Authors: Brian Moore
Tags: #LANGUAGE. LINGUISTICS. LITERATURE, #Literature, #Literature
COPYRIGHT, (C), 1960, BY BRIAN MOORE «
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The Luck of Ginger Cofey
One Fifteen dollars and three cents. He counted it and put it in his trouser-pocket. Then picked his Tyrolean hat off the dresser, wondering if the two Alpine buttons and the little brush dingus in the hatband weren't a shade jaunty for the place he was going. Still, they might be lucky to him. And it was a lovely morning, clear and crisp and clean. Maybe that was a good augury. Maybe today his ship would come in.
James Francis (Ginger) Coffey then risked it into the kitchen. His wife was at the stove. His daughter Paulie sat listless over Corn Flakes. He said "Good morning," but his only answer came from Michel, the landlady's little boy, who was looking out the window.
"What's up, lad?" Coffey asked, joining Michel. Together, man and boy, they watched a Montreal Roads Department tractor clambering on and off the pavement as it shunted last night's snowfall into the street.
"Sit down, Ginger, you're as bad as the child," his wife said, laying his breakfast on the kitchen table.
He tried her again. "Good morning, Veronica."
"His mother was just in," said she, pointing to Michel. "Wanting to know how long we were going to keep the place on. I told her you'd speak to her. So don't forget to pop upstairs and give our notice the minute you have the tickets."
"Yes, dear/' Flute! Couldn't a man get a bite of breakfast into him before she started that nattering? He knew about telling Madame Beaulieu. All right.
A boiled egg, one slice of toast and his tea. It was not enough. Breakfast was his best meal; she knew that. But in the crying poverty mood that was on her these last weeks, he supposed she'd take his head off altogether if he asked her for a second egg. Still, he tried.
"Would you make us another egg?" he said.
"Make it yourself," she said.
He turned to Paulie. "Pet, would you shove an egg on forme?"
"Daddy, I'm late."
Ah, well. If it was to be a choice between food and begging them to do the least thing, then give him hunger any day. He ate his egg and toast, drank a second cup of tea and went out into the hall to put his coat on. Sheepskin-lined it was, his pride and joy; thirty guineas it had cost him at Aquascutum.
But she came after him before he could flee the coop. "Now, remember to phone me the minute you pick up the tickets," she said. "And ask them about the connection from Southampton with the boat train for Dublin. Because I want to put that into my letter to Mother this afternoon."
"And, by the way, Gerry Grosvenor's coming in at five. So don't you be stravaging in at six, do you hear?"
What did she have to ask Gerry Grosvenor up here for? They could have said good-by to Geriy downtown. Didn't she know damn well he didn't want people seeing the inside of this place? Flute! His eyes assessed their present surroundings as Gerry Grosvenor's would. The lower half of a duplex apartment on a shabby Montreal street, dark as limbo, jerry-built fifty years ago and going off keel
ever since. The doors did not close, the floors buckled and warped, the walls had been repapered antl repainted until they bulged. And would bulge more, for it was a place that people on their way up tried to improve, people on their way down to disguise: all in vain. The hegira of tenants would continue.
Still, what was the use in talking? She had asked Gerry: the harm was done. "All right," he said. "Give us a kiss now. I'm off"
She kissed him the way she would a child. "Not that I know what I'm going to give Gerry to drink/' she said. "With only beer in the house/'
"Sure, never mind," he said and kissed her quick again to shut her up. "So long, now. I'll be home before five."
And got away clean.
Outside in the refrigerated air, snow fine as salt drifted off the tops of sidewalk snowbanks, spiraling up and over to the intersection where a policeman raised his white mitt paw, halting traffic to let Coffey cross. Coffey wagged the policeman the old salute in passing. By J, they were like Russkis in their black fur hats. It amused him now to think that, before he came out here, he had expected Montreal would be a sort of Frenchy place. French my foot! It was a cross between America and Russia. The cars, the supermarkets, the hoardings; they were just as you saw them in the Hollywood films. But the people and the snows and the cold — that woman passing, her head tied up in a babushka, feet in big bloothers of boots, and her dragging the child along behind her on a little sled — wasn't that the real Siberian stuff ?
The other people at the bus stop noticed that the little boy was not wearing his snow suit. But Coffey did not. "Well, Michel," he said. "Come to see me off?"
"Come for candy."
"Now, there's a straight answer, at least," Coffey said, putting his arm around the boy's shoulders and marching him off to the candy store on the corner. "Which sort takes your fancy, Michel?"
The child picked out a big plastic package of sour-balls. "This one, M'sieurP"
"Gob stoppers," Coffey said. "The exact same thing I used to pick when I was your age. Fair enough." He handed the package over and asked the storeman how much.
By J, it was not cheap. Still, he couldn't disappoint the kid, so he paid, led his friend outside, waited for the policeman to halt traffic, then sent Michel on his way. "Remember," he said, "that's a secret. Don't tell anybody I bought them."
"Okay. Merci, M'sieur"
Coffey watched him run, then rejoined the bus queue. He hoped Veronica wouldn't find out about those sweets, for it would mean another lecture about wasting his money on outsiders. But ah! Coffey remembered his boyhood, the joys of a penny paper twist of bullseyes. He smiled at the memory and discovered that the girl next to him in the queue thought he was smiling at her. She smiled back and he gave her the eye. For there was life in the old carcass yet. Yes, when the good Lord was handing out looks, Coffey considered he had not been last in line. Now, in his prime, he considered himself a fine big fellow with a soldierly straightness to him, his red hair thick as ever and a fine mustache to boot. And another thing. He believed that clothes made the man and the man he had made of himself was a Dublin squire. Sports clothes took years off him, he thought, and he always bought the very best of stuff. As he rode downtown on the bus that
morning there wasn't a soul in Montreal who would say There goes a man who's out of work. . . . Not on your earthly. Not even when he went through the doorway of the Unemployment Insurance Commission and marched right up to Executive 6- Professional, which seemed the right place for him.
"Fill it out at the table over there, Mr. Coffey," said the counter clerk. Nice young fellow, no hint of condescension in his tone, very helpful and natural as though this sort of thing happened to everyone. Still, pen in hand, write in block letters or type, Coffey was faced once again with the misleading facts of a life. In block letters, he began:
Born: May 14, 1916, DUBLIN, IRELAND.
Education: PLUNKETT SCHOOL, DUBLIN. NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, DUBLIN.
Specify degrees, honors, other accomplishments: [He had not finished his B.A., but never mind.] BACHELOR OF ARTS . . . [Pass.] 1938.
List former positions, giving dates, names of employers, etc.: [Flute! Here we go.]
IRISH ARMY. 1939-1945. ASST. TO PRESS OFFICER, G.H.Q. COMMISSIONED £ND LIEUT. 1940; IST LIEUT. 1942.
KYLEMORE DISTILLERIES, DUBLIN. 1946-1948, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO MANAGING DIRECTOR; 1949-1953, ASSISTANT IN ADVERTISING DEPARTMENT.
COOMB-NA-BAUN KNITWEAR, CORK. 1953-1955, SPECIAL ASSISTANT.
COOTEHILL DISTILLERIES, DUBLIN/
DUBLIN. DROMORE TWEEDS, CARRICK-
AUGUST 1955-DECEM-- BER 1955. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR CANADA.
[His position as of this morning, January 2, 1956, was null and bloody void, wasn't it? So he put a line through that one. Then read it all over, absent-mindedly brushing the ends of his mustache with the pen. He signed with a large, much-practiced signature.]
The wooden plaque in front of the young man who looked over his application bore the name J. DONNELLY. And naturally J. Donnelly, like all Irish Canadians, noticed Coffey's brogue and came out with a couple of introductory jokes about the Ould Sod. But the jokes weren't half as painful as what came after them.
"I see you have your B.A., Mr. Coffey. Have you ever considered teaching as a profession? We're very short of teachers here in Canada."
"Holy smoke," said Coffey, giving J. Donnelly an honest grin. "That was years ago. Sure, I've forgotten every stitch."
"I see," J. Donnelly said. "But I'm not quite clear why you've put down for a public relations job? Apart from your — ah — Army experience, that is?"
"Well now," Coffey explained. "My work over here as Canadian representative for those three firms you see there, why that was all promotion. Public relations, you might call it."
"I see. . . . But, frankly, Mr. Coffey, I'm afraid that experience would hardly qualify you for a public relations position. I mean, a senior one."
There was a silence. Coffey fiddled with the little brush dingus in his hat. "Well now, look here," he began. "I'll put my cards on the table, Mr. Donnelly. These firms that sent me out here wanted me to come back to Ireland when they gave up the North American market. But I said no. And the reason I said no is because I thought
Canada was the land of opportunity. Now, because of that, because I want to stay, no matter wh^t, well, perhaps I'll have to accept a more junior position here than what I was used to at home. Now, supposing you make me an offer, as the girl said to the sailor?"
But J. Donnelly offered only a polite smile.
"Or — or perhaps if there's nothing in public relations, you might have some clerical job going?"
"Clerical, Mr. Coffey?"
"Clerical isn't handled in this department, sir. This is for executives. Clerical is one floor down."
"And at the moment, sir, ordinary clerical help is hard to place. However, if you want me to transfer you?"
"No, don't bother/' Coffey said. "There's nothing in public relations, is there?"
J. Donnelly stood up. "Well, if you'll just wait, I'll check our files. Excuse me."
He went out. After a few minutes a typewriter began to clacket in the outer office. Coffey shuffled his little green hat and deerskin gauntlets until J. Donnelly returned. "You might be in luck, Mr. Coffey," he said. "There's a job just come in this morning for assistant editor on the house organ of a large nickel company. Not your line exactly, but you might try it?"
What could Coffey say? He was no hand at writing. Still, needs must and he had written a few Army releases in his day. He accepted the slip of paper and thanked the man.
"I'll phone them and tell them you'll be on deck at eleven," J. Donnelly said. "Strike while the iron's hot, eh? And here's another possibility, if the editor job doesn't work out." He handed over a second slip of paper. "Now, if nothing comes of either of those," he said,
"come back here and 111 transfer you to clerical, okay?"
Coffey pu£ the second slip in his doeskin waistcoat and thanked the man again.
"Good luck," J. Donnelly said. "The luck of the Irish, eh, Mr. Coffey?"
"Ha, ha," Coffey said, putting on his little hat. Luck of the Canadians would suit him better, he thought. Still, it was a start. Chin up! Off he sloped into the cold morning and pulled out the first slip to check on the address. On Beaver Hall Hill, it was. Up went his hand to signal a taxi, but down it came when he remembered the fourteen dollars left in his pocket. If he hurried, he could walk it.
Or shanks' mare it, as his mother used to say. Ah, what's the sense giving Ginger any money for his tram, she'd say; he'll never use it. Doesn't he spend every penny on some foolishness the minute you put it in his pocket? And it was true, then as now. He was no great hand with money. He thought of himself in those far-off days, hurrying to school, the twopence already spent in some shop, whirling the satchel of schoolbooks around his head, stopping at Stephen's Green to take out his ruler and let it go tickety, tak, tdk among the railings of the park. Dreaming then of being grown up; free of school and catechism; free from exams and orders; free to go out into a great world and find adventures. Shanks' mare now along Notre Dame Street, remembering: the snow beginning to fall, a melting frost changing gray fieldstone office fronts to the color of a dead man's skin, hurrying as once he had hurried to school. But this was not school. School was thirty years ago and three thousand miles away, across half a frozen continent and the whole Atlantic Ocean. Why, even the time of day was different from at home. Here it was not yet midmorning and there, in Dublin, the pubs would be closing after lunch. It made him homesick to think of those pubs, so he must
not think. No, for wasn't this the chance he>ad always wanted? Wasn't he at long last an adventurer, a man who had gambled all on one horse, a horse colored Canada, which now by hook or crook would carry him to fame and fortune? Right, then!
So shanks* mare he went across Place d'Armes under the statue of Maisonneuve, an adventurer and a gambler too, who had sailed out in sixteen forty-one to discover this promised land, and shanks' mare past the Grecian columns of a bank and do not think what's left in there, but shanks' mare alone up Craig Street, remembering that he was far away now from that wireless network of friends and relations who, never mind, they would not let you starve so long as you were one of them but who, if you left home, struck out on your own, crossed the seas, well, that was the end of you as far as they were concerned.