The big man stood behind the bar and, leaning in to hear another punter give his opinion on election results, rested his two hands wide on the counter.
The punter supped at his pint again mid-sentence - the unnatural break suiting his half-slurred rhythm of speech. The barman waited patiently for the summation which promised to solve all the problems of the day and the punter obliged with a smack of his lips.
The barman nodded his head to pacify the barstool-politician who was becoming increasingly animated as he found a willing ear to vent to. His hands began to gesticulate to emphasise a certain point on the economy, resulting in some froth and body to escape the glass and run across the countertop, tickling the edge of the barman’s thumb and threatening the cuff of the navy coat that hung off him.
Repeating the final words of the punter back to him, the barman wiped the counter clean with an old rag and laid another glass beneath the tap and allowed it to fill.
He scanned his eyes out across the dimmed pub which lay half-filled before him. A small smiled broke across half his face as his eye caught that of his daughter sitting in the snug at the far wall.
“Mammy, doesn’t Daddy look well in the coat, it really suits him!”, the daughter said, still looking at her daddy behind the bar with her head cocked a little to the side. She hadn’t noticed the half smile, she was looking at the designer overcoat he wore.
“Hmm”, came her mammys reply, “I’d like to think it looks well, it cost enough!”
“Can’t put a price on good fashion!”, she replied to her mammy, turning back to face her and, lifting her drink, smirked rebelliously.
“Yes you can! Let me tell you!”, came the exasperated reply, and throwing her eyes up to the bar the mammy bemoaned, “Ah God, what’s he doing wearing it behind there!? He’ll get it destroyed! John, John! Get that off you!”
John broke off from the election broadcast that the punter had began again and looked up upon hearing his name, but not being quite able to make out the commands, scrunched up his face and turned an ear slightly.
“TAKE. OFF. THE. COAT!”, the mammy called again, deliberately slow and clear, her voice raised well above that of the general drone of the bar. A few heads turned but the mammy stared towards the bar unperturbed.
John chuckled and smiled back but nodded to affirm the command had been received.
“Got my orders”, he said to the punter who had been so rapt in his own thoughts he hadn’t heard a thing and, not understanding what John meant, grunted and shrugged into his fresh pint.
John fought with the fabric as he pulled it off his arms and, once free, he hung it upon a nail that protruded from the wall behind him. With a flourish he showed it to his wife who was still staring intently towards the bar, but she nodded contentedly at its new position.
He sighed as he looked at it hanging there and shook his head disapprovingly, a frown running across his weather-worn face.
“He’ll have that ruined in no time”, the mammy said to the daughter, “And we had to go to Dublin to get it.”
“Where in Dublin?”
“Copelands! On Grafton Street!”, Mammy replied.
The daughters eyebrows rose.
“That didn’t come cheap then!”, she said and sipped again at her Malibu.
“Too right”, said Mammy also sipping at her cocktail. The condensation had stuck the beer mat to the bottom of the glass, but it came free as the glass was tilted and fell with a heavy sop to the table.
John had served another few customers, the usual orders of pints, spirits and wine, with the occasionally alco-pop now and again. He returned once again to the punter who was finishing his newest pint, draining the last dregs.
“Will you have another?”, John asked him, eyeing him up to see if that was in his best interests.
With a bleary eye the punter returned his gaze and chewed down on his lip weighing up the question.
“Hmm”, he pondered and, throwing a look to his leather-held watch said, “maybe a half’un just, would need to be heading soon.”
John nodded and lifted an smaller glass from beneath the counter and pulled the pour.
He swapped it out of the empty pint glass which he laid on the tray to be washed.
The punter took a large swig, emptying almost half in one go and the glass thudded back upon the counter.
The man hiccuped slightly and followed this up with a heavy sigh.
He raised his head and smiled at John who looked down upon him. His eyes looked on beyond John to the coat the hung promptly from the wall, it’s collar sat plush.
“That’s a nice coat”, he said, his politics now lost amidst the beer swill in his mind.
John turned and addressed the coat.
“It is”, he said flatly, “All the way from Dublin.”
The mans heavy face pulled impressively and he nodded.
“Must be a good one so”.
“I’d say it is.”
“Not like this one”, the punter said, struggling to pull free the anorak he had slung over the barstool.
He held it aloft with one hand whilst draining another quarter from the glass.
It hung limply from his hand, the flimsy material as wrinkled as man who held it. It was trimmed with reflectors that glinted under the bar lights.
John smiled as he looked at it.
“That’s a fine jacket”, he said warmly.
The punter looked at it and shrugged as he laid it across his knees.
“No, it is!”, John pressed, “Looks comfy and practical, and you wouldn’t be knocked down in it with those reflectors!”
“Suppose”, the man replied glumly and considered the rest of his drink.
“Well, look here”, John said lifting the coat from the wall and holding it aloft, “This big fancy coat and look at the size of the pockets!”
He shoved his large hand into one which barely covered his knuckles.
“Sure what good is that!? What can you fit in there? And there’s not even an inside pocket!”
The punter smiled back and lifted his own jacket.
“Well, this one has good pockets”, he said, vanishing his hand within one. He laid it back down proudly and downed the last of his drink.
“Even has two inside”, he said as he rose to his feet, lifting a hand to salute a goodbye.
John threw an eye over to his wife who was buried in conversation with their daughter and he ran his tongue across his dried lips.
“Here,” he said lowly and conspiratorially, “If you want, I’ll take that coat of yours if you want this one of mine?”
The punter blinked confusedly but John repeated he offer, holding out the navy designer.
The man chuckled drunkenly.
“Are you sure?”
“I am surely”, he answered and pressed the new coat into his free hand.
The punter chuckled again and held out his hand for the swap and John gladly accepted.
The man gave a cheery wave and staggered slightly on his way to the door, pulling his arm through one of the sleeves.
“And now she’s married to him and they’re expecting their first”, the daughter said to her mammy, concluding a story she had heard on the radio about an actress.
Both mother and daughter emptied their drinks.
“Shall we make tracks?” Mammy asked and the daughter agreed.
“I wonder what time Daddy will get home at - What is he doing?” She cut in abruptly as she spotted him pulling on the flimsy anorak as he returned to his station behind the bar.
Mammy turned and her face contorted with confusion as she watched him fix the zip at his chest.
“Where’s he got that from? Who’s is that?”, she asked but received no answers.
They lifted their glasses and walked over to the counter, setting them up to be cleaned.
“What are you doing with that?”, the mammy asked him before her eyes fell on the barren nail in the wall. Instinctively she looked to the floor expecting to find the coat in a crumpled mess but seeing nothing but the tiles she turned to her husband.
“John, where’s your coat?”
He beamed back at her cheekily.
“John, where is your coat?”, she repeated more slowly.
He continued to smile, now glancing between her and the daughter.
The realisation began to dawn on the mammy as she stared at her husband in the almost threadbare anorak but she refused to believe it.
“Where is it?”, she said pleadingly as if to change reality.
John patted himself down proudly.
“This is my coat!”
“That is not your coat John! Where is your coat?”
The daughter stood watching, mouth agape, unsure whether to smile or scold.
“This is my coat!”, he insisted, “I swapped it with your man, this is my coat now.” And he finished beaming at the two.
“John!”, exclaimed the mammy, half in anger, half in disbelief. “That coat cost over four hundred euros! You could have been buried in that coat for Christ’s sake! That one looks like you’ve dug it up!”
“This could be an expensive coat too”, replied John defensively, raising his hands and running them over the wrinkles as if to reassure the jacket that he would protect it.
“I’ve seen better hanging in the windows of the Salvation Army”, retorted the mammy with a snort.
“Well this one has pockets”, he replied bluntly.
The daughter let out a laugh but quickly stifled it with a look from the mammy.
“Pockets!? Pockets?!”, she half-cried, “You traded it for pockets? What, was he all out of magic beans?”
She flung her hands in the air dejectedly.
“A man needs pockets”, he said firmly as if to end the conversation, “so this is my coat.”
The mammy looked lost between her husband and her daughter, searching for an answer but finding none simply shook her head in disbelief.
John smiled triumphantly and proudly patted his coat once more.
“You like it, don’t you?” He said to the daughter unable to hide his glee.
“No Daddy”, she laughed, “that coat is brutal, you’d be better off binning it.”
John took a step back as if shot.
“How could you say that about this lovey coat? It has pockets you know?”
And she burst out laughing. Mammy didn’t laugh.
“Come on”, she said to her daughter and started towards the door.
The last words John heard as the door swung behind them was “Pockets!? Did you ever hear the like!”, and he turned to serve another punter.