"Griffin's stunning debut, brimming with irresistible Irish-isms, is an elegy to love, loss and the complexity of life." –People Magazine
One of Goodreads' 43 Most Anticipated Reads of 2019
“Beautiful. Intimate. Tearful. Aching and lyrical. So simply and beautifully told.” –Louise Penny, #1 New York Times bestselling author
"I'm here to remember–all that I have been and all that I will never be again."
If you had to pick five people to sum up your life, who would they be? If you were to raise a glass to each of them, what would you say? And what would you learn about yourself, when all is said?
At the bar of a grand hotel in a small Irish town sits 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan. He’s alone, as usual - though tonight is anything but. Pull up a stool and charge your glass, because Maurice is finally ready to tell his story.
Over the course of this evening, he will raise five toasts to the five people who have meant the most to him. Through these stories - of unspoken joy and regret, a secret tragedy kept hidden, a fierce love that never found its voice - the life of one man will be powerfully and poignantly laid bare.
Beautifully heart-warming and deeply felt, the voice of Maurice Hannigan will stay with you long after all is said and done.
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
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Saturday, 7th of June 2014
The bar of the Rainsford House Hotel Rainsford, Co. Meath, Ireland
Is it me or are the barstools in this place getting lower? Perhaps it's the shrinking. Eighty-four years can do that to a man, that and hairy ears.
What time is it over in the States now, son? One, two? I suppose you're stuck to that laptop, tapping away in your air- conditioned office. 'Course, you might be home on the porch, in the recliner with the wonky arm, reading your latest article in that paper you work for, what's it ...? Jesus, can't think of it now. But I can see you with those worry lines, concentrating, while Adam and Caitríona run riot trying to get your attention.
It's quiet here. Not a sinner. Just me on my lonesome, talking to myself, drumming the life out of the bar in anticipation of the first sip. If I could get my hands on it, that is. Did I ever tell you, Kevin, that my father was a great finger tapper? Would tap away at the table, my shoulder, anything he could lay his index finger on, to force home his point and get the attention he deserved. My own knobbly one seems less talented. Can get the attention of no one. Not that there's anyone to get the attention of, except your one out at reception. She knows I'm here alright, doing a great job ignoring me. A man could die of thirst round these parts.
They're up to ninety getting ready for the County Sports Awards, of course. It was some coup for the likes of Rainsford wrestling that hoolie out of Duncashel with its two hotels. That was Emily, the manager, or owner, I should say, a woman well capable of sweet-talking anyone into the delights of this place. Not that I've experienced much of those myself over the years.
But here I sit nonetheless. I have my reasons, son, I have my reasons.
You should get a load of the enormous mirror in front of me. Massive yoke. Runs the length of the bar, up above the row of spirits. Not sure if it's from the original house. Ten men, it must've taken to get that up. Shows off the couches and chairs behind me all eager for the bottoms that are at this minute squeezing into their fancy outfits. And there's me now in the corner, like the feckin' eejit who wouldn't get his head out of shot. And what a head it is. It's not often I look in the mirror these days. When your mother was alive I suppose I made a bit of an effort but sure what difference does it make now? I find it hard to look at myself. Can't bear to see it – that edge, you know the one I mean – haven't you been on the receiving end of it enough over the years.
Still. Clean white shirt, crisp collar, navy tie, not a gravy stain in sight. Jumper, the green one your mother bought me the Christmas before she died, suit and my shoes polished to a shine. Do people polish their shoes any more or is it just me who practises the art? Sadie'd be proud alright. A well-turned-out specimen of a man. Eighty-four and I can still boast a head of hair and a chin of stubble. Rough it feels, though – rough. I don't know why I bother shaving every morning when by lunchtime it's like a wire brush.
I know I wasn't what you might call good-looking in my day, but anything I had going for me seems to have long since scarpered. My skin looks like it's in some kind of race southward. But do you know what? I've still got the voice.
'Maurice,' your grandmother used to say, 'you could melt icebergs with that voice of yours.'
To this day it's like a cello – deep and smooth. Makes people pay attention. One holler to herself pretending to be busy out there at reception and she'd be in filling my glass quick smart. But I'd better not cause any more trouble than I need to. There's a job to do later and a long night ahead.
There's that smell again. I wish you were here, to get it: Mr Sheen. Remember that? Every Saturday, our whole house smelt of it. Your mother's day for the dusting. The sickliness of it used to hit my nose as soon as I came through the back door. I'd be sneezing from here to kingdom come for the rest of the night. Fridays now, Fridays were floor-polishing days. The waft of wax, homemade chips and smoked cod, warming my heart and making me smile. Industry and sustenance – a winning combination. You don't hear of people polishing floors much any more either. What's that all about, I wonder.
At last, a body appears from the door behind the bar to put me out of my thirst-ridden misery.
'There you are, now,' I say to Emily, a picture of beauty and efficiency. 'Here to save me the embarrassment of getting the drink myself? I was even contemplating going to ask Miss Helpful out there.'
'I got here just in time, so, Mr Hannigan,' she says, with a hint of a smile, laying down a pile of papers on the counter, checking her phone perched on top, 'we don't want you upsetting the staff with that charm of yours.' Her head lifts to look at me and her eyes sparkle for a second before settling on her screen again.
'That's just lovely. A man comes in for a quiet drink and this is what he gets.'
'Svetlana will be in now. We were just having a quick meeting about tonight.'
'Well, aren't you very Michael O'Leary.'
'I see you're in fine spirits,' she says, coming to stand in front of me, giving me her full attention now. 'I didn't know you were coming in. To what do we owe the pleasure?'
'I don't always ring ahead.'
'No, but it might be a good idea. I could put the staff on red alert.'
There it is – that smile, curling up, as delicious as a big dollop of cream on a slice of warm apple tart. And those eyes, twinkling with the curiosity.
'A Bushmills?' she asks, reaching for a tumbler.
'Make it a bottle of stout, to start me off. Not from the fridge mind.'
'To start you off?'
I ignore the worry that's crept into her voice.
'Would you join me for one later?' I ask, instead.
She stops and gives me a good long stare.
'Is everything alright?'
'A drink, Emily, that's all.'
'You do know I've landed the County Awards?' she says, hand on hip, 'not to mention a mysterious VIP who's decided to book in. Everything has to be perfect. I've worked too hard for this to —'
'Emily, Emily. There'll be no surprises tonight. I'd just like to sit and have a drink with you. No confessions this time, I promise.'
I slide a hand across the counter, my offering of reassurance. Can't blame the distrust, given the history. I watch it steal away her smile. I've never fully explained all that business with the Dollards to you and your mother, have I? I suppose in part that's what tonight is all about.
'I doubt there'll be a lull,' she says, standing in front of me now, still giving me the suspicious eye, 'I'll try to get back up to you, though.'
She bends slightly and takes a bottle of the good stuff with her expert hand from the fully stocked shelf below – one can't but admire the neat order of the bottles, their harped labels all turned proudly outwards. Emily's handiwork. She runs a well- ordered show.
A slip of a young thing arrives through the door to join her.
'Great,' Emily says to her. 'The place is all yours. Here, give this to Mr Hannigan there before he passes out. And you,' she continues, pointing one of her lovely long nails at me, 'be nice. Svetlana's new.' With that warning she picks up her load and disappears.
Svetlana takes the bottle, locates the opener under the bar with a little assistance from my pointing finger, lays the drink and a glass before me then scurries to the far corner. I pour a bit until the creamy head hits the top of the tilted edge and then I let it settle. I look around and consider this day of mine, this year, these two years in fact, without your mother and I feel tired and, if I'm honest, afraid. My hand passes over the stubble on my chin again as I watch the cream float up. Then I cough and grunt my worries out of me, there's no going back now, son. No going back.
To my left, through the long windows that reach the floor, I watch the cars go by. I recognise one or two: Audi A8, that would be Brennan from Duncashel, owns the cement factory; Skoda Octavia with the missing left hub will be Mick Moran. There's Lavin's jalopy parked right outside his newsagents. An ancient red Ford Fiesta. Gives me the greatest pleasure to park in that spot whenever I find it vacant.
'You can't be parking there, Hannigan,' he'd shout, hanging out his driver's window once he'd arrived back from wherever he'd been. 'I can't be expected to be lugging the deliveries up and down the town now, can I?' His head'd be bobbing madly with that mop of wild hair, his car double parked, holding up the town. 'Do you not see the sign? No parking, day or night.'
'Course, I'd be leaning against his wall, reading the paper.
'Hold on to your tights there, Lavin,' I'd say, giving the paper a good rustling, 'it was an emergency.'
'Is getting the morning paper considered an emergency now?'
'I can always bring my business elsewhere.'
'Oh, that you would, Hannigan. Oh, that you would.'
'The newsagents in Duncashel has a coffee machine now, I hear.'
'You can move your feckin' Jeep on your way over so.'
'Not one for the coffee me,' I say, clicking open my door before getting in and sticking her into reverse.
It's the simple things, son, the simple things.
It's the end of the shopper's shift it seems. Hands wave, horns beep. Driver windows are down with elbows sticking out, having the final chat before heading home with full boots to a night in front of the telly. Some of them might be back out later, of course, transformed into shiny things. Eager to show off the new outfits and hairdos.
I raise the glass and pour again until it's full, ready for its final rest. My fingers, with their dark, crust-filled crevices, tap the side, to encourage it on. I take one last look in the mirror, raise my drink to himself there and swallow down the blessed first sip.
You can't beat the creamy depth of a glass of stout. Giving sustenance to the body and massaging the vocal cords on its way down. That's another thing about my voice, it makes me come across as younger. Oh, yes, if I'm on the blower it doesn't let on that I host a hundred haggard wrinkles, or dentures that have a mind of their own. It pretends I'm a fine thing, distinguished and handsome. A man to be reckoned with. On that, it's not wrong. Don't know where I got it from – the only one in the family blessed with the gift. It was how I drew them in, those out-of-town estate agents; not that they needed much convincing, what with our farm being on the royal side of the Meath–Dublin border, the envy of all around.
But those boys with their swanky ties and shiny shoes couldn't get enough of the place when I told them how far and wide she ran; nodding their heads, like those dogs in the back of people's cars. Rest assured, I put them through their paces. Let no man try to take my money without earning every brass farthing. Walked the length and breadth of my land until they couldn't see the colour of their shoes. All of them as eager as the next to get the business. No flies on them cowsheds, as my father would have said. I chose one in the end to sell my little empire to the highest bidder, Anthony Farrell. Had to be him – not because he impressed me with his patter, one was no different from the other in that respect. Nor was it the canny curve of his lip; it was simply that he shared your Uncle Tony's name. Seventy years dead and I still idolise the man. Young Anthony proved me right in my choice, not stopping 'til he'd the house and business sold for a hefty sum. I closed her up last night, the house.
I've been packing up each room over the last year. A bit every day. I named each box so you'll know what's what: Maurice, Sadie, Kevin, Noreen, Molly – hers was the smallest. All that loading and lugging nearly killed me, though. Only for the young lads Anthony sent over, I'd never have managed. Their names won't come to me now, Derek or Des, or ... sure what does it matter? Mostly, I pretended to help; more the director of operations. They were well capable; you don't expect that of youngsters too often these days.
I kept the essentials out 'til this morning when Anthony took the last box in his car. It felt strange, Kevin, letting it all go. The smallness of that final box sitting in his passenger seat caught me. Not that there was anything precious in it, just the kettle, the radio, my few bits of clothes, shaving gear, you get the picture. I threw out what was left in the skip I hired. The Meath Chronicles were the last to get chucked. Never without the Meath Chronicle for the local mart news and the GAA results, even though I'd have watched the games on the Sunday. It was the local and county matches that interested me most. I must've had six months' worth of the thing piled up beside me on the sofa, in one big cascading mess by the end. Of course, when Sadie was around I'd have never gotten away with that. But, if I positioned them right, you see, they kept my tea at the perfect height. No sudden movements mind, not that there was any fear of that, I'm not as nimble getting off the couch these days.
Anthony is to store the boxes some place off near his office. Our lives in Dublin now – hard to believe. The important leftovers I have with me. In my inner breast pocket there's my wallet, a pen and some paper for the few notes, given my increasing forgetfulness. In the outer ones I have the hotel room key, weighty and solid; my father's brown and black pipe, never smoked by me but worn shiny and smooth from my thumb's persistent rubbing; a couple of pictures; a handful of receipts; my glasses; your mother's purse for her hairpins; my phone; and a couple of rubber bands, paper clips and safety pins – well, you never know when you might need them. And of course there's your whiskey, out of sight, wrapped up in the Dunnes Stores bag at my feet.
You'll be wondering about Gearstick, the dog. Bess, the cleaner, took him. Adam and Caitríona might be a bit upset by that. I know they loved playing with him on the trips home. Them with their leashes and him never been near one before in his life. Still he took it gracefully and walked under their guidance for the week or so you'd be around. A gentler soul, you wouldn't find anywhere.
Do you remember your mother when I got him first? But sure you were long gone by then. She was all: 'You can't be calling the poor wee thing Gearstick,' and him after chewing the gearstick in the car all the way home.
And I said:
'Sure what does he care?'
That was the first and only time he was ever in the house. Of recent months I've left the back door open, trying to coax him in. He'd reluctantly step over the threshold into the back hall, poking his head around the kitchen door but only to let me know he was there. Panting, he'd wait in expectation of some outing or other. No amount of cajoling with a bit of Carroll's sliced ham or even the fat of a rasher could bring him any further. I'd have been happy for him to sit with me as I watched the telly or even to just lie under the table when I was having dinner. But there was no budging him. I suppose I've not been afraid to raise a stick to him over the years so he wasn't going to risk it. In the end, he just lay down and slept on the muddied mat, drifting off listening to the muffled sounds of my life.
The day Bess came for him, she brought the whole family, husband and three children. All stood around smiling at each other, me doing my best impression of one, nodding and pretending we knew what the other was saying. They're from the Philippines; at least I think so, somewhere out foreign anyhow. The children bounded up and down the yard with Gearstick for a bit. He obliged, jumping and skitting alongside.
'What he eat?' Bess asked.
'Anything you have leftover.'
'You feed him dinner?'
'What's left, you know. A bit of bread soaked in milk, even.'
She looked at me, her brow contorting like I'd just farted. I could feel the will seep out of me.
'Anything, sure. Feed him anything.' I'd had enough. I stroked Gearstick's ear and watched his head tilt and his eyes close one last time.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "When All Is Said"
Copyright © 2019 Anne Griffin.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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