An exclusive new story by Eimear McBride, winner of the inaugural Goldsmiths Awardby Eimear McBride / April 24, 2014 / Leave a comment
© Yann Kebbi
Describing this story, Eimear McBride says: “In the original ‘Ivy Day…,’ James Joyce rolls an eye over the pitiable legacy of cynicism bestowed on the Irish political classes by their betrayal of Parnell [who led the fight for Irish Home Rule in the 1880s]. When asked to revisit the story, for the Dubliners centenary anthology, I couldn’t help thinking how lucky those old boys were for at least realising things should be better. How much more depressing in our time, to recognise that an enthusiastic belief in what turned out to be nothing has tumbled into the sea? The rest is a game with Joyce’s original language, which is just a bit of cheek.”
Lately they came in from night, lustrous as dead dogs on the turn. As fat with air and cinder-eyed. Jack, alone, bony in the injudicious light of a long unserviced flame. Patched pimply since life’s handiwork undid, Mr O’Connor rolls himself a cigarette, makes a cylinder of some lot’s gawdy pamphlet, lights, and sets it all a go.
-Did she say when Tierney’d be back?
-She did not.
Leg stretched and meditative O’Connor follows
-How’s your young fella?
-A boosing bollocks, like the rest of them these days.
-The young have no decency anymore and can’t have a finger laid on them.
– I tell you, if I was my father, he’d be booted from here to kingdom come. I wouldn’t mind but he and that mother never wanted for a thing.
-What age now?
-Just the nineteen.
-Risky enough age these days…
-Worser in our time.
-Speak for yourself. At least then it was ferries instead of the graves and this one doesn’t look like going away.
-Not any time soon, Jack concedes Is it me or is this shower the uselessest yet?
O’Connor havers, then gives the fake coals a belt.
-Come on you pup! So… will you be out the twenty-seventh?
-My canvasing days are done.
-I never thought I’d hear you say that.
-Me neither but they have us all strapped and mashed and I’ll be damned if I’ll wave a flag too.
-God, do you remember that night?
-I do and don’t expect to see its like replicated any time soon.
Steadfast in this Jack resettles himself. O’Connor martyrs his cigarette but turn they both like stomachs in the face of a morning-after day.
-Hi, what are ye lot doing sitting here in the dark? Would you ever switch on that light!
-Arragh Hynes, how goes it?
-Pestering, in that awful fucking rain.
Jack fixing a two-eyed clamp on the scut sliding in, asking
-Any sign of Lord Lucan of Lucan? while demystifying his floaty bronze specs.
-No, fecks O’Connor like sarky ‘as if’
-What do you think Jack, will he reappear? Or has he hopped it?
-Mmm, gives Jack craw Much the same as that Colgan
-He was barely a brick-layer.
-Hand in glove’s what I’m saying.
-If I knew then…
-Oh then you’d have known a lot and not be left goggling the high-tailing spondulics.
-Fare thee well to the good auld envelopes, for they have gone their way.
–Not everyone was on the take.
-Not everyone no, but we’re all getting chilblains.
-Well whatever else, I’ll give Tierney this, at least he wasn’t up on the podium kissing the good queen’s arse.
And quivers the flame in swipes of
-What difference does all that make?
-Once it would.
-Once generations of mess and it doesn’t even matter anymore.
-It matters to who?
-No, who matters is where we are now.
-No, we’re at who matters to you because the country’s hardly watching at all.
Tinter into silence and draws of cigarette.
-As well this is a club boys or ye’d all be out in the wet!
Blue hand rubbing and busying ‘bout little chill-eared Henchy comes in.
-No Jack don’t shift, I’m grand. O’Connor, did you approach the wife?
-I did, yes.
-She said to check Aungier street.
-And did you?
-I did, Grimes hasn’t seen hide nor hair these passed two weeks.
-Jesus! How did he manage it, the prick!
-Because he was ‘Tricky Dicky Tierney’ and we paid no heed. Now off tanning his hide while we choke on the broke fire he had rigged.
-That’s all very well but…
-Did we know?
-Did we know?
-Sure we knew.
-Like his father before, oiled for the ready, then through!
-Well if he thinks I’m finished…
-What will you do?
-You’ll hope and wait and when the time comes, open your door to the bailiffs.
-Ah now Hynes…
-Maybe gents, and since there’s no new news, I’ll be on my way then.
Chuckles and chortles till he’s out through the door, when Henchy turns
-What was Hynes here for?
-Ah leave him, he’s weirdo but a decent enough skin.
-He is not. I’m telling you that maggot is spying… The neck of him asking Did we know? What we’ll do? Then he’s off to what he’s salvaged for himself alone while the rest of us have to go skulking along. And as for the bailiffs… where did he hear?
-So who d’you reckon he’d be spying for?
-Who? Anyone! Take your pick. You can’t spit in this city without hitting a grievance.
-That’s true and him the lickspittle he is.
-His father turning in his grave. Silken Thomas isn’t in it.
O’Connor alone, rolling again, rolls against the swim.
-Do you not remember though, how he used to be? Madly fervent about it all… Stepping out of the Imperial shadow… The democracy of it… Us taking our place. He’s bitter now about the way it went and us getting jingoed up.
-He was wrong.
-It never made us a people, like the loss of it does.
-And now at least we’re back on home turf!
-Ha and fucking ha.
Knock on the door.
A Father afoot. In new priest grey. Collared. Blue shirted. With the approachable face of the fallen from grace but a smile for them nonetheless.
-Oh Father Keon, come in come in.
-Don’t mind me, I’m just chasing young Mr Fanning.
-Black Eagle these days, but won’t you sit?
-If he’s not here I won’t not disturb you.
And re-ascends he off out into the flapping black. Undisturbed and at cigarette suck they let him off the hook.
-What is he?
-They, you mean, what’s all them these days?
-Mostly, I’d say, bestridin’ a bit less for fear of troubles they hope we won’t seek.
-But he wasn’t…
-Not that I heard…
-And how much does that mean?
-Ha ha, you have it. And have you noticed, of late, how they’re hovering us up again now the money has fled? They were biding until we were shamed to the knees.
-Where we’ve always liked it – if memory serves.
-It’s not memory they’ll be likely to poke.
-No, they’ll stir the stick in your throat that the money kept good and relaxed.
-Bad years for them.
-Just the start of deserved.
-They’re a set of Kitty’s…
-And on that note so, can I wet my throat with anything else?
-There’ll be plenty once we’re servicing our dues again, according to the jippy wee shit down below.
-I’m afraid, yes.
Ah, tsk and eye rolls.
-Send to the Black Eagle then, they won’t have the face to turn us off.
So O’Connor makes fingers out the door while Henchy expounds on his schemes of Office – from whence he’d ride those forgetful rats right round the place.
-Knowing tons, as they do, about how to lay waste by lashing away at the poor, old and helpless to keep have for the haves like they should.
-And were not we then?
-That was never meant… that was never the idea at all.
-We were for the nation.
-And the euro.
-And the fall at the end of our own fear of fall, which lead to a fall… and a fall… to a fall to a
-Okay, the young fella says
-There’s a few bottles there but he says not to expect, not anymore. He’s not his brother’s keeper or the cellar for the C.R.
-Does he now and what else does he say?
-That the pub’s started circling the lip of the drain so all ye vultures can go to hell.
-Still he sent this?
-For historical conscience he did.
-Well pass round them glasses. Ah cork! Shit!
-Don’t worry, I’ve my Swiss army knife with.
-Have a drink for that so.
-Don’t mind if I say yes, and he downs it all in one.
-How old are you?
-So, what’s next then?
-I don’t know… something… somewhere…
-Can I be bothered?
-That’s how it begins
-Ah Jack, you know his liver’s probably already twice as big.
-And is that to be proud of?
-Is just now and ever been.
-Better a day with than without, laughs Henchy Especially mine, going pillar to post, tracking dockets to nothing and dodging the phone.
The youngster, relying on life for his hope, tufts his hair up and scoots on out the door while the drinkers’ mouths break down their wine and long around for more.
Soon knock another and the door boots in.
Advances over the room in the burl of his worth.
-Where’s that wine from?
-Always can! peeps Lyons -ushering in like sucked dust behind- To be pounding the streets while youse warm yer behinds. Give us a glass of that.
-The young lad’s gone with his knife.
-Fear not! Do you know this trick?
Soothing the neck, Henchy thumbs its cork back in.
-Now that’s a good one!
-Don’t ask who taught me it, nudge wink.
Twists each then with the tricks that they know and their stink. Recalling to mind what greats there’s been and how arid it is since those broad years of slipping – recollections and hands out of sight. That burgle for burgle’s sake opening life into velvet for chancers. Scoring so high on the wants of a people surprised at being able to get for a change. At being able to open their mouths and say Yes. At shrugging off lives most formerly possessed of patience and not much more. Pfungk! Oh we wheedled them right to the gorge. Pfungk! Only now we must coddle them back, fuck it, dolled-up in our ashes and sacks. But we’ll abide too in patience-sheathed suits, observing them waking their own over-reach. Pfungk! Keep unobstructed their in-turning gaze. Careful in public not to delay the inevitable clothes-rending call to regret. What’s a change ever but sorry for it? No, from our Pale of red tape made, we will watch their bruises fade. And live to fight another day. New Ireland’s dream all along.
-Pass another bottle of that putrid wine.
-Hey look, back again Hynes?
-Crofton, Lyons. I saw you passing so… any news?
-He’s definitely gone.
-Is he really?
-What does it matter to us beyond he cleared out all his bank accounts? Now’s the time to start digging in.
Smirks Henchy ‘Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone’
-Christ if I hear that one more time…
-More like ‘Come gather round me, Parnellites’ Jack groans.
-No, Hynes says I’ve a poem.
Then clears his throat to others’ Go on, and neat fold-handed begins.
Bertie brought a bit of butter,
But the butter it turned bitter.
when Bertie bagged all the better butter
to keep his bitter butter better.
Slump in the room around them. This day gone all the way down.
-Well I think we should leave it at that. Not much point in reconvening I’d say either, lads. So, unless there are any objections I declare the Committee Room is done.
There’s a rise at Jack’s formality but no voice goes awry. Glasses slip onto the mantelpiece. One last glimpse cast for old time’ sake as the pilot light gives up its ghost amid sunk cigarettes. Then go these crossed and double men out into the Dublin night.
-Crofton, what day is it? asks Hynes, on the step.
-What day is it?
-Sixth of October… or seventh…
-No Crofton, what day is it though?
-Jesus Hynes, I don’t know.