That morning, news of life ending and life stirring. Beignard, my old buddy, the one they called The Whale for some mysterious reason, had succumbed to the lung cancer, at last, while Victoria, my neighbour, was pregnant, it’s more frequent than sunrise, she said. What is? Having a baby, she said. My mouth might have fallen open or I may have let slip an involuntary groan. You’ve been drinking, she said. What could I say? I slid down the stairs to the street and along the way to join the retired men on a quayside bench, listening as they recalled Beignard, yellow teeth rattling in laughter, in the heart of darkness which binds all beings of the jungle, Beignard, where is all that old talk now, they laugh, one of them stammering like a man who has received multiple blows to the head, hard to make out what he was saying about the dead man?
Later, I was at the removal of Beignard at the Northgate Bridge, O’Connor Brothers Funeral Home. Removals, I thought, as frequent as sunsets. The old boys had gathered of course, hanging around outside chewing the breeze, how he had gone fast in the end, larger than life wasn’t he, how are things, I was asked by an old pal, Harry the Hat, very good, I said, poor old Beignard. We whiled away many afternoons in The Ship, said Harry, where the fleas ate the man. A fellow called Billy approached, at a funeral we meet again, he said, then sticking a finger in Harry’s belly said, you’re as bad as me. The coffin emerged from the mortuary, borne on the strong shoulders of grandsons and neighbours. It was slid into the back of the hearse. I adapted the demeanour of a character I’d seen in a film who had mastered a deadpan expression. The line of the cheek-bone is taut, the small lips are pursed. The pupils in the blue-grey eyes penetrate the gloom. Are you going for a pint, Harry the Hat asked? Can a swim duck, as the great man said, I said, but later, in some strange confusion found myself alone. The lights of the town rose in a cluster from the river, winking at the evening creeping up from the harbour. My hands gripped the railings of a quayside barrier, I slumped forward suddenly devoid of energy. The bloated corpse of a dead mullet bobbled against the slime of the wall like Beignard in his coffin and not a single word from him. His face was yellow verging on green. His heavy lids were closed tight above his imperial nose, a tuft of black hair in a nostril. His lips were glued together in a sickly smile. The monotonous drone of the three decades of the rosary didn’t ruffle a hair on his head. When I recalled being in the convent with the nuns studying for Holy Communion, Beignard our main man in the dust free corridors and huge windows to the convent garden, knew more than anyone having been born and reared for the first three years of his life in Dublin, told us that the nuns were God’s harem, no-one knew what a harem was so Beignard explained that every night the nuns had intercourse with God, what’s that, said a fellow called Wallace, and later, much later than Holy Communion, we have progressed to Confirmation, a talk on the evils of masturbation by visiting Redemptorist priests, a topic which again Beignard illustrated for us later with some colourful explanations. Low tide. A cormorant glided above the surface of the water, swans gliding under a bridge. Mustering enough energy to push myself off the railings, I began to make my way along the quay, somewhere to go, I thought again, an appointment, but where? I strayed along the North Mall, passing a bar from which voices poured, the painted facade was an attractive yellow and red, the row of fairy lights above the entrance and paper lanterns swinging from the branches of spruce trees, beginning to take over with the advancing dusk, as I passed along, and for a moment believed I heard the voice of Beignard himself. I swung about and drifted back the way I had come until I found myself outside St. Mary’s on Pope’s Quay where at last, a silence and serenity fell upon me. I became so listless that the next step was problematic. I sat on a bench that happened to be there, just there where I might have fallen. A low hum of human voices came out of the portals of the church. It must be prayers, I thought. All the time we are praying. We never stop, even when cursing and beating each other up, the prayers are lurking in our hearts and we have no idea how to quieten them.
Edward Mc Whinney of Cork is a regular contributor to Contrary. Read more of his work here.