At the back of the pub, the door is not a door it’s a curtain, a heavy black one that makes Deirdre think of grand hotels and magic shows. Stephen (her manager/ex-boyfriend) pulls it aside and she follows him into the venue. Small tables look as though they could be pulled over to one side of the room to clear a space for dancing. But they’re bolted down, with spindly chairs and wooden stools clustered around them. The room is cold.
What was she thinking, going on the road around Ireland in mid-November? It had seemed like a good idea back in front of a gas fire in Dublin. Just get to work, don’t think about it. Set up and sound-check.
Deirdre’s pink fleece pyjama bottoms snag on the end of a guitar stand and she nearly topples the entire pile. Three hours trapped in a van with five guys and she’s about ready to kick someone. Owen tries to yank down her bottoms. She tells him to eff off out to the van with the other guys and help bring in the gear while she hunts down the house sound engineer. Owen’s thirty, only four years younger than her, but sometimes she feels as though the age gap turns her into a handy version of his mother. One more prank like that and she might not be able to have sex with him anymore.
There’s no sign of the sound guy, so she digs her phone out of her bag. Lily should be getting into bed soon. She misses her daughter; though less now that she’s at the venue, now that she has had some time to recover the scattered bits of herself, glue her idea of who she is back together without the umbilical pull of Lily’s four-year-old stream of questions.
‘Mama, where does money come from? Who makes it? Why do you need it?’ And on she goes. Deirdre mock-whispers goodnight, two kisses into the phone and then two more, asks her to put her dad back on the phone, she wants to talk to him.
‘Bout what?’ Lily asks.
‘Stuff,’ Deirdre says, not in the mood for more long-winded explanations that will only lead to more questions. ‘Just give him the phone, sweetie.’ She can hear Pete in the background saying something similar, and she misses Lily even less. ‘Did you give her both inhalers?’
‘And her tonic?’
‘Yes.’ His voice gets tense over this one syllable, but Deirdre can’t help herself.
‘Don’t forget she needs to have a poo before bedtime or else she’ll be up at 4am with a pain in her belly.’
This time he doesn’t try to hide the sigh. ‘We’ll be fine, stop fussing. Besides, my mum’s here to help me out.’
Deirdre wishes him good luck, and disconnects. Thank God he wants to help raise Lily. And that they broke up early on. He doesn’t question her itchy feet: she’s lucky she can take five days and head out on the road, feel the tug of a Lily-shaped gap inside of her.
She pulls out the set list, a fresh sheet of paper from her notebook and a black marker. Day One. Galway on a Tuesday night. In a recession. Still, it’s supposed to be a party town and the manager claims this is a student pub on weekdays. Move the cover of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ from her encore set to the top. ‘Fishbowl’ and her other songs can wait till three songs in when she is warmed up, and the crowd is warmed up.
Deirdre walks around the room, tries to get a feel for the place, pretends to help the boys as they load in the gear and scatter it in front of the low stage. Pacing calms her down, gets her ready for the gig. The house lights are up and she can see too much: the beer stains on the tabletops, the bits of silver gaffe tape left on the walls long after whatever decorations they’d once held up are gone, blobs of chewing gum and other things worn into the black wooden floor. Venues without punters are gloomy places.
A clang startles her; the stage is filling up with cases of different sizes and shapes, holding drums, guitars, keyboards. Owen steps onto the stage, hoists her handbag over his head. ‘Where do you want this monster?’
It’s the bag that can fit everything: a spare T-shirt, her scrapbook of random magazine clippings, an original Sony Walkman, the kind that takes cassettes. Deirdre doesn’t have an MP3 player—she’s the only musician she knows who doesn’t—but she has an extensive back catalogue in her head and a good cassette collection. She likes the hiss of tape, the ghost-prints of other songs on tapes that haven’t been played for years.
‘Lob it over to me,’ she says, but Owen knows better and reaches down to hand it to her. There are too many distractions up by the stage. She avoids Van’s outstretched legs—he’s grabbing some shut-eye to recover after the crappy drive from Monaghan—and aims for the back of the venue, figuring she can hide out behind the sound desk, get some space.
Back when the lovely girls were learning to write thank-you notes and to make suitable conversation, Deirdre chased love and the unexpected. The nuns warned her that she would end up living a life of sin, that she would end up a single mother without a penny to her name or a steady job, and on the whole, they were right.
She spots a poster for tonight’s gig next to the black curtain. Tuesday Night Special: DeeDee and The Sorrows, 9pm till late, No Support. So she’s one of the Tuesday Night Specials. Sounds like a dodgy tribute band.
Deirdre tries out the first verse of ‘Fishbowl’, slowly, to make sure her voice is still working. Way back when she was in school, the nuns used to stick her at the very edge of the choir, towards the back, claiming her voice would put off the rest of the girls. One nun in particular—Sister Alphonsus, a square-shaped hag—used to make her stand beside the piano and practise the songs on her own, telling the other girls that they were to listen quietly and make sure that they never sang like Deirdre. Her range is good, but she sounds raspy, though she doesn’t smoke.
‘Well howya, now there’s a voice I haven’t heard in years,’ booms a voice she had finally stripped out of her head.
She turns around, face tense, shoulders tense in her old T-shirt, and sure enough, it’s Liam Rynne. Last time she’d heard, he was in the Canaries, playing pub covers.
‘Liam,’ she says and nods. Six years. Keep it cool. He broke up with her after three intense years together, dumped her by text message on the first mobile phone she had ever owned. It took a fling with Sunbear’s bass player and an unplanned pregnancy to get over him. Plus six months of writing nasty (but mostly true) things about him in black permanent marker in the toilets of any pub she went to.