A Short Story by Jack Lynch

She deliberated on what she would write and how she should phrase it. It should be in simple English and the words clearly printed and well-spaced. Her address was clear and her request for an answer courteous. The wine bottle was washed and well-dried. She scrolled the page and inserted it. Then, how to make a good seal on the bottle that would preserve her message against the storms and the seasons? To this end she’d been advised to dip the cork in some melted wax. When she was hopefully secure in all these considerations, she picked a receding tide and threw the bottle under-arm as far as she could. “On a fin and a prayer,” she said to herself, holding the wrist that had released her dispatch.

He was, without calling himself one, a beachcomber. Then again, on a country lane his eye still scanned the ditches for kindling, and in the town, he was alert to dropped coins. The bottle lay there on the tide-line necklace of flotsam. The cork was jammed tight. There seemed to be something behind the misted green glass. He dropped a rock on it, picked out the letter, un-scrolled it and read.

His reply was considered too. This could be the start of a promising dialogue. He signed his response with an attempt at a flourish. His address was as clearly printed as he could make it. Now he was checking the seal. From the cliff-top he hurled his bottle over-arm and watched it cart-wheeling over and over and into the tide.

 © Jack Lynch 2017

I can see him now as I recall a photograph uncovered some years back, faded then, or maybe it was the slant of the sun leeching the street white. A small boy in short pants, holding by his side what may be a seaside bucket, cropped by a corner of the frame. He squints slightly over freckles as he regards the street photographer. The woman who holds his hand (they seem manacled together by her bangles) wears a white summer dress with an indistinct flower pattern, her lips almost as dark as her sunglasses and swept-back hair. Young adult vanity has slowed her almost to a pose. If that is D’Olier Street in the background, with sun-awnings and hatted men, this must be a fifties O’Connell bridge. Their fore-shortened shadows suggest early afternoon and a slight breeze blows off the river, fingering, as they say, her hair. 

     The framing is not level, the white street pitched by the photographer’s opportunism. Perhaps he is the creature I privately nicknamed ‘The Birdman’. A constant crow-like presence, seeming out of a Bergman film, stooped and beaked, avian, snapping and proffering a small blue studio card. I remember the soiled matt plumage of his coat. Where is he perched these last few years? I picture the young woman redeeming the photograph. She balances it between the index and thumb, as if the print were still wet. Her eye scans and measures the image of her figure.


     Here I am animating them in a new setting. By standing on the bench the boy is able to see, beyond the granite wall, the black and orange trunk of the train as it comes to a halt in the station, horse collar to the rear. On either side of him sit the woman and a man. They are looking out over the grassy bank onto Dun Laoghaire harbour. Gathered between the arms of the pier a cluster of small boats bob and tinkle on the flinty water. Gulls call above him as the train eases out of the station, continuing down the coast to Dalkey and Bray. He turns and jumps from the bench, rolling like a paratrooper as he hits the sward.

     The man is claiming how big a disappointment it is to him that, because of the weather, they can’t take his boat out today. The boy gazes out beyond the harbour mouth to where sails skim the roadstead.

     “Yes, it’s a shame,” repeats the man, “…but another time, perhaps…” he adds in an inflection laced with promise. 

     “Which one is it?” she asks.

     “That little red number…”

     He stretches out his arm, disclosing a signet cufflink and sights along it: “See?”, obliging the woman to incline her head towards his, “That’s her.”

     “The same colour as your car. Look, Simon. What’s it called?”


     She repeats the name for flavour.

     “I’ll have to change it to Kathleen,” he says.

     Her body laughs and he wins a glance.

     The boy considers the two red lightships moored inside the harbour wall. He reads the big white capitals on their sides. KISH. CONINBEG. Under their high lanterns they are solid and unmoving in the corrugated water. Peculiar, a ship that is also a lighthouse. The low building on his right is strange too, with a ship’s mast on its roof, a pennant fluttering from its cross-spar. A sausage dog on some trail leads a headscarved woman past.

     The toy black van with a loudspeaker on its roof bumps through the grass and daisies to stop an inch from the boy’s face. “The little red number,” he intones and reverses the van in an arc until it stops by his knee. The little red number, like a phrase on carbon. Behind him the woman chuckles in a sharp key. He has sensed that he should keep his distance.

     “Look, Simon, Mister Ron has a ronnie.” A precisely trimmed moustache.

     He looks up to meet the woman’s eyes. Her face is ruddy as Ron holds her in his gaze. He had winked at the boy in the driving mirror of the sportscar on the way here, his pencil moustache lengthening as he smiled and gunned the accelerator. The woman, cradling her handbag in her lap, had voiced a shrill cowgirl yelp in response to the low-slung momentum. The boy, inhaling, crouched behind, his face framed by the ripped leather seatbacks, noting their mysterious smell mixing with that of cigar. He studied the walnut dashboard with its array of dials and switches.


     He beeps as he overtakes a swastika’d laundry van. 

     “Ja Wohl! Ciggies in the glove-compartment, spangles in your eyes.”

     The woman splutters a giggle and unlatches the little walnut hatch. Her fingers, decorated with crimson nail varnish, choose a packet of Stuyvesant which nestles beside a camera in its buffed leather case. He flicks open a small lid to reveal the scuffed grill of the ashtray.


     The boy raises his head from the grass with a start as the sausage dog pants by on its return journey. The banging doors of another train echo from the station. He rises and runs back to his perch on the bench. The man and the woman are seated now, less giddy in their banter. Eyes wide to the rowdy exertion of the diesel, he counts the carriages out of the station.

     “Time for a portrait”, says the man, offering his arm, and the pair stride down the sloping lawn towards the sea. She stands with her back to the rail and draws the boys to her side.

     “Get your boat in the background.”

     Let’s give Ron a cravat. The man smoothes his cravat and raises the camera. He tells them to watch the dickie-bird and the lens blinks.

     “Now for a few on your own.”

     “Are you sure it’s loaded?”

     “Am I sure it’s loaded, she asks.”

     She pulls her cardigan tighter, angles her face. The shutter clicks repeatedly. She teases her hair, shows her teeth, turns her bracelet, swings her shoulders.

     “You’ve done this before”, he mews.

     Her shrill laugh is whipped away by the breeze.

     “Now”, he says, buttoning the cover on his camera, “Methinks we should retire to a hostelry.”


     The seat of the booth is sticky under his legs. Beyond the café window, the sun glances off hesitating traffic. Woolworths. He rests his chin on the grey mica of the tabletop. A toy Indian hides behind a plastic tomato of ketchup, his bow arcs from knee to head-dress. As he talks, the man picks up a stray marrowfat pea, places it in the chipped enamel ashtray and wipes his fingers on a paper serviette. She sharpens her cigarette-end to a glowing cone after each puff. The waitress returns with a laden tray.

     “Three cappuccinos.”

     Ron dispenses the sugar. Tentatively the boy sips the cool cream, then starts, as the coffee scalds his lip.

     “What did I tell you!”

     She relaxes her tone: “He just had to have what we were having.”

     Ron is chuckling.

     “Don’t worry, young man. I think I know the antidote”, he confides and his hand covers hers for a long moment.

     The Knickerbocker Glory arrives with a straw and a spoon.

     “Isn’t Daddy good to you?” says the man and the woman snorts and catches her breath.

     “You need a long spoon to sup with the divil”, she laughs.

     “Oh, you flatter me”, he returns, again covering her hand. Their conversation drones on like a fugue while he makes milky bubbles. 

     “Now, you’ll both excuse me for a moment while I check on my investments.”

     He rises, leaving the camera with the boy.

     “Simon will mind this for me.”

     When he strides out the door, the woman straightens in her seat and sharpens her cigarette-end again.

     “Listen, don’t tell your parents about this. I don’t want them to think I spoil you. OK? You’ve been very good.”

     The man returns with an Evening Mail. A green shamrock beside its masthead, green print in the late column.

     “Quite a successful little flutter. Here’s to Lady Luck…”

     He produces a box of Black Magic with a slow flourish. The woman sits back with a small sigh.

     “And for the young man…”

     From his blazer pocket he takes a brown bag. The boy opens it.

     “Simon, a Dinky! You shouldn’t have. Say ‘thank you’ to Ron.”

     It is a red sportscar.

     “Now we both drive the same car. Don’t we? He deserves it. He’s been very good.”

     Ron pays the bill. She sees him leave a small, precisely stacked column of half-crowns by his saucer.


There was a different air in the car on the way back. The boy lay back behind the seats, the road strumming into his spine. He held various profiles of the car to his view: the blind chrome radiator; a side-view with briefly spinning wheels; the grey underbelly with the models name, MG MIDGET, and trademark. Cigarette smoke hung blue through the edgy purr of sporadic remarks. Her skittishness dissolves as he turned off the ignition in the carpark of Stella House and they sat there overlooking the broad haze of the city. He points down to a half-constructed mast which aspires from amongst the trees and buildings.

     “Get an eyeful of that, Mam’selle.” 

She hesitates, then tries to nudge him in the side. The cooling engine gives a ‘tic’. “When will we get our photo?” asks the boy.

     A clap of laughter fills the car. The boy is drawn into it. The driver’s arm rises and drops down over her back and shoulders like a barrier.


He pulls the sportscar to a halt at the edge of the corridor carpet, lining it up with the loudspeaker van. “Mam’selle.” The varnished pine of the floor is cold against his knee. The Indian chief stalks in the dry loam of a potted plant. The voices behind the door are now lulled. Through the gable window he peers at the car below. It has spoked wheels. He takes his new toy and speeds it down the corridor past the stairwell. It clips the edge of the carpet and takes its first sommersault. A commotion from inside. The door opens and the woman emerges with a bleat. He picks up his toys. She clutches her handbag, tripping towards the stairs, barely stopping at the bottom to spit out a ‘come on’, as he descends sideways, clutching the wrought-iron rail. He follows her out, running past the cinema porch and down the shallow steps into its carpark, which is strewn with loose gravel, windscreen gems, pop-sticks and wrappers. And butts, I suppose. She stumbles ahead, pressing her handbag to her breast and adjusting straps through the left shoulder of her dress. Before they reach the far corner he realises: 

     “My new car…”

     “Come on”, she calls through gritted teeth, pausing to clutch his wrist tightly.

     Her face is puffy. She catches her breath in the lane, one hand still tweaking at her shoulder. By the time they come to Wilson Road she is sobbing. Specks of rain begin to constellate his own face. He has to run to catch her furious stride.

 © Jack Lynch