“This is the biggest racing event this side of the Carrowniskey river, you know.”
I sipped the pint and pushed it into my jacket, protecting it against the wind and sand and sea spray. I processed Kieran’s words as he watched another line of dark spots grow into small horses and then into big horses. There was sand in my left eye. “Are there other racing events this side of the Carrowniskey river?”
Kieran shivered and I watched him try and get a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket with stiff fingers. Summer in Ireland was when the rain became slightly warmer. That didn’t hold true for the west coast.
“No,” he said at last. “That’s the Carrowniskey river there, and there’s really nothing else this side of it.”
He turned a sunglasses-clad head and thrust his pint at me. I tried to get both hands inside my jacket for warmth, but the drinks were even colder than the wind.
Kieran walked down the stones away from the beach. “I’m going to get beer. You watch our place. It’s in high demand.”
I watched the horses thunder past where I stood with the crowd on the rocks and decided this was the worst lads’ holiday idea ever. The others had disappeared. I looked around, but all I could see were adults wearing thick-soled boots and caps and Regatta jackets, and kids with damp candy floss and tall ice-creams.
Kieran came tramping back in his yellow Converse shoes and skinny chinos. “Drink up,” he said. “Quick. These’re freezing the fucking hands off me.”
I downed what was left of my cup and put it on the ground and returned his. He handed me a fresh one. It was cold, frosted.
He shoved his hands into his jacket pocket and pulled out two dockets. “Here,” he said, handing me one. “I put down two bets on Lightning Bolt. Twenty quid.”
“Which one is Lightning Bolt?”
“No idea. Here they come now, though.”
The horses were led into a small ring where the jockeys mounted and people could judge where to leave their money. I squinted at the leaflet with the horse, jockey and owner names, and the corresponding numbers. I glanced three times to be sure I was right.
“It’s that tiny one there,” I said.
Kieran looked offended. “No, it’s not.”
“Number eight. It is.”
“That’s a pony.”
“Why the fuck is there a pony racing against all those?”
“Why did you put money on it?”
“I didn’t know it was a fucking pony, did I?”
He was upset. I watched the jockey mount our Lightning Bolt, brown with four white socks, small but full of a restless energy. Kieran got upset easily since June. Local men and women eyed the horses and headed for the bookies, who roared and shouted, spittle flying in their fervour and excitement for the day’s gaming. My eye was really starting to hurt.
“Come on,” I said. “Let’s head for the shore. They’ll be starting soon.”
We stood right up at the front, tripping and spilling most of our pints on the way down and nearly stepping on a dog with three legs and a lacey collar. The barriers were cold, our hands sticking to the steel.
“Look,” said Kieran. “She’s already behind, and they haven’t even got to the starting mark.”
“She’s saving her energy.”
It was a 1.5km race and the starting mark was way down the far end of the beach. Kieran was shaking and he’d put the sunglasses back on. I thought about the kind of friendship where I could put a hand on his arm and comfort him.
The speakers through which the commentator’s voice emerged crackled and broke into little pieces in the sea air. The crowd judged the races on excitement rather than any distinguishable words.
“They’ve started,” I said.
He said nothing, his gaze fixed on the little brown and black specks. The commentator spoke a mile a minute. The crowd grew agitated and animated.
“Here they come.”
“She hasn’t a hope,” he said, his voice devastated.
A woman behind us suddenly shouted, “Here she comes! Katie is in fourth; John, would you look!”
She had good eyes. I examined the leaflet with one eye. Lightning Bolt. Jockey: Katie McNally.
Kieran suddenly lurched at the barrier. “Jesus Christ, that’s our horse.”
And so it was. Number eight. Her legs were shorter than any horse there but she was a little brown and white flash as she moved into third place, past a big black gelding.
“Fuck, Nate! That’s our horse.” Kieran thrust a fist into the air, the fist with the pint. We were showered with booze. “Come on, Lightning Bolt! Come on!”
The locals cheered at his endorsement. She was a local girl, then.
Kieran turned to me, his sunglasses slipping off and his eyes wild beneath them. “She wants it, Nate. She wants it more than any of them. She wants it so bad she’ll tear up that beach to take it.”
Even as he was talking, she slipped into second place. He let out a wordless whoop. His excitement was infectious.
“That’s it, Lightning Bolt!” I heard myself scream. She would do it. She was so close to taking it that I could taste it.
And just like that, the black gelding slipped past her. The crowd groans their dismay, the commentator shouts, and just like that, the race ended.
Kieran stood pressed against the barrier.
I tried to put a positive spin on it. “She came third. We nearly made a few quid.”
“Did you see that?” he asked, and there was a strange look on his face.
“Have you ever wanted anything that badly?”
I considered it. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“I have,” he said, smiling suddenly. “I think I have.”
Behind us, the woman wept with pride for her triumphant daughter. She was flying, John. Our girl was flying.
Luke Power is a writer living and studying in Galway, on the west coast of Ireland. His work has appeared and is forthcoming in ROPES, Sonder, The Ogham Stone, Dodging the Rain, Perhappened, and Vox Galvia.