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Drink and Time in Dublin

from a forthcoming collection of short fiction published by Dalkey Archive


A Recorded Statement

—Did you go to that picture The Lost Weekend?

I did.

—I never seen such tripe.

What was wrong with it?

—O it was all right, of course—bits of it was good. Your man in the jigs inside the bed and the bat flying in to kill the mouse, that was damn good. I’ll tell you another good bit. Hiding the bottles in the jax. And there was no monkey business about that because I tried it since meself. It works but you have to use the half-pint bottles. Up the chimbley is another place I thought of and do you know the ledge affair above windows?

I do.

—That’s another place but you could get a hell of a fall reaching up there on a ladder or standing on chairs with big books on them. And of course you can always tie the small bottles to the underneath of your mattress.

I suppose you can.

—But what are you to do with the empties if you stop in bed drinking? There’s a snag there. I often thought they should have malt in lemonade siphons.

Why didn’t you like the rest of The Lost Weekend?

—Sure haven’t I been through far worse weekends meself—you know that as well as I do. Sure Lord save us I could tell you yarns. I’d be a rich man if I had a shilling for every morning I was down in the markets at seven o’clock in the slippers with the trousers pulled on over the pyjamas and the overcoat buttoned up to the neck in the middle of the summer. Sure don’t be talking man.

I suppose the markets are very congested in the mornings?

—With drunks? I don’t know. I never looked round any time I was there.

When were you last there?

—The time the wife went down to Cork last November. I won’t forget that business in a hurry. That was a scatter and a half. Did I never tell you about that? O be God, don’t get me on to that affair.

Was it the worst ever?

—It was and it wasn’t but I got the fright of me life. I’ll tell you a damn good one. You won’t believe this but it’s a true bill. This is one of the best you ever heard.

I’ll believe anything you say.

—In the morning I brought the wife down to Kingsbridge in a taxi. I wasn’t thinking of drink at all, hadn’t touched it for four months, but when I paid the taxi off at the station instead of going back in it, the wife gave me a look. Said nothing, of course—after the last row I was for keeping off the beer for a year. But somehow she put the thing into me head. This was about nine o’clock, I suppose. I’ll give you three guesses where I found meself at ten past nine in another taxi?


—Above in the markets. And there wasn’t a more surprised man than meself. Of course in a way it’s a good thing to start at it early in the morning because with no food and all the rest of it you’re finished at four o’clock and you’re home again and stuffed in bed. It’s the late nights that’s the killer, two and three in the morning, getting poisoned in shebeens and all classes of hooky stuff, wrong change, and a taxi man on the touch. After nights like that it’s a strong man that’ll be up at the markets in time next morning.

What happened after the day you got back at four?

—Up at the markets next morning before they were open. There was another chap there but I didn’t look at him. I couldn’t tell you what age he was or how bad he was. There was no four o’clock stuff that day. I was around the markets till twelve or so. Then off up town and I have meself shaved be a barber. Then up to a certain hotel and straight into the bar. There’s a whole crowd there that I know. What are you going to have and so on. No no, have a large one. So-and-so’s getting married on Tuesday. Me other man’s wife has had a baby. You know the stuff? Well Lord save us I had a terrible tank of malt in me that day! I had a feed in the middle of it because I remember scalding myself with hot coffee and I never touch the coffee at all only after a feed. Of course I don’t remember what happened me but I was in the flat the next morning with the clothes half off. I was supposed to be staying with the brother-in-law, of course, when the wife was away. But sure it’s the old dog for the hard road. Drunk or sober I went back to me own place. As a matter of fact I never went near the brother-in-law at all. Be this time I was well into the malt. Out with me again feeling like death on wires and I’m inside in the local curing meself for hours, spilling stuff all over the place with the shake in the hand. Then into the barber’s and after that off up again to the hotel for more malt. I’ll give you a tip. Always drink in hotels. If you’re in there you’re in for a feed, or you’ve just had a feed or you’ve an appointment there to see a fellow, and you’re having a small one to pass the time. It looks very bad being in bars during the daytime. It’s a thing to watch, that.

What happened then?

—What do you think happened? What could happen? I get meself into a quiet corner and I start lowering them good-o. I don’t know what happened to me, of course. I met a few pals and there is some business about a greyhound out in Cloghran. It was either being bought or being sold and I go along in the taxi and where we were and where we weren’t I couldn’t tell you. I fall asleep on a chair in some house in town and next thing I wake up perished with the cold and as sick as I ever was in me life. Next thing I know I’m above in the markets. Taxis everywhere of course, no food only the plate of soup in the hotel, and be this time the cheque-book is in and out of the pocket three or four times a day, standing drinks all round, kicking up a barney in the lavatory with other drunks, looking for me “rights” when I was refused drink—O, blotto, there’s no other word for it. I seen some of the cheques since. The writing! A pal carts me home in a taxi. How long this goes on I don’t know. I’m all right in the middle of the day but in the mornings I’m nearly too weak to walk and the shakes getting worse every day. Be this time I’m getting frightened of meself. Lookat here, mister-me-man, I say to meself, this’ll have to stop. I was afraid the heart might give out, that was the only thing I was afraid of. Then I meet a pal of mine that’s a doctor. This is inside the hotel. There’s only one man for you, he says, and that’s sleep. Will you go home and go to bed if I get you something that’ll make you sleep? Certainly, I said. I suppose this was about four or half four. Very well, says he, I’ll write you out a prescription. He writes one out on hotel notepaper. I send for a porter. Go across with this, says I, to the nearest chemist shop and get this stuff for me and here’s two bob for yourself. Of course I’m at the whiskey all the time. Your man comes back with a box of long-shaped green pills. You’ll want to be careful with that stuff, the doctor says, that stuff’s very dangerous. If you take one now and take another when you get home, you’ll get a very good sleep but don’t take any more till to-morrow night because that stuff’s very dangerous. So I take one. But I know the doctor doesn’t know how bad I am. I didn’t tell him the whole story, no damn fear. So out with me to the jax where I take another one. Then back for a drink, still as wide-awake as a lark. You’ll have to go home now, the doctor says, we can’t have you passing out here, that stuff acts very quickly. Well, I have one more drink and off with me, in a bus, mind you, to the flat. I’m very surprised on the bus to find meself so wide-awake, looking out at people and reading the signs on shops. Then I begin to get afraid that the stuff is too weak and that I’ll be lying awake for the rest of the evening and all night. To hell with it, I say to meself, we’ll chance two more and let that be the end of it. Down went two more in the bus. I get there and into the flat. I’m still wide-awake and nothing will do me only one more pill for luck. I get into bed. I don’t remember putting the head on the pillow. I wouldn’t go out quicker if you hit me over the head with a crow-bar.

You probably took a dangerous over-dose.

—Next thing I know I’m awake. It’s dark. I sit up. There’s matches there and I strike one. I look at the watch. The watch is stopped. I get up and look at the clock. Of course the clock is stopped, hasn’t been wound for days. I don’t know what time it is. I’m a bit upset about this. I turn on the wireless. It takes about a year to heat up and would you believe me I try a dozen stations all over the place and not one of them is telling what the time is. Of course I knew there was no point in trying American stations. I’m very disappointed because I sort of expected a voice to say “It is now seven thirty p.m.” or whatever the time was. I turn off the wireless and begin to wonder. I don’t know what time it is. Then, bedamnit, another thing strikes me. What day is it? How long have I been asleep with that dose? Well lookat, I got a hell of a fright when I found I didn’t know what day it was. I got one hell of a fright.

Was there not an accumulation of milk-bottles or newspapers?

—There wasn’t—all that was stopped because I was supposed to be staying with the brother-in-law. What do I do? On with all the clothes and out to find what time it is and what day it is. The funny thing is I’m not feeling too bad. Off with me down the street. There’s lights showing in the houses. That means it’s night-time and not early in the morning. Then I see a bus. That means it’s not yet half-nine, because they stopped at half-nine that time. Then I see a clock. It’s twenty past nine! But I still don’t know what day it is and it’s too late to buy an evening paper. There’s only one thing—into a pub and get a look at one. So I march into the nearest, very quiet and correct and say a bottle of stout please. All the other customers look very sober and I think they are all talking very low. When the man brings me the bottle I say to him I beg your pardon but I had a few bob on a horse today, could you please give me a look at an evening paper? The man looks at me and says what horse was it? It was like a blow in the face to me, that question! I can’t answer at all at first and then I stutter something about Hartigan’s horses. None of them horses won a race today, the man says, and there was a paper here but it’s gone. So I drink up the bottle and march out. It’s funny, finding out about the day. You can’t stop a man in the street and say have you got the right day please? God knows what would happen if you done that. I know be now that it’s no use telling lies about horses, so in with me to another pub, order a bottle and ask the man has he got an evening paper. The missus has it upstairs, he says, there’s nothing on it anyway. I now begin to think the best thing is to dial O on the phone, ask for Inquiries and find out that way. I’m on me way to a call-box when I begin to think that’s a very bad idea. The girl might say hold on and I’ll find out, I hang on there like a mug and next thing the box is surrounded by Guards and ambulances and attendants with ropes. No fear, says I to meself, there’s going to be no work on the phone for me! Into another pub. I have to wind up now and no mistake. How long was I knocked out be the drugs? A day? Two days? Was I in bed for a week? Suddenly I see a sight that gladdens me heart. Away down at the end of the pub there’s an oul’ fellow reading an evening paper with a magnifying glass. I take a mouthful of stout, steady meself, and march down to him. Me mind is made up: if he doesn’t hand over the paper, I’ll kill him. Down I go. Excuse me, says I, snatching the paper away from him and he still keeps looking through the glass with no paper there, I think he was deaf as well as half blind. Then I read the date—I suppose it was the first time the date was the big news on a paper. It says “Thursday, 22nd November, 1945.” I never enjoyed a bit of news so much. I hand back the paper and say thanks very much, sir, for the loan of your paper. Then I go back to finish me stout, very happy and pleased with me own cuteness. Another man, I say to meself, would ask people, make a show of himself and maybe get locked up. But not me. I’m smart. Then begob I nearly choked.

What was the cause of that?

—To-day is Thursday, I say to meself. Fair enough. But . . . what day did I go to bed? What’s the use of knowing to-day’s Thursday if I don’t know when I went to bed? I still don’t know whether I’ve been asleep for a day or a week! I nearly fell down on the floor. I am back where I started. Only I am feeling weaker and be now I have the wind up in gales. The heart begins to knock so loud that I’m afraid the man behind the counter will hear it and order me out.

What did you do?

—Lookat here, me friend, I say to meself, take it easy. Go back now to the flat and take it easy for a while. This’ll all end up all right, everything comes right in the latter end. Worse than this happened many’s a man. And back to the flat I go. I collapse down into a chair with the hat still on me head, I sink the face down in me hands, and try to think. I’m like that for maybe five minutes. Then, suddenly, I know the answer! Without help from papers or clocks or people, I know how long I am there sleeping under the green pills! How did I know? Think that one out! How would you know if you were in the same boat?

(Before continuing, readers may wish to accept the sufferer’s challenge.)

—I am thinking.

—Don’t talk to me about calendars or hunger or anything like that. It’s no use—you won’t guess. You wouldn’t think of it in a million years. Look. My face is in my hands—like this. Suddenly I notice the face is smooth. I’m not badly in need of a shave. That means it must be the same day I went to bed on! Maybe the stomach or something woke me up for a second or so. If I’d stopped in bed, I was off asleep again in a minute. But I got up to find the time and that’s what ruined me! Now do you get it? Because when I went back to bed that night, I didn’t waken till the middle of the next day.

You asked me how I would have found out how long I had been there after finding that the day was Thursday. I have no guarantee that a person in your condition would not get up and shave in his sleep. There was a better way.

—There was no other way.

There was. If I were in your place I would have looked at the date on the prescription.


Flann O'Brien (Myles na Gopaleen)

FLANN O'BRIEN is the pseudonym of Brian O'Nolan (1911?1966), a legendary figure amongst Irish writers and the author of the many stories, plays and novels, including The Third Policeman and At Swim-Two-Birds. A collection of his short fiction, from which this story is excerpted, will be published by Dalkey Archive on August 15.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2013

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