When someone says they are going to cheer you up, quite often they make it worse. Sometimes they are trying to help themselves, and always you become a spectator.
Two weeks after I broke up with a girl I had been with for quite some time, and two days before I was to leave for New York, I got a call from one of my closest friends. Kevin had married early and was expecting his second child and even though he was still only 26 he was already going through the seven year itch. On the rare occasion he spoke about his marriage he always looked like someone struggling with horrendous heart burn. His cousin, Brian, at 30 had just recently been kicked out of his house by his new wife and the marriage was pretty much over.
Kevin and Brian wanted to take me out, show me a good time and cheer me up. “You don’t need women” was the theme for the night. The Misogyny Mystery tour would start near where they lived. I would have to make the journey for this invaluable education. I reluctantly agreed and headed out to Skerries, a town a few miles north of where I was currently living in North Dublin at the time. Skerries is famous for it’s ever turning corn grinding mills and being the first place St. Patrick set foot upon entering Ireland to convert the masses away from their pagan ways and to the uniform thinking of Celtic Christianity. I thought it an appropriate setting. It’s a small seaside town, everybody knew everybody and I knew nobody.
I met the pair of them at some bar they had raved about. They were sitting at a table uptight and intense but feigning a relaxed manner the way people do who can’t talk about their feelings or anything personal for that matter. They were smoking. I don’t smoke. Kevin, side parted hair, quiff, loose shirt and blue jeans sat smiling holding a pint of Budweiser with a look in his eyes that told me he was happy just to be out of the house. The longer he was married the more he lost weight. I couldn’t help thinking that he looked like a man who had just survived a massive cardiovascular operation no one else thought he would. Here he was in a pub, against all odds. Suppressing how you feel can make you look like that. Stoic, delicate and ready to explode. A typical Irishman.
Brian was something I had not witnessed since the early nineties. Tall, stocky, black jeans pulled up way too high with quite possibly the world’s largest largest belt buckle. On it, a horse rearing up on it’s hind legs trying to gallop away from his crotch. I thought of his wife immediately. The buckle was the type of thing a racist, homophobe or wife beater would wear with pride and without irony or shame, but Brian, I suspected, was simply a little dim. His black denim shirt was fastened up to some cowboy type necktie that had a metal sheep skull for a knot with imitation oyster shell buttons. The sleeves were rolled up to the elbows. Work was to be done here tonight and he looked ready for it. His hair was gelled back with, wait, surely not…blonde fucking highlights! Faint and sparse but fuck, they were there. He was checking his Casio digital calculator watch when I walked in and looked up.
“Ah here he is, d’man himself. Sit down and tell us what she done to yah,” he said like an old man as he shook my hand. He wore too many rings and chains to be masculine in my books. I forgot why I was there until he said that. Oh right, these guys are going to make me feel better.
“Colin, this is Brian. Brian, Colin” said Kevin pointing to each of us with his cigarette.
“Nice to meet you Brian,” I said shifting onto an uncomfortable squeaky chair. My pint had already been bought and sat in front of me. A big, yellow pint.
“So I heard about you and the missus. Shame about dat. How long were yah together, five years? Jaysus.”
He immediately went on to tell me about women, what they want out of life, how we don’t really need them and then a long-winded story of how he came home one night to find all his “shite” on the driveway. She had kicked him out. He was sure she was cheating on him. He seemed utterly confused by the whole turn of events. I knew she was cheating because Kevin had told me months ago that he kissed her once while drunk in Brian’s kitchen when he was upstairs looking for an Eagles CD. She wanted more but Kevin never pursued it. She was obviously unhappy. There was no doubt she was cheating with someone.
I sat, nodded and listened to Brian as I drank my big yellow pint. I felt bad for him. At the end of the day, Kevin was staying put and she just didn’t love Brian and wanted to move on. She was miserable. Everyone was going to walk away clean except Brian.
I took a look around for the first time since I walked in. The bar was like every bar in Dublin at that time except being in a suburban town everybody knew each other. Bad music, spilt beer, a large array of pale women with the occasional stunner. The worst offenders having an orange face that stopped at the chin. Some Irish woman will do anything to not look Irish. An air of violence. A skinny DJ who thinks he’s making music and a barman who couldn’t really give a fuck if you were there or not. I would later find out that the toilet had the audacity to stink of piss while also being freezing cold. Well done sir.
The focus of the conversation kept swinging back to me for some reason. What did she say? What did you say? Where? How? Etc. I just wanted to have a few drinks and talk about anything else. I knew whatever they had planned was not going to cheer me up from the minute I seen Brian’s belt buckle. What fucking world was this guy living in? Why did Kevin invite him out? It was the blind leading the blind leading me. I wanted to get as drunk as possible before the lowest common denominator entertainment began.
Eventually Brian spoke about his job. He worked as a printer. I knew a lot of people in printing and never really understood anything about it. They always seemed to work in factories located beside somewhere else more important or interesting.
“It’s the big yellow building beside the tool rental place down the back of the long grange road, Y’know where they found that pregnant girl battered to death? Just there! It was in the papers so it was.”
“It’s at the back of the airport beside where that old dog track used to be. Across from big gay Tony’s Motors, right there.”
“You go down the hole in the wall road, swing a right, shoot over past the knacker’s yard, and it’s right there in beside the chipper at the back of the petrol station where your one with the tits works.”
Yeah I know the place.
“Dolly Birds” Brian kept saying, “there’s gonna be loadsa dolly birds here tonight.” He was referring to the girls at the local night club they wanted to bring me to. I had never heard the phrase dolly birds before but I knew he was talking about woman, young woman. Heavy smokers probably who drank vodka. A walking jewelry store with yellow hair and orange faces. We were gonna get ourselves a few dolly birds and bring them back to his new place and ride them. That was the plan. Simple as that. Kevin said he was married, like he didn’t look it. Brian and I would have dolly birds. I made a conscious decision to not look at his blonde highlights or belt buckle for the rest of the night. I could get through this.
We stood in a line down the street waiting to get into the god awful place. The black sky and howling icy winds coming in off the Irish Sea sobered me up. This was to be my last Irish summer. Brian and Kevin were talking about some family problem as I checked out the crowd. No one really looked like they wanted to be here either. There were a few really good looking and terminally depressed skinny girls with large boyfriends not listening to a word they said. As we drew closer to the club it thumped rhythmically like a bored married couple having sex two rooms over. Every time someone got thrown out the door old nineties music leaked out. We were going to pay into that and get Dolly Birds. I was starting to spiral down already.
While daydreaming I became unhealthily obsessed on the fact that I was born on a small island and it disturbed me. I never really thought about it before. You can drive across it in only three hours, you can drive across all that defines me as a human being in Three hours. Thump-thump-thump. Another couple fall out of the club, we move further down. We are small but at least we have our history. Why does my mind work like this?
Inside, Brian pushed his way to the bar. He never let his air of confidence slip and I liked him all the more for it. The heat, pungent perfume, cheap aftershave, overpowering music joined an obstacle course of starched shirts, over sized earrings and drink carriers apologizing profusely. Both Brian and Kevin side stepped through them like ballerinas simultaneously eyeing up dolly birds and winking back to me like I was to do something about it. It felt like the beach invasions at Normandy on D-day with the added stress of having to perform sexually at some point.
Brian ordered a round and as Kevin handed back my drink he looked just a little bit frightened. Like plucking a rabbit from a hat, dipping a toe in cold water or asking an old person directions on the street. Fleeting but it was there.
The whole thing was truly awful. Kevin danced on the spot while Brian waded out into the middle of the dance floor like a police horse in a riot. Calm, taller and completely irrelevant. Kevin continued to dance with his eyebrows raised, anxiety in wranglers with a 30″ waist.
As we made our way home empty handed to Brian’s place he bitched about the dolly birds. Kevin just smoked and nodded his head. The color had come back to his face. The icy winds now at our backs.
We arrived at Brian’s apartment soon after leaving the club. It was a new apartment block rising up Four floors. He was on the second. It smelled of wet paint, glue and dampness. It was typical of the shite they were building around Dublin at that time as developers were scrambling to make money in the building boom. This was the first time I ever met anyone stupid enough to own or rent one.
“I’ve a few beers in the fridge, we’ll get something to eat and hang out and have a lads night in”
“Grand” said Kevin somewhat relieved. I didn’t care.
When we walked through his brand new door we entered a sparse room. Floor boards, no curtains. To my right stood a large TV and a six foot tall stack of porno DVD’s. He had a small couch near the only window and a chair pulled right up to the TV which he dragged back to its original position upon entering.
“Take a seat lads, I’ll work my magic in the kitchen.”
Brian walked to the fridge and took out it’s entire contents. A pan of Brennan’s bread, Dairy Gold butter and a block of store brand cheese. He made us cheese sandwiches with unwashed hands. We drank bottles of Budweiser and listened to the Eagles on his CD player. Brian was unsettled by the carry-on of the dolly birds tonight but at this stage me and Kevin were happy to be where we were with the cheese sandwiches.
Kevin rambled on about how his wife done nothing but read magazines and watch soaps on TV. I had never felt comfortable around her so I never got to know her. I took his word for it. Me and Kevin’s friendship was based on our love of star Trek but as we got older it felt more and more ridiculous talking about it. We were now simply friends because we had always been friends.
After another awkward one of Brian’s rants about his wife and how we don’t need woman he showed me to where I was sleeping. I wanted to end the night as soon as possible. Sleep would be my savior. The room was small with an even smaller bed. The other bedroom of his newly rented two bedroom apartment. I pretended to sleep while they had what sounded like a heated conversation outside.
I lay on the bare bed, no covers, blankets or pillow. The room entirely empty. Everything smelled new and unused. The window was black with night. I was thoroughly depressed. Well done lads. I stared at the radiator and became transfixed upon one single thought. I do not want to die alone. I tried to think of my new life in America but all I could hear was the ever turning CD player blasting out the Eagles.
your writing is gorgeous, i could read it for a year straight! a chapter of the novel…?
Thanks Dana. No novel ha! It's just one of a few shorts I've been writing.
Good job with the revision! "Dubliners", revisited. There are some great, telling moments in here. I still love, "Yeah, I know the place"…
Very Well Done! A great read; so much so I was disappointed there wasn't a next chapter.
Thanks Weatherly. you may have heard this story down the Kettle of Fish as the ramblings of an Irish drunkard.