A love story from Donegal for Valentine’s Day

A love story from Donegal for Valentine’s Day
TOMORROW in the Democrat we have something a wee bit different, a short story about love by Maddeleana Merrigan, with a Donegal setting for Valentine’s Day. But in the spirit of St Valentine, we’re showing a little love too and we have decided to post the story early on our online platforms.

TOMORROW in the Democrat we have something a wee bit different, a short story about love by Maddeleana Merrigan, with a Donegal setting for Valentine’s Day. But in the spirit of St Valentine, we’re showing a little love too and we have decided to post the story early on our online platforms.

We would welcome your feedback to editorial@donegaldemocrat.com as we would like to feature more short stories and encourage new writing when and where we can:

Letterkenny courthouse, with its four pillared portico gleamed on the hill like a white beacon on an usually sunny February morning.

Traces of lazy white and mauve cloud sauntered across the sky while blackbirds and magpies busied themselves swooping and chirping on rooftops, lending an air of spring. How many stories of brave rebellion, farmland and livestock squabbles not to mention petty and serious crimes had been dramatically played out in this building since its doors opened in 1829. John squinted through the sunshine sipping on black coffee. He was representing a client in a complicated divorce case - one that involved an acrimonious couple squabbling over properties now in negative equity. He fixed his gaze towards the chequer board of sloping green fields boarded by hedge that gently sloped towards the town in the distance.

It was a year to the day since his beloved wife Helen had passed away. He unconsciously clenched his hand, as if grasping hers, and remembered how soft and delicate she felt as she slipped away from him in the peaceful, graceful surroundings of Letterkenny hospice. Even now, he sometimes imagined her warm breath close to him, her arms around him while he slept, her voice in his ear.

His client arrived breaking his thoughts, and he resumed work-mode heading directly into the courthouse. There was an unusual number of cases to be heard, resulting in long delays, and the case was adjourned until mid-afternoon. John irritatingly swung a left down Main Street towards his office. An array of colour caught his eye and he stopped to look into Helen’s favourite gift shop. To her it was an Aladdin’s cave of colourful paintings and ornaments and a favourite for gift hunting. To John it was a chaotic alien den of confusion. His mind didn’t understand purposeless ornamentation. However, today, he began to feel himself relax as he gazed at silk flowers and floral paintings, and then he noticed a white lantern resembling a bird cage. A smile broke over his pale exhausted face. He remembered how angry Helen had become when he forgot to collect one just like it for a house warming party they were attending in Ramelton. “Can’t I trust you with anything?” she screamed as she closed the front door in his face, demanding that he return to pick it up. It was well after 6pm as he stood in torrential rain gazing through the shutters, not knowing what to do. What a stroke of luck the owner had still been there – otherwise, he feared having to book a hotel for the night. And yet, on his return, Helen was looking stunning in her black dress and long red hair – all sweetness and lovingly appreciative that he had managed to sort the problem. He loved her spark that contrasted so well with her tenderness. He felt a pang in his stomach – the loss was almost unbearable and he walked on.

He strolled up the hill (a pilgrimage in itself) towards St. Eunan’s Cathedral and went inside to light a candle - which as a rule was totally out of character – but perhaps in the stillness of this sacred space he might find a reason, an understanding, an acceptance of the loss of a wonderful person who transported him from a world of structured grey to a place of chaotic wonderful bright light. She saw beauty and purpose in everything. If there was a heaven, then she most definitely was made of it.

How many times they had stood side by side at mass, baptisms, weddings, funerals – Helen in awe of the interior, and he mentally lost in a case involving the practice. Helen’s enthusiasm for the magnificence of the cathedral never waned.

John picked up a booklet that happened to be on the pew beside him and began to read with increased interest. Taking note of the content, he gazed at first in mournful solitude, slowly longing to see the place through Helen’s eyes. Gradually, what seemed solemn and grim took on an unexpected allure. The cathedral was completed in 1901. He noticed the varied and beautiful stained glass windows depicting the life of Christ which really did “illuminate the magnificent sanctuary”. The sheer size of the great Arch illustrating the life of St. Eunan and St. Columba was indeed “impressive” – names he had grown up knowing as a child, but had never taken the time to contemplate. He marvelled at the huge and beautifully ornate solid silver sanctuary lamp hanging majestically and reverently on the alter before the congregation. He began to look for the sculptures created by William Pearse – “a hero of the Easter Rising”, the impressive oak furnishings, Celtic carvings, not excluding the magnificently painted ceilings above the alter - completed by the famous Amici family of Rome.

Most notably, he hadn’t realised the white sandstone used to build the cathedral was shipped from his very home town of Mountcharles - then taken along the coast and up the Swilly, carried piece by piece in bucket loads by the townspeople. Why had he never listened when Helen tried to explain this to him before?

He stood on the deserted altar and remembered her walk towards him on their wedding day, a demure beautiful vision in white, clutching a simple bouquet of roses, her favourite flowers. She alone outshone the magnificence of any cathedral. He saw her clearly, smiling as she approached him. He was lost in a moment of reverie, but soon collected his thoughts and glanced at his watch.

He descended the hill, looking back to take in the 212 foot high spire, as if through new eyes. “I see it now love” he whispered, hoping to reach her. He grabbed a sandwich and reluctantly returned to the courthouse, not having time to check in at the office.

It was after 6 pm when he got back to the practice to complete some paperwork and prepare for court the following morning. Susan, his secretary was locking up as he arrived. “There’s a special delivery for you in your office” she smiled.

John opened the door to his office and turned on the light. In a vase on his desk was a single yellow rose. Confused, he picked up the delivery note.

“I ordered in advance to let you know I am always around you – p.s. it’s Valentine’s Day, you never did remember! – love you forever – Helen.”

Helen wasn’t gone; 
she would be around