The dappled light muted the harsh summer rays of the Australian sun. I cruised along my picturesque street lined with beautiful architect-designed homes creating a wealthy ambience for those who lived there. I loved this part of the drive home. It gave me time to turn off from work demands and once more become the mother and wife in the O’Brien family.
As I flew through the round a bout into my street the sound of horns blasting ferociously around me shattered my reverie. Cars were stopped in the middle of the road. Instinctively I flatten the break until the burnt rubber and smoke almost choked me.
‘What the hell is going on?’
My thoughts raced as too many cars blocked me in, driver's doors swung open, and people were quickly moving down the street, I could not see what they were looking at.
‘It’s probably the water mains again,’ my mind mentally sighed
The driveway on my left conveniently belonged to a friend, I pulled off the road and parked hoping she would not mind too much, then I headed a hundred metres to my own home.
I could imagine my mother-in-law's tongue lashing for being so late and it motivated me to increase my pace. Married ten years and each year, she became crankier and crankier.
‘Being New Year’s Eve, my husband Eamon’s birthday and the fact he is coming home at last surely, even she can find forgiveness for my tardiness on such a night of celebration!’ I thought, laughing woefully, knowing the idea was wishful thinking.
I knew my mother-in-law, Eimear, phonetically pronounced ee-mur; God help you if you use that spelling on her birthday card! She would be in my kitchen pounding something. Her green-eyed disdain at my tardiness would make my normal ‘You shouldn’t leave your children for so long’ lecture compounded to an even more ego striping chastisement. I could hear her repeat her favourite rebuke to me.
‘Ye know Eliza, the Irish definition of one minute may be 4 minutes 59 seconds, but your English translation must equate to 59 minutes! Did ye mother ne’er teach you t’was rood to be late?’
Sighing, I prepared myself for the berating picking up my pace. Until the situation on the road slowly reached my brain, finally comprehending the surrounding scene.
The crime scene tape held back a crowd blocking my view. I pushed my way through the mingling people. Police cordoned off two houses before and after mine. The entrance to my home, to my horror, crawled with police. Three police cars and ambulances were the only traffic in the taped off area. Emergency lights, though silent, zipped around, their constant flashing threatened anyone with Epilepsy to look the other way. There on the road, lying face down, was my Mother-in-law.
I ran towards her, ducking under the blue line tape and bolting to the still body of Eimear. I felt my arms suddenly restrained, I tried to break free from their grasp; my eyes willing the old woman to stand and begin her tongue lashing; I could hear blood pumping into my brain as an involuntary scream escaped.
‘Eimear, where are my babies, where are my children?’
The strong arms locked me in an embrace, pulling me away from the corpse of my mother-in-law.
‘Tar a bhean chéile tá na páistí agam.’
The voice, as familiar to me as my own, but the language made me twist around in his hold.
‘Eamon, what are you saying?’
His dark skin, pale, his deep brown eyes burned with hate I had never seen before as he looked down at his mother. His gaze shifted to me before softening.
‘Tá ár gcuid páistí agam… I have our kids,’
He turned me away from the scene, heading towards the closest ambulance.
I burst into tears, seeing my two children running into my arms.
The police took us to the station for questioning, confused why someone would want to kill a grandmother. Our Alibies were determined to be sound according to the senior sergeant. Eamon had flown back from his work trip and made it home just twenty minutes before I returned. He got the children out of the house, accompanied by the sergeant running the investigation. Kiera and Patrick were wrapping presents for their father at the time of the incident. They had seen nothing. Though we were interviewed in different rooms, they brought me back to where Aemon and the kids waited.
‘We can’t go home. I have Ma’s keys; we will stay there until they tell us otherwise.’
After the kids were in bed, I found Eimear’s Knappogue Castle 12 Year Single Malt. Her ice tray empty. Shoving the tray under the tap and replacing it, I took the two glasses of straight liquor to the lounge handing one crystal cut glass to my husband. I watched as he swirled its contents before downing it in a gulp. I handed him my glass, returned to the kitchen to refill his, bringing the bottle back with me this time.
‘What the hell is this all about?’
He looked at me, concern in his expression.
‘Elizabeth, there is a reason my Ma treated you harshly. I never wanted you to know.’
The whiskey in my mouth caught in my throat, exiting through my nostrils. I spent the better part of our decade together asking what I ever did to her to make her dislike me so much. Eamon had continuously told me I was too sensitive. Now he was admitting it.
‘Are you Kidding Me!!’
He ignored my outburst, staring into the golden liquid in the glass.
‘I never told you, my mother was part of the Irish push for an independent republic. Her parents were both arrested. Lord Maxwell's men shot her father. After this Eiemur and her mother sailed to Australia. Over time, though, My Grandmother and later my mother would spend many months in Ireland. They became members of Sinn Féin. I am the third generation recruited by the IRA; My job in the Irish consulate is simply a cover.’
It was my turn to pour a long scotch. The scent of the liquid reminded me of apples, baking spice and toast. My hand automatically swirled the glass before I knocked it back.
‘Are you telling me that your mother was a spy for Sinn Fein?’
He paused before answering me, exhaling deeply.
‘She is more than just a spy. She is.’
He stopped and looked up at me
‘She was the head of our IRA cell in Australia. It was not personal her hatred for you; it’s your heritage. The violating cruelty of the English has driven retaliation. Now, though, we are exposed. Some bastard has knocked her off! We must move back to Ireland; We have land in Meath; it’s a small farm. It is safer there..’
The whiskey bottle sat empty on the wooden table; my ears tuned into the ticking clock. It sounds getting louder with every second of silence.
‘Oh well, that’s a relief. Her hatred for me was simply my race! Good grief! Eamon, who on earth do you think you're married to? Surely you don’t expect me to believe any of this. You would never put your family in that much danger, would you?’
‘I never thought we would be in danger in Australia. Just wait for a moment, please Elizabeth, you will see.’
Eamon nodded before standing up and leaving the room. He re-entered with a small black nondescript diary.
‘This is my mother’s diary; it notes our travel and cell operations. You are family, first and foremost. I give you this because you are my wife and the mother of Irish children. What is in this book is not to be shared with another, but it may help you understand. I need to book our flights and organise the passports.’
He strode from the living room, leaving me to read the document. Heat rose in my cheeks. I could hardly believe what I was reading. After finishing it, I placed the book in a backpack, swung it over my shoulder, walking into the office, where I found Aemon staring at the computer screen.
‘Eamon, It’s hard to take it all this in. I cannot digest it easily; It’s surreal. I’m going to go for a walk to clear my head. I am worried about what this means for our children.’
He looked up at me.
‘Do you want me to come with you?’
Slowly, I smiled and placed a hand over his.
‘After what you have been through, I know this is hard on you too, losing your mother. I need space, that’s all. I won’t be long; I just need to clear my head. Besides you need to stay and mind the kids.’
His shoulders slacken as a tired smile touched his lips.
‘I’m so sorry, Liz.’
‘It is what it is, I suppose,’
Taking the backpack with a bottle of cold water, I walked out my mother-in-law's front door and crossed the road to the park. On the northern side, a black sedan’s motor hummed. I made my way towards the vehicle. My pulse rose as the rear door swung open, revealing a tall blond man, his face showing no emotion. I jumped into the back of the car.
The luxurious car interior felt as cold as the blond man's expression.
‘You Bastard! I told you not to neutralise her until my children were away!’
His square jaw twitched.
‘Your children did not know or see anything! Stop being overdramatic agent Dean; it all went off without a hitch.’
‘This is it. You leave my family alone now, do you understand?’
His eyebrow arched,
‘But you have not completed your mission. We need the old woman’s contacts. Until then, you will continue to be an active agent.’
I felt the rush of blood to my face, my lips thinning.
‘I have it, the lot! All the contacts! Your hundred-year English and Irish feud can now go on. Just leave us out of it. This New year starts our new life! I’m out.’