I open the door after the third knock. Enough time for a rinse and gargle with mouthwash. I gag, my guts twisting, and hawk into the sink. A splash of water on my face, and another to wet my head. I comb down the cowlick above my ear. A quick check around the living room, I grab the bottle and glass left by the fireplace and stick them in a cabinet.

I’m in no mood for visitors, and that includes Jimmy Lynch.

“Good morning…or should I say afternoon,” he says, big grin on his meaty face. “I was in the neighbourhood and thought I’d stop by.”

Fat raindrops spatter the doorstep.

“You better come in, then.” I move aside and let him pass.

The door sticks in winter, so I have to push against it before it shuts properly.

Lynch saunters into the front room. “I hope I didn’t get you out of bed.”

“No fear of that. Can I get you something? Tea or coffee?”

“Don’t go to any bother.” He sits on the couch. “I’m easy, whatever you’ve got.”

“I’ll put on the kettle.”

It’s not like Lynch to make house calls on a Sunday. He waits until I’m in the kitchen before saying anything.

“I got a call from Kirwan. Seems the two of you had a run-in.”

I can’t find the teabags. Too hungover to look for them, I open a jar of instant coffee.

“You overstepped the mark. Better clear it up before Christmas.”

The hangover pulsates, making me jittery. Nothing seems real.

I step back into the living room. “It’s not that serious.”

“You don’t want to let it fester.” Lynch crosses his legs and folds his hands on his knee.

“It’ll have to be coffee. Do you take milk?”

“Of course I do.” He rolls his eyes in mock offence. “Like any good Irishman.”

There’s just enough milk in the fridge to colour the coffee. I hand Lynch the cup and sit across from him. “I don’t know what came over me. Too much to drink, I suppose.”

“We’ve all been there.”

“Kirwan gets on my nerves. He’s a nasty piece of work.”

“Kirwan’s all right.”

Typical Lynch, never one to take sides, but he should be backing me up on this.

“You two have never seen eye to eye,” he says. “It was the same when we were at school.”

“Our schooldays are long gone.” I don’t have the energy to argue with him.

“And there’s no reason to cause unnecessary friction. What good does it do?”

Jimmy Lynch the peacemaker has spoken. I say nothing.

“We had a fair amount to drink in the Central Bar,” he says, “before I left.”

There it is, the crux of the matter. Lynch left; he could leave. He didn’t have to keep going, all the way to the bitter end.

“You need to do the right thing. Send him a text or give him a call. Kirwan is the forgiving type.”

So Lynch thinks I have to be forgiven.

“You were on the offensive when I left you in the Central,” he says.

“I’ve been out of sorts lately.” There’s an element of truth in that, but it’s irrelevant. I said what I said because I detest Kirwan. I meant it when I called him a nasty piece of work.

“Kirwan will be fine once you clear it up.” Lynch uncrosses his legs. “I told him you were just looking for someone to vent on, and it was nothing personal.”

What else has he told Kirwan? How little Lynch knows me, and how little he knows Kirwan.

“No need to be enemies,” he says. “Put it behind you, and move on.”

Lynch settles back on the couch. He’s done his duty, said what he came to say, and set me straight. There’s no need for him to stay. I want him gone so I can get out of the house, see if the sea breeze will flush the poison from my system. Maybe stop into the Stroll Inn for a pint to settle my nerves, find a window seat, and contemplate the Atlantic.

Lynch takes a sip from his cup. “That’s good coffee.”

He looks around, eyeing the stains on the wall over the fireplace, and taking in the books and newspapers scattered about, the pile of laundry, the disorder.

“We all have our issues,” he says.

I nod, though I’m not listening. I’m back in the Central, reliving every moment. When I confronted Kirwan, I asked him to step outside. Shameful, cringe-making posturing. There was never going to be a fight. My soul shrivels as the details come back to me. As soon as the rage took over, I knew I’d regret it. You don’t reveal your true feelings—you keep a tight lid on them, or you’d better be prepared for the consequences. I see Kirwan’s cunning face, goading me. He lost his cool when I called him a nasty piece of work. That hit home, but then his supporters stepped in and pushed me away.

“…ridiculous. She’s out of control.”

She? What’s Lynch talking about? It must have something to do with his wife.

“You mean when you got back last night?”

“Maura went mental.” Lynch hesitates. “Claimed I was out too late, while she was stuck at home. She was in some state, shouting and screaming, throwing cups and plates.”

I remember Lynch standing at the back of the Central, phone to his ear. I could tell from his face and gestures that he was pleading. Later, when Kirwan showed up, he wanted to know why Lynch had to leave.

“Did he run off home? Our friend Jimmy has his hands full,” Kirwan said, full of fake concern. “That’s what happens when you get hitched to an unstable woman. It isn’t all sweetness and light in that house.”

I refused to go along with Kirwan’s sly knowingness. He’s a nasty piece of work, and I was right to say it to his face. To think when I asked him to step outside, Lynch must have been dodging cups and plates at home.

“Things are getting worse.” Lynch stares at the ground. “Non-stop whining, and none of it helped by her spirituality shite.”

I think back to a conversation I had with Maura. She described a retreat she went on, her interest in what she called life coaching and connections to the divine. She leaned into me earnestly, putting a hand on my arm, but I backed away. I tried not to appear sceptical. She seemed hurt by that, and may have preferred some genuine disbelief so she could argue her case. It was better not to encourage her. I didn’t want a scene.

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know, but something has to be done. I can’t put up with her mood swings. Maybe try counselling, see if it’ll sort her out.”

“That’s a pity.”

Lynch looks up, and I see it in his eyes; he didn’t like hearing that. I shouldn’t have said pity. I don’t pity him, that’s not what I meant.

“You don’t deserve this.” I’m back-tracking, struggling to strike the right note. “You deserve better.” That sounds worse. He shouldn’t have brought this up.

Lynch steals a glance at his watch. I search for something to say.

“I’m going to have to do something about the chimney.”

“What’s the problem?” Lynch turns to examine the fireplace.

“There must be a crack somewhere, and the rain is getting in.”

In the silence, I regret mentioning the chimney. The water damage to the wall looks terrible. Lynch checks his watch again.

“You can’t skimp when it comes to chimney repairs,” he says.

He stands up and takes his cup into the kitchen. I hear him pour the coffee into the sink, turn on the tap, and rinse the cup.

“I’m off,” he says. “Got things to do.”

In the hallway, he pulls impatiently at the front door to get it open. When I go out, he’s at the gate.

“Remember what I said.” He looks up the road. “Get back to Kirwan, clear it up before Christmas.”

He’s gone before I can say anything, striding up the road—righteous Jimmy Lynch. I go back into the kitchen. The cup is upturned on the draining board, splashes of coffee on the sides of the sink. I put on my coat and scarf, and wait until enough time has passed and I’m unlikely to run into him.

Out I go into the bleak December drizzle, through the park and down to the sea. Lynch said I was on the offensive, and that wasn’t acceptable to him. I’m to seek forgiveness. Kirwan snaps his fingers, and Lynch jumps to attention, telling me what I should or shouldn’t do. He needs to get his own house in order before passing judgement on others. Start by showing his wife some understanding, instead of complaining about her whining and passing the problem on to some counsellor. Lynch is a nasty piece of work.

The path along the seafront is quiet, just the regulars; old guys in waterproofs. I nod to one dog walker I half-know. I go as far as the diving tower, climb the steps, and breathe the wet Atlantic air. The drizzle turns into a downpour. I take a woolly cap from my pocket and pull it over my head. It’s time to head back.

The hangover shows no sign of lifting. I’m mired in discontent, my brain oozing rottenness. We all have our issues, according to Lynch. Maybe I should tell him what Kirwan has been saying about Maura. Let him know the sort of person he’s kowtowing to, see what he makes of that—see if he still thinks Kirwan’s all right.

I go past the Stroll Inn, too sick to stomach more drink. When I get home, I’ll tidy up. Tomorrow, I’ll see about getting someone in to fix the chimney.

Lynch should never have come. He has no right sticking his nose in, playing the mediator as though he’s above it all. If he gets in touch over Christmas, I’ll put him off. I’m finished with Lynch.

I wait at a traffic light as the cars whoosh by, spraying dirty water. It might be wise to send Kirwan a text, let him know I was out of sorts, and looking for someone to vent on. Leave it at that, not an apology as such. There’s no point making enemies with Kirwan.