Upstairs was home. Sometimes we could see smoke seeping through the floorboards, feel the thump of the jukebox, the thrum of drunken voices. We were used to the noise, always there, the backdrop to every moment of our lives, a constant other world muffled by floorboards and linoleum. Good Friday was the only day of the year that our pub was closed and completely quiet. It was the day I would hang from a window pleading and hurling Christian morals at every back door caller,- fellows I’d seen in movies lost in the deserts for days, lips dry and scabby, delirious.
“Can he not have one day off in the whole year.”
The Rajah, my father thought I was a great little spitfire, well able for them all. He would laugh at me encouragingly while slowly rising from the couch he was buried in to descend to the blackness below and sell the ‘poor fuckers’ what they wanted from the back door. He felt sorry for their gasping. I couldn’t understand that on his one day off they wouldn’t leave him be. The day God died for them all. My rage would swell as I watched him sigh, open his trousers to tuck in his shirt, neatening himself as his large frame changed from beaten to bright.
“Howaya lads, what’s up?’
“Can’t you just say go away Da? …Da can’t you? …can’t you
“Might as well close up then ducks.” He was resigned.
But that never stopped me. I stayed on sentry duty each good Friday minding my father’s rest, managing to put the run on the ones that didn’t have the nerve to ring the doorbell after my torrent of morals. Grown men walked away from my scolding, jumpy, not up to getting past me, nerves shattered. I figured God was proud of me as they walked away.
I could never make up my mind which God I liked the most. God the son like the fellow in the telly with the beard and the piercing blue eyes, kindness oozing out of Him. Or God the father; a bigger man altogether, kind too but you wouldn’t cross Him. God the holy ghost wasn’t touchable at all, little white doves, tongues of fire, ripples of light, sun shimmering through trees. I wasn’t sure but I knew He couldn’t be done without. I imagined conversations with each one of them but I always managed to say something stupid. God daydreams were not very satisfying.
“There’s a priest in the kitchen!” I could not turn my back for a second.
“That’s not a priest, it’s a friar stupid.”
“What’s he doing?”
“There’s nowhere else for him to drink, he can’t very well drink in the Friary in front of all the people praying can he.”
“Who let him in.” I raged.
“Da felt sorry for him.”
It was weird eating dinner in front of a friar drinking whiskey. My mother offered him fish but he didn’t want any. I didn’t blame him. I hated fish. He sat in our kitchen in the armchair by the window, staring and drinking. Each time he sipped he scrunched up his face as if he was sucking lemons. I watched his feet, no socks, sandals, winter and summer, suffering for God. As a result his feet were white and dry with snot coloured nails like hooves peeping out under his brown dress. He never said a word to us nor give us any money.
“Don’t say anything in school to anyone about the friar in the kitchen.”
“And what if the nuns hear?”
Another furtive knock at the door.
“Everybody stay where you are, I’ll get it,” I said.
“Yes!” I said like God the father in a temper.
“Is your father there?”
“No he’s not why?”
“Ask him will he get me a few drinks, will you, good girl.”
“I will not! Do you realise that this is his only day off in the whole year. In the whole year!”
“Howaya Mick, alright alright.” My Da, the Rajah loomed behind me, making a right eejit out of me, incensing me further.
Mick was a very good customer so he was allowed to drink in our sitting room. His poor wife was sick and he couldn’t be bothering her by drinking at home. Sticky Heart was allowed too, Jack (the lad) Martins, Murt Ryan, Finbar whatever his name, Mary (God love her) McCarthy. There was enough of them to squeeze my mother up to her bedroom. Quiet upstairs, quiet downstairs. By evening on Good Fridays our sitting room would be full of our best customers who all found it in their hearts to call me aside.
“I love your father do you know that.”
“ The Rajah and me” brown fingers crossed, “we’re like that!”
“You look after your father now won’t you, I love your father.”
Drawing by Kathy Tynan