All in all, and every fact considered down to the last comma and full stop hanging on for dear life; there are no endings. Wherever you are, whenever you are; people may come and go, relationships may build and break, but in the end of the day our stories live on. Even when we close our eyes, sipping the last remnants of daylight with our weary gaze, our mind drifts to an age of euphoria and good will where our deepest darkest desires run free over hills in a forever Friday in the eternal summer. Sometimes it is here with these endings where we find out who we are, then as we think that we’ve finally reached together and drawn ourselves together over the childish insecurities, a longer road begins of where we go from here. Truth be told, in life there are no motorways just miles and miles of country roads forever leading us to that one town where everyone looks alike, but ignoring the urges to run and find that motor way; we seem to take the town as our own, and here we will build.
In some strange way, in the only way you can on a fixed diet of stale bread, yogurt and dodgy chicken, Jimmy; a nineteen year old Cork man born and bred in the terraced houses of Fair Hill, seemed to find himself in the sprawling urban concrete jungle that is the Irish capital of Dublin. After six months, of up at six and hopping on the battered and bruised bus to Guinness each morning, Jimmy seemed to find the ending he was looking for. A fact which is rather amazing considering that he didn’t know what he was doing there at all in the first place, rather like the population of Dublin and surrounding areas; he imagined, a useless piece of information which oddly made him feel more included in the vast armies of Americans, Asians, English, French, Germans and even the occasional Dub.
Now, after the revelations of a half arsed journey to self-discovery laden with whiskey and the lunch time special from the local chipper; Jimmy was finally happy. Everything was finally where it was supposed to be. For what takes most people the bones of ten years in finishing school, getting a degree and the symphony of hums and haws, it took him a mere six month and with less liver damage to show for it. He had a real busy people job with actual legal thing to do that didn’t make him feel like the Guards were going to round the corner at any time, a flat that when you ignore the faulty lighting and the guys bait from gear next door isn’t an actually bad place, and about as much drama as any nineteen year old male would wish for, minus football. Even his mother and father began speaking to him again and stopped sending death threats over the phone. If that’s not a victory then he didn’t know what was.
All in all; Jimmy was happy.
Until it came to Christmas.
Trapped inside a pub, which in itself was forever imprisoned in a laneway which is better left forgotten about in a side of the City which again was left behind as the centuries dragged on and the millennium dawned, Jimmy sipped at his watered down Guinness and wondered where all the early mornings worth it. Somewhere God was crying. This Guinness was shit. No, the whole pub was shit. The lights where dimmed taking away the last bit of hope of sobriety from its customers, the furniture was wooden and rotting with various initials and death threats etched in for good measure, and the air seemed to taken on a life of its own in the form, so much so that it had now run up a bar tab. Even the music reeked of days gone by. Jimmy loved a bit of Christmas tunes as much as the next guy, even the occasional republican stuff as much as any other young Irish male, but this was a new low. It wasn’t even music but a monotonic everlasting drone which seemed to infect every crook and cranny and rot them down to their very last fibres, creating a mood of pure stillness in the bar.
“You’re from Cork are you?” muttered the trench coat from beside Jimmy.
Startled, and lost for words, “Yes, yeah I am”
“Living up here are yeah or just passin’ through?”
“Living yeah” Jimmy sipped his pint, or well stomached some more of it.
“That way” Jimmy pointed in a random direction somewhere north which he guessed he probably lived in if you wondered around long enough and had enough money for a taxi fare.
“Which way?” the coat lurked closer to Jimmy along the bar.
“Do you know Dailymount?” Jimmy swallowed, “The football pitch?”
“Know it? I used to play there”
“Well no where near there” Jimmy stared down into his pint, “I’m up Northside, don’t ask me where. I know the way home from here and how to get to work, that’s me sorted anyway. Sorry, I’m just getting used to the place”
The coat looked up, revealing a man with trenches dug deep across his face from years of chain smoking, pints and probably a war or two. Yet, amongst the hardened eyes of the inner city alcoholic, Jimmy seemed to see a man crying out for some company, to have his story told.
“Look, I’ve been living in Dublin all my life. Born and raised in Sandyford, I’ve still yet to escape the place after all these years. Think I know this place? Not chance. Until Dublin finds out what it is, then there’s no hope for us” he said and took a mouthful of stout, “You’ll know your way around yeah, who to avoid and who to stay friends with, but apart from that this place will haunt you for the rest of your life”
Jimmy, and his new found friend sat in silence, neither one plotting an exit or escape, but rather enjoying the company on this miserable December night.
“It’s a city of ghosts. Everywhere you look you’re looking behind at something; the famine, the rising, that fucking spire. No one here looks forward and just looks at what they have and sits back and actually tries to enjoy them self. Instead we’ve gotten so into of what it takes to be Irish as opposed to actually being Irish” he paused, gathering his words, “I’m a little drunk I’m sorry”
Jimmy apologized abruptly, not wanting to ruin his newfound friendship.
“What brings you here anyway?”
“It’s a long story”
“We’ve awhile to last call, might as well. It’s either that or the Premiership and I really don’t fancy debating that shite, especially tonight, besides can’t bait a good story”
Before Jimmy had time to find the most suitable way to tell his story in a way that didn’t make him out to be a dream chasing county boy or an ungrateful city boy who just got bored one Sunday morning before mass, he shot back with, “Why are you so angry?”
Immediately taken aback, the elderly man sipped at his pint. Jimmy swallowed hard, pondering was it too late to run. He wasn’t even the bar an hour and he had already offended someone, a new record. Usually that kind of carry on would wait until he was tucking into his chips on his way home, as; as always does happen on nights out in Ireland, something will be said to someone, which in return will have arms and legs and a whole new spine attached to it, leaving what was originally, “I’d murder a bag of chips” to, “I’d murder your mam and stab your dog” followed by Jimmy pelting it up through a housing estate desperate not to spill his chips and not to have the shit kicked out of him.
Eventually, in what felt like eternity, the elderly man turned to Jimmy and through eyes damaged from years of early mornings, late nights, bitter whiskeys and stale cigarettes, said, “I’m old. I’m tired. I’ve walked these roads here going to work on the ships since I was fourteen. I never got married. All I wanted to do was join the navy and go off and see the world, have a little adventure, fire a gun, you know. Eventually my back went, the Navy wouldn’t even look at me. The ships after a while grew quiet and folded. My mam got sick and died. My brothers and sister all went up to Scotland and America and I got stuck with the flat. I’m seventy now. You say ‘Happy Christmas’ I say ‘have a good day’. Time means nothing to me anymore. You wake up, go to work, come home go for a drink and go to sleep every single day for sixty odd years and what do you have left at the end of it but another year broken and even more coughing and spurting which each passing season. When I see you all out there, buying your presents and holding hands getting all snuggled up with each other and wishing each other a good new year, all I think about is how meaningless it all is”
Jimmy stuck for words looked up to the meek fan above for inspiration. Words didn’t come easy and he sooner nodded and patted his friend on the back.
“My name is Mike by the way”
“What do you see here?”
“Well my family are here and I’ve a job. I think that’s a good reason to stay”
Mike started laughing, a coarse laugh laden with the coughing and spurting of a rusting tractor, “The real reason”
“That’s it honest to God. I’ve been to England a few times and between you and me, the place wrecks my head. There’s far too much commotion over that one in Buckingham Palace and I’d be paying a load of taxes for no reason in some shitty flat with scumbags for neighbours and the place is way too big to make friends. At least in Ireland we’ll start a bit of a chat and have a bit of a gossip at the weekends, not look at you funny for sneezing” Jimmy took a sip and resumed ranting, “America is too expensive and knowing my luck if I went to Scotland I’ll end up in the wrong side of Glasgow getting knifed on a daily basis while fucking junkies try and rob- wait. That’s Dublin”
The pair laughed and clinked glasses.
“Dublin is a shit hole” he laughed, “It’s a fumbling drunken mixture of politicians running ragged with their briefcases caught up in their knickers while junkies get the good stuff down the side streets as the Asians back in the glow of Ireland and what it takes to be Irish. The Dubs and people lie you then are fucked in the corner and told to serve their bidding to make a living to stay in this God awful City. We spent eighth hundred years trying to get the British out and then in about sixty years we’re back down leasing our land to our own, expect this time it isn’t some all-conquering and all powerful army but rather an economic noose which chokes us into renting and serving them while they get to do our work and be Irish for a week. It’d make one good mind fucking story one of these days”
Jimmy turned, handed the barman a tenner and slid a whiskey across to Mike.
“A little cheer up present”
“Ah I’m an angry old man. I’m sorry about this” he finally broke.
“No, no you’re fine”
“Do you want to know a secret?”
“I’m going to be dead in six months” Mike looked down, “Happy Christmas to you too”
Jimmy stared upwards hoping for inspiration. As per usual, the magnificently ever twisting and turning and forever moulding and mashing teenage thought process proved futile and he was once again left speechless and nodding in amusement. Did this call for a polite nod and a cheeky smile followed by another round? Or was this one of the special situations his mother talked about where you needed set clothes and couldn’t talk unless you were spoken to? Jimmy decided on the latter and grimly nodded. Somewhere back in Cork his mother smiling.
“You’re one jolly man”
“No seriously, and this is probably the drink talking, but how long have I known you now? About twenty minutes? But, like, it’s Christmas and here you are telling me how no one is really Irish and that you’ll be dead in six months. What does it make?” Jimmy rattled on, “Like, I could be knocked down walking home or stabbed, I could be dead in five minutes. Christ, when you live in Dublin six months is a lifetime!”
Mike started laughing, again channelling his inner John Deere, “No… no… not like that at all! My chest is bad, been coughing a lot…”
“And the car could finish the job!”
“Are you threatening me?”
“I don’t know how to drive yet?”
“Then how do you get around?”
Jimmy stopped, “Hey, don’t change the topic here, this isn’t about me and my shitty bus rides up and down the country every few weeks, this is about you properly hating the world like”
“I don’t hate the world” Mike croaked.
“Certainly have a difficult way of showing it”
The pair erupted in laughter. Mike doubled over and grabbed at the bar table, much to some of the other more drunken regular’s amusement. Jimmy simply buried his head in the rotting wood. For the first time since his arrival in Dublin, Jimmy was making a friend.
“I love it here, it’s just the people that piss me off”
“Ah we’re not that bad. Without us you wouldn’t have Guinness and stuff to do” Jimmy carried on, “Imagine a world with no people? We’d be bored out of our nut”
“Thought you were single?”
Mike winked at Jimmy.
“What about yourself? You’re a young man, you’re making money and the looks. How come there’s no women hanging off you?”
Jimmy’s words spilled, “Eh, well. It’s a long story?”
Mike started laughing, this time the coarse dominated almost machine like laugh seemed to collapse into a feverless show of delight and emotion. Through the battered and bruised rags atop the city centre bar, the once young and bashful young man began to shine through the years of cold winter mornings and weak whiskey.
“It was my first girlfriend and heartbreak”
“Ah” went Mike and laughed, “The vinegar of youth. What happened between ye?”
Jimmy paused gathering his words, “We just met in the wrong order that’s all. She was a bit older with a lot of shit going on, and I was beginning to get my act together. If we met in any other time frame or place things would have actually worked out, well at least better than what happened; all the fighting, arguing, the endless mixed signals and flirting topped off with the constant texting and talking to each other”
“She must have been special to say you moved all the way up to this shithole”
Jimmy laughed, “Yeah… she was. A whirlwind in a blizzard while thunder and lightning reigned supreme. I’ve never been swept away by someone like that, to meet, to click and to get along like that! Before I’d always be this awkward and bumbling kind of fool who’d pretend that he didn’t know nothing about anything to try and be some way attractive. The only girls who ever batted an eyelid only wanted a cheap shift or rebound. This seemed different though, as if two people seemed to just swim into each other’s company. But, things just didn’t work out”
“Is that why you came to Dublin so?”
Jimmy paused, gathered himself up, “That and my job hit the fan. I was planning on taking a year out to work and to build up for my college fees next year, but I was only a few months in the job and it was like I was in deep already. While most of the guys where in their own little offices or stacking the shelves, here was I out in the bins on a lashing Friday evening, a fading thought in my friends heads, and the rain lashing me back down to the tarmac to try and find the locks”
“One day I snapped. I’d lost my friends, a girlfriend, my job, and I just wanted to get away from it. No, I didn’t just decide to quit and walk away, I was way more sensible than that! I planned everything out, learned to cook and clean. Started spending way too much time with a few lads in a flat in town and began to know how the world works; how to pay rent, get a job, you know the usual. Then, over the summer when I should have been heading off to college I got the bus to Dublin and the rest is history”
Mike nodded, “I like it”
“No really. You didn’t just stand there and take it, you actually went out there and did something about it”
“No really, I’m genuine here and not looking to ball hop with you. Back when I was in your age I was mad to join the navy or army to be off with the guys in Vietnam or Northern Ireland fighting away thinking I was out to save the world. That’s all it was though, a daydream on the docks. I used to be mad making up these stories in my head of being away in some foreign land, up to my knees in much and trying to fight some army who I knew next to nothing about but they wanted me dead. I could have done it, but which every night of my head tumbling down through the forests of Saigon, my stomach would twinge and knot. All I was, was a dreamer boy. You actually did something” Mike explained, “They’ll be other girls don’t worry about that. Even myself, a stingley old misery had his share back in the day”
“Do you regret it?”
“Not settling down and seeing the world?”
Mike paused, smirked, sampled each of his words carefully and finished his pint.
That was it, an answer set in stone.
Jimmy opened his mouth, yet whatever words and wishes he could conjure up where quickly dissolved in the most awkward of uncomfortable silences. What can you say? What could you say? Everything will be alright? Sure, your day will come? Another drink?
Jimmy paused, “I’m just a coward Mike. All I did was run. I’m no brave man with all the solutions”
Mike crackled and threw his arm around Jimmy, “Maybe we both are so!” as if some sick joke.
As Jimmy clamoured for words, Mike gracefully stood up, steadied himself against the bar, thanked the remaining few and gathered his belongings. Down on the cracked leather stool, Mike clamoured together hoping to God he could say the right thing.
“Mike, before you go…”
“That too! But, well…” Jimmy stopped, “I don’t know”
Suddenly Mike erupted into laughter, “Tonight was fun kid. I’m off home to write a few of those stories, maybe someone will like them when the time comes. Keep safe well yeah”
With that, Jimmy himself gathered up his torn and seeping jacket and finished his drink. As the mid-December Dublin air hit him and the alcohol gently warmed him against the wind and rain, Jimmy staggered along. Something tonight was fitting and Christmassy, like that song with the girl and the man in the pub on about junk and your one being a good singer or something like that, expect it’s not Christmas Eve and there’s no girls or anything around at all. In fact, he was alone.
In a city of a million people, where the police and ambulances waged a nightly war of noise upon the inner city traffic and drunken calls and the bubbling whispering of languages and accents mixed and mashed together in between the morning deliveries and night-time sing along, Jimmy was alone. No one to order and drag him from pillar to post, not a sole to bark and order him around and nothing was there which could bury him any further in his own self-pity.
From here, the world was his to play with. All the loose alleyways and laneways to hide and seek with his own friends, the polls to dance and twirl into his own drunkenness, the windows to entertain and act out his own pantomime of one hundred and one cranky faces, steps to race and challenge himself, and roads to walk and walk until his feet bled and the sun would arise. Dublin looked at Jimmy in the eyes; expect not as a strange entity and long forgotten romance full of mystery and desire, but as an old friend, something which called out. Now wasn’t a time to look back or to creep around the corner at the days which were left bare and awaiting our seal of approval. It was December 23rd.
Everything felt real to Jimmy. He wasn’t back in Cork dreaming of the girl across the road or of some college course which was more focused on the best and brightest as opposed to the little guy down the back who keeps misspelling words and mixing up his sums. Yet, amongst the stumbling and shivering he wasn’t happy. Jimmy wanted more. He had a job, an apartment and an actual life you could say which was reasonable, but he wasn’t happy. This couldn’t be his ending, he pondered, and this couldn’t be his end song. The thoughts and feelings of counting down the days until the calendar faded and it was time to retire into bed with all the crim dramas and chat shows to fill his hearts content, suddenly turned his stomach.
Even the following morning, while pushing cage after cage into a lorry he kept onto the though like a love letter. Over lunch he broke from the typical sandwich and juice diet to walk the streets and discover what was actually here for him. That night while more people where tucking their children away into bed to dreams of Santa’s red sleigh, Jimmy wondered and wondered the streets.
With his eyes ragged, Jimmy tore his ending from the ring bound books which God scripted him too all those years ago and booked his first ticket home in six months. This time, there were no forbidding women or missed opportunities but a whole world back home waiting to be explored and opened. College didn’t matter, first he wanted to see his mother and father, then he was going to take a walk into town and after all the mishaps and adventures of a Cork Christmas, he is going to take whatever money he has and see the world. As if the wave of first love on an unassuming fourteen year old, the world caught alight for him. But, ignoring all his travel plans, the most important business of all needed attending to first.
A Christmas present for his poor mother and father.