Mikey’s pissed and Patrick doesn’t know where he is. Pints of Guinness, packets of John Players, broken bottles and fallen men. The sounds of music from far away, a boat across the sea, a bus from Holyhead reaching the pub in county Kilburn. The fallen men moan and groan as they lay against their bar stools, singing along to songs they don’t know the words to. A burly man, as big as a bale of hay lifts them both by the collar and out the door they go. No one looks, merriment carries on without a distraction.
“I told him! I told him so. Jesus every day he’s in here pissed!”
“Ah sure, what can you do! The fucker’ll only go down to the Old Bell and be there ‘til the mornin’. You can’t keep a man from his Guinness.”
“Will you go home in the summer, Johnny?”
“I’ll tell you now, I don’t know for sure. We’ll see what the summer brings and then we’ll make a decision. Sure we’ve months to go yet.”
“The mother’ll be missin’ ya!”
The mother. Tall and big, she’d fling a cow around the field if she had to. No man would mess with that one. He can still see her as he walked home from school, waiting by the wall, the wooden spoon in her hand. He’d look for a wall to jump or a field to escape through. That would only make it worse though. He’d submit to his fate, his weasel faced teacher on the bike had beaten him home, told his mother stories how he’d been naughty, he’d been pulling girl’s hair and giving him lip. Not a word was said as he walked in the door, her following behind, his brother in the corner laughing, the weasel faced fucker looking self-important as he drank a cup of tea and ate some cake.
It stung, but he wouldn’t scream, not with that bastard here. He’d enjoy it. His little brother would enjoy it too, he’d tell tales just to hear him scream. He pulls up his trousers, a frown on his face that only a little boy in trouble can make. Back to the kitchen with still not a word said. He can’t sit down because it’d hurt, he’s not going to give them that pleasure. The bastard tells his mother all the good he’s done since he’s become their teacher. The mother nods, she doesn’t like him either, but he’s some bigwig in the church and she wouldn’t want to upset the church. God himself might turn up at the door and curse the farm with locusts and pestilence. A plague would wipe out the weasel so perhaps it’d be a good thing.
“You’re daydreaming there again, I’ll get another pint, do you want one?”
The air is thick with smoke and the smell of spilt beer. The old fella sitting by himself is singing to himself, songs and tales of glory. A story he could he tell, most of them not true but then who tells a true story these days? Shouts over another pint, free Guinness for his tales, he’ll never buy another drink before he dies. A young lad sits in front of him with two pints. He gazes into the distance behind the boy, looking back over the sea and back through time. Or just looking at the picture behind the bar, racking his head, there can’t be that many tales left to tell, he’s told most of them. If the tales are gone he’ll be gone, no more free pints.
“Look at Mikey over there chatting to your one. Jesus, she’d eat him alive.”
Mikey, Mikey. A small fella, where he’s from nobody knows. Just turned up one day, ask him where he’s from and the subject changes. The weather, the price of fags, how many pints he had last night. Pissed as usual, chatting to some woman. Usually they take no notice of him. Too small, always drunk, how could you ever take him back to your mother? He’s not changed his clothes since he turned up. He’s giving a spiel to this one, she looks interested, I’d say there wouldn’t be too many interested in her.
“A good woman would sort him out and jesus she’s a fine woman. She’d knock seven shades of shite out of him if he tried any of his carry on.”
“I heard a rumour that he’s an American.”
“An American? How in the fuck would he be an American?”
“A con man, a shyster, sure he’s only putting the accent on. Came over on the boat from America, someone said he murdered a man over.”
“Will you fuck up! He couldn’t murder a fly.”
The music gets louder, dancing and merriment, falling over and silliness. The curtains are down, they’d not make a difference, anyone with an ounce of sense would know it was a lock in.
“Were you good at school, James? You look like the kind of man who was good at school.”
“Jesus no, the teacher hated me. Ferrety looking fucker, I’d love to find him and put him the foundations of one those buildings we’re putting up.”
He’d be walking down the road to school. A cow or a sheep or even a butterfly would distract him, even a flower if he thought it would look nice in the hair of his darling Aoife. Oh Aoife, she ruined his schooldays. He’d smile at her as he walked through the door, she’d not even look at him. Far too below her, poor people, not the sort of boy one should be mixing with when they have aspirations of greatness, they’d bring you down to their level and you’d be cleaning floors for the rest of your days.
There was no girl in the world more Beautiful than Aoife though. Her friend was the nasty one, had an evil eye, she’d look at him and he’d spend the night awake frightened of what curse she’d put on him. He’d look at Aoife and move his eyes quickly because she’d know, the red headed one, Sally Murphy, she’d be waiting for their eyes to meet so she could wish some evil upon him. Then the teacher would give him a clip around the ear and lecture him on the evils of lust, the only place for such people was Hell.
The cow or the flower or the butterfly would have made him late so that was another clip around the ear. They’d all laugh. Slinking into his sit, ear stinging, kill the bastard, Jesus if there’s a God come down and punish him for his sins. If you don’t learn your Irish you’ll be staying back another year and your mother will be the talk of the town! You wouldn’t that now would you? Fadas and bhs that sounds like vs, how does a bh sound like a v? No fucking use anyway. Chanting and noise that means nothing, what’s the time? Surely it’s time to go home?
“I’d never have thought that now. Jesus, you were the naughty one?”
“I wasn’t the naughty one. That bastard just hated me.”
“What happened to your one?”
“Your one, Aoife?”
The day before he was to get the boat over. Brothers and sisters fussing, telling him to be careful. You’d never know what those heathen English’d do to ya. Mind your money on the boat too. He was the first, the first to go over. The mother was crying, she wanted him to go, but she had to cry because if she didn’t cry what kind of mother was she? And what would the priest think? They gave him a fine feed, big pork chops with spuds and carrots and peas and gravy and sprouts. The best meal he ever ate. The sisters were crying now too, Jesus would they ever shut up.
Will you go to town for one last drink before you head over? We’ll go for a drink or two, or three or four, fuck it we’ll get pissed, who knows when I’ll be back. The mother is roaring now, the handkerchief isn’t wet, dry as a bone. Off down the road to town. Dark, no butterflies or flowers to distract, the moo of a cow, but cows don’t interest him anymore. The pub is packed, what are they all doing here? It’s not for me anyways. Dancing and drinking, a glass flies over his head, a thousand pieces on the floor, nobody stops, on they go, dancing and drinking, singing if they’re able or not.
Sat in the corner there she is. In the pub, surely that’s a sin, no such lady would ever be seen in a pub like this. Stone faced, not impressed with the rabble, eyes roll as they all make fools of themselves. Tomorrow they’ll be sick and their heads will be sore and they won’t know what it was they did the night before. Never would she do such a thing, yet there she is mixing with the rabble, not mixing, watching, but why’d she be here? Tomorrow morning it’ll be off on the boat, he’ll never see her again.
Oh that hair, the beautiful black hair and the blue eyes. She’s a princess among paupers, they don’t deserve to be in her company. The red head, she’ll be here somewhere, they’re never not together. Her protector, putting spells on anyone that’d look at her, making sure a glance in her direction is enough to send them to the priest the next morning. He can’t see her, perhaps she’s dead? That’d be a fine going away present. Jesus, you shouldn’t be thinking like that! There she is, the red head. She’s pissed!
No evil curses tonight. A smile never seen before, her eyes are only full of joy and lust. Lust? Jesus, she’d want to be careful with thoughts like that. Your man from the school will be down quick enough to condemn her to a life of reading the bible, being a good woman, knowing her place. She’s looking at him, fire in her eyes. He should have stayed at home with his mammy, she’s turned into a witch, a temptress, she’s looking to corrupt his poor innocent soul. He takes his pint and turns to the bar, staring open eye in the mirror. She’s going to defile me, and Aoife! Jesus what will Aoife think?
She’s gone, his princess, the one he’d never said a word to, the reason he went to school, the reason his ears would sting every night when he got home. She’s gone and she’ll probably never be seen again and all because of that red headed hussy! I’ll go to the priest before I go! Our Father, forgive me for I have sinned. Are those even the words? Jesus, I don’t know. He’d spent too much time in the church daydreaming. Forgive me father for I have sinned… that’s the one.
Now she’s standing next to him. Her hair, never has he seen a colour so red. The eyes, the eyes are demented, the woman has gone mad. There’s no evil in there now, just pure lust, and madness and the urge to defile him. Oh God, he should have stayed at home with the mammy and the sisters and they could have all cried together and then they’d go to bed and he’d be on the boat and there’d be no defiling at all. A drink, she wants a drink. Hasn’t she enough in her? Another drink and there’ll be no stopping her. Sally Murphy, the devil himself has turned up in this town and corrupted you.
The drink is flowing, she’s not so bad after all. A fine looking woman, never noticed before. Swinging him around the floor, clapping and laughing. There’s no evil in her at all, all sweetness, goodness, how could you ever think such beautiful woman would ever put a curse on you? The boat tomorrow, what time does it leave? He could stay, marry her, lots of kids with red hair running around. The mammy would probably cry even more if she thought he was staying. What did he ever see in your one? What’s her name? Aoife, she was just a mistake, a product of misguided childhood. He never saw which one was the fairest, the flower just waiting to be plucked.
She’s always loved him she says. From the moment she first saw him at school she knew he was the one, they were going to have lots of babies together. Another drink, he could stay another week anyway, put it off, could go over anytime he like. There’s nothing wrong with being defiled either. The pub is almost empty, old men staggering out the door, still singing, falling out into the empty streets. The debauchery of the night is over but they’ve no boats to catch. She grabs him by the hand and down the road, into a field.
The clothes are coming off, her eyes are wild. He’s shaking, frightened, excited. Her mouth is filthy, how did he never see she was such a woman. The two figures peering over the wall. The sound of a gasp, something hitting the floor. A scream. Oh fuck! It’s the sister. Sally tearing off into the darkness of the field, she’ll be forever tarred. The mammy is on the floor, making the sign of the cross, oh lord please forgive my evil bastard of a son and his wicked thoughts and deeds. That poor girl, they tell him, how could he do such a thing to such an innocent. A hand across his head, one more stinger before he goes across the seas.
This is a short excerpt from my upcoming book Queen’s Park to the Elephant, a book of short stories based on stations along London Underground’s Bakerloo line. Kilburn Park is an area in North West London which was predominantly lived in by Irish immigrants, especially in the 60s and 70s. In the imagination, London is Big Ben, The Tower of London, Westmister, Queen’s Park to the Elephant is a book which will show the people of London that the tourists never see but the inhabitants know so well. Thank you for reading and if you like it please share it on social media, as an independent author any publicity or views on social media help massively.
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