An excerpt from my story “The Restless Lost”.
On the TV
I first saw her on TV.
That’s where most people became acquainted with the pretty young woman with the boyish features, standing defiantly in a store in the gloom of Dublin’s city centre, wearing her muddy-green hooded bomber jacket, black cropped pants, black and white sneakers, and a respirator mask. She gripped in her hand a long-necked gas lighter as if it were a 10-inch machete with which she could inflict irreparable damage. She was short, and she was feisty—that much was obvious.
I wasn’t feisty, not at all. If I had to pick three words to describe myself, I would reach for friendly, fastidious, and self-deprecating. The first I’m happy with—I was raised well by my mother, insofar as I was raised to respect others and treat them kindly. “It’s the least you can do,” said my mother, “and there’s no excuse for not doing it.” The second is something that feels beyond my control; maybe finicky is a better word? I obsess over minor details, like how the books are arranged on the bookshelf (alphabetised, divided into categories, all aligned evenly). This supposed flaw also works in my favour in my line of work. The third one, I’m not so crazy about. It’s in my nature, and I don’t know why. But I’m working on it.
My assumption was that the news station’s cameraman was given orders by his director to regularly zoom in on the lighter whenever the opportunity presented itself, creating more tension; more action for the audience at home, I suppose, as if the flash of beacon lights and the barriers holding back the eager onlookers was insufficient entertainment. The news anchor had informed us viewers that after the girl had hurriedly cleared the premises, she locked the doors and proceeded to cover every item of clothing in the store—and her own clothes—in gasoline. The police—or the Guards as they’re known here—arrived shortly after that, and once word began to spread, the production trucks belonging to local television and radio stations arrived en masse and were scattered over the streets like confetti after a lively party. A crowd of curious onlookers, hungry for some drama to shake up their humdrum lives, joined them to watch events unfold.
This was unusual for this city: It was an American event taking place in Ireland.
I’d just returned from a trip to the supermarket, which was a mere ten-minute walk from our bungalow. Alanah had hockey practise after work, and I’d told her that morning that I’d take care of the few items we were short of: shampoo (Alanah insisted on a specific eco-friendly brand), almond milk, fruit (bananas, apples and grapes—the latter red, not green), toilet paper, kitchen towel, free range chicken breast (four), and dental floss (Alanah told me that flossing made no difference to the health of my teeth, but I enjoyed the feel of the strip of minty wire in the gaps; the authority I had over the scraps of leftover pieces of food camped in whichever nooks they could find—they were unruly criminals, and the floss was the law, and as Joe Strummer would tell you, the law won).
I lowered Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto 2 which was playing on my phone, and hired the volume on the TV in the sitting room, so I could hear the news unfold while in the kitchen I put away the few items I’d purchased at the shop.
The news anchor was putting another question to the reporter at the scene:
‘. . . and what do we know about this woman? Has there been any communication between her and Guards at the scene?’
‘We know little of the woman or what her intentions or demands are at this early stage, Bryan. What we do know is that about forty minutes ago, several phone calls were made to the emergency services reporting an incident at the Bastille store on O’Connell Street. As many of our viewers will know, Bastille is the popular Swedish multinational retail-clothing company with multiple outlets throughout Dublin. Many of the callers claimed that a young woman who was in possession of a firearm, and who, I quote, “spoke with a foreign accent,” entered the store and demanded that shoppers and staff leave immediately. When Guards arrived on the scene, witnesses informed them that the woman had proceeded to cover rails of clothes in gasoline before dousing herself. Garda have refused to comment on speculation that this is an act of terrorism. And as of yet there’s no evidence to suggest that the individual is affiliated with a terrorist group. Superintendent Rory O’Dwyer, at the scene, had this to say . . .’
The buzz of my phone took my attention away from the sound of the television. I left the shopping and reached for the remote control on the brown laminate kitchen countertop, pointing it towards the TV in the sitting room and lowering the volume before answering.
‘Hi,’ said a familiar, soft, flat voice: It was Alanah.
‘I thought you had hockey practise?’
She hesitated, before responding no.
‘It’s Friday, you always have hockey practise. That’s why I said I’d pick up the few bits we needed.’
‘I must’ve gotten mixed up,’ she said distantly.
‘Okay . . . So, where are you?’
‘I’m in town, outside Bastille. There’s quite a commotion here.’
‘You’re at the scene?’
‘Yep, it’s pretty crazy. Are they showing it on the news?’
I took the few steps that were required to enter the sitting room from the kitchen, checking if I could catch a glimpse of Alanah at the scene on the television, but of course the camera was on the girl and the lighter in her hand. I flicked to one of the British news channels and they were also covering the story; anything taking place in Europe that was potentially terror-related was guaranteed to be headline news and receive round-the-clock coverage.
‘Yeah, that’s all they’re showing. What’s happening?’
‘I don’t know. There’s someone in the building and they’ve said nothing. One of the Guards went up to the door, but she held up a sign, or something, and told him to stay back. At least that’s what I gathered.’
‘So, no one knows what it’s all about?’
‘No one here, anyway. Unless the Guards know something.’
‘I’d be surprised . . .’
‘Well,’ she began, but didn’t finish.
‘Sorry, there’s something happening. I think they’re moving people back.’
‘Has something happened?’
‘No, they’re just telling people to move back. I can see her moving around inside. She’s wearing a mask . . . a gas mask.’
‘Is it a terror attack?’
‘It’s something, that’s for sure.’
I looked at the TV again; the yellow strip passing along the bottom of the screen read Breaking news: a woman has barricaded herself in a Bastille store in Dublin. Story unfolding . . .
‘So will you be home soon?’ I asked. ‘I can get cooking.’
‘I’ll be back in an hour or so.’
‘Okay,’ I said, making my way back to the kitchen. ‘See you in a bit.’
After hanging up and putting away the rest of the groceries, I began to prep dinner. I placed the chopping board and knife on the countertop, boiled water in a pot, switched on the fan above the cooker. Before I began to chop ingredients, I returned to the sitting room and changed the channel to one of the music stations—Alternative Aces—which was playing The Jam’s A Town Called Malice. I hired the volume, returned to the kitchen, forgot about the drama and the gasoline-covered girl, and in the warmth and noise of the kitchen, I began preparing my dinner as the music seemed to dance around me.
Photograph courtesy of Gabriel on Unsplash.