The fault lay with the wishbone. Thanksgiving dinner was served at the appointed hour and what remained his family sat at the table eager for James to carve the turkey. As he looked across at the faces of his relatives, he felt content. His sister Sally sat across from him next to his nephew Dean. He looked admiringly at the young man who he always treated like his own son and felt a slight pang that he and his departed wife had never had children of their own.
The Quinn family had been a small one considering their Irish Catholic roots. James and Sally’s father had raised them on stories of their ancestry and his upbringing in the town of Kindsale in County Cork. Mr James Quinn Sr. had moved to New York as a young man, married a sturdy Irish American girl and settled in Brooklyn where they had James a year after their marriage and Sally two years later.
In his youth, James’ father instilled in him a pride of the beautiful, lush country he had never visited, always promising that one day the family would make the journey back. Throughout his life, he imagined the seaside town with its local shops and boats in a harbour. He imagined himself strolling along a seafront promenade with the cool wind at his back and a paper under his arm. In his imaginings, he would wander into a pub where he could share stories with the locals about life in America and everyone would recognise his father’s name.
Alas, this was not to be. One by one, members of his family passed away, first his mother, taken by cancer, then his father of a heart attack and most recently his wife. As he thought of these things, James grew sad but carried on carving.
When he came across the wishbone, he dug it out and presented it to Dean.
“Are you game?” he asked.
Dean, who up to that point had been twisted backwards in his chair to watch the football on the television behind them, turned around.
“Yeah, I’m game.” He said.
He stood up from his chair and took hold of one end of the wishbone. The two men looked at each other, each wearing a challenging smile for the other and began to pull.
James gave the bone a little twist from his wrist and the lion’s share came away in his hand.
Works every time, he thought.
Dean defeated slumped back into his chair. “You get me every year.” He said, smiling at his uncle.
“Year’s of experience.” James said.
Sally began to pass the plates over to her brother. “So, what are you going to wish for?” She asked.
James loaded the plates with turkey. “I can’t tell you. If I do, it won’t come true.”
“That’s just an old wives’ tale. Come on Jim, tell us.” Sally said.
“Ok, but you two have to promise not to laugh, deal?”
Both nodded in agreement.
“Well, I was just thinking. I’ve never been to Ireland. You remember how Dad used to tell us stories about where he grew up? He’d go on and on about how beautiful the town was and how he wished he’d made it back and what we should do if we ever managed a trip… Well, after Anna got sick, we never managed it and it seemed wrong to go without her. I guess I wish I’d made the trip. I look at pictures of the place on the internet sometime, you know, just for fun. I even stopped in at a travel agent once, but I never found the time or the money to go over.”
“Why would we laugh? I think that’s a lovely thing to wish for. Why don’t you just book the trip and go?” Sally said.
“I’ve thought about it, but at my age, I’m not sure I’d take well to travelling on my own. Who knows? Maybe some day I’ll get up the nerve and go.”
“I think you should Uncle Jim.” Dean said, the football forgotten.
“Maybe someday I will.” James said.
Later that night, when Sally and Dean had gone home, James poured himself a whiskey, slid his feet into his slippers and settled into his chair in the living room. It had been a pleasant evening. He closed his eye and drifted off, thinking of the errands he had to run in the morning and wondering if the weather would be good for a walk in Central Park at the weekend.
The heart attack came in the night, quick and silent as he slept in his chair. The empty glass slipped from his fingers and didn’t even break as it hit the carpeted floor.
* * * * * *
Dean wandered into the airport with his large, heavy suitcase dragging behind him. Like his dear uncle, he had never travelled overseas before and fearing he wouldn’t find his favourite food and wary of the cold weather of the Irish coast, packed enough woollen sweaters and Twinkies to keep him comfortable on his mission.
Over his shoulder was a small rucksack that held a copy of Time Magazine for the trip and his precious cargo. After consulting the morticians, several blog sites, the airline and his mother it was agreed that the best thing for Uncle Jim was to see his wish fulfilled. In a double-bagged Ziploc container were the post-cremation remains of Uncle Jim.
As Dean made his way towards the check in desk he realised he had forgotten to buy cigarettes. He scanned the terminal and spotted a shop where he could pick up some cheap cartons. The sign said, “Marlboro Reds – 400 for $40”. What a bargain! He thought. “I’ll never fit them in here” he mumbled as he sized up his rucksack. God, he thought, I’ll need a cigarette before the flight and during the connection and once I land…
He opened his rucksack and calculated the space he would need for his new purchase and found it too small. He imagined himself waiting for his connecting flight in the strange, unfriendly place Heathrow was reported to be and shuddered. He decided. Opening his suitcase, he shifted the contents of his bag until he had created a little nest amongst his sweaters where he could rest what remained of Uncle Jim. There now, he thought. That looks comfortable and he’ll be safe and sound in this sturdy Samsonite. Content that he has made the logical decision, he checked in his suitcase and made his way back to the cigarette shop. Having made his purchase, he was delighted to find that the cartons fitted perfectly in his rucksack.
* * * * * *
Upon his arrival in Cork, Dean went through immigration without incident. He shuffled his feet through the long corridors that led to baggage reclaim and dreamt of his first pint of Guinness in a proper Irish pub. He rummaged through his rucksack and fished out his pack of Marlboros, noting the “No smoking” signs that surrounded him. He would have to wait until he collected his large suitcase and could make his way out of the terminal to the taxis lined up outside.
A cluster of passengers surrounded the correct carousel. Tired and cranky after the 11-hour trip from New York, people stood shifting their weight from one foot to the other impatiently or sat along the edges of the room waiting for their luggage. For Dean, the torture was acute. During the normal run of things, an hour without a cigarette was too long, and it had been nearly three. The eight hour journey between New York and London had nearly done him in.
Not long now, he thought.
Finally, the carousel began to move and one by one the bags began to appear. First strollers, then odd-shaped boxes held together with duct-tape, then bags and rucksacks of all shapes and sizes.
As people recognised their bags, they shoved in between the crowds, pulling and lifting their bags off the conveyer belt and wheeling their possessions out the exit where the doorway had a sign that read, “Nothing to Declare”.
More and more people went through the door and Dean began to feel uncomfortable. So few bags were left unclaimed and few people remained standing.
When the last person from his flight disappeared through the door and the last bag had been collected, Dean remained alone.
God, this isn’t happening, he thought.
When he had given up hope that his bag would reappear, he found the baggage claim office and filed a claim. For a time he debated whether or not to tell the man behind the desk of the importance of his bag’s contents, but finally, he overcame his embarrassment and confessed.
An incredulous face greeted him and drew up the necessary paperwork.
“We’ll try to track it down, Sir. We can’t take responsibility for the contents of the bag, but as soon as it turns up we’ll have it sent to your hotel. Where are you staying?”
Dean sheepishly gave the address of the bed and breakfast his mother had booked for him in Kindsale and skulked out of the office. Once outside, he lit a cigarette and tried to think of what he would tell his mother when he called to inform her of his safe arrival.
He had barely managed to replace his toothbrush and underwear and purchase spare clothes before the shops in the small town had begun to shut for the night. By God, he thought, it wasn’t even six o’clock! What kind of hick town is this?
When the phone rang in his room, he reluctantly answered. “Hello?”
“Hi Honey” Sally’s voice said. “How was your trip? How’s the hotel? Tell me all about it!”
“Uh, Mom, I have something to tell you…”
* * * * * *
The loudspeaker made its announcements for disembarking passengers.
“Bienvenidos a Madrid. Pasajeros llegando de Londres, por favor recoja equipaje despues de pasar inmigracion…”
When the passengers collected their bags, a lone Samsonite, ill-equipped for the sweltering Spanish weather, circled round and round on the carousel. Uncle Jim, it would seem, had become better-travelled than he’d ever expected.
© Eliza Dashwood 2008