The three friends often met at The King’s Head, in Earl’s Court for a “Thank God it’s Friday’ drink. On this occasion, it was a chilly London day, in May 1972, so they huddled before the gas fire as they sipped their beer. Their conversation began with the English obligatory comments about the weather and how unseasonable this wet cold spell was. They then drifted to their usual exchange of workweek anecdotes. Michael amused them with animated tales of his solicitor clients, Kevin of his investment clients, and Joyce of her architectural ones. Their shared woes of their work weeks brought them to the topic of, what they agreed, was their collective need for a restorative vacation.
They had all been in their positions long enough to qualify for time off, so when Kevin suggested that they went to Ireland for a week together, Joyce and Michael applauded the idea. By their third drink, they had their strategy made. They planned to go to Ireland crossing on the Fishguard to Roslare ferry. They would take Michael’s car, Kevin’s tent and camping equipment and Joyce’s cooking pots and picnic basket. They agreed that serendipity was in order. Their only precise itinerary was to travel in a clockwise rotation around southern Ireland ending up in Dublin where they would take the Dublin to Liverpool ferry, or perhaps push on south and take the Roslare / Pembroke or Roslare to Fishguard ferry back. It sounded like fun. Happy and pleased with themselves; they adjourned to Joyce’s place for a sobering cup of coffee before Kevin, and Michael left to take the tube to their respective flats.
The first problem arose when Kevin called Michael to tell him that his office had refused to give him vacation time, and that he was unable to accompany his friends. Joyce and Michael had already obtained vacation approvals, and so they decided that the trip was still on. Neither of them asked to borrow the camping equipment as the weather forecast was dismal, and they agreed that bed and breakfasts would be more comfortable. The trip without Kevin’s equipment was going to be fine. Losing Kevin was different. The worst part was Michael’s belief that Joyce had gone behind his back and spoken to Kevin to persuade him that she needed to have Michael alone. Joyce, who was in love with Michael, hoped the opposite. She deduced that Michael was coming around, and had spoken to Kevin telling him that he wanted Joyce to himself. She even hoped that Michael might have a ring and proposal in mind. They did not discuss their suspicions.
The second problem arose when Joyce and Michael arrived at Michael’s uncle and aunt’s home in Cardiff where they intended to spend the night before they went on to Fishguard for the ferry. Perhaps Michael wanted to show off, possibly he was merely thoughtless, but at this juncture, he raised a few eyebrows when he told his relatives that he, and Joyce would share a room. This surprised and pleased Joyce, who had not expected this development. She smiled and acquiesced in the arrangement. She felt sure that it was a good sign. She hoped that it indicated that a proposal might be forthcoming. After dinner, they walked to the nearest pub where Michael drank heavily. When they returned to bed, he didn’t look at Joyce but merely passed out. Joyce lay next to him and watched him snoring. She desperately tried to surmise what went on in his devious mind.
The following day they took the ferry and started their Irish tour. The weather was, as forecast, dismal, grey and wet. The light rain just enough to mask the landscape, and compromise any sightseeing that Joyce and Michael might have hoped for. That evening, damp and disappointed, they took to the nearest pub. It was an Irish pub of the best caliber, and soon everyone was singing. Someone brought out a harmonica and another of the patrons a pair of spoons with which he added to the music. Michael joined in with gusto. As the evening wore on Joyce noticed, with alarm, that he was flirting outrageously with the bar maid and when not loitering at the bar talking to her he seemed to be enjoying pinching everyone’s bottoms. This included the men who took the attention with smiles but made it obvious that they were irked. The only bottom which didn’t get pinched was Joyce’s. At closing time Joyce assisted Michael back to their room where he, filly clothed, he collapsed into sleep.
By now, Joyce was becoming anxious. Michael remained good company and attentive during the day but in the evening he drifted from her side and gave his attention to anyone who would listen to him. Joyce, still under the delusion that he had intentionally manipulated to be alone with her, wondered why he was avoiding intimacy. It never crossed her mind that Michael felt that she had manipulated the entire trip so that she could give him an opportunity to propose. By now, she was sure that he knew that she adored him. She hoped that her tolerance of his ungentlemanly behavior proved her devotion.
When they arrived in County Clare, they visited the cliffs of Moher. The weather was drier, enabling them to spend the day enjoying the sea and magnificent rock faces plunging through the waves below. Joyce was miserable enough to fleetingly consider jumping off the steep edge to plunge into the beckoning turbulence of the foaming seas. Michael seemed relaxed and happy. At sunset, they found a bed and breakfast and checked in for ‘several’ days agreeing that more walking, and less driving were in order. Joyce hoped that this was going to be the breakthrough of the vacation. She was wrong. That evening Michael flirted with a scantily dressed girl in the pub and eventually left with her. At closing time, Joyce walked back to their bed and breakfast alone. She spent the night in agony wondering where Michael was. In her misery, she made a decision.
This was Joyce’s moment of epiphany; she had realized that Michael was a cad. His behavior gave an unequivocal message that he didn’t love her and that their relationship meant nothing to him. Joyce responded to her revelation by deciding that she was going home immediately. But how could she do this? She was stuck on the West Coast of Ireland in a remote spot, and since they were using Michael’s car, she was without transport. The next day was Sunday, so she knew that there would be no public transport. She was undeterred, and in the morning announced to the bed-and-breakfast dining room that she desperately needed a ride. She begged for a lift to anywhere where she could pick up public transport. Eventually, a woman and her husband offered to take her to Dublin when they left that evening. Their only proviso was that Joyce would share the back seat with their poodle. Joyce accepted with thanks. She told herself that she had been traveling with a dog for her entire trip; it made their proviso ironically logical.
Later that morning Michael appeared; he was flushed with animated joy. Joyce wondered whether his happiness was because he felt the burden of resolving his relationship with her was solved, or that he had genuinely fallen in love with his Coleen; She suspected that he didn’t know. When he saw Joyce, he was apologetic and begged her to stay. He insisted that they go to church together so that he could be cleansed his sins. Joyce accompanied him. She watched him pray and even wondered whether his remorse was genuine. She suspected that it was but thanks to her epiphany, she knew that he’d do it again. When she left, Michael waved her off and stayed on.
Great tale. I got the impression of a man on the run, deliberately exercising his alternative options to escape Joyce’s clutches. Whether a man so disposed ever entirely succeeds is another matter, however…
I think that he does in this tale although you are right – what happens when the three meet again in London – or do they? if they don’t does Kevin remain friends with either? This story could evolve!
Hey, I’m on Joyce’s side. Michael needs a good smack!
Agreed, a good wallop wouldn’t have hurt. If only they could have sat down like mature adults and discussed their fears and aspirations. I think that that last Sunday church going would have been an ideal opportunity. Maybe Eric A has the right idea and Michael’s real bent wasn’t for women but for Kevin making a true triangle. I am now wondering whether I ought to have explored this aspect further.
You have led up to and told well that story—old but ever new—of love unrequited— so heart breaking and yet so enlightening and life-changing when the “epiphany” happens. In your telling I can sense the shock, hurt, and ultimate wisdom. I like that the final sentence is a simple statement of fact. Well done, Jane
The conundrum and ultimate hurt is that neither Joyce nor Michael was able to openly discuss things with the other party. That’s why they had to be English with their stiff upper lips. I hope that modern American youth would have been able to talk to each other and come clean; or am I overly optimistic?
Funny, the lack of openness didn’t strike me as particularly British…but rather typical of the mating dance, its fears and misgivings
If it’s not meant to be – it’s not meant to be. For a moment there, I thought Michael missed Kevin more!. Okay, I’m been naughty 🙂
You are spot on, I think that he probably did! I seriously considered making it a true triangle with Kevin hankering for Joyce, Joyce for Michael and Michael, the bottom pincher, longing for Kevin. However that would have resulted in a much longer, and considerably more complex, narration – perhaps too much for a blog!