William Trevor, “Memories of Youghal” (1969)

Miss Grimshaw Andy Miss Ticher are now old maids who get together every year at a resort overlooking the Mediterranean. While Miss Grimshaw is somewhere else Miss Ticher is approached by a slovenly middle-aged man, a detective on assignment, an orphan who spies on others’ lives for having never had a life of his own. He wonders what might have happened had his parents not drowned when he was five months old, or had he been swept off his baby carriage by another woman. At first Miss Ticher is repulsed. His false teeth are dancing in his mouth, his skin shows through an open button, he has no regard for the way he looks: a Colombo. But the more he reminisces about Youghal the more she takes to him, as if finding affinities in what they both missed:

‘In 1934,’ said Miss Ticher, ‘when you were five months old, Mr Quillan, I was still hopeful of marriage. A few years later I would have understood the woman who wished to take you from your pram.’

Miss Grimshaw, who may be a touch demented, does not feel the same way. By the end Miss Ticher is touching his hand and speaking her sympathy, as much for him as for herself. Trevor had lived in Youghal.

It takes particular concentration to get into a Trevor story because everything is concentrated in first lines pulled from the later flow of the narrative.

The Transatlantic Review, Summer 1969