It caught my eye as I was shown into the crowded parlour room. It had been a going away gift. The mirror sat in a dark burnished frame, fine silk screen lettering declared “POWERS WHISKEY – PURE POT STILL” amid ripe ears of grain, ribbons and scrolls. There were memories buried in the craftsmanship, yet what kind of a fool had I been: a bar mirror as a gift? And what had possessed her to keep it?
The reflection showed a crowd, simple folk, the men and women of a quiet country town gathered in grief. I stood in their midst, a fox among chickens. There was a hand on my arm.
‘Michael,’ It was Father Ned Gilligan, my best friend from school, though now he looked twenty years my senior.
There was genuine warmth in the way he took my hand. ‘My God, Michael, it’s great to see you. Must be thirty years.’
‘More like forty, Ned.’
‘You’ve never the once been home?’
He began a litany of those from our school who had passed on. I gazed about the parlour, the red velour chairs and burnished oak table; she might have sat here evenings. I wondered if our last night had danced before her eyes, as she drowsed.
‘Will you not stay, Michael?’ Mary, beautiful, melodious, pale. The bar in O’Neills was quiet yet, the snug warm from the fire, fragrance of turf mixing seductively with the aroma of cloves.
‘Sure, it’ll be no time, and I’ll be sending for you.’
‘Ah, you’re all words.’
‘I mean it, Mary, I… I…’
In the mirror, her eyes, mischievous as two black kittens.
‘Oh, Michael. Sure don’t I love you!’
I made my fortune in commodities, but not until I had spent twenty five years working eighty hour weeks, too scared to take a holiday in case my positions went south. Mary had written, daily at first, weekly, then monthly. She understood if I was too busy ever to reply. After ten years she had other news. She sent me an invitation to the wedding, knowing I would not come.
The mirror changed again, and I saw Mary and me, as we might have sat on cold evenings in our parlour. I saw our children bringing in tea, neighbours calling for a chat and a drop. Measuring our wealth, not in dollars, but in each other.
Ah, Mary… Maybe my fortune was my misfortune?
Ellen, her granddaughter, asked if I wanted a drink. She had Mary’s eyes, that little lilt in her voice, as if every day was a carnival.
‘A hot whiskey,’ I choked. ‘Powers, if you have it.’