It all starts in Monroe’s. This time of year they keep a fire burning, and I am freezing; the winds that get twisted around the corners of Dominick Street are fierce. She is standing right where I would like to be, holding her hands to the flames. She gives me a sideways look and goes up to the bar, starts arguing with Tony. I’m not interested in what’s going on between her and Tony. I get her place at the fire and turn away. It’s dark and cold outside. All I want is some warmth.
When she comes back, she pushes in beside me. ‘Tony’s a jerk,’ she says by way of introduction. I look at her and move a little to the side. I know Tony’s okay. ‘He won’t give me anymore drink,’ she goes on, as if I need to know this. ‘He takes all my money, leaves me bust, then expects me to beg. Screw him.’
I’m not really sure who she’s talking to. She looks more like a Radisson type. She’s checking the tables, looking for somebody. But most of the tables are empty. When she’s finished, she turns her attention to me. ‘Do I know you? You look familiar.’ She’s pretty good-looking, well-dressed, neat make-up. Some jewellery, not much, but expensive stuff.
‘I don’t think so.’
‘You know Eddie? I think I saw you with Eddie.’ She takes another look around. ‘He’s not in yet.’
Maybe I know Eddie. I’m not sure. But I think I’ve slipped her mind already. She goes to the bar again and this time Tony gives her a drink. He doesn’t ring it up.
‘I knew Tony was alright,’ she says when she gets back. ‘You’ve nothing to drink. What’s wrong with you?’
‘It’s okay. I only came in to get warmed up.’
‘Hey, c’mon, sit down with me. Here, this one’s close to the fire.’ We sit down facing each other. I’m wondering what it is about her.
‘Are you sure I haven’t seen you with Eddie?’
‘Who’s Eddie? Do I know him?’
‘Everybody knows Eddie.’ She’s taking her time with her drink. ‘Eddie’s father like only owns about half the bars in Galway. He wouldn’t be one of my biggest fans. Not ever. But that doesn’t bother Eddie.’
Something tells me not to ask what the father has against her. Right now it could be the wrong way to go. I have the feeling if she wants to, she will let me know.
‘You know Tony’s gay? He likes good-looking women, as long as there’s a bar between us and him. We scare him if we get too close. Don’t know why. Personally I’ve never done him any harm.’
That Tony is gay is an open secret. A gay barman is a bonus. I don’t need to answer. I can tell her mind is shifting. As she holds her glass, I notice how perfect her nail-polish is. TV-commercial perfect. Everything about her is right. But there is something. And I’m trying to think of some question to ask but nothing is coming to me. ‘I’ll get you a drink,’ I say. ‘What is it?’
‘Would you?’ She perks up. ‘Vodka martini. You’re sweet. Hey, what’s your name?’
‘Nice to meet you, Ian. I’m Denise.’
This is where it starts to get complicated.
‘Do you know who you’re with?’ Tony asks me. He’s just set the vodka martini in front of me on the bar. Tony knows I don’t, but he’s not for telling me. ‘Watch yourself.’ That’s all he says. I’m drinking tap water with blackcurrant and ice. I only wanted to get warm.
‘What did Tony say?’ Denise tips her old glass into the full one. ‘Did he tell you to watch yourself?’
‘Yeah. What’s it all about?’
‘Tony’s got a whole fantasy thing going about me. He warns everyone. I think Eddie puts him up to it. The two of them go way back. Anyway, thanks for the drink. You can go now, if you like. That’s if you’re worried about what Tony says.’
‘Can I finish my water first?’
We stare into the fire. I can hear the wind outside. It’s Wednesday, and it’s a lousy night. Even the tourists have stayed away.
‘There’s Eddie.’ Denise gets all excited. ‘Hi Eddie! Over here!’
Eddie walks over and stares at her. Doesn’t say anything. He stands there, takes a look at me, then goes straight to the bar. He pulls up a stool and turns his back on us.
‘He’s a bastard,’ Denise says. ‘Don’t worry about him, Mister Big Cheese.’
At this point I should go home. What am I doing out anyway? I am still trying to get used to living on my own. Tonight I needed to get out. Bumping into Denise is the last thing I expected. But now I want to know where this is going.
‘I’ve got to go over to him. I’ve got to talk to him,’ Denise says. But she’s not moving. ‘He’s mad at me. Don’t worry, it’s nothing to do with you. I screwed up, that’s all. Thanks for the drink, Ian. You’re sweet.’
You know I feel kind of sad that it’s all over so soon. And that puzzles me. All I know is Denise is getting up, swings her coat over her arm and is on her way to the bar. I move my chair around, so I can keep up with what happens.
Denise throws her coat over a high-stool and slips on to the one beside Eddie. I like the way she does it. Eddie doesn’t want to know. His body is rigid. From behind the bar Tony is keeping an eye on them. Then she starts talking to Eddie. She moves closer. Her whole body is leaning into his. It’s not difficult to make out what her body is telling him. Suddenly Eddie barks at her. It all happens in a matter of seconds. Denise starts up, her arm flashes and she slaps Eddie hard across the face. Before he can react, she grabs her coat and is walking back over to me.
‘C’mon Ian. We’re getting out of here. This place stinks.’
I know whatever I do it’s going to be the wrong thing. I don’t even want to leave right now. But I don’t have time to argue. Denise is on her way out, she’s holding the swing door open for me. Outside the rain is pelting down. The cars splash through the overflow. Denise has taken off towards Spanish Arch. Then she stops at the line of cars parked on the canal. She hooks up her leg, reaches back and takes off a shoe. With the heel she starts hammering the taillights of one of the cars.
‘Jesus, what are you doing?’ I grab her and try to pull her away.
‘That’s for Mister Eddie Bullshit. He’s no right to treat me the way he does.’ She’s making a real mess of the left taillight of Eddie’s ’08 BMW. ‘He deserves this. He deserves everything he gets. That’s why I whacked him.’ She gives the lamp one last thump before I get her away. ‘There. That’ll give him something to think about.’ She hooks the shoe back on. Bits of expensive plastic are lying on the ground.
‘C’mon Ian, we’re going to a party.’ When we get to the bridge, Denise takes a sharp look around and hurries across. I wait and get drenched by a passing car. ‘Ian, get a move on,’ Denise screams. ‘I’m getting soaked.’
A light clicks on inside my head. I could turn right now and go home. There is nothing to stop me. But before it gets that far, I dash across in front of the next car. Denise hooks my arm and hurries me along beside her. ‘Murray’s having one of his bashes,’ she tells me. ‘They’re great, you know. Everyone gets smashed. There’ll be loads of stuff. I so need to get smashed right now. How about you, Ian? Want to get smashed?’
Nimmo’s is in darkness. The rain splashes off the new paving stones as if it has a point to make. ‘I don’t do smashed anymore,’ I answer.
‘Jesus, how do you survive?’ There is an almost-hint of sympathy in her voice.
‘Good question,’ I say and wonder what it would be like to get smashed again.
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