(Published in the US and UK as Blessed Are The Cheesemakers)
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“So how long are you going to be staying with us then?” Lucy asked Kit, as she piled Brussels sprouts on to her plate.
“I’m really not sure. As long as you’ll have me, I guess,” Kit answered, taking the sprout bowl out of her hands.
“Oh, we’ll have you for as long as you like, won’t we girls?” Lucy said saucily, and the Pregnasaurs fell into a group titter.
Kit looked up, embarrassed and caught Avis’s eye which was rolling in the direction of Lucy. “I believe I am going to have an attempt at making some cheese,” Kit said, to get the conversation back on an even keel.
Abbey felt a twinge of something that she thought could have been resentment. She had thought she was going to be making the cheese.
“Well, we’ll be thinking of you tomorrow when we milk,” Lucy said to Kit, making a slightly obscene pulling gesture that had Wilhie ramming a table napkin between her legs to keep from peeing herself.
“Ah, now come on,” Avis said disappointedly. “Is this any way to behave in front of our new guests?”
“Don’t worry on my account,” Kit said, smiling at Lucy, “I’ve handled worse.”
“I’ll bet you bloody have,” chipped in Jack, “and now’s the time to raise your standards.”
“Stop them will you, Joseph,” Avis said looking at Fee. “I’ve seen all the Carry On movies I want to see.” He stopped carving his beef and looked at her.
“You’re a dark horse, Avis O’Regan,” he said, then went back to his dinner. “Who’s got the potatoes?”
Abbey picked the heavy bowl of spuds up from in front of her and handed it to Kit, for passing along. His little flirtation scene had permeated her armour of numbness and annoyed her. She supposed all good-looking husbands were the same. Shameless, the lot of them.
“So, what do you know about cheese then?” she asked Kit, trying for a casual tone but getting a slightly snarky one by mistake.
“Not a lot, I guess,” Kit said, “although my Mom was always a big cheese fan so we ate a lot of it when I was a kid and I used to live around the corner from this great cheese shop in New York, called Murray’s.
You guys know that?”
Corrie and Fee nodded enthusiastically. Coolarney Gold and Blue sold like hot cakes at Murray’s and he imported a healthy percentage of their Princess Graces as well. He also sent them a bottle of vintage champagne every Christmas. They liked Murray a lot.
“Your mother was a cheese fan did you say?” Avis wanted to know, a sparkle suddenly glittering in her eye. “Where does your mother live, Kit?”
Kit swallowed and tried not to feel sick.
“She’s in Vermont,” he said, wanting a drink.
“And your wife?” Abbey asked, again missing casual and getting snarky instead.
“Your wife,” Abbey said, pointing at the slim gold wedding ring on Kit’s finger. “How does your wife feel about you being over here in Ireland making cheese for as long as you’ll be had?”
The table’s jovial feel disappeared as the milkmaids fell quiet and the sound of slowing cutlery on crockery scorched the air.
“My wife,“ Kit said, his voice suddenly husky. All eyes were on him, his knife and fork frozen and hovering just above his plate. “My wife,” he started again, conscious of everybody’s attention, as his cutlery clattered clumsily to his plate.
“Leave the poor bugger alone,” Jack suddenly said, crossly. “It’s OK, mate. You don’t have to explain anything to anybody.” She leaned across Lucy to glower meanly at Abbey.
“You’re not gay, are you?” Lucy asked with thinly disguised horror. She couldn’t believe she hadn’t noticed the wedding ring herself.
“You can leave him alone and all,” Wilhie said hotly. “Look at the poor sod.”
“It’s OK if you are gay,” Jack said kindly. “A lot of people are.”
“Yes but not fecking everybody!” cried Lucy.
Jack shooshed her quiet. Kit tried to manage a smile and failed. He slowly pushed his knife and fork neatly together on his plate intersecting the meal he no longer had the appetite for, then cleared his throat.
“I lost my wife three months ago,” he said, without looking up. Fee looked over at Avis who was concentrating studiously on the contents of her own fork, her eyebrows raised nonetheless. Ah well, he thought to himself.
“Oh,” said Abbey retreating behind her numbness again. “Sorry.” She sensed the dairymaids looking at her with contempt and didn’t blame them, she was a horrible person. Kit seemed like a nice guy, she didn’t know what rubbed her up the wrong way about him, apart from the fact that he seemed perfect and everybody liked him.
“So, you’re not gay,” Lucy said, trying not to look too relieved.
“I’m married myself, you know,” Abbey said loudly to the table, wishing as she mouthed the words that she wasn’t. “But my husband was sexing my neighbors.”
Nobody spoke. For a start, no-one was quite sure what sexing was. Jamie looked as though his eyes were about to pop out; Jack’s mouth, full of food, was dumbly hanging open; Lucy looked thunderous. Abbey herself couldn’t believe what she’d just said. She had meant to say screwing or bonking or shagging but sexing had popped out instead. She felt a frightening wave of dangerous emotion sweep over her.
“Leastways, he was getting biblical with them,” she said, maniacally pushing a pile of beans around on her plate as she felt tears spring, cartoon-like, from her eyes. “And they were having his children.” She abandoned her food and sat up, wiping at the tears on her cheeks and fighting to control herself. “In clumps, as it happens. Unlike me.”
Corrie looked at her flushed face and felt tears prick the back of his own eyes. Such misery! What had happened to his beautiful little girl?
Avis looked across the table and did what she had to. “I had a husband once, too,” she said cheerfully, “and a more miserable bollocks you never met in your whole entire life. Now Abbey, will you pass the greens up to Wilhie, please? She’s a demon for skipping her spinach and God knows it’s the only iron the girl’s ever likely to get.”
“Joseph,” Fee called from the other end of the table, “would you be unwrapping the coeur de Coolarney instead of sitting there gawping at the potatoes.”
The hum of good-natured banter picked up and slowly buzzed once more around the kitchen so that only Abbey and Kit were left silent and still at the table. Corrie unwrapped the heart-shaped cheese and after translating a series of frightening facial expressions from his friend at the other end of the table, pushed it as surreptitiously as he could between them, both too steeped in misery to notice. The fumes of the Irish love cheese rose up and whispered invisibly between them.
“I really am sorry,” Abbey finally said, “about your wife.”
Kit, still unable to speak or look at her, just shook his head.
“I’m sorry about your husband,” he answered, in time.