‘But it wouldn’t do you any harm to put a shirt on,’ said Shaun.

‘You’re just jealous. And I always fry topless,’ said Joe. ‘So I don’t stink after.’

He dished the food out onto two plates and breathed in dramatically.

‘Your mother does not know what she’s missing.’

‘I do,’ said Anna, nodding at Joe’s belly. He slapped it.

‘One day of crunches, it’s gone,’ he said. She made a face. He was right. He had always been in shape.

‘C’mon, honey,’ he said. ‘How am I ever going to compete with a woman who shops in the children’s department?’ She smiled. He pulled a white long-sleeved T-shirt over his head and walked over to the kettle. He took the cafetiere down from a shelf beside it, then poured in boiling water and shook it up the sides. When the glass was hot, he threw out the water and tipped four scoops of Kenyan grounds into the bottom. He filled it with water to the edge of the chrome rim. He rinsed the plunger in boiling water and put it on top, twisting it so the opening to the spout was blocked. After four minutes, he plunged gently, watching the grains being pushed slowly to the base of the jug. He rotated the top of the plunger so the grate was lined up with the spout and the coffee would pour. Joe could never watch anyone else make coffee.

‘Your father rang last night,’ said Anna suddenly. Shaun’s eyes widened, but he knew when to stay quiet.

‘Sure he did,’ said Joe, carrying the coffee to the table.

‘He did. He’s getting married.’

Joe stared at her. ‘You’re shitting me.’

‘Watch your language. And I’m serious. How could I make that up? He wants you to go over.’

‘Jesus Christ. Is it Pam?’

‘Of course it’s Pam. You’re dreadful.’

‘Well, you wouldn’t know with that guy.’

‘He’s unbelievable,’ said Shaun.

‘Yup,’ said Joe. ‘Roll in the family so you’ll look normal to your new husband or wife. “See? My kids are here for my wedding. They’re pretty cool. I’m not an axe murderer.”’


‘Well, nothing.’

‘Uh, Mom,’ said Shaun. ‘I hate to change the subject, but do you have any baby photos of me? I mean, did you bring any to Ireland?’

‘You know, you would think I wouldn’t bother,’ said Anna, ‘but they were so cute I put a few in my diary. Hold on.’

She brought her diary from the bedroom and pulled three photos from an envelope in the back.

‘Look at you,’ she said. She held up the first photo, a two-year-old Shaun in the bath, his face smiling through a halo of foam. Then one of him at four, in camouflage gear, holding a plastic rifle. In the third, he was blowing out five candles on a cake shaped like a beetle.

‘That cake was a nightmare,’ she said. ‘Your father hovering over me the whole time, making sure it was anatomically correct.’

‘That cake was awesome,’ said Shaun. ‘But I’ll go with the GI shot. Cute, but politically incorrect. Like me. The secret bug life might be a bit much.’

‘What’s it for?’ asked Anna.

‘Our school website,’ said Shaun. ‘St Declan’s is actually getting a site. We have this computer teacher, Mr Russell, who was in some massive software firm in the nineties, but burnt out and went into teaching. Anyway, he’s cool. He wants every kid in fifth year to have something posted on the site with a biography. So we all have to bring in photos, kind of like before and afters. From geek to chic.’

Anna laughed. ‘Well, there’s nothing geeky about my little clean-cut army boy,’ she said looking at the photo. ‘Maybe you could be the chic to geek guy,’ she said, eyeing his jeans.

‘Mom, you don’t know the meaning of geek.’

‘Well, what is it, then? Boys in sloppy jeans with shirts down to their knees?’

‘No. That’s someone cool. A geek is a nerd. Think of Dad.’

She hit him with her diary. Joe laughed. Shaun finished his breakfast, grabbed his school bag and ran.

‘See you at the show tonight,’ he called and the door slammed behind him.

Anna turned to Joe and pointed at him. ‘Call your father.’

‘OK, I’ll call my fazzer,’ he said. Her English was almost perfect, but ‘ths’ still got the better of her. She gave him a look.

‘You’re so exotic, Annabel,’ he said, lingering on the ‘1’. She gave him another look.

Sam Tallon stood in the service room on the second level of the lighthouse, shaking his head. He was a short man with a doughy chubbiness.

‘My God, this brings back memories,’ he said. ‘The keeper would be sitting at this desk, filling out his reports…’ He stopped and pointed. ‘You’ll have to get a scraper to the paint on the treads of that ladder.’ Sam was Anna’s restoration expert, a former engineer with the Commissioners of Irish Lights. He was sixty-eight years old and she had just made him walk up a narrow spiral staircase.

‘Right,’ he said and grabbed on, heaving himself up the rungs of a second ladder, then pushing through a cast iron trap door into the lantern house. His laugh echoed down to her. When she climbed up, he let out a whistle.

‘You’ve got a job on your hands here.’

‘I thought so,’ said Anna, looking around at the cracked, rusty walls.

‘You’ll have to strip that right back,’ said Sam. ‘There’s layers and layers of enamel there. It’ll be rock hard.’

At the centre of the room was a pedestal holding a vat of mercury that supported the five-ton weight of the lighthouse lens. Only its base could be seen from the lantern house – most of it filled the gallery above. Sam checked the gauge at the side of the vat.

‘Well, the mercury level has dropped a small bit. So the rollers underneath the lens are probably taking a little more weight than they’re supposed to. But it’s not a big problem, especially if the light’s not going to be on all the time.’

‘I’m just hoping I’ll be able to light it at all.’

‘Ah, you should be fine,’ said Sam. ‘I’d say they’ll make you agree to light it only at a certain time and to have the beam travel inland.’

Anna held her breath as Sam studied the base of the lens, checking the clockwork mechanism that rotated it.

‘I don’t believe it,’ said Sam eventually. ‘I think it’s all right. After nearly forty years. We’ll need to get the weights moving, but I think you’re in luck.’

‘Thank God,’ said Anna.

‘A mantle, like the wick of a candle, burns inside that,’ he said, back to the lens. ‘If you didn’t have a mantle, there’d be no light. And it’s only a little silk thing you could fit in your pocket.’ He chuckled. ‘Anyway, the prisms in the lens refract the light, the lens rotates and there you have your lovely lighthouse beam.’ Sam climbed the ladder inside the lens, breaking cobwebs as he went.

‘It’s filthy,’ he said. ‘You’ll have to get at this later, probably after you strip the walls. And you’ll need to get your hands on some new mantles, by the way – 55mm.’

They moved back down through the lighthouse and out through the old doors.

‘You’ll need to replace them too,’ said Sam.

‘They’re on their way,’ said Anna. He was impressed.

‘Now, what I’ll do,’ said Sam, ‘is clean the rollers and check the pressure in the kerosene pumps. I’ll leave you to clean the lens and the brass.’ He smiled.

‘OK,’ said Anna.

‘Then we can give it a run-through, see if it’s all still in working order,’ said Sam.

‘Maybe not right away,’ she said. ‘I’ll let you know when’s a good time.’

‘No problem at all.’

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