Carphone, 1992 by Orla McAlinden

‘Carphone, 1992′

by Orla McAlinden


Californian desert scenery flashed past Rory’s windscreen.  Sun-baked agaves and aloe vera shimmered in the slight, cooling breeze.  Of all the things he loved most about his job, his new life and his adopted home, the weather ranked in the top three.

God! He had been so right to leave Ireland.  What a dump. What a hell hole. The unspeakable, dour misery of trudging into County Tyrone’s sullen rain; head slumped low, scarcely visible between his shoulders.   His taciturn father, walking ahead on the dung-spattered path behind the dairy cows; damp soaking through the shoulders of his jacket and dripping, chilly, inside his boots.  Then the hostile, disappointed silence inside the milking parlour, punctuated with infrequent, weary complaints;

“Fuck sake Rory, are ye blind, can you not see she has mastitis?  The whole fuckin’ tank contaminated! Jesus Christ, what did I do to be cursed with such a useless shower of bastards?”

Rory might just possibly have survived as a farmer here- in this land of eternal sunshine, but at home? Never.

He had bounded onto the plane, parting from his parents at the security gate with indecent haste.  They had not been unduly upset.  Both had lost brothers to emigration, in the days when decades separated return visits; the wealthy “Yanks” coming home rarely, to cause upset and resentment among their kin.  No, his parents were happy to boast of their son’s well-paid new job and they knew that, these days, Rory could return often for visits.  And he did.  He was proud of that.  He never let three months elapse without fitting in a fleeting visit to Tyrone, en route to London, Berlin or Paris.  He did not enter the shit-smelling parlour on these visits, his slick suits and expensive watch marked him out as above all that now.

“God, this is the life!”

Rory smirked, stroking the walnut dashboard of the speeding car.  He’d been assigned a sales trip round the rural hinterland of Los Angeles, showing his brochures and scheduling demonstrations for likely purchasers of commercial plant and machinery.  Normally, he flew between sales meetings.  This month, however, his secretary had spent several terse days, inventing an itinerary which justified the hiring of a luxury sedan and a week’s driving.  The economics of the trip were flying just under the radar of his company’s stringent expense-account rules.

“What a car!  What a fuckin’ machine!”

He had never seen or driven anything like it before.  A year ago he had been wildly impressed by simple air-conditioning- now he couldn’t imagine life without it.  This sleek, purring, executive sedan held an, as yet unimagined, toy for him.  It rested invitingly in his right hand; as large as the sods of turf his parents burnt in the huge, old stove at home.  A complicated tangle of cables trailed back to a shoe-box sized apparatus nestled snugly between the front seats.

“A carphone! A fucking, honest-to-God carphone!” here within his reach.  “God bless America.”

He was Jim Crockett from Miami Vice.  He knew he would impress the ladies, in whichever hick town he slept and drank in tonight.  They were such slappers here, these pumped-up American girls, giving away for free what any man would happily pay for.  Last night in Fresno he had just offered the best-looking girl in the bar a lift back to her place.

“An expense account, a carphone and an Irish accent, that’s all it took”, he’d thought, as he flung her long, tanned thighs over his shoulders.

“By the end of the week, I’ll be talking like Darby O’Gill and walking like John Wayne.”

A smug, self-satisfied grin played on his lips, as he thought about picking up a random girl back home in Omagh.  It just wouldn’t happen.  Irish girls needed to know your name, your school, your sister’s best friend’s brother, all that shit.  In his twenty years at home, he had never made it past a “court”- a snog and a fumble- what they called here “second base”.  Casual, confident sex was an important American skill that he had sucked up like a lush malt milkshake.  It ranked second on his list, between the weather and the money.

“To Hell with it.”  He would phone someone in Ireland.  The cost would be astronomical, but it would be worth it.  Just to mention, ever so casually, his phone and his 100% sure-fire, babe-magnet car.  If Rita, back in L.A., couldn’t find some way to hide the cost of the call among his expenses, he’d just have to pay it himself. It’d be worth it.

A vision of the phone at home in the farmhouse flashed across his mind.  It sat smugly on a faux-mahogany table, tethered tight to the wall, right in the front hall.  It was within earshot of every room downstairs and particularly close to his sexless, rigid, rosarybead-worrying mother, in the bustling kitchen.  Doors swung open constantly into the hall; labourers, delivery men, bulk-milk-tank drivers, there was no privacy at all.  That phone was suitable for only the most chaste of conversations between a teenaged, tightly-trousered Rory and his camogie-playing girlfriend- a card-carrying member of the Legion of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Not that a conversation of any other nature had ever realistically been on the cards, not with her.

He would not waste the extravagant call on his parents.  He phoned weekly; Sunday was only three days hence.  He would call one of the lads.  He quickly calculated the time difference.  It must be someone who was guaranteed to be free to take the call, but also sure to go out later, to embellish the story to their mutual friends.  It must be someone who would not neglect to mention the call- through jealousy, or to bring Rory down a peg or two.  It must be an open-spirited fellow, one who would be glad of a friend’s success and who (crucially) would not fail to dwell upon Rory’s opportunities for effortless sexual conquest, afforded to him by this cruise-ship on wheels.

Slowing down slightly (the road was empty for miles) he punched in the lengthy number.  The connection took but seconds.  Really, it was astounding- a direct transatlantic call from a moving vehicle. The ringtone was tinny and small in the receiver, but distinct.

“Pick up the phone, pick up the phone” he muttered until his old school-friend Mickey answered.  The guttural, bog-country accent grated on Rory’s ear.  Mickey sounded so coarse, and dull, compared to the bright, nasal Californians he now dealt with daily.

‘Did I ever sound like that?’  he wondered, ‘So gauche, so slow?’

“Mickey lad, how the hell are ya?  It’s Rory here.  You’re never going to believe where I’m calling from!”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!  Rory, it’s good to hear your voice!  Thanks for ringing.”

In retrospect, that was a strange greeting.  Mickey’s voice seemed to thicken further, to blur with some suppressed emotion.  Was he crying?

“Listen, boy. I’m so sorry to hear about your ma.  I saw her at Mass on Sunday.  I just can’t believe it.”

Rory slammed his foot on the brake, swinging the car over to the dusty shoulder.  Hot, shaming tears sprang up, taking him by surprise, behind his Aviator shades.  It had happened.  No, it could not have happened! The call every emigrant dreads, and refuses to prepare for.

His mother was only fifty-eight years old, for God’s sake.

He had been on the road two days already, plucking up courage to use his shiny new phone.  How long, and how desperately, had his family been seeking him?  How many calls had they fruitlessly placed to his apartment, his office, his pub?  The funeral arrangements would be made already.  Was everyone waiting for him?  Why the hell had the office not tracked him down?  Would they understand the speed of an Irish funeral- just three days after the death- and the essential nature of his presence at the wake in the farmhouse?

By now Auntie Maura would have bedecked the place in white linen, carefully folded and draped.  The clocks would have stopped.  Neighbour men would be finding their way around the unfamiliar milking machine, things would go amiss, the cows always suffered from the ministration of strangers.

He was needed to shoulder the coffin, he would be ‘first lift’, with his Da and his two teenage brothers.  Was it possible that a mother’s death would not warrant a few days off work, in this career obsessed society?

“Oh my God, Mickey”.  He was fighting for breath.  “What happened? Is she really dead?  Phone my Da, tell him I’ll be straight home.  I’ll be home tomorrow.”

His friend started to weep on the other end of the satellite connection- long, sobbing breaths.  He was incoherent.   Eventually he choked out some words, between what Rory suddenly recognised as guffaws of hearty laughter.

“Fuck sake, will y’ catch yerself on, Rory!  Who told you yer Ma was dead?  I sure as hell didn’t!”  He paused for dramatic effect.

“She’s not dead, y’ feckin’ eegit.  She ran off last night with Paddy Buckley, from the accounts department at Cookstown Sausages!   They’ve been at it for years, apparently.  I wouldn’t have thought she had it in her.  Like mother, like son, I suppose!”


Did you like the story? Opinions? Praise? Please leave a comment below



Orla McAlindenOrla McAlinden is a new writer, approaching middle age and taking stock of life. Born in Northern Ireland at the height of the ‘Troubles’, she moved, alone, to Dublin aged eighteen. There she witnessed the unexpected birth, short, dazzling life and sudden, horrifying demise of the Celtic Tiger. She lives in Kildare with her husband and four young children. Having now spent more than half her life in the Republic of Ireland, she admits to being still a Northern girl at heart, with all the complications and contradictions that entails. Her work is deeply rooted in that beautiful, difficult place.

She has no experience, or training, in writing, but words started to pour out after the recent death of her father. Her short memoir, “The Jarvey and the GI’s” appeared in The Chatahoochee Review’s special Irish Literature edition in Jan 2013. She submits to the Mining Memories section of A short memoir “Control zone”, an abridged extract from her unpublished book “Union Jacks and Rosary Beads. Growing up Catholic in Portadown.” won second prize in the Valhalla Press short prose competition and another, “Drumming our way to the future” will be included as highly commended in this year’s Fish anthology. She believes that Northern Ireland’s story of conflict and gradual, on-going resolution has universal import and appeal. She tweets at @orlamcawrites

Blossom Road

Blossom Road

Photo by Liv Lansdale
Liv Lansdale is a twenty-year-old intern at Gotham Writers’ Workshop. She has edited a few literary magazines and interned at Baltimore’s City Lit Press, and is currently a double major (creative writing and sustainable development) at Columbia University.  Her poetry has appeared in PANK, The Broadkill Review, Poetry Super Highway, Nostrovia, The Poydras Review, Inclement, and The St. Sebastian Review.

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21 Responses to Carphone, 1992 by Orla McAlinden

  1. This story is a great achievement.

  2. Orla, you did a fine job of pulling me into Rory’s world. He’s a regular bastard and a regular guy and I feel like I know him. I really like the double twist at the end. Fine story.

  3. Orla McAlinden

    thanks guys, I find myself constantly stunned when I read the bios of the other writers in the journals and magazines which accept my work, and I ask myself “Who are you kidding, you don’t belong here!”. it’s great to get your kind words. Thanks. Orla

  4. Orla McAlinden

    PS Professor Weddle, your Bio is particularly scary! Housewives of the world, lock up your laptops, and consign Rory to the dust of the Californian desert! LOL. Orla

  5. Orla, I suspect I’m the least scary person you could ever meet, the incidentals of my bio notwithstanding. We’re all on the same footing here. I remain delighted and amazed whenever something of mine is published, and that’s God’s truth. I’m proud to be in Roadside Fiction with you and the rest of the authors in this issue. It’s a talented bunch, and an awful shame that the whole crew can’t sit down over a few pitchers and tell lies. That would be fun.

    • Roadside

      Jeff, what a great idea! I would love to sit down with all the writers from this issue and chat over a bottle of wine or better a few pints of good Guinness in a quaint Dublin pub.

      • It would be a night to remember. What a group you’ve assembled. If everyone can drink as well as they write, Dublin would be in some serious trouble.

  6. Orla McAlinden

    wow, that would be fun, alright! I think it is your bounden duty to fly over to Ireland during the summer and I will host the gathering! Pitchers aplenty! Orla

  7. Wouldn’t that rock! ;-)

  8. garreth keating

    The second twist is just fabulous. that’s a wonderful ending. I think if you can write fiction like that nobody will be paying any attention to the bio!

  9. Orla McAlinden

    thanks gareth, what a lovely thought. Maybe it’s just my inferiority and inexperience that makes me read the bios so carefully. I study them in wonder and I really consider lying in mine, to make me sound more impressive!!

  10. Sara Stefanini

    I love this ending. When you live far from home, that fear of having to rush back is constantly lurking, and you describe that beautifully. But I especially love the voice in this story – I can hear a young Irish country boy speaking throughout.

  11. Just got around to reading your story Orla. Really enjoyed it too – Rory got what was coming to him I reckon!

  12. Dear Orla, I presently live in the California Desert and came from the North of England. Believe me when we saw our first refrigerator in somebody’s kitchen and the same having their own phone our credulity was also tested. I agree with you when I see the resumes of some of these published authors I think what the hell am I doing in this brilliant crowd. Nevertheless, I wrote one book, Deadly Pleasures. You can see it at A bit risque for a Convent Girl. Hugs, Mary Firmin

  13. Loved it. Real Irish father figure too, can’t help but roar and shout.

  14. Orla McAlinden

    wow, I have been taking a few days off with the kids and am delighted to see all these messages. I will make a point of saying a few words about any piece that grabs me in future, now that I know how important they can be. today, despite the sunshine, I hid away for a few hours and a 16 year old Rory sat his O level exams in sacred heart college, omagh. he did pretty well too.
    maybe roadside will publish it for me in a while, when I work the kinks out of it?

  15. As a Scottish exile this story really caught me, nowhere so much as the twist. Well done!

  16. Karen Brown

    Not sure why this was written.

    • Roadside

      Does a writer need a reason?!

  17. Sarah Ann Connolly Dejaco

    Loved it a real Irish story.Why do Irish or decendents always have this when happy a feeling, something could go wrong.They are almost on tenderhooks waiting for it to happen,as if someone is paying them back for being on top of the world.

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