The dog had been missing since morning. It was getting late in the day, but I still wasn’t too keen on going home to dad at the dinner table to tell him there was no sign of Del Boy and we’d have to put an ad. out on local radio.
I’d been asking at the houses on the boreen where Del Boy had gone off on his travels. There was only one place left, and I’d kind of hoped I wouldn’t have to call in there.
We’d been moving a few bullocks from one parcel of land to another that morning. I liked changing stock along the side road; it was partly shaded with high beech trees that hung across in places, like you were in a tunnel. There was a nice smell of pine trees from the wood about halfway. There’d be a cool rhythm from the cattle’s pounding hooves as they scuttled along, Del Boy snapping at their heels. All you had to do was ignore the plop-plop-plop of steaming green shite, the sudden pools of frothy piss. Del Boy had been hunt-ing them along nicely and next thing he was gone. I didn’t take much notice for a while, he’d often nip off, chasing down a stoat or a hare in the long summer hay grass. It was like he always knew when something was happening, like he was drawn to it. But by the time we got back to the main road, there was still no sign and dad was rearing up.
It wasn’t that I was afraid of the Fadgins. I’d never seen any of them. I’d heard there was just a couple of old lads living there. I wasn’t sure if they were brothers or father and son, I never got around to asking dad.
I knew they were more than likely harmless, and it was prob-ably the whole look of the place that gave me the shivers. It was a yellow pebble dashed cottage, amongst a thick crowd of fir trees. The red-tiled bay windows at the front were always curtained across, a sure sign of men in bed during the day, we knew. There was a curly chimney cowl in the centre of the roof, with shamrock-stamped ridge tiles either side, a ribbon effect fascia board along the top of the wall. The little lawn had a cracked concrete path, and there were all these small white statues, dad said they were meant to be mythical Greek Gods, figures that were supposed to rule things like love, war and death. But they all looked the same to me. There was a big gate clad with red galvanised sheets to the side. It was always closed, and I used to wonder what they had behind it. They had pheasants that would be chortling as we’d pass. You usually did-n’t see them, but you’d hear them too well, they’d make you shiver, and the cattle would be pure disturbed. One time, I saw one in the garden on the cracked path. It was hissing and had spread out a mas-sive fan of blue, green and red feathers amongst the Gods.
I parked the bike at a low wall made of hourglass-shaped concrete moulds, painted white and yellow. It took a bit of shuffling to pull back the bolt on the little red gate, flakes of rust fell on the grass. The path slabs lifted and clicked under my boot fall as I went up to the front door.
I knocked and waited for a few minutes. It was dead quiet, and I was just turning back to the boreen when the door opened.
Mickey Fadgin stared out. He wore a grey shirt over trousers held together with a belt missing half the loops. He had a coat of stubble, and he was barefoot.
‘How ya Mickey. I was just looking for our old dog. You didn’t see him?’
‘Who are ye?’
‘John Henry’s son. We were bringing a few cattle down the way this morning. I haven’t seen him since.’
Fadgin nodded slowly and stared.
‘That’s alright so,’ I said, the path slabs clicking.
‘Come,’ Fadgin said. He went down the hall and left the door open. I stepped across a faded ‘Merry Christmas’ mat and shut the door.
It was hard to see in the hall; a door was open into the front room to the right, where a bit of the day was coming through the curtains. Most of the light was from an end door which led into a small kitchen.
When I went down there, I saw Del Boy under a long table. He ran out, jumped up on me, panting, thick paws on my chest.
‘Hey boy, where’d you get to?’ I rubbed the top of his little head.
‘He was at the door this morning, scratching. I heard the hooves down the road alright, but I thought it was just a stray. He was whining.’
Del Boy was still whining a bit. ‘What’s wrong, boy? What’s on ya?’ I looked into his black eyes. They just blinked back.
Fadgin had leant against a smoky Stanley range. All the tiles had fallen away behind, there were just combed clouds of blackened tiling grout. Then I saw a man at the other end. He was a good bit older than Fadgin. He was sitting back in the chair, hands flat on the table, eyes shut tight. ‘That’s alright so. I better be go-ing.’
‘Will ye have a drop of something?’
‘No, it’s alright.’
‘Have a small one, for Christ’s sake!’
I went over to the near end of the table. Fadgin clapped. Del Boy went back underneath, laid his head on his thick front paws. The only sounds for a few moments were his panting and low whin-ing.
I pulled out a chair; the feet scraped on the concrete where the lino stopped. Fadgin was across at a tall dresser. It had glass-panelled doors on top. There were decorated blue plates on their end along the back of the top shelf, small teacups with the same design on saucers across the front. Everything looked fairly dusty. Fadgin went to one of the presses at the bottom. The door squeaked open. Inside, the shelves were covered in newspaper. He pulled out a bot-tle of Jameson and three fancy glasses. He came over and put the glasses out, opened the bottle and filled each to a third.
‘Drop of water?’ He nodded to the square white sink in the corner behind me.
‘No, it’s grand.’
He nodded. ‘Neat so.’ He pushed the glass to me and another down to the old man.
‘Good luck.’ Fadgin drank his down and put the glass back on the table with a bang. I sipped mine. It stung my throat.
‘What class are ye in?’
‘What?’ Fadgin’s eyes squinted.
‘Second year. In Secondary School.’
‘Ah. That’s alright. Do ye want another?’
‘Drink up then. Will ye have a smoke?’
Fadgin pulled out a green box of cigarettes from somewhere. He lit up, the smell filled the room.
I sipped the whiskey again, my eyes watered, my cheeks got hot.
‘Do ye play cards?’
‘Sometimes. At school.’
Fadgin drew on the fag and left it on the edge of the table. He clapped and went back to the dresser. I looked at the fag burning away and then down the table to the old man. His drink was un-touched.
Fadgin reached far into the press and pulled out a battered USA biscuit tin. He brought the tin over and fiddled for a minute with the lid. When it came off, he put the fag in his mouth. Smoke clouds curved around his head as he took out a rosary beads, a comb, a thick roll of cash, a couple of big batteries, a rusty looking penknife and, after he’d moved a lot of other things around, a worn pack of playing cards held together with a thick elastic band. ‘Ye can play “25”?’
I nodded and drank a bit more of the whiskey. Fadgin tossed the fag butt onto the range hotplate and shuffled the pack. I thought I’d just get up and go, say nothing more and walk out with Del Boy, yet still I took the hand he dealt.
We played a couple of tricks. I won both. ‘You’re fair handy.’
‘It’s how ye play the luck.’ Fadgin clapped. He threw every-thing into the tin again and fixed on the lid. He gathered up the three glasses, the bottle and put the lot back in the press.
I stood up. ‘I better be going.’
‘Do ye like music?’ Fadgin said, as he came back to the table.
Fadgin went into the hall. I followed, Del Boy behind me. Fadgin had gone straight into the front room. There was a weird light in there through the curtains, it made everything seem red. The carpet was thick and there was a pair of armchairs and a settee cov-ered with sheets. The room was decorated with flower wallpaper and there was a smell of damp.
Fadgin pulled a sheet off one of the armchairs, a floorboard creaked under his movement. ‘Sit.’
I sunk into the seat opposite a small empty marble fireplace. Del Boy made himself comfortable on the carpet, head on paws. Even though it was roasting outside, the room was cold.
Fadgin was at the far wall. I thought he was opening up more presses, but it was the lid of a piano. He pulled out a stool from un-derneath. He sat and tapped a few of the keys. They didn’t sound right, like they were out of tune. He turned back to me and clapped. ‘It’ll be alright.’
Then he played for a good while. I didn’t know the melody. Del Boy’s tail started twitching. The hairs lifted on the back of my neck about halfway through. Maybe it was the whiskey, but toward the end, my eyes started watering. I was shaking all over. Fadgin was going up and down the keys so fast, as if he was electrified and it felt a bit like when I’d touch the live fence at the silage pit with a blade of grass, and you could stand there, in the middle of winter, while the cattle munched, and you’d be getting all these little jolts of voltage.
It was like Fadgin could hit all the keys at once, or that there were loads of pianos, all playing at the same time, like it was some kind of massive concert in the tiny red room. I sat forward, tear-drops fell onto the carpet. Del Boy looked at them and sniffed, and then it was as if we weren’t even there any more, the whole lot, me, Fadgin and Del Boy had been lifted up out of there, now we were lost, gone out of the boreen, to some other way different place.
When Fadgin stopped playing, Del Boy looked up. It was pure silent in the front room.
‘You can make it sing,’ I said.
Fadgin clapped and smiled. ‘This was the aunt’s. She had us tormented to learn it when we were small. We—’
There was a bang in the kitchen. Fadgin looked at the wall. He got off the stool.
I followed him out and stood at the door to the kitchen. Fadgin pulled the old man up from the table, and set him back into the chair.
‘Thanks for the drink, Mickey.’
Fadgin didn’t look at me. He leant against the Stanley, watching the old man.
It took ages to find the latch for the front door in the dark-ness. My hand kept hitting against some soft furry thing hanging from the ceiling. When the daylight finally flashed into the hall, I saw it was a long strip of flypaper, the yellow sticky tape covered in hundreds of decomposing insects.
Publication note: ‘Teardrops’ was first published in Crannog. Issue 48 (Summer 2018): 38-43.
‘Teardrops’ also appeared in The Rainy Day. Warrington: Penniless Press, 2018. 11-17.
Martin Keaveney is the author of Dairy of a Pint-Sized Farmer, available here. Learn more about Martin on the Contributors page. You can also find books from other independent publishers from this post: The Largest List of Independent Book Publishers.