Called One Summer In Cork, this story was written by Christine Kannapel, from the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC. Catch up with previous episodes at echolive.ie. In this fourth episode, Julia and Rory’s journey with the mysterious stranger continues.
I LOOKED back at Rory as we walked towards the carriage stop. He was trailing behind us, his arms crossed on his chest. His fingers and lips were purple.
“Rory,” I said. “You’re freezing.”
I started to take off my sundress — I was wearing a slip underneath, so maybe he could wear my sundress as a tunic. Fortunately it was a simple, denim, shapeless thing.
“What are ye doing?” the woman exclaimed.
Before she could stop me, and despite Rory’s hands pushing the dress away, I pulled it over his head. Sure enough, it worked, and with his height, it looked like it could be a shirt.
“You’ll freeze otherwise, Rory,” I said.
As I spoke, thunder rumbled from a far distance. Startled, we all looked towards the west and saw dark clouds rolling towards us.
“Thanks, but now you’ll freeze too, like,” Rory said.
“We must hurry. Those clouds are dark,” the woman, said, picking up her pace. “We are not far now.”
We stumbled, all of us breathing heavily and periodically looking towards the oncoming storm.
As we stood underneath the post marking the carriage stop, I realised how small our companion was compared to us. She was very bird- like indeed, with her fine features. She couldn’t be older than I was, but her posture would argue otherwise. She must have been raised with a pile of books on her head to keep her so straight.
As the clouds grew closer, my teeth also began to chatter. Rory was right, I would freeze too and I was well aware that my shift was barely hiding anything. The woman kept looking towards me, as if I was the only near-naked woman she had ever seen.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Sarah Martin,” she said. “My father owns the Martin Distillery, in case ye have heard of it.”
“No!” he exclaimed, “That’s my favourite whiskey.”
“What?” I exclaimed back.
So there was an answer. We had not time travelled after all. If Rory knew of this distillery, a micro distillery most likely, than we were still in the modern time and some horrid joke was being played on us.
“Yes, well, most lads seem to like it,” she said.
We rounded a corner that opened onto a field, on the edge of which was the largest oak tree I had ever seen. It reached into the sky, like an old woman stretching out of bed from a long and powerful sleep. I reached out to touch it, but hesitated. I felt an odd energy. It was as if the tree was pushing me away.
“Here we are,” Sarah, said, stopping near a post with an inscribed with an arrow and the word “Cork.” I hadn’t noticed the post initially, as the oak tree was so majestic.
Sarah eyed me. My hand was still stretched towards the oak’s surface. I pulled it away.
Another rumble sounded from the west, we all flinched.
Then came the clunking of horse hooves and wagon wheels.
“Right in time. Here it is,” Sarah said, looking at us expectantly. “Ye have fare don’t ye?”
She looked us over.
“Ah, no. Of course not. I will pay, but it’s my father’s money, not mine. Ye will have to pay him back surely.”
Before we could agree or disagree, the carriage bolted towards us and stopped.
“In now!” the driver shouted, above the racket of his horses whining and stomping against the ground. “The storm is near and I need to change the horses.”
“To Shandon,” Sarah said, giving the driver what he was owed.
We piled into the carriage, the driver looking at us with a raised eyebrow all the while.
Rory and I sat across from Sarah; our bodies close to retain warmth.
“So, Sarah, are you part of a convention?” I asked.
“Like, are you and this carriage part of some Jane Austen festival?”
I looked at Rory and Rory looked blankly back at me.
All sunlight faded as clouds thickened over us. Rain started pouring.
“What a storm for a summer day,” I said, changing the subject.
If I asked too many more questions, I’d either embarrass myself further, or if we really had time travelled, demonstrate that I was a mad woman.
“Well, it’s only May yet.”
I almost blurted, “May?” but was stopped by a sudden rush of nausea. The motion sickness I suffered in Maeve’s car was an understatement to the motion sickness that was washing over me in that carriage.
“Are ye well?” she asked.
“Yeah, thanks. I just get motion sickness.”
My face was probably pale, maybe even green.
We rode in silence and I anticipated our arrival in Cork all the way. Once in the city we would know the truth of our situation. A whole city couldn’t disguise itself over night.
But, the road was dirt and was still dirt when Sarah said we were near. There weren’t any signs of suburbs or a freeway. The carriage was leaking drops of water into our laps — a sign of wear and tear.
What should have been the university campus, were gardens or something to that effect. In the distance, through the falling rain, I could see trails of smoke from chimneys. I looked out the window to my right in search of St Finbarr’s Cathedral. There was indeed a steeple, but not a gothic one from the 19th century.
“Rory,” I said under my breath, as we entered into what must have been the city.
If my face was pale, his was whiter.
“Isn’t it lovely that they’ve pushed the marsh out for these lovely new streets?” Sarah said as we crossed over a bridge and into what I knew was Grand Parade. “My father used to say that it was horrible to go near the marsh on this end.”
She was looking at Rory; after all, we had said he was from Cork.
“Well, uh, sure,” Rory replied.
Sarah beat the top of the carriage with her fist once on the other side of the town, where the Church of St Anne’s stood crimson against the grey sky.
“It wasn’t there,” Rory blurted, his attention stuck on the strange world outside the carriage window.
“What was not?” Sarah asked.
“My café, where I work, by Shandon Bridge.”
“Oh, ye are confused I’m afraid. The coffee house is down in town by Corn Market.”
The carriage stopped.