‘It’s been very quiet around here’ apart from the half-naked people in the ditch
Michael Harding: ‘I ate the head off Cyril and threw him out at the gate. I could have killed him’
All quiet on the western front
There’s a pub on the other side of Athlone where I sometimes sit in the corner and daydream. A few old men drink in silence, and an elderly matriarch sits on a stool behind the bar and entertains her guests with snippets of gossip.
One evening after Christmas three men were clutching whiskies at the bar, and another sat beside the pot-bellied stove. I ordered a pint and the landlady took a clean glass from the shelf and settled it under the Guinness tap.
“So,” says I, to her, as I stood at the counter, “any news?”
“No news at all,” she said. “It’s been quiet now since Christmas. Although I was just telling the boys here about Cyril. He lives down the road.”
The old men nodded, as she began her monologue.
“There was a birthday party here at the weekend,” she said. “And we had a great crowd up in the lounge. It went on half the night. And Cyril was here in the bar. He’s fine when he’s sober, but when he has drink taken, he’s dreadful.”
“And it was late,” she said, “when we finished up. I got the place cleared eventually and I come down here to the bar and turned off the lights. And I locked all the doors. But when I went in to check the toilets I thought I heard a conversation going on in the gents. So I opened the door and there was Cyril, sitting on the toilet talking to himself.”
She thought he had gone home hours earlier.
“I’m on my way to bed,” she said to him, “and the whole place is locked up. So how do you think you’ll get home now? It’s four in the morning.”
“You’ll leave me home,” Cyril declared, as bold as brass, and they had a big argument.
But she had no choice. She drove him home. Even though she was very vexed.
“Cyril’s a difficult man,” everybody agreed.
“This was 20 past four in the morning,” she said. “But I got him into the car anyway, and drove up the road, and I changed gear on the hill and the engine nearly cut out, and suddenly I seen a young lad lying on the road in front of me, his two arms outstretched and I wondered had he been hit by a car. So says I to Cyril – this is all your fault – and then the next thing, the lad on the road leaped up onto the bonnet and started pounding the windscreen and another fellow come up the road and I said to Cyril – lock that door, or we’ll be killed.”
“You could have been murdered,” an old man muttered.
“I revved up the Kia,” she said, “and your man fell off the bonnet but I kept going and what did I see a minute later but another young fellow lying in the ditch with no trousers and two young lassies beside him, half naked, and them trying to get him upright on his feet.”
“Holy God,” exclaimed the man at the stove.
“I ate the head off Cyril and threw him out at the gate, and I could have killed him. And when I come back to the pub I sat in the car for 10 minutes. I was afraid of being ambushed. I waited with the doors locked until I felt the coast was clear.”
“Who were they?” One of the men wondered.
“Do you know the house that had the Doberman dogs?” she asked, whispering. “It was at the gates of that place it happened.”
“What dogs?” The old man at the stove wondered.
“The dogs that were shot there about two years ago,” she said. “Do you not remember? And then the fellow who owned it vanished the same night, but they found him in a wardrobe beyond in Italy and him all cut up.”
“Was he dead?”
“Of course he was dead,” she said. “As dead as a dead fly.”
“There must be someone in that house again,” the man at the stove conjectured. “As they say in the cowboy films – the boys are back in town.”
Then she came out from behind the counter and stuffed two pieces of turf into the mouth of the pot-bellied stove. When she had regained her perch behind the bar she looked directly at me and presented me with a elegantly finished pint.
“Other than that now,” she said, “it’s been very quiet around here since Christmas.”
And the men at the bar nodded in agreement. “Ah now, very quiet,” they agreed.