Honey’s Pub is loud with live music, and there’s a full pint of lager in front of me. If I drink it, it’ll be my first in seven years.
I decided not to go for a Guinness because I knew it wouldn’t be as good as the one we had in Cloghane, that day we walked along the Conor Pass, high up in the clouds on sheer, grey cliffs, moss, heather, sea salt, mists of rain blasting our faces. There were sheep all over the hills, sprayed with pink. After, we got hammered in the little pub there where they spoke Irish and played trad on their guitars and bodhrans, then we pressed our bodies together beneath the dark green blankets of the hostel. The next morning, you came out of the shower and said the water was hot and strong—better showers than anywhere in Ireland. I ended up getting the runs and spending the rest of our journey on toilets, from Dingle all the way to Dublin. When we got back to your parents’ house, they let me sleep it off in the guest room, where I was staying. It smelt of mothballs and dust. There was a wooden crucifix hanging on the dresser mirror. I didn’t mind sleeping apart from you. The night before we left, your uncle and aunt and cousins visited from Cork. They all drank Guinness and Jameson and sang songs. Your cousin Rory, in his 40s, shock of red hair, stinking of whiskey, found me out on the back porch having a smoke. He lit one himself and said to me, “Sao, Alan, yer fookin’ Cnaijun.” I nodded, took a haul of my cigarette. He took a haul of his. “’Spose you loik dat bitch da queen,” he said. I exhaled. He stared at me. “Nattin’ to say?” he said. I lifted my shoulders. “Dat’s da problem whichoo fookin’ Cnaijuns: yer too fookin’ noice.” I took a sip of my stout and looked around for you. You were standing over by the keg of Guinness with your da. He had picked it up for the gathering. Like the pint in Cloghane, it was thick and creamy, clouding in the black as it formed the head, malt with a hint of ash. When we got back to Montreal, I tried to find Guinness that tasted like it did in Ireland, but it was always served too cold. You told me there was a metaphor in that. I didn’t understand what you meant.
There are cheers as the band starts into a cover of the Black Keys “Everlasting Light.” The bartender is wearing a red-and-white plaid cowgirl shirt tied above her navel—a narrow “innie,” like yours. I would stare at it as you rode me, in our little walk-up apartment on the third floor—just high enough. For six years we tried. With every attempt, that growing sense of loss: blight. Then, in the seventh, came our Elsie. We were fourty-one. She had red hair like your cousin’s. Your mother knitted her a pink wool jumper and sent it over.
Elsie had it on when she fell. Red seeped through the pink. I watched her stop moving.
It rained the day we buried her on Mount Royal–in that section of the cemetery where they put kids. Toys and teddy bears were on the gravestones. Someone put a little stuffed lamb on Elsie’s.
The clouds churned over the mountain as we drove back down. Life before, and after. Every moment forward meant trying to forget.
You turned inside yourself; you knew I needed to get out. This morning you flew back to Ireland. I came here.
This pint is my out. I take the hit. There’s the cold pang of the alcohol.
I put down the pint and stare at it. The singer is singing something about a shepherd.
Then comes the warmth from within, and everything is in clouds again.
Adam Kelly Morton is a Montreal-based husband, father (four kids, all six-and-under), acting teacher, gamer, filmmaker, and writer. He has been published in Spelk, The Junction, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Fiction Pool, Open Pen London, and Talking Soup, among others. He has an upcoming piece in A Wild and Precious Life: A Recovery Anthology, to be published in 2020.