by David Butler
SHE SHUTS THE BOOT. She’s looking at you. ‘You’ll be alright so.’ Her thin smile. She’s worried. All the same she’s turning away. She has her car keys out. ‘You know where you’re going.’ Not a question. She’s saying it. ‘Sure I’ll follow you back.’ ‘Daddy, I told you already. I can’t today.’ She’s upset. You’ve upset her. She has the worried look. ‘I’ve that parent teacher meeting today. I told you all about it.’ She reaches up, kisses your cheek. ‘I’ll be out to see you tomorrow, love, okay?’ She’s worried all the same. ‘You’ll be alright now, won’t you?’ The jitters, back again. As well say it. ‘It’s that new roundabout. The way they have it, I can’t make head nor tail of it…’ ‘Daddy, that’s seven years ago they put in that new roundabout. You must be well used to it by now.’ Her eyes daring you. Schoolteacher eyes. Your daughter. It’s Niamh. ‘You take the third exit, Daddy. Same as you always did.’ ‘Down by Devitt the bookies.’ ‘Down by Devitt’s bookies. That’s it. Only it’s a Paddy Power these days.’ She wants to go. She wants to be on her way. ‘You won’t forget to put the ice-cream and fish fingers into the freezer, sure you won’t?’ The weekly shop. You’re here to do the weekly shop. With Niamh. She’s packed the bags into the boot. The blue car. Your car. ‘I’ll be out to see you tomorrow, Daddy. Okay?’ ‘Right you are.’ ‘You’ll be alright?’ You smile your big foolish smile. You’ll be fine. Of course you will, it’s shopping day. After the shop she always comes back for a cuppa. ‘Sure I’ll follow you.’ ‘Daddy.’ Her mouth tight. You’ve upset her. ‘I can’t today. I have to go back into school.’ ‘Did you tell me that already?’ ‘Twice. You’ve a terrible head on you today.’ ‘An oul fool is all I am.’ ‘Daddy, I wish you wouldn’t…’ ‘There’s no fool like an old fool.’ ‘Don’t say that!’ There, you’ve upset her. ‘There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re doing great, Daddy. There’s many a man of seventy-six isn’t let drive anymore.’ Hold up the keys. Show her. Jangle them. There. She grins back. ‘That’s it. Remember now. Third exit off the roundabout, same as you always took.’ ‘Down past Devitt’s. The bookie.’ ‘That’s it. Only it’s Paddy Power’s nowadays.’ She’s going now. The jitters. The hollow tummy. But you grin. You jangle the keys. ‘I’ll be out to see you tomorrow. Okay, Daddy?’
There’s a car come between you. A woman with a. Blast her anyway. But there’s her car. Niamh’s car. You can still see hers. Red car with the whatchamaycallit. Niamh’s car. That’s her now. Just coming up to the road now. Just getting ready to leave the carpark. Bus there at the bus-stop, she’s waiting for it to pull out. Careful driver. But. No. But she’s indicating left! That’s wrong. That’s all wrong. You have to go to the right. You always go right. Coming out of the carpark you always go to the right. She must’ve. A mistake. She’ll remember before she. No. No, she’s gone left. She’s after going left, Christ! Unless you have it wrong. Have you it wrong? You’re an awful bloody fool. Should you go left? But you always. Fella behind you hitting the horn horn. Impatient. Right or left? Hitting the horn horn. Hitting the. Blast him, can’t he wait? Okay now. Okay. Second gear. Third. Okay. Where’s she gone? Where’s her car? Red car with the. No sign. She’ll be there ahead of you. She’ll have the kettle on. But okay. It’s okay. You know your way. You must know your way. How many years are you living out here? Twenty? Thirty? You’re a right fool, Tommy Walton. But if they didn’t keep on changing the roads. Always digging them up. Always changing things. Can they not leave? Wait now. Roundabout. Wait now. Wait now. What’s this I…? Third exit. Isn’t that it? Isn’t that what she? One. Two. Wait now. Horn, angry. Van. Window down. Arm. Fist. ‘You can’t stop there you fuckin’…!’ Angry head on him. Red, like he’ll explode. But the third exit is wrong. All wrong. He’s jamming down the ho-horn now. It must be it. Must be the right. The way they keep changing things. Okay, Tommy. Take your time. Easy. Third gear. Where’s this the bookies is? Devitt’s, the bookies. There? No. Centra. Not here. Not the street. Not the right. It must be the wrong bloomin.’ You’re a bloody fool, Tommy Walton. Another fella hitting the horrrrrrn. Angry. Everyone impatient. Everyone rushing. Just drive on. Just drive.
Wait now. Wait. There. You know. Yep. Yep, that’s. Where the racecourse was. What’s this? Then you’re. And the swimming pool. Yes. Yes. Vincent de. Where you used to bring Niamh and…and Darragh. When Eilis was still. Okay. Alright. The Navan Road. Sure you know it like the back of your. Every day for thirty years. On in, in the morning. Back out home the evening. Okay. Go in. Keep on straight, go into town. On in. Marlborough Street. Like the back of your. Then if you turn back around, you’ll get home sure enough. You’ll get home. Every day for thirty years. Okay. Yes. Cabra. That’s right. There’s the grounds. Rugby posts H like GAA posts. There’s where. No! Don’t think. Don’t think about it. Sudden. Brain haemorrhage. Doctors said he felt nothing. Would’ve felt nothing. That picture of Darragh in the yearbook, black and white hoops. Him holding the rugby ball. JCT. Junior Cup Team that spells. Eilis so proud. So. Always joking and whispering, heads together the pair of them. Like conspirators. He dropped like a sack they said. Didn’t feel a thing. Hadn’t time to feel. Fifteen years of age. Niamh would’ve been ten no twelve. Laid out at home like down the country. It broke Eilis’s heart. Never the same after that. All the school turned out for the funeral in Gardiner Street but she wouldn’t go. Jesuit place. Gloomy. So many youngsters at a funeral is wrong. Don’t think about it. Not today. Only give you the glooms. Poor Eilis, she never got over. And Darragh. Every day how you ran him in, dropped him off at the school before. Every afternoon he wandered down to Marlborough Street for the lift home. In in the morning. Into the rising sun. That day you were driving right into the sunrise and it was blinding like driving with the windscreen covered in milk and then the car in front ploughed straight into the traffic island right there where the Garda station is, never saw it, took off and came down again with two tyres burst outright. And Darragh was amazed, amazed, wouldn’t be quiet about it all that evening and described it to little Niamh it must’ve been a dozen times because she kept wanting to hear it, again and again and again and… That car there. Vintage they call that. The old style reg. Z reg. Dublin, that. It’d be a vintage now, that oul car you had when you were moved down to Portlaoise. Dublin Road, Kilminchi, Portlaoise. After you were transferred. Cigire to príomh cigire. But small town Ireland, Eilis hated that. Everyone’s business. Had Darragh in the Coombe, wouldn’t chance having him down in Portlaoise Hospital. What’s this the car was? A Wolseley it was. Then the other. Leyland no Morris. Morris Ital. CI reg. CI for Laois. And the letter was the year. FCI, GCI, HCI. And IC was Carlow? Offaly? Where’s this you are? Spire. Peter’s Church. Phibsboro, that’s right. Doyle’s Corner. And there yes there’s the Mater Hospital. Yes. Where Eilis. Yes. Third floor. The smell of antiseptic. Ravaged she looked, the hair fine as a newborn baby’s stuck across her forehead. Okay. Okay turn right. Here. This one. Take the right. Okay. And then? What are you…? Why are you? You old fool! Is it…? You must be. You must be heading on into the Department. Niamh must have said it to you. Alright. Down by the school, where you used to. Darragh, the school blazer, don’t think about that. Long time. Well would you…! No entry! A bloomin’ one way. Can’t go down. You can’t. Can they never stop fiddling poking digging up? And now the fella hitting the horrrrrn behind. Okay. Jitters. Wait now. Wait, blast you! Can’t you?
‘Is Ken not here?’ ‘That’s the third time you’ve asked me that.’ Smirk on him. Young pup. ‘Ken knows who I am. He’ll tell you who I am’ ‘And I told you already, Mister, Waters, was it?’ ‘Walton. Tell them Tom Walton. Ken knows me. He’ll let me in.’ ‘And I told you, Mr Wall Tonne. There’s no Ken works here.’ Ken. Ken. Isn’t that his? Hare-eyed. Sheepskin jacket, even in the summer. The smirk on this young pup! Like you’re a… Not even looking at you. ‘Now you say it, there was this oul fella was on the gate when I first started off, only I couldn’t tell you if his name was Ken or what the hell it was.’ Clang and clamour. Clang like a cowbell. A tram, like they have over on the. That wasn’t there when you. But this, yes. That building. That other one. This is the right place. You haven’t got it wrong. ‘Jenny have you a minute? This gentleman says he works in here.’ ‘It’s okay. I’ll take it.’ Kind face. Concerned. ‘Mister…?’ ‘Walton. Tell them Tom Walton.’ ‘You’re here to see someone, are you? Mr Walton?’ What? Jesus, what the hell are you here for? What the hell are? Car. You had the car. You drove the car. You left it. Couldn’t find where to park. Where to stop. ‘Can’t park there!’ fella shouted. ‘Deliveries only!’ fella shouted. ‘You’ll have to move it boss.’ Where’s this you left the car? Old fool you are. Jitters. Like they’re eating you inside. ‘Mr Walton? Were you to meet someone?’ ‘Look-it Jenny there’s ice cream meltin’ all over his shoes there is.’ ‘Mr Walton? Here, let me take that from you.’ ‘She said not to leave it in the car.’ ‘Who? Who told you that, Mr Walton?’ ‘Niamh. Niamh. She said to put it in the freezer.’ ‘Okay. Let me take that, Mr Walton.’ ‘It’s to go in the freezer.’ ‘Here, Fred. Take it in.’ Dribbles. All down your trouser. Old fool! ‘Fred’ll look after that for you, Mr Walton. Okay?’ ‘Niamh said to put it into the freezer.’ ‘Niamh is your wife, is she?’ ‘I’ve to meet her.’ ‘I see. Go on, Fred. I’ll handle this.’ Pup. Glad he’s. ‘Niamh is your wife, is that right?’ ‘My daughter.’ ‘Ah! And where did she leave you?’ ‘No, I’ve to meet her.’ ‘You’ve to meet her?’ ‘It’s our shopping day.’ ‘And where have you to meet her? Here, is it?’ Where? Here? Why here? You’re an awful bloody fool, Tom Walton. An old. ‘Is it at the Pro Cathedral you’ve to meet her? Mr Walton?’ No. This is wrong. All wrong. ‘Mister ah… Where are you going? No, hold on a minute. Tom, is it? Could you wait? Just. I’ll get…Mr Walton? Could you just hang on a minute till I…?’ No. Away before she. Old fool, you are. A terrible bloody fool.
David Butler’s third novel, City of Dis (New Island), was shortlisted for the Irish Novel of the Year, 2015. Doire Press brought out his third poetry collection, Liffey Sequence, and Arlen House/Syracuse Press published his second short story collection, Fugitive, both in 2021. Awards for the short story include the Benedict Kiely, ITT/Redline, Fish International and Maria Edgeworth (twice).