‘When you come from Bray, living in a bus shelter would seem like paradise’

Illustration: Alan Clarke

Illustration: Alan Clarke


Something smells nice. I mention it as well. I’m like, “Something smells nice.”

“It’s my tuna Bolognese,” Sorcha goes. “And you really should get dressed. Our guests will be here any minute.”

I’m like, “Guests?”

I do listen to my wife? But it’s necessary also to filter out the enormous amounts of spam that tend to be part of her general convo. Sometimes important stuff gets lost in the shuffle. Like now.

“I told you,” she goes, “Claire and Garret are coming for dinner.”

She seems to be talking about Claire from Bray of all places and that drip she married.

I’m there, “But they emigrated. To Canada. I drove them to the airport. I watched them leave. I was high-fiving the staff in the security screening area.”

“They’re back for a couple of weeks,” she goes. “Garret has a wedding to go to and Claire’s grandmother isn’t well.”

“But why do we have to see them? Jesus, Sorcha, I genuinely hate them.”

“Because Claire is one of my best friends.”

“I’ve already said my goodbyes and good riddances, though. I was kind of happy with the way it ended. I might hit Kielys and get a smile on.”

Except it’s too late. The doorbell rings, Sorcha goes out to answer it and after 60 seconds of high decibel Oh My Godding in the hallway, into the living room they troop – Sorcha, followed by Claire, followed by him, carrying six bottles of whatever ridiculous craft beer he happens to be drinking these days.

I give Claire a massive hug that goes on for about 10 seconds longer than just plain friendly. It drives Garret mad that I curled her toes once or twice before he ever met her. I like to constantly remind him of that basic fact.

“Sit down,” Sorcha goes. “We want to know – oh my God – everything about your new life in Toronto!”

Claire doesn’t need to be asked twice.

She goes, “Oh my God, we are talking, like, total lifestyle change! Do you remember I famously couldn’t find a pilates instructor in Dublin that suited me? Well, I found one within, like, two days of moving to Canada. And I had my allergies finally tested and it turns out that I am gluten-intolerant to the point of being almost, although not quite, coeliac?”

She lets that hang there for a good 20 seconds, like we’re all supposed to say, “Fair focks to you, Claire.”

Sorcha’s like, “Oh my God, you always suspected you were!”

“I know! And we were only in Canada, like, two weeks before I had it confirmed. So we’re both gluten-free now. And Canada is such an easy country to be gluten-free in.”

I just, like, tut and roll my eyes at that line, as anyone would.

Sorcha goes, “So tell me all about the shop!”

She means Wheat Bray Love, the organic bakery they wanted to open on the Quinnsboro Road until the banks laughed them out the door. That was the reason they emigrated. Having never experienced a Celtic Tiger of their own, Canada’s banks are apparently quite happy to pour good money down the drain.

Garret produces his iPad and storts showing Sorcha photographs of the shop. “We’re going to open the first week in September,” he goes. “See, this is what Bray could have had – now Toronto’s going to have it, thanks to the fact that Canada’s banks are actually genuinely interested in helping small businesses.”

While this conversation has been happening, Honor has been sitting in a chair in the corner, texting away, totally lost in her phone. She suddenly looks up and realises, for the first time, that there are actual people in the room.

“Oh my God,” she goes, “what are they doing here? I thought they emigrated.”

Sorcha’s like, “Honor, don’t be rude.”

Honor looks at Claire and goes, “Was that you saying all that stuff about being gluten-intolerant?”

Claire’s there, “Yes, my small intestine doesn’t like it, I’m afraid.”

“I thought there was a radio on or something. Oh my God, you’re even more boring than you were when you left. And I didn’t think that was even possible.”

I laugh. I can’t help it. She’s a real daddy’s girl.

“Honor!” Sorcha goes. “Go to your room and don’t come out again until you’re ready to apologise.”

Honor’s like, “Yeah, you’ll be waiting,” then off she trots.

The second she’s gone, Garret’s like, “That’s the thing about kids in Canada – no offence, Sorcha – but they’re actually respectful of their elders.”

I’m there, “Well, personally, I’m proud to live in a country where children aren’t afraid to consistently call it.”

He ignores this – doesn’t take the bait.

“Canadians are very tolerant,” he instead goes, “but they also know how to treat each other. You know they legalised same-sex marriage while the rest of the world was still debating it. And everyone just walks around so chilled out. Do you know why? Because work-life balance is something they actually take seriously. I could go on and on about their low crime, unemployment and income disparity rates. And their healthcare system.”

Sorcha goes, “It sounds like they’ve found paradise, doesn’t it, Ross?”

I’m there, “When you come from Bray, living in a bus shelter would seem like paradise.”

Sorcha gives me a serious filthy. “Ross, go and put Garret’s beers in the fridge.”

I take them from him and I head out to the kitchen. The last sentence I hear him speak is the one that tips me over the edge. He goes, “I hate saying it, Sorcha, because you have to live here, but coming back here makes me feel more and more that we did the right thing getting out. Ireland is focked,” totally ignoring the fact that there’s talk of another bubble.

I notice Sorcha’s tuna Bolognese simmering away on the hob. I open the cupboard above it and I reach inside.

“Oh my God,” a voice behind me goes. It’s Honor. “Were you going to put flour in that spaghetti sauce,knowing that Claire is allergic to gluten?”

I’m about to deny it when Honor suddenly flashes one of her big crocodile smiles at me, then goes, “I’ve already done it.”

There are times when I look at my daughter and – being honest? – I’m genuinely scared for the world. But there are times when I look at her and I see my own reflection looking back at me. And in those moments, I have to tell you, I love her like the day she was born.

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