Taking off for Christmas
IT WAS Christmas Eve when Emmet Casey arrived back from England. He rolled off the ferry driving a Jaguar XJS. "The same car Margaret Thatcher drives," he boasted to the lads when he pulled up outside the pub. He had a chunky wallet too that he tugged out of his back pocket.
And in the Christmas garland-festooned front bar he insisted on standing everyone a drink, to prove that he was not only wellwedged with cash, but also to flash a glimpse of a pilot's ID stuck in the front.
"I have my hundred hours done," he bragged. "And did I tell you about the time I flew to the Canaries and the pilot offered me the controls if I wanted to take her in?"
"Can you pay for these drinks first," said the bar owner, "just in case this landing goes wrong."
Later, when Emmet headed for the men's toilet out the back – nicknamed the Tom Crean Suite because of the polar conditions – the lads reckoned Emmet's papers were out of a Christmas cracker, and the only flying solo he'd ever done was over the handlebars of a bicycle.
Night began to fall and there was a fine sprinkling of snowflakes. Enough to cause Emmet's friends to knock back their drinks, turn up their coat collars, and head for home.
Now you'd see a heavier dusting of caster sugar on top of a mince pie than the amount of snow on the ground, but in the car-park nothing would do Emmet only get out the snow chains he had in the boot of the Jag.
At the same time, a mile beyond the town Pat Brady, Emmet's neighbour, had taken refuge in his local pub after the wife Maureen shooed him out of her kitchen so that she could have everything ready for their Christmas dinner the next day.
Walking home in the dark, Pat was enjoying the sight of all the houses lit up across the countryside in honour of the Holy Family, when he heard an unholy racket coming up the road behind him.
In the frosty darkness he saw sparks flying and heard chains rattling and he threw himself up against the ditch, convinced that the Devil himself was coming.
But it wasn't the Devil in his coach and four; it was Emmet's snow-chains biting into the snow-free tarmac road.
"What are you doing hiding behind the bushes?" Emmet shouted when he stopped and lowered the window.
And having given Pat a hop he treated him to a spin home in the Jag. Back at the house Emmet opened the bottle of duty free he had with him for Pat to make hot ones.
"You don't need sugar or anything with this stuff," he said, "just a skite of hot water is all." Pat found that he liked the taste. And having warmed up with the first drink they made another round. Then they started to get hungry.
Maureen had the table set and everything looking lovely.
And though Pat loved his turkey fresh out of the oven she always roasted it the night before. It sat cooling now on a big silver platter, golden and tantalising. Emmet convinced Pat to share a wing. "A noble bird," said Pat chewing. "You could eat that without a word in your head," Emmet agreed.
And seeing as a bird never flew on one wing, they ate the other wing between them and boiled the kettle again.
The juicy warm turkey only made them hungrier, so they had a leg apiece.
And by the time they finished another couple of rounds their hands were reaching out without thinking to glaum wads off the breast.
So it wasn't until the day after Saint Stephen's that Maureen showed up at Emmet's door.
She had a Mass Card in her hand, the second one she said that she got signed by the priest to have masses said over her husband who still wasn't able to get out of his bed.
Next she told him that not alone had she no husband on Christmas Day, she had no turkey either when she came down in the morning and found a bare carcass and an empty bottle of Southern Comfort.
And then on her way to Mass she found bits of broken chain in the lane, a car stuck in the hedge, and a pilot's licence lost on the ground.
■ Brian Leyden will be in the National Concert Hall on Thursday December 20th as a contributor to Sunday Miscellany Live at Christmas.