This is an excerpt from my forthcoming novel “Something Like Ideal”, planned release date Xmas ’09. Enjoy, and by all means give me some feedback. Chapter 1:
1. the train station
Daibhead stood on the platform as the train pulled away and tried to compose himself enough to wave. His weak arm flailed in the wind as the four car train disappeared beneath the horizon. He had long known that this day would come, but of course that provided scant relief to a boy who had just said goodbye to his girl. Summer had crept up quicker than he had imagined until it was too late; Ánna was gone.
Now what to do with his time? He had spent the last four years side-by-each on numerous teenage adventures; skipping stones across the shallow tide pools, playing tag with kelp, day trips into the city to sneak a pint where no one knew them, or curling up under a blanket out in the fields and staring upwards at the shooting stars. All of these things were lost to Daibhead. Even when Ánna returns things will be different. She had left the village as a girl to volunteer in some remote corner of the earth and would only return at the end of the summer as a woman. The enormity of it all encompassed Daibhead as he walked from the station back to home.
He took a meandering route through side alleyways and across park greens, crossing the river from the town centre at the footbridge to the more residential southern part of the village he lived in, and then walking along the river path until he met his desired walkway that cut down from the main road to the river path. Reaching the main road he traversed it to get to the public house.
As he entered the doorway of the public house he was greeted by the sympathetic faces of Marla, the barmaid, and Alan the barkeep. Daibhead’s father was nowhere to be seen.
“Hullo Daibhead, is she off then?”
Marla was wiping the bar counter down with a leisurely pace and met Daibhead’s eyes directly as she continued to work.
“Gonna be alright?”
“I’ll try, t’anks Marla.”
Alan was washing pint glasses and placing them upside down to dry and his pace rivaled that of Marla’s.
“Have ya got any plans for yer summer?”
Alan took a second from his washing and looked at Daibhead. The boy’s face looked worn. He could tell that beneath the skin Daibhead was hurting.
“Perhaps some reckless behaviour: heavy drinkin’, drug use, gamblin’, yeh?”
“Yer a funny man, Alan.”
“T’anks, I try my best.”
Daibhead nodded as he lazily glanced from side to side.
“Is my Da ‘round?”
“I think he’s gone to the city for supplies. Won’t be back ‘til supper time, ‘magine.”
“‘Kay, I’m just gonna head upstairs.”
“See you later then, Daibhead.”
Daibhead went up the back stairway to the living quarters, grabbed a newspaper from the table and retreated to his bedroom. On the walls were various pictures of Ánna and him. Daibhead fixed his eyes on the one beside his bed, sitting on the nightstand, and stared until his eyes became red with irritation and he began to cry.
* * *
The driver almost fell backwards when he lifted up the large suitcase to place in the cab for his attractive young client. He had expected it to weigh a substantial lot more than it did. Anticipating a heavy load he had lifted with nearly all of his strength and in return found himself flying back with all the grace of a slapstick comedian.
“It empty, ma’am?”
He earnestly looked at the woman, hoping for some answer that would alleviate his embarrassment.
“No, I should think not. But it’s not filled with bricks or mortar, either.”
He frowned and meekly lifted her large assortment of smaller baggage into the cab. His only consolation was that perhaps having witnessed his humiliation the woman would provide a decent tip.
* * *
Daibhead smiled as his watery eyes opened to the sight of his grandfather bringing in a cup of tea and placing it at his bedside.
“Not a problem, lad, yer sure to be missin’er.”
Pádraig Shannon gave a warm smile to his grandson and left him to drink in peace, taking the newspaper with him. He walked down the hall to his own room where he had already set his own cup and saucer, with a few biscuits on the side, on the nightstand. The elderly man undressed from his well-worn sweater and soft tweed pants and changed into the crisp striped pyjamas he had laid out on the foot of the bed. Crawling into the bed he propped up a couple of pillows against the headboard and began to drink his slightly cooled tea. Across his lap sat today’s Independent, the distinctive green harp calling back at him from some distant space. Paddy nibbled on his biscuits, alternating this with sips of tea, as he worked his way through the news from front to back.
* * *
Alan swept behind the bar, whistling some old forgotten tune, diligently keeping up to task with the chore list his boss had left behind. Marla was staring vacantly out the window at the sleepy main road. It was late afternoon, perhaps half-three, and the pub’s employees were expecting the post-work crowd to start trickling in at any time. On a Friday like this, in mid-May, with the weather approving, a pleasant after work pint could turn into a two a.m. walk home. The public house was just that, a gathering place, a home for the villagers to congregate, drink, laugh, and catch up on the latest gossip. Just before four, after a couple older gents had already taken up residence at a corner table, Daniél Doyle walked in.
“Jus’in time, Danny; almost four.”
“Yeah, I’ll agree to that, half the town’s heading up the road, nipping at my heels to get here.”
“Lucky for ya I’ll be helpin’ ya serve that lot.”
“You’ll be looking for a fair tip, I imagine, too.”
“Half of yers are probably mine on any given night anyways, ya just happen to swoop in at the right moment.”
“Having a sense of charm can’t hurt either.”
“Funny, Danny, funny.”
Just as he had suggested, following Danny in, came a large crowd of customers. At the front of the pack was a tall, lanky, awkward looking man with an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth. To his side was a rather fat bloke who seemed to be laughing at the lanky man’s every movement.
“…and so I says, I says: ‘listen‘ere, ya old fuck, ya owe me two hundred, and if I don’t see it by next week, I’ma kick yer ass.’”
At this point the lanky man mimed punting a ball from his hands.
“’Jus’ like that’, I says.”
“And didya Fintan? Didya?”
“I sure as hell didn’t, ya know why?”
“Cuz he ran straight to the bank and came back with a handful ‘f cash.”
“Yeh, righ’ away.”
“All two hundred?”
“N’a penny short.”
“Well, lemme tell ya, Sorley, that he passed on the word that ya don’t owe me money.”
“Owe Fintan Larkin money and he’ll kick yer ass righ’ ta the bank.”
“Right on Fin.”
“I’ve settled up with four others since then. They got the message, Sorley, they got it, alright.”
“Bang! Wallop! Kablammee!”
“Exactly, my fat friend, exactly.”
Danny looked at the friends and could only chuckle to himself about how odd a pair they appeared. He had known Fintan and Sorley since he was a child; he had even had the displeasure of being beaten up by Fintan in the park green over a misunderstanding. Of course, that was many years ago, Danny had been eleven and Fintan sixteen; since then they had both grown up and it was all water under the footbridge.
“What can I getchya, Fin?”
“Have a pint of plain and my fat ‘ssociate will have somethin’ light, he’s on a diet.”
“Shut it, I’ll have a stout, too.”
“Is that part of your regimen, Sorley?”
“Yer both a bunch of wisearses.”
“So, stout is it?”
“Ya, an’ that’s enough from ya. Don’t expect a large tip.”
“I never do. You always manage to pay in exact change.”
“M’ mother taught me to be wise with m’ money, Doyle, and I ain’ gonna wast’it on the likes of you.”
“Funny, Sorley, yer mother didn’t teach you anything about investing. A treadmill would’ve paid some major dividends by now.”
Having to fill their glasses, Danny left Sorley to be further tormented by Fintan.
“Hey Sorley, have you heard ‘bout the second footbridge they’re plannin’?”
“No, wha’s the story?”
“Well, I’ve heard tha’ they’re gonna sneak up b‘hind ya one day, roll ya ta the river, an’ walk ‘cross yer fat shoulders ta th’ other side.”
“Very clever. Pokin’ fun a’ the fat guy, again.”
“If ya struggle an’ start wigglin’ yer legs they figure they might be able ta generate some hydroelectricity.”
Fintan exploded with laughter at this point, unable to resist his own jokes. Sorley sat and smouldered for a few seconds while he planned his rebuttal.
“Well ya know Fintan; I’ve heard that they have some plans for ya too.”
“An’ what’re those?”
“They figure they can rub yer two spin’ly arms t’gether an’ start a fire.”
“That wa be pretty impressive, ya’d have t’ admit.”
“I guess so, I jus’ thought ‘f that one now.”
“Cou’ be ‘Fintan the Fire-man’. Women would line up, ‘round th’ street corner, jus’ ta get th’ chance ta warm up next me.”
“Hey Marla! Wouldya ever line up for th’ chance ta warm up next Fintan?”
The barmaid put down the glass she was pouring, looked straight at the two eager patrons, walked to their end of the counter, put both hands on the edge of the counter and leaned forward, inches from Fintan’s face.
“This, right now, is as close as’will ever, an’ I mean ever, wannabe, ta disgustin’ twig like you, Fintan Larkin.”
The entire bar within earshot laughed hysterically. Fintan was only mildly embarrassed and his face hid it well.
“Tha’s alright, Marla, y’ ain’t m’ type anyways.”
Marla let that one go and returned to pouring the glass. The customer who had to wait for his half-filled pint only gave her a larger tip.
* * *
When he heard the rapping at the front door, Daibhead rose quickly and ran to answer. What greeted him there was a complete surprise.
“Hello Daibhead, how are you?”
“Not bad. What are ya doin’ here?”
“I’ve come back to town for a bit. Spur of the moment thing. I hadn’t even thought about a place to stay.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem. M’ da’s out, but he oughtta be back soon, I’m sure he won’t mind. Come in.”
“You’re a sweet boy, Daibhead Shannon.”
“T’anks, Sara, but I’m not a kid anymore. I’ve even finished school, for now, anyways. I might go ta uni, but I haven’t really figured any ‘f that out yet. No matter really, I’m eighteen, plenty ‘f time ta figure these things out. ‘Magine yer quite hungry. Can I getchya somethin’ ta drink?”
“Slow down; let’s start by lugging in my luggage.”
“Wow! Those are a lotta bags you’ve got.”
“Well, I have been moving from place to place. That’s my entire life you’re looking at.”
“Ya must’ve had a lot of livin’ in th’ last two years! Didn’t y’ only leave with one small bag?”
“Ah, that’s what makes you a man: you just can’t see it like a woman would. In my bags I have more clothes, because unlike here, where it only rains or has spurts of mild sun, I’ve gone to places where the weather changes. I’ve had to adapt.”
“I was under th’ impression that there were only four seasons; ya seem t’ave packed for sixteen.”
“I guess I am looking for more. Winter is not the same thing as severe winter, Daibhead, not even close.”
“Well, let’s see if we can find a place in a corner somewhere for ya ta store the fifteen seasons of clothes ya won’t need while yer here.”
* * *
Danny stared down from the counter at the two men wrestling on the ground.
“Hey! Sorley O’Mara will you quit kissing Fintan and knock it off?”
The aggressor looked up at his accuser and snarled.
“Fuck off, Doyle, I ain’t kissin’m, I’m kickin’ his ass.”
“Sorley, Fintan, get up now.”
The two recognised that voice.
“Yer both welcome ta waste as much money as ya want on pints here, bu’ this isn’t a fight club.”
Fintan Larkin and Sorley O’Mara were dumb, but they weren’t dumb enough to pick a fight with the pub’s owner. They reset themselves atop their favoured stools and ordered another round.
“No more fightin’?”
“Danny, two pints of ale for our friends here.”
* * *
“Tell me, Saraid, what brings ya back?”
“Well, Pádraig, it just felt like the time to come back and reconnect with everyone for a bit.”
“You’ve been a lot of places.”
“There’ll always be some roots in me though. You haven’t got rid of me for good.”
The old man slapped his knee as he chuckled at the thought. It wasn’t often that he had the pleasure of such company. Saraid Doran was extremely attractive, a real beor, and, had Paddy been about fifty years younger, well within his tastes.
“What was yer favourite city?”
“Hmmm, Barcelona. No, wait, Berlin, no, it’s all a toss-up. They were all amazing.”
“Excellent, my dear, excellent.”
Sara looked at Paddy and thought he had aged twenty years since she left. Two years ago, he had still been busy serving pints downstairs at this hour of the night.
“You look older.”
“True ‘nuff. I feel older.”
“If it wasn’t for your familiar blue eyes I wouldn’t be able to pick you out of a crowd.”
“I’m sure ya’d be able, I’d be th’ only old man who wouldn’t be starin’ gawk-eyed back at ya.”
“You’re still a pretty good flirt for your age, Paddy.”
“I’d say I’m pretty terrible, I’m wastin’ all this good stuff on a hopeless case like you. Though, ta be fair, most women my age don’t need too much encouragement. I’ve also got th’ advantage ‘f being one ‘f the few gentlemen ‘round that still have all their teeth.”
“For your age, that is.”
“No, jus’ in general. Have ya seen some ‘f th’ ugly fellas downstairs?”
“Well, they can’t all be ugly, now can they?”
“Are you askin’ ‘bout a specific someone?”
“Are you going to make me embarrass myself?”
“I think ya’ll find Daniél Doyle is tendin’ bar tonight.”
“Goodnight Pádraig, I’ll talk to you in the morning.”
She kissed the old man’s cheek and left him to his nightcap and the muted sports highlights on the television. Sara opened the door that led to the stairway down into the bar, took a deep breath, exhaled, and walked down into the dimly lit establishment.