The Little Man Pub, Dublin City
“Kieran?” called the young man at the door.
Kieran Vaughan looked up from where he sat on a tattered brown sofa. In the tiny storage room, kegs of beer and boxes of crisps lined one wall and cases of hard liquor lined another. A single naked bulb suspended from the ceiling barely illuminated the room, which doubled as a catchall for anything that probably should have been thrown away. The sofa and side table had been an afterthought when Murph decided to start entertaining his patrons. It certainly wasn’t the dressing room he’d dreamed of. And not for the first time, Kieran wondered if he should count himself amongst the throwaways.
“What?” Kieran knew his reply was a little too abrupt and attributed his irritability to the twisting in his stomach. He set his pint onto the table, still half-full.
He was expecting Murph with his pay, but instead, his gaze met with the stagehand, Murph’s 15-year-old son, John.
John was reedy and nervous by nature. His father wasn’t an easy man to work for, and Kieran imagined not easy to live with either. John’s skittishness was obvious when he stepped into the room, his narrow eyes down-turned.
“Da told me to give ye this.”
John practically threw the note at him then scurried from the room. Kieran gave it a cursory glance — a note that simply read, ‘Meet me at the bar. Eilis Kennedy.’
He tossed the note onto the grimy table. It landed beside his pint glass.
He sank back against the lumpy sofa and shut his eyes, blocking out his surroundings.
How had he gotten himself into such a mess?
This wasn’t what he’d expected when he’d set out to play his music. Seedy pubs, cheap drunks and slappers whose ages couldn’t be determined from all the make-up they wore. Not that anyone was looking at their faces when their arses were hanging out from under their miniskirts.
His stomach roiled again at the thought of the women who frequented The Little Man Pub.
“Feckin’ hell!” The curse choked him.
What the hell was he doing here anyway? If he wanted to make it big, America was the place to be. No one in Ireland wanted to hear him play the blues. If any race of people knew the blues, it was the Irish. They didn’t need the likes of him to remind them.
The sound of the latch turning on the door snapped Kieran out of his thoughts. He opened his eyes to a short, scruffy-faced man whose belly preceded him into the room, as did the smell of the man’s sweat-stained shirt. Kieran’s heart leapt in his chest. As unsavory as Murphy was, the man still held his livelihood in the palm of his hand.
Kieran hauled himself out of the old sofa and strode over to the sullen little man and snatched the envelope out of his hands, tearing open the flap. His anticipation died at the contents.
“What is this then? Forty euro?”
“What can I say, boyo? Slow night.” Murphy shrugged, totally unsympathetic.
“What am I supposed to do with forty fecking euro?” Kieran tossed the money onto the table beside the slapper's note, then ran his fingers through his hair. He knew his pay was based on the amount of drinks sold at the bar during his performance times. This forty euro told Kieran sales had been poor tonight. He knew it wasn’t true, but getting Murph to admit it would be like trying to convince the man that a bath would make him a more pleasant person, or at least less of an assault on people around him.
“That’s your problem, not mine. But if ye don’t start bringin’ in the punters, I’ll be finding me someone else to take me stage and ye’ll be out on yer arse, wishin’ ye were still bringin’ in the forty feckin’ euro for ninety minutes of that catterwallerin’ ye call music.” Murph stepped through the door to leave, then turned back. He grinned, showing missing front teeth. “Don’t look so glum, lad. Ye could be on the Dole.”
“Feck off with yourself, Murph!” Kieran launched the pint glass at the door as it shut behind The Little Man. Shards of glass sprayed out, stout staining the door and wall. He heard the old man laughing in the corridor.
Anger rose in him. Not at Murph, but at himself. A blues guitarist wasn’t going to get noticed playing in a two-bit pub on Dublin’s Northside. The Irish wanted U2, Boyzone and Paddy fecking Casey, not a wannabe blues guitarist like Kieran Vaughan.
He loved playing the blues. The blues ran through his blood as if it were his own special life force. But if he was going to get noticed, he was going to have to go to America. He abhorred the idea of it, but he loved the music. He just hated the thought of leaving Ireland more. And Gráinne. She was all he had left. And if he lost her for the sake of a pipedream, he would be nothing and there would be nothing left for him to live for.
If I want a better life I have to do something about it.
He’d suffered through years of bloody fingers from long hours practicing on steel strings to play to the best of his abilities. He’d thought he was getting somewhere with his last music venture, only to see it destroyed before his eyes because of a dishonest business partner. It seemed like years of one step forward and two steps back. Now he found himself resorting to playing in seedy pubs to repay his debts and no hopes of getting heard. He was failing to make something of all his hard work.
Holding onto his tattered pride was getting more difficult each day. There had to be a compromise somewhere. There just had to be.
Just once he’d like to be offered the brass ring and go for it.
Just once he wanted something in his life to go the way he’d planned.
Just once he wanted to be someone.
Fed up, he kicked the guitar case lid closed and flipped the latch with his booted toe. He shrugged into his leather jacket and shoved the forty euro into his pocket. He considered the note on the table. Maybe this Eilis could help him forget his troubles, at least for tonight. But the thought if it disgusted him. He just wanted to go home.
Guitar in hand, he flipped up his jacket collar and headed for the back door.
The weather outside The Little Man Pub was better than inside, even though it was pissing rain. The dark side lane suited his dark mood. Thanks to late night mischief-makers, there were few working streetlights, which is why a car just missed him as it sped past. Its tire hit a pothole and splashed dirty rainwater up the front of him.
“Feckin’ hell!” he bit out for the second time tonight. “Bloody feckin’ hell.”