Joe Crotty is currently studying an MA in Creative Writing from UCD where he received the Creative Writing Bursary.
He received his BA with Creative Writing from NUIG. His fiction has appeared in The Moth magazine and he was shortlisted for the This Is A Story competition.
Mayo Fields and Kentucky Bourbon
By Joe Crotty
The sun sliced in under the blind, aim perfect, the blade cutting across my eyes. Turning over was pointless, the damage done. Bursting for a piss but the body was weak and kept me crucified to my mattress. Paying for the sins of last night. A ‘flip the pillow and go back to sweet ignorant sleep’ kind of day.
My kind of day.
Too frail to chance a look at the phone to check the time. I only knew I was in my own room because it smelled like the inside of a gear bag. Wet and sweet like the back of your throat after you vomit on a hot day. No one else could possibly live like this.
It couldn’t have been five minutes before I heard him on the stairs. You could tell his mood from the battering he gave those steps. I’d have groaned but my throat was dried shut. I coughed and spat on the floor.
The door was thrown open but caught on my chinos from the night before. Another delightful six inches of sunlight bored into my left temple.
“Christ, the smell.”
My back to him and eyes shut tight I pretended not to hear. Trekking his way over to the bed, each footfall accompanied by either a wobble or a sickening crunch that I prayed wasn’t something important, The Strokes latest album my chief concern. At least he wasn’t headed for the blinds. While they stayed closed there was always the chance I could weasel my way out of this.
Still, it wasn’t a good sign that he had come to wake me up. The bed springs would have groaned, if they weren’t suffocating under his sixteen stone ass, as he sat down.
Then the shaking, biblical shaking, smashing whatever brain cells I had left into oblivion. I must have done something truly, fucking awful last night, for Karma to be this much of a bitch. Hopefully the morning-after investigation of my pockets would be revealing. Or at least let me know where the fuck I was last night.
Don’t roll over.
Do not roll over.
Keep your eyes shut and back turned.
The drunk’s mantra.
Eyes shut, back turned.
Eyes shut, back turned.
Eyes shut, back turned.
This has to be killing him. He’d have me dragged out of the bed hours ago, if he didn’t need something off me.
I know what this is.
“It’s half twelve and you said you’d come to Belmullet to help me out.”
Eye’s shut tight.
“You said if I gave you fifty quid you’d help me out.”
“Can it do tomorrow? I’m dying here and I’ve training later on at eight.”
Do I fuck but this is the mother of all hangovers. No idea what I ended up drinking yesterday, but the four euro wine was a bad place to start.
“We’re going today. We were meant to go last Friday but you were hungover and I tried waking you Monday but you kept telling me to fuck off”
This is news to me, but I was hammered Monday until my afternoon straightener with the lads.
He just wants to fuck me out of it.
Whatever combination of herbal teas and vitamins she’s got him on is struggling to hold it all back. He hates that shit and it only agitates him more, but we both know who the boss is. His hand’s still on my shoulder and I can feel it tightening. You’d miss the days when he’d give a red-faced bollocking and we’d be grand afterwards.
The journey to Belmullet might actually kill me. I can already taste the heavy, diesely car air and I force back a gag. Would a can of Bav hold this off long enough for me to get through this?
He gets up off the bed and stands back, but he’s not going anywhere.
“’Mon, Tomás, get up.”
He tears my blanket off and the cold sweeps across my shoulders. It doesn’t help that I’m bollock naked and on a bit of a semi. Thank God my back’s to him. I curl into the foetal position to conserve dignity and warmth.
The cold is great for the head though. That cold that stings your throat and sends a million volts to the brain. There’s nothing like the freezing Salthill air for a rattled ceann. I remember the misery of a New York hangover. Stuck in the city after the uncle’s fortieth. Wandering all day, doing touristy shit, in that fume laden ether that felt like swimming in petrol. Their stupid accents didn’t help either.
“Fine, I’ll fucking come, just let me get changed.”
He knew well I was stalling and walked over and opened the window.
“Tea downstairs in ten.”
Whatever relief the fresh air had worked evaporated the second I sat into his navy Peugeot. Sunlight beat down onto my black seat to guarantee an unbearable car ride and a historically sweaty ass. My only hope was noise-cancelling headphones and two Berocca. I’d cleaned out the Bav last night.
Out he came, struggling under a mountain of papers, held down with his chin. He couldn’t open his door and stood waiting for me to get it for him. Not a fucking hope. The headphones were on and I was dead to the world. Or at least to him.
Cars make me sick and I can never sleep, so the first hour passes in a haze of songs I’ve heard too many times. Rain flecks the windshield and I crack my window to put my fingers out. This always makes me feel better and I’m afraid to wonder why, for fear of destroying the magic. Pulling out my right earphone I try to strike up a bit of conversation.
“How far is Belmullet?”
Driving is more interesting than I’d realised, because he completely ignores me. I throw my headphones back on and spend an hour playing a game with the raindrops streaking across my window. They land at the right edge of the windshield and are blown stop start across. The trick is that when they join up with raindrops ahead of them they shoot across faster than anything else. The game is to pick one halfway across and one at the start you reckon is going beat it across. I win three from fourteen, before realising I’m a spastic and go back to looking out the window.
We pass a decrepit old house just before Charlestown. Vicious twisting vines snake all the way up the front and along the edge of what’s left of the roof. They look like they’re all that’s holding the house together. The windows are all smashed in and the wooden frame in the upper left window makes a rotting cross. I almost expect it to be blown down when we speed past but it doesn’t budge an inch. A tough old bastard of a house. I want to ask to pull over and have a look but it’s gone now.
He’d have said no anyway.
Breakfast stays down long enough for us to get to the field. I haven’t a fucking clue what he’s up to or how I’m meant to help. None of his building shite ever interested me. I remember the time he took me and my cousin to Barcelona to see a match. I was big into football back then and wanted to go to the stadium early to see them warm up. Had the shirt on days before, ‘Diniho – ten. Still have it.
Instead he took us to this old church, doesn’t even go to Mass at Christmas but he wanted to go a church. Ancient this thing was and not even finished, covered in scaffolding and cranes. Apparently the lad who started it a few hundred years back had gone mad and broke trying to build it. Mong hadn’t even finished it. He said it like it was a good thing. We spent hours in that church.
We get the gear out of the car and he explains that we have to measure the distance between these poles going across the field. This being Mayo they’re not in a straight line and cross enough barb wire to turn back the Wehrmacht. A stream too, for good measure. I’ve to hold the measuring tape at the base of one pole, while he walks to the next.
“Can you manage?”
“Of course I can manage. A fucking handicapped rock would find this job degrading.”
“Well you shouldn’t fuck it up then, should you?”
As he turned and walked off, he was as happy as I’d seen him in years. Wrapped in his luminous Hi-Viz and boots fit for Ernst fucking Shackleton. Me, stood in my brand new, white Addidas Predators that might as well be sponges.
I pin the end of the tape to the wooden pole with my ass and pull the sleeves of my windcheater down over my hands, before they go numb. The tape end slipped and went scurrying along the ground, as he tromped on and on, through the muck. I ran after it and caught it, but he was already at the other pole and pulling the line taut. I had to grip the metal end and wrap it round my hand to pull it back toward my pole. It jerked hard on the first pull, as I caught him unaware but when he pulled back it stung cold into my hand and cut. I heard him cursing across the way, but I got it pressed tight to the vibrating wooden pole as blood pooled on top of my hand and fell down into the muck.
Roaring for me to come over. I hurried to finish as quick as possible and get home. The tape trailed behind me in a big U as I weaved in between patches of tough nettles, that even the cows wouldn’t touch.
“Stop dragging the fucking tape through the muck.”
He must have fallen when I jerked the tape because his left knee was covered in muck. He’d never get mad for it though, because he’d have to admit I’d been stronger than him. Never an option. Back to passive aggressive, shouting and criticism. He set off for the next pole without another word and I pressed the metal tight to the pole.
The sun ran away from us down the hill and I could see my breath by the time we were at the final two poles. The rain hadn’t followed us from Galway, but I could hear water on the grass. That sucking sound, as if it’s expanding. Trying to rise up and soar away. Like with each breath, the wind was sucking it back up into the clouds. I’d never heard it before and bent my ear to the ground to try and figure it out.
The last pole was on the other side of the river and he decided to send me across. It was a stream really, about three or four foot across, but the bank was steep. Not a hope I was falling into that water either. Filthy from cow shit and god knows what, and freezing. I started to inch my way down the embankment until I was able to jump across. Sliding down with each step until my hands were filthy and bloody.
He was loving it.
“Hurry on, we’re losing the light.”
“I’m going amn’t I?”
“Nowhere fast from where I’m standing.”
I turned to say something back, but lost my balance and my right knee sank into the mud, as I slid into the Baltic stream. The cold shocked me into trying to jump across, landing in the middle of the stream. I scrambled up the other side, concerns of getting dirty washed away by the freezing water.
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
“And the tape?”
Looking down, I saw the tape coiled up in the muck, lapping at the bottom of the water and I lost it. Jumped straight down into the river and snatched it up.
“Ecstatic, but you know I could have just thrown it across to you.”
I walked off toward the final pole, trying to figure out how long it would be before we got home and I could ignore the bastard again. On the way back, I walked through the river and up the other side, where he was stood waiting for me. Holding his little Maths notebook with his bullshit measurements. The prick easily could have done this shit without me.
“How’d the head hold up?”
Strangely, I hadn’t thought about my hangover in hours. It was probably just lost in my current, deeper misery. I was far too cold to feel anything anyway. Walking, side by side, up the hill, the grass and water kept making that expanding noise and I wanted to ask him what it was. He’d grown up in fields like this.
“Falling in that river didn’t help anyway.”
And he looked over at me and bust his shits laughing. Didn’t even reply, just laughed all the way back to the car.
I wasn’t looking forward to the ride home, but at least now the car held promise: hot food, shower, TV, porn and bed.
The journey back always seems shorter. Doubly so at night. There were no raindrops to distract me though, and my iPod was out of battery. Fresh out of time killers, I was forced to listen to Newstalk. I can never figure how he listens to that shit every day. As well as watching the news and reading the papers.
“How do you to listen to this all day? It makes me want to hang myself.”
“No it’s not. How does all this Syria shit affect me? It doesn’t make a lick of difference to my life and never will. I’m not going to feel bad for some asshole who got shot for throwing bricks about. Even all the Irish shit, the stuff that might affect me, the tribunals, national debt and banks. I don’t even want to know what that shit means. I already know I’m going to be a poor asshole my whole life, I don’t need to go hearing it again and again”
“Christ, I never thought I’d raise an apathetic shit for a son.”
“Better than wasting my time worrying about shit I can’t change.”
I went to turn if off but he smacked my hand away and didn’t say a word.
We stopped outside a shop in some two-church, three-pub village. Flanagans, it was called and it had a little post office counter in at the back. He handed me a tenner and told me to grab something small to eat, that he’d make dinner at home. Two white Magnums and a two-litre bottle of coke. Just like after Sunday morning rugby, down Glenina.
He smiled a bit as I got into the car and we sat eating our Magnums, both of us picking the thick creamy chocolate off with our teeth before going at the ice cream. He was a licker, but I preferred to put my mouth over the top and slurp it.
“Looks like you’re sucking dick.”
“Jesus you’re really fucking going for it, not your first time no?”
“An apathetic dick-sucking shit for a son. How about that?”
I couldn’t hold it together and burst out laughing with the ice cream still in my mouth. This ended up with me choking on it, as it slid back even further. We doubled over before he started coughing and grasped onto the door handle. Huge wracking coughs that shook the car. He shpluttered on for over a minute, H and all.
He wiped his mouth with a dirty Supermacs napkin and looked away. Out at Flanagans with its post office green front and dingy light that struggled to make it out the front door. Wasting what was left of the light.
And then he told me a story.
It was the first time I’d heard him talk of his Dad since he’d died. He’d been heading to America in the seventies when his dad came to him, drove down from Sligo, to ask for something.
“The first time he’d ever asked me for anything in my life. Anything proper.”
His Dad told him about a bourbon. A Kentucky bourbon. The polar opposite of his sacred Jameson. “Almost a water” he spat, but he wanted it. Pappy Van Winkle. The twenty three if he could, but the fifteen would do.
“It’d take searching but could be found. And but don’t go out of your way”.
He was going for ten days, with a girl called Jenny.
He spent days looking. Bar to bar, following sellers books and hearsay. Some were impressed at his knowledge, looked like they genuinely wanted to help but couldn’t. Most laughed. Calling wholesalers upstate and in Jersey and Connecticut from payphones with the few pennies he had. Going to the great New York bars; Elaines, The White Horse, even Jilly’s. But either they didn’t have it, or it wasn’t for the likes of a desperate Irish kid.
He spent the whole trip searching. Came home empty handed and his Dad acted like it wasn’t a big deal.
“Grand, it’s grand.”
But he knew. It haunted him for years. Killed him he couldn’t do this one thing. The only thing ever asked of him.
And he never realised until his old man died that that was his happiest memory with him. Separated by three thousand miles of Atlantic Ocean. Stressed, begging, pleading like a tramp in a strange city for just one bottle of Pappy Van Winkle.
“The fifteen will do”.
It brought him back to him.
I didn’t understand but I liked it. It meant something even if I didn’t know what.
He started up the car.