ONLY CABLE CAR IN IRELAND – A SHORT STORY BY ROB DORAN
Harry had come to Ireland. Iris had loved him, married him and left him. It was all over a misunderstanding, but like most misunderstandings it led to greater revelations and an irresolvable rupture, leaving a gaping hole torn into the fabric of being where happiness had once lived. Ireland was to be a forgetful journey: a tour to forget.
He flew into Dublin, hired a car and drove as far as he could in one day, stopping only when he reached the south western tip of the Beara Peninsula down the wild Atlantic way. Here he could go no further by car. Off the tip of the peninsula lay the Isle of Dursey, population of eight. Between the island and the mainland lay a thousand metres of wild churning, foaming surf and spray, hundreds of metres below the cliffs on which he stood: the Atlantic continuing its ancient and endless dance of loving violent erosion with the rocks and stone of the land.
High above the churn, operating most days except when the winds reached gale force eight, the only cable car in Ireland swung in stretched suspension across the abyss. The small passenger cabin dangling from the wires midway across looked ancient and decrepit, but not in comparison to the model it had superseded, the latter now serving as a chicken coop in the cable car operator’s back yard, behind the office hut. The sign in the window advised the hut was closed until 3:00pm, and if he cared to wait it would cost him six euros to cross, and a further six to return.
Harry lit a cigarette and stood as close to the cliff edge as he would trust himself. The wind was up (though not, he hoped, to gale force). The day was relatively mild by local standards for mid-December and the afternoon winter sun hung low in the sky, peering around clouds and shooting rays of light that suggested God was at home, but not entertaining visitors this day.
The cable car ground into motion, the large winch wheels drawing the cable and the cabin towards the mainland in anticipation of as yet unannounced passengers. As it reached its berth outside the hut, an old Citroën pulled up to park and an even older man eased himself out of the driver’s side and slowly opened the back of the car to unload his load of cargo. The cable car operator appeared from nowhere, as though he had been hiding behind a rock all this time, and hustled to help the old man. They exchanged the greetings and familiarities of men who had known each other for years but knew nothing of each other. The two carried the goods and loaded them into the cable car: bags of coal; bags of groceries, food, wine and household supplies; cans of paint, lengths of timber and all manner of small hardware and DIY necessities and fittings. They must have made a half a dozen trips each, each time passing Harry with no acknowledgement as if he were a ghost made of no more than the constant winds whirling up off the ocean below.
Finally, when the cabin was laden with the weight of the load and the old man had taken his seat inside, the operator turned and acknowledged Harry with all the charm of the Irish, as though he had just arrived. Selling him a return ticket to ride, the operator hustled Harry inside, as he was just about to send the cabin on its way.
As he climbed into the cabin, Harry felt it swing away under his weight, like stepping into a dinghy from a jetty. Taking his seat he took note of the sign that warned of a maximum weight of six passengers for safety. He and the old man were the only passengers but Harry wondered about the freight, spread and piled across the floor at their feet. The rusty wheels turned, the corroded wire reversed in direction, and the decrepit cabin began its journey out into suspension, exchanging the relatively short drop to the ground below for the certain death plummet into the angry churn of water raging through the passage. As they passed through the first tower, from close range he could see that this structure too was also rusted and corroded from the salt air and the ages. Now the old man turned to Harry, and acknowledged him for the first time with a weathered but sincere smile. He wore protruded dentures that made for an over bite in a false white that was belied by the yellow of his adjacent, original teeth. Without invitation, the old man introduced Harry to his wife.
She was beautiful when they met forty winters ago, and she had aged into a still beautiful woman of her years. Her blonde hair of youth had changed to a silver of grace. Her figure remained – not as curved and defined, but still lithe. Her smile had changed with his over the years as they shared the same dentist, but her eyes had kept that brilliant sparkle that had transfixed him at first sight, and outshone the waters on the Mediterranean beach where they first met. She married him immediately and they never spent a night apart for as long as they had been together. They travelled cities and countries like the average person does bus stops, as they made their living and lives together wherever the opportunity of adventure beckoned. They were citizens of the world, with allegiance to no one but each other. They needed nothing as long as they were together and feared only being apart from each other’s heart.
At middle age, they had decided to put down roots. They had lived in the most exciting cities of the world, but had no interest in or need of others. For them the adventure would be to find a home as far away from the world as possible and live their lives as they were meant to: together. They had bought an old run-down shepherd’s cottage on the far side of the island, with no neighbour but one of the world’s most ferocious oceans. For years they visited every chance they had, slowly renovating by hand and turning the cottage into their dream, finally settling there for good. Once every few weeks they would take the cable car across to the peninsula and go into the nearest village to stock up on supplies. That was the reason for his goods today, he explained. The cost of living in the face of such elements was the constant need for maintenance and repairs, but it was a labour of love. The joy in her eyes when they had finished the cottage made him vow to keep it in the same condition for as long as his body would allow.
As the cable car passed through the island side tower, the old man fell silent, a smile on his lips and sadness in his eyes that stretched back through the decades of his memory. Where was she now, inquired Harry, taking advantage of the silence to speak for the first time. Was she on the island waiting for him at the cottage? Surprised, the old man turned to him. Oh no, he replied, she left me long ago. It was a simple misunderstanding, but…
The two of them sat there in silence as the cable car docked at the island end of the journey. Opening the door, Harry helped the old man carry his goods, load by load, packing them into a rusty old flatbed truck. This was the old man’s island vehicle that knew no journeys other than the track from the cable car up and over to the cottage on the far side of the island, and back. In between, it sat silent, rusting, waiting, like a loyal dog, for its master to return and need its company once more. Without a word or a nod, the old man climbed into the truck and trundled away along the muddy track.
Harry climbed back into the cable car carriage and, pressing the button to signal the operator on the far side, he began his journey back to the peninsula. It was time to go home, back to Glasgow.