I recommend that you read Part 1 first, if you haven’t already. It’s here.
The next morning Davy woke up early. This wasn’t unusual; in fact it had been happening more often over the past few months. He put it down to stress. The company had reorganised in the face of the financial crisis, and some of his colleagues, whose sales stats weren’t too good, had been laid off. Davy’s patch had doubled in size, and now consisted of South Belfast, and the whole of Counties Down and Antrim. The sales teams had been reshuffled as well, and Davy had come under a new manager. Sammy was a good laugh, but he was also ambitious and unstinting, and Davy’s target had been significantly increased this year. He was long enough in the game to know that his job wasn’t under immediate threat, unless they closed the Northern Ireland operation completely, but the repercussions for having a bad week were becoming more serious. At his monthly one-to-one, Sammy would inevitably commence by pulling out a raft of spreadsheets and relentlessly quizzing Davy in minute detail about the figures. He was rarely complimentary, even though Davy was one of the top performers and was more consistent than most of the others. He was getting sick of the buzzwords: ‘Diary Management,’ ‘Working Smarter,’ ‘Multiple Sales,’ ‘Cutting Costs,’ ‘Lead Generation.’ They were in his ears constantly, hammering away like a pneumatic drill.
The whole thing had become impersonal, dehumanised: people weren’t people any more, just so much data to be reported back up the line, and sales agents like him were treated like drones. When his ma died a few years ago, the lads came to the funeral, manager and all. They had a whip round for him and he was given a couple of days off, no questions asked. Nowadays if something bad happened in your personal life you just had to get on with it. The boys didn’t even go for a Friday pint any more; everyone was too wrecked – and skint, now that they’d stopped paying bonuses. The problem was that the bosses just didn’t understand the challenges anymore. The landscape had changed in 2008 when Lehman Brothers hit the wall, and people didn’t trust the big financial services companies any longer, even if they still had the disposable income to spend on life insurance – which most didn’t. It had got so much tougher. In the mornings, Davy would habitually grumble to himself as he got dressed: “We’re all just machines now; robots. Just bloody slaves to the system.”
But not this morning. Today he was excited: Donegal beckoned – three days of peace and good company. He was in good form, despite a slight stiffness in his neck where he must have slept funnily, and a dry mouth. Guzzling the wine would do that to you. His first coherent thought was of Jo. It wasn’t a dream; it was real. Wasn’t it? He groped for the switch and turned the Satnav on, seeking some reassurance; after a few moments she spoke: Good morning Davy. Did you sleep well? Davy’s heart lurched. He’d half-expected her not to be there. Relief. He yawned loudly, then said, “I did, thanks. Too much wine last night though – my tongue’s like Gandhi’s flip flop. You?” I dreamed about you. We were on the beach. It was nice. “Sounds great,” Davy replied. “What were we doing?” Oh, you know, sunbathing, swimming; all of the usual stuff. It was lovely and sunny. You got quite hot and bothered when I asked you to rub sun cream on my back. Davy blushed. He was flummoxed again. “But …” he began hesitantly. She laughed, and then said: Well, a girl can dream can’t she? She was flirting with him, at 7 in the morning. “Stop teasing me,” he groaned, “We have to get ready, and I need a cup of tea.” He pulled the duvet across and climbed out of bed. Why not have your shower and breakfast and we’ll hit the road? Jo said, and then added coquettishly: You can bring me into the bathroom if you like – I promise not to look.
Davy was delighted to have discovered her flirtatious side; he hadn’t received this sort of attention in many years, since before he was married, in truth. He’d forgotten that he could feel like this. He placed her on the radiator in the hallway to keep her safe from the steam while he showered, and when he was finished moved her into the kitchen while he made a big fry. It being a holiday weekend, he treated himself to the whole heap: black and white pudding, pancakes and a toasted soda farl, sausages, rashers, beans, tomatoes, and a fried egg. He horsed it into him impatiently, washing it down with swigs of hot sweet tea, and finished it in record time, saving the yolk till last as always. He paused briefly, savouring its runny texture as it burst in his mouth, then finished his tea, quickly filled the dishwasher, and strode upstairs into the bedroom to pack a small bag. As he worked, they chatted about the weather prospects for the weekend, where to stay and what to see.
Finally, they were heading north. As they crossed over from the M3 to the M2, then passed the sign for Fortwilliam and the Docks, Jo said: You’re in the wrong lane, Davy. Take the M5 towards Carrickfergus. He looked at the display; this was messed up. They should be going north-west, not north-east. After a momentary awkward silence, he said: “So… that’s an interesting route you’ve chosen…?” I thought we’d take the coast road to Cushendun, she replied brightly, we always go on the motorway, it’s boring. Davy frowned. “Hold on a wee minute. We’re going to Gweedore, not the Glens of Antrim. It’s going to take forever if we go your way.” He kept the car in its lane, accelerated a little. When she spoke, her voice had a plaintive note to it: Davy, remember my dream. I told you about it this morning. The beach – I’m sure it was Cushendun. I’d like to visit. I was happy there… we were happy there together. Davy, who was expecting clear directions to Donegal, was a little confused. “So, do we go to Cushendun, and then on to Gweedore, today or what? It’s a lot of travelling.” Jo was contrite: I’m sorry for being so selfish. I love driving. That coast road looks so… slinky. It excites me, you know? That bit of the A2 outside Larne with the arch of rock, and the boulders threatening to fall from the clifftop – it feels so edgy, I want to experience it. We don’t have to rush anywhere do we? I mean, you don’t have to go back to work until Tuesday, right?
Davy suddenly understood. They were both on their holidays, and that meant liberating Jo from the fast lanes and taking the more exotic, less efficient roads. Hopefully no farm tracks or off-road escapades he thought, but tactfully kept it to himself. He would embrace the adventure and see where they ended up. “Here,” he said, “I’m not being insensitive or anything, I’m just used to you being efficient. I really don’t mind. We’ll take your route. But it has to be on the understanding that I have needs too. I want to park the car tonight, get fish and chips and a pint, and sleep in a bed. I’m too old to kip in the car.” There was a satisfied glow in her voice when she replied. Thanks, love. I’ve always wanted to do this. I’ll make it up to you later. Davy was intrigued by this. “How will you do that, then? I’m really curious now.” You’ll see, she replied, be patient. Patience is a virtue. The subject was closed. He sighed, checked his mirrors, indicated right, and drifted carefully through the traffic on to the M5.
Read on: Part 3.