All the Boys, a short story by Thomas Morris

A holiday read - The 12 Stories of Christmas, Day 12: the poignant but funny tale with a twist of a Welsh stag party in Temple Bar, from January’s Irish Times Book Club author

 

The best man won’t tell them it’s Dublin until they get to Bristol Airport. He’ll tell them to bring euros and don’t bother packing shorts. The five travelling from Caerphilly will drink on the minibus. And Big Mike, the best man, will spend the first twenty minutes reading and rereading the A4 itinerary he typed up on MS Word. The plastic polypocket will be wedged thick with flight tickets and hostel reservations. It will be crumpled and creased from the constant hand-scrunching and metronome swatting against his suitcase – the only check-in bag on the entire trip. He’ll spend the journey to the airport telling Gareth, and anyone who listens, that Rob had better never marry again, that he couldn’t handle the stress of organising another one of these.

‘You should see my desk in work,’ Big Mike will say. ‘It’s covered in notes for this fuckin stag. It’s been like a full-time job.’

Gareth will nod and Gareth will sympathise. He’ll just be glad to get out of Caerphilly for the weekend; he’s been waiting months for this, has imagined how it all might go. He’ll take a swig of his can, and look to Rob’s father. Rob’s father will be fifty-four in two weeks and will think there’s something significant about the fact, about being twice the age of his son. He had two kids and a house by the time he was twenty-seven, and he’ll think about that as he listens to Larry telling the story about the woman he picked up at the Kings. She’d taken Larry back to her place, and in the middle of the night he’d heard sex noises coming from the room next to hers. Larry said to the woman, ‘Your housemate’s a bit wild’, and the woman replied, ‘I don’t have a housemate, love. That’s my daughter.’

Hucknall and Peacock, travelling from London, will arrive at Bristol before the others. They’ll sit in the bar getting drunk and studying departures screens. Hucknall will have spent the whole morning moaning about the fact they’re flying from Bristol, and why couldn’t Big Mike have just told them where they’re going?

‘Bet you it’s Dublin,’ Hucknall will say, leaning back in his chair, his knees spread wide, his hands smoothing his tan chinos. ‘Bet Big Mike’s too scared to book somewhere foreign.’

‘Don’t make a difference to me,’ Peacock will say. ‘I’ll clear up wherever we go.’

When the Caerphilly boys join the now-London ones at the airport bar, Big Mike will confirm that it’s Dublin they’re headed to. And he’ll loudly declare the weekend’s drinking rule: pints must always be held in the left hand. If you find yourself holding two drinks, your own drink must be in your left hand. Failure to adhere will result in a forfeit, as decided by Lead Ruler Larry. The boys will all say that’s easy, and start suggesting additional rules, but Big Mike will be defiant: the left-hand rule is king.

‘You sure no one here’s a secret leftie, though?’ Huck- nall will ask.

‘I’ve done my research,’ Big Mike will say. ‘Rob’s dad is left-footed, but he’s definitely right-handed. I made him write his name out earlier.’

When Peacock - with perfect stubble and coiffed hair - goes to the airport bar, everyone will laugh at his shoes that seem to be made of straw.

‘Couldn’t believe it when I met him at Paddington,’ Hucknall will say. ‘Doesn’t he look benter than a horseshoe?’

‘I’ve seen straighter semicircles,’ Rob will say.

Gareth will shout to Peacock: ‘Mate, why don’t you do yourself a favour and just come out?’

Peacock will stand there, between table and bar, and kiss his own biceps. He’ll accept the jibes, and say none of the boys has any idea about style. He’ll take the piss out of Caerphilly’s clothes shops, and say David Beckham wore a pair of shoes just like these to the Iron Man 3 premiere. And that will be it: Peacock will be called Iron Man Three for the rest of the trip.

When they board the plane, Larry will tell the air stewardess that Peacock’s ticket isn’t valid, that his name is Iron Man Three.

When they get to the hostel in Temple Bar - and Huck- nall has finally stopped going on about the ten-minute wait for Big Mike’s suitcase, he’ll ask if Iron Man Three has a reservation.

And in Fitzsimons on the first night, to every girl that Peacock talks to, one of the boys will come up and say, ‘Don’t bother, Iron Man’s gay.’

Peacock will laugh. ‘They’re just jealous,’ he’ll tell the girl from Minneapolis or Wexford or Rome. ‘They wouldn’t know fashion if it woke them up in the morning and gave them a little kiss.’

Gareth, meanwhile, will be at the bar ordering shots. He’ll have his arm around Rob and he’ll tell him that he loves him, that he’s really happy he’s happy. He’ll make Rob do shots with him - sambuca, whiskey and vodka - and Rob will say he can’t handle any more after the apple sours.

‘Who’s for shots?’ Gareth will say, looking around ‘Shotiau?

He’ll order shots for whoever’s beside him at the bar. He’ll buy randomers shots. And he’ll persuade the English barman to have a shot with him. He’s not meant to, but he’ll do one just to shut Gareth up.

At a table, Rob’s father will have his arm around his son.

‘I love Rachel, you know,’ Rob will say, his eyes ablaze. ‘I really love her.’

‘Just pace yourself,’ his father will say quietly. ‘The boys are getting wrecked. They won’t even notice if you don’t drink the stuff they’re giving you.’

He’ll offer to drink his son’s drinks; he’ll get wasted so that his son may be saved.

Big Mike will be careering around the pub making sure everyone’s alright. He’ll always have a pint in his left hand. And he’ll be going from boy to boy, just to make sure everyone’s okay. This first night he’ll be torn between keeping steady and getting absolutely bollocksed. He’ll decide on ordering half-pints but asking the barman to pour them into pint glasses.

‘Dun want anyone thinking I’m gay,’ he’ll say, and he’ll order another pint for Rob, and place it down at his table without saying a word.

And Larry? He’ll be getting attacked by an English girl for calling her sugar-tits. When her friends pull her off, he’ll retouch his hair and say, ‘Fair play, my dear, that was lovely. Can we do that back at yours?’

The night will become an ungodly mess. All the boys will be pouncing on each other for holding pints in their right hand, and drinking shots as forfeits, and drinking faster as the night slips by. They’ll make moves on girls on hen-do’s from Brighton and Bangor and Mayo. By eleven, Hucknall will be puking in the corner of the dance floor, and Rob’s father, after a quiet word in Big Mike’s ear, will take Rob back to the hostel. Peacock will go missing, talking to some girl somewhere, his deep V-neck shirt showing off his tonely chest and glimmering sunbed tan. And Rob, the groom (lest we forget), will be flat-out on the hostel bed, fully clothed, but shoeless, his father having taken them off while his drunken twenty-seven-year-old son lay half-comatose. He’ll send a text to the boy’s mother: ‘all gd here, back at the hostel. Rob’s safe and asleep.’

Outside McDonald’s, Larry’ll coax the boys to take turns hugging the Polish dwarf in a leprechaun costume.

Larry will say: ‘Cracking job this would be for you, Mikey-boy.’

Big Mike will laugh and grab at his own hair. He’ll slur, ‘I’m small. I know I’m small. But at least I’m not fucking ginger.’

Gareth will ask the Polish dwarf if Big Mike can try on his hat, but the man will decline.

‘No hat, no job,’ he’ll say.

So they’ll take turns to photograph each other hugging the Polish dwarf in a leprechaun costume. They’ll ask a passer-by to take photos of them hugging the Polish dwarf in a leprechaun costume. And when the Polish man points at the little pot-of-gold money box and asks for two euro, Larry will say - actually, Larry won’t say anything the leprechaun will understand. Larry will be speaking Welsh. When abroad, all the boys slag everyone in Welsh.

At Zaytoon, Gareth, Big Mike and Larry will queue for food while Hucknall sits on the pavement outside, his head arched between his legs, his vomit softly coating the curb and cobblestones like one of Dali’s melted clocks. A blonde girl will ask the boys if they’re from Wales. She’ll say she loves the accent, and Larry will say he likes hers too - where’s she from? But when she answers, she’ll be looking at Gareth, not Larry. She’ll say she likes his quiff.

‘Cheers,’ Gareth will say. ‘I grew it myself.’

She’ll be asking about the tattoo of a fish on Gareth’s arm when Larry will tell her that Gareth has a girlfriend called Carly, that they’re buying together a house in Ystrad Mynach. The girl will lose interest, not immediately - she won’t be that obvious - but she’ll allow herself to be pulled back into the gravitational force of her friends who lean against the restaurant window.

‘Cheers,’ Gareth will say to Larry. ‘You’re such a twat.’

‘Any time,’ Larry will say. ‘Have you seen Iron Man Three?’

Big Mike will have his hands on the glass counter, his head resting like a small bundle in his arms. Gareth will be looking at Big Mike’s tiny little frame, his tiny little shoes against the base of the counter, and Gareth will think he should text Carly back.

‘I ain’t seen Peacock all night,’ he’ll say. ‘Probably shagging some bloke somewhere.’

Larry will smile. ‘Aye,’ he’ll say. ‘Wouldn’t surprise me.’

*all the boys*

Saturday, the hostel room smelling like sweated alcohol and men, heavy tongues will wake stuck to the roofs of dry mouths. Set up a microphone, and this is what you’ll hear: waking-up farts and morning groans; zips and unzips on mini-suitcases and sports bags; the library-shhhhhhh of Lynx sprays; and the sounds of the bathroom door opening and slamming, its lock rotating clockwise in the handle. Pop your nose through the door, and this is what you’ll smell: dehydrated shit mingling with the minty hostel shower gel in the hot, steamy air. And back in the room, more sounds now: the beginning of last night’s stories, the where-did-you-go-tos, the how- the-hell-did-I-get-backs and Larry inviting the boys to guess if the skin he’s pulling over his boxers belongs to his cock or balls.

Big Mike will be first to breakfast, the others dripping behind. All the boys will be scrolling through iPhones for photos from last night, with Rob’s father doing the same on his digital camera. There’ll be sympathetic bleats for headaches and wrenched stomachs, with paracetamol handed around like condiments. Big Mike will be urging the boys to get a move on or they’ll never make it to Croke Park. Hucknall will ask why the hell are they going there anyway? And Big Mike, tapping the inventory in its polypocket, will say: ‘Culture, mate. Culture.’ Fried breakfasts and questions: how’s an Irish breakfast different to an English? When you buying the house then, Gareth? And seriously, Peacock, where the hell did you end up last night?

Peacock’s story will be confusing and confused. He got in a taxi with a girl, and she was well up for it - he was fingering her in the backseat. (‘Backseat?’ Larry’ll say. ‘Up the arse, like?’ and Peacock will go, ‘No, the backseat of the taxi, you dickwad.’) Anyway, when they got to her place she realised she didn’t have her keys (‘Sure this wasn’t a bloke?’ Rob will say.) So Peacock and the girl walked for like an hour to somewhere - Cadbra or some random place - and when they arrived she told him he couldn’t come in because it was her nan’s house. She just went in and closed the door on him. When he finally found a taxi, he didn’t have enough cash so the driver dropped him off at some random ATM in a 24-hour shop, but Peacock got talking to some random guy about London for ages (‘Oh yeah, bet you did,’ Gareth’ll say) and when he came out, the taxi had gone, so he - (‘He’s holding his glass in his right hand!’ Rob’s father will say. ‘It’s orange juice,’ Peacock will say. ‘It don’t matter,’ Larry will say. ‘Down it!’) - so he found the tram stop and -

‘Gay Boy Robert Downey Junior,’ Hucknall will say. ‘I’m bored now. Worst Man, when we going to Croke Park?’

Big Mike will be glaring. He’ll say: ‘As soon as you’ve finished your fucking breakfast.’

All the boys will be surprised and impressed by Croke Park’s size, by the vastness of the changing rooms, the way the training centre gleams. When the guide takes them out onto the edge of the pitch, he’ll point to the stand at the far end, and tell them about the Bloody Sunday Massacre in 1920, how the British army opened fire on the crowd during a Gaelic football match. Fourteen were killed, he’ll say. Two players were shot. There’ll be a silence. Rob’s father will be nodding - he’ll have read about all this in the guide book he bought at the Centra in Temple Bar. Three of the boys will be wearing Man Utd shirts. And the guide will go on, explaining how Gaelic football and hurling - he’ll just call it GAA, and it’ll take a few minutes for the boys to fully get what he’s talking about - are not sports, but expressions of resistance. But they’re also more than that, they’re not just reactive things. It’s in the blood, he’ll say. And Gareth will be sort of startled. Something the guide says, something of its tone, will resonate. Though resonate isn’t quite how Gareth would put it; he won’t even know what he’s thinking. He’ll just be looking out to the far stand, trying to picture how it all happened.

‘They were boys,’ the guide will say. ‘The ones who fought for independence, they were younger than all you.’

The sky will be white, and there’ll be silence and rapture. When the guide leaves them at the museum, Huck- nall will say to the boys, ‘Fucking hell, I thought he’d never shut up.’

And Larry will put on an Irish accent and go: ‘GAA is in the blood.’

And Hucknall will laugh and go: ‘And they killed all our boys . . . Yeah, nice one, Worst Man. Most depressing stag do in the world. You got any other crap trips in that suitcase of yours?’

Big Mike will be quiet, he won’t know what to say.

‘I enjoyed it,’ Rob will say, and his father will thank Big Mike for bringing them.

Gareth will send a text to Carly. ‘Miss you too’, it’ll say.

Peacock will be using his iPhone to check his hair.

They’ll get a taxi back into town, then they’ll walk around and look at things. Larry’ll be in hysterics when he sees the place called Abrakebabra, insisting that one of the boys take his photo next to the sign. They’ll walk in a group, taking up half the width of Westmoreland Street, wondering what the hell goes on in the massive white building with the huge columns that look as if they belong in Rome.

‘It’s a bank,’ Rob’s father will say, and Big Mike will go, ‘No wonder things are so fucking expensive.’

When they pass Trinity College, Rob’s father will say there’s meant to be a nice library in there, he read about it in his guide book. And Gareth will point ahead at Hucknall and Larry as they eye up a group of Spanish- looking tourists, and he’ll say: ‘I’ve got a feeling the boys aren’t really in the mood for a good read.’

Before they know it, they’ll be in Temple Bar again. In Gogarty’s they’ll order bouquets of Guinness, and Hucknall will insist that they should have gone to the Guinness Factory instead of Croke Park.

Big Mike will say: ‘If you know so much, why dun you be fucking best man?’ And the boys will do a hand- bags-ooooo, and laugh until their already-aching kidneys hurt. A greying man on a guitar will sing ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ and ‘The Wild Rover’ (‘The Clover song!’ Peacock will say), and when the boys request ‘Delilah’, he’ll oblige, and all the boys will sing-shout along, all the while pushing more pints in front of Rob. Rob will be singing loudest now. He’ll have decided that tonight’s the night he’s going to properly go for it. Leaving Croke Park, he’ll have felt something stirring, and he’ll have told his father he was ready to have one more final night of going nuts.

Gareth will sing along too, but he’ll be thinking of his small bedroom at home, of the journey back to Wales tomorrow night.

‘By the way,’ Big Mike will tell the group when talk turns to eating, ‘before we go for food, we’ve gotta go back to the hostel.’

‘How come, Worst Man?’ Hucknall will say.

‘Costumes for tonight, butt. And if you call me Worst Man one more time I’m gonna knock you out, you ginger prick.’

‘Sorry, Worst Man.’

The boys will be awkward-quiet, and Rob’s father will ask where they’re gonna get the costumes from. And Big Mike will smile now. He’ll say, ‘Why the hell do you think I checked in a suitcase?’

‘A fucking potato?’ Hucknall will say. ‘Are you fucking serious?’

They’ll all be back at their room, and Big Mike will have his suitcase open on the bed, the bag bulging with bumpy, creamy-brown potato costumes.

‘Aye,’ Big Mike will say. ‘Got a problem with that as well, have you?’

Peacock will take a costume from the suitcase and place it over himself in the mirror. ‘These gonna make us look fat, you reckon?’

‘No way am I wearing a potato costume,’ Hucknall will say. ‘We’re in Ireland, for fuck’s sake.’

‘Exactly,’ Big Mike’ll go. ‘They love potatoes. Dirty- tree potatoes.’

And the boys will shake their heads, will say all sorts.

‘Are they all the same size?’ Larry’ll go.

‘All the same,’ Big Mike will say, ‘except for Rob’s. He’s wearing something else. Oh, and you all owe me fifteen quid.’

Rob will beam, his teeth visible, a smile in his voice. ‘What the fuck you got me?’

A plunging arm into the suitcase depths and Big Mike will pull out something black in cellophane.

Wordless, he’ll hand the package to Rob.

Rob will tear at the cellophane. There’ll be some kind of dress: green-and-orange and hideous. It’ll take a moment for Rob to click: he’s been given a woman’s Irish dance costume. There’ll be white socks to go with it too.

‘Rrrrriverdance’ – Big Mike will scream, doing an odd, high-kneed jig on the hostel floor.

And all the boys will laugh, and Hucknall will say fair play, that’s a good un. And once they see that Rob looks the biggest tit, they won’t mind dressing up like potatoes. At least we’ll all be warm, Rob’s father will say.

They’ll drink the cans left over from last night, and Gareth will find himself at the point of drunkenness where he wants to fight. He’ll offer arm wrestles to everyone. Using Big Mike’s suitcase for a table - and at Gareth’s insistence - they’ll take turns to lie on the floor and arm-wrestle each other. And when he’s not competing, Gareth will come up behind Larry, give him a bear hug and lift him off the ground. He’ll do the same to Hucknall and Peacock and Rob. They’ll be laughing at first, but by the end they’ll be properly pushing him off.

In Temple Bar, with the boys dressed like potatoes, and Rob dressed like a female Irish dancer (but wearing his own brown Wrangler boots), they’ll argue over where to go for dinner. Foreign girls with dark hair and dinner menus will approach them, trying to coax them into their restaurants. Passers-by will cheer and laugh, and tourists - German, American, Chinese - will ask for photos with all the boys. And they’ll begin to get into it, begin to feel like Dublin’s central attraction.

‘We should start charging,’ Larry’ll say, as Rob poses for a photo with a girl from Cincinnati. ‘Two quid per photo, whadyou reckon?’

At some point in the night someone will say that the euro feels like Monopoly money, and everyone will agree.

After forty minutes of wandering and arguing, they’ll land on Dame Street, at an empty Chinese restaurant.

‘Never a good sign when it’s empty,’ Rob’s father will say, but they’ll have been walking around for too long, and will be too hungry to go elsewhere.

Before they’ve even ordered, Hucknall will suggest they split the bill. Hucknall is an accountant, Hucknall can afford to say such things. And for reasons beyond them, to save hassle perhaps, everyone will agree. They’ll order pints immediately, but the food will take deliberation. They’ll all ask each other what they’re going to order, as if each boy’s afraid of getting the wrong dish, of getting the whole eating-out thing wrong. They’ll wind up the waitress who takes their orders, ask her if she’ll be joining them for starters, and then they’ll make her stand at the table for photos with them all.

The potato costumes will be chunky and clunky, so the chairs will have to be set some distance from the tables, and Gareth will find that to eat he has to lean forward, his back arched like a capital C. His arms will be free, though - he’ll have that at least.

‘When you buying this place with your missus, then?’ Larry will ask.

‘We’ll see,’ Gareth will say, taking a swig of his pint. ‘No rush, is there?’

‘I heard she wants somewhere by the summer,’ Big Mike’ll say.

‘Carly talks too fucking much,’ Gareth will say, and the table will laugh, giddy. Gareth’ll say: ‘What? It’s true. She shouldn’t talk about stuff like this with other people. I dun know what’s wrong with her.’

Peacock will be smiling like a bag of chips, brimming over, as if he can’t believe they’re allowed to slag off their partners publicly. He’ll think he could handle having a girlfriend if he could just slag her off all the time.

Gareth will finish off his pint and call to the waitress for another. Rob, his arms beginning to itch in the dance dress, will be watching Gareth’s left leg. Under the white tablecloth, it’ll be shaking.

The boys will chant football songs as they eat. They’ll recall stories from school, from holidays, and from other stag trips. And all the boys will laugh as Larry pretends to cry and goes ‘I’m soooooo hungry’ - in imitation of the time Hucknall passed out in Malaga and woke to find his wallet had been stolen. When the boys found him, he’d been walking the streets for three hours and he was a quivering, starving mess. At some point, some food will be thrown at someone. A man and a woman will sit down at a table across from the boys, then promptly leave. Of all the boys, Rob’s father will be the only one to notice. But the restaurant manager won’t mind the noise because the boys are buying so many drinks and extra portions of egg-fried rice and chips.

‘Alright then,’ Rob will shout across the table, raising his glass. And it’ll take Big Mike and Hucknall to quiet everyone down. ‘I should have done this earlier,’ Rob will shout, ‘but I just wanna say thanks for all this. I know you’re all wankers, but I’ve known you all so long -’

‘So he’s gonna dump Rachel and marry us!’ Gareth will yell, and the boys will cheer.

‘Dump the girl,’ will come the shout from Larry, and Gareth will shout it too, and they’ll both chant the words, banging the table. Hucknall will tell them to shut up, and Big Mike will be annoyed because that’s his job, really, not Hucknall’s.

Rob’s father will smile and tell his son to go on with the speech.

‘If I could,’ Rob will say, ‘I’d marry you all.’

‘A toast to us!’ Gareth will shout. And though his glass will be empty, he’ll raise it anyway. Rob won’t realise he never said what he wanted to say.

In Gogarty’s, Gareth will be doing his bear-hug-picking- up-mates routine again, but the place will be packed and he’ll be banging into everyone. It won’t help matters that they’re all dressed like potatoes. Big Mike will take Gareth aside and tell him to calm the fuck down.

Upstairs, in the smoking area, Larry and Rob - neither smoke - will be reminiscing.

‘Getting older’s mad, innit?’ Rob will say, taking a swig of his pint. He’ll almost have forgotten he’s dressed like a woman, and he’ll be repeatedly confused by all the looks he’s getting.

‘Yeah,’ Larry will say. ‘I can’t believe we’re twenty- seven. Innit sad thinking about all the things we’ll never do? I was thinking about it the other day. Like, at this age, I will never be the victim of paedophilia.’

Rob will laugh and bury his head in his hands. Between his fingers, he’ll see the cream foam collecting on the inside of his glass. He’ll take a swig and look at Larry. ‘Incredible,’ he’ll say.

‘It’s not real, though,’ Larry will say. ‘I reckon we’re in The Matrix. We’re gonna wake up and we’re gonna be five years old and it’s gonna be the end of our first day at school again and –’

‘Yeah,’ Rob will say.

‘But back to the issue,’ Larry will say. ‘Any pre-match doubts?’

‘What, about Rachel?’

‘Yeah. Any niggles?’

‘Nah, all good, mate. All good.’

‘I dunno how you do it,’ Larry will say - and he’ll mean it now, he’ll be sincere. ‘My record is three weeks and four days.’

Downstairs, Rob’s father will be standing on a table with a Welsh flag around his head, singing ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’.

‘I’m telling you,’ Gareth will shout at Hucknall at the bar, ‘I’m not buying a house.’

‘You been with Carly five years now, though, mate.’

‘I know, but I’m not buying a house.’

‘Look, you bender,’ Hucknall will say, ‘you can’t live at home all your life. I’m spending shitloads on rent in London. I know that. But at least I’m not living with my fucking parents.’

‘I know,’ Gareth will say, and when Hucknall turns to fetch his pint from the bar, Gareth will put his arms around Hucknall’s potato waist, pick him up, and launch him into a group of French guys in the corner. Pints will be knocked over, and Hucknall will be winded. He’ll get up, confused, and make apologies to the jostling French men. He’ll push his way through, smile at Gareth, and gesture for him to come back. And when Gareth takes a step forward, Hucknall will smack him square in the nose. Gareth will feel the cartilage snap, the muscle tear from the bone, and he’ll be buckled over when he sees Hucknall lining up another.

He’ll bound for the doors then. He’ll leg it out, down the lane, down Merchant’s Arch. He’ll dodge and weave through the traffic, and lunge up to the bridge. He’ll put his hand to his nose and there’ll be blood wetting his fingers. He’ll keep running until he’s on the other side, on Lower Liffey Street. He’ll take a seat at the bench.

He’ll be sat there, watching the boardwalk, seething and lost, when a girl who’s smoking outside the Grand Social will come sit beside him.

‘Have a chip on your shoulder, do you?’

‘What?’ he’ll say.

‘You’re a potato,’ she’ll say. ‘Chips. Potatoes.’ She’ll look at him, see the nose. ‘God, you’re bleeding.’

‘I know,’ he’ll say.

The taxis will be piling up beside the Liffey, glowing. Gareth will be staring at them, at the thin whistle of white lights, at the dark night, at the starless sky, at all the people on the boardwalk, and he’ll think that only yesterday morning he was leaving his mother’s house to get on the minibus. He’ll feel small now, as if he’s shrinking even, as if he’s been dragged down from that vast sky and put here in Dublin, with his past and everything he knows about himself left behind. It’s as if they’ve just brought the shell of his body over to Ireland, as if the rest of him might still be on the plane. He’ll realise he hasn’t looked up at the girl in some time.

‘You alright?’ she’ll say.

He’ll pause for a moment, unsure if he’ll actually say it. This isn’t how he imagined it. This isn’t how he thought it all might go. But he’ll look down at his bob- bly potato body and think fuck it.

‘I’m gay,’ he’ll say, and he’ll feel there’s no returning now.

‘Good for you,’ the girl will say. ‘I was just asking if you’re alright.’

He’ll shift over on the bench, put a hand on her shoulder. ‘No, you don’t get it. My friends don’t know I am. No one knows.’

‘Oh God,’ she’ll say, watching the blood dribble from his nose, past his lips. ‘I bet you’re having a long night.’

‘Yeah,’ he’ll say, getting up. ‘I’ve got to go tell the boys.’

He’ll leave the girl then, he’ll rise, and he’ll cross the bridge, and he’ll wait at the beeping traffic lights before crossing the road. He’ll wipe the blood with the sleeve of his potato costume - red streaks on the creamy-brown. He’ll walk through the arch and over the cobbles to Gogarty’s. The bouncers won’t let him back in because he’ll be too drunk, so he’ll sit outside on the pavement and ring the boys. He’ll call and he’ll text, and Larry will come out and Gareth will go to say it, will go to tell him everything. He’ll look at Larry, his fringe gelled upwards, and Gareth will open his mouth, he’ll go to say how it’s been like this since he was fifteen - but Larry will speak first.

‘You alright?’ he’ll say. ‘All the boys are off to find a strip club now - are you comin or what?’

There’ll be a pause, a moment of nothing.

‘Aye,’ Gareth will finally say, ‘I could probably do with seeing some tits.’

*all the boys*

They’ll wake late on the Sunday. They’ll be rushing to check out of the hostel. They won’t all have breakfast together because the London boys will have an earlier flight. All the boys will hug and high-five, and the Caerphilly boys will say bye to Hucknall and Peacock as the two leave in search of a taxi.

Big Mike still won’t be talking to Gareth and there’ll be a tough silence in the group until Rob tells them to sort it out cos it’s getting depressing. Gareth will apologise for ‘ruining Gogarty’s’, and say he was wrecked, he doesn’t remember any of last night now. He’ll buy Big Mike a make-up pint and Big Mike will accept.

‘Don’t get me wrong,’ Big Mike will say, ‘Hucknall’s a prick, but you don’t go chucking your mates around a pub.’

Big Mike will say there’s still time for them to see a little bit more of the city, but the boys won’t be up for it. They’ve got their bags to carry, and Man Utd are on at 12.30, and can’t they just watch the match at Fitz- simons? They’re sure the place has Sky.

So they’ll watch the United game at Fitzsimons, and they’ll nurse slow pints, and they’ll keep looking at their phones, sending texts to their girlfriends and wives. They’ll decide to leave earlier than they need to because they’re just killing time now, aren’t they? There’s no point waiting around here, they’re better off getting to the airport than staying around here. At least they know they won’t miss the flight then.

So they’ll get the taxi, and they’ll wait at departures, and they’ll board their flight, and they’ll sit there as the plane carries them over the water, over from Dublin to Bristol, and they’ll wait at Bristol Airport for their minibus to pick them up, and they’ll get on the minibus, and they’ll tell stories about the weekend to each other, and they’ll try and clear up some details that are hazy, like how much did it actually cost to get into the strip club? Did anyone else see Rob Senior on the table in Gogarty’s? And Gareth, where did you get to last night, mate? What happened to you?

And when they cross the Severn Bridge, and see the Welcome to Wales sign, all the boys will cheer.

This story is taken from We Don’t Know What We’re Doing (Faber), the debut collection by Thomas Morris, the Irish Times Book Club choice for January. Thomas Morris is from Caerphilly in Wales, studied English in Trinity College Dublin and is editor of The Stinging Fly magazine.

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