February 1978
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It was the night of Frank Ryan’s City Council re-election and the huge plurality of votes he’d received was enough to keep the Ryan clan happily celebrating for hours— which, of course, they did. Most of the revelers were down at campaign headquarters, but a few stragglers had wandered uptown to toast their favorite son’s landslide victory in his father’s bar, almost a landmark now in the Riverside section of New York City. And while it was no ordinary evening, still, every thing about the jubilation seemed quite normal and in place. Except for the small, inescapable fact that two people were locked in the saloon’s basement and were screaming to be let out.

Upstairs the noise from the jukebox and the hearty songs of the customers kept all from hearing Jack and Mary’s cries, something Mary was certain of anyway. While Jack flailed away with a hammer on the water pipes to try and attract attention, Mary exasperatedly told him they were locked in a part of the basement that was a speak easy during Prohibition and was virtually soundproof. They would be there till somebody came down to unlock the door and free them. It was hopeless to make all that noise.

Resignedly Jack threw down his weapon while Mary tried to piece together the circumstances of their imprisonment. It was plain that Maeve was the chief conspirator, with Tom Desmond and Frank Ryan willing intriguers. It was a giant plot to reconcile them, Mary realized in disbelief; they were all guilty. Jack spent a few moments vainly accusing his ex-wife of being in on it, but Mary cut him dead. This rotten scheme made her as miserable as it did him, she told Jack as she sorted through the provisions Maeve had thoughtfully stocked in the cellar. She had planned to meet Tom upstairs in the bar at nine o’clock, but her mother asked her to run down the cellar to look for some old bottles of Irish whiskey. That’s how she’d innocently gotten into this mess. And Jack was waiting to meet Frank at Ryan’s at nine-fifteen for what his former brother-in-law had promised was the exclusive of a lifetime when Maeve asked him to carry some boxes downstairs, then slammed the door and locked it once he’d reached the basement. Very neat!

They glared at each other across the musty room and a barrage of accusations began. Mary snarled and Jack cursed as they again detailed the miserable events of the past year. Jack whined that Mary had tried to mold him into a man he wasn’t, that she wanted to make him a carbon copy of her father and brothers. Mary retorted that she’d done no such thing, that she’d only tried to show Jack it was possible to feel something besides self interest when it came to having relationships. Over and over the same old territory that had led to their divorce and annulment, until Jack hit the sorest point of all: their daughter Ryan.

“How much can you care about your baby if you leave her in the care of that Nazi Miriam?” Jack demanded. Mary was stunned, speechless for the first time since their verbal warfare began. “What do you know about Miriam?” she asked, completely puzzled. Jack then meekly confessed that he’d sometimes seen the nurse pushing Ryan in the park and that one day she’d told him that Ryan had gotten a spanking for being a bad girl. Unbeknownst to Jack or Mary, Miriam’s feigned harsh treatment was just another part in Maeve’s elaborate plot to reunite her daughter with the man she loved.

But Mary was in the dark about her mother’s conniving and, for the moment, her doubts about Miriam were brushed aside as she struggled with the revelation that Jack was interested in his little girl after all; in fact he knew quite a bit about her. Softly Mary quizzed him about his feelings for their baby till slowly Jack blurted out one  truth after the other. He begged Mary to tell him everything about the child, starting from the delivery right up to that very morning. Mary resisted the impulse to accuse him of negligence once again, and laughingly demonstrated all of Ryan’s funny quirks, stressing over and over again that her daughter seemed to be the most special little girl in the world. Try as he might, Jack couldn’t conceal his glee and when Mary suggested he might like to make an arrangement to see their daughter on a regular basis, he didn’t protest.

The air, once palpable with hostility, now seemed still and filled with love as talking about Ryan soothed their tempers. From the subject of the baby, it was just a few tentative steps to discussing their own feelings for each other, and after hours more, they confirmed what Maeve had known all alone—their love was not dead, just buried in the avalanche of Jack’s emotional uncertainties.

The seige was over and they walked up the steps from the dingy cellar to a future bright with love. They reconfirmed their love with marriage vows made in a place where Mary had longed to go most: Ireland. And in that ancient land they again pledged their love, knowing this time the promises would be easier to keep. •

Many THANKS! to a Totally Kate! contributor for the article


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