Apart from their time beside one another in the church and afterwards during the photo session, Claire and Gerry had spent very little time together on their wedding day. They had sat together during the meal but each had found themselves in conversation with a stream of relatives and friends who made their way to the top table to wish the newly-weds well and present their gifts. On the few occasions when the couple had the opportunity to talk one-on-one, it had been Claire who had spoken for both of them. Gerry had been monosyllabic, which she had put down to nerves. His stiffness and seeming lack of enthusiasm during their first dance she also blamed on nerves, as well as his shyness. Weren’t all the eyes in the function room on them after all? Later on, when the groups that had been so carefully put together during the planning of seating arrangements broke up, with knots of men standing around the bar and cousins and in-laws swapping tables to be among their own, Gerry had disappeared into a ruck of his extended family. As the night drew on and after she herself had been waylaid at length by old friends, great-aunts and second cousins, her search for Gerry revealed him dancing with his older sister, Roisín. His ease of movement and obvious happiness in her arms contrasted with his earlier dance-floor demeanour, but this only made Claire feel glad that Gerry had finally relaxed. When a few songs later Gerry was still out on the floor with Roisín, Claire felt something like jealousy but her better nature quashed this emotion and told her that perhaps spending time with family was Gerry’s way of coping with the stress of the big day. Even when one of his cousins wisecracked that Gerry and Roisín made a lovely couple, Claire laughed and thought nothing of the comment but now, out on the sand, his closeness to his sister and doleful, end-of-an-era (rather than chirpy, beginning-of-a-bright-new-future) talk in the taxi on the way to the airport to catch their honeymoon flight forced her to think that his relationship to Roisín was less than healthy and that he had been having profound doubts about the new life upon which he was about to embark.
Gerry, at nearly thirty years of age, had never lived away from home. Even when doing his degree in accountancy, he had lived with his parents and sister, travelling up and down to Galway every day on the bus. Claire knew that he was thought of by her friends as a mammy’s boy and a home bird and that his family were generally viewed around the town as noodie-nawdies and stick-in-the-muds. None of this had ever bothered her. In fact, she admired Gerry’s family’s quiet religiosity and self-containment and regarded the mocking of him and his family as the unfair price to pay for flying in the face of modern Ireland’s cynical materialism and secularism. She saw Gerry’s family as upholders of traditional Catholicism and old-style family values and in many ways was marrying as much into this as she was the man himself.
“Some upholder of traditional values,” she said to herself bitterly. She steered a course right down to the water’s edge until her shadow darkened a patch of retreating, foamy and sand-turbid water.