The Morning Star beckoned to us from the top of the hill. It was getting late but there was still some light in the summer sky. This would be the last pit-stop before we reached the hostel further out the road. We arrived at the low wall. I glanced over. No sign of the half dozen or so brown hens that had been pecking and scratching their way about the garden when we passed by earlier on that day.
The Guinness sign above the door the only indication that this wasn’t just someones house.
‘It seems fierce quiet,’ I said to Therese over my shoulder. ‘Are you sure it’s even open.’
‘Try the door and find out,’ she teased me.
I don’t know why but I felt intense trepidation, the pit of my stomach clenching and groaning. The windows were dark and no noise coming from inside. There was a horror B-movie air about the place. Therese giggled with nerves as we walked down the cracked narrow path, I shusshed her. The door creaked open and I shut it just as quick.
‘What’s wrong?’ loud whisper, right in my ear.
‘There’s no-one in there.’ My split second appraisal was of one old man sitting at the bar in deathly silence hunched over a pint and no sign of the barman.
I turned. ‘I don’t know if we should go in.’
‘What do you mean?’ Therese said.
‘It’s dead in there,’ I pleaded.
‘Don’t be an eejit,’ she said opening the door with one hand and shoving me forward with the other so I stumbled into the bar flailing at the air. I straightened up quick smart and nodded to the barman who’d poked his head into the room through a side door when he heard the commotion. Therese followed in after me and we settled into two barstools alongside the other customer. He didn’t seem too curious about his new drinking companions, just sat there supping his pint. Without being too obvious I tried to catch a glimpse of him – seemed like a fisherman; the peaked cap, the weathered face and rough hands. The smell of sea salt, diesel and fish wafting towards me seemed to back this up.
‘What’ll you have so?’ asked the barman.
He stuck a glass under the tap and started the pour, glanced at us, then at his other customer then back to the pint and repeated this ritual as he poured the second pint. He stood back a bit then, arms folded across his chest, letting the Guinness settle. It was so quiet I thought I could hear the stout foaming up into a head. Why did I let her convince me to come in here?
‘It was very busy in the pub down in the village.’ Therese said to the barman, but almost as if she’d read my mind. ‘Very noisy.’
‘Aye. It’s usually busy down there alright.’ He moved forward then to top up the pints giving it all his concentration.
‘Another pint Peadar,’ my neighbour said. I had a clear view of his face just then and noticed nothing else except his eyes, the most piercing blue. I looked away before he caught me staring.
‘So will it pick up in here later?’ I asked Peadar.
‘In here? Not really. The few locals come in now for a quiet pint away from all the racket in the village. Like Frank here.’ He placed a pint in front of the man beside me. I plucked up the courage to question him.
‘So Frank what do you do?’
He looked sideways at me with a scowl on him as if I’d insulted his mother. ‘That’s not me name.’
‘Sorry, I thought…’ I decided it was better to say no more. I wished for the ground to swallow me whole.
‘That’s my fault,’ Peadar said. ‘It’s just a nickname we have for him. He likes to sing you see.’
‘Oh,’ I said not quite getting the association.
Therese piped up, ‘Would you sing us a song then?’
‘Ah… I don’t know.’
‘We’d be really honoured,’ she purred flashing him a winning smile. ‘Please.’
‘I might so, when you put it like that.’
I could never resist those charming smiles either. He clasped my right hand between both of his. I flashed Therese an ‘I didn’t know this was part of the deal’ look to which she replied with a nudge to my ribs. I turned back to ‘Frank’. He fixed me with his incredible blue eyes for several long moments before the lids came down and the notes spilled from his mouth, the melody opening like a flower, the note seeds floating up to the ceiling.
An chéad Mháirt de fhómhair ba brónach tuirseach mo scéal.
Lámh thapa a bhí cróga ag gabháil rohmam ar leaba na n-éag.
Ar Charraig na nDeor is dó gur chaill mé mo radharc
Is go dté mé faoi fhód is ní thógfad m’aigne i do dhéidh.
Haunting music, made seem more so as I didn’t understand the lyrics. A mixture of pride in my Irish heritage and shame that it was incomprehensible to me. But that’s just words, the emotion of the delivery made the meaning clear beyond the need for language. The melody stopped, the mouth closed, the eyes opened and my hand was released. We applauded. A dry echoing sound. It seemed a poor reward for what he’d given us.
copyright © Francis Long 2010
This story cannot be lent, resold or circulated in any form, without the author’s prior consent.