“Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott – Part Six: Ian & Lilly Doitean

Read Part One

Read Part Two

Read Part Three

Read Part Four

Read Part Five

Ian Doitean sat at an outdoor table at the Café en Seine on Dawson Street. He studied the glass tabletop, moving his deliberate fingers in chaotic patterns. A waitress approached from behind and set down some sliced brown bread, and plate of brie, and a saucer and beaker of Earl Grey with lemon slices on the saucer.

This disrupted Ian’s interplay with the table, and he looked up as if astonished at his server. She was a darling lass with red bobbed hair like she had seen in the American magazines. Being so petite she stood barely taller than a sitting Ian. She smiled at her customer with a beam that intended more than service.

“What’s this, then? I didn’t order anything.”

“Not today you haven’t. But you’ve been here eight straight days, and every day you sit at that table, and every day your order Earl Grey with lemon and rough bread with brie. And you don’t strike me as the kind of sir who would be changing his routine much.”

“Well, thank you, darling.”

The waitress had already removed the wax from the cheese, so it was much easier to prepare and eat. She returned soon with a pot. She refilled the beaker and set the pot down on the glass tabletop.

“Why are you so sad?”

Ian squirted one of the lemon wedges into his tea and took a drink, even though it was still to hot. He jerked the beaker away and some tea dribbled down his chin and onto his shirt. Ian took an uncurded piece of brown bread and tabbed the hot tea from his chin.

“My wife and I honeymooned in Paris and this place reminds me of it. Today would have been our tenth wedding anniversary, but she died in The Troubles two years ago, shot by some beef-faced Tommy.”

Ian crumbled in his seat, barley holding himself up with his forearms whose elbows pitched solid on the tabletop. He wept without embarrassment as if he would have been before but could not contain his misery. The waitress wanted to help, but didn’t know. She knew from her own grief that a well intended gesture could be the wrong thing, and that would be worse that nothing, so she opted for nothing.

When Ian stopped crying, he ate the remainder of his bread and cheese, saving the tea until he was done eating, and then he gulped quickly repeating refills of tea until there remained no more. He sat another hour resuming his study of the glass tabletop. When he satisfied himself, he removed his jacket from the back of his seat. The waitress, looking for a moment to act without interrupting, snuck the bill onto the table. It had “paid” written in large letters with a biro. The waitress paid for his food from her own tips.

He returned the next two days with the same routine of reading the glass tabletop and mindlessly eating bread and cheese and slurping hot tea. The same waitress served him each time. She said nothing to Ian on these next two days, and he said nothing to her, except that he insisted that he pay these times. In her servile poverty, she really could not have afforded to do it more than once, but in her open charitableness she would have been willing to.

On the third day she came up to Ian’s table with two baskets of fish and chips. She sat one before Ian and the other beside him. She sat in front of the other order and silently invited herself to his table.

“What’s this, then?”

“I thought we’d have lunch.”

“Can you do that? I mean, won’t they get mad you are not tending to the other customer properly?”

“It’s my day off.”

Ian smiled, and said, “Clever girl.”

Another waitress passed by them and her eyes told stories to her co-worker of what she thought of what she’d seen and how she slyly approved. The seated waitress took her by the wrist and she stopped.

“Bring us a couple of pints of Guinness, love?”

“Oh, no!” said Ian. “None for me thank you. I don’t drink.”

“Wha?” said the standing waitress, “You don’t drink alcohol?”

Ian shook his head.

“Well, I never.”

The seated waitress whispered to the other before she headed off, all the time eyeing Ian.

“I can’t say ‘I never,’ but no more.”

“Tell me more.”

Ian picked up a plank and bit into it. He chewed and thought before he spoke.

“My Mary was a vicar’s daughter, and he made me foreswear all alcohol if I was to be calling on her.”

“But she’s dead now.”

Ian nodded and hustled a few chips in his mouth.

“Tell me what happened.”

Ian finished the first piece of fish, contemplating the request. When he had finished he cleared his throat as if preparing for some public proclamation, and in truth it was the first time ever spoke of passing.

“Me and Mary were wed for almost eight years. We had a little girl. Rose. She was six.”

The waitress retuned with two glasses of water, which she set on the table. All the time she had her gaze fixed on Ian. She never noticed her co-worker whispered Thank You. Ian took the glass and drained half of the water as if he were choking on the words that were about to come out. He set the glass down and stared forward.

“What happened?”

Ian went back to work on his fish and chips.

“I told you. She died during The Troubles. She and Rose. At the Easter Rising.”

Ian began weeping. The waitress reached over and massaged Ian near shoulder and neck. Ian soon forced the tears to stop and wiped his face dry. He shot an unconvincing smile to his mealmate and picked his glass for another drink. His hand shook so badly it seemed the water might not make it to his mouth, but with a second hand he controlled the glass and finished off the water. He set the glass down with deliberateness.

“After it happened I moved out of Dublin. I couldn’t live here. But I’d come back for this, for our anniversary. And this time I’ve decided to come back for good. I’m joining the Republican Army. Before this is all over I’m gonna shoot me a few beef-faced Tommys.”

Ian took a violent bite from a piece of fish.

“It’s high time some of this Irish Green rubbed up against some British Khaki. Ha-ha! We’ll see what happens then. I plan to murder as many Englishmen as I can. I want to make their wives into widows and turn their children fatherless.”

“None of that will bring back your wife and daughter.”

“That’s not the point. We Irish have suffered for hundreds of years because the English have been standing on our throats. Well it’s high time they became to suffer. I want their women and children to cry and to mourn just like I did.”

“Oh, Ian, will you listen to yourself? This is no way more a man to be speaking. Hard times is just a part of life. Listen, I buried both of my parents, so I know how you feel.”

“You don’t know how I feel.”

As he said this, Ian pounded down on the glass tabletop.

“Mourning your parents is one thing, but children are supposed to bury their fathers and mothers. It’s just the way of things. You can’t say it’s the same for a wife not ever thirty and a little girl who still liked to pick flowers and chase the neighbor’s dog. She liked to watch the skiffs go up and down the Liffey. Are you saying that burying your murdered wife and child is anything like loosing you old parents?”

Ian looked down at the tabletop, and between his fists where he had pounded Ian saw the beginnings of a crack in the glass.

“Oh no, what have I done?”

Ian shoved away the basket of fish and chips and saw the crack he created divided the image he had been so concentrated on the past ten days. It was a knife etching that read Ian Loves Mary. Ian resumed his fierce tears unconcerned about who noticed.

“I carved this ten years ago.”

The waitress leaned over and looked at the impress.

“I always wondered about that.”

He fingered the forms but not as before. With surrender, he stood and looked down with finality.

“I want to thank you, miss, for the fine food and the pleasant company.”

“Not at all.”

Ian turned to walk away but paused. He looked back one last time.

“What did you say your name was?”

“It’s Lilly.”

“Lilly, is it? Well, God less you, Lilly.”

Ian walked away. Lilly stood and raised her hands alongside her mouth for a shout.

“You are coming back.”

Still walking away, and without turning his head about, Ian shouted back.

“No, I don’t think I’ll be coming back.”

He went to the Ha’Penny Bridge and stood at it’s crest. He watched the skiffs travel up and down the river. He spent all day on the bridge when he was not at the café. On the eleventh day he pack to go, but he didn’t leave. Even though he had told the front desk that he would be checking out of the hotel, he fell back onto the bed and lay alongside his packed baggage. He remained there until there was a knock at the door. Ian sat up and the hotel manager opened the door. He asked again if Ian planned to check out that day as he had previously notified, but he shook his head and smiled. The manager closed and locked the door, and Ian laid back down and remained in bed the rest of the day.

Ian did return to the Café en Seine three days later. He sat at a different table and was filled of cheer to see Lilly again. He returned every day for both lunch and dinner. He ordered something different every time, and when he had run through the menu, he started over, with no preference and nothing as his favorite. On her days off Lilly joined Ian. They not only dined together but enjoyed other aspects of Dublin, such as boatwatching on the Ha’Penny or gathering flowers in the IveaghGardens or St. Stephen’s Green.

After three weeks Lilly borrowed the use of an automobile belonging to her boss. She drove with Ian out to a wooded area, and there she served him a picnic lunch. She prepared corned beef sandwiches and had a few apples. She also brought out a fine platter and filled it with raw oats and grapes which were to be eaten by the grasps. She also brought along two empty fruit pickling jars in which she collected water from the stream of thawed snow.

After lunch, as they both fully reclined on the spread blanket under the shade of a large and spreading yew. They both laid on their back with their fingers interlaced behind their heads. They stared up through the spaces of the yewleaves and the broken light of the sun and the faint glimpse of clouds. They spoke of things pleasant and nothing from the past. During this free time, Lilly rolled on her side and propped her head up on her hand with the elbow planted on the blanketed earth.

“Tell me something, Ian. I noticed you hadn’t joined up with the Republicans yet. Have ya changed your mind?”

“No. oh, no. Not at all. In fact, I’m having to do that soon. I’ve almost one through all my money.”

“Don’t’ do it.”

“I haveta.”

“You don’t haveta. It’s what you want.”

“Aye, I want to do this. You didn’t drive me all the way out here to try to talk me out of signing up? Because if you did, you just wasted your good oats there.”

“Actually I wanted to speak to you about something else.”

“Well then, speak.”

“It’s more like a proposition.”

“Fine, propose away.”

Lilly spun up and sat with her legs crossed.

“You may know that it is a fine Irish tradition that a woman may ask her man to marry her on Leap Year’s Day, February 29th. Well Ian Doitean, that’s why I asked you here, so I can ask you to marry me.”

Ian shot his gaze at Lilly.

“Are you daft? It’s near the end of May, almost June.”

“I know that.”

“It’s not even a Leap Year.”

“Yeah, I know that to.”

“You know that to. Then why are you asking me this if it’s not the proper day to do it.”

“Because the next Leap Year is over two years away and I couldn’t wait until then, and wasn’t sure if you’d ever be up to asking me. So I’m asking now, and I’m asking again. Will you marry me?”

Ian looked back up through the boughs of the tree.


“No? But you can’t say that.”

“But it seems it did.”

“But why?”

Ian kept staring up through the top of the yew and heaven above, and he breathed deeply in and out through his nose.

“Well?” said Lilly.

“The grief I bore when I suffered the loss of me Mary and Rose, that is pain I could not endure ever again. Sorry, Lilly, but if we be wed and I lost you, it would be more than I could bear. No, when Mary died I knew then I would never again remarry. The possibility of mourning one more wife? No, I will not have it.”

“Then you are selfish.”

“Aye, I may be, but in this I feel as if I have the right to be.”

“But if you died, would I not suffer? Even if we were not married?”

Ian looked back at Lilly, and then back to the tree.

“Better you than me.”

“What? Oh, you are selfish.”

“Selfish? Because I do not wish to suffer any more pain?”

“Selfish because you would rather make someone else who loves you suffer over your loss than you would for theirs.”

“I’ve already had my lot of mourning. I don’t care for it, and I do not wish to be a part of it any more.”

“We are not given only a limited number of loved one that we may have to mourn.”

“I do not wish to discuss this anymore. My answer is no, and that is final. Now I wish you could drive us back into town, please. If we keep rolling over these rocks we will annoy the other, and I don’t want that.  I may not marry you but I am keen on you and would like to keep it that way. And when we get back, in a few days I suppose, I’ll enlist with the Republican Guard. I’ll still see you about town. I can come to the café as often as I can, but it’ll not be to see my wife. Now let’s go.”

Lilly and Ian drove back to Dublin, and as promised, Ian signed up with the provisional army. The day he enlisted, Lilly went to see the one would be Ian’s commanding officer, a Major Anfortas. She asked if the company had a chaplain. He said they didn’t but that a local vicar named Michael Fergus served a such, yet he remained a civilian. Major Anfortas told Lilly where to find him, and she scurried to his small chapel where she found him in his office.

Lilly begged Michael to come with him, and in their hurry toward the barracks, she explained her need for him. Once in the barracks, she asked Major Anfortas to summon Private Ian Doitean. Once there Michael began with a truncated wedding service. Ian interrupted and insisted he be told about what I going on. Michael looked up in confusion.

“I’m sorry, me young lady, but when you said your fella had enlisted and you needed a quick wedding ceremony, I though he would have been on board.”

“Well, I’m not, so you can just go back whence you came.”

Michael studied the face of the Private.

“Ian? Is that you?”

Ian also studied Michal’s features. They simultaneously smiled and embraced. It seemed Lilly retrieved Ian’s former father-in-law to perform an ambush wedding service, and now the whole operation had exploded in her face like a well tossed grenade.

“So tell me then, Ian. Is this your girl? And if so, why wouldn’t you marry her?”

Ian said nothing.

“If it’s Mary you’re worried about, don’t be. I’m sure now she wouldn’t be jealous of the pair of ya. And if you are worried about tarnishing the memory of her, just tell yourself that Mary would have wanted you to move on with your life. Just reconsider before you send me off, if not but for a bit.”

Ian remained silent.

“Soldier,” shouted Major Anfortas, “if you do not marry this girl at this very moment, you will be fashioning wadding until God ends us all. Do you hear me? That is an order.”

Everyone looked to the Major, who merely smile and winked. Ian reached over and took Lilly by the hand and everyone cheered ad applauded. Michael continued with his service and stood over the joining of Private Ian and Lilly Doitean.


It had been almost year, and Private Ian promised Lilly to be with her on their anniversary. But being a soldier meant not all things were up to him. Only a week before their anniversary and a few young boy were taunting a couple of British soldiers. First with hoots and jeers, and then they started throwing apples. But when one of then picked up a rock and threw it at the men, where if bloodied the brow of one of them, shots were fired, claimed to be in self defense, and young Irish blood again stained he cobbled streets of Dublin by the heat of British soldiers.

So with anger and tensions strained, every Republican was called forth to be ready for any action or order. Every Green lad stood armed at his post, whether behind sandbags or around corners and inside doorframes, or even behind makeshift barricades composed of the voluntary furniture belonging to patriotic neighbors.

On the Doitean anniversary, Private Ian stood with three other mates behind a wall of sandbags at the end of Eden Quay as it intersected Upper O’Connell Street with their backs to the Liffey. Since Private Ian could not join his wife, she joined him, much to his surprise and consternation, and to be fair, no soldier wants to see his wife with him on the front in times of battle.

She brought brown bread and brie from the café, and enough for a half dozen men. Private Ian shared with his mates, as they would with him.

“Is it going to get bad?” said Lilly.

Private Ian nodded, looking about as a vigilant soldier.

“As bad as The Troubles?”

“Who can say. It’s not really up to me, now is it?”

“Let’s go away. I have an aunt, well, she’s my great aunt, and she lives in Middleton. She’ll let us stay with her. She owns a shop an we can work there. At least until we find something else, that is, if you don’t particularly want to work in a shop.”

“No, my darling, I can’t quite go now.”

“Or we can get away to the country. We could get a little place and farm it a bit. Maybe raise some livestock. We could do that now, love, couldn’t we?”

“Lilly, I can no more take off now for the country as I can for Middleton.”

“I see. You love the notion of killing the British more than the reality of loving your wife.”

“Come now. I was a soldier longer than I was your husband.”

“Just by a few hours. Oh, come on. Let’s go somewhere. You never even took me on a proper honeymoon.”

“Well I couldn’t, just like I can’t now. Oh, darlin, I can tell you’re scared. Well so am I, but I have a duty to do.”

“You have a duty to me, too.”

“I know, and I’m doing it now by telling you to go. Just leave. Or do you want to get you head blown of your shoulders?”

“And don’t you getting your head blown off, either.”

“Aye, I’m not particularly keen on the notion meself. So I need to do my job, part of which is keeping an eye on things before the poxy battle starts without me. And I can’t keep my eye on the streets if I have my eye on you. Now go, please, and be safe. I can take care of myself.”

“Not until you promise me a proper honeymoon.”

“You got it. I’m here at the sandbags another six hours or so. When I’m relieved I still need to keep meself available, but I’ll talk to Major Anfortas about a bit of leave, so I can give me wifey a proper holiday. Better be thinking about where you want to go.”

“I already know. to London.”

Private Ian shook a fist and her and grinned impishly.

“Ask Tommy boy over there to take you.”

“No. I want to go to the mountains.”

“Mountains it is. I’ll ask him in about six hours. I hope to have an answer for you in six and a half.”

Lilly left only to return near the end of the watch. She had more bread. This time she brought bottles of water, but no cheese. Private Ian and his mates didn’t care much for the absence.

“I thought I might go with you to see the Major.”

“Oh, did you now? Gonna bat your eyes at him, are ya? The Major’s a fine bloke, but he don’t really strike me as the sentimental kind.”

“It wouldn’t hurt.”

“What I mean to say is, I appreciate the thought, but you should have stayed home and waited for me there.”

“I tried, love, but it was too still here for me. I was almost outside of me mind. So how has it been here?”

“Quiet. And usually that’s a good thing. But this is the type of quiet that has been giving me the creeps all afternoon.”

“Nothing is going to happen now, is it?”

“Listen, they may be changing their eight hours like us. Probably are. So that means one of two things. One, they’re as buggy to get off their post as we are and won’t do anything that’s trouble. Or two, they’re actually quite upset that nothing has gone wrong, and may just try to get some shooting in just before relief.”

“What should I do?”

“Go home.”

“But want to stay here with you.”

In the distance an explosion sounded followed by repeated gunfire. It stopped after a few seconds before another explosion blasted near enough to be felt. There was a small crook set into one of the buildings along Eden Quay near the intersection. Private Ian grabbed Lilly and shoved her into the crook along with warnings over the noise to keep her head down. Private Ian joined the other Republican Guardsmen along the sandbag barrier and fired at those firing at them. He had yet to see combat in this passed year, and so every khaki soldier to him was a beef-faced Tommy, which helped his aim be true and his action sharp.

A British solider hurled a grenade at the sandbags. It bounced off from the top and landed close to Lilly, who, by keeping her head down, didn’t see it. Private Ian dashed to his wife and tossed her down the gravel road and covered the grenade with his own body. Before Lilly could look up the grenade exploded, and all she could see when she did raise up was tatters of a green uniform and a rifle. The remainder of Private Ian Doitean was spread across the quay and on the sandbags and across the backs of his mates, the lives of whom he all saved.

After the brief skirmish, the British asked for a truce to bury their dead and tend properly to their injured. It seemed as if our Irish Republican Army got the top of things that day because less than a dozen were wounded and Private Ian was the only casualty. All the Irish Green attended his funeral. Michael Fergus presided over the funeral and Major Anfortas said a few words. At the graveside he simple looked down into the grave as Private Ian Doitean’s body was lowered an mumbled, “Bugger.”

Afterward, Michael invited Lilly, the Major, and Private Ian’s mates at the Eden Quay sandbags to a small get-together at Michael’s house. Major Anfortas decorated Private Ian’s mates, probably for not dying, maybe as a false means of coping. After everybody left, Lilly stayed to talk further to Michael.

“Let me tell you, Lilly, I’ve known Ian a good while. Longer than you. And I just want you to know I’ve always thought him to be a good man.”


“What did you say?”

“I said that’s a bunch of bollocks, him being a fine man, and all.”

“How could you say that about your husband?”

“He was selfish.”

“Don’t speak ill of the dead, my dearie.”

“I’d say it to his face right now it he still had one.”

“Now, mourning brings out a lot of different feelings …”

“He was a selfish sod and I’ve always know that. But I loved him anyway and married him in spite of it.”

“What makes you say he’s selfish?”

“Well, for one, the grenade he laid on.”

“He saved your life.”

“Only because he’s too selfish to mourn another dead wife. He told me so.”

“Even if that is true, and I find it hard to believe, you should still be grateful that he saved your life.”

“He saved my life, but that’s not all.”

“Yes, I know. He saved the lives of the those other Guardsmen he was posted with.”

“Yes, but that’s not what I’m thinking. You see, I’m bearing Ian’s child.”



Filed under short story

6 responses to ““Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott – Part Six: Ian & Lilly Doitean

  1. Pingback: “Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott – Part Seven: Jack Johnson & The Old Timer | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

  2. Pingback: “Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott – Part Eight: Johnn & Bryony Rivers | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

  3. Pingback: “Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott – Part Eight: John & Bryony Rivers | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

  4. Pingback: “Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott: Part Nine – Jack Johnson & The Old Timer | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

  5. Pingback: “Firmament,” a short story by Neal Abbott: Part Ten – Yvan & Iolanta Nyebov | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

  6. Pingback: “Firmament” a short story by Neal Abbott: Part Eleven – Jack Johnson & The Old Timer | A WORD FITLY SPOKEN

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