Having returned from the USA the central character in the story, Paul McQuillan, finds a haven in teaching and combines this passion with coaching the school football teams. He’d long before given up the idea of being an unfulfilled talent and is very comfortable with his role as an educator. We all recognise the character, interesting, interested and motivating. Given that it is the late-80’s in Ireland and a Cold War still raging around the World, everyone can identify with the prevailing mentality on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Air travel was still for the better off so a group of youngsters from the Northside of Dublin flying to the Continent was very unusual given their social background. At this time travel for Irish people was normally centred on day trips to Holyhead, to football matches in the UK or (for the better off) a camping holiday in France – the central theme being a ferry trip. In many parishes boarding a plane in the 1980’s meant disappearing to the emigrant realm and the feeling that you’d never be seen again. On the other side of Europe it was almost the same, however we’re not quite there yet. So here’s a taster with the Irish side.
“The loss of the Bismarck was a huge blow to the German war machine but we must remember that the u-boats were a constant source of nuisance for the Allied Powers. Now, for your assignment.” Multiple groans and muffled cries of despair washed over the room. “For next Tuesday, which is in four days as today as we all remember is Friday, for Tuesday, remember there’s a weekend to get your work done, I’d like for you all to write an essay, of no more than two pages, about the Second World War. The titles you can choose from are as follows. Number one, how could Germany have won the war? For these you have to give two reasons and I want you to have one reference from a book or other source. The second title is, why was the Bismarck so important to the German war effort? Again two reasons and one of them a reference from a book or source. And finally, imagine yourself to be a German soldier or sailor and describe the conditions of your service. Now for this use the textbook, other books or movies. But list what you’ve used. That’s very important. Also.” The bell for end of class sounded joyfully. “Wait for it.” Bodies froze. “Also, you can’t use a direct movie, use your imagination. Right, any problems?” A chorus of no’s raised the roof. “Just what I wanted to hear on a Friday afternoon. I’ll see you all on Monday. Have a good weekend guys.”
On the way home Paul stopped at his brother’s restaurant for a cup of tea. Looking at the luxurious surroundings he wondered if something like this could once have been his. On the walls photos of him smiling in victory made him melancholic. So long ago. Memories of memorable times that seemed to have been merely dreams.
“Four-time All-American. Retired your number at the University, top draft pick. Who’d have thought that of little Paul McQuillan?” He received a warm hug from his brother.
“Hey Pat. I don’t know why you keep those silly things on the wall. Can’t you afford antlers or posters of famous people?”
“Can’t a little brother be proud of his big bro?”
“When the big bro achieves something then that’d be okay.”
“Ah get off your back for once. Here, look.” He pointed to a photo of Paul receiving a trophy. “Now read what that says.” Paul shook his head. “Okay then I will. Paul McQuillan lifting the NCAA Division I Trophy for Indiana, and you won it the year before too. Paul, who from Ireland can claim that, now look at this.” Pat drew his attention to a head height glass frame with five green felt caps within. “Five of just thirteen you won from under-fifteen to under-twenty one. Why wouldn’t I be proud of you? The whole family is proud of you. Not just because of football, but because you were always a good lad.”
“I don’t know bro,” he sighed. All the memories that never gave him cause to smile. “Is there still a free coffee or tea for a two-bit secondary school teacher?”
“Any time Paul,” he replied clasping his shoulder warmly.
They sat down and began catching up on what had happened in the fortnight since they’d last spoken. It was through no fault of either brother as Pat had just come back on Tuesday from 10 days in the sun, and Paul greatly envied his bronzed brother’s Moroccan tan. From what he made he could well afford it.
“You’re off to Europe this day week, right?”
“Unfortunately,” Paul laughed.
“Come on Paul, nothing unfortunate about that! First the delights of Holland, then the cheap beer and women of Germany and then the cheap beer, we’ll say nothing about the women, in Poland. I can’t comment on East Germany, apart from the cheap beer! You’ll have a ball! Oh, did I mention the women in Poland?”
“Literally have a ball. And yes, you mentioned them. Though I heard a joke in the staffroom, what do you call a good looking woman in Poland?”
“I don’t know, but you’ll tell me.”
“A tourist.” Pat smiled.
“Yes, literally. Though they will surprise you, once you get through the crusty commie exterior. Listen, how are you for cash?” He hated to ask but Paul was on a low enough salary and would never put his hand out even if he were destitute.
“I’m not too bad. I’ve been putting money away since November so I’m fairly okay.”
“Well as long as you’re not struggling. Is herself happy about it?” Paul shrugged.
“She figures I should stay and keep the money for a holiday for us. Head to Jamaica or something, or Spain.”
“Caribbean me arse. She would say something selfish like that.”
“Ah now, she might have a point. It’d be nice to have a sun holiday. Last year we spent a wet fortnight in Wexford, not even strawberries were shining. Sunny south east be fecked.”
“Come off it bro, she’s a grinch. A wench. Sorry to say it again and again, but it’s true. She’s a vampire. But instead of blood she’s after your money and energy.” Paul finished his tea and sat back. “Paul, she may be beautiful, smart and well off. She may be your heart’s desire, but all she cares about is number one and always will. I’m surprised she’s stayed around for so long. No disrespect to you of course.”
“Of course. Anyway, I’d better go.” He stood up; Pat caught his arm and stood up too. The more he challenged Paul on Myra the more his brother felt he had to defend her, which didn’t help him see through her game.
“Paul,” he took his hand and placed a bundle of cash in his palm before folding his fingers over it. “Buy yourself some new threads. Get a haircut and shave. Then go away and go wild. You deserve it.” Paul regarded the money then handed it back.
“I can’t take this.”
“Paul,” Pat slipped it into his brother’s jacket pocket “You are my brother and I love you. I do owe you money and I won’t be able to repay it all yet, so this is a down payment because I can afford it.”
“No you don’t owe me money.”
“Who gave me the cash to get this place? Who brought me so much business in the first place? You brought all the teachers here for lunches, spread the word and even had your other half, no matter what I might say about her, open the place. I haven’t been able to pay you back or have the opportunity to make it up since.”
“Pat you being my brother is enough. Now take this back.” Pat covered his pocket.
“No, it’s not even near what you gave me to buy this place. And nowhere near the profit you’ve generated. Now go to town and get yourself in order. It might even make you more attractive!”
“I don’t think anything could help there Pat. Except the slap of a shovel in the face”
“I agree.” They laughed and hugged. “Go on Paul, the shops shut in a couple of hours.”
“I’ll talk with you later.”
“Have fun!” Paul left and stood on the corner wondering what to do. He took out the money and looked at it, put it back into his pocket and smiled.
“Maybe, just maybe.” Then he went to the bus stop and caught a bus to the city centre.