Catholic Boy by Rosemary Jenkinson

Our writers give voice to what it means to be Irish in a changing Ireland.

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Shortlisted for the 2019 Irish Selection for the EU Prize for Literature

These stories are cunningly seductive, by turns raucous, wry and tender. A gifted storyteller, Jenkinson leavens even her darkest material with biting, effervescent wit.

— Mia Gallagher

2018 / 152 pages / €13.99
ISBN: 978-1-907682-60-5
Cover designt: Lisa Frank

(click to view cover)

Catholic Boy

Catholic Boy

By Rosemary Jenkinson

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Rosemary Jenkinson was born in Belfast and is an award-winning playwright and short story writer. She won the 2001 Black Hill Magazine Short Story Competition, third prize in the Brian Moore Short Story Awards and was shortlisted for the 2002 Hennessy Award for New Writing. Her first collection of short stories, Contemporary Problems Nos. 53 & 54, was published in 2004 by Lapwing Press. Her second short story collection, Aphrodite’s Kiss & Further Stories, was published by Whittrick Press in 2016. She’s won many General Artist’s Awards from the ACNI and this year she has been awarded Artist-in-Residence at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast.

Extract from 'Revival'

How could anyone forget him from the TV screen in the seventies and eighties, hunched, swift,
stalking, surveying the green-baize plain, his nostrils quivering, sensing he had his opponent. He was all
lean muscle bristling under his suit, an edgy Belfast boy with bar-room pallor and he’d strike – an explosive
cue action, a punch winding the audience into tumultuous applause, the trademark whip through the air.
He was Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins, two times snooker world champion and working class hero. When he
was on top, he’d strut, preeningly sexual, loose-limbed in the pleasure of predation, and clean up the table
in seconds; then back to his seat where, confined and restless, he would light up yet another cigarette.

‘What’s your name?’ asked the tiny, elderly man with the pinched face. He was wearing a raincoat
and a hat. His glasses were teetering right on the tip of his nose in the same way that he was standing on
the edge of the kerb.

‘Cara. What’s yours?’

I knew his name but I kept looking. He was so frail and drained of colour. The only thing that
convinced me I was right was his blue eyes.

‘Alex Higgins.’ His voice was light but husky, the whisper of dried leaves spiralling on a pavement.

Pure fluke had brought me to the taxi rank outside Lavery’s on the way home from the pub. I’d
thought about trying the one up on Castle Street but just as I’d arrived, two girls from East Belfast were
being turned away.

‘You won’t take us, so you won’t?’ one girl was shouting angrily over her shoulder,
‘Well, let me tell you this, our fathers built this city!’

‘They built this city,’ derided the taxi driver at the
door, letting fly with a bombardment of cracking laughter. I walked on. I didn’t want to pretend I was a
West Belfast partisan just to get a taxi. That was the thing hard to stomach about Belfast, it was all black
and white, East or West, with us or against us…

There was nothing black or white about Alex Higgins’ accent. It was English barbed with Belfast,
impossible to pin down, a changeable hybrid of the rhythms of middle class society and backstreet banter.

‘Have you been drinking in Lavery’s?’ I asked him.

Lavery’s was infamous for its back bar which never seemed to release its clients before kickingout
time. A bit of a holding pen for hard-core alcoholic sorts.

‘No. They barred me,’ he smiled with some pride. ‘I was in Sandy Row. They’re all mad there.’

We were headed the same direction so we shared a taxi. We didn’t live that far up the Lisburn
Road but within five minutes he had established quite a lot about my life. He fired out questions sharper
than I’d ever known anyone. Like a man in an incredible rush. He found out I was looking to move house
and offered to rent me out the other room in his flat. He was often abroad, he said, he was planning to go
for three months to Australia. I could see it now if I wanted to pop round for a drink.

I knew so many stories about Alex from around town, his begging, his shoplifting, his aggression.
I knew I shouldn’t be going to his flat but I was curious and he was perfectly composmentis for all the
drink; if he’d had the physique of Mike Tyson I might have thought twice.

The flat was pine-floored, fresh-painted and modern.

‘It’s a lovely flat.’

‘This is the room,’ he said, ushering me through. ‘I call it the occidental room.’

The bed was covered in bags and suitcases and turfed-out clothes. The whole flat gave me an
impression of someone just passing through. Half-submerged in the waves of fabric, as though washed
up from the distant past, was a framed photograph of himself in his playboy heyday and Peter Stringfellow
sitting smiling over a giant magnum of champagne that seemed dwarfed between them. He was telling
me that the Snooker Association was going to pay the rent for him for life. It sounded generous but I
couldn’t help thinking they must have figured it wouldn’t be for much longer.

He took me into the kitchen to get a drink. He didn’t want one. He only drank Guinness now. He
opened his fridge to reveal a bottle of white wine and a bottle of vodka chilling, icy-breathed. Otherwise
there was only a mauled meat pie and a couple of eggs.

We sat down on the sofa and Alex flicked on the TV. On the coffee table lay his crumpled income
support booklet and a large piece of cannabis resin, square like cue chalk.

He checked the racing results and tutted.

‘I do the horses every day. Pick fourteen out of thirty two. It’s my system. Stick around and I’ll
show you.’

‘But does it work?’

He grinned at the pertinence of my question and rewarded me with a tap of his hand on my head
as though bestowing a blessing.