A short story by Mairéad O’Sullivan.
Read more about the author Mairéad O’Sullivan HERE.
I thought Donie Driscoll was going to receive a belt to the face.
He stood on the side-line, arms folded, the drizzling rain dripping half-heartedly down his O’ Neill’s jacket. His head was leaning to the one side, lips pursed, pretending to give weight to the diatribe issuing from Sean Cassidy, the manager of the opposition.
‘It’s a right racket Donal, and you know it, you’ve had the same captain for as long as I can recall.’
Sean took a step forward and his own Maor Uisce put an arm in front of him.
‘That’s at least forty years Donal. I mean talk about playing Senior!’
He was near dancing with the outrage, and his face was reddening – bit too much. I was thinking it was a good thing we had a defibrillator installed in the clubhouse.
The match was continuing away behind them. If the players were aware of the commotion they weren’t fazed by it. Spectators like myself had abandoned all pretence of following play and were hanging on every word of the sparring coaches.
Donie unfolded his arms and squared up, assured rather than aggressive.
‘Seanie, we have this same exact argument every single season,’ he said, each word punctuated by his right hand. ‘You even referred it to the county board, and the answer doesn’t change. There is nothing in the rule book against it.’
‘But it’s just not right Donal, he’s over-age!’
‘There is no such thing as over-age Seanie, that’s what I’m saying to you! I’m sick of saying it to you.’
‘No such- Christ’s sake he’s immortal!’
‘And perfectly eligible to play by all known regulations. You’re only sore because you’re five points down.’
Sean made an ‘ah’ type sound but more guttural, swiping the conversation away with his hand. There was a murmur of disappointment when he took off in the other direction. A fight would’ve made up for the dismal weather.
Donie’s face was contorted from wanting to laugh but trying his utmost not to. Eoin, our perpetual captain, jogged over.
‘Donie, like I’ve said, if it’s a hassle-‘
‘Ah don’t you mind Seanie. Get back out there onto that field.’
Eoin nodded politely before resuming his mid-field position, the position he’s held for only God knows how long.
That was the 3rd or 4th time I’d been to a match where Eoin was playing, and it was certainly the most eventful.
I remember well the first time I met the controversial captain, and it wasn’t at the Athletic Grounds. It was the same day I moved to town.
After taking the last box out of the car and leaving it in the hallway of my new home, I decided to go to the pub.
Google Maps directed me to the main street, the only street, where my choice was between a small pub across from the shop that doesn’t take card, or the one further down with a thatched roof, white-washed walls, and an 18th Century date of establishment.
I’m not sure why I went with the thatched premises, unfamiliar as I was with both, except maybe being so near the motorway and the wilds of North Kildare put in my mind images of daring highwaymen.
I held my breath as the two men sitting at the bar counter gave me the customary once over. First of all they need to check if they know you, or your father. No joy there. Next, they suss out whether you’re going to cause them trouble. Not if you’re a troublemaker, that’s the barman’s concern, but whether you’re a threat to the existing dynamic and flow of conversation. Last, they double check whether you have the air of an official. There’s a palpable fear among Irish people that when a stranger walks in he’s about to pull out a clipboard. I must have passed, for the two men gave a barely perceptible nod and resumed their conversation.
I made eye contact with the barman, a blond-haired chap of 31 or 32, with the competent, bored air of a lad who’s been left in charge by his aunt and ordered a Smithwick’s, before taking a seat just inside the door.
I was relieved to find the interior kept in line with the tavern fantasy floating vaguely around my mind. Turf fire burning, the counter and tables made with solid dark wood, the chairs neat and upholstered, the old ‘Guinness is good for you’ posters, wine geese bottles lined up on the shelves behind the bar. You wouldn’t know with people; what they’ll wreck after watching shows where they gut a building with walls you could nearly converse with, to put in vast, draining windows and overly efficient furniture.
‘How’s your nephew getting on?’ one of the men inquired of the other. I later learned his name was Murt, a farmer from the Kildare side. At the time all I could tell you was he had broad muscular shoulders used to work, and a baby face which gave him an air of innocence despite him being 65 or so. Men like that get away with a lot.
‘He’s good, he started a new job over in the business park. Something to do with computers, don’t ask me,’ said the other man, a wiry, spry type of individual. Simon he was called. I think he kept horses.
‘Tell him I was asking for him, and if he has a free evening in the Summer I’ve plenty of work for him above on the tractor.’
‘I will, I’ll let him know.’
The barman dropped down my pint and I gave him the price of it.
‘And how’re you Eoin? Any news with you?’ said Murt, directing the question to the corner by the window. The way the setting sun was slanting in I hadn’t noticed there was someone there. A young man with a pint of Heineken in front of him shook his head.
‘Not a bit. Just working away for Lawlor. We’ve started some new houses up where Kenneth used to be.’
‘Lord rest him,’ said Murt, ‘he didn’t want to sell at all, it was the sister who’d put the pressure on him.’
‘He got a great offer in fairness,’ said Simon.
‘True, that is true. Eoin boy I suppose you remember it well when it was all fields up there.’
‘Wasn’t that long ago,’ said Eoin, with a slight furrow to the brow, ‘there’s been a lot of change around here recently.’
‘Oh there has,’ concurred Murt and Simon, nodding sagely.
When the young man finished his pint he threw the coat on and bid the others adieu. I signalled for another. I had come looking for conversation but I wasn’t going to force it. Mid way through the second pint Murt and Simon began asking questions. No doubt they had been curious from the off and didn’t want to let on, but enough time had elapsed and it would have been ruder not to interrogate me.
I explained I had moved to Duncrann that very day. I’d been renting in the city centre for far too long and had finally bought a three-bed semi-detached five minutes from town. My wife was staying with her elderly, ailing parents but was due to join me in the next few weeks. They were satisfied with this information.
‘There was a lad sitting there earlier,’ said Murt, his thumb pointing towards the corner.
‘Yeah,’ I replied, drawing out the word while I tried to suss out where this was going. He leant forward on the high stool, and I became half afraid he was going to fall.
‘How old would you say he is?’
’23 or 24?’
To my relief he sat back and crossed his arms, content with the answer he was expecting. Simon and the barman looked at Murt and looked at me. They were waiting; they knew the lines by heart.
‘110,’ said Murt, offhand, yet watching for the reaction.
‘110?’ I was confused as to what he was telling me.
‘Isn’t he?’ said Murt, looking at Simon.
‘At least that, he won’t tell us anything.’
I was still lost. This was the barman’s cue. ‘They’re saying that Eoin, the guy that was here earlier, he’s 110 years of age.’
‘You’re messing with me,’ I said, wondering if this is what the local humour is like. Murt leant forward again, the next part of a perfected script.
‘He’s a vampire,’ he said, in a low tone to convey he was serious, but with the eyebrow raised and a slight tug of a smile at his mouth.
I was not sure whether to laugh or be offended. Or maybe these men were more inebriated than I thought.
‘You are messing with me,’ I said.
Murt was prepared for this, I was hitting every mark. He pointed at all the old photographs on the walls.
‘Have a look there, see if you see him.’
I remained in my seat. What was this, some kind of initiation? A hazing?
They were waiting. It was my beat to take and soon I would be delaying the performance. I looked to the barman. I felt he wasn’t in the business of mocking strangers, nor was he the sort. He nodded his reassurance.
The photos went in chronological order. The local football team and their various successes. The first few were from the preceding five years or so. Sure enough there he was, right in the centre with a deferential smile, holding the relevant cup or plaque. Being recent victories this was not proof of anything.
‘Keep going across,’ said Murt.
And there he was, in 2003, 1997, the 80s, 70s, 60s, right back to a real grainy picture from the 1930s. I tried to convince myself I was looking at a lineage. Boy, father, grandfather, all taking after each other and with the same name, but my body knew the truth of it.
Not that I would give anyone the satisfaction. I gathered myself and sat back down. The performance was complete, Murt and Simon were skitting. The barman dropped down another pint, on the house. I took a sip and put together my thoughts.
‘So, he’s a vampire you said?’
‘It’s strange enough really,’ said Murt, pausing to bite the foam from a new pint off his top lip, ‘our hypothesis remains that he was abroad at some stage and came back that way.’
‘And it’ll stay a hypothesis because he won’t tell you,’ said Simon.
‘He’s sound,’ chimed in the barman, whose name I never caught.
‘Oh he is,’ Murt agreed, ‘and a handy electrician.’
Over the next three days our possessions came out of the boxes, I got the wifi on and developed my new commute to work. I almost convinced myself that Murt had been messing. Almost.
Friday night, fed up of channel hopping, I went back. They were men of habit, for Murt and Simon were up at the bar, and Eoin was in the corner, looking no less ordinary in his flannel shirt and jeans, his brown hair tousled and beard suitably hipster for the generation he resembled.
‘And on the third day he rose again in accordance with the scripture,’ said Simon when he caught sight of me.
Murt’s face lit up. ‘Look who’s back! We didn’t scare you away anyway.’ He looked to Eoin, ‘we told him about you.’
Eoin sighed and smiled at the same time. ‘Did they show you the photographs?’
He ordered me a pint.
By my third drink I’d gotten braver.
‘And what did you work at before electricity?’ I asked him. To that he replied, ‘bits and pieces.’
He gave similarly non-committal answers when I asked him when he was born, if he’d ever lived anywhere else, and whether he’d been in any of the wars. Simon had warned he wouldn’t tell. He did engage in a lengthy discussion on how he can of course see himself in mirrors, eat garlic, and has no aversion to holy water.
‘It might be true that a wooden stake can kill me,’ he said, ‘but thankfully no-one has tried.’
We were interrupted by Murt and Simon wanting him to settle a dispute.
‘Murt is saying Kenneth’s father was the first to have a car around these parts, but I think it was Dan O Leary.’
‘Lads, I honestly don’t remember.’
‘Ah you do.’
‘I don’t, honestly I don’t.’
I wondered if that was true, or life was just easier that way. Maybe some disputes aren’t meant to be settled.
More weeks passed and my wife moved in. She could do no more for her parents. I didn’t tell her about Eoin. She’d hear of it soon enough, it didn’t exactly seem to be a secret.
I asked Murt about that, why there weren’t articles written about the town for having an immortal mid-fielder.
‘If someone comes around snooping like that we say nothing. He’s one of our own.’
One concern I did have was where does Eoin get his blood, but it felt like an inappropriate question to ask. It wasn’t that I was being nosy, but that if living in Duncrann came with an inherent risk of a bite to the neck, it ought to be reflected in the house prices.
I think I got my answer one day as I was walking down the street towards the butchers. Leonard, the man himself, was standing at the door talking to Eoin, who had a paper bag in his arms.
‘Come by again on Wednesday my good man and I’ll sort you out.’
‘Thanks Leonard, you’re too good. Tell the folks I said hello.’
That’s all I saw or heard but it seems likely that Eoin gets a supply of blood from the butchers and that does him. Of course it’s the daughter, Susan, who’s there now. And like I said, I wouldn’t want to pry.
I’m giving you the impression I was consumed by thoughts of Eoin, but this is not the case. Much of what I know of him was gathered in passing over weeks, months, and years.
What else can I tell you?
Oh, I learned down the pub that he has family in town. Many generations removed by now, but they sometimes invite him to their weddings and christenings, and he rather sweetly obliges. Each new generation of teenagers are intrigued by him. Understandably. That you are mortal smacks you in the face at that age.
Eoin isn’t bad looking, not that he makes a thing of it. Many of the young ladies (and lads) in town go after him, but he’s never been seen with anyone on his arm. Maybe he’s not interested.
‘And lead us not into temptation,’ said Simon, with a wink, every time this conversation came up, which was ridiculously often.
Maybe he’d been in love once with one of their ancestors, I suggested to the lads the first time I heard it discussed. That got a good laugh, even though I was being sincere. They called me ‘the bard’ for a long time after that.
Over the years I started to follow the local matches. As a way to get to know people really, I could tell you very little about football. My brother was a decorated player which was the precise reason for my lack of interest. I did play varsity cricket but the lads would’ve keeled over altogether if I shared that information.
I’ve described already one of the arguments caused by the fielding of an immortal. To be honest he’s actually a surprisingly average player. I suppose I thought the years would bring skill, or maybe it doesn’t work like that. Maybe he holds himself back.
I do wonder at his air of detachment, that others perceive as friendly nonchalance. But surely he gets lonely? Watching us all live and die? Live and die?
One tempest of a night I could swear I saw him in the haze of my headlights, roaming the graveyard. Or maybe that’s just something I wanted to see.
I can no longer count the years I’ve been here on my hands. The wife and I separated. She moved into the house she inherited. I stayed in Duncrann for no discernible reason.
The town began to mesh with the next town over, the population grew but the main street got no livelier, the business park metastasized. The last of the farms disappeared, and the last of the farmers. I attended Murt’s funeral, and Simon’s. I saw Eoin there, still not a day over 25.
The bank lost its last teller, and someone tried to rob the café. The pub across from the shop that doesn’t take card is gone. The shop remains. A last archer on our frontier parapet. Along with my beloved thatched haunt.
I don’t remember when or how I started sitting up at the bar. Eoin stays forever to his corner. Some nights after he leaves I wink at whatever new face I can find and say, ‘go over to the wall there and take a look at the photos.’