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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Before You Go: ‘Galway Shawl’

CRL columnist John Gray offers up another fictional masterpiece.

The first time he saw her she was but a reflection in a mirror. The bar was packed, yet Collin had somehow managed to push his way through the sea of people to reach the jukebox. The rowdier than normal crowd had been rocking to an hour straight of Def Leppard and AC/DC, so the 22-year-old in the cable sweater and thick black hair wanted to throw the whole place off balance by playing something much tamer. It was his mischievous Irish nature, I suppose. Flipping from song list to song list on the machine, his eyes drifted toward the bar and he caught her image in the smokey glass. Beautiful and memorable was this young lady, but not in the way these beer and wings boys would understand or appreciate. For starters, she was wearing a dress, nothing fancy, but it made her look classic in some way. Like she was from another time, a better time, perhaps. Her hair was auburn, tied back to one side and what was that around her neck? Not quite a scarf…it looked like a shawl. Plaid. Its’ colors brought out her dazzling green eyes. She didn’t look like she had any make-up on, but that only made her prettier. Her skin milky white, her lips like fresh berries.

Their eyes locked for what seemed like an hour, then Collin smiled, turning his attention back to the jukebox to play the perfect song for their introduction. The music, soft and slow seemed to hush the crowd as he stepped gently toward the lady to utter those most important first words. What she said broke his heart and stole his heart in the same instant. “Don’t,” she said, “don’t do it.” Collin tried to respond, “But I just wanted to say…” She cut him off, “Nothing. Say nothing.” She saw he looked puzzled so she tried to explain, speaking way too fast for a sane man to follow. “I noticed you. And I noticed you noticed me and I don’t know what this is. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s everything. And if it is everything, if this is, you know IT, then when we are this perfect old couple living happily ever after and we’re at a party and our friends ask how we met I do NOT want us saying it was in a bar that smelled like stale beer. So I’m going to go now and if we are meant to meet again we will and it will be something better than this, something…” She bit her lip thinking, “Grand. So…(shaking his hand) it was nice not meeting you.” And she was gone like it never happened.

But it did, and in the weeks and months that followed Collin couldn’t stop thinking about the girl with the shawl. He asked around, but no one seemed to know her. Maybe she was right and it wasn’t meant to be. Winter came and one of the traditions in town was an Ice Festival in February where everyone came together for food, fun, snowmobile racing and the like. It was a mild winter, so unfortunately the events on the lake were canceled, the ice just not safe. Collin and his friends were drinking beer by the bonfire when they heard the commotion. A young woman’s dog had run out onto the ice, she chased after it and now she was stuck, the ice cracking beneath her feet.

Everyone looked on in horror, but it was Collin who couldn’t believe his eyes. It was her. The girl he never met, beautiful and terrified, her legs quivering as she held her pup and stared at the cracks beneath her boots. Without thinking Collin went to the ice and layed flat spreading out his weight. He slowly slid out as close as he could go and yelled, “The shawl, throw me one end of it.” She did, and inch by inch Collin reeled in the plaid scarf with her hanging on the other end. He stood her up and said, “Got you”, just as the ice beneath him gave way. Instinctively, he shoved her as hard as he could and she and the dog landed safely on the shore as the freezing cold lake swallowed him whole. Her shawl still clutched in his hand.

They didn’t find him under the ice for 20 minutes. The rescuers worked on him all the way to the hospital and got Collin breathing again but he didn’t wake up. Not that day or the next or the ones that followed. Two months later they moved him to a nursing facility on the hill and the girl with green eyes, now filled with tears, sat by his bed until she couldn’t sit any longer. They told her to let him go.

Life has a cruel way of going on and hers did. Grad school led to a great job and a bad marriage and stops in several cities before the girl who believed in perfect beginnings returned home in search of a happier ending. It was 15 years since that terrible February day and here she was back in the town that gave her hope and the lake that took it all away. Her heart told her he was the boy who could have changed it all and maybe that was the problem with every relationship since. No one could ever live up to what the boy in the bar had done for her. How could they? She stared at the street lights and noticed the season’s first flurries starting to fall, shutting the door on the cold night and what might have been.

One hour later, on this, her first night back in town, there came a knock on the door. Who even knew she was here? It was a man in a top hat and overcoat, who looked like something out of an old black and white movie. He said his name was Samuel and asked her to trust him, instructing her to take his arm as he led her to the horse-drawn carriage that waited below. She didn’t know why, but she played along and as the horses clip-clopped down Main Street Samuel said, “Chilly isn’t it?” gesturing to a white box with a red bow on the seat next to her. She opened it just as the carriage stopped and inside was a plaid shawl. HER plaid shawl, the one that was at the bottom of the lake. “How?” she asked. The driver gave no response.

Just then she heard music playing, a song she had only heard once before in her life, echoing from the bar where it all began so many years before. As she stepped inside she saw Collin, older now, but just as handsome, the smile exactly the same. “I woke up,” he said, “but it was many months later and you had moved on. It didn’t seem right to… (pausing) interfere. So I waited.”

He cleared his throat loudly as if for effect and extended his hand in dramatic fashion, “Hello, I’m Collin. And you are?” Choking back tears she answered, “Molly. I’m Molly. Thank you for saving me.”

As they embraced, snow fell against the window and he sang gently into her ear the song he played the first night he saw her. The song they’d dance to at their wedding six months later. It was called The Galway Shawl. “She wore no jewels, no costly diamonds. No paints, no powder, no none at all. She wore a bonnet with a ribbon on it and round her shoulders was a Galway shawl.” Molly was right all along. It was everything.

John Gray
John Gray
John Gray is an Emmy-winning journalist and writer. In addition to his 32 years of television experience, John is the author of three children's books and two novels. He is married with three children. He and his lovely wife Courtney have five dogs, three of them are rescues with special needs. They make their quiet home in Rensselaer County.

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