The 27 steps (Summerhill), Dublin, c. 1960s.
Half an hour in and he was already feeling an itch erupting just above the heel of his right foot. New hiking boots - breathable waterproof membrane, rustproof metal alloy ghillies, 200g of insulation with additional underfoot layer. €300 odd they’d cost him. This was supposed to be a whim.
‘We’ll go up to the mountains’ she’d said. ‘We’ll get away from everything. You can just… express yourself, y’know?’ He agreed. He couldn’t think of any reason why not. The lad in the shop said he’d feel like a new man.
He snapped a twig from a passing fir tree and started scratching the fucker like there was no tomorrow – sweet relief –pain – blood. She looked over her shoulder to see why he’d stopped, a smile pre-prepared and gleaming. ‘What’s up, lo- jesus! Are you okay?’
‘It’s fine, darling. A scratch. Boots need to be worn in is all.’
She frowned and pulled out the first aid kit. Gauze, germolene, bandage. ‘Let that go and you’ll lose the whole foot.’ He stared into the trees. She mimed a hacksaw back and forth across his ankle. A smile crept along the corner of his mouth. ‘Come on soldier, on your feet.’ On they went.
2 hours in and they decided the path was beneath them - quick little laughs. Off into a pine limbo, the deadness of the coillte forests, crouched double and warning eachother of spring-loaded branches ahead. After a time they came to the end of it, a small barbed fence opening out onto a peak - a heather covered hill, a little cairn of about 3 feet. He laid a hand on the small of her back as she slowly scissor kicked the fence. ‘Oof’ she said purposefully, landing on the other side. He hated that.
Up the hill, a light gradient, the sun nowhere in sight behind a blanket of grey, a weak breeze. She took his hand and swung it as they walked. He turned to kiss her on the cheek, getting her ear instead as she bent her head to the earth. He smiled - 50 metres now.
‘See, this is nice isn’t it?’
‘How are you feeling?’
He stopped, turned his head, and made the biggest frown he could. A cartoon frown. A fucking rainbow frown.
‘Stop. I was only asking.’
‘Well don’t.’ He walked on ahead. 20 to go.
The heather bounced against his feet. He imagined himself tramping across the bedspread in hob-nailed boots. ‘Note to self’ he said under his breath - chuckled. 10
She watched him as he approached the top, keeping her distance, looking for a change, a sign of something. She waited for him to lift his head like a hound catching a scent - an upswing. She hoped. 5
He bent to pick up a stone. 4
Crossed her arms to protect herself against the rising wind. 3
Smooth, grey, perfect. 2
He placed the stone atop the cairn and turned to look at the countryside. ‘What now?’
‘Whatever you want, hun.’
‘Whatever you want. We’re completely alone.’
‘What… you mean…?’ a wry one.
‘God, no, I mean… talking.’ She took his hand. ‘There’s no one but us, love. Shout. Scream. Let it all out.
‘Let it out?’
She smiled, turned her head out towards the view, and screamed ‘FUUUUUUUUCK’. Loud and long and swallowed up by the wind. ‘Try it.’
He turned and opened his mouth. Closed. Opened. He thought fleetingly that maybe goldfish are screaming their whole little lives. Don’t be such a goon.
‘Go on’ she whispered.
‘Just try it, love.’
He turned and opened his mouth again, pouting, stretching, trying different shapes. Nothing came. ‘This is stupid.’
‘Just do it!’
‘I…’ he opened his mouth again. ‘I don’t want to.’
‘You’ll feel better, love.’
He opened his mouth once more. Closed it. ‘But I don’t want to.’
‘They say he’s got talons as sharp as butchers’ knives. Four on each foot, like. Great big fuckin’ half-moon claws.’
“What, like a hawk or somethin’?’
‘No, like an owl obviously, ya dope. He’s the owl man.’
‘Owl man? You’re jokin’?’
‘Would I lie to you? Did ya not just see him walkin’ by, like? Feathers stickin’ out the top of his head and all?’
‘Have ya never seen him around before? He’s sort of a… a… an urban legend… only he’s real, like, and he walks about as if he’s normal as any of us.’
‘Yeah but that was just a lad in a costume. That was just someone dressed like an owl.’
‘Tell me this: why would someone wantin’ to dress up like an owl wear a shirt and tie, eh? Why, if someone was so inclined, would they go to all the trouble of cakin’ on the makeup and fake feathers if they were just gonna cover it all up with a three piece fuckin’ suit? Answer me that… ya spastic.’
‘I dunno… maybe he’s just a mentaller?’
‘Oh he is, don’t you worry about that. Mental to the core, so they say. But that’s no costume, boyo. That man’s a walkin’ piece’a scientific history, a genetic nightmare, a fuckin’ abomination, if ya will. Half man, half owl, mark my words.’
‘Nobody really knows for sure. Some people say it was experiments though, some mad lad up in the Wicklow Mountains choppin’ up animals and stickin’ them onto people’s heads.’
‘Ah go ‘way.’
‘They say there were hundreds of them up there. Badger men, deer men, mole men… even a few fish men swimmin’ around up in Turlough Hill. He kept them in these big underground cages, they say. But he couldn’t keep our owl man locked up for long. Come feedin’ time, Mr. Mad Scientist comes around one night with a bucket full’a mice, starts throwin’ them in, one by one. Owl man jumps up, all coy like, pickin’ at them as if he doesn’t even know where they’re comin’ from… And then BAM, he whacks yer man in the eyes with one of them claws-
‘Yeah, talons. BAM, slices his head right open through the bars, grabs the keys out of his pocket, and then - the mad bastard - only goes and eats him.’
‘Who? The scientist?’
‘Every last scrap. They found the bones coughed up somewhere in the Sally gap. They even had the regurgitated white coat and everythin’.’
‘That’s where he got the bloodlust from, they say. Nothin’ but human meat can satisfy him now.’
‘Holy god… Would they not arrest him or somethin’?’
‘That’s the thing. He’s not strictly a person, see. Can’t put him in the joy ‘cus he’s too much owl, can’t put him in the pound ‘cus he’s too much man. Lives on the borders, ontologically speakin’.’
‘It’s a loophole, Anthony. The law hasn’t a clue what he is, so they can’t do a fuckin’ thing to him. He’s an anomaly, they say. They prefer to pretend he doesn’t exist.’
‘So he’s just out there eatin’ people, and they-
‘Kids mostly. He’s a got a fierce hunger for the young ones.’
‘For fuck’s sake…so… so he’s just out there eatin’ up poor little kids left, right and centre, and they don’t give a fuck, like?’
‘Turn a blind eye, so to speak.’
‘… Fuckin’ disgrace.’
‘‘Course there’s others’d say that’s all a load’a shite, that it was some freak accident, some dope of a lab assistant mixin’ up test tube babies and owl embryos or somethin’. They’d have ya believe he’s harmless, that he was raised by a pair of crusties and taught to control his urges. They’d tell ya that he only eats mice, that he buys them by the box load and keeps them in a freezer out the back. They might even feed ya some shite about a kindly soul, a poor lonely man trapped in a deformed body, stuck between animal and human… Fuckin’ bleedin’ hearts, if ya ask me.’
‘Too fuckin’ right, Josey.’
‘Joseph! Me name’s Joseph, alrigh’?’
‘Sorry… Joseph. Too fuckin’ right, Joseph.’
‘Would he ever… would he ever… y’know…’
‘I’m just… would he ever attack us, Josey?’
‘Joseph, J-Joseph… I mean, would he ever attack the likes of us, Joseph?’
‘Why would he do a thing like that?’
‘Well, ya know, we’re out here most days… most nights too I suppose… What if he got hungry or somethin’?’
‘I told ya, he only goes for the kids.’
‘But what if… what if he couldn’t find one, ya know? What if he comes outta the library late, and, and he had to skip lunch or somethin’, and we’re there sleepin’ on the steps… So he thinks to himself, “no one’ll miss these two, no one’ll give a shite,” and then he, he…’
‘… I am?’
‘Fuckin’ freak’s probably been planning it for months.’
‘Just waitin’ for his chance to strike, so he is. Just hopin’ for the day he’s the last one out the door and Kildare street’s the home’a the tumblin’ fuckin’ tumbleweed.’
‘… the wha’?’
‘Deserted, Anthony. Depopulated by all but us two poor souls.’
‘Buh… but what about your man outside the Dáil? The Guard? He’s there 24 hours, like’
‘Ya think he gives a shite about 2 lads sleepin’ rough? Ya think he’d bat an eyelid if he saw the likes of us gettin’ devoured by some half-man-half-beast in the wee hours of an evenin’? ‘Cus ya can think again, Anthony… ya can think again.’
‘…suppose you’re righ’.’
‘… ya can think again.’
‘…mark my words.’
‘…wha’ are we gonna do?’
A short documentary about my dear old dad, a craft potter of nearly 3 decades now pursuing a masters in ceramics design in NCAD.
The Louisville Slugger Ash Pro, the official bat of Major League Baseball, 33 inches long, 30 ounces heavy (-3 length/weight ratio), medium barrel, long taper, thin handle, medium knob, pro cupped end, pro grade timber, unfinished and flame treated.
* * *
This was the kind of weather he liked: cold, windy, crystal clear skies. On days like these the world seemed presented in sharper focus. Everything suddenly became very clear-cut when you strode through a near-deserted housing estate and the wind was so dry and biting that it threatened to blow you into dust. There was none of that muddled conscience of a humid summer heat, the casting off of inhibitions or sudden uncharacteristic changes of heart that seemed to go hand in hand with days spent baking on hot grass and sand. This was decisive weather. This was weather that did not abide the fence-sitter. This, he thought, was the right weather for the day that was in it.
He grabbed at the collar of his coat with his right hand, nuzzling his chin into his red scarf. Walking there, head bent, one hand up about his neck, the other ramrod straight and down by his side in an overcoat so big it never even reached the cuff, he looked almost like a determined old amputee. There was no spring to his step, no swing to his arm. He walked with a kind of purpose you rarely see in such uninhabited locales. The houses around him sat almost entirely empty, their bay windows and frosted glass doors yawning out onto unseeded lawns. Had he not been so intent upon his task, the thought might have occurred to him that but for the handful that stood defiant, that desperately attempted to assert themselves as “homes” by way of a line of juvenile laurel or box along their borders and a lone car parked in the drive, these houses for the most part resembled long winding lines of the lobotomised, standing to non-attention, gawping mindlessly as they faced one another and waited to be filled and emptied, dressed and undressed, interested not in the “how” or the “why” but only the “when.” In contrast to these comatose giants his quick stride leant him something of the demeanour of an ant. He walked on, unawares, set to, hell-bent.
* * *
Their echo lingered even after the large double fire doors had swung shut with a heavy clunk. The hall was ringing with it. He walked out towards its centre, kicking stray balls towards the gear closet as he went. Each one was struck just so, so that it would roll lazily up towards the crash-mat that leaned against the far wall, its impact leaving a small indent in the mat’s blue lining, and then roll back a foot or two to rest there on the baseline for easy collection and storage.
He came upon the last ball and stooped to pick it up. Bouncing it three times, he walked slowly up towards the 3-point line and set himself: feet shoulder-width apart, right slightly in front of left, right hand cupped underneath the ball, left leaning lightly against its side in support. He bent his knees, bobbed up and down on his toes, stared intently at the hoop, focussing, the whistle clinking lightly against his chest. And then, in one fluid movement, he shot, arm locked out, wrist flicked, feet never once leaving the ground, his whole body pointed and arched out towards the net as he leaned back on his toes and fell - actually fell - back onto the hardwood floor, keeping his eyes locked on the ball as it traced a long arc up, up, up, and then silently fell just short of the rim, landing with an uninterrupted thud onto the court below. The sound rang out. He could taste the remnants of the roast beef sandwich of an hour past rising in his throat. The ball trickled towards the door, knocking once on its burgundy façade before coming to a rest under the battered pommel horse in the corner. The place was so empty.
As if in answer, the door opened a crack, and out popped a dark pony-tailed head. She looked about the room, her eyes finally landing on the figure sitting splay-legged on its far side trying to bore a hole in the wall off to her right. ‘Oh,’ she said. He looked up.
‘Kindez,’ he cleared his throat and began to pick himself up.
She stepped inside, her severed head growing 4 feet of white cotton polo and navy blue tracksuit bottoms. She began moving sideways towards the benches that ran along the near wall. ‘Sorry sir, I forgot my jumper.’
‘Alright then, quickly now.’ He walked towards the corner, making a bee-line for the horse and the offending ball hiding under its belly. Fishing it out, he turned back out to the room at large, stepping blindly into the girl’s path as she made for the door.
‘Sorry sir, I…’ she made to go around him. He moved in the same direction, blocking her again. They moved back and forth like this once more, three times, four, until they both began to laugh awkwardly.
‘Hate it when that happens, don’t you?’ He stood still now.
She smiled up at him briefly and gave a small laugh through her nostrils. She took a decisive step to her left, he one to his right.
‘Have a shot, Kindez’ he said, presenting the ball.
‘But sir, I-‘
‘Just have a shot.’
‘Sir, I have to get to class.’
‘… I’m not very good, sir.
‘There’s no one else here, Kindez.’
* * *
‘Hello… Mr. Mendel, isn’t it?’
‘Nice to meet you, have a seat.’
‘Now let’s see, Mendel, Mendel… ah here we are, “Attentive and compliant. Takes instruction well. Shows good ability at most sports and excels in track and field in particular. Punctual and well behaved in class. Could benefit from extra-curricular training.” A glowing report by all accounts, Mr. Mendel. I wish I had forty others like her.’
‘I’m sure the other teacher’s have said no different.’
‘She seems to be coping nicely.’
‘She surely does.
‘Did you have any questions for me, Mr. Mendel?’
‘No, nothing important really’
‘I’m afraid I don’t understand.’
‘Did you ever play any sport as a child, Mr. Carrington?’
‘Well of course, I-‘
‘I used to play baseball.’
‘Strange one, I know. Not often you hear of people doing a thing like that in… in…. well, in a place like this. But that’s just me, Mr. Carrington; I’m a strange one.’
‘I was never a big man, but I tell you I was fairly handy with that bat.’
‘I could fairly do some damage, if you know what I mean.’
‘Mr. Mendel, if we could just get back to your daughter-‘
‘Oh, my apologies. Please.’
‘Well unless you have any questions…?’
‘Do you know what I’d do if anyone were to ever lay a hand on my daughter, Mr. Carrington?’
‘Mr. Mendel, what are you-‘
‘Purely hypothetical now. No need to worry.’
‘What I’d do is, I’d take my old bat – I keep it under the bed see, for burglars and things, you know – I’d take it, and I’d go to their house, and I’d knock on the door and I’d wait for them to answer. And when they answered, do you know what I’d do? Well, Mr. Carrington, I’ll tell you what I’d do: I’d beat them. I’d beat them to within an inch of their life. I’d beat them until they forgot what it was like not to be in pain. And then I’d keep going. Because, as I’d be the first to admit, if there’s one thing I tend to lack when I get going it’s restraint, Mr. Carrington. I know, I know, it’s a terrible thing to have a temper, and I do try to keep a lid on it. But sometimes you just can’t help yourself… Sure you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?’
‘… I don’t appreciate being talked to this way.’
‘Talked to what way, Mr. Carrington? Sure I’m only having a friendly chat, am I not?’
‘… I don’t appreciate being threatened. And I sure as hell don’t appreciate being accused of… of-‘
‘Accused of what, Mr. Carrington?’
‘You know exactly what… Mr. Mendel.’
‘Hang on there ‘til I finish my little story, Mr. Carrington.’
‘Don’t worry, I’ll be out of your hair in no time.’
‘This is the good bit see. This is the bit that really gets me, to tell you the truth. You see, what I’d do before all this… this unpleasantness, what I’d do is I’d actually go and talk to the little bastard, and I’d tell him what I was going to do to him. I’d tell him I’d come to his house of a Saturday, or maybe a Sunday even. You know, one of those days he’d be lounging around in his jocks and scratching his balls, like. One of those days he wouldn’t exactly be mentally prepared to confront a homicidal maniac on his doorstep, ha-ha.’
‘I’m calling the guards.’
‘Oh no need for that Mr. Carrington, I’m nearly finished. See, what I’d make sure to mention to the fella’ – or the lady for that matter. Sure we’re living in dark times these days, Mr. Carrington – what I’d make sure to mention is that this might happen next week, it might happen next month, it might even happen next year. I wouldn’t even know myself, you know the way. It’d happen on whatever day I thought was right for it, you get me? And who knows when that kind of notion might take hold of man.’
‘Get out of my office, right n-‘
‘Everyday he’d wake up and he’d be thinking to himself “is today the day he’s coming? Is today the day I’m going to die?” And that’s the real scorcher here, Mr. Carrington, that’s the thing that really tickles me. Gives me the jollies so it does. Sometimes I’ll be sitting there reading the paper of a morning and the thought will just pop into my head and I’ll just start laughing to myself. The wife thinks I’m going mental so she does. But you and I know it’s because if anything like this were to happen – and god forbid it ever should – your man would be out there pacing back and forth in his dingy little house wondering how long he had left, and I’d be the one putting the fear into him. Isn’t that just a lovely thought now, Mr. Carrington? Isn’t it just?’
‘You stay safe now, Mr. Carrington.’
‘I’ll be seeing you.’
What was this? It just came out of the sky, out of nowhere. How was he supposed to react? Was he supposed to just go with it? He turned and wrapped his arms around a pair of legs, looking up, afraid. She pushed him away gently. “Good luck” she smiled, and began searching in her bag for something. This was not normal. This was not good. He raised a tentative hand to his forehead, retracted it almost immediately. No one seemed all that surprised. Everyone just seemed to laugh. Passersby cooed and giggled. He began to cry when his glasses became obscured. An old man walking by knelt down by his side. “Aaawww” he said. He cried harder. His mother turned back to inspect and only smiled more broadly. “There, there, little fella” said the old man. She began to laugh. “Only a little shitehawk.”
‘A fanook, a fruit, and not just a touch of it either.’
‘“Fanook”? What are you, a fucking mobster now? You watch two seasons of Sopranos and suddenly ‘Fanook’ creeps its way into your vocabulary?’
‘… nyeh, ya fuckin’ mook.’
‘Quit breakin’ my bawls hee, I’m tellin’ a stawry.’
‘I hate you.’
‘… go on’
‘So anyway, I’m sitting there, minding my own business – in fact I think I was actually in the process of chatting this girl up at this stage - and this lad just waltzes over.’
‘A gay guy.’
‘Yeah, a gay guy. He just waltzes right on up, sits down opposite me with his little cosmo or whatever-‘
‘He was not drinking a cosmopolitan.’
‘OK, his little cocktail or whatever.’
‘He was drinking wine, I saw him… Have you actually forgotten I was there, like no more than 10 feet away?’
‘So anyway, he comes over, me still talking to this girl, this really intelligent girl, like really “intelligent”, if you know what I mean.’
‘And I had him pegged as soon as he came within 5 feet of me, waltzing over, sliding into the booth, giving me a little wink when I look over to see who’s sitting down at our table.’
‘I think he was Geraldine’s friend.’
‘The girl you were talking to.’
‘Oh her. No no no, I’m telling you, I had him pegged. This lad was out for one thing and one thing only, and he somehow decided I was the one he was gonna get it from. Me. As in me, this guy, the guy who’s about 2 words away from shoving his tongue down this girl’s throat.’
‘So obviously I pay him no heed. I have a task at hand and there’s no way I’m letting some little finocchio-‘
‘There’s no way I’m letting some guy distract me from a task like that. So I turn back to this girl – the “intelligent” one – and I keep putting in the spade work, telling her how much this new project means to me – I told her I was making a film – and how the script is-‘
‘Wait what? A film?’
‘She said she was an actress, it was the perfect in.’
‘Yeah, absolutely perfect. She says she’s an actress, I say “oh wow acting, I’m so bad at acting. I’m just such a terrible liar” which is great because it’s both self-deprecating and endearing, and also a little insulting to her, throws her off guard, you know? So then I start on about this film I’m making, this independent piece, this amateur only, partially scripted, improvised shooting, unlikely romance, whatever. Something very indie, very hip. The important part though is not to link the two, never even get close to suggesting she be in it, that she’d be “perfect for the role,” any of that shite. That’s the key. Absolutely essential.’
‘… I suppose you want me to ask wh-?’
‘I’m glad you asked. You see if you start going straight in telling her she’s going to be your leading lady, she’ll be onto you in a second. She’ll think it’s all some kind of ploy to get her into bed.”
“But it is some kind of ploy to get her into bed.’
‘I know, I know, but you don’t want her to know that. So what you do is you pretend like the possibility of her working on your film doesn’t even occur to you, like the idea is so out there it may as well be a… a… I don’t know, but something fucking bizarre anyway. And she’s obviously not going to come right out and say it, that she could act in your film, because she doesn’t want to come across as desperate, or clingy or whatever.’
‘So you just sit there in silence?’
‘Well, I mean, in a certain sense, yeah. I mean you keep talking about the film and about her acting, back and forth, back and forth, but you never allow the two subjects to come together, you see? You keep your silence on that possibility, I suppose. And so what happens then is she starts to think why you haven’t thought of the idea, like even in passing, like even just to make a joke out of it in a kind of a “don’t be ridiculous, we barely know eachother” kind of way. So she starts to play up, starts to try to get you to notice how pretty she is, how outgoing she is, how nice she is.’
‘And how does this-‘
‘Wait, I’m not finished – how great she looks in this dress, how amazing her hair looks when she does it up like that, how wide her eyes can go, how much she can pout her lips, how that bra makes her look even more “intelligent”, how she can laugh the loudest, smile the widest, all that shite, basically showing you just how great she is. But what she’s really doing, and what she doesn’t even really realise she’s doing, is trying to convince herself that she’s just as great as she thinks she is. And that’s the real key here. Once she starts down that road there’s no turning back.’
‘So, you’re basically just chipping away at her self-esteem?’
‘…And this makes her want to sleep with you?’
‘9 times out of ten, yes.’
‘Jesus, do I have to spell it out?’
‘Christ. Okay, here we go: girl feels hurt because boy doesn’t acknowledge her. Girl tries to prove herself by prompting boy to offer up said acknowledgement. When it never comes, girl simply tries harder. Now, what happens when girl’s image of herself becomes dependant on the approval of boy who wants to ride her into the sunset?’
‘So you scored her?’
‘Well that’s what I was trying to say. Ten more minutes and she would’ve been mine. But then this guy comes over.’
‘The gay guy.’
‘Yes, the gay guy, Jesus. He comes over and ruins everything, waltzing on up, limp wrists and everything… This guy was a fucking charicature, I’m telling you.’
‘Well, what did he do?’
‘What do you mean, “what did he do”? He didn’t have to do anything. He just came over and sat down, winked at me, and then stared me out of it.’
‘He just stared at you?’
‘Yeah, for like 5 fucking minutes. Can you believe that? Do you know how long that is for someone to just look at you, non-stop, and not say one single solitary word? Christ, I was ready to stand up and deck the guy.’
‘I mean I wouldn’t obviously, I don’t-‘
‘Wait, so, he just came over, sat down, and looked at you?”
‘Yeah, like I said. He came over, winked – don’t forget the wink – and then just stared me out of it, for like 5-10 minutes… Felt like hours if you ask me.’
‘And that’s why you didn’t score this girl?’
‘Yes, that’s why. Jesus, it’s like talking to a brick wall with you sometimes.’
‘I mean, how was I supposed to operate under that kind of scrutiny?’
‘Yeah, this guy, he comes over to me and just starts eyeing me up, one thing on his mind. I mean he had no fucking shame, you know? Just waltzed on up, didn’t even say anything, just assumes I’m looking for the same thing. Makes me fucking sick just thinking about it.’
‘I think you’re being a little too har-‘
‘I mean he didn’t even have a plan. No strategy whatsoever. Just waltzed on up.’
‘I mean, you’ve got to have a plan.’