Even as his consciousness returned and he started to open his eyes Seamus grimaced as the familiar pain of the previous evening’s alcohol shot through his head. Squinting against the glare of the sun as it streamed through the window he turned over and his heart sank upon seeing the bars of the prison cell. On the far side of the bars a policeman glanced up from his chair as Seamus slowly made his way to his feet.
“Merry Christmas,” he said sarcastically.
Seamus rubbed his eyes as a fresh wave of nausea swept through him, “What time is it?” he asked.
“Eight thirty, suppose you’re going to ask to be let out now?”
“That would be nice,” said Seamus.
The policeman walked over to the cell door and unlocked it before sliding back the bars. Seamus trudged through and began to head for the stairs leading to the upper floor of the police station.
“Thanks,” he muttered over his shoulder.
“No doubt we’ll be seeing each other tomorrow,” replied the policeman.
Seamus heard the probable truth in the words but chose to ignore them as he proceeded up the stairs. Even before he reached the top he caught sight of Mary’s red hair, partially buried as it was under a thick woollen hat. Almost as soon as he caught sight of her Mary’s head turned in his direction and the scowl on her face seemed to grow ever deeper. As he drew nearer she turned away and began to make her way toward the exit. As he rushed to catch up with her a round of applause erupted from around them, “If you’re tired of him sweetheart, you can have my phone number” someone called out.
Mary was far nearer the door than Seamus and she vanished through it long before he reached it. Following in her wake he momentarily stopped dead in his tracks at the sight outside. Unbeknownst to him it had evidently snowed heavily during the night and a rich layer now covered the ground. Tearing his gaze away he frantically looked around until he caught sight of Mary. Seemingly she had barely lost a fraction of the athletic ability she’d possessed when he’d first met her and it wasn’t until she was roughly hundred yards from the police station that he finally managed to overtook her. Looking at him in disdain as he bent over with his hands on his knees while he attempted to catch his breath she spoke for the first time.
“Have you any idea how embarrassing it is to be stared at while the police come to scrape you up off the floor, and not for the first time?” she asked, the Galway accent she’d inherited from her mother becoming more pronounced by the moment.
Seamus kicked the snow at his feet while he racked his brain for a suitable response; ultimately electing to keep quiet and shake his head. Mary struck out at him then; an open handed slap which caught him flush across the face. Wincing as the temperature amplified its effect upon his cold skin he instinctively drew her in to defend herself. Despite this the blows continued, bouncing off his arms as Seamus continued to hold Mary and ignore the stares from passers-by as he gradually felt the force behind them diminish. When they finally ceased he released her and stepped back. Tears stained her cheeks now and Seamus felt the onset of guilt as he looked at her. Stepping off to one side he put an arm across her shoulders and began to gently steer her down the street as the two of them set off for home.
Seamus looked over to Mary as she sat on the window sill staring out the window and poured himself a fresh shot of vodka. Hearing the sound she glanced in his direction.
“Can I have one of those?” she said, a trace of resignation in her voice.
As Seamus poured her drink he continued to look over at her. As he did so the years seemed to fall away as he looked at her with the eyes of his memories. They were both children of parents who had migrated to America toward the end of the nineteenth century and it was in a bar that he’d once worked at here in New York that they had first met. She’d been the lead vocalist of an Irish folk band back then; her long red hair streaming down the white dress she wore combined with her unquestionably powerful voice had been enough to captivate a whole bar of drunken Irishmen.
Afterward Seamus had congratulated Mary on a fine performance when she wandered over to the bar to buy a drink. She’d surprised him by turning her head to one side and giggling in a display of nervousness.
“You’ll have to forgive Mary,” the band’s violin player had explained as he moved up behind her, “She’s prone to being a little shy”.
Mary had taken her drink and with the violin player in tow had walked away then; as she went she’d taken a half turn so that she could smile back over her shoulder at Seamus. He had never forgotten when they shared their first kiss less than a week later on Christmas Eve as they watched the moon rise over the Hudson River.
Returning to the present Seamus moved across the room and joined Mary at the window. Outside the band from the NYPD moving down the street on their way to the main square a half mile distant; in the fading light they looked almost like ghosts as they tramped their way through the snow.
“Where did it all go Seamus?” asked Mary as she took her drink.
“What do you mean?”
Mary drained her glass in a single gulp, “I remember when we both had such dreams. It was supposed to be you and me against the world, and the world didn’t stand a chance. Wasn’t that what you always used to say?”
Seamus hesitated, “Are you saying you’re not happy with the life you’ve had?” he said.
Mary turned to face him and rolled her eyes, “Of course, I’ve loved every minute of more drunks than I care to remember running their hands across my ass”.
Seamus felt the onset of irritation began to grow within him, “That’s not fair,” he protested.
Mary rose to her feet and took a step toward Seamus, “I remember when you used to talk of Broadway and tell me almost every day it was only a matter of time before I was treading the boards there. Do you know that you haven’t said that to me in years?”
Mary crossed the room as she headed for the bedroom. As Seamus went to reach for her she slapped his hand away and he could only watch as she entered the bedroom and none-too-kindly closed the door behind her. Sighing he returned to the table where he’d been seated and poured himself another vodka.
The words were indistinct as if someone was shouting them at him from a distance, “Seamus wake up,” the voice said.
Seamus groaned by way of reply as he attempted to brush aside the arm that was shaking him. At its continued persistence he opened his eyes to find Mary looking down at him.
“Niall stopped by while you were asleep,” she said, “He told me everyone was making their way over to Mulligan’s and wanted to know if we’d be joining them”.
“Well you’ve certainly perked up,” observed Seamus as he clambered to his feet.
Mary dismissed the words with a wave of a hand, “Ah well, it is Christmas Eve after all” she said with a smile.
Seamus’ eyes quickly flicked to the now empty vodka bottle on the table and back to Mary again. For her own part she continued to smile and rock from side to side as if she was aboard a ship at sea.
“Well if everyone is expecting us, I suppose we’d better join them,” he said.
Picking up his coat from where it was hanging off a nearby chair he pulled it on before taking hold of Mary’s hand. The two of them proceeding outside and Seamus drew Mary close as he felt her shiver with the cold.
Long before they reached Mulligan’s they could hear the sound of singing. They entered to find that the pub was packed and a rendition of Whiskey in the Jar in full flow. From near the centre of the pub Niall waved at them as he gestured toward a couple of spare chairs and they made their way over.
“So Mary, will you do us the honour of singing for us tonight?” said Niall.
Mary’s eyes sparkled as she stood and climbed onto her chair. The chatter from within the Mulligan’s fading away as all eyes began to turn in her direction. Seamus watched as she took a deep breath before starting to sing Cliffs of Dooneen; a song he hadn’t heard himself since he was a child. Once she’d finished Mary bowed in response to the thunderous ovation of clapping and beer tankards clanking against wood before climbing down off the chair.
“After that I’m in need of a drink,” she said to Seamus.
The two of them shared a grin before Mary turned away; the crowd making way for her as she headed for the bar. As Seamus watched her go he reflected upon her words of the previous day of how once it had been the two of them against the world and, if only for a moment, his smile faltered.