The Queenstown Bride

The wind had dropped and walkers fresh from dinner or the pubs of Queenstown had found themselves at the promenade on the lake’s edge. A quartet of young buskers had been performing for about two hours and some of the local drunks were swaying and singing in a discordant chorus. Young travelers hung from open windows overlooking the view, and called requests.

No more than twenty five, the girl with the fiddle stood in a puffy short frock and cork wedge shoes, her long hair sweeping down one side of her face as her bare arms wrestled the bow and fiddle in sharp flashing movements. She stamped her feet, shifted her weight from one leg to the other making her skirt swing and bounce. She was having fun doing what she was born to do. She was born to perform. Here, at the bottom end of the world, she was as far from her Irish homeland as she would ever be but the energy of her heritage coursed and surged through her as if she were in Dublin still.

The others of the quartet sometimes stood but mainly sat on the seawall. Two were an untidy tag team with guitars and the other, an Italian with dark curly hair, sang and touted with vigor and enthusiasm. He was the oldest but still a young man, playful and seductive in a disheveled and sheepish way. He called the fiddle player to sing with him and she put aside the fiddle and backed by the two guitarists, they sang an impromptu duet.

The evening was closing in all around and as they sang and her strong songbird like voice called to the night from a place far away. Together they were good but she was captivating. Her performance skill so natural she made up for his naive enthusiasm with a warm and truthful presence. Above, the great southern night sky began to reveal itself and the mountains, now purple with darkness, slipped slowly, imperceptibly from view. The lake eased into stillness.

At the end of the duet, the now swollen and more intoxicated audience called for another number.

“Let’s hear the fiddle”, someone called and the quartet conferred and tuned. She picked up the fiddle and they began to play, its mournful notes drifting like smoke. The Italian sang backed by the guitarists.

From the left side of the promenade about eight young women, all slightly drunk and clothed as if in fancy dress stumbled into the circle. No older than girls, one coyly crowned in a brides veil of pink netting. She, the bride to be, blond, pretty, reminiscent of Cyndy Lauper, was suddenly pushed into the centre and laughing and stumbling, began what may have been a physical education routine from her childhood. Her friends cat called and laughed. She giggled and tripped, stopped to straighten her veil, continued, laughed, stepped turned and marched her now almost forgotten steps.

Then it happened. The Italian, still singing, slipped down from the seawall and took the bride in his arms and they danced. She fell somewhat shocked, very much intrigued, into his care as he pulled her to him. The breeze was strangely warm for the early Autumn and the scene swayed and rolled as others soon joined the innocent and compelling rite of passage. Some old ladies danced laughing with each other. The hens night girls, the local drunks and audience all caught in the Queenstown Bride’s last night of girlhood.

As the fiddlers arms sawed and rocked the bride-to-be looked into the Italian’s eyes and like a scene from an Antonioni film, he swirled and turned her into the dying moments of the evening.

Munro Walton