The Commute

by Tadhg Coakley


At eight, on the dot, as per usual, you get into the old 07 BMW (all you can afford these days), start her up, and wait for Claire. Fifteen, going on twenty-bloody-eight, that child. Didn’t lick it off the ground either. She could never be on time. You look at the odometer. 162,456 kilometres. Did you ever think you’d see the day when you’d be driving a car with that many miles on the clock? But that’s the way it is now. Might as well get used to it. You wait for the air conditioning to kick in and imagine coming home early that day from work with some good news from NAMA. While Claire’s at hockey or something. Only to find your so-called wife half sitting, half lying on the sofa. Dead. A tragedy. Maybe an aneurism. Perfect. No cleaning up. You picture yourself raising her glass of wine and knocking the rest of it back. A toast. It’s still chilled. Maybe you could resuscitate her? No. You pour another half-glass, switch off the TV (she’d been watching one of her stupid day-time shows) and look out the window at the neglected front garden, thinking about your bright future. You decide to save the eulogy for later, when you’re alone. 

You think again about last night’s conniption. Even by her standards it was a doozie. All you did was suggest that she cut back a bit on the sauce. You don’t mind the screaming blue murder and threatening to walk out that door with Claire and ‘clean you out’.  But all that shit about you being a failure, losing all that money, you could have done without. As if you were the only one hit by the crash. Couldn’t she read a fucking paper once in a while? 

And you’re sure Claire could hear every word and it has to be tough on the kid listening to that. You’re proud that you didn’t start shouting back, this time. Of course, keeping your cool only made her worse. It’s a wonder the neighbours don’t complain – she could have been heard in Monkstown. Probably too embarrassed. 

‘Clean you out’ – that’s a laugh too. Seeing as how she and her crooked brother have already done it just as thoroughly as that pretty Polish girl in Dublin that time you got the colonic irrigation, which was all the rage there for a while.  

You hope you’ll get a good run in the Douglas Road to town, but the lights are red at the junction with Eglantine. So you stop behind a 152 Audi Q7 (who the hell has that kind of money these days?) and despite your determination not to look, you do look, and you can see the old homestead across the road − as run down as ever.

You think about your mother, and the day, seven years ago, you told her that your father’s pension fund in AIB shares was more or less worthless. All the money she had in the world, gone. How she sat up rigid in her chair, in front of the fire in the sitting room, surrounded by the tat her brother, the priest, had brought home from Peru. That self-righteous dickhead who was probably diddling kids out there all those years. And then she looked at you like you were dirt and she said: ‘I’m glad your father isn’t alive to witness this fiasco. He’d be ashamed of you.’

How she rose stiffly from her chair and went out the door and up the stairs to her room, to get ready to die of shame. You did not speak. You did not defend yourself with the excuses you had so often rehearsed. You just sat there and took it and began to stew in it, before putting up the fireguard, closing the door and leaving the house. She was dead in eighteen months. 

You think about your father, a decent man. Went too soon, only four months after retiring – that’s a lesson to us all. Built that business up from scratch. You’d never have gotten that commerce degree if it wasn’t for him, or that job in the bank. You know he pulled strings in the golf club. Straight in as deputy manager too. Christ, that’s almost thirty years ago now, where did they go?

You rerun your daydream of getting out of bank shares just before the penny dropped and saving the day. Selling off all the properties except the house, clearing out all the portfolios, just in time. Putting it all into Facebook or Apple or YouTube or something crazy that has quadrupled since. Convincing all your friends to do the same. They would be forever grateful – Christ they’d have given you their virgin daughters on their eighteenth birthdays (if such a thing as a virgin exists at eighteen any more).  You glance at Claire warily and wonder. 

You pass three girls in Christ King uniforms near the Cross Douglas Road and are reminded of Mary Quinlan. You should never have broken it off with her. And all because she wouldn’t let you drop the hand that night on the way home from The Shed. Jesus, she was only sixteen too, only a year older than Claire and you weren’t even going out with her that long. Idiot. To think you might have married her. It’s better looking she’s getting with age, too, however she does it. You wonder for a moment if you’d ever have a chance with her now, and then discard it.

 The traffic gets bad on Summer Hill South, and Claire begins to sigh and fidget in the passenger seat. Thumbs flying all over that screen and the rate of beeps and boops on her phone picks up at an alarming rate. How the hell can they be texting or whatever so much at this hour of the morning?

The first affair was a shock. Yes, nothing had been going on the bedroom for a while but that wasn’t your fault, you were still game ball, ready willing and able, and you have a fair idea that a lot of marriages are in that boat. No reason for her to be screwing the bloody Sunday’s Well tennis coach who’s a good twenty years younger than her. I mean, what a fucking cliché for starters. Turns out that a few of the yummy mummies had a go with him before you got him sacked – not that it makes you feel any better. 

And if she’d left it at that, you might have moved on. But then, of all the men she could have picked – that unadulterated prick, Shocks.  That big mouthed, know-it-all, second-hand car salesman, the great Teddy O’Shaughnessy. ‘Best out-half ever to kick the winning drop goal for Christians in the Senior Cup Final’. Jumped-up fucking twat. Who was famous for two things and two things only (apart from that flukey kick – if only it had gone wide). His big mouth: he can never shut up. Even when he was five the Christian Brothers couldn’t shut him up. And his big cock: legendary in rugby dressing room showers, up and down the four proud provinces of Ireland. Cliché number two. And a single figure golf handicap. Jesus H. Christ. You think she picked him specifically to shame you as much as is humanly possible. The looks in the club house after that fourball with Sean and the lads. The pity in James Twomey’s eyes. Your brother Pat, telling you to ‘sort it out’. You shudder.

At South Terrace, stuck behind a bus, you imagine walking into that big ugly showroom on the South Link Road and smashing your fist into Shocks’s fat mouth. Blood spattering satisfyingly over whatever shitty new Hyundai he’s trying to flog these days. Him pleading through busted lips, his eyes gaping with the fear of God. You start to get stiff with the satisfaction of it, and squirm guiltily with Claire beside you. So instead you think about the five best ways to hide the trust fund from the auditors. 

The state of this city. Half the businesses on Union Quay shut down and for sale. If one of those Muppets in City Hall knew their arse from their elbow, they’d have reduced rates so that decent businessmen – the very people who will get this country off its knees again – can get on with the job of creating jobs and bringing in investment. 

Yes, mistakes were made and if everybody knew that Lehmann’s was going to crash, things would have been done differently. You remember the day, that black day, when your precious brother-in-law, the saviour of the universe, told you about the ‘loophole’. The ‘loophole’ this and the ‘loophole’ that. If he said that word once he said it a hundred times. It was only a stupid bloody Cayman account at the end of the day. You should have told him to shove his ‘loophole’ up his own hole. Sitting in Nash 19, eyeing up the waitresses with their short skirts and pert arses, some of them hardly older than Claire. Stuffing the full Irish into his big gob, and you picking at a brown scone. You hope he gets the coronary to end all coronaries, off in his villa in Spain with that tramp from Galway, walking out on her kids like that. 

Bigger eejit you, to fall for it, of course, but at that stage you thought you were going to lose everything including the family home in Rochestown and the Baltimore cottage. The yacht and the ski lodge were already history, and those apartments in Swords – not to mention the shares portfolio. He saw you coming, you know that now, and then sold you up the Swanee to the executors, first chance he could get. As if it was your idea and you pushed him into it.  So you panicked. 

You turn down the heating and loosen your tie. This car is just fine, you think, on Parliament Bridge. BMWs go forever. Claire sighs again, eyes glued to that bloody iPhone. Pointless saying anything. She wouldn’t lower herself to talk to you unless she needed money for some top or other in Brown Thomas, or if her mother barred her from some disco and she thought you might let her go.  And you would too, you big gom. Whatever she wants − you spoil her rotten and you know it, and she knows it too. Must be hard for her putting up with all that shit at home, though. 

The South Mall is choc-a-block, buses jamming up the whole place. No wonder the country is in the mess it’s in. 

On Parnell Street you go through the plans for the umpteenth time. Claire’s peppering now, late for school again, but it’s her own fault. She’ll never learn.

Step one − rent a small apartment. You don’t need much. Walking distance to the bank. With only two years to retirement they’d have to give you a big lump sum to dump you. Bring it on. Of course you’ll have to give half of everything to her, but she’s got her grubbies all over that already, so what’s the difference? As long as you can keep hiding those Kerry shares in Panama and siphon the dividends through the online HSBC account, you’re home free. 

Step two – move out and start that mindfulness course Berna is always talking about. Completely transformed her husband, the surgeon, she said, who would have been on the scrapheap only for it. You’ve read a bit about it and it seems the right job. Live in the moment. Forget the past. Don’t worry about the future. Two years of misery in the bank, yes, but then there’s the retirement and the house in Baltimore which is in a trust fund for Claire until she’s twenty-one so that greedy cow can’t touch it. That’s five years away – three of them in West Cork, and by that time you’ll be home free and doing a bit of consultancy on the side, a grand-a-day, and claiming back the expenses and the VAT. 

Step three – online dating. Once you start the mindfulness and lose a bit of weight, you’ll be back on track. You know you can do it. Everything still in working order and you can cook – women love that. You’ve been dabbling on this Tinder website and the amount of available women out there, even over forty – unbelievable. All you want is a bit of action every now and then. A good blow job goes a long way – not that you’ve had one since God knows when. You’re not looking for a super-model. Somebody who looks good, can put a few words together, not too needy, her own place, likes a shag. Maybe a foreigner with no ties here. American would be the job. Holidays in Florida. Not that much to ask, in fairness. 

Step four – put Claire through college. If she wants, you can get a bigger apartment and she can stay with you and get away from the clutches of the bitch. If she’s any sense she will, but you doubt it. She’ll probably hate your guts, if you’re honest, for walking away, but she’ll come round in time and realise that it was best for everyone. And when you come up with the goods to get her through college and into a decent profession, she’ll know where her bread is buttered. You can’t do any more. And she’s bright enough – that’s for sure. Might be the best thing all round. Before herself became a total alco, she wasn’t the worst and she might quit drinking on the strength of it and get back to a part-time job or something useful. Could be doing her a major favour, actually. 

Because she’s so late, you drop Claire at the bottom of Patrick’s Hill instead of the usual place on Merchant’s Quay. You’d think she’d be grateful, but no. Got that temper off her mother – a wonder the door didn’t come off the hinges with the slamming she gave it. Stomping up the hill, big backpack full of books. How they allow them to wear skirts that short you’ll never know. It’s a long way around to the bank but that means more time to yourself. You switch on Lyric FM. And as you turn the corner into Brian Ború Street, Marty Whelan announces it. Julian Lloyd Webber playing Pie Jesu. You sigh with pleasure, turn up the sound, and clear your throat. 

‘We’re very grateful for everybody coming here today and for being with us over the past few days, on this, the most difficult stage of our journey as a family.  We know that some people have travelled a long way, and in such bad weather too. We’re so thankful for all your support and we can’t ever repay all that you’ve done for us since… since Susan’s passing.’

‘Now you all knew Susan and how humble and caring a person she was, so you know that she wouldn’t really have wanted a eulogy or anything like that, but I’m sorry girl, you’ll have to bear with me.’

‘I think I loved Susan from the moment I first met her all those years ago when I was a Leaving Cert student in Christians and she was in fourth-year in Scoil Mhuire. And I think that what I loved most about her was the way you felt when you were with her. You always felt that you were the only person in the world, and to have been married to her for all these years was such a privilege. I can’t begin to express my feeling of gratitude, despite the terrible loss… at her passing.’

‘Now as well as being a wonderful wife, Susan was, even more so, a tremendous mother to Claire. Nothing was too much trouble for her when it came to her precious daughter and nothing was too good. Claire, if only you knew how much Susan spoke about you, how proud she was of you, how much you meant to her and what a blessing it was for us both to have you in our lives. She thought the world of you and all the love she felt for you – it will always be with you, don’t ever doubt it. And I think that Shakespeare said it best when he wrote: ‘My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.’’

‘Now, Susan was not only a wife to me and a mother to Claire, she was also our best friend and we know very well how much we are going to need our family and friends in the future to help get us through this. We know how much we’re going to miss Susan, but we’re also very grateful for the time we had with her. It will always be very precious to us.’

‘Thank you all very much. There will be some refreshments at the Rochestown Hotel later and you’re all very welcome to join us there.’

You drive up to car park barrier at the back of the bank as the last sweet strains of the cello fade away. You park in your space and switch off the engine.