He had lived through the bloodied liberation of his country. The inception of the World Cup and the thirteen which were to follow. Not a single one ending in a win worth celebrating. Two World Wars too many. More bereavements than he cared to recall. A stubborn bout of pancreatic cancer and, to crown his misfortunes, he was currently dealing with a thrown out back which made dancing a thing of the past before his ancient age managed to take it from him.
His extended stay on this Earth was not achieved by clean living. He’d lived a rude life consisting of rolled up-tobacco and watered-down booze. This strain of lifestyle left him with a quality of health which made him often consider ‘letting himself out,‘ so to say. A quick test of the Winchester? Think of the mess. Down to the pier, garters full of stones? In this cold? Must be mad. A stroll over the cliff of a still night? Not a chance. Petrified of heights.
Long gone were the days where his mind was as sharp as a nettle. Along with his body’s failures, his memory was also beginning to falter-his skill of recollection particularly withering when tasked with rooting out the more minor details. He knew they’d be the first to go when his mind began to escape him in the years or months that were left to him. He would often find himself walking into a room to retrieve something, but upon reaching the room he would find that he had forgotten his own name. Yet he still found it easy to remember the bigger things, the wife’s face. Who owed him what. Directions to the pub. Easy. On top of these, he could remember the things that allowed him to tally up such an impressive number of trips around the sun.
Top of the list, his wife, again, or rather the decades they were together. He thought back to them frequently and he thought back to them fondly. He ought to, he spent the bones of his life with her. They met as Senior Infant Sweethearts while the bold streak of infancy yet to be played out of either of them. A more pristine cailín he had never seen. Seventy two years together and a total reproductive output of zero, but not for lack of trying. Tragically, even the physical aspect of their marriage had dwindled before her death by way of age-induced impotence.
His friends who which spending time with entailed a visit to the cemetery were a close second. No ensemble of men had given him more social gratitude than they. He always believed you could judge the quality of a man’s character by those he chose to surrounded himself with. In this knowledge he felt great confidence in his status as a good man seeing that souls of their caliber, intoxicated or otherwise, would choose to spend their days with him.
He was the oldest man in his parish by a Taoiseach’s term at the very least. He was well aware that he was refusing to oblige with his overdue mortal obligation. He just didn’t want to commit to such an extensive endeavour just yet. He didn’t like the sound of it. He found even blinking to be a horrid waste of time which could be better spent looking at the skies of night.
He wasn’t merely waiting around for a God who which he was on questionable terms with to call last orders. Michael still had things to do-with everything else in his life after running it’s course, this is how he filled his days, or night’s rather. All he had was a belly full of yearn to witness what he’d failed to witness almost eighty years ago. It was this that kept him on this side of the soil and the only thing keeping the blood in his veins from halting entirely.
He pondered the prospect of holding out and clinging to this life for another few years. Perhaps a letter from the president and a centenarian bounty award would fill some sort of crevice in his heart, but, in the finer scheme of things, it held little merit. He only needed one more night. Tonight. This clear, feverish eve of 1986 was all he wanted.
After tonight he knew he would be ready to check-out.
Following a worryingly overcast morning, the late Winter sun finally managed to burn off the excess coverage, leaving the conditions still and perfect. Michael was celebrating by way of a one-man gathering in his tired pub. He prepared himself a brandy, raised the glass to his cracked lips, drawing it through his worn down teeth to filter the shards of ice, letting them liquify before sending them on their way south to soothe his smoke-damaged throat. Opening the till, he looked to the clock. It was time to close up.
“I hope you weren’t planning on closing on me, Mick!” Said a voice behind him. Michael cursed under his breath. He didn’t need his eyes to identify the speaker. It was Anthony. One of the town’s B-Sides.
“You’re only having the one,” said the barman without looking from the night’s takings, not even waiting for an order from the half pint of a man who had just hopped atop his stool.
“Do you’ve any dry roasted? I’ve not eaten.”
Ignoring him, he handed him a condensation encased bottle from the cooler and retired to the back room to tally up the night’s minimal profits. He stupidly left his drink unattended. Anthony did not. As soon as the barman was out of sight, so was the brandy. He poured it down his throat and wiped his evidence-veiled mouth then sat alone, appropriately swaying and taking large sips in silence.
When Michael reappeared Anthony adopted an innocent demeanour and gazed drunkenly at the décor which wrapped the walls, hoping he could squeeze another few drinks out of the evening.
“Right, Anto. I’m closing up,” Michael said as he took up the brandy glass in his hand, a slight double take trying to recall if he’d finished it or not.
“It’s not even 11, Mick. You can’t close up yet,” Anthony pleaded as he squeezed the last from his bottle of stout and handed it over.
“You’re lucky I open up at all! I’m 91 years of age, Anthony and I can do as I please.”
“At least give us one more. Quick pint?”
Michael thought for a moment, looking at his watch before putting his hand on the tap. “Do you know what tonight is?” He pulled it downward, beginning a steady pour.
“Sunday! Do you know what Sunday?” Michael said as he handed over a mug. Raising Anthony’s drink allowance by one.
Anthony took a mouthful then shrugged. Michael, in careful strides, moved slowly around to the other side of the bar. “This Sunday. The year being 1986 as you know. Providing the winds are on our side Halley’s Comet will be visible,” he said, taking a peek out the window before drawing the curtain shut.
Off Anthony’s clueless hush, he continued, “there was this huge fuss over it because everyone was saying it could collide with the Earth and it’d the end of us,” Michael inserted a dramatic pause that seemed to have no affect on Anthony. “But it didn’t bother me none, I just wanted to get a look at the thing. It was 1910. I was less than half your age, if even. The thing was around for a month, but sure Ireland being itself, the cloud coverage was a bit problematic. The last day, though. It was perfect. Not a cloud in the sky and it was warm enough as well. It being May and all. The Summer was in. So myself and herself borrowed a bottle brandy from the father went down to the field with a blanket for the bit of stargazing,” Michael laughed with a suggestive emphasis on his final word.
“More than stars were shooting that night, aye?” Anthony chimed, perking up at the mention of a female and drink.
“You know yourself, like,” Michael slapped the countertop. “And we were sort of awkwardly sitting there not knowing what to say, as fifteen year olds do. I’m there sweating seeing as I’d literally promised her the stars. Just saying over and over: ‘it’ll be along soon, it’ll be along soon. Just wait. Just wait.’”