Authors: Patrick McCabe
These few words are written so that we might understand why Pat McNab, the main character in this book, behaved in the way he did. What they definitely are not is an attempt to excuse him, for Pat is guilty and everybody knows it, but at least, with a bit of luck, they will go some way toward explaining why he grew up with the reputation of being a complete “loo-la” and a “headbin of the highest order” as Timmy Sullivan, the proprietor of Sullivan’s Select Bar, described him one night. You see, for as far back as he could remember, Pat had always wanted to be in a “pop” or “show” band but his mother wouldn’t countenance it. Almost losing her mind, in fact, if it was even so much as mentioned! “Band!” she would snap, glowering at her son. “I’ll give you band! Think you’re going to end up like that other lug, do you, that father of yours, disporting himself in his great big captain’s uniform for every trollop and painted hussy that went walking the road, and ne’er so much as a copper sent home to buy a crust of bread! Band! Pshaw! Get down on your knees this very instant and scrub them tiles before I put this brush across your back and don’t think for a second I wouldn’t!”
Which Pat did not doubt in the slightest, for many’s the time he’d had to endure her doing just that, and for offenses far less serious than bringing his father up in the conversation. He had left them not too long after Pat reached his ninth birthday, and all that was heard tell of him subsequently was that he was seen in Dublin with two girls in flowery dresses, one dangling on each arm. After that, all that had to be said was D—, never mind his whole name, and she would “freak,” as Honky McCool might put it, throwing jugs, plates, and
anything else that might be to hand, calling him the most outlandish names. Names unrepeatable in any civilized company. One day, Pat, without thinking, had the misfortune to muse aloud, “I wonder will Daddy ever come back?”—without hardly realizing he had spoken at all—his mother, before he knew it, pounding him across the head with a plastic basin, crying, “I warned you! I told you not to say it!” after which he was more than careful about what he pondered aloud—and “then some”—as the Americans say. But then, to make matters worse, other days you’d come across her sitting in the dark clutching his father’s photograph and wiping her eyes as she sobbed, “I wish he’d come home, our daddy.” An eventuality which, sad to say, was never to come to pass. There were rumors that he got hit in the chest by a stray shell and died right there on the spot. But then there were the other rumors that he’d deserted and ran away to hide in Belgium with a woman, so it’s very difficult to say.
In any case, it doesn’t matter, for what we are primarily concerned with here is Pat, his mother, and this band business, as she called it. The band that never was, of course, for what with his mother’s persistently unhelpful attitude how could it ever have possibly been—when, literally, you weren’t permitted to open your mouth about it. Just as Pat daren’t open his mouth to his mother about most things, for somehow no matter what you said to Mammy (as he had always called her, for as far back as he could remember) she always seemed to take it up as you saying: “Well then! That’s the end of our relationship, I guess! I’ll be off to live my own life! Toodle-oo!” Even if it was in reality about a million miles from what was truly in fact going on in your mind! And which became very exasperating for Pat, as I’m sure you can imagine, the simplest declaration, such as, “Well—I think I’ll just pop down to Sullivan’s for a bottle of stout—I’ve a bit of a thirst on!” being greeted with a foul glare and the words “Oh, have you now! A bit of a thirst on, eh? Well—go on, then! Go on then with your thirst, Pat McNab! But don’t think I’ll care if you never darken the door again as long as you live!”
Sometimes she might even start to cry, until in the end it would get so bad that Pat would say, “I won’t go, then! I’ll stay here, Mammy! I’ll stay here with you, then, if that’s what you want!” Particularly if he had been doing some reading or practicing his acting skills.
But not without being furious with himself for doing it, for at times his late evening thirsts could be almost unbearable.
A lot of people, if they could gain access to Pat (which, admittedly, can be difficult, for he rarely answers the door now), would probably be hard-pressed not to look him in the eye and say, “Pat, what made you go and do the like of that, clobbering your poor mother, not to mention everything else you got up to, God knows how many unfortunates fertilizing the daisies in your garden? What on earth were you thinking of?” As if to suggest that Pat is some big mysterious psychological puzzle instead of the most ordinary fellow you could ever hope to meet. An ordinary fellow who just happened to want to have a few drinks at night-time and maybe join a band to sing a few songs. Without always having a shadow falling across him and a dumpling-shaped parent snarling “Where do you think you’re going?” every time Pat opened the front door. After all, as Pat often pointed out, he
forty-five years of age.
Still and all, there were times he missed his old mammy, and there is no point in denying it. Times when he would think of her chopping up fingers of toast and coming out with a plateful of them and handing them to him proud as punch, all in a line with the butter running through them. Times when she’d dress him up in his pressed soldier’s uniform and say, “Be my little captain for me, Pat!” as off he’d march up and down the kitchen with his mother beaming, thinking of all the good old days she’d once had with his father.
He would feel lonely whenever he thought of those times, seeing his life stretching out before him like some deserted highway, his bed at night now hopelessly bereft of her big warm rolls of fat and those comforting occasions when she would respond, in answer to his anxious nighttime query, “Are you there, Mammy?” “Yes, yes of course I’m here, son! As I always will be!”
Which was no longer the case and never would be again, for as long as he lived, as Pat knew, the saddest part of it all being, of course, the fact that she had herself been responsible for the situation which had brought so much unhappiness to them both. As indeed had a lot of other people who couldn’t find it within themselves to mind their own business. People who found it difficult to go through life without saying, “Look! There goes McNab! Odd as two left feet, that fellow!”
But there is something special about the relationship we all have with our mothers—and Pat, in moments of reflection, would feel a wave of melancholy sweep through him as he thought how, if he had to live through it all again, he wouldn’t have laid a finger on her. Often, he would wipe a tear from his eye and, seeing her before him large as life with her two eyes twinkling, whisper the words, “Mammy. This time let us do it right, and when I ask you can I join the band or have a bottle of stout, you just say, ‘Yes, Pat, you can. Why, of course you can. You don’t even have to ask.’”
And when in his imagination Pat McNab hears his mother uttering those words, there is no happier man on this earth, and all he can think of is throwing his arms around her neck and giving her a great big “gooser” (their private name for a kiss) on the cheek as he cries, “Do you know what I’ll do, Mammy? I’ll join no band! I’ll say to the band. Go to hell, band, for what do I care about you! And then I’ll stay home all day with you! That’s what I’ll do! For you’re better than any band! Band be damned! I care about no band!”
Obviously, Pat was aware that many people might think it foolish and, to say the very least, inappropriate, for a forty-five-year-old man to seat himself on his mother’s knee, the pair of them singing away as though they were some ridiculous kind of two-headed human jukebox. The truth is, however, that Pat didn’t care, literally squealing with delight at times as he cried, “Come on, Mammy! It’s your turn now! Sing one we all know!” as she would hit him a playful slap and cry, “No! You, Pat! It’s your go!” and between the pair of them they would be as happy then as that very first day he popped out from between her legs so many years before that final day when her son swung a saucepan and pitched Maimie McNab into the black unending pitch of all eternity.
Which—and let us not mince words here—makes Pat McNab a perpetrator of that most heinous of crimes, the taking of another person’s life, and earns him the reprehensible, odious appellation of “murderer.” But not just any ordinary murderer, either, for quite how many people ended up covered in a carpet of leaves in the environs of Pat McNab’s garden even now it would be impossible to state with any degree of accuracy. Suffice to say that a conservative estimate might be around the fifty, fifty-five mark. That is not, however, to include the various fly-by-nights
and assorted drifters who turned up unannounced at the McNab household (a gray, parsonage-type edifice two miles outside town), never afterward to be seen again, the only evidence of their ever having been in the vicinity the faint strains of an Irish ballad or obscure “pop” or “show” tune with which Pat commemorated their untimely passing, a new vitality entering his life as he, by dint of sheer experience and a sense of “warming to his task,” gradually found himself becoming as efficient in this heretofore undiscovered arena as any “cleaner” or “regulator” one might encounter in the world of Hollywood action pictures.
It was, perhaps, inevitable then that Pat might—simply through the sheer force of his newfound excitement and sense of achievement, something previously utterly unknown to him—gradually begin to perceive himself as one of these individuals—a sort of long-coated, mysterious loner whose dedication to his career (“termination with extreme prejudice”) was fierce and shocking in its simplicity. Even to the extent, for a time, of finding himself convinced that he was bearing with him throughout the village of Gullytown a special, custom-made briefcase which contained the precision instruments essential to his trade, including a Walther PPK pistol and a sleek night rifle which could be assembled in a mere matter of seconds. This was all sheer nonsense, of course. Pat was the possessor of no such instruments, or briefcase, for that matter. The only similarity between his persona and that of the cinematic regulators might be said to have been located in his coat, being as it conferred upon him, in its blackness and inordinate length, a mysterious, shadowy quality—although, in the case of the fictive regulator, the garment would have been almost certainly expertly tailored and unlikely to hang baggily about his frame, flapping disorientedly, almost apologetically, around the knees. Indeed, to be honest, Pat’s garment appeared not so much as something that had been purchased in a leading Paris fashion house at absurd cost to the professional assassin, but something hens might have slept in and, in fact, if the truth be told, most likely had.
This is all of little consequence, however, for these early fancies and delusions thankfully did not persist (Pat was intelligent enough to know that he was simply attracting unnecessary attention to himself),
and within a matter of weeks he was more or less what you might describe as “back to himself”—the perfect disguise, of course, for any regulator!—smiling away to his neighbors and greeting them with saluations such as “Not a bad day now, Mrs. O’Carroll!” and “There you are now, Mrs. O’Hare! And Barney! Turned out nice again, thank God!”
Thus proceeded the first 365 days of what might be called Pat McNab’s “postmatricide” year. Pat, who, it seemed, now spent many of his waking hours sitting by the window of his old dark house and nibbling abstractedly on fingers of toast, every so often experiencing a slight twinge of remorse as he considered, “Why did I have to do that—go and murder my own mother, the woman who looked after me and attended to all my needs for almost forty-five years?” But it would pass, almost as if it had never existed, and as he finished the last of his toast, a small smile would begin to play on his lips, and he would find himself consumed by the strangest warmth, as if he had just been that he had won a much coveted prize, the pearly-toothed presenter (for that was how he imagined him) grinning from ear to ear as he informed the blushing Pat that he, in the opinion of the judges, had shown himself to be the best in his particular field (that of what might be termed “efficient dispatch”), “by far.”
All of which a certain Mrs. Tubridy knew nothing about—and it was tragic that she didn’t—as she went about her business one fine day making her way to Tom Donohoe’s shop, where it was her intention to purchase some carrots for an Irish stew that she would have been much better advised to concentrate on, instead of making it her business to enquire of Pat as to the “purpose of his business” on this particular day and as to “where he might be off to.” Quite apart from making impertinent suggestions as to the nature of Pat’s drinking habits and his “fondness for Sullivan’s Bar”—asides, which, had she seen fit not to make them, might have seen her alive and healthy and well to this very day. But make them she did, and in the process, sealed her fate.
What is especially poignant, perhaps, is the fact that Pat—as he reposed in his armchair after what was now, of course, his “second performance”—quite unexpectedly found himself recalling a night when Mrs. Tubridy had come around visiting—it was around Christmastime,
and his father was home!—and had spent the evening doling out punch and singing ballads (“Who Put the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder?” was her party piece), lifting her skirts as his mother and she danced away around the flagstones like there was no tomorrow!
And which, for her, sadly now had proven to be the case, as Pat stared at her stretched full out on the table, silent as the morgue now, all because she had to go asking questions about people’s mothers and drinking whiskey and all these things that should have been no concern of hers at all, their only benefit to anyone being that what could have been the happiest ballad-story of all time had now ended up like this, with Mrs. Tubridy’s furry boots rigid as sticks sticking out from under her coat and her hand hanging down like some sad and lonesome glove of wax. It was sad, there can be no doubt about it—and this, our first song tale, “Whiskey on a Sunday”—tells exactly how it happened.