“Get up or you’ll be late for Mass.” It was Máire’s face I saw when I opened my two eyes. “Where am I? Where am I?” “Well., it’s not back there in Dingle you are. I went to early Mass. The other drunk is still stretched out. Come on now , you may’s well go to Mass, it’s Christmas Day.”
The smell of frying was coming from the kitchen. I got up off the sofa and looked into the mirror next to me. “Oh, Maidhc (‘Mike’), you are dying away.” My two eyes had sunk back into my head and my eyelashes were swollen. “Don’t I look dreadful this morning.” I put my two legs on the ground and cast my eyes around in search of my trousers. After stretching myself a few times I put on my duds and made it to the toilet. I found a razor belonging to Tomás. It was enough to get me shaved that morning.
“Hurry up! It’s falling out of me!” Tomás was alive and had got up. I let him into the toilet but just as I was making for the sofa again Máire bawled: “The breakfast is ready!” Breakfast, was it. I wished it was miles away from me because I couldn’t look at breakfast after the night we had had. I sat down at the table but would you believe, as soon as I had, very reluctantly, eaten the first few mouthfuls my appetite began to come back. Tomás just got stuck into his breakfast as if he hadn’t drunk a drop the night before. “God bless you but you have guts like a donkey in the morning,” said I to Tomás as I got up from the table.
There was a knock on the door. “It’s open.” said Máire. It was the landlady. She looked at us all and started to laugh. “Listen,” I said to Tomás, “look at her bit of hair. It reminds me of nothing more than the old donkey back home and the hair falling off him.” The landlady didn’t hear me at all. “Have you got a bottle of milk to spare?” she said. Máire caught the chair and pushed it towards her. “There are rashers in the pan and tea in the pot. Sit down.” Tom looked over at me. “Come on, the Mass will be starting before long.” Máire gave us some good advice. “The turkey will be ready by one, don’t be going on any spree now.”
There was a little chapel about a thousand yards from the flat. I had been up and down past it many times but Lord save us, I had paid little heed to it until now. To look at it from the outside you would think it was an ordinary house. The priest was already on the altar when we went in. “We’ll stay near the door,” said Tomás, “you’d never know what weakness might come over us!”
The priest who said the Mass was small and old and I’m telling you, if he didn’t give the drinking habit and drunks what for it isn’t day yet! “This is a spiritual time of the year, it’s no time to be giving in to the work of the devil. When I say the work of the devil the drink comes under the same heading.” Tomás pinched me. “This guy’s worse than my mother.”
When he began to give out Holy Communion Tomás got up. I thought he was going up to receive. “Follow me,” he said. “Where are you off to?” I said. “We’re going to Lourdes – for the cure.” I was amazed “Where’s Lourdes or what on earth has come over you?” Tomás told me again to follow him.
We headed down a backstreet and it wasn’t long before Tomás knocked on a small door. Someone inside reacted. “What d’ye want?” the man said in English. “The cure,” said Tomás, “is this Lourdes?”
He must have said the right thing because the door opened. The man knew Tomás. He asked him who was with him and I was introduced. We walked down a long dark hallway and then through a doorway. We found ourselves in some pub or other and when I looked around I saw that everyone there was Irish. None of them looked at all well on that particular morning no more than we did ourselves. “Listen, Tomás, you know that Máire will have the dinner ready at one o’clock.” Tomás checked his watch. “We have an hour and a quarter. We’ll be well on the mend by then.”
I knew most of the people there by sight from going to dances but I couldn’t put a name to half of them. The first man to greet me was a giant of a man who had his tie well out from his neck: “Where is the box?”
Tomás ordered a couple of halves and passed one to me. “Here, this will straighten you out, but never mind me because I’m past all that straightening.” There were four men at the far end playing darts. “God,” said Tomás, rubbing his eyes, “how can they see the numbers at all?”
We sat by the bar at our ease, next to four lads from Mayo. They were talking about work. That was the first time I found out where to go if I wanted to look for building work. “Look around you,” said Tomás, “half of them won’t eat a Christmas dinner today. They have their dinner in front of them now.”
I shook my head in surprise. I found it hard to believe that anyone could get so washed out as to give up food for the sake of drink. “Well, I wouldn’t like to be depending on them to dig a trench tomorrow. My father always said that food was the horse of work.” Tomás sprang from the stool. “Let’s go, or that turkey will be burnt. I haven’t tasted a bit of turkey since last Christmas.”
We said goodbye to everyone and slipped away again by the back door.