CON STOOD BELOW THE 2 OF LINCOLN PLACE and the overhead wires and not being sure in which direction to continue, he took out a cigarette and lit it. Although it was warm, clouds, there earlier in the day, had now overtaken the sun. As he was lighting up, he was treated to the sudden and wonderful spectacle of a tandem passing by, with a man at the helm and a woman taking up the rear. A little feather lifted from the street as they raced past. Although it seemed that they were almost gone even before he had scarcely seen them coming, Con tried to figure out whether it was two bikes welded into one or whether it was the real thing. But it was too late for that. Within seconds they were disappearing from view, taking the tum with the parallel, yellow lines around the end of Westland Row, legs and knees moving together in close synchronicity, like they were part of the wheels.
About ten yards away, a man had started to hose down the front of Kennedy’s, smearing the red front a deeper terracotta. As he stood there, smoking his cigarette, Con considered that he had a few seconds before the back of his suit would take the swash from the pub walls, even had he that, he wondered, probably not. Taking a few steps to the edge of the footpath, he inhaled a little more. In front of him the traffic flowed in both directions, coming to a halt every now and then at the lights. The man with the hose moved a bit closer and Con thought he felt the first drops on the side of his face. He took another drag on the cigarette, turned around and went in the side door of the pub.
At the bar, he ordered a pint. The cigarette was still in his mouth and his chin and jaw had stiffened protrusively to keep it in an upward tilt between his lips as he lifted the pint from the counter.
Sitting in the seat at the window, he had a perfect view of the junction outside. Families and single people went by, coming, he supposed, from the train. Cars slid past around the corner between Lincoln Place and Westland Row.
At the counter, two men were drinking together, just staring into their pints. Every now and then their voices trailed across the bar. Sometimes the man with his back to the window would say, Lordy, lordy.
Con took a sip from his pint and stubbed out the butt in an ashtray. Then he loosened his tie and took off his jacket. He turned sideways so that his arm was resting on the back of the seat and his eyes were directly on the window now in front of him. Nobody seemed to mind when he rested his left on the stool under the table. The sound of a siren made him look left out onto Westland Row, just in time to see, through a chain of drops, an unmarked car tearing up the street, and slowly, before it disappeared, hooking the far corner that, quietly, demanding caution, clipped the haste of everything.
Lordy, lordy, the voice came again from the counter. Con leaned forward and put his lips to the edge of the glass. When he swallowed, he rested his head against the wooden frame of the side door and it was as if the whole world was weary of humidity and beyond that, of living.
Outside, the washer was going back over the walls. Con waited for the second go of rain that day. A couple wandered in. When they had been served their drinks and were holding them in their hands, slowly, their eyes drifted over the stools at the bar and to those chairs further away. The man looked as if he might sit anywhere, but her eyes kept following the spaces, trying to find exactly what she wanted. Even when he spotted a snug, she shook her head. Sighing, the man gestured towards the window seat. Con drew up his coat and put his leg on the floor. She looked at him, sitting there with his pint and the cigarette balancing in the tray. Then she looked up at the brightness pouring in behind him and her eyes narrowed, as if she had suddenly seen too much of the world.
It’s too bright, she said.
It could have been. An aggravation of light or perhaps it was the smoke that bothered her. In the end they moved off into another section. One of the men at the bar raised his hand and ordered two more pints. Con had his back to the window, when behind him, suddenly, he heard a storm breaking over the wall. Raised voices followed, little squeals of alarm, as three girls, who were walking by at that moment, got abruptly rained on. For a long time it seemed, their voices floated back up the street and then they faded into faraway and from there, into nothing and then he knew they were gone.
As the afternoon wore on, the part of the pub where he was sitting seemed to be slipping into stillness. From wall to wall, his vision wandered, coming to rest every now and then, over pictures that caught his interest. Gradually, he felt his eyes getting heavy and he almost regretted drinking on a day that was this humid. Through the little door between both bars, he heard the sound of glasses being arranged as his eyes began to close.
‘Terrible heavy,’ a voice came suddenly.
It was one of the men at the bar. The other stool was empty. His voice sounded coarse, like it had trailed over gravel from the back of his throat. The two elbows were lying across the bar supporting his weight and his whole body seemed slumped in a way which might make a person suspect he was in a stupor. His eyes were heavy, but it was hard to know whether it was the drink or the weather that was closing him down.
‘Terrible,’ Con replied, sitting forward in the chair, as if he expected that a few words might follow between them. He wouldn’t have minded a chat, although he wasn’t lonely, just tired, and he didn’t want to doze off.
‘Shocking,’ said the man, looking out beyond Con to the glare of the street, where his vision trailed to the distance. ‘Shocking’ he said again, his voice fading. He turned away then and his eyes found the back wall of the bar once more. His reflection in the mirror that hung on the back wall must have held him because he never looked back towards Con again and his head seemed to sink a little lower into his shoulders. After that, the pulse of the day seemed to slow even a little more. As if a few words can seal a place up.
It was a few minutes later that the other man reappeared. Heavily, he sat down again and you could hear the sound of the legs of the stool budging against the wooden floor.
Con lit up again.
In front of him, half the pint was just sitting there, waiting, the froth all broken to traces of nothing against the inside of the glass. ‘Lordy, lordy,’ the voice drifted over on the air once more. It wasn’t as if Con got suddenly weary of that sound, but something about it made him think he wanted to leave that spot. Too tired to get up, he just lifted his hand from his knee and instead of getting up to go, he placed it on the sleeve of h is suit jacket all laid out beside him, and although there were no creases in it, he started slowly smoothing it out with the palm of his hand, his worn fingers brushing against the pinstripes, moving with them.
A few minutes after, he got up and without taking his jacket, went down to the gents. When he was there, he thought about how easily somebody could steal his jacket, how they could be just be passing and how they might just throw an eye in through the window, see the thing and then without anybody even noticing, slip in, take it and be gone in a second. A short while later, he took the corner at the top of the stairs and saw the jacket lying in wait for him, keeping his seat in the light from the window. And when he saw it, when he saw that it wasn’t gone, and that now he was back that there was no chance for anyone to take it, he knew he couldn’t have cared, either way.
As he was taking his seat again, the double yellow lines on the far side of the street caught his eye. Something about the way they were coming or going, he didn’t know, he could never say about that. He started thinking then about the tandem that had passed. The man on the front of it and the girl behind. There was something he liked about tandems. Something about the uniformity of limbs rising and falling at the same angles against the world and the way everything happened together, that simultaneity of living.
Outside, a passing truck took the comer from Lincoln Place on to Westland Row. It shook the place and even when it was gone from sight, the window was still murmuring in the frame.
‘The noise of that yoke,’ one of the men said at the bar.
Con took another slug from his pint.
There was a girl once he had known, but not very well really, if a person was talking in terms of really knowing somebody, then not very well at all. They had gone cycling together. It was years ago. And now he was thinking of her, this girl from years ago. This girl, whose name he couldn’t even remember now. He narrowed his eyes a little as if he was trying to picture her. He could see her face all right. If he tried not to think of her name, it would probably come, eventually, of its own accord. But what was it? He took another drag from the cigarette. And to hell with it, he thought, another thing he couldn’t remember.
The smoke passed across his face.
Far away he heard a dog barking.
Over behind the bar someone had put the telly on, but there was no sound. From the far side of the pub, there was laughter and you could have surmised that there was probably about three or four people gathered at one of the tables. Maybe they had come in another door.
He had rented a tandem.
God, he could have as easily forgotten it ever happened. But there, he had remembered it, as if, like so many other days, it had been lying in a crease of his memory, resting undisturbed. His hand tightened around the glass and something like a smile crossed his face. The weight of outside light on his shoulders seemed to ease off a little, the heaviness in the air, beginning to harden itself out against the sky. She was a bit mad, she was. She was that. A bit gone in the head all right and she’d be the first to admit it. A mad one.
He looked down into his pint, the fading darkness of it, as memory tunnelled into his mind. They had rented a tandem. And why wouldn’t they, she had said, when she saw it in Whelan’s, isn’t it as easy as riding a bike, sure why not. She shrugged her shoulders as she spoke. Sure why not yourself, he had said to her. Her laugh glided on the air.
Con looked up slowly and gazed out the side window. He smiled broadly at that openness.
‘Sure why not,’ he said suddenly, thinking out loud.
Con put his hand down on his jacket again and let his fingers trail the line of the pin stripes. And his voice came again this time, only softer, ‘Sure why not, why bloody not.’
Outside, the cloud had deepened over the city and the sky had that look of rain.
There’s a few seconds when you start off on a tandem, there’s a window of time, when you never know what’s going to happen. You could live or be dead within the same minute. You could skin both your knees coming down on the footpath or you could sail forever. He could remember her voice, now, in that moment, when the bike swayed and wobbled from side to side, as they tried to keep it out from the kerb and at the same time, out of harm’s way from the middle of the road. If a car came, the speed of it would shake your guts and he remembered that and he remembered the road passing underneath the front wheel as they pulled off, the unspoken seal of it, the secret of the fastness it knew. ‘Pedal! ‘ he said, as he felt the drag of the thing under him. ‘Pedal, would you!’ he ordered and all he could hear floating over his shoulder was her laughing. It made him smile now over his pint. ‘Pedal,’ he said, ‘Pedal! Pedal! For God’s sake, PEDAL!’ And then there was the sound of her laughing again and he could feel her shaking the bike as she snorted, and the sound of the pedal catching under her foot, ‘God’s sake! ‘ she shouted in his ear, almost breathless from her hysterics, ‘I AM PEDALLING! ‘ And she must have been, she must have got going then, because all of a sudden, they were moving along and the bike wasn’t wobbling like before, only swaying now slowly into certainty and the road, with its warm silence, began passing beneath them, and for all they knew, they might have been starting a journey on a train, the way the whole world was beginning gradually and easily to slip by. ‘That’s better,’ he yelled. ‘That’s better yourself,’ she whispered in his ear and he could remember the touch of her lips brush his skin.
They went as far as the sea that day. And things were going fine until she got snippy about something, and in the end, he ended up cycling the thing back into town alone, the whole day washed out.
He ordered another half.
‘Lost the missus, have you?’ they said back in Whelan’s. He couldn’t think of an answer, so his tongue hollowed out the inside of his cheek and that was as good a one as he could give.
Outside, there was the sound of swollen raindrops beginning to fall. The heavens are opening, said the man at the bar, who, leaning on his elbow had turned to look out at the downpour. After a moment, he turned away again, saturated in disinterest.
Along the top of the window, once more, chains of drops were beginning to plummet, gathering into each other before releasing, savouring the plump togetherness of the fall. It kept up for about an hour. Around five, the barman turned on the lamps in the pub. From outside, it had the effect of making the place seem more snug, so that when motorists were stopped at the lights, they couldn’t help wishing that they could be in there as well, having something. What was her name? He wondered how many times he might think about it that night, how many times his mind would recall her face and the feel of her lips against his own.
It was after teatime when he looked at his watch. The rain had eased off. At the bar, the two men had become a little animated and were having a conversation. That heaviness had been loosened from everything, even the knots in the wood did not seem as tight, and during this last hour, a hum of conversation had gradually risen over the other tables. Con finished up his half-pint and was about to go, when the barman turned up the radio and the sports results came on. The lads at the bar started telling the crowd on the other side to whisht. He waited then, another while, to hear the outcome of the hurling matches, the senior and junior, and when he had that done, he put on his jacket and slipped out the door. Although the street was shiny from the rain, the evening had dried up and what there was left of evening light was beginning to open up a little in that freshness unfolding on the air. He felt better in himself. Walking down the curve of Lincoln Place, he could hear the small splashes of the car wheels in the puddles.
A break was coming in the clouds and something like evening sunlight, the inclement promise of summer was trying to ease itself through. He passed a row of trees, thin, spindly things that were not yet matured. In the openness of cool air, they were swaying back and forth a little, as if, with all the effort of growing and surviving, they were making up their minds, whether to be in with the world or have done with it, but from somewhere inside them, rain had lifted those smells of greenery particular to leaves and suddenly, it seemed like a lushness was slowly capturing the world and a kind of willingness seemed to blossom in everything. Con looked up as he was passing under the branches, and little drops, shaken by a touch of air, fell from their leaves on to his face and on to his shoulders, where in a slow diagonal challenge, they delicately crisscrossed the lines and spaces of the pinstripes. And if someone had swiped his jacket, he thought, he would have been soaked