The Regulars (excerpt)

An excerpt from my story “The Regulars”.

 

As a teenager you repeatedly told yourself that the day you settled was the day you would ascend the tallest building in the city, haul yourself up onto the rooftop, undo your belt buckle, drop your pants, pull off your shirt, and stand at the periphery. Hands on hips, you’d look out at the grey expanse of the city, unclothed and uncaring of the lives of others, just like the vocal cord-shredding moment you entered the living, breathing, combative world covered in placenta and foetal membranes. You would inhale a deep, intoxicating breath of air, and – as if nudged by a gentle breeze – fall over the edge and laugh maniacally as you plunged 36 storeys to your sky-dive death.

   Yet here you sit, twenty years later, feet resting on the couch, the remote control a sailboat full of terrified immigrants on your temperamental, overfed gut; lying in your three-bedroom house that’s adjoined to the neighbouring identical structure like pig-ugly Siamese twins. Your wife is asleep upstairs, as is the kid. Settled. You’d settled. You hadn’t climbed the building, undressed, and taken the plunge.

   Now you sit on this couch chugging a bottle of beer as you watch an online debate between two erudite professors – one of psychology, the other of philosophy – thinking to yourself how you’d never had a hope of being as brilliant as them, no matter how hard you tried: When they’d pulled you from the womb screaming and sticky with vernix, it wouldn’t have been unseemly for them to slap a sticker on your forehead reading ‘intellectually limited/one of the rest’. Your genes would always be working against you, regardless of the visions you had of your future self; they would taunt you daily and haunt you nightly – noticeably worse when the dreams were so triumphant and exquisite that the morning return to reality was especially shattering.

   You raise your leg and fart. There’s moistness. This is now your life – cheap beer and wet farts while listening to men who are much brighter than you speak about the human condition.

   You’d have settled if it meant being one of them.

   Six years before you’d found yourself married with children there were occasions when you’d wake up with a desert-dry mouth and a colossal headache – lying next to the latest sexual adventure whose name you had scribbled on your forearm the previous night so you would remember it come daylight – and you’d think about where you’d come from.

   You had left Dublin on a June morning nine months earlier. You’d left behind boarded-up windows, morning traffic jams, and daily encounters with junkies. You’d also left behind family and friends, and the night-time, liquor-fuelled pulse of the city. You’d abandoned your fellow countrymen and the prevailing charm,  and the late-night Celtic take on the cha-cha-cha, and with it the nascent pathology of a nation seemingly intent on making things harder for the majority of its denizens, year after year.

   Across the Atlantic on a plane filled with fellow travellers, mediocre movies and gag-worthy grub. To St. John’s airport where they searched your bag upon entry and confiscated your copy of Lolita. Tired, irritable, a little hungover – and for those reasons pugnacious – you fought your corner.

   “It’s a novel. A classic.”

   “Sir,” the rotund Canada Border Services Agency employee began, her expression stern, her tone firm — unlike her bowed breasts. She was sweating; her chubby cheeks were red. You’d noted that it wasn’t particularly warm. You’d also noted that she had a bar of chocolate sticking out of one of her pockets. You had thought to yourself Big isn’t beautiful, not matter how you try to spin it, lady; big means big trouble for the pulmonary artery. She’d looked at you and said: “This work is considered a gateway to child pornography.”

   You  rolled your eyes.

   “Are you serious?”

   “Sir, at border security we do not joke,” she said. “We’re not here to entertain you.”

   You considered making a quip, but you didn’t want to risk making things worse. Instead you tried reasoning with her; something you’d come to realise is usually futile when dealing with anyone in a perceived position of power – be it a postal worker, a clerk at the tax office, or in this case a border officer crazy on power – or was it sugar?

   “It’s a classic piece of literature that’s taught at universities around the world. Have you even heard of Nabokov?”

   “Sir,” she said again, raising the book in the air. “I have heard of Nabinko. Yes. I’m merely following procedure here. This book is on a list of prohibited books in Canada. I have the list here right in front of me. You are not permitted to bring this book into the country. It is considered a gateway book . . . Had you been coming from Thailand and not Ireland this may be a much more serious issue.”

   “Thailand?”

  “Yes, sir. Thailand has a high rate of Western child molesters. This book is a gateway book.”

   “So, you’re going to take my book?” you asked.

   “You have two options,” she said. “Your first option is that I take your book and destroy it, and we forget about this whole incident. The second–”

    “This is an incident?”

   Ignoring you, she continued, placing a form in front of you. “The second option is you can fill out this form, contesting the decision, and you will be flagged on every North American flight for the next four years.”

   “Flagged as what?”

   “As someone who was in possession of a gateway book, sir.”

   You shook your head. “Fine,” you said. “Destroy the book.”

   “Okay, sir,” she said, before she permitted your entry into the Great White North and issued you your work permit. As you left to board your connecting flight, you felt outraged and embarrassed by what had occurred, but also relieved that they hadn’t noticed your copy of O’ Conner’s My Oedipus Complex and Other Stories, which may have made things a little more awkward considering the literary ignoramus you had dealt with.

   You proceeded to Vancouver and there you were greeted by a downpour heavier than anything you’d experienced in Dublin – something you’d thought was an impossibility – and after you’d boarded the meandering Sky Train and exited at the Yaletown-Roundhouse station – people zipping by left and right under umbrellas and newspapers – you ventured to the nearest newsagents and when you looked at the Vancouver Sun you read the headline When Will It Stop Raining?

   As you dragged your suitcase along Hornby Street towards your AirBnB you googled bookstores in Canada. Your search results presented you with a major bookseller, and after you tapped at the rain-speckled screen thumbing a search you stopped walking as you were greeted by the book, in stock, ready for purchase:

  Nabokov, Lolita, $12.99.

   You arrived at your temporary apartment, your clothes heavy and your skin soaked. The airport worker mocked you, the search result mocked you, the rain mocked you.

   Things had gotten off to a bad start. You should’ve known then to get out. But the North-Hollywood vibe, the superficial parties, the Canadian take on the cha-cha-cha; much more refined, much less feral, more polite, less genuine, all of this blinded you and led you down the road to where you’d wound up.

   The kid cries. You move the remote. Your back aches as you stand up.

   You ascend the stairs, not the tallest building.

   You try not to think.

   But that’s impossible.

Nothin’ But the Hits Vol. 2

An excerpt from a story about a discontented rock star who becomes a hitman.

—————————————————————

 

It’s 2010. I’m adored. I’m surrounded by women. I’m the lead singer in a hugely successful rock band. I’m a Sagittarius. I’m the savior of rock ‘n’ roll, according to Rolling Stone. I’m the self-proclaimed Devourer of Pussy. I’m a vagrant. I’m bored. I’m writing songs. I’m playing Madison Square Garden. I’m the recipient of four Grammy awards. I’m in recording studios. I’m partial to drugs. I’m jaded. I’ve been singing in a band since I was fourteen. I’ve been touring with that band since I was twenty. Seven years up on stage. Seven years travelling, sweating, drinking, puking, fucking. Seven years having a good time. Seven years. I’m bored. Did I mention I’m bored? I met Pauly recently. Pauly. Yeah, Pauly. Me ‘n’ Pauly. All right. Seven years. Now Pauly.

   I’m gonna kill.

 

The merciless present

                                _

I’d grown a beard, and to my surprise it worked as a deterrent; people didn’t seem to recognize me. It added at least ten years. Two weeks earlier I’d been approached by a chubby sonuva bitch who introduced himself as Pauly. Pauly, who spoke with a New York accent and sounded like he was suffering from indefinite indigestion, told me that he worked for important people, whatever the hell that meant. He wouldn’t disclose who his employers were. He said they weren’t bad guys, but they weren’t necessarily good, neither. But I didn’t care. He asked me to kill. I told him I’d been killing all my life. He told me to cut the shit, that he meant really kill. I asked him who he wanted dead, and he told me it didn’t matter, and whether or not I was interested. I told him I’d sleep on it. That night, before sleeping on it, I drank, like most nights. The beard resulted in the absence of attention. I liked it. Maybe I’d keep the facial hair. One of my songs played in the bar. I sang along.

   I watched the drunks. I smoked a cigarette. I’d considered quitting because, while I loved it, my lungs were hurting. Constantly. I felt like I was on the verge of death. But the doc checked me out, said I was good. Told me I was healthy as a beautiful butterfly fluttering around in the sunshine. Another doctor once told me that if there were something really wrong, my body would tell me. The problem was my body had been telling me for so long that I could no longer believe it. My body was a god damn liar.

   The next morning I phoned Pauly and told him I’d kill, but that it would have to wait a couple of weeks while the band finished working our latest record. He told me he was proud of me. I told him to cut the shit and that I’d speak to him in two weeks.

   Did I agree to this because I was bored? Was I out of my mind? When wasn’t I out of my mind? I’d always been out of my mind. What harm was there in disposing of a few fuckheads, anyway?

 

♠♠♠♠

 

   It was to be more intricate than I had anticipated. Pauly caught up with me and informed me that the person I was to kill was, like me, in the public eye somewhat. I had never heard of him. He was a politician. Politics never really interested me – politics gets in the way of progress.

   We were sat in a bar near the Garden. It was daytime, and the bar was gloomy and stank of something stale. There were only about a dozen people there, and Pauly sat by a window with a drink in front of him.

   Pauly was tired. Not only on that day; he was simply tired. His defeated brown eyes offered no hope or expectations. They were done, disinterested. Why he kept going I did not know, but, then again, what’s the alternative, heaven? He was in his fifties and had a mass of untidy, flaxen hair. His belly always cried for food, it seemed. Every time I saw him his shirt was unbuttoned in some place. He always wore stubble. I couldn’t understand why he played the role of arranging for people to be murdered; it all seemed too macabre for him. He looked like someone who had let things get to him, a thinker, and surely that meant he was in the wrong business. Maybe he’d be murdered himself if he didn’t cooperate. I didn’t really wanna know, anyway.

   I just wanted something else.

   Something new.

   ‘You’ve sold a lot of records,’ said Pauly, sipping his scotch.

   ‘I know,’ I replied.

   ‘You wanna know why it was you who I approached, not some ordinary, everyday lowlife. Some schmuck?’

   ‘No.’

   ‘You looked tired, fed up.’

   ‘So do you.’

   ‘That’s why I got in the game.’

   ‘You were so fed up that you decided to get involved in executions?’

   ‘Isn’t that why you’re here right now?’

   ‘I’m a little bored, sure.’

   Pauly turned and faced the bar that was to my right, then sighed and looked at me.

   ‘There’s no reason to most things. Even though the people I work for see a reason in doing what we do, it’s all bullshit at the end of the day. It’s just something to keep me ticking over, I guess. Something to keep me from . . well, it’s something.’

   ‘You have a family?’ I asked.

   ‘I did. I don’t see ‘em no more. Couldn’t stand being a family man, to be honest. Too much noise. I like a quiet house.’

   Just then, as Pauly’s tired eyes looked down at his pathetic, bulbous belly, a brilliant ray of sunshine invaded the bar, shedding light on us all, and for that brief moment I felt a sense of elation. A reminder that space was still there.

   And space made sense.

♠♠♠♠

 

   Over the next few days (in between recording) I made some lists. The first list I made was apt: ‘Reasons for Killing’. Another list I made was a ‘Favorite Drinks’ list, one a ’Top Five Live Concerts’ list, and the last list was ‘Women Whose Pussies I’ve Devoured’.

   I ran out of paper.