“When the hell is Blanchie gonna get here?”
The January sun was setting through the trees in the west behind purple fluffy clouds in the early evening sky. Not a soul could be seen in St. Stephen’s Green except for a man and his son launching soccer balls at each other on the lighted pitch in the very center of the park. The field was surrounded by a perimeter of wooded trails circling the pitch like a twisted and unorthodox maze with no end or beginning. In reality, it was just a footpath but the intricacy of the trails kept the boys hidden from anyone who didn’t need to know they were there and provided them with a kingdom for troublemaking and misdeeds.
“Where the hell is he?” yelled Phil. Several minutes had past. The purple in the clouds was replaced with black. The sun had set further now and night was falling faster with every shot the man on the pitch launched over the net past his son.
“Relax, man. Blanch will be here. He’d never pass up an opportunity to get stoned with a Yank,” said Caffrey. “Besides, it’ll feel good to get high before I set my priorities straight for tonight. He nudged Chris in the chest with his elbow and laughed. The nudge served as a gesture just hard enough to explain to Chris that he was the Yank he was referring to and that he had a plan for the night ahead. Caffrey knew Chris had smoked pot quite a few times back home but never during his time in Dublin. Caffrey wondered if the weed was different over in the states. Maybe Irish weed was a little lucky. Maybe he’d feel a little lucky tonight.
“I know he’s coming but it needs to be now so we can 4/20 blaze it already. Why are all stoners the same? Late and stupid. We need to go get Caffrey laid!” Caffrey blushed and smirked at the same time.
Caffrey was a virgin and tonight was the night he’d finally lose his virginity after 19 years. Or so he believed. Caffrey thought that was a rude thing to say about their friend but it was a serious gripe on Phil’s part. Blanchie was supposed to meet them in the park at sunset with the weed before they went to the club but the sun had been down for ten minutes now. And Caffrey was really going to try and get laid that night. He thought it would be best not to protest Phil’s inclusion of the fact that he had never had sex in his life since it was true. A few minutes later, the father and son soccer duo had packed up their ball and boots and headed home while the boys waited impatiently in the chill of night.
As if appearing out of spite of Phil’s impatience, Blanchie emerged from the back of the trail into the small circle smelling of butane and sweet skunk. His too-big army jacket sagged below his waistline, making it look like he was wearing Adidas joggers under a big green dress with cargo pockets.
“It’s about fucking time, Blanchie. We’ve all been sober for a week. Chris, well Chris has been even longer. The poor bastard. Not as dry as Caffrey has been in the sack,though. Let’s go, then! Blaze it down,” said Phil.
With a mischievous smile, Blanchie pulled two crude joints from his pocket. They were loose but filled with cannabis. He put one to his lips and lit it with a pink Bic.
“Jesus, Blanchie, did you roll those when you were hammered or did your mum do it for you? For Christ’s sake,” said Caffrey.
“Better than what you brought, man. Besides, I’m not going to take any lip from someone who wants to bang Sinead O’Brien their first time.” Caffrey bowed his head in shame and embarrassment.
Blanchie’s eyes were already drooping when he entered the circle of friends, but after two more drags, they were practically shut. The pals followed suit. The joint made its way around to each of the boys, as they took turns puffing and puffing and passing until each drag brought with it a long and painful cough that only sent the boys higher into the clouds.
“Let’s smoke that second one. I wanna walk into Tesco on my ass and ask the guy where the gummy bears are. He’ll know what I’m talking about… the munchies. Oh yea.” Phil was a big kid. His height was average but his weight was well over par. A thick red sweater covered up his beer belly for the most part, except for a crescent of fatty skin slipping out from underneath. His mouth was salivating with the anticipation of the fruity gelatin snacks that rested at the forefront of his desires. Caffrey thought he just looked like a fat pot head.
Blanchie put the second joint to his lips and tried to spark the Bic. His cold fingers slipped from the sparker and all he could get out of the lighter was the friction-filled sound of failure.
“Here, let me help you,” said Chris.
“Damn. Selfish, yank. So you can get the best hit?”
“Just give it to me, Blanchie. I got this.”
Chris put the paper in his mouth and cupped the flame of the lighter under his free hand. The paper ignited and a large plume of smoke rushed into his body filling his lungs with a harsh puff. The boys cheered as Chris exhaled, coughing while he did. The smoke rose up into the separated barren branches of the leafless trees. The last bit of smoke exited his mouth. Chris’s eyelids drooped even deeper into each other. He could barely make out the shapes of his friends’ bodies in front of him.
“Bye Chris. You’re not waking up after that one,” said Phil.
Caffrey was still high from the first joint. All he could think about was Sinead’s long brown hair and how good she’d look on top of him. He had loved her for years but he never told her. She hardly even noticed him. What would the point of telling her be? As his imagination ran wild, he took the joint from Chris on his left. As he did, his eyelids were drawn upwards like they were attached to fishing line. There, behind the cloud of smoke hovering over their heads, was a flashlight shining directly on their faces. They froze.
“Evening boys. I’m gonna have to ask you to put that out for me.”
A man in a green vest, black pants and thick, black military gloves pointed at the lit joint in Caffrey’s hand. Nobody moved a muscle except for Caffrey bending down to place the joint on the wet grass in front of him.
The officer’s boots carried him two steps closer to the boys. He towered over them; he possessed an imposing figure with a soft smile and a rough-looking face.
“IDs lads,” he said.
Caffrey and Phil handed over their identification cards and Chris gave the cop his passport, who looked it over.
“Well then. What do we have here with us tonight lads? An American? You’re not part of some international crime ring are yous?” he asked sarcastically. The officer spoke to Chris directly and Chris shook his head.
The group made their way over to the cruiser parked just outside the hidden kingdom of intricate trails. Just as they had done before, the boys took turns passing responsibility to each other, only this time the responsibility was to enter the back of a police cruiser.
“Virgins first,” Phil said to Caffrey.
Once inside, the officer said he’d return in a few minutes and shut the door behind him.
The boys were glued to the leather interior. Only minutes had gone by since their detainment but to Caffrey, it felt like hours. Now he’d never get the chance to seduce Sinead. No one said a word or so much as looked up from the vacuumed grey carpeting of the car. The trio didn’t even notice a stranger looking into the passenger window. The blue lights flashing against the tree trunks probably told all the night walkers that the streets were safer now, thought Caffrey. There weren’t any baked hoodlums to worry about anymore.
Finally, the cop returned to his cruiser. On a normal night, he probably would have taken the three boys to the station to be booked and charged with a crime, but things are different when an American is involved.
He opened the rear door of the cruiser and told the kids to get out.
“You’re lucky you clowns are hanging around with this yank. You wouldn’t believe the paperwork I’d have to do if I arrested this bastard,” he said shaking Chris by the shoulder. “I’m not going to charge you with a petty crime like this. Just go home and don’t let me see you in here again. Even if you aren’t smoking anything “funny.” Get outta here.” The man made air quotation marks with his fingers and then headed for the driver’s side door.
Caffrey was the last person in line behind Chris and Phil. He was swaying back and forth a bit, almost like there was a soft breeze swirling around him and only him. He was drunk. They all were. But it wasn’t just the swaying that did him in. It was the eyes. They were lazy and glossy. Even for an Irishman his skin was pale. Chris took a step closer to him so he didn’t have to yell over the murmur of drunken students gathered on the sidewalk. It was a Wednesday night so everybody and their brother wanted to get into Coppers for half-priced Jose Cuervo.
“Man, Chris. You are so lucky you’re not rotting in a jail cell right now. We all should be,” said Phil.
“Oh shut up, Phil. That guy was the nicest cop I’ve ever met. He was never going to do a thing,” said Chris.
“At least that big dumb idiot Blanchie went home. That kid can’t get out of his own way.”
“You almost ready to get lucky tonight, Caff?” asked Chris.
“Are you… kidding me?” he belched between words. “Coppers on a Wednesday! The drinks are cheap and the dancing is free. I hope Sinead is…here.”
He smiled and laughed. Caffrey really couldn’t tell if he was looking at him or not. He must have known he was talking to him, at least, because he gave his American friend a slap on the back and said, “I’m going to have the time of my life tonight, man.”
Phil turned to the boys. He was bigger than both of them but couldn’t have been less intimidating if he tried. They just thought he was a big teddy bear who loved to slug beer and bang his neighbor because he thought it would be funny. But when he spoke they listened to him because the next thing out of his mouth always had the chance of being something that could make their day.
“Caffrey, I can tell already by those shark’s eyes of yours that A, you’re not going home with anyone tonight. There’s not a fuckin’ chance of it. And B, you’re definitely gonna heave on those Chuck Taylors of yours.” He laughed a hearty and robust laugh.
“I will… not! You big arse. Just shut up,” said Caffrey.
Caffrey was fucked. It felt like there’s a wall at the front of this line instead of a swinging door to him. Caffrey had felt like that ever since the boys got out of the cab and stopped moving. The hiatus in activity made his head swirl and his brain bang against the inside of his skull. All he wanted was to finally become a man. Too many tequila shots. Why did he always do this to himself? It never ended well for him.
He looked around frantically for the lover that wasn’t his yet. He could hear people talking around him but he couldn’t hear words. It was noise, white like the static from a broken television. Caffrey only thought in broken chains of words that made sense in his head. His speech was broken and deliberate.
His blue Chuck Taylors were tied loosely on his feet, and they were planted to the sidewalk in similar fashion. He swayed. These go well with my corduroys, he thought. His personal comments concerning his ability to dress himself were interrupted briefly when he heard Phil say something about his Chuck Taylors being covered in his own puke.
“I will…not! You big arse. Just… shut up,” said Caffrey.
The excitement from yelling at his friend and defending his ability to hold is alcohol was too much for his little blonde head to handle. His lust for lust reached his exterior in the form of subconscious thrusting into the cold night air. The poor drunk boy swayed even more in a pendulum-like fashion until he was revolving in a complete circle. He needed something other than air or he was going to be in big trouble. He was sure of it, but he couldn’t let Chris and Phil know that.
He turned to face the back of the line that had grown behind them in search of any form of refuge. There, six or seven people behind him was a brunette girl in a small, blue dress puffing on a menthol and blowing the smoke up into the misty January air. Caffrey needed a cigarette and he needed one bad. Dragging his feet like their muscles were no longer connected to his head, Caffrey made his way to the back of the line towards the girl in the blue dress. It was Sinead.
With a flushed face, he approached her and said, “Yum.. Those… smell like menthols. Could I… have one of ‘em?”
The girl looked him up and down with a face that suggested she was looking at a dying cat in a roadway. She shrugged, showing some resemblance of sympathy for the boy in the drunken stupor, and took a long drag of her cigarette. Then, she passed the left over half to Caffrey.
“Thank you. You’re so… beautiful.”
The boys watched Caffrey as he made his way to the back of the line.
“What the hell is he doing?” asked Phil.
“I don’t know, man. Maybe he just needed some air,” said Chris.
“Oh, God. He better not touch that mot. Some air?! We’re outside for Christ’s sake! Some fuckin’ air, I’ll get ‘em some fuckin’ air.”
Before Chris could tell him they wouldn’t be able to cut back in line, Phil stepped out onto the street and started walking towards Caffrey at the back of the line. Phil was sure that Caffrey would be the reason the boys wouldn’t be allowed into the club. If they did get into the club, he was sure Caffrey would be the reason to get them kicked out. He didn’t want the embarrassment to start now. Chris followed.
“Hey, Caffrey! What the hell are you doing? Get back in line. You said you wanted to dance tonight.”
Caffrey had half of a Kool hanging from his dehydrated and crusty lips and a cloud of smoke blocking his hazy eyes from view. He had always had trouble with alcohol. He had always had trouble with tobacco, too. It always seemed to turn him green as the countryside.
“Caffrey! Get that thing out of your mouth. And you, you mot. You should be ashamed of yourself giving my pal here a stick of cancer.”
But it was too late. Caffrey started swaying even more, faster and faster and faster. With each subconscious puff of his cigarette, his sheet white skin grew to be a deeper and more pronounced shade of green.
Caffrey leaned to his right and expelled everything in his stomach that had been swirling inside for four hours: a deep-friend hamburger from the chipper, seven shots of tequila, two shots of Gentleman Jack, and a hard cider. The myriad of contents managed to land directly on the feet of Sinead in the blue dress; the girl that Caffrey intended to pronounce his love for and lose his virginity to . She was horrified in the sense that she could not utter a single word in response.
Phil started howling with laughter at the girl and at poor Caffrey. Through tears, he cried, “Caffrey, you idiot. I was kind of right. Check out what little nicotine Nancy over here has on her feet.”
The boys, including a sobering up Caffrey, looked down at Sinead’s shoes. There before them, was a pair of blue and white Chuck Taylors covered in the contents of Caffrey’s stomach.
“I’m…very sorry… about your shoes,” said Caffrey, heaving. As soon as he finished his apology, Caffrey turned away from the crowd and started jogging in the opposite direction of the line in an unorthodox fit of triumph. He hadn’t puked on his shoes after all. Sex could wait.
Two thirty in the morning is an ungodly hour to be awake, thought Caffrey. Maybe it was three thirty. He couldn’t really remember the time but he remembered the night.
The boys had just left the cab that brought them from Hartcourt Street to O’Connell. They had been at Coppers for at least two hours which meant that Chris and Phil had at least three hours worth of vodka and Jose Cuervo with lime juice sloshing around in their stomachs. Caffrey couldn’t hear it because his stomach was empty and burning. It was like a cruise line wave pool of bile and sin crashing against the walls of their insides. It could have been his imagination but he doubted it. Caffrey was sitting in the back so not only did the cab smell like the driver’s Parliaments and old leather, but it smelled like Caffrey’s mouth; a combination of menthols, tequila, and a ton of shame. It was like being in a stock yard.
The air outside the cab was cool and damp. Mist was from the darkness above and collecting on peacoats like droplets in the grass. Outsiders thought Dublin felt that way every day of the year. Chris brought that up to Phil. He looked at him and laughed.
“You’re a filthy American but you sure as hell aren’t as stupid as you look.”
O’Connell Street looked different to Caffrey at night. Maybe because he was drunk.. In the day, he couldn’t walk to the street corner without bumping arms with someone headed wherever it was that they were going. There were never any rude exchanges following these little interactions. Only a nod and a smile and maybe a brief apology. He didn’t have to worry about that on O’Connell at three o’clock in the morning. Phil, Chris, and himself were the only people walking down the street. In the near distance, a melody could be heard around a brick alley.
“What song is that?” asked Phil.
“I don’t recognize it, but I know the instrument. It’s a guitar.”
“No shit, idiot. Maybe you’re not that bright after all.”
The trio walked further down the road, closer to the alley ahead. When they turned to peer down the alley, their sat a battered and grey-bearded homeless man stringing along on an old red guitar.
“I’ve never seen a red guitar before, nor a homeless man playing one.” said Chris. He played a tune for them.
Like the street was some sort of kingdom that was theirs for the taking, Caffrey ran over to a construction site that had been abandoned for the night. Some department had been fixing the sewage caps. While the man strummed away, Caffrey picked up an orange cone almost half the size of him, and put it on his head.
“Paul, get that fucking thing off your head. We’re trying to hear the old bloke play,” said Phil.
“Nobody calls me Paul, asshole. Hey, buddy. Do you know the song Wonderwall? Can you play it for us?”
Like a magician with a guitar that knew every song ever written, the man started playing the hit oasis song flawlessly in front of them. Drunkenly, the three boys joined in a chorus of missed notes and laughter. Any passerby close enough to hear them singing and see them smiling wandered over in the dead of night to join in on the serenade. It was an anthem for the misfits who just had a little too much to drink in that beautiful city.