Kite

 

It comes on slowly, gently at first.

Afters years and years, after fears

And arrears and tears.

 

It comes on slowly.

And on a day like any other,

The wind arrives.

 

And the kite is airborne.

In the Supermarket

In the supermarket

I purchased a pound of laughter

when the checkout girl hollered

over the PA for a price-check on

“asshole customers”

 

In the supermarket

I purchased a kilo of Schadenfreude

when I witnessed asshole customer

fall over as he complained to the

checkout girl

 

In the supermarket

I purchased a tub of anxiety

when I noticed standing on the frozen

foods aisle the lunatic I’d partied with two

nights earlier

 

In the supermarket

I purchased two tins of dejection

when I reached into my pocket

and found that all I had to spend was

seventeen bucks

 

In the supermarket

I purchased a punnet of pessimism

when I thought about the jobs

I’d recently applied for online

and in-store

 

In the supermarket

I purchased a five gallon barrel of regret

when I remembered my father’s eyes

the last time we spoke

in person

 

In the supermarket

I purchased three packs of empathy

when I witnessed the bawling kid

being pulled along by his

drug-fuelled mother

 

In the supermarket

I purchased a bag of loneliness

as I considered the apartment

and the town that I needed

to escape

 

In the supermarket

I stole two Mars bars, a bag of mixed nuts, a 500ml bottle of Coke and a pack of condoms.

A few bright spots

Even before we’re born, we’re waiting.

We wait.

We wait for tit. We wait for teeth. We wait for trains, for planes, for buses. We wait for girlfriends, and for boyfriends. Sometimes we wait for best friends. We wait for our food to cook, or to be prepared for us. We wait for it to be served, to be reheated. We wait for bowel movements. We wait for the clock to strike the time we’re willing it to strike so we can get home. We wait for the traffic to clear. We wait for the next instalment. We wait for appointments. We wait for elevators. We wait for love to lift us. We wait, worriedly, for menstruation. We wait for bells, and we wait for infant cries after forty weeks. We wait for our children to arrive home. We wait for happiness. We wait for a kiss. We wait for tears to dry. We wait for wars to end. We wait for change. We wait for life. We wait for death.

We wait in waiting rooms.

I wait in a waiting room.

Now.

And next to me is Jeremy.

Jeremy is also waiting.

I’m seated so that my back is as vertical as possible. Recently I’ve been very conscious of my posture. My girlfriend says that I walk with a hunch, as if the weight of the world is on my shoulders, and that when I sit I slouch like I’m eager to slide to the floor and sleep. These two habits, I’m told, are indicative of indiscipline, and a lack of strength in character.

Another thing I’ve been very conscious of is my bowel movements. I guess we’re all conscious of them, in some way, but I’ve been especially aware as of late.

For some, a trip to the toilet is a highlight of the day.  For instance, Jeremy here cherishes his toilet breaks as if they were his only source of happiness: ‘What’s not ta love about ‘em? Fifteen, twenty minits to spend lookin’ at Facebook, or scrollin’ through a Tumblr page dedicated to crackin’ birds, or to read the latest on the Middle East and see which poor fooker’s been beheaded this week, all without interruption. It’s quality alone time. No one can bother ya, unless yer willin’ to answer yer phone. And it’s an escape from the knobs you have to work with, too. Shittin’ is seriously one of, if not the happiest daily occurrences in me life at the moment.’

Trips to the bathroom don’t fill me with that much joy, in fact they’re the reason I’m sitting here, next to Jeremy. And with me being a chronic worrier verging on full-blown hypochondriac, my mind finds it tremendously difficult to relax and not think about all the potentialities; all negative outcomes of today’s trip (although one in particular tops the list every time.)

Jeremy isn’t shy. I don’t know the man, yet I’m aware of his proclivity to enjoy a trip to the bathroom a few times a day. This is something I shouldn’t know, I remind myself. That I know this should indicate a relationship of some sort, a degree of familiarity with one another, but I first set eyes on the man a mere half hour ago.

‘Do you not worry that they might find something?’ I ask Jeremy.

‘Why would I? If there’s somethin’ there, there’s somethin’ there. Better off I know about it so they can sort it out. God knows I’m not goin’ ta figure it out by meself.’

‘god,’ I smile.

‘What abou’ him?’

‘Well, he isn’t necessarily in the know, is he?’

‘It’s just a sayin’, isn’t it?’

‘Yeah, it is.’

He lowers the newspaper he holds in his hand—The Sun— and looks at me with greater attention.

‘Do you not believe in God or somethin’?’

‘No,’ I smile. ‘I don’t.’

‘Then how d’ya explain everythin’?’

‘I don’t know how you explain everything, but I know science explains a lot more than religion does.’

‘Who said anthin’ about religion?’

‘When someone believes in god, it usually implies that they’re a religious individual. You’re not religious?’

‘If believin’ in a God makes me religious, then yeah, I s’pose I am.’

‘But you don’t practice any religion? You just believe in a god?’

‘Let me put it to ya like this, right? United were down against Bayern in the Champions League Final, ’99, yeah? 1-0 down after six minutes—Basler, the bastard, right? Crackin’ free-kick. 1-0 down from the sixth minute right up until the 90th. And there’s me, and Jay, and Anto, and Charlie, and Mark, and we’re in Finches, skullin’ pints, but not able to touch the drink in the last ten minutes of the match. We couldn’t enjoy it, couldn’t even talk apart from shoutin’ at the tele. And so I say it to the lads, “lads, say a prayer, come on,” and the lads look at me like I’ve gone gaga, like I’ve ten heads. And I tell ‘em “I’m serious lads, come on. Pray.” So I grab Jay and Jay grabs Anto and Anto grabs Charlie and Charlie grabs Mark and there the five of us are, huddled like Celtic before a match, standin’ there at our table with about twenty pints of Bud on it, and we all say a little prayer to ourselves while we’re huddled. Ten minutes later Teddy and Ole scored and we were champions of Europe. The pub went mental. I swear, even Liverpool fans were cheerin’, and the drink went everywhere except our mouths. Never saw anythin’ like it. Never have since. (I won’t mention City.) Anyway, I believe to this day that if we didn’t pray in the 83rd minute then we wouldn’t’ve won. God answered our prayers that evenin’. Collective prayer, y’know? Thousands an’ thousands of United fans were prayin’ at the same time, for the exact same thing. That’s when God answers, when a huge number of people are pullin’ together at the same time askin’ for the same thing. It takes a massive effort.’

‘You don’t just think that is was a case of them getting a bit lucky?’

He shrugs his shoulders. ‘Luck. Act of God. Same thing.’

‘OK, well, apart from footballing miracles, what other evidence have you got for me?’

Now he takes the newspaper from his lap and places it on the small table in front of us both, on top of the other rags and mags and leaflets.

‘Right, I have another one for ya. When I was a yunfella we used to have fields where, now, there’s a massive shoppin’ centre and business parks and the motorway. There was, like, this division of trees between each field with Fields One and Two havin’ a football pitch each, and Field Three extendin’ far towards the Strawberry Beds. You know the Strawberry Beds, yeah? Jimmy Joyce used ta sit at the Chapelizod end and contemplate life and whatever else that’d be goin’ through his genius head. Probably thinkin’ about aul Nora, eh? The rascal.’

I nod, smile.

‘Well one day durin’ the summer, we were playin’ Commando in the back field, the farthest one, near the Beds. There was an old farmer’s gaff there and everyone said the farmer was still there and would shoot at ya if ye trespassed, and when we were there someone would shout “Sketch, the farmer!” and everyone would run for their lives and not look back, and so the legend prevailed.’

He pauses and takes a moment for clarity: ‘You know Commando, yeah? The game? Ye’d make guns out of sticks and divide the group into two teams. Usually we’d play durin’ the summer and all we’d be wearin’ were shorts and we’d tie football socks ‘round our heads so we’d be like Rambo, even though Commando was an Arnie film. Anyway, the teams would each start at opposite ends of the field, and make their way towards each other, spreadin’ out over the large, sprawlin’ area. On the day in question—durin’ the summer so we were in our Rambo get-ups—I was searchin’ through the bushes and trees. The trees were really thin, I don’t know what species of tree they were—who knows species of trees?—but they were thin, and there was a rake of them throughout the fields, mostly around the perimeter, right?’

He fixes himself in the chair in an attempt at making himself more comfortable.

‘So we’re in the middle of the game, and I haven’t killed or even seen anyone from the other team. I’m there, and Noelie off my team is behind me. (Now that I think about it, it reminds me of Lord of the Flies. I only read that once, back in school, but I think about it now and I can hear chants: “Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in!”) Anyway, I start to run. I don’t know why, but I start to run slowly—a light jog —with me gun held with both hands, down by me groin: safety, y’know, like the pros. And Noelie instinctively follows behind me, picks up the pace. Then, for reasons I still don’t understand, I stopped to look down at me runners, like to check if the laces had come loose or somethin’. I don’t know why I stopped, me runners weren’t untied, but I did, and poor little Noelie carried on ahead of me, scamperin’ with his gun in his hand. A few seconds later he fell over one of the traps set by the other team—a piece of wire between two trees—into a pile of stingers. Y’know, nettles? And branches with thorns, really big ones. Horrible. Like, really bad. He was in a jock. Cuts everywhere. Stung by nettles and scratched by thorns, all over. I went over to him and just looked down at him. He was in a lot of pain. Rollin’ around—all he had on were his shorts and a Rambo head-tie, remember. And I wanted to tell him to stop rollin’, because he was only makin’ it worse, but I didn’t know what to do. I just looked at him.’

‘So you’re saying that was another act of god?’ I ask.

‘He was in an awful state for days,’ he replies. ‘I’m serious. We knocked into him and his Ma answered and he was screamin’ from the pain, we could hear him from the sittin’ room. His Ma told us to leave him for a few days. She was real upset. After that he was completely different. I swear. He was a changed lad. Like his innocence was lost or somethin’. He was never the same. And for some reason on that day I stopped, and he didn’t. And he’s the one who ended up in a bad way. Messed him up, like.’

‘There’s still no reason to suggest that it was god’s doing. Just pure chance. Something in your brain warned you that your laces may be undone, a spontaneous red flag. Happens all the time. You stop and check the gas just in case you’ve accidentally left it on.’

‘Or you’re prompted to do so by somethin’ else,’ Jeremy quickly retorts.

I shrug my shoulders.

‘Somethin’ prompted ye to come here today, didn’t it?’ he says.

Before I can respond a young nurse emerges and calls my name. I look at Jeremy; a look that speaks only of panic, I imagine. They’re going to find something, I think. They’re going to find tumors, loads of them. The cancer will have metastasised. I’m royally fucked.

‘You know they stick a tube up yer hole?’ he says to me for some reason, maybe in an attempt at humour to make me feel less anxious, maybe not.

I nod my head before getting up and walking slowly towards the doors which, when opened, could be mistaken for The Light.

‘Good luck,’ I say to Jeremy.

‘God bless,’ he nods, and smiles, and winks, and chuckles to himself.

 

After they administer the anaesthetic and are wheeling me in, I ask the genial Indian nurse if people tend to talk during the procedure while they’re semi-conscious.

‘We’ve had a few. . . funny occurrences,’ she smiles.

‘Oh God,’ I say, sluggishly, and that’s all I remember until I wake up and I’m dazed, and then after I eat some biscuits and drink some coffee I get dressed, and then I wait for the doctor to give me the news.

I wait.

Born Quitter

Well, I decided I’d quit after I’d heard about Stuart Frost’s father. I’d just turned 21, and Stuart’s father thought he had a year or two left in him. But it wasn’t to be: he died after a short battle with lung cancer a few days after my 21st birthday, aged 51. I decided there and then, on the spot, that I would never smoke a cigarette again.

Then I had a beer in Stuart’s father’s memory and said a few smokes with a beer was all right.

 

I was determined. I’d think about Stuart’s father, and I’d think about the toxins and all the horrible things smoking does to the body. I’d read up on it, you see. That book by that guy. It was all in my head. I got myself some of the gum that’s supposed to help with the cravings. This was a year after Stuart’s dad’s death, so, needless to say, I hadn’t done incredibly well in my early endeavours to quit following his passing. But, like I said, I was determined. For two weeks I chewed the gum and I only wanted a cigarette around four times a day, which wasn’t too bad.

At the time I was dating Lorraine O’Neal. Now, there was a babe. Jesus, she was wild. We’d been together a few months after I’d met her at a fair, and there was this chemistry between us right away; only a few hours after meeting we were tearing each other’s clothes off and going at it like rabbits at her friend Wendy’s apartment.

Jesus, she was wild.

And things were going well with us, I thought. I thought that that kind of physical chemistry was something unique. Hell, it was to me. But to Lorraine, well, I soon learned that she experienced it with a lot of guys, and on the night I found her in Wendy’s apartment with Ritchie Landis I must’ve smoked about two packs. I deserved them, of course. In the event of heartbreak I was entitled to allow myself some form of comfort. I never saw Lorraine again.

Jesus, she was wild.

 

So a few years passed and I hadn’t quite managed to quit. But I’m a pretty determined individual, and I found myself in the midst of a new attempt at kicking the habit. They say the years go by and, boy, do they go by. I was 28 and it felt like only yesterday that I was hanging out with Stuart Frost and smoking cigarettes on the hood of his car. Now it was seven years to the day since his old man had bit the dust and I was back in town for a special service being held for Mr. Frost and poor Stuart’s poor grandma who’d died a few days earlier.

I was feeling good at the time. I felt healthy, and fit. I looked good, too. I hadn’t smoked in three weeks. When I saw Stuart I shook his hand and we embraced.

‘Cigarette?’ he asked, holding out a pack.

‘Sure,’ I said.

 

I met Sarah Jane when I was 31 (10 years after the death of Mr. Frost). SJ was so damn beautiful. God, she blew my mind the moment I laid eyes on her. She took a bit of work, mind you. She wasn’t as keen on me as I was on her. But I got there in the end. I was cigarette-free, too. I’d been cigarette-free for seven months (apart from one before bed and a maximum of five with beers, allowing myself a maximum of three drinking nights per week). Well, SJ and me eventually got together after I’d hounded the life out of her. I’d told her. I’d said, ‘I’m going to marry you. As God is my witness I will marry you.’ And she’d rolled her eyes at me and said she wasn’t interested in getting married until she was at least 35, but two years after we met we were hitched and on a honeymoon in Italy, where I allowed myself full licence to smoke as often as I liked—you only get one honeymoon, after all.

Well, sometimes.

We had our first child, James, a year later. The kid—for the first two years of his life—was a  goddamn nightmare. Every time that little monster screamed his head off I’d have the urge to smoke a full pack there and then, right in front of the exasperating little bastard. Then I’d calm down and regret thinking like that and I’d hug him and kiss his forehead and tell him ‘daddy loves you’ and then I’d feel bad for a day or two for thinking that way. Of course those days would be filled with regular smoking intervals at the office as a way to help assuage the guilt.

 

You know, some things stick with you, and some things fade from your memory like fog on a spring morning. One thing that never seemed to leave me was poor Stuart Frost’s father. No matter how many years passed by, I’d always think of Stuart’s old man. How he’d once been so healthy, only to croak after less than a few months of being sick. If anything was gonna make me quit smoking, well, that poor man’s end was going to do it. He’d been dead twenty years when I crumpled up my last pack of cigarettes and tossed them in the trash next to the back porch. I kept one from the box to celebrate my intentions, of course: one last smoke.

Me and SJ? Well, we were great, still. Never did a day pass by without us laughing. Not one day. No matter how stressed we got, we’d always laugh, be it first thing in the morning or right before bed. We’d laugh. In between those laughs we’d argue, of course. What couple doesn’t argue? And SJ would know when she’d see a cloud of smoke on the front porch that she’d pushed me too far. She’d have to take some responsibility when she’d driven me to drive to the store to buy a fresh pack. And as for when her parents visited. Jesus, you may as well have sparked up ten at a time and stuck them in my mouth. It’s typical, isn’t it, that the mother-in-law is a nightmare? How clichéd. But, God help me, a vegetarian would work in a slaughterhouse if it would help shut that woman up. She never stops talking.

 

When my parents died within a year of each other it was a difficult period, and I told myself I’d quit once I’d allowed myself time to grieve.

 

When I was 49, coming up fast and furiously to the ‘Big Five-O,’ I decided I’d quit smoking. I really meant it this time. I was only a couple of years away from being the age Stuart Frost’s father was when he died all those years ago, and so I said ‘no more mucking about, for real this time.’

I arrived at my 50th birthday a non-smoker. We toasted the big night with whiskey and cigars and I thought, Okay, this is nice. My youngest, Sophie, had brought her boyfriend (who, if we’re being honest, was a little bit of a wiener, and I knew she could do much better – I’d even told James to do something about it but he told me he’d ‘do it later’). When I noticed The Wiener getting a little touchy-feely with Sophie, I grabbed him by the shirt collar and slapped him upside the head, and warned him to keep his hands off of my daughter and to get out of my party. I knew the little bastard smoked so before he left I told him to give me his pack and I shared a cigarette with him before I told him to take a hike.

 

I’d just turned 63. My doctor told me it’d be a good idea to quit smoking. I told him that I’m a determined man—always have been. He told me he’d been a smoker, but he’d quit seven years earlier and hadn’t smoked since.

I asked him, ‘What’s the trick?’

He said, ‘I got divorced (hahaharr)!’

Sophie’s wedding was happening a few weeks after my appointment with the doc. She was marrying The Wiener. It was a long time coming, but he was all right. Her mother wouldn’t stop encouraging James to pop the question to his girlfriend but that was about as likely as peace in the Middle East, I’d told her.

Sophie took me aside one day. She said, ‘Daddy, I want you to do something for me. For my wedding gift, I want you to promise me that you’ll quit smoking. It’s something I’ve never liked, and the thoughts of you getting sick and leaving mom and James and me. . .’ Here she got a little emotional. ‘That’s all I want. And I want you to know I’ll help you every step of the way.’ And she kissed me on the forehead like I’d kissed her and her brother when they were kids.

I said, ‘Okay, sweetie. Right after the wedding.’

 

After Sophie had her first kid I made a promise to myself. I reminded myself that I was a determined man—had been all my life. I’d worked hard, raised my kids, provided for my family. The promise I made to myself was that I would quit smoking. It was having the first grandkid, you see. Well, it tickles the heart; made me as emotional as my wife watching Titanic. So I’ve decided that I’m going to kick the habit once and for all. And I bumped into Stuart Frost, too. Yeah, a few weeks back. Good ol’ Stuart Frost. Looks well, he does. His old man, huh, I remember his old man well. Gave me my first pack of cigarettes, he did.