"Betty Larkin’s House"

This house didn’t have a number. For the neighbors down the road, the village of Dunboyne beyond and the post office, it was simply “Betty Larkin’s house.” Betty Larkin, of course, hadn’t lived in the converted station house for years, but that was village life in Ireland. It smelled like fetes in the spring, peat fires in winter, chicken broth for sick neighbors, and time. In a few years, five or 15, the station house might be known as “Kenny and Ann’s house.” Maybe.

Tony hoped it would never have a number.

That morning at the airport, with his feet banging down the rubber surface of the moving walkway, Tony hadn’t been too sure about Kenny’s email showing the new-to-Tony address with no number. He was on the first leg of another move, this time to Prague, and already irritated. The airport lights, the flight fatigue and dehydration, and the foreknowledge of culture-shock that would eventually hit in Prague conspired to make him grumpy. The thought Why do you keep doing this? flitted through his head, but he pushed that away as irritably as he pushed through the crowd around baggage claim to get his oversized backpack. For some reason the voice sounded a lot like his friend Wyn.

Later that night, though, sitting at the massive, thick beamed table in the middle of the Morrison’s living room, the Wyn-voice started to push in again. 

Tony had once thought “home” happened after years of growth, like a rosebush bursting free from its planned confines, vines spraying forth blossoms and fragrance, inviting the passerby into sweet familiarity. But after walking into Kenny and Ann’s home, he had to admit not all homes are grown, some are crafted lovingly, thoughtfully. Somehow, this newly renovated house didn’t feel newly renovated. It didn’t scream, “Come in, look at me!” It whispered, “welcome.” 

The station house was not a typical Irish home, at least not what you might see in the usual housing estates near Dublin. This was no semi-detached house with a cramped entry opening directly onto narrow stairs to the first floor. This was not even what you might imagine the quaint cottages dotted around the countryside might look like on the inside.

But there was something so very Irish about it. 

Tonight a small crowd sat around the scarred table at one end of the large living area, a room with tall windows lining most of its wall space. Freshly baked cookie-smells filled the room from the open kitchen that faced the wooden fence separating the station house from the old railway track, and a hallway lead out towards the front entrance with bedroom doors branching off along the length. During the day the windows would let in generous amounts of light, assuming the Irish skies allowed it. But tonight the darkness outside embraced the windows, peering into the warm, flickering room beyond. The dark was jealous. Tony thought he knew how it felt.

Rustic, oak flooring with a smoky stain, its long timbers stretching, connected the disparate parts of the room and house into a whole. There, a photo of Ann’s four daughters as children, there, another photo from only a few years ago, two of the young women holding children of their own. There, a yellowing map of Scotland with worn edges hanging on the wall, proudly proclaiming Kenny’s heritage. A rocking chair. A basket of lavender. A child’s drawing.

The soft rumble of a train wandered past the window. Subsonic, surprising, because it soothed.

The matt-black, cast iron stove was Tony’s favorite part of the room. Flames danced beyond the thick glass window of the freestanding stove, playing among the settling embers, gifting the room with light and life. He’d always wanted a wood-burning fireplace. Maybe one day…

But, no, his favorite was the warmth of the room, the gentle voices and laughter of these people Tony had once known and who somehow still seemed to know him. Tony had lived in Ireland many years before, only for a year, and they wanted to see him again, even if for one night. Some of the faces were more lined—10 years was a long time. The smiles were the same, though. The soft Irish burr, his from Donegal, hers from Tipperary. An American laugh. Even a dry London accent. The voices and accents twined around him, lulling him, quietening his soul and mind, even as heart wondered. He longed for this. 

But he wanted more, didn’t he? He wanted to see the world. To experience it all.

Maybe he wanted less.

That was Wyn’s voice again.

Tony stared at the grain of the floorboards. He saw his feet racing across the unyielding tiles of the airport, dragging his life behind him. Or maybe he was running. 

A question from Kenny in his thick Scottish brogue caused Tony to look up and say, “Pardon?” (Most people had to ask Kenny to repeat himself two or three times.) Then with a smile, and to exclamations and further questions and, always, with the support of his friends, Tony started describing to the people around the table the details of his next adventure.