Stephen Dineen was born and grew up in Dublin. After studying history and politics, and travelling, he began a chequered career that has encompassed academia, politics, journalism and the civil service. He has had four short stories published and one long-listed in the Fish Short Story Competition. Stephen lives in Dublin. In his spare time he runs.
By Stephen Dineen
A glint crossed Billy’s eyes on the morning of the local constituency visit. His suit was immaculate, his shoes polished, and as he shaved he told himself he looked the part. In all the months he had known his boss would become a minister not once had he thought about this day.
Now he imagined all the excitement the new minister for agriculture and his driver would encounter throughout the local towns, welcomes and handshakes for Martin, and Billy, the man who’d been with him all the way.
Billy had grown up down the road from the large pebbledash house his boss and wife bought thirty years before. He had been a groundsman for the previous owners, and was kept on by the Minterns to renovate the aging manor. When the work was done, the small man with tousled sandy hair was retained to work the grounds and gardens. Billy and his daughter – less so his wife Ita – soon became like family.
‘Right, I’m off, better not be late. Keys?’ Billy said to his wife after shaving.
Ita sat motionlessly.
‘Come on, I’m rushing,’ he said, his eyebrows moving with a frown.
‘You’re not having ‘em.’
‘It’s my car. I’m not handing it over to be someone else’s play thing,’ said Ita, flicking something off her brown cardigan and then folding her arms. The mauve mountains beyond the kitchen window loomed largely.
‘Martin’s is being serviced. I told him we’d use ours. We’re touring the towns today!’
She simply stared.
When the small man told his boss what happened, Martin didn’t flinch. ‘It’s alright, I’ll get Elsie to come back. We can take her car. Is everything okay at home?’ Martin, tall and youthful for sixty, asked his friend.
‘You’ve no idea what my life is like,’ he said. It was the first confession they’d ever shared. Billy and Ita had married young. His entanglement with the Minterns had unfolded their differences.
All the men and women Billy had known since childhood seemed to turn out that day. Billy had already bewildered some with stories of Kildare Street, of the large, black gates he drove past every week. Yet even during the roaring cheers when Martin raised a flag at a school, Billy longed for the day’s end.
That night Martin looked Billy in the eye. ‘You can move in here for a while. You shouldn’t be over there.’
‘No buts,’ his boss said, sounding prepared.
Billy slept in a spare room at home that night. When Ita went out the following morning he packed two satchels with clothes and left an envelope of money in the kitchen. ‘I’m staying up the way,’ he scrawled on the envelope, then walked down the chip sprinkled road.
People soon began talking. An anonymous column in the local newspaper hinted at one of the minister’s staff having unconventional living arrangements. When Billy mentioned it to the Minterns, Martin dismissed it, flapping his hand as though discarding it.
Soon, Billy adjusted to neighbours’ knowing nods. Each week, he left an envelope in Ita’s porch or posted cash from Dublin. His job paid well and sometimes in sentimentality he added an extra amount. Their daughter was studying in the capital and Billy often met her for lunch. After several months, his loyal inquiries about after his wife subsided.
For three years Billy drove Martin around the whole country. He met types he’d never conceived of, visited places of which he’d never heard. The movement was constant and hectic, the occasional repose unsettling. Even Martin’s moments of political crisis exhilarated him.
At the election, Martin lost his seat. He’d been in government at a difficult time. On the night they returned home from Dublin after collecting his political belongings the former minister displayed a weariness Billy hadn’t seen before. He’d cared about his constituents and his country and now felt betrayed. During the political years there hadn’t been time to consider the future, but Billy now heard change in the wood crackling in the fire and the silences between slurps of tea.
When Billy dropped the weekly payment in Ita’s porch the next day he spotted the previous week’s envelope. He rang Ita’s sister, who confirmed she was staying with her.
Billy returned to the house where he’d been born, grown up and then started a new life with Ita. Those phases and the one driving a minister were painfully irretrievable. Each morning he looked across the valley towards the mauve mountains and dwelt on all that had come and gone.