Authors: Christine Dwyer Hickey
First published in hardback and trade paperback in
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse â The good not done, the love not given, time Torn off unused â nor wretchedly because An only life can take so long to climb
FARLEY IS AWARE OF
a blur in his right eye. A bauble of light in the darkness. It fills up, then drains off. Every few minutes it does this â as if he has his own little cistern inside his head. A recurring blur. He chances a couple of words:
. He tries them again â nothing. And so he begins to take stock. It's the middle of the night, he's in the jacks â one side of his face shoved into the linoleum, right shoulder pressed into the radiator. His nose is a few inches from the pedestal of the toilet, and his body, in an awkward curl, lies in the space around it like a dog that's outgrown its kennel. He may have fallen and broken something â that could be it. But there's no pain. There is no feeling at all. He remembers the dark space of a dreamless sleep. Otherwise nothing. It's as if he was born here, with his face nuzzled into the bowl of this jacks.
The thing to do now would be relax. Just relax. Not to go thinking the worst. Get the mind steady before thinking at all. That would be the thing to do now. Like that time years ago, when he fell off the boat into the Shannon. Young then, not that long after he'd started working for Slowey, in fact. The middle of winter, a sparkling cold day, he'd been dressed in thick jumper and boots. Not much of a splash when he fell overboard, down between the side of the boat and the slimy dock wall. The sensation
of the water suckling on him. Nobody had been able to believe their eyes when he bobbed back up, un-fucking-drowned, as they had all kept saying later in the pub â
And why was that? Because he'd refused to panic. He had surrendered to the water, let it pull him all the way down. And then, as if it had just got fed up with him, it had spat him right back up again. Slowey had often mentioned it after; at the Christmas do or other speechy occasions: âAnd from that moment on,' he'd say, âI knew our man Farley was a
. Not even the Shannon could keep the bastard down!'
Farley takes in a deep breath. That's it â
. He has a feeling he has to be somewhere tomorrow, or â depending on what time it is now â that could be today. Somewhere important. He seems to remember collecting his suit from the cleaner's anyhow, soft in its cellophane wrapper. And the girl behind the counter with the eyes like a goat. The heat and hiss from the machines behind her. The little moustache of sweat on her lip and how it had crossed his mind that he'd love to lean across the counter and lick it clean. And how shot through that thought had been smaller threads, like was it normal for a man of his age to be thinking that way? And if it was, should he be proud of himself or ashamed? He can remember all that now. But the reason for needing a clean suit?
The dark. The dark still holding the room. Through it he can smell the toilet; layers of old piss-splashes around it. His splashes â it would have to be â no one else had used this toilet in years. It consoles him to know this â he never could bear the stench of the herd. As far as he recalls, the last time a stranger would have used this room was the day of Martina's funeral. Thirty odd years ago that would have been. A queue halfway down the stairs then. Men only. Ladies had to go to the house next door. A sign on the gate had told them so: âLadies This Way' with an arrow pointing at the house of â whatever this her name was. Brown eyes she had in anyway. She'd made the sign herself, knocking in first thing to show him. âMartina would have preferred ladies to have their
how she had put it. And Farley, on the morning of his wife's funeral with rolled-up shirtsleeves, one hand tucked into one half-polished shoe and a blot of tissue on his chin where he'd cut himself shaving and a grin in his eyes from something he'd been listening to on the radio, had opened the door without thinking. For a few long seconds he'd stood gawking at the sign, wondering what he was expected to say. Until Mrs Brown-eyes had finally prompted, âAh, you know what she was like.' And Farley then duly res ponded, âO God, yes I do.'
By the end of the night the sign for the Ladies had fallen on the ground. Slowey's big brown brogue stamped on it as he stood with Bren Conroy waving a sombre goodbye. As if they weren't going to sprint down to the County Bar for last orders, the second they got round the corner. Nowadays people don't hang about at funerals. Nowadays, they say their piece and scurry back to work. Except those with nothing better to do; old folks or garglers glad of the excuse. You'd even see some dressed in track-suits and trainers. Conroy's son, for example, a few months ago. Turning up to his own father's funeral with his junkie pals in tow. The bony hand when you shook it, the old woman's voice when he accepted condolences, the swivel eye. Better no son than the likes of that.
Farley regrets. What? He isn't quite certain. It could be that he hadn't thought to turn on the light before stepping up to the toilet. It could be something more distant. But he can see all he wants to see for the moment by the light of a lamp post outside; looking in at him like the cold eye of heaven.
The outline of the bathroom around him; the hump of his dirty laundry; the dressing gown, ghoulish on the back of the door. The murky long mirror. And what good would a full 60-watt be to him now? What could it show him? Ancient bottles of shampoo and other squirty stuff that's been lying there for years? His reflection in the bottom of the mirror? A wall of white tiles like a cul-de-sac to the imagination? At least the dark allows him to wander.
His headache resumes. He feels it like a red-hot bulge in the corner of his head. His thoughts return to Mrs Brown-eyes. He wonders why. Why he should keep thinking about the oulone next door? A woman he hasn't seen these years. Not dead though, not so far as he knows. But in a nursing home someplace. The house let out by her grown-up children, to foreigners. He realizes then, it's not the woman he's been thinking of, but the house she lived in. The house next door. Ah right.
For a moment Farley can see her kids. Three of them; standing on his doorstep with cards in their hands, looking to be sponsored for something or other. Plain, timid, little things, rigid in their clothes, always looked like they were coming from Sunday Mass. He'd had a few jars on him, tried being friendly, saying the sort of things he thought you were supposed to say to kids. About school and Santy and how old are you now?
Pardon? They'd said pardon a lot.
Martina used to love buying them presents. Pencil cases in September, masks at Halloween, selection boxes at Christmas. Seasonal stuff. She seemed to get a kick out of doing that. He'd never say but he'd often felt it made her look a bit needy.
He tries to remember the man next door. The father of the three little stiffs. The husband of Mrs Brown-eyes herself. A little chap. Tight arse running for the 79a bus, holding the button of his jacket into his belly. He can see the most of him, the knob of his elbow, his little shoes rising and falling as he trots along, his little grey suit even. But the face?
His own father comes into his mind then. Face unfortunately clear. Died of a stroke, or six months after a stroke, though the stroke was the cause of it. A surly bastard anyway, who hadn't time or a word for anyone. A snarler. He'd snarl at his newspaper, snarl at the radio, snarl if you spoke to him while he was having his dinner. Yet anything like the crowd at his funeral. Standing room only. People his mother had never seen or even heard of before. Later back in the house one of them had made a speech, clipping his whiskey glass for order! Order! Farley and his brother left looking at each other. It was like he was talking about a man they had
never met â a raconteur. A wit. A great family man. An honour to have known. A pleasure to have worked with. A fly-fisher.
Farley listens to the beat of his heart. The only thing of movement or sound in the bathroom. A good strong beat, not too fast, maybe a bit on the slow side. The headache has subsided again. Not gone, just taking a little breather. He pictures it like a big thick tongue, hanging over a rock, heaving.
His father had worked as some sort of court clerk, a runner for a judge or a barrister maybe. Farley never knew much about his job, beyond the fact that he'd hated it. And he only knew that because any chance his father got, he reminded them of the fact. No matter what childish gripe you'd come up with; going to school in the rain, or out to the shed in the dark for the coal, he'd come right back at you with his â and what about
? How do you think
feel? Do you not think
rather be elsewhere, doing elsewhat? Instead of going into that kip every day. I hate that bloody job. Hate it! Hate it! But then his father had hated most things. Except for flyfishing. âThe love of his life,' his mother used to call it, with a look on her face Farley had never quite been able to read.
He'd be gone for the day. Sometimes a weekend. Loading up his fishing gear first, wrapping up sandwiches he'd made himself, while Farley looked on and tried his best not to whinge; âAh Da, you promised me, you did.'
Farley sees his young self for a moment, clutching the bars of the garden gate, with his brown hair and sticky-out ears, like a little monkey in short pants, bawling his brains out. The sound of the old Morris tittering off up the road, rods sticking out the rear windows, wobbling goodbye. And his mother waiting with a biscuit in one hand and the corner of her pinny in the other, ready to wipe his eyes. âAh, he'll bring you, another time. Didn't he promise, he would? There, there now, you'll be grand.'
Back in the house, she would sigh into the kitchen, a warm sunny sound, pressing her hands down on the draining board.