The Republic of Cliffony by Trevor Conway

Down by the arse of Donegal, at the very tip of Sligo, there’s a village called Cliffony. Some of ye might have passed through it. It’s a few miles past Benbulben’s furrowed head, the kind of place where people would talk if you seemed in a hurry. The Atlantic takes out its frustration on the nearby cliffs of Mullaghmore, and tourists can sometimes be seen looking lost, asking for directions to the grave of W. B. Yeats.

I want to tell ye about a lad who supposedly lived there twenty or thirty years ago. You’ll forgive me if some of the details aren’t entirely true. Sure, what kind of storyteller would I be if I didn’t add to the story? Honestly, I’m not sure if the lad existed at all, but this is the gist of what I heard from a storyteller down in Cork. Don’t be afraid to come closer if ye can’t hear. There’s a seat by the fire, if anyone wants to dry themselves. It’s a wild night out there.

Fiachra was a tall, lanky fella with longish black hair swept past his ears, a bit like a brush you’d poke up the chimney. From the age of eight, he’d been indoctrinated into the family trade, his father’s pub. Into his late twenties, Fiachra still found himself behind the bar, serving the same old faces. The peculiar smell of daytime beer hung thick in the air as everyone poured in after his uncle’s funeral.

Fiachra’s father Leo had retired subtly over the last five years, leaving the main duties to his son. He sat there in his battered beige corduroy hat, with yellowy fingers as hard as candle wax. Fiachra wished he could’ve just left the bar and joined everyone. Not that he’d be drinking with them. At the age of five, he got himself drunk on a pint of stout when the pub’d closed for the night. He got awful sick, and that was the last of his dalliances with drink. For a lad that didn’t drink, though, he was fond of doing foolish things, as ye’ll find out soon enough.

His friends were all there after the funeral, along with his woman, Celeste, a girl from the nearby village of Maugherow, with wavy hair the colour of rust. Fiachra and Celeste had been going out together for a couple of years, though there were somehow oddly matched. I suppose you could say Celeste had notions about herself, while Fiachra, well, he had strange notions. I’ll put it that way.

There were faces he hadn’t seen in donkey’s years. It made him think of how much respect they had for his uncle. But there was nothing dignified in how they went about ordering their drink, gathered like cows around a trough. Poor Fiachra was nearly dizzy with all the tossing and turning he had to do. Celeste stood at the far end of the bar, tapping her fingernails on the counter. She was a fine woman, and though Fiachra wasn’t a bad-looking lad, he was no prize bull either. He was one of the few men around that was taller than her. That was the only reason he got her, some said.

Fiachra’s father shouted up to him:

“Will ya give the poor girl a drink! Jesus, what did ya do to get her atall? Payin’ her, are ya?” he laughed. He put the fiddle to his chin and struck up a tune.

Celeste finally got her drink, without a word of thanks to Fiachra. Off she went to Darren, a friend of Fiachra’s since the first days of primary school. She knew Fiachra didn’t like how close she’d get with his friends. Sometimes Fiachra thought it’d be handy if one of them took her off his hands. I’m sure ye all know some women like that, making a show of their fellas. I see you smiling there at the back. Himself isn’t with you here tonight, no? I’m only joking.

All day Fiachra lunged about behind the bar, dragged this way and that like a puppet. He felt as though he hadn’t stopped pulling pints since he’d started doing a bit of work in the pub at the age of eight. He could see Celeste flirting away with Darren. That was nothing new, but something about it really riled him this time. Maybe it was just the fact that everyone else was enjoying themselves while he was working his arse off. He wanted to fuck Darren out of the pub altogether—pardon the language, mam—but he hadn’t the guts. All this was swirling round in his head like butter in a churn when he heard two fellas near the bar:

“I see Frankie Porter didn’t turn up today.”

“An’ all John did for him on the farm.”

“Bad form, that is. I tell ya, ya don’t know your real friends till they turn up to see ya off.”

“That’s for sure.”

“It’s a pity ya couldn’t find out sooner—save ya a lotta bother runnin’ after people that don’t think much of ya while you’re alive.”

They were the most sensible words Fiachra’d heard all day. He was thinking about this when his mother Maud, who preferred to be called Betsy, walked in and fixed herself a brandy. She’d never once served a customer in the pub, feeling she was doing enough about the house, making the dinners and pottering round the garden, not to mention listening to Leo’s endless boasting about this and that.

Come midnight, Fiachra was fit for the bed.

“Alright, everyone. Last orders!” he shouted a while later. But his father piped up:

“Don’t mind him—we’re here for the night. My brother was laid to rest today. He’d want to see us have a good time.”

“Da, it’s half-past. Last orders.”

“Says who, the government? Sure, what would ya be doin’ heedin’ the law of the land? This is the Republic of Cliffony!”

A cheer went up. “Good man, the lion!” one shouted. Fiachra slumped onto a stool at the bar. He dropped his head and arms onto the counter and fell fast asleep. A few minutes later, he could feel something tapping at his head. He opened his eyes, and there was his father, flinging peanuts at him from his chair. They sprang off Fiachra’s head like raindrops. Everyone was laughing, but Fiachra was in no mood for it, so he upped and left.

“Ah, I was only coddin’ ya,” his father called after him. “Fierce moody, that lad,” he shook his head.

“You push him too far,” Fiachra’s mother said to him.

“What does that mean?” Leo asked.

“He could be doin’ more with his life than stuck to them beer taps.”

“Holy God, is it that time of the month for the two of ye?” he sighed, and took the fiddle by the neck.

Betsy was about to reply when the fiddle started up again.

Fiachra went off down the dark road. Home was right next to his parents’ place. He hopped into the bed, but a man who tries his best to get to sleep will never manage it, as ye all know, especially when he’s got something on his mind. Fiachra thought of what the two lads’d said at the bar, about not knowing who your real friends are till you’re gone. And he wondered: if something happened him tomorrow, who’d turn up to his funeral?

###

I hope ye’re all enjoying this tale so far. I’ll get to the point soon enough, don’t worry. And I’ll give ye a chance later to order another drink or head to the toilet. Some of ye look like ye’re holding it in already. But sure, I can’t stop every time someone wants to get up and go.

Anyway, over the next couple of weeks, Fiachra’s thoughts got more distracted by how fed up he felt. He got it into his head that he didn’t want to be stuck with Celeste any longer. But instead of working up the guts to tell her, he started at stuff that he knew would get her goat. He started washing himself less and less, and he developed a habit of leaving the door open while he was on the toilet. But it didn’t seem to bother her too much. So, he devised a plan for Valentine’s Day, thinking it might help things progress on a bit. They took off from the cottage. When Celeste asked Fiachra where he was taking her, he just smiled and said:

“Somewhere different.”

Celeste was all set for a fancy meal down in the Yeats Tavern or somewhere. She was surprised when he turned off the road well before it. Then she realised the road up ahead was a dead end.

“The bog? You’re taking me to the bog?” she said.

“Why not? It’s a beautiful day. The beaches are full of people. Why not go somewhere different? It’s one of the most natural places ya could go,” Fiachra smiled, yanking the handbrake up.

They got out, and Celeste’s heels plunged into the soft ground. There was a cloud of midges nearby that she eyed up nervously.

“Those wee shits better not come near me,” she said.

“They’re probably attracted to your make-up,” Fiachra told her. “You wear too much of it.”

“Why are we here, anyway?” Celeste asked. She was smiling, as if she expected Fiachra was about to pop the big question. I’m sure ye ladies would’ve loved to have been proposed to on the bog. But of course Fiachra had no intention of anything like that.

“For a drive,” he said. “Why did ya think?”

“It’s not exactly a girl’s idea of romance, y’know.”

Fiachra went off for a walk. He tripped over a wiry bit of heather and got back up again. I’ll just say it straight out when I get back to her, he thought to himself. But when he got back to the car, he couldn’t get the words out.

“Can we go, please?” Celeste asked.

Fiachra got into the driver’s seat. There wasn’t any talk for most of the journey, Fiachra concentrating on the road, his face like that of a man struggling on the toilet. He could sense that she had something on her mind, and he hoped she’d bring up the idea of breaking up.

But all she said was that she was stuck for a few bob.

“Don’t have it,” he answered her flat.

“Fiachra, I know you have it.”

“I don’t.”

“What do ya spend it all on, so?”

“None of your business. If you don’t shut up about it, we’re gonna end up in a ditch.”

“How much have ya got in the bank?” she persisted: “Four thousand? Five? More than that?”

Fiachra wouldn’t answer her. But she asked again and again. By the end of the journey, he’d had enough. He needed to get away from her somehow, for the sake of his sanity.

Fiachra parked the car at the house, and Celeste got out without saying a word. Fiachra just sat there thinking. He thought of all the people he knew, and wondered how many of them really thought much of him. There wasn’t one person he could’ve called his best friend. Even his parents had little faith in him, he thought, and any faith they had was the kind of faith that parents were obliged to have in their children. As for Celeste, well, he just shook his head. He knew a long time ago that she wasn’t the woman for him, and yet he was too gutless to do anything about it.

He spent the rest of the day in a complete daze, watching T.V. as Celeste made dinner for herself in the kitchen. He was so caught up in his thoughts that he wouldn’t have been able to tell you what he was watching. He kept coming back to what the two lads had said at the bar, about finding out the truth at your own funeral. There wouldn’t be that many turning up to see him off, he imagined. He went through everyone in the village, imagining who’d go and who wouldn’t.

He was preoccupied with this thought for weeks. There were days when he just couldn’t get out of bed. He told his father he was sick. Of course, his parents and Celeste were worried about him, but he wouldn’t go to the doctor.

“I don’t feel too bad today,” he’d say. “It’s my stomach. Must be the bug that’s going round.”

It was all an act, as ye might have guessed, folks. He was slowly withdrawing from his life in the village, as he’d already decided he wanted a new life. He’d go away, without telling anyone. He took most of his money from the bank, and he told Celeste he was thinking of getting a new car. He had no intention, of course, but he wanted some explanation for the recent withdrawals on his bank records. He decided that he’d fake his own death. There’d be some kind of memorial service, he imagined, and then he’d know what they really thought of him.

###

Fiachra’s first notion was to head abroad, but then he thought it’d be best to head off somewhere nearer for a bit, instead of taking such a big step. And sure, it’d save him a few bob, too. If he thought it through too much, he knew he’d talk himself out of his plan. So he told Celeste he was heading off for a walk. He drove his banger of a car to Mullaghmore and set it down there overlooking the harbour where Lord Mountbatten took off before being blown to bits by the IRA.

It was still fairly bright as Fiachra walked along the headland. He gave a nod to everyone that passed, even the ones he didn’t know. As the darkness closed in heavier, he took a look around and crept down where the grass dropped lower and lower, so he couldn’t be seen from the road. He stayed there till well after dark, just smoking fags and flicking them into the sea below. When he was sure everyone had taken to the bed for the night, he hopped up onto the road and grabbed his bag from the car, with a whole load of cash and some clothes inside.

Soon he was on his way north. He hadn’t walked to Bundoran since he was a young fella. When he got there, around dawn, he pulled the spare clothes over him and put his head down on a bit of grass near the beach. Though April wasn’t far off, there was still a touch of winter in the air. But it didn’t bother Fiachra one bit. He just listened to the waves fizzling on the shore. The peace and quiet was the opposite of everything else in his life, but it would become a part of his new life. He was sure he’d made the right decision.

###

Now, I forgot to tell ye all about three lads in Cliffony who’d always be first into the pub every morning. The Three Jimmys, they were called: Jimmy Cooney, Jimmy Malone and Jimmy Barry. They were sitting up on the window sill, waiting for Fiachra to arrive, the next morning. I’ll do my best impressions for ye, but keep in mind that I’m only one fella who heard of them from another fella, who heard it from someone else who said he knew them.

“Where is he atall?” Jimmy Barry said, scratching at his stubble, which sprouted here and there as thick as a shock of rushes.

“Slept in?” Jimmy Malone shrugged.

“Slept in, me arse. Hasn’t he three thirsty customers here. He has no time for sleepin’ in. Wouldn’t’ve happened in Leo’s time.”

“That’s true,” Jimmy Malone agreed. And Jimmy Cooney stepped in between them, nearly losing his balance:

“Twenty pounds... said I.” He waved his finger about.

“What’s he on about?” Jimmy Barry said.

“Still drunk from last night, he is. Reckon we should go an’ get Fiachra outta the bed?”

“I dunno. Y’know what he’s like, queer moody. Might not be all that accommodatin’ if we lump him outta the bed.”

“True. Might not give us the deal today.”

“Maybe he got the full nelly last night, off some young one,” Jimmy Cooney piped in.

“Sure he’s got a woman,” Jimmy Barry said, “that one from Maugherow.”

“Ah, Maugherow women!” Jimmy Cooney shook his head.

“Did ya say ya were headin’ over to get Fiachra outta the bed?” Jimmy Barry asked Jimmy Malone.

“I thought ya said it was a bad idea.”

“Well, we could be waitin’ hours... on a rainy day like this? Without a sniff of stout?”

“Fair enough. I’ll be back assap,” Jimmy Malone said.

“‘Assap?’” Jimmy Barry scrunched up his face.

“Ya know: assap—as soon as I can.”

So, Jimmy Malone pottered on down the road with a gait as loose as an accordion on him. He got to Fiachra’s place and banged on the door. It took a while for Celeste to open it.

“Is the man himself about?” he asked.

“I don’t know where he is,” she yawned. “Is he not in the pub?”

“No. Is he not inside?” Jimmy stretched to peer over her shoulder.

“I don’t think he came home at all last night.”

“Well, where is he, so?”

I don’t know,” she said. She shrugged. “He went for a walk, the last I heard.”

Jimmy tried the parents’ house next door. Fiachra’s mother was out the back touching up her lettuces. She came out just when Leo arrived back from his swim, his hair stuck to his head.

“Not a clue,” Betsy answered when Jimmy asked where Fiachra was. “He’s not in the pub?”

“No.”

“Well, his car’s not here.”

“Is there anywhere else he might be?” Jimmy asked. “Would he have stayed at a friend’s place or anythin’?”

“No, Fiachra wouldn’t. He’d want to get home to his own bed.”

Jimmy could see the worry in her face.

“I’m sure there’s no need to be alarmed, ma’am,” he said.

The word went out, and soon Fiachra’s car was spotted down in Mullaghmore. A few people said they’d seen him walking along the headland when it was getting dark. Leo asked who was the last to see him, but no-one could be certain who it was. They all looked at each other, and one person, who didn’t know Leo all that well, asked:

“Was he feeling okay lately?”

Leo gave him a fierce look:

“Fiachra’s a happy lad,” he said. “There’s nothin’ wrong with him. An’ no-one’s gonna go spreadin’ rumours round about him.”

###

We’re about halway now, so if anyone needs to get a drink at the bar or anything... no-one? Jesus, ye must be very engrossed altogether. Must better than that crowd over in Cavan I spoke to last week. Or maybe the story’s better this time? Either way, I’m glad to see ye’re not bored. I’ll pick up where I left off, so...

###

While they were out looking for Fiachra, he was smiling to himself at the back of the bus. It had passed through Cliffony earlier in the morning, but he had a cap down over his head, and he didn’t see anyone he knew get on. He got off in Galway and had a quick soup and sandwich before getting the next bus south. On the way, he wondered if it was an awful thing to do, heading off like this. But he remembered how he’d felt for so long. Doing this seemed like the only way he could be at peace with himself. And, mischievous lad that he was, he enjoyed the fact that it was his own secret, that he could keep to himself without anyone poking their noses in.

The bridge at Cork was like a great big welcoming mat spread out over the road. But you’d never know who you might run into in Cork, he thought. And before long, he got the train out to Cobh. The streets there were narrow, crowded with colourful houses. He passed by a hostel that didn’t look the best, but he could see one further up the street, with a nice coat of white broken only by the light blue window sills.

The woman inside had a strong Cork accent, as wonky as one of them slide guitars, always bending upwards. Full of questions, worse than Gay Byrne, she was. And she’d tell you plenty, too. If you were quick enough to jot it all down, you’d nearly have a biography ready in a few hours.

Fiachra got settled into the place within a couple of days. Anne would ask him how long he was thinking of staying, and he’d always say, “Ah, another couple of days at least.” She was a great one for cleaning, and Fiachra learned to head off on a walk around lunchtime every day, so she could get at the room.

One day, about two weeks after he’d arrived in Cork, he popped into the city to get his hands on The Sligo Champion. It came a day later than back home, but sure, what could you expect, all the way down in Cork. And sure enough, there was a report on his disappearance. The search had been called off, and he was presumed dead. The finality of that really hit Fiachra hard. He walked away from Patrick Street onto one of those shady side streets. He pressed the newspaper to his face and cried.


Anne nabbed Fiachra on his way back into the hostel:

“I have a few foreign lads that want to stay in the same room,” she told him. “Would ya mind if I shifted ya to another room?”

“Not at all,” he told her.

She took the luggage off the Spanish lads who’d just arrived.

“I’ll take that up for ya,” she offered. They wouldn’t let her, but she insisted, carrying two at a time. “If ye need any clothes washed, or anythin’ like that, just let me know,” she said, though they hadn’t a notion what she was saying. It hardly surprised Fiachra, since he’d seen her out washing the customers’ cars the day before.

Fiachra went up to his new room, realising Anne had shoved all his things in there. It was a four-bed room, and Fiachra took the bottom bunk with unruffled bedclothes. A fella came in a few minutes later. He looked to be in a bit of a huff. Fiachra turned away suddenly, thinking it was a Sligo face that had just walked in. His heart beat faster. The first thing that came to mind was to fling a towel over his head and start rubbing, as if he was drying his hair. While he was at that, he got a closer look at the lad. He had silvery hair, but he only looked about twenty-five in the face. He did look very familiar, yet it wasn’t the person from Sligo, he realised. So he lowered the towel.

Soon after, the lad said to Fiachra:

“Hey, do ya fancy a pint?”

Fiachra was about to tell the lad he didn’t drink, but he decided he’d join him instead.

It was a queer sunny evening in Cobh. Fiachra basked in it, wondering why he hadn’t left Cliffony years earlier. He didn’t much like the taste of the beer he drank, but he sipped away on it, anyway, deciding he’d order a smooth Guinness next time round. Though he’d told Anne he was from Mayo, he told his new friend, Peter, all about the pub back home. By the time he was on his second Guinness, he told him how he wasn’t being treated like he should’ve been.

“Respect is important,” he said, nodding and looking out to the sea. “I got my own back, though.”

“How do ya mean?” Peter asked.

“Ah, just, y’know, I got a bit saved up.” He looked at Peter, who seemed unimpressed, or maybe confused. “I used to take a few quid from the till,” he said. The ould fella had no idea.”

“Ya must have a decent bit saved over the years, so,” said Peter.

“A fair bit. I’m good with money.”

“There’s better things to be good with, though. You gonna go back there, or are ya stuck here for good?”

Fiachra ignored the question.

“How long’ve ya been in the hostel?” he asked.

“Coupla months.”

“A coupla months?

“Yeah. On and off. Yourself?”

“About three weeks. Why haven’t I seen ya round? Jesus, ya must have plenty saved, yourself.”

“Well, I’m not payin’ much at all; just a nominal fee.”

“How d’ya mean?”

“Anne’s my aunt. I don’t get on with the ould pair. Anne doesn’t, either. Fell out over some shite years back. I’d probably fall out with Anne if she was my sister, too.”

“She doesn’t seem that bad. So, ya just turned up here, and she let ya stay for practically nothin’?”

“I suppose she was worried coz I was sleepin’ rough out at Fota.”

“The wildlife park?”

“Yeah. It was handy in ways. I could scrape together some leftovers from the restaurant, had plenty of place to roam.”

“They didn’t kick ya out?”

“They didn’t know I was stayin’ there. I brought different clothes, changed my hair, that kinda thing. An’ there’s plenty of places to hide out.”

“Jeez, you’ve had it pretty rough, so.”

“Children in Africa’ve had it rough. Not me. Life is life. Ya move on.”

“Ya don’t miss your parents at all?”

“No. They’re horrible people.”

“How so?”

“I don’t want to go into it,” Peter told him.

“But—”

“Ya don’t seem too keen on your father, yourself,” Peter cut him short.

Fiachra thought about it, and finally said to him:

“Well, it’s hard to respect someone who respects himself so much, if ya know what I mean. He probably thinks I look up to him, he’s so deluded. And I’m sure he expects me to take on the pub for the rest of my life, follow in his footsteps, and all that crap. He’s just the kinda person, y’know... if he had to lend ya a few quid, he’d make a big deal of it—not about payin’ it back so much as the fact that he lent it to ya.”

Peter went into the bar to get another couple of pints. Fiachra looked around and thought of how Cobh felt detached from the rest of Ireland. He wondered how everyone was getting on back home. And he wondered if Anne and Peter would speak to each other about him. Would one say he was from Sligo, while the other’d say he was from Mayo?

When Peter returned, Fiachra drank quickly, telling Peter he had to go before he’d even finished half his pint.

The next day, he got the new Sligo Champion and scanned the headlines. Squashed into the corner of a page was a headline that read:

MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR MISSING CLIFFONY MAN

Fiachra got on the bus the next day. The memorial service would be held that evening in Sligo. He’d visited a costume shop before he left, and as the bus approached Sligo, he began his transformation. He had a full beard and clothes padded out to make him look heavier. His hair was short now, and he had sunglasses on. He even darkened his skin and gave himself a bigger nose with some type of rubbery makeup. I’m not sure what you’d call it—a fake nose, basically.

He got off the bus and headed for the church. There was a fairly hefty crowd, he could tell from a distance. The village seemed deserted, as though everyone had packed into the church. He came closer, as far as the church door. He was chuffed at the amount of people there, seeing old faces from school days and further back. He never imagined there’d be half as many. The priest went on about Fiachra so much you’d swear they were drinking buddies. And sure, he hadn’t even seen the lad since his confirmation.

“He helped out his father in the family bar,” the priest went on, “and everyone could tell he loved being there, with a smile for every customer who walked through the door.”

Fiachra’s eyes went through each row, distinguishing those that were there on account of himself and those that were there on account of Leo, his family or Celeste.

When the service was over, everyone gathered out the front. Fiachra headed down the road a bit, sitting on a wall just beyond the edge of the crowd. Leo, Betsy and Fiachra’s three sisters, who’d come from various countries, were approached by one sympathiser after another. The pangs of guilt hit Fiachra hard when Betsy and his sisters started sobbing. There was something in Leo’s face that made Fiachra think he blamed himself. He hoped his father didn’t think he’d driven his only son to suicide.

There was a coldness between Betsy and Leo, Fiachra thought. She barely looked at him. Celeste seemed more upset than he expected. Maybe she was putting it on, he thought. A smiley face wouldn’t go down too well on a day like this.

An old woman came down the road. Fiachra didn’t recognise her, though she said to him:

“Aw, he was a lovely lad, that Fintan.” She shook her head.

“Who’s Fintan?” Fiachra asked.

“The lad that’s... y’know... gone.”

“You mean Fiachra?”

“Aye, that’s it.”

“It’s a pity, alright. Really nice fella. Handsome, too. I used to play football with him. Great player.”

“I didn’t know he played football. He must’ve played with my Tommy, so. He’s gone, too. America. He might as well be dead, he comes back so rarely. Over there illegally,” she whispered, tapping Fiachra on the forearm.

The woman went on her way. Fiachra watched as the Three Jimmys skirted the edge of the crowd in their tattered suits, like a trio of ageing crows. They edged further and further away, as if the air was better away from the crowd. Soon, they weren’t far from Fiachra.

“Who’ll be opening the pub from now on?” said Jimmy Barry. “Will Leo stick at it? Or will he get rid of the place altogether?”

“Would he let us do it ourselves?” asked Jimmy Malone.

“Ah, we can’t be pullin’ our own. Sittin’ at the bar an’ callin’ for the next one is all part of the process.”

“I don’t care much for processes, meself. As long as it’s standin’ in front of me one way or another, that’s all that matters.”

“It’s a terrible day,” Jimmy Cooney interrupted. He pulled a naggin of whiskey out of his pocket and tilted it to his mouth.

“Arragh, Jimmy, put that away, would ya,” said Jimmy Malone. Then, just as Cooney was putting it away, he reconsidered: “Sure, give us a quick swing of it, will ya.”

Fiachra was amused by it all, but he suddenly burst out into tears. Floods of them. He walked away, faster and faster, thinking maybe it was an awful thing he did.

###

He got on the next bus, his head as murky as bog water. He passed the next few days in a complete daze down in Cobh. He got a job pulling pints there, but soon he was sick of it. Just like his friends back home, Peter’d come in expecting free drinks. Maybe things weren’t so bad back home, Fiachra kept thinking. And then he took another one of his wild notions. He’d turn up in Cliffony again, and he’d tell everyone he found himself one morning on the edge of the cliff at Mullaghmore, with a sore head and no idea of who he was or where he belonged. Only after a few months did his memory start coming back to him.

He went downstairs to give Anne the news, scratching at his beard like a lunatic. It’d been annoying him lately, and he considered shaving it off, but then he thought keeping it might somehow tally better with the notion of him having amnesia.

Anne was just heading for the front door with a bucket of dirty water. She gave a quick look out and flung it into the street. The water spread out in fingers of foam, smothering a nest of weeds that were coming up.

“I was just gonna say—” Fiachra started, before Anne interrupted him:

“Look at that!” she said, scrubbing a stain on the wall. “That wasn’t here yesterday. It’s them...”—she paused before she whispered it—“black lads. They’ve no respect, coming in, taking over the place, shouting their heads off at all hours. That’s the last of them that I’ll let in here.”

“The place looks well,” Fiachra said. “You should take a break.”

“I wish I could do more with it, but, sure, the windows gather grime, not money. By the time I’d have enough saved, I’d be ready for retirin’.”

It was another ten minutes before Fiachra got round to telling Anne he was leaving, with all her talking. She was sad to hear it, and Fiachra thought she was nearly in tears.

“I tell ya what,” she said: “ya can stay the last day for free.”

“Very decent of ya,” Fiachra told her. “I think I’ll miss this place.”

###

It was a blistering hot day when Fiachra arrived back in Cliffony, so hot The Three Jimmys were sweating it out of them as soon as they poured it down their throats. Ye know how good a pint feels on a day like that, don’t ye, folks? So, Fiachra watched from a banger of a car he’d bought off a fella in Cork. Outside the pub, everyone was in shorts, drinking like there was no tomorrow. Celeste came out, along with Darren and a few other friends of Fiachra. Fiachra kept a good eye on them, and the way Celeste and Darren sat so close together made him wonder if there was something going on between them. A bit early for that, he thought, considering he was only a few months out of the picture. But, sure, what could he do about it? He couldn’t get up and confront them, could he? And people are entitled to move on, aren’t they?

He wondered who was running the place, thinking his father’d be reluctant to give up his daily swim at this time. After a couple of minutes, he saw his cousin Alan coming out with pints to the three lads. Alan was only nineteen, so it surprised Fiachra that he seemed to be the only one in charge of the place.

He drove off and parked the car at the end of a lane leading down to the fields. He thought of how time’d moved on, and what it’d be like coming back to everyone. The only thing he missed, he realised, was the past. He’d liked the place when he was younger, but there was no way to get that back again. So, he sat in the car for ages and asked himself if he really wanted to come back. Would anyone really believe his story about having amnesia? He could become the laughing stock of the town, he thought.

It’d be best to leave it for now, think things true before coming back, he reconsidered. He headed for a walk down the fields between the family home and the beach. It was the one part of the area that he still had some fondness for. He was a bit away from the back garden when he could see his mother tending to the vegetables and examining the lettuce. She was down on her hands and knees, her fingers as black as any mechanic. She had an odd smile on her that made Fiachra think she trying to forget everything that had happened—suppressing it, I suppose a psychologist would say.

After a few minutes looking round, he decided to go again. But as he stepped round the ditch into the next field, who came along but Leo. He was rubbing his hair with a towel, his shoulders all red from the swimming and the heat.

He stopped rubbing and looked at Fiachra. The sight hit him hard as a winter breeze. He stepped back, staring at Fiachra. He clutched his chest and hit the ground, his eyes rolling in his head. Fiachra dropped to his knees and pushed his palms into Leo’s chest.

“Da!” he shouted. “Da! It’s me!” But there was nothing he could do. Even if he called an ambulance, it’d be too late. The look that was on his father’s face was something Fiachra could never erase.

Fiachra contemplated running to his mother, but he thought better of it. She might get a similar fright. Anyway, she’d come looking for Leo soon enough, Fiachra figured. Although he found it hard to tear himself away from his lifeless father, he finally headed for the car again.

He drove at great speed, and was in Tubbercurry in no more than twenty minutes. He imagined his father’s funeral would be a big one, and he smiled to think of his old man up in Heaven boasting about it.

###

Six months passed, and Fiachra settled back into life in Cobh. He had notions of moving on to Cork city or Waterford, or maybe even Kilkenny, but he still hadn’t acted on them. Any idea of returning home was gone from him. He rented an apartment with Peter and a couple of other fellas. In some ways, he regretted not going back to see his old man off, but, at the same time, he always thought a person should be remembered as they lived, not how they looked on display in a box.

Anyway—I’m nearly finished the story, folks, so don’t go anywhere just yet—he was doing the dishes one day, chatting away to Peter as the suds sludged off the plates like wee avalanches.

The doorbell went, and Fiachra looked at him.

“Not for me,” Peter said.

When Fiachra opened the door, he got the biggest fright of his life. There, standing in the drizzle of an October morning, was his mother.

“Ha! I finally tracked ya down!” she shouted, dropping her bulging bag. “I always knew it. Ya can’t fool your ould ma, y’know.”

Fiachra dropped the tea towel as she squeezed him tight across the chest. Her eyes were wet with the tears.

“How?” Fiachra asked, still absolutely flummoxed.

“Ways an’ means, me boyo, ways an’ means,” she said. “I wouldn’t blame ya for what ya did, the way things were back home. It’s terrible that the only way ya could get outta that pub was by doin’ this.” She picked up her bag and stepped forward, looking to get into the house. “I’ve got a nice little bit saved up here.” She tapped the belly of the bag. “Your father, God love him, he didn’t give me enough credit, but I was cuter than he thought.”

“What about the pub?” he asked.

“Sold.”

“Sold? Already?”

“I could’ve got more if I held out, but, sure, we have all we need here.” She set it down on the ground.

“How much have you got in there?”

“Take a look.” She opened the zip. It was full of money, nothing else.

“But how did ya realise I wasn’t...”

“Dead? A mother knows these things. I always had my doubts. Then, when I saw the print of your runners in the muck, I was sure.”

“Where?”

“In the back field, where your father... you do know, don’t you?”

“About Da?”

She nodded.

“I heard, yeah,” he said.

They hugged again.

“But how?” he said, shaking his head.

“I know there was no-one else’s runner like that, with the print faded at the front and the piece gone from the heel end. As soon as things settled down, I did a bitta researchin’. Stick on the kettle, an’ I’ll tell ya all about it.”

“Where are ya gonna stay?” Fiachra asked.

“I’ll be grand on the couch for tonight. I won’t have ya offerin’ your bed, or any of that crack. We’ll get things sorted over the next few days. You’re owed a few bob, too, considerin’ all ya did in the pub, an’ him payin’ ya pittance. We won’t let on to anyone that we’re here, okay?”



In 1981, Trevor Conway burst onto the scene as a castor oil-assisted baby. He has since reinvented himself as an adolescent, a twentysomething and, now, a thirtysomething who can say, “I remember when there was no internet.” His poems, stories and songs are available on said internet. He may purchase an e-reader someday, though he admits to an alarming attraction to the creasing spines of paperbacks. An example of a paperback, containing roughly 40 of Trevor’s poems, and titled Evidence of Freewheeling, was castor-oiled into the world by Salmon Poetry in 2015. Trevor’s mother likes some of these poems, but finds a few of them “a bit weird.”