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It was a legend that had its roots in the mists of time, she was told. She'd read about it since she was a child. “Whoever kisses the Blarney Stone will be granted the gift of eloquence and flattery, the ability to deceive without offending.”
“It’s just nonsense!” her mother said.
“Oooh now it’s d’truth!” her grandmother had countered, knitting needles clacking, peering over the top of her half-moon glasses.
“A load of blarney, no doubt,” Erin thought, but she wanted to test it nonetheless. Could that magical, stone, charmed by a witch when the world was still innocent, help her?
“M…mu…mum,” she stammered, her childhood impediment, the reason she'd been reading about the Blarney Stone for the hundredth time, spurred her on to seek other methods to deal with this horrid, debilitating condition, “wh…wha…wh…what, e…e…ifff e…e…ee…it…it…it wo…wo…works?” The physical effort was exhausting both for Erin and anyone trying to listen to her.
Come St. Patrick’s Day every year, she asked her mother if she could try.
And every year it was the same. Her mother would come, all care and concern, to her side, put her arms around her and say, as gently as she could, variations on the following: “Erin my child, we've tried doctors and speech therapists, hypnosis, as many of the modern methods as we possibly could. They haven’t worked. It's just a legend to bring in the tourists, it won't work and you'll be disappointed again.”
The unsaid concern hung in the air. ‘Will I never be able to get any kind of work other than data entry, then.’
And the biggest fear for her mother, ‘what will become of her after I’m gone.’
Erin looked at her mother, her green-grey eyes murky as a pool in a glade, the tears hanging on the edge ready to fall. Not wanting to go through the whole effort of trying to speak again, she picked up a pen and scribbled on her writing tablet, “What’s to lose? Lived in castle’s shadow FOREVER! Never tried.”
This year her mother said something she’d never said before, “When you're Da’ disappeared and you were only five, I stopped believing in fairy tales.”
Erin wrote, “Go alone?”
“Okay! But who will be there to hold you? We don’t want you to go falling down and dying in an attempt to get your speech!” Mother rolled her eyes, rushing to get to school, where her job as a teacher was the only thing that had sustained them all these years.
“Aachh!” Granny interrupted, “Kathy, let the girl go. There’s Sean next door, I’m sure he’ll be happy to go with her.”
Mother shrugged. “Okay!”
St. Patrick’s Day Erin rose early, dressed and had a slice of soda bread with butter and jam. She decided she’d have the full breakfast with bacon and sausages, potatoes and beans when she came back after kissing the Blarney Stone.
She’d barely grabbed her coat and hat when there was a gentle knock on the door. “Young Sean,” she said in her head, “if only I could say it as clearly out loud.”
When they got to the Castle, they bought their tickets and hurried up the stairs. They were among the first up, but even so, there was a fairly long queue. Erin turned to Sean and indicated that he bend down to listen to her as she whispered, “Re…re…re…rem, re…re…re…member to h…h…h…hold mu…mu…mu me tight.”
He nodded. Erin’s heart had begun to thump. ‘Will it work. What if it works? What if it doesn’t’
Then it was her turn. It was safer now than it had been years ago. There was a guardrail and protective bars. Erin lay down backwards and Sean held her. She leaned over, the Blarney stone was too far. She leaned further. She had to get at it. She had to kiss it. Her back curved like a taut bow. Her muscles hurt. She couldn’t reach it. As she hung upside down, the tears flowed into her eyes and the blood into her head. Her head was throbbing now. She leaned further.
Sean clung to her legs and called out, “Erin, you can’t go further, you will fall, your mother loves you, for Chris’ sake girl, it’s not worth this!”
In a last-ditch attempt, Erin let one hand loose and hanging by just one hand she briefly touched the stone. She pulled her hand back and kissed it, then bent over in tears, sobbing, “I…I…I … cud…cudn’t.”
“It’s okay,” Sean put his arms around her. “We love you as you are.”
Erin wept all the way home. Silent tears. Sean put his arm around her shoulder there wasn’t much else he could do.
When they returned home her mother opened the door, took one look at Erin’s face and drew her into a tight embrace.
“She couldn’t reach it,” Sean explained.
Erin didn’t say a word for the rest of the day. She disappeared to her room and refused to participate in any of the celebrations. She came down and had her evening meal and St Patty’s Day along with its colossal disappointment slid into the past.
The next morning, Erin thought she’d test out that tongue of hers in private in front of the mirror. “Hi!” she said to her reflection. ‘Had it worked’ she wondered. But she had at times in the past been able to speak to herself without stammering.
Testing time, she said as she went down to breakfast. “Morning love,” her mother greeted her.
“Mu…mu…mu… morningmum,” nothing had changed. She was condemned to a life of entering data. For all practical purposes she was a deaf-mute without any of the social benefits.
That night Erin pulled out her journal; she hadn’t written in it on St. Patty’s day, but today she longed to write. It was like an itch in her hand and a fever on the brain. She set her pen on the page and away it went, as if it had a mind of its own, “The Blarney Stone in the Blarney Castle has a heart of stone it seems, for when I went to ask of it, the merest of my dreams, it touched my brain and pushed the stone to a place beyond my grasp, St. Patrick took the snakes away, but Blarney is an asp.”
The words flowed, the pen ran, her heart and mind poured out like the river Lee in spate. Erin had never written like this before. Her rant became a poem that grew into a song and finally a story.
“Where did that come from?” she wondered and looked at her hand, remembering that this was the hand that touched the Blarney Stone. Perhaps her mum could believe in fairy tales again.
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Click to see: Books by Rohini Sunderam.