The years continued to roll on, expanding until my childhood reverie waned. Ireland continued to be a panacea of opportunity. By 2008 Dad had replaced the BMW with a Range Rover. It consumed the driveway with its girth.
I remember being gathered around the television. The Madines were having a quiet night in for Joe’s nineteenth birthday. Mammy nursed our new sister Eithne in her lap. Dad’s hair was untidy and his tie was crooked. He never left the office now. “Almost forgot,” he said, passing me a copy of CarSport magazine. With Joe looking over my shoulder I began to flick through the pages. A poster slipped out from the magazine’s spine. Unfolding it revealed the most the most garish car I had ever laid eyes on. Its crenulated wheel spokes grinned at me from the glossy page. The spoiler protruded like the hilt of a blade from its scabbard. To me, in that moment, a sword and a car were one and the same. When wielded properly both became an extension of the hand. With enthusiastic conviction I showed the poster to Dad.
I announced that it would be my first car. Joe nodded his head in agreement. Dad contorted his face and whistled before replying, “Now lads, if you’re looking a Nissan Skyline, you’d need to start saving.” “Right then, we will, won’t we Shane?” said Joe, poking fun. “You didn’t always have a fast car, Dad. You have to start somewhere.” “And you won’t have a roof over your heads much longer, if you don’t watch it lads,” retorted Dad. “We might as well aim high,” I said. “Sure, everybody’s at it.” Dad stole a glance at my mother. His eyes were red and raw. He looked unnerved as he chided me, “No more of that talk out of you.” He took out a cigarette and left the room. The buoyant atmosphere had collapsed. The baby began to whimper over the knell of the television, “…as Dublin house prices continue to fall.”
Mickey Bishop gave us work as a mechanic on weekends. I worked incessantly, leaving and returning in total darkness. Sitting in school on Monday mornings I was aware of my hands. They would be smeared in oil, my fingers throbbing. I’d tell myself it was worth the effort. Everything had its price.
Joe and I would count the money on Sunday evenings and place it into a glass jar which we concealed beneath a loose floorboard.
One Friday I arrived home from work. The kitchen light was still on. Dad was visible through the frosted glass, hunched over the table with his head bowed. I went in. He barely acknowledged me. His stubble was thick, his face thin. The acrid smell of whiskey filled the room. He spoke with a brusque tone. “Dan Harrington didn’t turn up to work. His won’t answer the phone. I was relying on one of his contracts to cover my costs.” “Have you got enough to cover it?” I asked. He snapped “Get you to bed!” bringing his fist down hard on the table on the final word. A chill ran up my spine as I left the kitchen. As I climbed the stairs my spirits were doused by a sense of foreboding. Falling into bed I looked through the skylight. A thick veil of cloud masked the stars.
That evening stands out in my memory. It was like a rug pulled from beneath our feet. With each day thereafter the lives of the Madines began to shatter and fall.
We shared our fate with many others as the fabric of Ireland’s destiny swiftly unravelled. Dad put the car up for sale. Nobody was interested. Mickey Bishop turned up the following Sunday. “Dan’s done a runner, Aodhán,” he said as he drew on a cigarette. No one ever smoked in the house. Dad said nothing. His face said it all. Mickey continued. “No one has had word of him for three days.” Dad finally mustered a reply, fighting tears. “I have the largest stake in the business…I’m liable.”
From then on he spent his time on the phone. He demanded payments and defended his own. The bills slowly amassed beneath the letterbox. I walked into the kitchen one evening to find him facing my mother. Tears ran down her cheeks. “We’ve three mouths to feed. You can’t touch our savings Aodhán,” she said. “If I don’t stay liquid, we’ll lose everything. I’ve no choice, Sarah.” The silence that followed was shattered by the doorbell. A voice rang out, “We need our wages, Aodhán!” Dad turned towards me, “Get rid of them, Shane.” In that moment I knew that his business was beyond saving. That car was my last ray of hope.
Guarantee day was the final nail in the coffin. Joe and I had taken Granda Michael out for a pint to celebrate our earnings. We’d raised just shy of three thousand euros in eight months. Walking home Granda slapped us both on the back as we rounded the corner. Dad was smoking on the doorstep. The glow of his cigarette danced in the darkness like a crosshair…and by God he was shaking like a hunted man. Barely able to stand, he followed us inside.
Mammy was bawling her eyes out in the sitting room. The lights were out and the television cast dancing shadows on the wall. Eithne was curled up in the corner. Granda went to her and picked her up. “What now?” asked Joe. Mammy took a moment to gather herself. “The banks rejected your father’s application for a loan. The business is dead.” Granda Michael winced as though he’d been struck across the face. He turned to face my father. “No, Aodhán, no…What about the men under you? What about their children?” Joe sank into the sofa and bit his lip. I couldn’t move. Mammy clasped her knees to her chest and closed her eyes as she spoke. “They’re on their own. Our savings are gone. The mortgage is two months in arrears.”
It was difficult to watch Granda suffer as he relived hardships he thought were confined to the past. He kept whispering “This isn’t happening” over and over. In that moment I realised that nothing is sacred, that all hope can die and every dream be pillaged. I knew what I had to do. Climbing the stairs I entered Joe’s room. My tears started as I lifted the floorboard. Joe jumped up when I came back with the glass jar in my arms. “No, Shane,” he said as he reached out and touched the jar.
Dad moved for the first time in those long minutes. Sweat glistened on his forehead. The sinews on his withered temple twitched. He licked his lips and asked, “How much?” I replied “Three thousand.”
He paced across the room with his hands extended. I gave him the jar. He cradled it in his arms. “We’ll have a roof over our heads,” he whispered. “For now.” He dropped like a stone to the floor. His moans were like that of a wounded animal. Granda bent down to him, placed one hand on Dad’s cheek and kissed his forehead. He held Eithne close with the other hand. Joe gave Mammy’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze…and I watched as my family was brought to its knees. The image of my father gripping that jar of money will stay with me forever. He had been humbled in front of his wife, his children, even his father. In that moment he had no choice but to extinguish the dreams of his children. His business had been ravished by economic rot, a plague that would smother our lives for many years to come. Things never returned to the way they were. In a way, I never left that sitting room.
I used to wonder who was to blame. I’d spend hours harbouring thoughts of revenge that ricocheted back and forth in my mind, when one day I simply stopped. It didn’t matter. A myriad of higher powers had ploughed the soil of Ireland and when it became sterile they got out when they could. Things went forward until they failed. When the crash hit we had to bear a financial cross whose shared load would break the backs of millions…and there’d be no relief.
Now, I lament what followed. The death of friendships spawned family feuds. Dan Harrington abandoned my father. He in turn had no choice but to abandon those workers who had put their trust in him. Mickey Bishop never calls. Dad is dead inside. We can never look beyond tomorrow.
Dad was right. There was a price to pay for everything. Now, we’re forever in debt.
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