"How do you pronounce that?" I asked, pointing to the carved wooden sign hung over the mirror behind the bar. It read FÁILTE in that gaelic-looking font which, don't be fooled, is just as clichéd in Ireland as it is in the U.S.
The question I'd posed was the first thing of any kind I'd actually said to Liz since we'd met a day or so before. It took more courage than anyone reasonable would expect; immediately after the obligatory introductions had been made we'd sat in discrete chairs across the room from one another and pretended not to be staring at each other peripherally. It was some of the loudest non-conversation I'd ever engaged in, but when I finally spoke to her my voice almost broke like an adolescent's. Almost.
Liz was just the cascade in the Guinness, as far as my visit to Ireland was concerned. From moment one on the ground at Shannon airport I'd been smiling. Death-race driving on the wrong side of the road to pubs where I'm plied with pints of stout and cider and having to instruct a bartender how to make a white russian; giant manor house sprouting from a landscape painting of green down in which the pipes leak hospitality and there's more and better food than you'll find anywhere; sheer cliffs where the wind blows vertically and there aren't any lawsuit-proof fences to keep you from drinking a can and feeling like you're flying; cascades of limestone stretching down to the sea crazed and cracked and just begging for you to stand up a shard and feel a little Celtic for a while. And Liz -
As you'd expect, she was red-haired and had skin like cream. Her trilling lilt of a voice found me just another American sucker for a Colleen, but it was her eyes that did me in. Lightning shards of green-gray-blue stone which knocked you in the forebrain like a camán and you were lost. And she'd turned them on me.
"FOIL-cha," she said. "It means 'welcome'."
A day later we'd be shifting in the back of a crowded, tiny car rocketing through the night while our companions shouted along to Baby...One More Time, snuggling into each other under a blanket while the hash apple was passed around, sneaking up to my borrowed bedroom shielded by entirely transparent excuses, not sleeping until the sun cracked the horizon. A day later than that and I was carried away by a plane and a train and vanished back into the patchwork of Europe.
Liz, happy Saint Patrick's Day, wherever you might be.