Before they reached The Yacht, Mick had pissed twice. ‘I broke the seal too early, man.’
‘Come on to fuck, would you? We’ll be on this road all night at this rate.’
Mick’s breathing was rough, a wheelie bin full of bottles pulled over cobblestones. The road was dimly lit and the bends were sharp and vicious. Ben knew them instinctively and usually avoided walking this stretch at night.
‘He was some bollix, wasn’t he?’
‘Who?’ Ben asked, knowing full well who Mick was talking about. ‘That dope of a taxi driver. Who lets two pissed lads out on this road?’ ‘I’m not pissed.’
‘You shouldn’t have insulted him.’ ‘Over-sensitive fuck.’
Mick had hardly looked at Ben all night, grunts and side-glances when he wasn’t dug into his phone or pointing with his pint at the screen. Ben stopped after three, he was cutting back but hadn’t told Mick. He slipped out excuses about a headache and stuff to do in the morning. Mick did all he could to get the night going and after coming from the toilets suggested, hands open and palms up in a sign of peace, they go to the student night in Mulraneys. Ben beat that down quicker than he would a fly. They spent the rest of the night watching the Champions League. They stayed for the interviews and analysis and had one more when the highlights of the early games came on. It was the qualifying rounds and teams they’d never heard of were playing teams they’d only barely heard of.
‘These are all shite,’ Mick said, looking up from his phone when a goal went in, ‘Dundalk could easily mix it with these cunts, look.’ He had an article up about one of the teams, the Latvian champions. Their star striker was a baker and after the match would be working through the night to have his shop ready for the morning. He liked it, he said, it gave him time to think about what went right and wrong in the game.
The Yacht had been in and out of different management for years until Mick’s uncle Barry bought it a couple of years ago. It looked out of place where it was, as if it had just landed on the crest of the hill at Loughshinny, on the bend between Skerries and Rush. It bordered a farm on its right and a wasteland to its left. Mick worked as a barman there last year, before it closed after Christmas.
‘We should’ve gone to Mulraneys.’ ‘You could’ve gone by yourself.’ ‘Give over, would ya?’
‘Never stopped you before.’
While Mick was pissing, Ben walked to the side of the pub. In the empty, chain-locked carpark he climbed onto a worn-out picnic bench. Lambay Island came into view. From this perspective, it looked to Ben like the heart of an animal, ripped from its chest and left on the factory floor to die. He looked at his jeans and runners. He couldn’t find his good shoes before he left, so wore his running shoes that had flecks of brown dirt and grass stains on them. His jeans had long since lost their shape. At least he was wearing a shirt, but even in that, combined with his lower half, he looked foolish, half-dressed. Mick sauntered over, kicking a can and smoking. His shoes were brown with a sharp pointed tip, jeans black and neatly pressed, his jacket stylish. He looked healthy, his gym work and physical labour gave him a strong appearance. Ben thought he could be someone famous, a footballer or a pop star. Mick jumped up onto the creaky, weather-beaten bench and the sea came into his field of vision for the first time. ‘There she is,’ Mick shouted in a voice Ben felt was too loud for the time of
‘All of it, the town, the island, the sea, at least we have this.’ ‘What?’
‘A way out, it’s up to us to get out of this kip. Wanna see something?’ ‘What?’
Mick had a naggin in his back pocket. He still went through the motions of their Wednesday night Champions League meetups, when it was clear they were on borrowed time. Nagle had gotten married, Pauly’d had a kid and Jonsey and Frank had fallen out. Ben waved the offer of a drink away. Mick finished it off, threw the bottle into the neighbouring field and turned back to The Yacht. The rear yard was full of empty kegs and bottles stacked in crates. There was a dripping tap, boxes full of posters and bar knick-knacks. The windows had been white-washed but there was a patch big enough for a set of eyes. Ben cupped his eyes like a man blocking out the sun and looked in at the empty bar. Ben thought he heard something and jumped around, but saw nothing. Mick shushed him and undid the back door. There were three locks and he had the keys to all of them.
‘What the fuck?’
‘Had to open up over Christmas. Barry gave me a pair.’ ‘Is this where you’ve been bringing her?’
‘Don’t you know it, pal, not a fuckin’ word to anyone.’
Ben felt that walking through the abandoned pub was like being in someone’s bedroom. It felt oddly intrusive, as if you could be caught at any minute. The room had been used for sessions; cans and cigarette butts littered the tables. Ben followed Mick into the lounge, up the back stairs and into the staff-only area.
‘Wakey wakey,’ Mick called. ‘Who are you talking to?’ ‘You’ll see.’
‘There’s someone here?’ ‘C’mon.’
‘What the fuck, man?’
There was another locked door and Mick opened it. Inside was a single bed. ‘This is where we go, but we have to keep the door open.’
‘To keep sketch.’
They all knew he’d been shagging Katie, and everyone presumed it was in his car. Ben felt the pressure to say something, to match Mick’s high excited voice. It hurt him to think of her here. He swallowed and looked away from Mick. ‘Why are we here?’ Mick turned and stared at Ben. He bit his lower lip with his upper teeth.
‘Why did you ask that?’
‘I don’t know. But answer me.’
‘To do something, I don’t know, to go somewhere. We do fuck all anymore.’
Ben walked into the function room that faced the main road. He’d been to twenty-first birthday parties here. The moon was bright and Ben appeared illuminated in the glass of the long bay window. The room was empty except for a ragged couch.
‘Don’t stand in the light,’ Mick said as he pushed him to the side. They both looked out onto the road from behind the protection of the curtains.
‘It’s not an action movie, man.’ ‘What?’
‘No one’s gonna shoot up at the window.’
‘I know, I just wouldn’t want to be caught here is all.’ ‘Who’d be around here at this time?’
‘You never know.’
There was nothing to do and a wound had spread itself between them. Ben had resisted talking about Katie the whole night.
‘Why do you bring her here?’
‘I knew that’s what you’re pissed off about. What’s the difference? Here or anywhere else.’
‘Well, you’re right then, you’re right, there’s no difference, but an abandoned pub?’
‘I know ya introduced us, man, but you can’t get between couples.’
‘We were good friends though, close, before you got with her, she won’t even talk to me now, not properly anyway.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘We used to talk, you know, coffee and stuff.’ ‘She was there with us last Friday.’
‘Yeah, but I feel strange ringing her now to chat.’ ‘Why, ‘cause I’m with her?’
‘Well don’t be. I’m just shagging her, man, we’re not gonna get married or anything. You coulda gone for it ages ago but you bottled it.’
Two weeks earlier Mick had sent around a picture on the lads’ WhatAapp group of him and Katie with the caption #morninblowie attached to it. Ben waited for a few days then deleted WhatsApp, pretending to the lads that there was a glitch on his phone. He hadn’t mentioned anything to Mick about it and neither had Mick.
The night was murky black and clouds moved to cover their view of Lambay.
Ben turned away and walked out of the room. As he did so, he heard coughing above him.
‘What the fuck is that?’
‘Another surprise for you, Benny. C’mon we see if this cunt’s awake.’ ‘Who?’
‘Bojan Bojan, how many fuckin’ Bojans do you know?’ ‘None.’
The coughing was followed by shuffling and Ben was reminded of mice running through floorboards as a child. It sounded like someone trying to make their way through a dark, cluttered space. Ben zipped up his jacket, making ready to leave.
‘Who the fuck is up there, Mick?’
‘Calm down, man. I just told ya. Polish Bojan from the glasshouses. Works for Finnegan. You know him, he was the cellar-man here over Christmas.’
‘I thought his name was Pavel?’
‘That’s just what we called him when we couldn’t remember his real name.’ ‘What’s going on, man?’
‘This is what I’ve wanted to tell you. Barry left me the keys when he went to Oz, told me to keep an eye on the place. Rats, rising damp, that sort of stuff. He throws me a few quid. So I starts bringing Katie here. Barry turned a couple of the offices into bedrooms so at night we’d meet at the corner and sneak in, couldn’t be seen parking or anything like that. So we’re here one night and who do I find in a sleeping bag out beside the kegs, a little fuckin’ roof made out of boxes and crates but our man Bojan. I wake him up and guess what he’s got in his sleeping bag?’
‘A fuckin’ hammer. It takes him a minute to remember who I am, he’s all dozy and shit and mixing up his languages but we bring him into the pub and he tells us how his missus has kicked him out. So I gets a brainwave. I ask him if he wants to move in while my uncle’s away. It was fairly cold out you know? He agrees and we bring him to the upstairs office, there’s a jacks up there, he has access to the kitchen and he’s still working during the day. He sneaks out in the morning, locks up and keeps an eye on the place at night.’
‘What? Oh yeah, he pays me seventy quid a week and keeps his mouth shut about me and Katie.’
‘He hasn’t been with her, has he?’
‘No to fuck, of course not, wouldn’t let that pig near her, smell of fuckin cabbage off him. He stays upstairs when he knows I’m coming. I always text him first. C’mon, let’s go say hello. He’s expecting us.’
They walked up a little flight of stairs. Mick knocked three times, shouted ‘wakey wakey, hands off snakey,’ and opened the door slowly. Ben stared at Bojan. He was in his sleeping bag, covered with a duvet and propped up by a cushion and two pillows. The only light was a desk lamp stretched from the wall and nestled on a crate. Bojan’s hands were directly under the light and he was rolling a collection of cigarettes. Ben scanned the room slowly. A makeshift clothesline hung from one corner to the other and five damp shirts were pinned on it. Work boots were resting on another upturned crate in the corner and a Man United kids schoolbag sat on a chair. On the desk was a chess board, ready to be played. The round stained-glass window just below the roof was cracked where someone threw a stone through it after the pub closed.
‘Is that you, Bojan?’
‘Of course it is me, who else?’
‘I thought it might have been the Latvian baker.’
Mick winks at Ben and he smiles back, in spite of himself. ‘I’m Polish. You know this.’
‘I’m only messing. Were your team playing tonight?’ ‘No, we are in the later games.’
‘La-de-da. Will I throw a bit of green into that?’ ‘Ok, take this one, I start another.’
‘Bojan spends half the night rolling smokies,’ Mick says to Ben. ‘It helps when I can’t sleep.’
Ben didn’t know that Mick was back smoking weed. They’d quit together in January. A life he didn’t know cut him and Ben felt all these small betrayals stick to him. He encouraged distance in people, he knew that. He stood up while the lads chatted about football and peeked his head behind Bojan’s clothes. On tippy toes, he looked through the hole in the glass down to the road. He tried to remember his view of the window from below, but couldn’t picture it now without seeing his shadow behind the broken glass. He wanted a rich, secret life like Mick had and was thinking of this when he heard Katie’s name.
‘Katie, you don’t see her tonight?’
‘No, I was out with this stale prick instead.’
Bojan looked at Ben fully for the first time and broke into a wide, chipped- tooth smile.
‘I remember him. Quiet one. What is your drink again? Something strange.’ ‘Smithwicks with a Guinness head.’
‘First time I hear this.’
‘Picked that up in college. Always has to be different this cunt, he was the same in school.’
‘You friends from school?’
‘Yeah, but he’s a college boy now.’ ‘What you study?’
‘Business, but I’m not going back.’ ‘Yeah? You never told me that?’ ‘Telling ya now.’
‘So Katie come or no?’
‘I’m gonna text her now, see if I can make something of the night.’ ‘Now?’
Ben’s voice sounded high in his head, screechy and out of control, but his question was ignored and he wondered if he’d said anything at all.
‘You bring her back?’
‘No, her ma’s car is parked ‘round the corner from the gaff. I’ll meet her there.
Don’t worry, man, you can wank in peace.’ ‘Wank in peace. Funny guy.’
Ben walked the last stretch in near silence. All he could see was a toasted sandwich, a cup of tea and his bed. Mick’s speech was slurry and unpredictable. The night had turned cold and Ben felt underdressed. They were at the turn for Katie’s estate and he was rubbing his hands to keep warm. Mick stopped to piss again and Ben looked back up the hill. He felt the distance closing in between the town and The Yacht, as if they were walking on stepping stones over a river.
‘You know we could do what we like to him, don’t you?’ Ben’s eyes travelled to Mick’s, but they didn’t connect. ‘What does that mean?’
‘I mean, he’s ours, you know? We could make him dance. No one would know or care, would they?’
‘What are you talking about, man?’
‘He seems okay.’
‘Yeah, but I’m just saying the possibilities.’
‘There are no possibilities.’
‘I heard he was kicked out for hitting his wife around.’
‘Where did you hear that?’
‘The auld lad told me. We owe that cunt nothing. If we wanted to we could take advantage of the situation.’
‘Where does he wash his clothes?’
‘The sink in the kitchen. Fuckin’ smell of the place. Just think about it.’ ‘How long are you gonna keep it going?’
‘I haven’t decided yet but I need to use him more, take advantage. It makes me feel better having him there, though.’
‘What do ya mean?’
‘It could all be worse, man. We could be like him. Imagine living in an abandoned pub in Poland and picking cabbage for your living. I mean, who’d give a fuck if he disappeared?’
Ben walked on a few steps before he realised that Mick wasn’t following. ‘I’m swinging in here, man, gonna hop the wall.’
‘You really going to her ma’s car?’
‘Can’t go inside and not worth the walk back. I’ll tell her you were asking for her, will I? To ring ya, for a coffee or something.’
They hugged and Mick kept it going longer than Ben felt comfortable. Ben had his earphones in his hand and was readying himself for the last push into Rush. He broke off first and Mick had that mouth where he looked like he was tasting something and was going to speak but he swallowed it, burped and let his watery eyes open and close a few times. Ben moved away and Mick held out his hand.
‘Straight home, yeah?’ ‘Yeah, straight home.’
Ben felt outflanked, pressed in and alone. The main road was more exposed here, no trees or buildings, just a flat spread of wheat fields that became cliffs and plunged into the sea. He walked for fifty metres, looked back and saw Mick sitting on the wall, the light from his phone shining on his face. When he was out of view, Ben crossed back and took the first right into the estates. Katie’s family home was in a maze of semi-detached houses called ‘Seaview Rise’, a dead end that backed onto the new primary school. He picked up his speed and jogged to the little green across from her house. He sat on the ground beneath a large tree and had a clear view of her door. After five minutes, he saw Mick arrive and disappear behind the car. Soon after, he watched Katie leave; hooded, sketchy and running up the road with her phone and keys in one hand. The lights flicked twice on the car and Mick’s head appeared from the kerb. He jumped up and dove into the back seat. Katie hopped in after him. Ben couldn’t watch. He felt his fists tighten and release.
He checked his phone: 2:30 on a Thursday morning. He could taste his bed. He’d go for a jog tomorrow to stave off the guilt after the spliff. He was getting fit again. Mick was right, Ben thought, there was a way out of this place. He picked up a rock. The evening was full and fit to burst, something needed to be emptied. The clouds had cleared and the moon was shining brightly. He was glad now he had his runners on. He walked slowly towards the front of the car and didn’t look back.