Everyone called her “Maggie,” which was short for Magnolia. She acquired that nickname because she was from the Deep South, which made her a standout in New York. Her name was really Linda. Maggie seemed to gravitate to the Irish in New York City, where she worked as a nurse. Not that she had a drop of Irish in her. But she enjoyed her pals, most of whom were undocumented Irish immigrants. She especially loved the music and drink associated with them, and the high hilarity they reveled in. She loved nothing better than having a good time.
Maggie had had a steady beau, but he had recently pulled out, finding her too much to deal with. He was a dental student, and he liked high times as much as anybody, but he couldn’t deal with Maggie’s drunken behavior.
One summer, a group of five musicians was staying at the apartment. Most were from Galway, and they were there for six weeks. One, a talented banjo player named Donal Harty, played in many of the bars in Manhattan. He was tall, lean and handsome.
Maggie liked to tease Donal. “When is your little Irish sweetheart going to arrive?” she asked, blowing out a cloud of smoke. Donal was saving money for his marriage back in Ireland, and his fiancee Kathleen and his parents had scheduled a visit to New York for late in the summer.
“My God, girl, you won’t see 30 if you don’t quit the fags!” Maggie had recently been on a crash diet and lost a goodly amount of weight, especially in the face. This had resulted in emerging lines in her face, making her look older than she was. “You’ll turn into a prune,” he persisted.
Maggie knew she didn’t look good. She was well acquainted with every wrinkle. It didn’t help that she worshiped the sun and laid out on the roof every chance she got.
“So, are you going to sleep with your young lass when she’s in town?” Maggie countered. “Will you go and rent a hotel room so that you might be alone? You won’t be very alone around here, that’s for certain.” They both laughed.
She had long ago discovered that these Irish lads were easily embarrassed, and she mined that for all it was worth.
When Donal’s parents and his fiancee arrived, they could not have been favorably impressed when they saw the living arrangements. Why his father, a successful businessman in Ireland, had not opted for hotel rooms nearby, was a puzzle. But he hadn’t, so the gang settled in without comment or complaint. Then too, they would be out sightseeing in the daytime and partying in the evening at whichever bar Donal happened to be playing, so not much time would be spent in the cramped two-bedroom apartment, with air mattresses and bedrolls covering much of the floor space.
It so happened that on the afternoon of their arrival, Maggie, by chance, was there. She was a little drunk, and her behavior somewhat extravagant, although not nearly as outrageous as it could quickly become. But the day was early.
“Time to go sightseeing,” Donal announced, And so the four of them left.
After a hurried dinner, for they had started off late, they went to the bar where Donal would play that evening. There they found Maggie.. Donal gave her a quiet word of warning and then carefully seated his parents and Kathleen as far from her as possible.
Maggie had no man for the evening and left the bar early. Donal watched her go and saw this as a good sign. Soon his parents and Kathleen also left but not telling him where they were off to.
After 2 a.m Donal finished the gig and headed for the apartment, but found no one there. He began to worry about his family. He guessed Maggie had gone on to another bar. He was tired and wanted to sleep.
The apartment was stuffy, and as he often did, he stripped down to his boxer shorts and a tee-shirt. It was too hot for the shirt, but with so many people coming and going he would not strip down further. He had arranged for Kathleen to sleep on the couch by the entrance. He slept on a floor in a rear bedroom, his usual spot.
Her prankish nature came to the fore. She decided to further undress Donal. There was not much to do. She simply pulled off his shorts. He didn’t move a muscle. Then she undressed until she was completely naked and with a quick shove moved Donal to the far side of the sleeping bag and lay down beside him. Soon she was sound asleep herself.
Donal’s father and mother and Kathleen returned soon thereafter with Kathleen immediately looking for Donal. She found him all right, naked with Maggie.
Explanations would not satisfy Kathleen the next day. She had seen what she had seen. Of course, there was an explanation. But Maggie, well, she was uncharacteristically silent.
As soon as arrangements could be made, Kathleen flew back to Ireland. Donal’s parents would have preferred to stay for a longer visit, but they felt they had to go back if only to try to make things right with Kathleen’s family. But before leaving, Donal’s father, Eugene, tried to convince Kathleen to forget what she had seen saying that such unusual events sometimes happened in life. But Kathleen was having none of it. Soon word came from Ireland that the engagement was off, and not so long after that a report Kathleen had suffered a nervous breakdown.
Donal continued to live in the apartment, although he and Maggie did not speak. Finally, one day the silence was broken. Maggie said to Donal, “A little touchy, that Kathleen.” After that, the subject of Kathleen was never discussed, not until years later when Donal recalled the incident.
He said how what happened in New York so many years before kept him from a bad marriage, which is never an easy thing any place, anytime. In Ireland, though, it was especially difficult because divorce was not then legal. He had a good marriage now with several children and owned a successful shop in Spiddal, a business his dad had established. He admitted all that he had in life was because of Maggie’s prank, and he was grateful.
Maggie died of ovarian cancer at the age of 53. She had moved to Ireland, just where she wanted to be, and was happy, everyone said. She purchased a small restaurant outside of Galway with money her father had left her, and she made a go of it too. She married an Irish musician, one who left his spot in a popular group to be with Maggie.
Raymond Abbott is a social worker and novelist.
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