Clive moves past the gazebos. The outdoor sofas. The black rattan table with the bottle of wine and shining glasses.
On metal tables, locked at right angles, he sees rows of Solanum Crispum, the Glasnevin flower. Yellow lozenges gleam inside familiar mauve-coloured star-shapes. But the flowering plants are too neat for him, like cut glass.
He passes trumpet vines, morning glories, hydrangeas. Beneath the curve of a clematis archway, blue Chinese wisteria. Climbing things.
He’s sick of the perfume of flowers. Plants. The hard sell. All he needs is a small patio table. Something durable they can put out their back garden. Something they can rest on slabs of stone.
He spots a folding table. Beige, teak. Positioned in the middle of the table is an unlit candle and vase.
Pressing his fingers against the surface, he feels the steadiness, the no-wobble. Crescent moons glisten on the legs.
A silver-haired man with a goatee comes over.
‘Can I help you, sir?’
‘How much is this please?’
‘Forty nine Euros.’
‘Good. If I pay you now can I collect later?’
‘No problem, sir. I'll just take your details.’
Monika is rummaging through the Dutchman's collection of lily bulbs. White, purple-stained, brown, yellow. Like cloves of garlic in her pale pink hands.
‘How many more lilies do we need?’ Clive snaps.
Over lunch, him a bap of suckling pig with scented apple sauce, her skewers of Nehari Gosht from the Ethnic stand, he apologises and tells her about the table. ‘Perfect’, she wipes her mouth, ‘just what we need.’
Once a year they treat themselves. Save up, put on their Sunday best. Stroll among the straw boaters, the striped jackets, the billowing floral dresses. Cut out coupons from newspapers to get a reduction on the entry fee. Smile and wave at people they barely know.
She slips her hand into his. The bag of lily buds is stuffed into her haversack as they drift out of Barbecue Blitz, towards the main displays. There is the tinkle of a piano, a young woman plays on a hoisted patio beside a dry fountain, a baby crying, the homogenous conversation of a throng. Discordant voices, laughter.
His face is burning. He longs for a pint of cider and quickens his step towards the striped marquee where you can sample the chilled, organic variety in plastic glasses. Cheese and chutney stalls are nearby, which would appeal to Monika. He could always nip in and down a cider in one go.
She is tugging his sleeve. Like a fucking child.
‘Look Clive, look. Wie schön!’
Wooden ducks, in wellington boots, propped on tables. Some, along with piglets in shoes, rest on grass. There are frogs on special offer. Toadstools, painted red and white.
The tables attract him. Lifting one of the ducks, he sees they’re identical to the table he has bought earlier. But only thirty Euros.
He wants to say something to the man. Can't formulate the sentence in his brain, the question. Should he take a photo of the table? Is he sure it’s the same?
It’s a folding table, teak. The ridges on the legs, the crescent moons, tell him it’s the same.
He has already paid forty nine. If he says it to Monika, she’ll make a scene. Demand the money back. He feels a fool, for being duped. A turkey, led to the slaughter.
His face is aflame, his throat dry.
Monika is haggling with a pony-tailed, unshaven man in a crinkled green jacket.
‘Two ducks for twenty-five? How about two for twenty?’ she argues.
‘I’ll throw in a table to make it fifty.’
‘Table, ha! We have a table. Clive, dear, could we use another table?’
He turns away, grabs a table. The ducks tumble. Snapping it shut, he strides off. The man in the leather jacket shouts after him. Monika's voice is high-pitched, but he ignores it.
Hurrying, long-legged, through the crowd, he remembers standing in the lobby of the library, nearly four years ago. He'd already retired from his position as accountant in the Pharma chemical company. His wife, Rose had passed away the previous year. On seeing the advertisement for the German conversation classes, he'd decided to sign up. Nothing to lose.
He lived for those Friday mornings. When the teacher, with the close-cropped silver hair and blue-green eyes, would smile and ask, ‘Also, Clive, nichts Neues?’
He speeds past a blur of terracotta pots, multi-coloured stalls, floral chaos. Men in striped aprons flip hamburgers on griddles. Chicken wings hiss and spit.
He was terrified when he first asked Monika out. The long pause after he mentioned the Vermeer exhibition in town. His strawberry-coloured face aglow in the window outside the library.
Finally, she said yes.
But the anxiety never left him. Always waiting to pounce, a sharp poke in his stomach, a dig in the ribs. Over coffee one Sunday, before the free concert in the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, she referred to his reddened eyes. The smell of mints from his breath.
The trembling hands.
‘Geht es dir gut, Clive? Are you OK?’
He fessed up. Agreed to stop. She was, after all, a teetotaller
Now, he reaches the furniture stall and sees the same display table, with the unlit candle and vase. No sign of goatee. Instead, a lady in a T-shirt approaches, glances at the teak in his hand. ‘Can I help you, Sir?’
‘I just want to…ascertain if this is the same as….’
Breathing hard, his shirt sticks to his back.
Eyes of a crowd pierce him. His chest heaves.
‘Are you alright, sir?’
Monika arrives, takes the woman aside. ‘It is OK. I will deal with this.’
Another t-shirted worker finds him a chair. He’s sitting at the black rattan table now, the unopened bottle of wine and glasses before him.
He does not hide his trembling hands, his dripping face.
He reaches out. It is one of those screw-tops. Lovely. The touch of the dark-green bottle soothes him, and he wants to be trapped, to swim in mint. Anticipating nectar, he drags the bottle towards him.
Green glass glistens. In the curve of the bottle, he sees Monika, her bulbous head arguing with the t-shirted woman. She spits she will not leave until she gets her money back.
‘We can buy two tables with the money we gave you,’ she insists.
Goatee returns. Does not recognise Monika. Has no record of the deal.
Clive feels he should get up. Remind goatee of the transaction, confirm his details.
But he sits there, helpless. Appealing to something he cannot locate, he unscrews the bottle and fills the empty glass.
Short Story // The Empty Glass
Born and bred in Dublin, David O’Dwyer has written over 40 short stories which have been recognised in many competitions, including Fish Short Story Prize (Shortlisted 2008, 2013, 2014), Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Competition (Shortlisted 2009, 2012, 2016, 2017, 2018), William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen International Short Story Competition (Shortlisted 2013), TSS Publishing. TSS Flash 400 Spring Competition (runner up, 2018).
David’s novel The Nine was shortlisted for the Date with an Agent competition at the International Literary Festival (Dublin May 2018) and the Meet the Professionals competition as part of the Wexford Literary Festival (November 2018).