I still can't believe that I'm writing you from Dublin! Ah, Ireland, land of romance, land of mystery! You can catch a glimpse of the nut-brown Liffey flowing past the brewery at the end of our street.
Right after your father and I tucked ourselves in, the most awful screeching started up from the apartment next door. It's going on now, simply horrible -- like the squealing of a truck's brakes, or that feedback noise you get from a microphone, or a giant's fingernails dragging across a great big blackboard, or that annoying screen door on the Steinholtz back porch that they never bother to oil. I tried to wake up your father and make him go talk to whoever it was, but he's sound asleep and snoring. So since I couldn't sleep, I decided to stay up and write you.
The plane trip went well, but it felt wonderful to get into a taxi after the airport -- my feet were killing me by inches! The driver showed us a cathedral, I think, and some other buildings, but we were too tired to pay much attention. He was very good-looking, though, and I found out that he has relatives in New York that he visits from time to time. So I had to tell him a little about you, and I accidentally let your phone number slip out, so don't be surprised if you get a call from Peter one day! Don't worry, he's a real gentleman. I like him almost as much as I liked Tom.
You still haven't written him, I suppose? Tom, I mean. Two husbands ago, maybe that's more than you can keep track of. He probably doesn't even know you've split up with Charlie yet. The poor man, a teacher too, all alone with no one to translate for him! But of course I'd be the last person to try to run your life for you, Lizzie. Do whatever you think is best.
All the time I kept telling your father what a pity it was that Lizzie wasn't here to see all this, and he grunted, of course. That director of yours must be just dreadful not to let you have three weeks off -- after all, it's only rehearsals. A once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Ireland, all expenses paid by your parents! And you're stuck in that dreary brownstone, with no one to see but those odd theater people. Not that I'm criticizing your friends, of course, dear. It's just that everyone knows opposites attract, and how are you ever going to meet your opposite if all your friends are just like you?
The people we saw were more interesting than the buildings, I thought. I was particularly fascinated by some of the young people with all the strange hair -- punks, is that right? I suppose you're used to them in Manhattan, but we don't see many in Milwaukee! Some of them weren't even young anymore -- I didn't realize the fad had been around so long. There was one sitting outside our apartment building who looked to be seventy or eighty. I mean, the safety pin through his cheek was sagging, and his purple hair had gray roots! He didn't look in very good shape when we unloaded our luggage (Ralph said four suitcases was too many, but we're going to be here for a whole month!) Then when we went out for dinner, the doorman told us that he'd died lying there, just that afternoon. Right in front of our hotel! So already we're having adventures.
The noise from next door has stopped now, so I'm going to get some sleep. I'll write again tomorrow! Sweet dreams!
Goodness, I've just had the most amazing adventure! Who says that Ireland is not the land of enchantment, the land of mystery, the land of twilight shadows glimmering on emerald lawns and the ruins of ancient hidden secrets! It's just like Brigadoon! But let me tell you everything, exactly the way it happened, and not go running on and on the way I sometimes do when I'm telling a story so that your father says "Get to the (expletive deleted) point, Abbie."
We'd had a fairly uneventful day, resting and getting over jet lag. I unpacked all the suitcases and wrote postcards to the bridge club, and your father watched rugby or snooker or one of those sports on television. As soon as we got into bed, though, that terrible screeching started again!
"Ralph!" I said to your father, "what's that horrible noise?" I said it right in his ear, because you know what he's like when he doesn't wear his hearing aids. He hardly ever wears them any more, even when he's watching TV. He says the batteries are dead, but I give him new ones all the time, so it must be that he's too lazy to put them in.
"What noise?" said your father. So I yelled at him to put in his hearing aid so he could hear the terrible, screeching noise coming from next door, which now sounded like someone playing a catgut violin while the guts were still inside the cat. And he said, "Why should I want to listen to this horrible sound?" and I said, "Because you need to go next door and talk to them about it," and he said, "Why should I talk to them about it if I can't even hear it?" Your father can be so exasperating sometimes.
So I said, "Fine then, I'll do it. I'll just march next door and tell them that they need to stop wailing like a banshee." And your father said "Yes, dear," like he does whenever I win an argument, and then he rolled over and started snoring.
So I went into the hall and knocked on the door. And guess what? The reason this person was wailing like a banshee? She was a banshee!
It took me a while to figure out. Her hair was the first odd thing. It sort of filled the whole doorway when she opened it, swirling around like Suzette's did in that dream sequence on The Proud and the Promiscuous. I thought maybe she had a wind machine in there behind her. And her figure! I thought all those potatoes were too starchy to give you a figure like that.
The strangest thing was, you couldn't quite tell in the light, but she almost seemed to be glowing, just a little, and hovering about half an inch above the floor. Oh, and her clothes -- more like rags, really, and definitely out of style -- they were constantly dripping water, the whole time I was there. Abbie, I said to myself, there's something odd going on here.
She looked at me with these enormous haunted eyes, and she said in the most charming little brogue, "I'm sorry, was I practicing too loud?"
I told her that some of us were trying to sleep, and she apologized and promised to stop. So I asked her what was she practicing, hog calling? and she said no, she was practicing a new wail. And somehow, right then like a bolt out of the blue I knew! She's a Banshee! Because everyone knows they're the ones that wail, right?
My next thought was, Lizzie always says I'm silly to believe in ghosts and things, and what would she say if she saw me here talking to a real honest-to-goodness Irish specter! She didn't seem like a very dangerous spirit, though, standing there dripping in the hall. I wanted to ask her what it was like passing over to the other side, but that felt impolite, so I said "Wailing? That sounds fascinating!"
I think maybe she was flattered that I was so interested, because she invited me in for tea! Thinking of the story I could tell the Bridge Club back home, I said certainly, and I squeezed in past all the hair. The carpet squished a bit when we walked -- all that water dripping from her clothes, I guess.
There were a few basic pieces of cheap furniture, but no accessories, so the whole place had a very unlived-in feel. The only personal touch was a few of those modern posters on the walls. What's The Cure? They certainly don't look like doctors.
So we sat down and she rolled out a caddie, and then she poured tea out of this dear little teakettle shaped like a frog. The tea was wonderful, except once when one of those long hairs of hers got in my cup. Also, I could smell maybe a wee nip of whiskey in it, which as you know I normally wouldn't touch, but since she was being so hospitable I thought it would be rude not to have a bit. And after our third cup, we started getting quite friendly, and she told me all about herself.
Such a sad story! Worse even than when Brandon died in that plane crash on the Proud and Promiscuous! She fell in love with the lord of Cuthven back in 1272, she said, and he abandoned her, just like that fellow you were living with between Tom and Charlie -- what was his name? Anyway, it was just like that, only worse because he threw her out of his castle into the bogs in the middle of winter, and she was running from wolves and fell into a pool and drowned. So she's been a banshee for ever so long, lying in the bog during the day and wandering around the countryside wailing all night. For a while she had to show up and wail right before the deaths of all of the Cuthven heirs, but the family died out in one of those nasty plagues, so from the sixteenth century on she's been wailing solo.
Then, about a year ago, they drained her bog to put up a nightclub! If it had been my bog I would have been upset, but she must have been getting tired of the whole Voice Sobbing in the Moonlight business. And she fell in love with the music there the first time she heard it. Gothic, she called it, and I told her I liked gothic romances, and she said well then didn't we have a lot in common?
She got tired of just listening, though, so she eavesdropped (from the actual eaves, apparently) on the young people as they were leaving. One of the young gentlemen had an audition with a club manager in Dublin, and she thought, with 700 years of wailing experience, she should be able to get the hang of this new music of theirs. So she decided to follow this boy, just like Darren got his recording contract on the P & P. She dematerialized herself into the baggage compartment of the train, and then she walked up and introduced herself to this boy as bold as brass, which is something more people could get in the habit of doing, Lizzie! He was charmed, and he said his name was Snake, and he'd show her around the city. They arrived yesterday and rented the flat. Then the young man said he felt odd and needed to go out for some air, and she hadn't seen him since.
"Just like men!" I said, but she was sure he'd be back, because he'd left his posters and everything behind. You didn't learn much about men during that seven hundred years in the bog, said I, and she said no, wailing at people isn't a good way to build up a relationship, especially when all the men who saw you tended to have their horses bolt over cliffs and such. For about the first five hundred years, she was really wailing from the heart about this Lord of Cuthven or wherever, but now she was ready to start looking for someone else.
"How romantic," I said, "a five-hundred-year crush. Not like some people who get married to perfectly good men and then ditch them to get married over and over again, till a body gets dizzy trying to keep track of all of this hypothetical person's ex-husbands, and who never stops long enough for any hypothetical grandchildren."
So then she wanted to know if I was married, and I said yes, in a matter of speaking, if you count a husband who hasn't touched me in an amorous mood since February 13, 1989 at 6:15 in the afternoon.
"Goodness me," said she, her big eyes open wide. "Sure and it sounds like we're both women wronged." I told her that I'd drink to that, and we finished off the rest of the teapot.
Oh, her name is Chiffon, like the margarine I guess. I'll try to write more tomorrow evening; the two of us are going out shopping in the afternoon. Ah, the romance of the Emerald Isle! Erin go bra, as they say over here!
PS We got your postcard, but it looks as if you wrote it four months ago when you were still with Charlie, and then you forgot to mail it, and then you found it and scratched over our home address and put on our Dublin address because you didn't want to spend time writing a new postcard. Or was that just an oversight?
I'm afraid I made a mistake in my last letter. My new friend's name isn't Chiffon, it's Siobhan. Of all the strange ways to spell a perfectly good name! I saw her write it out: Siobhan of the Bean Sìdhe.
That reminds me -- I've got to ask her for her recipe for Bean Sìdhe, and see if she'll swap it for my Three-Bean Salad. I'll be sure to send it to you, dear; I know how much you love those ethnic foods!
It took us both about half an hour this morning to get all her hair under control; she looks ever so much smaller without it streaming all over. Then we took a bus downtown. So many lovely stores here! I found the perfect pin to match that dress Tom gave you for your first anniversary -- you'll see it next Christmas, dear! Siobhan spent a lot of time at the perfume counter -- I guess when you spend seven hundred years lying in a bog, it's nice to smell like something other than peat for a change.
Then I helped her go shopping for clothes -- something you haven't done with me for years, Lizzie! I got her some sensible blouses and skirts to replace the things she had on, which looked like about what you would expect from seven hundred years of bog water. We ended up buying everything she tried on, because once she'd worn something for twenty seconds it was soaking wet, and how were we supposed to explain that to the shopkeepers?
Then she said she'd decided to go meet the club manager that the vanished Snake had made his appointment with, to see if he was there and maybe try to audition herself. So for that I helped her pick out a mid-length skirt to show off her legs without being too racy, and a lovely little halter top that should get the boys' attention if I'm any judge of men!
Then my poor feet started to give out -- I really should see someone about them! -- so we found a little Pakistani restaurant. I sneaked a towel out of the restroom and put it under Sib's chair, so her dripping wouldn't wreck the carpet.
The clothes I picked out really seemed to work on the waiter. When he saw her he let loose with a perfect flood of this odd language -- well, I guess it would be Pakistani, wouldn't it? And then she answered him in the same language! They talked for a bit, and then she wrote her name on her napkin and gave it to him along with our order.
"What was that all about?" I asked when he was gone.
"Oh, it was the sound of my voice he was liking, and he said he didn't usually do this, but he wanted to ask me out."
"He doesn't seem exactly your type," I said warningly, because as I've often told you, like should stay with like and all that. But Sib just shrugged and said he was cute.
"But how did you learn Pakistani?" I said.
"Oh, we're all good with languages," said she. "It comes with the job. It's a bit like speaking in tongues, you know, only you wail instead."
"Tell me about the wailing," I said. "It sounds like a fascinating career."
"That it was, for the first few centuries," said she, and I kept asking questions until she told me all about it.
It turns out that there are all sorts of different wails. There's the basic Come Hither, Come Hither, Feel My Cold Embrace My Love Wail, which she said works particularly well when you're hovering over quicksand. And the Hag Centuries Old Wail, for when she gets tired of looking nineteen. Then there's the Blighting Your Enemies Wail, the Chanted Loudly, Chanted Lowly Wail, and the Wail To Stampede Cattle and the Calling Fish From The Stream Wail and the Desiccation Wail and the Rocksplitter Wail and ever so many others! I wrote all the names down on another napkin.
"That sounds ever so exciting," I said when she had finished. And then I had the most splendid idea! You know how your father always tells me that I should get a hobby, because according to him I've got too much free time on my hands? Well, I said to Sib, as bold as brass or even more so, as bold as bronze, maybe, I said, "Could I learn how to do it?"
Sib thought about it for a bit, and then she said, "Well, you've got to be a woman wronged. But you'd be having plenty of that with your husband, now, wouldn't you?" And I said yes, and can you teach me a wail that would make him pay attention to me? She said, well, it didn't work on the Lord of Cuthven, who perished in fits in 1273 when he tried to kick a weasel and it sank its teeth into his ankle, but perhaps it would work for my Ralph.
Then she thought a bit more, and she said, "You aren't one of us, so you shouldn't have any trouble with The Curse."
"Curse," I said, "What Curse?" And she said "The Curse of the Bean Sìdhe. We're cursed that no man who hears the sound of our voice will ever make us happy. I'm afraid that must have been what happened to Snake -- I frightened him away." She sniffled a little, as if she wasn’t damp enough already, and I said nonsense, you just haven't met the right man yet. That's one of those things that no one believes one's mother about until it finally happens, Lizzie.
On the way out, I heard this wailing that at first I thought was Sib practicing again, but it turned out to be an ambulance pulling up to the restaurant. I asked the maitre d' what was wrong, and he said there'd been a little accident with one of the waiters back in the kitchen. But we left a good tip anyway.
This evening I went over to visit, and Sib introduced me to Guinness. Now you know, Lizzie, I don't normally approve of beer, but Sib assured me that Guinness was something entirely different, because with all the hops and malt and so forth it's quite fortifying, like vitamins. Also she said it tasted like peat, so it reminded her of home.
After we'd each had a bottle, she taught me some warmups, and then she showed me how to build up a good wail. What you do is, you get a bubble of phlegm at the back of your throat, and then you sort of roll it around in different ways. That and breath control are the secrets. Then she taught me a really easy wail -- the Wail To Make Your Body Transparent And Your Bones Show Through Like Glowworms. We practiced in front of a mirror, and for the longest time I could only get my skin and the outer layer of muscle transparent, which was pretty disgusting, but at last I got all the way down to my skull, and then the rest of the skeleton. You know, I was right all along about my weight problem -- I really do have large bones!
I thought about using the new wail on Ralph when I got back to my apartment, but of course he was sound asleep. And now that I think about it, perhaps this might not be the best way to get his attention? But if I concentrate, I can glow enough to write this letter by, so I'm saving electricity. Can you imagine what Evie Steinholtz and the girls back at the bridge club would say!
I'll write again soon! Love,
My dear beloved daughter Lizzie,
We received your postcard today. I'm glad to see that you're so interested in my new friend. Just one question: when you say that her people are "yet another manifestation of the patriarchy's fear of the voice of feminine authority, and an embodiment of masculine culture's inherent subconscious self-destructive guilt over its systemic degradation of women," what does that mean, exactly?
Anyway, I don't see what you're worried about me for. I'm perfectly all right.
We called Evie Steinholtz at home because she's checking our mail, and she said I got another letter from poor Tom. I'm assuming it's like the last seven, that he still wants me to tell him where you're living. I can't bear to write him and tell him about your threat never to talk to me again if I do, so I told Evie to forward it to you. That's a bit more kindling for your fireplace, I suppose.
I went with Sib yesterday to see the club manager and provide moral support, and it was a very -- interesting -- experience. We got Peter, the same nice taxi driver who picked us up at the airport, and when Sib read him Snake's note he knew all about the club. They were a bit rough there, he said, but good lads. The Pig's Knuckles was the name of the place. He let us off at the stairs in the back, and we went up to the manager's office. Sib looked just as smashing in the navy skirt as I had predicted.
The manager turned out to be a large woman, covered with tattoos of skulls and snakes and other nasty things. Next to her Sib looked like a tiny speck, until she unbound her hair and got her normal size back. Then the manager told me to wait in her receptionist's office, which was really just a closet filled with three-year-old-promotional fliers and moldy junk food. I cleaned up a bit while I waited, and tried to hear Sib singing through the door. Fifteen minutes later Sib and the manager came out, and the woman had tears glistening in her eyes, and she said that Sib would be singing the next evening.
We had to take a bus back home, because our cab had gotten flattened by a truck backing up while we were inside. A pity, Peter seemed like such a nice young man! I guess now he won't be calling you in New York after all.
That night while I was bathing my tortured feet, Sib taught me how to do the Wail That Walks Unseen. That was a disappointment as far as your father was concerned, though. He didn't even notice when his midnight snack came to the bed hovering four feet up in the air! At least, there wasn't any difference in the way he treated me.
I need to go back to Sib's apartment soon with some disinfectant. That water that she constantly keeps dripping is starting to mildew the carpet, and we can smell it from here.
Take care, Lizzie. I know you miss us just as much as we miss you!
Well, the concert was a disaster. Literally. If you've ever thought about going to a place like this, Lizzie, my advice is, Don't. And don't roll your eyes and say "MO--THER!" at me. I've been there, and I know.
We hadn't seen the dance area of the Pig's Knuckles the first time, so I thought it would be like the disco on the Proud and Promiscuous, but I was wrong. Not a single mirrored ball or neon sign in sight! Actually, it was too dark to see much of anything. And such a funny smell! Lots of beer, and some kind of burning plastic smell that I couldn't place. And my shoes kept sticking to the floor, as if I didn't have enough trouble walking already! It made me want to come back during the day with a mop.
And the children there were...strange. All the men I know are desperate not to go bald, but not these boys. And one girl had an earring through her... let's just say it wasn't a nice place and leave it at that, hmm?
I wanted to fit in, so I was wearing the tie-dye sweater that your Aunt Thelma gave me back in '73, but I don't think it helped much. Some of the children were looking at me oddly, but the manager found me a table way in the back and told a few people I was a friend of the singer's, and then she flexed her tattoos menacingly at them, and they left me alone. I drank some more Guinness, just to steady my nerves.
Then the manager introduced Sib, and out she came. I guess someone must have chosen a new outfit for her; she still looked lovely, but a bit loose if you know what I mean. She wore a leather jumpsuit and heels so high I was worried she'd fall and break her neck, and her hair was acting like one of those glass balls with the lightning bolts inside. All the boys sort of jolted when she came through the door, like the lightning was real and it had hit them. She didn't have a guitar or a piano or anything. She just walked out, picked up the microphone, and started singing.
It wasn't all singing, actually. There was a lot of Wail worked in, not any of the ones I'd learned yet, but a whole new kind of melodic wail that rose up and went all over the major and minor and chromatic scales and then shot over the edge of them and started going up and down the spectrum, with stopoffs along the way on the Richter scale and the table of elements. I felt like there were ears on the bottoms of my feet. My goodness! Haunting doesn't begin to describe it. It was like the whistling Satan must have made when he fell out of heaven.
And all the little bald boys, they kind of shuffled forward, as if she was pulling them with strings. Pretty soon they were all jammed together within five feet of the stage, jostling and bumping each other to get closer, with their jaws hanging open like they were unhinged.
That was probably how the speaker got knocked over, although I was sitting too far away to see very well. I'm sure that speakers get knocked over all the time in a place like this, but not when the singer's clothes have already dripped out a gallon or so of bog water. When I saw the flames, I headed for the exit, but it was blocked with all of these screaming women, and I couldn't get past! Thank goodness I remembered the Wail That Passes Through Walls. Just before I got out I glanced back, and there were all the boys still standing there, clustering closer and closer around Sib as she kept on singing, her eyes shut tight, and the flames rising all around her.
Everyone who was standing at the back got out fine, which was basically all the women. One girl with something nasty done to her tongue tried to go in again for her boyfriend, but there was too much smoke and she came back out coughing. And even when we could see the flames coming through the roof, we could still hear Sib singing inside, until the fire engines came and drowned her out.
What with the ambulances and the police and everything, it took me a long time to get home. When I passed Sib's doorway, though, her light was on, so I knocked. "Come in," she said, and it sounded like she was crying, so in I went.
"Oh, those poor boys," was the first thing she said. Her eyes were all red and puffy. So I gave her a big hug and told her that it wasn't her fault that none of them had the good sense to leave. She said, did I know that for sure? And I said well, I didn't think they were her type anyway. And I told her that a good companionable cry would make her feel better, and it did, and then she offered me some tea, but then we decided unanimously that it had been such a trying day that we should skip the tea and go straight to the whiskey.
"I wonder if my mother was right about men," Sib said after a while.
"Oh, you never told me about your mother," I said, and Sib told me that she'd been orphaned in the great winter of 1263.
"But just before she died, my mother told me that the way to get a man to like you is not to say very much." She looked almost ready to cry again, but I put my arm around her and she stopped. "And I've tried to keep quiet, really I have, except for the wailing of course, but it's just no use! You know about our Irish Blarney! My tongue will go a-wagging, and I've tried and tried, but I just can't keep it still!"
"Don't you even think about it," I told her. "Looks won't last forever, but a clever mind and a good heart will, and no man on earth is worth bottling up either one of them inside you!" Then I realized that Sib's looks would last forever, but I still think the moral applies, don't you?
I never realized how a few glasses of whiskey can put a disaster into proportion. I finally managed to get her and her hair to bed, and then I tucked her in the way I used to with you when you were an itsy bitsy girl. She looked so trusting, lying there.
I miss you, Lizzie. When we have our changeover in LaGuardia on the way home, would it be too much trouble if you took an hour off your busy schedule and had lunch with us at the airport, before we go home?
I'm not looking forward to leaving. I feel like I've fallen into this country like a raindrop in a river. I could stay here forever, drinking tea with Siobhan and giving her all the advice that she so desperately needs. Ah, well.
We received your long letter. I'm glad you're so worried about me, and I'm glad that you finally took the time to write more than two sentences on the back of one of your theater postcards, but I'm quite all right, I assure you. There's no need for you to get so excited about our little adventures. Or if you want to get upset, wait until I've told you some of the things that I've done.
First of all, your father and I are going to stay a bit longer, -- we've canceled our return tickets. A wonderful thing happened when I finally got back after the fire. Your father was frantic! They'd interrupted whatever he was watching on TV to report about the club disaster, and he remembered that I had said I was going there, and he panicked! He was actually worried about me!
"I finally put those batteries in my hearing aid," he said, "and without you around, damn it was quiet."
He was so glad to see me alive that he took me out to dinner, and then we went out dancing in a place that looked much more like the P & P disco, and then...well, never mind what we did then, Lizzie. You don’t want to hear it any more than I want to talk about it, I'm sure.
Oh, Dublin is so beautiful in the spring!
Enough of that. Now, remember when I told you that you might get upset? Well, let me tell you what I've done.
You remember Tom, your second husband? Well, I've finally accepted the fact that you and he aren't going to get back together. It's taken me five years, but I've accepted it. So I wrote him a letter forging your handwriting (you didn't know I could do that, did you?) and told him that you were stranded here in Dublin without any money, and could he please come and rescue you? And I gave him Sib's address.
I was peeking out my peephole when he showed up at her apartment two days later, with flowers no less! Of course she's good with languages, so she picked up his sign language in no time and told him that there had been a mistake. Then she invited him in for tea, and when he came out again the next day, he looked like he'd finally gotten over you at last, Lizzie.
I talked to them both yesterday, and he was surprised to see me here, but probably too happy to ask many questions. She's thinking about going back to Milwaukee with him, and maybe becoming a foreign language teacher in his school for the deaf. I think she'd be wonderful as a teacher. After seven hundred years in a bog, she’d certainly have the patience for it. And when I get home I'll introduce her to the girls and teach her how to play bridge. If we have another drought like last summer, I'm sure Evie Steinholtz would love to have Sib come over and drip into her garden.
But I haven't forgotten about you, Lizzie. I finally decided that my foot problem was the fault of my shoes, so I went out to look for a new pair. And the shoe-store owner who waited on me was absolutely charming, if a bit on the short side, and the shoes he gave me felt like they were wrapping my feet up in a rainbow! So I got one of the shopgirls aside to ask about him, and she said that not only was he cute, but really rich as well, because once she'd seen a pile of gold certificates inside the safe. Come on over and he's yours, Lizzie!
Well, I've got to sign off now. Ralph is taking me to see St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Guinness brewery and all the other sights that we haven't seen yet. Have I mentioned what a wonderful man your father is?
And if he ever backslides, I still haven't tried the Wail That Inspires Men To Follow You To The Ends Of The Earth Until At Last You Lead Them Through Bog Or Snow or Quicksand And They Perish, Still Reaching For The Hem Of Your Skirt. It's always nice to have a backup, don't you think?
With much love,