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A Jig Before Dying

by
Danny Carnahan:

Chapter 2

     The smoke hung thick at the far end of the Bag of Nails. There, between the dimly-lit juke box and a precarious sculpture of empty beer kegs stacked against the wall, Sweeney plopped himself heavily onto a folding wooden chair, his fiddle case across his knees. Still angry, he sniffed at the haze.

     What a crock of vicious bullshit, he thought for the umpteenth time. Nail in the coffin of Irish culture! Christ! All I’m doing is playing tunes and enjoying myself. Who cares if I put out a goddam CD? Did I ever set myself up as some sort of fiddle guru? And who cares, anyway? Who reads that rag? Who listens to critics?

     He paused, wondering if he really believed any of that himself. Absently, he pulled three or four hunks of decaying leather off the handle of the fiddle case. He flicked them across the table one by one with his thumb, aiming at the empty pint glass. He let out a breath and slumped his shoulders.

     God, I wish Rosie were here. Just my luck to have her poop out tonight. She loves cramming bad writing back down her students’ throats. Well, usually. I hope she’s mellowed out by the time I get home. Yeah... I’ll have her do a big, fat job on Blayney. She should enjoy that.

     Around the familiar, stained wooden table littered with glassware, ashtrays and detritus difficult to identify in the low, yellowish light, five musicians labored to be heard over the prevailing din. Sweeney exchanged wordless nods with them one by one; Peter, Marjorie, Rod, Whatsisname the greasy-haired kid who never seemed to talk flailing on the bodhran with his double-ended stick, and John Kilbride.

     At best, on crowded nights like this, whoever comprised the band might be able to toss jigs and reels about halfway down the bar, where the tunes would be beaten whimpering and exhausted to the floor. But accordion, guitar, banjo, bodhran and flute weren’t working at projecting any farther than the other side of the table tonight. Peter and the rest looked content to work out the tensions of the week playing with each other, really only listening to themselves, ignored by all but the small, shifting gaggle of onlookers who loitered against the kegs or stood waiting for the john.

      Sweeney sat listening, tapping his fingers, taking it all in. He felt more sociable now that he’d reminded himself that his literary wife would handle all the barbs from the press.      

     To his right around the table Peter Cole perched comfortably atop his home-made wooden accordion case tapping out The Bucks of Oranmore. Peter looked up and nodded across at Marjorie.

     Bucks into Barley, thought Sweeney automatically.

     The tune came around and Peter leaned into Wind that Shakes the Barley, an old groaner, but still somehow pleasant under the fingers after all this time. Across the table, Rod Hesse relaxed his grip on the guitar neck and reached out to suck on a smoldering cigarette. He watched Peter with his heavily-lidded blue eyes. Sitting next to Rod like a drop-shadow, little Marjorie fudged the first few bars, grimaced through black curls that cascaded down over the shoulders of her thin, black sweater, then dug a series of triplets out of the banjo and rolled along with Peter. The bodhran flopped along companionably like tennis shoes in a dryer. The kid had the drum pulled tightly in against his chest. With his neck craned forward and head down he was oblivious to all but the beat of the music. The room was too noisy for Sweeney to be sure Kilbride was playing the same tune as the rest of them. But it didn’t seem to bother the quiet, ruddy Kerryman. The silver-chased end of his ebony flute described circle after circle beyond his right shoulder in time to the music. His eyes, never opened more than a slit, seemed focused off somewhere in the middle distance.

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