***The following is an excerpt from an upcoming short novel set in Dublin, Ireland.***
“The pandemic of mental anguish that afflicts our time cannot be properly understood, or healed, if viewed as a private problem suffered by damaged individuals.” – Mark Fisher
(Three loud thuds: fists banging on a window)
“Open the door,” a disgruntled slur.
(Bare-footed steps on hard-wooden floor; the flick of a lock, the twisting of a door knob)
When I slid open the back entrance to the apartment, what was revealed to me was something I’d perhaps expect to find in a painting, or in a book about a painter. Think Kirchner if you’re aware of the man’s former existence. Think “Self-Portrait with Cat”, 1920. Jimmy Blue stood at my door looking gaunt; angular features; sunken eyes, green-faced, an emotionless expression.
“What’s up, Jim?” I asked. His arrival was nocturnal, unexpected. I turned to look at the clock on the kitchen wall – 2:40 in the morning. Twenty to three, in Apartment 2 of the Orchestral House building on Highfield Road in Rathgar. In Dublin. In Ireland. In 2022. The 21st Century. This street was reserved for the rich, insofar as home ownership was concerned. Us folk who belonged to the renter class, however, were able to live as imposters in the wealthy suburb of Dublin 6, imagining ourselves part of a club to which we’d never be invited; reaching out to grasp a life that in the long run was well beyond our reach.
Jim didn’t offer an immediate response; the first action he took was to brush past me and walk into the apartment, finding the couch and lying on it.
“Jim?” I asked.
(The door closes. An L-shaped black couch dividing kitchen and living room like a hard border. Wooden floors peppered with dust and detritus of meals. Television in corner of room stationed like an obdurate watchman. Island in the middle of the kitchen, surrounded by four stools like sentinels. An open space which leads to the back of the apartment where two bedrooms and a bathroom exist)
“Need to sleep,” was Jim’s response, his thick midlands accent, enhanced by the drink, was like a swinging fist in the room. I leaned over the couch and looked at my 30-year-old friend: that gaunt face, those dark eyes, the suggestion of makeup that was nothing more than a mirage.
“You need to sleep, and you come here. Now. In the middle of the night?”
(A quiet sob fills the late-night silence in the apartment)
(Man on couch has curled into the foetal position)
“Jim? What’s up?”
“I don’t know,” Jim said as I made my way around the other side of the couch, squatted, and placed my hand on his thick head of brown hair.
“You don’t know what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know what to do, D” said Jim through a sob.
“What’s happened?” I asked.
(Man on couch looks up at man hunched next to him; his eyes narrowing as he shakes his head)
“Nothing,” said Jim. “Nothing’s happened.”
I didn’t reply; I didn’t know how to respond, to be perfectly honest about it all. I simply rubbed Jim’s head as he cried in near silence before he fell into a deep, drunken sleep where he lay. I think that was a good thing to do, to rub his head. I think that was the human thing to do. Tears had formed under his dark eyes like a dirty puddle on Parnell Street. I stood up. I fixed my black bathrobe that covered my otherwise naked body and went back into my room; back to bed where we can forget about it all for a few hours.
(Blinding sunlight . . . pan away from window to apartment living room. Man stretched out on couch; man dressed in blue jeans, navy jacket, black boots)
(Bedroom door opens revealing other man dressed in black bathrobe, bearded, messy-haired, squinting)
“Jim,” I said. No reply. I took my phone from my pocket and checked the time: ten past seven. I was an early bird, always had been. I was also recently unemployed having been let go during the pandemic. How did I survive, you may be wondering? How did this thirtysomething manage to pay his exorbitant rent, his bills, his way in the land that was Ireland; the once sweet, imaginative, empathetic little girl who had grown into a fanged, materialistic, apathetic gold-digger?
Let me present to the jury a) savings, b) the dole, and c) drug dealing.
The former is deemed moral while the latter is often considered immoral. The one in the middle is frequently divisive: I would argue that the many years (and forms) of taxation justifies me living off my fellow taxpayer for a while; sure didn’t we used to knock next door for a glass of milk every now and then? At least, that’s what the stories passed down from generations tell us. Regarding the latter, to the jury I would also pose this question: What’s terribly immoral about providing folks with a natural plant native to Central and South Asia, allowing them to decide what they put into their bodies? Really, “drug dealing” it wasn’t.
The selling of marijuana was a short-term fix that offered me an extra few quid while I decided what I’d do next, and where I’d do it. Everything was up in the air, which was liable to upset my internal equilibrium. But I had routine. In the past I had learned that this was key to maintaining that necessary balance within (for a functioning “without”). So even though I didn’t know where I would be in six month’s time, I knew that tomorrow I would rise at approximately 7 o’clock, go for a run, grab a shower, attend to the plants, provide my service to the paying public should I receive a phone call or two, read for approximately three hours in the afternoon (presently I was reading Resurrection by Tolstoy), watch a film (lately I had been revisiting Bela Tarr’s languid oeuvre, juxtaposed by 80s action films), cook dinner (I had purchased a few cookbooks despite the availability of myriad recipes online – anything to disconnect from technology), and spend a few hours in the evening working on the screenplay I was writing with my filmmaker friend Vinnie, whose real name was Vihlo and whose family hailed from the Ivory Coast.
I had routine so I was okay, I guess… I guess I was okay because I had routine.
Jim, on the other hand, clearly wasn’t okay. And while I can’t say I could identify the exact ‘why’ pertaining to his state of distress, or that he even had any hope of identifying it himself, I had a feeling it was largely due to the reality (or unreality?) of time and space and setting: The West, The 21st Century, Late-Stage Capitalism, Ireland, Dublin. As the late Mark Fisher of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit once wrote: the pandemic of mental anguish that afflicts our time cannot be properly understood, or healed, if viewed as a private problem suffered by damaged individuals.
This was about more than Jim and his own consciousness.
(Man on couch rises; the sunlight renders one side of his face featureless: a sheet of white paper; the other side is identifiable; the dark eye is aimed at man in bathrobe)
“All right, Jim,” I said. I had a chirpy disposition in the mornings that was wont to irking others. Others, it seemed, didn’t possess the Tolstoian predilection for morning outings which, according to the Russian master, were “when the best thoughts were most likely to greet us”. Those “best” thoughts, however, were dependant on the person and their outlook – their situation. Was the thought of throwing himself in front of the Dart the “best’ thought for the suicidal electrician? Value being subjective, one may decide that the 7:20 train to Bray was far more alluring than ten thousand quid on that particular morning.
“I was crying last night,” Jim said. His tone wasn’t pained, nor was it tinged with embarrassment or shame; he was quite matter of fact in that moment.
“You were, Jim.”
(Man in bathrobe walks towards couch and haunches in front of other man)
“Jim, what’s the story?”
“I don’t know. I just can’t shake it.”
“Shake what, exactly?”
“The Black Cloud. Every morning, it’s there. It’s like a fog that smothers your face; stuffs up your nose so you can’t enjoy the fresh air, ya know?.”
“Have you spoken with your doctor, Jim?”
(Man shakes his head; utters a dismissive laugh)
“Of course,” Jim said. “That’s what they say to do: talk about it. Don’t they? Talking isn’t helping, though. I don’t think it is anyway.”
I placed my hand on Jim’s check.
“Bloody hell,” I said. “We’ll get you sorted, don’t worry.”
(Man in bathrobe stands up and enters kitchen area. Man on couch places his head on the arm of the chair)
“I was thinking of maybe going to Laos.”
“Laois? What would you want to go there for? Nothing in Laois.”
“Loas . . . it’s the least Westernized country of all of them Indochinese nations.”
“Jesus, Jim. Indochina’s a bit far, isn’t it?”
“I think I need to get out of it, though.”
“The West. Americana. The relentless meat grinder. You know what I mean, lad.”
“Well, it depends how you look at it, Jim. Doesn’t it?”
(Man in bathrobe unties his robe revealing his naked body, unbeknownst to other man whose head still rests on the arm of the chair. Man in robe places feet through shorts and fixes them around his waist)
“I just think it’s a big change that’s needed, ya know? I think that’d help me like.”
I pulled from the washing machine an unwashed hoodie and fed my arms into it. Jim’s Offaly accent shone through just then. His accent was a beautiful thing. A warming thing; a shot of whiskey on a cold night. It was a thing that if I could bottle it, I would.
(Man in hoodie and shorts sits on stool in the middle of kitchen area)
“Jim, some would say it’s small things we should embrace. Small, good things. Big things are never good.”
(Man raises head from arm of chair, reaches for remote, turns on television)
“Ah Jim, not the tele.”
“Sure are ye not going for your morning run?”
“Yeah but the tele, Jim. That’s not going to make you feel better.”
“Sure what do you know about it? Tele might help a lot. Escape, an’ all that.”
(Man in hoodie and shorts rises from stool and approaches porch door where he narrows his feet into a pair of running shoes)
“I’ll go for me run, Jim. You chill here. You can kip here as long as you want, yeah?”
Jim nodded his head as the sound of the porch opening filled the silence in the room.
“Jim,” I said, “things’ll be grand.”
Jim turned away from the television, looked at me with his dark eyes; there was a sorrowness in them that played like a mournful symphony; it was a stare that accused me of appalling mendaciousness. Had he verbalised this accusation, I would have cowered and conceded the inauthenticity of the statement. But he didn’t, and in an astonishing act of schizoid political spin, I feebly repeated the words before exiting the apartment through the back porch and proceeding to my usual morning run.
Sensuous dreams had greeted me as of late, despite my attempts at transcending the sexual (“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh”). What did I mean by that? It was a complicated thing, but it was also uncomplicated: in recent months I had sought out some kind of religiosity; I had endeavored to wander into Palmerston Park – an idyllic little place only a stone’s throw from the Orchestral Building – and gaze at the beauty of nature and see not a Scientific or Naturalistic Realism but the Craftmanship of God. I had craved a C.S. Lewis view of the world: I wanted to see Him in everything.
Why? Was it a mid-life crisis? Was I looking for something instead of nothing? Was I selfishly seeking redemption? Did I want to know what Truth was, and was open to all possibilities? Did I feel hopeless in this present we find ourselves in? Whatever the reason, I had turned some sort of corner. Although I had no idea where the road I was now on would lead me.
Did it make me feel a tad pathetic? Possibly. How must a man wrestle with faith when he never had it in the first place; how must a man turn to the unscientific against his inner reason? Of course, the empiricists, the logical positivists, the Darwinist; they all do it in their own way too: they all have faith in the Primordial Soup theory, don’t they? They, too, must put their faith in something they cannot – ever – prove.
This metaphysical run-in with theological contemplation was a welcome change that occurred rather out of the blue; a Sunday afternoon; a 30-minute browse in The Last Bookshop on Camden Street, A Confession by Tolstoy on one of the many shelves; this literary encounter prompted an ecumenical excursion on my part, the idea of which would have previously struck me as monumentally absurd. So life can seem, I suppose; a bouncing ball of endless absurdity. My Christian flirtation quelled any lust within me; it had been that way almost immediately after I considered a Christian existence; as quickly as turning a page, the valve had twisted and the carnal cravings that may have made themselves known – or demanded to make themselves known – had become ashes in the wind. Yet despite this new reality of mine, outside my wakeful hours I had descended into unadulterated eroticism, an unconscious libidinal release whose fantasies were, of course, beyond my control and thus were occasionally even more lewd than I would have consciously permitted in the past. When I would awake from these dreams – at times greeted by my uncontrollable shame – I would say aloud “what can I do?”, to which I would inwardly reply “More.”
After I returned from my jog, I found the apartment void of Jim’s presence. No semblance of sorrow in the air; an emptiness that was, in its own way, worse. I had wanted Jim to be there. Selfishly, I wanted the company; unselfishly I wanted to help him if I could.
As I was about to rid myself of clothes and embrace the hot rain of the shower, a knock on the back porch arrived.
Jim, I thought.
Jim it wasn’t. It was the woman who rented the apartment across the hall from me. Yvonne. She stood outside looking through the pane of glass that separated us. Behind her were the cars belonging to residents of the property, sitting idly like homeless people on Grafton Street; a vacant parking spot every two rows or so. Beyond that was the communal green where folks hung up their clothes to dry, and where on sunny days they would sit on blankets and enjoy a tipple or three.
Yvonne’s arms were folded, her expression sour. What, I wondered, had I done?
I slid open the porch door.
“Story,” I said.
“You going to invite me in?” Her face, I had noticed, had recently become more weathered by the storm we call life. I saw tiredness in her eyes; more lines on her face like an updated map; I saw in her that subtle numbness that creeps up on all of us as the years pass; as if as we age, we’re slowly being filled with concrete that hardens from the toes up, until finally we’re rigid and immovable.
“You don’t look like you want to be invited in.”
Yvonne’s expression softened, she produced a disingenuous smile – “How about now?” – before resetting her face to automatic. Her smile, feigned as it was, did momentarily capture the beauty that was now a semi-retired actor who showed up in the odd production for a cameo appearance every so often.
I stood aside and permitted her entry into the apartment.
“Cuppa?” she asked.
“Jaysus, would you like a fry-up too?”
Yvonne made her way around to the front of the couch where Jim had slept through the night and parked herself there, folding her arms and crossing her legs.
“Are you here for the ride again?” I asked.
This was, I would later concede, a misguided – and admittedly gauche – question, but one that felt right in the moment.
“No, D, I’m not here for the ride as you so charmingly put it.”
“Only I’m on something of a sabbatical from sex.”
“You are, are ya?”
I filled up the kettle with water and put it on the boil.
I leaned against the counter as the water began to heat, as the noise of the elements at work began to rise and permeate the room, as Yvonne sat there staring at me, her eyes sceptically half closed.
“You could say I’m in conversation with God . . . or I’m flirting with Him, if you know what I mean.”
This prompted a guffaw from Yvonne. A single guffaw.
“Mother Teresa here…”
“I’m simply not allowing myself to be a prisoner of my carnal desires . . . for the moment.”
“I’m not here to get the leg over, right? Just because . . . I know that we said it was just a physical thing anyway. . . That’s grand . . . You’re such an arsehole.”
“Okay then . . . what has you here then?”
“Can a neighbour not pop in for a cup a tea?”
“Of course she can. But every time you’ve done that on a weekday morning it’s tended to end up with a pre-tea dance in the bedroom.”
Yvonne stood up; it was a sudden movement and before I knew it, she was standing in front of me.
“I’m not going to piss about, D: I want you,” she said as her hand gripped my manhood.
It took a lot of inner strength to resist this gesture, but I managed to. I pushed Yvonne’s hand away from me and turned to pop two teabags into two cups; I focused on the setting painted on one of the mugs: Poolbeg Towers; that oddly romanticised eyesore which penetrated the Dublin skyline like a couple of STI-riddled phalluses engaged in an act of empyrean molestation. Yvonne wrapped her arm around me from behind and placed her hand inside my shorts. I withdrew her hand and turned around to face her.
“Seriously. Sex sabbatical. Convo with God.”
Yvonne’s expression soured once again, only this time it was accompanied by genuine anger.
“You’re a big weirdo,” she said. “Stick your tea up your hole.”
As she left, the click of the kettle told me it had completed its boil. I poured tea for one, enjoyed the drink, and then took an especially cold shower.
It’s a strange thing, endeavouring to connect with God, especially when it goes against your instinct. I’ve wrestled with it; I’ve wrestled with what preceded the Big Bang. When you think about it, the theory complements Genesis: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . .’ Even Einstein believed in Spinoza’s God, didn’t he? That made me feel less daft for entertaining the idea, for sure. Einstein didn’t believe in the God you could chat with in the shower, petition with prayer, and all the rest. An impersonal one is what he imagined. But still, he believed it. He was in his own way a Deist. The man most synonymous with science was of the opinion that some kind of Intelligent Design was at play when it came to our worldly existence.
As I pondered the nature of reality while I dried off my naked body in the bathroom, my phone buzzed. I reached for it and answered the call.
“Roman,” I said. “How are ya?”
“Hello, D,” Russian accent, “can you top me up, friend?”
“Roman, my friend. I absolutely can. When should I call round?”
“Sure thing, Roman.”
I hung up and continued to towel myself dry. I looked at myself in the mirror: my taut, sinewy body, the result of daily running; my manhood which had been generously gifted to me, which had caused me over the years to place more importance on it than was necessary, and which was now on hiatus; my face which had narrowed, likely due to all the exercise, but not in a way that produced an unhealthy visage. I looked at this being before me. I considered myself as the product of the craftmanship of another entity; I considered all the men and women I had encountered over the years in their near or wholly nude form. I considered the artistry involved in the sketching and sculpting of these figures. I considered beauty. I considered Him. I considered consciousness. I considered the senses. I breathed deeply and smelled the aftermath of a shower. I touched my chest. I looked in the mirror. I licked my lips. I listened to the gentle hum of traffic that passed every few seconds. I felt okay in that moment as I got back to drying my body.
As if everything was as it should be.
(A leather couch: brown, cracked, worn. Torn in places, covered in rough grey patches – hideous birthmarks. A wall-mounted picture frame – photo-less – lost in a sea of garish pink wallpaper behind it. Scribbles have been made in a notepad which rests on a coffee table. Lipstick stains a bloated mug half-filled with rum. Light captures the ascending smoke of a cigarette wedged in a glass ashtray that’s home to a graveyard of cigarette butts.)
I sat on the couch that had seen better days as Roman fixed me a cup of tea in the cottage that had also seen more glamorous times; or perhaps not. The walk to Rathmines took me approximately thirty minutes; I was a sloth-like stroller at times. But the walk gave me a chance to bask in the leafy avenues and squares from Rathgar to the town that was once a Protestant and Unionist stronghold.
Roman the Russian, he was known as. On the surface he was a stereotype, you might say: brawny, reticent, pugnacious. But once you got to know Roman, you saw beyond the tight-lipped and pugilist façade. He was a doorman at Whelan’s pub on Wexford Street, but he was also a poet who had self-published a short collection of scribbles in his native tongue, a pacifist who had lost a brother to armed conflict, a man with a deep interest in the murky waters of history and the romantic seas of literature.
On the wood-chipped coffee table in front of me was a notebook; the page had some words sketched on it. I leaned forward to look at it.
“You like my new poem?” said Roman as he returned to the living room holding two cups of tea.
“Unfortunately, despite all my best efforts, I can’t read Russian, Roman.”
Roman sat down opposite me on the armchair – certainly in better shape than the couch on which I was seated – and handed me the cup before picking up the worn notepad.
He began to read aloud: “The spirited wave begins an ill-fated flight; the youth of tomorrow, coals burning in the night. The shock of a slug, the cold kiss of death. Fight for your country, they cried, until your last breath.”
I raised my cup, “Very nice, Roman,” I said, as I took a sip of what tasted like Lyon’s Tea.
“It’s not fully formed, D. Poems… take time.”
“Oh, I can imagine.”
“Gogol, D,” said Roman as he flipped the pad closed and dropped it on the table before sitting back in his char. “Gogol said ‘how sad is our Russia.’”
“A country I’d like to see, Roman.”
“She weeps, regularly, D. Very misunderstood by The West.”
I nodded my head. I wasn’t sure from where this conversation had stemmed, and to be truthful about it, I wasn’t sure what it was about. Seeking evacuation, I took from my pocket the small bag of weed and placed it on the coffee table.
Roman smiled broadly.
“I would offer you some, but you’re – what do they say – a hypocrite,” he said with a warm look in his eyes.
“The aul lungs can’t cut it,” I said, which was true.
Roman opened a little tin box on the coffee table and placed the bag into it before removing a few cigarette skins and beginning to lay the foundations of his impending trip.
“I saw your friend last night at the pub.”
“He was in Whelan’s so?”
“He arrived late. Just before I finish my shift. He’s a little slow, yes?”
“No, no,” I said. “No, he’s from Offaly.”
Roman began to work tobacco and leaves into the joint.
“He was, how you say… messy.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, he ended up at mine pretty plastered.”
“He sit with bad people,” said Roman.
I sipped my tea and questioned the type of milk that Roman had added to the mix. Coconut? Maybe. Whatever it was, my tastebuds were certainly xenophobic in their response to the new folks on our land.
“Not good people,” said Roman. “They show up more often lately. Causing trouble. Your friend sat with them. Looked like he know them.”
“We talking criminals? Paedophiles? What kind of bad people? Politicians?”
Roman had massaged the spliff into its neatly packaged form; a marijuana missile bringing peace and tranquility to his world.
“Gang… O’Malley gang, yes?”
“The O’Malley’s? Jim was hanging with the O’Malley’s?”
“That’s their name, yes?” said Roman as he sparked and sucked.
“I don’t know how Jim would be involved with the O’Malley’s, and I don’t know what the O’Malley’s would be doing in Whelan’s; doesn’t seem like their desired drinking environment.”
“What would be?”
“I don’t know… It’s a good place to pick a fight, I suppose.”
“Did I tell you; I’m going to be in a film?”
“Da! I met the Irishman . . . the director . . . Philpott, with the white hair. In the bar. He said he would put me in his next film. I believed he was full of crap, but he called me last week and tells me that I need to be on set on Friday.”
“This Friday, D. After this I’m going to be next Bond villain; Russians always make good villains for silly Westerners, yes?”
“You’re not wrong there, Roman,” I said. “What’s the film?”
“I don’t know. He just said show up at Christ Church on Friday at six.”
“In the morning?”
“Early start that.”
“Will you come?”
“You come and watch. I’m sure it’s good. You have nothing else to do.”
“Roman, little do you know the beautiful yet battered nation of Ireland is presently missing her head; I could have plenty to do for all you know. There’s plenty to be done on this land, my Russian comrade.”
“You start a revolution, D?”
“That or go watch a Russian poet try to act.”
“Chucky are law, da?”
“Ah-ha! Something like that, Roman,” I said as I stood up. “Listen, if you see Jim there tonight will you keep an eye on him? I’m a little worried about him; he’s been a bit dishevelled lately.”
Roman stood; the joint resting between two fingers. He took from his pocket a few scrunched-up notes and handed them to me.
“Always a pleasure,” I said, and I left Roman to his pot and poetry.
(A meandering path, as if laid by a drunkard. A bushy garden; tall hedges. A woodchipped, green-coloured door. In the air the scent of burning wood, as the morning sun shines on the door, on the house, on the garden)
I tried calling Jim, but there was no getting through to his phone; his mobile device was out for the count, much like my friend had been on my couch the previous night. When I’d called it went straight to his voicemail, where I was greeted by that sublime Offaly accent telling me to leave a message. Leaving a message, though, was not going to happen. I hung up as I walked along the short path towards the door of the small house at the top of Brighton Road, right on the corner where it met Harold’s Cross Road. Harold’s Cross where Robert Emmet once lived to be close to Sarah Green before he was executed. Harold’s Cross, near which Lizzie O’Neill (Honour Bright) could be found wandering before she was murdered in 1925. Harold’s Cross where The General had robbed the same jewellers twice, before the Provos put a bullet in his forehead. Harold’s Cross, a stone’s throw away from where Paddy now lived; where his mother had lived until she died of lung cancer aged 54; should I find myself able to speak with God, I’ll have to have a word.
I knocked on the green door; four knuckles on wood.
Eventually the door opened. With the backward swing of the door was revealed Paddy’s face: his bushy eyebrows, his flat nose, his small eyes full of warmth, his thick beard peppered with patches of grey.
“Ah Jaysus.” said Paddy, “D, me aul flower. Come in, come in…”
He turned and walked into the narrow hall, and I followed, closing the door behind me. The smell of burning firewood invaded my nostrils as I entered; a comforting smell, it was. Also present in the house were the striking strings belonging to an unfolding piece of classical music. Paddy was considerably older than me; and I watched him walk ahead of me, limping, as he had since I’d know him, on his right side (the result of polio, some said; the product of a gunshot wound, theorised others. Paddy never confirmed which was true).
He led me into the sitting room where in the middle of it a single armchair was facing the window, underneath which were two massive speakers standing either side of a record player like two obedient guards. This was, of course, from where the classical music emanated. This was how Paddy would sometimes spend his mornings or afternoons; facing the speakers as they blasted the music of the heavens directly towards him. Paddy would sit there with his eyes closed as the orchestra sedulously played in unison. He limped over to the sound system and lowered the volume to a level that permitted conversation, before turning to me with a broad smile dissecting his thick black-grey beard.
“Brahms, Symphony number two. Perfect for a sunny spring morning like this.”
“I know it well,” I said.
“Ye do in yer hole,” said Paddy, turning the armchair around and pushing it back towards the corner of the room, near the fireplace, so that he would face me instead of the record player and speakers. I sat on the single, rickety dining chair which was the only other piece of furniture in the sitting room. Paddy had come to embrace something of an ascetic existing – ascetic in these hyper-technological times at least – since his mother passed; the only other noticeable items in the room were the Irish proclamation framed on the wall, and the bookshelf on the other side of the fireplace that, I had noticed during previous perusing, was home to exclusively Irish literature – Yeats, Joyce, Behan, Beckett, O’Brien, Heaney, McGahern – and numerous works on Irish history.
“Look at me, sitting down,” said Paddy, standing up. “Will ye have a drink or what?”
“I’m all right, Paddy. Only had tea with the Russian there about half an hour ago. Tea’d out of it.”
“Something harder of a Monday?” he asked as he returned to his seat.
“Absolutely not,” I said. “But thanks.”
Paddy sat forward, elbows on knees, hands linked between legs. His beady eyes may have sparkled just then.
“Well, what can I do ye for?”
“The lads have been talking. I know you haven’t been around as of late because of the business with the virus and all that.”
“I’ll emerge from me slumber soon; just need a bit more time to readjust.”
I reached into the pocket of my shorts and from them I took a piece of folded paper. I stood up and handed the page to Paddy, who took it without unfolding it.
“That’s not for my eyes,” I said. “Seán asked me to give it to you. I’ve heard rumors about Friday, though.”
Paddy’s eyebrows rose, his mouth opened; a look of surprise has rarely appeared more genuine.
“Whispers,” I said. “But you know yourself.”
“Well it’s apt,” he said.
“Paddy,” I said. “Has Jim popped around at all lately?”
“He was here a few days ago,” said Paddy, smiling. “Dropped me in a sliced pan. Then we got into it for a bit.”
The classical music continued at a low volume; I could see the appeal in it, but I was never able to give myself over to the genre. It had always seemed too aristocratic for my tastes. For Paddy’s tastes too, I would have thought. But he adored it, and I could understand why, of course; if ever there was music that was representative of the sound of heaven, that was it.
He sat back in the armchair, raised the bottom of the burgundy Aran geansaí that he wore and placed the folded piece of paper into the pocket of his jeans having not read it.
“What did the pair of you get into?”
“I reminded Jim that I have nothing against the Brits. I love all the people; black or white, Irish or English. But what I do have a problem with is when a man approaches a woman; let’s say a resplendent red head who’s minding her own businesses; when a man approaches her and batters her, and after he beats her, he holds up one hand while leaving the other one gripping her breast in a constant act of molestation while with the other hand, he offers a peace sign shaped by his two crooked fingers. That I can’t abide. That I can’t leave be as I down a pint and go about me days. I must take that man’s arm and break it so that beautiful woman can be free of his abuse, and so the man will know never to do it again.”
“Well I’m sure Jim already knew that… C’mere, did he seem low at all?”
“Jim? Not particularly, D, no. Why?”
“Ah he’s seemed a bit off lately. A bit down.”
“Sure he’s only a kid; what does he have to be down about? Fertile ground he’s on in those shoes of his; life to be grasped and drank and savoured. Jaysus, the younger generations.”
I stood up, readying myself to leave. “Ah, let’s not go there, Paddy.”
“Are ye off already?”
“Errands to run, lands to free,” I said. “Tiocfaidh ár lá”
“Tiocfaidh ár lá,” he replied, raising his hand, not moving from his seat.
As I left, I could hear him repositioning the armchair, and by the time I’d reached the end of the garden, the volume had returned to its penetrating level.
Paddy said that he loved all the people. And, after many years of wrestling with the idea, I tended to be of a similar disposition. Despite our ignorance, conceit, intolerance, arrogance, rapaciousness, cruelty… Despite all of it, I loved us. I loved people. Sweep away the dust of our flaws, wipe off the grease of our failings, and there you’ll find decency and goodness, laughter and love. Almost every time I’ve ran a dirty rag across the surface of our species, I’ve uncovered benevolence; at times there may be much soot and grime to scrub, but the goodness is there underneath, more often than not.