Stayin’ Alive

Dennis McFadden

When he hit it big at the races, Lafferty resolved to bring his winnings straight home to Peggy. They were in desperate arrears on their Dublin flat, but your man, not one to sit idly by in the face of impending eviction, had seized the chance to win it back in the one race, win it back and then some. The inside word at O’Faolain’s was they’d been holding her back for the Irish Oaks, and hadn’t the tip come when his circumstance was most dire, like an omen, like a gift from God—particularly when it proved sound, and the horse, M’Lady’s Manor, came in at fifty to one. One hundred times fifty, five thousand quid! He could see the look on the face of her now, Peggy’s awe at the fistfuls of money, making it all up to her, all the rent money he’d squandered having come back to him thundering down the stretch in a cutthroat gallop, eking out the slenderest of victories over a nag called Ho Ho Ho.

            But on the train back to Dublin from the Curragh, a five-thousand-quid bulge in his pocket, didn’t other considerations begin to pop their heads up out of their holes. Considerations such as thirst. He was gasping with the thirst—sure a pint or two could do no harm. And such as what class of fella would not think to thank the lot at O’Faolain’s that put him on to M’Lady’s Manor in the first place, stand them a round or two. And such as wouldn’t it be terrific craic to come waltzing home late again to the scorn on the pretty face of Peggy until he pulled his fortune from out of his pocket and showered her with all the lovely banknotes floating down. Then by God there’d be heels in the air.

            Long shadows down Drumcondra, he saw to his dismay the crowd overflowing O’Faolain’s, under the black Guinness awning amid flower pots brimming with posies. He’d forgot: Disco Night at the pub. Your man hated disco. Davey, the manager, thought maybe an American rage would bring a tourist or two from downtown up to North Circular, not to mention new life—new profits—to the old corner bar.

            Sure enough weren’t the profits pouring in, though Lafferty was hard-pressed to find a Yankee accent in the lot, it seemed mostly the natives raging, the younger crowd, and the irony not lost on Lafferty, not yet out of his twenties himself and looking down at a younger crowd. Elbowed his way politely to the black polished bar, through the lovely layers of smoke and the disco din—stayin‘ alive, stayin‘ alive. A bit of a beat perhaps, but altogether too nervous and twitchy a music for Lafferty’s likes. Any number of jackeens dancing the hustle in the wee dance floor Davey’d created cramming together his tables to the side, including one young twit glittering under the disco light in gold lamé, wishing he was Travolta. Over the mirror behind the bar a Disco Night banner, black letters spray-painted on a white sheet, beneath which stood Davey, smiling and sweating, pushing out the drink, pulling in the dosh. His smile was held in check by a thick mustache, and his hair swept straight back in wavy steel rivulets.

            Spotting your man, he drew a stout, hustled down the bar and slid the creamy-topped pint across. “Good day at the course?” he said.

            “Grand day at the course,” Lafferty said with a nod and wink.

            Davey slapped the bar. “I’m after telling you—straight from the horse’s mouth.”

            “Where’s the lads? I’ll have to stand ’em round.”

            “Jimmy’s here, but I’ve not seen Alfie or Finny.”

            Davey hurried away. Lafferty began scanning the crowd for Jimmy, three deep at the bar and a mob beyond. Easy to spot, he’d be, the only goose-necked, goofy boyo in the place, hair parted in the middle, adam’s apple big as a fist. Still daylight outside it was, but dim within, shutters on the windows, the light electric and pulsing, Davey’s disco globe rigged on the tin ceiling, dangling there precarious. Still searching the faces, still no Jimmy, when there, halfway down the bar stood a girl, a pretty girl, staring back at him, bold as a brass button, staring undeniably, unmistakably straight at your man.

            Hair like midnight, skin like cream, she blinked and Lafferty swore he could see from there the lovely flutter of her lashes just as a big fellow leaned up to shout his order and she was lost behind him. The big fellow backed away and she was gone.

            Jimmy and his goofy grin appeared with a backclap and a sweaty arm about Lafferty’s shoulders, asking how he’d fared at the course, and your man telling him next round’s on me, that’s all you need to know, which brought a whoop and a holler out of Jimmy. Shouting over the din, Lafferty asked after the boyos, and Jimmy filled him in: Alfie’s new bride had insisted on coming with him tonight, so he’d stayed home instead, and Finny’d been shamed into tea with his new bird’s family. Jimmy lamented the lack of loyalty, but thank God for Terrance, steady, reliable Terrance, by God, clapping his arm around Lafferty’s shoulders once more and ordering another as your man sneakily peeled another note from the wad in his pocket with a smile. Jimmy was a hard case, a wild man with drink taken, meek as a sheep without. He’d just moved out of his mum’s to his own little flat off Clonliffe, his bachelor nest he called it, meagerly furnished with cast-offs and hand-me-downs and derelict items found on the street. And forever trying to find a bird to bring home to the nest, Disco Night at O’Faolain’s being among the choicest of opportunities. He’d been dancing, disco dancing, sweating like a stevedore, a condition foreign to him, a clerk by trade at a pet shop. Finally Lafferty could hold it back no longer, the tale bubbling up out of him, M’Lady’s Manor and Ho Ho Ho neck and neck to the finish, Lafferty single-handedly urging her home by the sheer power of his will, though he failed to disclose the specifics of the wager and the subsequent wad in his pocket, long since damp with the sweat from his palm. Except one: fifty to one. Jimmy howling and moaning at his timidity in not sending a wager of his own, and it was then that Lafferty glanced down the bar and saw her again.

            The girl with the midnight hair. A bit closer now, a glass in each hand as she backed away a step and hesitated. Staring straight at Lafferty, straight and true, a sigh before turning, still staring, an invitation, then moving on, swallowed up in the crowd.

             She was with him now, in his mind, here to stay.

            The second time sealed it. Now there was nothing else to it, and he felt the chill crawl up his back in a room that was hot as blazes.

            Who was she? What was she? Why was she?

            Lafferty believed in grace. He old and wise enough, even though he was not yet at the end of his third decade on the planet, to believe that phases befell every life, be they moments or minutes or hours, periods of time that pass beyond the lucky, the happy, the serendipitous, and reach to embrace the beatific. States of grace, as good a name as any. And any day on which the horse carrying your rent comes in at fifty to one would surely qualify as such a state.

            Any day on which a girl with uncommon beauty, a stranger among a hundred faces, reaches out to you, slips into your heart wordlessly, without so much as a touch: What other state but grace?

Another hour before they spoke. The throng grew tighter, louder, hotter, Davey ratcheting up the disco noise, the light pulsing through the smoke so desperately thick. Drink was taken in prodigious proportions. Lafferty standing round after round for him and Jimmy, the goose-necked wonder in high-top sneakers chatting up this bird and that, dancing, not even capable of dreaming, or so Lafferty imagined, of the sort of connection Lafferty had already made with the most beautiful girl in the room, to whom he had yet even to speak. Twice more, glances passed between them from across the crowded room, this glimpse and that before she was lost again. Lafferty bidding his time, plotting. Positioned himself strategically with a view of the Ladies, where the corridor was not so crammed, the din not so roaring, where a word might be passed. He thought of Peggy. Hadn’t it been a similar glimpse, across a crowded hall at the wedding of a cousin in Sandymount, where herself and he had first connected. But Peggy would keep. Her rent was secure. There was no way under heaven he could deny the spontaneous combustion, the attraction that had materialized out of the ether to the girl with the midnight hair. It would be contrary to the laws of God and nature not to explore the meaning, to leave the revelation it promised unrevealed.

            “What’s your name?” he said. Not a hint of surprise on her at all when she came out of the Ladies to find him waiting.

            “Moira.” Up close she was even more lovely. And even bolder, her gaze more intrepid—expectant. He wasn’t sure exactly what was expected, but this was no time to falter.

            “Terrance.” He held out his hand. The warmth of hers rampaged up his arm, filling his chest. “Are you with someone?”

            “Only my girlfriends.”

            “No fella?”

            “We’ve just broke up. I’m after finding out the hard way he’s a bit of a mentaller. He can be a scary man.”

            “You don’t say.”

            “I do.” Oblivious to those brushing by them in the narrow passage, to the cacophony of noises and nervous music. At the edge of the shadows where they stood, eyes locked, a glimmer of a pulsing light reflected there in the black depths of her eyes. She said I do. “But he’s here though. My fella. He’s here and he’s watching.”

            “You don’t say,” he said again, anxious eyes scanning the room. “Is he a big one?”

            “Not so much.” A first hint of frown. “But he is rather strong. And not quite the full shilling. And mean. Did I mention mean?”

            “I don’t think so.”

            “You’ve the softest, warmest hand I’ve ever touched.”

            “Moira,” he said, to hear the magic in the word.

            Jimmy barged in. Lafferty hadn’t seen him sneak up. “Pleased to make your acquaintance,” he said. “Come, dance with me, there’s no future in that one, he’s a married man, Terrance is, a sly and married man—but me, I’m single and free as a wren—Moira, is it? Come dance with me!” And he pulled her toward the wee dance floor, Moira half laughing, half protesting, for it was impossible to deny him, drunken, clumsy Jimmy, hair plastered down and parted on top, adam’s apple bobbing, high-topped sneakers kicking high, or to be entirely angry with the boyo and his goofy antics. Lafferty could only blink in wonder at the sudden, comic, tragic twist of fortune, coitus interruptus of the soul, and he stood there in the shadows, not sure whether to laugh or to cry, not sure what to make of his mate, the back-stabbing traitor, the slapstick sidekick, the faux Travolta, and of the girl, Moira, his reluctant accomplice.

            Jimmy twirled and kicked and strutted, struck the disco pose, took Moira for a spin tight in his arms, generally acting the fool. Lafferty wondering what would become of them now, when doesn’t another lunatic show up on the dancefloor, not to be outdone, trying to steal the thunder, a new lunatic, fresh lunacy, dancing with a barstool this one was, holding it high over his head, bobbing along to the twitchy beat, barstool in the air, two beats to the right, two to the left, two up the middle, all around the floor in a twisty trail, this way and that, till it was next to Jimmy, where it disappeared from sight. The barstool was gone and Lafferty heard the cries erupt over the din, saw the crowd ripple back and away like the water in the pool when the rock splashes in, saw the barstool again, rising and falling, rising and falling, thump after thump, down onto Jimmy, the fresh lunatic bringing it down on him again and again, beating Jimmy with it, beating him like chopping a log. Then it stopped.

            The odd moment of silence it took to take it in. Jimmy laid out on the floor bleeding, the light pulsing, the fresh lunatic standing over him, staring down. Then looking up slowly. Raising his arms in triumph, barstool up along, held effortlessly aloft in a hand, shouting, “Here I am, motherfuckers! Here I am! Who wants a go?”

            Davey up kneeling on the bar, coming over, pointing at the madman, shouting, “Stop him! Somebody grab him!”

            A few heroes moved forward, but the lunatic swung the stool, keeping them away, swinging it like a flaming torch, keeping the pack at bay, retreating in that manner toward the door, where he shouted again, “That’s the way, uh huh, uh huh, I like it!” Flinging the barstool at the heroes, he was gone.

            Lafferty rushed to Jimmy, Moira kneeling beside him, feeling for a pulse. Jimmy bleeding, a copious flow of the stuff, his eyelids fluttering, trying to open.

            A doctor came out of the crowd. “Keep him still,” he said. “Call an ambulance.”

            A mumble from Jimmy’s face, unintelligible.

            Tears on Moira’s cheeks. “Did I mention mean?” she said.

When they left the hospital, left Jimmy, going their separate ways never entered his mind, nor, it would seem, hers. It was magnetism, a force field impossible to overcome. They strolled, in no hurry, no destination to speak of, up streets under stars dim in the inky sky over Dublin, passing under streetlamps and dark-faced brick buildings. After a while he took her hand and when he did his heart began clambering madly, unreasonably, up his throat, as though he’d never held the hand of a girl before.

            “Poor Jimmy,” she said.

            “You were in love with that lunatic?” he said.

            “Sure he wasn’t always the lunatic. Not always.” His name was Fergus. A tattoo of a heart and Moira on his shoulder, crazy, mad in love, he worked construction, carried a hod, lifted weights in his cellar, and they were happy till he and his mates discovered the pills, the little red pills that gave you energy enough to drink all night and work the next day, but made you crazy as well. Fergus couldn’t quit them despite her pleas and demands and threats, and finally she left. Moved out of their place altogether. “And what about yourself, then?” she said. “I have it on good authority you’re a married man.”

            “Aye. That I am.”

            When he said nothing more, she said, “What’s her name?”

            “Peggy,” he said. Nothing more.

            She asked for nothing more. She squeezed his hand, and on they walked. Past a street called Portland Place and over the Royal Canal. She took his arm in her hands and leaned close on his shoulder. They walked in step. She understood. Kindred minds and spirits. There was not enough love in this world. To put more love into this world could only make it a better place. To put more love into this world could not be a bad thing, in any way whatever.

They arrived at Jimmy’s having never discussed a destination. There was no other place. She lived with her girlfriends, he with his wife. He could buy them a room for the night, he supposed—the bundle of bills still stashed in his pocket—but Jimmy’s seemed best, a tribute, in a twisted manner, to his fallen comrade. And eminently more economical, for your man was not so gobsmacked as to lose touch with his practical side.

            They never switched on a light. In the dark, the desperate furnishings might have been fit for a palace. In the dark, the lumpy mattress was clean as a cloud, and she was the softest of shadows in his arms, the stray light through the open window a sheen and a shimmer on her skin, and the sounds of revelers far off in the Dublin night, the sound of a car horn, the strains of a ballad from a flat across the way. Lafferty dreamed all the rest, all the moistness and deepness and softness and warmth.

The light through the window when he woke was a curious shade paler, and the night was more still, and the first thing he did was to try to hold on. Hold on to the grace, for didn’t he feel it slipping away. Asleep in his arms, she curled like a warm kitten. Tried to hold on. His arm numb, his bladder fit to burst, his head throbbing for all the drink taken, and a lump in the mattress poking his rib. An ambulance wailed out in the night. Jimmy. He arose gingerly, not to disturb her, out the door toward the jacks but stubbed a toe and switched on the light. The sight of the threadbare sofa, the tattered rug, the battered crates Jimmy fancied as chairs, spelled an end to the magical spell. Not an aspirin in the bloody jacks. Doused his face under the faucet and drank and drank and drank. Not a clean glass in the bloody kitchen to bring her a sip of water.

            Light spilled into the bedroom where she peeked out with one eye from under the tangle of midnight hair. Naked and lovely. Lafferty wearing only his shirt. He crawled onto the bed and gathered her up in his arms.

            “I can’t believe I’m after doing this,” she said in a whisper.

            He nuzzled beneath her hair for an ear to nibble. “Are you sorry?”

            Her ribs puffed up. “Not any,” she said.

            “Me neither.”

            “And what about Peggy?”

            Of course there’d be wigs on the green at home, when he tried to explain it to her, where he’d been, another excuse, another lie. He didn’t care. He had his winnings at any rate to soothe her savage breast. “Who?”

            “I’ve a feeling it’s not the first time she’s wondered where you are.”

            He wished he had an aspirin. “And what about Fergus?”

            “Poor Fergus,” she said.

            “Poor Fergus? Poor Jimmy.”

            “Aye,” she said. “Poor fecking all of us.” She rested her head in the pillow.

            “What are you going to do about that one? He’s a stalker. A madman.”

            A sigh of resignation. “I’ll have to deal with him. Sooner or later.”

            Something about the sooner took your man by the ears. His heart spoke up, his mouth went dry. This lovely, naked girl in his arms, all on her own, and brutality nipping at her heels. He should help. Somehow. But of course he wouldn’t. He was not one of the heroes. He’d long since recognized he was not among the hero class, and he’d decided this was not necessarily a bad thing. Whether or not it was a good thing, however, was still in the hands of the jury.

            “He’d be laying low by now, yeah. Hiding out. In the long grass.”

            “Fergus? Not on your nelly. He’d be out scouring the city for me.”

            A sleepy blink, a distant alarm. “You’ll be safe here then, with me.”

            “Will I indeed?”

            “Aye. Of course. Sure, he’d never find us here.”

            “Never. Just because Jimmy was spouting his address to every girleen who’d listen. Just because a pack of Fergus’s mates were there. No, nay, never.”

            “That’s not funny.”

            “No,” she said.

            Now that he was properly on edge, it was a perfect time to imagine hearing sinister sounds in the hallway, a creak and a crack, so Lafferty imagined he only imagined hearing them, that he didn’t really hear them at all. Nevertheless, he said, “Did you hear that?”

            And didn’t Moira say yes. And then it sounded again. Closer.

            “Yes,” she said. “Yes. I did.”

            Your man sat up, heart jumping. Then came the knock at the door, followed in turn by a rap and a thump and a bang.

            “Just a neighbor,” he said. “Sure, just a neighbor.”

            “Moira!” He was in the hallway. Fergus. “Moira? You in there?”

            Wouldn’t he leave if they made not a sound, Lafferty thought, but Moira was up, into her skirt, coiled, poised on the edge of the bed, and Fergus was shouting he saw the light, he knew she was in there, he was coming in, and the thumping and banging grew loud and vicious, and there was a splintering of wood then, and even before the word Hide! was escaped from her lips, Lafferty was out the window and the door crashing open.

            Jimmy’s was a second-floor flat. Out the window was nothing but air, Lafferty dangling in it, a shocking chill to his nether regions, wishing he’d taken the common precaution of donning his drawers, too late, clinging to the sill with his fingers, looking down in the murky night at the garden a few feet below, a wee patch of gravel and weeds enclosed by a wall. Sounds of commotion from inside the room. Never felt nakeder. Looked for a soft spot. Let go. Landed with a jolt, none too worse for the wear, a scrape, a bruise, a bang to the knee, and he caught his breath looking up at the lighted window, hearing the shouts of two voices, Moira and Fergus, shouts and a thump and a shove and the scraping of something on something else again, and doesn’t your man begin to feel sick. Out of fear, he supposed, but he knew it was cowardice too, out of fear and cowardice, but weren’t they one and the same—you’re terrible, Terrance, a familiar refrain—shivering and heaving and his privates exposed, but no time to put too fine a point on it, fear or cowardice, for didn’t he realize that all Fergus had to do was stick his head out the bloody window and Bob’s your man. Lafferty scurried to the back of the garden, out through the gate in the wall. To find himself in an alley between a warren of back gardens, in the light from the streetlamp on the corner, a light that, without one’s trousers, was bright as a mid-day sun. And wasn’t it an old drunk staggering up the way.

            “Isn’t it grand, boys,” the old drunk sang in a voice like a rusty old bellows, “to be bloody well dead—” Spying your man, he stopped short.

            Lafferty stared back in the sudden quiet. No sounds from inside the flat, nothing in the Dublin night air but the shuffle on the cobblestones of the old drunk’s shoes coming toward him again. “Grand night for taking the air,” says Lafferty.

            “Aye,” the old one says, coming to a halt across the alley from Lafferty, rearing his head back for a gander. A small man in rumpled trousers, jacket and tie, a bogtrotter’s cap on his bony old skull. “And a grand night as well for airin’ out the oul sergeant major,” says he with a nod toward Lafferty’s lower half.

            He recommenced his stroll down the alley, Lafferty watching him go. Heard him pick up the song where he’d left off so sudden:

Let’s not have a sniffle,

Let’s have a bloody good cry,

And always remember the longer you live,

The sooner you bloody well die!

            A cat scampered like a bandit across the alley and into the hedge.

            There stood Lafferty. A hand on the wall to hold him up. The air tasted of ashes and smoke and the chill was beginning to set in, goosebumps down his legs. Couldn’t stand here and his balls hanging out forever. Back through the gate in the stilly night air, the window up above yellow and staring like a cyclops. He’d have to go back in. Armed! In the wee shed at the back of the garden he found a spade that he gripped and swung a time or two like a hurley. Who was he fooling? Overflowing with the trepidation, he heard a whistle. Looking up to see her in the window, he found himself shielding his privates with the blade of the tool out of modesty.

            “Romeo, Romeo,” Moira said. “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”

            “Right here in the fecking garden,” Lafferty said. Was it a giggle she gave in reply? “Where is he?”

            “Sure he’s gone. You can come back up now.”

            “I can, yeah?” He was leery. “I’ve no trousers. Toss ’em down.”

            She disappeared, returned, trousers fluttering down in a flop. He gathered them, looked up at her in the window. “These aren’t mine.”

            “There’s a half dozen pair scattered about.”

            Lafferty sighed, put them on. And no underpants. Desperately hoping Jimmy’d been wearing his own last time he wore the trousers. Too tight in the waist, too long in the legs, but only temporary, he made his way out the back, around, in through the front, up the stairs. Jimmy’s door smashed in. Blood on the floor and Moira on the edge of the bed, fully dressed. Lafferty, leery still, glancing about.

            “Where is he?”

            “I’m after telling you—he’s vamoosed. Skedaddled.”

            “The blood—did he hurt you?”

            “No. Fergus’d never lift a finger to me.”

            “The blood?”

            “I didn’t say I didn’t lift a finger to him. After what he done to poor Jimmy.” Lafferty frowned. “I skulled him with a pot—knock some sense into him. When I went to fetch him a bandage in the jacks he was gone. No bandages there anyways. Not even a bloody aspirin.”

            Lafferty took off Jimmy’s trousers, tossed them in the corner amidst the detritus of dirty trousers, shirts and unidentifiable unmentionables, assorted bits and bobs. Moira sighed, hands clasped between her knees. “No, Terrance. I’m hardly in the mood. I’m just after cracking open the skull of my boyfriend. My ex-boyfriend.”

            “They were killing me.” He picked up the pair off the back of chair. “See? These are mine.” He held them out, stood holding them, his privates proudly on display. “How’s your mood now?”

            Moira gave him a smile, of sorts. “Come here.”

            He did, waggling as he went. She pinched his arse. “Put ’em on,” she said. At that your man’s mood underwent a change of its own, decidedly toward the darker.

            He sat on the edge of the bed, petulantly, sulking, though at the time he was unsure of the reason why, since it was understandable, her mood, that she wouldn’t feel like making love again, given the circumstance, given the blood on the floor of the shabby digs, the scent of violence lingering in the air, maybe given too the recently confirmed cowardice of your man. Or maybe it was the lightness of his trousers.

            Maybe his subconscious mind had already detected the subtle change of weight, subtracted it, summed out the loss, and maybe that was what accounted for his shift of mood even before he’d finished putting them on, even before he stood up and reached into the pocket, the pocket that heretofore had been stuffed with his fortune, his bundle of bills, Peggy’s rent. And found nothing there but a crumb or two and a bit of lint.

Somewhere south of the Liffey in this never-ending neverland of a night Lafferty found himself wandering, following Moira who strode with purpose past dimly lit squares and alleys and lanes and into a neighborhood where two rows of brick houses stood shoulder to shoulder facing one another across a narrow street. The gap of sky above going dirty orange, a window here and there glinting in the new light across the face of the flats. She stopped before a white door, a wee iron fence, a fuchsia bush trying to hide the bin. A streetlamp down the block made a shadow of her face when she turned to give your man his instructions.

            Fergus had to have lifted the boodle. This was what she’d told him, and Lafferty believed her. He had to. Fergus’s finding and swiping the swag, not the skulling with the pot, she said, must have accounted for his quick skedaddling, for it was the making-up after the quarrel that he’d always relished. Nothing else would have driven him away. Lafferty believed her because it made sense, because what else could have happened, because not believing her would have left him with only an alternative, and that he couldn’t believe.

            She told him the plan. Where she’d be, where Fergus would be, where Peggy’s rent would be, and when. She told him to count to a thousand, tip-toe inside, retrieve his money and be off. She’d take care of Fergus.

            Lafferty lost count somewhere north of sixty.

            Under the fuchsia he sat, breathing in the dewy scent in high, ginger breaths, deciding that when the little black cloud sailing in the orange of the predawn sky touched the chimney pot high across the way a thousand would be up. Closed his eyes until then. Walking again with Moira through the silent streets toward this place, Fergus’s, where she’d lived with him for a year. Once Lafferty had reached to take her hand, again, like before. But it wasn’t like before, lasting only a second or so till the walkway narrowed, and hadn’t her hand been dry and cool as the manikins’ in Clerys. And her eyes. Her eyes that had captured him from across a smoky pub, eyes he hadn’t seen since they’d stared into his in the bed, in the middle of the closest and truest thing a man and a woman can do, joined at the eyes, at the soul, joined there more than anywhere else. And now. Hadn’t her eyes absconded entirely.

            He opened his own again. The cloud was nearly there. And what if Fergus were to burst through the door, barstool in hand, and commence beating him about the head and shoulders. What if he was waiting just inside the door. Moira in cahoots.

            The cloud hit the chimney. Your man trembled up to his feet. In through the door.

            There, on the stand beside the keys under the coats hanging from hooks. Exactly where she’d said. The money. Back into his greedy, grateful pocket. Heard a wee snuffle of a sob. He had to scram. He had to turn and leave, there’s a good lad, sensible fella. He touched the handle, before letting it go again. He turned. Like the first man on the moon he stepped further inside. One step and then another. Tip-toe quiet. For didn’t he have to see.

            Around the corner in the dark of the flat was Fergus, on his knees, his back to Lafferty, naked as the day he came into the world, his face buried in the lap of Moira, quietly crying, shivering softly. Moira on the sofa, stroking his neck, patting his back. Over Fergus’s battered head she spied Lafferty, and for a last long stretch of seconds, for a moment of time standing still, they stared into the other’s eyes, just as they’d done the very first time through the smoke and the din, the very first time that seemed so far away.

Your man was nothing if not resilient. He’d a gift for putting the unpleasantness behind him, for seeing through to the grander scheme, the overall good, a trait he’d picked up from his oul man, whose grander scheme had included leaving home when Terrance was just a wee lad. Morning glimmering off the Liffey, a new resolve took root in your man. Goodbye to Moira, goodbye to grace, goodbye to all that. A new day dawned.

            Though numb in mind and weary in bone, he’d picked up a second wind and breathed in the cool morning air of the city, an aroma of fresh baked bread wafting. Made his way to the taxi rank on O’Connell, climbed into the back of the beige Mercedes waiting there for him, gave the man Peggy’s address—his address as well, perhaps—and gave himself in to the luxury. Imagining the wrath of Peggy, then presto, change-o, watching it give way to the squeals of delight when your man pulled the shower of bills from out of his pocket.

            The two notes tacked to the padlocked door knocked the second wind right out of him.

            Next to the Final Eviction Notice, a note from Peggy:

            T—  I’ve gone to stay with mother. Go wherever you might, and good riddance to you. Your stuff’s in the dust bin out back. —P

            The weariness caught up to him then, overcame him, and he lowered himself to the top step in the stairwell and breathed in the stale air. He stared at the walls of patchy dull paint, heard a fly buzz somewhere overhead. Perhaps it wasn’t too late. A penalty could be paid, back rent, a bribe perhaps, whatever it took. His foggy, drifting mind labored to come up with a scheme: Take the money to Peggy. Take the money to Peggy. What else? Not much of a scheme, that. Take the money to Peggy.

            Sleep. First sleep. Jimmy’s bed was his only choice.

            In through the damaged door, over the patch of dried blood. Onto the lumpy bed where the scent of Moira still lingered on the pillow. What scent was it? He couldn’t put a name to it—like a lotion of some kind perhaps, or like the scent of cream, if cream had a scent at all. Breathing it in was like a memory, a memory from long ago, from his childhood, the way the scent of peppermint always took him back to the visits to his Auntie Claire before his da had gone away. Beside him the window through which he’d fled was open still, the sounds of birds and the noise of distant Dublin.


He awoke with a start some scant hours later, his mind clear and clean as a babby’s conscience, a new and better plan having stole over him as he slept.

            A block up and across from O’Faolain’s was the shop of a turf accountant, Shaughnessey’s, and it was there your man found himself this sweltering afternoon, not unlike the one that had gone before, and he realized, a good omen, that it was nearly twenty-four hours to the minute since he’d placed the bet that won back Peggy’s rent in the first place, and he looked over the board for a parlay and, sure enough, wasn’t a horse called Grace’s Day running in the sixth at a course in Galway. Grace’s Day. Shouting down at him from atop the board. An omen if ever there was one. At ten to one. Not too bad if one placed it all on the nose. Then forget the rent, by God. Buy the fecking house.

            And so he did. Lafferty placed it all on the nose of Grace’s Day and he stepped outside onto the grit of the sidewalk and he looked up into the sky and he said, Okay, then, show me what You got.

            And so He did.

Dennis McFadden, a retired project manager, lives and writes in a cedar-shingled cottage called Summerhill in the woods of upstate New York. His short story collection “Jimtown Road,” won the 2016 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction; another collection, “Lafferty, Looking for Love,” was longlisted for Regal House Publishing’s 2021 W.S. Porter Prize. His novel, “Old Grimes Is Dead,” was selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Indie Books of 2022. His stories have appeared in dozens of publications, including The Missouri Review, New England Review, The Sewanee Review, The Massachusetts Review, and The Best American Mystery Stories.

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