"What Would Destroy You?"
The old man looked out through the faded and stained net curtain. Out there in the fading light teenagers grouped on the wall at the end of his garden. Drinking cans. Dull sounding. Their movements and bright clothes exaggerated in the still, grey evening. The old man cursed. He sipped his glass of whiskey and cursed again. They knew he was alone. Who knew what they might do? He felt the hot whiskey settle hot in his belly. He put the glass down.
They could see him in the window. The shape of him sort of indistinct, like a man shaped stain on the curtain. “D’ye reckon he’ll come ou’?” Wally sipped his can, his other arm wrapped around Pam.
“Be funny if he did, he’s a mad thing.” Ste was already drunk. Connor said, “He just goes off on one. Gargled mosta the time.”
“Yeah, member tha’ time we were drinkin behind the gap an’ he came motorin down in his car, parked the thing arseways, got ou’ an’ pissed on the car door. Gas.”
“Probably taugh’ we were gonna rob it.”
“So he pisses on the door?”
“Dirty aulfella,” Pam said.
A sound came from the other end of the garden. The front door opened letting a slash of light scar the driveway. The old man shadowed there and then walking, tilted, purposeful. Wally and Pam sat up from the wall and turned and watched him approach. They all watched. About midway along the driveway he stopped. “Get out of here.” The words seemed too soft. He walked forward some more. “Go on. Go home. I’ll call the police.”
“Sure stall it ou’, have a gargle with us. Cheer ye up.” Ste took out a smoke and lit it. Happy with himself.
“Go on. Go home.”
“We’re not hurtin anybody,” Pam said, “not even loud.”
The old man came closer again. The streetlights had come on and his face was yellowish and crumpled looking in the damp yellow light. “That’s Connor Fitzpatrick. Should’ve known.” His eyes were deep and small in his creased face. His lips wet. Connor didn’t say anything. “The footballer.” His teeth could be seen now like little pebbles. “Johnny Cluskey’s team, is it? How’s Johnny and your ma gettin on?” The silence in Connor’s mouth like stones dry and hard. His mouth moving silently over them. “Does your ma give him a little favour and you get into the starting line-up, is it? Everybody…” Pam threw her almost-empty can at him. The can like a child’s toy sprung out of the twilight, and the old man half blocking it, and the can making a shallow ping off the wall behind. “Ye pig ye. Should be ashamed of yourself.”
Wally grabbed her. “Relax will ye.”
Ste couldn’t help laughing, making a choked sound. “What a shot.” Looking from Connor to the old man and back to Connor again. He stopped laughing.
“I’m calling the police,” And the old man shrunk back toward the pale light of the half opened door.
He slammed the door and leaned back against it. A clenched fist hitting the wood, a hollow sound. Beer stained the sleeve of his shirt and he looked at it and then looked at the floor. He touched his temple with two fingers. He cursed. Cursed the kids out there. Cursed the world that seemed to shape itself around them. Cursed his own world, his memories, and the frayed, distorted image those memories etched upon that world. They’re just kids. What am I? He saw again the can come twirling toward his face and he flinched. He went inside and finished his drink and slept where he sat.
Wally and Pam had walked off toward the gap that led into the park, looking back, whispering.
“There’s no point, he’s just locked.” Wally said.
“I know yeah bu’ did ye not hear em? His ma. Jaysus. He gets an awful time cause of her.”
“Yeah there’s a rumour goin round. Stupid. Bu’ now some aulfella’s sayin it to em…” He blew out his cheeks and looked over her shoulder. Connor walked past, not looking at them. “I’m headin. Not even drinkin anyway. Sarah’s in her gaff might just knock around to her.” He walked, head turned slightly, not looking at them. “Garda probably on the way now too.”
“Wha’?” Ste shouted after him. “Stall it. If the garda come we get a chase.”
The other two didn’t say anything and when Connor didn’t look back Ste looked at Pam and broke out laughing. “What a shot. What a fuckin shot.”
She heard the door slam. She wasn’t quite asleep. The television muted, splaying broken, bluish light upon the walls, the curtains, the bedsheets. She got up quickly and put on her dressing gown and realised she was still slightly drunk. Steadied herself and went out into the landing. She could hear him making too much noise. Why was he making so much noise? She went downstairs. The house became quiet. She walked slowly into the kitchen. He was standing there with a glass of coke in his hand.
“You drunk?” She said.
“Am I drunk? Comin from you.”
She could tell he wasn’t drunk. But his eyes looked red, damp.
He went to say something and stopped and shook his head and made a noise so quiet he didn’t even realise himself he had made it, and then the glass slipped from his hand and smashed. He turned away from her.
“Jesus Christ. What is it?”
He had his back to her, palms resting on the edge of the sink, leaning as though he might get sick into it. She grabbed the towel from the oven door and knelt and began mopping up the coke.
“Connor. Will ye…”
He interrupted her in a low voice. “We were standin outside some aulfella’s gaff tha’ lives near the park.” He spoke softly and the sound settled in the kitchen, settled in the air around them like stale smoke. “He came ou’ goin mad cause we were sittin on his wall and starts sayin he knows me, knows you, says you and Johnny... everybody’s sayin it… you’re…” He stopped. She knelt mopping, looking up, looking up at his face dark and silhouetted against the shadeless light bulb. The light bulb seemed all of a sudden too bright. Didn’t speak. A long moment stretching out and curling back in on itself. And then he said, “Johnny. Johnny fuckin Cluskey.” And then he was gone. She turned still crouched and watched the kitchen door slam, and then just watched the door, watched it until her knees hurt.
He sat on his bed and took out his phone and texted Sarah.
Wat u doin?
Same as I told ye earlier! Amanda’s on d way over gonna watch a flick. Y? U not ou wit Wally n Pam n all??
Was bu got sick of it not drinkin n all… Wanted to c u J
U sed u wer goin ou wit dem dats y I asked Amanda over. Shuda sed sumtin earlier ye sap! J
Tell Amanda ur sick n ill cum over!?
Na dats bad. Wat u doin 2moro nite?? Xxx
Don’t kno. Goin ou wit d lads.
Fair enuff… gud luck in ur match 2moro
He didn’t reply. Turned the phone off and threw it on the bed and put his head in his hands. Lay back on the bed. Remembered the bottle of wine he had nicked from his ma’s drinks cabinet. Got it, opened it, and drank.
She heard him leave his room and walk downstairs into the kitchen and then out the back and into the shed. She sat there, the television off, the room cold. The glass of wine half empty on the coffee table before her. Why the shed? She heard the shed door close and him come back into the house. She heard him take his jacket and put it on and leave through the front door. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t go after him. Tell him what he wanted to hear. What did he want to hear? Rumours. Just rumours. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t go after him.
He saw the house come into view as though the house was moving toward him and not him toward the house. The house approaching in the soundless dark as though it held within it all sound, crashing and burning and roaring and screaming. And no sound left for the darkness he walked through. Darkness lit dimly by the yellow streetlights and a halfmoon curved and sharp and white. He stopped at the end of the garden. Just go up, knock. He was scared. Foot to foot with his own shadow in that partial darkness. His shadow stretched, indistinct. I’m scared. Go up, knock. Say something. Do something. He fingered the tool in his pocket. It’s not true. Rumours. I want it to be true. He put his hands to his face and screamed mutely into them. Leaned against the wall. Like a puppet with clipped strings, all loose and shrunken looking. Go up, knock. Bang on the door. Say something. Do something.
Do they ever shut up? He muted the TV, cleared his throat and roared, “If you two don’t shut up and go asleep I’ll go up there and slap the arse off yas.” Silence. And in that new silence he heard a noise out in the driveway. He got up and went to the window and parted the curtain. Nobody there. Then he noticed a hunched shape on the road. What’s he at? That the Cluskeys car? He went to turn and run outside and do something but didn’t. Didn’t like Johnny Cluskey. Didn’t like the way Johnny had a good job, had money, while he barely had a pot to piss in. Take the bleedin car.
Wally and Pam kissed. Their reflection trapped in the black glass water. Trees like black paper cut outs in the quiet night. Stars like little piercings in a black paper sky. Wally’s jacket zipped open and her arms inside it and entwined tight around his waist. Ste emerged from the shadowed spaces between the trees, “Give it over.” They picked their bag of cans up from the bench and walked on through the park, toward the village, toward the chipper.
“I’d murder a kebab.” Wally said. “If this place is closed, I swear.”
“Good enough for ye.” Pam poked him in the stomach. “Better off goin hungry.”
“Hungry? Sure if it’s closed I’ll just gobble down your tits.” He grabbed her. She smacked him in the head. “Wally. Seriously.” She laughed, pushed his mouth away.
“What’s tha’? Ste’s finger stabbed at the distance. “Look. Takin a chase.” Flashes of blue light splashed in the darkness and dried up and then splashed again. The whine of the siren like some mechanical, maternal lament.
“Hope he crashes,” Pam said, “he’s gonna kill someone. Dope.”
“Aw yeah ye weren’t sayin tha’ when we nicked tha’ micra and brought it up the wildo. You an’ Jackie an’ all lookin for a shot.”
“Tha’ was ages ago. And there’s nobody around up there, is there? So shudup.”
“Not lookin good for em,” Wally said.
Another squad car was weaving through the traffic on the Old Bawn road to cut the stolen car off at the crossroads there. Sirens now like lucent flares making blue imprints on the back of their eyelids.
“He’s gonna kill himself.” Pam spoke through her fingers. They watched. None moved, none spoke.
He sees the blue flash like lightning. Jerks the wheel and hits the curb hard. Sees the railing. And everything slows. Becomes timeless. Now. The trees and lampposts and buildings are quiet and still, like revenants of an already dead world. Meaningless. Feels the impact. And the world begins to dance, a strange rhythm, a disturbed vibration, drifting apart and him drifting apart with it, part of it, until formless, and reforming again as darkness. A memory. Some part of himself part of that formless world. Indestructible. And then the darkness tears at him.
She hung up the phone. “We’re moving. I’m selling this house. That’s it, Johnny. I swear. Enough. We’re moving.” He looked at his wife. Damp eyes dark and kind of wild looking. Hair pushed back from her face as though blown by a breeze. He didn’t answer. Just closed his eyes briefly, inclined his head. Then walked past her, up the stairs, back to bed.
Sarah watched her walk out. She must have been so young when she had Connor. Was she coming back? She didn’t like hospitals herself but she’s his ma. What if he wakes up? Barely says a word and then just gets up and leaves. She leaned back in her chair. She looked at Connor. Looked at his leg. Her phone beeped. Pam and Wally were on the way. She leaned forward again. His face unmarked. She tried to ignore the rest of him. Tried. She remembered his text. Wanted to see you. Smiley face. Tried not to remember. She remembered that time in his room, the heat, sweaty skin and sweaty hands and the way he kept glancing down at her mouth. He said, “There’s lots of things tha’ I wanna say t’ye bu’ dunno how,” and she burst out laughing. She knew they were the words to Wonderwall, everybody knew the words to Wonderwall. She didn’t care. And they both laughed and kissed and laughed again.
She smiled into the silence. Looked at his leg. We’ll move away. Michelle loves it in Australia. No recession. Sun. Beaches. What’s here? No jobs. No nothin. Even me ma said it to me. Leave. Better off. Me da just sits there. Doesn even go the pub. An’ all me ma does is shou’ at em. Her hands do shake. I’ve seen them. Seen her drinkin a cupa tea the other day an’ nearly scaldin herself. Couldn hold it. The skin on her throat quivered. We’ll move away. Nothin here. Looking at his leg. Just this fuckin shit. She leaned back in the chair and she knew then she’d leave with him or without him.
She watched the birds disappear behind the rooftop. Knocked on the door. The man who answered was tired looking. A stale smell drifted from him, drifted from the house. “Wha’?” She couldn’t answer, couldn’t look at him.
“Thought ye were off it… again?”
“I am.” His smiled. She wanted to attack him, wanted to run away.
“Wha’ ye lookin for?”
“Friday.” She could hear the birds above in the gutter.
“Heard wha’ happened to Connor.” She nodded. Mumbled. Couldn’t look at him.
No words. Just shook his head and shut the door. She stood there a long time. When she turned from the door she wiped her cheek and thought of birds.
The old man sat and sipped his whiskey. As much as he wanted to he couldn’t get the thought of the young Fitzpatrick boy in hospital out of his mind. Serves him right. Scumbags. Scumbags the lot of them. He had heard whose car it was he had stolen. So? Scumbag. He gulped his whiskey. Rested the glass on the arm of the chair and lit a cigarette. Let his head lean back and rest, his body relax.
He woke coughing. Like bits of glass in his chest. Pain in his arm. Flames licking the side of the couch, the rug. Smoke. He became frantic. Smacking at his smoking sleeve. He fell forward off the chair. Coughing. Flames. Popping and cracking. Pain. He got up and stumbled and got up again and fell out the door into the hallway. The air a little cooler. He got up again, slumped against the wall. I won’t die here. He began to move, slumped against the wall. Coughing. Not here. He kept moving. Slumped. Reaching for the door. Not here. The door opened. Cold air rushed over his face and he fell out into the driveway.
He watched the house burn. Red flames reflected in his red eyes. Red eyes reflecting red flames and red skin and red smoke and little flakes of ash fluttering about like some maddening fairytale. He wiped ash from his sleeve. People began to appear around him, like wraiths come to witness his own descent. You.You.You. No one to blame but himself.
The boy looked at the food on his plate and jumped up from his chair and ran out the kitchen door.
His mother shouted, “Sean. Sean. I mean it, get back here and eat your… Bren will you ever…” His eyes were somewhere else. “Bren?”
“Strangest thing happened in work last night. Did I tell ye?”
“Bren.” She looked toward the kitchen door. “Sean…”
“There was a crash on the Tallaght bypass, just at the entrance to the park, ye know there at the Old Bawn road. The car was smashed into the railing, in bits. And we’re trying to get this kid out of it. Little joyrider. Anyway, we get him out and he’s obviously in bits too, his leg is crushed… like… bad, might have to amputate.”
“Yeah. But the thing is, we get him out of the car and he’s blinking like a blind man who just got his sight back, and he has this… this weird grin on his face…”
“He was smiling?”
“Yeah. Yeah I think he was.