Home > What the Wind Knows(12)

What the Wind Knows(12)
Author: Amy Harmon

I was half convinced I was dead, that I’d died on the lake and gone to a strange heaven where Eoin existed as a child again. Ultimately, that was the thought that glimmered and grew, a spark that became a flame, warming me and calming the crazed circling of my thoughts. Eoin was here, in this place. In my world, he was gone. Here, we were together again, just like he’d promised we would be. Eoin made me want to stay, if only for a while.

Thomas checked on me frequently, changing my bandages and checking for infection. “You’ll be fine, Anne. Sore. But fine. No serious damage was done.”

“Where’s Eoin?” I asked. The boy had not been in to see me since that first night.

“Brigid has gone to her sister’s in Kiltyclogher for a few days.”

“Kiltyclogher,” I repeated, trying to remember where I’d heard it before. “Seán Mac Diarmada was born in Kiltyclogher,” I said, pulling the factoid from the recesses of my mind.

“He was. His mother, Mary, was a McMorrow. She and Brigid are sisters.”

“Declan and Seán were cousins?” I marveled.

“They were. Anne, you know this.”

I could only shake my head in incredulous denial. Why had Eoin kept so much of his history from me? Such an important family connection, and he’d never divulged it. Brigid McMorrow Gallagher. I closed my eyes and tried to clear my head, but not before a little honesty slipped from my lips.

“Brigid wants to keep Eoin from me,” I whispered.

“Yes,” Thomas answered, unapologetic. “Can you blame her?”

“No.” I understood Brigid perfectly. I wouldn’t trust me either. But I was not guilty of Anne’s sins, whatever they might be. “I’d like a bath. Would that be possible?” I needed a bath. Desperately. My hair was lank and limp against my back, and I smoothed it self-consciously.

“No. Not yet. You need to keep your wound dry.”

“Maybe I can just wash a little? With a cloth? Brush my teeth, maybe wash my hair?”

His eyes fell on the tangled mess and quickly looked away. He nodded. “If you feel strong enough, then yes. But the help is gone. Even Brigid is not here to assist you.”

I didn’t want Brigid to assist me. She’d entered my room once like a frigid wind and left a draft in her wake. She wouldn’t look directly at me, not even when she’d helped me into an ancient nightgown that tied at my throat and hung to my ankles.

“I can do it myself, Thomas.”

“Not your hair, you can’t. You’ll pull the stitches from your side. I’ll do it,” he said stiffly, drawing back the blankets and helping me rise. “Can you walk?”

I nodded, and he held my arm as I shuffled to the bathroom he’d carried me to several times in the last few days. My persistent, ordinary need to pee was one of the things that had convinced me I wasn’t dreaming. Or dead.

“Teeth first, please,” I said.

Thomas set a small wooden brush with short bristles and a tube, not unlike the toothpaste I was familiar with, on the sink. The bristles were some sort of animal hair, and they were rough. I tried not to think too much about it or the soapy taste of the paste. I scrubbed carefully, finishing with my finger to avoid making myself bleed. Thomas waited for the warm water to gurgle through the pipes, though I caught him watching me, a small furrow between his brows.

When I was finished, Thomas moved a wooden stool of medium height next to the enormous claw-foot tub and eased me down onto it. I wrapped Brigid’s ill-fitting old nightgown around me and tried to lean over the edge of the large tub, but the angle made me hiss in pain.

“I don’t think I can bend over yet.”

“Stand. Hold on to the side, and I’ll do the rest.”

The angle was better with me on my feet, but I was wobbly and weak, and the weight of my head was uncomfortable. I let it fall against my chest as he began to fill a porcelain pitcher and pour the water over my head, following the lukewarm stream with steady hands.

It felt wonderful, the warmth and his gentle ministrations, but I felt so undignified as I tried to keep the voluminous nightgown from getting wet while I struggled to stay upright that I started to laugh. I felt Thomas become still beside me.

“Am I doing it wrong?” he asked.

“No. You’re doing fine. Thank you.”

“I’d forgotten what it sounded like.”

“What?”

“Your laugh.”

I stopped laughing immediately. I was an imposter, and the knowledge was ugly and frightening. The stream of water continued until my head was so heavy with the watery weight, it pulled at my side. I swayed, and Thomas steadied me, wringing the length of my hair with his right hand while he held on to me with his left.

“I need both my hands to wash your hair. If I let go, are you going to fall?”

“No.”

“It does no good to say you won’t if you will,” he chided. Something about the accent, the singsong words chopped with very distinct Ts, slid beneath my skin. I didn’t know if it was simply the sound of my childhood, of Eoin, but it comforted me. Thomas released me slowly, testing the veracity of my claim. When I didn’t wobble, he rushed to lather the streaming mass with a chunk of soap. I grimaced, but not from pain. I couldn’t imagine what my hair was going to look like when it dried. I used expensive hair products to keep my curls from becoming frizzy and unmanageable.

He was thorough but gentle—working the soap through my hair and rinsing it free, long fingers on my scalp, a steady presence at my side—and his kindness made me weepy. I gritted my teeth to battle the tears that pricked my eyes and told myself I was ridiculous. I must have swayed again because Thomas pulled a towel around my shoulders, squeezed the excess water from my hair, and eased me down to the stool once more.

“Do you have . . . oil . . . or tonic . . . to smooth the hair?” I stammered, trying to use appropriate terms. “Something to ease the tangles?”

Thomas’s brows rose, and he pushed back the dark lock of hair that had fallen over his forehead. His shirt was damp, and his sleeves, rolled to the elbows, hadn’t fared much better.

I felt like a needy child. “Never mind. I’m sorry. Thank you for helping me.”

He pursed his lips, thinking, and turned to the tall cupboard near the door. “My mother used to wash her hair with a well-beaten egg and rinse it with rosemary tea. Maybe next time, eh?” He looked at me with the barest hint of a smile. He took a fine-toothed metal comb and a small glass bottle from the cupboard. A yellow label with “Brilliantine” written above a drawing of a man with deeply parted, slicked-back hair made me think the bottle belonged to him.

“I’ll just use a wee dab. It leaves a greasy residue that Brigid complains about. She says I leave spots on the furniture where I rest my head.” He sat on the toilet and pulled the stool I was sitting on toward him so that I was situated between his knees, my back to him. I heard him remove the lid of the tonic and rub his hands together. The scent was not unpleasant, as I’d feared. It smelled like Thomas.

“Start at the tips and work your way up,” I suggested softly.

“Yes, madam.” His tone was droll, and I bit my lip, trying not to laugh. The intimacy of his actions was not lost on me. I couldn’t imagine other men of the 1920s caring for their women this way. And I was not his woman.

“No patients to see today?” I asked as he began to do as I’d suggested, working his hands up through the wet strands that hung down my back.

“It’s Sunday, Anne. The O’Tooles don’t work on Sundays, and I don’t see patients, unless it’s an emergency. I’ve missed Mass two weeks in a row. I’m sure Father Darby will be stopping by to ask why and to drink my whiskey.”

“It’s Sunday,” I repeated, trying to remember what day it had been when I’d spread Eoin’s ashes on Lough Gill.

“I pulled you out of the lough last Sunday. You’ve been here for a week,” he supplied, gathering my hair in his hand and carefully working the stiff comb through the length.

“What’s the date?” I asked.

“July third.”

“July 3, 1921?”

“Yes, 1921.”

I was silent as he continued, carefully picking through the snarls. “They’ll call a truce,” I murmured.

“What?”

“The British will propose a truce with the Dáil. Both sides will agree on July 11, 1921.” The date, unlike many of the others, had stuck in my head, because July 11 was Eoin’s birthday.

“And you know this how, exactly?” He didn’t believe me, of course. He sounded weary. “De Valera has been trying to convince the British prime minister to accept a truce since December of last year.”

“I just do.” I closed my eyes, wondering how I would ever tell him, how I would convince him of who I was. I didn’t want to pretend I was someone else. But if I wasn’t Anne Finnegan Gallagher, would he let me stay? And if I couldn’t go home, where would I go?

“There. That should do it,” Thomas said, and ran the towel over the freshly combed strands, blotting up the water and excess oil. I touched the sleek length, the ends already starting to curl, and thanked him quietly. He stood and, hands curved around my upper arms, helped me to my feet.

“I’ll leave you now. There’s a cloth and soap for washing. Stay clear of your bandages. I’ll be close. Call to me when you’re done. And for heaven’s sake, don’t faint.” He moved toward the door but hesitated as he turned the knob. “Anne?”

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry.” The apology rang in the air for several moments before he continued. “I left you behind in Dublin. I looked for you. But I should have kept looking.” His voice was very soft, his face averted, his back rigid. I’d read his words, his account of the Rising. I’d felt his anguish. I felt it now, and I wanted to unburden him.

“You have nothing to apologize for,” I said, conviction ringing in my voice. “You took care of Eoin. And Brigid. You brought Declan home. You are a good man, Thomas Smith. A very good man.”

He shook his head, resistant, and when he spoke again, his voice was strained. “Your name is on his headstone. I buried your shawl beside him—the green one you loved. It was all I could find.”

“I know,” I soothed.

“You know?” He turned abruptly, and the grief I’d heard in his voice glittered in his eyes. “How do you know?”

“I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the grave at Ballinagar.”

“What happened to you, Anne?” he pressed, repeating the question he’d asked too many times.

“I can’t tell you,” I implored.

“Why?” The word was a frustrated cry, and I raised my voice to match it.

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