Sunday, May 5, 2013

SHADOW ACROSS THE LIFFEY


Oona arrived outside McCarthy’s at eight-thirty, half an hour late. Queues were forming outside cinemas on both sides of the street. She had forgotten how exciting the city looked at night: the traffic was lighter apart from taxis and buses; courting couples, arms entwined, reinforced her feelings of loneliness. She glimpsed her reflection in the glass door of the public house. Exactly the look she intended: flat shoes, her old trench coat, hair scraped back in a ponytail and no make-up. She couldn’t afford to give him the wrong impression.
Being here was the last thing she wanted; she felt the muscles in her stomach tighten. Taking a deep breath, she pushed open the door, pausing inside as her eyes became accustomed to the smoke-filled room. The place was packed. Men crowded the bar. She scanned the room hoping he had not turned up or he’d become tired of waiting and gone away.
A band of fiddlers played jigs in a corner of the room, and the smell of spilt beer assailed her nose. As she moved through the crowd, Irish music filled her head.
Would he have changed much after all this time?
A man she didn’t immediately recognise stood up and beckoned her to his table.
Vinnie!
He looked older than thirty-seven. Feeling faint, she gripped a table. It was wet and sticky. She turned to leave, but it was too late.

‘Oona, over here,’ he called.
Determined to hide her fear, she straightened her shoulders and made her way across to his table.
He crushed his unfinished cigarette into the ashtray. ‘Here, gi’s some privacy, mate,’ he said to the shifty looking character sitting opposite him.
The man picked up his pint and glared at Oona. ‘Hey, aren’t you that woman who—’
Some people had long memories, she thought, and felt the blood drain from her face.
‘Get lost, will yeh?’ Vinnie flapped his hand, and the man slithered towards the bar. ‘Here, sit down.’
He smiled revealing a broken front tooth. A shudder ran through her body. How could she ever have found him attractive? He was unshaven but his stubble didn’t hide the scar that ran the length of his left jaw. She remembered the expensive jewellery he once wore – gold chains and diamond rings. What had he done with them? She was aware of him staring at her.
‘God, it’s great to see yeh. I’d forgotten how lovely you are. What d’yeh want to drink?’
‘I’m not here to socialise. What is it you want?’
‘Don’t be like that. I missed yeh.’ He reached for her hand.
She drew back. His hands, once tanned and smooth, were as rough as sandpaper. ‘What do you want? She struggled to keep a steady voice. Why ... why the sudden interest after all this time?’
‘Oh, my little Oona’s developed a fighting spirit, I see.’ He laughed aloud.
‘I’m not your little Oona. And how did you know where I lived?’
‘I have my ways.’
‘The only person who knows is old Mrs Malloy, and she wou ... You ... you didn’t hurt her, did you Vinnie?’
‘Naw! Didn’t have to. I told the old biddy I was your cousin from England and she coughed up the information I needed.’ He grinned.
‘You stay away from us, Vinnie Kelly. We don’t need you. Sean knows who his real father was.’
‘I’m his real father and don’t you forget it.’ He glared.
‘You walked out on him. You can never make up for that.’
‘I know. Can’t have been easy for ’im; you neither, Oona. And that terrible accident. But, look, I’m back now and I want to see ’im.’
He certainly was not the kind of father she wanted influencing Sean. ‘Well, it’s too late. Stay away from my son.’
‘Okay, Oona my love. If that’s how yeh want t’ play it.’ He leaned in close. ‘I know me rights, honey. The law’s on my side. And yeh can’t stop me seeing him.’ He banged his fist down hard on the table spilling over his drink. She jumped up.
The anger in his eyes frightened her.
People were starting to glance towards them and she didn’t want to cause a scene. She turned to leave.
He gripped her wrist forcing her back down.
‘Let go of me! You’re hurting me.’
‘Don’t go, Oona. You’ve only just got here. Don’t you want to hear how I’ve been all these years? What I’ve been thinking and planning? How I’ve never stopped wondering about you and the boy?’
Oona felt her blood boil. How dare he look to her for sympathy? ‘No, no I don’t.  I’m not interested.’ She rubbed her wrist. ‘We were never married, and when you walked away, you ended our relationship.’
‘Let me make it up to you both,’ he wheedled. ‘Gi’s another chance.’
She looked at him aghast. His charm might have worked on her once, but then it had been easy for him to manipulate a fifteen-year-old. Now, she felt nauseated by him. Her nerves tight, she ran clammy hands down the length of her skirt. Why in God’s name had she come here?
‘You and me, we were good together once. We could be a family now.’
Horrified, she glared at him. ‘Look. Get this straight. We don’t want you in our lives. Stay away from my family. I never want to see you again.’
‘I think we should talk about this. I know what’s best for you and the boy.’ He ran his tongue over his lips. ‘I need another drink. Don’t go anywhere.’ He got up and nudged his way to the front of the bar.
He was not going to take no for an answer. She had to get away. The musicians played faster. Feet tapped to the beat on the wooden floor. A hand reached out and grasped her arm then swung her round and round until she felt dizzy. Breaking away, her head pounding, she pushed through the crowd, knocking drinks over in her haste. Angry voices called out behind her as she fled from the pub.
Outside, she sucked in the air. The city was bustling. Groups of young people stood around chatting and smoking cigarettes. She sidled into a long queue outside a nightclub and out the other side. Frightened he would follow, she hid in a shop doorway, and glanced back towards McCarthy’s.
Vinnie was in the doorway of the pub.
She held her breath.
He came outside, pacing up and down the pavement, before going back inside.
When she saw her bus approach relief washed over her, and she ran towards the stop. As the bus moved away, and her heartbeat returned to normal, suppressed tears ran down her face.
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6 comments:

Debby said...

After reading several excerpts, I would love to read this one.
debby236 at gmail dot com

Cathy Mansell said...

Thank you Debby. You're a star.

Cathy

margaret kaine said...

I've been lucky enough to have read Shadow Across the Liffey and really enjoyed it. Am looking forward to your next novel, Cathy.

Charlene Raddon said...

Good excerpt Cathy. Best of luck with the promotion tour.

Cathy Mansell said...

Thank you Margaret.
Nice to know you've read Shadow Across the Liffey.

Cathy

Cathy Mansell said...

Thanks for your comment Charlene.
Much appreciated.

Cathy