An extract from the excellent original Christmas short story by Niall Finnegan
On Christmas Eve, a stranger walks into Tom’s butcher’s shop looking to buy a goose. Both men have secrets that they are keeping from their families, but their secrets, like truth, can always wait…
Tom pulled down the roller blind on the window of his shop. “That’s it,” he thought, “another year down. God, it isn’t getting any easier, this is a young man’s game.” The staff had just left. Tom had told them that he would join them in Fogarty’s in a few minutes for a drink.
He turned off the lights and stood inside the front door. Behind him the Christmas lights from the town flickered and cast an intermittent coloured ray of light into the shop.
The five little red lights of the power switches and the two from the display cabinets were the only Christmas lights in the shop this year. He just wasn’t in the form for putting up the decorations. He had spoken to Dr. Paddy during the week.
These twenty minutes every Christmas Eve were the sweetest for Tom. The orders were gone and the pressure was off.
It was always the busiest time of year and this one was no different. It had become harder over the years; a bit of arthritis in the fingers and that bloody pain in his back, but “What can you expect?” he thought, “all part of the job of being a butcher.”
All the turkeys sold out and there was only one goose left in the fridge. Fresh geese were always a worry, he often said. “You could be left with four of them, and that’s close to €300, and you’ll probably finish up having to eat them yourself.”
Behind him there was a tap on the window.
“I’m comin’,” he said, expecting that it was one of his staff waiting for him in Fogarty’s next door.
A frail looking man stood in the doorway. He was wearing a half-clean raincoat and Tom couldn’t help but notice the holdall he was carrying with the logo of St. Brendan’s GAA Club, London. He looked like a man in his forties but as he came closer Tom could see the features of someone who had known a hard life.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” he said, “but the man in the shop across the road thought you might be able to help.”
“Did he?” asked Tom. This wasn’t the first time he had been set up for the “loan” of a twenty.
“What can I do for you?”
“I was wondering have you any geese left?” “I have the one, but tis sixty-five euro.”
“That’s ok, if t’was a hundred I’d still be glad to get it.”
Tom told him to come in and turned on the lights.
“You’ve a fine place here,” the man said, “I used pass here nearly twenty years ago, you made a grand job of it.”
“Not too bad I suppose, I don’t think I know you.”
“Ah sure you wouldn’t, I’m from over near Roundstone, I’m Sean, Sean Thornton.”
“You’re on the way home for the Christmas?”
“You could say that.”
Tom brought the goose from the fridge and left it on the counter. Sean took a fifty and a twenty from his pocket.
“Give us fifty,” said Tom.
“You’re a decent man, Mr Flanagan.”
As Sean handed over the money, Tom noticed his eyes fill up and a small tear appeared on his left cheek.
“Are you alright?”
“Tis only the time of year we always had a goose at home when I was a young lad.”
“You haven’t been home for a while?”
“God, you’ll see some changes.”
“T’is the mother, I only found out on Tuesday. She’s not well.”