“I’ve put the miles in” he said. His mouth didn’t stir but his eyes smiled.
“I’m tired. There’s nowhere I haven’t been that I’m gonna get to now.” No regret in evidence, stating fact he paused to put a glass of 10-year-old malt to his lips. Golden liquor slid down. The burn rose in his gullet and now the mouth moved in upward aspiration.
His eyes, furrowed and wrinkled, had been crafted into a spider-web of creases through years of sparring with tough experiences.
His eyes engaged the younger man in front of him. He wasn’t finished.
“But I’ve been plenty places and I can tell you… ”
The young one leaned in… “stories. Just stories.”
Another molten mouthful of whisky went down with ease. The heat reddened already red cheeks.
“But you gotta make your own, kid. Mine are mine. Their lessons were for me. And I learned most of them. Most of them.” Moment of regret? If so, it passed in a heart beat.
He smiled again- eyes and mouth.
“I’m not done yet though… Maybe.” He said it and the young man thought it. A final swig and the glass was drained.
He looked at it.
He looked at it for too long.
He looked at it and realised it held no more; no more whiskey; no more answers; no more stories.
He slapped the young man’s face gently.
“Go find your stories kid. They sure aren’t in here.”
The young man went to sip from his own glass of golden nectar but paused, his eyes drawn to the departing old man as he left to live out whatever stories awaited his old bones. The old man opened the door and the light flooded in. His frame, framed, dark against light, drew all eyes to it.
“Will I?” the young man thought. “Will I leave, unafraid and ready to play my part in my own stories?” Thinking better of it, he sunk the whisky, cursed the old man’s wisdom and ordered another.
The door closed behind the old man with a gentle whoosh. Evening sunshine- strong and low at this time of year- flooded his eyes. Fortunately (or not, depending on how you looked at these things) his eyes had become accustomed to the hypnotic half-light freely offered to all patrons of Jimmy’s Bar and Grill; free for all who would spend their lives and their earnings sitting at the bar or at a table. He had accepted that offer a long time ago. He blinked through tears shed at facing natural light now.
‘How’s your whistle?’
“Well wet”, he replied without looking to see who spoke. He knew.
“Thank God for that.”
“Thank Jimmy for that, you mean. God don’t sell no booze.” he shot back. This interchange, a daily stand up routine between him and the burly concierge of the two bit hotel next to Jimmy’s, brought the smile back to his lips. He turned to share it with his stand up partner.
“You want I should call you a cab?”
“You can call me anything you want. Just don’t…”
“Call me too early in the morning” the concierge finished the line. “Yeah, yeah. You’re getting predictable” They both laughed. They liked this stuff.
“No cab” he said, an idea forming. “I’ll walk”.
Now liquor had lied to him lots in his life. This particular ambulatory lie told him that his legs would last the length of the eleven block walk home. He bought the lie and told himself another story; I’ll be fine.
“You sure? OK, Irish. Enjoy your stroll.”
Irish. The name he was known by. He was first called it a life time ago and it clung to him like the smell of the fish he gutted for 40 years in the factory whose ruins stood not one mile from where he stood now.
Was he Irish? He didn’t sound Irish to Irish people. But he didn’t sound anything to anyone now. He was somewhere in between. Buttoning his heavy jacket, he looked down the block and saw the old church from which he buried the last person who knew him when he wasn’t in between. She had come with him, all the way until she could go no further. And then he had taken her on a cold January morning from that church to where she would lie forever- waiting for him.
It wouldn’t be long.
He blinked through tears again, turned away from the church and the memories, and calling the whisky’s bluff he took the first step homewards.
He walked slowly and deliberately, allowing blood to flow to his lower limbs after his afternoon session sitting on his ass. 100 yards and twice as many steps later he turned the corner. The relative quiet of West 3rd Street gave way to the rush-hour traffic drone of Lafayette. The noise had always been a comfort to him. Perversely, the barrage of engine revs and horn blasts (joined steadily over the years by car radios, then tape cassettes, then CD’s and now…whatever the kids use to make that goddamn racket that passes for music nowadays) had always provided him with moments of calm. The wall of sound seemed to overwhelm his senses and he entered an eye of the storm silence, at peace and able to see clearly while others held their ears or rushed to get away.
He stood on the corner of the block and allowed the noise to wash over him. He closed his eyes. A memory:
Two young men stood on a corner near here in large lapelled suits and square toes shoes.
Donal, his brother had come to visit him not long after he arrived in this place. Donal didn’t do decibels.
“How can you stand this, man dear?” Genuinely bewildered.
“I can. I don’t know why or how, but I can.” He answered honestly.
“Come on back home. At least it’s quiet.”
But he hadn’t gone with his brother. When Donal went home, he knew that that was the last time he would see him. He would never go home- he was addicted to this place even then- and Donal would never return.
Ten years later, he wrote to Donal as his native city began to burn and tear itself apart once more. “At least the noise here isn’t that of gunfire and brothers slaughtering each other for romance and real estate”, he had written. Donal didn’t reply. Dear Donal- dead now and not seen since that time 60 years ago in the noise of New York night time traffic.
Standing now on Lafayette he opened his eyes and looked south into what was half a century ago all Little Italy- 50 blocks transposed, transatlantic, teaming with Toni’s, Teresa’s and Teadora’s traipsing through tightly packed tenements. A rare old place for him to settle. Initially the people had little time for this ‘Mick’ among them. They wondered why he didn’t go with his ‘kind’ up on 50th Street and Hell’s Kitchen. “Too noisy”, he used to tell them, smiling to himself. And so he became ‘Irish’, the potato eater at the heart of Little Italy.
Truth was, he was only at home when he was out of place; his own man, telling his own story, or so he thought.
Strange what catches the eye of an old man; in amongst the hubbub of rush hour traffic and street vendors and crowds of commuters creeping home, the eyes of the old man fell on a much stiller scene. Just across the car-laden street on the corner of Lafayette and Bleeker Street, stood a young Chinese couple looking intently but wordlessly at each other. The old man had been a witness of the transformation of Little Italy from 50 blocks to only 3 blocks as Asiatic arrivals soared in the 1980’s. Italians sold their apartments at huge profits to the newly landed Chinese and got the hell out of dodge- the 1970s has all but ripped the heart of Manhattan and they thought they were better off away from it all. How wrong they were; Manhattan rose from the ashes and Chinatown grew proudly and lucratively where Little Italy had once stood.
And so, seeing a Chinese couple standing there shouldn’t have caused him to blink an eye. But it did. It wasn’t anything to do with nationality or cultural heritage that caused him to look. He had spent the better part of the last three decades being called ‘Irish’ by his Chinese friends and neighbours as well as the handful of Italians still living on his block. What caused him to turn toward them- he realised now that he was staring- was the look that passed between them. It was so intense that he at once felt like he was intruding on them, even from his vantage point across the street, yet he couldn’t break the stare.
The look. Them looking at each other- or rather her looking at him. He knew it. It hit him hard in the heart and heaved him out of the present moment and back through time.
Agnes looking at him; intently, looking at him. He was still in Ireland. He was 19 years old and she was 18. Silence reigned in that moment for what seemed like an eternity. Agnes’ gaze held him in time and space. It was the aftermath of a verbal bomb that exploded between them.
The bomb falling: “I’m leaving, Agnes. Going to New York. My uncle is out in Philidelphia. Sent me the money for a ticket, so he did. Said that now my da is dead, I should come out to America. Find my fortune. And New York is the place to find it, so it is. So he said.” He tried a smile but it evaporated from his lips as the tears began to fill Agnes’ eyes.
And then he said it. He didn’t think, just spoke (a trait that was to follow him and go before him into many a bar room brawl before he mastered this fault). He said it.
“There is nothing here for me now.”
That was it. The word bomb landed and its impact caused a kind of vacuum. He felt the air being sucked out of him, out of the room, out of existence itself as he began to realise the import of the words he spoke. A vacuum always seeks to be filled and this vacuum was no different. Yes, this vacuum was filled ok. It was filled with her look. Only her look.
The tears that he begun to fall from her eyes, stopped. Her eyes fixed him. Unspeakable thoughts and emotions expressed in this stare. And he knew he had hurt her; just as if she had been caught up in one the incendiary bombs that had flattened their city during their war of their infancy. And like the bombed out buildings of blitzed Belfast, she stood, devastated and destroyed by this one comment- 7 words.
“There is nothing here for me now.”
Devastation. No words passed between them as they stood looking at each other. No words passed between them ever again. He left Ireland and Agnes one week later.
A sudden movement snapped him out of his melancholy. The young Chinese girl across the street pushed past her companion, bumping roughly into him as she did. He didn’t react. He stood, forlorn, not even looking to see where she had gone. Seemingly aware of being watched, he turned to look at the old man. “What did you tell her?” the old man thought. The two held each other in a gaze before the Chinese man shrugged at the old man and walked off.
The scene now played out, the old man was left with an echo: Agnes. Hurt. Regret. And finally, an overwhelming desire to get home. Pushing to step onward, he suddenly felt dizzy. The whisky? He was usually tolerant of a large amount of whisky, so maybe not. He began to sweat now; cold, sticky. Acid rose, sickening him from his stomach up into his gullet. His head pounded out a menacing bodhran drum beat. Stumbling sideward, he just about made it to a nearby storefront and leaned against a sign advertising Dim Sum and other Chinese savouries. “I’ve got to get home”.
“You don’t look so good, Irish.” Disembodied voice. Familiar, but out of context, it confused him.
“I shoulda called you a cab. My bad.”
The Concierge? Here?
“Why? Are you here?”
“Yeah, I’m here. What? You think I don’t go home too? You think I stand outside that dive 24/7? I was passing by and saw you nearly die here, is what I saw. So, here I am indeed. Watching over you, Irish.” He reached out a massive hand and put it on the old man’s shoulder. It was a surprisingly gentle touch for such a big man. The old man looked into the Concierge’s eyes; maybe for the first time in all the years he had known him. They were deep blue and today they sparkled out of his face with its jet back goatee beard and well trimmed locks. The old man shook his head slightly, feeling dizzy still. The sweats had stopped though and the acidic precursor to vomiting began to settle down again. He breathed a deep breath.
“Non fa niente, don’t mention it, Irish. Now I’ll definitely get you a cab.” The old man was not going to argue. The Concierge looked out at the road and whistled. A second or two later a yellow cab screeched to a halt beside them.
The Concierge left the old man briefly to go speak to the cabbie. The old man slumped once more onto the sign outside the Chinese store. He breathed in the heady scents of the spicy food and his stomach once more began do somersaults. “I need to get home” he said out loud, meaning only to have thought it.
“Everything is OK, Irish. You are going home now.” the Concierge appeared once more and took him by the arm to the cab. The door was opened already and he deposited the old man in the back seat. The seat was soft and springy and the old man sunk gratefully into its comforting embrace. The door closed with a bump and the cab pulled off.
“I didn’t thank him” he called out to the cabbie
“You don’t got to thank him. He was happy to help. Told me so himself.” The voice of a young woman emanating from the front of the cab surprised the old man. He look at the back of the head in front of him. Short, dark hair. No clue as to gender there. He spied the ID tag hanging from the rear-view mirror. His old eyes strained but could make out a first name- Gabriella.
“What?” he managed.
“Michael, he told me he was doing you a good turn and that he was happy to do it. So, I figure you don’t got to thank him. The thanks would, you know, take away from the good of the good deed he was doing for you.”
A cab-driving philosopher.
“Michael. Your friend?” She laboured the word friend.
It dawned on him that through all the years of one liners and one minute bar door conversations he had never thought to ask the Concierge’s name. Michael- a good Irish name. He smiled at the irony that he knew this cab driver’s name before the Concierge’s.
“Oh yeah, Michael. I couldn’t hear you over the traffic.” He rolled with it and got away with it.
“He tell you where to bring me?”
“Yeah. I got it covered. Sit back and relax. You didn’t look so good getting in.”
“Thanks.” Teasing her.
“No, I don’t mean it that way. You look good…for an old guy, you look good. I mean, you don’t look so well today, that’s all.”
“I’m pulling your chain. You’re grand.” He said and saw her shoulders move up and down in response to a laugh he heard come from deep down in her belly. The moment of humour lifted his mood a little and he began to feel better. The dizziness had all but gone now and his stomach had ended its gymnastic routine. He smiled.
“So, you married?” she asked. His smile faded.
“Used to be. She’s gone now.” His voice was heavy. He had been asked that questions dozens of times and more over the years and it hadn’t bothered him since the time shortly after she died. But whatever was happening today, this time the question hit him up the face like a brick, just as it had in those early days of grieving.
“Shit, sorry man. I was making small talk. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“No, that’s ok. She died a long time ago. And we had a long time together. Really, it’s ok.” He didn’t feel ok, though. “Are we nearly there, yet?” He wanted to be home now more than ever.
“Just pulling up now.” The cab pulled to a halt. He looked out. He wasn’t in front of his apartment block. He was outside The Church of the Most Precious Blood on Mulberry Street with its grey block front and stained glass windows rising high above the street. The simple iron cross on top of the church looked out over Lower Manhattan.
“This isn’t my block. I’m around the corner.”
“Hey, Michael told me to bring you here. He was insistent. Said you’d be happy to get out here.”
Tiredness washed over the old man’s old bones. He didn’t have the energy to argue with her. Or with the Concierge’s plan. He got out.
No sooner had his feet hit the sidewalk, than the cab and Gabriella sped off.
“Michael picked up the fare!” He heard her shout from the open driver’s side window.
The old man stood shakily on the sidewalk surveying his surroundings and strategising about his next move. He had decided to walk the remaining two blocks when a waft of smoke caressed his nostrils. Sweet smelling smoke- incense. The smell triggered off scent-memories for him of many Masses he’d attended both here and back in the old country. He’d always liked the smell of incense. It never made him cough or splutter as wood fires or coal fires had the habit of doing. He inhaled deeply. He breathed out and heard organ music- Mass was underway in the old church. He turned to look at the doorway. Light spilled onto the dusk-darkened street.
Maybe it was the music. Maybe it was the lights or the incense. Maybe it was the day that was in it. But for whatever reason- he didn’t quite understand it even as he began to move- he was going to go into the church.
Standing at the door, he dipped his right index finger into the cold Holy Water pooling in the font on the wall, crossed himself and pushed the door open.
The old man found his way to a pew near the back of the church. He sat and looked around the walls at the plaques proclaiming the generosity of those who provided the money for the building and furnishing of this place of worship- Ferrero, Abbadelli, Labriola, Grimaldi and others. The names were all Italian. He had known the sons and daughters of some of these families. He looked around the church at those attending Mass this evening- 2 tourists, 3 Chinese women and him, an old Irish man. The Italian benefactors would be spinning in their graves at the absence of their descendents, he thought.
He looked up towards the priest on the altar. He was reading a story about Jesus turning loaves and fishes into a meal for many. Fish. He had spent a lot of his adult life around fish; dead, stinking fish. And yet in the middle of all that stench, he had met Elisabetta.
Elisabetta, beautiful Elisabetta. Eyes of the darkest blue that no ocean could ever match and hair of coal black. She packed the fish that the old man gutted. But he wasn’t old when they met. They were both 22 years old. They fell in love almost as soon as they laid eyes on each other. He was an awkward and shy young man and she was the polar opposite. She was comfortable in company. She could talk and laugh and sing freely wherever she went. People loved her. He loved her. She filled in the blanks in his all-too-self-conscious personality. He often wondered why she looked twice at him. In those early days, as love blossomed, he’d asked her that question often. She would answer by jokingly tweaking his nose and saying in a thick New York Italian accent, “You would be lost without me and I couldn’t have that on my conscience!” It became a running joke between them, but he knew that their love for each other was real. During quieter moments in those early days she could express that love in words that he could never have spoken. She had a language of the heart where he had a language of the head. They married one year after their first meeting in the fish factory.
The old man looked up from his pew to see the priest as he held the Communion bread humbly over his head. His eyes stared at this piece of bread now transformed. The priest believed- no, he knew- it was a miracle. “He really believes in miracles”, the old man thought. There was a time when the old man called on God for a miracle.
Elisabetta had fallen pregnant in the winter after their wedding, but quickly became ill. She burned up and her belly hurt until she cried out in pain and in pleading to God. The old man had stood near her, clenched fist in his mouth pleading silently with God to save the lives of his beloved wife and the new life yet to be seen.
The priest held the chalice filled with wine above his head, proclaiming it changed into blood.
Their pleading came to nothing. Elisabetta’s illness ended with the death of their first- and only- child. Elisabetta had to go to hospital for an operation soon after and they came to know that they would never be parents.
From deep within, the old man felt tears well up, erupt from tear ducts and flow down the furrowed, wrinkled landscape of his face. He hadn’t cried like this in a very long time. He hadn’t thought about his lovely, still born boy in over 50 years. A half-century of repressed sadness now had free reign and he realised he was sobbing loudly. Suddenly self-conscious, he looked around. No-one in the church moved at all- they didn’t notice him. This in turn freed him up even more and his shoulders began to shake with the heaviness of his sobs. Time passed.
The priest said solemnly; “Let us proclaim the Mystery of Faith.” The congregation replied, “We proclaim your death, O Lord.”
The old man’s mind wandered to times gone by once more. He remembered how life went on for the young couple. They lived on to become a middle aged couple and then, in turn, an old couple. Because they didn’t share any of their affection with a child or children, their relationship was an intensely close one. They both continued to work at the fish factory where they were famous for never missing a day. They grew older together, keeping each other young in love.
“Old Irish and Betty, they got good genes”, people would say. And it was true… Until one morning Elisabetta- he never shortened her name; he loved it too much- called him from their bedroom. She shouted his first name (she was the only person who used his first name) and told him she couldn’t get out of bed. Initially he thought she was joking, but when he arrived in the bedroom and saw the look of pain on her face he knew she was serious. He stood staring helplessly at her. Her pain disabled him as much as it seemed to have disabled her.
Some people die long, painful deaths. Some people get to tell their loved ones how much they love them and make plans for after their passing. Not so, Elisabetta. As she lay there in their marital bed, she simply said, “Bury me from that lovely Italian Church on 3rd Street. You know the one. It’s on the route home from work. I find peace there”
“Elisabetta, don’t be saying that.”
“Promise me.” With urgency.
“I will”. He said.
And she closed her eyes. That was all. She closed her eyes and he kept his promise. He buried here 22 years, 4 months and 5 days ago.
Just up from the church Elisabetta wanted her funeral in was a diner and bar called Jimmy’s. He called in around 6 pm on the day of the funeral to wet his whistle and try to recover from the trauma of the day. He had returned at 6 pm every day since, right up to this very day.
However, he had not set foot inside another church from that funeral day. He associated the church with her loss. He associated God with the robbery from him of his beautiful bride. He looked around him, suddenly aware once more of the madness of his being here today. His head began to throb and he felt his face redden.
“You do not exist, you bastard.” He cursed the God he thought he didn’t believe in. “Why? Why did she have to go from me? My wife and my boy. They were all I had. All I ever had. Why?” The same tears rose from the same repressed well of sadness and flowed once again down his still wet wrinkled cheeks.
The old man became aware of someone standing near him. He looked up and saw the priest standing right there at the end of his pew. The old man was surprised to see that the priest was a man of a similar age to him. He looked at the old man with piercing blue eyes.
“Forgive me, but I saw that you didn’t come up for Communion so I brought it to you.” He paused and the old man could have sworn that he saw the priest’s face become younger; wrinkles smoother; blue eyes full of…love staring at him. The priest continued. “Are you ready to receive?”
Without much thought, the old man closed his eyes, opened his mouth and stuck out his tongue. The priest placed the Communion bread into the old man’s mouth and watched as he consumed it. As he ate the bread, eyes still closed, Irish felt the caress of a thumb outlining a cross on his forehead.
“Go now. Go home and God be with you.” The priest said softly.
When the old man opened his eyes he saw that the priest had made it back to the altar and was finishing the Mass.
“Home. I’ll go home now.” His leg muscles complained but did their job as he stood gingerly. He saw the priest give him an ever-so-slight nod as he began to turn towards the door.
“The last leg, now. Nearly home.” He pushed on out into the dark New York evening, one block from his final destination.
The old man’s constant companion- the noise of New York City- greeted him as he descended the few steps from the door of the church. Engines revved, horns beeped, music blared, and voices variously spoke, shouted and sung from all around him. It was a 360 noise chamber, accompanied by a light show of shop fronts and street lights and vehicle headlights. Emerging into this cacophony, the old man felt an unfamiliar feeling- he didn’t like this noise. He had lost the ‘eye of the storm’ quiet he usually found amidst the deafening soundtrack of the Big Apple. Suddenly his sensory awareness was heightened and he guarded his eyes and ears. He recoiled against the onslaught of noise. The world began to swirl. Against his closed eyelids he saw projected images of faces; his brother Donal, Agnes, Elisabetta, the Concierge, the priest. They began to spin in his mind’s eye. Each one was looking blankly at him. He slumped and slid down the railings of the church until he sat on the sidewalk. The cold feel of the concrete grounded him in more ways than one. He became more aware of his surroundings and less aware of the hurricane of faces whipping around his mind. Breathing deeply and deliberately he focussed on the cold of the sidewalk.
With each deep breath his spirit settled a little more. Quiet returned to his mind. After a minute or two, he attempted to stand and found a renewed sense of strength in his legs. In fact, his legs began to feel something that hadn’t done in a long time; they felt strong. Not totally trusting the messages being telegraphed from his legs to his brain, he looked down at them. He flexed one, then the other. They responded quickly and felt steady.
“OK. Let’s do this.” He stood and stepped away from the church steps with an ease he couldn’t explain.
He walked briskly to the corner of the block and looked down Canal Street. The signs of the stores called out in red and yellow Chinese letters. He looked at them and his eyes no longer recoiled from their brightness. He found their vibrancy wonderful. He smiled as he looked around and took in the marriage of Chinese signs and Italian flags draped from lamp-posts. Little Italy/Chinatown. He was nearing home. The noise faded as he stepped off again, down Canal Street, now enjoying the walk and taking in the sights. His ‘eye of the storm’ calm returned. His body felt easy with relief.
“At last, this day is turning round”.
From somewhere nearby he heard a drum beat, that was joined immediately by trumpet sound; a traditional Italian brass band. God, he hadn’t seen one around here in a lifetime. He looked around through the crowds of people milling about Canal Street, but the band must have been on another block.
“Not to worry. After I get home and have a bit of a rest, I might just come back out and find the band.” He was getting a second wind. It confused him, but he was going with it. Maybe he’d had one whisky too much earlier and now it was wearing off.
As he came towards the corner of Canal Street and his home street, the crowds of people began to thin out. He turned onto Elizabeth Street. He and Elisabetta had settled here after marrying- initially attracted by the name: the English version of her name. She had been worried about the rent, though, and had considered that they should move to Queen’s or the Bronx where the rent was lower.
“It will work out, Elisabetta. This street has your name written all over it!” he had joked. “We’ll work hard and we’ll do well here. It’ll be grand.”
And so they moved into an apartment in 303 Elizabeth Street, worried about the rent, and unaware that the one bed apartment would command a half a million dollar price tag 50 years later.
The old man stood in the street now and looked about him. In contrast to the busyness of Canal Street he found himself now in a dark quietness. Some of the street lights were out and most of the light came from the windows of the apartments lined up each floor of the red brick tenement buildings with their wrought iron fire escapes. The scene was timeless. His eyes settled on number 303- home. He moved on towards the steps that would lead to the front door. Seeing his destination gave him a further lift and he felt a lightness about his movements now. He felt like a boy again. Reaching the front of the apartment block, he hopped up one step at a time, giggling to himself as he did. He reached out an arm towards the front door and noticed how strong his arm felt- like the muscular arms he used to have when he was gutting and lifting boxes of fish all those years ago. He was about to consider how this could be when the door flew open, almost striking him. With his new found energy he dodged the door. A large man followed through and grunted at him as he passed. The old man looked at him as he passed. He didn’t catch his face but saw dark hair and the suggestion of a beard at the side of his face.
“Don’t mention it, bud.” He called after the burly man, smiling. He was home now. Any cares from the day evaporated.
The hallway of the apartment block was filled with the smell of home cooked food. Spaghetti Bolognese mingled with Char Sui Pork into a wonderful multi cultural scent stew. He breathed in; and stooped suddenly.
“No”, it couldn’t be. He sniffed once more. “Yes, it is!” He was sure that he could smell a particular dish being cooked. But how? And where? And who? Yet… his nose wouldn’t lie. Mashed potatoes and bacon ribs! His favourite. “There must be an Irish resident in here somewhere” he reasoned, knowing that it was only the Irish who ate such things. It had been his favourite food when he arrived from Ireland; reminding of home and reminding him he wasn’t home all at the same time.
But now he was home; home at 303 Elizabeth Street after the strangest day and the longest journey. He saw his apartment door and reached into his trouser pocket for his key. As his hand entered his pocket, he felt something unexpected. It wasn’t the contents of the pocket; it was the pocket itself. The material of the pocket and the trousers felt strange. And yet… Without looking down he took his hand out of his pockets and felt the trousers he was wearing. Belted at the belly button, the trousers were made of rough cotton and hung on him loosely at the hips, tightening in at the ankle. He dared to take a look and saw trousers that were grey checked and pleated at the front. They ran down his leg and rested on a pair of square-toed black leather shoes. He raised his head quickly, not wanting to see anymore. These were not the trousers he had put on this morning. These were not trousers he had put on in decades. And the shoes. He remembered the look and feel of these shoes. But that had been a lifetime ago. He allowed his hands to run up above the belt of his trousers. He felt a flat stomach covered by a shirt and braces, underneath a short, smooth jacket. He felt his face. Smooth, tight skin. Up further to slicked back hair.
“I’m hallucinating.” He exclaimed, in a panic. He told himself that he was still feeling the effects of whatever had made him sick earlier. He shook his head and blinked furiously. He reached into his pocket once more to find his key. Drawing it out, he fumbled it into the keyhole and turned it. Pushing the door ajar, he heard a voice,
He didn’t push the door any more.
“Joseph? Joseph? Is that you?”
It couldn’t be. Only one person used his given name.
“I just want to go home”, he half spoke, half cried, not knowing what was happening to him.
Behind him, “You are home, Irish.” He spun round. The Concierge stood smiling at him, his massive frame filling most of Joseph’s vision.
“It’s been a long trip, but you’re home now.”
Joseph heard footsteps as others joined the Concierge. He dipped to one side to see who it was.
The cabbie, the priest, Donal and Agnes all stood looking at him, smiling.
The priest spoke, “Joseph, it’s time. Go home.”
The Concierge reached out his massive hands, put them on Joseph’s shoulders and turned him to face the door.
From inside, “Joseph, honey, please come in. Dinner’s ready.”
Joseph pushed the door and was enveloped in pearl-white light. He stepped inside. He was home.