I don’t think I ever told you, did I, about the time my sister’s Irish boyfriend rang me up and asked me to intercede on his behalf, because she was refusing to talk to him, having decided in her head that it was over, that he’d let her down once too often. At least until her husband came along some years later, this Irish fella was the love of her life, but he couldn’t quite commit to her, he couldn’t leave Belfast for a life in England with her; he was a weekend dad with two daughters from a marriage that had come unstuck. Nor for some reason would he let her come to him. I can no longer remember many of the other particulars, but I listened to him, and because he importuned me to, I tried to hold in my head what his thoughts and feelings were so that I could pass them on to my sister.

For more than an hour, he talked about her and them and the it of their relationship, and I felt for him, I wished it could be that it would turn out alright, but I knew that my sister had already made the break in her head, if not her heart. He called upon me to put what I thought her view of all this was, and I did that too, as best I could, and then I listened some more as he in turn tried his best both to apologise and to counter. – Just one more chance, that’s all I’m asking for, he said, his voice breaking, and I told him I would do my best. He knew I had my sister’s ear, that she would already have discussed her decision with me, that I was the wise old owl in her life, relatively speaking. He knew too that I was fair, that I wouldn’t misrepresent him. He guessed that I would see both sides. He was right. I could see both sides.

And so there followed another hour-long phone call with my sister, in which she remained unmoved by persuasion at one remove, and then a second, much shorter phone call with her Irish ex. I told him the answer as gently as I could. His voice cracking, very nearly gone, he thanked me for trying and wished me well. Then he put the phone down, and began the job of facing the rest of his life without the woman he undoubtedly loved.


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