I was never much interested in Irish mythology, its faeries and banshees, changelings and White Ladies. I had never even heard of the shape-shifting Púca. Then I met Reggie. He materialized at an Irish mythology event of a different sort: a Dublin pub on Bloomsday. I was being pushed toward the stage to join a bunch of be-hatted women in full skirts giving competing renditions of Molly Bloom’s “Yes” soliloquy. The hand on my ass belonged to Gerald, my dissertation adviser and, yes, lover. An increasingly tedious one. We’d been at the pub since early morning, and he was, as he liked to say, three shits to the wind, and in fine belligerent form. “Show them how it’s done, Nora!”
Suddenly, a huge black dog with golden whirlpool eyes appeared, barreled through the totally potted crowd toward Gerald, rose on powerful hind legs, pushed him smack down on the whiskey-slick floor, and nipped him on his ass.
The black dog looked me full in the eyes with his all gold and burning and said in a lovely tenor voice, “Climb on my back, mo stoirín,” and I did and we raced through the Bloomsday revelers and re-enactors and roisterers out of Davy Byrnes and through a parade of men in straw boaters and bow ties on ancient bicycles, then down some cobblestoned alleys steeped in the urinous tang of fried kidneys and stinky cheese and far beyond the Dublin suburbs to a little seaside town where we found a quiet little eatery and watched fairy lights dancing on the water as we dined, he on steak tartare with pickled shallots, I on crab and avocado toast, and the waiter was solicitous and totally unfazed by Reggie and after the third bottle of wine I realized only I could see him. He was still in the form of a Belgian Shepherd, with velvety black fur and those bottomless golden eyes. His real name was iompro’idh, which means “bear” in Irish, and he sometimes took that form, but he usually went by Reggie.
I traveled the Irish countryside with my devilish darling Púca, my shape-shifting, demon inamorato. He had a wit sharper than his curving canines, held his liquor masterfully, and unlike Gerald, he never quoted Joyce, dirty bits or lyrical, in bed or out. And speaking of bed, he put his shape-shifting nature to inventive and exquisite use. (Joyce would have been dazzled. I was.) We had a lovely time, we did. But summer was ending and I had to return to Iowa, prepare for classes, and rethink my dissertation. I was done with Gerald and done with Joyce. My new idea: mythological creatures in contemporary Irish literature. I planned to ask the young associate prof I sometimes met for Happy Hours to be my advisor. She had recently published a much-lauded paper on selkies. Besides, I had had enough of men “advising” me. Males, no matter the species, and for all their fondness for telling you what you should do, what you should think, how you should feel, are congenitally needy of hearing Yes, I will, I do, yes.
I bought my ticket, looking forward to some alone time.
My last night with Reggie was delicious. We raced over mossy hills turning purple-black in the twilight, me clinging to his glossy black fur, inhaling his smoky, slightly gamy smell. We made love in a nest of cool grass beneath an enormous butter-yellow moon, the sea murmuring in the distance, Reggie in all my most favorite manifestations. We parted at dawn, weeping sweet, “farewell forever” tears.
Later, I gazed out at the glittering green isle receding below. The flight attendant announced our beverage choices. Reggie strolled down the aisle. “Surprise,” he said, sitting in the empty seat beside me. He smelled downright rank.
“What are you doing?” I yelped, glancing around. Still invisible to everyone but me, he also looked different somehow. His silky black fur had coarsened, his gold eyes had goatish, horizontal pupils.
“Toke?” he said, pulling a cannabis vape from his pocket. “Flying always makes me anxious.” He took a long, slow sip, and cast me a side-long glance. His voice was still seductive, but those pupils—
“You can’t smoke on the plane!”
He sniggered. Were those horns peeking through his tousled forelock?
I’d managed a little research while jaunting around Ireland with Reggie, and knew that Púcas were tricksters with dubious reputations. You want to stay on their good side. I suddenly feared I’d crossed over.
“We’ve had such a lovely time together, Nóirín,” he said, clasping my hand. “Why should it end? Besides, I’ve always wanted to see New York.” He smiled nastily.
I pulled my hand away. “I’m flying to Iowa.”
“Iowa, Schmiowa. Your classes don’t start for another ten days, and nothing gets done that first week anyway. Let’s stay a few nights in The Big Easy, see a show, share a kiss atop the Empire State Building, visit the unicorn tapestries, have some decent Basque food—”
“It’s the Big Apple.”
“New Orleans is The Big Easy, New York is the Apple.”
Reggie shook his head. “Who knew you could be so pedestrian, Nora.” He took my hand again and held it, tightly, between his thickly furred paws. Underneath the fur, they were hard, like hooves. “I have some ideas for your dissertation, my little colleen.” He stroked his chin hairs. “Have I told you about the Dullahan?”
My stomach clenched. Thick fog swallowed the snot-green sea below.
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