Summer Soap (Episode 1): A queasy road trip, then a dance to mark the solstice

Welcome to The Echo’s annual feature — Summer Soap. Here's episode one of the 12 day series, called One Summer in Cork, by Christine Kannapel
Summer Soap (Episode 1): A queasy road trip, then a dance to mark the solstice

SUNDOWN: “The wooden bones of a bonfire stood as a pyramid on the top of the hill — a jewel ready to glow in the night. “ Picture: istock

Now in its fourth year, Summer Soap is a daily fictional serial run over 12 parts, which begins today 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. In this first episode, we meet the main character as she embarks on an evening with friends to mark the summer solstice

IT was the summer solstice. The early evening sun was so bright that I spent several, unexpected, and frantic minutes floundering for my sunglasses. It was as if the sun was attempting to blind me.

“You ready, sis’?” Ben said from Maeve’s car window.

“Yeah,” I replied, sighing with relief as I slid on my sunglasses.

Only take a road trip through Ireland in the summer if there is access to an air-conditioned car. As unbelievable as it sounds, I was melting into my seat from the heat. On top of that, my stomach felt like butter churned in the breath of July.

“Don’t look so sick,” Ben said, glancing at me in the rearview mirror.

Maeve chuckled as we hit yet another bump in the road.

“We’re almost there, but let me know if we need to stop. It’s no bother!”

Maeve smiled as she said this.

“Any good brother would let me sit in the passenger seat. You know that, Ben,” I mumbled.

“There’s an idea!” Maeve said, slamming on the brakes, “Out, Benny!”

Ben glared, I wasn’t sure if at me or if at Maeve using his pet name in front of me. Either way, I was grateful.

Maeve rummaged through her purse, finding a Gin Gins ginger candy.

“Here. Suck on this. A hit of ginger always helps me.”

“Thanks, Maeve.”

I unwrapped the candy and set it on my tongue.

The Gin Gins candy was old. It tasted like a purse’s cloth interior mixed with spice cupboard. My tongue played with the candy as I focused on the passing sheep and hills. For a minute, everything seemed to slow down. Maeve and Ben were excitable about something, but about what, I wasn’t sure. I heard bits about Ben’s recent discoveries on Quakerism around Cork in the 17th century for his PhD thesis. Their voices were lazy though, like the melting ginger in my mouth and my slow swallowing of its sweetness. My window was yellow, as if I was looking through a honey-filtered camera lens.

Maeve slammed on the brakes again, muttering an “Oh sugar,” under her breath.

I jolted out of my trance. I hadn’t noticed that the Gin Gins candy was gone and my disappointed mouth was all that was left. I wanted more.

“Here!” Maeve said, nearly leaping from the parked car. “We have to hike up a bit! Quickly, the others are waiting!”

Maeve started up the hill, her stride graceful. She waved down at us, beckoning us upwards. Her look was whimsical — the sun shone on her fine features as if she was one of the golden flowers growing on the hillside.

Ben scurried after her.

Though the Gin Gins candy calmed my stomach, I felt like an ant under a magnifying glass. I heard voices from the hilltop. I thought I heard Maeve shout in response. I squinted my eyes, my sunglasses’ tint weak. The wooden bones of a bonfire stood as a pyramid on the top of the hill — a jewel ready to glow in the night.

I sat in the grass and watched Maeve flit from friend to friend, bridling nervous energy. Behind her and the bonfire were glimpses of ocean and an inch of sandy shore.

Maeve entrusted her purse to me and I couldn’t help but to search it for more Gin Gins.

“Hey,” the voice of a young man asked, sitting down next to me and passing me a Beamish.

Startled, I clicked Maeve’s purse firmly shut and shoved a handful of Gin Gins into my dress pocket.

“Rory! I didn’t know you were going to be here.”

He smiled, I blushed.

“Same for you. Maeve talked you into coming, yeah?”

“Pretty much.”

“Huh, me too.”

We looked towards Maeve in unison — a thin silhouette against the sinking sun.

As the sun inched farther and farther into the ocean, I was finally feeling less sluggish from the heat, so I braved a few sips of my beer.

“So, how’s it going?”

“Grand like, just keeping up with work. Haven’t seen you in the café for a bit.”

“Oh, yeah, sorry, I’ve been busy.”

Before he could reply, Maeve whistled, catching everyone’s attention.

“With the setting sun, we dance!” she cried.

Everyone cheered.

Ben lit the bonfire clumsily, as if he were afraid of being burnt. His eyes were wide as he gazed at Maeve. She nodded at him and pulled a plastic sandwich box containing ground herbs out from her purse.

Maeve’s friends held hands in a circle around the bonfire. They straightened as Maeve joined them.

“What are they doing?” I whispered in Rory’s ear.

“A dance they do every year.”

“Oh, okay.”

“It’s quite fun, actually!”

Sure enough, they started to dance. Maeve cradled her container of herbs and threw handfuls of them into the fire. The herbs ignited the clear night air with a scent like that of my grandmother’s garden.

The girls were swans as they danced — their limbs feathery and pale against the growing darkness. The ocean waves and breeze were the instruments to the silent beat they counted in their heads.

Rory handed me his flask of whiskey and I took a long swig.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Rory look at me and glance away. I reached into my pocket and stuffed a Gin Gins candy in my mouth. What’s better, whiskey or ginger breath?

The combination of ginger, whiskey, and the bonfire’s herbal-burnt wood fusion, was enough to make my head spin.

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