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Calls To Distant Places – By Peter Jordan

Peter Jordan. Short story writer

“Calls To Distant Places” is set in Belfast, Ireland.  Peter Jordan is an Irish short story writer who spends his time between Belfast & Donegal.  His latest collection of short stories, also titled “Calls To Distant Places”  was recently published in Ireland.  He has won the Bare Fiction prize, placed second in the Fish, and was shortlisted for the both the Bridport & Bath Short Fiction and Flash Fiction prizes. 

Peter has kindly agreed to share another story with our American readers to help us all get through the Coronavirus lockdown.   Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.  Enjoy.

Calls To Distant Places

It was two in the morning. When I got out of the taxi I saw my neighbor Joe across
the street standing at his front gate. I hadn’t spoken to him in months. His wife had
cancer and my wife had just had a baby.
– Hi Joe, I said.
He motioned to me.
– What’s up? I said.
– It’s Bruno.
Bruno was Joe’s Golden Retriever.
– I came downstairs for a cigarette, it must have been his heart, he’s been on
I didn’t know what to say.
– I need to get him in the boot of the car. I don’t want Grace to see him. She’s
been through enough already.
We walked together up the slope of the driveway to the house. He opened the
car boot and lifted out his fishing gear. There was a chill and I could see my own
Joe came out of the garage with black bin liners and arranged them carefully
along the bottom of the boot. When he had finished, I followed him into the house. I
hadn’t been in the house since last summer. When we walked inside, I could smell
synthetic air freshener.
In the living room, the dog was lying on a throw on the sofa.
Joe had really let the place go: on one of the seats, beside the television, was
a pile of old magazines and newspapers. There were ashes and white tissues in the
grate and on the hearth.

Joe got on his knees and cradled Bruno’s head and I tried to lift his hind legs.
He was still warm. Then Joe said: Wait. And he placed the throw over him, and we
lifted him off the sofa in that manner. We carried him carefully through each doorway
to the outside and placed him in the boot of the car. Then Joe bent down and kissed
him on the forehead before finally closing the boot. I patted Joe on the shoulder and
we both went back inside.
In the kitchen he reached up above the grill, opened a cupboard and took out
a bottle of Jameson.
Then he nodded towards the sink. Help yourself to a glass, he said.
As I walked towards the sink, I kicked a bowl of dried dog food. It was half
empty. And I cursed.
– Sorry about the mess, said Joe.
I lifted a glass and rinsed it under the hot tap, running my fingers inside and
along the rim to clean it.
I’d been drinking beer all night and I wasn’t ready for the whiskey. It tasted
earthy. It would take a bit of getting used to. I patted my pockets for my cigarettes,
stood up and offered one to Joe.
– I’m just going to check on Grace, he said. I’m not smoking in the house
I heard his weight on the stairs as I patted every pocket for my lighter. When I
found it, I stepped outside on to the patio. The intruder light came on immediately.
I remembered last summer. We had only just moved in. Joe had called at the
door to introduce himself. He had caught two sea trout: a cock and a hen. The male
fish was around four pounds, the female a pound lighter.

He brought me over a generous cut from each fish. My wife, Anna, said she
couldn’t eat them after having just seen them whole. I wrapped them in tinfoil and
cooked them in the oven with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper. They didn’t taste
like farmed fish. These fish, you could taste the river in them.
Anna said we should invite Joe and Grace over for a drink. They both came
over with wine and beer. And, when the sun moved behind our house, we all carried
our drinks across the street to Joe and Grace’s. I remembered Grace carrying her
sandals in one hand and a wine glass in the other.
They were both older than us by twenty years but there was a bond. Grace
really hit it off with Anna. I think in many ways they were very similar — they had a
lot in common.
Joe had said he would take me fly-fishing He gave me a cork-handled
beginner’s rod, showed me how to cast. I had been practicing with that rod; casting
from my patio until I could land the fly on my compost bin. The fishing season had
come and gone — I’d paid £120 for a fishing license — and I hadn’t got to fish.
Joe stepped outside. The intruder light came back on.
– She’s sleeping, he said.
I offered him a cigarette and he accepted. Stood there in a white short-
sleeved shirt he didn’t seem to notice the cold.
– How’s Anna?
– She’s good, I said. Anna’s good.
– And the baby?
– The baby’s good.
– A good sleeper?

I nodded. The truth is I was sleeping in the spare room. I felt like Anna and I
were drifting apart since the baby had come along.
– My son left before you moved in, said Joe. He’s an accountant, lives in
Australia now.
He drained the glass.
– I might visit when things settle down here.
He went back inside for the bottle and, when he came back outside, he asked:
Have you changed a nappy yet?
– Not yet, I said.
– I never changed a single nappy. Grace did it all.
Then he drained the glass, looked up at the sky.
– It’s my turn now, he said.
I lifted the glass, but I didn’t drink from it.
– Joe, I said. I gotta go.
I offered him my hand. He shook it.
– Tell Anna I said hello, he said, and say hi to the baby.
Then he walked me through the house. On the front porch he hugged me, and
he didn’t let go.
– I’m sorry about the fishing, he said.

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Who Won the Donkey Derby? A short story by Irish writer Peter Jordan.

Peter Jordan. Short story writer

“Who Won the Donkey Derby?” by Peter Jordan.  Peter is an Irish short story writer who spends his time between Belfast & Donegal.  His latest collection of short stories titled “Calls To Distant Places” was recently published in Ireland.  He has won the Bare Fiction prize, placed second in the Fish, and was shortlisted for the both the Bridport & Bath Short Fiction and Flash Fiction prizes.

He has kindly agreed to share a tale with readers in the US to help us all get through the Coronavirus lockdown.  “Who Won the Donkey Derby” is set in Donegal in Ireland’s north west.  Leave your review in the comment section below.  Enjoy.

Who won the Donkey Derby?

I open the door of the bar and stop momentarily to allow my eyes to adjust to the change in light. There are only two small windows, and they’re low set, so that even early in the day it’s dim inside.

Biddy Barr, the owner, sits behind the counter on a stool. The bar was once the living room and back room of her family house.

There’s only one other punter. He sits on a stool at the far end of the counter; his back to the television and the fire, with two pints of Smithwick’s in front of him.

It’s early. Already, he looks drunk.

– Who won the Donkey Derby? he says, to no one in particular.

The small red tractor outside, with the hand-painted number plate and the cushion inside the plastic Centra carrier bag on the seat, is his.

His name’s Magill, Ger Magill.

He drives that small red tractor into town like you’d take your car, and he owns farmland up at Quigley’s Point. But he doesn’t farm the land — something happened to him when he was a child. He drinks.

Biddy gets up off her stool.

– A pint of Heineken, is it?

– Yes, please.

I lean forward and watch her pouring. As I lean over the counter, I can see into the kitchen. It’s like the kitchen of any house in the town. There’s a combined food and water bowl for her cat on the linoleum floor.

– Who won the Donkey Derby? says Ger Magill.

            – What’s it like out? asks Biddy.

I have to think. I look down at the counter.

– It’s dry, I say, finally.

She raises her chin.

– That’s a blessing.

Biddy isn’t one for conversation. She isn’t one for anything really, but there are no snide remarks if you suddenly show up after months spent drinking up the town.

I take a gulp of Heineken and pull a face.

– Do ya want a wee splash of lemonade?

I blow out. And nod.

Biddy unscrews the lid on a glass bottle of brown lemonade that sits in amongst the other glass bottles of cordial on a circular tray. And she pours a splash of brown lemonade into what remains of the white head of the Heineken.

It goes down a bit easier with the hint of lemonade. I finish it quickly. Then I let out a sigh.

Biddy takes the empty glass from my hand and angles it under the pump. With Biddy you only have to tip your empty glass forward and she’ll rise from her stool, take the glass from your hand, and refill it.

– Who won the Donkey Derby? says Ger Magill.

I stare in his direction, then at the television behind him, but I can’t decipher a thing.

When Biddy sets the second pint in front of me it looks much better than the first.

– D’ya want another wee splash of lemonade?

– No thanks, I’ll just go with it.

– Right you are.

This one goes down easier.

When I’m on my third pint, Ger Magill gets up off his stool and walks slowly, in a stoop, from the far end of the bar to where I’m sitting.

He looks directly at me.

– D’ya hear me… who won the Donkey Derby?

I don’t know the man. I mean, I know of him. I know his father was a drunk, and a mean bastard. And I’ve been stuck behind that red tractor often enough.

– I don’t know, I say. Who won the Donkey Derby?

He stabs his thumb into his chest.

– Me! he says.