Cathal Gunning

Time Gentlemen

Cathal Gunning

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“Time, gentlemen!”

The phrase is exuberant, a clarion call rather than a half-threat.

It’s in the way he says it.

The delivery, Dickie thinks to himself, is key. It’s one of many mantras Dickie repeats to himself, echoing in his head as the night progresses into the next day. The build and break of a dance; from the nervy pre-show pints of porter, to the draughty cavern of the hall before the show, to the sweating walls and all-too-soon late night goodbye kisses, the piling into the van and praying the engine doesn’t die on a cold country road.

It’s missing a “please”, though. Obviously, your man’s too young to close the place on his own.

Dickie Lovett, aging, freezing, and wishing he was smoking, sits with the Blue Eyed Souls. Or rather, with the group who’ll be referred to as the “original line up” in years to come. Years after breaking the states, and breaking up, and getting the band back together, and getting on in years.

Beside him sits Barry Connelly, a competent, reliable drummer and incompetent, unreliable anything else. If Dickie is the brain, they say, Barry’s the heart, hot blood and bad decisions, but never out of time. Always able to keep the beat.

Barry’s doing his level best to start an argument with the young lad behind the bar. The lad’s a kid, not yet shaven, smiling and nodding in return to Barry’s provocations. It’s not the last time Barry will talk his way into and back out of a fight, but while the marriages never recover, him and Dickie will be back on speaking terms before they pass on, God rest them.

It’ll take a decade for Dickie to get over Barry showing up too drunk to shoot the Late Late, blue suit stained brown-black with spilt Murphy’s, but they’ll finally get to play that set in Thurles Community Centre, the same suit coming out of retirement for the occasion, worse for wear but free from drink, like its owner.

The young lad puts his hands up in mock defeat before ducking beneath the bar, clearing away the last of the glasses. He’s not sure what Barry wants to fight about, but he knows he’s talked him out of it. It’s a magnanimous look, a smarmy, head-tilted concession to his elder. The kid, Donal, will perfect this look in years to come. He’ll need it as he non-apologises his way through three decades of press conferences and Dail sessions. For his troubles, Donal will be known as either the best TD the constituency ever had or a smarmy prick, always able to shirk accusations of incompetence until the mother and baby home scandal burns his legacy a decade before he dies.

By the time Donal realises Barry was right and he did short-change him, the Blue Eyed Souls are long gone and any attempts to call them back would be more trouble than they’re worth, Donal will inform Francis, his toothy, trustworthy grin taking another practice run as he does.

Francis walks past the band again, kicking up the hem of her skirt as she does. She smiles at Sean when she catches him shining at her, and he feels his face heat up, red and smiling and looking from the floor to the ceiling, anywhere to avoid returning her too-confident gaze. They’d have you before you’d even know, Barry had informed him once, though Sean would never admit he wasn’t certain what he meant.

Donal doesn’t like the look his cousin’s giving the bashful bass player- of all the lads to pick, a glorified second string guitarist. She, though, isn’t fond of the half-angry glances he’s getting from Barry, so Donal decides he’ll let it pass without comment tonight. He needn’t worry himself.

If there’s anyone Donal ought to worry about, it’s Johnny, whose intentions with Francis would be less Christian than Sean’s; at least, in the small village of Aughagower’s limited understanding of what is and isn’t Christian.

Johnny’s the heartbreaker, all winks and tousled hair, a guitar-man who could take the stage with no instrument and leave with a standing ovation anyway. He’s got a good woman who loves him way back in Wexford, and one who hates him in Crossmolina; he’s left a baby in the wrong one. Not that it matters in the grand scheme of things.

Born Mark, a good Christian name, Johnny will never return to the name. He wouldn’t have done so even if he had the time. He won’t make much of a father, given that he won’t grow up to be a man, instead belting the motorcycle he hasn’t fully paid off through an old oak which comes out of nowhere on an early Saturday morning two weeks before his twentieth birthday.

The baby will be born, and the proceeds of a few stressed, depressed late albums will go towards its nominal care. She’ll be cared for by the state in a mother and baby home, a run-down airless convent in remote county Mayo. An episode of Prime Time intended to catch up with the baby tragic Johnny McCormack left behind will end up uncovering more, prompting two decades of investigations and tribunals, outraging the country and tarnishing the good names of local public figures.

Dickie Lovett will be black-listed by the national broadcaster when, during a heated debate about the allegations, he refers to those accused as “craven cunts”; he’ll call the broadcaster the same when they enquire about documenting the surprise success of his comeback two decades later.

Sean stands outside in the too cold, hoping no one sees him bounce from heel to toe, his dress brogues a size too big, borrowed from his uncle and slipping another little infinitesimal bit out of place with each step he takes. He’s caught, of course, by who else but Francis, who says nothing but laughs, an uncontrollable little jolt of a giggle that says it all, really. Sean smiles and looks away again, though this time he does look back. Small steps; baby steps. She takes it upon herself to walk over to him, and stands expectantly, her gaze patient, until he takes the hint and offers her a cigarette. Francis’ confidence won’t dim, and she’ll have fun, fun, fun even after the banks take her father’s farm away. Not that it’ll matter to her; she’ll have escaped to the states by then, and will run through various lives as an actress, and a writer, and an artist, and a musician herself. She’ll marry more than once, losing the husbands and keeping the kids.

Sean shares his cigarette, watching Francis’ eyes as she takes a drag, a long theatrical one, a big show of a thing. In a handful of interviews archived in the pages of glossy American magazines, he’ll admit, looking to the floor as he does, that he never really fell in love for more than a night at a time. He’ll say he wants that to change, and the older he gets the more he’ll mean it.

Sean will forget what her face looks like, the way she’ll forget his. By the time a woman calls into 2FM on an afternoon show in late autumn 2008, it’ll take him a while to humour the host, pretending to recall the caller, until her laugh lilts as she says she met her first husband that night, and “God only knows where I’d be if it weren’t for Dickie Lovett and the Blue Eyed Souls”.

In the studio, Sean will barely seem to lose his composure, the lines of his aging face lighting up with recognition. For a second he’ll be Sean again, enthralled with a girl who seems so much more like a woman, this “almost-nineteen” year old who’s going “to America someday, soon”, with a smile and a borrowed cigarette.

The reunion will lead to a coffee date, both trying to appear cultured and worldly, ordering an Americano and an almond latte, as their respective adult children coached them to. He’ll smile sheepishly into his cup as he admits “Life’s been good”, and she’ll elide details of why her first marriage wasn’t her last. She’ll watch him, now sure enough of himself to return her gaze when she does, and this might go somewhere.

Tonight, Dickie stares at the dregs in an almost empty pint glass. He looks around at the bar, the improv band of part-timers he’s daisy-chained together temporarily mingling with what’s left of the local contingent with mixed results. Someday, they’ll be Dickie Lovett, the showman, Barry Connelly, the dreamer, Sean and Francis, the reluctant lovebirds, Mark, the disgraced TD, and Johnny, the kid forever.

Tomorrow, though, there’s a dance on. And wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could have a good one without things getting messy, Dickie thinks. Another maxim to live by; maybe if he thinks and wishes and prays, it might come true and all. There’s a first time for everything.

Cathal Gunning

Born in Blackrock, Cathal splits his time between Dublin and Mayo. He contributed "Malahide" to the collective 'Snakes of Various Consistency', and he is an editor and co-founder of the online poetry, non-fiction, and literature collective 'Cold Coffee Stand' ( His story "Hearts/Sinews" was short-listed for the Hennessy New Irish Writing competition and his poetry has been published in The Rose Magazine ('Hark', Issue 4). His debut novel 'Innocents' will be published by Solstice on September 27th, 2017. Excerpts from 'Innocents' have been short-listed for the 2015 Maeve Binchy Award and the Cuttyhunk Island Writer's Residency.