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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

The Woman Not the Name

Brian Lynch
Duras Press


Will Ferris noticed the man long before he bent the one-legged table in the back bar of the Baggot Inn. The leg was made of iron and bolted to the floor with a steel plate — the man was not as boneless as he looked in his loose blue overalls and brown suit jacket. But his strength would be revealed later. Now he was noticeable because without him Will's audience would have been cut by half. The other half was wearing a raincoat and reading a morning newspaper. Outside it wasn't raining, but a cold breeze was blowing. The bar was warm and gloomy, kippered with cigarette smoke, and yet it did not reek of tobacco and stale beer. To Will the absence of this centuries-old stink was mysterious, but that was because he didn't know that smoking in pubs had been banned since March. It was no wonder then that on this Monday night in November the air would be odourless. The walls and the ceiling though were still brown with smoke.

With a glass in either hand, held out to balance him as if they were weights, the man manoeuvred himself up onto a high wooden stool by the one-legged table and shuffled his hams into its twin shallow depressions. Problem solved, he swallowed most of his pint of stout, then poured his rum and blackcurrant into the remainder and sipped the sour-sweet mixture.

The principle reason for Will noticing the man was his face. It was round, flat, white, dull, moon-like, blank, expressionless. He wouldn't have stood out otherwise. As it is hard to believe the pallor of the moon is caused by the sun, it was even harder to believe that this Moonman's mahogany-coloured hair, which seemed to have tipped slightly to the side, was not a wig; it was his own; there was nothing false about its rigid mahoganic limpness. Was there such a word?

This is how Will Ferris's mind works, or worked, once upon a time. He was also a singer. Singing is what he was really thinking of and waiting to do, but every time he touched his guitar it crackled.

'What's the story?' he said, turning to Ossie Gleeson.

'This thing is history,' Ossie said. 'Try her now.'

The amplifier had stopped crackling, but there was a low hum off it. Will began to play. He hadn't performed in Dublin for more than a year — if busking in Grafton Street for a week could be called performing.

Ossie sat on the amp, propped his chin on his hands and listened. He was twenty-four year old, tall, dark, shaven-headed, doe-eyed, and he would never be poor, because the family business paid for the basics, like rent, and for some recreational work, like the band he had managed until he brought them to London and they signed a deal that hadn't included him. Will wouldn't do that: they were best friends forever. Anyway, the manager hadn't yet been born who could be Will's manager, or get him to do anything he didn't want to do, or that was popular.

The man in the mackintosh folded his newspaper and went out. It was hopeless.

But then Maeve MacNamee and Cory Leary came in and sat on the ragged banquette by the emergency exit. Ossie blushed: he had slept with Maeve on Saturday night, but on Sunday morning when he had asked her to meet him on Monday she had said, 'You must be joking.'

As he hurried towards her she stood up again. Not to kiss him; but to stop him kissing her — she was, obviously, too busy taking off her heavy leather overcoat to be kissed. Underneath the coat she wore a wrap-around blouse made of some silky material printed all over with multi-coloured blotty flowers. It may have been opaque in fact, but in Ossie's eyes it might just as well have been transparent. In books, and in religion too, breasts like Maeve's are sometimes said to be generous, a word which, as well as meaning big (because when it comes to bosoms, it appears there can't be generosity in smallness), means promising. Hope for the future. But whose? Ossie Gleeson was confused. Maybe when she had said he must be joking she wasn't being serious. In his confusion her shucking off of the leathery animal-skin to reveal the downy woman-skin beneath seemed an effect she had planned in advance, and her perfume, which smelled as if it had been trapped in a private place for a long time — she must have planned that too.

Will began to sing. Ossie shushed Maeve with an apologetic finger raised to his lips. Looking at him sideways in brief disbelief, she said out loud, 'I have a hangover like a lawnmower. And I'm perished with the cold. Get us a hot whiskey, will you? What do you want, Cory?'


'Water for the lady and whiskey for me. Make sure it's Jameson. Don't forget the lemon. And the cloves.'

Will, who had stopped singing, now started again. At the bar Ossie had to wait while the Moonman was being served. As the barman put more Guinness and another rum and blackcurrant on the counter, he cocked his head and said, 'That's your lot, sunshine.'

If Maeve's spirit was whiskey, it was raw but not neat. She looked a little unfinished, especially about the mouth; and her wet red lipstick seemed slashed on carelessly, but it was not the stick but the lips that were irregular; at one corner they were turned down sardonically. There was a touch of the gypsy in her high cheekbones, lozenge-shaped violet eyes and tangled mane of glossy hair, which was dyed a colour she called tinker-black. Still, if it wasn't for the sarcastic mouth, she could have been a typical Romany beauty. But it was the crookedness that made her beautiful....