By Susan DeBow
On the coast of Ireland, Becky leaned against the ruin of Puxley Manor, a manor house which had been owned by an English family and torched by the Irish townspeople. She smiled her best come hither look into my camera. She was confident that for her, time had stood still, and her body had maintained its girlish charm and rapture. She wanted to pay homage to her body, one she was certain had withstood time and gravity.
From the waist up she was naked.
I snapped away with my Nikon camera, changing lenses to get better shots. But no matter which lens I used, none of them rearranged her breasts. Telephoto? Woe Nelly! Landscape? Oh my. Becky’s breasts, which according to her had the peaks of perfectly formed soft-serve ice cream cones, were now, well, melted.
“She’s going to die, when she sees these,” I said to Lisa, who was standing next to me. “I know,” she said. “I don’t think she realizes.”
Becky, Lisa and I were all staying at the same writer’s and artist’s retreat on the Beara Peninsula. We each had our own reasons for coming, of shedding something. Me? I worked on ridding myself of the committee in my head; you know the one, the committee of naysayers whose pitch forks pronged me with devilish things such as self doubt, their own issues and their own fears. Lisa, in her forties, from a small village in England, was discarding her fear of change. She wanted to change careers, become a writer, but was unsure how she would support herself.
And Becky? Well, she was shedding, among other things, her clothes.
Becky was in Ireland, playing hide and seek from a marriage she wasn’t sure she wanted to be in. She said she was an actress from Hollywood. She had done commercials among other things. She had an air of confidence unlike most of the women I knew. No. I knew confident women, but Bonnie had had something different. Vanity. Vanity with a capital V. She was confident and vain. And fancied herself to be all that and a Big Boy platter.
Becky’s dimples and confidence grew with every shot of our impromptu photo shoot.
“Hey, Becky,” Lisa yelled in a low voice, nodding her head towards the parking lot. “There are people walking this way.”
Whereas I would have been so embarrassed I would have jumped over the cliff and into the nearby sea, Becky nonchalantly flashed a smile that spanned the Atlantic. Then yawned and stretched her arms over her head like she was at Jazzercise. Instead of turning her back toward the oncoming boys, she turned toward them.
The two teenage boys looked up toward the ruin, then turned and walked the other way.
Becky bent over to pick up her bra, mushed her goods back in place and climbed down from the ruin, undaunted by the youthful rebuff.
“You’re going to take the film rolls to the drug store yourself,” I said, as I put away my camera.
We all got back into the car and drove to Castletownebere, the small town near where we were staying. I let Becky out of the car in front of the drug store. Confidently, she took the two rolls of film in to get developed.
Lisa and I looked at each other but didn’t say a word.
That evening at the retreat where we were staying, Sue, the owner of the retreat, had a “hooley,” in our vernacular, a party. About twenty-five local people came to sing and tell stories and meet some of the writers and artists who were at the retreat.
As the evening went on, a pattern emerged. One-by-one, people went around the room either telling a story or singing a song. Their voices lifted the evening air. The Irish lilt and brogues created an atmosphere that was soulful, yet spirited, with a speck of Irish melancholy. I was enveloped by a presence I had never experienced before.
I watched and listened as each person performed their, “party piece.”
Becky, still grinning temple to temple, stood and sang a Broadway tune. Of course, she had a lovely voice.
And then…with my turn only three people away, the committee in my head started yammering…“Just tell them you don’t know any songs. You can’t do it. You’ll make a fool out of yourself. Haha, gotcha now, you weeny. Not only do you not have any talent, you’re also fat! If you stand up they will see your big butt. Become invisible. Loser!”
But, the me I had come to Ireland to find argued back. “Be a part of this. The only foolish move would be to not give it a whirl. What’s the worst that can happen? You might have fun. And they won’t see your butt if you don’t turn around. I am NOT invisible!”
My head fast-tracked, multi-tasked…what song do I know? Do I know a story? What about the Piddling Pup? “A farmer’s dog came into town, his Christian name was Runt.” Oh no, what is the rest of it? I can’t remember. If I open my mouth, will a voice come out? What song? What song?
The next thing I knew, I was standing.
All eyes, just like Becky’s breasts had earlier in the day, shone in my direction. But I was the one that felt naked. Had I taken my shirt off, and were people gawking at my breasts which swung toward my armpits? Oh, God help me.
I cleared my throat. Twice.
“I’m going to sing a song,” I said. “It’s the prune song. I learned it in Brownies.”
There was silence.
I looked down. My shirt was still on.
“No matter how old a prune may be, he’s always full of wrinkles. A baby prune is like his dad, but he’s not wrinkled quite so bad. We have wrinkles on our face, but a prune has wrinkles everyplace. No matter how old a prune may be, he’s always full of wrinkles!” I sang in my best Texas/Midwestern drawl.
Then I curtsied.
And the applause came. As well as the laughs. Forget about Danny Boy.
I was a star. I had a name. The Prune Lady. Look out Broadway.
Look out Life!
The next day I parked the car and waited outside the drugstore door while Becky retrieved the photos from our version of a Playboy spread.
She walked toward me, tearing open the photo envelope, her face gleeful.
I have never seen an expression change so quickly. Becky’s eyes opened so wide I thought they were going to leave their sockets. Her mouth flipped itself upside down. I swear I saw her ears twitch.
One after the other, she flipped through the photos. I knew she was hoping that she would find at least one that was the vision she saw of herself. Instead, she was even less of the person I saw yesterday.
“What has happened?” she said, her voice lacking of one iota of confidence.
“Time,” I said. “Simply time.”
Still on a bit of a high from my prune triumph, with bits of confidence stuck in my pants pocket and purse, I looked at Becky. “You’ve got a beautiful voice,” I said.
I left Ireland two weeks before Becky did, still brimming from my triumphant silencing of the committee in my head. It took a couple of more trips to Ireland to find my authentic writing voice. One that continues to change, becoming more in-tuned to the nuances of life.
And Becky? I never saw her after I left Ireland. Her bout with self- doubt was short lived. I heard she had been spotted, by some local men, standing on top of Mt. Mischkif, naked from the waist up, apparently still searching for the life she yearned to live.
About this writer
- Susan DeBow is a Midwest writer with a Southern heart. Her work has been published in the Chicago Tribune, Family Circle, Christian Science Monitor, Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Writer, Poets and Writers, among many others. Her first novel, Cleaning Closets, was published in 2007 by Dialogue Publishing.