Since her retirement from working as a student advisor in Dublin City University, Anne Marie Byrne has been enjoying a life of leisure. Favourite activities include: theatre, photography, travel, cookery, swimming and enjoying nature, especially in her native county Wicklow. She has attended Tanya Farrelly’s creative writing workshops at Purple House in Bray, Co Wicklow where this and her previous Impspired stories were first developed.
Her research interests include criminology, incarceration, prisoner education and rehabilitation. Her M.Phil thesis (Trinity College, Dublin) focused on the Theatre Project in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin and her Ph.D (Dublin City University) explored education for juvenile offenders in Ireland.
The late shift
Joan sighed as she glanced at the message on her phone. It had beeped while she was stepping off the train in Pearse Station. Descending the escalator she grabbed hold of the handrail more to steady her nerves than her body as she read the message with a sinking heart. ‘Sorry Jo, can’t meet this evening, working late. Talk tomorrow. Em.’ A shudder ran down Joan’s spine as she read the message and she felt a wave of nausea rising up from the pit of her stomach.
‘Not again!’ she whinged, startling the homeless man who was sitting beside the exit door. Defensively, he pulled his cup of coins in closer and mumbled that he had never in his life done anything to her.
‘So, will you contact the restaurant to cancel?’ Joan texted back to her sister, jabbing at the letters with a rigid stabbing finger, almost as if she was actually jabbing her sister.
‘Done.’ came back the curt reply.
Stepping out on to Westland Row, Joan recoiled. It was raining heavily and now she had no restaurant to go to and no sister to meet. She swung around and stumbled back into the station forecourt, once again upsetting the man who was begging inside the door.
‘Make up your mind love!’ he shouted at Joan ‘You don’t know whether you’re coming or going’. Ignoring him, Joan was already dialling her boyfriend’s number on her phone.
‘Hi Seán, I know you are at work but I had to tell you how upset I am. Emma’s only gone and cancelled our night out again! That’s the third time she’s let me down. And at short notice! I was already getting off the train when she texted. Texted! She didn’t even have the decency to speak to me! Sorry. Yes, I know. I know you can’t talk. Sorry yes, we’ll talk about it later.’
Finishing the call, Joan leaned her back against the wall. She let herself slide right down to the ground and then allowed her feet to stretch out in front of her. Tears were welling up and she fumbled for a tissue in her handbag.
‘Ah here, what’s your game? This is my pitch, you better feck off back to Dalkey or wherever you came from, you’re wrecking my chances. Get your big feckin’ legs out of the way!’ It was the homeless man again and he was really getting annoyed now.
Realising that he was shouting at her and becoming increasingly animated, Joan turned to him and tearfully said she was sorry she had upset him. Reaching into her purse she pulled out a tenner and handed it to him. ‘Here, take this. I won’t be spending any money in a fancy restaurant with my sister tonight so you might as well get yourself something to eat… or drink… or smoke… or whatever…’
‘Ah lookit, don’t be crying’, he said trying to console her,’ it can’t be that bad.’
‘It is actually,’ Joan stuttered through her tears, ‘my sister has cancelled on me again tonight. That’s the third time she’s let me down. I think she’s trying to punish me.’
‘I think it’s because I got really drunk at a dinner party at her place. It was a disaster! Her new boss was at the party and I realise now she was really embarrassed by my behaviour. I’m mortified when I think about it. I’ve rung and texted but she keeps avoiding me. We were supposed to meet for lunch this day last week, then for a drink on Saturday after the match and then tonight we were supposed to be having dinner but she keeps changing the plan. She had to work late tonight at short notice.’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘She’s your twin isn’t she?’
‘Yes, how did you know?’
‘Sure I’ve seen yis loads of times coming through here together! Two tall blonde women who look identical, how could I not notice you?’
It occurred to Joan that she had never really noticed this man before. Oh, she probably had seen someone begging by the station door, but never noticed that it was always the same person. She had been coming through this station for years, going to college in Trinity, shopping at the weekends, working in the city. But he had noticed her and Emma.
She had calmed down now and her curiosity had been sparked by what the man had said earlier.
‘What did you mean when you said ‘I don’t think so’?
‘I meant your sister is not working late this evening, well at least not working in her office anyway.’
‘How do you know?’
‘About half an hour ago she went up the escalator there with her fella.’
‘What do you mean ‘her fella’? She hasn’t got a fella.’
‘Well she was holding hands with this lad and I’ve seen them together before.’
‘Really? What did he look like?’
‘Big fella, rugby type, reddish hair, always in a suit.’
‘You’re not serious! That sounds like her boss, Alan. Did he have an English accent?’
‘I never heard him speak. But yeah, he did look a bit foreign, not like one of us.’
Joan’s heart was racing now. So that was why Emma kept avoiding her! She was dating her boss and didn’t want to tell her, especially after she made a holy show of herself at the dinner party. Now she felt relieved and angry at the same time. But most of all she felt intrigued, she wanted to know more about the man in the suit, the hand-holding, the up-escalator trips after work.
‘What’s your name?’ Joan asked the homeless man. ‘ Mine’s Joan, you’ve been very enlightening. I’m so glad we’ve been able to have this chat. Are you hungry? I know a restaurant nearby that has a vacant table for two.’
‘Tommy’, he answered, ‘and the drinks are on me.’ He smiled as he poured the nights’ takings into a pouch he kept under his jacket.