My father still lives back the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in. I go there every day to see is he dead and every
day he lets me down. He hasn’t yet missed a day of letting me down. He smiles at me; that terrible smile. He knows I’m coming
to check is he dead. He knows I know he knows. He laughs his crooked laugh. I ask is he okay for everything and he only laughs.
We look at each other for a while and when I can no longer stand the stench off of him, I go away. Good luck, I say, I’ll see you
tomorrow. You will, he says back. I know I will.
There’s a red metal heart in the centre of the low front gate, skewered on a rotating hinge. It’s flaking now; the red is nearly gone. It needs to be scraped and sanded and painted and oiled. It still spins in the wind, though. I can hear it creak, creak, creak as I walk away. A flaking, creaking, spinning heart.
When he dies, I’ll get the cottage and the two acres that’s left. He drank out Granddad’s farm years ago. After I have him buried, I’ll burn the cottage down and piss on the embers and I’ll sell the two acres for as much as I can get. Every day he lives lowers the price I’ll get. He knows that too; he stays alive to spite me. His heart is caked with muck and his lungs are shrivelled and black, but still he manages to draw in air and wheeze and cough and spit it back out. I was left go from my job two months ago and it was the best medicine he could have got. It gave him an extra six months, I’d say. If he ever finds out how Pokey Burke shafted me, he’ll surely make a full recovery.
Pokey could apply to be beatified then, having had a miracle ascribed to him. What reason would I have ever had not to trust Pokey Burke? He was young when I started working for him – three years younger than me – but the whole parish had worked for his auld
fella and no one ever had a bad word to say much beyond the usual sniping. Pokey Burke was called after the Pope: Seán Pól,
his parents christened him. But his brother Eamonn was not yet two years old when his parents brought the new baby home and
he decided the new baby was Pokey and everybody agreed away with him and little Seán Pól was stuck with Pokey for a lifetime.
And beyond, if he leaves anyone behind that will remember him or talk about him when he’s gone.
I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN something was up the day last year when Mickey Briars came in asking about his pension. Did ye boys know we’re all meant to be in a proper pension? We didn’t Mickey. Ya, with some crowd called SIFF. A proper pension like, not just the state one. Tis extra. Mickey’s left hand was outstretched. It held the invisible weight of what he should have been given but wasn’t. He tapped out his list of ungiven things, a bony finger slapping on sundried, limeburnt flesh. There were tears in his yellow eyes. He was after being shafted. Robbed. And not even by a man, but by a little prick. That’s what he couldn’t get over.
He went over and started to beat the prefab door until Pokey opened it a crack and threw an envelope at him and slammed the door again, just as Mickey put his head down and went to ram him like an old billy goat. Mickey’s hard old skull splintered that door and it very nearly gave way. Pokey must have shat himself inside. I want my fuckin pension you little prick, Mickey roared and roared. I want my fuckin pension and the rest of my stamps. Come out you bollocks till I kill you.
For a finish he went on a rampage around the place, turning over barrows and pulling formwork apart and when he picked up a shovel and started swinging, we all ran for cover.
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan is published by Transworld Ireland.