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The Blizzard at The Grounded Antler

The Grounded Antler was a pub at the end of Luton Airport’s third runway. A drink there set the pulses racing, which is why people came. They would watch out of its window, one-inch-thick, their hearts pumping with excitement as low-cost carrier planes appeared to come right towards them only to rise safely into the sky. 

It was an optical illusion, a rollercoaster inside the confines of England’s fifth busiest airport. The tables and chairs were nailed to the floor as in an asylum and, despite appearances, the planes were never all that close. 

It was a very safe bar in which to have a drink. And it was also a safe, dull place to work. A normal pub where staff got along well enough, where they occasionally got under each other’s skin too.  

It was during the blizzard that Rupert Hathpenny did the latter. 

Here’s how.

Rupert Hathpenny had graduated the previous summer; physics, a first from Magdalen College, Oxford. I had a 2:1 in Norse Mythology from the University of Keele, picked up a dozen years earlier. 

The regulars—what few we had—mocked his well-heeled accent with the half-hearted jabs of jealous men with large chips on their shoulders. He was bracingly jovial, but had a 

Janus-faced, chameleonic charm that had him make snide remarks about the regulars, a collection of runway staff, baggage handlers, toilet cleaners and (off-duty) shuttle-bus drivers. 

Rupert was nimble and socially adept, composed when the bar was busy on Monday mornings (the early flight to Dublin) or Friday and Saturday nights.

Rupert Hathpenny was a good barman.

So was I. 

Rupert Hathpenny was a popular barman. 

I’d say I was shy. 

There were around twelve staff at The Grounded Antler, though only a few I knew well. There was Terry, our ethereal manager, Chef, Denise the Babbler and Zuzanna, a nineteen-year-old student from Poland. Then there were the women on the floor; Luana, who had moved to London from Brazil in the eighties, Theresa, from Cork (like me) and Barbara, a local. It was a nice team, though its harmony was fractured on the morning of the blizzard when, between turning on the bar lights and putting in the drip trays, Rupert announced he was ‘finally leaving.’ The man had found, as he put it, a ‘proper job.’

“The neck on that one,” said Barbara. There was a lull at the bar, so I was helping her wrap cutlery. 

“He’s pleased with himself alright.” 

“As well he should be. But don’t be going around saying this ain’t a proper job. I’ve worked here ten years and I work bloody hard.” 

She threw down the knife and fork she was in the midst of wrapping. 

“The cheek. I’m going for a smoke. Coming?”

“No, it’s okay,” I said. “You head out. I’ll finish up here.” 

Rupert was behind the bar. I decided to go speak with the man himself. 

“I’ll be tinkering with nukes,” he said, screwing the Guinness tap into place. He had landed himself a role at a renowned arms manufacturer. 

“Good for you, Rupert,” I said.

He smiled arrogantly. “Deterrence is diplomacy, Colm,” he replied, ornery and defensive. 

“It is,” I said. “Well done.”

He told me I was jealous. I admitted I was. 

“I’d love to be twenty-two again.”

Rupert took on a look of concentrated effort, before realising he had been screwing the Guinness tap in where the Amstel should have gone. 

“I think there’s more to it than that,” he said, looking up at me with self-satisfaction, before nearly falling over as the pub shook, roaring into life. 

I steadied him with one arm, used the other to steady myself on the oaken counter as the metallic pipes rattled. Rupert looked at me with reluctant gratitude, then at the watch on his right arm.

“The 07:03 to Nice?” I asked. 

“Delayed. The 06:59 to Auxerre.”

I nodded. The pair of us waited for take-off to end, watching as the carrier roared towards us before climbing safely. Its ascent provided an implausibly convenient metaphor. I looked back at Rupert, who had now composed himself. 

“Because you’re going places and I’m not?” I asked. 

He hesitated a moment. “Yes. I think that’s the nub of it.” 

I looked out of the window again. “That’ll be the Ryanair 07:05 to Belfast.”

“Knowing Ryanair, it’s probably the delayed 06:03,” said Rupert.

“Careful now, Rupert, Ryanair are a litigious lot.”

Circling a straw languorously around his soda and lime, he nodded and, snorting derisively, said he’d be ‘glad to see the back of this place.’ 

“I’m sure you will,” I said, watching the ice swirl glacially in his glass. “But maybe rein the enthusiasm in a little? You’re broadcasting your disdain for the place louder than a Ryanair summer sale.” 

Rupert shrugged. “The Antler’s a dive.” 

I looked across the bar, towards Luana, who was collecting glasses from the tables. 

“It’s the only dive some of them have,” I said. 

Rupert put his glass down. He walked up to me and placed a hand on my shoulder as he spoke. 

“You’re a smart guy, Colm. Don’t end up like them.” 

He walked off. I watched the ice in his glass, waiting for it to ripple like the water in Jurassic Park, announcing the 07:15 to Budapest, same as yesterday, and the day before that. 

It was 09:06 and it was starting to snow as Zuzanna walked in late for her shift, which had begun at nine. 

“Morning, Zuzanna,” I said. 

She replied in kind. She attached a fob to her belt but forewent The Grounded Antler apron they expected us to wear. I nodded towards Rupert. 

“He’s leaving us you know.”


“He has a new job.”

She looked towards him, then back at me. “Good for him. Anywhere is better than this place.”

I scanned the pub. With its fake fire and paisley carpet, the faces familiar and not, and the large window, it didn’t seem so bad, until you considered the pay, and the fact I had to get a shuttle bus back to the Terminal, another to the station, then two trains home.

“Oh, he’s pleased all right,’” I said. “Others not so much.”

“They will miss him?” Zuzanna asked, her Polish accent flecked with the Americana of film and telly. 

“Not quite,” I said. 

I explained how the young fella had put everyone’s noses out of joint in talking about his new job, boasting to anyone who would listen. 

“What did you say about noses?”

I apologised. I often confused Zuzanna, creating for her a daily commute of the English language. 

“Pissed off, Zuzanna. It means pissed off.”

Zuzanna said ‘Ah’ and smiled. “That’s funny. I’ll make a mental note of that,” she added, before proceeding to write it down on an order sheet. I chose not to say a word. 

She filled a glass with dandelion and burdock, plus a little soda. 

“Colm, this place sucks. It’s in the middle of nowhere, the hours are crappy. And the tips. I’m happy for Rupert.”

She wasn’t wrong. The money was poor, the tips poorer yet still, and our location made coming and going from The Grounded Antler an added, unpaid, ordeal.  

Rupert’s new job was a good thing. More money. A real career ahead of him. Days of variety with less physical toil.

“You’re right,” I said. 

She smiled. 

“Your eyes lie.”

She was right. I took a packet of crisps from the wicker basket underneath the bar. Braithwaite’s Leek & Honey & Kale & Peppercorn. 

“I just wish he wouldn’t rub it in,” I said. I looked towards the floor, where Barbara, Luana and Theresa were rushing hither and tither. “Some people have been working here for years.”

Zuzanna agreed, only she did not. “Yes, it is shitty for them. But that’s life.” 

“Here it comes!”

The pair of us turned towards the window as a stag-party from Maidstone watched the 08:46 to Amsterdam take off. Zuzanna held the counter, me a set of plates that were in danger of falling to the floor, the cost of all the broken crockery covered largely by the novelty of our pub’s locale. 

The four men cheered with relief as the plane sailed calmly overhead. The pub’s foundations settled. The men charged their glasses and sank their pints.

I looked at the floor again.

“You’re not wrong,” I said. “But he could be a bit humbler about it, no? He’s acting the gobshite.” She looked at me blankly. “He’s being a dickhead,” I clarified. 

She nodded. Once the hubbub of the spectacle had died down, Zuzanna rested her elbows on the bar, as did I, the clinical scent of cleaning spray still lingering, the looping sound of the fruit machine punctuating the now humdrum chatter from the tables, as it did shift in and shift out. I scanned the floor. There was a man on the quiz machine to the far right, two post-shift binmen at Table Six nursing Amstel pints, and a couple drinking wine. 

One tried to move her chair, not realising it was nailed firmly to the floor. 

“It’s stuck,” she said.

“So is mine,” said the man. 

“So are we!” I said, loudly. 

Zuzanna laughed. I told her, for variety’s sake if nothing else, that I’d do a sweep of the floor.

When I got back, Rupert was at the bar, telling Zuzanna about his new job. He noticed my arrival. 

“Colm here thinks I’m sleeping with the enemy.” 

“Doing what?” said Zuzanna, confused. 

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” I replied. “Someone has to monitor those warheads. Last thing we want is plutonium leaking here, there and everywhere.” 

Ignoring me, Rupert went on. 

“Colm doesn’t approve of my career choices.” 

"I wouldn’t say that either.” 

“He’s a pacifist. Doesn’t understand the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction.” 

“Have I attained the power of invisibility?” I asked. 

“He’s jealous that I’m getting out of here.” 

“Ah, I’m back in the room,” I replied. 

I took another packet of crisps from beneath the counter, opening them in full view of the CCTV camera above, knowing full well that Terry wouldn’t, couldn’t, care, given that I was one of only three members of staff who could change a keg, count up the till, clean the lines. 

Small victories. 

I looked at Rupert, puffed up and proud. I had a decade on him, a decade of life and spent ambition. A decade of books read and opportunities lost, major disappointments had and the minor joys that made them—just about—worth it. 

He knew it and I knew it. I was stuck. 

A customer walked up to the bar with a menu in his hand. Rupert walked over to serve him, leaving me and Zuzanna looking at one another, me with feigned indifference, her an air of pity. 

The hours trickled by. We filled them with odd jobs, with the indolent scanning of our phones, with the occasional serving of a customer, or in grasping on to the counter as a plane sailed towards—then harmlessly over—the pub.  

Before The Grounded Antler, I had worked in publishing. The pub was no dream, but it was a steady job and I told myself I was grateful for the work. Without this mantra, I would have gone mad, amidst the elongated hours that compounded the reality of my life. 

The crockery rattled, the plates smashed, I cleaned up both several times a day, the motion circular rather than forward. 

With my head between my elbows, resting on the bar, I eventually noticed a post-mix spill that had dried upon the counter. To fill some seconds, I got the Jantex spray and decided to clean the counter.  

It was noon, the quietest time of the day, and I was cleaning the large window through which holidaymakers gawped, the same window weary workers gazed with longing and regret. 

“For feck’s sake, Zuzanna,” I said. “Hold that ladder firmly, will you?”

She sipped her dandelion and burdock and gave me a glare. 

“Sorry,” I said. “Please?”

She nodded, put the glass down, held. The Jantex cleaning spray smelled clinical as a pleasant waft of steak cut through it from beneath Chef’s gantry light. I looked over at the waitresses, buzzing around the restaurant area like flies. I applied the Jantex to the window, smudged away a smear, wondering how it had got there, seven feet off the ground. 

“Hi, Colm, can you do me a favour?” said a voice, approaching from behind the bar. Terry. 


“Grab a shovel from the cellar and clear away that snow out front.”

Unwittingly, I glanced towards Rupert, who was serving a customer. 

“I need him on the bar,” said Terry. 

I nodded. 

“Ta,” he said. “It takes a village, Colm.”

Zuzanna looked at me sympathetically. 

I descended the ladder, and then the cellar stairs. I stood in the cellar, overthinking the problems in the world, doing so, I imagine, so that I did not go mad thinking of my own.

It was frigid, the fan blowing cold air in my face and Co2 the atmosphere. The wheels of the drinks industry revolved with malignant consequence: the J20 and Schweppes bottles that would go in the big blue bin in the bar area, none of which would be recycled; the plastic wrapping on the post-mix, tonics and softs; the cardboard, which might, if we had time, be packed down and put into the green bins out front one afternoon, recycled if it wasn’t too sodden with post-mix and cider and beer. And the gas for the pumps, finite and used, the never-ending consumption born of man’s need for a social outlet, a replacement for religion, the squeeze of working hours, all of them or none at all. 

Everything was fucked.


Standing in the cellar, I had an epiphany. Of sorts. It was vital, I reluctantly decided, that I continue to carry myself with grace. What else could I do? The truth of the matter was that—whilst not humble—Rupert was going places. If I’d had such opportunities ahead, maybe I’d have been champing at the bit too, between the 12:03 to Edinburgh and the 12:09 to Nice. But I didn’t, and so I looked upon his glee as crassness, took his pronouncements to be tactless boasting.

Rupert was acting the arse. That was true. 

I was jealous of his future. So was that. 

I got the shovel, walked upstairs and punched the code for the Fire Door, one one, one one, and went out to clear snow that would only give way to fresh snow. Setting to work, I thought about the gripe that had me obsessing over Rupert’s boasting, long after the event. 

He was charismatic. I was not. He was conceited. Humility, whilst admirable, can feel overrated. 

I dug the shovel into the snow. After I had finished, I looked up to see a familiar face hiding against the wall. It was Barbara, smiling, holding a packet of Silk Cut, beckoning me with cancerous generosity. 

“Terry had a go about me smoking here.”

“It’s probably the proximity of kerosene, Barbara.” 

She held out the pack. “It’ll warm you up.”

I took a cigarette and accepted the lighter, held out in the cold of the snow, with the glorious scent of kerosene in the air.

“Thanks” I said. “Busy inside?”

“Quiet enough,” she said, as a snowflake fell onto her greying, russet-dyed hair. “Calm before the storm, I reckon. Chef cooked extra chips if you want them.”

I took a drag on my Silk Cut, exhaled, stamped my feet against the ground to get the blood pumping. 

“Grand. Christ, it’s bitter.”

She nodded, looked through the large window. Rupert was at the bar, tapping away on his phone. She looked back at me. “Don’t let him get away with it,” she said. 

Feigning ignorance, I asked her what she meant.

“All the donkey work.” 

“He changed an ale keg earlier,” I said, shamefaced. 

She laughed. “Because he likes to change barrels.”

I peered inside. Rupert was at the bar talking to a customer. He possessed the same empty, jovial charm I had seen in my father many years before. I waved, a little sarcastically. He waved back. 

“You might want to kneel down,” said Barbara. 

“What’s that?” I said, turning. 

She nodded towards the runway. “The 12:46 to Gdańsk.” 

She started saying words that I could not hear as the engines fired up and the plane approached. I knelt beside her against the pebbledash outer wall of The Grounded Antler, watching Flight EY 451 come at us like an angry bull before losing interest and taking off, first westward, then east. 

“That was a loud one,” she said. 

“It was.”

“Why do we do it?”

“For the money. What little of it there is to be got.”

Barbara snorted derisively. “I know why I do it. A C in Maths and a D in English. But you?”

I told her about the degree in Norse Mythology. 

“Fine,” she said. “You’ve a degree. But what about that pub of yours back home?”

I smiled. “Ah, the pub. You’ve heard about that.” 

In a weaker moment, feeling unseen and lonely, I had told Denise the Babbler.

Barbara nodded. 

“I have,” she said. “And if I had a pub of my own, I wouldn’t be working here.” 

We went inside.

It was 14:34. The customers had nestled themselves into a blizzard’s drink, the kind that grants a man licence for a guilt-free session. Flights were still taking off despite the snow. 

I scanned the pumps in front of me from right to left; the Guinness and the Beavertown, the Amstel and the Heineken.

I had tried to put my bugbears with Rupert to one side. He was, after all, just a young, crass man making his way in the world. But we were busy, and he had left me alone to serve as he chatted with a customer, a pilot who frequented the place and was playing the fruit machine. 

Rupert helped him with the answer. D. He was right. Lima is the capital of Peru. 

“Nice of you to join us,” I said, a few minutes later when he returned. 

“You had it covered,” he said, with a smile. 

The bar had quieted, then loudened as the RA 105 to Warsaw rattled into gear. Conversations were paused, eyes glued to my large, clean window. The plane took off. Rupert stood in front of the bottle fridges, texting, an Orange & Passionfruit J20 bottle visible between his legs.

For the first time in a long while there was quiet, or something approaching it; the to and fro of the women on the floor, the sound of cups rattling against one another, the sizzle of Chef’s pans and the hum of polite holidaymakers’ chatter.

Rupert looked up from his phone. 

“What’s up, Colm?”

I turned to him. “Sorry?”

“I said ‘What’s up?’ You’re quieter than usual.” 

“I am?” 

“You are,” he said, glancing at his phone. “Did I touch a nerve earlier?”

“Touch a nerve, how?” I enquired, implausibly. 

“With the whole, I’m going places, you’re stuck thing,” he said.

I smiled. “Oh. That. No, Rupert. Not at all.” 

I looked at the glasses beneath the bar, then my watch. In thirty seconds, like clockwork, they would begin to rattle.

“You’re not wrong on that front. I’m going nowhere fast. After the redundancy, I’m just glad to have the work at the moment. It was the whole proper job thing I took issue with.” 

“The what?” 

“You said you were off to get a proper job. In front of all those people who’ve worked here years now.” 

Rupert shook his head and smiled. 

“Look at you, Colm. The Antler’s noble knight in shining armour. I don’t really think you should put too much stock into off-hand remarks. There are bigger issues in the world.”

He said he was going to the bathroom whilst the 13:38 to Faro ‘does its thing’ and I watched the glasses begin to rattle, as rattle they always did. 

I spent the next few minutes thinking about it, the stock we put into big and small things. I filled up a glass with fizzy water, enjoying the roaring wush of the soda gun. I looked out of my clean window again, where a pre-administration Monarch flight was getting ready to take off, late. Rupert was back now, playing on his phone. I decided it mattered, this bugbear of mine. 

“You ever seen that film Ladybird?” I asked. 

He shook his head. “Nutshell it for me, will you?”

“Coming of age. Girl becomes a woman. That sort of thing.”

“Doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.”

“Maybe not. Anyway, there’s this bit when the main character realises her boyfriend’s lied about being a virgin like her so that he can see to it that she’s not.”


“She thinks they’re both losing their flower. His has been pressed, as it were.”

I nabbed another packet of crisps, opened it, offered Rupert one. He declined. 

“What’s your point, Colm?”

I ate a crisp. “My point is when she realises what her boyfriend’s done, he tries to evade it by pointing out all the ‘big problems’ of the world. To make her feel unreasonable. See?”

“Not really,” said Rupert. 

“You’re going places, Rupert,” I said. “You should choose your words more carefully, that’s all. It mightn’t seem like much but try and think how it made those women feel.” 

I nodded towards the women on the floor, who were coming and going at breakneck speed, sweating beneath Chef’s gantry lights and the rush of orders between Tables Six and Ten, Two and Four. 

Rupert looked me square in the eye with a light smirk. 

“And what about you, Colm? What did it make you feel?”

I looked at my still gleaming window and the now iridescent banks of snow outside.  


It was coming up on 17:36 and the Wizz Air flight to Brno was grounded, in seeming perpetuity, like our dear Antler. The snow shovelled had given way to snow fresh, two foot or more. As it fell in droves, I heard the machine churn out a ticket which I tore off; two bison burgers with thick-cut chips and a coddle & cormorant pie. 

I placed the ticket under Chef’s gantry light and went out front to shovel and smoke once more. I found Barbara smoking again, staring at the purple and white plane on the tarmac. 

“They must be bored witless sitting there.”

“I’d say they are,” I replied. 

“Imagine being able to see a pub at the end of the runway knowing you can’t go into it.”

“I don’t think the passengers can see us.”

She turned to me, exhaled, her smoke disappearing into the blizzard of snow. “I meant the pilots.”

“Ah. I guess it’s always that way for them though, no?”

“Not for this long. That plane’s been stuck there nearly two hours.”

I peered back into the pub, where Zuzanna and Rupert were idling around at the bar.  

“It does look nice and cosy in there. You know I’ve never had a pint at The Antler?”

“Really? Not even after a day shift?”

“No,” I said. “I always hot-foot it home.”


“I live in Harrow. Fair schlep from Luton.”

“Christ,” said Barbara. “Colm, why in the name of God don’t you work closer to home? Or go home?”

I made to speak, but the pair of us turned with our mouths agape. The Brno flight was firing up again. Its engines whirred three minutes or more, a raging din, until eventually it came towards us, the tyres wheeling with vicious intent. I could almost see the whites of the pilots’ eyes. 

After it had taken off, I heard the sound of customers clapping, through the window’s one-inch thickness, as if surprised the plane had not ploughed into our pub.  

I stubbed out my cigarette, looked at Barbara. 

“I like working here. I see people come and go, see the planes taking off. If I went back to Cork to run the pub, it would feel like giving up. It was never what I wanted.”

Barbara put out her cigarette, the fresh smell of falling snow filling my nostrils along with the scent of tobacco. 

“And yet you’re still pulling pints,” she said, lifting her eyes questioningly. 

We went inside. 

It was 19:06. The furniture rattled off and on, the staff steadied themselves on surfaces and walls, the customers marvelled at the planes taking off. 

I had gone as close to home as I could without actually being there. The pub was run by a local man named Sean Dempsey, and it was called Dempsey’s, only that was a coincidence and Dempsey was my family name.

It did a fine trade, and that had nothing to do with me. I did not have it in me to run a pub. I’d moved to England a decade earlier, to study, then to work, had found and lost jobs, and I had stayed in London because that was where one made it. Only I’d made little, lost more and now felt the pull of home, despite everything. 

I could drop it all and move home, but I wasn’t sure if I had it in me. My father had been a good landlord. A willing if empty ear to lonely drunks; a small town’s self-appointed eavesdropper; the tourist’s raconteur; the aggressive drunk’s shoulder or bouncer. 

He’d run the show with pure class. And then he’d run into a lamppost on the outskirts of Mitchelstown, with my mother in the passenger seat and the dog the back, the hound ending up a Jackson-Pollock pastiche on the dashboard and window, a mass of blood and bone and sinew and fur. 

RIP Freckles. 

For three years now, I’d told myself I wanted to stay in London and make my own way. In truth, I did not want to let go of the thing I had lost; an editing job for a travel magazine that had meant much to me. Now that it was gone, I sold myself a line; the bar was noble, the bar was not beneath me. It wasn’t, only I wasn’t going anywhere either, and neither were Barbara, Theresa or Luana. The difference was choice. I’d chosen The Grounded Antler, to remind myself how I once wrote of planes coming and going, roaring into life and taking off.

It was not that I did not want to return to Cork, to take up my unearned bit. It was that I didn’t have it in me. I wasn’t Rupert Hathpenny, nor my father; I was the quiet fella. A snow-shovelling sort of man. I was lucky. I had an out, which was more than my colleagues could say with their day-to-day lives devoid of cashflow or plan, all hours worked under the sun and fingers the same, raw. 

They smoked or did not. They drove cheap and shitty cars or took the bus and had no cars at all. They were married and it was hard or divorced and it was harder or better, or both. They had kids, or they didn’t. 

They were mortgage-paying landlords to necessary lodgers, or they lodged themselves. They didn’t go on holidays but went abroad for family deaths, the money found, debt heightened. They served each plate, cup, glass, bottle, bill and bib with a smile not because they were just nice people—which they often were not and often were—but because it was a necessity of the job.

And yes, here I was, their white and male saviour. I knew it earnest. I knew it motivated by my own disappointments. But it needed to be challenged. 

“Rupert,” I said, a half hour or so later, at the bar. 

He was indolently texting away on his phone, Zuzanna the same on hers. 


“It wasn’t on,” I said. “What’s a proper job for you might be beyond the reach of others. We wish you all the best with the nuclear weapons, but you’ve to show a little humility towards those who haven’t your opportunities before them. No one likes a gobshite, Rupert. Go apologise to Barbara.” 

He stared at me for some moments. I looked out of the window. The 19:31 was prepping to go to Cork. No, I wasn’t going to head out onto the tarmac.

Performatively, he rolled his eyes. 

And then, eventually, he walked over towards Chef’s gantry. I watched on as he spoke with Barbara, Theresa and Luana too. They nodded appreciatively as he apologised. Chef, eventually, grew impatient and rang his bell so they would take out the latest orders.  

The blizzard continued. Zuzanna stood behind me, organising the wines. 

“Does it make you think of home?”


“The snow? Must be heavy at this time of year.”

“In Wroclaw, yes,” she said. “I don’t like snow.” 

I laughed. “Well, you’re in the right place, most of the time. I’ve never seen a blizzard like it here.” I turned to her. “Have you had your break yet?”

Zuzanna shook her head. I looked at the ceiling, above which I imagined Terry was canoodling with Denise, who was married, like him, but not to. 

Canoodling with the Babbler. It would never end well.  

“Go take your break,” I said. “I’ll keep things ticking over here.” She furrowed her brow. “It means I’ll be fine,” I said. “It means I’ll make sure nothing goes wrong.”

She made a mental note of it, on her pad, with the branded Grounded Antler pen. “Thanks, Colm.”

The pub began to rattle once again; the customers stared out of the window, holding on to tables for support, holding their pints and wine glasses and tumblers in hand so they would not bounce harmlessly on the carpeted floor, an operational necessity that spared us on glasses, less so Vanish.

I thought of the pub back in Mitchelstown, the red and white scarves clinging to the wooden oak beams above the bar, the Joyce and Yeats and Swift picture in the snug paying homage to all the dead, male writers my father never read, and the Beavertown beer-battered fries with vegan beetroot burger on the menu that Sean Dempsey had introduced with his nose for business and modern trends. 

“I’d wait a minute or so,” I said, as a man approached the bar. 

He opened his mouth but stopped as the din of plane engines drowned him out and the shuddering pub caused him to grab the oaken bar for ballast. Once it had stopped, the fright in his eyes gave way to a laugh. 

“That must drive you mad, doing that all day.”

“You get used to it,” I said. “What can I get for you?”

“Two Carlings, please. And a pack of those posh crisps.”

“The Braithwaite’s? Sure.”

I served the man his pints and crisps. I even asked him where he was going, stretching myself. I wished him a nice time in Porto. 

I wiped the counter. I put the tea towel across my left shoulder when I was done, steeped, like tea, in heavy cliché. I turned to watch the women on the floor, going to and fro, their black Grounded Antler shirts likely sodden through with sweat and certainly a punishment beneath Chef’s gantry lights.

“Barbara?” I said, as she passed me by.

“What?” she said, hurried, Chef’s gantry light exposing the wrinkles on her face. 

“You want another Coke?” 

She hardened, then softened, then hardened again. “Please, love,” she said.  

I made her drink. “Ask Luana and Theresa what they want.”

She nodded. She picked up two plates from beneath Chef’s gantry light. 

“Wait,” I said. 


“The 16:31 to Palermo’s just taking off.”

She looked at her watch. “That’s more than three hours late.”

“Barbara, it’s Ryanair.” 


Ronan O'Shea is an author from London. His stories have appeared in Litro, Ropes, Saltbush Review and New Critique, amongst others. His debut novel, Murphy Who Talks, will be published by Fulgencio Pimentel in early 2024. He works as a creative writing teacher in a men's prison in London and has previously been a mental health care worker and journalist. Heavily dyspraxic, he is very glad for the invention of word processors.


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