The Rakes of Mallow

Mary O'Donoghue

We’re not unhandsome. We’re no George Cloonies either. We have frig-all in the way of chin glamor. We have substantial eyebrows. We’ve sported beards at different intervals. We’ve gone the route of long hair. We’ve gotten blade one and rued the revelations. We shave and use balm. We leave a little hair over the ears. We’ve worn stonewashed when it was de rigour and piles of Gap we got in the States. We cross the border to buy cargo pants and get our teeth filled. We still get called my little beaus by Sheelagh the newsagent. We know she hadn’t had one in years. We set her giggling as is our forté. We leave with something to smoke. We know we’ll smoke until a shadow on one of our screens says stop. We go to bars. We infiltrate discos. We walk home late. We horse into breakfasts at high noon. We’re familiar with bad cholesterol and we’re surprised there’s a good one. We compromise our immune systems. We cry like infants over soccer. We expect bellies to obstruct a clear view of our shoes. We wait for the light to decline. We’re a lot about easement these days.

We had no sisters. We lamented our thickness about women. We fixed to ask our mother. We bottled out when What’s Happening to Me? was left on top of the VCR. We knew she hadn’t much more to offer. We studied the college girls next door like ornithologists. We learned their seasons. We followed them spring to winter. We watched them from the dark copse at the bottom of our lawn. We noted eye-catcher dresses and high cork-soled shoes. We were disheartened by the change to drab browns. We lamented army surplus boots and the feeling they’d given up on round calves and the scoop neck. We let them smile at us winsomely and say we were good boys. We let them go off wherever college girls went off to after college.

We had no father. We heard him threaten to leave so many times that in the end he had to. We told people he went to war. We never agreed on the war. We went from Belfast to Gulf One to Bosnia. We told the stories at teenage birthday parties. We told them at weddings all through our twenties. We rained bricks and mortar on him. We sent shrapnel into his legs. We brought it to the surface of his backside some years after it had gotten buried. We witnessed him nearly rape a woman. We pulled him off. We conferred him with the medal of shame and draped him with the ribbon of dishonor. We stopped when our mother told us we were the shame. We rented him a bedsit in some grotty corner of London. We furnished it with broken bits and Reader’s Digests. We saw him onto planes to America and Australia. We let him make a fool of himself with one woman after another. We sent him to an early grave. We had him down for methylated spirits.

We met girls on our own go. We scaled the convent school wall and fell face-first onto meadow grass. We trampled the nuns’ cabbage garden and peered in windows. We took the wrong bus home because they said it had good-lookers and beurs in high quotient. We got dropped off outside a post office. We walked half the nine miles home. We stole thick memo books from the girls on our own bus. We paged past perfume models and ideal homes. We tore out favorite this and top ten that. We were determined to find ourselves. We ran across numerous references to a Rory. We narrowed him down to a tawny, illogically handsome lad from the other school. We read aloud the dreams of girls who called him a screw and a ride. We murmured their testimonies swearing he’d smiled at them or maybe even knew their names. We felt bad for them because we were romantics. We wanted to be Rories but then again we didn’t. We had an eerie conviction that the world would be a cold dawn to the likes of Rory.

We went away. We went to colleges and transferred and nearly didn’t finish and did with honors. We learned about serious drinking. We drank county council coffers. We waited on steps and in offices for grants to come through. We drank Scrumpy Jack and Buckie and Lambrusco Rosso when the grants ran dry. We scrounged. We stole from our mother. We got the guilts and bought her a secondhand winter coat with a fake astrakhan collar. We had sex for the first time during freshers week. We didn’t have sex until the middle of second year. We stopped and started and went biblical lengths of drought and had concurrent girlfriends. We caught shingles and scratched ourselves to steak tartare. We caught crab lice. We doused our crotches in Prioderm. We ran around screaming from cold chemical flames. We worked in burger huts and medical device companies. We signed up for The Sleep Lab and a clinical trial in depression. We earned half-nothing.

We came back. We waited for jobs to land in our laps. We slept in bedrooms that smelled of doors sealed for four years. We learned more about serious drinking. We did hard graft in bars we used to disparage. We darkened the doors of old-timey taverns and we got a rep for standing our round when there were four or fewer punters. We admired the melancholy good looks of our fellow journeymen. We saw newness in every stale thing. We called Thursday afternoons our think-tank. We listed options and worst-case scenarios. We moved Stay Here back and forth between columns. We tried to find girlfriends while we distilled our options. We took part-time jobs in builders’ suppliers and sub-teaching science. We pondered the high-rising hems of teenagers’ skirts. We made expeditions into Cork City to see what its women were like. We loitered round ERASMUS visitants from Lisbon and Madrid. We seemed to be getting someplace with all of them. We expected the full-on every next weekend. We anticipated foreign savvy and finger skills. We got displayed on screens to mothers in Rome and Cologne. We were told to wave and say hola. We were laughed at. We brought premium blend coffee from Gloria Jean’s back to our mother. We limited forays to our own streets only.

We packed in the town when everyone was rooting and sending out shoots. We watched them throng technology and financial services. We assured ourselves we were better species than the land sharks they’d become. We thought about Melbourne but settled on New York. We touched the ground at JFK. We were met by a second cousin twice removed from reality. We rented a room in his house meanly fenced by wire. We lived by the rules of a landlady solid as ham and smelling of hydrangeas. We watched women in saucer-sized sunglasses and strappy tops that gave onto lots of other straps. We watched our second cousin flick his coffee stirrer like a riding crop. We found our own way when he ran out of painting jobs. We decamped from Yonkers to Red Hook. We stayed away from Cork people and Kerry people and any other emissaries of the nation. We flattered Jewish teachers and rangy midwesterners and got a fair distance with them. We learned that America was about getting run over and not knocked down. We learned that chocolate glazed and chocolate frosted were different things entirely. We got fat and ran it off. We got into fixing and flipping houses. We made money but never called it enough to go home. We exchanged it for euro and slid notes between secondhand book pages. We told our mother to look for what might’ve really happened at Chappaquiddick. We never admitted tight throats at her letters on small lined writing paper. We never let down our side. We watched the towers come down. We listened to fighter planes scissor the evening. We told our mother we were fine. We never admitted feeling dread.

We veered close to the margin. We never crossed the hard shoulder. We wondered if some vital trait was missing in us or in the women we nearly married. We made no improvements and no lamentations. We got on with it. We met women from Woodlawn to Park Slope. We learned the word abortifacient. We spent a summer scouring for Irish students at the bars. We got cooked spag-bol in tenement houses. We flagged in humidity and the baste of our own sweat. We acclimatized. We telephoned cousins to sympathize on the death of uncles. We got a reputation. We got nicknames. We put money away in credit unions. We upgraded to ten-year-old aged in oak casks. We fell in love at some juncture or other. We commiserated the endings. We thought we’d do well with kids. We took laptops off our laps for fear they’d lower the count. We did our best to embrace the present and live an awakened life.

We went home to hold our mother’s hand. We informed her fifty times a day who we were. We told her not to be frightened. We took advantage of her muddle to ask about our father. We got told he was gone to work without his lunchbox. We learned he drank MiWadi orange like it was the elixir of life. We put up with her giggles and sheet plucking when she said she couldn’t talk about his wanger. We buried her in earth so hard a gravedigger tore a ligament. We didn’t cry at the ropes abseiling her to the bottom. We ordered a headstone shaped like a heart. We added a pensive angel at the last minute. We called her a dearly missed mother in the company of heaven. We called ourselves loving sons. We drank through the stocks of two bars. We put her things out for charity. We kept a pair of Clarks shoes she loved even though they were worn to a ravelling. We framed a photo of her in a hat at the Galway races.

We unfastened ourselves from New York. We shipped home what we wanted. We knew there was no such thing as a ship when they said shipping. We declined priority. We made goodbyes to few and far between. We took our second cousin out for a slap-up. We toasted him as our first and best man on the ground. We foisted money on him for doctor’s appointments. We looked for the women who’d made a mark. We didn’t find them or they wouldn’t entertain a last ride. We listed what we’d learned from them. We were pleased it wasn’t restricted to cuisine or the best placement and use of tongues. We sold a house to a man who said he needed more basement than house. We kept a house for renting. We went to the doughnut place and the window filled with Christmas balls in June and the whispering gallery at Grand Central. We closed accounts.

We elbowed our way back in. We found the foreclosed and the half-erected and we bought them. We got tarred as scavengers and buzzards. We got wanted by women we didn’t want. We earned the last pints in the barrel and the small corner table at the house of pizza. We razed and rebuilt our mother’s house. We sold it to a doctor and his doctor wife. We revisited religion. We gave money for new windows at the community centre. We went to all the matches. We worked our way back in. We said yes to women with teenage children. We got called fly-by-nights less often. We sailed in with ideas for a yoga hotel and a race-course and a casino. We got laughed at and told to stick to gussying up houses. We chose red meat and chianti. We asked out Sheelagh the newsagent. We got scoffed onto the street. We know we’ll try again another time. We walk the town and its hinterlands on sun-spackled evenings. We allow every day its own flair. We sleep in the fingerprints of our old bedrooms. We never have dreams in which we star for good or bad.

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