‘O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?’
F. S. Key
He first met her in late May at a talk on W. B. Yeats given by Professor Foster in the National Library in Dublin. He knew she was American the moment he saw her, before he even heard her speak. She had that all American healthy complexion of piano ivory sparkling teeth and bright smiling brown eyes. And the way she was so open was American too, he figured, as she made for a vacant seat, talking to everyone around her in a voice a little too loud for Irish decorum. She was pushing her auburn fringe back saying, ‘My bangs are in my eyes’, like someone who wanted to share the world. ‘Imagine, accounts of my ancestors are stored here. Oh my god, and those green shades like one of the forty shades when I was looking down from the Aer Lingus plane. It was so exciting.’
‘Why didn’t you fly Panam?’ another woman, American also judging by the accent, asked her.
‘My dad insisted on the friendly Irish airline.’
Sitting down beside him she said smiling, ‘I just adore Yeats.’
‘He has his moments,’ he said.
‘You’ve very long arms,’ she said. He looked at his sleeves; he could never get a shirt with sleeves long enough to cover his wrists, but she obviously meant it as a compliment.
After the lecture when he told her he sometimes wrote poetry, she latched onto, ‘You’re a poet.’
‘More a poetaster.’
‘Wow,’ she said ignoring the qualification. ‘Are you hanging out with anyone?’
‘Dating , you know.’
‘No, and you?’
‘Not right now.’
He told her that if she liked he could show her around Dublin.
‘Cool,’ she said.
She looked at her watch. ‘Maybe tomorrow. Right now I’m outa time. I got a lecture.’
‘You’ve just been to a lecture.’
‘No, I mean a real lecture. I’m attending Trinity College.’
It was raining the next morning, a Saturday, the sky a grey gunpowder box of overhanging cloud as he waited for her as arranged at the main entrance to the university on College Green. He was looking across Dame Street half smiling at the statue of Thomas Davis, issuing forth his fountain with the graffiti anthem ‘Urination once again’, when she called him from under a yellow umbrella.
‘You’re not mad,’ she said chewing gum, ‘because I kept you waiting?’
‘Not at all. I’m mad anyway.’
‘Ha ha,’ she said with a half comprehending smile.
They had decided to start with Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. ‘You know Swift and all that,’ Danny said disinterestedly tightening the shoelace of his white Nike runners on the ledge of the Trinity railing. ‘Oh yes, I just love Swift. Did you read Gulliver’s Travels?’ She told him she was on a Fulbright scholarship to do postgrad Irish studies for a year and, if her dad had his way, with the possibility of staying longer.
‘He wanted me to be safe.’
‘Yeah. Like after 9/11 you know.’
He didn’t respond to that but huddled closer to her under her umbrella as they walked past City Hall. In skinny blue jeans and calf high leather boots she was cowgirl sexy with three inch heels bringing her up close to Danny’s ear. ‘Oh, I’m really into Irish rain,’ she said scrunching up her shoulders. ʻIt’s different to the States. I just love its texture, its softness.’ She put out her hand to feel it.
‘The subject of theses,ʼ Danny said.
‘The mists of Celtic Ireland.’
‘You’ve got it bad,’ he said but secretly thought he would go along with that. He would go along with anything that this rather loud but good-looking American girl had to offer him; who could be as forward as that, practically asking him out, making his pursuit of easy women all the less complicated.
‘Do you want a stick?’
‘No, I can walk fine.’
She laughed. ‘Gum.’
‘Gives you wind.’
He had fallen out of step with her and shortened his stride.
‘This Swift tour will be cool,’ she said, ‘for the Irish novel module.’
‘You mean Anglo-Irish.’
‘Well yes,’ she said swinging her bangs. ‘We did call it that on campus in America. It’s Irish.’
‘Okay, what about the native Gaelic?’ he said figuring that as an indigene he was entitled to know more than she did about the sodden place. ‘I mean what do you call that?’
‘Irish too. Oh, I’m going to learn more. Dad sent me when I was a kid to Gerry Tobin’s language school in Babylon.’
‘On Long Island.’
‘Right,’ he said savouring the strangeness of the name like it had an uprooted geography in what it stood for, like Babel with all the languages, the melting pot; but maybe it was not strange at all and he thought of his late father who had been good at languages.
‘I took a module on linguistics in the States. I got credits.’
‘Good for you.’
She stopped, looked at him with wide-eyed seriousness. ‘I don’t know if you’re being sarcastic or not.’
‘Not at all,’ he said, inclined to disregard all the clichés as he found himself being drawn to her naivety, a quality he would not have thought common among American girls.
ʻMy three g’s grandfather was a native speaker of the Gaelic.ʼ
‘Great great great. On my father’s side.ʼ
Just as she said that, A 50A snarled past in the bus lane splashing muddy water onto their ankles and toes.
‘That’s your beautiful Irish rain,’ Danny said.
She laughed, ignoring the splash. ‘I know five mistakes to avoid in Ireland.’
‘I got it on the Internet. You can’t drive on the right.’
‘Use the term going on holiday instead of saying vacationing.’
‘It’s petrol, not gas.’
‘That’s only three.’
She thought for a moment. ‘Oh, I forget the others.’
‘Gotten.ʼ He spat the word out. ʻYou say gotten for got, although a lot of Irish use that now. Why do they do that, I mean why do they have to put in superfluous letters? It’s the imperial spread of American I suppose.’
‘You think like that, Danny?’
He didn't have to respond as she was distracted by a young female beggar on Lord Edward Street. Laura took a coin out of her jean pocket and placed it into the beggar’s Weetabix box.
‘It’s so sad,’ she said, ‘that poor Irish girl sitting on the damp ground.’
‘Not Irish. Romanian,’ Danny corrected, nodding to the girl.
The girl smiled up at Danny.
‘She has a seraphic face,’ Laura said as they moved away. ‘That’s better than saying thank you, that smile.’
‘I know her from the soup run.’
‘Soup run? You do that?’
‘It’s no big deal. You might join me some time.’
‘Yeah,’ she said, chewing fast on her gum. ‘I just might. What do you do besides?’
‘I teach in prisons.’
‘Actually, I’m trying to put on a play. Well, it’s not me as such. The prisoners are doing most of the work. I’m just directing it. This guy called Three Fingers wants the lead. He wants to write it.’
‘Yeah, it seems he lost a digit in one of his escapades.’
Their hands touched as they both tried to steady her umbrella in a sudden swirl turning the corner into Patrick Street. She didn’t let his hand linger, which was his intention, but rather edged hers politely away.
She said she was lucky because her room in Trinity, although it had an old rattling window with stiff pulley cords, was modern inside with a pine wardrobe and shelf and central heating and Internet connections. And it was so near to everything on the second floor looking over the Garda station in Pearse Street. But she added it was not spacious enough to swing a cat in which he felt was her way of saying, You’re not invited up, Danny, at least not yet.
‘I don’t like cats,’ he said in mild rebuff.
‘We had a cat when I was a kid. She was called Saoirse and she was run over by— would you believe? — a fire truck, not one of Dad’s.’
‘Your dad is a fireman?’
‘We say firefighter. And was.’
‘He’s retired.’ She looked thoughtful for a moment. ‘Although he went back out of retirement to help during 9/11. At fifty three he was one of the oldest firefighters there.’
Danny sighed. ‘Every age I suppose demands its heroes.’
‘My dad,’ she said easing up on her chewing, ‘was not demanded.’
‘Sorry.’ He realised he had offended her.
‘Thousands of people came out with candles on the streets of New York to honour the dead firefighters.’
‘Point taken?’ She fixed him with a stare. ‘Are you a cynic, Danny Faraday?’
‘It’s just the flipside of being naive.’
She peeped out from under the umbrella. ‘The rain has stopped.’
‘Don’t be fooled. That’s Irish guile.’
‘You don’t love your own people?’
He didn’t answer. He didn’t want to get into heavy arguments; that was not his purpose, so they walked along in silence for a while. As they turned into Saint Patrick’s Close she said, ‘Where do you live, Danny?’
‘On the South Circular Road, up near the mosque.’
‘The mosque?’ She hesitated.
He looked at her. ‘Is something wrong?’
‘No... of course not,’ she said managing a smile.
She had to go once a week, on Tuesdays as it happened, to visit her uncle Thady. She was mysteriously vague about the location. ‘What does it matter where it is?’ she said. She was after a lecture and they were sharing a bench in the afternoon sun across from the campanile of Trinity.
‘So what’s the big deal about visiting an uncle?’ he said.
She told him that he was her dadʼs older brother who used to work in the fire department with him. He saved her dad's life in 1993 when terrorists drove a van into the basement of the World Trade Center, killing six people. Her dad was annoyed with the government, believing this was a precursor and warning which the government didnʼt heed and so were not prepared for the ʻBig Oneʼ when it came. Her mom was upstairs at the time of the explosion working as a waitress in Windows of The World. She wasnʼt injured; she got out okay (Laura strangely seemed to Danny to be speaking regretfully here), but her dadʼs leg got caught under a falling beam and her uncle Thady with his great strength lifted the beam off her dadʼs leg and carried him to safety over his shoulder in the firefighterʼs hoist.
‘So that’s it,’ Danny said, ʻthatʼs why you have to visit?ʼ
ʻDonʼt you like visiting him?ʼ
Her lips moved but refused to say anything.
ʻI was talking about Mom.ʼ
‘Dad didn’t want Mom to go back to work there afterwards, you know after they like cleaned up and rebuilt everything even with the tightened security of blue-blazered guards and identification swipe cards. But Mom loved the place. She was+always talking about it. The staff were so friendly and the clients were...’
‘What? Why are you hesitating?ʼ
She looked at him, trying to find a trust in his eyes. ‘I don’t know if I can tell you, Danny.’
He shrugged. ‘Fine,ʼ he said.
‘I like that about you,’ she said straightening herself on the bench. ‘You’re not nosey or pushy like some people.’
You don’t know me, he was about to say, but why bother?
‘You see, Dad keeps blaming himself,’ she said pondering with that toothy all American half open mouth which he found so physically wholesome and alluring at the same time. ‘He keeps thinking more attacks are going to come.’
‘How do you mean, blaming himself?’
‘Mom was killed in 9/11.’
‘Oh Jesus, Laura, I’m sorry.’
‘It’s okay,ʼ she said matter-of-factly. ‘I can deal with it. But I’m not so sure about Dad or Uncle Thady.’
‘Well, Momʼs body was never found and Dad still wonʼt accept, despite all the time gone by, that sheʼs dead. He’s just reliving 9/11 all the time, like he can’t move forward; he’s frozen there. And Uncle Thady went a bit strange too I guess when he saw it on the TV.ʼ
‘How do you mean strange?’
‘I can’t go into that.’
‘You’re tantalising me, Laura, the way you’re putting bits in, leaving bits out.’
‘I’m sorry, Danny,’ she said making a clicking sound with her chewing gum which attempted to belie the momentary seriousness that clouded her face. ‘I don’t mean to tantalise you but that’s all I can tell you right now. You gotta understand Uncle Thady worried about Dad, his kid brother, you know. He wanted to book a ticket back to New York when 9/11 happened, but they restrained him.’
‘Who restrained him?’
She paused, looked down as if she was counting the cobbled stones. ‘Maureen, his wife.’
Once he had broken the ice of her taciturnity Laura opened up to Danny and soon she was expounding fluently—her natural propensity Danny thought—on at least some of the vagaries of her family. She told Danny that Maureen with the aid of a local curate had her uncle Thady put into the Saint John of God clinic for a week, just until he got over the shock of seeing those Towers tumbling down.
ʻI don’t know what they said if it was violent... oh my god, he was never violent; -leastways never to me.ʼ
‘But your mother?ʼ Danny said for, despite his disavowal, he was becoming intrigued by her.
‘She was no hero.’
Laura looked at Danny. ‘She was unfaithful to my dad. With a Maruf Rayhani.’
‘What, an Arab?’
A breeze mussed her bangs revealing the whiteness of her forehead. ‘With a name like that, what do you figure? I found stuff in her diary. He was a regular client of the restaurant. Maybe that’s why Mom insisted on going back there after ʼ93.’
‘You mean they could’ve been acquainted that far back?’
‘I don’t know, Danny. I never told Dad. It woulda destroyed him. She was the love of his life.’
Laura drew a deep breath. ‘Oh my poor, deluded dad.’
Danny was conscious of a strange feeling coming over him, going against his baser instincts (a benign voice muttering something not totally comprehensible but pushing in nonetheless), and the image of his late parents flashed across his mind in their final waving to him as they faded behind the Plexiglass at Dublin airport.
‘That’s why I went to see her,’ Laura was saying, ‘that day in Windows on the World. She wanted to talk to me urgently. My mother was self-obsessed,ʼ she said patting her cheeks with both hands. ʻShe didn’t care two hoots about me or Dad.’
‘Wait a minute,’ Danny said, drawn to the emotion rising in her voice.
‘It’s true. You don’t know. But she never got to tell me her decision. She used to go on about Dad a lot behind his back. She would say she was coming home after work to her disappointment. It led to a good few arguments because I always defended Dad, and Dad like always made excuses for her. She had this book, Tales of the Alhambra, with all these Moorish pictures in it. She used to talk about Arabia and tried to justify her talking about that country by saying Arabia was a friend of the USA, and it was like this wonderful, exotic and romantic place.ʼ
‘Well,ʼ Danny said, not knowing how to respond to such an unexpected and openly confessed intimacy.
‘Her mind was every which way. Always,ʼ she said pulling at her sleeve. ʻShe was a great film buff; she used to bring me when I was small to Jackson Heights, but when she wanted to see more adult movies, she would go off with some friend that I never got to meet over to Manhattan.ʼ
She gazed across the campanile at a pigeon that had just landed. ‘Dad wasn’t really into romantic films except maybe for Marilyn Monroe. In fact he’s gone off films altogether now since 9/11.’
‘Why is that?’
‘Where was King Kong when the aircrafts came? Thatʼs what he says.ʼ
Danny laughed politely.
They didnʼt speak for a few moments as they watched students and lecturers in their swirling gowns crisscrossing the quadrangle laden with books and folders. Then she apologised for ʻshooting her mouth offʼ, saying that since she had come to Ireland things had built up inside her a little bit as they sometimes do and she hadnʼt ʻgottenʼ to talk to anyone sort of intimate like, neither the guys in the college or in the Insomnia café in Nassau Street where she worked part time to keep herself ʻfiscal’.
ʻEveryone needs an ear,’ Danny said.
She told him that was what her dad said about her uncle Thady, that heʼd van Gogh's ear for music, whereas her dad could sing the birds off the trees, well, when he had a mind to and that Uncle Thady sometimes had this music blaring when she would go visit, like Beethoven or something, the opposite to Maureen’s hymns.
She paused to gauge Dannyʼs attention. ʻHe weeps like a baby, big globs of tears come rolling down his cheeks.’
‘The institution?’ Danny said.
‘Yeah, except it’s not the institution now.’
‘For sure it’s Maureen. But I hardly ever see her.’
‘No. That’s why I visit Tuesdays when she’s at her sodality. Hand to bless,’ Laura said mimicking the actions, ‘knee to kneel. Rosaries, novenas, Stations of the Cross, acts of self-denial, no candy in Lent, no meat Fridays, no...’
She blushed. ‘No anything.’
Danny noticed the blush, felt her hesitation, waited for her to tell him more but all she did, as if rescuing herself from the uncomfortable silence, was eventually to blurt out, ‘It’s so difficult sometimes…’
‘You don’t have to go there, surely.’
‘I do, Danny.ʼ
ʻWhy? Why Laura?ʼ
He glanced at her. The blush had subsided, but her brow furrowed a puzzling anxiety.
American Doll is protected under international copyright law and cannot be published in any fashion with out the authorization of the author.
I thanks James for allowing me to share this work with you and I greatly look forward to reading American Doll soon.
Synopsis of American Doll by James Lawless
Laura Calane of New York comes to Dublin to further her studies of Irish literature at Trinity College and to live in what her father considers a safer environment after 9/11.
She meets Danny Faraday at a lecture on W. B. Yeats in the National Library. Danny does social work with the city’s down-and-outs and teaches in a prison where he is producing a play. He feels uncomfortable with one prisoner, a sex offender known as Three Fingers who pries into Danny’s private and sexual life.
Danny’s parents were killed a couple of years earlier in a plane crash and, until he met Laura he, an only child, was filling the void left by their deaths with brief, unfulfilling affairs. He is intrigued by Laura, however, who, for an American, is ‘untypically’ chaste and seems to have a strangerelationship with her possessive and emotionally-cloying uncle Thady. Thady is an ex-New Yorkfirefighter now living in Sandymount near the sea on the south side of Dublin, with a fanaticallyreligious wife.
Danny shows Laura around the cultural city and later they go to the southwest of the country to visit the ruin of Laura’s ancestral home. Danny is disappointed when his sexual advances are rebuffed by Laura and he lingers on to work on his prison play in the mountains of Cork while Laura, having spent a night in the ruined house of her ancestor Barra Rua who had emigrated from Ireland to America during the Famine, is anxious to get back to her studies and, more tellingly to Danny, to continue visiting her Uncle Thady.
When he returns to Dublin Danny, still intrigued by Laura, continues to go out with her. Shecommunicates with her dad Con in New York through Skype and Danny learns that Con’s wife Pattiwent missing in 9/11. Con, who idolised his wife, will not accept that she is dead. Laura reveals to Danny that her mother, unknown to her father, was having an affair with an Arab prior to 9/11.
Danny, on Laura’s invitation and despite his nervousness about aeroplanes, spends Christmas in New York with her and her temperamental father who considers many of the Irish of Danny's generation ‘brash’ and, while constantly pining over his ‘missing’ wife and reliving 9/11, is delusional in his romantic view of Ireland and hates Muslims. But Danny also witnesses the deep love that existsbetween Laura and her father and learns how 9/11 impacted on American people.
After returning to Dublin, Laura becomes increasingly withdrawn and when they stumble upon Hans Bellmer’s paintings of amputated dolls in the Museum of Modern Art, she is greatly affected and blurts out that her uncle Thady, who presents her with a doll on her birthday each year, has more than an emotional hold on her. Danny tries to persuade Laura to desist from visiting her uncle, but Laura says she can’t do that because she is beholden to Thady for saving her father’s life in a terrorist attack in New York in1993.
Danny, one evening after a few drinks too many, has a row with Laura in her Trinity rooms for what he feels is constant rebuttal and he calls her a prude. But she goes missing after that and a feeling of love and guilt surge in him for her now. He fears that she may have been abducted by Three Fingers who has just been released and whose ‘molecules’ Danny had despaired of ever changing.
Going into the second week of a nationwide search, Danny receives an anonymous text message to say Laura could be found in her uncle’s house in Sandymount. Danny breaks in to the house and findsThady’s wife murdered with a crucifix stuck in her throat and he discovers Laura in a weakened statetied up. On New Year’s Eve Thady, who had been drinking heavily, is found frozen to death on abench in Central Park in New York. He had tried to contact his brother Con who was at a 9/11remembrance ceremony at the time. DNA testing later reveals Thady as the murderer of his wife.When Danny discovers Three Fingers helping with the down-and-outs, he realises that he may have influenced the exprisoner after all and apologises for being suspicious of him. Three Fingers returns to the prison and produces the play to Danny’s delight. Laura, with the assistance of Danny and Three Fingers, burns the dolls on Sandymount Strand. The novel ends in Danny’s flat with a transmogrified Laura suggestively singing an ancestral song about a wedding dress.