The hot pants look trampy with the platforms so you change into your yellow parallels. You fill your clutch bag with fags, a pat of powder, a tin of Vaseline. It’s floppy, so you wad it with tissues to fill it out. The bag came free with a bottle of Charlie perfume you bought in the chemist’s shop you’re not allowed to go into because Mr Crawford, the owner, is in the DUP. A last look in the mirror. The broderie anglaise trim on your top doesn’t quite reach the waistband of your trousers. Your stomach is hollow, which you like, and pale, which you don’t. You go down the stairs and put your head into the sitting room. Showaddy Waddy are on Seaside Special, wearing suits the same shade as your trousers. Cheerio, you say. Your mother pulls the edges of her cardigan together by way of an answer. You go down the driveway. The wee ones are down at the stream, building a dam or demolishing one, their shrieks blowing across the fields to you. The heat has been building all day. The tarmac is soft under your feet, sundering into oil and chips of stone, and by the time you get to the Half Way Inn the cork soles on your shoes are greasy-looking and the hair at the back of your neck is wet.
The front door is wedged open with a brick. The girls are already there, at the corner table by the juke box, nursing jewel-coloured drinks laced with cordial. Gin and orange. Pernod and blackcurrant. Vodka and lime. You tuck your clutch high up under your arm and go to the bar.
Buy us a drink, Thady, you say. Your brother acts as if he doesn’t know you’re there, so you have to lean in between him and Ciaran McCann. Your top has ridden up your back and Ciaran slants himself back for a better look. In profile he’s nearly gorgeous, but then he twists on his stool and you see the heavy lid of the eye that doesn’t open. You think he’s admiring you, until he sniggers. You’re in no position to be laughing at anyone, Winky, you say, and he bends back over his pint. Come on, Thady, I’ve no money, you say. He does this sometimes, makes you whinge stuff out of him. You’re not even sure he’s listening, because he has turned to look at the doorway. Everyone is looking at the doorway. It’s like watching a western, the tall silhouette against the yellow light, the face dark, in shadow. The tidy bulk of him crossing the room to the counter.
Thady must be thinking the same thing because he says Howdy, Stranger. Something has shifted in the air.
The man smiles along the length of the bar. He’s wearing a tweed sports jacket, too heavy for a summer night, and there’s a spritz of sweat on his moustache. It’s an evening for a few cold ones, he says, his accent going the length and breadth of Ireland.