Phil Longley Was Still There (2)
By sean mcnulty
Phil grabbed his glass, ducked another dart, and approached Felix in the middle of the bar.
‘Do you mind if I sit up here beside you, Felix? My neck’s getting sore from having to duck out of the way of all those darts?’
‘Of course, sit down,’ Felix replied. ‘It’s a funny place to have a dartboard.’
Fact. The dartboard was on the south wall facing the very end of the bar counter; there was hardly any space at all to stand down there, so for distance, the players were forced to position themselves further back at the corner of the counter and throw the darts diagonally, which meant whoever was sitting on the southern stools was in the line of fire.
‘It’s a funny place...and that’s that.’
‘Would yous not move the board to another spot?’
‘Ah, sure no one gives a frig in here. Well, I should say welcome back to you, I should, and I just did. Patsy, throw another one on for this returning warrior.’
‘Gentlemen, both,’ said Patsy.
‘I often wondered if you would come all the way back to this shithole having bathed for such a long time in the bright lights of Hollywood.’
‘Well, I don’t hang about in Hollywood much these days, to be perfectly honest with you, Phil.’
‘Oh, you don’t?’
‘I work out of San Francisco mostly. Only pop down to L.A if absolutely necessary.’
‘San Francisco, eh? I’d say that’s an expensive spot alright.’
‘Ah, don’t get me started now, Phil. Jesus, Mary and Joseph...’
‘Still. You’re fixed better in terms of the weather, I suppose. I’m confident in saying that I wouldn’t spend half the time I do in this bloody pub if it wasn’t for the awful climate situation we’re saddled with. Sure you know yourself. You lived here all your life.’
‘I did. And I know only too well.’
‘What brings you back anyhow?’
‘I have some business in Dublin. I’m promoting this new film and thought I’d pop back and see the old town.’
‘That’s right. You’ve a new one out, haven’t you? And how’s that going?’
‘It’s going well, thanks. We’re still releasing in some territories, and so far, we’re already the seventh highest grossing film of the year, with a budget of only 20 million, and not a superhero in sight. Reviews too have been generous. Advance word from Cannes is good ahead of the festival next month.’
‘Well, isn’t that something? I haven’t seen it myself. But I don’t go to the pictures anymore. I’ll watch the oldies when they come on the TV though. Brilliant to hear it’s all going well for you. I’d say you don’t miss this place at all with all your gallivanting around.’
‘No, there are things I miss. Absolutely.’
‘Pleased to hear it. Remember Byrne’s?’
‘I do, certainly. The brewery. Is it still there?’
‘It is. Nothing’s changed. Me and you were a right pair of highwaymen jumping over that wall and robbing crates of Harp.’
‘We were. Ah, those were the days.’
Mary and August Rafferty left and others came and went from the Pop Thrill as the hours passed and Felix and Phil racked up the pints and built further upon an ancient merriment. Bucky Savage at the front had been joined by another, and his once lonely guitar now had a companion in the form of Andy Flynn’s old tin whistle. A session was beginning and with music in the air and the drink flowing Felix was hit with a surprising punch of emotion and he was now happy he’d decided to make an appearance in the pub; he couldn’t have asked for a better homecoming, as a matter of fact.
After a migration from stout to whiskey, Phil turned to Felix and asked: ‘What’s the film called anyway?’
‘Oh, like the Steve McQueen one?’
‘Somewhat. That was a one word Getaway. This one’s two words. But it happens to be a crime thriller also.’
‘Steve McQueen. He was a wild one, wasn’t he?’
‘I like the oldies.’
‘What about her over there? Do you know her?’
Phil had turned and was pointing to one of the framed photographs on the wall over the lounge sofas behind them. Next to a picture of the old courthouse at the turn of the century, there was a blonde starlet staring at them.
‘Of course I do,’ said Felix. ‘It’s Grace Kelly, isn’t it?’
‘It is. I bet you wish you could get her to star in one of your flicks, don’t you?’
Felix nodded. ‘Sure.’
Phil took a drink, swallowed it down with a certain bravado, and then said, ‘You should ask her.’
‘I beg your pardon.’
‘Go over and ask her.’
‘Don’t be a gobshite.’ This was the first time in years Felix had used the word gobshite. There wasn’t much call for it in California – though it could have been applied alright.
‘I guarantee you now, as sure as I’m alive and breathing, that if you go over there, just touch the photo once, and say Hello, she’ll respond to you.’
‘Still a headcase, Longley, aren’t you?’
Although he scoffed, Felix couldn’t help but acknowledge that the spirit of things had taken an odd turn. It was startling how deadly serious Phil was being. His face was lit up as though ensnared by some cosmic conundrum. If it was a performance Longley had launched, the acting was rather good; Felix had seen in his time his fair share of bad acting.
‘I don’t know how it works,’ Phil said. Some technical trickery, I suppose. But you’d know all about that in Tinseltown, wouldn’t you?’
‘Oh, you mean it’s just a gadget? There’s a voicebox in the frame?’
‘I think that’s what it is. It activates by touch. But the thing is: she makes a fairly decent stab at conversation with you now. No joke. It’s more wizardry than technology I’d say. She might even know who you are. Ask her nicely, and who knows, she might agree to star in your next one. I can tell you this: if I was a film director like yourself, I’d hire her in a hot minute. I would, I would.’
‘This is a pack of lies now you’re handing to me, isn’t it?’
‘I swear. You might not think it, because it’s true that not an awful lot has changed around here since you were gone, but some things have. We’re presently state of the art around these parts.’
Now Felix maintained a hardy composure in the face of all this nonsense for about five minutes, but the dizzying influence of the liquor and the general good humour surrounding his meeting with Phil Longley prompted him finally to get up off his stool and stroll over to the framed picture of Grace Kelly. He looked back at Phil on his way and joked, ‘I hope she at least gives me her phone number.’
‘Ah, don’t be inappropriate now,’ replied Phil.
On closer view, the image revealed itself to be a promotional shot for High Society as in the bottom right it said High Society, 1956 in a little box.
Before reaching over to touch the princess, he was given to reflect on all the machinations at work here in McFee...The Pop....the pub...whatever they were calling it now. Had he come all this way back just to be humiliated in front of these people? Phil Longley was a man he had great respect for, more respect than he had for innumerable figures in the ‘industry’, illustrious ones including. It hurt to think that with all he’d achieved, he could only inspire in someone like Phil the desire to take the piss out of him publicly. However, he was sweetly glazed now, so what the hell!
Felix leaned over and touched the glass lightly, on Grace’s pretty nose. Upon doing this, he expected laughter to erupt all around him, but nothing of the sort did. The only sound came from the front of the pub and it was Bucky Savage and Andy Flynn playing The Golden Jubilee.
Felix stood for a moment before the picture with an ambivalent smile on his face. But the ambivalence soon subsided, and he opted to enter into the odd spirit of things, and said out loud with extreme mockery in his voice, ‘Well, hello there, Grace.’
‘Hello. What do you want?’
It was a woman’s voice. And currently there was only one other woman in the room and she wasn’t anywhere near him and anyway that voice of hers was so hoarse it would fold steel. This was something altogether different, a refined transatlantic accent, the kind you might hear in high society, or in Hollywood films made in the 1950s. It was Grace Kelly’s voice. No getting away from it.
‘You may address me as your highness.’
‘Oh, sorry. I mean, your...’
‘I’m just joshing with you. People are so easily taken for fools these days. But I will always admit to my artifices afterwards. I mean no devilry. Who doesn’t enjoy a good romp from time to time? Anyway, you have not answered my question. What is it you want?’
‘Oh, well, I was wondering...I mean, I know you’re dead and all, but for some reason, you seem quite lively at the minute...well, I was wondering if you would be interested in working with me in the future.’
‘Oh, you’re in pictures?’
‘Yes, I’m a director.’
‘Sweetie, I’m retired. Hasn’t that been made clear? Besides, I’m happier than I’ve ever been right here. The world is awash with lushes, but I much prefer the kind in here to the swindlers you meet in those parties in the hills. They are an unruly bunch under this roof, without question, but I have grown fond of them and enjoy watching them. I get splashed frequently, by a variety of liquids, but the guilt in the eyes of the soused culprit is absolutely adorable. I’m addicted to it. I can live honestly here. I would not trade this old place for a thousand ball gowns.’
‘This can’t be happening. I’m too drunk – I am.’
‘It is happening, I assure you.’
‘I’ve...so many questions. What about Hitchcock? Are the stories true?’
‘The stories? Come on – you know Hollywood. Truth and untruth are steeped in equal volumes of hogwash.’
‘You’re not wrong there.’
‘If I was to be so bold, sir – there emanates from your good self the scent of a classic loathing.’
‘Really? I’m feeling great. I’m hammered, you know.’
‘Oh, I can see that. But there’s something else. A slight chip. Alcohol has a surfacing effect as I’m sure you’re aware. Is it the critics, by any chance?’
‘No, no. I’m doing well with the critics.’
‘What is this deep upset that I’m sensing then? I trust it has nothing whatsoever to do with narcissism.’
‘Oh, definitely not. I try to rise above such things. Maybe it’s just being in this old place that has me coming off a bit strange. I was apprehensive about entering earlier. I’ve been away so long.’
‘You should channel these narcissistic tendencies into your art. You could be the next Frank Capra Jr.’
‘I’m not narcissistic.’
There was no response.
‘Hello? Princess Grace? Your highness?’
The picture said nothing more.
The Golden Jubilee was over. And the Savage and Flynn session at the front continued with The Wild Rover. Felix turned and went back to sit with Phil.
‘So...what did she say?’
‘She said no. She’s retired.’
‘Ah, should have figured that one. It’s impressive technology, isn’t it?’
‘Certainly. What about the others? If I go over to Charlie Chaplin, will he talk too?’
‘Nah, he’s the silent type. I wouldn’t bother.’
The two continued to drink their whiskey and invited an almighty stupor to come. Around the unworldly and unintellectual conversation they stumbled in and out of, the pub began to quieten for the evening. And the light softened. Patsy had his spectacles on and was away from the bar and on the lounge sofas reading the paper. Bucky Savage and Andy Flynn had departed. But there were still a few of them throwing darts down the end.
‘You know,’ said Phil. ‘We should go down to Byrne’s, jump over the wall, and steal a crate of Harp like in the old days.’
‘Catch yourself on,’ laughed Felix. ‘Those days are behind me. I might be a Palme D’Or winner next month. I can’t be robbing breweries in the night.’
And maybe it was the drink thinking for him, or just the high of an ancient merriment, but Felix suddenly came to favour the notion. Why couldn’t he rob a crate from Byrne’s like in the old days? He felt audacious. Energised. Subversive. And perhaps he could later make a film out of it. As Grace Kelly had suggested. A caper like this would lend authenticity to whatever he eventually produced. And after all, he could honour this fabulous public house which had given him much amusement in the past, and which continued to treat him respectfully, by answering the messages it appeared to be communicating to him now. He had forgotten about places like this that are always there and always on. Changed at the front, it refused to be altered within. Yet it still contained secrets. And they were magnificent secrets that the building was more than willing to divulge if you fed it the reasonable courtesies.
‘Yeah, yeah,’ Felix said. ‘Let’s do it.’
‘Good, let’s go.’
Phil Longley rose from his stool and went down to where he’d been sitting earlier to grab his jacket. It was the same jacket he’d worn for capers in the old days. Brown leather, now greatly faded. He dodged a few stray darts on his way back as though he was a soldier dodging incoming fire and when finally he was in front of Felix again, his excitement was replaced with dismay and, like other nights when there had been a little too much of the guzzling going on, he was forced to resign and ditch his master plan. For the pissed film director, Felix Addison, had in the single minute his old friend was gone retracted his head slowly, closed his eyes, and fallen fast asleep.
Images: wikimedia commons