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David MohanDavid Mohan is from Dublin, Ireland. He has received a PhD in English literature from TCD. He has been published in The Sunday Tribune, Revival, Abridged, The Stony Thursday Book and the 2008 anthology Night and Day. He has won the Hennessy/ Sunday Tribune Poetry Award, as well as the 2008 overall New Irish Writer Award. More recently he won the 2009 Over The Edge Writer of the Year Award.








My Friend Joe

Second place, Seán Ó Faoláin Competition


In one continuous curve in August in the summer of 1996 in my beat up car, I drove myself off the road between San Diego and Dallas, and into the sizzling hot grass of a Texas wheat field. 

Months later I’m sitting in the kitchen in my mama’s trailer in my hometown, Mayfield, watching her prepare breakfast. 

‘That beautiful car,’ she moans, ‘Just what got into that head of yours?’

‘None of your business,’ I say, as though I’d had a special reason. I get real busy turning my coffee cup round and round on the table top, letting the stains it leaves on the old Formica overlap and loop like one of those child’s spirogimminies.

She sighs a bit more at that, and stirs her pan some more. ‘I can’t figure it. A grown man and you’ve got to take the bus just to get to work.’

‘My Jesus Christ mama. That car was a Grade A piece of shit.’

 ‘It was not,’ she disagreed, almost immediately, pouncing like a puma. ‘It was the one good thing that you ever had. You took that car to all around, up to Mexico. New Orleans. How’d you do all that otherwise? Tell me that.’

‘The train,’ I explained patiently, ‘like everybody else without a car.’

‘But you had a car, Brandon, you had a car,’ she says, as though I was some kind of retard.

My spirogimminies pattern is somewhat convoluted up at this stage. As always, when talking with my mother, I am beginning to slowly lose my reason.

‘Is that ready yet?’ I ask, just to change the subject, ‘You’ve been stirring that pan so much you’re making me dizzy.’

‘Soon enough,’ she mutters, continuing to stir. ‘You should be fixing up to go to work soon anyway.’

Her words, as always, make me wince a bit. That’s my latest job in town she’s talking about. I’ve gone through the rest mostly at some point or other. This one – lugging crate boxes round some factory floor – is just nearly killing me, and is coming just as unstuck as all the others. I crumple up my face a bit more, just to let her know the gravity of my situation.

‘I’m pretty much fixed on quitting the job up at Langford’s, since you’re asking,’ I put out casual, ready to hear her moan some more.

‘Well you do that Brandon,’ she says resignedly, ‘and that’s where you’ll be.’

She picks up the big old spoon she’d been using to provoke our breakfast and places it down softly on her kitchen counter, all as though she’d really meant to place it there ever so gently, though I know she’d been planning on slamming it there, and takes off into her bedroom like the quarrelsome witch she is.

 Despite a lifetime of it, or perhaps because of that, I take a disinclination to the grits congealing in mama’s pan.  On account of having some taste buds left perhaps. Instead, I swing my jacket on and am making a half-assed getaway when the flimsy door rips open a crack.

Mama’s head sticks out, as sore looking as a bent thumb, ‘And don’t you even think of bringing that girl here again tonight.’ My mama keeps a fierce lid on that temper of hers, but she still makes the word ‘girl’ sound like something horrendous.

      ‘Uh-huh,’ I say in my joshing way, and trip out the door as slick as a rodeo.  

A cool, serene spring morning in the trailer park. I skirt past the Sager’s spilt-over water-tank, hup through two yards, then it’s a quick hop over the wall to the bus depot.

The bus into Mayfield is irregular at best, except in the morning, with half the park heading into town.  I jog a little in the chill of the late morning, then put my jacket on. I am patting the pockets to find my smokes when a small crackle alerts me to Joe Buckram’s letter, the thing I’d clean forgot. Old Joe, from way back; we’d hung out in high school. Joey Buckram and me, we’d been buddies in the day, hitching around up to no good, you know how it is. He’d hauled off since, years past, moved himself out to Austin. We’d lost touch. A long, long time ago, it was. The letter went:


Hey Brandon G.,

What’s cooking? Coming up March 6th for pa’s funeral. Meet you in Pete’s for the old schmo. I’ll be in your usual seat—head to the bar most like. Mom’s beat up about it, so don’t try charming no one if you go up to the farm.



I’d been reckoning on skipping work today anyway, but this decided it. I scrunched it up again, feeling sort of regretful and sad about things as they’d been and now as they were.  I’d never gone up to see his mama neither, so he’d needn’t worried himself about me charming anyone, man or beast.

          The bus came eventually, the driver chewing gum with a venomous look. I sat back and hitched my knees up on the edge of my seat just to get comfortable.  The view from the bus into town is pretty much country—the town itself ain’t that much more when truth get told.  In a short while, not short enough, this countryside falls away to reveal downtown Mayfield in all its dubious glory.  Believe me when I say this is pretty much always a disappointment even for the fresh-faced first timer. There’s not much when you step off to let you know you’ve arrived. A liquor store for the town drunks – a considerable proportion of the population – a titty bar, a hoedown hall. All the staples of country life in other words. 

I walk a bit up the not much-of-a main street. They’ve got all the kinds of shops you don’t want or don’t need: a florist, a haberdashers, a country ladies boutique. I pass an old couple strolling by arm in arm like sweethearts—quaint and charming if you’re passing by, depressing if you happen to live here.

          I’ve got some time to kill I reckon—Joe was never much of an early drinker, so I take a nice, health-enhancing stroll myself, off the track a little to skirt the edges of the creek. This is the sort of wholesome thing I rarely do, but it’s that sort of day so I think I might risk it.

          I head back then, for real this time, thinking as I light up on the way, that that’s more than enough fresh air for one morning. This time I head straight for old Pete’s—if I’ve got to wait some, I’ll wait in a sociable way.  Pete’s has got that slightly derelict, queasy look a bar has in the morning. It’s dark inside, and there’s no one there besides Pete himself and old Bill Farley, who’s pretty much a fixture.  I stride up to the bar. Old Bill is clearing his throat in that indulgent way he has. When he does that you know you’re in for some sort of god-awful yarn from way back about moonshine distilling in the years of the depression.

Pete smirks at me a bit, no doubt wondering how even I could be propping up a bar with the birds just fresh awoken in the trees.

‘What’s it to be Mr Gannaway?’

‘A coke most like,’ says Bill, as husky as a freight train.

‘Make it the same as usual,’ I say sharply.

‘What’s got you out of your box anyways Gannaway? Your mom will be fit to stitch a skunk. Isn’t that right, Bill?’

‘Sure is.’

 ‘So what you been up to Gannaway? Still working up at Langford’s in your spare time.’

‘Kind of,’ I say somewhat distracted, ‘I’ve been thinking to take myself on the road again perhaps, work on the ranches.’

‘Ranching,’ says Pete, a bit sceptical, but humouring me just the same. Then breaking into a wicked smile, he says, ‘Our friend here thinks he’s some kind of cowboy.’ 

Bill cackles at that, somewhat predictably.

‘I do not,’ I say, feeling a real resentment brewing. ‘Though it’s a wonder you’re still any sort of barman. This beer tastes like shit.’

Pete guffaws at that. ‘That’s off the back of last night most like,’ he says, assuming his barman slouch, leaning back against the sink, his fat butt heaving over the edge of it. ‘You should have had some breakfast first.’

‘I wasn’t hungry. Now, Jesus H can you talk about something else?’

          I head over to the jukebox with my beer, letting the boys get on with it.  It’s something of a ploy—I know this jukebox inside out, have heard every song on it a thousand times, but I’m looking to sidle over to some dark corner I can bring Joe to, to talk in private.  No use the whole town knowing the other half of my business it don’t already know.  I make a play of looking over some old Motown classics then settle myself quietly down on one of Pete’s fancier fake-velvet seats.

          I look up and there he is almost standing over me, too large as life to quite take in.  He must have slipped in when I was fussing about with Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin.  I look up at him for a moment recognising and not recognising him all at once and thinking why the fuck he came so formal in a suit and all, and then I remember he’s come straight, most probably, from his daddy’s funeral. Even with the suit, I start to think, he’s not half as flash as I’d been expecting.

‘Hey there country bumpkin,’ he says.

‘Hey look at you city slicker,’ I fire back at him, not quite knowing what’s expected for this scene straight out of Days of Our Lives.  Should I hug him just like a long lost brother?  I settle for a rough, joshing handshake instead and even at that he looks at me strangely.

‘So there,’ I say, suddenly nervous for no reason knowing Pete and Bill will be watching us now and recording for the sake of gossip every lick of the scene.

‘Well now,' says Joe. He smiled with white city teeth. ‘What you keep looking at,’ he says, looking at the bar.

‘Oh hit don’t matter,’ I say, taking off Bill a bit, ‘I’m just looking at those two fools over there speculating over the fine looking women they glimpsed a thousand years ago in Clay City.’

He laughs at that a bit, and exclaims, ‘Yessir, oh my gosh,’ as another tribute to old Geronimo.

‘You hold tight there,’ he says, ‘I’ll round them in this time,’ and he goes to fetch up some more liquor to our table, and I get my first moment to think awhile since he pounced on me, all unawares.

          Now here was Joe. This was Joe. Joe Buckram. But this was a different Joe. He looks as mighty fine as the women liked back in the day, but he’s just a bit crumpled too— though positively less so than me. A city boy now, definite.  I can tell already or I strongly suspects. He’s lost the country about him, that’s why he’s so busy putting it on.

‘Here we are, here we are,’ he says, scuttling in with a raft of beers. ‘What you up to anyhow,’ he asks, arranging the glasses in a little ring upon the table, just like a wagon train making camp.

‘On this fine summer morning?’


‘Nothing much’.  I sees no way round it. ‘Dodging work for a spell.’

‘Oh righty. Where you working?’

‘Langfords, and I’ll tell you for nothing I’d rather be unemployed and lying on the cold stones than taking another kicking from that family.’

‘Same as usual then. Just the same old Mayfield,’ observes Joe.

‘Sure is. Won’t change till Judgement day most likely unless they tear it down and do us all a favour.’

‘So,’ I says, ‘down to says bye to the pops.’


‘Not much else would bring you back I’d imagine Mr. Slick. What you driving now, anyways.’

‘A big ole jeep.’

‘Steady there. Fancy fancy. How’s things trucking up in Austin?’

He laughs a bit more at that, for no good reason, just like in the old days. I was always the joshing one at school, and Joe, Joe out of all of us was always the clever one. Mr. Brains we called him—and in the end it was no joke, he got out and quicker than a jackrabbit. You can’t get cleverer than that.

‘Not bad, not bad. I’m doing ok—got myself a nice little house in town, a smart little job in the city.’

‘Sounds dandy.’

‘It’s ok.’

‘You miss your daddy,’ I ask out of an effort at politeness.

He wrinkles his face up at that, as though taken by painful recollection or just considering. ‘Truth be told, Bran, not much. We were never that close. You know that.’

‘Yeah. But he was your daddy just the same.’ I say that for the sakes of those of us who never knew their daddy in the first place.

          ‘True enough. But I’ve got as much family as I need back home.’

I digest that a bit, reddening for some reason along the way and thinking how curious it is to hear him call that far off city home.

‘You’ve got a family then, have you? Kids hopping round?’

He laughs again, and it’s starting to bug me.

‘No kids, no. And you?’

‘None and counting.’  ‘And that, my friend, is how it’s gonna stay.’

‘I hear you. I see they kept the creek nice at least, unlike most of the rest of town,’ he says, pushing his chair in comfortably.

‘Just the same as usual I suppose. Mostly the same as before as you can see,’ I say stretching my legs out a bit. ‘Nothing much’s changed—for the better, at least.’

I look up and see his face is much stiller than my talk is, as though he were actually listening to deep silence. I come to a halt.

His eyes go down to the floor, like he’s mimicking some demure widow at a county fair. I get to feeling a bit awkward, not knowing how to go on.

‘Is it your daddy you’re worrying at?’ I say, reverting to unfamiliar territory—sympathy.

‘No. Not that at all. Bran, you remember those summers when we were kids.’ He starts talking in a low voice, earnestly. All about those long-gone, high school days of us and our gang hanging out and scooting round the dirt track roads in his daddy’s old car and I begin to lose the thread of it through half-listening, feeling now, suddenly uncomfortably sure of what he’s getting to. I know it when he comes to it at last as I knew he would.

‘Remember that night that summer when we went swimming at the reservoir.’

‘Man,’ I says suddenly more than perplexed, standing up, warmth rising from my feet up to the growing heat in my face, half lifting me from my chair. ‘Man,’ Pete and Bill’s eyes flick over as fast as summer lightning, so I sit down again sharpish.

‘Joe boy, I’ve told you a million times if I told you once I don’t want to hear about that again. It’s no use. You know that and I know that. So just let it rest.’ I sit back with my beer clutched to my chest.

          ‘I’m just remembering, Bran,’ Joe puts in, looking a bit self-righteous. ‘That’s all.’

‘Well don’t.’

‘I won’t then. Jesus Christ.’ he exclaims in an exasperated voice as though observing to himself, ‘These fucking ditchwater towns. I just don’t know.’  I sit that one out, not knowing either. He looks over at me all agitated, squinting in the shadow. ‘What’s got into you anyway?’

‘Nothing. Nothing’s got into me. That’s all. Not one thing.’

He looks hard at me then, then makes a show of looking at his watch. ‘I reckon I’ll go then. Should be heading back this afternoon anyway.’ He stands up all in a hurry all of a sudden.  It startles me a bit, but I don’t let on. Let him make a disgraceful exit if he likes—I’ll stay as cool as my cheap beer. 

‘Well, I’m heading then. See you round.’ He puts his head down a bit to see me in the half-dark as though he was a chaplain or I was simple or a child.

‘Keep on trucking.’  I wave sullenly and shut my eyes tight a moment to give him sufficient time to saunter off. I hear a word or so passed between those two losers up at the bar and the phlegmy racket of Bill coughing up a storm.

          When my eyes open up the place is empty again. He’s gone and sauntered out, and for some reason I decide I’d better try to say my goodbyes proper so I speed out the bar as fast as a bear after a possum and just miss the dusty screech of his jeep setting off onto the dirt road, just a bit down the street.  I run up a bit and get alongside just as he’s setting off.

I call out something, patting the sides of a window while I can, until it suddenly speeds off too fast for me and I’m left half-running breathless behind.  Most likely he didn’t hear me because he’s playing some travelling music on the radio or he’s watching the road or something. I’m up the street a bit and so I sit down in the dirt of the roadside in the scorched grass and taking big deep breathes to help me calm myself, I listen to the long hot summer silence.

©2009 David Mohan




Author Links

Mohan on the Lucan Writers page

Article on Mohan's Hennessy Award in the Tribune





©2009 Southword Editions
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