In the months leading up to the destruction of Flaherty’s pub, Mossy Brennan spent his nights in fitful pockets of sleep. It was unseasonably warm and he’d toss and turn and unpeel his dry tongue from the roof of his mouth and Herself in the bed beside him would wake and hit him a slap. She’d tell him to go off into the spare room and then he’d suggest they engage in marital relations. Mostly she’d hit him another slap and he’d trudge off to the spare room, but on the odd occasion when she agreed, Mossy, delighted with himself, would need no second invitation, and afterward, he’d sleep as soundly as he ever did, even when the humidity was as thick as the skin of an old pig. Then one night, much to his consternation and embarrassment, he found himself wanting.
‘You’re tired,’ said Herself, ‘go back to sleep.’
‘I’m not tired,’ said Mossy.
‘Then it’s the drink.’
‘I only had a few.’
‘Doesn’t matter the reason, you can get something for it down at Hickey's.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You know, pills.’
‘Arra, go away with that,’ he said, dismissing the idea.
When it happened a second time and then a third, she took the matter out of his hands, as it were, and went to Hickey’s to calmly explain the situation. She was hoping to speak to Rosemary but Old Hickey was on duty that day and when he asked her what she wanted she panicked.
‘Mossy can’t do his duty as a husband,’ she said, trying to hold back the tears.
It was no secret that Herself and Mossy had no children and Old Hickey had to mull over her words for a moment before he understood what she meant. He pushed his glasses up his nose for they had slid down when his mouth had fallen open. He had no idea what to say. Eventually, he told her that they didn’t stock what she wanted and suggested that she get what she needed off the computer and then take confession from Fr. Lacey.
‘Why would I need confession?’ she said.
‘The Lord sees all your sins,’ said Old Hickey, staring her down.
‘What sins are you talking about?’ she said, hands on hips and defiant.
Old Hickey shuffled off into the dispensary at the back and closed the door.
She didn’t confess, but she did go online and order a box of the little blue lozenges which promptly arrived in a discrete package. O’Dowd the postman must have known what was in the package because he gave her the filthies when she opened the door to him. She got similar looks down at the local shop and at the hairdresser’s but it was nothing compared to what Mossy experienced at Flaherty’s the night it burned to the ground.
Since Herself had gone to Hickey’s he’d not been to Flaherty’s. For three evenings in a row, he drove the five miles to Riordan’s over the hill. When Herself saw the state of his parking the next morning she hid the keys and told him if he wanted a jar he’d have to go to Flaherty’s.
‘I can’t, you’ve ruined me. Old Hickey will be there and Fr. Lacey and sure how would I look Fionnula in the eye and ask her for a pint?’
‘You’re being dramatic.’
‘Fr. Lacey will say it’s a judgment from God. I’ll be a pariah.’
‘Enough with that, now get yourself down there this evening, or do I have to drag you by the ear?’
She’d just started a new box set on Netflix and was really enjoying it. She planned on watching it all evening and didn’t want him moping around.
He approached Flaherty’s like a reluctant dog. The evening was drawing a redness in the west and the sun shimmered on the hilltops. It had taken him almost two hours to get to the pub and couldn’t quite recollect his journey. He’d left home just after dinner. Herself was on the couch with a big box of Celebrations and a glass of Malbec the size of a fishbowl.
‘And don’t mind any of them,’ she said as he put on his cap.
Her voice was ringing in his head as he nipped in the door of the snug. There was a good crowd and while this gave him decent odds of going unnoticed for a few minutes it also meant that once he was noticed he’d be like a badger surrounded by hounds.
Old Hickey and Fr. Lacey were there. As soon as Mossy entered the twilight world he locked eyes with the pair of them and froze. There was a silence like the beginning of time and Mossy turned to beat a hasty retreat when Tom Hanlon came in through the door behind him blocking his exit. Tom, a genial man and not at all given to hearsay, smiled broadly at Mossy and clapped his hands on Mossy’s shoulders.
‘Are you well Mossy?’ he said loudly.
Mossy was sure as birds laid eggs that Tom had shouted the greeting and that all in sundry heard.
‘Not bad Tom.’
‘Are you staying or going?’
Before Mossy could answer Tom had pulled him towards the bar and had roared Fionnula’s name. About a minute later she appeared looking busy but unflustered. A checked towel was draped over her arm and she used it to wipe down the bar before addressing Tom.
‘Two pints,’ said Tom.
Fionnula nodded and gave Mossy a friendly smile. Mossy tried to reciprocate but his heart was pounding.
‘I heard you were in Riordan’s the past few nights,’ said Fionnula.
She put the pints on the drainer to settle.
‘I was trying to sell the bull,’ said Mossy.
Fionnula gave him a quizzical look. He was trying to hold it together by not breathing through his mouth. Fionnula placed the pints in front of the men and returned to the main bar without another word.
Tom lifted his pint, appreciating its uniform aesthetic, and then took a drink. Mossy barely managed a sip.
‘How long have you got that bull?’
‘A year,’ said Mossy.
‘He’s a shorthorn?’
‘Charolais,’ said Mossy.
‘I was sure he was a shorthorn,’ said Tom.
Mossy looked around the snug involuntarily. Old Hickey sat there as quiet and unmoving as a gravestone. Fr. Lacey was nowhere to be seen. Mossy’s mind was racing with questions. He was sure Tom knew the breed of his bull and yet he had given the wrong answer. Was he mocking me? Mossy wondered. He was, but that wasn’t Tom’s way. He shook his head and took a drink.
‘What’s the matter?’ said Tom.
‘What do you mean?’ said Mossy.
‘With the bull. You’d be hoping to get more than a year, didn’t you pay a good price for him?.’
‘I did, but he’s a bit wild.’
‘Sure they’re all wild,’ said Tom, ‘did the vet take a look at him?’
Tom leaned in close. His big red face loomed over Mossy.
‘Tell me this, Mossy,’ said Tom, whispering, ‘is he still up to the job?’
Mossy almost spilled his pint.
‘I’d not be selling him if he wasn’t,’ said Mossy belligerently.
Tom laughed and clapped Mossy hard on the back.
‘No better man, Mossy.’
Mossy reeled from the force of Tom’s slap and took a deep breath. He coughed and then brought his pint to his mouth and drank about half of it in one gulp.
‘You’ll have another,’ said Tom.
Fionnula, having heard Tom’s bellow, appeared once again into the snug and poured two more pints. With the finishing of the first pint and the head taken off the second, Mossy felt the stiff edge of anxiety leave him like a cool breeze rising from a lake. He was immeasurably grateful that Tom had fallen for his lies about the bull and was now engaging Fionnula in a bit of nonsense about something or other. He reckoned he’d have this pint and then perhaps another and that’d be it. He knew Herself had the pills at the ready in the bedside locker and that he’d be taking one whether he liked it or not. She always got amorous after she’d watched a romantic boxset. Normally it was awful stuff about serial killers or lawyers but this one had a strapping young lad in it and that was sure to get things going. He was thinking about the bull when there was a tap at his elbow.
‘I hear you went to Riordan’s over the hill.’
It was Fr. Lacey. His tinted glasses and dark garb and shiny shoes gave him the look of the Gestapo. Mossy became flustered again, it was one thing telling Tom a fib about why he went to Riordan’s but he couldn’t lie to a man of the cloth, especially not one as intimidating as Fr. Lacey.
‘Yes Father,’ was all Mossy could bumble. He felt like a schoolboy.
‘Do you know the story of St. Paul’s conversion?’
Fr. Lacey’s glasses had become even darker. Mossy couldn’t look at him. He pulled his pint to his mouth trying to keep his hand steady.
‘Saul of Tarsus,’ said Fr. Lacey, ‘was on the road to Damascus when suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him and he heard a voice asking Saul, why do you persecute me?’
Mossy kept his eyes on the little bubbles on the top of his pint. He thought they looked like little craters on the moon.
‘Look at me Mossy,’ said Fr. Lacey loudly.
Mossy was shaken to his foundations and turned slowly to face the clergyman.
‘He was struck blind, Mossy, for three days the Lord scourged him. Do you understand me, Mossy?’
Mossy hadn’t a notion about what this fearful man was trying to impart to him but he nodded nonetheless. Fr. Lacey prodded him heavily on the shoulder and Mossy felt the nerve in his arm reflex and then his hand jerked and he spilled the rest of his pint. Fionnula took the towel from her arm and wiped up the mess.
‘Stay with your own flock Mossy. The sheep who wanders is lost.’
‘I’m sorry Father, it won’t happen again.’
Fr. Lacey uttered something in Latin and blessed Mossy and sat back down beside Old Hickey.
Fionnula put a fresh pint in front of Mossy but he didn’t notice. He was having a flashback of some kind. Fr. Lacey’s words about the light from heaven had rung a bell in his memory. There was a long white light with purple at the edges. He was about two miles from home on the descending side of the hills when he saw it out the left side of the car. It was disc-shaped and made a weird humming noise like the fridge did from time to time. It was going wild fast and he put the foot down. After that, he didn’t remember anything except that he’d got home and the car was parked arseways.
‘You’re miles away, Mossy. Is it a nice daydream you’re having?’
Her voice was friendly and suggested understanding. Mossy took a satisfying gulp from his pint and as soon as the bitter taste tingled the back of his tongue he remembered the rest of it. It wasn’t Riordan’s he was leaving from. It was Flaherty’s. It was the night he’d had his performance-related issue. A vivid timeline of events materialised in his thoughts as clear as June morning. He’d had a few pints, certainly no more. He was fixing the roof on the bull’s shed the next day and couldn’t do work like that if he’d a head on him. He got in the car and began the short drive home. He remembered that the eejit was on the radio again and fiddling with the dial to get rid of his stupid voice. It was while he was doing this that the light appeared at the side of the car and then he was home and unable to sleep with the heat and the rest of the terrible experience unfolded including Herself going on about the pills.
Mossy drank his pint in one mouthful like a gull swallowing a swag-bellied rat. He slammed the empty glass on the counter and stood up with the emphatic rigidity of a statesman.
‘Bastards,’ he said furiously.
‘What is it, Mossy?’ said Tom.
‘They stole my dignity, the bastards.’
‘Mind your words, Mossy,’ said Fr. Lacey.
‘Fuck off you, ya bockety pox,’ said Mossy, ‘this is your fault, you and your St. Paul and the three days of blindness.’
The stunned silence in the snug was the kind you’d hear even the thought of a pin drop. Fr. Lacey peered over his glasses and then like a hungry greyhound he barrelled out of his seat and went for Mossy. Mossy barely made it out the door. As he ran into the dark he could hear the flaring of Fr. Lacey’s nostrils as he tore up the ground between them. The next he knew he’d been caught and Fr. Lacey was on him.
‘What did you call me?’ he roared in a fury of slaps and kicks.
Mossy tried his best to fend them off. Luckily for him, the priest was about as coordinated as a drunk giraffe.
‘I’ll have you excommunicated, you delinquent, I’ll write to the bishop.’
By now a decent crowd had gathered. Mossy and Fr. Lacey were illuminated by the big moon and the limbs of the ancient hazels and birches and hawthorns formed a wonderfully dramatic backdrop to the most entertaining thing the patrons of Flaherty’s had seen since Ray Houghton’s goal against England in the ‘88 Euros.
‘I’ll have a tenner on Fr. Lacey,’ said a voice from the back.
‘I’ll take that bet,’ said another.
Before long a book was open and money began to exchange hands.
Mossy had grabbed a stray branch as a weapon and Fr. Lacey was giving a whole Bruce Lee routine. He let out a loud shriek and launched himself at Mossy. Fr. Lacey was met mid-flight by the pointy end of the branch and collapsed in a heap. There was an audible gasp from the assembled crowd followed by a few groans.
‘Right in the clackers,’ said someone.
‘Just as well he’s a priest,’ said another.
While Fr. Lacey lay on the ground stunned, the breath shorn from him, the pain yet to fully register an intense light cut through the darkness.
Mossy pointed the branch at the light.
‘What in the name of Jaysus is that?’ said Tom.
Old Hickey had shuffled off down the road. All this commotion was too much for him and besides he reckoned he’d get no more conversation from Fr. Lacey that night. He was mulling over whether or not to tell the priest about Herself asking about those fornication pills, but now that Mossy had opened him with the end of a branch, he reasoned Mossy’s soul was in worse danger than having to seek forgiveness for his lustful desires.
The light was a wide oblong shape and it pulsed rather than hummed. A violet hue rippled along its edges making it resemble a jellyfish. By now Mossy’s nerves were so frayed that he decided to go all Basil Fawlty and charged at the light waving the branch overhead and screaming like a banshee.
‘What’s Mossy doing?’
The question went unanswered because suddenly there was a rumbling noise followed by a loud pop. A line of intense purple light shot from the object taking the top off Mossy’s branch and blowing a six-foot hole in the second story of the pub. Mossy hit the ground and everyone scattered into the night like mice on the hoot of an owl. Luckily everyone was outside when the pub caught fire.
The light hovered over Mossy for a moment and though he was terrified beyond the rational, he felt a warming glow flood through his body. It then moved over to Fr. Lacey and then it was gone high over the trees and the hills like a comet. The patrons of Riordan’s saw a light shoot into the night sky and marvelled for a time.
Mossy stood up, he looked around him in bewilderment. To his right Fr. Lacey got slowly to his feet. He was a little unsteady at first, but soon enough had the sureness of a goat. Mossy regarded the priest from a safe distance.
‘Are you hurt, Father?’
The priest patted himself down and made a discreet gentleman’s adjustment.
‘It would appear not.’
‘No hard feelings, Father,’ said Mossy.
Fr. Lacey turned to him and moved a few steps closer. The frame of Flaherty’s was beginning to collapse and the flames rose into the dark like rose petals.
‘You’ll be taking confession one of these days I trust?’
‘I will, Father, most definitely.’
‘You’ll bring Herself with you?’
‘Good night, Mossy.’
‘Good night, Father.’
The priest took heavy steps on the soft ground. His shoes were filthy. He’d need a lot of polish to get them spick and span. Also, it looked like he’d need to visit the Specsavers on Main Street. Mossy wondered if he’d be sent a bill along with the monthly contribution envelope. It didn’t matter just then. Mossy headed home. Somewhere in the dark sheep bleated and a pheasant shrieked.
As he approached his house Mossy caught a scent on the air. He knew it intimately but it had never been this strong before. He noticed the light was on in the front room. Herself would be up and watching her box set. A renewed sense of vigour surged through him and he strode purposefully to the front door. Before going in, he slapped his hands together as if he was about to tuck into a good meal. ‘Grand job’, he said to himself as he turned the handle.