Teeling Whiskey Single Barrel, Part 3
[Continued from last week]
Conor’s apartment occupies the top floor of a pre-war building on the Liffey. He attempts to give me a guided tour that I indulge — jettisoned as we are. He talks through the gut renovation, wielding a sledgehammer to expand the riverfront windows, tearing down walls to combine tiny, interconnected rooms into something more liveable. His wife commissioned custom lighting fixtures throughout. In a whisper, he confesses they could have been pulled from a junk pile. Their two-year-old lays claim to the bedroom next to theirs. The sons from his first marriage share a bunk down the hall, though the older one complained about it the first and only time they visited. “Bursting at the seams, hungry to take on the world,” he says, nudging me. “Like his namesake.”
Suddenly aware I’m holding a crystal rocks glass filled with gin, I ask, “Guessing he’s named after his old man?” Here’s hoping that mixing spirits doesn’t leave me wrecked.
“Are yeh fleeking me ex then?” Seeing my confusion, he adds, “Cop on. Not possible I didn’t tell yeh.”
“Tell me what?”
“Name’s Nolan, me oldest. Champion, like yerself.” With a slap on the back that topples me into the wall, Conor disappears into a bathroom I didn’t realize was there.
I manage to find my way back to the living area, where the others are rooted on the sofa. Aoife asks me to talk more about my music. “I mentioned that?” She nods while drinking, no easy feat. “Not much to tell,” I say. “Just started playing again.”
“You said you were writing a song,” she says, slurring. “To win back yer cheatin’ wife.”
“You don’t have to tell us,” says Siobhan, pushing her friend back into the cushions. The effect is instantaneous — naptime for Aoife.
“I’m going to switch back to whiskey,” I say, retreating to the kitchen.
“Aye,” says Conor, entering like he never left. “I do have somethin’ to show yeh Aoife but ‘s not for mere mortals’ eyes. Hidden next to me scratcher.”
“Is it now?” she asks, springing awake. She slips off the couch and hits the floor with a thud. The fact that I find this disjointed ballet of hers sexy only serves to prove how starved I am for contact. Starved and entirely not starved. My wife made pumpkin bread for family Thanksgivings. Touch of cream cheese and it was a dish worth dying for. Her father and I would spin records.
“Yeh can take up with management if yeh don’t believe me,” says Conor, “but I’m afraid they’ll be closed for the evening.”
“Settle ourselves, then.”
Aoife pushes herself up and stumbles into the bedroom. Conor closes the door. Siobhan and I lock eyes. I hold up the whiskey. She nods and I bring it over.
“So,” she says.
“What d’yeh think of the gaff?”
“The apartment?” I ask. “Nice.”
“Nicer before his millennial wife.”
“Guess I know where you stand.”
“All sheetrock and glass and metal.”
“It’s a building.”
“Not anymore, it isn’t,” she says. “Pod just like any other. Took something with personality and made it nothing.”
I glance around. “It has crown molding.”
“Fine.” She takes the whiskey and tilts it over her glass. “Wee bit of personality poking through, but by and large it’s genocide.” She screws the bottle shut. “Mind if I say something terrible?”
“More terrible than calling Conor’s design choices genocide?”
“Right, well, don’t repeat that.”
“Go ahead,” I say. “You don’t strike me as somebody who waits for permission.”
She takes a long sip. “It’s just that. I’ve enjoyed our chat this evening but I’m afraid I’m not attracted to yeh in the least.”
“Okay,” I say, with a half-laugh. “That’s alright.”
“Yer not upset like?” Before I can answer, she adds, “I’m sorry.”
“No apology needed.” A moment passes, in which we drink. “To be honest,” I say, “I’m a little relieved.”
“Not attracted to me either?”
“Want the truth?”
“Hideous, aren’t I?” she proclaims, falling back on the couch in mock death.
“Anything but,” I say, reviving her. “Truth is, I’m pretty much attracted to every woman I meet.”
“Everyone’s got something going,” I say, reclining against the arm rest. “It’s not even that hard to see it. I think most men just don’t look.”
“Are yeh going to tell me what I’ve got going, so special?”
“Well,” I say. “You’re smart as whip, as far as I can tell, but you don’t seem to want to use it for anything.”
“What d’yeh mean, anything?” she asks.
“A job you’d enjoy, for starters. You’ve been a mile ahead of me the entire time we’ve been talking.”
“And that’s unusual?”
“No,” she says, “not saying yer daft. What I mean is, do you think that’s something special, having a mind and not using it the way it’s prescribed?”
“It’s a question mark more than anything else. Makes me want to find out more about you.”
She reclines opposite me and squints over her glass. “I could see why others might find yeh attractive.”
“Mmm,” she says, pointing her glass at me, mid-sip. “If you’re truly a musician, catch some trad while you’re here.”
“Traditional Irish. Whelan’s or Cobblestone’s ‘ll do.”
“Good?” I ask.
“Deadly if you pop by one of those. Hit or miss, places you’d find on yer own. All deedledee nonsense.”
“There’s this radio station back home,” I say, “plays that kind of stuff Sunday mornings.”
“It’s a reason to stay in bed.”
“With the radio off, I wager.” She picks at a loose thread on the couch. “Try it anyway, got the time. Be thankin’ me next time yer here, guaranteed.”
“Alright,” I say, feeling the lift of liquor, the late hour.
Siobhan, however, seems like she’s just getting started. “And yeh truly liked this apartment?”
“Sort of feel like a yuppie, saying so now.”
“Don’t know that word.”
“Yuppie?” I pause to consider. “Think it comes from young urban professional. Carries a negative connotation, though.”
“Are you considered young, where you’re from?”
“Ah, come on,” I say. “Don’t think my ego can take any more bruising tonight.”
“Irish have no patience for ego,” she says. “Be warned.”
It was inevitable. Sex sounds from the bedroom. Without a word, we gather our things and slip out the door.
Outside, revelers slice through the wee hours like any other city — with a tad more style. The drunks are veteran storytellers. The homeless are, without fail, polite.
“You’re loyal to the bitter end, ‘Champion,’” Siobhan says, looping a scarf around her neck. “Word to the kind, though, don’t expect the same in return.”
I break from hailing a taxi. “Sorry?”
“I love Conor. He’s a gas and deep down I think he truly believes the gobshite spilling from his mouth. But I knew Morris, and there was a man.”
“Morris?!” I ask, realizing too late I’ve shouted.
She takes it in stride. “Yer not that different, really. I know, you’ve got more that separates than binds yeh perhaps, but you’re both upfront with who you are. What you see is what yeh get. Not Conor,” she says, glancing above us to the top floor windows. “He’ll go to battle for yeh one moment and sell yer plans to the enemy the next. And it’s not malice, understand. Conor’s a dog with a butterfly before his nose. Can’t help himself.”
She puts a hand on my arm. The nail polish on her ring finger is a different color than the rest.
“Don’t let me get yeh down,” she says. “You’ve landed a savage opportunity. Sure yer making loads. Just don’t crash into a lighthouse confusing it for the North Star.”
With a flick of the wrist, she summons a cab. Holds the door open for me but it turns out we’re headed opposite directions. I step back out and she speeds off in the greying light. A drought follows, so far as cars are concerned, leaving me stranded on what I’m half sure is the right side of the Liffey.