The book opens in the backyard of a house on Long Island overlooking Huntington Harbor. There is a husband, a wife, and a beautiful dog, an Airedale with the strange name of Oooeelie. There is a sense of a growing distance, of marital discord between the man and the woman, Gil and Joanna Tyrling. Gilís business ventures are collapsing; his body, his spirit, and his marriage are tumbling too. He longs for something better, something that seems beyond his reach. And so does the dog. The reader will soon discover Oooeelie is no ordinary Airedale, but the reincarnation of a canine creature who taught man to speak tens of thousands of years ago. Like the hero of all good dog stories, Oooeelie is on an unrelenting quest to return to the home he loves. That place happens to be millions of light years away on a planet in Sirius System, and Oooeelie has been trying to get there ever since he crashed onto earth in a spaceship gone awry.
A sample chapter:
Joanna came down to breakfast holding Ortega's arm, happily whispering to him and kissing him lightly on the cheek. They had spent two nights together in more and varied couplings than she and Gil had had in the previous year. She was still in the afterglow of ecstasy when someone called her name.
As she turned towards the sound Jennifer Siciliano, an NYU student who lived in Huntington, wrapped her arms around her in an enthusiastic hug. Jennifer, who had been to her house for a tea where she met Gil, kissed her on the cheek, and excitedly introduced her new husband, Tony Amato. There was a pause as Jennifer and her husband waited expectantly.
"This," said Joanna after moment that seemed like an hour and half to her, "is Mr. Ortega, president of the Wesos Foundation."
Tony stuck out his hand. Jennifer smiled briefly at Ortega, then asked Joanna, "Is Mr. Tyrling with you?"
Joanna felt herself stiffen and flush. "I came to the summer school to speak and ran into Mr. Ortega. He's an acquaintance from New York."
"Oh how nice," Jennifer said.
"Please join us for breakfast and please call me Georges," Ortega said pleasantly.
Joanna seethed inside. She just wanted this radiant girl and her new husband to go far away. Jennifer, so pretty and so perky, accepted the offer happily. The big breakfast of Irish bacon, sausage, eggs, a touch of pudding, potatoes and hot rolls tasted like sawdust to Joanna, who tried to participate in the conversation that flowed so readily among the others.
"Are you here for the Yeats school?" Jennifer asked Ortega.
"I had hoped to hear a lecture or two, particularly Joanna's, but things didn't work out."
"Oh that's too bad. Tony and I didn't realize the summer school existed. We stopped in Sligo because I fell in love with Yeats in Dr. Tyrling's course. There's a marvelous museum devoted to Yeats and his brother, Jack, who was an artist. There's a wonderful display of Jack Yeats' sketches and paintings at the Sligo municipal library. Tony and I saw it yesterday."
"Perhaps I'll be able to fit it in today," Ortega said smiling broadly at Joanna, who was furious, assuming that the young couple caught his double entendre.
Jennifer and Tony lost their liveliness in the darkness of Joanna's expression. Ortega turned the conversation to Tony asking him about his internship in Mount Sinai Medical Center. He was soon telling them funny stories about some of the research projects his foundation had financed in mental telepathy and the relationship between humans and dogs.
The agony of the breakfast ended with Ortega rising to say that he so enjoyed meeting them. He said he had to pack his bags and be on his way for a meeting in Donegal.
"We're catching a flight to London from Shannon this evening and then on to Paris and Rome," Jennifer said standing to shake Ortega's hand.
"Thank you for joining me for breakfast, Joanna. I'm so sorry I missed your lecture. I'll see you in New York at the foundation. Nice meeting you, Tony." Ortega strode out of the dining room.
Jennifer grinned at Joanna. "That wasn't necessary, Dr. Tyrling. Tony and I won't say anything when we return home. I'm just surprised at you. I always thought of you in spiritual terms. The William Butler Yeats and T.S. Elliott courses, I guess." Tony joined his wife in grinning.
Joanna blushed, anger surging through her at this little girl's condescending acceptance of an old lady's misbehavior. She had learned in dealing with students to restrain her reactions for a moment, to let the tendency to rage simmer while she constructed a cutting response or a soothing reply. She got up. Tony and Jennifer rose with her in instinctive respect. "It was lovely having breakfast with the two of you even under the circumstances. I guess Tony has learned a lesson for life here. Modern women fuck around just like their husbands." She turned and was out of the hotel before responses could jell.
She took a short walk trying to calm her mind that flashed unhappy scenes of Gil hearing about his new role as cuckold while pursuing his new life as a clammer; of the dean calling her in to say `We have a morals complaint about you.' That was silly. She couldn't shake the feeling of having surrendered her peace of mind to Jennifer. No worry about being pressured by Jennifer for an A. She was an A student anyhow. Joanna felt terribly guilty, as she walked, about planting a seed of doubt in Tony's mind. When their marriage broke up, Jennifer could look back and blame her. "Oh God, please don't let that happen. Let them live happily ever after." She wondered if she had committed one of the unpardonable sins, not of adultery, but of purposely trying to hurt another.
When Joanna returned to the hotel, she hurried through the lobby, not wanting to see Jennifer and Tony again, and trotted up the stairs to Georges' third-floor room. She knocked. He had the key. `His room,' she reminded herself angrily.
"Door's open," he called.
She entered. He was lying in bed wearing her flowered silk robe, which emphasized his nakedness, particularly the bush of black hair framing his limp, but still large lob. He grinned. Joanna slammed the door behind her. "Suppose I was the maid?"
"Ah, what a lucky maid you would have been."
"What you did down stairs wasn't funny. Inviting them to sit with us. Then prancing out."
"Prancing." He laughed.
She realized he was wearing lipstick. "What the hell are you? A transvestite? Take off my robe."
His amusement faded. "I was dressing to please you. I thought you might find it funny, or even exciting."
"Disgusting. Try disgusting."
"Okay." He slipped off the robe letting it drop to the floor. He went into the bathroom, took a shower, and returning began packing his bag. In his fury he decided he would dump the bitch and take the harsh approach to acquiring Oooeelie. He'd rip the damn dog out of her hands instead being subtle and gentle, as he would have preferred.
"What's this?" Joanna asked weakly, sorry now that she had turned the atmosphere between them ugly. She had so much experience with this in her marriage. An angry Gil provoking her and passing his anger to her, or vice versa. She put her arms around Ortega as he pulled his clothes from the wardrobe. He pushed her away. She was overcome by the fear of having driven him away, having ended a relationship so beautiful that it seemed to have acquired immortality. She felt tears coming into her eyes.
Ortega softened when he saw the sadness in her face. He still felt affronted by what she had said, but found himself saying: "I change places when things get nasty. I'm going down to Killala you can come or stay. You make the choice."
"The Year of the French?Ē
"A well read woman. What a saving grace," he said turning back to his packing.
"I'm coming," she said trying to put cheeriness in her voice. She kissed him, a wooden joining of lips. She was on the defensive now.
Joanna and Ortega drove in silence. She was surprised by the fierceness of his response, his readiness to leave her behind. In the melancholy mood that gripped her she was sorry she hadn't apologized explicitly. But he seemed so sensitive a man that he should have understood the anguish she felt at meeting not only a student from classes at NYU, but someone who lived near her and her husband in Huntington. She fought the tears that flowed down her cheeks stirred by the fear that the magic of their relationship had been shattered by her prudery over his cross-dressing.
They had lunch in a pub in Ballina. Afterwards took the road to Killala. Ortega got directions at a small general store in the center of the tiny village to the place where the French troops landed in 1798 to join with the Irish peasants in a campaign to push the English out of Ireland. A road wide enough only for a single car led to the isolated spot where the French came ashore. The day was overcast and chilly for August. They parked at the head of a small quay in the iron gray light of the sunless afternoon. Neither spoke as they got out of the car to walk the area. The water was choppy and forbidding. The only life in sight were a few seagulls riding the wind. A plaque placed there in 1898 by an Irishwoman celebrated the doomed adventure of men willing to die to be free. The Irish had expected a French army and instead got only a few hundred soldiers along with a flash of glory ending at the point of British bayonets and hangmenís ropes. "She must have been a brave woman to plant this memento in the midst of British rule," Ortega said.
Joanna who had her arms wrapped tightly around her body against the cold replied, "I'm surprised a Latino is so interested in Irish history."
"Don't forget I have the blood of the O'Haras in me," he said still studying the memorial. "If this were the states, the National Park Service would have a guide here to give us a lecture on the landing and the campaign, and there'd be a snack bar, where we could at least get a cup of coffee."
As they returned to the car through a chilling mist, Ortega announced, "All is not lost. I see a pub." He pointed to a low-slung building on the hillside above them. "A bit of Irish civilization."
A small truck and car were the only vehicles parked outside the whitewashed pub. Ortega and Joanna stepped into a large gloomy barroom where three men were gathered at a small table over glasses of stout. They turned to watch the intruders. Ortega went to the bar, while Joanna seated herself at a table near a huge fireplace surrounded with elaborate script and drawings of French soldiers in fancy uniforms and peasants armed with pikes.
One of the men arose and came round the bar. He looked into Ortega's eyes, waiting for the customer to speak.
"Beautiful fireplace you have there. Feels piercing enough for a fire today," Ortega said.
"In August?" the barkeep responded his short temper showing in his voice, irritated by the interruption and the wasteful extravagance of this Yank.
"Two Bushmill on ice, if you have it," Ortega said trying to meet the man's hostility with lightness in his voice.
"I have ice, but no Bushmill."
"That would be wonderful. Two Paddy's with ice," Ortega said, substituting wonderful for lovely for fear this already offended man would consider him condescending. Ortega took the drinks to the table.
"Do they have any food?" Joanna asked.
Ortega smiled for the first time since Sligo. "I was afraid to ask. I think we're lucky to have gotten these drinks. I don't know what they're planning over there, but I can tell we're not welcome. No Bushmill. I had to take Paddy's."
Joanna responded gratefully with a smile. She wanted to return to the glow of romance they had experienced until breakfast. "An Irish toast," she said, raising her glass: "Here's to you, and here's to me. And here's to love and laughter."
Ortega his glass to hers and responded: "I'll be true as long as you and not a moment after."
Joanna laughed happily, surprised that he knew the full wording of the toast. "You have Irish in you that runs deep."
He sipped his whiskey. "I always went to the St. Patrick's Day Parade."
"That's a nice whiskey," Joanna said appreciatively. "When I was a little girl, I never imagined I would sitting by Killala Bay drinking a whiskey named Paddy's with so handsome a man, eight years my junior, with an Hispanic name who grew up in New York going to the St. Patrick's Day Parade and who was such a marvelous lover."
"I'm told thatís the best combination. Younger man, older woman. The joining of passion and skill."
"The same old story, Eve sampling the forbidden, but delicious fruit," she said. She reached across the table, placing her hand on his. "I'm in lust with you."
"I'll drink to that. And all the satiating mornings, afternoons and nights to come."
Ortega and Joanna read the account, in the script on the wall, of the French landing nearby in 1798, then she took his arm and they returned to the car to resume their trip. They decided to press on to Doolin on the coast and to visit the Aran Islands in the morning.
On the recommendation of the landlady at the bed and breakfast they found in Doolin, they reserved a table for dinner at the Branach na h Aille, a small restaurant about a half-mile away. The evening had turned forbidding, with a frosty wind off the Atlantic driving a hard rain that chilled them through.
When they entered the restaurant, they were pleased to be seated in front a small fireplace burning peat and coal. The owner fetched them two more Paddy's, while they examined the menu and their table was prepared in another room, a gracious practice in many Irish restaurants. Joanna decided on carrot soup and monkfish. Ortega had the same, ordering a bottle of chilled Chablis.
Eventually they were led into the dining room where another small fire was burning, creating an atmosphere of warmth. Outside the rain was beating against the building and the wind was blowing hard. The soup was delicious and the sauce on the fish spectacular. "This is one of the best meals, I've ever had," Joanna said, feeling tipsy from the mixture of wine and whiskey and anticipation of love.
They returned to their B&B a little before 10. The landlady told them that Doolin attracted some of the finest musicians in Ireland. O'Connor's, the pub a few hundred yards away, was one of the best places to listen to a drummer and a fiddler and if you were lucky, a master of the penny whistle. That sounded inviting, Ortega said, but they had been driving all day and were exhausted.
They went up to their room and came together blissfully hungry for one another, a gentle encounter that turned fierce at the very last moment. Still locked to Joanna, Ortega whispered, "I love you."
"Please don't say that unless you mean it," she said. "Right now, I'm in heaven. It couldn't get any better than this. Yet, I'll probably wake up in the middle of the night feeling guilty. I'm cheating on my husband. I'm an adulterer."
"I love you," he responded. "I want to be with you."
She paused, lost in thought. "I think I'd like to spend the rest of my life with you. I am trying to envision life after Gil, maybe living in the city with you. And you and I and Oooeelie walking together in Central Park."
The mention of Oooeelie jolted him, a feeling of revulsion for the dog.
She sensed his change. "You spoke too soon, huh?"
"Maybe," he said distantly.
They lay silently for a while. Then he said, "We'll work something out."
"What does that mean?"
"Life is complicated, but I really love you." And he meant it.