James Claffey

All This Life Long Later

A world I have known and forgotten now, all this life long later. Coman’s and Murphy’s pubs, set opposite each other like castles on a chessboard, the traffic lights separating the file between them. Always the sour smell of spilled porter seeping up from the cellar grates on the footpath. Those pubs saw a great deal of drink consumed in their day. My old man used limp up the road for a “short and a tall”—a pint of Guinness and a glass of Power’s Gold Label whiskey. He’d cross at the primary school, red-bricked and low roofed, and continue on up past the motor factors where the Gem Gem sweet-shop used sit. In the Gem Gem, barley sugar, kola cubes, fruit salad, blackjacks, pineapple cubes. A penny went a long way there. At Christmas the window filled with Roses’ circular tins, selection boxes, and, of course, Hadji Bey’s Turkish Delight. The sweet squares of soft candy were embalmed in a bed of powdered sugar, and stuck to the roof of your mouth long after consumption. Later, by Harrison’s Row on the other side, where the knacker’s kids lived, Dad would look in on Ward the cobbler and have a word. Ward was a man the color of shoe leather, with a wild thatch of frizzy hair and large eyeglasses, always with dirt beneath his fingernails from shoe dye, or tannins. He’d tap nails with a small-headed hammer, tacks so sharp and shiny, they glinted in the dark of his shop. The antique shop was next door, a long shop-front, big windows with divans and candelabras, and always a sleeping marmalade cat in the window, seeking the morning sun. The road was narrow—curving at the small teashop where a pound would buy a pot of tea for two and a couple of sausage rolls—a curse to buses, being too narrow for the tilting double-deckers, only the low single-deckers were routed this way. Fogarty’s was where we got vegetables and the daily messages. The grocer looked like a carrot, all red tufts of hair and dark skin, lined with deep wrinkles in which the dirt of the shop collected each day. Across the way the gourmet shop sold stinky French cheeses and olive tapenade, things we had no use for. When we went in there for some tidbit or other, we invariably turned our noses up at the aroma that today would have me in clover. Deveney’s off-license was an Aladdin’s cave of alcohol and cigarettes. Sent on an errand for a naggin of whiskey, the shop assistants would sell to us as ten-year-olds, wrapping the flat bottle in brown paper and warning us to “be careful not to drop it on the way home.” I suppose I feel a sense of loss when I remember such moments from home, as if the sands in the hourglass of life are passing more rapidly through the narrow neck these days. Perhaps the top of the glass contains the sands of home and the ones collecting in the bottom are my life here in America. How many grains remain up above? Will someone right the hourglass when the sands finally run through and the top chamber empties completely?


James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his wife, the writer and artist, Maureen Foley, their daughter, Maisie, and Australian cattle-dog, Rua. His work appears in many places, including The New Orleans Review, Metazen, Elimae, Necessary Fiction, Revival Literary Journal, and Word Riot. His website is at www.jamesclaffey.com.