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              Images of an island:
         At the kitchen table

I am looking at the photographs Max sent me when the doorbell rings. Darina! I forgot I had invited her for tea. "How nice to see you!" At some stage Darina was my neighbour. When Ireland introduced civil divorce in 1995, she separated from her husband after a marriage of nearly thirty years. Her four children have grown up. Now she lives in a new estate on the fringe of Drogheda, the provincial town near by.

"This is Conor", she says and nods at the young man standing beside her, "Ben´s friend. I´ve told you about him". I try to remember what Darina told me about her son´s university friend. He had worked for a while in the States. After that in Germany? The Irish have an infallible memory for the things they are told – I don´t.

"Of course! Come in". The kitchen table is covered with photographs. "Ben Bulben", Darina exclaims with delight. "Skellig Michael", Conor pulls out one of the shots. "Images of Ireland", I say apologetically and try to clear space for cups, milk and sugar. "I seem to be just in time", Liam observes from the kitchen door. Liam helped us with the reconstruction of the house we bought twenty years ago on the east coast of Ireland. Today he is part of the family, and he visits us once a week.

"Who´s that?" Beside his trouser-leg a black ear shows. Liam´s toothless mouth starts grinning: "Cathbad." Everybody laughs. Cathbad is a famous druid from Irish legends. The little dog is just a few weeks old and his black and white coat is all fluffy.

While the others look at the photographs on the kitchen table, I try to make tea without stepping on Cathbad. "This is Trinity College", says Darina. "Hmm ..." Liam studies a cloudscape over the sea. I search for biscuits in the kitchen cupboard. "What are you going to do with the photographs?" Conor wants to know. I only have the ginger biscuits I usually feed to the donkeys as treats after cleaning their hooves.

"Nothing." Cathbad sticks his nose into the kitchen cupboard beside me. "I won´t do anything with them", I explain seeing the puzzled faces of my guests. "I´m supposed to write a text for them". I fill the tea cups and we sit down at the table. "And what are you going to write?" Liam asks. "I don`t know. There are already so many books about Ireland – travel books, story books, picture books", I pour milk into my tea, "cookery books." Something glistens at the edge of my vision.

"These pictures are very ..." Conor hesitates. "... beautiful", Aoife finishes his sentence. She is sitting at the table, as if she had been here from the beginning and her reddish hair shines in the afternoon light. "Ireland is very beautiful", Darina says. "But that´s not all it is", Conor adds taking a ginger biscuit. Liam heaps the third spoon of sugar into his tea. "You could write about the way Ireland has changed over the last few years", Darina suggest. "And how it was before", Liam stirs his tea. Conor feeds the rest of his biscuit to Cathbad. "As it always was", Aoife´s words sound like a melody.

"Of course, you should say something about the history of the island and its population", Conor states. "To get rid of the old clichés", says Darina. "And the new illusions" Liam adds. "Hmm", I look again at the photographs, "this is all a bit vague ..." Cathbad sniffs Aoife´s dress made from a blue irridescent fabric. "A piece of paper", Conor demands. Cathbad twitches as his nose touches the blue fabric. I search the kitchen cupboard for paper and pencil.

"Now", Conor smooths the top page of my shopping pad and start. "Geology, archaeology ...", he writes. "Stones", Liam says. "Landscape" adds Aoife. Cathbad has coiled up at her feet. "Monasteries, castles, mansions ...." lists Darina. "Music", says Aoife to herself. "Food", I interject. "Drink!" Liam suggests with a straight face – the others laugh. The page is filling up. Cathbad breathes calmly in his sleep. All of this will have to be mentioned in the text for the pictures, I think despairingly. Conor is still writing. The others have stopped talking.

"More tea?" I ask as I become aware of the silence. Liam is scraping the sugar from the bottom of his cup: "Thanks, I have to be off". With a moan he gets up. "Come on, Cath!" The little dog leaves his dreams reluctantly. "We have to go too", says Darina. "So I´ll see you tomorrow?" I ask Conor after Liam and Cathbad have left. Conor offered to help me with my research for the book. "Sure", he says with a touch of American affability. "And I´ll give you a call", I tell Darina because she too has offered me her help.

Back in the kitchen I spread out the photographs again. There are so many different images of Ireland, charming, threatening, dramatic, passionate ones. "And your own images?" asks Aoife still sitting in the shaft of light from the kitchen window. I look down at the river glistening behind the branches of the trees. Is it possible to describe that? "Each image is part of the whole." Aoife´s voice vibrates in my head. "And the whole is always more than its parts". A little while later I realise that Aoife has disappeared as unnoticed as she came.