"After Hours" - A Short Story by Eddie Stack
A Reading Life Special Event
A Reading Life Special Event
Irish Short Story Month Year III
March 1 to March 31
In an act of supreme generosity Eddie Stack has sent me 22 short stories to post for Irish Short Story Month. I offer him my great thanks for this. I intend to share all of these short stories with my readers. He is a master story teller with a deep understanding of Ireland.
Press comments on his work
Press comments on his work
Praise for Eddie Stack’s writing
"Mr. Stack's fiction is versatile and engaging...a vivid, compassionate, authentic voice...securing (him) a place in the celebrated tradition of his country's storytelling.”
New York Times Book Review
“This second collection of short stories by Eddie Stack has a wonderful sense of unreality, of weirdness among Irish characters and of downright fun.”
“Eddie Stack’s stories jet back and forth across the Atlantic, contrasting small town Ireland and big city US. Every time they land, the author seems to test the borderline of what might and might not be possible in downtown bars, crumbling dance halls and drizzly farms. The result is a remarkably consistent collection of short stories.
Ian Wild, Southword
It was well past closing time and the pub was crowded, dark and steamy. Monty Hogan staggered towards the counter, lost his balance, and fell on a table of drinkers. Men and women scrambled out of his way, toppling bottles and smashing glasses. Drinks splashed and a woman screamed that her dress was ruined. Another woman cried, “Fuck you Monty!”
Helpless as a babe in a cot, Monty lay across the table, clutching his frada — an electronic gadget that looked like a computer affixed to a guitar neck. It blared head-wrecking psychedelic whirls.
“Stop that noise!” a man roared.
“Turn off the frada!” a women shouted. “Turn off the fuckin’ frada!”
The frada screeched louder when two men lifted Monty off the table. Peter Egan, the publican, grabbed a syphon of soda water from a shelf and sprayed the flashing instrument. There was a sizzle, and Monty jolted, then collapsed on the floor, still clutching the silenced gadget.
“Don’t touch him or ye’ll get electrocuted!” warned Mossy Fossett. “Call d’ambulance!
“I’ll call fuck all at this hour of the morn!” shouted Egan, “Drink up or shut up!”
Two Good Samaritans settled Monty on a bench. He was drenched in soda water. Lily Doyle felt his brow and took his pulse. “He’s alive anyway,” she announced, and a jumble of relief and disappointment rumbled around the pub.
Monty is forgotten and Lulu Hopal, the merriest widow in town, croons ‘Yesterday’. Her voice is ethereal at first, but gets distraught by the second verse. She veers off song and addresses her dead husband Faxo, asking why he had to go and spoil the show.
In tears, Mary White orders a gin and tonic, and Egan the landlord has to lower his head, to catch her whisper. Then she puts her tongue in his ear and kisses his cheek. Perks of the job, he fondles her breasts and she sighs, “You never visited me like you promised.”
“Any night now,” he muttered and turned away to fill a pint of porter for Oliver Collins, and another for himself.
Bart Carson, an undercover gossip, asked Egan if he’d heard the rumour about Bella Donnell and Father Wogan. He hadn’t. He took a sharp draw on a fag when Bart said the priest tried to exorcise a demon from the ex-nun and failed. “She ended up on top of him,” Bart whispered, clutching Egan’s elbow. “The two of ‘em were bollox naked when Mary Callinan came into the room with a Mass card for him to sign!”
Shaking his head, Egan turns away and fills two half-whiskeys for Dido Lavorn, a blonde hell- raiser, decades beyond her prime.
“Peter,” she whispers, “if you want a bit of housework done anytime, just let me know.”
“Sound,” he nods, and lies that he has no ice.
Henry Connoly, a long time patron, sings ‘When the Swallows come back to Capistrano’ and Sharon Jones holds Egan’s hand over the counter and hums along in harmony. After the applause, from a dark corner near the Ladies, the sultry voice of Dodo Malley pleads, “Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone . . .” Glasses clink in anticipation of a classic performance as she emerges from the darkness, singing from her heart, holding a small mixer bottle as a microphone: “I’ll tell the mah-ha-haaan, to turn the jukebox way down lo-ho-hooo ...”
Some other women wailed along and Egan wondered if he should call it a night and throw them all out before things turned chaotic. That happened once in a blue moon; things slipped out of order in a blink. Someone would fuck up, some one else would react and next there’d be an explosion. He pulled on a cigarette, slugged his pint and gauged the crowd. They were mostly well-on, but good-humoured. He’d let them be. Anyway, soon the dog race from Mexico would be on the television and he’d make a good till.
Egan squinted over at Monty, drew hard on the fag, and queried Henry Connoly,
“What kind of a yoke is that frada anyway?”
“Something he invented from bits a’ computers an’ electric guitars an’ things. Monty’s a genius.”
“I know,” Egan sighed, topping his pint and beginning one for Henry, “but the fucker is nuts. The rig-out of him . . . in a fuckin ballet dress an’ a fur coat . . . isn’t he getting dosh from NAMA?”
“Apparently every month he gets a thousand fedros or maybe more from them and all the pills and stuff that he can swallow.”
“It’s an amazing NAMA,” Egan said cynically, “the rest of us payin’ tax to keep the show on the road an’ Monty inventing contraptions to drive us up the fuckin wall . . .”
“National Asset and Protected Personalities, I think that’s the name of the fund he’s drawin’ from.”
“Well, I knew that scheme to monitise the arts was always going to be a disaster. Money down the drain. It’s worse than the original NAMA. I mean, Monty and his likes add damn-all to the economy. They make this art shit and they’re costing us a fortune. Give me a break.”
“At least the builders built something and used up sand and timber and stuff. And they spent their money.”
“Exactly, Peter. We’re back to the Saints and Scholars, that’s what we’re famous for now. Geniuses like Monty, no more tar and cement. It’s all art nowadays. Apparently that’s what the tourists want to experience, the arts.”
Egan lit a cigarette and said, “I don’t know what tourist would want to come and visit Monty.”
“Well, of course he’s very talented,” said Henry, “and he’s a fine fella when he’s not on a jag, very well-mannered and sociable, sensible dress ex-cetera, ex-cetera. Has afternoon tea in the Imperial Hotel with his mother and so on. And then he snaps . . . something gets to the poor hure and he goes astray bit by bit until he’s gone totally gaga. Then Galligan gives him the needle and after a few days he’s right as rain.”
“He’s gaga enough now,” said Egan. “I mean . . . you could put up with the frada occasionally, if he could play it or turn the fuckin’ volumn down. . . anyone can get shit-faced once in a while, but havin’ both of them full-on and he prancing around in the ballet get-up, now that shit can get to you.”
“And of course you can’t bar him or you’d have wan of them shaggin’ anti-discrimination cops on your arse. But sure there’s no harm in the poor hure, he’s his own worst enemy. And who’s to say that if we had a mother and father like Monty has, that we’d be any better than him. Worse maybe.”
“NAMA has a lot to answer for.”
Peggy Morgan came to the counter and ordered a small brandy and a bottle of Tarzan Extra. She was with her mother’s lodger, Ms. McCabe, who worked for the dentist. Egan wondered if they were lovers or just friends. After serving her, he turned to Henry.
“Has she a NAMA deal as well?”
“She has indeed. Apparently she’s a poet and gets a good slice of pie. Imagine! Did you know that, according to Fás, there are sixty-five registered poets in Ennis? Hah? More poets there now than Polish plasterers in the old days. Go figure that one out.”
“Brutal. And I bet you, there’s none of them as good a poet as Quaker Leary from Ballyfin,,” Egan said.
“My point exactly. The Quaker wouldn’t go within an asses’ roar of NAMA; he wouldn’t take a penny from them. He paddles his own canoe. And for the record, there’s twenty-two potters in Kilfadeen, all on the NAMA tit. I mean, how many jugs do you want on the dresser? Hah?”
“Twenty-two blue cuckoos,” said Egan, filling a pint for himself, “And you heard that Mattie Clark got on the Leprechaun Scheme? I mean, more luck to the poor devil, but do we need another fuckin’ leprechaun in this parish? Like, we have at least a dozen of ‘em.”
“My point exactly. But you see, Peter, we’re a tourist nation now, we’re in arts and entertainment. Tourists expect to meet leprechauns and talk to them, watch them do tricks with a crock of brass coins. But most of these shagging leprechauns spend their days on the beer. And a more awkward bunch of flutes you won’t meet in a month of Sundays. In my opinion they’re a liability to the place, they’re giving us a bad name. I mean, how can it serve us well, to be known as the leprechaun capital of the world? Give me a break! Cut them off! The same goes for that terrible bore, MacClune the shanachie, he’s another NAMA beneficiary, another national asset, an’ a most toxic one. I cringe every time I see him giving a spiel to tourists, and he hanging around Doyle’s Corner with a caubeen and a clay pipe. Straight from Disneyland. You see, they get paid for this shit. They’re all artists now, Peter.”
“What gets me most about this art stuff,” confided Egan, “is that it’s impossible to know the good from the bad. Like, you know if a carpenter hangs a door the wrong way, but this art stuff is different.”
“Aha!” said Henry. “You put your finger on the crux of the matter. With art, there is no good or bad. Not anymore. I always said there should be a regulator for the arts.”
“But you know, I blame Labour and the Greens. When they were in government, the whole shebang went belly-up.”
“I agree. NAMA should have stuck to the property problem; letting them near the arts was ludicrous. But that was the Greens, that was the Greens. And once NAMA sold the Book of Kells to Google, we were shagged. After that, everything was on the table. I know it got us out of a hole at the time, but. . .”
“Well of course, that was let go because of the whole church scandal but then they sold the Cliffs of Moher to Microsoft, who hung a big fuckin’ sign on it that you can see from New York! What’s all that about?” Egan asked.
“My point exactly!” Henry said, beckoning for another pint. “We became a brand: Good old Ireland of the grá mo chroí welcomes. Céad Míle Fáilte and all that shit. You see, even though Labour and the Greens were top-heavy with brains, they were no match for Google or Microsoft or Don Draper.”
Egan nodded. He knew Henry was getting loaded, but he was good enough for a few more pints, so he put another one in front of him. “None of them were as smart as poor ol’ Charlie Haughey, bad and all as he was,” he said.
“My point exactly!” Henry said.
A woman named Kiki O’Neill was singing ‘Two Little Orphans’ and the pub roared the chorus. Brutal stuff. Henry said she had a NAMA deal — she sang five hundred songs a year and got big money for it. A microchip sent a message back to Apple every time she sang, he said, and money went straight into her bank account in Kilrush.
“It’s all microchips and PIN numbers now,” complained Egan.
“My point exactly!” said Henry. “We’re owned by Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple, like it or lump it. They know where we live, what we ate. We’re fuckin’ guinea pigs, Peter, and they’re watching us. Monty explained it all to me one night. Bad and all as poor old Monty is, at least he’s a genius, and I really don’t begrudge him the Elite Plan he has. In all fairness, the likes of him need to be supported. “
The Geek Hynes, a thirty-year-old unemployed nerd, had been eavesdropping and said, “What’s wrong with a poet or a singer getting a NAMA deal? NAMA helped all the big crooks, didn’t they?”
“But tis gone too far,” Egan said and Henry nodded. “I mean, there’s a fella in Barrana who got a NAMA deal to make statues out of old telegraph poles with a chainsaw.”
“My point exactly!” said Henry. “And they gave thousands to that nut Babbler Forrester to compose a concerto! I mean that guy hasn’t a note in his head! What was that Shakespeare said about the monkey and the typewriter? Oh damn, it escapes me now … but it’s the same thing.”
“The reality is, this country is just an anthill now,” the Geek said. “We’re all drones, bringing home bacon for the queens. The Eurocrats own us. We should have revolted when the Celtic Tiger imploded. We needed a program like the WPA that the Yanks had during the Depression. But we had to reinvent the wheel and fucked it up. Anyway, we can’t blame the Brits for the disaster — we showed the world we were well able to crucify ourselves. We believed our own blarney! The joke is on us.”
Egan moved down the counter to serve Dilly Mangan. He only tolerated the Geek because he needed him to hack the till now and again to get around the NAMA taxes. The landlord figured the Geek was too bright for his own good, and too thirsty as well. A tipsy woman was singing “Wooden Heart” in the dark. Dixie Daly, an amateur jockey, harmonized in the chorus. Egan wondered if they too had NAMA deals. The Guinness clock over the bar read 2.45 am. Soon the greyhound race would be broadcast from Cancun, so he filled himself a pint, lit a cigarette and took a black ledger from under the counter.
Henry calls for two pints, and the anticipation of free porter puts The Geek on a roll. Egan begins filling the order and listens to him telling Henry, “We’d be in a different Ireland now, if the proletariat had taken to the streets when the shit first hit the fan. We took it lying down. Are we destined to be always picking up the tab for an elite?”
“My point exactly,” muttered Henry, looking at the floor. Egan topped the two pints and left them on the counter. Henry put a fistful of money beside them and said, “That’s the bank.”
“Sláinte, Henry.” saluted the Geek. He took a drink, smacked his lips and said, “We have a weak gene, which we indulge, rather than taking responsibility for it. We’re suckers for fairytales. Deep down we believe the crock of gold and the rainbow crap. We’re weaned and reared on it. So at any given time, a certain percentage of the population are away with the fairies, whether they be the politicians or their followers or both. How else could the same clots be voted into government, election after election? We fall for the bait every time. We have a societal rot.”
Egan exhaled loudly and lit a cigarette. He knew The Geek would like a smoke, but didn’t offer him one.
“What do you mean by societal rot?” Henry asked politely.
“A suspension of critical faculties” said the Geek. “We are no longer independent thinkers, we do our master’s bidding. We might as well be on a Roman slave galley. We’re all paddling, so guys can have chauffeurs and yachts and stuff.”
“All I know,” Egan sighed, “is that I’m being screwed.” And nodding to The Geek, he said, “I’ll need you to give me a hand with the books for the race.”
“Absolutely. No problem, Peter,” the nerd said, straightening his tie.
A harmonica played a few lonesome notes that segued into Dirty Old Town. Right on cue, Lulu Hoppal warbled, “I met my lo-ho-ho-hove by the gasworks wall.... Dreamed a dreee-ee-eeaaam…” The bar howled and Egan picked up the remote control gizmo and zapped on the television. Without warning, Lance Piggott of CNN loudly announced to the pub that killer bees were on the rampage in Zagrastan. The singing faltered, and everyone looked at the buzzing plague on the maxi screen above the fireplace. Enough of that. Egan clicked the remote and surfed his drinkers to Al-Jazeera, BBC, a Korean cooking show, a jewelry auction in Boston. A roar erupted from the pub when he clicked to Telemundo Mexacali 12, broadcasting the Mexican Open Greyhound Grand Prix live from Ortega Stadium in Cancun.
Flickering television light and spatters of Spanish enter Monty’s brain and he regains consciousness slowly. To determine his whereabouts, he opens an eyelid with caution. He sees everyone in the pub staring at the screen, where tall women paraded dogs. The pub’s eyes search for Ballygale Bandit, the local greyhound, owned by John Joe Mac, trained by Murty Kerins and sponsored by NAMA.
“Which wan is he?” asked Dodo Malley.
“Number four, the brindle dog with the lady in the tricolour.” pointed Egan.
“I hope she comes home with them,” Henry said. “she’d warm me up on a winter’s night.”
“Jaysus, but that’s very like Miko Kelly there in the front with the red shirt,” Egan said, as shots of the spectators appear.
“Fuck me, it is!” cried Mary White, “and that’s Maggie Kane and Dolores beside him.”
Betting Odds Flashed on the screen:
La Bamba 3/1
El Greco Grande 5/2
Senor Castro 2/1
Ballygale Bandit 3/2
Coca Dolce 1/1
Chi Yung 3/2
Egan lowered the volume and announced,
“I’m openin’ a book now if anyone’s interested in having an interest in the race.”
“I’ll put five on the Chinese dog,” Bart Hogan said, tossing 5 fedros on the counter.
“I’ll do ten on the Bandit,” Packie Lamb said.
“Fuck the begrudgers,” Laya Lohan said, “I’ll do the same.”
“Me too,” a woman in red agreed.
A crush formed at the bar as Egan took the punters’ money. He wrote in his black book and called out numbers to The Geek, who scribbled dockets for the bets.
The hum of betting and clamour of drinking invades Monty’s head and his body heats up. The frada warms accordingly and clicks into life, quiet as a late night fridge. His mind begins to speed as thoughts hurtle through like shooting stars. His fingers tap on the instrument’s track pad. Dog, dog, he mutters, dog, dog. Suddenly the frada emits a bark that startles the pub.
“What the fuck was that?” Egan asked.
“Sounded like a dog,” Henry muttered.
“Must be outside,” Duddy Nixon said, placing two fedros on Señor Castro, because his brother lived in a place named like that in San Francisco.
“Dogs can pick up the fever,” Olive Collins said, “you know...the vibe like...dogs always want to get in on the action…they’re like bankers and lawyers and the rest of them…”
Egan closes the book and makes a phone call to lay off his bets. The Geek has the remote control gizmo and turns up the volume. On the screen, the women lead the dogs to their traps, to a fanfare of trumpets. The pub is tense and silent, all eyes on the race.
A bell clangs, and an electric hare zooms down the track. Dogs yelp and traps shoot open as the ball of fur darts by. In the background the race commentator Diego Avilia rattles in Spanish. Monty stands to get a better view of the screen and meanders to the counter. He picks up Henry Connoly’s pint and has a slug. Nobody sees him; the race has their full attention.
In front from the break, Señor Castro soon had a length on El Greco, who was followed closely by Chi Yung and Ballygale Bandit. Behind them came La Bamba and Cosa Dolce. The pub cheered on Ballygale, but he pulled back after the first bend and fell to last place. He slowed to a canter, then a dance. A split screen showed dogs racing in one screen and the Bandit waltzing in the other. The commentator rattled faster.
“Fuckin’ hell!” exclaimed Egan.
“He’s doped,” Geek said.
“This is…this is fuckin’ crazy!” cried Egan.
Ballygale Bandit was dancing in front of millions of viewers on satellite tv. The pub erupted in shouting and swearing, and firing threats at the greyhound.
Monty was tapping the frada. There was something he should be doing... something concerning the dog on the television. Something to do with the microchip he implanted in the dog’s ear last week. Something to do with the frada. Something to do with NAMA.
“Oh no!” he shrieked and suddenly pecked at keys on the frada.
The television screen turned black. Green strings of computer code flashed on it; barks and static farted from the speakers. The Geek fiddled with the remote, but it made no difference. Egan grabbed the controls and clicked impatiently. More of the same. Then someone noticed Monty frantically toggling switches and knobs on the frada. They screamed at him to stop.
Henry grabbed Monty as he hit a power chord with full reverb. Suddenly, the screen filled with the head of a greyhound: Ballygale Bandit, tongue pumping, and the pub forgot about Monty. They watched the Bandit clocking eighty miles an hour and leading Chi Yung by a shoulder coming into the last bend. They cheered for the home-dog and, wild as Hendrix, Monty worked up steam, pushing the frada to the max. He was drowned out by the roar that went up as Ballygale Bandit pulled away on the home stretch and finished almost two lengths ahead of the field.
While everyone cheered and hugged and laughed in the pub, Monty powered down the frada and wiped his brow on the sleeve of the fur coat. He lifted a pint from the counter and had a good slug out of it.
“Jesus,” he whispered to Henry, “I almost fucked that up, man. The Bandit was supposed to do the dance at the end—you know, at the prize presentation. I can’t even remember the fuckin’ code for the dance now. But fuck it, who gives a shit, right? We won, right?”
Henry nodded and prised the pint from his hand.
“That dog was carrying a lot of cash,” Monty whispered. “NAMA would have hung my ass if I fucked up. But I didn’t, see? I didn’t fuck-up, and we won, right? Monty might be fucked-up but he doesn’t fuck-up. Right? I’m not like the developers, right?”
He tapped the frada and two horrendous barks froze the jubilant pub. In the silent vacuum Monty politely asked,
“May I please have a pint, Mr. Egan, to toast our local greyhound’s victory.”
Exhaling a cone of smoke, Egan shook his head and said, “Sorry Monty, you’ve had enough. Yourself and your frada nearly fucked up everything here tonight, not just once or twice, but several times.”
“But we won, didn’t we?” pleaded Monty. “Only for the frada, this fucking country would be bankrupt again tomorrow. And that fucking dog would be in a taco. What have you against my frada? Where’s your vision, man? Where’s your vision?”
End of Guest Post.