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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

The Ponzi Man

Hachette Books Ireland


From Chapter 1

I like to tell this story because it is true. The place next to this bar used to be a chip shop, run by an Italian man called Masarella. He had a wife and two sons called Anthony and Paolo, who were about the same age as me, five or six. I don't remember much about the two boys, except that I was playing with them one day on the path along the promenade when a car came up the main street and Anthony ran out in front of it, chasing a ball.

I knew he was going to die. I had a moment of terror, made absolute by the fact that I had kicked the ball he was chasing, too excited by the game to look where he was going. He had run out in front of the car so quickly that it couldn't possibly swerve to avoid him; it was obvious that it was going to hit him.

But it didn't hit him.

I am sitting here now, taking a slow drink of Guinness, in this bar called Cooney's - it is still called Cooney's. And I am still feeling some of the terror after all this time. The car slowed down and moved on, and there was Anthony, still alive. Not only was he not dead, he seemed hardly to have noticed what had happened. He just wanted to get on with the game of ball.

He would not have told his mother or father about it, and neither would the younger brother, Paolo, because I got the impression that his father had this intensity about him, as he worked away shovelling the chips into bags, taking in the money, getting it done. A hard-working, serious man, it seemed, a man who could get very angry.

So he almost certainly never knew how lucky Anthony had been, how lucky he himself had been that he hadn't lost Anthony that day. And not knowing about all that was probably a good thing for him, in a lot of ways.

Because about six months later, when I came back to this place for another summer, Masarella's chipper was gone. I heard my mother and father talking about it, how it turned out that the little Italian had been a bastard for poker. And how, one night on the far side of the town, in some all-night game, he had lost his business.

Again, that feeling of fear comes back to me. Though I was so young, still I was able to understand that something really terrible had happened. That a man who seemed to have such command over the forces of life had somehow let himself be destroyed by other men, due to some weakness inside him.

I did not know at the time that I would experience that fear for myself, way down the line. Sometimes it is good not to know things.

Because if Mr Masarella had eventually found out what had happened to Anthony that day, as a like-minded individual I can imagine him working it out something like this: yes, he had lost his livelihood in a game of cards. He had put himself and his family through a terrible thing but they were still with him. He had stopped gambling and they had moved to another town, where he started another chip shop, and it was doing well. He had even hardened himself against the desire to gamble, so convinced was he that he had no luck in that area, that the gods despised him.

But if he had learned somehow what had happened to Anthony, or what had not happened to Anthony, he would have realised that, in a certain way, he was actually a very lucky man. That the gods may have abandoned him at the poker table, but they had made up for it in such a beautiful way, with Anthony, that it might be time to look again at these matters of fate and fortune. To have another cut at it.

So I like to think that he never knew about that car missing his son, never knew about maybe the best thing that ever happened to him.