by William Trevor
The leaves had begun to fall. All along Sunderland Avenue on the pavement beneath the beech trees there was a sprinkling, not yet the mushy inconvenience they would become when more fell and rain came, which inevitably would be soon. Not many people were about; it was after midnight, almost one o’clock, the widely spaced lampposts casting pools of misty, yellow illumination. A man walked his dog in Blenning Road in the same blotchy lamplight, the first of autumn’s leaves gathering there also. An upstairs window opened in Verdun Crescent, hands clapped to dismiss a cat rooting in a flower bed. A car turned into Sunderland Avenue, its headlights dimmed and then extinguished, its alarm set for the night with a flurry of flashing orange and red. The traffic of the city was a hum that only faintly reached these leisurely streets, the occasional distant shriek of a police siren or an ambulance more urgently disturbing their peace.
Less than half a mile away, the night was different. Young people prowled about outside the Star night club, its band—Big City—taking a break. A late shop was still open, a watchful Indian at the door noting who came and went. A few cars drew away, but more remained. Then, with a thump of such suddenness that for a moment it might have been taken for a warning of emergency or disaster, music again burst from the Star night club.
She might have slipped him but she hadn’t, and she remembered now not wanting to. “The hard man,” his friends said when they greeted him, knowing him well, as she did, too, his daring, the way he took chances. “Aw, come on,” he had urged, the time he gave her a lift on the bar of his bicycle, when they were caught by her father coming toward them on a bicycle, too, his veterinary bag hanging on the handlebars. “Don’t ever let me see the like of that again,” her father stormed at her when she returned to the house. Being his favorite made being caught all the worse, her mother explained. Neither of them approved of Martin Manning. They didn’t understand.
She washed the mug she’d drunk her cocoa from at the sink and put the lid on the biscuit tin. She picked up Sister Teresa’s typed sheets and went upstairs. “Scenes from Hamlet” was Sister Teresa’s title for the monologues she had put together, the first time she had attempted something that wasn’t a conventional play. “ ‘There’s fennel for you,’ ” Aisling murmured, half asleep already, “ ‘and columbines . . .’ ”