Katie Finglas was coming to the end of a tiring day in the salon. Anything bad that could happen had happened. A woman had not told them about an allergy and had come out with lumps and a rash on her forehead. A bride's mother had thrown a tantrum and said that she looked like a laughingstock. A man who had wanted streaks of blond in his hair became apoplectic when, halfway through the process, he had inquired what they would cost. Katie's husband, Garry, had placed both his hands innocently on the shoulders of a sixty-year-old female client, who had then told him that she was going to sue him for sexual harassment and assault.
Katie looked now at the man standing opposite her, a big priest with sandy hair mixed with gray.
"You're Katie Finglas and I gather you run this establishment," the priest said, looking around the innocent salon nervously as if it were a high-class brothel.
"That's right, Father," Katie said with a sigh. What could be happening now?
"It's just that I was talking to some of the girls who work here, down at the center on the quays, you know, and they were telling me . . ."
Katie felt very tired. She employed a couple of high school dropouts: she paid them properly, trained them. What could they have been complaining about to a priest?
"Yes, Father, what exactly is the problem?" she asked.
"Well, it is a bit of a problem. I thought I should come to you directly, as it were." He seemed a little awkward.
"Very right, Father," Katie said. "So tell me what it is."
"It's this woman, Stella Dixon. She's in hospital, you see . . ."
"Hospital?" Katie's head reeled. What could this involve? Someone who had inhaled the peroxide?
"I'm sorry to hear that." She tried for a level voice.
"Yes, but she wants a hairdo."
"You mean she trusts us again?" Sometimes life was extraordinary.
"No, I don't think she was ever here before. . . ." He looked bewildered.
"And your interest in all this, Father?"
"I am Brian Flynn and I am acting chaplain at St. Brigid's Hospital at the moment, while the real chaplain is in Rome on a pilgrimage. Apart from being asked to bring in cigarettes and drink for the patients, this is the only serious request I've had."
"You want me to go and do someone's hair in hospital?"
"She's seriously ill. She's dying. I thought she needed a senior person to talk to. Not, of course, that you look very senior. You're only a girl yourself," the priest said.
"God, weren't you a sad loss to the women of Ireland when you went for the priesthood," Katie said. "Give me her details and I'll bring my magic bag of tricks in to see her."
"Thank you so much. I have it all written out here." Father Flynn handed her a note.
A middle-aged woman approached the desk. She had glasses on the tip of her nose and an anxious expression.
"I gather you teach people the tricks of hairdressing," she said.
"Yes, or more the art of hairdressing, as we like to call it," Katie said.
"I have a cousin coming home from America for a few weeks. She mentioned that in America there are places where you could get your hair done for near to nothing cost if you were letting people practice on you."
"Well, we do have a students' night on Tuesdays; people bring in their own towels and we give them a style. They usually contribute five euros to a charity."
"Tonight is Tuesday!" the woman cried triumphantly.
"So it is," Katie said through gritted teeth.
"So, could I book myself in? I'm Josie Lynch."
"Great, Mrs. Lynch --- see you after seven o'clock," Katie said, writing down the name. Her eyes met the priest's. There was sympathy and understanding there.
It wasn't all champagne and glitter running your own hairdressing salon.
Josie and Charles Lynch had lived in 23 St. Jarlath's Crescent since they were married thirty-two years ago. They had seen many changes in the area. The corner shop had become a mini-supermarket; the old laundry, where sheets had been ironed and folded, was now a Laundromat, where people left big bags bulky with mixed clothes and asked for a service wash. There was now a proper medical practice with four doctors where once there had been just old Dr. Gillespie, who had brought everyone into the world and seen them out of it.
During the height of the economic boom, houses in St. Jarlath's Crescent had changed hands for amazing sums of money. Small houses with gardens near the city center had been much in demand. Not anymore, of course --- the recession had been a great equalizer, but it was still a much more substantial area than it had been three decades ago.
After all, just look at Molly and Paddy Carroll, with their son Declan --- a doctor --- a real, qualified doctor! And just look at Muttie and Lizzie Scarlet's daughter Cathy. She ran a catering company that was hired for top events.
But a lot of things had changed for the worse. There was no community spirit anymore. No church processions went up and down the Crescent on the feast of Corpus Christi, as they used to three decades ago. Josie and Charles Lynch felt that they were alone in the world, and certainly in St. Jarlath's Crescent, in that they knelt down at night and said the Rosary.
That had always been the way.
When they married they planned a life based on the maxim that the family that prays together stays together. They had assumed they would have eight or nine children, because God never put a mouth into this world that He didn't feed. But that wasn't to happen. After Noel, Josie had been told there would be no more children. It was hard to accept. They both came from big families; their brothers and sisters had produced big families. But then, perhaps, it was all meant to be this way.
They had always hoped Noel would be a priest. The fund to educate him for the priesthood was started before he was three. Money was put aside from Josie's wages at the biscuit factory. Every week a little more was added to the post office savings account, and when Charles got his envelope on a Friday from the hotel where he was a porter, a sum was also put into the post office. Noel would get the best of priestly educations when the time came.
So it was with great surprise and a lot of disappointment that Josie and Charles learned that their quiet son had no interest whatsoever in a religious life. The Brothers said that he showed no sign of a vocation, and when the matter had been presented to Noel as a possibility when he was fourteen, he had said if it was the last job on earth he wouldn't go for it.
That had been very definite indeed.
Not so definite, however, was what he actually would like to do. Noel was vague about this, except to say he might like to run an office. Not work in an office, but run one. He showed no interest in studying office management or bookkeeping or accounting or in any areas where the careers department tried to direct him. He liked art, he said, but he didn't want to paint. If pushed, he would say that he liked looking at paintings and thinking about them. He was good at drawing; he always had a notebook and a pencil with him and he was often to be found curled up in a corner sketching a face or an animal. This did not, of course, lead to any career path, but Noel had never expected it to. He did his homework at the kitchen table, sighing now and then, but rarely ever excited or enthusiastic. At the parent-teacher meetings Josie and Charles had inquired about this. They wondered, Did anything at school fire him up? Anything at all?
The teachers were at a loss. Most boys were unfathomable around fourteen or fifteen but they had usually settled down to do something. Or often to do nothing. Noel Lynch, they said, had just become even more quiet and withdrawn than he already was.
Josie and Charles wondered, Could this be right?
Noel was quiet, certainly, and it had been a great relief to them that he hadn't filled the house up with loud young lads thumping one another. But they had thought this was part of his spiritual life, a preparation for a future as a priest. Now it appeared that this was certainly not the case.
Perhaps, Josie suggested, it was only the Brothers' brand of religious life that Noel objected to. In fact, he might have a different kind of vocation and want to become a Jesuit or a missionary?
And when he was fifteen he said that he didn't really want to join in the family Rosary anymore; it was only a ritual of meaningless prayers chanted in repetition. He didn't mind doing good for people, trying to make less fortunate people have a better life, but surely no God could want this fifteen minutes of drone drone drone.
By the time he was sixteen they realized that he didn't go to Sunday Mass anymore. Someone had seen him up by the canal when he was meant to have been to the early Mass up in the church on the corner. He told them that there was no point in his staying on at school, as there was nothing more he needed to learn from them. They were hiring office staff up at Hall's and they would train him in office routine. He might as well go to work straightaway rather than hang about.
The Brothers and the teachers at his school said it was always a pity to see a boy study and leave without a qualification, but still, they said, shrugging, it was very hard trying to interest the lad in anything at all. He seemed to be sitting and waiting for his schooldays to end. Could even be for the best if he left school now. Get him into Hall's, the big builders' merchants; give him a wage every week and then they might see where, if anywhere, his interest lay.
Josie and Charles thought sadly of the fund that had been growing in the post office for years. Money that would never be spent making Noel Lynch into a reverend. A kindly Brother suggested that maybe they should spend it on a holiday for themselves, but Charles and Josie were shocked. This money had been saved for God's work; it would be spent on God's work.
Noel got his place in Hall's. He met his work colleagues but without any great enthusiasm. They would not be his friends and companions any more than his fellow students at the Brothers had become mates. He didn't want to be alone all the time, but it was often easier.
Over the years Noel had arranged with his mother that he would not join them at meals. He would have his lunch in the middle of the day and he would make a snack for himself in the evening. This way he missed the Rosary, the socializing with pious neighbors and the interrogation about what he had done with his day, which was the natural accompaniment to mealtimes in the Lynch household.
He took to coming home later and later. He also took to visiting Casey's pub on the journey home --- a big barn of a place, both comforting and anonymous at the same time. It was familiar because everyone knew his name.
"I'll drop it down to you, Noel," the loutish son of the house would say. Old Man Casey, who said little but noticed everything, would look over his spectacles as he polished the beer glasses with a clean linen cloth.
"Evening, Noel," he would say, managing to combine the courtesy of being the landlord with the sense of disapproval he had of Noel. He was, after all, an acquaintance of Noel's father. It was as if he were glad that Casey's was getting the price of the pint --- or several pints --- as the night went on but as well as this he seemed disappointed that Noel was not spending his wages more wisely. Yet Noel liked the place. It wasn't a trendy pub with fancy prices. It wasn't full of girls giggling and interrupting a man's drinking. People left him alone here.
That was worth a lot.
- Genres: Fiction
- hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Knopf
- ISBN-10: 0307273563
- ISBN-13: 9780307273567