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A Week in Winter (Chapter Eleven)

'What about "By The Rivers Of Babylon"?' Winnie offered.

It turned out that Lillian had been at a wedding in St Augustine's church in Rossmore where the bride and groom had chosen this as one of their wedding hymns, and the Polish priest had thought it must be an old Irish tradition and sang along with it.

Winnie said that one year, when she was working the Christmas shift in a hospital, they had all made a conga line and danced through the wards singing this song to cheer the patients up, and even the sour ward sister had agreed that it worked.

Then Lillian said there was nothing to beat 'Heartbreak Hotel', so they sang that. Winnie said she actually preferred Elvis doing 'Suspicious Minds', but they only knew one line of that, which was something about being caught in a trap. Still, they sang it over and over until it began to sound hollow.

During an attempt at Otis Redding's 'Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay', they both noticed that the level of the water had gone down. They hardly dared to say it in case yet another huge wave would crash in. But when it was clear that the tide had turned, and their throats were raw from singing and the salt spray, they reached out their hands to each other. Cold, wet and trembling, they just held on for a few seconds. Words would have destroyed the fragile hope and shaky peace they had managed to reach.

Now it was a matter of waiting.

Mrs Starr called Rigger when it was obvious that two of her guests had gone missing. He rounded up a search party, including Chicky's brothers-in-law.

'I warned them against the south cliffs, so you can be sure that's where they went,' she said in a clipped voice. Rigger asked her if there were any specific places she had told them about and when Chicky thought about it, it was clear what had happened. She had seen the challenge in Lillian Hennessy's face as she had dismissed the weather warnings the previous night. And she had noticed how Lillian left without any hint of her direction that morning.

The men said they would go towards Majella's Cave and phone her as soon as they had any news.

Before she heard from them, however, there was a call from Teddy Hennessy, who said he was Lillian's son and phoning from England. He apologised for interrupting her but said he couldn't reach his mother or Winnie by mobile phone. They must have switched them off.

Chicky Starr was professional and guarded. No point in alerting him to any possible danger until she had proof that there was a real need to be worried. She took his number carefully.

'They've gone walking over the cliff paths and should be back soon, Mr Hennessy.'

'And they're having a good time?' He sounded anxious to hear it was all going well.

'Yes; I'm sorry they're not here to tell you themselves. They'll be upset to have missed you.'

'I got a text from Winnie last night. She said the place was wonderful.'

'I'm pleased they are satisfied with it all.' Mrs Starr felt a lump in her throat. 'It's good to see old friends enjoy themselves . . .' Please God may she not have to talk to this man in an entirely different way in a few hours' time.

'Lillian's my mother, as I said. This holiday was their way to get to know each other properly, you see. It's great to know it's working so well.'

He sounded hopeful and enthusiastic. How could she tell him that his hard, brittle mother had not been getting on at all well with Winnie, who turned out to be his girlfriend? The relationship had not even been acknowledged. How would history have to be rewritten if the worst had happened?

She stood with her hand at her throat until Orla tugged at her sleeve asking whether the meal should be served now or not. She pulled herself together and got the guests seated. They were all anxious to hear news of the missing women and an unsettled air hung over the table.

'They're all right, you know,' said Freda suddenly, 'they're fine. You mustn't worry. They'll be cold and hungry, but they'll be all right.' She said it with great confidence, but it seemed like everything was in slow motion until the telephone rang.

They were safe. The search party were bringing them first to Dr Dai's house but there seemed to be nothing worse than cold and shock. Without giving any hint of her relief, Chicky Starr told the other guests that Winnie and Lillian had been caught by the tide and would need hot baths but that everyone was to start dinner without them.

When they came in the door, white-faced and wrapped in rugs and blankets, everyone cheered.

Lillian made very light of it all.

'Now you've all seen me without my make-up, I'll never recover from this!' she laughed.

'Were you trapped by the tide?' Freda was anxious to know what had happened.

'Yes, but we knew the tide would have to go out again,' Winnie said. She was trembling but there was going to be no drama.

'Weren't you very frightened?' The English doctor and his wife were concerned.

'No, not really. Winnie was great. She sang all the time to keep our spirits up. She does a very mean "St Louis Blues", by the way. She might give us a recital one night.'

'Only if you do "Heartbreak Hotel",' Winnie said.

Mrs Starr interrupted. 'Your son rang, Lillian, from England. I said you'd call him when you got back.'

'Let's have a bath first,' Lillian said.

'Did you actually tell him that – ' Winnie began.

'I told him you'd been delayed, that's all.'

They looked at her gratefully.

Lillian looked thoughtful. 'Winnie, why don't you call him? He's your fellow. It's you that he wanted to talk to anyway. Tell him I'll talk another time.' And she headed towards her bath.

Only Chicky Starr and Freda O'Donovan saw any significance in that remark. They both realised that some great shift had taken place during the long hours waiting for a high Atlantic tide to change. It wouldn't all be sunshine or an easy road ahead, but it wasn't only the weather that looked a lot calmer and less troubled than it had that morning.

John

John had to remember that they were talking to him when they called out his name. It had been so long since anyone had called him John, which was in fact his real name, or at least the name he had been given in the orphanage all those years ago.

Everyone else knew him as Corry.

There was a character called Corry in a children's book which the nuns used to read at bedtime. A little cherub of a toddler that everyone loved. So John thought this was a good name, and the nuns humoured him.

There was a gardener in the orphanage; an old man who came from a place called Salinas. He was always telling them that this was a great part of the world and one day, when he had enough money, he would go back there and buy himself a little place.

Corry used to say the name Salinas over and over. He liked it.

He had no name. This would be his name.

He was Corry Salinas and when he was sixteen he got his first job working in a sandwich bar.

They had a contract to do lunches for film crews, and Corry soon caught everyone's eye. It wasn't just his dark eyes above the aquiline nose, his hair which curled slightly at the temples, his intelligent eyes which always seemed to smile conspiratorially  –  it was the way he remembered who liked peanut butter and who liked low-fat cheese. Nothing was too much trouble; even the most tiresome and self-obsessed starlets, who changed their minds and said that he had delivered the wrong sandwich, were impressed.

'I don't know where you get your patience.' Monica, who worked with him, had a shorter fuse.

'There are other sandwich bars. We want them to choose ours so it needs a bit of extra effort at the start.' Corry was cheerful. He was not afraid of hard work. He lived in a room over a laundromat and cleaned the place each morning instead of paying rent.

He didn't have to spend any money on food since there was always something to eat in a sandwich business. His savings account grew, and every cent was earmarked for acting lessons. No way could you live in Los Angeles and not want to be a part of the industry.

He and Monica were now an item.

Corry's good looks meant that being an extra would have been easy. But that wasn't really an option. It would mean hanging around all day for what was considerably less money than he earned through the lunch trade. He would hold out until he got a speaking part, and maybe an agent.

It was all part of the dream.

Monica's dream was different. She thought they should move into a place of their own and set up their own fast-food business. Why work all the hours God sent just to make the employer even more wealthy?

But Corry was firm. His dream was to be an actor. He could not commit full-time to a catering business.

Monica was upset by this. She had seen too many people waste a lifetime chasing after a Hollywood dream. Her own father was one of them. But Corry was the love of her life, this handsome boy with the mobile face and the confidence that he would make it in the movies. She didn't want to push him and risk losing him.

And then Monica was pregnant. She didn't know how to tell Corry. She feared so much that he would say he couldn't get involved. Contraception had been her responsibility. And Monica had not deliberately forgotten to take the pill. She spent days wondering how to tell him in the way that would least upset him. In the end she didn't have to; he guessed.

'Why didn't you tell me sooner?' he seemed full of love.

'I didn't want to destroy your dream.'

'Now I have two dreams: a family and a movie career,' he said.

They were married three weeks later, and Monica moved in over the laundromat. They found even more work to keep up their funds. Acting lessons cost a lot of money, and people told them that having a baby didn't come cheap either.

By the time that Maria Rosa was born, Corry Salinas had an agent and had been cast as one of three singing waiters in a big musical comedy. Not a great role, his agent had explained, but it would get him on the ladder. It was a vehicle for an ageing and difficult actress who was going to make life hell for everyone during the shoot. And if they liked him, who knew what could follow?

Corry made sure they liked him. He was attentive and endlessly patient for long, long days of work. He treated the First Assistant Director as if he were God. He made special fresh juices for the difficult movie star. She told everyone that he was cute.

The other two singing waiters might let their irritation show, but Corry never did. His ready smile and willingness to please paid off. By the time the shoot was over he had been offered a part in another movie.

Maria Rosa was the most beautiful baby in the world.

Monica's family did a great deal to help as they waited hopefully for Monica's husband to get a serious job that paid properly. Corry had no family to help them out but he often wheeled the baby up to the orphanage where he had been raised, and got a great welcome. He always asked if they could tell him anything at all about his own natural parents, and always they said no. He had been left at the gates of the orphanage aged about three weeks with a letter in Italian begging them to look after him and give him a good life.

'And you did give me a good life,' Corry always told them. The nuns loved him in the orphanage. So many of their charges had left bitter and saddened, resentful that they had spent their youth in an institution. Times had changed now, and nuns could go out to movies and theatres. They promised Corry they would go to everything he appeared in and even start a fan club for him.

Monica said it was going to be very hard getting the baby buggy up and down the stairs over the laundromat, but Corry said they couldn't move yet. Acting was a perilous career. They would indeed have a lovely home for the baby, but not at the moment.

The second movie, where Corry played a troubled teenager and the ageing, difficult actress played his stepmother, was written off as a movie too far for the diva. Her time was over, the reviewer said, her day was done. The boy, however! Now here was a talent! And so the offers started coming in.

Corry bought the house that Monica had longed for. But by the time Maria Rosa was three, everything had begun to fall apart. He spent more and more time in the bachelor apartment the studio had provided for him. He had to be seen at receptions and night clubs and at benefit nights.

Monica read that his name was coupled with Heidi, his co-star in the latest film. The next weekend when he had come home for a whole two days, she asked him directly was there any truth in what the gossip columns were saying.

Corry tried to explain that the publicity people demanded this kind of circus.

'But is there anything in it?' Monica asked.

'Well, I'm sleeping with her, yes, but it's not important, not compared to you and Maria Rosa,' he said.

The divorce was swift, and he could see Maria Rosa every Saturday and for a ten-day vacation each year.

Corry Salinas did not marry Heidi, as had been confidently predicted in the gossip columns. Heidi behaved badly about it. She got a lot of publicity as the victim of a love rat.

Monica remained silent and gave no interviews. She was never in the house when Corry arrived to pick up Maria Rosa for his Saturday visit; either her father or mother would hand over the child with few words, a look of resentment and disappointment.

Sometimes Corry was lonely and tried to ask Monica to review the situation. The answer was always the same.

'I bear you no ill will, but please contact me only through the lawyers.'

The parts were getting better; the years rolled by.

He married Sylvia when he was twenty-eight. A very different wedding day to his first one. Sylvia was from a very wealthy family that had made several fortunes in the hotel business. She was a beautiful and much-indulged daughter who had been denied nothing, and when she had insisted on a giant society wedding as her twenty-first birthday present, she got that as well.

Corry was stunned that this dazzling girl wanted him so much. He went along with all the arrangements that Sylvia's family suggested. One request, that his own ten-year-old daughter, Maria Rosa, be one of the flower girls was refused point-blank. So firmly that he did not mention it again.

Sylvia's lawyers arranged a series of prenup agreements with Corry's lawyers. The publicity for the wedding was intense and the photographic rights hotly fought over.

The day itself passed in a blur. If Corry remembered, a little wistfully, the small wedding party when he and Monica were eighteen and full of hope, then he put the thought far from his mind. That was then, this was now.

Now did not last long. Corry was needed for long hours at the studio, for costume fittings, for publicity tours, for foreign movie festivals. Sylvia was bored. She played a lot of tennis and raised money for charities.

For Corry's thirtieth birthday Sylvia planned another lavish event. It came at a time when he was very much in the public eye with his latest film, where he played a troubled doctor with a difficult moral choice to make. Posters were everywhere showing Corry's sensitive face pondering what he was to do. Women longed to meet him and take the tortured look from his eyes.

He went through the invitation list. The great of Hollywood and the hotel industry were well represented. His daughter's name was not there.

This time he did insist.

'She's twelve years of age. She'll read about it. She has to be there.'

'It's my party and I don't want her there. She's part of your past, not your present, or indeed your future. Anyway, I was thinking it's time for us to have our own child.' Sylvia was very insistent. She had only agreed to meet her stepdaughter, Maria Rosa, half a dozen times since the wedding, saying she wasn't good with young girls  –  they were all so silly and giggled over nothing.

There was something so dismissive about the way she spoke, something that sent out the message that Sylvia would always get what she wanted. The rosebud smile he had once thought so entrancing looked more like a pout now.

He tested the water to ask if he could include some of the people from the orphanage where he was raised.

'But darling Corry, they would be so out of place. Surely you can see that?'

'They will never be out of place in my life. They raised me, made me who I am.'

'Well, send them money, sweetheart, help them in fundraising  –  that's worth twice as much as some gesture of inviting them to a glitzy do where they will be fish out of water.'

Corry did already send money to his orphanage. He was on the board of a fundraising committee, but this was not the point. Three of those gentle plain-clothes nuns, as he called them, would so enjoy being guests at a huge catered event. How could these women, who had looked after him since he was found on their doorstep, be out of place anywhere?

He felt a vein in his forehead; a throbbing sensation. He even felt slightly dizzy. He could hear his own voice as if it were far away. It didn't seem to come from inside.

'I don't want a party if I can't have my daughter and the people who educated me, fed and clothed me.'

'You're overtired, Corry. You work too hard,' Sylvia said.

'That's true, I do work too hard. But I am serious. I have never been more serious in my life.'

Sylvia said they should leave the matter for now.

'If you send out those invitations, then we can leave the matter.'

'I will not be bullied or blackmailed into doing something I don't want to do.'

'Fine,' Corry said, and the marriage ended.

It was fairly painless, all things considered. Corry's lawyers dealt with Sylvia's lawyers. Settlements were agreed. But afterwards Sylvia found that a social life without Corry Salinas on her arm was not nearly as bright as it had been. She was tempted to give interviews about their tempestuous marriage.

Corry read them in disbelief. It hadn't been at all like this.

He tried to tell his daughter, Maria Rosa, that life with Sylvia had been a series of staged events, all set in a goldfish bowl to encourage the admiration and envy of others. There had been none of these violent arguments. Corry had always given in to her. The truth was that he and Sylvia barely knew each other.

'Why did you marry her then, Dad?' Maria Rosa asked.

'I guess I was flattered,' he said simply.

Maria Rosa was wise beyond her years and, because she had heard the same explanation from her mother, she believed him.

During the next two decades, Corry Salinas became a household name, not only in the United States but all over the world. He could raise the money for any movie he was involved in. He was seen with elegant women in and out of high-profile occasions, film premieres, Broadway first nights, art openings and on the grandest, most expensive yachts in the Mediterranean. The gossip columnists were always marrying him off to film stars, heiresses and even minor royalty, but nothing transpired.

Maria Rosa was dark-eyed and romantic-looking like Corry, practical and even-tempered like Monica. She had inherited their work ethic, trained as a teacher and did voluntary service overseas. Her father's A-list celebrity lifestyle didn't attract her remotely. When she was growing up it had been the enemy of any kind of family life.

She had spent too much of her youth fleeing from paparazzi, refusing to talk to people in case she was misquoted in the press. Any door would have been open to her as the daughter of Corry Salinas, but she never wanted to walk through them.

She was never hostile or resentful about her father. She always called him whenever she came back to LA to suggest a pizza or a Mexican dinner in a neighbourhood restaurant, where they could sit quietly in a booth without all the attendant publicity that Corry Salinas trailed wherever he went.

He heard from his daughter that Monica had married again, a gentle guy called Harvey who ran a flower shop. Her mother had never been happier, Maria Rosa explained; the only cloud in the sky was that there was no sign of her upcoming wedding and maybe grandchildren. But, Maria Rosa sighed, she just hadn't met anyone, and Lord wasn't this town an awful warning about how marriage could go horribly wrong.

People often said that it was unfair how men looked better as they aged; Corry could still play passionate leading roles when women in their fifties were struggling to get character parts. But he knew this could not go on for ever.

When Corry was in his late fifties, he knew that what he needed was one utterly unforgettable part to play. Something with gravitas and sensitivity. A part that would for ever be associated with him. Yet it didn't seem to come his way.

His agent, who was called Trevor the Tireless, had been trying to direct him towards a television series, but Corry would have none of it. When he had been starting out they always thought that only old, failed actors went into television. The real arena was the movie theatre; nothing else counted.

Trevor sighed.

Corry was way behind the times, he said. They were in a golden age of television, he said. There were fabulous writers doing their best work for television. There was a part on offer which had all the gravitas he was looking for  –  he was going to play a President of the United States! Corry could write his own ticket. The real rule for success was to be adaptable, he kept saying. But Corry would not listen.

It wasn't a matter of changing agents. Not at this stage. Trevor was indeed tireless in his efforts to find the perfect part for his most famous client. And Corry knew the old saying that changing agents was like changing deckchairs on the Titanic.

Corry had always been relaxed and easy-going. Suddenly he had become stubborn, utterly certain that he knew better than agents, the studios and the whole industry.

Corry hadn't listened to the kind nuns who had wanted him to be a priest, or to the man who ran the first sandwich bar who had offered Corry a permanent position. He had turned a deaf ear to those who said his acting lessons were an expense he could not afford. He had always been his own man.

Soon he would be sixty. Trevor wanted to be able to announce something great to coincide with this anniversary, but all he came up with was yet another television offer.

'It's a peach of a part,' Trevor begged. 'You play an Italian who thinks he has a fatal illness and goes back to Italy to find his roots before he dies. Then he meets this woman. They're lining up to play her if you are going to be the lead, you wouldn't believe the names we have.'

'Not television,' Corry said.

'It's all changed, believe me. Look at the awards! They're all going to television stars now.'

'No, Trevor.'

And that's how things stood for weeks.

Corry told Maria Rosa about it all.

'Why don't you do it, Father? None of my friends has time to go out to movie theatres. They all watch TV or download things on to their computers. It's all changed. Everything has.'

She was more right than either of them knew.

Corry's business manager, who had always advised him well, had been badly stung by the recession. Investments had not paid off, so even more hasty and unwise investments were made. It all blew up the day that the manager was killed in a car wreck.

He had driven straight into a wall, leaving behind him a financial confusion that would take years to unravel.

Now, for the first time in decades, Corry had to make a career decision based entirely on the need to make money. Most of his property had to be sold off piece by piece.

Trevor was his usual tireless self in keeping Corry Salinas's financial woes out of the papers. But he did clear his throat several times about the television series. And this time Corry had to listen.

The money people were meeting in Frankfurt. They wanted Corry to be there to say that he was interested. This would help them raise the financing. It was going to be huge, Trevor said; Corry would get his property back.

'I only want to make sure my daughter is left well provided for,' Corry said glumly as he packed his bag for Germany.

They always boarded Corry discreetly, seconds before the plane took off. He slipped into his seat in first class with the minimum of fuss. If other passengers recognised him, they gave no sign. He had the treatment and sample scripts for the new television series on his lap and opened them reluctantly. His heart was just not in the project which, according to Tireless Trevor, would turn his financial life around and make him even more of a household name than he already was. When he got to Frankfurt he would shower, change and settle himself in the hotel and only then would he make up his mind about what to do. He was tired, and after a few minutes in his comfortable seat he drifted off to sleep.

He woke to realise that the plane had not yet taken off. The cabin steward was offering him some fresh orange juice. There had been a delay, he was told, an instrument check, but all was fine and the captain said they would be taking off shortly.

Corry checked his watch; there was an announcement. This plane was going nowhere. The flight was cancelled. Arrangements were being put in place to get everyone on to the next day's flight. Anyone who didn't want to wait would be transferred to another airline, but the flight would not be direct. The next day would be too late; he'd miss the meeting entirely. So much for settling down in his hotel beforehand. Trevor would never believe it. He'd never forgive him.

At the airport, all hell was breaking loose as everyone was trying to move to different airlines; in the end it was only flying by way of Shannon airport in Ireland that he had any chance of getting to Frankfurt at all. He just had time to call Trevor who, to save time, would now pick him up. He'd arrange for the media to photograph him coming through the airport. He'd make a story about the delayed flight, a few interviews and then he'd take him straight to the meeting. Whatever happened, he had to be there. Everyone was counting on him.

Everyone was counting on him, were they? Oh well. So, he'd be late, but he just might make it. He knew he would not speed the plane or shorten the journey by worrying about it, so he slept as the plane went eastwards through the night and then they were landing in Ireland.

He looked down at the small patchwork green fields far below. He could see the coastline. Maria Rosa had been to Ireland once with a student group some years back. She said she had enjoyed it. Everyone she met had some kind of story to tell. He thought fancifully about what it would be like to go on a vacation with his daughter. She was now in her early forties  –  a handsome woman absorbed in her teaching, equally at ease in the flower shop with her mother and Harvey, or having drinks with her father in the top Hollywood hotels.

Still no sign of a romance in her life, but she laughed it away and so Corry stopped enquiring. She might even enjoy a holiday with him. As soon as he got home, he'd call her and suggest it.

He looked at his watch again. This was going to be very close. He would have to run to catch his connection to Germany.

It was, in fact, too close. Corry stood and watched the flight to Frankfurt leave without him.

Tireless Trevor would be waiting at the airport, the publicity machine would meet a plane on which he was not travelling. He called Trevor's cell phone and held his own phone away from his ear as his agent fumed, protested and raged about the news. Eventually, he ran out of adjectives and abuse and just sounded weary.

'So what are you going to do?' he asked.

Corry said, 'I'm tired. Very tired.'

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