From the 2018 Edition of Young Idea, available in late May
In the cramped confines of my plane seat, my nose presses against the window. My eyes begin to droop in exhaustion, and as the cabin pressure pushes further and further against my skull, the slow metallic hum of the plane engine rattles against my forehead.
It is early January, and out the window, the illuminated green of the Irish countryside diminishes before me. The rolling hills and the tiny dot that were once the Cliffs of Moher become smaller and smaller as I am catapulted higher into the sky. Here I am, flying back home to America and away from the waving skies and freezing rains of my family’s homeland. Away from the frigid coast line and sheep field grasses of my Ireland. Another Christmas break has come and gone, and the smell of boiling tea and sugary biscuits are left behind me as my plane rumbles away from the Irish sea.
The stewardess shuffles past me with her overflowing cart, and the wafting smell of airplane pasta sauce drifts past my nose. She is humming a tune, something soft and high and pretty. Almost like a lullaby. It is something that my aunt always sings. “The sea, oh the sea, the wonderful sea,” an Irish folk song playing on loop throughout the countryside.
On the car ride to the airport, my uncle played the same song on his radio. “The beauty that lies between England and me.” His car smelled like sheep poo, and unfortunately, I can say confidently that I know the difference between the smell of sheep poo and ram poo. It’s a special skill of the Irish, something you pick up after you walk through fields and fields of sheep poo and ram shit in your uncle’s backyard.
It was in my uncle’s poorly smelling car, driving through the sheep shit filled countryside, that my Uncle Tommy decided to buy my sister and me our very first lotto tickets. With his cigarette dangling from the slight frown of his lips, and his matted hair billowing slightly in the open car window, he instructed Cece and me how to properly use our scratch-and-wins.
“And here,” he said, taking his eyes off the road for a moment to point out the numbers lining the sides of the card, “is where you take one Euro and hopefully you make it more, right?” His thick Irish accent sputtered out of his mouth, the nasal sound of his r’s sticking like glue to his tongue. Cece and I sat hunched over in the back seat, surrounded by the islands of our luggage, carefully scratching out our winnings onto the cards.
We dropped the lotto tickets off at the gas station on our way to the airport. Uncle Tommy swerved his small Toyota into the gas station parking lot as smoothly as he lights his cigarettes. “A little bit of Irish luck for ya as you go!” Uncle Tommy cheered, as we gave the lotto tickets to the clerk at the counter, and Uncle Tommy exchanged a few coins for a few Crunchy bars from the bin.
The stewardess flies past me again, yelling something about the seatbelt sign and the luggage racks, and my closing eyes flutter as I crane my neck one last time to see the Pacific Ocean swallow up the last of “the Mainland,” as Uncle Tommy calls it.
I realize, sitting there in the itchy, cloth seats, with my stomach dropping with the changing altitude of the plane, that I don’t know if I won the lottery yet. I probably won’t ever know. It’s not like Uncle Tommy remembers my numbers, and by the time I get home, won’t the winnings have expired anyways? Will I even be able to claim my prize from the United States?
The pilot clicks into the overhead voice to announce that we have reached our cruising altitude, and we are now allowed to move about the cabin. The stewardess flies past me once more, her arm outstretched, her mouth frozen in a criticism of some passenger’s conduct. The plane bustles and moves, everyone standing up to shake the fatigue out of their legs and walk the caffeine out of their brains.
The window begins to clog with the obstructed view of the clouds–the puffy whites and grays, bouncing together like the American cotton candy my sister loves so much–and I turn my head away from the window and my gaze turns to the back of the seat in front of me, my mind spinning through my past few weeks in Ireland. Hundreds of miles away and a culture or two further from my family back in Ireland, the sad realization sinks in. I’ll never know for sure if I’ve won the Irish lottery.
The seat belt sign dings off, and my sister taps me on the shoulder to ask me what movie I want to watch. I barely listen as she chats on and on about Matt Damon’s newest thriller and her most recent crush on what’s-his-name from who-knows-where. She doesn’t seem as affected by this seemingly instantaneous switch of our nationality from Ireland, where we are with family, back to America, where we were born. She chit-chats and talks and laughs and scrolls through the plethora of movies on the small screen in front of her.
I sit back in my seat and and allow Cece’s voice to fill my ears. I pretend that I’m listening to her chatter, but really I focus on my past few weeks in Ireland. My mind replays my Christmas vacation–the countryside, the city, the stuffy parlor room of my aunt’s house in Dublin, where Cece and I tried mince pies for the first time.
Cece gasps, and I am awakened from my daydream. Zac Efron’s new film is free on the plane movie media program! She breaks off into another tangent about her new celebrity crush. She chats on and on, babbling about movies and tv shows and what she thinks the stewardess will serve us for dinner.
Little does she know, she’s talking to an Irish millionaire.