Finding Tom Connor

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If Margaret Mary O’Reilly had to stare at the bulbous nose of Father Cahill and talk him through her vision one more time she was going to scream.

‘I’ve told him everything already, Mam,’ she pleaded with her mother when she saw his wide frocked self waddling up the path again.

‘If you make me talk to him again I swear I’ll tell him I made it all up, I’m sick of the whole thing,’ she whinged. ‘Being this holy is draining for a girl my age, you know.’

No-one in the O’Reilly family had ever had an apparition before – unless you counted the green donkeys that Aunt Bridie saw every time she accidentally drained the sherry bottle – so Mrs O’Reilly was quite unsure of how to handle the situation.

‘Please don’t embarrass me in front of the father, Margaret Mary,’ she said, standing sweatily in her flowery apron. ‘Aren’t we all only just getting over your brother losing his breakfast in the communion queue?’ Margaret Mary employed all her blue-eyed blondeness to stare coldly at her mother.

‘All right,’ Mrs O’Reilly folded. ‘I’ll make you the dress. For a religious girl you’ve a heart of stone, do you know that?’

But Margaret Mary had already twirled around to open the door for Father Cahill.

‘Good morning, Father. And how are you this morning?’ she asked prettily, showing him into the front room, which was seeing a fair bit of traffic these days.

‘Would you like a cup of tea, Father?’ Mrs O’Reilly, a woman still deeply impressed by a man of the cloth, spoke up in little more than a whisper.

‘And some of that delicious fruitcake of yours I hear so much about?’ the priest suggested, licking his lips.

‘Oh, right so, Father,’ Mrs O’Reilly said, delighted, and scurried to the kitchen blushing, leaving her daughter alone with the holy man.

‘Now, Margaret Mary, before I write to the bishop, I want you to go over once more what you saw out there and I don’t want you to leave out one single detail.’

Margaret Mary nodded sweetly, as she was pretty sure Marilyn Monroe would have done, and attempted to lower her eyes and look up through her lashes, which took quite some doing.

‘Is everything all right, girl?’ the priest panicked. ‘Are you hearing voices?’

‘No, father, I’m fine,’ she sighed. ‘Now, where shall I start?’

‘At the beginning, girl, at the beginning.’

Margaret Mary straightened her skirt.

‘As I’ve told you before, I was walking through the valley with Mr Fogarty wh-‘

‘That would be young Colm, then?’

Margaret Mary blew out a lung full of air. That she should have to deal with such dolts! ‘Yes, father, as I’ve told you before, Colm Fogarty and I were walking through the valley wh-‘

‘Had he offered you any refreshment prior to this walk, Margaret Mary?”

‘I’m sorry, Father, I don’t understand.’

The priest looked embarrassed. But he knew the bishop would ask the same question. ‘Were there fluids of an intoxicating nature associated with this stroll?’

The girl stared at him with her best Marilyn Monroe confusion.

‘Had the two of you imbibed anything of a liquid nature?’ said the priest, losing his patience.

Margaret Mary O’Reilly shook her pretty curls.

‘I don’t think we’re up to imbibed in the dictionary father. Which bit of a girl is it imbibes something then?’

‘Did Colm Fogarty put anything into any part of you?’ roared Father Cahill.

‘Well, really,’ said Margaret Mary, pretending to be shocked. ‘Do you think the Virgin would bother appearing to a girl who had parts of Colm Fogarty on board? You may as well ask me were we both drunk on whiskey!’

Father Cahill sank back into his armchair and closed his eyes.

‘Were you both drunk on whiskey, Margaret Mary?’ he whispered.

‘Certainly not!’ the girl replied primly. ‘I’ve never touched the stuff but I can smell it a mile off and it’s not a smell I picked up off Colm Forgarty either, although he’s a complete stranger to a cake of soap of course.’

‘Cake – did somebody mention cake?’ Mrs O’Reilly came fawning through the door with the tea tray. ‘Are you all right there, Father?’ She was concerned for the priest who was shaking slightly and looking most 

‘Are you behaving yourself, Margaret Mary?’

The girl looked at her mother and smiled angelically.

‘Father Cahill’s confused on a couple of points, Mam, but I think we’re finally getting somewhere.’

Mrs O’Reilly put the tray with her best teapot, two cups and saucers and a small plate of fruitcake on the coffee table and excused herself as though in the presence of royalty.

The priest couldn’t be sure for whose benefit this was, his own or that of the Princess of the Holy Apparition.

Taking a refreshing sip of his tea and a healthy bite out of the deliciously moist fruitcake, the priest nodded at Margaret Mary to continue her story.

‘Colm Fogarty and myself were walking through the valley when something made me trip and fall.’

‘What sort of a something?” the priest asked, spitting currants as he did.

‘It was as if I was supposed to fall.’ Margaret Mary said dramatically. ‘As if a loving and holy hand was giving me a bit of a shove, even.’

The priest bit his tongue.

‘When I hit the ground – and I have to tell you, Father, the more I think about it, the more I think that perhaps that loving and holy hand may have cushioned my fall a bit – I was drawn to something happening on the hillside.’ She paused for effect.

‘When I looked up, I saw her.’ She dropped her voice. ‘It was a shimmering light, Father. A shimmering light of sheer holiness and talk about beautiful! Did you see the pictures of Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot? Standing over the grate in the street? More beautiful than that, even.’

“I am bonking your husband,” Charlotte replied.