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Miming the petulant moue of, say, a Roman sensualist of the post-Antonine era, or a Regency brat under the Younger Pitt, Michael T. "Mick" McCreek's face, that interesting preface to the rather ordinary rest of him, buried itself pillow- deep in a vain attempt to avoid the probing rays of the rising Irish sun, a weak sun at best but a game one, bedad, and not a sun to be shut out of the bedroom window of Flat 16A, Padre Pio Houses, by a mere flimsy curtain or so. Indeed, by shining persistently and directly onto your man's Romano-Regency face, it illumined in an unwelcome, glaring red glow the intricate Mississippi Delta network of his inner-eyelid veins. He grumbled. Slowly, sleep ebbed as sufficient time dragged itself along, with the lame determination of a hunchback in heat, to accommodate the twin phenomena, one tactile, the other aural, of: (1) warmer sunshine splashing onto Mick's gob and (2) a car outside starting up with hiccupping roars exacerbated by much boot-to-the-floor pedal-pumping followed by the gear-grinding diminuendo of exceedingly slow departure.
There goes that Indian dickhead (shouted the uninvited thought-announcer in Mick's brain) at the wheel of his effing old Escort that he should have sent to the junkyard long since, the stingy wee bastard, turning his lights off in the middle of the night and spewing clouds of burnt oil left right and centre and no bloody notion in the world of how to shift into first ...!
With all this external din and internal mind palaver Mick was distracted, uneasy, a failed sleeper; in fact dangerously near wakefulness and getting closer all the time, what with one thing and another — his Indian neighbour's departure, the sun scorching his face, the new day's being Monday. It was a full sixty-second minute or more before the perfect (indeed only) solution wormed its way into his awakening brain: Turn over, son!
He obeyed, and was at once conscious of a coolness of visage counterbalanced by a rapidly warming spot on the nape of his neck where Old Sol, still staring through the halfhearted window curtain, now focused his gaze. Of course, it was the morning, and Mick did have a job, however ludicrous (very: assistant test driver for Jocelyn Motors); give him credit, though, he was a realist, by and large, and that morning he was, consequently, soon out of bed and well downstairs, in fact in the immaculately white kitchen itself, blearily scrutinizing the controls of his birthday coffeemaker, last year's (and no doubt last, as in lifelong) gift from Eileen, his ex, on the occasion of his fortieth.
"Nice of her," he mumbled. "But how typical, for God's sake, to give me something I don't know how to use."
The words Oh Eileen by the holy Christ I miss ya my sweet machree ah God so I do me own darlin' girl trembled unwailed in the air. He did miss the woman, too, especially her thigh and hip area and its oft-kneaded amplitudes, but not enough to call her up, or make (re- )overtures, not with her tendency to plunge into the warm bath of Monologue, or was it Soliloquy ... God, was she a gabber, anyway, and getting worse with age.
He preferred to let things follow the zigzag route of their own unpredictability. The coffeemaker could wait its turn, or disappear entirely. And anyway My Three Buns, the place down the road, brewed up a matchless Arabica, or Colombian, or was it Brazilian — something hot, moist, and dark, anyway, like the inside thigh of an Andalusian whore, plus caffeine... Mick, mentally stirred (if also slightly shaken) at this thought, whistled shrilly the second theme of Mimi and Rodolfo's love duet from La Bohème by G. Puccini as he sought and successfully deployed navy tie, sky-blue shirt, and crimson underhose (with white piping). There ensued a quick tussle with the belt and trews, a smooth scrape of the stubble and the cursory tremor of a comb in the hair — and presto! Mick McCreek reporting for duty, sir! Not that he ever so reported, or called anyone "sir"; and of course the effing job was on the other side of town, and naturally his frigging car was in the shop, but what could you expect from a five-year-old Jocelyn GT with twelve valves to the competition's twenty-four?
No, its the old Number Twelve bus or shank's mare, mister me man.
Well, anyway, first off was My Three Buns, the newly chic trucker's caff down on Blessed Martin de Porres Street limned sketchily in Mick's mind's eye, the eye that never lied but was frequently blurred, more like a bad TV broadcast than the likes of a West of Ireland shanachee's meanderings, My Three Buns in reality being far less congenial than fondly depicted on the bloodshot eyeball of Mick's mind. There it basked in such clichés as "grotty but solid working-class ambience" and "down-to-earth unpretentious food." Truthfully, the place was a bit of a tip, and Devereux, the owner, was quite the rogue, a greedy sod anyway, boasting a ratlike and bewhiskered face above bulbous abdomen and thorax. His missus was no better, only cleaner-shaven, and with deeper cleavage in the chest area. They had kids, too, but that didn't bear thinking of ... still, the fried bread was top-hole, and the eponymous buns, gooey as a bag of melted Mars Bars on the backseat of the family saloon in the summer sun: YUM!
And none, however well motivated, could come close to the bacon rinds, never mind your classic sunny side up with chips on the side ...!
Especially those chips: salty, oily, limp: plain delicious!!!
After all, it doesn't have to be good for you to be good, does it?
"Yum! Oh yum!"
Mick was ready, oh he was agog, old turn agurgle, satchel at hand, keys ajingle. He checked the gas above and below, adjusted his tie, and scampered delightedly into the dangerously random Great Outdoors, where it was blustery, rendering his tie a wind-sock, pointing due East. That way lay Wales, as usual, with England loitering beyond; here in Ireland's north- southeast it was a cracking fine day, what with a brisk wind that danced with the trees and lifted the leaves above the eaves. Not so bad for September the twentieth, when for all you knew it could plunge to five on the Celsius scale, the record for Killoyle City and environs, set a twelvemonth ago last September in the year of three governments.
Thanks be to God, a mere twenty-four solid Christian degrees it was, this breezy September morn.
"Sure you'd be hard pressed to do better in the south of France, or the Aegean itself," blurted Mick, fatuously.
A quick step or so took him across Padre Pio Circus down Blessed Martin de Porres Street to the scaley shopfront behind which teemed My Three Buns — or rather, teemed not, for on that day of all blessed sunny days in the calendar there was a sign on the door. Mick, incredulous, peered, then peered closer.
"Closed," said the sign, and repeated itself identically throughout subsequent double- and triple-takes. Through the window an ugly mug hovered, glowered, glared, and vanished behind a hastily lowered blind.
"Go away," came a muffled shout.
Mick obeyed, dragging his feet, one more cosy plan up the spout. He dawdled not, for "work" (such as it was) was imminent, rendering breakfast urgent. He mentally perused the possibilities:
There was the Bay Window, with its pseuds from Killoyle Upper College and prats from elsewhere.
There was McSpackle's Cantina, on the Promenade, with its annoying Spanish decor.
There was the Koh-I-Noor, curry shop of the gods, run (actually) by that Indian berk from downstairs with the dicey Escort, but the Koh was better reserved for late-night homeward-bound stopoffs for Vindaloo and a six of lager.
There was the snooty Balsa Room of the freshly renovated Spudorgan Vacation Inn, where a fiver might just get you a pot of coffee and a table away from the jakes (if you managed to find the good side of the freshly reappointed managing director, Milo Rogers, no easy task — and wasn't Milo a hard man when he was at home, oh Christ, he was that — or so they said, for Mick had never met the poet laureate of the Killoyle hotel business, but the man's reputation preceded (and followed) him like a gang of impecunious inebriates.)
Finally, and more realistically, there was McShiny's. The American chain had opened a branch on King Idris Avenue (West), which, given time-and-motion considerations (Mick was first test driver of the day of the new Asphodel LSI, and that in thirty-five minutes) would be the likeliest candidate for brekkers.
And McShiny's it was. Blandly Americanesque in their good humour, the teens behind the counter somewhat oversold their product and the customer's pleasure in consuming it, their pseudo-conversation bookended with anodyne "how are you todays" and "have a good days" designed to provoke the matutinal temper of your average mick; and Mick was nothing if not that.
"I'll take the Shiny Sausage," he muttered. "And chips," he added, irritably.
"Will that be the Super Shiny Sausage with Super Shiny Fries?" inquired the adolescent, plunging Mick into an agony of indecision and despair.
"Oh, I don't know. How big is it? Oh, all right."
As he ate the Super Shiny Sausage — nearly a foot long and encased in a warm sticky bun apparently made of some kind of molten yet edible (just) plastic — across the linoleum his furtive gaze steadied its focus onto a pair of neat feminine legs, neatly crossed, attached to a felicitous lady whose glance was at once winsome and willing. Red-haired was she, and buxom, and greeny-blue of eye; and she purported to be perusing a copy of Glam.
Now none of that, boyo, grumbled the once- uxorious censor in Mick's brain, where the spirit of Eileen still flitted free (as free as she was now in the bloody wynds and backways of Edinburgh ...?); sod it, countered the opposition, voice of gruff maleness open to a pint and a quick fondle any time, mate, day or night. Nice piece, pursued that voice, offensively. To ward off panic, Mick turned his eyes to a copy of the Killoyle Clarion that lay abandoned on the next table.
"City Picked as Site of Olympics," confided the headlines.
"Cripes," exclaimed Mick.
Not the Olympics, as further perusal revealed, but the World Pint-Pulling Olympiad, no small event when you stopped to consider the attendance at your average boozer in any Irish town any day of the week, never mind during an event when the stout flowed like the waters of the East Killoyle River for five days running and free pints were handed out like trophies on Derby Day, with the grand prize a wee pub of one's own, location to be designated by the judges; ah a pub, thought Mick dreamily, like the Lusitania in Listowel, or Harvey's Bar in Bundoran, or McCracken's on the Diamond in Omagh ...
The lady with the legs went out, using those very legs to precise locomotive effect.
Mick sighed, riven by waves of nostalgia, lust, and acid reflux.
"Well, I drink Coke because my mum drinks Coke," explained a teenaged girl to another teenaged girl behind him. "She says it has less carbonation than Pepsi."
"Cool," said her friend.
"Ah, Christ," said Mick.
He rose, dabbing his lips. His system reacted to the hasty ingestion of sausage grease plus chips with a gaseous detonation. The girls giggled.
Making haste, ten minutes later he was at the Jocelyn works and behind the wheel of the world's first production-model Asphodel TTX. Pats Bewley, the testing supervisor, red-faced with impatience, was clutching his clipboard and emitting a faint hissing sound through his lower mandibles. As usual, Mick noted irritably, he was wearing a shirt with cross-hatching and a shite-brown tie misknotted entirely and only coming down to the middle of his chest. Mick hated Pats Bewley on general principles, because Bewley was a prat, but more specifically because he was a known nondrinker and Hearty Harry type of sanctimonious churchgoing hill-climbing Pioneer arsehole with a full complement of manly condescension and salutary anecdotes for the less-advantaged, i.e., drinkers, smokers, freethinkers, and all the plain people of Ireland.
"Ah, there you are, McCreek," said Bewley. "Another five minutes and I'd have given the drive to Driscoll. Always almost late, aren't you?"
"Kiss my arse."
"That's what I mean. That attitude. No manners to speak of, and what's that on your tie? Now, there's the car. Take her up to speed, but watch the brakes. New antilocks are always chancey lads, I don't have to tell you that. And watch the lean on corners."
Pats stood aside and placed a complacent checkmark on the checklist of his clipboard: 8:46; Tester McCreek at the wheel; all three liters and sixteen valves of the Asphodel LSI ready to throb; nine miles on the clock. The Asphodel was the first of a projected new generation ofJocelyns, uniting elements of the jeep, the claw-footed bathtub, and the family saloon, and powered as it was by a unique seven-cylinder engine developed exclusively at Jocelyn Motors. The inverted-bathtub-like bonnet displayed a scooped-out air intake like the entrance to a cave, and the roof wore a gnarled-steel crown of gleaming aluminium tubes. Thick manly or womanly tyres and shining alloy wheels squatting beneath bold wing flares hinted at the no-nonsense stance of a barge designed for high speeds and deep road-rutting. Also, chrome abounded, not least inside, where Mick already had a headache from the glare.
"Too much fuckin' chrome in here, Pats," he said. "I can't see."
"Get on wichya, McCreek," snapped Pats. "Put on yer shades, then. And mind the brakes."
Displaying a profile of haughty indifference to Bewley's nagging, Mick drove off and motored about stylishly for a while, imagining an audience of girls. Oh, the machine would make a less demanding man quite happy, he reckoned. Just the thing for the philistines who littered the world's computer shops and university science departments, the T-shirted, unkempt, TV- and video-obsessed imbeciles with their baseball caps and dirt bikes and bungee jumps, the miserable half-witted wee nerds. ... Truth to tell, Mick, a lover of cars, nevertheless dreamed not of Asphodels, nor of any Jocelyn. A Merc was his motor, black, preferably, with silver paneling, and chrome- tipped dual exhausts, and one of those smooth German clutchless shifters.
"Ah, that'd be the man, all right."
Mick whistled in atonal counterpoint to the overture to G. Rossini's L Italiana in Algeri rollicking away on Breakfast Classics 105.5 FM. The traffic was light at that time of day in most parts of town and almost nonexistent on the MacLiammoir Ring Road, from which vantage point there was a grand view of the sea. As a red light lingered, Mick stared at the view, one of the best things about living in this godforsaken shithole of a town (no Milan, you can bet yer bags). Whatever his preoccupations of the moment, he always gave the view from the MacLiammoir Road a glance of admiration, especially when there was a chance, as there was on extra-clear days, of spotting Wales on the far horizon of fact and fantasy, like Avalon, or Hybrassil — in fact, as he watched, a layer of mist peeled away and presto!. Thar she blew, a thin layer of crust on the distant line of the sea. It was an inspiring sight: Cymru! The imagination, if so instructed, might even supply the distant sound of massed baritones lustily rendering "Men of Harlech" in the melancholy valleys of South Rhondda and Gwynedd ... my oh my, ruminated Mick, not for the first time. So it was across this sea that Tristan sailed to his Isolde's Cornwall and did battle with stout King Mark; that bloody Cromwell came, in the wake of the even bloodier Vikings; that the Normans came, too, and conquered; that, some day long since, the original Celts had arrived from God knows where to rout the small dusky natives from the cosy comfort of their bogs; and it was over this selfsame sea that the former Mrs. Eileen McCreek, fed up with her quondam hubby's obstinacy of habit and innate lack of ambition, had, in the tradition of the modern Irish exile, sailed away on the midnight ferry from Dun Laoighaire, away from her green land, toward a greener love, to Edinburgh, city of Boswell and Burns and the whiskey distiller or beer salesman or whatever the blazes he was who had tempted her to sacrifice so much so soon. ...
"Ah, ya sod."
(It was a relief to be shut of her blathering, but. Talk about carping.)
The sun, as previously noted, was shining full force. The liquid silver sea and the chrome fittings inside the car formed a confluence of brilliance that had Mick, sunglasses or not, quite blinded by the time the horns started honking behind him like hungry geese. In his rearview an oddly distorted face behind the wheel of what appeared to be a 1970s-era Fiat convertible snarled silently.
"All right, all right. Jaysus."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad"
Copyright © 2003 Roger Boylan.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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