Teeling Whiskey Single Barrel, Part 2
[Continued from last week]
As Siobhan steps into a patch of light, I spy the laugh lines on her face. “Can I just ask, how many ways do the Irish have of saying somebody’s drunk?”
“You mean scuttered?” she says with a wink. “We know what we know. You should hear how many we have for rain.”
“This is my first week,” I say, gesturing inside, “working for him.”
“Class first week, coming here.”
“I was thinking the same thing.” We smoke in silence, exhaling to the sky. Flicking ash away, I add, “I’ve been going through kind of a hard time lately, so a change of pace was much needed.”
“Mmm. Conor mentioned something about you needing a pick-me-up.”
“What did he say, exactly?”
“Just that you’re getting separated like,” she says. “Should he not have told us?”
I take a long drag then crush the cigarette underfoot. Her upturned nose starts to blush. “It’s a divorce, actually. I’m getting a divorce.”
She offers me another.
“I don’t usually smoke,” I say, accepting. She cracks a smile and lights it for me. “God. I think that might be the first time I’ve called it for what it is.”
“How’s it feel, saying aloud?” she asks, igniting her own.
“Okay, surprisingly. I’m assuming there must be pot in these.”
“If only.” She exhales, adds, “Irish men never talk about their feelings. This is a treat.”
“I’ll see if I can dig up any childhood trauma for you.”
“Grand,” she says. “Let’s make a night of it.”
I inhale long and deep. Something about the chosen poison filling my lungs, the foreign city in full swing. It’s not that nobody knows me here, exactly. It’s the freedom from expectation, from routine, but more than that. My thoughts are different. My voice sounds different.
A lesbian couple exits the bar, stumbling. They take a selfie then start making out within arm’s reach of us. “Come on, then,” says Siobhan, drawing me away.
We settle a few feet down the alley. I sneak a glance and she circles around me to block the view. “They started it,” I say.
Unfazed, she continues, “Divorce is a thing in Ireland but not really. Law says you need to show you’ve been living apart for four out of the last five years.”
“Does the law make sense where you’re from?”
“Fair point,” I say.
“Anyway. People do what they want.” She studies my face. “Wondering about Conor, just then?”
“Am I that obvious?”
“Positively transparent.” Miraculously, she’s already exhausted her cigarette and flicks it against the building. “Don’t worry yourself. They have their reality and they’re sticking to it.”
A cell phone rings. The couple breaks apart long enough to silence it, then reunites like a pair of rosé glasses toasting.
Siobhan asks, “Shall we see if they’re done yet?”
Conor and Aoife are, indeed, looking more relaxed when we return. Slumped in his chair with his prankster grin working overtime, my boss fesses up to finishing my whiskey. At his signal we head to the bar together where he orders a round for the table. Impromptu, he adds another whiskey for each of us that we drink before returning.
A few rounds later, the late evening crowd encroaches on our territory. We relocate to another pub, then a third where Irish musicians play American standards. We navigate a dank archway to a cobblestone courtyard where music spills from everywhere. Dining on takeaway oysters, we watch people puke in the street. Geography is a dead language. What are north, south, east, and west but suggestions? Antiquated tools to track the sun? At night, there is no sun. Therefore, no use for geography.
Time, however, is not so easily shrugged. I confuse myself as to whether our meetings start in the morning or the day after. I try asking Conor when the others disappear to the ‘jacks.’ He, however, is incredulous as to how I could be thinking about work at a time like this.
“Work,” he says, “exists to empower one’s life. Not define it. Same as marriage like.” He hoists a pint of black to his mouth. “Women of this world are music, aren’t they? Well?”
“No, yeah,” I nod. “Women are music.”
“Harmony in human form, Champion. Chancers ‘ll tell yeh, stop listening to the harmony the moment yeh’ve put on a ring. One song suits all. Gobshite. False expectations.” He stares into his beer. “Love me wife. Deadly woman, mother. Doesn’t want me to be anything other than what I am.”
My drink proves hard to swallow. “Does she know you see other women?”
Conor looks at me as though just remembering I’m there. “Know? Practically insists like. Horny feckin’ man, understand?” He leans in like he’s about to kiss me, burbs in my face, apologizes in retreat. After emptying his glass, he asks, “You and yer wife not get a ride from anyone else then?”
“Well…” I force a sip down. “I didn’t.”
“Yeh stuck it out ‘cause you thought yeh had to,” he says, stabbing his finger into my chest. “And still, she didn’t.”
“I don’t know,” I say, brushing his hand away. A bachelorette party — hen party, as it’s called here — erupts in laughter closeby. “I’m starting to realize… that maybe I drove her to it. You know? I mean. We had a fight. Our last anniversary? Stuff came out that we just hadn’t said.” The shadow women beyond Conor sway like they’re onboard a ship. I shut my eyes, reopen. “I can’t help thinking,” I say, swallowing, “if we’d just figured out a way to talk to each other —”
“Don’t mean to interrupt,” says Conor, “but is that feek’s arse a keen slice of heaven or what?”
“Who are we looking at?”
“Feek with the fine arse, Champion. Twelve o’clock. Straight ahead of yeh.”
I squint past his far shoulder.
Conor summons my eyes back to his. “More important than client relations is human relations, understand? Yeh’ve got to tell time when a ride is involved.”
[To be continued]
This piece appears as part of a serialized fiction experiment by Nathaniel Kressen for At Large magazine. New installments are published weekly, each based around a different liquor.
Nathaniel Kressen is the author of two novels — Dahlia Cassandra (named Best of 2016 Fiction by Entropy & Luna Luna Magazine) and Concrete Fever (Bestseller, Strand Book Store) — as well as the co-founder of Second Skin Books and the leader of the Greenpoint Writers Group.