When Can Wild Longings Fade
“I wouldn’t tell you this if I didn’t mean it, brother. I’m crazy about this girl.”
James’ eyes were serious. He did not break his gaze, besides the occasional glance at the head of his Guinness. It hadn’t settled. His hand rested by the glass, almost casually were it not for the small smile he gave when my eyes drifted from the still churning stout back to his clean-shaven mug. A wink. His fingers wouldn’t touch the glass until it was properly settled.
“I need to tell her.” He was right. Over his shoulder and against the well-worn walls of the King’s Head I watched her as the tonight’s Irishman ran his hands through the frizz of her red hair. He saw it too, without looking. And as his eyes held steady against mine his hand found the round base of his pint glass.
He was right. He needed to tell her, for better or worse. I turned away from the bar and leaned against the old-seeming wood, my shoulder nearly brushing against James’ intent face. “You’re right, J. You need to tell her.” He nodded with the seriousness we felt the moment demanded, and our glasses met with a faint “Slainte.”
Not now, of course. He couldn’t tell her now. Her Irishman held her with conversation, her blue eyes staring rapturously at his accent, her red lips subtly tracing his words as he spoke them. Her smile was genuine and it was glorious and it wasn’t ours. And as her night progressed, our stout drinks declined and James flung foam from his upper lip as the Irishman swung her across the boards towards the upstairs balcony.
“I need to get out of here.” He was right.
We downed our Guinness as she dipped low and we marched off with romantic disdain. We didn’t speak a word about what we had seen. The Good Guys had lost. The Good Guys were drunk. And now their worn brown Sperry’s brought creaks out of the King’s Head stairs to mix with the empty thuds of Calvin Harris.
I followed James’ strong, wounded walk through the pub. I felt for him. Wanted to get the hell out of there for him. But that wasn’t James. As he walked his long green mile towards the exit he grasped every outstretched hand in his. “I’ll see you tomorrow, brother,” said my own kind of noble vision of a Dean Moriarty. Blood fresh drawn he ignored the stain and moved among the tables, leaning in, catching the warm smiles of friends and new friends and acquaintances. “Tremendous night, pal.” He enlivened them each with his own cool beat of one-liners and call-backs. And he meant it, somehow. He spoke it all with an honesty Kerouac sought and a sincerity he never found. “Go Rangers.”
I followed as this Galway Dean waded through the small circles of Americans who danced and flirted and kissed between the chords that drove them to swarm the cover song-drenched stage and past the students who nervously fingered colored Euro notes as the Irish barmen leaned in to hear their orders and let slip a crack. Light beer again. Fucking Yanks. The pub begged us to stay as we burst out free men onto Shop Street.
Our unsure feet met the cobblestone with purpose and we stumbled with vision through the winding streets. The trad pouring from Tis Coili tempted us. The fiddle overcame her red walls as its strings out-danced the quickened souls within. Perhaps there were girls. Fairer, even. And new. The Bodhran’s relentless beat sought to entrance us. But whatever was true and Irish in us was weak that night and we tossed it aside and moved towards our only possible refuge.
And so I listened as I bit through the golden casing of my first nugget, and in that plastic booth James let slip the wild longings of his heart. He wanted to be a writer and he hoped to find love and man what he could do and see if he just had a little more euro. He ran his hands — once so reluctant to disturb his pint glass — through his hair until the golden waves crested around his ears. His eyes met mine again, wild now but no less certain.
“Chris, I’m crazy about her.” His eyes steadied again, calmed by repeating his revelation. His hands settled around his McChicken. “I feel like I’ve met a special girl in a special place, and I have to do something.”
“That’s not funny.”
“I mean it.”
“Oh.” He took a bite from his sandwich, mayo regaining the ground once held by the Dublin stout. It’s a funny thing when two romantics learn each other. A vulnerable thing. For all their lifely passion — for that girl; for that view, can you believe it; for that shine of the world that can only be seen from a wing-backed chair, leg over knee, with a whiskey in hand — romantics are alone. They live so vividly in the mind, feel so much the pain and beauty of the world, suffer through the jokes and the advice that never suits them. Oh, just have some confidence. Too raw to the world for that. They come at last to wonder if perhaps, just maybe, it really is only they that get it. And then they meet another.
“You ought to go for it. You have to,” I said, knowing nothing.
He leaned back, chewing softly, and raised his left arm and rested it across the top of our booth. An illusion of calm. Beyond him, two Irishmen sought to resolve with fists the confounding question of which one, precisely, was a “fucking cunt.” James smiled as their voices rose but he kept looking through me. Testing himself and testing me. How deep could he go? How deep can one possibly go in McDonald’s? Does he really get it?
‘Charge of the Light Brigade, man. Go for it.”
James’ eyes lit up as he lifted himself off the booth’s hard plastic. “Charge of the Light Brigade,” he said. Almost resolutely.
“You know it?”
“Half a league…”
“Their’s not to reason why…”
We smiled. After a half hour of lost love and shared dreams and the bitter knowledge of other men, after a month of Billy Joel and burner phones and holes in the wall, we had hit on something. Ours was not to reason why. Ours was for James to do and die. It was a rare moment when the shine came without the whiskey.
“I’m going to do it.” Purpose seemed to fill him as he stuffed his napkins into the half-full cartridge of fries. We rose from the table and let go our garbage into the metal bins. The odds were against him, sure. Was she still there? And the Irishman? All the world wondered. But James pushed the glass doors open and the mild September air rushed to meet us. “I’m going to do it,” he said, as somewhere horns from Tennyson’s age blared and men rode onwards. We didn’t see the cannons in front of him as he readied his charge.
I fell back as I watched my Dean roar back to the King’s Head. Shop Street still held life. Men walked with jagged steps along the soft-lit stones, arms across each other or shoving into shoulders with a laugh. Couples moved handheld, pulling each other close to feel the light breeze together as they strolled towards the Quays or maybe over the dark Corrib to Monroe’s for a quiet drink. They crowds seemed to move without worry, drunk on music or stout or each other. But James moved past them and through them and around them until he strode back through the broad, old red doors.
Was there a man dismayed?
On that night, there was not, no matter they blundered.