So we are sitting here. The lights are twinkling on the tree. Fairytale of New York is in the background. Kai is having a red wine. I’m thinking about joining him. It’s the 23rd of December 2017 and somewhere in the last ten or so minutes we have decided it must be Christmas.
It’s filled with memories, this Christmas lark. And this morning I thought that I hadn’t done one of these memory pieces for a while. And maybe it was time. In these days, filled with memories. But what to write? Inspiration would come over the season I reasoned as I was sorting whites from coloureds to get a wash on. The housework doesn’t stop just because it’s Christmas. There was a pair of jeans in the mix. I’ve learned to always check the pockets. So I did. And I pulled out a feminine hygiene product. Unopened, safely wrapped in plastic. And I looked at it. For a moment I thought it probably would have been safe enough, wrapped in its plastic. But we have recently had to replace the vacuum cleaner and the fridge has developed the dreaded “fridge owned by a Haughey” door disease (and we all know how that ends when you have to order a fridge online at one in the morning). So I was glad I had found it. Replacing another appliance hasn’t been budgeted for. So I pocketed it. And as I did. I remembered.
Frank Ryan’s Bar. Queen Street, Dublin. Late 1990’s. Probably a Saturday night.
You’d head out early enough to get the right seat. Along the banquette about four tables in. Just before the gap to the back room where they played raucous pool. Just before the place filled up.
There’d always be a buzz in the place those weekend nights. It was before the madness of the Celtic Tiger but people had a little money in their pockets and Saturday night was made for drinking. And talking. With the regulars. And the odd stranger who’d ramble in. You didn’t get too many strangers on Queen Street in the late 90’s. They were only starting to develop Smithfield back then. It was still mostly locals and blow ins like me and Kai who’d blown in there briefly and made it our own.
At about ten o’clock the door would open. And in he’d come. A little fella. Always in a suit. With a tank-top over his shirt and under his jacket. A shiny face like his mother had scrubbed it to an inch of its life. And a flat cap. He said he’d been a printer but he looked like he’d been a jockey. And sometimes in the right light, he looked like he still was.
He’d shuffle through the crowd, stopping to say hello to one person, nodding at another. The people at the third table in the banquette would move, if they were locals. If they were strangers they’d be asked to move. And he’d pop himself down with a smile and wait for his glass of Guinness to be delivered. With a smile.
People would stop and chat to him. As he’d sit there sipping his drink and keeping an eye on the door. If it was warm he might take the suit jacket off. But he usually left it on.
The door would open again about ten minutes later. And in she’d come. A little lady. Always in a skirt with a blouse and a matching cardigan. Or a jacket. On the cooler nights. Lipstick glistening.
She’d shuffle through the crowd, stopping to say hello to one person, nodding at another. Any stragglers at the third table would shuffle along. And she’d pop herself down with a smile beside her husband of fifty odd years and sip at her glass of gin that had already been delivered. With a smile.
We got to know them slowly over those weekend nights. Frank and Nora. Born and raised on Manor Street, where they still lived. Married for more years than they cared to remember and family all grown up and gone. The regulars in Frank Ryan’s were their family now.
This Saturday night we sat next to them. We talked amongst ourselves and we talked to them. About something and nothing. Like we did most Saturday nights.
The bar in Frank Ryan’s is narrow. There is the banquette and the tables. A stool or two on the other side of the tables and probably only two feet to the bar stools. It’d get busy by 11. When the latecomers would come in for the last pint or two. It was busy that evening. And a girl at the bar made a move to go to the toilet. She had to engage her core to get through the crowd and in so doing, she swung her bag and the entire contents went everywhere. She apologised, picked them up and made her way down the back, past the raucous pool players.
Whilst she was absent, kind-hearted Frank was making his way back from the bar. He stooped down and picked up something. Some of the detritus from the bag. He sat himself down and showed it to Nora. “That came out of Deirdre’s bag,” he said. “I’ll give it to her when she gets back. I think it’s some type of a lipstick,” he said as he stuck it in his suit pocket. It wasn’t some type of a lipstick.
I sat there and listened to them discuss it. I looked around at the crowded bar. At the 20-something year old men either side of Deirdre’s seat. I imagined Frank getting up and handing her her lipstick. Loudly. I didn’t know her but I knew she didn’t need the howls of laughter that would greet her. And neither did Frank.
So I turned to Nora. And I said. “Nora, that isn’t a lipstick.” “What is it?” says she. I didn’t know where to begin. So I began anyway.
“It’s a tampon.”
“Have you never seen the ads for them?”
“It’s for when you have your period.”
“Show me that thing, Frank.”
“That thing of Deirdre’s you picked up.”
“The lipstick? I told you I’d give it to her.”
“Give it to me.”
She looked at it. She looked at me. I looked at her. We looked at it.
“What is it?”
I told her. I told her what it was and how it worked.
“Are you a nurse?”
She looked at me. She looked at it. And she laughed. Oh how she laughed. Frank had no idea why. Neither had Deirdre. But we both laughed. Together. A girl in her 30’s and a woman in her 80’s. Until there were tears. Then we laughed some more.
She put it in her bag. Said she’d give it to Deirdre later. I said she probably didn’t need to. That Deirdre would have plenty more. But she probably did give it back to her. On another Saturday. Because that was the type of woman she was.
When they left that night, she thanked me. For saving Frank. From himself. And then she muttered “lipstick”, shook her head and left laughing. They never arrived together her and Frank but they always left together.
I’d like to think they still wander into Frank Ryan’s on a Saturday night. That this Saturday night the door will open and in will walk Frank. And ten minutes later in will walk Nora. I know it is unlikely but I still like to think so. To picture them there at the third table, sipping their drinks, in their best clothes. And smiling.
Thanks, Frank and Nora.