Eamon Mc Guinness is from Dublin. He has had poetry, fiction and memoir published in Wordlegs, Bare Hands Poetry, The Bohemyth and The Honest Ulsterman. In 2014 he was shortlisted for the Cuirt New Writing Poetry Prize and had a piece of short fiction included in RTÉ’s The Book Show’s 100 Words, 100 Books . In 2015 he was shortlisted for the Penguin/RTÉ Guide short story competition and longlisted for the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award.
This Guy Had Everything
By Eamon Mc Guinness
I didn´t take much notice of a chat myself and Tim had a few weeks ago but I regret it now after what happened. I haven´t told anyone, not Brid or his mother. I haven´t even told Sarah. I´m sure he was having these conversations with everyone. At least that´s what I´ve been telling myself, days after.
He was telling me a story but he wasn´t answering what I asked him, about how Brid and the kids were keeping. Sarah told me there were problems but he didn´t mention anything. I knew he’d lost his job. Everyone knew that.
He never really went out alone since the kids. Now he had all these stories about trips he´d taken into town. His observations and anecdotes. It annoyed me a bit. I work in town and he never asked me anything. Now that he had free time during the day it was as if he was the only person who was out seeing things. You could tell he hadn´t done anything new in ages. Hearing him talk was like listening to a returned emigrant who notices all the changes.
We were in my kitchen and he was smoking. The radio was on. He told me he´d started again with all the stress. This reminded him of something. I have a story for you he said. I didn´t interrupt him. I let him talk. He had a smoking story he told me, an interesting one I´d like.
– So, I was looking from inside the café.
– And this man sat down outside with his cup of coffee and pastry. You know the tables?
– Not really, I´ve never been there.
– To Bruce´s? You should go man, it´s a great spot.
– Ok, I´ll check it out.
– There´s what, four tables? With a little barrier around them. He sat on the furthest right.
– When he settled he took out a smoke and held it in his hand. He was just looking around, taking in the scene. You know the street?
– Of course Tim. I work near there.
– I know man, you´re lucky.
– Come on man, you know I didn´t mean it that way.
– I know you didn´t.
– Have you told Brid your plan?
– Not yet, I´ll tell her soon, maybe later. What was I saying?
– Bridge St.
– Yeah, ok. It´s busy like?
– I know, yeah.
– Another guy was sitting outside. He was on the furthest left. He leant over and offered the guy a light. You could tell he wanted to talk to someone, that he wasn´t too happy being alone.
Tim was never animated when telling stories. He never usually had any stories. I found out Brid was pregnant when I bumped into her in the street. Not through Tim, even though we´d been talking the day before. Now he was using his hands like a foreign person.
– Anyway, the man refused and said he had a lighter. That´s what he must have said cos he took a lighter from his jacket pocket and held it up for the man to see.
– Did you recognise them?
– What? No, I was just watching. The other man looked a bit taken aback, not ´insulted´ but a bit ok, fine, grand and he leant back to his table. He kept sort of looking over from the corner of his eye. No one was in-between them. The other guy didn´t care. He wasn´t looking.
– Then what?
– So, a few minutes later and both men had drunk their coffees. The man had eaten his pastry and lit up his cigarette.
– He had his own lighter. This guy had everything. I told you this.
– Oh yeah, sorry, go on.
– A guy on the street then stopped and asked the guy for a light.
– Which guy?
– The guy smoking, obviously.
– The pastry guy?
– Exactly. I could tell he was wondering if this was a joke, you know.
– A joke?
– Yeah, a joke. At first he was offered a light without asking, then he´s being asked for one.
– Oh yeah, sorry, go on. I get ya now man, it´s a bit confusing.
– So, instead of giving him the lighter he lit your man´s smoke for him. The other guy was watching. The guy looked surprised not to be given the lighter. He had to lean in a bit. He had a strange grin on his face. A I´m deffo gonna tell someone about this later type of grin. He thanked the guy and walked off.
– And you were just watching all of this?
– Yeah, just sitting there having my lunch. It reminded me of things.
– What things?
– My old friend Barry.
– The small guy you played football with?
– Yeah, that´s him.
– I remember him, yeah.
– He never gave his lighter to people, even though everyone knew he smoked. Not to burn hash, not to light smokes, not for a fucking candle. I´ve lost too many lighters he said when I asked him, it pisses me off. I liked his individualism. When I smoked I lost tonnes of lighters. I´d let girls keep them. I was hoping they´d ask me for a light. It was probably why I smoked if I think about it. Pathetic.
– That´s how you met Brid man, in a smoking area.
– Yeah, I know but that was fluke.
– Not really Tim, I was there.
– But I couldn´t chat. You know that.
– Come on!
– You know that window? That window when they´re sparking up?
– That´s the window. But I was too polite. Other guys would be in there, you know? It was like I was just a service.
– We had many the frustrated walk home together.
He wasn´t listening to me and was getting quite animated. He was sitting on the table now with his feet on the chair. He lit up another cigarette. I got up and washed some plates. I made another pot of tea and while the kettle was boiling I swept up a few bits of rubbish. I kept an eye on the clock.
– But you met Brid that way man so why worry about the other crap?
– Sometimes they´d keep the lighter. I was afraid to ask for it back. I´d see people claiming my lighter was theirs and I said nothing. One night at a party Barry had a row with a guy over whether my lighter was in the guy´s pocket. He was defending me cause I couldn´t defend myself. They made a bet and there it was, in the guy´s pocket. Do you get what I´m saying?
– Where is he now?
– I don´t know, we lost contact but he´s still around I think. But do you get what I´m saying Paul? There´s not always gonna be someone around to defend you, do you get me?
– I suppose, yeah, but maybe you´re thinking too much into this. You met Brid on one of those nights.
– Will you forget about Brid for a second?
– Alright, alright.
– It just got me thinking, that´s all.
He was quiet for a long time then. He had that crackle in his voice like when someone is making a speech at a funeral. He was making shapes with the smoke. I rinsed out the cups and put the pot of tea on the table. Tim’s right leg was moving up and down. The foot was arched upwards from the toes and was shaking left and right from the knee. He was looking down and for a moment I thought he was crying.
– I´m sorry Tim, I just don´t see the connection. What happened in the end?
– In the cafe? After like?
– Oh, nothing. The guy walked off.
– But the two guys sitting down?
– The guy who offered the lighter finished first and left.
– Did they say anything to each other before he left?
– No, why would they? They had their chance. He looked over towards your man but he wasn´t looking.
– That´s it?
– That´s it. I left after that.
– I´m sorry Tim, I don´t fully get it.
– My point is that the guy just wanted to go for a quiet cup of coffee and a smoke. He didn´t have a paper, a book, take out his phone, have earphones in or any of that shit. He was just taking ten minutes and wanted to switch off and stare at the street.
– In the middle of town Tim, these things happen, it´s not a big deal.
– And he got bothered twice.
– I wouldn´t call that bothered but I know what you mean.
– You´re right, you´re right Paul. Not really bothered, like. If he didn´t smoke or sat inside he mightn´t have been bothered but maybe he would have. The whole thing just reminded me of a few things, that´s all.
– So this is about smoking?
– No, the guy´s allowed to smoke if he wants to. Smoking isn´t my point. My point is that there´s too much these days.
– Too much what?
– Just too much. Too much.
– Too much?
– Yeah, people are gonna have to start staying at home to get some peace. But what if there´s no peace at home?
– I don´t know Tim. Do you not have peace at home?
– This isn´t about me Paul.
– Ok, sorry for asking.
– You know me, I´m all for talking to strangers but what´s happened to being out and being quiet? Some days you´re just not in the mood. Does every silence have to be interrupted?
– But there´s plenty of places. Parks, libraries…
– Yeah, but lots of people want to be out in a busy place, have a drink and not have to talk. Do you get me? What´s happened to being out and not out at the same time?
– Out and not out?
– Yeah, out and not out.
– I don´t know Tim, I haven´t really noticed that.
– I have. Things feel different now when I´m out. I don´t know, maybe I´ve just too much time on my hands. Everything feels different.
– Maybe you´re right but it won´t be like this forever, things will pick up.
– I don´t know. I don´t know. I hope you´re right.
– Out and not out? I´ve never heard that one before.
– Yeah, out and not out, like I said.
He kept talking. He talked for a long time. He rubbed his face with his palms while holding a cigarette. After this story he had a bus story and then a shop story. At one stage he stood up and moved a chair to illustrate a point. He was waving his hands in the air. He was using different voices. He took out his phone. He drew a map on a piece of paper. All the time I watched his face. He wouldn´t look me in the eye. It was nearly half five and I remember thinking Sarah will be home soon. I hope she doesn´t see us like this. I don´t know what she´d think. I didn´t feel like being in this conversation anymore. I made the decision that when he left I wouldn´t tell Sarah or anyone else about it. He had to collect the kids at six, I knew that. He´d be gone soon. He had to go. I wouldn´t even say he´d been here. I´d open the window and spray some air freshener. I also made the decision not to ring or text Tim for a while. I needed a break from him. I remember thinking that.