Sunday 21 July 2013

The Life Of A Flower

Set me as a seal upon thine heart,
as a seal upon thine arm:  for love is as strong as death;
jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire,
which hath a most vehement flame

~ Song of Solomon 8:6 (King James) 

I want you as the dream,
Not the reality.
That clumsy goodbye-kiss could fool me,
But I'm looking back over my shoulder
At you, happy without me.
This is where I want to be.
This is what I need.
This is where I want to be.
This is what I need.
This is where I want to be,
But I know that this will never be mine

~ Never Be Mine by Kate Bush

Church and Tower (by PicLar

A Time To Weep


Our Lady of Perpetual Help Convent in Kilkenny, Ireland.

The young woman stood quietly before the Abbess.

Amena Reid was holding a small suitcase in her left hand.

A suitcase full of her memories.

Her other suitcase had been lost on the train - gone forever.

It was mid afternoon but the sun refused to shine through the shuttered windows in the small cloistered room.

Instead the room glowed from the light of hundreds of flickering candles giving it an ethereal quality.

The low,  feint sound of nuns chanting in prayer permeated the walls.

A sense of immense peace resided in the convent.

A large wooden crucifix hung about the Abbess's neck.

"From now on you shall be known as Sister Veronica" the older woman informed her in a grave but gentle voice.

With just a few words the young woman's former life was dismissed.

Silence had descended upon the room.

The Abbess surveyed the distraught novice before her.

Constance of Kilkenny had grey eyes and a round open face swathed by a wimple.

Her face shone in the candle light.

Sister Prudence stood beside the Abbess. 

She was a large jovial woman with a ready smile and a cheerful disposition.

Another nun stood behind the Abbess  but she was barely visible in the half light.

Sister Veronica was like the first flower of spring waiting for the sun.

Her head was bowed and when she looked up,  her eyes were full of tears.

"Hush now child" the Abbess said soothingly but firmly "your life begins here"

The young woman continued to sob quietly.

Experience had taught the Abbess to allow the enormity of the moment to elicit its response without interfering.

Every new nun went threw a grieving process.

"Thank you Mother" the distraught young woman managed finally in a quiet voice.

The Abbess smiled at her benevolently.

Sister Veronica looked up at a large painting above the Abbess's head. 

It was a painting of the mother of Jesus.

Her heart was exposed.

And she had the kindest face the young woman had ever seen.

But there was something in her eyes. 

"Yes - she suffered little one" the Abbess said as if reading the young woman's mind "she suffered much"

The young woman stared transfixed at the hauntingly beautiful face of the Virgin.

"Now child" the Abbess asserted "Sister Cynthia will show you to your room"

The third nun appeared from the shadows behind the Abbess.

She had the bluest eyes  Sister Veronica had ever seen.

"Go in peace" the Abbess said.

Sister Cynthia looked into  Sister Veronica's eyes and smiled.

Then she gently took the suitcase from the young woman's hand and quietly ushered her out.  

Sister Veronica barely stifled her sobs as the heavy wooden door closed behind her.

The Abbess sat back in her chair and sighed.

Sister Prudence surreptitiously poured her some tea into a china cup from a small teapot.

The Abbess pondered the novice.

In her fifty years of servitude she had seen many woman enter the order and many had been resigned or joyful to be leaving the noisy world behind for the spiritual life.

But sometimes she witnessed broken women who had fled to the order for refuge to escape the sadness of their lives.

This young woman was one of them.

"This little one is in torment" the Abbess said sadly "and she will suffer even more if she cannot but let go of her old life"

"God will grant her the courage to do so" Sister Prudence assured the Abbess.

"May she find the solace she so dearly needs" the Abbess replied.

Outside in the white hall Sister Veronica's  small suitcase suddenly sprang open in Sister Cynthia's hand sending its contents clattering along the floor. 

"I am so sorry" Sister Veronica cried,  crouching to pick up its contents.

"I will help you" the older nun said.

Sister Cynthia had a comforting voice.

Sister Veronica quickly wiped away her tears with the sleeve of her garment as she began to gather up her items from the floor.

Quietly the two women gathered up the belongings from the floor as the sound of nuns chanting and singing filled the air.

Suddenly the young nun froze.

Lying among her possessions was a frayed black and white photo of a young man.

He was dressed in tweeds and holding a violin case.

He was standing outside a house in a cobbled street on a bright summer's day.

The young man was smiling broadly.

Memory smote as Sister Veronica slowly rose to her feet and tears rolled down her cheeks again. 

She closed her eyes.

For a few moments she was Amena Reid again and she was standing beneath the "wishing tree" in Cork again.

He was there.

The young man leaned in close and kissed her full on the mouth.

Her heart ached at the memory.

"A handsome lad" Sister Cynthia remarked.

Sister Veronica was jolted out of her reverie.

She suddenly looked lost.

The older nun fought the urge to embrace the devastated young woman.

Her maternal instinct was always attuned to the plight of her fellow nuns.

Particularly the novices.

Once upon a time - Sister Cynthia had been in their shoes too.

She had had hopes and dreams too.

But she had left those behind a long time ago.

Now Sister Cynthia was the mother the nuns had left behind.

Some of the nuns had never even had a mother.

Sister Cynthia lavished all her maternal affection onto them.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Convent was a sanctuary.

A haven for the lost.

Sister Cynthia momentarily placed a reassuring hand upon the novice's shoulder.

The young woman trembled slightly at the unguarded show of affection.

"It is good to cry" the older woman assured her.

The younger woman was carrying a heavy burden.

A look of despair flashed across her face.

Her eyes were large and haunted.

Her face was empty.

Suddenly Sister Cynthia was looking at herself in the young woman.

As if in a mirror.

All was still now.

The pungent aroma of wild flowers wafted through the large open windows of the convent.

As afternoon sun light cast shadows against the walls.

Sister Cynthia finished gathering up all of the young woman's items from the floor and quietly put them back into the suitcase.

"I have lost everything" Sister Veronica finally said dolefully.

She looked at the older nun with big tragic eyes.

Sister Cynthia was overcome with sadness for the little novice.

"I will take you to your room" Sister Cynthia informed her.

"Then perhaps we can talk"

Silently the two women acknowledged one another.

There was no more need for words.

It was a spacious room.

A large open window flooded the abode with light.

There was a simple bed,  a wardrobe and a small table and three chairs.

Upon the table was a jug of water and a couple of glasses and a large vase filled with freshly cut roses.

Above the bed hung a small wooden crucifix.

And an icon of Jesus hung above a small chest of draws beside the bed where a lit candle flickered in a dish.

A feeling of calm pervaded the modest room.

The new nun's garments had been carefully laid out upon the bed.

At the sight of the room,  reality suddenly struck the new nun.

For a moment the young women felt overwhelmed and a fresh flood of tears filled her eyes again as she slowly looked around the spartan room.

A new life had begun.

But she was torn between the past and the future.

"Tell me everything" Sister Cynthia gently urged as she took the young woman gently by the hand and led her to the chair.

Both women sat quietly for several moments until Sister Veronica was ready to speak.

Gradually she told the older nun her story.

Sister Veronica was Amena Reid again.

She was standing outside a small church in Cork.

It's Too Late (by hearthy
Dressed in a cream silk dress with her long raven hair rolled up into a tight bun and interlaced with flowers - she looked like a bride-in-waiting.

But the real bride was about to appear with her new husband and Amena longed to be anywhere but there.

Amena Reid was petite and had a pale Celtic complexion and long raven hair.

Her eyes were black and she had an innocent countenance that her mother informed her was akin to "the sweet face of Our Lady'".

Amena had always lived in the shadow of her sophisticated sister.

And today she had at last been eclipsed.

It was a momentous day for her sister and as chief bridesmaid,  Amena had not been able to escape.

One ordeal was over but there was more to endure.

Most of the wedding guests were waiting outside and talking animatedly and laughing among themselves.

There were countless relatives from the big Irish family and notable friends.

It seemed as if most of Cork had attended the wedding.

Both Amena's parents were dressed in their finest outfits and were looking proudly on.

Cormac and Nola Reid were so transported that it was almost as if they had already attained paradise.

The sight of her ecstatic parents made Amena's heart break.

Cormac Reid was rotund and jocular - his swarthy round face with its twinkling green eyes was framed by a mop of curly black hair.

Nola Reid was tall and elegant with raven hair and porcelain skin and clear blue eyes.

Everyone seemed enraptured that day.

Everyone but little Amena.

Always quiet and reserved - the young woman had suddenly been pushed into the limelight on the worst day of her life.

She knew that there were people looking at her and whispering about her.

Judging and scrutinizing her every gesture.

Amena Reid was so distraught that she wanted to die.

The service seemed to last forever.

Amena watched in mute despair as her father gave her sister away.

Tears streamed silently down her face as she observed gentle Father O'Malley conduct the service.

Every vow was like a dagger to her heart.

The joy of everyone around her tormented her grief.

Amena Reid closed her eyes and prayed that this was just a bad dream.

But it was all too real.

She was convinced instead that she had actually died and gone to hell.

And so Amena helplessly observed the marriage of her sister with a sense of mounting desolation.

Finally Kerra Byrne - lately Reid - emerged into the sunlight in her beautiful ivory lace wedding dress with her abundant auburn plaited beneath a golden coronet and cascading veil.

The bride's face shone with joy as she acknowledged the ecstatic congregation.

The large throng greeted her with shouts of joy and blessing as they showered her with confetti.

The newly married Mrs Byrne was tall like her mother and classically beautiful with a pale complexion and bright hazel eyes.

Supremely confident and fearlessly independent - Kerra Byrne was everything her younger sister was not.

All eyes followed the beautiful bride.

But Amena Reid only had eyes for one person.

The groom.

Aidan Byrne was tall and handsome with dark brown hair and flashing brown eyes.

He was a talented musician with a winning personality - and until a short while ago he had been the man that Amena Reid had been hoping to marry.

Now he was married to her sister.

All through the service,  Amena struggled not to look at him.

But time and again she failed..

To look into his dancing eyes - was to remember.

Now she had to forget.

And she was losing the battle.

Amena watched as the newly married couple kissed on the church steps.

Every one cheered

And Amena Reid turned away to hide her tears.

The church bells were ringing loudly but the distraught young woman was waiting for the hearse to take her away.

As the couple walked through the cheering crowd - Aidan Byrne caught Amena's eyes.

He hesitated for several long moments.

Everyone had disappeared - and it was just Aidan and Amena.

It was dusk and they were standing in her mother's garden.

Then they kissed.

Aidan continued to look into Amena's eyes.

A devastating moment of recognition.

"Come on!" Kerra Byrne cried.

Then suddenly,  his new wife tugged onto his arm and he was gone.

Amena Reid stood alone.

A widow without a husband.

Sister Veronica looked up at Sister Cynthia.

The older nun was looking intently into her eyes.

Looking into her soul.

"It was the hardest day of my life" Sister Veronica recalled.

The younger woman cast her mind back some years before the wedding.

It was a bright spring day

Amena and Aidan were holding hands

They were standing beneath the "wishing tree" in Cork.

The ancient tree was surrounded by acres of corn fields and was said to grant the wishes of all lovers and those in distress.

Legend decreed that the tree was planted by Saint Patrick.

Amena was looking up into Aidan's shining eyes.

She was sure he must be the most handsome boy in Cork.

And the most talented too.

Aidan Byrne was the most promising young violist in Ireland.

Life was but a dream for the long lovers.

Amena was always impressed by how well turned out Aidan was.

In spite of the fact that he did not have two pennies to rub together,  he was always dressed smartly and there was always a cheerful spirit in him.

Byrne always wore a tweed jacket and a jaunty cap and Amena Reid could happily stare at his handsome face for hours.

He was so nonchalant and confidant - Aidan Byrne knew how to lift Reid's spirits.

Amena had one good dress which she always wore to church on Sunday.

It was from British Home Stores and was dark blue and woollen.

In the winter she wore a little cap with a feather on the side and everyone commented on how elegant she looked.

Her father paid for ballet classes so Amena always walked gracefully and with poise.

She was a quiet and  modest young woman aware of her duty.

Amena Reid had a sincere faith and every morning she said her prayers before a little altar in the living room.

The Reid's owned a small bakery and they lived in a quiet street in Cork.

Amena worked in the shop and helped her mother.

All she wanted to do was dance and give Aidan Byrne babies.

"If I could have my wishes" Amena told her mother one day "I would be a prima ballerina and be Aidan Byrne's wife"

Everything seemed perfect.

"It's you and me against the world kid!" Aidan Byrne exclaimed as he sped down the street on his bike with Amena holding on for dear life.

Reckless and impulsive - Aidan Byrne meant the world to Amena Reid.

Things were moving at breakneck speed.

Aidan Byrne had first seen Amena  at the family bakery where she worked one day and then he'd come back every single morning until she agreed to come out with him.

"We'll be the talk of the town" Amena informed Byrne, worriedly.

"Who would ever think ill of my little nun, now?" Aidan replied with a smile.

Their families vetoed the courting - provided the couple were discreet and that Amena behaved modestly.

The couple quickly began making plans for the future.

"We'll have a big family" Aidan Byrne cried as they strolled beside a babbling brook one day.

"A boy and a girl" Amena Reid replied dreamily.

"A boy and a girl?" Byrne exclaimed "We'll have at least five so we will!"

They both laughed.

One night Amena excitedly informed her sister about Aiden Byrne.

Sitting on the side of her sister's bed,  she told her the whole story.

Kerra Reid knew how to win lads.

She had already had many suitors and she had treated most of them coolly enough.

"He's the one, sister!" Amena cried "As God is my witness,  I knew the first time I ever set eyes on him"

Kerra Reid was combing her long hair.

"I'm happy for you so I am" the older girl replied "My little sister has found her knight in shining armour"

"I love him so" Amena Reid declared earnestly.

There had been no signs of what was to come.

A few days later and the young couple were sitting beneath the "wishing tree".

Aiden took out his violin and played for Amena.

She had never heard anything like it before.

"Why are you crying?" Aidan asked as he stopped.

"I think it is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard" Amena answered as tears rolled down her cheeks.

Aiden leaned close and kissed her tenderly on the mouth.

He had never done that before.

Although Amena hesitated at first - she knew it felt the most natural thing of all.

"You will do good by me?" She implored him.

"You are my lady love" Aidan Byrne answered.

Byrne was the only man for her.

The couple gazed into each others eyes for a long moment.

Several blue birds were singing above their heads.

"Now make a wish!" Aidan Byrne urged her in his melodic voice "The angels will be listening"

Amena Reid closed her eyes and knelt at the tree.

"I wish that   ... I wish ... " she began eagerly.

"Stop!" Aidan exclaimed "Don't say it out loud! It won't come true if you do"

When she opened her eyes,  he lifted her up and spun her around.

He hadn't heard Amena's wish.

But somehow - he already knew.

And in that moment they were both silently in agreement.

They would surely marry.

Aidan Byrne might be a lowly violinist but his star was rising high.

The young man fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a little velvet box.

When he opened it, an intricate gold bracelet glittered inside.

"Aidan!" Amena gasped in surprise "Its stunning so it is! It must have cost a fortune!"

"It's for you my love" Aidan replied "For when you are mine".

Tears were falling down Amena's cheeks.

"This is no time for crying" Aidan Byrne informed her.

"I love you Aidan Byrne" Amena Reid said sincerely.

And she knew this with all certainty.

But time would tell that the angels had not been listening to her entreaties beneath the "wishing tree".

Back in the convent Sister Veronica had stopped talking and was looking mournfully at her hands.

"If only I had but known what was to happen ..." the young woman murmured.

The older nun took the young women's trembling hands and clasped them between her own warm hands.

"Tell me" Sister Cynthia said simply.

Amena and Aidan were lying in each others arms beneath an old bridge.

It was a secluded place.

And it was sheltered by large oak trees.

Occasionally people walked across the bridge above their heads.

"Whenever you play the violin,  I think my heart will stop" Amena declared as she looked up into Aidan's bright eyes.

"If I had money we'd travel the world and I'd play at every hotel and theatre from here to Sydney!" Aidan answered passionately.

Amena loved the way Aidan's eyes flashed with little fires every time he became emotional.

As she nuzzled her head into his warm chest to hear his heart beat - she thought she must have been the luckiest woman alive.

Aidan Byrne smelt like amber.

Life was perfect.

Sister Veronica squeezed her eyes tight as memories flooded back to her.

Memories increasingly painful now.

"This is my sister Kerra" Amena declared as she opened the living room door to reveal an auburn haired young woman in a red dress eating a green apple.

Kerra Reid uncrossed her long legs.

"Ah,  so it is!" Aidan Byrne exclaimed jocularly "Pleased to meet you!"

Kerra held out her hand and Aidan kissed it with a sweeping gesture.

Amena giggled beside him.

"I've heard so much about you" Kerra Reid explained "It's good to be able to put a face to a name"

The young woman slowly eyed the handsome young man up and down.

A smile slowly spread across her pale face.

Kilkenny Castle (by ccm photography
"Do I impress you?" Aidan Byrne requested.

He quickly winked at Amena.

"I'll say" Kerra Reid replied knowingly "I think you'll do very nicely"

Then she took another bite out of her apple.

All three of them smiled at each other as they walked arm-in-arm into the dining room where Erin Reid was setting the table.

Just then a little Robin red breast began singing on a tree branch outside the big window.

Sister Veronica was momentarily distracted by the bird's song and she smiled sadly.

"I love to hear them" the young woman said.

The older nun smiled.

For a moment Sister Veronica longed to fly away.

Aidan Byrne was just finishing his composition.

The Reid family were sitting around the dinner table and listening intently.

A hush had fallen upon the entranced family.

Byrne quietly put down his violin.

The room was very quiet.

All eyes were still fixed on the talented young man.

Nola Reid wiped away a tear with her hand.

"Bravo, bravo!" Cormac Reid suddenly bellowed clapping his hands enthusiastically and patting the young man avidly on the back.

"Didn't I tell you da?"  Amena cried with elation.

"Welcome to our family, son!" Cormac Reid exclaimed.shaking the young man's hand.

"Isn't he darling?" Amena Reid declared.

Nola Reid was also clapping now and looking on admiringly as her daughter clung to the man she hoped to marry.

But Amena Reid had stopped admiring Aiden Byrne.

Her eyes were slowly drawn from her intended to her sister.

A cold realisation swept over her.

As if somebody had just walked over her grave.

Aiden Byrne and Kerra Reid were both smiling at each other.

A secret smile.

A knowing smile.

Kerra Reid was sitting bold upright in her chair and her eyes were alight as she clapped avidly for the young musician.

Amena wasn't smiling any more.

She had seen that look in Kerra's eyes before.

She knew what it meant.

Amena Reid watched with mounting desperation as her sister's eyes hungrily followed Aidan around the room.

She noticed how arched Kerra's body was in the chair and that her eyes were alight.

The foundations of Amena's world had been shaken.

The young novice had paused again.

"Is it hard for you to tell me?" Sister Cynthia asked her gently.

"Yes" she replied sorrowfully "It is hard recalling the beginning of the end"

"Please don't take him from me" Amena pleaded to her sister "I've seen you both. Please don't take him from me,  just because you can"

The two sisters were standing in the middle of a cornfield.

Even in the dying winter light - Kerra Reid looked like a film star.

With her sultry looks and dramatic reddish brown hair,  she looked like Rita Hayworth.

"What could you be referring to,  sister?" Kerra Reid replied with a note of bewilderment.

"My Aidan" Amena answered firmly.

Kerra Reid tossed back her head and laughed.

"Please don't take him away from me" Amena Reid added intensely.

"Oh, sister!" Kerra Reid replied with smile "What put such an idea in your head?"

"I've seen you both together" Amena said simply.

The elder sister put a finger on her younger sister's lips.

"Tush,  sister" Kerra Reid urged "What would I be doing with your man? I have no desire to be with a man or to be wed to one"

A large clarion crow suddenly screeched above them as it flew overhead like a vulture.

The bird of ill omen was like a dark shadow across Amena Reid's heart.

Doubts were filling her mind.

"I wasn't as clever as my Kerra" Sister Veronica recalled "And I wasn't wise in the ways of the world. I was a simple Irish girl who had met the man of her dreams"

She wiped away a tear.

Months passed.

The dynamic between Amena Reid and Aidan Byrne was changing.

They no longer spent much time alone together.

When they did,  Aidan Byrne seemed distracted and preoccupied and Amena Reid found him inaccessible or cooler towards her.

Now when he visited the house,  Byrne would seek out Kerra Reid and fall into long conversations with her.

He was dazzled by her beauty and her sparky character and he enjoyed their long debates.

Where ever Aidan and Amena went now  - Kerra Reid always seemed to accompany them.

Amena Reid was unable to contain her despair and she frequently cried herself to sleep.

Kerra continued to deny that anything was happening her and Aidan Byrne.

But Byrne had already begun to behave differently towards Kerra Reid.

Amena Reid was being left behind.

And it was beyond her control.

"You don't look at me the way you used to" Amena Reid informed Aidan Byrne woefully late one afternoon as they sat beneath the "wishing tree".

"You must be mistaken" Byrne responded blithely.

They were both watching the purple sky as it darkened.

"The light has gone out of your eyes" Amena Reid added sadly.

But Aidan Byrne did not reply.

"That was the day I knew that nothing would ever be the same again" Sister Veronica remembered "Aidan never answered me because he knew that everything had changed"

"It must have been very hard for you" Sister Cynthia said.

"Everything was going wrong" the young nun added "and there was nothing I could do to change anything"

One autumn day,  Amena Reid looked out of her bedroom window into the garden below.

Aidan Byrne was talking to Kerra Byrne and they both giggled.

Then he leant close and kissed her on the mouth.

Kerra had avidly responded.

Amena's heart jumped.

Her hand flew to her mouth in shock as tears filled her eyes.

Her worst fears had at last been confirmed.

That night,  Amena Reid cried herself to sleep again.

As the weeks progressed,  the couple no longer attempted to hide their growing affection for each other.

Amena Reid refused to eat.

She was gripped in a deep melancholia.

Nobody could coax her out of it.

Her pride and dignity would not allow her to confront Aidan Byrne directly.

Amena Reid knew that she had lost her lover and that he had made his choice.

"I was such a fragile soul" Sister Veronica explained "Aidan was the first man I had ever loved and everyone knew that we were to marry. Now my life was in ruins and everyone knew about it too. I had nowhere to hide. We lived in a small town and a girl's reputation could be ruined easily through no fault of her own"

Tears welled up in Sister Cynthia's eyes as she listened.

"I was unfortunate enough to be a casualty of love" Sister Veronica added sorrowfully.

A fever had bought the young woman low and her life had hung in the balance for a while.

"Someone here to see you" Nola Reid informed her daughter gently before leaving.

Aidan Byrne was standing in the doorway to Amena Reid's bedroom.

He was holding his hat and there was a worried expression on his handsome face.

"I heard you were ill" Byrne said with concern "I had to come"

The young woman turned slowly to look at him.

She looked pale and wan and her black hair was matted..

Her dark eyes were rimmed with red from sleepless nights.

The young woman had been at death's door and the doctor believed that she did not have the will power to recover.

But the sight of Aidan Byrne had rejuvenated her in a way that no medicine could.

"I am  ... so ... happy to see you" Amena Reid said weakly

"What has happened to us?" Aidan Byrne enunciated as he leapt to Amena's bed and grasped her hands.

For several moments the couple wept silently.

"Did you ever love me Aidan?" Amena finally asked her errant lover - simply and devastatingly.

He leant in close and kissed her lingeringly on the mouth.

The couple gazed into each others eyes.

Then Amena Reid watched as her lover walked out of her bedroom and out of her life.

Leaving her to weep alone in her bed.

"Gradually I recovered" Sister Veronica recollected "but my trials were not over yet"

The church hall was full of people.

The Reid's and the Byrne's clans were present and most of Cork it seemed too.

Large tables were heavy laden with food and drink and there were garlands hanging on every wall and flower arrangements everywhere.

A small traditional Irish band were seated on a dais.

There was a sense of high excitement and anticipation in the air.

Large kegs of Irish beer seemed to be everywhere.

A strong atmosphere of celebration permeated the hall.

Kerra Reid and Aidan Byrne were sitting at the main table beside their parents.

Donal Byrne was a tall thin man with black hair and black eyes.

Marion Byrne was petite and voluptuous with a round face,  green eyes and thick curly chestnut hair.

There was an unmistakable rapport between the Byrne's and Cormac and Nola Reid.

For the last half an hour,  Riley Lynch had been regaling the assembled throng with bawdy jokes and innuendos.

And everyone had been laughing uproariously.

Now he announced the young couple and everyone fell silent.

Amena Reid sat quietly beside her mother.

She watched in mute despair as Aidan Byrne announced his engagement to Kerra Reid to the congregation amid loud exclamations of endearment.

She watched as the man she loved kissed her sister amid whistles and caterwauling.

"We welcome Aidan to our family!" Cormac Reid exploded with joy "To Aidan and Kerra!"

The big man held up a big flagon of beer and the throng erupted into fresh expressions of jubilation.

"To Aidan and Kerra"

Everyone toasted the couple in unison.

Then Father O'Malley called for hush.

"I believe that young Aidan has something for his lady love" the priest informed the crowd.

Aidan gently took Kerra Reid's hand in his and placed a small velvet box in it.

A stab of pain shot straight to Amena's heart at the sight of the little box.

Suddenly she remembered that day beneath the "wishing tree".

"It's for you my love" Aidan Byrne had told her "For when you are mine"

Now she watched as her sister took out the ornate bracelet and Aidan clasped it about her wrist amid fresh cheers.

Tears rolled silently down Amena's face.

"I hope that Kerra will agree to be my wife" Aidan exclaimed loudly.

Then he leant close and kissed her.

Amena Reid looked away.

"Ladies and gentlemen, let the merriment begin!" Father O'Malley exclaimed "And may God bless us one and all!"

The assembled throng burst into rapturous applause and loud cheering.

The Irish band began playing and Aidan Byrne took up his violin and joined them.

Everyone was clapping wildly as the young man played the traditional folk music.

Men and women took to the dance floor.

Unable to take any more,  Amena Reid got up quickly and ran out of the hall.

Most people were too busy merry making to notice the young girls absence.

But Nola Reid quietly followed her daughter out of the hall.

It was dark outside and a full moon had risen in the sky.

"Amena! Amena!" Nola shouted into the darkness.

But only silence greeted her.

Amena Reid was running through the cornfields.

Tears were streaming down her face as she sobbed loudly.

She tugged off her cardigan and threw it off and then she unpinned her glossy black hair.

Then she pulled off her shoes and threw them aside.

When she reached the "wishing tree" - she clutched it and grieved the death of her love affair and the tarnishing of her future.

When Amena Reid eventually reached her house,  she was bedraggled and dejected.

She fell at the foot of the stairs and lay there and wept.

Amena must have been lying there a long time because by the time she awoke she had lost track of time.

Disorientated and dishevelled she looked up at the picture of Jesus above the stairs.

His heart was exposed and his eyes were full of compassion.

Amena Reid was no longer crying.

"My soul is among lions, I must lie among those who breathe forth fire. Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows. And their tongue a sharp sword"

All was still in the big house.

Sister Veronica wiped away her tears with a hand.

"I had been given the strength to endure" she recalled.

Sister Cynthia smiled.

Amena Reid was struggling to come to terms with Aidan Byrne's betrayal.

Everyone in Cork knew what had happened to Amena Reid.

Everyone knew that Aidan Byrne had chosen her sister over her.

People stared at Amena Reid and whispered about her.

They followed her down the street and pointed her out for gossip.

"That's her!" They would whisper "The one that was spurned!"

People would look at Amena with eyes full of pity.

Loneliness (by hearthy
The chattering would not cease.

On more than one occasion Amena Reid fled from a shop.

She was unable to handle the quizzical and critical stares.

On a cold winter's day,  Amena Reid took herself to the beach.

She stared out at the sea for a couple of hours.

It looked so peaceful.

Amena Reid kicked off her shoes.

Then she slowly unbuttoned her coat flung it aside.

Slowly she walked towards the lapping waves.

"Soon it will all be over"

Very shortly - all Amena Reid's troubles would be at an end.

"Hey!" A familiar voice suddenly shouted from behind her "What are you doing out here?"

Amena Reid was jerked out of her reverie.

She slowly turned around.

The man of her dreams was grinning broadly and shaking his head.

He grabbed her coat and put it around her shoulders.

"You'll catch your death, so you will!" Aidan Byrne cried with a chuckle.

Amena Reid's heart leapt.

"I'm so glad you're here" Reid replied quietly.

She had wanted to end her life but she was suddenly glad to see him.

He filled her eyes.

"Let me walk you back" Aidan Byrne said "I've got something to show you!"

Sister Veronica had paused.

She was embarking upon the final chapter of her story.

"Tell me in your own time" Sister Cynthia said gently.

"This is my new car!" Aidan exclaimed proudly "Courtesy of my da!"

Amena Reid was awestruck by the vision of the big shining car.

She brushed the sleek black bonnet of the Bentley with her hand.

"Isn't she a beauty?" Aidan Byrne proclaimed with satisfaction.

"I've never seen anything like it before" Amena Reid replied.

"Don't be glum!" Byrne declared with a wink.

Impulsively he grabbed the young woman's hand and proceeded to mime the foxtrot with her.

The couple were giggling as they clumsily trod on each other's toes.

For a brief few golden moments - the past was forgotten.

"Let me take you for a spin!" Aidan Byrne pronounced.

Time evaporated as the car sped through magnificent Irish countryside.

Aidan Byrne was talking excitedly about his plans for the future.

He had a new band was going to tour the world and if he made his money he'd buy everyone a house.

He was going to live in America or Italy and he was going to be the best violinist in the world.

Amena Reid hung onto every word he spoke.

She was gazing longingly at his handsome profile as he spoke.

Reid remembered how much she loved the sound of his sing-song voice.

Aidan Byrne smiled at Amena Reid.

He remembered how much he loved the sound of her laugh.

A delighted trill that sounded like tinkling bells.

Landscapes flashed rapidly past them.

Amena Reid was hoping that their journey would never end.

They must driven around the whole of Cork that day.

Finally they stopped beside the cornfields.

It was early evening now and the sky had darkened.

A smattering of carrion crows were flying overhead.

Aidan Byrne took Amena Reid's small hand in his.

"I want to remember this moment forever" Amena proclaimed.

"You are the most beautiful woman I have ever known,  Amena Reid" he said.

She looked into the vivid eyes of the man she loved.

She knew that she would go to her grave speaking his name.

Aidan Byrne leant in close and kissed Amena on the mouth.

Time stopped as she melted into his embrace.

Quickly they came apart.

"We mustn't do this" Amena Reid declared "This is wrong"

"I am about to marry the wrong woman" Aidan Byrne revealed "I am about to make the biggest mistake of my life"

Amena Reid was still reeling from his revelations when he scooped her up in his arms again.

"But it's too late" Reid cried as tears fell down her cheeks.

They were both sobbing loudly and holding onto each other.

"I will never forget you" Aidan Byrne declared passionately.

"I will never marry another man as long as I live" Amena Reid replied sincerely.

They held each other for the longest time.

The sky was now streaked with red and purple.

"I need to be alone now" Amena Reid informed Aidan Byrne.

She began walking away as the man she loved walked slowly to the car and climbed into it.

Amena Reid looked back over her shoulder and saw her lover sobbing in his car.

She wept as she walked away.

Sister Cynthia  poured some water from the big jug into a glass and handed it to the stricken woman.

Sister Veronica took the glass gratefully and drank the water quickly.

She was almost at the end of her tale now.

Three days after her last meeting with Aidan Byrne,   Amena was standing among the large wedding party as he and Kerra drove away in the big white wedding car.

"To everything there is a season,  and a time to every purpose under heaven"

Everyone was cheering and shouting terms of endearment as the car disappeared into the distance.

A piece of Amena Reid went with the couple as they departed.

"A time to weep,  and a time to laugh; a time to mourn,  and a time to dance"

Then the heavens suddenly opened and it rained and would not stop.

That night Amena Reid wept in her mothers arms.

"Hush now child" Nola Reid soothed as she rocked her daughter.

"I loved him, ma" Amena declared sorrowfully.

"I know my love" Nola Reid replied "I know"

She kissed her daughter on the cheek and looked deep into her eyes.

"I was in love with another boy but they wanted me to marry your father" the woman imparted "I never loved your father in my heart but I learnt to. The pain will lesson my love".

But Amena Reid was utterly disconsolate.

Aidan Byrne had taken a part of her soul with him.

The young nun was sobbing loudly as she reached the end of her story .

Memories were still too raw and wounds had not yet been healed.

Tears were streaming down Sister Cynthia's face as she reached out and gripped the young nun's hands in hers.

"What happened to him?" Sister Cynthia asked her gently "What happened to your Aidan?"

The young nun looked up with big tragic eyes.

"Aidan and Kerra were killed in a car crash"  Sister Veronica replied mournfully.

Sister Cynthia kissed the young nun's hands.

"They were driving home one night" Sister Veronica continued sorrowfully "and Aidan must have lost control of the wheel"

Everything was still now.

Even the little Robin had stopped singing.

"The car skidded off the road and hit a wall" Sister Veronica added mournfully "Aidan and Kerra were killed outright. They knew nothing"

Finally Sister Cynthia reached out and embraced Sister Veronica.

Both women wept in each others arms for the longest time.

The younger woman vented a guttural torrent of grief as the older woman rocked her in her arms.

"There now" Sister Cynthia whispered softly "There now"

When they finally came apart - the older nun cupped the younger nun's face in her hands.

"Once I loved a man" Sister Cynthia confided sadly "but he left me on the day of our wedding ... I thought myself about to marry the man of my dreams ... but it was not to be ... I never saw him again ... and I never knew why he had left me so"

Sister Cynthia smiled but there were tears in her eyes.

"When I look at you I see myself" she continued "I too was distraught ... but I was only too happy to leave my former life forever ... to leave the sorrow and temptations of the world far,  far behind me ..."

Sister Veronica smiled through her tears as she looked into Sister Cynthia's benevolent face.

The older nun looked deeply into the younger nun's eyes as if she was looking into her soul..

"A bruise reed he will not break" Sister Cynthia said.

All was still.

"Hush now child" the older nun soothed as she enfolded the grieving novice in her arms again and rocked her.

The two distraught women had found peace at last.

Outside the window several pied wagtail's had descended upon the branch of the tree beside the Robin red breast.

But none of them made a sound.

They gazed silently through the window at the two nun's as they cradled each other in their arms.

Irish graveyard (by electron nick