It was around noon of a sultry, overcast day. Martin Mint wasn’t sure what he’d do with the rest of it. Pausing, he wondered what he did with it so far.
He got up too early, he knew, but even with one thin sheet and his bedroom windows open, sleep was impossible.
It wasn’t always like that. Some nights, usually the third night, he slept for anything between eight and ten hours. The rest of the time he was lucky to get four hours without interruption.
Then he’d wake up with an ache in his kidneys could double him over with the pain of it. He sat while he peed in case his body decided to do anything else and while he did that he opened a newspaper app on his phone to catch the headlines.
He got up because going back to bed was like a lot of hard work, trying to sleep, sweating and feeling restless.
He made his breakfast of a poached egg and a sliver of ham on a slice of buttered brown bread and waited while his coffee machine gathered some heat. One cup was all he needed. The coffee was strong and between it and the food , the weight of night slipped from his body.
He put on an iTunes playlist of country tunes and listened to Alison Krauss sing of the death of a relationship. He hummed the melody distractedly while he fussed about preparing his shower and wondered should he shave.
Dressed, he turned off Bob Dylan introducing Marty Robbins, grabbed his bag and headed out the door. He knew where he was going, he had a purpose. Bread, milk and eggs were needed and the German supermarket on the High St opened early. He missed the morning rush hour, the people, the traffic, the shouting, the speeding bicycles if he got there early.
He was home before the lollipop man arrived to help the children cross the road. It was a relief to get home, put the shopping away, turn on the music again. Gene Autry was singing about Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. He cursed those music algorithms that couldn’t tell country from Christmas.
Another cup of coffee — two of a morning was his limit — he sits down at his desk, checks his emails and considers what he’s seen so far. There was puke in the lane beside the pub, three dog shits on the pavement and the package of milk outside the convenience store had been opened and rifled. A newspaper was taken, probably by the same milk thief, he thought.
There was sunshine in those early hours but there were clouds gathering like surly corner boys while the air felt heavy and sodden. As the first customer in the shop, his bread felt fresh and warm, the milk cold, the eggs freshly stacked.
He wrote it all down, how the homeless man he knew to see because he was always there, sitting on the window, first thing every morning, said hello to him and asked if he could spare a few coppers and thought how quaint when he really meant Euros or dollars or shekels.
He gave him a Euro, the only one he had in his pocket, wondering why everyone asks for everything sideways but knowing, at the same time, no-one gives a straight answer.
He remembered then, the new street graffiti, a massive mural of a cock in a hat, tatty woolen beanie and a fag in his mouth, half lidded squint, giving it loads.
But he forgot his phone, left it behind him in the toilet that morning. He was annoyed because he liked to record the street art, take photos of it.
They were loading barrels of beer into the basement of the pub on the corner while two homeless men just out of the local shelter, shared a can of cider in the shade of a tree across the street.
He met a neighbour carrying his bike down the stairs to go to work. He stepped aside to let him by, put down his shopping bag, waiting, murmured good morning, a grunt in reply. A hungry baby cried from the ground floor flat.
He marked the day and hour when he finished before reading it back and remembered then, the cock in the hat and his phone. It was in the toilet, just as he remembered. He put it in the pocket of his jacket, grabbed his hat and went out.
That was three hours ago. Now he stood, sweating, on a busy street. People were moving all around him, mothers pushing prams, hauling shopping, men with sheafs of paper, bustling, busily, someone serving coffee and buns to a couple at a cafe table, the incessant throb of a jackhammer, a teenager thumbing a phone.
Seeing a pub he knew, he went inside, relieved to be free of the noise and hustle. It was cool and dark inside, daylight intruding in a fleeting shaft as the saloon door opened and closed.
‘Howya, Silver, a bit early for you, is it not?’
He knew the voice and squinting in the pub’s dim light, recognised then the shape and voice of old Mr Donnelly, curate of the ‘Belle and wondered why he called him ‘Silver’, the nickname he had in his youth but hadn’t heard in a lifetime.
The pub was empty so he sat at the bar and exchanged small talk and pleasantries with Mr Donnelly, while he supped on a roaster, pulled with loving care and patience.
They talked of the weather, each nominating a couple of phrases to encapsulate the state of it before settling on ‘muggy.’ Then it was on to sport and Dublin’s chances in the Championship, the state of the economy and how the tax on drink would be the end of the pub trade before they paused and Donnelly retrieved a few crates from his stores and set to stocking his shelves.
Martin Mint took a long draught from his pint and considered the final gulp, a crucial and pivotal moment because it’s then a drinker considers another or going about his way, because to have another, he must order now so there’s a fresh pint ready when the first’s finished.
He paused, remembering then his morning. He took his phone from his inside pocket, turning it on to check his photos and there was the cock in the hat, a photo taken at 10 that morning. He stared, puzzled and confused, hoping the photo could tell him what happened between then and now.
Two hours, he thought. He closed his eyes, shook his head, drained his glass and whispering ‘good luck’ to Mr Donnelly, he left.
Outside, ignoring the bustle, he put his head down and shuffled home, wondering, as he went, why Mr Donnelly was in the pub and him dead 30 years?