Peter’s obligatory ties constituted a kind of sign language, though a not exceptionally difficult one to decipher. If he sported a bird motif, it signified that he planned getting drunk as a coot after work. A tasteful lava pattern indicated an intention to get ossified, while a grey pachyderm on pale green background meant he hoped to be elephants by 11pm.
You could say he was a man who liked his drink. He liked to talk about what he had drunk last night, or what he intended to drink the coming night. He was always ready to be engaged on the relative merits of spirits versus beer, lager versus stout, bottles versus draught. He knew the number of Baby Powers in a bottle, and the amount you’d save by buying the whole bottle.
He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city's more traditional hostelries, though the newer disco bars, with their thumping music, foreign students and young wans dressed in no more than two thin bands of clinging stuff were an anathema to him. He was a normal man, mind, with feelings the same as the next. But everything in its place. There were clubs for that kind of thing. Admittedly the price of a pint in them was outrageous, but by that time of the night you would have filled up in a proper bar. The only reason you’d buy a pint then would be to have something to do with your hands.
Peter’s motte, or his ‘partner’ as he now should call her, was a lucky find. She was the type of lass who could sit beside him on a bar stool in Reilly’s, and match him pint for pint until they were both thrown out, and then steer his considerable bulk home by the canal to their flat in Rathmines without major incident. At the weekend she could knock together a passable stew, good for two or three days nosebag.
She kept the flat relatively shipshape, and every couple of weeks she would gather all their clothes, the bed linen and the towels, and haul them off to the laundrette. Truth to tell, these bursts of activity unsettled Peter a little. He would feel a bit spare, lurking at the fringes, making insincere and muttered offers of help. But as soon as the opportunity arose he would stuff a rolled up Star in his back pocket and amble down to Cassidy’s to study the form over a quick pint, and wait.for her to join him, their usual Saturday practice.
All in all, Brenda was a star. If he had to find fault, about the best he could come up with was that she could be the tiniest smidgin jealous. On the occasional night when she’d be doing her own thing, choosing perhaps to join the coven from work in O’Neills for an evening of black magic and character assassination, Peter might find himself persuaded to drop into one of the aforementioned clubs on his way home. This would not prove popular back at the ranch. God knows he rarely did more than stand, one elbow on the bar, the other hand clutching an overpriced pint of rat’s piss, surveying the talent, such as it was. Only rarely would he lumber up to some likely looking bird and propose a dance. The number of times his offer was accepted could be counted on one hand. And never did it go past the one dance.
But despite all his efforts to disguise his tardy homecoming, pissing in the bushes outside so as not to have to use the toilet, lifting the door as he opened it to forestall the squeak, half stripping before he got to the bedroom, as soon as he eased his bulk into the bed her head would pop up and the inquisition would begin. Where had he been, who was he with, who had he seen, in permutations and combinations that made his head spin. There’d be no nookie that night, not that he’d be up to it, if the truth be told. The next morning there would be a touch of winter in the air, a certain froideur, as they say.
So in retrospect it wasn’t surprising that she threw a major wobbly the Friday night Josie Ryan came into Reilly’s. He hadn’t seen the girl in six, nearly seven years, and next thing, there she was, large as life, some weedy English guy in tow. Of course it was “Peter Power ! O My God !” and the rest, throwing her arms around his neck and planting a smacker on his cheek. What could he do but buy a round when she popped herself on the stool beside him, wanting to talk about the old days. And that’s the way Brenda found them when she arrived a couple of hours later.
“This is Josie Ryan, who I’ve told you about” he said to her.
“Oh right, your ex.” she said, polite enough, but Peter could see the green of her eyes.
“Oh, Peter and me go way back”, says Josie slapping him on the knee, and laughing that loud laugh that homecoming emigrants have.
Peter tried to get the two of them talking, the best way he knew to get birds out of your hair. But Brenda was having none of it. She was distant and vigilant at the same time, and eventually Josie felt the chill and took herself off. But not without giving him her phone number in London, and telling him to keep in touch.
The interrogation started on the way home. Where had SHE come from, all of a sudden? How did she know that he would be in Rileys? How long was she home. Was this the first time they’d met since they split up? Had he heard from her lately? Why was she suddenly so fond of him again? And what was he doing, buying her drinks, letting her touch him like that?
He fended off the questions as best he could, feeling guilty though he had nothing to feel guilty about. But she had him so addled with her questions that he eventually mentioned the kid. And that was when the shit hit the fan
About two years after they had started going together, Josie fell pregnant. After that things changed between them. She was sick all through the pregnancy, and when she wasn’t sick she was tired. In the end Peter was sick and tired too, sick and tired of the whole shebang. They were rowing constantly. She’d completely gone off the gargle. And not only did she not want to go to the pub, she didn’t want him going either. If he stopped off for a quick one on the way home from work she’d be waiting at the door for him, screaming. Their lifestyle went to hell in a handcart in the space of a few months. So when she decided, six months into the pregnancy to go down the country to her home place, he main feeling was one of relief. He knew that he would see no more of her, that this was the end of them. Her folks hated him anyway. A few months later he got a letter from her old dear, saying that Josie had had a baby boy, and given him up for adoption. She had gone away, and didn’t want to hear from him again. He was with Brenda by then, so that was that.
He had never mentioned the kid to Brenda because, he told himself, it had never felt real to him, he’s never even seen the little bugger. But at the back of his mind he was afraid to say anything. He knew that she would mind, big time.
Then, just to stop her complaining about him sitting with her, buying her drinks, having a laugh, he blurted it out.
“For god’s sake Brenda, she was the mother of my child. I couldn’t just ignore her!”
It was one of those shocked moments when you feel the world swaying beneath your feet.
“Mother of your child?”
“…… Six years ago …”
“Mother of your child?”
“She gave it away, for adoption, like”
With that she took a swing at him that sent his glasses flying into the canal, and near burst his eyeball into the bargain.
“You selfish fucking bastard! I could’ve had your child too”, she screamed, ‘but mine ended up being flushed down a sewer in Birmingham.”
She took one last kick at him as he scrabbled around on the path, looking for his glasses and then she was off, running up Mountpleasant Avenue.
The silence in the flat the next morning was not just Siberia. Not just her not there, or in a mood. It was like being on the moon. It was an empty silence, an absence. He picked around for a little while, went to fix some breakfast, then changed his mind. He tried to read yesterday’s paper, but his heart wasn’t in it. He was in a state of distraction.
Eventually he decided to go down to Cassidy’s to watch the Saturday afternoon racing. He sat at the bar, taking a long time over the first pint. The other regulars didn’t take much notice of him. Most of them would be warming up slowly, after Friday night’s excesses.
He had just begun to unwind with his second pint when there she was beside him, dropping her bags of shopping and hopping up onto the stool, for all the world like a normal Saturday afternoon. She called to Joe, the barman.
“What does a women have to do to get a pint around here?”
“Ah now, that’d be telling you.”
They watched the races in silence, except for a few words about the horses. Once or twice Peter popped next door to lay some bets. After a while she got into the spirit of it and handed him a fiver to lay on one for herself. As luck would have it, her horse won. He took it as a good omen.
After he’d sat down handed her her winnings, he decided to chance it.
“So that’s what you went to Birmingham for.”
“I didn’t know.”
“I didn’t tell you.”
She looked at him.
“Sure what kind of parents would we have made? It was better off out of it.”
And that was it, shutters down.
“Who, would have thought it.” he mused, as they watched, the 4:15 at Doncaster. “Ttwo of them. Still, no point in talking about it. No point in poking a snake.”
A few hours and more than a few more pints later, they set off home. Going up the steps to the tenement one of her bags slit open, and spuds went spilling everywhere. A couple of them went through the railings and down into the basement well. The guy that lived in the basement flat came out to see what the commotion was. A little bantam cock of a man, shirt and tie even on a Saturday. He looked on in disgust as Brenda apologetically passed him, scooping up the spuds.
“Disgraceful.” he muttered as he slammed the door.
Peter stuck his nose in the air and minced up the steps.
With that they both collapsed in a fit of giggles on the steps. When they finally finished, and wiped the tears from their eyes, Peter threw his arm around her.
“Cmon missus,” he said, ‘let’s get them spuds on.”