The End March 15, 2009Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
Tags: contest, Finn McCool's, St. Patrick's Day, story
This story is my entry in the Finn McCool’s Pub St. Patrick’s Day writing contest. Constrained by 750 words and list of required words to use–Giant, Guinness, Harpoon, Mid-City, Finn McCool, Bonnie, Pint, Craic, Stout, Causeway–I came up with this rather dark piece. There’s nothing of the happy stock leprechaun dancing about the clover in it, so I don’t have high hopes for it to win me a keg of Guinness but I like it fine enough. I hope working in a bit of Celtic folklore compensates if they think it a bit Gothic for the middle of such a festive evening. It practically wrote itself, for the first time in months the words just came seemingly on their own when called, and that in itself is enough to please me.
He tottered unsteadily atop the first column of the broken breakwater, the rock as off kilter as his own head from an afternoon of one too many Guinness drunk sad and solitary, alone at the end of the bar. Alone at the end: that sums it up, he thought. It would make a fine epitaph.
The water lapping gently below could not drown the memory of Bonnie’s last words, hissed through her teeth with face and fists clenched: “I’m looking for a man in my life, not a child. You’re a child in a man’s body with no more sense than a puppy. I’m done with you.” He’d stormed out right behind her, raging at her faithlessness, and straight to the Mid-City pub he favored, looking for a sympathetic barman and a bit of good craic to set his mood to rights.
Finn McCool’s was empty. The barman was a woman. Plans foiled, he sipped sullenly, hoping someone he knew would come in. He’d pull out his cell and stare when the barmaid hovered, but he was out of minutes and low on cash. He stood at the jukebox struggling to put words and music to his mood, mashing the buttons back and forth through the songs but could not settle on one. He pulled out the last cash in his pocket and realized he was done drinking for the day. He dropped it on the bar and left.
The towering stones listed forward into the lake as if to lure him out further, taunting him to leap boldly across to the next in the row that stood like the Giant’s Causeway. He leaned on a stick he’d picked up from the shore. He had no notion why he had taken it except to be at doing something, the same drive that had carried him out to the lakefront. Something about the heft of the wood in his hand soothed. Like a blackthorn or spear had for a thousand years of his race, the simple solidity of it in his hand bolstered his deflated manhood.
He hoisted it above his shoulder like a man about to hurl a harpoon and looked down into the lake. It was then he saw her, floating half above the water, her lower body hidden. Her kayak bobbed and dodged on the small waves, moving like dolphins along the shore. Her hair–spiky wild and dyed a bright green—was tucked up under a red cap and framed a porcelain white face. She wore a dry suit tight as a second skin, glistening with water. Her body and boat shifted in time like one living sea thing.
“Do you mean to spear me?” she hollered to him.
“Well, uh, no, I was just messing about with it, really,” he managed to stammer, his tongue tied as much by surprise as by drink.
“Uh, huh,” she replied, drawling the vowels out into a long slur full of suggestion. “Well, I’m not so easily caught.” With that she shot off along the standing stones, paddle flying, then spun neatly about in place to face him.
Without a thought he leaped to the next column, weaving like a charmed snake to keep his balance as he landed on the uneven top. He crouched to recover, then sprung to the next. The girl laughed and paddled herself in a circle. He jumped again, landing toes off the edge this time, arms flailing like a windmill, and fell smack on his backside.
“Careful,” she shouted up. He propped himself back up with the stick.
“Don’t you worry. I was a track and field whiz at school,” he replied stoutly. “Long and high jump and all that. You should’ve seen me at the hurdles.”
The girl in the lake smiled glamorously at that. As she moved to stuff a bit of hair back under her hat the wind caught and tossed it a dozen feet away. She screamed like a woman whose child has been snatched, and paddled frantically after it. Impelled by the urgency of her voice, he leaped to the last pillar.
He saw it floating in what looked like deep, dark water. “Got it,” he shouted, and dove straight toward the hat and head first into the last bit of the causeway, hidden beneath the water by the dark stain of kelp.
The girl paddled past the bloodied spot and coolly snatched the cap up, placed it back on her head and set off into the lake.
Published by permission of Finn McCool’s.