Garreth Keating is a 39 writer and English teacher. He has lived and worked in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Australia. He currently divides his time between Spain and Europe. He began writing short stories to help him understand the experience of being a foreigner and outsider in other communities.
By Garreth Keating
It was an unusually bright morning when the man woke up. He hit the snooze button and slipped away from his wife’s twisted body. He was delighted to beat the alarm clock and get a start on the day. He went to the bathroom without resetting the alarm, thinking it would wake his wife up and she might join him for his breakfast. He shaved. The shower was hot but cooled down; after five minutes the water suddenly became cold and he remembered his unpleasant chore for that day.
He had been thrilled when he had first heard that there had been a lottery winner locally, and even when he found out who it was, his first reaction had been to be happy for them. It was about time that the Flanagans had a change of luck, he thought. He had wished them well. Then he figured out the implications of the event, even before he got the call from Head Office.
He would certainly have to pay the winner a visit in an official capacity.
His wife yelled at him from the bedroom “You forgot the alarm again” and turned over to smother her head in the pillows. He dried himself quickly and turned off the alarm.
“Seeing as you are awake, maybe you might like to join me for a romantic breakfast” he suggested to her arched back.
Her reply was offensive so he ran down the stairs to make some noise, wondering if it was worth it to have a row now so they could make up in the evening. But the working day was a long time to be angry, even fake angry. He took out the frying pan, quietly. There was a lid for one of the pots inside the pan and it clattered to the floor. “Sorry”, he yelled, as his wife moaned loudly. He boiled the kettle and listened to it whistle as he stared out the window at the bright sky. There was a jackdaw on the lawn, opening and closing its beak at some threat the man couldn’t see. He made himself a coffee and fried an egg, which hissed and popped in the frying pan as it burned. He put some tomato sauce on one slice of bread and buttered the other and ate the burnt egg sandwich. He might have time to wash the pan, but it would be better to get going early, seeing as he would be delayed before he could get to the office.
He left the pan and went upstairs to get dressed. He decided to wear the dark suit with a light blue shirt, even if it looked a bit dark. Then he reconsidered. He could wear the tie with the colours of the county team. He went for the blue shirt and the maroon IFA tie. He looked in the mirror and tried to think positively. He tried to imagine the conversation with the lottery winner; he imagined himself tactfully bringing up the matter and answering their questions in a controlled friendly manner. “Call in and see us anytime or just give me a call. I will do anything I can to help. That’s what friends are for” he imagined himself saying as he firmly shook the gentleman’s hand and received his thanks.
He looked again at the mirror. That scene was not very realistic. He picked up his briefcase and went out to the car. He remember that he had forgotten to kiss his wife, but it was best just to get in and out quick and he might have time to pick up a breakfast roll at the garage before work. She probably had been asleep anyway.
He pulled out towards the crossroads and had to remind himself not to turn right towards town. He went straight on up the tree-lined lane. He slowed the car at the turn and beeped his horn. The countryside was looking very green after the rains, but Scully of the Hollow’s land had a bare look about it. He wondered if it was under-fertilized or over-grazed. The air smelt good here, away from the sheds. His bank had paid for three new sheds on this road he thought with pride. He turned up the narrow steep drive to Flanagan’s house.
He spotted the Audi in the drive from the bottom of the incline. He was annoyed to see that the manager of another bank could arrive before him, even though he had to drive all the way out from town. Purcell had a head on him like a moldy cabbage, and he had a big belly that made all his suits look too small. He had a habit of sneering instead of laughing. He often bragged about his children. He was detestable.
“Come in! Come in to the house, Tom. Come in and rest yourself by the fire. You know Mr. Purcell, of course. It appears your colleague, Mr. Hegarty, is a little later than you two, but I am sure he will be along as soon as he can” said the old man from the door.
“Hello Tom” Purcell said.
“How are you getting on? How are the kids?” he replied.
“Well, it appears we’ll have a while to wait for Mr. Hegarty. I hear he enjoys a bit of socializing and Monday morning isn’t his best time” said Purcell.
“Is that so?” asked Flanagan.
“They make out he’s a great man for the drink” said Purcell.
“I like a bit of a drink myself. We had a great party for family and friends last night” said Flanagan.
“Oh sure the two have no comparison. I like a social drink myself the same as the next man. But they say that he is a bit too fond of the drink” said Purcell.
“In fact, do you know what I’ll do? I might have a drop of whiskey with my breakfast, just for the fun of it. Will you have a drop yourself, Mr. Purcell?” said Flanagan.
“Oh, I’m fine” said Purcell.
“It would help you get the working week off to a fine start but suit yourself. What about you, Tom?”
“Unfortunately, I’m driving” said Tom.
“Well, that’s alright so. Mary, where are my eggs?”
While he was waiting for his breakfast, Mr. Flanagan poured himself a measure of whiskey and took some water from the tap. His breakfast was large; not just eggs, but sausages, potato waffles, beans and black and white puddings. He sat at the table with his back to the men in the armchairs, and only gave an occasional grunt to any turn of conversation. The room was oppressively dark; the curtains were closed and the wallpaper was blackened by soot near the fireplace. Flanagan made loud slurping noises whenever he drank his tea.
“Did you get to that conference last week, Tom?” Purcell asked.
“No, I was too busy working” Tom replied.
“I hear your lot is pulling out of sponsoring the All Stars this year? Did you hear about that, Mr. Flanagan?” said Purcell.
“Oh, our bank has had a very long history with the GAA, even at local level, with the club in town. We have supported the GAA through the bad times and the good” Tom replied.
“You could have done with supporting a few others too” Mr. Flanagan said as returned from the table with a mug of tea.
“I wonder if I could have a word with you in private, Mr. Flanagan, and then I’ll be on my way” Purcell tried.
“Ah, sure we are all friends here, Mr. Purcell. You can say whatever you like right here. Do you know I was thinking it might be handier to wait for Mr. Hegarty and then I could hear the whole lot of you together? Wouldn’t that be grand? I could get it all out of the way and be free for the rest of the morning” said Flanagan.
But Purcell just sneered in silence, his face red.
The sheep-dog came and licked Tom’s knee so he gave it a rub. But the sheepdog kept sticking her head towards his hand. ‘No point in looking at me like that, I am hungrier than you’ he thought to himself. The dog took her time in wandering off to Purcell, who was launching into a criticism of the county corner-back.
“It’s them town lads; they are all soft. They aren’t able for the hardship, not like the country lads” interrupted Tom.
“Oh you are right there. Those town fellows are soft alright; soft in the head. They want everything to come easy to them” said Flanagan, laughing.
Purcell turned to Tom and opened his mouth, before pausing and sneering. The conversation lapsed into silence until they heard a car on the gravel.
“That’ll be Hegarty in his Mercedes Benz” said Flanagan.
“How are the men? Is there a meeting going on?” said Hegarty, beaming as he came in.
“Do you know, Mr. Hegarty, I was just thinking myself that there have never been as many men in suits in the house, apart from funerals or election time?” said Flanagan with a laugh “Will you have a drop of whiskey?”
“I will have a wee drop so to celebrate your good fortune, but not too much, now, as I am driving” he replied.
Flanagan poured him a generous amount, and Hegarty objected good-naturedly.
“Well, that’s as large as your lottery win. Good luck to you and good health to you, Mr. Flanagan” said Hegarty.
Hegarty and Flanagan raised their glasses as Tom nodded and Purcell stuck his hand up in the air as if he was holding a wine glass.
“Mr. Flanagan, I’ll be off now, I just wanted to say congratulations, well done. I might call out later in the week when you are not so busy” said Tom as he stood up.
“Sit down, Tom. You’ll only be a bit longer. You lads are all coming here with your sound man act because you are going to ask me for something. But I remember going around to all of you over the past few years asking for something from you and I came away with nothing. What makes you think that you are going to get any more out of me when the shoe is on the other foot? I owe you lot nothing; you wouldn’t give it to me when I needed it. Mr. Purcell, why do you think I should give you any money? Mary, come out here until you hear this”
“Ah, now, you’re a hard man, but at the end of the day, it’s best to let bygones be bygones. Wouldn’t you feel better if the money was kept locally and near at hand?”
“No. Mr. Hegarty, is there any reason why I should be more generous to you than you were to me?”
“Ah, well, it’s not a matter of being more generous or not, it’s more about the sound financial package that we can do for you” he said smiling.
“I can look after my own money well enough. Unlike you lads, I have always had to. Anything to say, Tom?”
“Thank you” said Flanagan.
“Well, as I say I might call out later in the week. Just give me a call if you need anything” Tom said as he stood up and offered his hand to Mr. Flanagan.
“All the best” said Purcell.
“Good luck now, Tom” said Hegarty cordially from his chair. Tom walked out the door but then paused to listen.
“At our bank, we can offer you the tax management you need to stop the government getting their fingers into your good fortune” Purcell said.
“I wouldn’t give you the steam off my …” Flanagan said laughing and gasping for air. He could hear Hegarty laughing, as if he had been told a very funny joke. Then Flanagan began to shout.
Tom smiled and then began to chuckle, knotting his stomach to keep down the sound, as Flanagan’s voice rose in volume and pitch. ‘I’m getting away soft. I hope he roasts them’ he thought, grinning like a child.