Every time I see the date on my phone I feel a jolt, like I’ve just woken up and realised I’ve overslept. September 7th – I should be back at work. Then I remember I’m midway through my two year career break.
My hometown is making the transition from summer to autumn. The amusement park has closed. The Topsy Turvey and The Sizzler are being packed up. Lorries wait to ferry them away. The kids have substituted the bright summer outfits for uniforms. The tan tourists are no longer vying for the attention of the pretty barmaids. The men they leaned across are still there though, the ever-present pint before them. They pine for the barmaid – her pretty smile and perfect ass were a wonderful distraction. But she’s gone too and now it’s just the usual ugly bastards.
A mist hangs over the town in mourning for the passing of summer. Neil and I have been walking through it for five minutes.
‘It’s like a ghosttown,’ he says.
‘Yeah. Here, where we going anyway?’
‘Lets see where our feet take us,’ Neil says.
I have a good idea where our feet are gonna take us. Twenty minutes later we are settling down on a bench overlooking the bay with a bag of cans and a packet of fags.
‘So how’s San Francisco?’ I say cracking open a can.
‘It’s wonderful. I really like my life there. The people there aren’t afraid to be true to what they want to do and I respect that.’
Some people can’t tell you how great their life abroad is without shitting all over Ireland . Neil is one such person. I ignore what’s implied because I don’t wanna get into an argument. He offers me a box and I draw a cigarette. We share a light. We smoke and contemplate the sea and the orange lights illuminating the deserted promenade.
‘ I hear you’ve extended your career break,’ he says.
‘Uno mas por favour!’
‘What do you want out of it?’
‘Em…well if I can come home with a good level of Spanish that’d be something.’
‘So, you’re not just pissing around.’
‘Well, some people may beg to differ.’
‘You looking forward to getting back out there?’
‘I am now yeah. It has the potential to be a great year, now I have a certain standard of Spanish, a group of friends and work experience. ’
‘It’s gonna fly.’
‘I know yeah.’
We slug from our cans.
‘You could be there for a few more years yet,’ Neil says.
‘Well, she’d have to be pretty special…Nah.I wanna settle here eventually. My family are here, my friends too. Except for you ; you’re not my friend.’
‘You still single?’ I ask.
‘Yeah. A few false starts but nothing that lasted. Ah, I’m enjoying the single life. There’s a good social scene out in San Fran; a lot of thirty-somethings that don’t wanna grow up yet, so it suits me.’
‘ So when are you going to grow up?’ I ask.
‘What? Settle down and have kids and stuff?’
‘Well – you went to college, you got a job…It’s the next stage isn’t it?’
‘Well,’ he says taking a final drag from his ciggy. ‘If I don’t do it soon people here might start thinking I’m weird. Or worse, gay.’
‘Do you want kids even?’ I ask.
‘I’m thinking of it a little more these days.’
‘I was over at Willy and Roisín’s the other day, to see their little fella. Jesus – even walking out the door was an operation; have we got this? Have we got that? It’s tough. There’s a dramatic loss of independence. And there’s the cost of child-minding, the sleepless nights and all that. But, when they talk about it, you know they wouldn’t change a thing.’
‘Yeah. I saw them too. I remember Roisín telling me – ‘There is no love in the world as strong as a mother’s love for her child.’ I was like ‘Well what happened to my Mom?’ Neil sparks up another cigarette. ‘Not everyone’s supposed to be a parent, I suppose.’
I don’t know what to say to that so there’s a spell of silence. Then I start thinking about a kid I once coached.
‘A few years back, I was coaching a football team. There was one kid; a scrawny little fella. He never missed training and had all the gear and stuff. He had a nice stroke of the ball but he was a coward. Anyway, we put him in the full forward line. He was hanging back out of the melee, as usual, but at one point, the ball bounced over his man and nestled into his arms. He turned. It was just him and the goalkeeper. Me and the other coach were holding on to each other. He took three steps and with a sweet strike, delivered the ball to the back of the net. We were buzzing. That kid had a glow about him for the rest of the day, as had we. And we fucking lost that day and all. The thing is, how happy we felt for him. And we were just the coaches.’
‘Imagine how his Dad felt.’
We drink in silence another bit.
‘ I might never come home,’ Neil says, playing with his ring pull.
‘Maybe. I dunno. It doesn’t have to be wife, kids and mortgage next.’
‘True. I was in the park the other day with my niece. All the kids were swinging, climbing and spinning saying; ‘Look at me!’ and all the adults were bored off their tits. They’d love to be doing what we’re doing.’
‘What? Drinking cans on a bench?’
‘Yeah!’ I laugh.
‘There are many ways to live a life.’
‘Sure are,’ I say.
We bump our cans together.
‘Lucky,’ he says.
‘One short year in Spain. And then what?’ Neil asks.
‘Ah, I’ll just follow my feet.’
‘Is it wise, the way we are?’ he asks.
‘Just making it up as we go along? Not having any set plans?’
‘Well. We have two more cans. How’s that for a plan?’
Something Similar? Hanging with the Kids
Something Different? A Bit of Romance