The Rose of Tralee

When Laura was chosen as The New York Rose for the Rose of Tralee festival, she was twenty two. The choice was influenced no doubt by her Irish dancing ability and prowess in Gaelic—an American girl who could be an Irish cailín, having been sent for years since she was small to Miss O’Donovan’s dancing class in Brooklyn.
It meant so much to her dad to see her wearing the New York Rose sash. He never even did his traditional moan about the cost of women’s apparel when she purchased her Marc Jacobs handbag from Saks. He boasted that the next step for her would be Miss America, but Laura wasn’t interested in going the beauty pageant way; she wanted to be judged for her other attributes and told her dad and he should have known —claiming as he did to know so much about Ireland— that the Rose of Tralee wasn’t a beauty contest as such but had more to do with personality and different qualities in a girl, apart from just physical beauty.
It was mid-afternoon. He was catching her between lectures. She was telling Danny about the compère, the questions he asked. ‘I did the Cooney’s reel in my bare feet for god sake and played Timpeall an Ghleanntáin on the tin whistle. We made all the dads tearful, weaving them back into the fabric of Irish life.ʼ
‘And mothers?ʼ he said.
She threw Danny a critical stare.
‘Sorry. I put you off your train of thought.’
He would have liked to discuss her mother’s diaries with her but he remembered the promise. You can read about sex but you canʼt talk about it. It was too painful for Laura to bring her mother’s peccadillos into the open, but she was trusting in Danny to a certain extent—so far will she go and no further— and for that he was grateful; it was leading somewhere, explaining partly at least Lauraʼs unease about sex on the basis of her motherʼs behaviour. And maybe she would eventually find some way of explaining to him also about the powerful pull in her relationship with her uncle Thady.
It’s okay,’ she said tossing her head, swinging those bangs, like she was shaking any thought of her mother out of her system. ‘I remember going down by Limerick,ʼ she said pressing a book and her lecture notes close to her breasts, ʻand all the bonfires greeting the Roses. The New York Rose, I couldn’t believe it, that that was me they were cheering and they were cheering the Liverpool Rose and the Sydney Rose as well and the London Rose who I remember had an awful cold, not to mention all the counties of Ireland; it was something that was not meant to be emotional but it got emotional.’
‘Maybe I’m learning,’ he said.
‘What are you learning, Danny?’
‘What’s kitsch in the old country is still fresh and celebratory in America.’
Her eyes lighted up. ‘The night out with the escort.’ She glanced at her watch as they walked across the quadrangle. ʻI have a couple of minutes. I gotta tell this you before I go.’
‘You gotta?’
She stopped in the middle of the quadrangle. ‘You’re not jealous, are you, Danny boy?’
‘What do you think?
‘Oh my god, they are jealousy bells I’m hearing.’
‘No, they’re not.’
‘I’d like them to be jealousy bells,ʼ she said as her view of Danny was obstructed by students hurrying between them on their way to lectures. ʻHe was a cute boy,ʼ she said when Danny came in to view again, ʻbut a bit too young; immature, Dad said.’
‘Your father vetted him?’
‘Not vetted, Danny. He was only nineteen.ʼ
‘And your uncle Thady came.’
‘He came down from Dublin on the train. Dad already told you. Uncle Thady doesn’t drive now. Funny, isn’t it, after driving a fire truck all his life? Maybe he was used to getting his own way in the traffic. And we all went off to see the Cliffs of Moher. Dad was really taken by those cliffs on the way down to Kerry. And Uncle Thady, he was taken by all the beautiful girls. Maureen thought it was dirty.’
‘The way he was going on, ogling, she said, those young women and hey, I was one of them.’
‘You mean he was ogling you?’
She bowed her head.
‘Laura, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…’
‘I better go.’
‘Look, I’ll call to your room after work. Okay?’

From American Doll in paperback and ebook or or
‘Few authors today can consistently create novels of such breadth – infusing the spirit of Irish charm into the events of now – a marriage of intrigue and romance that is polished and a joy to read. San Francisco Review of Books.
‘Lawless has his finger on the pulse of post-9/11 America, and his depiction of the bitterness and paranoia within Laura’s family is – in the context of Trump’s rise to prominence – frightening.’ Sunday Independent.


Author: James Lawless

Irish novelist, poet and short story writer.

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