As he entered the bar, three slow knocks sounded on the front door, followed by two quick ones, as if a code was being used. He went to the window and looked under the blind and saw a blocky man in late middle age facing the bay, the Deer, the equinox sky. He didn’t recognize the man but his mood quickly turned somber as he walked towards the front door. An experienced publican is an educated reader of the nuance of mood. Wasn’t Death, by any chance, standing there?
When he opened the door, the man turned to him with incredulous owl eyes and whispered to ask:
“There’s a cuckoo clock, huh?”
“Oh, there are,” he said. “In the bushes beyond the schoolyard. He would let you know all about himself.
“Strongly okay, an accelerator on him. Would you sell me a pint?”
“I can not do that.”
The man dropped his jaw in an exaggerated, vaudevillian way.
“You’re not allowed to sell take-out food?”
“Some do it in cities. I’m not. I have no stock at all.
“Hard times, okay. I noticed the window was open. I thought I would try my luck.
“There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“You wouldn’t recognize me, I suppose?”
“No, but I’m trying to situate you.”
It was true that he was. The stranger meticulously kept the distance of two meters and he had to narrow his gaze against the sun to distinguish it. The face looked antique; it was sort of medieval. The hard clear glint in the eyes – they were eyes that could seek to kill quickly. But he spoke pleasantly enough.
“I grew up not far from here,” he says.
The age then moved away from the face of the stranger to make it possible to distinguish an O’Casey. A poor family from a sad stretch of coastal road they had been on. One of those families that had split up and run off in all directions. They had left a house wound behind them. The gaping maw of the empty gate had stood on the coastal road for years as an invitation to the miseries that lay there. It must have been three decades since the family had lived there. Hadn’t there been a story about the father gone mad?
“Are you an O’Casey?” ” He asked.
The man smiled broadly and parted his lips to show off a proud battalion of freshened teeth.
“You would be a long time coming out of your own shadow,” he said, confirming the speculation.
The afternoon conspired with its languor. The heron stood beyond time on the seaweed-encrusted rock. The O’Casey looked over his shoulder into the darkness of the bar.
“Would I like a whisky?” he tried.
“I guess if I don’t charge you for it.”
He turned away from the door and crossed the floor of the bar – his breath was getting thicker now. He ducked under the bar and polished a highball glass that didn’t need polishing and placed it under the optics to fill a single measure of Powers. He was watched the whole time and smiling from the doorway.
“I don’t even have ice cream,” he shouted. ” A drop of water ?
“I don’t take it.”
He brought the drink and placed it in the stranger’s hand.
“I don’t remember which one you were,” he said. “You were a few, I think?
“There were eight of us for the kids,” O’Casey replied. “Your father would have kicked mine out of this place more than once.”
“Is it correct?”
The man turned his face to the berries again and dwelt on the slow years, the decades. He sipped the Powers and didn’t comment on it. The world had become so quiet in this season of weirdness. Down the long loneliness of the coastal road, across the fresh new green of the fields, over the clear, shipless bay, there was not a soul else to be seen.
“One night my dad came home from that place shaking,” O’Casey said. “I remember he was sitting staring at the fire and I could tell he could barely breathe.”
Keeping his eyes fixed on the bay, letting them fill with its springtime radiance, O’Casey extracted from the past a woman’s voice, that of her mother, and she was perfectly captured…
“What’s wrong with you, Joe?” Bad with you, for God’s sake? Did he say something?
“My mom worried about him all the time,” O’Casey said. “His nerves were off. He had what she called his spells.
“I’m sorry. I don’t remember . . .
“Ah, you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t remember anything. You would have gone to boarding school.
The biggest mystery is how others perceive us. The pub had always been a respectable place and he could not have imagined that the family was anything but well regarded. But he also realized that the accusation of snobbery often surprises those who are thus challenged.
O’Casey quickly finished the whiskey and held out his hand to offer the empty glass but as he reached out to take it, O’Casey took it away again, as if to play, and he didn’t smile. He just put it down on the porch at his feet and turned around and left.
He entered the pub and locked the door. He sat down at a low table in the guise, briefly, of a customer. He looked around the bar for a slow minute. No songs; no recitals; no display of romantic affection. It was a house that favored schoolmasters, respectable farmers, country notaries. The thinness of his world was closing in. In such a calm everything was amplified. The sails slip; the building itself could collapse. At the end of March of the year, the light was quite new and revealing.
“He would look after a mouse for you at Ballina Market,” Tim Godfrey said. “A prudent man, he wouldn’t be faulted. Tough enough to have a father like that?
He has to admit he had been. It had been many years since Godfrey had haunted the place, hadn’t looked around coffee tables with a humorous look. Godfrey was a Church of Ireland farmer from the Ox Mountains, transplanted by a strange marriage to the plain of North Mayo – across from the place itself he could see more clearly. It is true that his father was a prudent man. Growing up in the house of such a man, you heard yourself thinking. Without a single word being said, you could feel that you were being measured for the tasks that might be presented. The workings of the pub were slowly introduced.
He got up and went behind the bar and placed a glass under the optics and poured himself a large Bushmills and diluted it with three or four drops of tap water. He drank it down and felt the slow fire go down in his stomach. It had been years since he had taken a wit. The charge of his heat stirred him powerfully. He had felt the intensity of anger in youth. He hadn’t wanted this place but had allowed himself to be molded by it. There was a resentment he had never really named before. He shook his head against that feeling and came out from behind the bar and went to the window and lifted the blind another fraction and saw the expanse of the bay and the Stags of Broadhaven looming and the cormorant arranged gothically against the black shimmer of his rock. . Time could not be measured in the usual way. The day and evening markers had fallen into disuse. Removed from his routines, he was no longer the complete equation of himself. Those afternoon visits to the pub were supposed to fake routine, but now they were failing. They were filled more and more with old lost voices. He walked to the door, opened it and leaned over to pick up the glass of whiskey from the porch where O’Casey had left it but there was no glass. He closed the door and locked it again. He sat down at a low table. The sun moved carelessly around the building and suddenly its light filled the kitchen at the back.