Shane Fitzpatrick lives in Swords, County Dublin, with his wife Michelle and their six-year-old son Harry. Shane works for Aer Lingus as a flight steward, and enjoys writing, running, fine wines, and being outdoors. He dreams of moving to West Clare to write full-time, but his son’s future comes first. Follow Shane on Twitter: @sfitzyfly and Blogspot: www.thepeopleineeteveryday.blogspot.com.
Coming soon: www.shanefitzpatrick.com.
By Shane Fitzpatrick
Kevin had been living illegally in Boston for twenty-nine years until Covid-19 upset everything. With no job and no security, he had no reason to stay anymore. Worse still, Frank, his Dad, had been admitted to the ICU in St. James’ Hospital in Dublin with a sore throat and suspected pneumonia. Two early indicators. His heart condition made him a high-risk case. That was the thing about surprises, they were never the ones you wanted.
His luggage stood to attention in the hall. Three decades packed into three battered suitcases, urging him to move on. The call had come at the right time, especially now that his savings were all but spent. Without papers or insurance, it was only a matter of time before he was caught and deported. This administration didn’t look too kindly on illegals. No choice but to head home to Ireland.
The fridge hummed as he opened the door, but the light inside was gone. Its totality amounted to three tins of Magners cider, a half-litre of Tito’s vodka and a half-pound of hardened Irish butter. He cracked open a tin of Magners and listened to the short, flat hiss. Best Before: Oct 2019 was stamped on the underside. A quick sniff passed the smell test, so he gave it a taste. He grimaced and swallowed it down.
Staring deep into the fridge, he dropped his head into his hand, and slumped down onto the sticky laminate floor. How could he do this by himself? It was all too difficult without Tina.
He wandered the two-bedroom brownstone, trailing empty cider tins, as he recalled the night he’d left Dublin. No tears, no kind parting words. Frank had closed the door and left him standing on the porch. The rain had soaked him through. Watching from the back of the taxi, he’d seen Frank through the living room window watching the first round of the Open Championship.
Frank was a cold fish when it came to showing affection. Not once had he ever said, I’m proud of you, son. The five-minute phone calls they’d once shared began civil enough with idle chit-chat, but quickly turned sour. Small talk had a way of bruising your knuckles. It didn’t matter how many olive branches Kevin reached out with, because Frank would never change. Frank’s own father had been the same way. Never one for a cuddle.
Stumbling over his feet, he steadied himself against the wall. Tina was the reason he’d stayed in Boston. When they’d moved into their two-bedroom brownstone together, she’d given him a to-do list. Put up shelves, have kids, be happy… He’d never finished it.
Squares of bright yellow paint covered the beige walls. Hanging the pictures had been a pain in the arse, fixing the level as he balanced on the step-ladder, one foot teetering in mid-air. The skylight had lit up the hallway as she flashed him a smile. Left a bit, right a smidge, she’d told him. He’d known she was teasing him because her dimples creased whenever she took the piss.
Most of the pictures had been Tina’s, and he’d returned most of those to her family. Faded photographs of Santa Monica. Black-and-white polaroids of dates and dinner parties. Some of Baldoyle in Dublin. He stared at the yellow spaces where the pictures had once hung, but his thirst drew him back to the kitchen.
Six years they’d talked about marriage, but Tina’s cancer had crept up on them. Much like his drinking habit. Unannounced, unwanted, it had left them both out of pocket and with nothing to show for it.
Crushing the last tin of cider between his palms, he closed one eye to aim, and then tossed it at the plastic swing-top bin. The crunched-up tin bounced off the rim and trickled cider onto the floor. He spun the cap off the Tito’s bottle and swigged. Wiping his mouth, he stared at two initials etched into the middle sink. One Valentine’s Day Eve, he’d drunk himself into a stupor, and scratched in the letters with a penknife. T&K, in the centre of a love heart. He’d thought the gesture terribly romantic at the time.
Tina had bandaged his bloody hand and cleared up the broken glass bottle, while he slept. Any other boyfriend might have bought her chocolates and wine, but his uniqueness was endearing. In hindsight, it had been a misguided gesture brought on by overwork and over-reliance on drink to manage his overworking. But with time, even Tina had laughed, although he’d spent that night alone on the couch.
No matter how feckless his actions, no one could erase their time together. Tracing the letters, he wondered how things might have been different, had the CT scan come back clean. Would he have painted the guest bedroom blue, pink, or yellow? Was he really the fathering type? Another question for an alternate parallel universe.
Tito’s in hand, he phoned for a taxi without slurring. Phone back in pocket, he ran his hand over the top of the small oak console table he was bringing back to Ireland. Through the duct tape and Styrofoam wrapping, the intricate Gaelic wood carvings stirred up memories of an antiques auction in Newton. Tina’s absinthe-green eyes had stopped him in his tracks. He’d made his bid, but she’d outbid him. He’d won the battle in the end, but they’d agreed to share the spoils. Not just the table, but so much more.
Outside, his taxi beeped, and startled him back to the present. The driver helped him lug his baggage to the car, paying no attention to the vodka bottle in his hand. Between them, they loaded the table into the boot. Then he locked up, posted the key through the letterbox, and emptied the bottle. Setting it down on the step, he took one last look before closing the door on a life half-lived.
He hadn’t been home in almost thirty years.
Did he still belong there?
Header image from Pixabay.
Copyright © ‘Leaving Boston’ Shane Fitzpatrick 2020