from school. Celeste had the personality and wit of a floor mop. When Greta first complained on Kerry’s capacity to absorb so much rain, Celeste told her, “The weather was fine until you got here.”
Greta did manage to carve out one bright spot to her day – the Dun an Oir Pottery café. The pottery was drab and never seemed to sell but the café itself overlooked the Blasket Islands. More importantly the two women who ran the café served the most exquisite rhubarb crumble in generous slices smothered in real cream. Every afternoon, between three and four o’clock, the two sisters and their four boys would pile into Greta’s car and tear westwards over the mountain with only one thing on their minds, rhubarb crumble….
Day 6 and Marie returned from her morning swim. She stood before the tiny mirror nailed to the wall quietly raking a comb through her hair until it crackled with static. Without looking around Marie said, “You think you’re so perfect, don’t you?” Greta, sitting at the table flicking through a 4 year old edition of Hello magazine glanced up at sister and said, “Talking to yourself again, are you Luv?” Marie turned to fully confront her sister and with a knowing smirk on her face said, “You think you are so perfect with your perfect little boys and your perfect husband. You’re over there in Hong Kong with your live-in helper and your perfect little life.” Greta cocked her head to one side and said, “Jealous are we?” But Marie was not to be put off, “You think because you have money you’re better than all of us but let me tell you, Sonny Jim, I’m the one who has it made. My life is better than yours.” Greta sniggered. Marie smiled down at her sister and wrenching open the broom cupboard door started to root around the upper shelves to look for the chocolate digestives she kept hidden there. Greta took the bait. She said, “You’re the one who got to go to college but dropped out after one year. You invested all your savings in your boyfriend who then disappeared and you never saw again. You got pregnant by a drunk from Bantry and had to raise a son on your own.”
Marie withdrew from the cupboard, her mouth slack with dismay. Greta glared back at her sister defiantly and said, “If you can’t take it Marie, don’t dish it out.” Marie put her head back into the cupboard and continued her search for the biscuits. Greta, sensing her sister’s hurt, moved to make amends. “On the other hand, considering the crap decisions you’ve made, you’ve done a great job turning your life around: Jack is a credit to you; you have a job you love and you have this little gem by the sea.” Marie withdrew her head from the cupboard again. She found the biscuits. She smiled weakly and said, “Thanks.”
Greta got up from the table and put on the kettle. After she made the tea and put cups and milk on the table, she sat down again. She helped herself to a biscuit and said, “What brought all that on anyway?” Marie dipped her third digestive into her tea and worked hard to suck the chocolate off. She said nothing for a few minutes and then removing the sodden biscuit from her mouth, she looked slyly at her sister and said, “You don’t like Celeste do you?” Greta rolled her eyes wildly and with a loud groan said, “I don’t actually dislike her but my God she‘s miserable. She whinges and moans about everything. Her kids are as wild as rats. Her caravan is a tip and the way she goes on about money, she’s obsessed about the cost of everything.”
At that moment, there was a bang on the door and without waiting for an answer, Celeste entered the caravan. The two sisters stared at their unexpected guest. “I was bored over at my place so I thought I’d come over here for a change,” said Celeste, smiling down at the two women. Celeste’s pink cheeks, wet and shiny from the rain puffed gently from the sudden exertion. Sensing all was not well, her smile faltered. Suddenly Greta slapped her hands down on the table making the other two women jump, “It’s rhubarb time,” she said.
“Oh, I can’t”, said Celeste, backing away from the table, “I have to get the dinner ready.” Greta smiled brightly at her and said, “I’m buying.” Celeste hesitated for a few seconds, “I’ll go and get my coat,” and flinging open the caravan door she dived back out into the rain.