Nothing much happened in that town, well apart from the usual stuff - affairs, emigration, employee theft from the credit union. So imagine our surprise when Brian Murphy was found dead with his head battered in the day after St. Stephen’s night. And it was on McSweeney Street too - the tiniest, shittiest little street in the town. Just a little slip of tarmac that went nowhere. A dead end.
Because Brian had been in our pub that night, the guards were all over us, looking at the CCTV and asking questions. But I knew they hadn’t taken me seriously. But I mean, who would? A 15 year old girl collecting glasses on Friday and Saturday nights, just trying to make a few quid to buy new jeans and makeup. What could I have ever known?
But working in a small pub in a small town taught you a thing or two about people. I knew who was having an affair, who was just about to start one and who was trying to get out of one.
I knew the nice happy drunks and the total pervs. Michael Carroll told me I had a lovely arse. Well, he slurred it into my ear at 1am when the local hurling team won the county title. I was 15. He was 62. And then there was the time when HiAce Dave told me that he was in love with me, slipped his hand around my waist and asked me to come home with him. The wife and two kids were away for the weekend.
After that happened, Audrey kept me behind the bar from midnight onwards. Under no circumstances was I to come out from behind it until everyone had gone.
Audrey wasn’t a local, she was from some small town in Tipperary. The whole town couldn’t believe it when Johnny Mac came back from London with her. She was a good-looking woman; I heard the men say. Her shoulder length blonde hair was always perfectly blow dried and I was so jealous of her skinny jeans and expensive makeup.
After Johnny’s Dad died it was only a matter of time before he came home and took over the family pub. And he did a good job of it too. He put in a pool table down the back and installed a big screen for matches. Horse racing kept the afternoon drinkers occupied during the slow weekdays. There was always a band on every few months too. Johnny knew what the locals wanted and provided it. Audrey did the bookkeeping, payroll, the stock take and created the staff rotas. They made a good team.
Audrey was sound. Whenever it lashed rain, she’d drop me home to my estate, after we closed up the bar. One time she asked me what I wanted to do after I left school and I said I wanted to be like my sister – become a legal secretary and buy my own house. She laughed, and said, “That sounds like a very good plan Sandra. A woman should always have her own income, and running away money”. The next weekend she told me I had a pay rise to €9.00 an hour. That was way above minimum wage for an under 18 at the time. I was nearly earning more than my Mam then, but I never said a word. Mam would only have been annoyed.
Brian Murphy. He was just another lad who worked in the factory, lived in my estate, drank too much at the weekends, got into a few fights and was in and out of the bookies.
Then one night he came into the pub with an awful looking chain around his neck and a diamond stud in each ear. He looked like some fool.
Then he bought his bright blue Honda. The exhaust was so loud you’d hear it coming a mile off and the stereo system made the base line vibrate so much that it felt like a small earthquake.
Some of the girls thought he was amazing. I didn’t.
One time our neighbour came out and told him to shut that fucking music off because it woke the baby. He told her to shut the fuck up, turned up the music even more and just sat there in the car laughing at her. She went back into the house and came out with a sweeping brush and took a swing at the front lights on the car. He nearly drove over her as he tore off out of the estate.
He was 20 years old, and that was a nice car to be driving when he worked in the factory.
The guards must have known too.
But there was a lot they didn’t know.
They never asked me about the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend. It was gearing up to be a big night and Johnny had booked The Martini’s, a decent band that half the town had play at their weddings. And Munster were playing that afternoon too, so the place was going to be heaving from 2pm onwards. We were preparing ourselves for three long days. And three long nights.
I was collecting glasses as normal, but there was a small lull after the match ended. Trying to make myself look busy, I decided to empty the rubbish, which was basically dragging big black refuse bags to the huge metal bins outside.
These bins sat at the end of the carpark and formed a small U-shape. They were a popular spot because if you stood in the middle, you couldn’t be seen, a spot particularly loved by the staff smokers for a quick puff in privacy.
And that night I was there, standing in the U-shape, had a lid open, and was just about to throw in a bag, when I heard someone talking in a low voice.
“I’m keeping an eye on that little fuck”
A silence followed that stretched into forever.
I stood still, with the bag held tight in mid-air.
“It’s pure muck. He’ll be out of business in no time. And if he’s not, we’ll consider our options”, the voice spoke again, quietly.
The back door to the pub opened and some punters spilled out, lighting up a smoke immediately.
“Well Audrey!”, one of them shouted.
‘How are ya lads,” she replied loudly and warmly.
And then, quietly into her phone, said, ‘Have to go’.
Her boots took off walking to the pub door, and gently, I lowered the plastic bag to the ground, my arm slightly shaking.
Some young lad died on a road near one of the villages a few weeks after that bank holiday weekend. The village was way out in the country, and I didn’t think anything of it. Didn’t know the fella and it didn’t have any effect on my world. He was only a student, home for the weekend, had been at a house party, decided to walk home and then he was found dead on the side of the road.
At first, they said it was sudden adult death syndrome. Then someone said that it was a hit and run. Then the paper said that it was a cocaine overdose. The Joe Duffy show was even talking about it, “Cocaine is so widespread in Ireland now that it is present even in the smallest of villages”. Eh, even I could have told him that.
Brian Murphy bought a BMW next. Not a brand new one, but still, it was new enough. Made some money on the horses he said. A Christmas present. He was still wearing the gold jewellery and still looked like a fool.
He came into the pub that St. Stephen’s night.
The guards knew this too.
It was crazy busy that night but as soon as Audrey saw Brian, she came out from behind the bar and went for him.
I was standing right there beside him, collecting glasses off a high table, but got blocked in, and all I could do was just wait, holding a few empty pint glasses.
“I can’t serve you Brian”, Audrey said.
“Brian, I can’t serve you. Can you leave now please”
“Are you for fucking real?”
“Brian. Come on now. Just leave”.
“Seriously. What’s your fucking problem, like. I’ve only had a few.”
“Brian. The guards called here the other day and asked us to be vigilant. They’ve warned us and the other pubs. You have to leave.”
“Ah fuck off would you”, Brian said and tried to shove his way to the bar.
“Johnny”, he shouted. “Johnny!!” and waved his hand.
Typical I thought to myself. It might have Johnny’s name on the sign outside, but it was Audrey who called the shots around here. And not only were they queuing three people deep at the bar, but Johnny had turned around to fill a few vodkas from the spirit bottles that hung on the back wall and was oblivious to Brian’s shouts.
Brian had no hope.
“Fucking bitch. Fucking shithole”, he said through his teeth.
As he turned, he shoved me to one side. I ended up losing my balance and left a glass fall. When it smashed on the ground, the crowd all roared “Way-hey!”.
Brian stopped briefly to look at the smashed pint glass, moved his gaze up to stare at me and then at Audrey. Eventually, he gave us the finger, turned and barged his way out the front door.
“Are you okay, Sandra?” Audrey said, holding both my shoulders.
“Ya, I’m grand”, I replied with a shrug.
“You’re a trooper”, she said and gave me a smile. “Stay well away from that fella, ya?”.
“And if you see him in here again, or out the back or anywhere around here, tell me”
“Ya, okay”, I replied. “I’ll just go get the dustpan”.
I presumed she would go back to serving, as the place was heaving, but instead she pushed her way through the mob, and slipped out the back door.
Before I knew it, I grabbed a bag of rubbish at the end of the bar, tied a knot in the top and went outside. I’d come back and get the broken glass later. In fairness, everyone was so drunk at that stage, they didn’t even notice it.
Outside, I could see my own breath. The ground was frozen and sparkling. I walked as quietly as I could over to the U-shape bins, stood there and listened to my heart beating.
But there wasn’t a sound.
I waited for a few minutes.
When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I threw the bag into a bin, feeling disappointed and stupid. Teeth chattering, I made my way back to the door.
And then I saw it.
A light coming from inside a car.
And there she was, talking on her phone.
Eventually I told myself to cop on, went back into the chaos of the pub and picked up the first empty glass that I saw.
And even now, I still don’t know why I followed her. What had I hoped to see, or hear? I suppose it was the only exciting thing going on in my young life at that stage.
Brian Murphy was found dead the next morning.
‘Blunt force trauma’, the papers said. I didn’t really know what that meant, until I heard a few of the lads talking about it. “Got his head smashed in”, one of them said. “That eejit was up to his eyes in it”, another one said.
The guards barely asked me anything. I mean, I was only a 15-year-old girl collecting glasses on Friday and Saturday nights, just trying to make a few quid to buy new jeans and makeup. Really, what could I have ever known?
Creative writing work from Louise Bunyan.