Twenty Great Books set in APARTMENT BLOCKS
A short story by Sinéad Crowley – written especially for TripFiction
2nd May 2022
Ghost Town by Sinéad Crowley
The heat had built up on him gradually. It had been a long drive west and at first Paul thought the problem was simply the sun beating through the window but then the car itself began to shudder and he looked down to see the temperature gauge soar.
Abandoning the vehicle by the side of the road, he set off on foot to the nearest town, a small, deserted looking place, but wasn’t every place deserted, during those strange months of 2020? The town did have a garage though, its doors flung wide and a man outside poking lazily at a phone.
“I wasn’t sure you’d be open!”
“Essential service, like.”
“Of course. Lucky for me.”
The cooling fan was broken and the guy did that sucking sound loved by mechanics the world over when he was asked for a price, but he had the part and said he’d be finished in an hour. Paul thanked him, extending and then retracting his hand as he remembered that this gesture had been outlawed and, as he did, so his stomach gave an unmistakable grumble.
“I don’t suppose there is anywhere serving food?”
The mechanic was already head down behind the bonnet.
“Chipper doesn’t open during the day. There’s a Spar across the square.”
The convenience store was at the top of the town, right beside an old pub with shuttered windows. But as Paul walked past The Square Bar he could see that the old wooden front door had been left open a crack and heard, from inside, the faint but unmistakable sound of glasses clinking. Pushing open the door released the unmistakable smell of hops, salt and stale air, a scent from before times , better times. The clink came again. He looked towards the empty bar, or was it empty? Paul blinked and from out of the gloom appeared the shape of a man, his hair, shirt and hands all as white as the cloth he was using to wipe down a shelf of glasses.
“Can I get you a drink? Or I could stick on a toasted sandwich.”
The thought of it though. To walk into the bar, order a pint and watch it settle, eat salty ham and orange cheese and pretend it was 2019 and there would be match later on the TV – Paul took one step forwards. And then a car rumbled up the road behind him, distracting him and he shook his head.
The barman shrugged and Paul stepped back onto the road, the pub door closing again without a sound.
The mechanic was drinking tea when he returned, and put his mug down on the counter before talking him through the repairs. The cost was more than he had hoped but less than he had feared and, as he tapped his card – there was no contact anymore, not anywhere – Paul nodded in the direction of the square.
“I see I could have had a pint if I wanted.”
The mechanic was wiping his hands on a piece of blue paper now but stopped and stared at him.
“What do you mean?”
“The chap above in the Square bar seemed to be serving.”
“But that – that can’t be.”
The piece of paper in danger of being shredded now as the mechanic shook his head.
“That’s Jim Madden’s old place.”
“Well whoever he was, he shouldn’t be pulling pints.”
An intake of breath, and then the mechanic continued.
“Jim was the first fella around here to get Covid. They brought him into the Regional but the lungs were too far gone, he didn’t make it. You can’t have seen him behind that bar today.”
Paul didn’t look back as he drove out the Sligo road but as he turned the radio from a news station to a music channel he imagined he heard it again, the clink of a glass as it was taken from a shelf, the gentle thud as it was placed on a counter.
Five Minutes Later
“Jesus Da I told you about opening that bloody bar. I’d a fella in here for repairs, he said you offered him a drink.”
“Ah it’s not natural seeing a place shut up for months. And what harm anyway, hasn’t he gone on his way?”
“The harm, Da, the harm is that I just found his ID here on the floor, he must have dropped it when he was paying for the repair. Detective Inspector Paul Doran. Why do you think he had permission to drive across the country in the first place? Look it, I tried to spin him a yarn but – hang on a second, there’s someone at the door.
Ah, hello Sergeant Flynn. An Inspector was it? Yeah, I figured you’d get a call alright. Sure there’s no talking to my father, you know that. Oh he is yes, he’s up at the bar.”
Thank you SO much to Sinéad! Do pick up a copy of her latest novel THE BELLADONNA MAZE set in Ireland
And catch her on Twitter and Instagram
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I take my hat off to you, Sinead. I can’t even tell a story that concisely, let alone write one down! I’m more of a why use one word, when three or four will do, person! 🙂