By James Gray
Ambrose leapt from his armchair. “Get in there, son!” he said, causing Brian to drop the glass he had been cradling while he slipped into an early evening TV slumber. Ambrose found himself watching in slow motion as the IKEA tumbler bounced off the floor and, he figured, at least two quid’s worth of Jameson’s soaked into the living room carpet. Under normal circumstances he would have throttled Brian and sent him back to the offy. Two quid’s worth of Jameson’s!
But not this time. Ambrose hadn’t been this animated since Galway United beat Cork City to the League of Ireland Cup in ’97. He held his arms aloft, bottle of San Miguel in one hand, a dog-eared envelope in the other, and danced in arthritic circles in front of the telly.
“Who d’you think you are, Rocky fuckin’ Balboa?” Brian croaked.
Ambrose interrupted his jig only to hand Brian the envelope, on the back of which were scrawled a set of numbers in faded blue biro. Brian snatched it and sat on the edge of his seat waiting for the host to repeat the numbers. He shook his head. “Same bloody numbers every week, Ambrose.” He coughed. “Twenty-six, forty-four,” said Brian, eyes flitting between the television and the envelope like a Wimbledon spectator while he checked off each number. “You lucky son-of-a bitch, Ambrose. Five plus the bonus ball. That’s about…” Brian’s lips moved while he did the maths in his head. “Well, fuckin’ shed loads, anyway.”
That Saturday night Ambrose knew for the first time in his life what it meant to have the luck of the Irish.
Ambrose sat with his legs in the water, a fluorescent yellow diver’s mask perched on top of his head and a snorkel dangling to one side. He broke wind, fanned the elastic waist band of his Bermuda shorts as he thought about going for a swim, and then decided to sit back in the sunshine for a while longer and let the world go by.
Ambrose gave a passing thought to Brian and the factory. He hadn’t seen or spoken to him since that Saturday night. Brian was old school, like his father, and a staunch subscriber to the philosophy of an honest day’s graft. Ambrose knew his father would never have approved of such easy money either. He had left Ireland at the age of twenty-four with three shillings in his pocket, looking to capitalise like so many other Irish labourers on the post-war building boom. He had been one of McAlpine’s Fusiliers, who sweated blood and washed down mud with pints and quarts of beer. As Ambrose stared at his feet in the water, he could feel his father looking down on him, and he let out a snort.
The clear, blue water reminded Ambrose of the postcard from his neighbours, Ted and Linda. As a last resort they had asked Ambrose to take care of their plants while they were away, and a bottle of cheap whiskey had been enough to procure his services. The day after his numbers came up, and once the fog of his hangover had lifted, he had drawn it out from behind the carriage clock on the mantelpiece. Greetings from Hurghada, it said in big yellow letters. The postcard was split into four squares: some grinning old fart in a lime green sun hat holding forth a Barracuda, a could-be-anywhere sandy beach lined with palm trees and parasols, an Egyptian pyramid and a scuba diver suspended above brightly coloured angel fish and stunning coral gardens. On the other side it read “Keep the Aspidistra Flying! Ted & Linda”, whatever the fuck that meant. It was the scuba diver that had inspired Ambrose; he’d love to see Ted and Linda’s faces when they got his postcard.
He pulled down his mask, which fogged up straight away, and fiddled with his snorkel. A kid – or maybe a dwarf, he couldn’t really tell through all the mist – swam past doing a frenzied backstroke and completely soaked Ambrose. “Riccle fuffer,” he managed through the snorkel, which made him sound like Darth Vader with a speech impediment. Ambrose ripped off the mask and rubbed his eyes despondently.
In retrospect, Ambrose realised that quitting his job hadn’t been his best move. And rolling up at the factory after half a bottle of whiskey and calling his supervisor a fat version of Pavarotti maybe hadn’t been such a good idea either. His father had always told him, “Never burn your bridges, son,” but Ambrose had never been very good at following his father’s advice. Ambrose sighed and looked at his watch.
A whistle blew. “Everybody out!”
Some day he would show them. Some day he would send them all a postcard from the other side of the world; Brian, Ted and Linda, those bastards at the factory. But for now the local swimming baths would have to do. If only he could find that fucking lottery ticket.