The Summer of Unrequired Love: Prologue
Eight-year-old Paddy Butler’s mother gave up wearing tights and began to dress in florals tops and long patchwork skirts when his father went off to live in London. So whenever he and his friend Johnner hid in the bushes of next door’s front garden, it was Johnner’s mother who donated the laddered tights they cut and pulled over their faces to spend an afternoon spying like in The Man from Uncle. Except Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin lived in such a big city that they didn’t have neighbours and didn’t have to hide their faces.
Next door’s garden was overgrown with hedges and grass and dandelions running wild, and they could crouch down inside all afternoon, listening to and watching the bush filtered passers-by, safe behind the vegetation and the stretched nylon. They had to maintain total silence when they were spying; but while it was easy to mime shock or point at the state of a neighbour’s shoes; a stretched, distorted and itchy face couldn’t communicate a subtle observation about the gossip they overheard. And every spying session ended when the frustration became so much that words threatened to spill out by themselves, like an overfull bladder. It was always Johnner who gave in first, and Paddy who smiled inside the foot of Mrs Johnston’s tights and allowed himself to be led next door to Johnner’s front room where they would speak with only the ears of walls listening and laugh at the things they’d seen and heard.
Paddy kept his junior detective’s notebook rolled up in his coat pocket when he was in the garden. But later in bed he flattened it out to record every observation made during their afternoon stakeout, and in the past had fallen asleep wondering whether the woman from the bread shop cared that the hem of her skirt could be seen beneath the red coat she always wore, and why the owner of the corner house sometimes had a limp. On this particular June evening, he’d wondered what Johnner’s father had meant when he’d said to a man they didn’t know: “She might be the prettiest women in Cabra, but no self-respecting husband should have to put up with that kind of thing.” And before he fell asleep his notebook absorbed the words: “When I grow up I will change my name to Julian.”
Dolly Considine’s Hotel: April 1953
When her Aunt Ellen’s will was read and the extent of the debts run up during the yearlong closure were known, Dolly Considine’s father announced publicly that the twelve-bedroom hotel up in Dublin would be sold at auction. His daughter might have inherited the business, he said, but she was only eighteen and her place was at home with her family in Co Offaly. Everyone knew he had to look decisive in public, but to his constituents, party managers, and the pro and anti-Fianna Fail newspapers, it would be the outcome of the coroner’s inquest that decided his political future, and not the decisions he made about his underage daughter’s hotel.
Dolly had been persuading her mother to take her Christmas shopping in Dublin for years before the scandal. On her very first stay in the hotel, towards the end of The Emergency, with war rationing still affecting everyone else and while watching a couple of American soldiers in mufti in the Visitors’ Lounge, she had made a promise about her future. And as if to seal it, she let go of her mother’s hand, brushed a fleck of glitter from the front of her long brown coat and shook her head to make the two pink rose buds pinned to the front of the hat her mother had bought her that afternoon in Brown Thomas quiver with certainty. She smiled at the American soldiers to let them know they were invited to come back to the bar to sip celebratory drinks with her on the day she moved into the hotel forever.
Mrs Burns, the manageress, had her own opinion about the hotel owner’s sister and favourite niece occupying beds that she could have filled twice over in the days surrounding the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the traditional opportunity for country people to come to Dublin for their Christmas shopping. But it was December 1951 before she said anything.
“Dolly is getting to be such a grand lady, she might be more comfortable in the Hibernian next year,” Mrs Burns said as the pair of them stood at reception fretting over suitcases and Christmas wrapped parcels and waiting for a taxi to take them to King’s Bridge station. Mrs Burns might have said something similar the following year, but by the time Christmas decorations went up in the shops, Josie Geoghan was dead, the hotel was closed and Mrs Burns herself was dismissed and living with her sister in Birmingham, and the shame which would finish off Aunt Ellen two days before Little Christmas had already begun its work.
Far from it being the Hibernian Hotel, a week after the inquest into the death of the chambermaid recorded a verdict of misadventure, Dolly and her mother were sleeping in Mrs Burns’ old room, and despite Mrs Considine speaking to auctioneers, Dolly was making plans for a grand reopening; washing, scrubbing, dusting, making beds like a professional. She even painted the hall ceiling when the man she’d engaged to do it was scared away by Mrs Considine’s warning that he would have to join the hotel’s creditors. But invitations to the celebration were issued and her mother had no choice except to attend and pretend it was an opportunity for the auctioneer to familiarise himself with the business.
Mr and Mrs Hannafin, (who had continued to live-in while the hotel was officially closed) attended, and when Dolly gave them a welcoming sherry each, she also issued them with a bill for their arrears. She introduced everyone to her late Aunt’s solicitor, who confirmed that selling the hotel without Dolly’s full agreement would be against the spirit of the bequest.
The Porchester Theatre, which occupied half the hotel’s basement, sent two representatives who expressed their personal satisfaction at the prospect of the bar (historically accessed for pre-show and interval drinks) being open again. The event was boycotted by the rest of the theatre’s trustees, claiming association with the scandalous hotel was sullying their artistic integrity. Dolly also presented them with an invoice for rent arrears. The other long-term guest (Miss Guilfoyle) did not appear, so her bill was slipped under her door.
Mrs Considine was in bed by midnight but was still awake when Dolly joined her just after two.
The Summer of Unrequited Love
Making plans: St Patrick’s Day - 17th March 1983
“You could have changed your clothes,” Johnner began his rant as soon as they met up at Quinnsworth in Phibsborough. It was he who’d arranged for a day of flyer distribution at the Patrick’s Day parade: “Good news for happy families.” There was no point in him telling Paddy he was jeopardising their holiday fund by sporting his brother’s beer-stained ex-army jacket and torn jeans instead of the neat clothing demanded by the flyer company.
Turning into Mountjoy Street, Paddy’s end of life clothes blended with the abandoned buildings crying out to be bulldozed. The Black Church was poking out into the streetscape like an agitated neighbour, as if to shake its head in sadness at the lack of civic pride, and encouraging Johnner’s rant: the state of Irish politics, the paucity of national ambition, and the lack of prospects for the young.
The drumming they could hear but not yet see was getting louder as they advanced, the competing rhythms beginning to colonise Johnner. His feet surrendering first, then his clicking fingers, followed by his waving elbows. Even his heart seemed eager to have an outside force take control of its beating. But it didn’t stop him announcing the absolute necessity for them to get out of the country, if not for the rest of their youth, then at least for the summer before their final school year.
Rounding Mary’s Corner with the Black Church looming down on them they were confronted by fume-spewing coaches unloading American college bands into the space between the sooty church and the fractured skeletons of dead buildings. The roadway crammed with pristine white uniforms and blue uniforms flashed with epaulettes of gold and red. Instruments; white, silver, and brass, coming out of their cases to be tentatively stroked for the performances ahead; spittle and fingers, moistening and warming. But it wasn’t the crush of the gawking enthralled, the noisy scales, or even Paddy’s apparent disinterest that made Johnner suspend his rant; rather it was the cacophony and confusion of rhythms dragging his feelings in so many contrary directions, making it impossible for him to speak. Only when they reached the top end of O’Connell Street, and with the noises receding, was he liberated enough to resume:
“We could spend the summer in Butlins, as Red Coats… I could teach the children drumming, and you….? Or, or driving cars from New York to Florida…. Route 66… All gone to look for America?” he sang. “Or Interrail? We could go Interrailing across Europe….. courtesy of American chicks…. on their final fling before they settle down to domestic godessity?”
Johnner stopped when they reached Clerys shop window, and snatched at Paddy’s arm to halt him too, but then let go in a kind of surrender. The first eager families were already lining the middle of the street, waving hand-sized tricolour flags, and protecting their places against the metal barriers ready for the best view of the parade. They would appreciate a flyer explaining how insecure their homes were without a burglar alarm. Johnner touched the sprig of muddy shamrock his mother had pinned to his lapel before he’d left the house.
“Say something,” he said and pushed Paddy against the glass protecting Clerys’ display of crockery and table lamps foregrounding monstrous green crepe paper versions of the national emblem.
“You are so fucking opaque,” Johnner said, confident that the shop front had resisted heavier bodies than this titchy scrap, so he pushed him again, with more force, a shamrock secured to the inside of the glass quivered. “Tell me what you want.”
But instead of answering or bouncing back for another push, Paddy slid down over the protruding sill to the footpath and toppled over onto his right side, his hands joined together under his chin and his knees up in spooning position, his whole body shaking like a person having an epileptic fit or a peculiar orgasm. His black woolly hat squeezed off to reveal his home-hacked haircut.
“Fuck you,” Johnner spat as he tore at the flyers’ packaging, and dropped half on the footpath before beginning to walk away. “Like it or not,” he said turning back, “we’re getting out of this godforsaken city for the summer. I will not work in my father’s factory and you will not mope about the streets in your mystic twilight. We will transform ourselves into stylish, free, out-of-Ireland, internationalists. I, to become Drew - son of Ginger Baker, and you, to become Julian – journal keeper, fictionalist, liar. You have three days to start honing your new identity, and to come up with ways to find the money to start us off.”
And then, god help him, he kicked his best friend, if only on his bony little arse,
“Say it you bastard: ‘I am Julian,’” his foot drawing back for another, until he had to force a smile for the woman who grabbed his arm to pull him away
“Ah now son, leave the lad alone,” she said. “Isn’t it the feast of St Patrick?”
“Just a little domestic situation,” Johnner said, and she released her restraint and nodded as if she knew all about such things.
Dolly Considine’s Hotel: April 1953
“Listen to me young lady,” her mother said the morning after Dolly’s hotel relaunch party, “you are a child without any experience of business. The hotel’s reputation will never recover from the shame, that’s why the National Bank is refusing to provide further credit.”
Her mother closed the lid on her suitcase and pressed the two catches down with a click each. Dolly’s empty suitcase sat on the bed, the open wardrobe exposing the clothes she was refusing to pack.
“Aunt Ellen got...”
“My sister ran the hotel for forty years without ever borrowing a penny. But in another few months the debts will be greater than the value of the building. And then the bank will own it. We have no choice but to sell.”
Mrs Considine had put on her hat and coat before she even rang for the taxi. Now she adjusted her hair in the mirror and pursed her lips at her daughter’s frustrated reflection.
“Your father has decided, the auctioneer has been instructed, and the date is set.”
“The least you can do is tell the manager to freeze Aunt Ellen’s loans, and get Daddy to guarantee a new overdraft.” The sliver of morning sun on her bare arms, and the lace curtains blowing against her back insisted she stand her ground.
“I came here to help you to get the hotel ready for auction. I’ve calmed your creditors, told the permanent guests and Paddy the porter they must make other arrangements, and held my tongue while you indulged in reckless spending on a pointless party.”
“Please Mother. Just one year. And if the books are not balancing by then, they can do what they like with the place.”
“The taxi will be here in a minute are you coming or not?”
“If I’d been a boy you’d have put me through me university.” She didn’t dare mention her dead brother by name or the savings account they’d set up on his first birthday. Aunt Ellen had been trying to even things up when she named Dolly in her will.
“That’s it,” her mother said. “Your duty as a daughter is to come back to Birr to prepare for your future as a wife and mother.”
“You mean, to be Daddy’s trinket, paraded across the constituency to show the voters what a normal happy family we are.” She swept the tangling curtains away and shook her head at the taxi man waving up at her.
“I don’t know what you’re suggesting,” her mother said. “Your father has done everything for you, and if he brings you to Party functions it’s because he’s preparing you to be a suitable wife for an up and coming politician.”
“I’m not going home,” Dolly said. She slammed the lid closed on her empty suitcase, pushed it to the floor and kicked it under the bed. “I’ll never go back. Never.”
The Summer of Unrequited Love: June 1983
Our hero prepares for departure
He is no longer Paddy. He is Julian. Julian is decisive. Julian knows what he wants, and right now he wants Johnner to become Drew and get them out of Cabra. But his so-called friend is not the alpha Drew he’d made himself out to be when he’d tantalised Paddy with visions for their summer adventures.
“All you have to do is surrender to the programme.
You know how to do that, don’t you?”
And now, when turning back was impossible, at the very instant of implementation, when Julian has shouldered on and buckled his backpack in response to the doorbell ringing, here was Johnner’s baby brother standing on the front step with a note:
“Me Ma won’t let me go. I have to start work in Da’s factory on Monday.”
Julian held the backpack straps and watched the messenger cycle away, the news sinking in but not sinking in, at the same time.
Paddy Butler would have been in bed at seven-thirty on a Saturday morning, whereas he, Julian Ryder, was up, shaved and dressed, with the “torportudity” of which Johnner’s mother accused him, banished, along with his black hair thanks to a bottle his mother had abandoned when she turned “natural” for her womanly politics. He kicked the door closed, released the shoulder straps and stomped down to the kitchen.
“Normal service is resumed,” he shouted and fished through the dustbin for the Virgin Prunes tape he’d ceremoniously dumped earlier in a ritual to mark the commencement of his new life.
“Maybe I don’t need Johnner,” he said as he wiped brown sauce off the cassette. “I can go by myself.”
Except the devastating sting was in the final sentence of baby brother’s note:
“She’s cut up the cash-card.”
Julian shared his bedroom with his brother Darren’s collection of rare jazz records. “He’s been bumming around Greece for years, he’s forgotten about them,” Johnner had said, persuading him to sell carefully selected 78s to a man who had a stall in the George’s Street Arcade, and to let Johnner lodge the proceeds in their Big Adventure Bank Account.
“She’s cut up the BABA cash-card.”
He would go back to bed and let his mother drag him out when she came home looking for a fight after a day at the GPO talking about abortion rights. Except his mother’s birthday was in two days and she’d sent Darren the fare after he’d promised not to miss it for the third year. Julian had to be out of the house or there’d be a hiding from Darren.
Baby brother had been on his way to fulfil his altar boy duties at early mass in St Pippins when he dropped in the note. Julian could see the spire from the bedroom window. Maybe he could ask for a miracle to prevent Darren from returning. Only a plane crash could save him and maybe it would be better not to wish for that. But if it happened anyway it wouldn’t be his fault.
The note Julian had written to his mother flew onto the floor as he swept back the blankets. The best thing he’d ever penned, and now she’d never see it. In earlier versions, he’d blamed his departure on her plan to spend the summer spouting politics, but in the published version he hadn’t accused her of driving him out of the house, and he’d respected any feelings she might have about him going off without telling her.
“See you Mam,” he’d signed off, “I’m going over to London to see Uncle Arthur. Sorry to miss your birthday.”
The grapevine said that Arthur was doing OK, even if he refused to answer his sister’s letters or forgive her for whatever dreadful secret she’d betrayed. And the great thing was Arthur would never contact her to say Julian had not turned up.
“I don’t know what to do
I don’t know which way to turn
The sky is falling down
And I don’t know who to turn to”
He’d be whining more than The Virgin Prunes when Darren got home.
“Me Ma won’t let me go.
She’s cut up the BABA cash-card.”
What a fuck up. No wonder he was cold. He pulled the blankets over his fully dressed self, the music in perfect tune with his mood. And yet something sent his right foot out from under the blankets to kick the stereo system up in line with the top of Darren’s Dave Brubeck poster.
Baby Brother’s note was just a test of Julian’s loyalty. Johnner would be at the bus station. Too much planning had gone into their summer for it to change so easily. They would laugh when they met up and slap each other’s backs with mutual self-belief.
Then he reached for one final boxed set from his brother’s collection, pulled the bedroom door open, and set his free hand burning against the handrail down the stairs. With his jacket off the newel post, and his backpack bounced through the hall door, he slowed only to push the records down between his changes of clothes and the pristine journal waiting to record his summer of adventures.