P Kearney Byrne has won the Francis MacManus(2012), Bryan MacMahon(2014) and WOW(2016) Awards. In 2013 she was long-listed in the UK Sunday Times Short Story Competition and was a finalist in the 2015 Hamlin Garland Award (Beloit Fiction Journal, USA). She has been published or has work forthcoming in Compose Journal, Vitality Litmag and Per Contra magazine. She is completing an MA programme in U.C.D. Originally from Dublin, she and her partner now live in Co Leitrim.
Testimony of a Fat Bloke
By P Kearney Byrne
The distance between Carrick-on-Shannon and the Dole Office in Dunlaoghaire is exactly one hundred and sixty eight kilometres, and I figured, walking at an average of twenty five kilometres a day, could be done in a week, give or take. Granted, I hadn’t ‘warmed up’ with any significant training. Unless you counted the six kay em trek in the rain the previous night from the bollards at the bottom of the hill underneath the domicile of one Ivy McHugh (hereinafter referred to as ‘Herself’), and from the blue vehicle (formerly known as ‘the Wheels’), to the luxury flatlet I called home.
For the last twelve months, said home was in the converted convent up on the hill in Marymount, a right Mother Superior of a building, under whose squinting eye slithered the feckless Shannon and the uppity N4. Though the flatlet, being at the rear, only squinted at the Wheels and a couple of wheelie bins.
Career-wise, the nethers had taken a flaying, but no ways was I intending to sign on in Carrick, not with Herself so chummy with that parsimonious pimp and known driveller, the Social Welfare Inspector. Hence the picaresque nature of the current situation viz. me footing it to Dublin solo, in the month of May, with only the bare essentials for company and the intention of making my presence felt in the Dole queue in DunLaoghaire.
I hadn’t reckoned on the lashing rain persisting beyond that fateful hour the previous evening when the Wheels gave up the ghost outside the McHugh residence, and I’d chosen for my travelling attire a lightweight navy blue windcheater which drew up just shy of the junction with a heavyweight camel-coloured trackie bottoms. At said junction, the windcheater offloaded its share of the rain. The trackie bottoms was soaking up same like a strip of vertical desert, and with road-splash and general precipitation thrown in, we’re talking another seven to ten pounds of heavy-weight sodden cotton to be carried alongside the satchel, which contained, among other necessities, a two litre bottle of Fanta and a few healthy snacks.
And in case the question arises; why not take the scenic route to Dublin? Perhaps ambling along the lesser known byways, strolling through the small towns, sauntering by the dawdling canals? A simple answer; having recently been accused by no less an authority than Herself, of ‘going off the rails’ it occurred to me the portentous, symbolic grunt of deliberately taking the beaten track; that steaming great highway of the travelling classes, the N4.
Only after I’d started on the N4 blacktop did it occur to me how much sweeter it would have been to take the actual railroad, to do like the old timers – Ireland’s Own Boxcar Liam’s – and follow the Iairnrod Eireann track smack into the city centre, then hop on the Dart line to Dun Laoghaire! All by way of signalling to Herself how on the rails I was, literally speaking.
To rock back to the point; put a pudding in a pair of sagging, soaking sweat pants, skim off his gruaig and ‘mock heroic’ or ‘tragi-comic’ is your likely outcome. But mark my words; if it wasn’t for the beer gut and the fact that my destination was the Dole Office rather than the Camino, this’d already read like a Hero’s journey and there’d be a queue to sponsor me, no matter which route I chose.
A propos of the inciting incident; I’d still have the Wheels intact, and likely be a-bed in the flatlet contemplating the day’s travails, if the light hadn’t been on up at the domicile and residence of the McHugh woman the previous evening.
I’d been reduced to drive-by sightings since the barring order. Reference same; I strenuously oppose the extravagant use of the word ‘obsessive’ in the sworn affidavit submitted by Herself to an Gardai Siochana. ‘Habitual’ I’ll admit to. But ‘obsessive’? No ways! Herself has a knack with words and putting a twist on the truth. But, says you, isn’t it true that you followed her from Dublin only twelve short months ago? Fair cop! Hands up Gov’ner and all that. But then, I was also considering the losses the daughter, little Rowan, would be having with Yours Truly not about anymore and no proper explanation given. That child was as good as my own. In fact, if Herself hadn’t insisted on the johnnies, she would’ve been my own….
Now the drive-bys was a major drain on scarce resources – the Wheels was a guzzler – so in recent weeks I’d limited them to the dark of the night. Herself was rarely there in the daylight hours anyways, or if she was, she’d be skulking out in the back kitchen. Such was the orientation of the domicile, the picture window ostentatiously overlooking the N4 on the Sligo side of Carrick, that with the living room lights on and only the nets drawn, the stage was laid bare for any passer-by to see. During the aforementioned drive-by the previous evening, the light was on as predicted, and there she was in the living room, lit up like Lidl. And who’s there with her? Only that toss-pot from the Arts Council, and him pawing her from behind! So it was true what was being passed about; she was well and truly over Yours Truly!
When I saw Herself turning to actually snog the toss-pot, it came at me like a revelation; it was time to move on, roll over and give another bloke a crack at her. Unfortunately, during this rapid-fire thinking process, I was still rubbernecking up the rise and the goggles were off the road long enough to land me straight into the bollards at the bottom of her hill. The Wheels wrapped itself around the bollards and I smacked into a close up of the windscreen. Hence the big red bump on the melon. Advantage of same? It kept the baseball cap from flying off in the wind on the N4. Acted as a hook, like.
Anyways, I had to skedaddle away from the write-off sharpish, there being the so-called barring order on me being within five kay ems of the gaff, never mind down the bank ogling Herself from the roadside.
Now, on another note, the stretch from Carrick to the new roundabout at Dromod is a classic case of your Irish driver gone to hell. More importantly, there’s plenty of places to take a slash. I’d started my trek with a couple of large cappuccinos from Esquire’s, rookery of the cultured-of-Carrick, so I was hardly past Kennedy’s garage when I had to skip in behind the dogwoods and shimmy the wet trackie down far enough to get the todger out. Lesson number two; no flies in a trackie has its plusses and its minuses. Leave it to your imagination….
An aside to fellow travellers needing a roadside squirt (and an interesting observation in its own right); if your man with the Council hedge-trimmer goes one way down the N4 trimming the dogwoods, the sharp ends of same all points the one way. When he travels the other way on the machine, ditto the sharp ends of the dogwoods. Getting in and out of dogwoods trimmed the wrong way is like going through a shredder. This particular morning, the side Kennedy’s garage was on was the safest bet dogwoods-wise and I was heading east with the best of the late morning traffic.
Sixteen kay ems would’ve taken me as far as Dromod. The rain had let up, but twelve noon was baring its teeth and there was risk of a savage hunger gnawing in before I got to the Brandywell for the light lunch. A snack being in order, I rooted around in the satchel to get at the scones; halved, well buttered and stuck together again, nested in the paper napkins courtesy of Esquires. I scoffed the lot while tramping along the hard shoulder. Next up, the Fanta. I had it by the neck and was about to yank it out to get a guzzle on it when I spotted the squad car tooling along across the road, heading west into Carrick. On board, one Ban Garda, Siobhan O’Loughlin, and in command of the cockpit, one Garda Siochana, Sean Micheal Brennan. It’s fair to say that the eyes of all concerned parties locked across the N4. In a trice the blues and twos were on and the paddy-wagon indicating an intention to breach the white line to my side of the road. Momentarily flustered by the attention I foresaw coming my way, I tripped over the slapping laces of my trainers. The Fanta bottle shot out of my hand and I hit the deck, full frontal on the gravel, as the wagon pulled up beside me. From my prostrate vantage point, I watched the Fanta roll under the vehicle. The passenger door opened and the navy kecks of Ban Garda O’Loughlin decanted, and on the driver’s side, Brennan’s clogs clamped themselves to the gravel.
‘Well, Gerry,’ says O’Loughlin, standing over me.
‘Morning, Siobhan!’ I said.
‘Would you need a hand up?’ she asks.
‘’Sno bother,’ I said, getting to my knees, and with the help of the roadside barrier, mounting slowly to a standing position. It was with a great sigh that I brushed the gravel from the sopping trackie bottoms while Garda Brennan taxied up alongside his partner and stood legs apart, hands fisted on hips.
‘Morning, Gerry,’ he says.
‘Sean,’ I nodded.
‘Can we give you a lift someplace?’ says Siobhan.
‘Back to the station, for instance,’ says Brennan, ‘to make a statement about your unlawful presence in a particular vicinity last night, not to mention the unlawful abandonment of a vehicle on a public causeway subsequent to crashing it into public bollards and failing to make proper arrangements to have said write-off towed away.’ As he bellyached on, I was beset by a dizzy spell, and I put my hand on the squad car to steady myself.
‘Fanta,’ I gasped at Siobhan.
‘What are you on about?’ she says.
‘Under the car,’ I wheezed, pointing. ‘Givvus a suck off it and I’ll explain everything.’
‘Get him into the car,’ says Brennan. ‘He’ll have plenty of time to explain himself in the Station.’
‘Dizzy,’ I panted to Siobhan, waving my free hand at her. ‘Low blood-sugar. Thirsty. Dry as a scone.’
‘Oh, for God’s sake,’ she says to Brennan. ‘Let me get it for him.’ She went around the car and bent down. Meanwhile, Brennan, the heartless blaggard, was depressing my noggin and squelching me into the back seat. Siobhan came up at the window with the Fanta. She had the lid off.
‘Here,’ she says. I took it and shoved the nozzle straight into the gob, swigging down a litre in thirty seconds while they assumed their positions up front. Brennan spurred the wagon into a u-turn back towards the town.
‘Report him found,’ he says to Siobhan. ‘And tell them to call Ivy McHugh. Inform her he’s unharmed.’
‘What’s that?’ I said. ‘Tell who he’s unwhat?’
‘Sit back please, Gerry,’ Siobhan said. ‘Ivy called us this morning. Worried sick you’d thrown yourself into the Shannon.’
‘Ivy called? Worried sick about me?’
‘Don’t read anything in to it,’ Siobhan said, getting the radio out. ‘You’d do as much for a dog.’
‘Nah,’ I said. ‘Me and Ivy McHugh? We have history!’ I waggled the Fanta bottle at her in the rear view mirror.
‘Oh, for Christ’s sake,’ she said without turning around. ‘Would you ever cop yourself on, Gerry?’
I sat back and took a swig of the Fanta. They’d never get it, the flat-footed brigade. It was Fate. I’d tried to leave town, heading east, out of her life for good. But here I was, Destiny’s unwitting escorts only whisking me straight back into the hinterlands of the woman I loved.
Me and Ivy McHugh?
We belong together!