Story — From the August 2019 issue

The Alps

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A Toyota HiAce with piebald paneling, singing suspension, and a reg from the last millennium rolled into the parking lot of the Swinford Gaels football club late on a Friday evening. The HiAce belonged to Rory Hughes, the eldest of the three brothers known as the Alps, and the Alps traveled everywhere together in it. The three stepped out and with a decisive slam of the van’s side door moved off across the moonscape of the parking lot in the order of their conceptions, Rory on point, the middle brother, Eustace, close behind, and the youngest, ­Bimbo, in dawdling tow.

The Alps, weary after a week of work, did not speak. They listened to the chunked slippage of the gravel under their work boots. On the floodlit pitch a pheasant groomed itself beneath the sagging diagonals of the goalmouth netting. The night air was close and cloudless, sultry with the stink of the seasonal silage coming off the surrounding fields.

Illustrations by Matthew Richardson

Asleep almost on his feet, ­Bimbo noticed a light moving up in the sky. A shining point, minuscule as a star or a transatlantic plane, but moving far too nimbly and erratically to be either. ­Bimbo roused. He watched the point descend at an angle, shoot back up at ninety degrees, then stop and wobble in place. A spaceship, ­Bimbo fancifully thought, for the point’s motion, however clumsy, seemed purposeful. Then ­Bimbo noted the patch of land the pip of light was bobbing above and figured it out.

“See that?” he said.

“Hah?” grunted Eustace.

“What I’m looking at,” said ­Bimbo. His older brothers turned to ­Bimbo, then faced back in the direction he was looking.

“Which would be?” said Rory.

“See,” said ­Bimbo, focusing his attention on the point. As if by telepathy the older two duly clocked the light.

“What in the Christ is that when it’s at home,” said Rory.

“It’s a drone,” said ­Bimbo. “Them acres over there belong to Marcus Landry, right? And I heard that man was intending to import half a dozen of those things in from the States, to keep track of his herds, is what it is.”

“Drones,” said Rory. “Would you be well.”

“He’s rakes of land and rakes of livestock but animals do be regularly going missing on him,” ­Bimbo said. “The surmise is some intrepid gangster is poaching them on him.”

“That would be the surmise, alright,” said Rory.

“Drones,” said Eustace. “Would you be well.”

“Landry is a man of means,” said Rory. “Men of means are rarely right in the head.”

“Surveillance,” said ­Bimbo. “I think it’s class.”

The Alps were shortish men with massive arses and brutally capable forearms. They breathed coltishly through their noses and rolled their shoulders with a circumspect flourish whenever lasses crossed their path. They billed themselves as tradesmen, though between them had never acquired a qualification in any particular trade. What they did was try things at a competitive rate. They painted, wired, plumbed, tiled, but where they excelled was in the displacement of the earth: digging holes, filling holes back in. Holes of any circumference and depth. Holes were their forte.

­Bimbo had just turned thirty-­seven, Rory and Eustace were coming up on fifty. The Alps still felt young in their souls, but it was the startled eyes, pouched necks, and capitulating hairlines of middle age that leered back at them from mirrors. They ate too much takeaway, slept fitfully, downed vats of Guinness every weekend. In addition to their remorseless lifestyles there were the disgraceful odds offered by their genes. The Alp family tree was a stump mutilated by cancer and coronaries. Few of their forebears had made it into their sixties, which meant the Alps’ days were probably almost over. The Alps carried this knowledge around with them. Because what else could they do but carry it? Fights happened and they got in them. The Alps were laconic and deprecating in company, but it was like a switch got switched. It was not true to say any of them had a temper, only that they possessed a reserve of a certain kind of energy. The Alps were built for punishment—­they were not built to last.

The Alps came through the clubhouse door to a mild effusion of hollers and hellos from the handful of patrons already ensconced. There was the teenage barman Mikey Reilly with his pink cheeks and sawdust crew cut. There was ­Softly Broughan, recently retired half forward for the county senior football team, dubbed Softly for his loping running style and ability to ghost between the opposition lines, who now managed his father’s haulage company out of Westport. Softly was a vivid dresser and was tonight arrayed in a baronial waistcoat with fobbed pocket watch, cornflower neckerchief, and champagne bomber jacket of distressed leather. On the arm of Softly was not his fiancée, the solicitor Stella McIlenden, but one of Stella’s younger sisters, Denise, a primary-­school teacher and finalist in the 2014 Mayo Rose of Tralee pageant. The pensioner Peader Ginty was there, with a tank of purified oxygen snugged into the tartan trolley bag he was obliged to wheel around with him everywhere, and his scowling daughter Moira, herself in her fifties, in the narrow black clerical trousers she favored and the dark glasses she never took off on account of her chronic photophobia.

“Anyone clap eyes on that peacock outside beyond the goals?” ­Bimbo asked.

“I did not,” Softly said, “but in any case I’d wager that would very much be a pheasant you were looking at, ­Bimbo.”

­Bimbo looked Softly up and down.

“You look like Kanye, kid,” ­Bimbo said.

“Kid, I am Kanye,” Softly said.

Rory and Eustace slid onto a pair of stools in front of the taps.

“How’s the form, Mikey?” Rory asked.

“The form remains legendary,” Mikey said, already working on their Guinness.

“A round of cheese toasties as well,” Rory said. “We are running on fumes here.”

“Onions and mustard?” Mikey said.

“Load them beasts up,” Rory said. “And three packages of Tayto while you’re at it.”

Mikey turned to the shelves behind him and the brothers regarded his neck, bright pink, savagely sunburned.

“That’s an awful scalded neck you have on you there, Mikey,” Eustace said.

“I was up on the roof of the mother’s house listening to an M.M.A. podcast this afternoon and didn’t I only fall asleep,” Mikey said.

“Ah now,” Rory said.

­Bimbo remained on his feet. He paced around the lounge, brooded at the burgundy carpet with its pattern of custard-­colored spades like the spades on playing cards, his hands dangling at his sides, limp as strangled game. He was antsy now because of the presence of Denise McIlenden. He could not remove her from his peripheral vision, nor did he want to. Her skin was an improbably deep and even brown and she was in jeans and heels and she smelled absolutely unreal. She was one of them ones who was already beautiful but troweled on the cosmetics anyway, and while there was a certain type of man who claimed he preferred natural-­looking ­women, ­Bimbo did not see how you could mind either way. The Alps were not men comfortably acquainted with the carnal, but they had their intermittent yearnings.

­Bimbo had done three sides of the room and was coming up past Moira and her wheezing daddy.

“What’s it at?” Moira said.

“What’s what at?”

“The peacock. The pheasant. What’s it at?”

“Oh now, just existing,” ­Bimbo said.

“Is that so,” she said. Moira had a big nose, scraggly hair, and a perpetually pursed mouth. She was inclined to the taciturn anyway but the dark glasses made her expressions completely unreadable. ­Bimbo suspected she played up the photophobia in order to maintain precisely this effect. There was always a hint of mocking in her voice and ­Bimbo had no time for her, really: she reminded him of the country singer Bob Dylan, and he had no time for Bob Dylan and his unpleasant singing neither.

“And how are you, Peader?” he said to her father.

Peader Ginty started. His face was bloated and yellow, the corners of his eyes sudsy with discharge. A nose cannula hooked over his ears fed him oxygen out of the tank nestled in his trolley bag. He was diabetic, he could barely walk because of his gout, and his heart was riddled with stents. He was just a big watery bag of imperiled organs, and the only parts of him that still worked worked because of ongoing medical interventions. Moira was stuck as his ­carer, and if she was even a tiny bit more hospitable in her demeanor, ­Bimbo would have felt sorry for her.

“Oh, good now. Not bad now,” Peader wheezed. His breathing reminded ­Bimbo of the antiquated stove in his granny’s.

“And yourself, ­Bimbo?” Peader asked.

“Nothing worth complaining about.”

“People who have nothing to complain about lack character,” Moira said.

“Oh,” ­Bimbo said. “Is that true? Peader, do you reckon that’s true?”

“What?” Peader said.

“Go back to sleep,” Moira said.

“I’m not sleepy,” Peader said.

“Have you taken your pill, Daddy? You have to take your pill,” Moira said.

“I do be always taking that pill. I never miss that pill,” Peader said.

“Good man,” ­Bimbo said. “You tell her.”

“Don’t be getting him worked up,” Moira said.

“I do take them pills like clockwork,” Peader said.

­Bimbo sighed. He tilted his head back, squared his shoulders. Denise McIlenden was behind him. He could smell her watching him.

“Peader,” ­Bimbo said. “I’ll race you round the parking lot. A single lap, full bore. Fella comes last owes the other ten bob.”

“I’d leave you for dust, kid,” Peader said.

“You would, too.”

“Come over here and eat your toastie before I do,” ordered Rory. ­Bimbo looked his brothers’ way. Rory’s mouth was shiny with grease and Eustace had his face down almost on the plate, the pair savaging at their food with the shameless avidity of children.

­Bimbo came over, took his pint and crisps.

“You don’t want that?” Rory asked.

“Have at it.”

“I will, so,” Rory said, transferring the toastie onto his plate.

“Have you your Sky box fixed yet?” Eustace asked Mikey.

“We do.”

“Throw it on there.”

Mikey picked the remote off a back shelf, turned on the TV angled above the bar, and began promptly flicking.

“Tell me when,” Mikey said.

“Please don’t go turning up the telly,” Softly said.

“Why?” ­Bimbo said.

“TV lowers the tone,” Softly said.

“The tone?” ­Bimbo said.

“Before you boys barreled in, we were sitting here in silence,” Softly said, “and it was an awful cultivated silence.”

“I’d say it was,” ­Bimbo said. “And oh, do you know what else I saw out there?”

“Aside from the peacock,” Moira said.

“Pheasant,” Softly said.

“You don’t know for sure I didn’t see a peacock,” ­Bimbo said.

“I will put down any money it wasn’t a peacock,” Softly said.

“They are related creatures, though,” Denise said, “so it’s not like either of you are far wrong.”

“Thank you, Denise,” ­Bimbo said. He caught Softly’s eye. “I suppose they are awful easy creatures to get mixed up.”

“Not if you know what you’re at,” Softly said.

“I saw a drone,” ­Bimbo announced. “Flitting about over Marcus Landry’s fields. He’s shipped them in from the States.”

“A drone?” Peader asked.

“It’s like a little unmanned craft,” ­Bimbo said.

“I heard talk about him at something like that, alright,” Softly said.

“Shush,” Eustace said, eyes intent on the telly. “That’ll do, Mikey.”

A playback of a woman’s track race was on. It was the interval before the race, where the competitors warm up and reticently perform their rituals. Mikey kept the sound low.

­Bimbo opened his packet of crisps and offered around to no avail. He wondered what Softly and the younger McIlendin were playing at. It was an awful suggestible alignment they were in, though there was nothing anyone could say, because it could all be innocent. Softly loved himself, was the thing, and the Stella one was lovely, but then the Denise one was lovely, too, and a normal man would be down on his knees with gratitude just to have the one or the other. But Softly was the type of fella would never settle for just satisfaction.

­Bimbo spouted the foil pack and shook the last crumbs of crisp into his palm. He licked his thumb for the last of the salt. He glanced at Denise. She was staring unhappily at the TV, the fingertips of one hand absently resting on her neck.

“Back in a tick,” ­Bimbo muttered.

­

Bimbo stormed into the jacks, thrummed a sulfurous piss into the gurgling trough. On the wall above the urinal someone had written:

aisling mcilenden wont you suck me off
behind your daddys fodder trough

­Bimbo tutted. Aisling was the third McIlenden sister, only in college still, and in ­Bimbo’s estimation the least fine, but that was only relatively speaking. Aisling McIlenden was lovely, and there was absolutely no call for such public traduction of her or indeed any other lass on account of just being good-­looking. ­Bimbo spat into his palm and tried rubbing the foul couplet away, but it was written in permanent marker. He ground the heel of his palm in a circle against the cool brick, and even as he did so he felt his horn rouse in his other hand.

“Ah now,” he said, disgusted at his body’s impertinence.

A trace of Denise McIlenden’s scent had carried itself into the bleachy stench of the jacks, and it taunted ­Bimbo’s nose and went down into his body and taunted him in his blood. ­Bimbo stepped into a stall, drew the latch. Thirty seconds later he came back out and washed his hands in the sink.

When ­Bimbo returned to the lounge there was a young man sitting on the stool that would have been ­Bimbo’s if ­Bimbo had taken a seat. The young man had the hunched, spidery posture of an adolescent, though his face looked older. He was dressed in black, and he had a sword. ­Bimbo did not register the sword at first, because who expects a sword? The first thing he noticed was the silence that had settled over the other patrons, and for a humiliating moment he believed the silence was for him, that all present were somehow aware of what he had just done in the jacks.

The young man turned to Mikey.

“As I was saying . . . ”

Then ­Bimbo noticed the sword, the young man’s hand nestled around the long handle. The sword was sheathed in a scabbard and resting across his knees.

“You were saying you walked here,” Mikey said.

“I was saying it’s a fair walk to here from all the way over beyond in Foxford,” the young man said.

­Bimbo made his way over to the counter.

“It is a fair walk if you walked it, alright,” ­Bimbo said. It was eleven miles to Foxford, and there were no streetlights on the country road once you got out of the town, and this kid was in dark clothing. He would not have made it this far without having been run into the ditch a hundred times.

“This is Swinford I’m landed in?” the young man asked.

“As near as makes no odds,” ­Bimbo said.

“It’s just I’m not familiar,” the young man said. “Swinford is to me a place you only ever pass through.”

“Let’s go,” Denise McIlenden said to Softly and stood up. Her eyes were wide and white. Everyone else had the half-­lidded, deferred expressions of people who could not tell what it was they were looking at. He was just a young man. He had a sword. ­Bimbo could not believe it.

Denise picked her purse up from off the bar counter and flusteredly tugged the strap over her shoulder.

“What are you doing?” Softly asked.

“I’d like to go now is what I’d like,” Denise said.

“We have drinks,” Softly said.

“Well I am going.”

“No one should leave on my account, is what no one should do,”the young man said. He shifted on the stool, and ­Bimbo’s heart jumped. But the young man stayed seated.

Softly reached out and put his hand on Denise’s forearm.

“Finish your drink,” he said.

“I don’t want it.”

“Just sit. For five more minutes.”

“So did you say you are from Foxford?” Rory said to the young man.

“No,” the young man said.

“But you said you just came from there, just now.”

“I know the place,” the young man said. “My father lives that way. I should say used to live that way. There’s a dry-out clinic there in Foxford—­did you know that?”

“I did know that,” said Rory. “I would know Foxford well, what there is of it to know. What has you all the way out this way?”

“None of your business,” the young man said.

“I was just being polite.”

“I don’t think you were just being polite.”

“I think I was, as a matter of fact,” said Rory.

“Come here,” Eustace said to the young man. “Do you want a drink?”

“I do not drink,” the young man said and swallowed. “I mean I should not drink.”

“Says who now?” Eustace asked.

“It would be the general opinion held of me I should not drink.”

“That would be the general opinion held of most of us, I reckon,” Eustace said.

“When I was twelve,” Rory said, “I pinned a pioneer badge to my chest and forswore the taking of drink for all time. By the time I was thirteen I was lashing the Guinness into me like a water buffalo.”

“You have a weak will,” the young man said.

“That could certainly have been a factor,” said Rory.

“Do not be coming in here telling people they are weak-­willed,” Denise said.

The young man looked at Denise.

“Are you a cat lady or a dog lady?” he asked her.

“Excuse me?” Denise said.

“Are you a cat lady. Or a dog lady.”

“Oh ho ho,” ­Bimbo said. “This is one of them riddles.”

“How is it a riddle?” Eustace asked. “He’s just asking for a preference.”

“It is a riddle,” ­Bimbo insisted. “The choices are symbolical. The dog is God in this equation. The dog is always God.”

“She’s a dog lady,” Softly said to the young man.

“Good,” the young man said. “I have always considered myself . . . a dog man.”

“What’s the cat, so, in the equation?” Eustace asked ­Bimbo.

“Cats are awful eerie creatures,” the young man said. “And they should never have been domesticated.”

“Will you settle now and have that drink?” ­Bimbo said to the young man.

“What are you drinking?” the young man asked, nodding at ­Bimbo’s pint.

“This?”

“Yes. What is it?”

“It’s a Guinness, lad,” ­Bimbo said, with some incredulity. An Irishman not knowing what a Guinness was. It was like looking at a boot and not knowing what it was.

“Can I have one of them?” the young man asked.

“I suppose you can,” said ­Bimbo.

“How many of them would you drink of a night?”

“Of a night? Well now, maybe twelve.”

“Twelve is an awful load.”

“It is, but sure don’t I’ve an awful spacious build on me,” ­Bimbo said.

“This fella,” Eustace said, nodding at the young man.

“This fella is unreal,” Rory said.

“You’re unreal, lad,” ­Bimbo said to the young man. “Mikey, get this unreal young fella a Guinness.”

“Aye,” Mikey said.

“Make it a good one,” ­Bimbo said.

“I’m not going into rounds, though,” the young man said.

“Well, there’s nobody here saying you have to do that,” ­Bimbo said.

“I know it’s the convention. You buy me one, I buy you one back. But I’m not going into rounds, I can tell you that.”

“Good on you, young fella,” Moira said. “The round mentality is an awful egregious one.”

“You have a sword,” ­Bimbo said to the young man.

The young man looked down at his lap.

“I do.”

“Why do you have a sword?” ­Bimbo asked.

“For protection.”

“Who do you need protecting from?”

“From my brothers.”

“Oh. How many brothers do you have?”

“Nine.”

“Nine?”

“Nine.”

“That’s some collection of brothers to have in this day and age,” ­Bimbo said.

“It would be,” said the young man.

“And how many of these nine brothers want to hurt you then?”

“Oh, just like . . . ” The young man shifted without energy in his seat. “I would say just two or three of them.”

“And why do they want to hurt you?”

The young man blinked, swallowed. Mikey presented him with his Guinness. The young man rotated the glass on the counter, and both he and ­Bimbo considered the cream head.

“That’s some pour, Mikey,” ­Bimbo said. “Head on it as neat as a hotel duvet.”

“By all accounts I don’t endear myself to people in my actions or manner,” the young man said. “So I have been told.”

“Even if that’s true I doubt it merits going about the place with a sword, now does it?” ­Bimbo asked.

“It is a katana, to be accurate,” the young man said.

“Hah?” grunted ­Bimbo.

“Properly speaking, it is a katana blade,” the young man said. “Arm of choice among the warrior class in feudal Japan.”

“A katana,” interjected Softly. “That’s what I thought, alright.”

“Well of course Softly knew it was a katana,” ­Bimbo said. “Give him another minute and he’ll be lecturing the lad on how he’s holding it wrong.”

“Are we alright, ­Bimbo?” Softly asked.

“Don’t be telling the fella whose walked in off the Foxford road with a katana in his hand that you know more about his blade than he does,” ­Bimbo said.

“I’m not saying I know more than him,” retorted Softly. “I’m just saying that I had in mind that the blade was a katana. Sure you’d need see only a couple of samurai movies to know that.”

“I can’t take this,” said Denise. She got back up off her stool.

“Sit down, D,” Softly said.

“To be accurate, it is a replica,” continued the young man. “A high-­end replica, but a replica all the same.”

“Can you run someone through with it?” asked ­Bimbo.

“I. Am. Leaving,” Denise said.

“Leave so,” Softly said.

“You can,” said the young man. “But it lacks the tensility, lightness, and penetrative edge of a genuine katana. With a well-­timed slash you could disembowel somebody no bother with the genuine article, but not so with a replica.”

“Are you handy with it anyway?” ­Bimbo asked.

“My technique does need work,” the young man said.

“Will you show us?” ­Bimbo asked.

“Please do not take out the sword,” Denise said.

“Yeah,” drawled Mikey. “I don’t think I can entertain a drawn sword on the premises, lads.”

“Don’t heed them, young fella,” Rory said.

“I mean we are definitely in dicey territory already,” Mikey said, “just having a sword on the premises in the first instance.”

“It’s a replica of a sword, not a sword itself,” ­Bimbo said.

“Fair point,” Eustace said.

“Would you require a license for a sword?” Peader Ginty asked.

“That’s an awful good question, Daddy,” Moira said.

“Go on, buck,” ­Bimbo said. “Get out on the floor and throw us a few samurai shapes.”

The young man, who was looking increasingly grave and agitated, took a long pull of his Guinness.

“Yucky,” he said.

“That’s the stuff for you,” Rory said.

The young man stood up off his stool, strode into the middle of the lounge floor, and smoothly drew the blade out of the scabbard. He raised the sword over his head, and the contour of its curve flashed in the bar light. He braced his thighs, leaned to his left, and whipped the blade down and back up in a clean arc, repeated the gesture on his right side.

“Jesus Christ,” Denise said.

“Fair play,” ­Bimbo said.

“Lads, seriously, I can’t be sanctioning this,” Mikey said.

“We. Have. To. Go,” Denise said.

Softly, jaw clenched, got up off his stool and marched smartly to the clubhouse door. He fumbled in his jacket pocket, pulled out his car keys. Nudging open the door with his foot, he flung the keys out into the dark of the lot, then marched back to his stool and sat down.

“Go when you like so, D,” he said in a tight, low voice. “Mikey, another pint.”

“Congratulations,” Denise said. “Congratulations on thinking that one through. The joke is absolutely on me here, Softly.”

Softly shrugged, mouth shrunk to an impenitent asterisk.

“Can I have a go?” ­Bimbo asked the young man.

The young man carefully drew the katana back into the scabbard.

“I would say no.”

“For why? I just want a go.”

“I think you’re mocking.”

“I am not mocking!” ­Bimbo said.

“I’d say he is mocking, lad,” Moira said.

“­Bimbo, will you let the young ­fella alone,” Peader said with a gasp.

“The Alp boys think everything is a joke,” Moira said.

“Moira,” ­Bimbo said. “You are an awful acute pain in the hole, do you know that?”

Moira cackled ruefully. “And you’re as easy as the breeze to rile.”

Rory slid from his seat and moved with surprising nimbleness up behind the young man. He enclosed his arms around the young man, trapping his arms and torso, then squeezed and lifted. The young man ejected a startled yelp and began to furiously paddle his long legs in the air, like a cartoon character. ­Bimbo grabbed the sheathed katana and wrenched it free of the young man’s constrained hands. Rory then hefted the young man over to one of the lounge sofas, dropped him sideways onto the cushions, and sat down on his shoulder, pinning him in place.

“Don’t be wriggling,” Rory said as the young man thrashed and wheezed, his face turning bright pink.

“Ah, lads,” Mikey said.

Eustace went over and sat down on the young man’s legs.

“Lads, come on,” Mikey said.

“Watch now,” ­Bimbo said, delighted. He drew the katana from its scabbard. He held it up and out. The sword wobbled a bit. ­Bimbo tried to reproduce the fine arc the young man had cut in the air but swung loosely, and at the apex of his swing the katana almost jumped free of his grasp.

Softly sprung up off his stool.

“Watch where you’re flittering that thing,” he said.

“I am watching,” ­Bimbo said defensively, and slid the sword back into its scabbard.

The clubhouse door opened. Two men entered. The first man had his arm out and was holding a set of keys like they were a dead mouse.

“Some cretin left his keys in the middle of the parking lot and they’d be still there only I trod on them getting out of the car,” he announced.

“It appears he is here,” said the second man to the first. “It appears them two gentlemen over there are sitting on top of his head.”

“Of course they are,” said the man with the keys.

It was clear the two men were related to the young man with the sword. They had the same gangling cuts to their bearings and the same shining, disconnected look in their eyes. The second man was holding a golf club, a driver with a big, solid head.

Denise walked up to the first man.

“Give here,” she said, “they belong to us.”

The man drew the keys close to his chest, considered them.

“These are the keys to a Mondeo,” he said. “What sort of reckless idiot is dropping the keys to a Mondeo out in an empty car park? Believe me, I’ll take the Mondeo off your hands if you’re that fed up with it.”

“The keys were pegged out there,” Denise said. “I am here with a big giant man-­baby, and it was the man-­baby went and pegged the keys out the door about five minutes ago in a fit of temper.”

“Do not call me a man-­baby,” Softly said.

“You mean to say that lad purposefully pegged the keys to a Mondeo out into the lot?” said the first man.

“Thank you for picking them up,” Denise said, her hand out.

“Well I honestly don’t know if the kind of person who would do a thing like that merits having their keys returned to them,” the first man said.

“I would entirely agree,” Denise said. “Only I need them keys to get home. The man-­baby can walk for all I care.”

“I SAID THAT’S OUR LITTLE BRO­THER YOU’VE YOUR HOLES PARKED ON,” the man with the club roared in the direction of Rory and Eustace.

The young man had more or less stopped thrashing and was lying limply beneath the brothers’ substantial behinds.

“To be fair there’s a very good reason for this arrangement,” Eustace said.

“Your little brother strode in out of the wilds with a sword on his person,” Rory said.

“A katana,” Eustace said.

“A katana,” Rory said. “Only what kind of a person does that? A person in need of subduing, I’d say.”

“That fella needs more than subduing is what that fella needs,” said the first man.

“Come up,” said the second man. He strode forward, brandishing the golf club two-­handedly and with evident purpose. Rory and Eustace, intuiting the man’s capability, got onto their feet and stepped clear of the young man. The young man tried to scramble upright. The man drew the golf club back over his shoulder and swung down with all his might, the head of the club landing on the forearm the young man instinctively thrust out. The young man screamed. The man with the club got off three decisive swings, connecting meatily with the young man’s limbs and torso as the young man flailed backward off the sofa and tried to cram his entire stringy body in under a tabletop.

The man with the club stopped his attack. He paced around in a little circle, breathing heavily through his nose.

“Come out from under that table, Derek,” he said with no venom in his voice, just even brotherly solicitude.

“What’s all this in aid of?” Rory said.

“Who are you?” said the first man.

“Who are you?” Rory said.

“We are this Clem’s brothers, for our sins,” said the man with the golf club.

“And what did your brother do warrants getting absolutely laced out of it with a golf club?” Eustace asked.

“He topped Mammy’s Sphynx,” the first man said.

“Hah?” Eustace said.

“The mammy’s Sphynx,” said the man with the golf club. “It’s a breed of cat. High pedigree, very delicate, very expensive. We got it for the mammy last year when the oul fella finally kicked the bucket.”

“Be way of company for her,” the first man said.

“The oul fella was useless company, but he was company all the same,” the man with the club said.

“Daddy was an awful prick is what Daddy was,” the young man said from under the table.

“Shut up, Derek,” the first man said.

“A thousand bucks,” the man with the golf club said.

“A thousand bucks of an outlay for this creature, and it hadn’t a hair on its entire body,” the first man said. “The heating bills she was landed with.”

“The mammy had to keep the house equatorial the whole year round, the rads on full pelt,” the man with the golf club said.

“And the awful expensive food it could only eat.”

“And all the shots it had to keep getting.”

“It was an awful oul sickly oul wrinkly oul bald oul yoke.”

“It looked like a shaved ball bag is what it looked like,” the man with the club said.

“But she loved it,” the first man said.

“She loved it, and this useless article under the table here only had to go after it with a sword,” the man with the club said, “and stab the poor yoke to death. And he near killed the mother too with the fright he put on her.”

“What sort of a man has it in him to top a cat?” the first man said.

The young man was silent under the table, his long feet sticking out.

“That cat was always mocking me,” he said eventually.

The man with the club sighed. “It was a cat, Derek.”

“They are not the most amenable creatures, but still,” the first man said.

“Come out now until we go home, Derek,” the man with the club said.

“No,” the young man said.

“Derek, come out before I drag you out and make a further mock of you in front of all your new friends.”

“No. You’ve my head ringing.”

The man with the club darted forward and got ahold of one of the young man’s heels. The young man wrapped his arms around the center beam of the table. The man with the club began towing the young man. The table toppled over, but the young man steadfastly clung to it and dragged it along with him across the burgundy carpet.

“Ah, here,” ­Bimbo said, stepping across the path of the man with the club, fist tight around the handle of the katana. “I’m not saying he didn’t do what you said he did, but touched as he is I can’t let you be dragging that fella out the door like that. It is awful unseemly.”

The man with the club stopped and looked at ­Bimbo. The young man looked up from the floor at ­Bimbo.

“That’s your own brother you’re making a spectacle of,” Rory said to the man with the club.

“I know Derek looks harmless,” the first man said. “But the truth is he is a living trial.”

“Sure, aren’t we all,” ­Bimbo said. “Aren’t we all living trials to one another.”

“Maybe it’s you two should leave, and let the young fella here with us,” Eustace said.

Rory and Eustace had arranged themselves so that they now stood flanking ­Bimbo.

The man with the club considered the solid wall of the Alps boys. He looked at the first man. The first man shrugged. The man with the club dropped the young man’s foot to the floor.

“Ow,” said the young man.

“He should be in a home is where he should be,” the man with the club said. “But the mother wouldn’t have it. Well she has gone and learned her lesson now.”

The two men began to back toward the clubhouse door.

“Here,” Denise McIlenden shouted at the first man. “The keys.”

The first man checked, looked at the keys in his hand, lobbed them at Denise.

“Were you really going to set on me with a replica sword?” the man with the club asked ­Bimbo.

“I can’t be sanctioning you boys coming in here leathering the shite out of this young fella and dragging him around the place like a bit of lawn furniture, no matter what he’s did,” ­Bimbo said.

The man with the club sighed.

“Setting on your own brother,” he said. “I know it’s not right. I know there’s nothing in it that’s a credit to me. But what that fella sees fit to put her through.”

“They are awful saints, mothers, aren’t they,” ­Bimbo said.

“They are,” said the man with the club. He tucked the driver under his arm, took out his wallet, flicked through it.

“Here,” he said to the first man. “Have you a twenty?”

“What?” said the first man.

“Have you a twenty? Give it here.”

The first man made a face but complied. The man with the club took the twenty, added a twenty of his own, and handed the money over to Mikey.

“The next round,” the man with the club said. To the young man he said, “Derek, I am sorry I took ­Daddy’s club to you.”

“I’m sore all over.”

The two men left.

“Well now,” ­Bimbo said.

“Wasn’t that very good of them,” Moira said.

“Come up here, young fella,” Rory said, extending a hand to the young man still on his back on the floor. The young man accepted, and Rory hauled him up onto his feet.

“You look as shook,” Moira said to the young man.

“Mikey, will you run this man a big glass of water?” Rory said. “When you’re shook you need to hydrate.”

“If you are peckish, I’ve a heap more toasties in the fridge,” Mikey said.

“I have no appetite on me,” the young man said.

“Well done, the Alps boys,” Peader Ginty said.

“Aye, well done on not getting your heads cracked open, much as you were trying,” Softly said.

“Softly,” Denise said, “shut up.”

“What?” Softly said.

“The Alps boys put themselves on the line for that oddball of a young fella,” Denise said. “He was getting a beating and they saved him from much worse. And what did you do? Pegged the keys to your Mondeo into the night like a child. That goon was right about you.”

“I didn’t heed a thing that goon said about me,” Softly said.

“More’s the pity. Well done, the Alps boys,” Denise said and stepped over to ­Bimbo. He cleared his throat and was about to correct his posture, but she was already on top of him. He could smell the lime and gin off her mouth. She kissed him on the cheek, and he felt her arms slide from his shoulders and she was away from him, moving toward the door.

“Where are you off to?” Softly said.

Denise opened the door. “You know what I’ve noticed about you, Softly?”

Softly said nothing.

“You’re as stingy,” Denise continued. “You’ve the stingiest outlook on the world. You’re incapable of extending even the tiniest untainted compliment to anyone, about anything, and it is awful wearying to be around.”

She left.

All within listened to the whinny and growl of the Mondeo’s engine out in the lot, watched the headlights bloom on the clubhouse windows, and heard the crackle of the gravel as the car turned and left.

“Well now,” Moira said.

Mikey placed a pint of tap water on the counter.

“Drink,” ­Bimbo said, guiding the young man back onto the stool. The young man gulleted down the water in one go, exhaled, and wiped his mouth.

“Good lad. This is yours,” ­Bimbo said and handed the replica katana back.

“Face is shining up decently now,” Rory said.

“He landed a rap on your head, did he,” Eustace said.

“He got me everywhere,” the young man said.

“Where’s it hurt most?” ­Bimbo asked.

“All over.”

“Can you move your arm freely?” ­Bimbo asked. He took hold of the young man’s forearm and moved it in a slow circle. “How sore is that?”

“It’s . . . not too bad.”

“Did you really stab your mother’s cat?” Eustace asked.

“I am not proud.”

“Well, you wouldn’t be,” Eustace said.

“No,” said the young man. He licked his lips and fainted forward.

“Watch,” ­Bimbo said.

All the color was gone out of the young man’s face. He dropped his head and the water came back up in an opaque gout, drenching his shins and shoes and the carpet.

“Ah now,” ­Bimbo said, the toes of his workboots spattered.

“I don’t feel good,” the young man moaned into his chest and fainted forward again, ­Bimbo catching him so he would not land on the floor.

­Bimbo ducked down to see the young man’s face. His eyes were rolling in his head.

“I think he’s out.”

“Put him on his back on the ground,” Moira said.

“I am ringing Castlebar General,” Mikey said.

“He could swallow his tongue. Don’t let him swallow his tongue,” Moira said, up off her stool. Her father, Peader, began also to rise.

“Daddy, don’t put yourself out,” Moira said.

­Bimbo tossed the young man’s sword to the floor and guided his limp body down onto the carpet. He tapped the young man’s cheek with two fingers.

“Does he have a pulse?” Rory asked.

“I don’t know if I know how to do that,” ­Bimbo said, licking his thumb and sticking it right in under the young man’s nose.

“He is breathing, I reckon,” he said.

“Hello—” said Mikey into his phone. He spluttered through a series of questions with the hospital operator, saying only that the young man had received a heavy accidental blow to the head. He relayed to the Alps the operator’s instructions about keeping the head elevated and the airways unobstructed. “Okay,” said Mikey into the phone, “Okay, okay.”

“How long?” Rory said.

“Said the ambulance would be thirty minutes.”

“Thirty minutes!” Rory shouted. “Here, get him up. Thirty minutes. We’ll have him to the General in half that.”

“That HiAce is a junk-­heap,” Moira said. “No way you are doing the trip quicker than an ambulance.”

“She’s lightning once she gets into her stride,” Rory said. “Here, Softly, give us a hand.”

Softly hunkered down and grabbed the young man’s spare leg. ­Bimbo had the other one, and Eustace and Rory each took a shoulder. The quartet lifted the young man up and began to stagger forward. Mikey came out from behind the bar and held the door. Moira and Peader, towing his trolley bag, took up the rear. Moira picked the sword up on the way.

The four men crunched across the gravel, floundering one way and then the other, but they did not drop the young man’s body, which sagged like a laden hammock between them. ­Bimbo glanced toward the floodlit pitch. There was now a cow under the crossbar, nibbling at the grass edging the rutted bald spot of the goalmouth.

Ahead of them, another cow was rubbing its ribs against a corner of the HiAce’s grille. ­Bimbo saw and sensed more big shapes gliding around in the dark of the lot.

“Cows,” Peader stated.

“Well spotted,” ­Bimbo said.

“Go on, get,” Rory said, and with his head butted the neck of the cow that was using the HiAce as a scratching post. It mooed and started away.

“Where’d they come out of though?” Eustace asked.

“The fencing is in an awful state down the far end of the grounds. They could be in from any of them fields adjacent,” Mikey said, reaching out to pat the haunch of a ginger heifer as it lumbered by.

“Never mind about the cows,” ­Bimbo demanded. He let down the young man’s leg, pulled back the HiAce’s side door, sprung in, and commenced kicking a clearing amid the boxes of various-­size screws and the coiled yards of insulated wire. Rory, Eustace, and Softly transferred the young man onto the van’s dirt-­caked mat.

The young man moaned, lifted his head up.

“What’s happening?”

“We’re saving your life is what’s happening,” ­Bimbo said, the heel of his hand on the young man’s chest to stay him from getting up. Softly climbed in.

“Am I dying?” the young man said.

“No one is dying on our watch,” ­Bimbo declared.

Softly began clambering into the HiAce.

“What are you doing?” ­Bimbo asked.

“I—­I want to help,” Softly said.

“Go on, so,” ­Bimbo said, and moved his haunches so Softly could get in.

Rory got in behind the wheel, and Eustace joined him up front.

“Are you okay to drive with pints on you?” asked Mikey through the wound-­down driver’s-­side window.

Rory turned on the engine and considered the question.

“I would say I drive better with drink taken,” he said, “because I know I have to be more careful.”

“Well, good luck,” Mikey said doubtfully and rapped the side of the van.

There were dozens of cows stood around in the lot, gormless as wardrobes. Rory gunned the engine, pounded the horn, and nosed the HiAce forward until the animals began to lumber out of the way. With a parting shout of “Up Mayo” out the window, like they were cheering on a football game, and a last beep, the HiAce snarled onto the main road and raced off into the night.

“Lordy,” Moira said.

“Indeed,” Mikey said.

By the clubhouse entrance a wall light illuminated the backless wooden bench and pail of sand that denoted the smoking area. Peader wheeled his trolley over, and Moira and Mikey followed, Moira idly swishing the sword in
the air.

Mikey sat down beside Peader and lit a cigarette, nodded at the sword. “You forget to hand that over?”

“I suppose I did,” Moira said.

Mikey looked with dismay down the long dark length of the lot. He couldn’t see the cows, but they were there.

“This place will be absolutely covered in shit tomorrow morning,” he said.

Moira was looking at the peeling band of Mikey’s neck. She reached out, felt the seethe of the sunburn on the pads of her fingertips.

“That must hurt,” she said.

“It’s grand,” Mikey said.

Moira propped the sword against the wall by the bench, opened her purse, brought out a small tube, and squirted a curlicue of cream into her palm. She stepped in behind Mikey.

“It’s fine,” Mikey said.

“Don’t be a boy.”

Moira’s fingers were thin and hard, kneading in the cold of the cream. It did feel good. Mikey took a drag, relinquished a long sigh. He held the cigarette up so Moira could take it over his shoulder.

“I have to go in now, and root out a flashlight and ascertain which field these cows got out of, and then go ring whichever farmer.”

“Poor Mikey,” Moira said.

“Poor Mikey,” Peader agreed.

“You think that young fella will be alright?” Mikey asked.

“I would say the brother should have given him a few extra lashes while he was at it,” Moira said.

“Moira, stop,” Peader said.

“That fella was not right, Daddy. He had an awful sinister cut to him altogether.”

“He did admit to topping a cat,” Mikey said.

“Well, that is not usual behavior,” Peader said.

“That buck was from another planet,” Moira said.

“And the Alps have him now,” Mikey said.

“Speaking of other planets,” Moira said.

“What have you got against the Alps anyway?” Mikey asked.

Moira slapped her hands together, stepped back from Mikey.

I drive better with drink taken,” she said. “I guess you can’t argue with that logic.”

“You can’t,” Mikey said. “And won’t you be driving home with a few on you yourself?”

“I will,” Moira said, “but I won’t be proud of it. That’s the difference.”

“Oh, I’d love a go,” Peader said, watching his daughter smoke.

“You could have one puff,” Moira said, “if it was just the one. But it wouldn’t be, would it.”

“It would not,” Peader agreed. “I think we will say good night, young Mikey. Hope you get this mess sorted.”

Moira passed the cigarette back to Mikey.

“Keep the sword,” she said.

“Good night,” Mikey said, and watched the two walk off into the night, Peader trailing his trolley. Mikey was able to mark their progress by the snorts of consternation that came from the invisible cows. Mikey smoked the remainder of the cigarette and studied the sky, the glimmering points of the stars, for the trace of a fugitive movement, but none was forthcoming. He went into the clubhouse, rooted out a torch. Back out at the smoking area, he hesitated by the sheathed sword, propped against the wall where Moira had left it. He picked it up and set off into the dark of the grounds, looking for the rupture or gap, or wherever it was the cows had come out of.

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is the author of the story collection Young Skins (Grove Press). He lives in Toronto.

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