THAT HANDSOME ALOYSIUS O'LEARY

It’s been a while since I put out a short story on my short story blog, so here is one I’ve been working on for a while. I think it’s at a point where I can put it out in the world. Probably needs some work though. It’s not like anything I’ve written before (it’s got a lot of dialogue in it), but I dig it.

THAT HANDSOME ALOYSIUS O’LEARY … By Eric

Alice Murphy usually passes Aloysius O’Leary smoking a fag on the corner before he goes to work. She smiles at him politely, but hardly with the familiarity that they share. Aloysius smiles back, exhaling away from the passing woman, and continues to smoke his final cigarette of the morning. She comments to her husband every evening that she always sees that nice young Irish boy smoking a cigarette.

“It’s so filthy, that young boy smoking those things … he can’t be any older than fourteen years! Why do those people have so many children that they can’t take care of them? You listen to me, Thomas, I don’t care if I would have had to sew my legs shut and pee out a straw, I wouldn’t have had anymore than maybe one … or maybe two so I’d have a spare.” She pauses mid thought to take a hit of her cigarette before she’ll continue, while Thomas always rolls his eyes. “That religion of theirs makes goodly sure that they have as many kids as they have springs in those tired beds of theirs, but doesn’t tell them thing one of how to take care of them … fourteen and smoking! God love him.”

Aloysius is 17 years old, but he has been smoking since he was fourteen. He stands five foot ten, which made it impossible for the transit company to find him uniform pants that fit his 27-inch waist. The boys at the station awled five new holes in the smallest belt they could find to cinch his pants so they wouldn’t fall down, and sent him on his way. He is completely unaware that the words “that handsome lad” precede his name whenever someone feels the need to describe him. He’s that handsome lad who works on the bus, that handsome lad with the floppy black hair and the bluest eyes you’ve ever seen, or that handsome lad Aloysius from County Kildare in Ireland. He is as shy as the sun is in a rainstorm; a description his mother gave him because she referred to his smiles as rainbows, which, she said, were not as rare than you would think if you just look for them.

The transit company he works for gives him a free pass to take the buses anywhere in London he wants to go, but that doesn’t do him much good being that he is too young and too poor to do much of anything. He’s paid 12 pound a week, of which he pays seven to stay at Anne Dodd’s rooming house. The bus drops him off at the stop right before the High Road Bus Garage, and it is there where he occasionally sees Alice Murphy waiting for that same bus to make its last stop, fill its tank, and come back around to pick her up. Alice gets there nice and early to make sure she has a seat on the bench. She never speaks to Aloysius, but is pleasant and that suits Aloysius fine, since he has to speak much more at his job than suits him. Alice has always been one of his favorite riders since she never engaged him in small talk and such.

The bus comes around the turn from Christchurch Avenue, and stops. Aloysius puts out his smoke, jumps onto the bus, and gives a pleasant good morning to Gordon the driver and they’re off. The time it takes for the bus to tank up and turn around is just enough time for Aloysius to check in with his supervisor, put on his blue button down shirt with the white stripe down the side that he tucks as neatly as he could into his oversized pants, revel in how important he looks in the oversized hat they make him wear, and pin on his badge. When he boards the bus, he is given his coin change belt that has been pre-counted for the day. He gets onto the bus, and sits down in the front row, and holds onto the pole as they leave.

“How are you today this fine morning, young Aloysius?” Gordon’s gift to humanity is his ability to drive, smile, and turn to make pleasant conversation, but only those roads he has memorized over the thirty years he’s been driving the same route.

“I’m none worse. I was wondering if maybe I could stay on an extra go around today. It’s my Ma’s birthday, and I wanted to make her a call on the telephone.”

“You have a telephone at the home place, do you?”

“Yes, but himself never lets anyone use it. I think they’ll fall over dead when it rings. Across the street from me they have this phone that you can put coins in, and you can call anyone … anywhere you want they say.”

Gordon smiles as they pull into the first stop. Alice is waiting at the front of the line as the bus approaches. As he opens the door to let the crowd in, Gordon continues with his conversation.

“How old is she, your Ma?”

Aloysius smiles brightly, and nods several times while he says, “I don’t think even Himself knows that. I think if God almighty came down from the Heaven and asked my Ma how old she was, she would look at him politely and say, “Well I would think you would know now wouldn’t you?””

Alice caught the last part of their exchange, and smiled. She had never seen Aloysius do anything but smile politely, and she certainly never had seen anything this close to a laugh before.

“Smart woman, your Ma, Aloysius … remind me never to try and outwit that Lass,” Gordon laughed as he shut the door behind the last passenger.

Aloysius gets up and makes his way through the passengers who just came onto the bus. He starts upstairs in the back, and works his way forward. This time of the morning most of the people know where they’re going and how much it will cost, which make Aloysius’ life very simple, since where he excelled in French and Literature, he almost failed math. Later in the afternoon people on the bus who don’t know where they are going almost always ask him for directions and suggestions for places to eat or shop. They are mostly tourists, and people who are unfamiliar with London. Aloysius always says he’s going to see more of the city, and become familiar with it so that he can answer those questions, but he never does, and he’s painfully aware that even in 1959, there are places in London a young Irishman won’t be safe.

He goes through the eight or nine passengers, when he finally makes his way to Alice Murphy.

“Where to this morning, Ma’am?

“I’m going to Cricklewood this morning … Kendal and Anson Road.”

“A bit of a distance for you this morning ma’am?” That’ll be an even four bob.”

She takes out her purse and rummages through it and finds the four shillings she needs and hands it to him. Aloysius takes the pad from his pocket, scratches some marks on it, and hands it back to her.

“You hold on to that Ma’am, you don’t want to lose it”

She smiles, and Aloysius turns around and stands at the front of the bus, doing his best to balance without the bars, as if to test himself.

“Aloysius, I heard you talking about your mother earlier, where is she?”

Aloysius had liked Alice mainly because he didn’t have to make cordial conversation with her. He was all too aware that the English didn’t care about a young Irishman, and using him to kill time on a lengthy bus ride didn’t seem her style.

“Ireland.” He says politely but distant without turning around completely.

Aloysius tried hard to hide his Irish accent by speaking slowly, and precise. He had been educated in Dublin by the Priests of St Anthony’s, and they encouraged all the young Irish in their care to use British inflections. That didn’t make him less proud of his heritage, and although he almost always hesitated when he would say where he was from, when he did finally say it, he said it proudly.

“Does she know you smoke? Because if I had a fourteen year old son, I wouldn’t want him smoking Aloysius …”

“I’m almost eighteen years Ma’am …” Aloysius turned around fully this time.

“Oh, my, you look so young.” Just as she finished, the bus let on new passengers. Aloysius waited for them to sit down, and walked back without responding to Alice’s last statement, taking note of the passengers who were on earlier, and went through the new ones. This stop always had a lot of hippies board. He wasn’t sure why that was, but they were always nice people, although they did dress funny, and always smelled of the reefer.

“Where you off to this morning?” He said.

“Ahhhh, Kenton?” The hippies always answer everything with a question. It took a while for Aloysius to figure this out, but when he did it made his life a lot easier.

“That’ll be two and six pence,” he said, hoping the hippie had exact amount, or would tell him to keep the change. He was normally confused about English money. There were 20 bob to the pound, and 12 pence to the shilling, but he always got those things confused. So far he hadn’t come up short, since the mistake he most commonly made was thinking there were 12 shilling to the pound instead of 20. He lived in fear that the transit inspector, usually an Indian man named Percy, would ask him to make change, he would do it wrong, and have to spend the rest of the summer on the home place.

After he got through the newest passengers he again walked the front of the bus, and practiced his balance while the bus wired around the narrow and windy British streets.

“I’m sorry if I offended you, Aloysius … but you do look young for your age, has anyone ever told you that before?”

Aloysius turned around, smiled, and said, “oh they say it all the time. I’m always young Aloysius. I’m never just Aloysius.”

Gordon turned around and grabbed his arm. “Hey lad, it’s because you are young compared to us ancients. Hey you hold on to those bars when the bus is moving, lad. I don’t want you going through the glass if I have to stop suddenly.”

Aloysius paid little attention, and went back to his balancing act in the front of the bus, when Alice continued.

“Are you afraid that smoking will to stunt your growth?”

Aloysius laughed and responded, “I’m the youngest of 12 ma’am, I’m use to the view from here. I wouldn’t know what to do if I were any taller! I would have to gain new perspective now wouldn’t I?”

She had asked the question earlier but he hadn’t answered, so she decided to ask it again. “Does your mother know you smoke?”

“My Ma? I don’t know. She certainly keeps it hush if she does. I only see her once a week when she visits me at the school though … herself can drive … has her own car, she has.”

“Your mother sounds like a lovely woman,” Alice injects.

“Lovely yes, but I’m afraid she can probably hold her own in a bar brawl if ever one should come up at the rectory after mass on Sunday.” Aloysius laughed again. His laughs are always brief, and when he realizes he is laughing, he catches himself and stops. Alice decided that she liked it when this boy laughed. She also decided that she liked this boy.

The bus stopped again. People got off this time, some reaching out, holding on to Gordon’s shoulder briefly to tell him he did a bang up job driving this morning. Aloysius again makes his rounds to collect fares and returns but this time sat down.

“What were you saying about your mother earlier?” She said, tapping Aloysius on the shoulder.

“Oh, it’s my Ma’s birthday today, and I want to make a telephone call to her, and talk to her.”

“Oh my, that sounds expensive …”

“I have been picking up extra routes and such, and saving the tips the drunks leave after the pubs close. It won’t be a long telephone call, but I wouldn’t even know what to say on a telephone.”

“Oh, you’ll tell her how you are, and that you miss her …” Aloysius smiles when she says that.

“Why the smile?” Alice inquires

“I haven’t seen my mother but once a week for the past two years. I go to school in Dublin.”

“How can your family afford that?” The second the question left her mouth she wished she could take it back. He turned around for a second, and then the bus stopped again and several more riders came aboard. This is when Aloysius hated this job. He had been talking too much to Alice and he didn’t taken the time to walk around and memorize the people on the bus, and mental jot where they were going. With all these new people on board, he had to make sure he got money from every new person who sat down, and not bother the ones who were already on. Alice could hear the boy making change, and talking whenever necessary. There was a couple on the bus who asked him where the best bars were in Mayfair, to which the boy smiled and said he didn’t know, he was only 17.

Alice and her first husband had one child. The boy, Ralph, was handsome like his father, and smart and kind like his mother. He had gone to University and had become an accountant in London. She would go to see him every weekend, not unlike Aloysuis’ mother would go see him. Her son Ralph couldn’t cook or feed himself very well, and he never had girls around, so no potential to marry himself a good wife to take care of him. Alice would go into the city, and cook at least four days worth of food for the boy, and feel better that at least there was some woman looking out for him. She would go to the street markets, and buy enough fruit and vegetables so that he would have provisions in his icebox to nibble on. She would also make sure all his sheets and clothes were laundered at the corner laundry ready for him to pick up the following day. Two years ago, almost to the day, Ralph and a male friend of his, were walking together in Soho, near the Berwick Street Market, and were attacked and killed by five men.

She and her husband divorced; they just couldn’t look at each other without thinking about him. She later married Thomas, a neighbor for years, and a kind man. When she looks at Thomas she is not reminded of her son, or her life, or the gnawing thought that somehow she was responsible for her son’s death; that somehow her coddling of him caused him to be out with that other young man in that part of town. She does not like to be reminded of her son, but today, it was impossible for her not to think about him.

Aloysius was kind like her son, and his laugh melted her. She was envious of his mother for two reasons, one that she had a son who would work so hard just to say hello to her on her birthday, and second that she was a mother who was able to let her child go and let him live his life no matter how hard it was and no matter where it took him

Aloysius appeared again at the front of the bus, this time facing the riders, again balancing in the center, mostly keeping his stance firm, but sometimes losing his hold, and grabbing onto the bars inside the aisle.

“My Ma, she’s a nurse in Dublin at St. James. She drives herself in, takes three hours sometimes, and works something like 36 hours maybe more, after that is when she visits me and then she goes home. She hates driving in the dark. She also buys five heads of steer every year, and she keeps them separate from all the other. She feeds them these special grains that only she knows … and she sells them for at least half more than the other heads … she says it’s cause she goes out and talks to them, you know … they’re her mates … she combs their hair, and she whispers in their ears … but she doesn’t tell anyone what she says. She says it’s because of her sweet nothings, and her natural god given charm, mind you, that they taste better than the other cows … and that’s how she sends me to school… well that and the priests at my school are afraid of her.”

He had hardly finished when someone at the back of the bus signaled for him, and he went running down the aisle to see what they needed. Gordon, who had been listening to this conversation from the offset turns to Alice, while keeping his eyes on the road says “you can’t get that lad to tell you his name, but ask him about his mother, and he talks your ear off. She’s raised a fine boy, that Mrs. O’Leary, I’d like to tell her that someday.”

Aloysius walked upstairs, and up and down the course of the bus a couple more times before he made his way back up to the front. His whole life he had been the newest mistake of the O’Leary house. He was ten years younger than his next oldest brother, and spent most of his life not being paid attention to. This job, this bus, these people … he just was Aloysius, and he was important, for at least the 15 seconds he spent with everyone.

Finally he made his way back to the front of the bus, and walked up to Alice’s seat and tapped her on the shoulder.

“Mrs. Murphy, we’re coming up on your stop … you can make a clean get away.” Aloysius grinned a little as he said it, but tried to remain serious. “What’s in Cricklewood? It’s certainly a long ways from home for you, now?”

“I go there to visit my son.” She looks down into her semi-opened purse, and suddenly she’s overwhelmed with a thought. “How much does a call to your mother cost, Aloysius?”

“I don’t know, but at least two pound I would imagine.”

She reaches into her purse, and takes out three one pound notes, and hands them to him.

“No, No … I can’t take your money, you put that away. You buy your son something nice, now,” he protested. He had never taken this much money from anyone. The largest tip he had ever received was two bob; that from a guy who had passed out and Aloysius couldn’t find anywhere to put his change. He promised himself he would return the money when he saw the man, but he never got on the bus again.

“You take it,” she said as she forced it into his pocket. She got up and walked towards the door as the bus stopped. “It’s not for you, you handsome boy, it’s for me. You call your mother and tell her Alice Murphy sends her best and you tell her I’m coming to Ireland to whispering sweet nothings to those cows of hers, and we’ll get twice as much for them … will you do that for me?”

Aloysius was stunned, but Gordon didn’t act even a little surprised. As the door was closing, Alice turned around at the bus, and yelled, “Now you don’t buy your filthy cigarettes with that money, I want to see more of you Aloysius O’Leary, you handsome boy.”

Gordon didn’t say anything for a second, but then pulled away from the stop, and said, “I guess you won’t be wanting to do another go around today?”

“Of course I will, I still need some money for cigarettes now don’t I?”

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