Welcome to The Echo’s annual feature — Summer Soap. Now in its fourth year, Summer Soap is a daily fictional serial run over 12 parts, which began last Monday and runs for a fortnight. Called One Summer In Cork, this story was written by Christine Kannapel, from the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC. You can catch up with previous episodes at www.echolive.ie. In this penultimate episode, Julia attempts to return to the present day.
THE day felt all too familiar, though this time I didn’t have sunglasses and the carriage ride was far worse for my motion sickness than winding around the hills in Maeve’s car.
Once the oak tree was in sight, I tapped on the carriage ceiling and almost fell out with eagerness.
I waited until the carriage disappeared before moving, just in case someone was watching me, such as the driver. No-one could be allowed to interfere with my proceedings.
The oak tree was leafy and warm to the touch. I held onto it, steadying myself as a wave of nausea washed over me. Then I remembered the Gin Gins. I unwrapped one, pocketing the wrapper.
The ginger candy was hard and cold against my tongue, so unlike the one Maeve gave me on that car ride. When at last the candy melted down, it felt like amber, unexpectedly rough against the tongue.
The walk to the hill overlooking the shoreline and the holy well was long. Sitting on the hill, waiting for sundown was even longer. However, when the sun shines, Ireland radiates with green and blue beauty. So I sat basking in it and counting the hours.
The horizon began to glimmer as the lowering sun hit the waves. My stomach felt tight and any nausea was gone. A familiar lethargy was creeping into the forefront of my mind.
I learned how to build a fire from a summer camp I attended as a child, but my ability was clumsy to say the least.
I cleared a space for the fire, setting my belongings to the side. Once the ground was patted down, I built a triangle with my kindling. Then, catching the last sun rays, I held my shard of glass, aiming all light into the centre of the foliage and twigs.
At first, the triangle started to smoke and the glass felt hot to touch, then suddenly, as a breeze moved from the sea onto the hilltop, a fire burst.
I leapt back, seizing the herbs and throwing them into the flames. I stripped and pulled my sundress over my head, shoving the Gin Gins and Rory’s boxers into my pocket. I danced around the fire, trying not to laugh at myself.
I danced until all sunlight had vanished, until I was heaving and out of breath. Then I collapsed. The breeze from the sea was thickening and felt cool against my skin. Spark by spark, I watched as the fire burned out.
In darkness, I crept to the holy well.
My stomach lurched and for a minute, I thought I was going to be sick. Quickly, I swallowed another Gin Gins, not bothering to let it melt on my tongue.
I had meant to jump into the watery well, but I felt reserved, as if someone was watching me. It was too dark to tell if there was anyone, but I looked around anyway.
There was no-one. I was alone.
So gently, limb-by-limb, I dropped into the water and it swallowed me, as if eager for a sacrifice. Just like before, there was a subtle chorus sounding from an unknown place.
I woke to the sound of an airplane zipping on overhead. I leapt to my feet, tears coming to my eyes. It had worked.
I ran and ran, climbing over the hilltop, where the black, flaky ruins of a big bonfire laid to rest. From the top of the hill, I saw the road. Barefoot, I practically skipped onto it, soaking up the warmth from the pavement. I spun, shouting up at the sky, thanking the airplane as it disappeared.
From nowhere, came a violent honk and screech of breaks.
I dove to the side of the road.
It was Rory.
He leapt from his car and I leapt into his arms.
“Oh my god,” I cried. “What happened?”
“Julia! God, Julia!”
Then he kissed me, smiling ear to ear as he pulled away.
“It was the Gin Gins, like,” he said, shaking my shoulders.
“I had one in my pocket and ate it while I was waiting for you to return. I felt sleepy and achy and then woke up near Grand Parade, where the prison was.”
The Gin Gins? This whole time? All I had to do was eat a Gin Gin? None of the dancing around the fire and swimming in the holy well was necessary?
“And I’ve been coming here every day for the past month. Well, Ben, Maeve and I have been taking turns. We thought you’d come back sooner rather than later.”
All I could do was hug Rory.
“Come, let’s take you home. You stink.”
I laughed and in response, pulled Rory’s boxers out of my pocket. They dripped, soaked through.
“Lord,” he said.
Ben and Maeve were reading in Ben’s apartment when Rory walked in with me, our hands tied together.
“Oh my,” Maeve said, looking up from her book.
“Julia!” Ben said, dropping his book to pick me up and whirl me around.
“God you smell,” he said, putting me down.
“I know! But I’m so happy to be home!” I cried. “And to think it was Gin Gins.”
Maeve cleared her throat and stood with her hands folded behind her back.
“Actually it wasn’t just the Gin Gins, now. I think I should tell ye what really happened.”
We all stared at her, well, Rory and I stared at her. Ben walked to Maeve’s side and gestured that we should all sit.
“I was trying to send Ben back to the17th century, see. I read all about how to time travel and studied it for many months. But I think I cast a spell on the Gin Gins by accident and miscalculated. The spell was meant to be on the herbs. Ben was meant to then go back in time, to vanish backwards through the holy well, but obviously it didn’t happen that way. We tried while you and Rory were resting in the car and while the others headed home. Then we tried by visiting the oak. But it just didn’t work, see. I’m so sorry.”
I couldn’t be angry, I was too relieved to be home.
“I just wanted to send Ben back for research on his Quakers, see.”
“So the holy well really had nothing to do with it? I mean, Rory didn’t need it,” I said.
“Well,” Maeve exhaled heavily, “it was a coincidence that Rory came back. It was all timing. You see, I was trying to preform a spell to bring you both back the very day Rory showed up. He must have swallowed the Gin Gins at the same time or something. I don’t know; it’s all more complicated than just swallowing magical ginger sweets.”
I put my head in my hands. It was so complicated, and frankly, now that I was back, I didn’t really care about the mechanics of it.
“Can we go get a coffee?” Rory said, “My head’s rattled by all this, like.”
“Not until I get an decent shower and call Mom and Dad, because they’re probably a wreck,” I retorted.
“Please do shower,” Ben said, pinching his nose.