The Harp

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 The Harp

Go dté tú slán

The Present Day...Somerville, New Jersey...

Adam walked out of Mannion’s Irish Pub at 9:27 pm on a Thursday in August. It was hot and he was tired. Everyone was sweating that day…even well into the night, so he didn’t have to worry about the tears he was shedding; they looked like the beads of perspiration that fell from everyone’s face on that hot summer night.

Three young men about as old or as young as Adam stepped onto the sidewalk and yelled as one,

“What a fucking queer!” Thus demonstrating both their lack of sensitivity and inattentiveness as a large SUV passing the bar drove through a puddle left over from an earlier thunder shower, splashing the idiots thoroughly. Adam didn’t take the time to relish his nemeses bad fortune because he was already walking toward his car.

He was always plagued with words and pictures; they woke him up in the night and they invaded his waking thoughts during the day. Self-talk can often be helpful, but in his case it was absolutely horrible, since it frequently either quoted or paraphrased the cruel jabs and barbs that came his way on a daily basis. And not just from idiots…well not just from strange idiots. Friends could be insensitive even if well meaning, telling him that he had a future with some nice boy in Somerset County, having read about all the great spots for Gays in New Jersey.

But Adam wasn’t gay…at least in the way anyone understood, including his very well-intended but misinformed parents and older brother.

“Why, Adam? Can we help? Daddy has great insurance, and they don’t even ask for a pre-certification. You can just go and they’ll pay for everything. It’s quite alright to like boys. Your cousin Ryan has been with David for two years now. It’s so hard when you’re so confused, but they tell me that those folks can really help you get things sorted out,” his mother said in a brief if altogether sadly dismissive tone.

Sorted out? Being gay and being…well, they just didn’t understand. At least they…they did try, didn’t they?

Adam got into his car and started it up. Nothing seemed to matter anymore; he was too overwhelmed to care because the pain just wouldn't go away. He was still crying enough that between blur of his eyes and his inattentiveness, he didn’t see the Somerset County Public Works dump truck that sped through the red light. He pulled out and into its path, and it hit the side of his Toyota just behind the front door; sending it spinning into the Chevy Blazer that was coming toward both vehicles in the other direction. No one was hurt or killed, surprisingly, but Adam, in traveling the few feet it took to slam into the old SUV, ended up taking the trip of a lifetime.


The haze lifts…..

Adam blinked his eyes, as if coming out of a deep slumber and saw an old, craggy faced man smiling at him.

“Come on…come on. Let’s get goin’, Lad…I haven’t got all day.” The gruff man said it loudly, but his tone was almost more jocular than impatient; which was proven a moment later when the man added,

“I swear, Adhamh, you’ll be late fer yer own funeral, I’ll wager!” The man finished with a laugh. Adam would have sat up from the hospital bed upon waking from the accident except for two very important things.

First, for some reason, he felt fine if a little stiff and sore. He shook his head, and found that the mood that had plagued him seem to have followed him straight through his ‘sleep’ and back into his consciousness, leaving him still sad.

But second, and more importantly, in a way, Adam realized he was already standing; as if he had woken from an odd dream. The man who had been speaking stared at him with the same look that only a moment before had implored him to move. But now, the man frowned while stepping forward to catch Adam just before he fell to the ground in a dead faint.

He looked up and saw a friendly face, vaguely familiar in the back of his mind if altogether strange at first glance.

“Oh Adhamh…are you alright?” The fair-haired girl spoke…at least he thought she spoke. Strange sounds came from her mouth, but the intent and the meaning came through.

“Aiofe?” He said, the word sounded like Ee-fa…her name. She smiled down at him and touched his cheek.

“Oh, Da nearly dropped you on yer head, and what good would that do, us bein’ engaged n’ all?” She pushed her lips out slightly in a sad pout.

“O, don’t be worryin’ Aiofe, I’m fine!” Again strange sounds, but coming from his own mouth. And he noticed his voice, apart from the foreign words, had gained an octave. His face immediately grew warm and his hand shot up to his cheek in embarrassment.

“You got to be talkin’ lower, lad…at least around the lads here,” she used her eyes to point in the direction of the five men standing at the bar, staring at his prostrate figure, which was draped over a table. He sat up.

“I don’t know what happened, but I’m fine now.” His voice was back to normal…at least it sounded normal but it sounded odd; like it really wasn’t his own voice.

“You won’t be fine if we don’t keep things quiet, dear. We wouldn’t want anyone finding our dear Aine (which sounded like Awn-ya,)” she said.

“At least until after Meadhbh gives you your blessing?” Her smile was conspiratorial if odd. Who or what was Meadhbh (which sounded like Mayv) and what was the blessing the beautiful girl referred to?

“Yer havin’ them spells again, Lad…You should just go over In the corner and sit down. I’ll bring ye somethin’ to sip on while me daughter makes her eyes at ye,” the old man said, this time not gruff at all and with a smile on his face.

A few moments later Adam was sitting with a mug in his hand.

“We can go in a while, my dear and soon we won’t be worryin’ about you at all.”

Aiofe smiled once more before walking out of the pub. Adam took a gulp from the mug in his hand and found that the beer was way too strong and altogether warm. It took him about seventeen or eighteen minutes to notice that the clothes everyone was wearing seemed out of place; until he realized he was out of place. He reached over and grabbed the newspaper from the chair next to him and noticed that the words looks almost as odd as the one’s that had emitted from everyone since he awoke. But he understood every single word on the page, including the date. 18, August…1881.

“Excuse me…I seem to have…I hit my head?” The men at the bar all laughed; the same strange tongue seemed to permeate his being as one old man pointed to him.

“And what’s the news about that, Adhamh? You were dropped on yer head when ye was born, lad, and maybe this time it will have done ye some good!”

“Oh…yes… some good. Where exactly am I?” More laughter and every one pointing.

“You serious? Streedagh if you were anywhere…where you was born and everyone knows likely where you will die, if you last that long!” The old man laughed again as Adam felt a hand massaging his neck.

“Don’t you let them get to you, Adhamh.” The man behind him looked vaguely familiar even though Adam couldn’t place anyone there.

“You just listen to yer Uncail Padraic, lad…I’ll not be leaving you to these fools anytime soon. So what if yer Da never knew ye an’ yer Ma died bringin’ ye into the world…Me n’ yer Aintin Maighread love ye proper an’ all. And we know yer not exactly….well… yer not foolin’ us, no.”

Adam looked up at the old man and he smiled a knowing smile; which was odd. What did this man…his uncle? What did he know about Adam that Adam knew nothing about himself. As he sat there, a thought…a sensation actually came to him as he realized for all intents and purposes he was somewhere back in time; a dream for sure.

But the dream also included someone… Aiofe? Eve? Adam and Eve…no …something much more… ancient than that? For that matter, who was this Aine she referred to; a name that sounded not only familiar but dear and treasured, of all things, like another family member? A cousin? A sister? And something peculiar and even worth of pride struck him as he sat in the pub in Streedagh in a hot day in August in the year of our Lord Eighteen Hundred and Eighty One. He came to realize that, even with all the unanswered questions, one thing was certain. He was undoubtedly the first transgendered person this place or this time had ever seen.


“Ye got to pull yer weight, lad. I can’t be doin’ all the heavy lifting.” The old man smiled at Adam, who seemed to have popped into a scene in some old movie about the Old Country, except that everything was in color after a fashion, although it seemed very gray at the moment. He looked around wondering just what the old man expected him to do. The smell of salt air led him to believe he was by the coast; an assumption that was indeed true. Was he a fisherman? A Boatwright? A laborer. A slight 143 lbs belied any manual labor, but who knew anything was possible now that the barrier of time had been broached. Perhaps he was a manly fisherman?

“Dé tha thu ah deanamh?” the man snapped. Adam understood and said,

“I was just gettin’ my harp,” to which the other men at the bar laughed.

“A harp is for girls. Better you play it and I’ll play your girl, aye?” A tall, thin man said, but the look on his face was one of a tease rather than a challenge. Harps were for girls, it was true. A man might play a fiddle or a whistle or mandolin, but never a harp. At least that's what he'd always been told. But this was different...a different time and place and even a different harp.

“Just you leave the lad alone, Seamus…My Aiofe has eyes only for him, God only knows, but that’s the way it is. Keep your hands to yer own instrument!” Aiofe’s father quipped and Seamus turned bright red as all the other men laughed. Aiofe came from behind the bar with a tray full of mugs and set it on the table.

“Here is your only round on me father, lads. Drink while you can; Seamus is up next, and he hasn’t bought a round since Hector was a pup!” Aiofe laughed and soon all the men in the pub were laughing as well, including Seamus.

Adam sat with the Harp resting on his shoulder. Some things seemed to have followed him. He was small and still the object of teasing. And he played harp like an angel… a woman in fact…the woman he had wanted to become. What had happened and just why did he offer no argument for a fate too horrible to imagine; it was like he was walking in quicksand, and his head was barely above the surface. It felt like he would drown if he took the wrong step.

“There he goes again. I’ll give him this; he can play. But look at those hands…look at that face. Joseph and Mary protect that boy…” The words still penetrated his mind like darts; sharp and to the point, but uncomfortable. Why did he understand and why was he there? Aiofe came over to him and touched his hand gently and whispered,

“A ghra mo chroi, (love of my heart) soon and very soon we shall see. That’s me girl.” She smiled and walked away, her sashay gaining the attention of every man there. Every man?

“Dear God…with all that is holy, what is going on?”
 Adam thought, but he wanted to scream.

From a timid young man in New Jersey who was contemplating ending…bringing to an end a very sad existence…to a musician in amidst a group of rugged men with rugged instruments playing rugged Irish music; feeling lost and out of place; alone in the company of strangers who spoke a strange tongue in a strange land in a strange time. He bit his lip; already they perceived him to be soft. What did they do to men like him? Any hope of being anything but a soft man had taken flight even as he had landed there and then.

“Aye, lad…suck it up…no tears in front of the men. You know what they’ll say,” he heard a vaguely familiar voice. He turned to face his Uncail Padraic…Paddy to the lads. The man looked sympathetic and caring; a welcome if totally out of place expression in the midst of confusion and worry.

“Like yer Aintin Maighread might say, ‘What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” Adam had no idea what his ‘uncle’ meant until the man leaned in and spoke softly,

“Yer goin’ to be alright, lad…Meav will see to it, aye?” Meav… Meadhbh ….the Queen of the Fairies? He laughed softly at the irony even as he wiped the few tears from his eyes, taking care not to make a big gesture of it.

The men produced their own instruments…guitar, fiddles, flute, penny whistles…a squeeze box…Adam looked down at the harp that he held. Etched into a brass plate was the name, Adhamh Caellach …Adam Kelly…his own name…who was he? And why was he there. But next to the plate, something had been etched into the wood frame of the harp… Aiofe a Aine… that name again…Aine? Who was she and what did she have to do with it all? The tuning and plunking and blowing and banging all began as the men prepared to play a melody. Adam looked around and noticed the men had all turned their attention to Donnchadh, (Donnah) Aiofe’s father. And Adam looked down one last time at the brass plate on the frame and noticed something painted in very ornate script on adjacent to the plate. It read,

“Clàrsach Aine” He shook his head. He understood Gaelic even though until that day he had never heard it much less spoke it. But he understood and it frightened him and warmed his heart at the same time.

“Clàrsach Aine….Aine’s Harp”

Slán abhaile


Donnchadh's Pub...shortly thereafter...

The music hovered in the pub like a cloud, raining down sweet melodies and harmonies to water the souls of the hard men, softening them only a little. Adam looked around as he played, trying to make sense of the whole thing. He smiled and nodded at his mates, but his confusion was almost too distracting, and he hit a few odd notes and his hand faltered more than several times as he brought it across the strings, causing them to frown. They finished playing and Adhamh put down the harp, but not before eying the inscription on the neck….’Clàrsach Aine….Aine’s Harp.’

What was going on? Why was he there and what could be done about returning home? Did he really want to return home, since home was uninviting and angry and unforgiving? Here, at least, he was lost amongst strangers who accepted him. But then at home at least there was hope that things would change. In this time and place, hope was dashed and whatever happiness he might find would be small and fleeting. Teasing and mean might be hard to handle, but he could face words. If his secret was exposed then and there, what then?

“Adhamh? A ghra mo chroi? Are you ready?” He looked up into the smile of the prettiest girl he had ever known in two lifetimes. Aiofe touched his arm and he withdrew it quickly. Knowing her and not knowing at the same time was more than confusing. She knew everything about his child hood even if he knew nothing.

“I…I’m sorry, but…I’m not feeling well at all.” His words sounded like English in his head but came out in what he realized was Gaelige…Irish.

“I don’t remember what you’re talking about.” The Irish seemed less and less disconcerting as he spoke, and she understood.

“Silly! Tonight….Meav...you know.” As she talked, a memory popped into his consciousness about some ceremony….an appeal of some sort.

“I know it’s hard, but we have to try; it’s all we have to hope for.” He nodded but nothing she was saying made any sense.

“I can’t stay here, Adhamh, and neither can you. It’s our last chance.” The girl was almost pleading for him to understand; his expression was more than enough to insert doubt and uncertainty between them.

“I can’t….whatever you say, girl!” He didn’t mean to be familiar with her and quickly added,

“I’m sorry, Aiofe…please? You show me what to do.”

“Adhamh...We’ve planned this all our lives…we can’t back out now!” The girl looked around; most of the lads had stepped up to the bar and were drinking to each other, paying no attention to the couple other than to raise a glass and smile.

“That’s just it, Aiofe…I don’t remember any of this. Who am I? What am I doing here?”

“When I was a little girl…about four, I think, me Ma was with child. She promised me a sister, and with four brothers then and now two more, I wanted a sister so bad. We knew she would be beautiful. Ma said she was a blessing. Her name was Aine!” The girl began to tear up and she sat down, leaning closer.

“There she is,” I said. Ma needed help, and when Aintin Moireach went to see, I peeked. Red hair.” She began to cry.

“She din’t breathe, Adhamh….not a breath….” She sighed and continued.

“So when I saw you for the first time….you were so….soft!” Being a soft boy in Somerville in the nineties was one thing, but Adhamh was flooded with the memories of Padraig, his older brother, beating him for being ‘soft,’ something to be expected in Eire in that time. Not just expected, but almost mandatory to beat some sense into the boy. Every punch and even kick came back to his memory with such a vengeance that he doubled over in the chair next to her.

“But we had our time, and we will have our time again, aye?” Even as the word left her mouth he felt warm, as if something was trying to bless him. He felt her hand on his cheek.

“We’ve got to get going, love.” She stood up and brought him to his feet with a quick yank of the arm. In a moment they were out the door; their steps illuminated by the moonlit trail into the woods behind the pub.

“It won’t be long, now, love.” Her words seemed more than just cordial or encouraging. The romance behind each syllable seemed to flow over him like clear clean water, but the water washed away more than the past, but the future as well.

In the woods...

They reached a clearing and they stood, looking at each other as if for the first time. In a way, it was almost like the first time.

“I need to know…” Adhamh looked away into the woods for a moment.

“If….since your sister died.” He winced at his own words; knowing the depth of pain still in the girl before him.

“Why is the harp I have….the one your father gave me?” Another recollection.

“Why does it say ’Clàrsach Aine’?” He tilted his head in anticipation of a very deep and touching explanation about her sister and the hopes they had for her and perhaps the music that belonged to the family. She smiled and laughed softly.

“Because it’s your harp, you silly...my inscription!”

“But my name is Adhamh.” He protested; an argument borne out of lives lived in two different times.

“Aye, it is but it isn’t.” She laughed again, playing almost coy with a secret which should have been no secret at all.

“It’s what we’ve both wanted since we were little…the two of us? But it can’t and won’t do without help.” Riddle upon riddle. But we don’t need to worry. It will all be put right soon enough.” She used her hand to point to the top of the trees. An almost sparkle seemed to glow from the treetops all the way down to the ground.

“What we wanted? I don’t understand.” That’s what he thought, but what he heard was,

“Ní thuigim.”

“You have always wanted to be a girl. Don’t you remember?” Aiofe recalled even if Adhamh had somehow forgotten.

“And that might do, if Meav agrees….it’s me that I’m worried about.” She sighed. Adhamh might remember, but Adam had no clue.

“Me….it just isn’t done…it can never be done. I’ve dreamed about this all my life and only she can make it happen, if the Creator agrees. I asked Father Cailean about it once.” She began to tear up again.

“About what? (Ní thuigim) He struggled to understand her and even his own words had become confusing, but nothing was more confusing than the hints and suggestions that danced around her meaning.

“I asked him if it was alright for a girl to love a girl. Of course he said yes; Christian charity is always a good thing.” She put her head down.

“I don’t understand.” He forced out words that caused her to look at him askance since they were the first and last English words he would utter to her…at least in that plane of reference.

“I love you, but I don’t love you as a boy. You want to be a girl. I want you to be girl! And I love you! I asked him if it was alright for a girl to love a girl and he got angry. Da grabbed my hand and pulled me away and to the back of the church.” Her nose began to run and tears streamed down her cheeks.

“Ma slapped my face hard and told me to never talk like that again. She kissed me on the cheek and told me to never let Da hear that again.”

“I’m so sorry!” Adhamh had no idea why he was sorry, but he felt so deeply at that moment for the girl; as if the remainder of his ‘lost’ memories was infused into his being. Sorry for so many things. For the girl. For himself. For Aine, who seemed to be holding him even though he wasn’t completely clear who she was. For the boy who grew up despised by his own family in Somerville. For the little boy who felt out of place in short pants and shirts in Streedagh a century and a half and more before he was born and for the little girl who never lived to draw a breath. But mostly he felt sorry indeed for the girl who played the harp. The music that came from her soul to bless all that heard, even if the hands that played it were his.

“Meav will make it right; she has to. She just has to.” Aiofe was sobbing at this point; mostly as a lament for what she feared would never come to pass but also as a plea for what she hoped would become real, even if it was the most painful thing she would ever do.

“I….I remember. Behind the cottage….everyone had gone to Mac a' Phearsain’s to see the new calf and we….you let me wear your skirt. Padraig hit me hard enough that I banged my head against the stone and cut….you wiped the blood from my face with your coat.” The pain of the moment flooded back; nearly causing Adhamh to pass out.

“You said if we could change places….if Meav would fix things so that we could trade?” Aiofe nodded, but her face displayed a near terror.

“I will, Aine…..if I have to so that I can make us both happy, I will, and Meav will see to it. I just know she will.” Even as the words flew upward, the glow of the trees grew brighter and an almost soft quaking of the leaves began with a rustle. Overhead, a brighter glowing shape appeared, almost like a star falling down from the heavens. In a moment, the glow settled on the ground in front of the two. Their eyes grew wide as the glow abated, revealing the most beautiful woman either had ever seen.

“Dia Duit, Mo chlann!” (God be with you, my children) She said in a soft, almost motherly tone. The awe and fear of the two melted away at her welcoming smile. They looked at each other and Aiofe actually pinched her arm.

“Dia is Muire dhuit,” (God and Mary to you) they said in unison. Adhamh’s voice raised nearly an octave almost in anticipation of the blessing they both hoped for. Aiofe tried to speak lower as a contrast but her voice nearly squeaked in a cracking soprano.

“It isn’t required of you to be anything but who you are, dear one.” Meav, Queen of the Faeries, placed her hand on Aiofe’s head and kissed her cheek. The girl blushed and turned away, embarrassed and confused.

“You will be who you will be, child, no matter what man may think or expect.” She smiled again at Aiofe before turning to Adhamh.

“And you, dear one? I’ve been thinking of you for a long time; hoping and praying for this day for you since before you were born.”

“Go raibh maith agat,” (Thank you!) Adhamh said, also trying to deepen his voice. A soft touch to his cheek and a finger to his lips quieted him as she repeated,

“And you will be who you will be as well, dear sweet child, no matter what man may think or expect.”

“Ní thuigim.” Adhamh looked completely lost, but the smile on Meav’s face was reassuring.”

“Just this. You may be called by another name in your world, sweet one, and you may be called Adhamh in this world, but in my world, where the creator dwells in peace, your name is Aine.” She shrugged her shoulders ever so slightly as if she was revealing a very important secret. It was a secret of sorts, since Adhamh felt it in his heart even before she spoke it, and Aiofe treasured it in her prayers since the two were children.

“What does my name mean?” Adhamh asked. Though he meant Aine, Meav laughed softly.

“Just what it means in your own world, child. Man…of the earth!” Her words evoked a sad frown. Besides at that moment, he had never shared with anyone that he had always hated his name; almost a cruel taunt from the time he understood what he really believed about himself. She put her hand on his cheek, brushing away a single tear.

“But that is what you would have been called, dear heart.” She smiled as his face turned from sad to confused.

“The creator holds time in his hand; time forgives mistakes and grave choices betimes through loss of grief and anger and hatred. But it also arrives beforehand betimes through the servants of his hand to make a right what might go astray. You would have been called Adhamh. But now you have always been Aine.”

“Níl a fhios agam,” the two spoke as one even as Meav grasped their hands in hers, pulling them close to herself. She leaned in and kissed them both gently on their lips; Aiofe first and then Adhamh.

“Be blessed with the blessing of the creator, dear child,” She said to Aiofe. “Live life for life is more than being or existing or doing the bidding or wishes of others.”

“And to you, dear one, know that not all things are fixed with magic even though all sorts of magic may fix things!” She kissed Adhamh gently on the forehead, and in a second was gone. The two looked at each other and Aiofe began to speak.

“Life….she has given us life.” She smiled as she repeated herself.

“She has given us…you and me….life.” Somehow Adhamh’s sight seemed to dim, and Aiofe’s voice sounded as if she was whispering.

“Aiofe? What did you say….I can hardly hear you….” Even as the words left his mouth, a veil seemed to cover his vision, clouding all but a single dim light that seemed to intensify and focus……


* * * * *

 

“Wow!” The voice seemed to shout from above.

“Thank God…they’re both okay. Let’s get them up and in!” The woman shouted as the lights around seemed to flash on and off; movements became sudden and jerky as the lights and sounds were blocked with the slam of a door.


* * * * *

 

“Look…there you are!” Overhead a friendly familiar face came into view.

“You pulled out without looking, sweetie. The truck slammed us really hard. I’ve got a nasty cut on my forehead, and you’ve got a concussion!” The girl smiled through her own pain and sat down next to the bed.

“I….where am I? Aiofe?”

“What? Aiofe? Since when do you use my Gaelige name, kiddo?”

“Joy?” Where am …where are we?”

“I’m right here beside you, and you’re in the emergency room at Somerset Medical…you know? Where I work? I wasn’t planning on coming in during my vacation, but here we are.”

“Work? I thought you worked your father’s pub?” Joy looked over at the nurse’s station before beginning to laugh.

“Not since before Med School, honey. Say….that was a real bonk on the head, wasn’t it?” She laughed.

“I….what day is it?”

“It’s 2:30 am Friday morning, hon."

"No...what's the date?"

"August 26th...Our anniversary?" Are you sure you're okay?"

"I think so!"

"Phil over there says that you’ll be okay for next month’s concert, but you’ll need to rest, but you had planned on that anyway since your surgery. I guess you just like hanging around doctors and nurses, though I thought you’d already have had your fill when you married me!”

“Surgery?”

“Wow…that really did hit you hard. Surgery? You know? Dr. Bowers? Colorado???….you don’t remember? Hmmm….you promised to do the dishes for two weeks when we get home? And laundry???” Joy laughed as a nurse came up to her with a clipboard, handing it to the patient in the bed.

“Dr. Maithair wanted to remind you that you’re on vacation, and that you need to remember to live life for a change.” The woman smiled and nodded.

“Tell Meav that I hear her loud and clear!”

“Well, I’m looking forward to the concert. Would you mind signing my notebook here as well?” The nurse asked softly.

“Sure, I’d be happy to. What’s your first name, Nurse Bryzenski?”

“Greta….Greta Bryszenski”

“Okay….Dear Greta…Thank you so much for making a very difficult night go quicker and easier. With gratitude…..Aine..." She spoke but stopped before signing her name.

"Anne Kelly.”

Sin é