Hennessy New Irish Writing
This month’s winning short story and poems
We matched on the morning of my father’s funeral. I was just putting on my hired grief outfit – black jacket, tie, trousers, shoes – when I heard the ping of my phone. I picked it up, swiped the screen, glanced at the photo and thought Yes, he’ll do. Hi, what’s up?, I wrote. Outside the room my mother said something to Shane about solicitors and inquests. Inside, I looped the tie round my neck, briefly imagining it as a piece of rope.
My phone pinged again. It was him: Hey. I’m good. You?
There seemed little reason to tell the truth, so I answered, Fine.
We got chatting. He was from Brazil, in Dublin visiting a friend. Just looking for fun. In sex he liked a, b, and c. And me? Also just visiting; family business. This didn’t seem to interest him. Instead he pushed for my preferences. Similar to his, I replied, though maybe not item c on his list (the hygiene factor). Fine, he could live without. Was I a smoker? No. HIV? Not the last time I got tested. And him? He also claimed to be clean; I chose to believe him. According to the app we were eight kilometres apart. Was I free now?
I checked the time. Twenty-past nine. The funeral was at eleven. Not impossible, but it would be a tight fit, and not of the kinky kind. As one of my father’s sloshed golf buddies had slurred at last night’s wake, his phlegmy breath polluting mine: Time’s precious, young man, use
it wisely. So I wrote that right now wasn’t good, but maybe after lunch, if he was still around? He replied that he wasn’t sure, but probably.
We agreed, commitment-free, to touch in later.
Soon afterwards, my mother, brother and I drove down from Howth to the church in Sutton. A large crowd was waiting. A fine turn
out, I heard someone say, for a fine man .Asea of leathery hands reached out, and from this sea rose countless murmurs of loss and sorry. Someone even mentioned press members lurking.
Inside the church the same procedure I dimly remembered from my grandparents’ funerals many years ago. Back then, I’d been too young to feel much of anything; today that was precisely the aim. On the flight over from Manchester, as pretty, teenage flight attendants screamed offers for creamy lattes and delicious paninis over the plane’s PA, I’d wondered if I’d cry. The death had, after all, been somewhat surprising, though more for the manner (car, pier) than the timing. Now, sitting in the front row, I had my answer: my eyes stayed desert dry. Hard to say why. The man had helped house, clothe, feed me, paid for my schooling, and never beat me, or only rarely, and then when justified. By all accounts a loyal friend, temperate drinker, passable golfer, discreet adulterer (I spotted her there, alone in the back row, still recalled from that glimpse on South Anne Street); bit of a swine in other words, but no worse than most of his kind. Still it wasn’t enough. As the priest blathered on about grace, eternity and Christ, I felt no connection to the surroundings. Gazing up at the arched stone ceiling, I imagined it collapsing and burying us alive.
After the six-grand coffin was lugged away – Shane and I shoulder-to-shoulder, a rare sight these days (Dad dead come home, his four-word text had read, the first communication we’d had in over half a year) – and placed in the ground, we gathered at the Marine Hotel, surrounded by the same freeloaders who’d ascended to the house for the whiskey-soaked wake the previous night. Flame-cheeked, claw-fingered, they tossed drinks down while belching out anecdotes about horse-racing and golf, and the fine work my father had done providing the stone for extensions to their houses. At some point I stopped listening, looked at my own right hand clutching a wine glass, and noticed grisly veins bulging beneath the skin. It was as much as I could take, and I excused myself to visit the toilet.
I shut myself into a pristine white cubicle. Adjacent, a man lowered his trousers. I listened as he splattershat the bowl.
The world was awash with waste. You either swam in it or drowned.
I took out my phone. Breaking news: A terrorist plot against Heathrow Airport had been thwarted; a Trump tweet had not. Ignoring both stories, I checked out where the Brazilian was now. According to the app, only six kilometres away, suggesting I’d come closer while he was in the same place.
Hey, I wrote. Hi, he wrote back, as next to me the toilet flushed and my neighbour left the bathroom without washing his hands. Did what you needed? A pertinent question. Almost, I wrote back. Still wanna meet?
Guess so. When? 20 minutes? Okay. Where?
I named the spot. Back in the lounge, I told my mother that the occasion was overwhelming and I needed fresh air. Sure, honey, whatever you feel is best, she purred, before some acquaintance of my father slithered up to seduce or console her. She was nearly sixty, but with her dyed blond hair and subtle surgery still more attractive than most of the lizards here. Part of her seemed to enjoy the day’s theatricality.
On my way out I made eye-contact, but no more, with my drunk brother.
I hailed a taxi and told the driver to head towards Clontarf. ‘Funeral?’ he asked as soon as we set off. ‘Yeah.’ ‘Family?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘No one close, I hope?’ I reflected for a moment. ‘No.’ ‘Still,’ he winked, ‘good to show up. Might land yourself a few bob.’ That inimitable Dublin charm. ‘We’ll see.’ I remembered what Shane said he’d gleaned from our father’s accounting records: debts rapidly mounting, the business close to bankruptcy. That would be our problem now. But not for the next few minutes.
The Brazilian was waiting by the wooden bridge, as instructed. He looked only slightly worse than his photo, the tight brown curls of his hair already grey-flecked, though according to his profile he wasn’t yet thirty. He wore jeans, runners, and a zip-up Nike top: Just do it.
I shook hands for what seemed like the hundredth time that day, but in this grip felt only cold intention, no pity. ‘Where we wanna go?’ he asked. ‘Up here,’ I said, pointing to the path beyond