Over The Wall is an intricate tragicomic tale of three women caught in a web of unforeseen love, rejection, discovery, loss and finally, hope.
Growing up and growing old. These two side effects of life creep up on Finnula ‘Fudge’ Ginnane and her mother, Mary, simultaneously, yet while the pubescent country girl is helped through this confusing time by her best friend, Lilly McDermott , the older woman must face advancing age and the heartache of a secret relationship alone. This tragicomic tale spins a web of unforeseen love, rejection, discovery, loss and finally, hope.
They were all in jolly festive spirits as they hurtled towards the west in Michael McDermott’s battered Ford Granada station wagon. It was like a ship on choppy seas surging up rises and swaying precariously around curves on dubious suspension. A calm, unassuming intellectual, Lilly’s dad was an animal behind the wheel, yet took pride in the fact that he hadn’t written off a vehicle so far. The girls lurched from side to side on the back seat, pleased to be freed of their uniforms and feeling the bees’ knees in their own garb. Julian sat in the passenger seat, maintaining an air of bored detachment. In his final school year, he had no time or patience for the squeaks and giggles of piddling third-year pupils.
He’d greeted a mortified Fudge in passing after they had arrived at the Ballsbridge house the evening before, not resisting a raised eyebrow of ridicule. Nothing was said, although his expression revealed that the content of their phone call was still safely stowed away in his mind and would, without doubt, be exploited at will. And, indeed, it had started at breakfast when, on declining tea, Julian asked if she’d prefer a cocktail. Fudge, however, determined not to be browbeaten, courteously accepted, saying she’d love one with honey and condensed milk--just like Winnie-the-Pooh. Lilly had pursed her lips, waiting for her brother’s mordant reaction to the mention of everyone’s favourite teddy, and was astonished when none came. On the contrary, he was the quintessence of decorum for the rest of the meal--a rare phenomenon.
The Halloween traffic was heavy, but Lilly’s dad dodged and overtook valiantly. On either side the soft flat patchwork countryside of the midlands fell away quickly. It was a cloudy day with the odd chunk of sunshine poking through. It had rained earlier and tires swished wetly on glistening roads sending great swaths of muddy water spraying into the ditch as they plunged over potholes and puddles. Ray Charles oozed out of the radio and Mr. McDermott started to hum, a wistful expression spreading across his face. The girls snickered, and Julian, deciding the music wasn’t doing much for his countenance, reached out to twiddle the knob, only to be left smarting with indignation as his father batted the offending hand away in one lightning movement. Blushing furiously, he stared out the window for the rest of the journey. Fudge was near to wetting herself with delight.
Before long, they were careening down the hill, past the fair grounds and into the car-clogged main street of Loughrua where shoppers had double- and triple-parked to do some last minute errands. A while back, the typical loose stone walls had replaced neat fencing and hedgerows, conveying their arrival in County Galway.
Fudge pressed her nose against the window, anxious to see all the goings-on. After three years at Castleglen, she’d lost contact with a lot of old friends, but recognised many familiar faces as pedestrians hurried along the busy street. There was Dotty Folen hovering at the bright red doorway of her sweety shop where local children gladly parted with precious pocket money in return for gobstoppers, lollipops, sherbet, bags of Taytos, and toffees covered in powder sugar. Further along, Ned Connelly was swaying dangerously on the curb, his red-rimmed blurry gaze fixed on the gutter where the poor man earnestly believed gallons of black porter to be flowing by. Despite his miserable state, he seemed happy enough, every now and then standing stiffly to attention in order to salute a passing car. As they drove past, Fudge caught his eye and, much to Ned’s joy, saluted back, prompting the bleary-eyed man to do a little jig in the imaginary river of stout. Just before they turned north onto the secondary road leading to Bullcudy and Birch Rise, Garda Sweeney could be seen waving a reprimanding finger at Mrs. Poole, as in Poole’s Poultry Products, whose van full of free range eggs was not only double-parked with the engine running, but obstructing the complete Galway-to-Dublin thoroughfare in both directions.
“What a bunch of bog-trotters,” Julian snorted contemptuously.
Fudge chose to ignore the remark, refusing to let anything spoil the excitement of her homecoming. The withering look Michael McDermott shot his son was gratifying enough.
Mum was already standing at the front door as they finally rattled over the cattle grid and down the long driveway to the farm. She’d been just as eager as her daughter when Fudge had asked if Julian and Mr. McDermott might stay for the day before returning to Dublin. A woman whose quiet intellectual demands far surpassed those of her few acquaintances, Mary Ginnane was by no means daunted by the literary critic’s impending visit; far from it--she was thrilled to bits. Fudge’s dad didn’t particularly mind one way or the other; Mum was the boss in the house. Flanked on either side by Lizzy and Beth, Mary waited on the doorstep. Today, her thick, wavy hair was tied together in a loose ponytail with a dark blue silk neck scarf. As usual, a long wisp had escaped and was fluttering around her face in the midday breeze. Proud not to have a totally fuddy-duddy mother, Fudge was pleased to see that instead of the standard jumper and skirt combination, she was dressed in a long, pale-blue shirt worn over a pair of navy, thin-cord slacks. A soft grey lamb’s wool sweater was thrown casually across her strong shoulders.
Rosy darted out of the house, black corkscrew curls bouncing around her ears, as the Ford skidded to a halt in a shower of conkers and chestnut leaves. The front lawn had been mowed and clipped, probably for the last time before winter set in, and the flowerbeds were brimming with autumn blooms. Pink and lavender Michaelmas daisies crept around the corner of the house, while great clumps of red valerian and chrysanthemum had stubbornly colonised the side wall of the garden shed, splashing the grey natural stone with blotches of vivid colour. Behind the vegetable patch, the hedge stretching down towards the farm buildings was heavy with berries. Purple, blue and red fought for attention as sloes, blackberry, rose hip and elderberry jostled for space in a confusion of brambles and shrubs.
One by one, the travel-weary visitors clambered stiffly out onto the front drive. Very nearly forgetting to greet their sister, the twins twittered and poked each other when they saw Julian folding himself out of the car. In a household of women, it was a great novelty for them to have a young man gracing the dining room table. Fudge flew into her mother’s arms, never ashamed to display her feelings when it came to family, but regretted it almost immediately when an almost imperceptible flicker of sadness crept over Lilly’s features. Michael McDermott, who’d just finished unloading his daughter’s weekend case out of the boot of the station wagon, hadn’t failed to notice it either. But the moment passed and in a whirling bustle of giggles and gossip all the girls disappeared into the house followed by Julian, who slouched unenthusiastically after them. Mary was left standing outside on the gravel with Lilly’s father, embarrassed that Fudge had omitted to make an introduction. They moved awkwardly towards each other.
With only his books and writing for comfort, the widower, having mourned his wife bitterly, had over the years grown numb and insensitive to the advances of other women. In the prime of his life at her death, and attractive in an unkempt type of way, he’d shunned the battery of batting eyelids and the pouting lips of fawning university students and pseudo-intellectual colleagues. Yet here on a farm in the heart of the verdant Irish countryside surrounded by rolling hills and miles of lonely patchwork land, stood a woman who made his heart constrict.