MP Kenny has lived in Dublin all her life. She works in a primary school. She has completed a Psychology of Creative Writing course at The Peoples’ College Dublin. She has also recently won 1000words flash fiction competition. She has a flash piece in ‘The Casket of Fictional Delights’ journal as well as forthcoming work in the same journal in February, work in the September issue of Boyne Berries and in the October edition of the Ofi Press. She also was on the reserve list for her flash piece with 99fiction.
By MP Kenny
Tom’s gaze travelled around the room. The round wooden table and four chairs rested in the corner under a picture of Jesus surrounded by children. Tom hated the picture. He knew each child personally. They had shared each meal with him. He despised the happiness emanating from their faces. He felt the familiar tug of envy as his eyes fell on the boy holding the hand of Jesus. The child was glowing. Jesus looked down on him with loving, eyes, forgiving every bad thing the boy might have done. Erasing all the suffering the boy might have inflicted on his mother. Tom smiled now at the memory. He closed his eyes and shook his head, dislodging the sentiments.
An armchair that had no business being in a kitchen overtook the opposite corner. Tom could see the film of dust spread across the wine upholstery. The chair came from his mother’s childhood home. His father refused to have it in the living room so it had always stayed in here. Tom could never recall anyone ever sitting on it. The door brushed off the arm everytime the kitchen door opened, but there was never talk of getting rid of it. The dresser was crammed with the same ornaments that had been there since he was a child. He shook his head, picking up a weather gauge shell he had bought his mother when, at the grand age of twelve, he had holidayed in Wexford. A layer of dust covered the small piece of material that was supposed to change colour and foretell sun or rain. He lifted it to his face and blew. Dust particles floated in the air around him. He had expected the house to be in more disarray and wondered if his father had had someone coming in to clean it. In Tom’s memory he could never recall his father doing any housework. He replaced the ornament.
He was glad Isabelle had stayed at home. She had romantic notions of Ireland. He thought he might bring her to Dublin when things were settled here. Maybe in a year or two. He knew he wouldn’t be in any rush to come back here once he stepped foot on American soil again.
He needed a drink. Bumping into O’Reilly early in the village had jarred him.
‘Will you not be bringing your father home to be waked?’ he had said. Tom told him his father would be fine in the funeral home. Wake him! No wonder this country couldn’t get out of recession, clinging to a dead past, never moving on.
Tom searched the kitchen for alcohol, the last thing he wanted to do was go back up to the village and face people. He pulled open the fridge. The shelves housed a few cherry tomatoes, a plate three slices of roast beef, butter and milk. The milk was two weeks out of date. He closed the door and rested his forehead on it. He swallowed the revulsion creeping up his throat. In the back of his mind he had hoped to find the fridge stocked with beer or Guinness. Some small difference, that things, his father, had changed.
He moved to the press under the sink, his arm delved into the back of the cupboard. His hand closed around the neck of a bottle. Tom knew what it was before his eyes told him. It was the only drink his father would have in the house. He pulled the bottle of whiskey out and brought it to the table grabbing a glass as he went. Tom never drank whiskey. Sitting at the table, he sighed with dismay as his stretched legs caused him to unintentionally kick the back door. He unscrewed the cork, looking hopefully at the fridge but knowing the only ice he would get would be what he could salvage off the side of the ice box. Frozen peas being an added bonus.
As he poured, the smell of the whiskey burned his nostrils. The aroma seized his memory.
He was fourteen again. His grandfather was in front of him in a coffin. They were in the front parlour and Tom was sitting beside his father. The room seemed tiny to Tom, filled with black suit upon black suit, all sitting clutching glasses of the same liquid. His mother had tried earlier to take Tom out and put bring him to the kitchen with his aunts, but his father had stalled her.
‘He’s too young Pat,’ she had said. From behind the shoulders of P.J. Flannery, Tom saw his cousins running past the window. His leg twitched as his mind followed them.
‘He’s grand Liz. I want my boy here. ‘Tis only right. Three generations.’ He had slapped Tom on the back. ‘Isn’t that right son?’
Tom looked up at his father and back at the window. He sat a little straighter and brought his gaze to his mother.
‘I’m fine here Mam,’ he had said. The men in the room raised their glasses to him and congratulated Peadar on his fine son. Tom pushed his shoulders back and nodded. He avoided looking at his grandfather in the coffin. He didn’t look like Granddad anymore. He looked like an old, weak man who would never be able to lift wheelbarrows of logs, or dig vegetable patches. Tom’s Mam said his face looked so thin because they had taken his teeth out. Tom had wondered if he walked into Granddad’s room would his teeth be in the glass of water he kept on his locker. He had shivered at the thought.
His father’s shaking frame brought him out of his daydream. He was laughing. The whiskey he held in his hand was spilling from his glass onto his father’s fingers with the force of his tremors.
‘Why are you laughing daddy? Are you not sad granddad is gone?’ Tom had asked. Other men in the room were laughing too. Tom could never remember ever seeing them smile, now they sat in a circle, their laughter filling every space. Tom looked to the door fully expecting his mother to come in and demand to know what was going on. The door remained shut.
‘Son,’ his father said, wiping his eyes. ‘My father lived his whole life in this village and never left it. He never had to. He is and always was surrounded by his family and friends. He died a happy man and I only hope when I pass it will be the same.’
Tom watched as his father took a glass from the cabinet behind him and poured a sliver of the fluid into a glass. He handed it to Tom. Tom breathed in the powerful smell, feeling its heat. His nostrils tingled. The room had gone quiet. Tom’s father stood up. He took a step to the coffin they all surrounded. For a moment he said nothing. Tom’s father, looking at his father, raised his glass in the air. He turned to Tom.
‘To my father. Your grandfather. A fine man.’ Murmurs of agreement rippled through the circle. Tom held his glass up following his Dad’s lead. His father clinked his glass against Tom’s and drank deeply. Tom tentatively sipped his. It scorched a trail down his throat, making his eyes water.
‘That’ll put hairs on your chest boy,’ O’Reilly had shouted from across the room. The men laughed. Tom looked up at his father who stood over him. His father’s eyes were glassy. He dug the heel of his thumb into his eye and rubbed. When he took his hand away the glassiness was gone replaced by redness. He lifted his glass to Tom again and drained the liquid. Tom sipped more from his glass. His fought the urge to pull his lips back from his teeth. His nose felt like it was trying to escape his face.
He had sat in the room with his father and neighbours for what had seemed like an eternity. By the time his mother and the other wives came in, Tom could hardly see across the room such was the thickness of cigarette smoke. Johnny Boy Malone began to sing as the women settled. Tom had watched him with his mouth hanging open. His voice floated through the air silencing everyone it touched. Tom and his friends laughed at Johnny Boy and his inability to talk properly. Tom’s very best friend, did a brilliant impression of Johnny Boy’s stutter, often bringing his friends to tears and causing stomach ache from laughing. Tom looked at Johnny Boy now and knew he would never tell the boys this. He would be incapable of giving justice to the beauty of his voice.
The women had squeezed in around the room. Some of the men had given up their seats and now stood at posts, all clutching their glasses. Hankies were passed between the women as they wiped their eyes. Tom remembered the lump that had sat in his throat. His mother was wiping her eyes, her hand resting on the edge of the casket. Johnny Boy sang his ballad. He finished the last strains of the chorus accompanied by other voices. Tom wanted them to be quiet. He just wanted to hear Johnny Boy. Applause scattered through the room. Johnny Boy raised his glass and took a mouthful of his whiskey. He never lifted his eyes to his audience.
It was shortly after that, when the singing had gotten into full flow that Tom was ushered out of the room by Kate Barry. ‘Poor Kate’ his mother called her.
‘Come on now Tom, it’s time for bed. You’re to stay at my house tonight, ye’ll get no rest here.’
Tom had held his father’s arm.
‘Go on now son,’ his father said patting his hand. ‘You did me proud tonight.’
Kate put her arm around Tom’s shoulder and led him across of the room.
‘Goodnight son,’ his mother said. She was sitting on one of their kitchen chairs holding a glass. Tom only ever saw her drink at Christmas. He couldn’t recall much else of that night except the excitement, fear and wonder at staying in Kate Barry’s house. He had fallen asleep with the sound of Johnny Boy’s lament in his head.
Tom shook his head to clear the memory, bringing himself back to the present. He poured the whiskey into a glass and inhaled. His eyes stung with a longing he didn’t realise he had. He hadn’t attended his mother’s funeral; he had just got a big promotion in work. He had explained to his father over the phone how different things were in America. His father had seemed to understand. He reeled now at his selfishness. He took a sip from his glass revelling in the warmth it gave his body and heart.
Still holding the glass he walked to the front parlour where his Grandfather had been laid out, where he had no doubt his mother had been laid out. He leaned against the door taking in the non-descript room. A coffee table held a vase with plastic flowers. There was no television in this room only the same pictures of boats hanging on the wall that had hung there for his lifetime. Armchairs were arranged in a semi-circle.
Tom sat on the nearest armchair. He let his head fall back until he could only see the ceiling. His free hand rooted in his pocket until it closed around the business card he had been given earlier. He lowered his head to read the card. Open 365 days of the year, twenty-four hours a day. It could still be organised. Maybe it wasn’t too late to bring Dad home.