This page has two short stories (each about 4,00o words), Airport Roundabout and New Year.
(first published in Commotions: OWC Press 2009)
Harvo stands on the flyover above the M1 at Swords, his crossbow pulled taut and aimed at the road below. Next red car along gets it. A blue Mercedes speeds towards him and passes underneath. Motionless, he waits. Now comes a silver Toyota hatchback. Now blue again, this time a Mazda. In the distance a red car. Oh gift! A Lexus Coupe Convertible, roof down! It nears. A woman driver.
He releases the trigger, the bolt flies down in a true line, passes just above the woman’s head, skids off the boot and hits the road behind. She doesn’t even notice.
“Shite!” says Harvo, and heads off home to see what’s for the tea.
The woman drives on, Deborah Rowe, from Skerries. She is listening to REM on her iPod Touch, singing along, the wind in her face, four o’clock, a hot Friday afternoon, late May.
“That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion.”
She’s had a text to say that Roddy’s plane is delayed by forty minutes, so there goes the dinner plan. By the time they get back to the apartment it will be too late to cook and get out to The Little Theatre. Some play her sister is in. Maybe they might catch an Early Bird meal somewhere on the way home.
She turns off the M1, up the slipway and on down to the Airport Roundabout, casting a glance out of habit at John Kindness’ aeronautic artwork. It means nothing to her. The coupe purrs up the ramp and glides into the short-term. Debbie parks, slings her Louis Vuitton across her shoulder and walks towards the Arrivals Hall to meet her husband.
Roddy’s plane is still in the air, banking, circling. In fact, as Roddy well knows it’s in trouble, big fucking trouble! Oh, he can read between the lines, hearing beneath the calm voice of the pilot the true panic he knows is gripping the cockpit.
“We are just awaiting clearance to land,” announces Captain Cronin or whatever the guy said his name was.
“We have just lost another engine,” Roddy hears.
He reclines his middle seat, no one either side of him. The plane is half-empty, maybe only fifty passengers. He’d rather have died with three hundred others on a Jumbo. He’s the only white man aboard. The Jumbo is flying from Harare to Copenhagen. A terrorist attack. His name will be in the papers. He will get an obituary in the Irish Times. Leading finance executive at the peak of his career. But no, this is Aer Lingus from Heathrow and he’s flying home for the weekend, like every weekend, after his week’s work with Ernst & Young Accounting, his fear of flying as acute now as it was the first time he flew at age twelve on a school tour to Paris and puked. Therapy no help. Pills no help. Ease back in the seat. Get me down, Cronin or Crowley or whatever your name is, you slow bastard!
The flight attendant passes along and asks him to return his seat to the upright position. Roddy obliges, while staring the bitch out. She blushes. Her collar has become smudged with camouflage make-up, a petite strawberry birthmark on her neck now partially revealed.
“See you in Hell…Marie!” he thinks, as she recovers herself and glides on past him, “We’re going down together.”
Old habit. He always checks out one of the stewards’ names. He notes it during the take-off safety routine. Could put you ahead of the queue if the worst were to happen. “Sorry, Marie isn’t it? Could you help me down the chute…I have this leg thing…” He looks out the window as the plane plummets to earth. Just below, racing towards him, the Airside Retail Park at Swords where he is due to drop off an audit file to a client on the way home. Forgot to mention that in the text to Debbie.
“Hah! At least we’ll take out Airside. Take the client with me. Ironic twist!”
He swigs from his mineral water, one last mouthful of Kerry Spring before facing the Devil. He glances over at an African woman sitting alone across the aisle, peering out her window at the fields of north Dublin below. His hands sweat. The fields rush at him, the wheels crash against the tarmac, the plane careers along, he suppresses a surge of acid vomit. And then they slow right down and he hears the calming notes of the tinkling piano filtering in on the tinny sound system. And everything is alright again. Well done, Cronin, he thinks. Well done!
Marie O’Connor walks briskly through customs with her colleague Claire. A big wave for Eugene, the security guard. Two days’ leave now before her next flight. Amsterdam, 6 a.m., Monday. She’s growing tired of the job. In Mammy’s time an air hostess was seen as the most glamorous job you could have in Ireland, like the lady who pulled the sweepstake ticket on the TV. Now it’s just hard work and the pay is only middling and they keep threatening mergers and takeovers and wage cuts and layoffs. And the passengers can be bloody rude, like that sneering guy who reclined his seat as they were touching down.
I could just say yes to Steve, she thinks. Settle down, join a gym and a golf club; live in Navan, have kids, grow old. Claire senses her distance, her unease.
“You coming down to The Castle tomorrow?” she asks.
“Huh? No. Not this weekend. Steve is taking me out somewhere to dinner. I think he’s going to ask me to marry him.”
“I don’t know, Claire, I don’t know.”
“Where you headed now? You going out to your folks?”
“Later. I’m stopping in to the Pavilions first, do a bit of shopping, then head back over to them. Yourself?”
“No plans. Might join you?”
“Why not?” says Marie, although she’d rather have had the hour or two to herself, before going to stay at her parents’ place.
Eugene watches the two flight attendants as they merge into the crowd at arrivals. He finds them glamorous, with their neat uniforms and flight bags and polite manners and neat hair. Eugene likes neat. He is neat and natty himself, in his own way. His belly is large, bloated from beer drinking, but his shirt is carefully ironed and tucked in. His beard is evenly plucked, sitting tidily on his large chin, connecting carefully with his trim moustache. His cheeks are clean-shaven, no side-facial hair, no sideburns, just a tidy beard pruned and planted upon on his chin. He likes the airport. Much better than Motorola. Best thing he ever did was to take the Motorola redundancy. Now he is officially Garda-cleared, trained in First Aid and uniformed.
He is betrayed by a sudden moment of lower bowel wind, checks that no one is looking, scratches his arse and farts quietly at the same time. The smell hovers around him a bit longer than usual. He worries someone might come along. Nobody comes. His bowel is at him a lot this past few months, and his arse is constantly itchy. Maybe need to get that looked at. The glass doors open and shut for a Nigerian woman with a trolley full of suitcases. The wind blows the fart away.
Oni Adeleke, a resident of Swords, enters the arrivals area, returning from a short visit to her brother in London. Her mood warms when she sees her twin daughters, Mojisola and Yetunde waiting at the barrier. She calls out and the two children jump up and down excitedly. Behind them, her older sister Wasola stands smiling broadly and waving, accompanied by her daughter, Blessing, and a white child Oni has never seen before, obviously a friend of Blessing. The white girl stands quietly aside as the others clamour excitedly around Oni, demanding to know what presents she’s brought and how was London and how was their uncle. The mothers greet and speak animatedly in Yoruba about their brother’s forthcoming marriage, until Blessing glowers at Wasola and both women remember to speak in English before the white girl. Blessing is nine, a delicate age.
“This is Ciara, my friend,” she says.
“They are on their way to hip-hop,” Wasola says.
“Yes Mamma,” Blessing says, “and we are so late! It starts at five”
“I know child, but your aunt’s plane was late. She can’t help that. What time does hiphop finish?”
“Then you will still have plenty of time for dancing. Come on everybody! Out to the car! Here, you children, help your Mamma with her suitcases.”
The hip-hop class is located in the function room of a football club in Swords. Thirty kids are already arranged in a V formation, dancing, as Blessing and Ciara enter.
“Oh no!” Ciara says. “Look. Lara’s back!”
“Why do you dislike her so much?” Blessing whispers.
When I grow up, I wanna be famous, I wanna be a star. The sound system thumps out the song and the girls fall into line and go through the dance routine. Two more sessions before summer recess and the concert for the parents.
“Because she smells!”
Blessing spins and sees the whole class spin with her. She loves this moment, the first big spin.
“And five, six, seven, eight. And one, two, three, four.”
What Ciara said about Lara was unkind. It is true that Lara smells some days. She smells of wee, but a person can’t really help that. Well, she can, of course, by washing. But you can wash away a smell. You can’t wash away a bad thought or a bad sin, Mamma says. And Pastor Tiamayu says there are many pitfalls of sin in Swords. If you fall into a pit, you can never climb out without God’s forgiveness. At Halloween, Pastor Tiamayu said the children should not go out on the parade because it invoked demons, but Mamma said it was OK so long as you just saw it as a game and didn’t actually pray to the Devil. Ciara was not a mean person, usually. She was actually quite brave and had once stood in front of Blessing when some boys from another school had called her bad names and threatened to hit her. But what she said about Lara was unkind.
Blessing catches sight of her own reflection in the big bar mirror. Her white and pink tracksuit is bright and clean. Mamma bought it yesterday in Penneys. Her hair is up in braids with coloured ribbons. It took Mamma an hour to do it up for Aunt Oni coming home.
I am a pretty girl, she thinks, and loses herself again in the dance moves. She looks across at Lara. Lara is a good dancer. Her bony arms and shoulders twist in perfect time to the song. Her knees lift in a strange but hypnotic goose step. She is completely engaged in the dance. Blessing smiles at her. Lara looks away, her face sour, looks at the floor.
Lara walks home lonely. As she approaches the gate of her house she sees her brother disappear up around the corner of the estate. He is alone and in one of his shuffly moods. She hides behind a car until he is out of sight. In the house, Ma is watching telly.
“There’s beans in the kitchen. Make yourself toast,” she says,
“Where’s Harvo gone?” Lara asks.
“I dunno. He had his tea.”
“What did he have?”
“Beans,” Ma says. “Same as you.”
“I have a note from hip hop.”
She hands her mother the note.
“Two more weeks?” Ma says. “Ah Jaysus. She’s lookin’ a hundred and sixty euro for next year. That’s gone up!”
“Will you come to the concert? Please Ma?” The child tilts her head, imploring.
“Hah? Oh, I will, love. Course I will.”
Lara feels great relief. She thinks of hugging her mother but decides not to. She goes into the kitchen. Harvo’s half-finished beans and toast are on the draining board. She scrapes the leftovers into the dog’s pot, reaches into the breadbin and takes the last two slices of white bread. Tomorrow is Friday and Ma will go to Lidl and buy more. In the gap between the cooker and the press unit she sees a mousetrap her mother set six months ago, covered in a thick grey cobweb, the bait of bacon-fat untouched, turned green with age. She worries suddenly about her brother.
Harvo goes down to the river behind the warehouse, but no one is around. He kicks away the ashes of a fire and finds two blackened dessert spoons, abandoned by some junkies. A skinny dog appears and Harvo kicks a burnt can in its direction.
“Fuck off, mutt!” The dog cocks its head and slinks away.
Harvo walks. He goes up the main street, quiet now with the shops just closed and before the pubs fill up. A few people are sitting outside Trentuno smoking and drinking coffee. Across the street he sees a copper. The copper watches him. He walks on. He’s gonna take a long walk. At the Pavilions Shopping Centre, he sees his reflection all distorted in Mc Cabes’ plate glass window. He is wearing his Liverpool jersey, grey sweat pants and new runners. He dribbles, weaves and kicks a pretend ball and then stops himself. Naff! Kids’ stuff.
Out on the dual carriageway, the rush hour cars heading north are lined up, three lanes deep, hardly moving. Harvo walks among them easily, steps up onto the meridian and waits for his chance to cross the uncluttered southbound carriageway, where the cars are fewer but travelling at high speeds, back towards the city. He looks over his shoulder at the crawling rush hour drivers.
Youse are all goin’ the wrong way, he thinks.
He smirks invisibly at his private joke and walks coolly out onto the southbound lane. Cars swerve and horns sound but he walks, doesn’t run. Walk, don’t run. Walk, don’t run.
He walks in the direction of the airport, crossing the grassy Pinnock Hill roundabout, past the Travelodge and then on along the left-hand pavement skirting the Airside Retail Park. The surface car park is still half-full. He thinks he might go into Airside, maybe see if he can get into Smyths’ toyshop and look at a few games or something, it stays open late on a Friday, but he knows he won’t get past security. He climbs over the fence and wanders down among the parked cars. His darting eyes pick out something familiar. The red Lexus Coupe Convertible.
In the Airside Chinese Restaurant, Debbie Rowe and Roddy are finishing off coffees and waiting for the bill.
“Not bad.” Roddy says, “Not bad at all! I’d never think of this place. Good idea to stop off here.”
He checks his watch. My God, ten to seven! How did it get to be ten to seven? He’s pleased and slightly woozy. The big airy restaurant is almost empty. A few businessmen away over in the far corner. One other couple, dining in silence. He’s already dropped the audit file into the client’s showroom. Boss in London will be happy. Then Debbie suggested this place, good Early Bird deal. Now he’s knocked back a half-bottle of the house Cabernet and had a decent Peking Duck. Debbie’s been lingering over one glass of Chardonnay, conscientious driver, good ol’ Deb! He feels content and suddenly a bit horny, wants to get home to the apartment in Skerries. She pushes the half-finished glass away.
“I don’t want to fall asleep at the play”, she murmurs.
“Oh God!” Roddy groans, “Do we have to go?”
“Roddy! She’s my sister!”
“I know. But you remember the last one…”
“Yeah,” she laughs, “what was she like with the big Kerry accent?”
“What’s this one?”
“I dunno. Some American thing. A Streetcar called Desire.”
“A Streetcar named Desire.” he corrects her. “Marlon Brando.”
A Chinese waitress brings him the credit card machine and he keys in his number without really noticing her. He finds himself remembering the descent, the rushing fields, the blushing air hostess with the birthmark. The waitress smiles politely while the Visa receipt prints out.
Marie O’Connor drives away from the Pavilions Shopping Centre in Swords, having bought a few bits and pieces—cosmetics, a top for her date with Steve, a new handbag. Claire had driven behind her from the airport and followed her around from shop to shop, spending without counting—tops, jeans, shoes, more tops, Marc O’Polo, Levi, Prada, frocks, a handbag, a necklace—and then took her to the Kylemore for latte and pastries. Marie is alone now and relieved, her spendthrift friend gone home to Malahide. She rings her mother in her new house at Boroimhe, near Airside.
“Ten minutes, Mum.”
Home now for a grilling. Well, have you thought about it? Are you going to say yes? We think he’s a lovely lad. Are you really going to go ahead with laser treatment for your mark? So soon? Before the wedding? Your father is very wary of lasers, you know: he thinks they cause cancer … Leave me alone, Mum! And it dawns upon her, I don’t think I want to marry Steve. I just don’t know.
She blinks hard to relieve her headache and lowers the two front windows of her Fiat Punto. Too hot. Too stuffy. The seat is hot against her back. Emerging from the carpark, she yields to a big people-carrier driven by a hesitant African woman. The car is full of kids, one of them white. Another African woman is in the front passenger seat, dressed magnificently. Marie follows the big car cautiously, the “L” plate on the rear windscreen a warning to keep her distance. The two vehicles slow down and stop at a zebra crossing. A stout security man in a yellow hi-viz vest steps out in front of Marie and rights a traffic cone that has been knocked over. Eugene? My God, he looks just like Eugene except that he has no beard! The security man sees Marie staring at him and gives her a polite wave.
“Hello!” she hears him say in a foreign accent. Eastern European, Latvian probably. The people carrier shunts forward and she follows it out of the carpark, along the curve of the roundabout at McCabe’s and off right towards the Dublin Road.
The 33 bus swings around the Airport Roundabout and heads north. Eugene sits in the front seat, on the top deck, looking out ahead. The unease in his bowel has settled. He had a bit of relief half-an-hour ago, just before knocking off. A hard stool, he would tell Dr. Rice. Ten minutes straining but a good hard stool. He would go and see him on Saturday. For now, life was good. A Polish chap was due to call by after half-seven to look at the tumble dryer. It had sat for a week in “Buy and Sell” without a single enquiry. Now he had the Polish lad calling and later on a man from Kildare, if the Pole didn’t take it straight away.
I won’t let it go for less than two hundred, he thinks, and picks up his Herald to scan the sports. Caleb Folan to miss friendly against Nigeria. Useful player, he thinks, studying Folan’s photo, a striking black man, head shaven with a neat beard not unlike Eugene’s own. He wonders if Folan could have qualified for Nigeria if he hadn’t opted for Ireland?
The people carrier approaches Pinnock Hill on the outside lane. Wasola releases the clutch awkwardly and the big transporter shunts and stalls and slows down too suddenly, still some distance from the roundabout. The smaller of the twins shouts, as if alarmed.
“Mamma, why are we going back to the airport?”
“We are not going to the airport, Mojisola. We are dropping Blessing’s friend home to her house in St. Margaret’s.”
“Oh! … Mamma, why did we not go to the cinema?”
The people carrier veers left into the path of the Fiat Punto, as Wasola tries to switch lanes.
“I told you. We went to the Pavilions for quick shopping, not for cinema. We needed groceries. Wasola! Watch that car! On your left!”
“Oh!” says the child.
“I see it! I see it! I know what I am doing!”
Blessing gazes out at the road ahead, oblivious to the adults’ concerns.
“Look, Ciara!” she says suddenly, “Look, there’s Lara!”
Ciara looks and sees Lara crossing the roundabout up ahead at Pinnock Hill.
“What’s she doin’ up around here?” she mutters. Blessing shrugs.
Wasola enters the roundabout still stuck in the outside lane. Nervous of driving straight through with the Fiat Punto now cruising alongside her, she continues around the roundabout.
“Wheeee!” Oni laughs merrily, “Wheeeee!”
The twins echo her. “Wheeeeeee!!!!”
Blessing is embarrassed.
Wasola completes her three hundred and sixty degree rotation and then heads off around the roundabout a second time, laughing gleefully. “Wheeee!”
Everybody laughing now, except Blessing.
“Your family’s mad!” Ciara says and Blessing relaxes and joins in the happy laughter. “Wheeee!”
Lara has disappeared out of sight, walking agitated towards Airside.
Lara is worried. Where is Harvo? Where the Hell is Harvo? When Harvo is in one of his shuffly moods, he can do anything! He’s always hangin’ about Airside, up to some trouble. But if he gets into trouble with the law again, he’ll end up back in Swords Court and this time the judge will put him away and that will break Mam’s heart. Lara looks across the fence and sees her brother far below, mooching around behind a red sportscar. No Harvo!
Harvo examines the Lexus. It’s the same one alright. He runs his hand along the paintwork, to see if his bolt even left a scratch. It didn’t. He might as well not have fired it. Fuck sake! It occurs to him that he should go back to the motorway and look for it. Then his eye falls on a gift. On the tarmac, smack on the white paint between the parking bays, a set of keys. The bitch dropped her keys.
Harvo has never driven before, but he was often in cars with other lads, racing and spinning up at the roundabouts and out on the M1. He picks up the keys, opens the door and sits in, the black velvet cushion still carrying the impress of the woman driver’s ass. He checks the glove compartment and finds only a deep red lipstick, lid off. He takes a minute to figure out the basic workings—wipers this side, indicators that, ignition there…and shite…it’s an automatic—less of a buzz, but a jammer’s a jammer. He reverses out of the bay and drives slowly at first, then accelerates wildly up towards the main road. Cars and vans and glass buildings flash by on his left as he pulls out to overtake the stationary queue at the traffic lights, careering and weaving, everyone beeping and blaring. Up ahead, beyond the carpark fence, he sees his kid sister on the footpath frantically waving her bony arms. He puts his foot to the floor.
Debbie and Roddy emerge from the Chinese restaurant into the sunlight, blinking.
“Oh-my-God!” Debbie shouts, “Roddy! The car!”
The Lexus speeds past them, heading towards the retail park exit, the teenage driver apparently planning to cut straight across the busy main road traffic and into the housing development beyond. Roddy chases it uselessly.
“Stop!” he shouts, but no-one hears.
He looks up. A huge advertising hoarding reads “Welcome to Boroimhe: 4 and 5-bed houses / 1 bed apartments for sale”. A pale blue Fiat Punto pulls directly into the path of the Lexus and stops in the middle of the junction, waiting to turn right into Boroimhe.
Marie O’Connor’s mobile rings, as she waits in the Boroimhe turning bay. She gropes about in her handbag and finds it. The dial reads “Steve”. She hesitates. Answer now? What if the Guards see me? Wait until I pull off the main road? What if he’s gone? What if he pops the question here and now? To her left, she hears the sudden screeching of a car being driven at high speed. She looks across towards Airside and sees a red Lexus Coupe Convertible with a boy at the wheel hurtling directly towards her. Her hand reaches instinctively for the gear stick but she knows she has no chance. She knows there is no question of reversing or shunting forward out of the way. The phone stops ringing.
At the last second, the Lexus swings to the right, avoiding collision. It skids onto the southbound carriageway and speeds off, weaving and manoeuvring among the oncoming cars, heading back northwards towards the Travelodge on the wrong side of the road. A skinny girl on the footpath jumps up and down, shouting at the stolen car. Marie is overcome by a sensation of paralysis in her thighs and calves, and struggles to breathe. Her phone begins to ring again.
Traffic has been stopped for a few minutes now. Eugene eventually puts down his newspaper, checks his silver watch, seven o’clock exactly, and looks out the window to see what’s going on. From his elevated perch, he surveys the carnage up ahead. He runs down the stairs.
“Joe, Joe! Let me out,” he says, “There’s an accident up ahead. African woman out on the road hollerin’, goin’ mad.”
“Huh? Is that what it is? And what are ya gonna do, Eugene? Are ya gonna walk home to Lusk from here?”
“No, Joe! I’m trained in First Aid. I’m gonna see if I can help.”
Joe pushes the button and the doors hiss open. Up ahead he can hear the anguished screams of a Nigerian woman crying out to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour! You will not allow this! Oh, my child! Oh, my sister! Jesus, You must not allow this! Jesus Christ, You are my Lord and Saviour!
Joe closes the door again. He leans his elbows on the steering wheel, rests his chin on his cupped hands and watches as portly Eugene races along between the stationary cars, belly bouncing up and down, his jacket swinging in the summer breeze, hitching up his Securicor trousers as he runs to assist with the dead and the injured.
At Christmas 2014, I dug out and added here this old short story called “New Year”. It formed part of “Glass and Steel”, the graduation portfolio for my Creative Writing Masters at Trinity College in 2009, and was one of a series of college exercises undertaken that year, set in a part-fictionalised Fingal (the region where I have lived for over 20 years). I had never written about my adopted home area in my earlier public theatre work but found myself drawn to do so in these student experiments in ‘realist’ fiction. Since graduating I have been working on a novel which explores community life in a fictionalised and re-imagined version of this area in greater depth. This unpublished story and the previously published “Airport Roundabout” (posted elsewhere on this website) were the doorway into the longer work upon I have been engaged now for almost five years.
They sang Auld Ang Syne around the bonfire, but only messing. Halfway through the song, his mate Macker had broken rank, let go of his girlfriend’s hand on one side and Jamie’s on the other, leapt into the centre of the ring and begun to perform a daft juju dance. He pulled down his tracksuit bottoms and mooned, provoking roars of mock disgust. “Ah Jayzus, Macker, put yer arse back in yer TROUSERS!” his girlfriend shouted. Jamie didn’t know her. She was new, from Twomey. They all sat down again, a bit awkward now and sheepish about having sung the naff song. Jamie’s face grew hot, looking into the flames, but his back was cold. All he had on was a hoodie and a t-shirt and torn jeans. He was conscious of Evie Kelly pressing against him, trying to share a little of her body heat with him. But his feet were cold in his runners. Down the track it was foggy. Patches of freezing fog. He drank from his can but he was getting no buzz. His socks had got wet earlier when he slipped into an icy puddle, crossing George Bellew’s field. It was too cold.
Above the embankment three hundred metres away, he could hear the warm carousing and singing from The Railway Bar. The log fire would be banked high and blazing in the lounge. His Mam and Dad would be drunk by now, and Jackie his older brother and his wife would both be plastered. His other brothers and sisters were all gone into Scallagh, to The Scupper. He was too young to get in anywhere. They’d even had trouble getting cans. Larry in the Railway had gone all legal on them, all of a sudden, when they’d called in earlier.
“No lads, I can’t serve you. You’re underage. The guards are everywhere.”
They’d had to waste good money to get a taxi into Scallagh for cans in the supermarket and nearly hadn’t made it by the ten o’clock curfew. The Latvian girl was pulling down the off-licence shutters when they arrived, but they’d pleaded and she’d said, “OK, just because it’s New Year’s Eve”, and served them. Imagine! New Year’s and no cans. But they’d made it and now they were back out in Carrickhill, all the sixteen year olds, skulling cans and singing the same songs their aul’ wans were singing above in the pub. Brooner O’Byrne threw another pallet on the fire. They’d stashed the pallets a few days earlier, having robbed them from Leary’s Fruit Farm. Leary wouldn’t notice. He had millions.
Macker was all horny now, after his moon. The cold air up his arse and around his bollocks had got him going. And the cans. He was off to one side, a little away from the main crowd, his big waxed jacket laid out on the ground. He was all over his bird and she was game enough. Her hand was down his trousers. Jamie looked away. He was afraid he was going to cry and he didn’t want anyone to see. Evie passed him a Breezer, as if she sensed his distress, and pressed tighter against him.
“Here, Jamie,” she said, “Try this stuff.”
Evie was his best friend, ever since Primary. He threw back the Breezer in a few gulps, as if it was lemonade, and the booze finally hit him and he warmed. He eased himself away from Evie’s support, stood up resolutely and zipped his hoodie up to his neck.
“Where are ye goin’?” Macker called over.
“Nowhere,” Jamie said, ”I’m goin’ over to me Grandda’s, see if he’s alright.”
The Twomey one rolled on top of Macker and began to pull his trousers down.
“See ya, man! Se ya next year!” Macker laughed.
“It already is next year, ya thick ya” one of the lads shouted up, could have been Billy Kerr.
“Yeh. See ya.” Jamie said.
He wanted to get out before she started giving Macker a blowjob or before they started actually shagging. Macker didn’t give a bollix and the girl was drunk. Jamie didn’t want to see any of that, he just wanted to get away.
“Here. I’ll come with ya.”
It was Evie. She slipped her arm through his. Good old Eve. She was a real friend. Brooner fell in behind them.
“Might join yiz.” he said, “if that’s alright?”
They climbed up the embankment and crossed Bellew’s field. They took the shortcut through Bellew’s yard, the big green tractors and the vegetable trailers looming in the white mist. They shinned over Bellew’s wall onto the Scallagh road and crossed over to the new tarmac footpath on the far side. Up the hill, at the edge of the village, Jamie stopped. He gripped a Yield sign pole and began to cry.
“Missin’ yer Nana, are ye?” Evie asked him gently. She moved carefully just behind him and placed her hand on his shoulder.
“Yeh,” he sobbed.
Brooner stood respectfully back, clutching their large bag of cans and Breezer bottles. Like Jamie, he was not sufficiently dressed for a freezing night. His teeth chattered, but he stood quietly and waited for Jamie’s crying fit to end. Too bad, yer Nana dyin’ like that. Everyone loved Old Joe and Cissy. Now Joe was all on his own, after fifty odd years. Crap that was!
Jamie stopped crying as suddenly as he had begun.
“Are ya sure he’s there?” Evie said, “Is he not gone to your Auntie Philomena for the night?”
“No,” Jamie said, “He wouldn’t go. Wasn’t even gonna stay up to ring in the New Year. Imagine. Grandda! An’ all the years we used to go up to him for the fireworks!”
They turned right at the crossroads and headed towards Old Joe’s cottage. Up here, there was no fog at all. Evie checked her phone. It was twelve minutes past midnight.
“Look.” she showed the boys, “New Year’s! It’s official!”
“Yeh” said Brooner, “Happy New Year! Alright now Jamie?”
“Alright now. Just missin’ me Nana, I was.”
“I know,” Brooner said, “Sad for ya, I am. And for Old Joe.”
They passed a few cottages and bungalows clustered on the right, near the crossroads. Outside one of them, a few people were gathered, setting off fireworks. Brooner knew them all. Jamie kept his head down and Evie held his arm tight. Evie was like that, always linking your arm or she would just take your hand without even thinking when you were walking along, but tonight there was something different in the way she was around him, something deliberate and precious and protective. She moved her hand down and slipped her fingers between his.
“Alright, Mr. O’Neill?” Brooner called out. “Alright Mrs O’Neill? Happy New Year to yiz. Happy New Year, Frank. Happy New Year, Nora! Ah how’ya, Roper!”
Far away over Twomey and Swords and Dublin, fireworks sprinkled the night sky. They stood for a moment, gazing across the frozen fields of dead parsnips and spuds at the sporadic shoots of blue and silver light bursting open among the stars. Behind them a loud banger went off in someone’s back garden, followed by a series of startling Roman Candles and Catherine Wheels. Smoke wafted across their path and the smell of bentonite caught in their nostrils.
“Cool, wha’?” Brooner said.
“I love New Year’s” Evie murmured but then went quiet, knowing Jamie was still upset. She tightened her grip slightly and he responded with a reciprocal squeeze of her small hand.
They crossed the bridge over Corey’s Stream, passing again into dense fog, and eventually arrived at Joe’s gate. The house was completely dark.
“Are ya sure he’s here?” Evie asked. “Are ya sure he didn’t go to Philomena’s? Or maybe he changed his mind and went round to your Ma and Da in the Railway?”
“No way!” Jamie said, “He hasn’t gone to the Railway for twenty years, near. He was barred during a Dublin match for throwin’ a pool ball at the telly. They let him back but he wouldn’t go. Anyway, he doesn’t drink anymore. He used to drink like a fish, but not since he got the heart attack that time.”
“Is he asleep, do you reckon?” Evie asked.
“I doubt it. He’s prob’ly just lyin’ in the dark, cryin’ for Nana. That’s all he does now. Always bawlin’. We’ll call in. Say hello. Cheer him up.”
“Yeh, lovely thought” said Brooner.
The house stood about thirty metres off the road, along a driveway. The front garden, normally festooned at this time of year with lights and reindeer and beaming fat Santas, was eerily dark, enveloped in mist. He hadn’t even put up a Christmas tree in the window. A few yards in, however, they triggered Joe’s new security light, installed at Jamie’s Da’s insistence.
“You’re an old man on yer own now, Joe. There’s every kind of knacker and foreigner goin’. You need to be safe.”
The brightness of the light startled the teenagers and they stepped back again instinctively to the front gate.
“We don’t wanna wake him if he’s asleep,” Brooner said.
“Yeh, maybe,” Jamie said, uncertain now, “Let’s wait a minute, see if he puts on his light. He sleeps in the front room.”
Just then, from nowhere, silent as a submarine, a Garda car appeared out of the mist and pulled up.
“Fuck!” Brooner muttered, dropping the bag of booze into a flowerbed.
“Fuck nuttin’”, said Jamie, “We done nuttin’ wrong.”
He held Evie to him, her head pressed into his shoulder, as a young policeman stepped out of the patrol car and approached them.
“Everything alright here?” the Garda asked.
Brooner stepped forward to do the talking.
“Yeh, Happy New Year, Guard. We’re just callin’ in on Joe here, Joe Mooney. That’s Jamie, his grandson, over there. Poor ol’ Joe. He wouldn’t go out for New Year’s with Cissy bein’ dead an’ all, his wife. She died in September.”
“I know all about Joe Mooney,” the Garda snapped. “Were you people drinking?”
“Ah no, Guard.” Brooner said, “We were just home in my place playin’ the Playstation and we thought we’d head up and see if Joe was alright.”
“At half twelve in the night?” the Garda said.
“We done the ringin’ in the New Year thing and then we thought, poor ol’ Joe, on his own an’ all…”
His voice trailed off. The policeman shone a torch at Jamie and Evie.
“What’s your name?”
“Jamie Bennett. Joe’s me Grandda. You can ask him. My Ma is his…”
“Eve Kelly. I’m his friend.”
“And I’m Brooner O’Byrne. Brian that is.”
“I know who you are, O’Byrne. And I know well youse were drinkin’… Playstation!” he said with contempt. “Head off home now, and leave that old man in peace.”
He returned to the squad car where his driver colleague, a young woman, had sat listening through the rolled down window.
“You heard the man,” she called out, “Go home before we take you in.”
“Sure Garda, “ Brooner said, “No bodder. Happy New Year to yiz now. No, genuine, Happy New Year.”
As quietly as it had arrived, the Garda car drove off. They stood in silence watching the red tail lights until the car vanished into the thick mist.
“Cunts.” Jamie said.
“Yeh, cunts.” Brooner agreed.
“Cunts! None of their business if I wanna visit me own Grandda. C’mon we’ll knock on the side door.”
They walked up the path along the bare and frozen herbaceous borders, around the side of the house to a glass and wood-panelled door which was part of an awkward, built-on veranda. Jamie took a two euro coin out of his pocket and tapped the glass three times. No lights came on. He tapped again, more insistently.
“Grandda! It’s Jamie!”
Still no reaction. After a few moments, he said, “I hope he’s OK. His heart doesn’t be the best.”
“Yeah,” said Brooner, “and he’s dead old and all.”
“He’s not that old,” said Jamie, “Only seventy four. There’s people round here nearly a hundred. Come with me but stay back. I’m gonna knock on his bedroom winda.”
They moved back around to the front of the cottage. The old wooden sash windows had long since been replaced with white PVC. Cissie had always hated them, preferring the wood, but she had done her best to hide them with huge, swollen flower boxes and hanging baskets. Now in midwinter, the boxes were barren and in sympathy with the general air of death about the place. A cream-coloured blind was pulled down inside, making it impossible to see in. Jamie placed his left hand against the glass to dull the sound and with his right hand tapped the bedroom window pane with the coin, twice.
“Grandda! Grandda!” he whispered loudly.
The blind shot up like a bullet and Joe’s face appeared at the window, huge, craggy, toothless and spectral.
Even Jamie, who was used to seeing him without his teeth drew back, momentarily shocked. A few yards behind him, Evie clutched Brooner’s arm.
“Woh! Fuckin’ zombie moment!” Brooner whispered.
“Who’s out there? I have a gun!” Joe hollered.
“Grandda! It’s me! Jamie!”
A car sped past the front gates. Brooner thought it might be the cops again and pulled Evie in against the trunk of a prickly hawthorn. “Aow!” A thorny branch caught his hair and bled his head. Joe opened his window an inch.
“Jamie? Jamie? What the fuck are ya doin’ callin’ here this time of the night? Go on home!”
“We came to wish you a Happy New Year, Grandda! Just wanted to see if ya were alright.”
“We? Who’s with ya?”
“Just Evie, Grandda. And Brooner O’Byrne.”
“How’ya Joe.” Brooner called, sheepishly. “Happy New Year!”
“Brooner O’Byrne?” said Joe, “Are ya mad, for fuck’s sake? Here, the three of yiz, would yiz fuck away off home and don’t be botherin’ me. Lookin’ to come in here and drink yizzer cans. Away home Jamie, and come up with yer Mammy in the mornin’. I’m fast asleep in here.”
“But Grandda, it’s New Year’s”
“I know fuckin’ well what day it is! I told them I was stayin’ in on me own, goin’ to bed, now what’s wrong with ya? Go HOME!”
In the fishing shed, Sandy the old golden retriever awoke from his deep sleep and began to bark.
“Shut up, dog!” Joe shouted, “Jaysus, we’ll have the guards up before we know it! QUIET DOG!” The dog fell silent. “Now Jamie, will ya be a good boy and go home to yer Mammy and leave me in Jaysus peace like a good lad!”
He shut the window, pulled down the blind and vanished. Jamie stood in confusion for a moment, staring at the window. Then he stepped back.
“He’s a bit upset.” he said finally.
Evie gripped his hand. “He’s just sad, that’s all. It’s not you. He just wants to be on his own.”
“I don’t wanna leave him.” Jamie said. “All on his own.”
“What can ya do?” Brooner asked.
“Look. We’ll let ourselves into the fishin’ shed. It’ll be warmer in there. We’ll just sit. Be near him. OK?”
“What about the dog?” Brooner asked.
“Sandy? Sandy’s alright. Sandy won’t bodder us.”
The shed was bolted shut and secured with a huge padlock.
“The lock’s a dummy,” said Jamie, “It’s broken. Ya just have to tap the bolt. Grandda smashed the lock one time he lost the key.”
He picked up a red brick, left there for the purpose. The dog growled quietly as he tapped at the bolt.
“It’s alright, Sandy. It’s on’y me, Jamie! Good boy!”
The dog went quiet again. Its tail thumped against something plastic inside, a bin or something, creating a rhythm like a drum. Jamie gave one last tap, the bolt slipped out and the big metal door creaked open by itself. The dog bounded out, panting, its tail wagging.
“Quiet, Sandy, quiet! Good boy!” Jamie stepped in and groped about for the light switch. A dull naked bulb came to feeble life, hanging miserably from a wooden roof beam. Thick cobwebs clung to the cable and the beam, and spread across the galvanised sheet metal roof, all the way to the breeze block wall. They all entered. Brooner shut the door behind them. The dog jumped up excitedly on Evie.
“Down, Sandy, down!” she laughed, “Sit!”
The dog sat obediently and looked up in anticipation.
“I have nuttin’ for ya.” she said.
“Here,” Brooner said, reaching into his hoodie pocket and taking out a bag of crisps. He opened the pack. “Take a few of these. Now, lie down.”
The dog accepted the handful of crisps gratefully and loped off to his bed, watching the night visitors curiously. They looked around and took in the shed. It was cold. Just as cold as outside. A big tractor-type petrol lawnmower took up a large part of the floor area, its mossy grassbox propped up on the driver’s seat. Against one wall were gardening tools: a coiled hose, a hoe, a spade, a backpack spray hanging on a nail. The other walls were covered with the accoutrements of the professional sea fisherman. Oilskins, rods, tackles, nets, waders, thousands of hooks.
“Thousands of quidsworth of stuff.” Jamie said proudly.
“Is there no heater?” Brooner asked.
“No. and it’s feckin’ freezin’! Here, we’ll pull on some of his coats to keep warm.”
They took a few coats off the wall hooks: a warm, wool-lined high-viz; an olive green oilskin and a donkey jacket that smelled faintly of fish and saltwater. Evie put on the high-viz. It was ridiculously large on her.
“You look like the lollipop lady!” Brooner laughed, trying on the donkey jacket, “Ugh! Fish!”
“Whadd’ya expect?” Jamie asked, “It’s a fishin’ shed. He fished off Carrick for sixty years, since he was a kid. Now he fishes in the river!”
“You really love yer Grandda, don’t ya?” said Evie.
“Yeah,” said Jamie, and after a pause, “More than my Da. A lot more than my Da.”
“My Da’s a bollix,” said Brooner, “But I don’t mind him”
Brooner’s Da had been in jail a few years before for driving without insurance. He was a heavy drinker, like Jamie’s Da and Ma.
“Like he’s OK,” Brooner clarified, “He buys us stuff and all, but ya couldn’t exactly… well, ya wouldn’t exactly love him.”
“I love my Da.” Evie said.
“Yeah!” Both boys nodded, and Brooner added, “Everyone loves your Da.”
The boys settled onto two bags of grass-seed. Evie sat on an old fruit box. She passed around the Breezers and they all drank.
“What do yis think of Macker’s new bird?” Brooner asked.
“Bit of a slapper, I’d say.” said Jamie.
“Yeh, yer probably right,” Evie jumped in. Then on reflection, she added, “Now yiz know me, I wouldn’t just judge somebody. But I didn’t like her. She’s a bit… loud.”
“Did ya see her goin’ for him there at the end?” Brooner said, “Pullin’ the trousers down off him, she was. Gummin’ for a ride!”
“Shut up, Brooner!” Jamie said, embarrassed.
“He’s right,” said Evie, “Like I wouldn’t mind that in itself… but out in front of everyone.”
“Yeah,” said Brooner, “If it was me, I’d at least go behind a wall.”
“They were drunk.” Jamie said, “Macker was drinkin’ all day since lunchtime.”
They continued to chat for an hour and a half, huddling in their big fishermen’s coats to keep warm. After a while, Evie slipped down off her orange box, squeezing in beside Jamie on the grass seed bag, pressing herself close to him. He was conscious of her body breathing. Even through two layers of heavy coat he felt comforted and slightly aroused by the sensual rise and fall of her small frame, and for a moment he laid his head back, letting her hair fall across his face, before sitting up again.
When they finished the Breezers they opened the cans. Jamie told them all about New Year’s nights in Joe’s.
“Every year, Nana would have a big spread ready. Chicken wings and potato salad and pizza slices and billions of crisps and cocktail sausages and booze for all me uncles and aunties and Coke and Seven-Up for us. And at ten to twelve exactly, we’d go out to the back garden, out there. Grandda’d have it all set up.”
He stood up and tried to look out through the cracked window pane. All he could see was his own reflection. The sleeping dog woke and sidled over beside him. He leaned against the glass to block out his reflection and that of the bulb and when he pressed his face close against the cold pane he could just about make out the first two or three of a line of low, growing cypress trees that ran down the east boundary of the long half-acre garden. Away, away down at the bottom, lost in the mist, was a small vegetable patch where Grandda had occasionally cultivated a few ridges of peas, but nothing else. Round here you were either a fisherman or a vegetable grower. The vegetable men didn’t go in much for angling, and the fishermen didn’t care much for amateur horticulture. You got your veg thrown over the fence from your neighbour in the old days, and, in return, on your way back at quare hours from the North Sea or whatever waters you had just fished, you hung a few fresh cod or monkfish from your neighbour’s doorknob. Nowadays, you just went to Supervalu for everything.
Between the shed and the pea patch was a long, thin, grassy field, not a cultivated lawn like out front, but well-enough kept to function as a football ground, a cricket pitch, a race track or whatever the grandchildren might need on any given Summer day. And on New Year’s Eve, it became the launching pad for the greatest family pyrotechnic show in the whole of North County Dublin. Until this year, when the rockets had fallen silent and the New Year garden lay empty.
“You weren’t allowed to light a rocket till you were twelve.” Jamie said, lost in his remembering. “And even then, there had to be grown up with you. Da was more fun back then. He’d go easy on the drink in front of Nana. He held me arm the first time I lit a banger. It flew off up there like an alien spaceship and exploded red and green and left a trail of white smoke.”
He began to cry again, quietly sniffing and wiping a tear away. Evie stood up and came over behind him. She laid the side of her face against his back and nuzzled him, like a soft pony. They rocked together silently. Brooner had fallen asleep. He stood up now suddenly, causing the dog to bark.
“Whisht, Sandy!” Jamie ordered.
“Lads, I think I’ll head.” said Brooner, stumbling over his grass-seed sack. He cut a comical figure now, all bleary and vulnerable and hungover. “If yiz don’t mind. I think I’ll go on home.”
“No bodder,” said Jamie. “See ya next year, pal.”
“Yeah, next year, man” said Brooner, his speech slightly slurred, “G’night Evie.”
He let himself out, triggering the security light, and walked gingerly off into the fog. Joe didn’t wake. The dog made no attempt to follow him. The countryside was silent. Evie and Jamie stood at the shed door watching him until he vanished, like an old Sherlock Holmes character into the pea soup. Jamie closed the door again. The dog lay down and went back to sleep.
● ● ●
They were alone now. Friends since Junior Infants, neighbours, a few doors apart, below at Carrick Harbour. She turned and stood directly in front of him and kissed him on the mouth. A single postscript tear slid down his face as he drank in the kiss and kissed back. How strange this. They had never done this, never even thought of it. She was one of the lads. Sound as a bell. She had a boyfriend in Scallagh.
“You’re a lovely fella, Jamie Bennett.” she whispered, “a lovely fella.”
She pressed him down onto the grass-seed bags and kissed him again, deep and full, spreading her legs across him, holding him in a tight, strong embrace. He felt an erection forming as she pushed herself against him easily, warm and good. And in that moment he felt perfect and whole. Now he came alive, kissed her firmly and rolled her over so he was above her, pressed against her.
Later on he went into a deep sleep and dreamed he was on a boat with Joe, off Greenland, watching a fireworks display on a shoreline hill. The show was fantastic, like an Olympic opening ceremony, with thumping dance music echoing out across the bay and the sky exploding constantly with streams and circles and spirals of golden, red and green illuminations. He looked across the deck and Joe had gone to sleep on a jute bag of grain. He went over and began to shake him.
He woke suddenly. Evie was lying in his arms asleep. They had laid out a few of Joe’s old coats as a bed on the floor. From outside he could hear men’s voices. Dim daylight was showing through the cracked window pane. The dog leaped up suddenly and began to bark frantically at the shed door.
“QUIET SANDY!” shouted a voice.
Grandda! Now he was talking to someone, a man… Da!
“Evie!” Jamie whispered, “Evie?”
She half woke up and smiled. Her face was peaceful and beautiful.
“He called here, alright.” He could make out Grandda’s muffled words, “About half twelve. But I told him to go home.”
“Geraldine’s frantic with worry”, Da was saying, “He never stayed out all night before. And the young Kelly girl is missing. Evie. Tom and Anne called to our place at eight o’clock, out of their minds. Anne and Geraldine wanted to call the cops, get a search party out. I said I’d call up to you first, see if they were here.”
“Evie Kelly? Jaysus! She was with him when he called. And the young O’Byrne lad. Brooner.”
“Brooner O’Byrne? That cunt? I shudda known, I better go and call at his house. Those people hate me. I’m hungover Joe. I don’t fuckin’ need this. I’ll kill Jamie”
Evie was fully awake now. The two friends looked at each other wondering whether to be afraid or to laugh. She leaned towards him and kissed him deeply again.
“We better go out,” she said, “put them out of their misery.”
“Fuck, we’ll be kilt!”
“See you in Heaven so!”
She kissed him again one last time and then stood up, adjusted her clothing and dusted herself down. Sandy came over wagging his tail. Jamie rose to his feet and likewise readied himself. They hung all the coats back on the hooks and patted the seed bags back into shape.
“Look. Give me a minute, I’ll come with you.” Grandda was saying.
Evie checked her phone.
“Jesus! Quarter to ten. Happy New Year, Jamie.
“Yeh. Same to you.
They opened the door. A weak sun was pushing its way through the rising mist. Da’s car was in the drive, still half covered with frost. Sandy ran out ahead of them, wagging his golden tail.
“Da,” Jamie called out, “Da! I’m over here.”