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First Prize
$1,000 Award


by Xavier McCaffrey


I squint, unable to make out the figure at the bar. But only one person has ever called me Paddy.

“Mrs. O’Connell?”

“What’s left of her. Come here to me, boy.”

She leaps up and grabs me.

“Let me look at you. The big doctor man has returned. Don’t just stand there, Bobo, give him a beer.”

“No, no,” I say, stepping back. “I just came in for . . . change.”

“Nonsense. A Budweiser and a Jameson for us both.”

“Who’s paying?” Bobo wants to know.

“I’ll get it,” I say.

“It’s on the doctor, sure.”

“I’m not a doctor. I just finished my first year of med school.”

“Then let’s celebrate so.”

“Tab?” Bobo asks when he’s slid the beer and shots in front of us. I shake my head.

“Ah, go on. Run a wee tab.”

“I only have time for a quick one.”

“Then cheers, big ears!”


We knock back our shots.

“That’s grand. You’ll have a beer or two with your old friend, sure you will.”

“I really can’t, Mrs. O.”

“You can, of course. Bobo, two more shots and a wee pitcher of Light.”

After a few more sips, she says, “So, are you shocked altogether at the state of me?”

“Of course not.”

But I am. The woman beside me looks like the wizened, deranged grandmother of the Mrs. O I hold in my head. But the most striking change is the Lucky Charms leprechaun way she’s speaking. When I was a kid, she did all she could to hide her Irishness. Except, to my chagrin, calling me Paddy.

“How’s Tom?” I ask. “Is he still . . . in that band?”

“Oh aye. Sure, Bobo buys his drugs from my Tommy, don’t you, love?”

“You know I’m clean,” Bobo says.

“Then here’s to a better man than us.”

I clink her mug. A few more swigs and I’ll be out of here.

“You and Tommy were always the great friends, weren’t ye?”

“I guess we’ve lost touch. How’s Mr. O’Connell?”

“I’m a single girl again, Paddy,” she says, waving the back of her ringless left hand. “So go ahead and buy us a drink. Bobo! Two more Jamesons!”

I refill Mrs. O’s mug and then, reluctantly, my own. We down our new shots.

“Well, now that you’ve got me menfolk out of the way,” she says, digging in her sweatpant pockets, “it’s Eileen you’ll be wanting to hear about. Have a gander.”

From a zebra-striped wallet, she withdraws a small picture.

“Cute,” I say and hand it back.

“Jack and Jill, would you believe she called them? Her husband’s a lawyer. They live in Potomac.”

“Not on a hill, I hope.”

“Funny boy. Still carrying the torch?”


“Ah well, ’tis all whiskey under the bridge, am I right? Come here to me, doctor, I want to show you something.”

She thrusts her right arm out on the slick bar, sending a mug spinning. I steady it, then grip her wrist and push up her overcoat sleeve. A gash runs across her lower arm, scabbing at the edges, with grime and pebbles still clinging to the moist inner wound.

“You should get this cleaned and bandaged right away,” I say. “I have a first aid kit out in my car. You wait here. I’ll be right back.”

“I will, love.”

Dizzy from the whiskey and the afternoon glare, I need two tries to get my key in the ignition. Before I can reach the seatbelt strap, Mrs. O is pounding on the window, her hands smudging the glass with brown splotches.

“I know what you and Tommy did in the basement!” she screams, her voice slightly muffled.

She clutches at the door handle and the door cracks open. I yank it back shut and hit the lock button. As she totters for balance, I put the car in reverse, back out and get it pointed towards the parking lot exit. She jumps in front of me, bangs on the hood.

“And as for you and Eileen—“

I lean on my horn, and she staggers backwards. I wrench the wheel sideways and veer around her, off a curb and into the street. Soon her screams are out of earshot. But oh how she would cackle to know I’ve just quit med school and come back home. To the past that tricked me into leaving in the first place, when it too is rife with mystifying ailments I can never bring myself to treat.


Xavier McCaffrey is a writer living in Chicago. He is the winner of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Short Story Prize, and his work has appeared in places including Antietam Review, Potomac Review and

November 2011