The Secret Life of Jonny Hayes

Gavin O'Hea is a new writer from Glasgow. His story 'An Introduction to The Hovkaander' was long-listed for the 2020 Galley Beggar Prize, and he's currently piecing together a short story collection that he hopes to publish in the future. You can find him on Twitter @gavin_ohea

When he first arrives from Aberdeen during the summer transfer window of 2017, Jonny Hayes tells the press that Celtic is his boyhood club and he’s ready to do whatever it takes to secure his place in the squad. He scores once that season, against his old club, when a lucky ricochet from a Scott Sinclair cross falls to his feet in the six-yard box. Sinclair, the previous season’s Player of the Year, chooses to celebrate with Kristoffer Ajer instead of Jonny.

Jonny plays thirty-two games under Brendan Rodgers before the manager leaves Celtic for Leicester City, seduced by the promise of English glory. The Celtic job goes to Neil Lennon, another Ulsterman, who introduces himself in the changing rooms at Lennoxtown and shakes Jonny’s hand. Lennon doesn’t even realise his mistake, but Jonny knows. Jonny remembers that handshake from his Dublin childhood, a different hand in a different place and time, but with the same cold thumb clamped down on his third knuckle like a leech. Someone else might mistake it for the handshake of an Orangeman or a Freemason, but Johnny knows better.

It’s three weeks before Jonny tells Neil Lennon that he knows his secret. Lennon pulls him aside at half-time during an Old Firm game at Celtic Park to tell him that Scott Sinclair will be his replacement for the second half. Jonny asks that Lennon play somebody else, anyone but Sinclair, but Lennon doesn’t listen. At the end of the game, Jonny leans in close and whispers ‘I know what you’re hiding, Neil.’

In May Marian Shved arrives at Celtic. He’s younger than Jonny, and faster, and he’s fresh from of a promising season in the Ukrainian Premier League. Jonny reminds Lennon of their arrangement. Journalists are sniffing for blood, and to sweeten the deal, Lennon promises Jonny that the club will drop Scott Sinclair to the reserves. Between July 2019 and February 2020 Marian Shved plays only thrice, and in the January transfer window a desperate and forgotten Scott Sinclair quietly joins Preston North End. Jonny Hayes makes twenty-three appearances for Celtic at both left back and left wing, and he even replaces James Forrest at right wing in a cup tie away to Clyde.

In September Jonny finds himself with a breakaway chance against Rangers. Allan McGregor saves the first shot, but the ball lands again at Jonny’s feet for a second attempt, and he slots it home. Olivier Ntcham holds him aloft in celebration, the crowd erupts, and as the referee resets the ball Jonny meets the gaze of Neil Lennon, who smiles anxiously from the dugout.

Seagulls call. Jonny walks home from afterschool practice along the bank of the Liffey. He wears his ’94 away shirt with the green and black vertical stripes and tugs with his thumbs at the straps of his drawstring bag. Down by the water, in the shade of a footbridge, stands a man in a blue hoodie who lays a bundle of cloth on the ground. He looks up at Jonny. Under his hood he has black eyes and white hair. Jonny approaches, and the man offers a handshake. On the back of his hand is tattooed the portrait of a long-faced woman with antlers. They branch from her forehead and follow the length of each of the man’s fingers like roots. The man presses an antlered thumb down on Jonny’s third knuckle, and of a sudden Jonny recognises the woman in the tattoo but is afraid to remember from where. The memory is so ancient that it gives him vertigo.

The bundle of cloth starts to burble and the man picks it up. It’s a baby girl, Jonny realises, with red hair and soft blue eyes and a nose gone pink in the cold. The man rocks her and whispers to her in a strange language until she goes quiet. Then he places her in the river and lets her dissolve beneath the surface like a sugar cube. ●

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