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Life & Style

The Irish Short Story That Never Ends by John O’Donoghue – winner of The Irish Post’s Listowel Writers’ Week creative writing competition

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Pictured is John O’Donoghue, the winner of the 2016 Irish Post Listowel Writers’ Week creative writing competition Picture: Malcolm McNally

…FEATURES a man – let say it’s your uncle – who went to America. He comes home, hints of New York to his brogue now, his dark hair glossy, his teeth white, sports jacket and flannels, white fivers and a wristwatch, full of promises to take you back with him, his police badge in his suitcase, and a letter from the precinct dismissing him from the Force.

Or it’s Christmas, snowy outside, the ghosts of all our pasts gathered at the window, while inside all is convivial and warm and your cousin Freddy sings a song and your aunts all smile and say isn’t he grand.

You make a speech, give a graceful toast to your hostesses, and on the way to your hotel your wife looks out of the window and sighs and gradually turns into a snow woman so that by the time you pull up on St Stephen’s Green she’s melted clean away and all you’ve been able to bring up to your room is a scoop of cold white powder in your bare hands and her scent which gradually fades as the night acquiesces to dawn.

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Or what about the story of you making your first confession, telling the priest about the Tommy your father and his pals have taken, holed up in the attic, how you told the soldier a big lie, how you’re very sorry but glad when the priest thanks God for a happy and a holy confession and gives you one Our Father and three Hail Marys.

And how when you say them you’re pleased he never asked you what you told the Tommy, that you wanted to be a soldier just like him when you grew up, but how you didn’t at all, how you really wanted to be a train driver, choo choo!

Or you’re the priest who heard that young boy’s confession, and it’s many years later, and now you’re the parish priest, but you’re not sure about the new curate, who is in fact the boy who confessed to you about the Tommy, and so knows now what his father and his friends did to the young Cockney soldier all those years ago, and how you’re just back from conducting the funeral of your uncle, who came back from New York where he was in the police, snow settling on his grave as you offer the new curate a drop of the hard stuff and the clock ticks.

Or perhaps it’s not that, perhaps it’s the one about the lake, the small hotel overlooking it, you thinking about the time you nearly became a priest, but lost your vocation in the seminary, and have come here with the wife of your best friend, the car dealer out the road, how the stars filling the lake wink like fish in the moonlight, as yourself and herself stand by the shore and she says that it’s tearing her apart, that she feels like she’s dissolving, turning into the snow that’s falling all around, how you know you should do the right thing, how by dawn you’ll be gone, off to America to join the NYPD, the letter you’ve never sent her found in your wallet when you die alone many years later.

Or else it’s the one about the ballroom in the hotel by the lake where you go every Friday, a shy young thing, the big farmer’s lads and the heartbroken car dealer out the road, whose wife left him to go to New York, holding no appeal for you at all, but still you let them dance you, until one night as you’re coming away a distinguished-looking man in a large dark saloon pulls up and offers you a lift, his white gloves, black dinner jacket, white shirt, and black bow tie so impossibly glamorous you think you might faint.

And about driving out to the lake and later how you will leave for London, or New York, or else it will be shame and disgrace and the Magdalenes and you’re far too spirited for that, and anyway you have an uncle in New York, in the police, and he always promised to take you, so he sends you white fivers, white as snow, and one morning late in December, snowdrifts all over the dock, you set sail, the past all behind you.

Or perhaps it’s not that one. Perhaps it’s the one about the hotel you bought by the lake, the time it flooded that Christmas and you were all holed up in the Gallery Bar under the eaves, you, and the car dealer out the road, and Mr Gentleman in his glamorous dinner jacket with the satin lapels, and the young Cockney soldier, now a lorry driver, obsessed with routes to places you’ve never heard of, the waters rising as the night wears on, you telling all the stories you know, the one about the uncle who went to New York and joined the police, or to London, where he worked on the buildings, how he used to come home every year,

The tales he told of navvies and gangermen and chancers, the night he looked into his tumbler of whiskey and said he thought he’d die alone in London, forgotten by family and friends, in some hostel in Camden Town or Kilburn, of how the world would never miss him or his like, the tear in your eye for a moment catching them all, the uncle in the police, the snow woman who drifted away, the little boy making his first confession, the Cockney soldier he lied to, the priest and his curate, the lovers by the lake, the broken-hearted car dealer, the girl who sailed to New York, Mr Gentleman and the regulars stranded in the bar, and when your teardrop falls at last into your glass, into the amber tints of whiskey and fire, they all dissolve and there is only you and this story that… (return to beginning of the story)

Read more about our winner John O’Donoghue here…

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