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Friday, 4 January 2013

Pub Talk. A kiss before dying.

"MY friends are down under THERE, or  d'you think I'd be bothered talking to you"?  Old Eithne stabbed a finger downwards as she spoke to us, in the pub where we washed up one evening at the fag end of Christmas. Her strong boned face under the still dark hair twists between grin  and grimace, as she launches into a story, sucking up whiskey as she talks, about how THEY wouldn't serve women in Dublin pubs when she was a young woman, and she called them on it, banged out a deal with the manager of her (soon to be) local, whereby she and her friends would be served provided they pay for their own drink, and so they were for many a year. But friends are all gone now, and only she has lived to strike terror and awe in the hearts of locals in her home place. She turns her gargoyle face on me as we leave. "I knew your father, Oh I could tell you things. I knew him allright.  I LIKED your father. Did I tell you that I knew her  father".(to my husband).  Yeah, Eithne you told me, every time you catch us in the headlight of your ferocious attention, you tell me that.

I have a regard for Eithne, I tell  my husband on the way home. My first experience of her was of a disembodied corncrake voice soon after I returned to this part of the  country, in what has become our local.
"What's YOUR  problem with my fxxxing coat, YOU BET  I 've had this coat for years, this is a good fxxxking coat and I fxxking like it. So fxxxk you and the horse you rode in on, I'll wear this coat to the fxxxking grave I can tell you".  I like it that she is a woman who does not care to appear civil or nice, . that is rare,  admirable  in a woman I think.  Also, she is one of a legion of elderly  stalworths, in and out of the pub, who  take it on themselves to tell me they knew, admired, were deeply fond of  my father,  now dead for twenty years,. My edgy husband from edgy Cavan  says I should go beyond a benign smile to these constant, relentlessly admiring offerings, and tell them.  I  too knew  my father, . In some black winter's evening I might speak, might stir up the quieted stock of the past and say....yeah he was....., he used a brutal clever tongue to hold in submission,  and control  his children, imposing a suppression  of Taliban like  proportions on his daughters, and keeping his sons on the march in a docile line. When I was nineteen, I was reluctantly hauled  by an unaware boyfriend over to speak to him, to greet him, in one of the many pubs he patronised, and he , when he saw me, froze, and later cast me from the house. And then there is the sibling, a  tall strong man  now middle aged. who has nightmares  about him still,  and the one who asked me why on earth I was crying, me of all people as she was not,  at his funeral.

Or I could tell them maybe about the joker man, who sat with us on Sunday afternoons to watch Little House on the Prairy, amused,  engaged,  interactive as the rest of us. Or the one who was to be found in regular pockets of the day,  sitting in his large shabby arm chair in a scattering of cigarette butts, laconic,  vague and bantering with my mother, who bantered with him till the day he died.

I could say how he, disconcertingly, first  began to give me fatherly advise on week end visits home, when I was quite grown up and his health failing fast.  Both of us drunk more or less on a Saturday night. He mumbled, almost toothless, drink sodden, about men to be avoided, and how he had, and I might, handle relentless banks, financial  pressures, that sort of thing. I strained to understand him, beset by some stray sense of urgency about him (and the charm of being talked to, at last) whilst thinking to myself, Stable door, horse bolted etc.

I could say that the only time I ever kissed  him was on one of those nights, before I left him for my bed. I don't know why.  Something in the way he ducked his head, something scared and asking in his eye. Anyway I did, and squirmed in the morning at the recollection, as though both he and I must  think how foolish that was , in the sober light. He died a week later.

I sometimes extract  a nugget from his  mumblings now, that has sustained me in adversity, shown me a cock eyed slanting way out of  a fix, financial and otherwise. Brought me home.  I could say that.