The Whiskey Trinity (Fiction)

by NJ McGarrigle

I. FALSE DAWN

Call me old-fashioned. Call me that, for that is what I am.

This was the day I won your heart; a day sketched in sepia.  A day of eagerly opening doors, clasping warm hands, and hoisting an umbrella against the grey pitter-patter Dublin rain.  It was a day for a gentleman’s heart to rise from its slumber and fight against the groundswell of the grunts. A day spent well with a languorous lunch and a gallery stuffed with art, to tickle our already tendered minds.

Then, the early evening revival of sweet cakes and strong coffee followed by a screening of ‘The Third Man’, to take us deeper into a world we somehow lost along the way.

For my love’s prettiness was worth a film alone. She had a smile that burst the sky and green eyes of uncharted promise. Her full lips could’ve inspired Ellington’s ‘Prelude To A Kiss’ as she sashayed straight out of the pages of a Fitzgerald novel – beautiful, be damned!

I tried but I could not count the lucky stars blinking down on me that October night.

The Liffey lapped its approval as we walked over the Ha’penny Bridge, in hope of crossing to the next stage, as expectation was not a word for a day like this.  Our talk was filled with things we cherished: old friends, old wine, old books, and old rhymes.

Can it have been all so different then?

The wind blew you close towards me and I scented your perfume, which lifted me back to the sweet apple orchard of my youth, and forward to the spring flowers of my future arrangements.

But why did it take me so long to blossom and get to you?

A cocktail for the road home, or the ditch depending on how my luck held out. I chuckled when you scrunched up your freckled nose – like a little rabbit, remember? Sipping your martini:

‘Too much vermouth and too little gin.’

‘We better have another one so, just to break it in.’

I stuck to the whiskey, with a dash of water to cool my overheated heart.

Already, your laughter said something I will never let go of. I moved closer to stroke the small beauty mark by your ear; for by now you knew my intentions clear.

Yet, fear is always measured in small moments.

‘The sunlight clasps the earth, and the moonbeams kiss the sea: What is all this sweet work worth, if thou kiss not me?’

II. THE LITTLE JUG

The welcoming glow of the fire in the small, whitewashed cottage was the only light greeting them when they returned from their evening walk on the strand. The shadows of the room lolled familiarly against the walls. A warm air and the aroma from the beef bourguignon cooking in the kitchen lifted the chill from their faces. Sarah went to check on the food, while Conor placed a couple of pine blocks on top of the blaze and lit the candles by the windows looking out to the sea.

‘Smells good,’ he said to his wife, blowing out the match.

‘Another 45 minutes and it should be ready,’ said Sarah, ‘let’s have a drink to warm us by the fire in the meantime. I’ll bring in the jug of water.’

He lifted down two heavy bottomed tumblers and the bottle of whiskey from a shelf in the oak bookcase – they always kept their booze in good company, Flann O’Brien on one side and Turgenev on the other – and set them on the coffee table near the sofa, before pouring two good measures. Sitting down, he studied his drink, the fire seemingly caressing and coaxing out its deep complexity. Sarah came in from the kitchen with the little porcelain jug and kicked off her boots before curling up beside him on the sofa. The walk in the cool spring air revived their minds and settled their bodies for the night. Conor leaned forward and put a little water in his wife’s glass – he never measured how much, somehow he just knew  – and handed it to her. He sat back and pulled Sarah into him as they watched the blaze roar up the wide chimney chute, with a crack from the wood splitting the silence now and again.

His mind drifted back to when he started going out with her all those years ago and how he thought then that he would never be able to make her happy. She was ambitious, driven and always wanted to be on the move. Then one night, they had come home late, from dinner at a friend’s place, and over a nightcap he told her about this little white stonewashed country cottage he had been bequeathed years ago by his elderly aunt, who had never married. He said he intended to use the place as a weekend getaway and they both talked long into the night, with more whiskey being poured along with water from the little porcelain jug until the light streamed through the window and a new dawn bounced off their empty glasses.

III. THE LIFE-GIVING DROP

The rain outside made him thirsty, while thoughts of old lovers trickled down into the empty well of his mind as he lay in bed. Their images came to him like faded postcards from his life, some torn and frayed, yet each one a snapshot of a fond, far off land, now frozen in time.

Remembering every line of their bodies with the precision of an Ordnance Survey map, he placed each glorious detail of a freckle or beauty mark in their rightful places. He recalled rambles across pale white, sensual slopes, and discovering dark, lowlands of desire, which transported him back to those tender moments of respect, when he bowed his head to worship at the altar of the female form.

Woman’s existential softness keeps us brutes from tearing each other to shreds, he thought, for they are the grace notes in this strange harmony of life.

He remembered his first true love E. and blessed the ground where she now stands, for it was she who found light, where only shadows stood before. Her fresh flower of youth gave him his first taste of wine and honey and they both drank in deep, long draughts until drunk with love. Only then did they find that the clay with which they were shaping their lives was made arid by the dull hand of a father, caked in bitter barrenness.

Turning on to his side, the vision of T. appeared. She struck a chord in his heart and changed his tune so that their future song was left gloriously unwritten. In the end, her brass bed became rusted from her veil of tears but he was glad to have lived long enough to see her flood of change come pure, and he pictured her, a child again, leaping playfully from stone to stone above the deluge.

Then his mind turned to his greatest love of all: B.

Being with her, he felt like he held poetry in his hand; that he had finally unlocked the secret to tip the stark reality of the world into a rolling dream of the senses, where even her night-sleep breath fell upon his ear as though it were the beating of his heart.  But she became heroin to him, exhilarating yet destructive, so that it shuddered his very essence and he needed a long time to kick her from his soul.

But he never did and, even now, he sometimes wishes for one sweet hit from her sunshine smile.

He lay on his back again. The door opened softly and he raised his head from the pillow to see the palliative nurse come in: R. was beautiful. She had white blonde hair cut up like a boy’s and heavily waxed, so that it looked like a shower of sparks flying upwards, while her blue eyes seemed to break a little piece of the sky every time she blinked. Leaning over him to adjust his pillows, she asked if he wanted a little water and he nodded his head, for he wanted that more than anything else in the world.

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