Mike Guerin is a writer, drama teacher, and strawboy from North Cork. He was placed third in Kanturk Arts Festival’s Flash Fiction competition in 2018. He was placed second in the Ballydonoghue Bardic Festivals Quiet Man Maurice Walsh short story competition in 2021 and had a short story included in volume one of ‘The Same Page Anthology’.
A Pheasant walks into a bar…
By Mike Guerin
It was noon on a Thursday. Dust motes that had been circulating for decades meandered in the yellow light. Three men were sitting at the bar, the same three men who were sitting at the bar last Thursday at noon.
Behind the counter was Brian Meade. Brian hadn’t really wanted to be a barman but he had fucked up first-year engineering, twice, so was given an ultimatum regarding his room and board. That was nine years ago. None of his friends were left in the village, the only fellas the same age as him were either scumbags or farmers. Some of the farmers were grand but they weren’t exactly great craic on a night out; they talked a lot about the price of things. The bar wasn’t the worst at this time of the day, the lads mostly talked amongst themselves, if they talked at all – they only needed him for drink – ‘twas later when the fuckers got chatty that they wrecked his head. Same jokes, same stories, same opinions, and arguments.
Danny Nail was sitting on the high stool nearest the door considering the froth on his pint. He had worked hard all his life; he still did on the odd day when one of the old farming families needed a bit of light labour; he’d wait at the crossroads from eight ‘til ten every morning except Sunday and if no-one had picked him up by then he’d head to Meades. He had reared a family on his labour and there wasn’t one of them living within five hundred miles of him. He still shared a house with his wife, but that was about the height of the relationship.
Next on along was The Jackal. His nickname baffled him. He didn’t feel well in himself a lot of the time. He drank to dull the click of his blinking.
And the last patron, one elbow on the counter, the other jutting out from his hip, was John Buckley, a man with a big head on a big body, a man who could not accept the demise of the nineteen-eighties Irish bar, a place that would be full from morning to night, full of craic and wit and shifting and stories. The bar could be like that again, you just had to keep plugging away at it, keep trying to reignite the craic.
A shadow crossed the window facing Brian Meade, which made him look to the open door, which made his patrons look too. The pheasant speed-walked in the first ten feet and stopped in the middle of the tiled floor.
Danny Nail knew pheasants well; he knew this was the sort without the white collar, the less haughty-looking ones, the rarer of the two kinds you find in Ireland. He had shot at them from time to time but tried to miss mostly. There was something unfair about pheasant hunting. They made it too easy with their big, ‘Tucketuck, Tucketuck, Tucketuck’ as they took off and their slow glide to earth meant you could afford to miss your first shot because you’d have an easy enough time with your second. This poor bastard shouldn’t even be in the country, and it definitely shouldn’t be in this pub.
The Jackal had eaten a fair bit of pheasant in his time but didn’t really like it. There was an oiliness to the meat, not a nice oiliness either, more like something for gears. There was also the danger of pellets. You had to eat pheasant slowly, consider every mouthful carefully for fear of breaking a tooth, the resulting mush was something you’d as likely spit as swallow. Swallows – now, they’re a tasty treat. You wouldn’t tell anyone these things though.
John Buckley was fucking delighted. Here in the bar – a bird, a pheasant – this was a story and a half, this was like a story from long ’go, like the time a mountainy man had brought his donkey into the bar for a pint of Guinness, for medicinal purposes he said, or the time Davey Ryan put a rabbit into the ladies jacks. Stuff like that used be great craic. And something good just had to happen now to make this perfect; someone had to say a gas thing or the bird would have to take a shit on Brian Meade’s head. It might liven him up a bit. He was a useless barman, no manner, head stuck in his ould phone, fuck-all chat out of him; he’d want to get over the college fiasco and get on with his life, have a bit of craic, like.
The pheasant’s bar-side eye adjusted to the gloom. He stiffened.
Afterwards, Brian Meade would often say, ‘a pheasant on the ground is around the size of a basketball but when it’s flying it’s more like a round bale, the wings are like electrons – everywhere at the same time.’
Danny Nail had never been that close to the ‘Tucketuck, Tucketuck, Tucketuck’. He understood its purpose now. It made all the sense in the world to make that noise if ‘twas a fox or something rushing at you, because when you were only four feet from it, you were deprived of your senses momentarily, it was like thunder, maybe that’s why the pheasant always answered thunder, to imitate it for practice. It would buy the bird time to disappear into the air and float off away in a goading manner. The way it leapt into the air! Had it been a man it could have cleared the roof of the building.
The Jackal could smell the queer oiliness up his left nostril, the one that the wing feather had ended up in, for a month after.
John Buckley had played Junior B football in a time of especial lawlessness for North Cork Gaelic games. He had had many scrapes and been banned twice, he hadn’t many technical skills but he could stop a good player from playing through fouls, intimidation and outright thuggery. A man from Tullylease had shouldered him into the chest once and ended up with a broken collar bone for his trouble, he was an old school ‘hard man’, but there was no question about it, the Pheasant had come out on top after it barrelled into his chest and sent him arse over tit onto the damp tiled floor.
It had used his ample bulk as a launching board to propel itself through the street-side window, seemingly unharmed, and swept over the houses across the road.
They owned the story now, all four of them, it was theirs to tell, theirs to regale the world with, theirs to milk and twist and embellish and they all left their mark on it. Through repeated retellings, to any who crossed the threshold – especially at the right time of day. It always started the same way: as soon as the shadow darkened the door they would turn and make like they had gotten a fright and John Buckley would exclaim –
‘Christ! I thought the Pheasant was back!”
“I’ll be out the gap if I see him coming”, Danny Nail would say.
“I suppose he’ll be looking for his feather back”, The Jackal would add, pointing to the prize that was stapled to the side of his peaky cap.
“I’d have to show him the sign,” Brian Meade would say, pointing to the one he had printed out – a pheasant with a red cross through him and written below: ‘NO PHEASANTS ALLOWED IN THIS BAR!’
And the story meandered amongst the dust motes as the sign faded and curled.