TRYING SOPHIE BONUS CONTENT
The following scene takes place immediately after Sophie arrives in Ballycurra, providing the reader more insight into the difficulties that exist between Sophie's mother and her grandparents.
“I can’t believe you’re here, Sophie dear,” my grandma said, as she dabbed an embroidered handkerchief to her right eye. “Your grandfather and I have missed you so much. He’s going to be beside himself when he wakes up from his nap and finds you here. He never would have guessed you’d put your life on hold to come stay for a bit.”
She wasn’t trying to make me feel bad for having stayed away so long, but I couldn’t help feel a stab of guilt all the same.
“I know, Gran, and I’m sorry. Life just kind of happened over the last few years and it’s been go, go, go.”
“Of course it has sweet girl,” she responded, her face splitting into a wide grin. “You’re young and beautiful and the world is a very big place. I can’t tell you how proud we are of you.” She swiped away another errant tear. “The story you wrote about that school in Africa and how they’re educating all those young girls … I showed it to everyone who came in and we collected donations in the pub’s name. It wasn’t much but it helped buy the paper and pencils the girls needed for the rest of the year.”
I was taken aback at this news. Declan had said my grandma was a bit of a braggart when it came to my travels, but I’d assumed it was much the same as any proud grandma would have done. This, however, was something much, much more. That she’d helped earn money for a cause I was so passionate about made me tear up a little bit.
“I’m so touched you would do that,” I answered. “But you’re wrong when you say two hundred euro isn’t much. It makes a world of difference.”
When I contrasted the maturity and fortitude of the students I’d met against my own at a similar age, my troubles back then seemed more than a bit trivial. Yes, my parents had divorced, but they were both still alive. And yes, a boy had teased me, but so what? I’d never been a ten-year-old girl trying to deal with menstruation in a village where women were shunned once a month. Suddenly I felt as if I’d never properly thanked my grandparents for the love and support they’d bestowed on me all those years ago. It seemed as if mere words were inadequate to express my admiration.
“What is it, love?” my grandma asked as she placed a soft, weathered hand over my younger one, so alike in shape and color despite our age difference.
“I just …” I choked out, not really knowing where to begin. “In thinking about those girls and what they go through just to get an education, and it seems so insurmountable. And when I think about myself at that age, I was here with you and I didn’t appreciate what you’d done for me. I never properly thanked you for taking me in when my mom needed to deal with the sh … stuff … that was happening with my dad.”
“Well, of course we took you in Sophie,” she answered incredulously. “What else could we have done? You’re our granddaughter. We love you.”
Even though my grandparents had a practically nonexistent relationship with my mom, they hadn’t hesitated to take in her shy, awkward little girl. They’d loved me simply because I was their blood. And now it was my turn to return the favor. I was going to stick around and help them out … for as long as I could. At some point it wouldn’t be financially viable to stay here with no job or income, but that was a worry for another time. I’d only planned on being in Ballycurra for a couple of weeks, but now that I was here and had seen how much they needed me, I was happy to put everything on hold just like they’d done for me eighteen years prior.
“Grandma, I want you to know I’m going to stay here as long as you need me.”
“Oh Sophie, you don’t have to do that. We know you’re busy and have a life of your own to lead. You do important work.”
That she understood the long hours and hard work I put in to build my career helped heal some of the pain I so often felt when I tried to explain it to my mother. Tried, and failed, since I could never quite get through to her.
“I know I don’t have to, but I want to. I want to be here while Grandpa gets better, until he’s back on his feet helping you out again.”
“But surely you have more important things to do than hang out with two old people all day?”
“Right now nothing is more important than you guys,” I said, meaning it with all of my heart.
“Well, now I don’t know what to say,” she responded as she dabbed at her eyes again. “Your grandfather is going to be beside himself. You’re the apple of his eye Sophie.”
That caught me by surprise. Of course I knew he loved me the way a grandpa was supposed to love his granddaughter, but the apple of his eye? I’d never quite gotten that from the strong, silent Colm Fitzgerald. To me, he’d always been more of an observer, a man who preferred to stand back and take everything in. As far as I could tell, my gramps wasn’t a man big on emotions and when he did go out of his way to share how he felt, the words were often couched in humor or gruffness. To put it mildly, Colm Fitzgerald wasn’t what I would call a demonstrative man.
My grandma could see the confusion in my eyes and her face crinkled up in a smile. “Oh, you wouldn’t know it to look at him, but Colm’s a big old softie when it comes to his girls.”
I assumed her statement encompassed my mom as well but I couldn’t see why. At best the woman had been an indifferent daughter, and at worst, a terrible, unfeeling one. Her lack of presence here now was testament enough to that.
“If I ask you something Gran, will you be honest with me?”
Indecision crossed her face and I worried maybe now wasn’t the best time to bring it up, not when she had so many other things to worry about. But then the look passed and she smiled. “I’ll always try to be honest with you dear.”
“Can you tell me why Mom left Ballycurra and never came back? It’s almost like she’s allergic to this place. Who doesn’t come back to their hometown when their parents need them? I don’t understand it and she refuses to tell me.” I let out an angry huff.
“It’s hard to say what goes on in that girl’s mind,” my grandma answered.
Getting worked up it, I shot to my feet, “It took her a month to tell me about Gramps! What kind of daughter ignores her father’s heart attack? What kind of mom keeps that sort of thing from her only daughter?” I groaned and clenched my fists. “Who does that, Grandma?”
She sighed and looked away. After several silent seconds, she turned back to me, a steel glint in her eye that said she meant business. “It’ll come as no surprise that your grandpa and mom have a difficult relationship.”
“That’s par for the course with her. Mom has a difficult relationship with everyone except for Geoffrey and the twins.”
“Yes,” she agreed, hesitantly, then almost wistfully, “I’ve never seen her quite so happy as she is with them.”
My grandma probably didn’t understand how her words impacted me but they were a punch to the gut all the same. I knew my mom’s new family made her happy in a way her old one never had. I’m sure she loved me, but the boys? They were her whole reason for living. And maybe it was an uncharitable thought, but sometimes I wondered if she wished she’d never met Langston Newport and given birth to me.
“Ever since she was a little girl, she and Colm butted heads,” my grandma continued. “We bought the pub only after your grandpa had worked for the previous owner for years, saving up all our money. Colm always loved this place and it was his life’s dream to be a publican. But your mom could never accept that. She was embarrassed by us, of the fact that she grew up living here.”
She blew out a long breath and her curly, grey bangs fluttered off her forehead and fell back against her wrinkled skin. “I don’t know what that girl was thinking, but when she was eight years old she made up this story about a new house we were going to live in. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, she described it in such vivid detail to all of her friends. This being a small town—even smaller back then—we knew everyone so of course it got back to us. We were so confused when the ‘da of her one little friends asked how the house build was coming along. Then when even more people asked, we realized what Maddie had done. She was so ashamed of this life that she created a new one out of thin air.”
She shook her head sadly.
“I don’t know what she thought was going to happen when she went back to school and we were still living here. It was the worst sort of lie because it was so easily disproved. When I confronted her, she threw a huge fit and screamed that we could make it happen if we really wanted to, that we were only trying to ruin her life. I had no inkling until then just how much she hated it here. She was just a little girl, eight years old. But dear, her anger was so strong.”
I should have been shocked but I’d seen my mom throw plenty of temper tantrums when she didn’t get what she wanted. I could picture the scene she’d caused all too well.
“When she was a teenager, she never brought anyone home and spent all her time out, defying us at every turn. The thing I don’t understand, even to this day, is why she was so ashamed. We weren’t pariahs; all of her friends and their families loved the pub. We were the very center of the village. We still are,” she said, both confusion and pride in her words.
If pressed, I could admit to understanding maybe a small part my mom’s feelings. I’d hated Ballycurra during my two years here as well, but I hadn’t hated the pub the way my mom had. The taunts from Declan about living above it? Yes, his teasing had felt unbearable, but I’d never been ashamed of my grandparents. And sure Fitzgerald’s had seen better days and could use a serious deep clean, but it was still the place people came after work for a pint, where locals watched their favorite teams play important matches, and where local musicians honed their craft. It was an important part of Ballycurra and my mom had shunned it.
“For some reason your mother needed something that we were never able to give her. I had hoped over time she would have grown to love it here as much as we did. Instead, she ran as far away as she possibly could and has never looked back.”
There was no mistaking the sadness and regret in my grandma’s voice. And if her words hadn’t given her away, the tears streaking down her face said just how hurt she was that her only daughter had turned her back on them. It broke my heart.
“Oh Gran, she’s a fool.” I kneeled in front of her and embraced her small body in my arms.
I could feel the bones of her vertebrae beneath my hands and I didn’t remember them being quite so pronounced the last time we’d hugged each other goodbye. My grandpa was the sick one, but my grandma’s thinness was a stark reminder she was also getting on in years, that Maureen Fitzgerald wasn’t the invincible woman I imagined her to be. She was taking excellent care of her husband, but who was taking care of her?
I considered the chipped and peeling paint and stucco out front, the flower boxes that hadn’t been filled for the season, the dead remnants of last winter’s plants sticking out of the dirt like the mark of neglect that they were. I thought about my grandpa who slept down the hall, the combination of advanced years and ill health making it so he could no longer take care of the place he’d loved his whole life, and the very real issues that would prevent him from giving it his all in the future.
It was obvious something drastic needed to happen … and soon. A glimmer of an idea began to form.