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Authors: Patrick Ingle

Postcards to America

BOOK: Postcards to America
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Chapter 1
The Spider’s Web

The battered alarm clock slowly ticked the night away and pushed the darkness to the other side of the world. The clock, with its green paint flaking, stopped working properly years ago and if you set the alarm for nine o’ clock, it could ring at eight, ten, or more than likely not at all.

The young unshaven man with the brown hair moved slightly under the single blanket oblivious to the ticking. One foot peeked out from under the clothes and showed where Liam missed cutting the nail on one of his toes. A well-formed nose underneath eyes slightly lined at the corners gave the face a youthful look but one visited by some pain. Clean even teeth testified to regular dental hygiene. The slight scar on the left temple – the result of an encounter with a broken bottle – normally covered by his long hair, made a nice conversation topic. When spruced up and clean- shaven, women would consider him handsome and gay men often asked him if he did “it”.

Liam, naked from the waist down, still wore his light jacket, jumper and tee shirt. It had been cold the previous night. His pants and shorts he discarded to the floor on the grounds of hygiene. Years ago - he could not remember where – someone told him the importance of keeping one’s shoulders warm, so he always wore his jacket to bed. Some of the girls he took back to the room were somewhat put out by this but others thought it kinky.

The contours of the blanket revealed that Liam did not suffer from erectile dysfunction and this could be traced directly to “Punctual” Mary who looked at her watch and rolled out from under him at exactly 2 am, leaving him angry and frustrated.

The curtains on the window were threadbare and the morning light picked out the green curtain on the left from the brown curtain on the right. A sink in the corner contained a dirty glass and mug; Liam did not possess much ware; perhaps a half-dozen chipped mugs. Liam ate from paper plates, which after use he dumped in his neighbours’ bin. A microwave oven stood on a small table: Liam received it as a gift and suspected that the door leaked radiation. The bed and a modern wardrobe in the style of “rubbish” completed the furniture. A separate small room containing a toilet, sink and a rusty bath led off the main room.

Liam left his X-rated dream behind just at the point where he pinned “Punctual” Mary down and refused to let her go until he finished with her.

With one eye open, he tried to focus on the time. A trickle of perspiration rolled off Liam’s forehead and added to the sleep in his eyes making his vision even more blurred.

The clock lied and gave the time as seven-thirty.

Liam swung his legs over the side of the bed and made his way to the toilet. His sore head affected his aim and he wiped the toilet seat dry with toilet paper. Then he turned on the cold water tap in the sink and splashed his penis with water. The toilet paper he used once more.

Moving back to the main room, Liam opened the window half – ways to allow “Thunder” the cat enter the room. The cat arrived outside his window one morning looking for shelter during a storm and Liam thought the name appropriate. Liam fetched a paper plate and some milk and poured out a generous measure for his feline friend. The cat would be in later after his nocturnal adventures.

Returning to the bedside, he removed his jacket and jumper, discarded the jumper and replaced the jacket before slipping back into bed. The tee-shirt that bore the legend “Committee for A Committed Country” remained untouched

Liam punched a dent in his pillow to rest his head, laid back and thought about the previous evening.

All seven of the group turned up at the inappropriately named “Workers’ Inn” early and stayed until closing time and then a bit longer. The bar filled gradually with thirsty customers and by closing time looked nearly full. The clientele looked as if a hard day’s work lay behind them. In fact, most of the people who drank at the inn never worked in their lives.

“Curly” – he of the bald head - Cribbens, who previously managed and fiddled his way through a succession of pubs while amassing the capital to buy his own establishment, knew that the most profitable locations for a pub were on the fringes of working class estates. No mortgages, no large luxury cars and no tomorrow meant that what money you had you spent today.

“Curly” thought that the members of Liam’s group were all a bit touched, to put it mildly. He noticed that they all sat or stood in a corner and that the girl kept on looking at her watch. One of the young men also seemed to have a problem with his eyes as they kept darting back and forth and sized up customers as they entered or moved. Snippets of conversations overheard while collecting glasses were…. ‘What is the true meaning of collective responsibility in this age of individual freedom? What proportion of women wears bust enhancers? When is the last time you experienced intercourse? Give me the name of the hero’s horse in the movie, “Range Riders of the Plains”.’

Liam arrived first at the “Worker’s Inn” and sipped his drink while awaiting the others to arrive.

Danny, the ex-priest, arrived next at the inn. An original member of the group and the oldest, his premature grey hair and slight facial chumminess gave him a kind, gentle look, which reflected his persona. He stood inches taller than the other members of the group did and his shoulders were well developed – he played rugby at the seminary. However, sadness showed in his eyes, a sadness that would always be there and would not leave him, sadness even unto death.

Danny made for the bar and ordered his first drink of the evening: a sweet white wine, which bore the counterfeit label, “Product of France” and then joined Liam.

A drunken “Corner” O’ Connor once remarked to him that, “drinking and appreciating wine was a fart”. He said, “Fart” instead of “art” or so Danny thought. But perhaps all this tasting, spitting out, and rigmarole with bottles amounted to no more than that - a lot of hot air.

Danny swirled his glass of African plonk around in his hand and waited for “Punctual” Mary to arrive. “Punctual” Mary always arrived on time and he would try to have a few minutes alone with her if it were possible. Already he could feel the French wine – African plonk – combined with the medication, having an effect on him.

“Punctual” Mary arrived at the allocated minute, as Danny and Liam knew she would. She always arrived at the same time. Her long blonde hair, cascading down to her shoulders, set off her pretty face and generous mouth to stunning effect as she looked around. No one looked at her face. Her large breasts, which vied with each other for attention, saw to that. Spotting Danny and Liam, she headed towards them pulling her mini skirt down around her arse in false modesty.

‘Good evening Mary,’ greeted Danny, his eyes dancing over Mary’s form. ‘Are you still on the same drink?’

‘The same,’ Mary acknowledged, as Danny ordered an alcopop drink.

With Danny busy at the bar Liam took the opportunity to kiss Mary on the lips.

Before “Punctual” Mary took the first sip from her drink the door opened and Bobby Byrnes entered.

Danny sighed under his breath. It looked like he would not get the chance to speak to “Punctual” Mary alone.

The yellow mobile phone in Bobby Byrnes’ hand matched the pattern in his tie. He walked with head bowed as he talked agitatedly into the mouthpiece. Blonde, well-groomed hair and large blue eyes were more of an asset in his chosen activity than the business skills his peers told him he needed to possess – but did not. The blue shirt, pinstriped suit and expensive shoes finished the picture of a used car salesman. This described exactly what Bobby did or pretended to do.

‘Six thousand Euro. For God’s sake, I’m only asking for six thousand.’ The pleading in his voice could move you. ‘At that price I’m losing money.’ This happened to be the truth because he paid six thousand five hundred for the vehicle. Well, not strictly the truth because he only paid three thousand five hundred plus a promise to do a favour for the other three thousand.

Just then, another mobile phone located in an inside pocket of Bobby’s jacket rang. Bobby always carried two mobile phones, which he changed every fortnight. Bobby changed his mobiles frequently because he believed that the Revenue was intercepting his communications. He believed they were trying to put him out of business. They were working in league with the social welfare services office to stop his benefits. A friend put the fear of God into him one day by explaining cross triangulation, which is a method used to locate the position of a mobile phone.

Because he changed his mobile phones frequently, potential customers could not contact him, which did not improve the bottom line. So, every time Bobby changed his phones he spent a considerable amount of time ringing potential buyers to let them know his new mobile phone numbers. The consequences were that people who bought cars from him and which subsequently fell apart were left in limbo as their text messages were delivered to a phone lying in a municipal dump alongside some of the cars that he previously sold.

Bobby withdrew the ringing grey mobile phone from his pocket and answered the call. The call came from a contact with a car to sell. Bobby juggled both mobile phones in his hands and simultaneously tried to sell a car to the person on the yellow mobile phone and buy a car from the person on the grey mobile phone. After several minutes, confusion set in and he mixed up buyer and seller.

In the end, he lost both of the mobile phone signals. He cursed the Revenue Commissioners under his breath and as a dessert added the social welfare service officials.

Bobby crossed the floor and joined Danny and “Punctual” Mary.

Just then, “Punctual” Mary extended her arm and displayed a new watch.

‘Completely accurate,’ explained the girl. ‘The watch works from signals broadcast over the airwaves. One need never be late for an appointment again’

Her English, precise and well modulated gave testament to a good education.

Both men cast their eyes to the ceiling. “Punctual” Mary was never ever, ever, late for an appointment - even with a dentist.

‘Must get one,’ announced Bobby, and then promptly forgot about it.

‘What will they think about next?’ observed Danny. He never wore a watch. Already time seemed to be accelerating too fast for him.

Bobby went to the bar to collect his previously ordered drink and bumped into Patrick, the higher civil servant, who stood at the bar unnoticed in the large crowd, waiting for his drink.

They called Patrick a higher civil servant to tease him. In fact, he served his time in the middle ranks of the Department of Agriculture where his father placed him by calling in political favours and where Patrick practised his total hatred of all things agricultural by doing absolutely nothing for a great salary.

Patrick dipped his moustache in his pint of Guinness, swallowed a mouthful and sat the glass down on a table. He removed his glasses and wiped them with a spotless handkerchief. The modern squarely designed frames for his glasses actually enhanced his long thin face and gave him a young boyish look. Expensive casual clothing reinforced the image. Eventually his genetic makeup would win out leaving him bald before his fortieth birthday. Even with a full head of hair, he bore a striking resemblance to his father, whose bald image adorned many a telegraph pole during elections.

‘Soon we will be going into pubs and just hiring out the glasses,’ remarked Patrick to no one in particular.

Patrick’s remark referred to the latest price increases just announced - the fourth in eight months. First the brewers increased their prices, and then the publicans; central government followed suit and lastly local government – who are always in debt through incompetence - added a new local levy.

Danny wasn’t really interested: wine having been excluded from the price increases as a sop to the French Government in exchange for their support in filling another four ships and anchoring them at sea with butter that people needed.

“Punctual” Mary showed no interest either, she only ever drank three alcopops, and if she drank any more then she might lose track of time.

‘Bastards! Bastards! Nothing but bastards is all they are.’ Bobby swore with conviction. Many of Bobby’s best deals were done when the punters were too inebriated to know what they were agreeing to. A Rover 98 could turn out to be a Rover 89 in the cold light of day. With punters having lower disposable incomes, prices would have to be reduced to make a sale, this meant purchasing vehicles cheaper. Did the government not know how hard entrepreneurs were forced to work to make an honest Euro on the street?

Outside in the street Liam bumped into Dr. Hogan. Hogan was a caring doctor who sometimes carried the strains of his profession on his face. A doctor who like his colleagues worked a sixty-hour week plus unpaid overtime. Junior doctors were the underpaid slaves of the hospital system. They made life and death decisions and never buttoned their white coats as they hurried along long corridors with sheets of paper in their hands. In years to come, Dr. Hogan would justify his high salary and fees as recompense for conditions now being endured.

By any standards, Dr. Hogan would not be considered good looking, possessing as he did a slightly beaked nose and uneven teeth. But, as Dr. Hogan remarked, behind every doctor, there are several nurses and sometimes they are in front as well. Recently a long four-week intense relationship with Nurse Keehan ended when she left to empty bedpans in private nursing.

Liam and Dr. Hogan pushed through the door and joined the group.

Dr. Hogan’s entrance proved timely because at that moment the topic of discussion centred round hospital waiting times and the reason why certain sections of the population have days missing from their lives. Nearly every day newspaper headlines in bold black type described how ordinary people were going to casualty departments of hospitals with injuries needing a few stitches and emerging a day later with a whole day missing from their lives and possessing a mass of detail about people who were waiting for treatment and whom they would never meet again.

‘I remember once,’ Patrick continued, ‘after a visit to casualty perfect strangers would nod to me in the street and I would nod back not knowing who they were. Only later did I realise that they had been incarcerated for a day with me in casualty. One man who I bumped into in town and spent five minutes in a nodding contest without speaking, confided to me in casualty that his wife ran off to join a religious sect in Macao after receiving an email from New Delhi.’

BOOK: Postcards to America
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