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A BANTER THAT SINGS by Claire Fullerton
A Banter That Sings by Claire Fullerton
The streets of Galway were gray that night. Everywhere I looked, gray buildings, gray sidewalks, gray sky beneath a mist floating in from the Atlantic, hovering ominously and imprinting coronas on the sidewalk from the interior light of pubs still open in the midnight hour.
Our footsteps echoed as we walked from The Kings Head to the hackney office on Dominic Street, across the street from Taylor’s, which was Kieran’s favorite pub. Kieran used Taylor’s as his personal office. Many were the nights he summoned Darren and Shannon and me to Taylor’s to talk business because Kieran never saw the line between work and play. Were it any other night, the four of us would have gone into Taylor’s; we would have sailed through the door in Kieran’s wake, following his bouncing, proprietary swagger as he made his way to the back section designated for Irish traditional musicians. But the evening had been exhausted at The Kings Head. It was past time to call it a night, and I had to get home to Inverin.
I was standing on the sidewalk when the hackney driver brought his two-door Honda around. I bid goodnight to the three of them and got in the front seat for what would be a thirty-minute ride up the coast road. You’d think the memory I retain of that night would center on the activity in The Kings Head. Close to one hundred people had turned out for The Galway Music Centre’s inaugural showcase of local musicians, which the four of us had spent an entire month orchestrating on behalf of the nonprofit business we’d started. But as Ireland has a habit of making art of the contrary, what stands in my memory is the hackney ride home.
It wasn’t often I had cause to make the journey from Galway to Inverin at night, but when I did, it was an eerie experience. The total darkness on the two-lane road, how the moon illuminated the sea in shifting hues of black, cobalt, and silver; the lonesome stretch of treeless landscape beneath the absence of sound made the journey surreal as I watched for signposts guiding me home. It was a gradual change of consciousness as I left the energy of Galway City and crept into the bleak solitude of Inverin. Whenever I took a hackney, there’d be a conversation with the driver to fill in a silence too fraught with possibilities, but then travelling with a stranger in the dark of night tends to create a tacit alliance.
On this night, the hackney driver was a local named Michael Connolly, and I admit I started it all because I’m uneasy with weighted pauses. I have a nervous habit of filling in gaps when I think there’s too much dead air.
“Are you from around here?” I asked Michael Connolly, who was raven-haired and blue-eyed and looked to be in his early thirties. Tall and lithe with graceful hands resting loosely on the steering wheel, it seemed he’d cut through this coastal swath of Connemara so many times that the car no longer required his guidance.
“I am, yeah. Born and raised just up the road, but I’ve done me share of travelling.” His Connemara accent got under the vowels, rolled to a singing pitch, and ended each sentence in a manner that left me expecting more. “You’re an American, yeah?” he continued, in that way the Irish have of letting you know nothing slips by them.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m from Memphis, Tennessee, but I’ve spent the last few years in Los Angeles.”
“Los Angeles,” Michael Connolly said, repeating the name as if he were sorry to hear of my troubles. I can’t say I blamed him. He was so relaxed with himself, so brighteyed and open that he lacked the requisite wary manner it takes to get by in a place where all that glitters isn’t gold.
I gave him a sideways glance. “Have you been to Los Angeles?”
“Oh God, yeah,” he said. “Lived there two years, so I did, and that was enough for me. My idea of heaven is Ireland with Los Angeles weather,” he said. “My idea of hell is Los Angeles with Irish weather.”
It was a seamlessly delivered line with such perfect timing that it left me speechless. Five months on the west coast of Ireland, and I still hadn’t loosened my grip on the thrill of Irish banter. I found all exchanges fascinating and would study the distinctive phrasing of the musical dialect in the vain hope I’d be able to master it one day.
Because the Irish have an effect on a person. They’re so good at being themselves that it makes an outsider want to become one of them, to shed all dissimilarities and drift into that easy way of theirs, where the art of communication is a banter that sings.
Claire Fullerton is the multiple, award-winning, traditionally published author of four novels and one novella. She has recently completed her fifth novel. Claire lives in Malibu, California with her husband and three German shepherds.