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Authors: John McGahern

The Collected Stories

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John McGahern’s
The Collected Stories

“[McGahern] may well be Ireland’s finest living fiction writer.… [His] stories are well-wrought acts of the imagination that fill the heady space between prayer and song.”


Boston Globe

“With honesty and directness, John McGahern has fashioned a world as unmistakable as Beckett’s or Proust’s or Faulkner’s.… He has a dark, relentless vision … decorous authority [and] sly humor.… The best of these tales manage a magical blend of the specific and the general, and the result looks eerily like life itself.”

—John Banville,
The New York Review of Books

“There’s not a hint of blarney in these thirty-four stories.… McGahern’s alertness to the natural world … shines through with a kind of steely purity.… Some of the dialogue amounts to found poetry, and some of it is blackly and terrifyingly comic.”


The New Yorker

“To read the stories of John McGahern is to be led into the very heart of Ireland.… Enormously satisfying, a bracing immersion in a world at once repellent and fascinating.… By transforming Irish foibles and tragedies into the stuff of art, the author holds us in his sway.”


Newsday

ALSO BY JOHN MCGAHERN

The Barracks

The Dark

Nightlines

The Leavetaking

Getting Through

The Pornographer

High Ground

Amongst Women

By the Lake

PLAY

Power of Darkness

John McGahern
The Collected Stories

John McGahern is the author of five highly acclaimed novels and four collections of short stories. His novel
Amongst Women
won the GPA Book Award and the Irish Times Award, was short-listed for the Booker Prize, and was made into a four-part BBC television series. He has been a visiting professor at Colgate University and at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and is the recipient of the Society of Authors’ Award, the American-Irish Award, and the Prix Étrangère Ecureuil, among other awards and honors. His work has appeared in anthologies and has been translated into many languages. He lives in Dublin.

FIRST VINTAGE INTERNATIONAL EDITION, MARCH 1994

Copyright © 1992 by John McGahern

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in hardcover in Great Britain by Faber and Faber Limited, London, in 1992. First published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1993.

Most of the stories in this volume were originally published in slightly different form in the following collections:
Nightlines
(Atlantic-Little, Brown Books), copyright © 1963, 1969, 1970, 1971 by John McGahern.
Getting Through
(Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.), copyright © 1980 by John McGahern.
High Ground
(Viking Penguin Inc.), copyright © 1985 by John McGahern. Used by permission.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
McGahern, John, 1934–
[Short stories]
The collected stories/John McGahern.
—1st Vintage international ed.
p. cm.—(Vintage international)
ISBN 978-0-679-74401-6
eBook ISBN: 978-0-8041-5318-8
1. Ireland—Fiction. I. Title.
[PR6063.A2176A6 1994]
823′.914—dc20      93-43483

v3.1

For
Rosaleen, Breedge,
Margaret, Monica, Dymphna
and
Frank

Wheels

Grey concrete and steel and glass in the slow raindrip of the morning station, three porters pushing an empty trolley up the platform to a stack of grey mail-bags, the loose wheels rattling, and nothing but wait and watch and listen, and I listened to the story they were telling.

‘Seven-eighths of his grave he’d dug in that place down the country when they went and transferred him up on promotion.’

‘Took to fishing out beyond Islandbridge, bicycle and ham sandwiches and a flask of tea, till he tried to hang himself from a branch out over the river, but the branch went and broke and in he fell roaring for help.’

‘No use drowning naturally if you’d meant to hang yourself in the first place.’

‘Think there’s any chance they’ll have him up for attempted whateveritis?’

‘Not nowadays – they’ll give him a six-month rest-cure in the Gorman on full pay.’

They’d filled the trolley, the smile dying in the eyes as they went past, the loose wheels rattling less under the load, the story too close to the likeness of my own life for comfort though it’d do to please Lightfoot in the pub when I got back.

‘Looked at with the mind, life’s a joke; and felt, it’s a tragedy and we know cursed nothing,’ he’d said last night over pints of Guinness.

Flush of tiredness in my face after the drinking, the jug of water by the bed had been no use, rough tongue, dry roof of mouth, dull ache and throb of the poison along the forehead and on all the nerves, celebrating this excursion home; and always desire in the hot tiredness, the dull search about the platform for vacancy between well-fleshed thighs: may I in my relax-sirs slacks (Hackney, London) plunge into your roomy ripeness and forget present difficulties?

The train drew in. I got a table in the restaurant car facing a priest and a man in his fifties, a weathered face under a hat, the blue Sunday suit limp and creased.

A black woollen scarf inside the priest’s gaberdine almost completely concealed the Roman collar. The waiter brought us tea and toast on trays and the priest broke the silence.

‘Have you come far?’ he asked the hatted man at his side.

‘From London, on the nightboat.’

‘You must work there, then,’ the priest continued in an interested politeness.

‘I do and fukken all, for the last twenty-eight years, on the buildings.’

The man hadn’t seen the collar and was unaware of the shock of the swear-word. The priest looked anxiously about the carriage but asked, ‘Is it tough on the buildings?’ more to prove he could master the unsocial than out of any politeness now.

‘Not if you use your fukken loaf like. You soon get wised-up that nobody’ll thank you for making a fukken name for yourself by working. I’m a teaboy.’ The man was relaxed, ready to hold forth.

‘And are you going home on holiday?’ the priest changed.

‘Not effin’ likely. I’m going home to bury the brother,’ he announced importantly.

‘I’m sorry. May he rest in peace,’ the priest said.

‘A release to himself and everybody else; been good for nothing for years.’

The priest rose. He’d risked enough.

‘If you’re ever in London,’ the man held out his hand, ‘you’ll find me any Sunday morning in the Archway Tavern, in the door of the Public Bar facing the Gents.’

The priest thanked him, anxious to be gone, and as he turned to the door the man saw the round collar.

‘That was a priest,’ he murmured as if waiting for the certainty to sink in. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’

‘I got no chance.’

‘Well I’ll be fukken blowed.’ He slumped.

‘He didn’t seem to mind too much. I wouldn’t worry.’

‘Still, he’s a priest, isn’t he? You have to draw the line fukken somewhere. I’ll go and tell him I’m sorry.’

‘I wouldn’t worry,’ I said, but he shambled to the door.

‘He was all right about it, he said he understood,’ he informed when he returned after minutes, relief of confession on the old face as he pondered, ‘Tidy how a body can put his fukken foot in it.’

The train had crossed the Shannon. The fields were slowing. I took the suitcase and shook hands with the man.

The front door was open when I got to the house. She was on her knees in the hall, scrubbing the brown flagstones. She must have heard the iron gate under the yew at the road and the footsteps up the unweeded gravel but she did not stop or look up until I was feet away. All she said was my name, but all the tense emotion of the face, the tears just held back, went into the name, and it was an accusation. ‘Rose,’ I answered with her name.

I thought she was going to break, and there was the embarrassment of the waiting silence, the still brush in her hand beside her knees on the wet stone.

‘Did you get the letter that I was coming?’

‘Your father got a letter.’ Her face hardened, and it was already a hard greying face, the skin stretched tight over the bones, under the grey hair.

‘Was it all right to come?’

She still didn’t rise or make any sign for me to enter, and when she dipped the brush in the water and started to scrub the stone again I put the suitcase down close to the wall of the house and said, ‘I’ll fool around till he comes.’ She didn’t answer and I could hear the rasp of the scrubbing brush on the stone till I’d gone the other side of the house.

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