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John Roche went off to his second home, The Minstrel Boy, after the official and unofficial mourning for Robert Shillington was over. He had a lot to think about and a lot of drinking to do to make it all go away.

As he sat there, a girl came and stood by him. Now fully restored to her original fullness, though still obviously not quite physical.

“Hello, love, she said. We meet finally. It’s been a very long time – but it’s come at last.”

John just knew he was not meant to respond. He knew that he would be talking to nobody – or at least nobody that anybody else could see. He still felt close and comforted. As though after so many years of waiting, his mother was finally here – with him, by his side.

“I got lost after they took you away. I was never allowed to name you, or see you, or touch you …. You were named by the nuns who took you in – John because the Pope was a John, and Roche because the gardener’s wife, Geraldine Roche, offered to suckle you – the unfortunate woman had given birth to a stillborn daughter. She lived only long enough to give you a start in life, before the poor woman took her own when the powers that be decided that she was not stable enough to take you on full time. And so, it seems, you started a long series of ‘Mammies and Daddies’ with too many visits between times to institutions and orphanages.

Meanwhile, I was Lost in somebody else’s body. She was me, but I was not her! I became somebody quite different – but my soul, this soul – never ceased to struggle, to yearn, to go back. She – Bernadette - had to be strong. There was no other way. She was dead inside. The only life inside was me and I was shattered and defeated, but all the time I hated her. She knew that, and it just made her harder and more damaged. There was no way I could break my way out. She was stronger; she had more to live for. She had her resentment and hatred to sustain her. All I had to live for had been taken away. First by that drunken mess – though he was not always that way. I don’t forgive him, but if it was not for him, there would not be you. And then they took you away too. She fled over here. Hardened her heart to everything and everyone. Only cared about money, and power, and status – but all the time reproached from inside by me – her conscience, her soul.

Now she is gone. Now I am free. I have seen you. Talked to you. I was not able to do any of that before she died, so perhaps James Kelly has made it possible to put it right in the end. He once again started a chain of events which altered my – well, perhaps not my life that was forfeit long ago, but certainly my existence. I cannot stay. Hate her as I do, nonetheless my life and Bernadette’s are inextricably entwined. With her death, comes mine. But I have more than enough to keep me content, but make me proud, John, be a good man, and …. remember me.”

With that she was gone. He had no idea whether she had been a figment of his imagination, since he had longed for such a situation for as long as he could remember, or whether it had actually happened. It did not matter much. He had heard it. He had seen it. Whether a miracle or the DTs – it was just as welcome. He had found some kind of closure. He had heard the truth, from the very mouth of his very own mother. Somebody who claimed him as her own, rather than the others who had made him feel unwanted and unloved.

Jaisus, he thought, even he could not have dreamed up quite such a salubrious and colourful ancestry! A mother that had been ‘murdered’ and then ’reincarnated (however temporarily!) and a rapist for a father. That gave him cause to ponder. Though he had always known it, even John Roche had harboured deep down in his psyche a picture that his birth had been welcomed, but tragedy had struck. He, like many others, despite his outwardly cavalier demeanour, would have preferred to be the result of love and commitment rather than violence and disgrace. But now some 38 years later, he was what he was. He laughed to himself to realise that he also now had a murderer for a ‘step-father’ – even if the bastard may not even know it. Technically, he supposed, it was he, John Roche, that was the bastard! Some might say, a bastard by birth and a bastard by nature. Others would most certainly disagree. Though they would never dare to tell him so. John Roche quite enjoyed his ‘bastard’ reputation, and had to work hard to maintain it – often despite himself.

He did not dwell on these deep thoughts for too long; contemplating his naval was not in his natural scheme of things. There was nothing to be gained, and much focus and drinking time to be lost. But he remembered her words, and looked thoughtfully at his nearly empty glass.

He felt different: Calmer, more contented. He had lost his mother and his father many years before, so the physical loss was now minimal, and he had now been gifted with the magic consolation of ‘closure’. He had always considered it a pretentious and ridiculous word when the defence psychiatrists had blathered on about it in Court or in psychiatric reports, but now he perfectly understood the concept. Not enough to forgive all those cretins who had used it to excuse their behaviour in the past, but it was now to him more than a ‘strategy’. It had a meaning, even a presence, in his mind.

But back to reality. So far, all was peaceful within the O’Dwyer hierarchy. If there was an internal struggle going on locally, then they were keeping it to themselves. It had been a blow to them that the County Council and the Irish Government had both decided to cease finding Bernadette’s enterprises ‘public money was scarce, and they had to be accountable to all people’ - or wording in that similar vein was how the Dear John letters went.

All of the welfare and social care projects were wound up, though

St. Margaret’s was taken over by one of the national charitable organisations providing residential facilities for older people. The Club continues to operate, but as a stand-alone concern, owned by its share-holders who are also its chief clientele.

The Leeds O’Dwyer brothers sold up their companies, and scattered, older ones retiring to Spain and Cyprus, and the younger ones deciding Australia was more to their taste. Tristan and Sinaed, on the advice of the Family, decided that their prospects were poor in the UK, and that they should return once again to America, to their home.

Roche did not know whether to be sad or sorry that things were now so peaceful and on more than one occasion he thought almost with fondness back to the bad old days when Bernie was Queen. He would say he was therefore Prince, but he would never accept any title lower than King.

As to Amanda? Amanda gave into her fears, and returned to Graham. She stopped working with them, and the last that they knew the pair had moved away, to place or places unknown. John Roche was sad, but not surprised. It was never his luck for things to go well. But he was resilient and he would not only survive, but he would thrive.

In any case, many months later, he received a letter out of the blue, from Elizabeth Shillington saying that she was sorry for the grief she had given him, and the hurtful words she had sometimes said. She wanted him to know that she really did not blame him for anything, and that she had just been very depressed at the time. She hoped he would forgive her, and stay in touch. He had been close to Bobby, and there were now few people who linked her with his past. If he would like to drop by for a coffee sometime, she had some keepsakes of Bobby’s that she thought he would have liked John to have. Nothing big, you understand, just mementos.

Well, he thought what a turn up for the books. He chuckled to himself. Now that would be an interesting experiment! The feisty, controlling ‘harridan’ that was Lizzie Shillington and the taciturn, opinionated and free spirit John Roche! No day would be dull, that would be for certain. After a very short consideration, Roche decided that it was an experiment worth pursuing – and certainly life would never be dull. He thought he was more drawn to women who could stick up for themselves and stand their ground. He might feel his Sir Launcelot side rise to the fore at the thought of a man using his strength and force over his partner, but he there was always just a tinge of disrespect for the woman who would allow herself to be used and abused in that way. Over time, he knew – because he knew himself – that kind of weakness would drive him crazy. Certainly Lizzie was more likely to cut off his balls than to cower at his feet! She was no looker like Roisin Dupre, but then Rosin Dupre was no match for Elizabeth Shillington in any other way that mattered.

He made a definite note in his head to ‘drop in for coffee’ the next time he was in that direction. Not too soon – he did not want to seem too eager – but …. yes, a week or two should do it!

The rest, as they say, is history”!

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