"Ah, come on, just the one."
The door of the pub was reassuringly close to hand
"I don't know, it's kind o' late, me missus."
The door swung open to expel a portly gent and the unique warm breath of alcohol and damp humanity.
"No harm done by one, surely?"
A burst of laughter and a sudden call from within. "Gert on with it."
"Just the one then?"
"Ok, but then I'm off."
Ted was 36 years old. His face had a soft podgy look that spoke of a diet of chips and too much drink. From the front he sported a fine crop of black hair. This was the image he saw in the mirror every day. From the back a bald patch had slowly enlarged giving an almost intellectual impression. His body, once a tense bundle of muscle now leaned towards flab and above his belt a sizable 'pot' strained through his T-shirt.
"After you." Holding the door wide.
The rub dub of conversation hit them as they crossed the threshold - Padraig MacCathy licensed to sell intoxicating drinks. It was match night and the widescreen was flickering in the corner. The commentators voice rising towards the start of the game cut through the pub talk like a operatic soprano, entered vaguely into the thoughts of the half dozen pundits perched on the bar stools and into their ears.
"Any second now the 115th all Ireland…"
Like a call to the wild, a tingle of excitement, a meaning to life….
"Two Guinness, Pat… and a couple of packs of Tayto's, directed to the busy barman.
"Tommy Shutloo is requesting all bar the four midfielders to go behind the…"
"Give us a chaser with that Mike?"
He didn't mean to say that but the warm comradeship of the bar and the excitement of the game ignited a long chain of similar memories. He had earned this right after-all. The work, relaying an old stone wall by a busy road, had been hard and four days of cold rain hadn't helped. He needed that drink… needed to be something other than the guy who held the stop-go sign in an endless parade of cars.
"Conald Tegan, Conald Tegan, its out towards the mid bar, Garry Renold now, 21 yards out, on his own…."
"Poor Jim eh?"
The question interrupted the arrival of the drinks. Jim had been taken a fall from the JCB the day before and was now in Tralee General on a life support machine. Poor fat bastard!
"A lovely neck of a kick and the beauty of poise by Gary Renold….."
"He's not coming out they say." He's going to die; we're all facing the same end really.
He raised the whiskey. Paddies. The burn and then the jolt and the delicious softening of the body's aches. Just the one then he'd be back home to see his wife and his daughter. Fours years- old, a gem and already asking daft questions:
"What do bees do at night Daddy?"
I mean what a question; he'd never given it a thought.
"They sleep, sweetheart, they go to bed and sleep."
"Is a bee's bed really small?"
He smiled at the thought, the domestic bliss, the perfect home. Before an image of his wife standing, pale, looking at him with eyes like cold razors competed for his emotions.
"And what do you mean coming in at this hour and you drunk and all?" Her voice a flat monotone and weary, another straw on the camels back. He shook his head slowly as if clearing his eyes, the screen drew his attention.
"The ball booted by Alan Clark, into the hands of Galigar, he runs, passed back…."
It had not always been this way. Once she had been slim and beautiful, the world had been a bigger place then. He felt he needed to elaborate further on Jim's 'accident'.
"His heart gave out, they said."
"A massive coronary arrest."
"Sudden like." One in four the statistics had said. One in four of us will go this way.
"That Paddy is an evil little man"
"He's after being mad on account of the accident."
The black torn donkey jacket. Red blood where the loading spike had caught his arm. All washed in the dreary rain. Surrounded by a huddle of drenched men.
"Cum on Dublin,"
Paddy was the foreman. He never missed a chance to show them that he was the foreman. His word was enough to send a man off the job. Power. Power in the form of a tub of lard beer belly and jacket that stank of stale sweat. Power to make you swallow your words and keep the hard ball of righteous anger deep inside whilst your mouth formed the words and your hands kept turning that sign… stop… go… stop….
"Sorry, it won't happen again."
"What? What's that?"
God he had spoken aloud and now Mike was looking at him over the rim of the glass. His thick crop of curly hair cropped to the neck and sides giving him the appearance of a wiry terrier. "Nothing, Mike. Just that Gitt, Paddy." Nuth'in Mick. Jest a man's life and we could be next. "Besides the 50 yard line, Jack is 30 yards out, beautiful cross…"
He raised his pint. The black liquid consumed in gulps that cleared half the glass in seconds.
"Ahh that's better."
"You'll have another?"
"I'll get it"
"The stained wood of the bar rested comfortably beneath his elbow. Here was acceptance and a welcome.
"Hi, there Ted boy, how's it going?" Jingy, an oldster, beard thick and wrinkled eyes, nobody was quite sure why he was called Jingy. Used to be on the boats when there was such a thing as fishing. His glazed eyes, reddened. Probably been drinking all day. Sure, what else was there for him to do.
"Fine Jingy, fine. And yourself?"
"Could be better mate."
Could be better? He lived in a caravan by the shore. No electricity, no toilets. No friends except comrades in drink. Companions of enmity thrown together in the bar because there was no where else to go. Nowhere to slack the lonely nights and worst, the dreadful knowledge that he had been cast off, a useless appendage, an economic casualty.
"Ey, well. Here's to your health."
And now a pint and more talk of the accident. The game had reached its crucial point.
"Gary Mason, Gary could send it over them all, a superb kick would end it all…"
"Cum on Dublin."
"His Missus is beside herself."
"I was just saying to him in the van today, I mean, he really needed to take it easy with the Cholesterol."
The van. A beat up Ford, white streaked with rust and doors that never shut properly would arrive at 7.30 with FM radio 2 cheering though the hangovers and sleep fogged heads. Packed with silent resentful bodies. It made a stop at the garage and they would all pile out to buy a copy of 'The Sun' and a breakfast roll.
"He was one for the bacon and egg, Jim was."
His mind threw him a picture of the roll. A morning ceremony of meat and lard, an opaque mixture of grease and ketchup slithering from every bite. His stomach contracted at the thought.
"Sure, Mike. When you're called there's no avoiding it." Would that be my way one day, so alone?
"It was only after his doctor had warned him so it was."
The Van would take them to the site hut and amongst the mud and rain they would change into fluorescent jackets and hard hats.
"He never walked anywhere, Jim. He'd sit in the JCB even on his lunch, he was welded to that seat."
"Not surprised, after he'd managed to fit that gut of his in he was wedged."
"Ted! That's no way to talk after the…."
"He's not dead yet Mike." It could have been me down there in the rain
"Best raise a drink to him."
They clashed their glasses, safe in the present. Guilty at the relief that it was not they who where lying silent in the stuffy ward with a constant peep of a monitor or the fussing of a nurse.
"Its over the bar…. Dublin take the front, they falling back now, Tommy O'Cachlean with the ball…"
"Fancy a fag break?"
"Yer, it's all over now."
He gestured to the screen where a pitch invasion was beginning as the ref threw the final whistle.
"Out the back then?"
A cry of support from every throat, a guttural trump at the twist of fate on a field two hundred miles away animating the whole pub, welding it together in a single cause. "What a victory, snatched from the jaws of….."
Ever since the government had banned smoking in bars small knots of people would gather 'out back' or out the front dragging deeply to finish the fag as quickly as possible. The floor was a mess of butts. Come rain or shine it was a social milieu that had strangely become part of the ritual.
"Paddy would sell his own Granny if it let him stay ahead."
Ted held out the new black and gold pack of Super Kings. The neat rolls of paper beckoned with a smooth allure. This is ok, they said, cock-a-hoop at chance, stand firm in the face of death, this is no bad thing for us men. Mike took one, disappeared under his felted jacket and out of the wind and emerged a second later exhaling a cloud of smoke.
"He's a mean one, for sure." He realised Mike was still referring to 'Fat Paddy'.
"Jim was lying there for an hour and not one of us allowed near him."
Ted lit up. A reassuring buzz, acrid taste and an intangible sentiment. Safety? Relaxation? No, it was more a satisfaction. He exhaled and coughed. We're all mortal
"The site medic was there."
The site medic was a young lad from Cork. Nobody knew him well as he had only arrived on the job a few days before the accident. He was said to have attended a 'First Aid at Work Course' though every one suspected he knew jack all.
"T'was the insurance says Paddy."
"Insurance bollocks; t'was the traffic jam and Paddie's precious schedule."
The Ambulance had not been able to get through the mud to reach Jim's prone form so they took a shiny stainless steel stretcher through the rain and hoisted Paddies bulk on to it. The mud and Paddy's weight, he must had weighed in at 22 stone, had proved too much for the medics. Ted had rushed to their aid.
"He yelled at me."
"He'd bollocked me too."
He shook his head taking another long drag on his cigarette. The injustice. The sheer bloody injustice.
Both men had been told to 'get back to their work' and they had. Heads down resentful. Guilty again for leaving Paddy to suffer in the mud and rain with strangers about him. The world was an obstacle course of guilt. They swam in it. The church, the family, the job. Guilty of living. Well Jim would be out of that soon.
"For two figs I'd tell him where to get off."
"I'd tell him Monday I'm not working under him anymore but, you know."
But he wouldn't. Never. The house had cost an arm and a leg and the mortgage was as high as the dreams of his wife. A stab in the chest on the next drag caught Ted off his guard and he flinched. He'd really have to do some exercise. He'd give up the smokes. Tomorrow. Tomorrow he'd start. But for now….
"Lets go back in."
Inside the Guinness sat on the bar, the men on the stools sat talking, sharing their condition, reassuring one another that there could be no other way of being.
"One more for the road?"
The cigarette butts landed in the rain smoked red for a second and died.
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This is an emotional story that drags in the reader's emotions immediately and never relents.
The content is transferable to NZ, and I suspect, a lot of other places. You know, change the names and places....
It takes a good story to make me forget to sip my ice cold vodka for long. Actually, I still haven't picked up my beaker.
Bloody good tale, friend.
Cheers, John Irvine
Posted by John Irvine on 22nd Nov 2006
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