Skip to content Skip to main menu

An excerpt from'The Coast of Leitrim'

Living alone in his dead uncle’s cottage, and with the burden lately of wandering thoughts in the night, Seamus Ferris had fallen hard for a Polish girl who worked at a café down in Carrick. He had himself almost convinced that the situation had the dimensions of a love affair, though in fact he’d exchanged no more than a few dozen words with her, whenever she named the price for his flat white and scone, and he shyly paid it, offering a line or two himself on the busyness of the town or the fineness of the weather.

“It’s like France,” he said to her one sunny morning in June.

And it was true that the fields of the mountain had all the week idled in what seemed a Continental languor, and the lower hills east were a Provençal blue in the haze, and the lake when he lowered himself into it was so warm by the evening it didn’t even make his midge bites sting.

“The heat,” he tried again. “Makes the place seem like France. We wouldn’t be used to it. Passing out from it. Ambulance on standby.”

His words blurted at the burn of her brown-eyed stare. She didn’t lose the run of herself by way of a response but she said yes, it is very hot, and he believed that something at least cousinly to a smile softened her mouth and moved across her eyes. He had learned already by listening in the café that her name was Katherine, which was not what you’d expect for a Polish woman but lovely.

At thirty-five years of age, Seamus Ferris was by no means setting the night on fire at the damp old pebbledash cottage on Dromord Hill, but he had no mortgage nor rent to pay, and there was money from when the father died, a bit more again when the mother went to join him, also the redundancy payment from Rel-Tech, and some dole. He had neither sister nor brother and was a little stunned at this relatively young age to find himself on a solo run through life. He had pulled back from his friends, too, which wasn’t much of a job, for he had never had close ones. He had worked for eight years at Rel-Tech, but more and more he had found the banter of the other men there a trial, the endless football talk, the foolishness and bragging about drink and women, and in truth he was relieved when the chance of a redundancy came up. He had the misfortune in life to be fastidious and to own a delicacy of feeling. He drank wine rather than beer and favored French films. Such an oddity this made him in the district that he might as well have had three heads up on Dromord Hill.

He believed that Katherine, too, had sensitivity. She had a dreamy, distracted air, and there was no question but that she seemed at a remove from the other mullockers who worked in the café. The way she made the short walk home in the evenings to the apartments across the river in Cortober again named a sensitivity—she always slowed a little to look out and over the water, maybe to see what the weather was doing, perhaps she even read the river light, as Seamus did, fastidiously. He could keep track of her route home if he parked down by the boathouse, see the slender woman with brown hair slow and turn to look over the water, and it was only with a weight of reluctance that she moved on again for home.

A little bit about Kevin Barry

Kevin Barry Pic 2015 (c) Conor O'Mahony.png

Kevin Barry is the author of the novels Beatlebone and City of Bohane and the story collections Dark Lies the Island and There Are Little Kingdoms. His new novel Night Boat to Tangier will be published in June 2019.

His awards include the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Goldsmiths Prize, the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Prize and the Lannan Foundation Literary Award. His stories and essays appear in the New Yorker, Granta and elsewhere. He also works as a playwright and screenwriter, and he lives in County Sligo, Ireland.

See the full Shortlist