We walked back to the office together, just the two of us, down Main St with its pretty shops and restaurants, then across Pineapple, and towards the water. My attention was taken by a wooden windmill in the window of a café, and a blue ghost bike leaning against a telephone pole with a bird on its handlebars. I liked Sarasota. It was arty and creative, with a significant retirement community of readers and painters. Bookstore1, a bright independent bookshop with regular events, had been my refuge since I'd arrived. It was a place Phyllis Kettle would have appreciated.
We reached the traffic lights at the seafront and crossed the road, walking out towards the sea and back along the marina, returning to the office the long way around.
The sea glistened in the sunshine beyond the boats. When I'd decided to come back to Florida for a while, I'd asked to be put in the Sarasota office because I wanted to be close to the sea. I'd thought it would remind me of Inishowen, but I couldn't have imagined how different it would be, a marina full of yachts instead of fishing trawlers. The sea today was mirror-still like a lake; it looked as if you could walk across it without any divine power. I'd never seen the sea in Inishowen look like that.
I put my hands in the pockets of my trousers as we walked. I'd lost weight while I'd been here. I wasn't sure why. Maybe it was the heat. We tried to stick to the shade as we walked, from palm tree to palm tree, but my shirt still felt damp; a trickle of sweat worked its way down my back. I'd never mastered the art of looking cool in this weather and I suspected I never would. In the air conditioning I wanted a jumper and each time I left a building I was shocked anew by the heat. I ran my fingers through my damp hair.
Mitch looked at me curiously. "You all right?" I smiled at him. "Just hot."
Mitch had been there for me when I'd worked for the firm more than a decade ago, just after my sister had died. I'd told him everything then and he'd been a huge support. This time around, things had remained strictly professional between us, but I was sure he suspected I had my reasons for coming back even for a short while, that there was something I hadn't shared with him. We walked past the statue at the marina, a rather kitsch sculpture of a sailor kissing a nurse based on the famous photograph taken in New York at the announcement of the Japanese surrender at the end of the Second World War. The picture was called V-J Day in Times Square, the statue Unconditional Surrender. Every time I passed it, I thought of Molloy.
I'd been in Florida for six months. It had been just what I needed but the respite was about to come to an end. Reality was about to seep in.
A sweaty fug enveloped the cabin, and a loud snore came my way when I pulled the earplugs from my ears. I rubbed my neck and slid the window shade all the way up allowing light to flood in, into my little section of the plane at least. Morning had broken without my being aware of it, curled up under the tiny blue blanket which hadn't quite reached my feet. I'd had almost two hours sleep, not bad for the red eye from Orlando. I'd been lucky—the flight was only 70 per cent full, which meant I'd had an entire row of three seats to myself. But now I was awake, headachy and dry-eyed.
I gazed out the window. No land yet. I had a seat over the wing and the sky below was nothing but white cloud. I tapped the screen on the back of the seat in front of me and brought up the map with the little aeroplane and the arrows—an hour and thirty-five minutes to go.
I tried to remember where I'd put my plastic bag of toiletries and wondered if I could be bothered to go to the bathroom and brush my teeth, when the squeak of a trolley brought a smiling air steward with a beard, a bun and a broad Scottish accent. He handed me a bottle of water and a warm cardboard box. The water went down in one, but I struggled to swallow the gloopy cheese croissant even with the later addition of coffee and orange juice. Still, it took up some time and once I'd finished, there was only an hour and twenty-one minutes to go. So I drank the last of my juice and turned on a film.
I wasn't yet ready to think about what lay ahead, to re- programme my brain to my Irish life.
* * *
By the time we got to Dublin my head was pounding and there was a red hue around everything I could see. Two hours sleep in twenty-four hours will do that to you. The sky outside was grey and rain blistered down the windows of the plane when we landed. Irish spring weather.
As I trotted down the marathon corridors of Dublin Airport with the rest of the herd, it was hard not to recall my return from the States nearly ten years earlier and how different things had been then. How raw I'd felt after the death of my sister, Fay, who had been killed by my ex-boyfriend. How I'd dreaded facing my parents and their grief. In retrospect, how selfish I'd been.
But then, I'd found a home in Donegal on the Inishowen peninsula, which was where my life was now, a life I'd made for myself. I'd realized in America how much I valued that life, how much an anchor Inishowen was for me. I wouldn't be leaving again in a hurry.
* * *