Stepping over a pool of vomit in Frenchman's Lane, Vinny Fitzpatrick pulled his hoodie over his baldy bonce, dug his flabby paws deep inside his jean pockets, and sniffed the mild morning air.
He had allowed himself the entire Sunday morning for a ramble. After all, he was not obliged to be anywhere, for anyone. In a city of more than a million souls he was a man without ties, without responsibilities, and almost without hope.
At Butt Bridge, he took a right hammer, and shuffled off unhurriedly in the direction of Heuston Station, for he was no Rob Heffernan.
From Kingsbridge, he might wander into the Park, or wait for Ryan’s to open, depending on his mood, which had been mostly dark since Angie’s damning verdict on their marriage a week earlier.
If seven days was regarded as a long time in politics, it had been an age for Vinny, who was still scrambling for a foothold of reason after taking a week’s holidays from Dublin Bus to gather himself.
Initially, he thought Angie’s anger would subside and peace talks would open with a text, followed by a pot of tea and a chocolate éclair or two in Bunter’s Café.
But his wife, a bit like Maggie Thatcher, was not for turning, as the post to Causeway Avenue had confirmed. In neat handwriting, Angie had laid down her terms.
Vinny was to be allowed access to the twins on Saturdays between 2.0pm and 6.0pm – smack, bang in the middle of the racing, he noted – and he could drop in on Wednesdays between 6.30 and 8.30 to “give them a bath and put them to bed.”
Any other arrangement outside of these hours “would not be permitted,” warned Angie.
That missive had arrived on Thursday morning and it was a straw which broke Vinny’s hairy back, particularly when Ollie, his gay tenant, put a hand tenderly on his shoulder and asked if there was anything he could do “to ease his pain.” Vinny had enough of Ollie’s openly oily ways; he also felt hemmed in by the four walls of his old family home.
He couldn’t bear to look at the photos of his late parents anymore without feeling how he’d let them down. “Not so much top of the world Ma, as bottom of the barrel,” he said to himself. Shielding tears, Vinny had shoved a few clothes and toiletries into his battered Gola holdall.
First, he thought about heading for the Rosslare Ferry – Vinny had a long-standing invitation to visit his cousin, Billy, in Swansea – but within a few hours, that plan had been scrapped as Vinny was holed up in Cleary’s pub in Amiens Street.
It explained his slightly dishevelled appearance in Isaacs Hostel nearby later that evening where he’d negotiated a private room for €200 cash, up front, for a week.
The first night, he hadn't slept. He'd just lain there, looking at the ceiling, thinking of decisions and revisions which in a minute might reverse.
Friday had been a 'mare. He punted blindly at Cheltenham, blowing over a ton in Paddy Power in Talbot Street in jig time, before tootling up to Dalymount Park for a pick-me-up, only to see his beloved Bohemians lose to Bray Wanderers, of all teams.
With one round of games to go, the club of Turly O'Connor, Billy Young, Jackie Jameson and Roddy Collins were in danger of being relegated for the first time in their illustrious history. How had the club's guardians allowed this dreadful possibility come to pass?
On Saturday, Vinny had been unable to leave his room, bar a five-minute stumble to the chemist for Nurofen Extra. His head pounded relentlessly, his back and neck were ramrod stiff, and several times he felt like he was going to throw up.
The next morning, as the first fingers of pink tickled the Dublin horizon, Vinny knew he couldn’t carry on anymore. He had to stand up and fight his fears; come to terms with where he was and somehow plot a route back to the shore of sanity.
The morning walk helped his mood. As he passed by each bridge, O’Connell, the footbridges of the Ha’penny and Millenium, then Grattan and O’Donovan Rossa at the Four Courts, Vinny felt he was clearing mental hurdles.
He was 55, in fairish nick, if a little overweight, and could reasonably expect another score or so, on life’s mortal coil. He was a father, a grandfather, and a trustworthy husband.
He had a good job, which he loved, and a cluster of great mates. (Someone once said that lucky’s the man who could count true friends on the fingers of one hand. Well, Vinny could.)
Opposite the entrance to the Zoo, Vinny heard shrieks and yells from the playing pitches to his left.
Stopping, he spied a game of camogie between a team of teenagers in blue and white stripes against a team in white and red. He moseyed over for a butcher’s hook.
The team in stripes were clearly bigger, and better hurlers too, but the opposition had greater support, with one elderly female fan, sitting in a portable chair on pitch-side, the most vocal of the lot.
As the whistle blew for half-time, Vinny saw the gung-ho grannie, 80 if she was a day, get to her feet, reach for a hurl and start pucking a sliothar about with one of the parents.
As her yelps of joy carried across the Park plains, Vinny felt something stir within. Clearly, this was someone with a zest for life, someone who would rather be out in the air, than sitting at home coralled in by four walls and Father Time. Why couldn’t he be like that?
Striding out towards the Castleknock Gates, Vinny felt the grey clouds of melancholy disperse from within.
He knew he had much to live for, much to look forward to, and whatever tumbleweeds blew his way he would sidestep them, and move on.
He pulled down his hoodie for he could see clearly now. It was time to reclaim his life and, with luck in running, win back his wife. It was time to build a few of his own bridges.