“We’ll be making tracks before they break up,” he whispered to Crowley as the gravediggers tossed in the first shovelfuls of clay, and away he went, hopping like a goat from grassy hump to hump. The drivers, who were probably in the same state as himself, though without months of abstinence to put an edge to it, looked up hopefully.
“Are they nearly finished, Mic
k,” bawled one.
“All over now bar the last prayers,” trumpeted Father in the tone of one who brings news of great rejoicing.
The carriages passed us in a lather of dust several hundred yards from the public-house, and Father, whose feet gave him trouble in hot weather, quickened his pace, looking nervously over his shoulder for any sign of the main body of mourners crossing the hill. In a crowd like that a man might be kept waiting.
When we did reach the pub the carriages were drawn up outside, and solemn men in black ties were cautiously bringing out consolation to mysterious females whose hands reached out modestly from behind the drawn blinds of the coaches. Inside the pub there were only the drivers and a couple of shawly women. I felt if I was to act as a brake at all, this was the time, so I pulled Father by the coattails.
“Dadda, can’t we go home now?” I asked.
“Two minutes now,” he said, beaming affectionately. “Just a bottle of lemonade and we’ll go home.”
This was a bribe, and I knew it, but I was always a child of weak character. Father ordered lemonade and two pints. I was thirsty and swallowed my drink at once. But that wasn’t Father’s way. He had long months of abstinence behind him and an eternity of pleasure before. He took out his pipe, blew through it, filled it, and then lit it with loud pops, his eyes bulging above it. After that he deliberately turned his back on the pint, leaned one elbow on the counter in the attitude of a man who did not know there was a pint behind him, and deliberately brushed the tobacco from his palms. He had settled down for the evening. He was steadily working through all the important funerals he had ever attended. The carriages departed and the minor mourners drifted in till the pub was half full.
“Dada,” I said, pulling his coat again, “can’t we go home now?”
“Ah, your mother won’t be in for a long time yet,” he said benevolently enough. “Run out in the road and play, can’ you?”
It struck me as very cool, the way grown-ups assumed that you could play all by yourself on a strange road. I began to get bored as I had so often been bored before. I knew Father was quite capable of lingering there till nightfall. I knew I might have to bring him home, blind drunk, down Blarney Lane, with all the old women at their doors, saying: “Mick Delaney is on it again.” I knew that my mother would be half crazy with anxiety; that next day Father wouldn’t go out to work; and before the end of the week she would be running down to the pawn with the clock under her shawl. I could never get over the lonesomeness of the kitchen without a clock.
I was still thirsty. I found if I stood on tiptoe I could just reach Father’s glass, and the idea occurred to me that it would be interesting to know what the contents were like. He had his back to it and wouldn’t notice. I took down the glass and sipped cautiously. It was a terrible disappointment. I was astonished that he could even drink such stuff. It looked as if he had never tried lemonade.