After five years of marriage, Cynthia’s expectations of her relationship have dissolved into disappointment and resentment. Aaron stubbornly resists compromise and doesn’t have any desire to reflect on his thoughts and feelings. He looks at life from his perspective and counts every dollar they spend. Cynthia wants to avoid conflict and often puts Aaron’s needs before her own. The irony is that her greatest conflict is within herself. She enjoys spending the money they make and welcomes introspection. Intrigued by a man of a different culture who seemed captivated by the books she constantly read; Cynthia wanted to marry since at forty-two she thought it would never happen. The stories of Cynthia and Aaron soon come crashing together like two continental plates, forcing them further apart.
One evening in May, Cynthia cooks Aaron’s favorite meal of veal and eggplant stew. While sitting at the Ikea kitchen table she asks, “Any ideas about a summer vacation?” Hoping that a romantic getaway will reawaken their love.
“Let’s go to the country. I want to see green grass and trees.”
She plates him another serving of stew. “How about Ireland? That’s really green and I read that Aer Lingus has cheap flights and some great deals on hotels.” Cynthia knew the word cheap would capture his attention.
He dunks pita into the sauce. “I’m not sure, what about the Catskills?”
“We went there for the last two years. I really want to travel abroad.”
“What’s the big deal about going overseas? There are lots of problems there, why go?”
“Before we got married, I spent many summer vacations traveling overseas. One time I went to Ireland and I loved it, the people are so friendly. I think you’d like it.”
Cynthia and Aaron spent their honeymoon in Greece, his native country. They stayed in an upstairs bedroom in his family’s home and shared the bathroom with his older brother. They woke up early every morning to visit Aaron’s friends and family. Some days they had a few private moments together walking to the market, traveling on a bus, or swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. Cynthia longed to be cooled by an air conditioner, sleep late and order room service.
Aaron continues eating dinner in silence as Cynthia’s appetite diminishes. “The last few years we’ve traveled in the US and you always complain about crowds and people with pot bellies. Let’s see something different and besides, I hear Ireland is really cheap.” She uses the word to coax him.
“Let’s see what deals we can get. But I want to stay in B & B’s, not fancy hotels.” Aaron sips ice water.
“We could use points for one ticket.” She hopes he will acquiesce and maybe later, she can get him to agree to at least one night at a nice hotel.
Weeks go by without a decision for their summer vacation. On the first day in June, Cynthia prepares roast chicken and sets the table with candles and wine. Aaron pours wine into their glasses. “Yasuo.”
Cynthia sits next to him, in a seductive voice she says, “In college, I studied literature and W.B. Yeats was my favorite poet. His home is a museum in Connemara on the western coast of Ireland. I would really love to visit.”
Aaron sips chilled pinot grigio. “Let’s see what deals we can get.”
Cynthia toys with saying thank you, but why should she? Isn’t marriage a mutual decision, a compromise, why does she have to ask permission to have what she wants and then thank him?
Time passes quickly as it usually does when Cynthia anticipates something she is looking forward to doing. She arranges for a discounted rental car at Shannon airport, researches museums, searches for moderately priced restaurants and struggles to pack light so Aaron won’t complain about the weight of her suitcase. In early July, they go to Kennedy airport and board Aer Lingus, en route to Shannon, Ireland. On the plane, the passenger sitting in front of Cynthia reclines his seat. Her knees squash against her groin and she’s annoyed and frustrated. She wishes she would’ve spent the extra money and booked more comfortable seats. Aaron leans his head on her shoulder and lightly snores, his breath smelling like the metal bucket he uses for loose change. She thinks to herself; is this whom I want to spend the rest of my life with? I want marriage to be easier, with more pleasure, and fewer conflicts. Can I have that kind of marriage with Aaron?
In the early morning, Cynthia and Aaron arrive at the airport and rent the car she reserved. The driver’s side is on the right. After a few trials of swiveling his head to the left, Aaron quickly adjusts to the antipodal driving conditions. It’s a wild scramble with Irish drivers leaving the airport, and Aaron takes to the opposite side of the road like a race car driver in the Indy 500.
Cynthia checks that her seat belt is securely fastened. “Aaron, please remember to keep your side close to the center stripe on the road.”
“Hey, did I bring along my private defensive driving instructor?” Cynthia snickers at his sarcasm but his attitude towards her is just another rejection. He sees her familiar frowning expression. “Cynthia you always take things too personally.”
“You always dismiss everything without any consideration of me.” They often strike out at one another with the force of bulls butting heads.
Aaron drives in silence past acres of emerald green grass, large piles of peat spaced evenly across the rocky paths. They come to a small house with a thatched roof, colorful wildflowers line the walkway, and a small sign hangs in the garden, Kieran’s B&B.
“Let’s try it.”
“OK.” Cynthia is too tired to argue.
In the morning with a typical Irish tourist breakfast of pork sausages, fried eggs, white pudding, and brown soda bread, Aaron devours a slice of a bacon rasher. Cynthia leans into him. “I’m ready to move on. I want to stay in a place with my own bathroom. Last night I had to take a flashlight in the middle of the night just to pee.”
“This is a great place, why look for something else?”
“Because I don’t want a shared bathroom at the end of the hall on my vacation.” She adds more cream to her tea. “I saw a lovely hotel at the end of the road.”
Aaron hesitates. “I heard about a B&B with beautiful views of the ocean. Let’s try that first.”
They drive a few miles closer to the sea, Cynthia is quiet and is soothed by the pastoral views of this unfamiliar geography.
“Look,” Aaron breaks her calm. “There’s the B&B I told you about. Let’s go and look at the room.”
He drives the car onto a gravel road near the front door and rings the bell. A husky woman, cheeks spotted with rosacea. “Please come in, why don’t ye.”
Aaron’s smile is warm and inviting. His black eyelashes profile his attentive dark eyes, the familiar expression that attracted Cynthia to him when they first met. He asks, “Do you have a room with an ocean view?”
“Aye, we do.” The innkeeper waves them in through the parlor, pamphlets advertising local sights cluttered on pine wood tables. They follow her up a narrow staircase, her ponytail swaying in the direction of her steps. She opens the door to a small room, white lace curtains billowing from the sea breezes. A double bed with linens smelling of Clorox and a simple three-drawer dresser, besides it. In the corner, Cynthia spots the tiny bathroom with a prefab shower.
“Here are your towels.” The innkeeper hands them to Cynthia.
She holds the rough terrycloth and asks, “Can we have some soap please?”
“There’re liquid dispensers at the sink. Breakfast is from 6 to 9.” The innkeeper closes the door behind her.
Cynthia looks at the sea. “It’s a pretty view, but I still want to stay at a fancy hotel even for one night.”
Aaron turns away. “Let’s go see the home of that poet. It’s near here.”
They head out, stopping at Swinford’s Country Market for roast chicken sandwiches on brown soda bread and fruit coolers. Then Aaron drives the winding roads lining the rocky shoreline with the skill of an athlete. They arrive at Coole Park and walk the nature trails in the woodlands. Then sit near a shallow lake and watch the swans glide close to each other while picnicking on a luscious lunch.
“The mansion in the distance belonged to Lady Gregory.”
“Who’s that?” Aaron devours his sandwich and watches the tourists pass by.
“She was like Gertrude Stein. Many people in the Irish Literary scene came to her home including Yeats. He wrote the poem, ‘The Wild Swans at Coole,’ about the beauty of these swans. Even George Bernard Shaw and Seán O'Casey visited here.”
“Who’s that?” As she explains Irish playwrights, he looks away and the gap between them grows wider.
Aaron stands, interrupting her. “It’s getting late, let’s go.”
Cynthia sits on the left side of their rented red fiat and they drive along a narrow road full of brilliant green shrubbery until reaching Yeats’ Tower, Thoor Ballylee. “Yeats and his family lived here in the summers and he wrote many famous poems. Let’s climb to the top of the tower and see the view of Galway and County Claire.”
Aaron’s breathing becomes heavy as he follows her up the spiral staircase. “I thought I was in shape but this winding is making me dizzy.” They laugh and the friction between them evaporates for a few minutes.
Cynthia narrates. “Yeats had a keen interest in Irish mythology and his poems mention mischievous creatures who entice humans to take risks.”
“Almost like temptations.”
“Yes, but the results were usually catastrophic.”
Aaron adds his commentary. “So are some temptations, like drugs or bad business deals or even sex.” Is he trying to excuse his rash decisions? He never apologized for the loss of their savings with his recent real estate venture.
Cynthia’s resentment speaks, “we have to decide what’s most important to us and figure out what opportunities to take.”
She has a sudden splash of heat throughout her body, she’s sweating, and there’s a sense of dread in this charming place as if she just dropped her passport in the ocean. Cynthia worries that something bad is about to happen. They return to the car, and Aaron drives like he’s on a race track.
“Why are you driving so fast?” Cynthia grabs onto the car door handle.
“Maybe I’ve just met one of those Irish faeries and they’re forcing me to try something risky.”
On their return to the B&B, she lay on the bed under an open window, the breeze smells of a sprinkling of salt from the sea. Aaron is in the far corner of the bed fully dressed and snoring. She closes her eyes and fantasizes about making love like they used to, but hesitates to wake him. After they rest, they go to the local pub for dinner and listen to live music. The ballads make Cynthia sad; she longs to be held. She reaches for Aaron’s arm and he moves his hand to reach for a pint of Guinness.
The next day, they take the ferry to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands. As soon as they land at the pier, Aaron spots a small bicycle shop, Aran Bike Hire.
“Hey, let’s rent bikes and ride around the island.”
“I don’t know. I haven’t ridden a bicycle since I was a girl.”
“You can do it.” He takes Cynthia by the hand, and off to the bike store.
The shopkeeper encourages them. “This is the best way to see the island.” He shows them two sturdy-looking bicycles. Aaron inspects the brake pads, and the tires before they head out. “Ready to ride.”
Cynthia whispers to Aaron, “I don’t think I can do this.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, even a child can ride this bike. You work out at the gym, it’s like your spin class.”
At first, they ride around the town, where the streets are straight and flat and Cynthia follows Aaron. “See, you can ride. Besides isn’t it odd that the shop is named Aran, this island is one of the Aran islands and I’m Aaron?”
“That’s funny, I thought I was the spiritual one, now you’re becoming spiritual too.”
“Not really, it’s just a coincidence.”
He leads Cynthia up and down mountainous trails on low cliffs close to the Atlantic Ocean’s rocky shoreline. The spray of salt water from the waves below invigorates her. She speeds up becoming more confident with her cycling. She looks out at the cliffs of Connemara and wonders when will those tall gray sea cliffs no longer support their own weight and eventually smash into the ocean below.
After resting for ten minutes, they ride on to Dun Aengus. “Isn’t it peaceful here, it’s hard to believe that this was a stone fort in prehistoric times?”
“It’s hard to believe that war has existed for so many centuries and wars still continue today.” At least their political views are like-minded.
He continues, “Let’s ride up that other mountain and see some seal colonies down below.”
“You’re really into taking risks.”
“I’m like your little Irish fairy creatures that cause trouble.”
Cynthia doesn’t find his snide remark humorous. She fears the consequences of his self-assured attitude, he can be so arrogant. She blurts out, “just be careful, please.”
He takes off. She attempts to keep up with him riding over sharp-pointed stones at oblique angles, but the tires fall from one side to another and she slows down to ride carefully. Her bike is jostled by the crowded rocks and becomes off balance. Cynthia brings her bike to a halt and walks up the hill holding tight to it. She watches Aaron riding his bike up ahead as fast as he can and yells, “Aaron it’s too rocky, too dangerous, walk your bike up there.”
Aaron forges ahead. She sees his back swaying as if he is on a wild horse at the rodeo. His bike hits a grove near the rocky edge of the mountain and she sees him holding tight to the handlebars. He and his bike are catapulted down the cliff.
“Oh my God, Aaron, Aaron,” He's getting further and further away as she screams to him. She looks down and his body is splayed on a shelf of rock.
She cries out for help, “He’s fallen down the cliff, help me.” She runs back to the road screaming. A man on a bike appears on the road, “What’s wrong?”
“My husband fell down the cliff, please help me.”
The man calls the police on his cell phone. They arrive quickly. Emergency vehicles blare loud sirens.Rescue workers rush down the cliff and Aaron’s body is placed on a stretcher. The wrecked bicycle is carried up the mountain by a man in a neon yellow vest.
People from the nearby village of Kilronan surround Cynthia and try to comfort her.Soon they’re on the ferry. Cynthia holds the stretcher as if she is on a movie set waiting for the director to tell her the next move. When they land at Rossaveel port, an ambulance is at the dock and drives them to a nearby hospital.
Cynthia isn’t sure how long she’s been sitting in the waiting room. Transported to a parallel universe, she’s waiting for Aaron to walk out of the door with a bandage on his head or sitting in a wheelchair with a cast on his leg. The doctor takes a seat next to her. “He didn’t make it.”
“What the hell does that mean, he didn’t make it. Do you mean he’s dead?” She is scared and alone; how will she handle this journey home?
A man smelling of tobacco brings her a glass of water. “I work at the American Embassy and we’ll gather your things from the B &B and return the car. We’ve made arrangements for you to travel home.”
Cynthia is in disbelief. At the airport, an empathetic stewardess looks at Cynthia’s forlorn red eyes, “We have one empty seat in first class, we can offer you an upgrade.” Cynthia is being left in a position where she is expected to experience grief, nevertheless, she feels relief as she eases into the wide seat supporting her back and extends her limbs in the spacious legroom. She is flying home in first class, while Aaron lies in a box in the cargo section of an Airbus A320. The airline's international mortuary cargo fee is $3,000. If Aaron knew the cost, it would kill him again.
Many months pass and in late Spring, on her way to Yoga, Cynthia passes a new travel agency on Third Avenue. A sign covers the front window. Wild Way Adventures - vacations for singles of all ages! After yoga, she returns to the shop and enters. A salesman with graying strands of hair stands behind his desk. He buttons the middle button on his jacket like an attorney in a courtroom. “Can I help you? Are you interested in planning a trip?”
“Yes, I am.” Cynthia suddenly gets a rush of shivers throughout her body. Is she feeling guilty using Aaron’s life insurance to take a vacation or is she apprehensive about traveling on her own? Cynthia finds her inner strength. Literature, female authors, like Joan Didion, and strong protagonists like Jo March have taught her to be a resilient woman who can handle any adversity. Cynthia takes a seat at his desk with her notebook open, ready to take notes.
The agent asks, “How can I help you?”
“I’d like to travel to Europe staying at your most elegant hotels. Oh, and by the way can you arrange for personalized guided tours?”
Edna Schneider holds a bachelor’s degree from Emerson College and a master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from LIU. Previous writing experience includes a short story (Thewhiskyblot, July 2022), and two non-fiction books (Living Thin, and Sure, a self-published memoir). Prior to her career in Speech-Language Pathology, she worked as a puppeteer.