THE CATALPA TREE

After lunch in Clifden, they headed for the coral strand at Ballyconneely. As they drove, the Connemara hills bestowed an unfamiliar potency on the countryside and seemed to retreat from the heat in search of the shade they were accustomed to. It was impossible to look anywhere but at these humpy mammoths and, in the shimmering air, they were all the more entrancing for their coy reflection of foreign beauty. It was like having a Grecian sky above Irish hills, and Jude found it impossible to believe her time in this place was coming to an end. These hills, which for years had embraced and healed her, were also letting her go. It seemed inconceivable that she would no longer sleep with the soft air of Connemara diluting her dreams.

The smashed coral of the beach hurt their feet as they walked barefoot across it, but it was comfortable to lie on. They lay for some time without speaking, shading their eyes occasionally to ascertain by a glance that neither felt like moving. The long May evening lied, promising to stretch out indefinitely, leaving Jude right there in paradise where all the elements of happiness fused together and suggested no end to the day.

When Oliver walked down to the water, dwarfed by the scintillating ocean beyond, Jude considered how deeply she loved this odd individual with whom she had been left. How easily he rejected that love. He didn’t need it, as she needed his, and even asked to be released from its constraints. She would oblige. She would ease up, lay off, make no further claims to his affection, and even though it saddened her that she had no right to demand his love, she would not be overwhelmed. For if she should lose him now, in spite of his promises, if he should vanish from her life as he was free to do, then she would always have this exceptional day to look back on.

He came towards her, leaned over and pushed back her collar with his fingers. ‘Damn. You’re burnt.’

Jude caught his eye, and at that moment the tie that bound them slackened its hold and left them free to slip apart.

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