He turned onto Moore Street where his Ma slipped on a rasher and croaked. That was a good while ago now though he couldn’t be sure, it was all mushed. ‘Coconut head’, she’d called him in her fond no vodka moments, not because of the shape of his noggin but for the way his Da kicked the nelly out of it, side to side, smashing him into navy dots. Army boots with a clown’s mouth rip covered from the inside with a plastic Knorr soup packet to keep the rain out. She thought it was gas. Seemed a bit twisted to him now. He still snagged memories of her freckle-splattered arms doing the octopus sway in the bingo halls here when he was knee high to an ashtray, small as a mouse’s diddy.
Aul Ones with Rothmans-stained chins shouting, ‘Two fat ladies, go on Jimmy, get up and run, thirty one…dirty Gertie, clicketyclick, staying alive, eighty five!’ Some were able to handle four and five bingo cards at a time, marking the numbers like Phil Collins on drums. Bash bash bash. He’d lay on his spindlies gazing up their A-Line skirts, musty whiff of brown tights on an afternoon in November 1970-something. Disco lights, apples sours, dusty bin.
Now he was out of the Seventies into a new Century where the whole world had descended onto the same street. “Anthony! Anthony! over here!” yer one shouted. A right carrot top. “This way!”
He hoped she wasn’t a social worker. Bottler, not Anthony. No-one called him Anthony these days. He couldn’t stomach those smug tarts from the Health Service Executive. He hadn’t practised what to say but his choice if she gave him one would be a course on computers. They’d blinked by him the years he’d been on the gear. Missed the whole digital revolution. Couldn’t even look up The Google now. Survived on stale pineapple cake and sloppy kebabs from out-of-date food skips outside Aldi. Got by on mobile phones. Plucking them from Luas carriages. Selling to teenagers in pink lycra. He felt bad about that shit. Pinching, grabbing, punching. Felt bad about not remembering. Found out in rehab over a cup of Rosie Lee that he’d slept in a dog kennel for a year, had half his guts removed, grew a batch of holes on his tongue the length of a scallion. But his Da was right, all you had to do in this life was survive no matter what and hope a rhinoceros doesn’t shit on your head.
She was standing on the corner at Buffet 79, holding a plastic folder, looking the mutt’s nuts.
“So nice to finally meet you! I tell you what, you’re a hard man to get hold of! We’ve been writing to you for weeks. Well look, you’re here now, thank God you answered your phone. I’m Aoibheann!” She was gripping onto his arm like they’d known each other since nippers. He was throwin’ a reddener on account of her being so over fucking familiar ‘n all.
“Howayea,” he said, unhooking her. “Ye alright, wot’s de buzz?”
“This is it here, what do you think, huh?” Hadn’t a crusty what she was on about. They were outside an orange building with spitting air vents and roast duck stink. A poster with ‘group love’ on the wall and a load of slappers in red Tulip dresses dancing in a circle. She stuck a folder into his hands. Snap of a man facing sideways with a giant hooter on the cover, military uniform, oval cloud of mist behind him.
“I know what you’re thinking, not much on the outside. That was the planners’ intentions, you know, to retain the façade throughout the lane way, renovating the inside a la modern day.”
Her voice trailed off as he glanced at more posters on the opposite wall: a gold man pulling his torso apart to get to the gold coins inside him. Paul Weller looking on in dark glasses, arms folded. Two dykes sitting up on new Audis, whipping the bonnets goodo.
“There’s only sixteen apartments Anthony. You’re in the Padraig Pearse suite. Well now ‘suite’ is a bit American isn’t it!? I prefer to call them apartments or you might like ‘flats’. Whatever you’re comfortable with. Sure we won’t argue over it!”
He’d slip her one alright. Queer bit of skirt. Air bags knockers. Cheese puff lips.
“Will we head in so, shall we? Do you know who this is Anthony?” she asked, pointing again to the big-nosed spamhead on the brochure. “It’s Pearse himself! This is where it happened. Well, here and up the road…whole block is on the Record of Protected Structures now. While the main building is a good bit up, this is where a lot of the men actually died. Though it was a new beginning for the rest of us, that’s for sure, but oh God” – she stopped to grab her heart through her mint lambswool jumper – “It’s a desperate sad story. Brutality of it. Dozens fell on the stones right here. Bled to death in the gutters. O’Rahilly, riddled with bullets, managed to pen a letter in his own blood to his wife and kids. Sure you wouldn’t even have time to send a text these days, can you imagine?”
Well yeah, he could. It was in an alley just like this that they dealt with Scuttler for a €500 debt. Still gave him the night rattles. Draino sticking the knife in just above the belly. Flipping the fucker over to get to the spine. Doin’ his girdle sack, screams, like a girls’. ‘Shut that cunt up till I get the work done,’ he told him. Slicing upwards to make sure he was paralysed. Chinee sticking his head out from the back of a restaurant door and shutting it again, pronto, bolts clanking. Rain coming down, steel pin rain in goose grey, washing yer man’s wails away. Bleeding out. They lit two joints, watched him wriggle. “It’ll be over in a minute, stop stressing!” Draino roared. “I thought you’d take it a bit better than this, for fuck’s sake!”
“This is the entrance hall to the apartments,” Aoibheann explained. “The walls tell the stories of the ordinary lives, OK, not just the heroes! See this little man and woman, James Rooney and his wife Cora…they were in their eighties…braved the machine gun fire to hide some of the men in their basement that day, 29th April, 1916”. She turned to her paperwork to double check the date. Then pointed to a laundry room out the back and a shared shed for storage and locking bicycles.
“Fair balls to them,” Anthony replied, though to be honest, they looked like a right pair of spanners. The woman in particular.
“And here we have The O’Rahilly’s letter to his wife. We got a calligrapher from the National College of Art and Design to do it in gold leaf and flecks of bottle green. Beautiful isn’t it?”
Darling Nancy, I was shot leading a rush up Moore Street, took refuge in a doorway. While I was there I heard the men pointing out where I was & I made a bolt for the lane I am in now. I got more [than] one bullet I think. Tons and tons of love dearie to you & to the boys & to Nell & Anna. It was a good fight anyhow.
Names of more hoagies doused on the plaster, fucking eejits who shot themselves trying to bash down doors with rifle butts to save their own arses. Whacked some of their mates in the scuffle. Others lying with bits of legs hanging off, firing off orders. James Connolly on a stretcher, guts dangling. Some wounded plank tripping over him with all the gunsmoke, grenades and other shit the Brits had at their disposal. Must’ve been a right bunch of psychos. Photograph of a nurse who’d booted around like a blue bottle with messages for the main boyos, trying to get them to grab the white flag. He remembered none of this from school. The Safe Cross Code, how clouds formed from condensation, Christmas carols in Irish. That’s what he remembered in eight years of primary school. Not these maggots.
“This is your apartment, No. 3, well, that was the date Pearse was executed: 3rd May, they’ve thought of everything.”
His apartment? Was she a fucking brandy snap short of a picnic? But he’d keep stum, say nothing, sign nothing. A short stroll around a sitting room painted in hospital white looking out over McColgan’s Butchers. Her talking shite about skirting boards a quarter up the wall for an easy clean, plug holes, an interactive Wi-Fi telly with built in CCTV, steam mop in the cupboard. It was a lottery system, with all their names bunged in from the Rehab gaff. Irish men and Irish women, in the name of God and the dead generations, and whatever else. His name, third pulled. Lifelong sublet deductible from the scratcher. Part of the planning regs for the commemoration block and new Insurgents Visitor Centre.
“You have twelve days to sign the lease and get the documents back to Dublin City Council, OK? The address is here,” she told him, rubbing her fingers up and down where Pearse’s hoop was at the back of the brochure. “Make the most of the opportunity Anthony. You’re a hero now in your own right, the way you’ve knocked the drugs on the head for good. How long is it?”
“Two years,” he told her. “This Christmas or thereabouts, anyways.”
“Well good for you,” she said, “You should be well proud!”
He knew plenty who died for Ireland or because of her. Hasslebat, with his ginger eyebrows lit up like hot worms in a snow of forehead. Face half eaten by his own Jack Russell after overdosing in a boat-house down the canal. Gonzo and Widearse Wendy in a car smash down the docks when they were sleeping rough in the Punto. Many more in slob fights, knife slices, ganger brawls. He’d been too out of it in those times to make any of the funerals. Didn’t see the point when they were already wormfood.
If Pearse could be President of his own Republic, then he could be too. Sixteen thousand troops swarmed into Dublin in 1916 to wreck the bleedin’ gaff. That was more than the entire Garda Drug Squad and army reserve now. Who the fuck did they think they were!? He’d call up his troops too:
Dickie who’d do anything for a six pack of Dutch Gold. Brains, the nasty little dwarf from up around Sheriff Street who’d stick a gun up your hole quick as a bum doctor in the Mater. The Finglas twins who loved to scrap for no reason, mad bitches. The preparation would have to be secret, no dribblers, no rats.
He could see himself in full Pearse pose swaggering down Moore Street commanding the charge: “We’re going to take on the Somali pushers,” he’d tell them. “Yez’ll horse up the lane here when I give the word”.
Each of them swinging a fifty euro shooter.
“We’re putting a stop to this Zimovane shite the kids are selling for €8 a pack. It’s feeding their gaming addiction. Only a matter of days or weeks before they’re snorting the yayo or chewing the gat, are yez hearing me?”
“Yes Bottler!” they’d roar. “Yes Bottler!”
“We’re gonna free all those hookers they send into Jury’s Inn to suck off concert promoters, there’ll be no women sellin’ their holes in my Republic.”
“We’re gonna clean up this town, no more stabbings or stupid fucking killings.”
“We’re gonna bring eternal peace to these poxy streets.”
“We’re striking for freedom, do yez even know what that means?”
He stared across the sitting room towards the microwave. Never thought he’d own one of those pingers. Draino would be out of the clink in two years and he didn’t forget. No matter where he was, he’d find Bottler. Oh his Ma always said he’d be kicked to death by some loon if she didn’t get hold of him first. Her arthritic claw reaching down the banisters, pulling him up onto the landing…stamping on his ankle bones when he was cowering on the ground before she’d start proper. It wouldn’t be that hard to find a plonker to sell a pizza warmer to. Had to be worth at least a tenner up around Argos. He took the SIM card from the phone, flicked it into the fancy swing bin, grabbed the keys. Snatched the €100 Dunnes Stores voucher Aoibheann left for ‘essentials’, mozied to the door.
“Losers!” he screamed at the faces pinned to the wall. “I’ve never seen a bigger bunch of fucking losers!”
** This story was short-listed for the 2016 The Sunday Business Post / Penguin Ireland short story prize. It was also read at the Bogman’s Canon Fiction Disco and Staccato Spoke Word night in Toner’s pub, Baggot St.
He knew he smelt like a sardine but that’s what Polish beer does to a man on a low wage. With names like Tatra, Tyskie, and Zywiec, he may well have been downing fermented donkey piss the night before. The smug knotty face on the bent cop who ran the offie on a privately paid for unflappable hip made him madder than an IKEA jack saw, and to top it off he woke to Gina screaming blue shite cos he forgot the green lentils – she was on a wholefood buzz since her arse went all weather balloon – but it was the thoughts of the natterbeans that was pushing him pleasantly and comprehensively into the dark place.
If he’d half a brain or a quarter of a heart he’d feel sorry for the fuckers, but the natterbeans were a type of celestial cabbage he just abhorred, and when he passed Fanagans funeral home with the overflowing bottle bins slumped at its gates and bits of torn brown tights flying from the tangled railings of an aulone’s wet dream, one of them jumped in all lickety spit and said, ‘Alright bro, you and me are mates aren’t we, you nor gonna give me no jip cos I’m having a fuck of a day like…I’ll pay ye goodo, yeah, I’ll see ye alright when I get me glasses as me old Ma used to say but I never really did know what she meant. Ma’s are fucking mad aren’t they, but you know what I’m gerrin’ at, don’t ye? Ah sure, I’ll shut me trap and we’ll probably get there quicker, isn’t that the way bud?
‘Where are we going to?’, he found himself saying, a man in staccato, in a sock of shock. ‘Just tell me where we’re heading to.’
‘Well I tell ye what, I’m natterbean up at the clinic and they was fuckin’ me around cos they says I ain’t got a prescription or that I did have one in anyways but I don’t no more so I’ve to head to this other gaff up around Meath Street and talk to a Mr. Doody who’ll sort me out at another clinic till the Finglas one get word of where their prescription went to…a bunch of jokers’.
‘Where are we going to?’ He asked again, but not so politely this time, adding that he wanted to see the cash, out with the spondoolies, pass the notes to the front for him to look at.
‘Stall the ball there bud, don’t be going all Padraig Pearse on me…you think I’m just another trackie don’t ye, but here, c’mere, I can answer most of dem questions on Deal or No Deal, do ye watch dat, do ye?’
He’d been stung too many times lately by the likes of him. The last natterbean, well he had to reef him back into the car through the front window by the scruff, so far gone, so wasted, so emaciated, he would’ve been able to do a runner through a cat flap if he’d had his jimminy bits about him. That particular night he drove like a gazelle with a rocket up its hole, through the Port Tunnel and on up past the airport, out into the spuds and strawberries for sale countryside, with its vulgar houses and Breaded Chicken Breast With Pineapple pubs, dumping him in a field without his Nikes or jacket, a few farewell slaps…he took his social welfare & medical cards just so he’d forget forever who he really was, left him there at the hem of humanity for the dawn to deal with.
‘It’s nice to be nice, don’t be all rough bud like one of dem bleedin’ leg breakers,’ he said, ‘Didn’t I tell ye we were going up as far as Meath Street. I’m natterbean up at the bank, ‘ve plenty of paper on me so I ‘av. I’ll give ye extra if ye wait for uz. I’ll give ye a tenner up front now even though yezer clock only says a fiver, how’s that fur a bargain bucket?’
‘Do me a favour,’ he said, this time pulling the taxi over at the side of the road before they headed further into the cesspit, ‘Will ye try to shut your hoop on the way, I can’t concentrate if someone is nattering constantly, nothing personal, I’m sure you’re a nice fella, blah blah blah, but we’ll get on much better if we can get there as quickly and as peacefully as we can.’
He adjusted his mirror to take a closer look. He had the same mushroom pallor and knee jerkiness as the other natterbeans, but with a thin pointy face that was extra alert; a morning fox in an industrial estate looking for crane flies. His uneven shoulders and busted nose were also a bit typical. Teeth yellow as corn on the cob, stinking of Lynx over dirt and cherry bubblegum.
‘Yeah yea yea yea what did I fuckin’ tell ye, he’s a messer, don’t mind him, fuckin’ spacer so he is,’ he whined into his mobile. ‘I’m natterbean up there with Natalie dis morning and she says it’s sorted, I’ve to go here first on a message, gizza buzz back in an hour.’
He was glaring at his phone, pressing on the buttons like a physio prat would on a scabby foot. ‘Here, bud, will ye pull over there for a second, there’s me old Homie at the corner, I owe him a fiver.’
Homie was a fat man on one leg with a squeegee of green hair you could wash a pile of dishes with in a hotel kitchen. He could hear the Honda 50 drawl of both their voices building up at breakneck speed into an ambulance ‘warrrhhh warrrrhhh warrrrh warrrr’, before he was back in the car again. He better not be messing him around. The clock was up to €14 already. He wasn’t about to bring him on a round-trip of inner city Dublin dealers in dank car parks and lurid lane-ways strewn with needles and cabbage leaf.
The last one had the wool rightly pulled, taking him to five different chemists for her ‘fy’ while robbing them of expensive face cream. I’m only trying to make an honest living like you,’ she’d said, jumping back into his car. ‘I’m natterbean in prison four times already and I’ll never go back, so relax .’ His reg was taken on CCTV and he had to call into the guards and explain. It’s not his job to ask questions as long as the punter pays up, but he got a fine from the carriage office regardless.
‘Can ye turn down here for a minute bud,’ he said when they hit the grey bulk of Christchurch. ‘There’s me mate Bottler, just want to say howayea, his Mrs had a baby a few weeks back, they had to sew up her piss bag, she’s in an awful state.’
Bottler staggered out of a doorway looking like a Grade-A psycho who’d snap yer fingers off quicker than a fat kid at de zoo would break up a Kit Kat. Natterbean gave him a man slap on the shoulder and made his way back to the car.
‘He looks a bit of a head-the-ball, that fella, if you don’t mind me saying?’ He wanted to say something to draw his attention to the clock. ‘Just letting you know with the few stops already, It’s up to €18 now.’
‘No bother bud,’ he said. ‘Here’s another Lady Godiva, I’ll give ye the rest when we get there. That fella used to be a brilliant house breaker, so he was, but the Hungarians have all that wrapped up now. They put fucking broken glass outside bedroom doors so if you hear noise in the middle of the night ye smash up yer feet if ye have a gander. Filthy stuff that is. We never did anything like that. Always straight in and out. It’s not on, some poor old prick cuttin’ his feet te ribbons, you don’t do shit like that but dem Hungarians and Russians are mad, they’ve no respect.’
At the corner of Meath Street and Engine Alley a red hoodie made a run for the window, ‘There ye are ye mad cunt!’ He roared in. ‘I’m natterbean only been talking about you to Skittles and the lads!’ He held onto the boot as the light turned, falling over on his arse and rolling towards the drain. Natterbean was punching more digits on his mobile as the chemist came into view. He thought of Gina. ‘It’s €22 on the clock,’ I’ll need paying as soon as you come out.’
He’d accidentally seen her Tinder talk a few weeks before. Gina left her pink iPhone in the newly-built utility room ironically enough thrown on top of some dirty duvet covers – he hadn’t even heard of dating apps for phones – a kind of Hailo for getting your hole. It might’ve only been a chat with this Paul fella but it still hurt like fuck to know she could’ve been that lonely or desperate after 22 years. Now this knucklehead of a natterbean was punching on his phone just like she’d done with Candy Crush. There was probably a junkie app as well, swaying thumb tacks on Google Maps for those desperate for a hit. He’d made a good few stops after all, no such thing as convenience or coincidence in their cosmos of chaos. ‘You can pay me what you owe and get out of the car.’
‘Don’t be freaking the beak,’ he said, ‘Jaysus I’m natterbean in a queue the size of a black man’s mickey, It’s pure mayhem! They’re making everyone down it in front of the nurse on account of dem wackos keeping it in their gobs and spitting it out into plastic cups to sell outside. Here, there’s thirty euro and I need one more favour in Ringsend.’
Is this what she’d been doing too, sending him off on ‘little jobs’ as she called them, all over the city, cut price curtains in Debenhams, a parasol in Woodies, while yer man was messing with her plumbing controls at home?
‘Are you dealing skank and using me as a Muppet to drive you around?’ He barked at natterbean, who was once again, punching the shit out of his mobile phone.
‘No way, no way, I’m not a scummer, not like dat bud, no way.’ He could see him now in the mirror pulling at a sausage shape in his crotch. He’d heard about heroin making them extra fertile and methadone making ye horny, it was an endless cycle of new drugs and new wombs full of babies. To think that him and Gina planned their sprog right from when her ovaries were steaming, up to the Camengo Lollipops & Animals wallpaper he’d ordered from France as a surprise after she’d done the big heave-ho. Didn’t even wet Sindy’s head so he’d be there, bolder soldier by her side. He waited til the stitches healed enough to let her home in his taxi laced with cerise balloons chasing all three of them through the cobbles of Dublin. ‘I’ll suck out de snot if I have te,’ he told her, ‘And when she gets on a bit I’ll collect her in the work limo from school so she’ll feel like a rap princess at her first gig in Wembley.’
Natterbean pulled out a wad of notes, at least a couple of grand and told him a mate of his, a good guy, a dad, a brother, a footballer before he kicked into the smack, was gonna get it in the head tonight from a nackbag worse than The Nidge…that’s where they were heading now and he’d done a collection to get him on the boat to England. ‘I’ll give ye a hundred to collect him at Ringsend and bring him to the boat in East Wall. Have we a deal bud?’
He wasn’t expecting this. ‘Sure thing, no problem, it’s no harm to help a bloke out, this town is gone rough as a nun’s moustache.’
Clippers open when they reached the docks cos it wasn’t that long since Nulty had his license swiped and car impounded by Special Branch for helping Cocaine Crispin drop off a load set for the UK jog into Europe. Matters piggery shite if the cops know you’re just a cog, they’re more likely to go after the deputies than the mofos who can afford water wheels and brass dragons outside big dirty gaffs in Meath and Kildare. Nulty’s Mrs shut the door and kept on power walking when he could no longer pay the mortgage. Never got over it, though he got back on track as a security guard after. ‘That’s it for me’, he told the lads in the Come On Inn. ‘No more fish in the fryer when ye marry your first and pray she’ll be the last. I wouldn’t know what to do with a new bird’s bits. I’d fuckin’ shit meself so I would.’
The docks had a sheeny buzz since they’d done them all up on Fine Fáil chips. No more rust bunks sitting on giant metal plinths. Through civil wars and world wars and the IRA’s gun-running gobshites on the run from themselves, they’d all hid down here. First batches of heroin were held up here. Prozzies from Eastern Europe were brought in through here, young lives spent sucking on office peckers dreamin’ of getting out in a footballer’s convertible before been shot in the head as a favour to a crack Baron in Cabra for a write-off of a few quid or other. He could even imagine the scrawny famine families dressed in linen sacks carrying malnourished mites onto ships here.
He imagined Gina and yer man up on deck staring down with grotto faces knowing they’d never be back again but being sure they’d starve to death on the way. He’d like to send her back to screaming famine and shove a pile of typhus down her gullet for good measure. Not in a million fucking years did he think she’d put out for anyone other than him. That had been the Majorca promise. Nothing but the egg smell of sewer and seaweed sea had stayed the same since those rotten times back then. There was even an apartment block now in the shape of a cruise liner for those twats that worked in Google and the likes. At night you could see the neon fish swimming up their walls as far out as Howth.
‘There’s de purr cunt there!’ said Natterbean, pointing to a plonker in a grey duffel coat, slumped up against a wet wall with black anchor chains, arguing with a seagull. ‘Breezer, over ‘ere, c’mere, ye fuckin’ queer!’ He froghopped out when the car was still only slowing. They wobbled towards each other, slap slap, mind yerself, where’s me gym bag, take care, no you take care, I’ll take care, but will you take care, let uz know. Stay gizmo’d until he heard of them getting de chop. All of ‘em uns ended up sucking worms before they were thirty.
‘I need a hundred now before we go further,’ he told him. ‘The clock’s been off over an hour.’ He drove slowly, snakily out, ignoring the fact that the gobshite was crying. ‘Junkies don’t cry,’ he thought. ‘They wouldn’t know what it meant’.
She’d be moaning the toss when he got back. Ye forgot this, ye didn’t pick up dat. Where’s me bleedin’ lentils? Didn’t I say no matter wha bring me back de green lentils. He’d be in no mood for an ear-lashing, the night shift only a few shite hours away. ‘Would ye ever give me a bitta space,’ he’d say. ‘I’m natterbean out all day working, the least you can do is shut that sinkhole of a gob and put the kettle on.’ Then he’d smile and tell her she’d a nice ripe arse.
**This ditty/story was written (in a hurry!) and performed for the Barrytown Trilogy Readings at DLR libraries in April 2015, as part of Colm Keegan’s writer in residence gig. It’s a deliberate nod to Roddy Doyle’s style of writing, with a contemporary twist, of course. I read alongside Stephen James Smith, Colm (of course), Karl Parkinson, and musicians Enda Reilly and Sinéad White. My next reading will be part of the Bogman’s Cannon ‘Fiction Disco’ on November 13th at 7.30pm in Toners, Baggot Street, where I’ll read a story about 1916 in relation to the Ireland we endure now.
Three months since my brother died, laid out in his naff crocs & Hawaiian shirt, coffin stuffed with kid’s presents in a flat-pack funeral shed whiffing of piss, ulcers, Airwick and necrotic tissue. Since then there’s been a number of misadventures: his mate was found dead in the Orwell river a month later, an early morning gynae plunge from a doctor in Cathal Brugha Street after bleeding for a month (stress, it turns out), low-blood pressure blackout in the Botanics, an easily forgotten triptych, frenzied attack from a phlegminist with duck eyes, drink binges with a purple cauliflower and an unpleasant encounter with an S&M coked-up oily intellectual I mistook for a friend. All of it: a dance with neutrons and protons. The kind of weird shit ghosts probably do with each other. Grief is not what I imagined it would be. Some mornings I wake up kicking like a frog.
Days when I cannot slink out of bed at all. Ceiling seals me in and I crave the very thing that’s set to ruin me. Lanky spiders dangle as doom so often does, perilously, timidly, lowering and hiring like arcade claws.
I didn’t see my brother for months on end as he lived in the UK but I always went over for New Year, booking a flight around now. This year it’ll be early-February for a fund-raiser to pay for his headstone. Everything and everyone in the ever meantime is getting on my tits. Junkies sucking jam at the ATM, flat cap aulfellas snailing on crutches smelling of tobacco and cabbage, gym bunnies, crusties who tie terriers to the trolley train outside Tesco, colleagues talking incessantly, cultural crusaders who turn up to events blah-blahing for litre dollops of free wine, nosy neighbour frog-sprawling the compost bin to scavenge for news, backpedal/backtrack/capsize, geriatrics sky-diving into scones in the cafe. Isn’t it well for them, long life!? Remembering how shit and old and thin and tumoured my bro looked, dead in his 40s, neat little blood clot at the end of his nose where they’d drained him. “Madam, would you like a glass of water before you go in?”. Will I ever forget that day, limping into the cheap shit-arse industry job-lot of death, intestinal stench, tiny lobby where the receptionist filed her nails, fan buzzing on the desk, being led through a door to a pencil-case line of collapsible booths – one open at a time – other refrigerated bodies waiting for family members to park-up. Back home in Ireland, the witch in the off-licence around the corner counting the bottles of wine & winking, headless woman struggling to goo out her own body, forgetting she no longer has eyes.
I walk out past the squiggle of purposeless shops and homeless men who nudge their heads up like broken birds from splintered eggs in the basement of the church, and on to the Tolka Bridge where an orange city fox once followed me in the first draft of morning, calling me a slut.
My head has been [and is] a tin of mushy peas. As of this week I’ve told friends to piss off till mid-2013 and have dived back into the novel. It’s about junkies squatting above an abandoned bank in D.7 who get mixed up with the Russian mafia. There’s a rake of Band-Aid fleeting characters; Beamer the old tramp with no veins. Hasslebat, his ginger eyebrows lighting up hot worms in a snow of forehead. Widearse Wendy: ‘Scuzzz me scuzzzz me scuwizzzzmeee. Do you want me to be like you? Is that it, do you want me to be like fuukin’ you?’ There’s end-of-rope junkies all over the city and everyone’s ignoring it in literature. Writers are still concentrating on haybarns, finches, the country-girl’s lightening exit to London, angry farmers and the phasing out of EU quotas, lonely men sitting on Calor Gas barrels in winter! That’s the global impression of Ireland in books. There are amazing Irish writers like Kevin Barry who are beautifully pissing about with form, with language, Mike McCormack’s dazzlingly strange short stories, Mary Costello’s quiet collection of small agonies. Few are writing about Shit City with the exception of maybe naff detective novels. I grew up in the city so I feel compelled to write about it. I was a Mod at 14, roaming the streets when the first heroin users were struck down with AIDS, that sliver of time when girls were still sent to laundries but the morning after pill was just available if you knew where to go. This novel is about Gonzo & Carol and their Jack Russell, Phib, a story of second-generation drug use, turgid love, the grisly struggle to survive. It’s grim, hairy, stupid, and it’ll be told from three different points of view. I’ve no idea if it’ll work but am determined as hell to give it a good go. Here’s a [wee taster!] on how they got together, part of the back story late in Chapter One:
The city tipped down in a duck beak towards the Garden of Remembrance, rain scattering Swarovski beads on the path as he plonked along. He thought of Carol’s fresh face at 18. Cement angels leaned chin forward from Georgian chimneys. Dogs of light barked down. ‘I’m out of me bleedin’ nugget!’ he said, out loud, pissing himself. Pains fostered out elsewhere, he felt boundless, happy. Met her roight here with a gang of inner-city boys from de flats around Dominic Street, drinking cans and dancing to U2 songs on a ghetto-blaster sometime in the middle of 1994. She’d weight on her then, chubby sweet smile, horse-tail of hair whooshing from end to end in de sunbeams. They kissed for an hour without stopping: wet balmy tongue slosh he’d never done with any other bird. Sometimes he still felt guilty, but Leather Joe said, ‘There’s no stopping some, and ye never forced her to take it.’ The counsellor from NewPaths also explained that ‘damaged people have a knack of stumbling on one another no matter what, in the way that water always seems to meet its own level.’ It made sense that first time they tried to get off it together. Both their dads were alcos and bashed them. Both their Ma’s couldn’t see anything wrong with their Da’s, and bashed them. Few weeks later, they fumbled and gorged and slopped into one another under the flat-leaf bushes in the Gardens. ‘What ye doin’ to me boy, wot ye bleedin’ doin’ to me!?’ Lads circling the railings, clutching chimps, uuumphin’ them on. ‘Slapper! Do her one!’ Afterwards they said Gonzo was a right grunter, like those fuckin’ mating seals on RTÉ. ‘It’s you and me babe, no-one else babe, you’ll do me babe.’
Shell suits shimmered. A middle-aged man munched Wotsits. Someone else gurgled a gollier up and down an out-of-view nose shaft. Lovers in fake fur jackets, cuddled. Cineworld Parnell Street on a Thursday night for Brendan Muldowney’s debut film: Savage, starring Darren Healy and Nora-Jane Noone. I was really apprehensive. Most films about Ireland – and especially Dublin – are of the Carrolls Gifts & Souvenirs variety. Jovial women with croissant-shaped curls scrubbing doorsteps, their bacon rumps facing the sky…orthopaedically-challenged husbands bandying down to the pub for a game of cards. Or when the shit-grit is tackled, it usually depicts gangland scangers as dotingly hilarious, in-between ripping nails off with a pliers or disembowelling with a blowtorch for a €200 cocaine debt while a St. Patrick’s Day parade carries on as normal outside.
I was apprehensive too because there’s a PC-tendency to deny what is freely available to the naked eye all over Dublin: junkies lurching forward in Zombie mode spouting delirium (“scuzzzzzz meeeeee, hav yi got mi bus fayerrr”), Romany kids being led to beg for people who can’t look after them, homeless men covered in piss eating out of bins, mothers fag-choking their fetals to birth outside the Rotunda, shoplifters and car thieves creating ‘opportunities’ in a country where policy stolidly lacks them. And so on. Nothing is as scary as the streets of Dublin at night-time, even if you’re terminally twee and desperately want to pretend you’re blind.
There was a 300% rise in muggings in the city centre in the first quarter of this year, some of which were grotesquely violent (one guy had part of his ear bitten off in the process): the youngest perpetrator turned 12 a few weeks ago. Stab statistics are higher than ever with a notable rise in ‘unprovoked’ attacks. Murder stats are no better: 59 murders and other violent deaths in Dublin in the past two years. Almost as many guns now as hurley sticks begorrah: a gaggle of machine guns were seized by Gardaí last week on the North Circular Road, no doubt business aids for the burgeoning drug market. Staff at Mountjoy Prison staged a walk-out last month in protest against the rise in inmate violence. Out beyond in the suburbs a few bored thugs shoved a firework into a female terrier’s mouth and blew off her jaw. The same thing happened to a bunch of swans in a city park that were fed fireworks concealed in folded slices of bread. Shit City at its best…
…so would Savage be able to colour Dublin with just the right shade of gritty realism? The plot is plain-flour simple: a man tries to come to terms with a brutal random attack and its consequences:
To me this is a film about the effects of personal trauma using Dublin as a whirring backdrop. The cinematography is incredible (filmed in drained monochrome and with shades of oppressive gun-metal grey) which makes it even more of a horror film as you witness Paul, the main character, sink further and further into a Dantesque wheelie bin. There’s such an odd sense of detachment and otherworldly strangeness about him. It’s no surprise that Darren Healy, who plays this lead-role, received a 2010 IFTA nomination. His is a stunning and memorable performance. In many ways this victim turned killer is already a peculiar character before the life-changing assault. He floats above the daily drudge and its cruel realities….which is the life of many press photographers and journalists. The periphery actors who walk the track suit catwalk around Dublin’s mean streets at night, are also superb. They are idiotic and gratuitous and bored and dangerous and unaware. The city for them is a dystopian scrapheap from which to extract shiny bits of metal at any [human] cost.
There’s actually very little violence in the film, despite what you might hear (!), most is suggested but the nugget that is in-your-face will have you pulling your retina clear off. Sound is very cleverly used too (“a visceral rollercoaster ride”, Muldowney called it) assaulting the senses, dragging you wincingly and mincingly inside Paul’s mountingly paranoid trauma. The Director drew his inspiration from various real-life stories including that of New Yorker Bernhard Goetz, the ‘subway vigilante’. He shot four young men on a subway in Manhattan on December 22, 1984, after they tried to mug him. He’d been mugged before and starting carrying a gun ‘just in case’ but was accused in court of actively seeking out trouble. Also the brutal deaths of British soldiers Derek Wood and David Howes, dragged from their car in Belfast in 1988 during an IRA funeral, found later that day in wasteland beaten and executed and bloodied.
What works is that the revenge is not exacted on those who deserve it, but on mere incidentals. It happens a lot. It’s how and why we have victims of crime. Person A is desensitised by a mix of familial violence and lack of care. A meets B, from a similar background and they pathologically wreak havoc on F who spends the rest of his life wondering what happened, himself now desensitised, etc. Ireland grew this particular bacterial brand of densensitisation en-masse in the 1950s/60/70s, with a great deal of help from church-run institutions. Knead this with an ungovernable drug problem and you have a city that is as much about random acts of incredible violence as it is about bodhrans and dead heroes.