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 echo.ive.ie. In this third episode, Julie and Rory encounter a strange woman in period dress and there is no trace of their friends...
IT was a beautiful day. The sun was high in the sky and the sea breeze was soft. Someone stirred cozily next to me.
It was Rory in his boxers.
Surely it was almost noon. I rose, stretching and looking towards the hilltop. I did a double take. The bonfire’s skeleton wasn’t there.
The well was calm and glowed turquoise in summer sun, but something was not right.
“Are ye well?” a gentle voice asked.
I spun around to see a young woman. Her eyes were wide and her hands folded together on her abdomen — she reminded me of a curious bird.
I gawked. She was wearing a period costume, complete with a corseted form and bonnet.
Rory grumbled, catching the woman’s attention. She stepped backwards, her cheeks flushing.
“Sir!” she gasped, turning away.
“Who are ye?” the woman said, as she looked at us over her shoulder.
“Uh,” Rory said, looking for his shirt and pants. They were nowhere in sight.
It was then, with the strange woman looking terrified and Rory scouring the area for his clothes, that I recalled us drowning. How did we end up asleep on solid ground?
“Do ye want me to fetch help?” the woman said. “Surely ye are chilled to the bone.”
“No! No. We’re fine. Our car is nearby,” I said.
The woman faced me and blinked.
“Where ye from?”
“I’m from America. He’s from Cork.”
“Oh… ye have an odd way of sounding.”
Rory came up behind me, as if to hide.
“Do you think Ben hid my clothes as a joke?” Rory said into my ear.
“Ah,” the woman said suddenly, her eyes bright with realization. “Ye were washing in the well! My apologies for intruding on ye.”
She turned to leave, but paused.
“What is a car?” she said.
Maybe the woman was role-playing — pretending to be a heroine from an Austen novel?
I was as confused as she looked. I tried to remember details of last night — the dancing, the bonfire, drowning with Rory, but it was a blur.
“Good riddance! Forgive my impertinence. Good day,” the woman said bowing her head.
Once she was out of sight, I faced Rory. We grabbed each other’s forearms:
“What happened? Are you okay?” we both cried, frantically.
“Let’s get to the car. Hopefully, Maeve and Ben didn’t leave us. It’s probably just a joke they’re playing,” I said.
My sundress stuck to my skin, still damp. I wondered how we had slept so comfortably, especially Rory, who was only in his boxers. I took a deep breath and wrinkled my nose, we smelt like sea water and damp grass.
I don’t know what Rory was thinking, but I was starting to wonder if something impossible had happened. As we passed where the bonfire should have been, I looked for evidence that there had been a bonfire at all. There was none.
Rory grabbed my arm and pointed to the bottom of the hill.
The car was gone. There wasn’t even a road.
“What the actual...” he started, but stopped, seeing the young woman walking at the base of the hill.
“Did we…” I started, hesitant.
“Time travel?” he finished my sentence.
Maybe it was shock or dread, but I laughed madly. What if we had time travelled and Rory was stuck in the past with only his boxers?
“You think this is funny?” he said, but laughing too.
“Maybe we did drugs last night and can’t remember?”
We stopped laughing. I did feel strange the entire day yesterday — well, from the moment Ben and Maeve picked me up. It was the summer solstice too, but I didn’t believe in magic or superstition.
“Maybe she’s going to Cork for a Jane Austen convention? Does Cork have Austen conventions?” I asked, as Rory and I watched the woman.
But the city was too far from here. She must just be eccentric.
“Hey!” I shouted.
The young woman spotted us, reminding me of a bird again. This time she looked like she could shed her feathers.
Out of breath from running down the hill, we joined her on the path.
“Hello, again. What are your names, so?” she said.
“I’m Julia,” and at the same time, Rory volunteered his name.
“Oh,” the woman shifted, uncomfortable. “I mean your surname.”
“Oh, uh, McCormick.”
Rory hesitated and the woman spoke before he could respond with his.
“Were ye really washing in the well?” she turned to look at Rory, but then stopped, remembering his near nakedness. His teeth were starting to chatter.
“Never mind, but don’t tell anyone. I’ll take ye to my father’s home in Cork. If anything, say ye were chased down by thugs and stolen of your things.”
Suddenly I wished Ben was with me. There was obviously something going on. If we truly time travelled, what year was it? What was the historical context? But time travel wasn’t real. Magic wasn’t real.
“How far is your father’s place?”
“We will have to take a carriage into town, but we’re close to a stop.”
If we did time travel, then what was this young woman doing by herself in the middle of the countryside?
I had read Austen novels and seen enough period films to know that typically a woman did not go unescorted, unless on a walk from some grand, country, estate. Looking at her, she didn’t seem terribly poor. Her dress with thick fabric, her bonnet a rich colour, but yet she didn’t seem terribly wealthy. What she was, was authentic.