Gripping a suitcase in each hand, I spun in a circle on the sidewalk. What in God’s name did I think I was doing? Before I could entertain that thought long enough to go tearing off in a panic-stricken dash after my departing cab, I squared my shoulders, turned, and marched into The Clarin House.
I’d chosen this bed-and-breakfast for two reasons: It was close to where Alina had kept a small, noisy apartment over one of the many Dublin pubs, and it was one of the least expensive in the area. I had no idea how long I would be staying, so I’d booked the cheapest one-way flight I’d been able to find. I had limited funds and needed to watch every penny, or I could end up stuck abroad without enough money to make it home. Only when I was convinced the police—or An Garda Síochána, the Guardians of the Peace, as they were called over here—were doing the best job possible would I begin to even consider leaving Ireland again.
On the trip over, I’d devoured two slightly outdated guidebooks I’d found the day before at The Book Nook, Ashford’s only used-book store. I’d pored over maps, trying to bone up on Ireland’s history and acquaint myself with local customs. I’d passed a three-hour layover in Boston with my eyes closed, trying to recall every detail about Dublin I’d ever picked up from Alina in our phone calls and e-mails. I was afraid I was still as green as an unripe Georgia peach, but hopefully I wouldn’t be the gauche tourist, stepping on toes every time I turned around.
I entered the foyer of The Clarin House and hurried to the counter.
“Evenin’ t’ye, m’dear,” the desk clerk said cheerfully. “’Opin you ’ave reserves, a’sure ye’ll be needin’ ’em such a foine night th’season.”
I blinked and replayed what he had just said in my mind, much more slowly. “Reservations,” I said. “Oh yes.” I handed my e-mail confirmation to the elderly gentleman. With his snowy hair, neatly trimmed beard, sparkling eyes behind round, rimless glasses, and oddly small ears, he actually looked like a merry leprechaun from the fabled Land o’ Green. While he confirmed my stay and checked me in, he thrust flyers at me and prattled nonstop about where to go and what to see.
At least I think he did.
Truth was, I understood little of what he was saying. Though his accent was charming, the suspicion I’d formed at the airport had just been confirmed: It was going to take my sadly monolingual American brain time to acclimate to the Irish inflection and unique way of phrasing things. As rapidly as the clerk was speaking, he might as well have been havering away (one of my new phrases from my trusty guidebook) in Gaelic for all the sense it made to me.
A few minutes later, and none the wiser about a thing he’d recommended, I was on the third floor, unlocking the door to my room. As I’d expected for the price, it wasn’t much. Cramped, only seven or eight feet in either direction, the room was plainly furnished with a twin bed perched beneath a tall narrow window, a small three-drawer dresser topped by a lamp with a stained yellow shade, a rickety chair, a pedestal sink for washing up, and a closet about as wide as I was with—I pushed it open—a whopping two wire hangers, badly bent. The bathroom was a shared deal down at the end of the hall. The only concession to atmosphere was a faded orange-and-pink rug and a matching drape over the window.
I dropped my bags on the bed, pushed the curtain aside, and looked out at the city where my sister died.
I didn’t want it to be beautiful, but it was.
Full dark had fallen and Dublin was brilliantly lit. There’d been a recent rain, and against the coal of night, the shiny cobbled streets gleamed amber, rose, and neon-blue from reflected lamps and signs. The architecture was a kind I’d seen before only in books and movies: Old World, elegant, and grand. The buildings boasted ornate facades, some adorned by pillars and columns, others sported handsomely detailed woodwork and tall, majestic windows. The Clarin House stood on the outskirts of the Temple Bar District, which, according to my guidebook, was the most vibrant, alive part of the city, full of craic—Irish slang for something along the lines of “rollicking good fun.”
People milled about in the streets, wandering from one of the countless pubs in the district to the next. “Good puzzle” James Joyce had written, “would be cross Dublin without passing a pub.” More than six hundred pubs in Dublin! the headline on one of the many flyers the sprightly clerk had thrust into my hand proudly trumpeted. From what I’d seen on the drive in, I believed it. Alina had studied hard to be admitted to the exclusive study-abroad program at Trinity College, but I also knew she’d thoroughly enjoyed the energy, social life, and many and diverse pubs of the city. She’d loved Dublin.