Last night he had needed that loving little girl and Mary had denied him. Half-mad, he had fallen back into old ways: frightened for Johnny, and missing his girl, he had gone back to the shebeen from which he’d exiled himself for six months. There he received a rousing welcome, and soon, with a whiskey melting the tension in his stomach, he wondered why he had ever stayed away. Just one, maybe two; he could handle it this time.

He had not had a drink in six months and could now stop at any time. A pleasant, numbing warmth spread through his body. His shoulders softened, face relaxed. Grace was okay, the boy from next door would be found, he would get back together with Mary again. The second drink was easier to take; the third even easier. It was after midnight when he left the shebeen. He started down to his new place, then changed his mind and direction. Fuck it, he thought. She was not going to keep him away from his daughter.

The house was swaddled in darkness. Even drunk, Patrick knew his approach should best not happen from the front door. There was no way Mary would open it for him, not after last night’s showdown. He thought about Grace, tucked up in bed. He would go to her window, say goodnight, give her a kiss through the bars; conspire against Mary as they used to when Grace was still little.

In his mind’s eye, Grace would be happy to see him. She would giggle a little, and hold his hand, because surely she had missed him too? Instead, her screams startled him. Then Mary started screaming too. Lights went on inside the house and next door. “It’s me, it’s only me!” he’d shouted through the closed window. But by then the pair were hysterical and could not hear him. Tim, along with a convoy of men, rushed over, armed with batons.

“What is going on here! What are you doing, man?”

“It’s me, Patrick! I live here. Fuck you! Can a man not see his own family?”

That goddamn Mary. This was what she had reduced him too – a simpering coward, begging for them to recognise him. Worked up as they were about Johnny, it would take nothing for one of these men to plant a pole against his skull. Bitch! How could she do this to him!

“Sorry, man, ou Patrick. But why you crawling around like a thief?”

“Can  a  man  not  see  his  own  family!”  he  shouted  again, bolstered in his righteous fury by the recognition that he was safe, that these men, at least, would not harm him. “I just want to see my family!” This time the words were accompanied by a wild, swinging fist, which shattered the girl’s bedroom window.

“Come,  come  now,  Patrick.  It’s  hard,  but  you  know  you have to go.” Tim was soothing in his tone, trying to dispel any looming violence. He had seen before what Patrick was capable of. “Come, Patrick, come. It’s time to go home. We’ll walk a way with you.”

“Fuck you! I don’t need you to tell me when to come and go in my own fucking yard!”

Nevertheless, far outnumbered and surrounded by men,

Patrick allowed himself to be led away from the window and onto the gravel road. The men formed a laager around him and moved him down Saturn Street – his street, on which he no longer lived.

Patrick  did  not  remember  how  he’d  gotten  back  to  the little room he now called home. His head hurt. He picked up an empty enamel pot from the floor, went outside and filled it with water from a tap attached to the main house. He lit the gas ring and put the water on for coffee, then fingered the gash on the fist that had broken the window.

It was far too late to go to work and since it was almost noon, he would be docked half the day’s wages anyhow. It didn’t make sense for him to go, not the way his head was pounding, and with a useless hand.

He summoned the night before into his thoughts. What the hell was wrong with Grace? How could his own child not recognise him? Did she do that to antagonise him, make him more of the bad guy than he already was? He hated that the neighbours had witnessed it all. After the last episode, the one that made Mary decide to finally end it, they had looked at him differently. He could feel their contempt in their stiffened spines when he passed them, even the men. He had only wanted to see his daughter, and then, this scene.

Patrick needed to redeem himself. To do this, he would have to take his place again as head of his household. He knew that last night’s behaviour was unacceptable, but if he could talk to Mary one more time, just one more, he was sure he would make her see that his frustration was a measure of his desperation to be back with them. I did this because I love you, he would say to Mary. It was true, and she needed to hear it. Patrick fixed upon a plan to go and see her again, a plan to make her see reason.

She wouldn’t be home for a few hours, which gave him time to have just one drink. Yes, a drink would calm him and give him the courage he needed to convince Mary. He would have just one, he knew he could do it; and by the time she got home it would have worn off anyway. She wouldn’t even notice. And so, at noon, Patrick headed back to the shebeen for one last drink.

***

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