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.


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.

We All Run Out of Gas

Ben switches on the indicator. A flick of his finger: Left, then tick, tick, tick. Right, then tick, tick, tick. This action is unnecessary: the road ahead of us continues without diverging until it becomes a narrow line penetrating the mountains in the distance.

On each side of us is vast golden brown sand streaked with white, and rock and flecks of green shrubbery here and there.

It’s been over an hour since either of us spoke. For a while I pretended to sleep.

Earlier, when I packed our things, I found the crumpled receipt in his shirt pocket: whiskey again. He used to be better at remembering not to forget. I haven’t mentioned it to him, not yet. Now’s not the time.

I’ve been thinking about his father since we began driving early this morning. I remember when his dad was out on the lawnmower that summer, when the sun seemed to take residency and refused to leave when its lease was up. Ben would help his father in the garden, and would bag the grass which filled the air with that unmistakable scent. Sometimes I’d want to take the black plastic bag from Ben and lower my head and breathe it all in.

That summer Ben would wear this red and black plaid shirt every other day, along with black jeans and big, brown boots. He’d have his work gloves tucked into his back pocket so that the fingers hung down his backside.

It was his most handsome summer.

He’d just started the car wash business with Reggie Whelan and at nineteen he had, like he told me, plenty of time to make enough money to make sure we’d have a nice house in a nice neighbourhood with a nice school for our kids. Two girls and a boy, Ben had said. You three can talk boys, bake cakes, and do your make-up while I take Junior to the game and sneak him a drink like my old man did with me, he’d said.

They’d founded the business with money left to Reggie by his grandfather, savings the two boys had made from summer jobs throughout their school years, and even from a paper route Ben had run from age eleven through thirteen. His father had told him about the benefits of saving well, and sure enough, Ben had listened to Ben Sr. just like he always did.

The business started small and stayed small for the first five years, before it expanded and then became small again once the expansion didn’t work out. I took odd jobs here and there and spent my free time upholstering furniture. University never occurred to us, and it’s not like I don’t know why it didn’t. Business and family, that was the goal. That was the pattern of previous generations and that’s what we were happy to pursue.

I close my eyes again but it’s too bright to actually sleep. I reach out my hand and rest it on Ben’s lap. He doesn’t know what plays out in my mind: his father and that summer and the business. What I’m thinking about brings me closer to him, but his hand doesn’t leave the steering wheel. His grip remains firm. His tenseness hasn’t softened, and it probably won’t until we get home in a couple of days.

When his sister called during the night I could tell she’d been crying, and a few simple words was all that was needed. After taking the call I had to tell Ben that his father was gone, but it wasn’t unexpected. His facial expression didn’t give much away, as usual.

Okay, he’d said, and I’d said that I wanted him to talk to me if he felt like he needed to. And he’d told me that he didn’t need to, which reminded me of the conversation we’d had after we’d been to the specialist for the last time.

It’s me, he’d said. What else do we need to say? It’s my problem, not yours. I’d tried to explain to him that it was our problem, and he knew (of course he knew), but he would just say that it was him, and that was that. And whenever I mentioned other options he wouldn’t even entertain the suggestion with a response.

I lay my head against the headrest and tilt it to the left and I watch the highway. The yellow line passes under the vehicle like lost memories. The scenery doesn’t change, not drastically.

It never does.

I look at Ben, and down at my hand which still rests on his lap.

‘We can always turn back,’ I tell him.

‘No, we can’t,’ he says, his eyes focused on the endless road ahead of us.

‘I know,’ I say.

After a minute or two I say, ‘You know I packed?’

‘Yeah, I know. My shirt.’ He looks at me and says, ‘I know.’

As I look at him I cannot feel anger, not even if I want to.

‘I’m sorry,’ he says.

‘It’s okay,’ I tell him. ‘I don’t even know if it’s your decision anymore.’

He thinks about that for a moment before he glances at me and says, ‘I love you.’

I squeeze his thigh, and I can only whisper, ‘I know you do’.

After a long silence Ben says, ‘Things never really went how we’d planned.’

‘No, they didn’t,’ I say.

‘You could’ve left,’ he says. ‘All those times, you could’ve left.’

‘I know,’ I say. And for a few minutes I try to understand, but I never arrive at an understanding. ‘I suppose we all run out of gas at some point in our lives, but not all of us can afford to refill the tank.’

‘What does that mean?’ he asks.

I don’t respond. I bring my hands to my cheek and I rest my head against the passenger door. I close my eyes again and I’m taken back to that summer: Ben’s father mowing the lawn, and Ben Jr. wearing his check shirt. Those boots. The grass and its freshness. Ben wrapping his arms around me, and me taking his worked hands in my palms. We’d lie in the garden and he’d place his hand on my belly and we’d talk of the future. Every time I smell freshly cut grass I’m taken there, and it reminds me of hope.