Peter is probably still asleep in the next room. I wonder if he is dreaming. I wonder what he is dreaming. I wonder if he’ll remember those dreams when he wakes up. There was a red sky last night. We both sat outside silent and watched the day drain away.
Today starts slowly. Reading and eating. I can’t sit outside because of the rain showers that descend every 15 minutes. Nonetheless I hear the cats outside persistent in their hunger and begging. I take the left over lentil stew outside. The tomcat directs traffic and I direct my foot towards him. He is almost twice the size of the other cats that regularly visit. It is quite clear he gets most of any food that is left out. A new cat is around today and it is wretchedly skinny. I make sure it gets a good portion before I go back inside.
The weather continues in its showery fashion. The urge to take a walk is very strong inside of me. I put on my wet gear and take a walk over to Largan. I pass McTigue’s farm—no one is home. Over the gap and the pooka rock. No view of Lough Conn today—the mist and rain are too thick. Just before I get to Largan I spot a redcurrant bush with fresh fruit. I eat half of them and leave the rest for the birds. Below the bush are some wild strawberries. I take one and leave the rest for the mice. The rain comes down in horizontal sheets. I take shelter behind a large rock and take a note of where I found the fruit. I draw a map. For a moment I think it would be funny to draw a treasure map. But I decide against it.
Taking tea. Four sneezes leave my head. I dismiss thoughts of sickness and put the radio on. Rossini is playing. Sometimes it feels like that there is no greater pleasure than music. I usually feel this way when I am tired and alone. The kettle finishes its cycle. I place the leaves in the pot and stir gently. Ignoring a small crack the boiling water covers the tea.
I presume Peter has left for Castlebar. I can’t remember him saying if he had to work or not. Somedays Peter and I never say a word to each other. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if this should mean anything. We’ve lived together since we were in college. Neither of us liked living with people. We make allowances for each other. An unwritten agreement not to make each other suffer too much and help pay the rent and keep the place tidy. It is highly unlikely that either of us will find a girlfriend. We have little to offer the opposite sex. I am me. Peter is a triangle.
Two hours later. Peter comes back.
“Still pissing down?”
“Not working tonight?”
“Want a brew?”
“Yeah, stick the kettle on.”
The kettle boils. Peter goes to make the tea, but I tell him I”ll make it. He doesn’t protest.
“The rain was torrential coming back from Claremorris.”
“You were in Claremorris?”
“Yeah, had to sort out the car insurance.”
“The rain died off by the time I got into Castlebar and I thought it was going to clear up. But, once I got past Ross Stores it opened up again.”
I pass Peter his tea. We drink in silence. Peter lights the range.
I make lentil and mushroom stew for dinner. I eat alone. Peter is in his room. I presume he is reading. Lentil stew reminds me of France. I have been to France twice. Neither time did I eat lentil stew. I have no idea why this stew reminds me of France. It’s just the kind of thing I imagine French people eating, although I’ve never seen them eat it. I stop thinking and continue eating.
After dinner I take another walk over the Largan gap. The rain has cleared and lough Conn looks resplendent from the recent down pours. Martin McTigue passes me in his tractor. He beeps at me in a friendly fashion. He usually stops to chat—I guess he is busy this evening. The wear on my boots bothers me more than any paranoid hostility I can create between Martin and I.
Sitting by the range I browse through an illustrated history of English literature. All the physogs are there, ugly and grand. Swinburne always make me laugh. People tend to take literary figures quite serious. They think it is childish to make fun of them. I’ve never told anyone, that I think Shakespeare had a small cock. Next Halloween I want to dress up as Swinburne. Most people will probably ask me if I came dressed as a pirate. The best Halloween costume I have ever seen was Sylvia Plath. It was a cardboard box painted to look like an oven that fit around the wearer’s head. I laughed about this for quite some time.
Peter comes in to the front room just before midnight. I casually ask him what he’s been up to. It’s not that I’m interested, it just feels like a nice to thing to ask to start a conversation. He tells me that he’s been working on a new script.
“What’s it about?”
“Mice from Mars on a Catholic crusade.” He continues quite seriously, “It’s called The Puritanical Mice from Mars.”
I don’t know if he’s really been writing The Puritanical Mice from Mars, but it’s simply too funny for me to question. I hope he has. He continues.
“The premise is that the mice are really displeased with the state of catholicism in the 21st century and want to amend these wrongs. The first act depicts them killing pedophile priests in various ways. The second act shows them staging miracles and visions in an attempt to coax the public back to catholicism. I’m not really sure how I’m going to finish it in the final act, but I guess it’s going to have something to do with the Pope and the Popemobile.”
“Peter, that is the most amazing thing you have ever said to me in all the years I’ve known you.” I meant what I said.
Morning world. I open the front door en-route to do some reading outdoors. As I sit down I notice a chaffinch feeding on the suet cakes I’ve left out. Its pink plumage squiggles with its movements to assure it is not found unawares by a predator. I watch it for over five minutes and then one of the cats appears on the scene. The chaffinch is in no humour to a take a chance with a cat and takes off into the willows in the adjacent field.
I wait in the car as Peter goes into the pharmacy in Foxford. The sky is paused with black rain clouds. Outside the Chinese restaurants one of the waiters is reading on his break, or while he waits for someone—I have no way of telling what he is doing. I can’t tell what he is reading. People come and go filling their cars with shopping. I think later we’re taking a spin up to Belleek Castle in Ballina. I think those thunder clouds might have different ideas.
The rain pours down. We decided to go for a walk in the woods regardless of the torrential downpours. The woods around Belleek castle are perfect for walking. The damp smells and soothing trees makes me feel cleansed. My lungs truly enjoy our leisurely walk. We take a loop. The last leg of this skirts the woodland along the estuary where the river Moy meets the Atlantic. It looks peaceful and delicate as the rain stirs the water and the boats bob along in sullen awe. Self-hatred vanishes in such situations.
There is a strange dream rattling in my head this morning. It’s one of those dreams that is partially based upon a memory. There was a carnival in Westport. It was night time. There was also market stalls set up along the streets. Vendors were selling furs and leathers. A dull yellow light was all over the scene, which I attribute to the lanterns hanging above the stalls. A busker is singing a song. The only thing I remember about the song is a sense that I’ve been listening to it for a very long time. Much longer than is possible. It’s as if the melody is circular and beyond it and time signatures.
The rain drip drops outside on the windowsill as I lay in bed. I think the post man is here. I get up and see if he has anything for me. Opening the door I notice four hyoids followed by a figure eight walking along the road. They come to a stop in front of my neighbour John Quinn’s house. Taking out spades from the back of the figure eights they begin to dig holes beneath a row of silver birches. The holes are dug with rapid pace and expertise. As soon as they finish they take these large squirming archimedean spirals out of the figure eights and dump them in the holes. As the holes are filled, screams are released from the archimedean spirals. A thick bluish haze descends over the scene. The radio squeals in the kitchen. I go in to turn it off.
I put my jumper on and go to investigate. There are four large mounds under the birches. I decide to do nothing and take a walk over to Largan. A north wind rolls over the hills. I feel cold. I don’t stare at the view for too long. I get back to the house and notice that there is only one of the six suet cakes remaining. I suspect either the Jennings’ or the Loftus’ donkey has been eating them at night. Peter is lighting the range when I get in.
He nods back in acknowledgement. I decide not to tell him about the hyoids.
“The Lost Boys is on tonight, wanna watch it?” asks Peter.
“Sure, what time?”
“Seen any of the cats while you were out?”
“No. You?” I ask.
“Just the big ginger tomcat. Didn”t see any of the others.”
The condensation is thick on the window this morning. I draw a smiley face and write, what comes, comes. I stare through the fogged window for quite some time. I feel sad for no comprehensible reason. I feel sick. But not the kind of sickness that has any symptoms. The doldrums are thick and heavy today. I let my mind wander through the fogged window and over the hillside. I think of playing football in high school. I can’t believe it is over ten years since I have spoken to anyone from my high school. Some of them were already fully formed decent humans. Even at an adolescent stage they had that quality of propriety that few adults have. Philip Ball, David Mullholland, and Danny Bower stick out most in my mind. I wonder if they are married now. I wonder where life has taken them. I should look them up some time. I romanticise the friends I had as an adolescent and as a child. I often think, excluding Peter who I only met in uni, that they are the only decent friends I’ve ever had. Furthermore I often think that they are the only good people I will ever have in my life.
Peter and I are now sat outside cursing the rain. It seems to have stopped for a little while. Bill O’Gara pulls up outside our house in his little red tractor. “Hey!”
“How’s life, guys?”
“Fine,” says Peter.
“Hanging in there. How are you?” I ask.
“Grand. Just on my way to feed Robert.” Robert is Bill’s horse. He keeps it in a field facing Paddy Neary’s house. It is a nice horse. Bill takes real good care of it.
“Terrible weather,” asserts Peter.
“Terrible?” Bill asks rhetorically. “It reminds me of monsoon season.” Bill was stationed in the army in Hong Kong. His son also lives out there. I’ve never been further east than Turkey, so I don’t really know what a monsoon or even monsoon season is like. But I agree, because the weather is rather strange for this part of the world.
It’s raining again. The rain actually woke me this morning. The sound of it bouncing on the concrete flags outside was deafening. If I didn’t live on the side of a hill I’d be worried about floods. And if the land round here wasn’t anything but grass sticking to granite I’d be worried about a land slide. To be honest, I’m not worried about anything. I wake with no worries in my head.
I take a drive with Peter. We look at the remnants of castles and round towers. Nothing to say about them really. All I can say is that it happened. It happened. The weather clears up. The sun is pleasant and welcome. We are now sitting outside the Turlough museum at the cafe. We are drinking tea and not talking about anything. It seems there is nothing for us talk about or talk around. We are both happy about this.
I’ve been taking it easy for most of the day. Spent most of it in an horizontal state reading the gita. It seems that the world doesn”t revolve around me. My mother used to always say this to me every single day. So much so, that I started to believe her. Now I believe that nothing revolves around me. I know that time, space are merely a convergence of natural law. I know that I experience the objective void subjectively. I wish I could tell my mother this.
I misplaced my glasses earlier on. I must have put them down after I finished reading. Anyway, I go outside in an attempt to see what the birds are doing. All I can really see is the outline of them. They are blurred and suggestive. Peter pulls up from work, he is also blurred but his form suggests nothing more than Peter. I’ve seen him too many times to mistake him for a Christmas tree or a samosa. He gets closer and what my eyes fail to see, my imagination and memory compensates.
“You get a haircut, mate?”
“No. Put your fucking glasses on.” We both laugh.
“Again?” Peter asks sarcastically.
“You try the bathroom?”
“Well, check there then. That’s where they usually turn up.”
Three middle-aged tangential quadrilaterals with excessive amounts of body hair, revealed by the lack of clothes, are sat on the mounds left by the hyoids. At first I think they have dowsing rods; after I put my glasses on, I realise they actually have sewing needles. They start to pierce each others’ forms with them. I watch them for a further moment and then feel my stomach start to turn. I go in to make tea. Peter is scratching his arse beside the range.
“How’s The Puritanical Mice from Mars coming along?”
“Stuck on the ending.”
“Yeah, I’ve been writing haiku about trains for the last few days. It makes me feel good.”
“Did you see those tangential quadrilaterals outside?”
“What tangential quadrilaterals?” Peter goes to the window. “Fuck.”
“I saw hyoids put archimedean spirals in those mounds they’re standing on a couple of days ago.”
“What did they put in?”
“Fuck knows. I think I heard the archimedean spirals moaning.”
“Nah, you probably imagined it.”
“Yeah. Nothing would bury archimedean spirals in broad daylight.”
“Exactly. And if they did, they’d probably bury you alive too.”
“Or at least mess me up.”
“Fuck ‘em. Just some weirdos worshiping dead cats or something. Fancy a brew?”
“Sure, why not.” Peter goes and makes the tea I forgot to make. “You remember Frank from uni?” Peter asks me from the kitchen.
“How could I forget that weird cunt?”
“Well, he was into all kinds of weird shit.”
“I always thought he was too greasy.”
“What the fuck does that even mean?”
“Don’t know. Just he struck me more of child molester than a cat killer.”
“Well he wasn’t a sex offender, but he did weird shit. Not like those knobheads out there, but weird shit all the same.”
“How do you know so much about him?”
“Do you not remember that our final grading for second year was on a joint project?”
“That”s right, you had to do your project with him.”
“He didn”t try any weird shit with you?”
“No. I don”t think he was a queer. Too weird for any type of sexuality. I worked with him for over a month.”
“Yeah, I remember. You tried to get Dr. Isaac to change your partner, but he wouldn’t have it.”
“Yeah. Well, instead of doing work he always told me the most messed-up stories.” Peter hands me a cup of tea and sits down.
“I’m sure I’ve told you most of them before.”
“Well, you told me how he used to masturbate in public toilets.”
“Yeah, most of his stories involved wanking. Did I tell you the one about what he does in his apartment block?”
“Calm down. Well—and I swear this is as exactly as he told me—after a couple of weeks of talking about his public wank stories I guess he got confident enough to tell me some of the more messed-up ones.” Peter sips his tea and continues. “He told me this was his favorite one. He’d stand outside his neighbor’s doors, look through the keyhole, and dump his load on the welcome mat.” We both start laughing.
“No way.” I argue. “Bullshit.”
“Seriously, God’s honest truth, that’s what he told me.”
“Imagine opening your door and seeing that sack of shit stroking the bishop and spraying man fat all over the welcome mat.” Peter fights the tea back into his mouth. We both start laughing. We finish our brews in a silence intermittently broken by fits of laughter and the occasional “dirty cunt” and more laughter.
“Any films on tele tonight?” Peter asks.
“Some piece of shit with Ben Affleck.”
Peter is getting his car fixed today. I told him I’d come with him. Peter has a phobia of mechanics. I don”t know what he wants me to do. Last time we went to a mechanic he made me speak to the mechanic. It was awkward. The mechanic was clearly pissed off by Peter’s weirdness. I was indifferent about it. This made the mechanic even more pissed off. He got his money. I still don’t know what his problem is: Peter or the mechanics. I have a hard enough time with my own problems.
The mechanic can’t find the “knocking sound” Peter told me to tell him about. The mechanic charged us 50 euros for not finding the sound Peter either did or didn’t hear. For what it’s worth I didn’t hear anything. I don’t charge anybody 50 euros for not hearing anything. Perhaps Peter’s fear of mechanics is justified. We get in the car and leave.
“Fuck him,” says Peter as we leave the garage. I don’t say anything. “What you doing today?” asks Peter.
“Is it Thursday?” I ask.
“Well, I don”t have to sign on. That basically means I have nothing to do.”
“Want to steal a boat?”
Once again I don’t say anything. Sometimes not speaking is speaking. This is my favorite kind of communication.
“You know the lake in front of Moore Hall?” I do know the lake Peter is asking about, but neither of us know the name of it.
“Yes,” I answer.
“Well, there are lots of boats on the shore. I think we can nick one.”
“Peter, your plans are shit. Come on, let’s do it then.” Peter laughs. I laugh too.
By the time we make it to the lake it is absolutely lashing it down. I can tell by Peter’s body language he is now doubting the genius of his master plan.
“You got any rope?” I ask. He doesn’t answer. I start laughing. He doesn’t laugh, even though he wants to.
Finally, he speaks. “Can you actually remember a day when it didn’t rain?”
I genuinely can’t remember a day that it didn’t rain. “No.”
We sit in silence as the dark clouds squiggle and flash over the lake. Rain, rain, and rain. I have a packet of ready salted crisps in my pocket. I share them with Peter. After a while we decide against nicking a boat. The main reason for this is the rain. If it wasn’t raining the main reason would be a lack of rope. If we had a rope our main reason would of been our combined lethargy. It’s safe to say Peter and I will probably never become boat thieves.
“You working tomorrow, mate?”
“I”m supposed to, but I don’t think I can be arsed. Why you got something in mind?”
“Fancy a spin to Down Patrick’s Head?”
“Just thought it”d be nice to get up that coast line and see the cliffs. I get my dole from the post office in the morning so I’ll put petrol in the car. What do you reckon?”
“Sure, why not. Not been up there for a long time.”
We set off for Down Patrick’s Head just before midday. The weather clears up while we are on the road. A pleasant afternoon is now on the horizon. We stop at the beach before the cliffs first. A German camper-van is parked beside the picnic benches and the owners are taking lunch.
We park up beside them and take a walk on the beach. Peter is fascinated by the mollusks on the beach—specifically the snails. I can’t say they interest me too much. I’m much more interested in the birds. A couple of Twite pass by. There are a lot of starlings. They probably survive from the byproducts of the farms that surround the beach.
We take a walk up the cliffs. This cliffs are horrific—I feel they could collapse at any moment. Peter and I say very little to each other. A silent pact of fear. The fear of the cliff face collapsing gets stronger and stronger. There is a wonderful statue of St. Patrick, pilgrims have left monetary offerings all around it. Peter and I don”t leave an offering.
The drive back is fantastic. We take the route from Ballycastle to Crossmoloina. When we get to Claremorriss we are surprised by the traffic. To say Crossmoloina is a small town is an understatement. We stutter through the back log and it is slowly revealed that the town fair is on—neither of us knew about this. We park up. We head to the fair.
Very little is happening. There are lots of people looking at very little. Mostly there is collections of fenced off animals. Ducks. Geese. Pigs. Cows. They all make me feel sad. I overhear someone say something about a duck race. It starts to rain. Neither of us say anything. We go to a Chinese back in the town. I eat a vegetable szechwan that tastes terrible. We don’t say anything to each other. We eat, pay, and then leave. That was the worst fair I ever witnessed.
Bill was supposed to have a barbecue this afternoon—but, as always, it’s raining. I can’t say I’m disappointed, because I didn’t really want to go. The idea of watching people stuff meat into their face for an hour or two makes me feel depressed. For a change, I thank the weather.
I stand under the porch. A spider has trapped a wasp. The spider is eating the wasp. I watch this for quite awhile. I wonder if Peter ever wrote an haiku about spiders. He’s currently watching a cooking show on television. I decide not to ask him. He likes cooking shows. I should really be doing some work in the garden but I decide to watch TV with Peter instead.
I feel lonely and stupid when I watch television during the day. It’s like I can’t find the words to articulate such misery. So instead I sit there in catatonic lethargic misery. They stuff a goose with apricot and walnut stuffing. They make some potatoes. They make some green beans. They use french sounding words when referring to the finished plate of food. In my mind I label it dead goose with potatoes and green beans. They cover it with gravy. No priest. No soil.
Peter sets off for Galway at eleven. Something to do with work. He doesn’t seem interested in the work so I didn’t ask him about it. I spend the day in my underpants reading a biography on Keats. He fell in love. He wrote some poems. He died. Lots of soil. Probably a priest too. No one put gravy on him.
Peter texts me around five telling me not to bother making any food for him because he has to stay in Galway. I text back that I wasn’t going to make him anything anyway. He simply replies, cunt. I laugh at this. I go into the kitchen to make my dinner. I have some chickpeas soaking. I don’t feel good about eating alone. Loneliness is insufferable sometimes. Today is one of those sometimes. I look for gravy to pour over myself.
Peter arrives back quite early the next morning. It’s nine AM and I’m just getting out of bed. He comes back with a book of postcards from the early 20th century. He tells me it was on sale in Charlie Byrnes. Lovely gentrified coastal scenes of the upper classes living it up in Cornwall, Skegness, and the likes. I like the vulgarity and pompous nature of them. They make me want to live in such a world cut off from poverty and welfare payments on the side of a wet slab of granite. Peter cuts my wandering off.
“Went to Silver Strand as well.”
“How was it?” Silver Strand is a nice stretch of beach on the road to Spiddal from Galway.
“Nice. Really nice. Went to the cinema afterwards.”
“What did you see?”
“I was too late for the afternoon show.”
“Wanted to watch the new Ben Affleck movie.” We both start laughing. I go in the kitchen to make tea. “Got this as well,” Peter says as I come back in with the tea. He’s holding a Cosmos box set. This makes me really happy.
“Will we watch a couple of episodes now?” I ask eagerly.
“Sure. Stick it in.”
“I fucking love this show.”
“What hotel did you stay in last night?”
“I didn”t. I stayed with my aunty in Claregalway.”
“Yeah. Really exciting. But it saved me 50 quid.”
Claregalway is a suburb/small town a couple of miles outside of Galway. Any rational thinking person hates Claregalway. It is everything that a small town is in rural Ireland. To make it worse, it has a really busy road that divides the town that delivers an horrific steady drone of traffic throughout the day.
“How was the drive up today?”
“Shite. Tractors and rain. I felt like I was dying at certain points. I feel really anxious lately. I think driving is messing me up.”
“Probably driving through those small towns.”
“You’re probably right. The sight of a Christian church or a crucifix is enough to drive me mad. Every ounce of hate that was thrown at me as child tears at my subconscious.”
“Do you know what I hate most is the shrines for Mary at the side of the road.”
“Yeah, them too. I feel like they’re urging me to drive into on coming traffic. I’m sure half the crashes on the road are attributed to this. Some guy sees Mary and decides it’s not worth it. Life is too much if you have to stare at her arrogant immaculate form.”
I agree with Peter but I don’t say anything to this. To be honest, all this talk of Mary has started to make me feel quite anxious too. I imagine my heart stopping. I think for a moment I’m going to die. We sit in silence for quite some time.
Outdoors is the only cure. A greenfinch is feeding on the food I left out. They are beautiful birds. I watch it for a while. Peter comes out to join me. I point to the greenfinch, he understands the necessity to be silent. We watch it feed for five more minutes, and then it leaves.
“Wow,” Peter says sincerely.
“Yeah,” I absently reply.
“My father told me Victorians used to catch songbirds by putting glue on branches.” I think about the level of desperate cruelty possessed by the Victorians. The scene was immaculate and all I could think about was the obscene memory of cruelty. For a people like that, truth was a redundant commodity. Lie after lie in a cruel and fictitious existence.
The gracefulness of the bird’s flight fills my mind with a strange sense of nostalgia. The anxiety hasn’t yet left my body.
“The car’s fucked.” interrupts Peter.
“What”s wrong with it?”
“Think the exhaust is gone.”
“Yeah. I knew there was something wrong with it. That useless fuck of a mechanic.”
This makes me feel stressed because the annoyance of going to another mechanic is on the horizon. “I’ll get the Yellow Pages out in a while and we’ll find a new mechanic in Castlebar.”
“Yeah,” I reply indifferently. The greenfinch lands back on the feeder.
- Michael O’Brien
Photo by Alex Berger (Creative Commons)