Not Your Father’s Oedipus Complex
It was just after five on an unseasonably harsh late November afternoon and Dan Coyle’s brother was late. He had been waiting for him in a secluded booth in the corner of their favourite pub for over an hour. Finally hunger and embarrassment led him to order a plate of sausages and mashed potatoes along with his second pint. When his food finally came, he noticed to his relief that the quality of the food was just as poor as ever. The spuds and the sausages were still the same shade of grey with random spots of off-mustard yellow in places. It was good to see that the new management had not managed to change everything. To Dan’s horror, anger, disappointment and disgust, his pub, his local, the place where he held his first pint of cider with trembling fingers, the boozer where last New Year’s Eve he had fallen asleep inside a cubicle just before midnight, had become an Irish theme pub.
The four previously bare walls were now festooned with pictures of well-known writers. The wooden beam above the bar had been decorated with sliver shamrocks. Most disheartenedly of all was the cocktail menu. The drink options had been printed in mock Book of Kells script and had been given twee names referencing famous poems. Standout titles included The Blood-Dimmed Tide (a classic Bloody Mary with a twist) and its companion drink The Rough Beast (described in the notes as ‘hangover city’). Dan was trying to swallow his least digestible mound of mash when he felt a hand slap him on the back. “There he is, B.A. First Class Honors in History."
Conor looked up to see his brother behind him. He had changed in subtle yet profound ways. He had lost weight, and the smallest traces of grey had formed in his ginger beard. In the past, he had always dressed extremely casually in baggy blue jeans and long shirts. Today he was dressed in a boxy suit at least a size too big. The brother leaned in for a hug, “Everyone said you were here and were wasting your time at college. Last Christmas Ma wanted to buy you a high-vis vest and spade but I stepped in and told her to leave you be, that you’d be grand in the long run." He pulled away and leapt towards the bar, moments later he returned shaking his head.
“Man, what happened here? They could not do us an Old-Fashioned.”
“When’d you start drinking whisky cocktails, then?"
“Acch, you know brother, I’m a qualified accountant now, a man of the world. You have to upgrade yourself a bit as you’ll find out soon.”
“I just need to find a job first."
“And you will soon enough but first graduation."
The brother paused, took a breath. and clicked his tongue. “The staff seem to be taking their time with the drinks. I was hoping to get at least one drink to you before we got down to the serious business.”
“Wait until you’ve had a drink man.”
“Mike, why did you want to come out today?”
“I just wanted you to have a drink man.”
“Come on now."
“Alright, how many tickets do you have for your graduation ceremony?”
“Four--one for Ma, one for Granny, one for yourself and a spare.”
“Would you consider giving that one to The Bard?"
Dan had not spoken to their father, a literary scholar and minor poet, in almost a year. He should have known that he would not be brave enough to ask his dad to attend himself.
“Do you really need an answer on that one?”
“Look, I know last time you saw The Bard, his erratic driving nearly sent you both to the big rock candy mountain where the research grants always come through and American graduate students never laugh in your face after you ask them to bed. We did however agree that we would try and involve him in things more.”
“Yeah, I’m going to see him over Christmas, but my graduation is different. If I looked down and saw him in the crowd, he would be, I don’t know, vindicated.”
“He did push us a bit."
“Do you mind his favourite sayings?"
“Drink or Drugs, Girls or Boys but perfect marks." Dan rolled his eyes as Mike spoke this well-used mantra.
“And I did for the most part."
“Trust me The Bard knew that. I went to see him the night you got your A Level results and declared your intention to do a Five Easy Pieces and spend a year working on that tree planting program in Sligo. He said it over and over again,"‘Two As and a B’.”
“Shame I peeked back then.”
“Now man, don’t put yourself down like that, things are starting to look back on track.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing man, just have a think about inviting The Bard ok. I’m away for a piss."
It was not until Mike had left that Dan saw he had been blocking the pub’s picture of Samuel Beckett. When he was younger, he’d always used to tease The Bard by telling him Beckett had a face like a wisecracking ball-sack. Dan always refused to read the novels and plays of Beckett even as he read Sam Sheppard and William Burroughs books The Bard gave him with pleasure. Recently, however, he had begun reading James Knowlson’s Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. It was as deep and rich as any novel he had read; the protagonist seemed to embody the quality of decency. Throughout the last few years, neither Dan nor The Bard had much of that to spare. Maybe if his father could not make the first overture towards change, it would have to come from Dan. It had been snowing for two weeks that month; it looked like a thawing was on the way.
The Bard was currently working as an editor for a series of ‘A Level’ study guides for classic American novels. This meant he was spending most evenings working late in his office at the University College of Northern Ireland. Dan called on the Wednesday after meeting his brother. The door was ajar and the room was lit by a single desk lamp. The Bard was sitting on his recently bought ergonomic chair, five piles of stacked papers facing him at his desk. Dan noticed that The Bard was beginning to concede a little in his battle with the ageing process. He was wearing bifocal glasses and had ditched the leather jacket that always made him look like he was trying to Cosplay as Foucault. Seeing the Bard with his head down, oblivious to the world around him, carefully annotating something by Updike or Cheever gave Dan an idea for some mischief.
“’Cause me mate we're trying to lock up here, are you ready to leave?”
“Yeah, just give me a second to get cleared up here.”
“Listen here son I’m the maintenance manager for this building and when I say you’re, you’re done.”
“Okay Dude relax I’m done."
Without looking up The Bard began to pack away his papers.
“Come on Michael, did you not recognize the voice?”
It was only then that the Bard looked up to see who he was talking to. On seeing Dan the grooves on his forehead began to deepen.
“Hey man, do you still have my number?”
“Of course, why?”
“You ever think about giving me a call, say when you find out that you were going to graduate with astronomical marks?”
“I did for a bit, then I remembered what happened to my ŠKODA and I thought better of it.”
“Come on I barely bumped it.”
“I had to write it off after that."
“You don’t need a car anyway; we should be fading them out.”
“Ahh God, just forget about it.”
During their conversation, The Bard was filddling with his cigarette rolling kit. As he put his fag to mouth, he got up.
“Well it’s always great to see you, but unless, you know, there’s something you want, I have to split. Linda got me concert tickets for the birthday, and it will be an alarmingly long time to force myself into my black jeans.”
“Alright I’m not going to keep you long and I really am sorry we have not been in touch recently. But you know I am graduating in January and I have a spare ticket. Are you interested?”
“What’s the date”?
“Ohhhhhhhhhh man, I’m not sure, the deadline for the books looms and I am already in a bother at home over missed evenings and weekends.”
“No worries, maybe another time.”
“You know there’s a new Italian restaurant open round the corner. Maybe after payday next month we can go for a celebration.”
“Bring your own booze."
“Well give me a shout nearer the time. Look after yourself.”
Without waiting for a response Dan turned around and walked away. The key when dealing with disappointment and The Bard was to affect an air of indifference. He had handed them down the rule of cool and it was best to abide by it. Later he would ring the brother and mock his Americanisms for a bit. He was half-way down the corridor when he noticed he was making a fist with his right hand. As he saw his knuckles whiten, he heard a crashing sound coming from The Bard’s office. He ran back down the corridor; books were spilled all over outside the door of The Bard’s door. Dan saw his father on his knees with a busted cardboard box next to him.
“Do you need a hand?”
“Maybe if you could grab that OED at your feet.”
As he handed the dictionary over to his father, he saw his hands close up. He noticed the blue vain of the top of his hands bulging though. His skin was beginning to slacken, and his fingers seemed somewhat knotted.
“Look Dad, I’ll pack all these up if you go and make us coffee using that machine I know for a fact you’re not supposed to have in your office.”
As soon as The Bard was out of his eyeline, Dan spoke again.
“Listen, don’t worry about the graduation, we will grab lunch at the Italian."
“You’re not pissed that I can’t come then?"
“Nahh, you can make it up to me when I come with you to the Beckett fest in June.”
“Oh man you’re intrested in tagging along then?”
“It sounds like it could be fun.”
“Great, I have the program for this year’s events in the car. Come on I’ll show it to you over a drink down at the local.”
Without waiting for a response, The Bard bounded out to the car. Dan picked up the remaining books and followed him.
© Enda Boyle