Eve Carney (age 16), Manor House School, Raheny, Dublin
Mayo fans near the end of an All-Ireland Final between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
The sun had barely risen by the time Mickey had pulled himself out of bed. Beams of sunlight trickled into his room through the light, lace curtains. Mickey groaned as the rays hit his eyes, rubbing any sleep out of them. His wife turned over in bed, oblivious to her husband leaving her side. Mickey bent over, kissing his wife’s creased forehead, before shuffling into their living room, worn-down slippers scuffing the wooden floor. His jacket lay on the tartan couch, abandoned from the previous night. He slipped it over his broad shoulders, thankful for the warmth. The cows out in the field opposite their bungalow huddled together, trying to stay warm in the cold morning air. The sun was now high in the sky, painting it with brilliant streaks of red and gold. Flags of green and red fluttered gently in the morning breeze, reminding Mickey of the job he had to do.
By the time Máire, his wife, had made her way into the living room, Mickey was on the iPad his son Thomáis had given him for his 65th birthday. He had told his father multiple times that it would be good to be “on the line” and that everyone nowadays was “on the line”. Mickey, of the age he was, was very confused why everyone was on this line, and would rather stay off it altogether, with google this and facebookin’ and twitterin’ all over the shop. But he still had taken the iPad graciously and listened to his son explain all the inner workings of the slab of technology.
Now, he was on Ticketmaster.ie, waiting patiently for the tickets to be available for that all-important All-Ireland Final. He glanced at the clock, wiping beads of sweat from his brow. The hands of the clock took an age, moving at the speed of a snail waiting in line for his pension on a Friday evening.
As soon as the longest hand struck twelve, Mickey began to type as quick as he could. Perspiration gathered on his hands. Just as soon as he went to press the “Agree” button, the screen of the iPad faded to black. “No . . . NO!” He yelled at the inanimate object, shaking it. He scrambled around for the charger, lifting up cushions and cursing under his breath as he did. Máire, startled by the sound, walked out of their bedroom and over to her husband. She stared long and hard at him, dumbfounded by his actions. “Mickey, what in God’s name are ye doin’?” He ignored his wife’s question, and glared at the iPad as if it was a misbehaving child. “Well feck ye and feck ye and may ye rot in the ground for the rest of your miserable existence!”
Máire, growing weary of her husband’s antics, began her own rant “Michael, would ya stop yellin’ and actin’ the maggot, it’s yer own fault! Whist and leave the house, you’ll burst a vein, ya lug ya!” Mickey abandoned his efforts of giving life back to the technology by yelling at it and left the house, muttering curses upon the witch of a woman he’d married.
Mickey slowly made his way down the winding road into town, his head hung in shame at the way he’d carried on back at the house. He coughed as dust came into his lungs, eyes watering. He sat down on a stone wall that ran alongside the road, getting his breath back and composing himself. “Well Jesus Mickey, ya look a state . . .” an unseen voice croaked out to him. Mickey looked up to see the bent-over figure of the notorious town gossip, Maggie. “How are ya?” she cooed gleefully at him, “well, don’t I only have some interesting news!” She sat down beside him, grinning from ear to ear, sunken eyes glimmering under sagging skin. “Well doesn’t someone only have a spare tickets to a certain major sportin’ event!”
Mickey jolted up, turning to face the crone. “Jesus Maggie who!?” A million names rushed through his head. “Richard O’Connor!” Maggie cackled out, clapping her wrinkled hands together. Mickey’s face fell at the mention of that name. Of course it would have to be the one man that Mickey despised with every fibre of his being. Richard O’Connor, the lyin’, connivin’ manager of the local SuperValu. Their families had hated one another for generations but the reason the feud had begun had gotten lost along the way. Was the All-Ireland Final so important that he had to go to him? Yes, yes it was.
A few minutes later and Mickey had made his way to Richard’s absurdly large house. He pushed down any fears he had about this confrontation and firmly pressed the doorbell. What seemed like hours trickled by until Richard opened the door. A sly smirk came onto his face. “Well, well, well, look who’s come around to me house.” Mickey grimaced and looked at him with hard eyes. “Listen, I’ve come to talk about the tickets . . .”
Richard gave him a look of disbelief, before throwing his head back, laughing, wiping fake tears from the corners of his eyes. “And why would I give them to you?” Mickey sighed, thinking of any reason Richard should give up the prized tickets. “We can make some sort of exchange for them, come on . . .” Richard stroked his chin, leaning against the cream-coloured frame of his doorway, weighing his options. “Ah sure I’ve got nothing better to be doing, might as well listen to ye plead at my feet.”
Mickey drew in a breath, filling his chest before letting himself release it, ready to fight this hard battle to win the tickets. He knew he wouldn’t get them by filling Richard’s head with lies, or some sob story, so he decided to tell the truth.
“Well ye know me son, Thomáis. Ye know, big, strapping lad, was built like a barrel when he was younger? Well he’s a dad now, and his son is built like a feckin’ ball of energy. He’s only three, but Jesus, he’s just a fine lad altogether. We made a plan early on in the year to all go together to the match ye know – the three generations of us . . .” Mickey took a second to compose himself. “So I decided to get the tickets on me own, even though I can’t work that feckin’ yoke Thomáis gave me, and I didn’t get them.”
He coughed to stop his voice from wavering. “ Richard, all I want is to see the little lad cheering for Mayo, just to see the joy in his eyes to see them raise Sam up in the air. That’s all I want.” Mickey looked at Richard’s face, waiting for the door to be slammed closed. But instead, Mickey could almost see a tear in his eye. “Mickey . . .” Richard’s voice cracked but he quickly cleared it. “Fine, I guess I can give ye the feckin’ tickets. But only if you pay double, right?” Mickey nodded in agreement to the deal “Right.”
Richard went back into his house, to print off the ticket details, leaving Mickey standing at his doorstep. A cool breeze blew through the air, giving Mickey a much-needed cool down. The golden leaves rustled in the trees, a few falling to the ground. Mickey imagined what was running through Richard’s head to have made him change his mind with just a few simple words. Maybe he’s thinking about his own family – about his son. Mickey recalled that Richard’s son left town as soon as he could. Did Richard throw his son out of his home? Did they have a bad relationship? Did they not stay in contact anymore?
A million questions rushed through Mickey’s head but he decided not to ask, as the tickets were too close now to lose them – again. With that thought, Richard arrived back and handed Mickey the ticket information, printed out crisply. They nodded at one another, confirming the transaction. The two men had reached an understanding of one another, and Mickey suddenly realised that maybe they weren’t so different, and that they could maybe throw away the age-old feud. But, before Mickey could say anything to him, to even thank him, Richard, with a clear of his throat, slammed the door closed, right in front of Mickey’s face, barely missing his nose.
Mickey grumbled a curse onto him, shoving the papers into his pocket, but made his way into town with a new-found bounce in every stride. “This is our year, lads,” Mickey proclaimed, rubbing his hands together, as the rest of the group around the pub table groaned.
“Mickey, would ya give it a rest. Ye say the same thing every shaggin’ year!” Johnny spoke out, before returning to the pint he was nursing. Mickey tutted at his close friend, before setting the game plan to the rest of his comrades. “Now lads, we’ve got the best team now since the curse was put upon us. Lee Keegan will tear through them Dublin fe-”. “Mickey! Give it a rest!” The lads glared him down but Mickey stood his ground and remained optimistic. “We’re so close . . . I can almost taste the cup.” Mickey smacked his lips together and slammed his empty pint glass down on the counter. The bartender looked up for a second and continued to clean glasses with a dirty rag. Mickey licked his lips in anticipation. “This is our year . . .” With those words, Mickey fixed his belt, saluted the lads, who grunted a farewell, and headed out into the cool evening. The drink inside him kept him warm as he made the long journey home, the tune of The Green and Red of Mayo buzzing against his lips.
The words of the lads plagued his head that night. He could barely sleep, constantly tossing and turning in his double bed. What if they were right and Mayo would lose yet again? Was all this optimism for nothing? “Mickey, of all things holy, would ya quit feckin’ tossin’ around like a pig in muck!” Máire sat up in bed, interrupting his train of thought. Mickey rubbed his head, mumbling an apology, “can’t feckin’ sleep, need a sup of brandy or somethin’.” He shuffled into the small kitchen, bare feet slapping against the cold tiles, bending down with his knees creaking. He opened the old wooden cabinets, searching around for the brandy he kept for occasions such as this one, but he found something else, something much smaller. He pulled out the foreign object to reveal a dusty old photo. He brushed away the dust, and stared in shock. He could barely recognise himself.
A young boy of three years’ old on his father’s shoulders, grinning from ear to ear. The Sam Maguire in his father’s arms after his team had won it for Mayo in 1951. He remembered that day well, going to Dublin for the first time with his parents, going up the steps in Croke Park. Even at that young an age, he remembered how important it was for not only his father and not only the team but the whole county. He remembered how proudly he wore his county’s colours that day. He remembered running onto the pitch when the final whistle blew, and running into his father’s arms. He remembered that being the only time he saw his father cry.
A tear rolled down Mickey’s cheek, and onto the photo. Mickey quickly wiped his tears away, folding the photo into the chest pocket of his pyjama shirt, close to his heart . The brandy bottle lay in the cabinet, long forgotten. Mickey headed back to bed, smiling softly at the thought they’d have the cup once again – very, very soon.
This story is from a collection of short stories called Breaking Boundaries, written by Transition Year students from Manor House School, Raheny, Dublin. It will be published in May.