Aidan walked in the Green and kicked little stones by the pond. When one splashed into the water, the ducks and geese rushed over, in case it was bread. They were always hungry: enough to move Billy Cullen to remark: 'Feeding the ducks is an art, I declare, to see that each duck gets no more than his share.'
The thought of Billy always made him smile; despite all the shite that life threw at him.
'I was a little down,' Billy had once confided in him, a few years back, before Aidan got published. He hung around Grogan's then, trying to get noticed by those who'd known Kavanagh and Behan, people like John Jordan and Paddy O'Brian. He was hoping they might accept him, too.
'So I decided to end it all. I had a bottle of Spanish wine, and I put on some tango music: I wanted to create a bit of show, you know, to make a grand exit and all.
'Well! I'd almost finished the bottle, and I'd been dancing up a storm and all of a sudden, the fella downstairs is banging on the ceiling. “Jazus Billy,” he shouts up. “What the fuck are you doing up there? My ceiling is after falling down.”
'Anyway, by the time I'd finished helping him clean up, I didn't feel like ending it any more so here I am, by God's grace, to enjoy another day of misery and shite, and how are things with yourself?'
Ah fuck it. There's that old bitch again.
He'd never spoken to her, but she always stopped and stared at him. She usually wandered near Moore Street: the women in the markets had told him she went crazy and pushed her fella off Howth Head as he nodded to the barman, to bring another round. He didn't want to cause an interruption; he was getting it straight from those in the know. 'An' why the fuck would she do somethin' like that?'
'Ah, Sweet Jesus, it's as plain as the nose on your face. She did it for love.'
'I heard that he was seeing someone else.'
'I heard that she got off Scot clean.'
'Ah, not really, she was up in Portrane for years; and not sunning herself on the beach. She was in the hospital, ya know?'
They looked like the three monkeys as they reached out for their drinks. 'God bless you, Aidan Greeley. You're a true Bard of the People.'
She passed as the bells chimed: quarter past ten. Grogan's would be open soon. He could start ambling over, slowly. He didn't like being the first – that smacked of desperation, but it would be quiet and he could spread his notes on the bar, bits and pieces of paper scratched out and rewritten with a different word here or a new line there – so many possibilities hanging on delicate threads. But there was something beautiful in there if he could just reorganise it, if he could just find that pattern that was not a pattern at all.
His mind was a mess of disorganised verses piled on top of each other. Some were orphans and would wither, but others lingered defiantly, like stones in his shoes. They were the ones he found the time to polish. But even some of them were destined to irrelevance. He sipped his first with trepidation and lit another cigar. He'd start in a minute, after he had his smoke, after his first pint. By then, everything would settle down.
“Everything worth reading's been written,” someone muttered as they sat beside him. Aidan covered his papers and raised his glass, swallowing a mouthful. There was no malice behind it, just the usual banter. Jimmy Neil could bite much harder than that. “Tommy, give us a couple of pints.”
Jimmy lit a foul smelling cigarette and stared at Aidan who stared at his yellowed reflection between the rows of bottles behind the bar. His latest anthology had been well received – even 'The Irish Times' had reviewed it. He flicked his ash and blew smoke through his nose as Tommy placed the fresh pints before them and smiled until he could think of the right thing to say. “Aidan, I saw the review in the 'Times.’ You're moving in elevated circles.”
Gwen was right! He was getting noticed, but it felt hollow. He'd cut out the article and put it in his pocket. He wanted to take it out and read it again.
“He's still a gutter-snipe.”
The phone jangled loudly and Tommy was glad of the intrusion. The lads were a bit cranky this morning, it was best to leave them alone for a while. “Hello, Castle Lounge. Sure! Mrs. Fitzwilliams. I'll get him for you right now.” He beckoned with the phone and busied himself slicing lemons.
“So,” Jimmy smirked as Aidan returned, “getting calls from Horse-Protestants now? Some fuckin' workin' class hero.”
“She's my fuckin' editor, ya gobshite.”
“What the fuck do you need an editor for? Can't Catholic's spell?”
Aidan might have reacted, but Jimmy was an Atheist. “Tommy, give us two more and then I got to go.”
“She has you on a short leash?”
He lingered over his pint for a while. He didn’t want Jimmy to think he was at her beck and call.