’ve spent my whole life dying. I’ve lived a life like I was dying. I’ve been dying to meet the right person, I’ve been dying to be something, I’ve been dying to do the right thing and experience the real thing. I read in a James Joyce book that there’s six angels at our back. My angels are different to his. For me, there’s two to sing and two to pray and two to carry my debt away. I’ll probably have to hitchhike to heaven and by the time I get there the gates will be rusted shut.
It’s four days until I’m to be evicted. That’s unless I find the money before then but it’s unlikely that I will. The last dream I had was about a future where I’d already been kicked out, so my impending homelessness must be a deep-rooted concern for me. The fact that I still have four more days partially lifts a weight inside of me. It’s amazing how that weight does not physically exist, but I can feel it, so I’ll always know that it does exist somewhere.
I really love times like now when I’m in a kind of half sleep and all I can hear is the sound of the wind and rain battering hard off the windows and I’ve nowhere to be and no reason to get up. It reminds me of winter when I was a kid and it was the holidays. I didn’t have to get up for school or anything, I would just lie in my warm bed and feel happy about it. It was a simple pleasure. It’s one that I welcome again knowing that it’s Sunday and thankfully there’s no work today.
It’s kind of sudden that I remember I’m not in a bed at all. There’s like seven clues that come at me individually and although they might be individual they’re hot on the heels of each other and it’s like simultaneous rapid punches to the gut. The first thing that I notice is the pain in my back. I’m in my thirties now, which isn’t old, but it feels old when you’re workin’ in the yard every day and the health and safety shit they make you sign doesn’t really apply to you.
‘If it’s anything over twenty kilograms then you must ask a colleague for help, okay?’ the office lady told me one time with this, like, false smile chiseled across her gaunt face. Her mouth was small. Too small for her face or anyone else’s. When she spoke, the words seemed to fall out of there like milk teeth. They barely reached me before they shattered on the ground. There was nothing to them, they were hollow words.
They were hollow because she told me that right before I was sent out into the yard to load up the truck, which was when I found out that I was the only guy there to get the cement mixer and the whacker plate on the back, as well as everything else that was required. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. I know what needs to be done. You pivot and do what you need to do, you don’t be stupid, but it’s all wear and tear on your muscles, tendons, and whatever else you’ve got under your skin. I’m physically fit, but I know that I need to see a physiotherapist, which my friends in the office don’t. They tell me that they get a sore back sitting in the chair all day and I tell them how that must be awful for them. I tell them that as I hang around for a few moments longer than necessary because I’m always trying to warm up. Sometimes I think about pissing on my fingers because the cold makes the bones in my hands feel like they’re all splintered, and you wouldn’t believe me but it’s even worse when you put gloves on. I don’t know science, so I don’t know why that is. Sometimes I think my hands might sweat and the sweat freezes. My office friends don’t have that problem. They don’t need to see a physiotherapist, but I do. Just like I probably need to see all the other therapists, but I don’t have the time, or the money, or the guts for it. I’m held together by fear and this delusion that I’m normal, and that we’re all normal. I’m just trying to live a normal life.
The cold grips me. Physically, it grips me. It grips me with hands that are like a vice and my bones feel like they might break with one more twist. One of my eyes opens and I realise that I’m in my car but I don’t know where I am. My second eye does not open even when I try. The rearview mirror is all fogged up from the cold, so I’ve got to wipe the fog away to get a good look at myself. When I see myself, I see someone that I do not love. I see black eyes, I see regrets, apologies on the horizon, and I think about how my regrets only manifest from situations when I’m drunk.
I wake up in my car with a black eye and swollen knuckles on my left hand, which is unusual because I’m right handed. I wake up in my car on a Sunday morning in Muckross, somewhere, after passing out following a night of hard drinking, and I remember that I wasn’t fighting anyone, but they were fighting me because I forgot that I wasn’t in the yard and people don’t expect you to give them shit and have a lot of smart answers when they try to talk to you.
Clearing my throat hurts, and I wonder if there’s a part of me that isn’t currently in pain. When I notice that my bladder hurts because I’m dying for a piss it becomes apparent to me that the answer is no. As much as I would like to, I can’t move right away. All I can do is slouch there and that’s when I notice that there’s a parking fine stuck to the window of my car and initially I feel pissed off that the person gave me a ticket whilst I was in the car, but then I remember they wouldn’t be working today so it must have been yesterday when I was hammered and abandoned it here. I throw it in the gutter, just like I did with all the others, and then I drive to the supermarket where the world is grey, and I feel grey too. A grey sky overbearing the bleak world with clouds that weep constantly and who can blame them. My head hurts so bad that I want to split it open to relieve the pressure, but the contents would spill out all grey as well and probably clog up the drains worse than Autumn leaves. I’m holding a carton of milk in my hand when I hear Donna approach me. It’s her walking sticks that I hear first.
‘Freddie,’ she says, ‘I need you to drive me home, baby, my back is killing me.’
I put the milk back and drive her home. I can’t say no to her because Donna is like a mother figure to me and a lot of other people around here. When we were around nine years-old she would let us drink beer at her house. It was our sanctuary. If we were being chased by the police for some sort of petty vandalism we would run as fast as we could and hide out at Donna’s. If our parents kicked us out, or we had runaway, then we’d go to Donna’s. She’d look after us like we were one of her own too, and she had like six of her own, so she could’ve told us to beat it, but she never did. She gave us food and spoke to us like we were adults and we loved her.
‘You’ve got eyes like two piss holes in the snow, Freddie,’ she tells me, ‘come inside and I’ll get you some coffee.’
‘Who you been fighting?’
‘Nobody. I guess I just got in a disagreement and he clocked me one.’
I cover my bloody knuckles with my good hand, so she doesn’t see, but she sees just fine.
The place smells like wet dog and Donna’s got this new puppy in a cage that I’ve never seen before. It’s going apeshit in there, chewing on a block of wood and then digging into the bottom of the cage with its paws like it’s having some sort of manic episode.
‘I’ve got to keep her in there because she doesn’t like men. If I let her out, she’d go straight for your balls.’
‘What sort of dog is that?’ I say, leaning over the cage. The dog doesn’t like this and starts barking at me.
‘She’s a shepherd collie. My other dog, she’s a collie shepherd. It’s the colours that tell them apart.’
‘I can see how that would be confusing,’ I say.
The coffee tastes cheap. Usually my first cup of coffee is the first treat of the day, but this cup is like a punishment. If it’s not cheap then the cup must be dirty, it’s giving me heartburn, but I drink it out of politeness anyway.
Donna asks me how things have been, to which I mumble something that passes off as a response. I make the mistake of asking her how she’s been, and she tells me that her daughter was in court trying to get extra visitation rights for her kid, but the judge said no way and so her daughter got violent.
‘She’s a junkie these days, you know?’ Donna tells me, ‘I know she is, and I swear that boy has come home high from her place.’
She points to her grandson, three years old, playing on the carpet silently with a toy car. He looks at me and smiles innocently, which reminds me of my daughter and I turn away as I dig my face into my cup of shitty coffee because for some reason I’m feeling overly emotional about the kid’s smile.
‘Rachel had a miscarriage, you know? Second one this year.’
‘That’s rough,’ I say.
‘She’s still upbeat about it. I tried to tell her that it might be that she just can’t carry girls. There’s always hope for next time.’
Donna seems genuinely positive about the whole thing, but that’s how people are around here. They don’t have much choice in the matter. The government keeps life on that slow decline, so things aren’t ever getting better for us. Possessions don’t mean anything I’ve come to realise. Not that I had many in the first place, but I don’t need any. I’d rather hold my daughter’s hand than have a big tv and a bunch of fancy clothes with a logo on them. I can always read my daughter her favourite book and make her laugh, which is enough to keep me going for another week. It doesn’t matter that the book is ripped at the spine and the pages are all falling out. We both know it off by heart.
Sometimes I think about how I’ve got life insurance and if I killed myself then there would be a big pay out for her which can give her more of a start in life than I can give her whilst I’m working at the yard. I only think about stuff like that when I’m drunk and I’m sure that there’s probably some fine print that says they don’t pay out if it’s a suicide. I keep meaning to check that out though.
After my coffee I thank Donna for her warm hospitality and she thanks for me the ride home. She gives me a kiss on the cheek and I head back out in to the rain. I don’t even bother to run to my car anymore, I’m so used to this abusive weather. I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve never bought a rain coat despite it raining every other day. ‘Your skin’s waterproof’ is what we say sometimes. Maybe I am dumb.
If there’s one thing that I’d like right now it would be to go home and get some sleep. I’d say my bed is calling me, but my bed is a mattress on the floor. I got it from a sofa bed. It’s not like I can’t get a real one, I just prefer the mattress. It’s a small step above sleeping on the floor, which is ideal for my back. I heard that in China they sleep on firm beds because it’s good for their back or something and it works for me most of the time. I remember when I was a teenager I could lie in my bed all day, but those days are long gone. Every day I wake up before seven and if I don’t then I’m too stiff to stand up properly. I’d love to be cuddled up there right now.
Last weekend I wasn’t drunk because I had my daughter staying over and she fell asleep next to me after I read her a story. I was lying there, just running my fingers over my ribcage, feeling that familiar hunger in my belly. My daughter’s steady breaths were the only sound in the whole place, and I could feel my head open, but it was like it was opening on the inside. It was like I’d knocked through some false wall, and then there was this wide-open space and I felt happiness like I hadn’t felt for years, or possibly ever in my life, and I’d never been so happy to be sober.
I’m about half way home when I see my sister walking down the street. She’s completely sodden. I’ve got my window wipers on full blast but even through all the rain I know it’s her. When I pull up alongside her I notice that she’s barefoot and I wind the window down and ask her what the hell she’s doing. She gets in the car and I see that’s she’s crying and when I ask her what happened she tells me that my dad had hit her in the face. She’s drunk on a Sunday morning and it’s early, so I don’t know if she’s drunk from last night or she got drunk this morning. She doesn’t need to tell me much else about it because I know she would have been arguing about it with dad. He’s old now, he’s dying, and he’ll never change. I don’t even feel angry about it which makes me feel guilty instead. I tell her that I’ll go see him and give him shit for it. I just say that to try and assuage my guilt, but she tells me that it’s not worth it. She tells me that she hates this town and she’s leaving. I don’t tell her what she already knows, that everybody would like to leave this town, but you need money to do that. You need money and you need a job waiting for you when you get wherever you’re going, and you need somewhere to stay when you get there, so you need to put down a deposit on a place before you get there too. We’d all like to leave but we all know we can’t.
My sister’s feet are blistered. When I ask her why she didn’t put any shoes on she says that she just had to get out of the house. My mum was there, she was grabbing her arm and telling her that she had to stay. Her arm was covered in cuts from where my mum was digging her fingernails in trying to hold on to her.
‘You can stay at my place,’ I tell her.
On the drive home I try to change the mood and make her laugh. I haven’t seen her for weeks, so conversation comes easy between us.
‘You know my friend Mary?’ she asks me, ‘Mary’s been making extra money selling her underwear. She’s selling underwear and it’s not like, clean, you know?’
‘How the hell does a person get in to something like that?’
‘I dunno, she says that they just send her some underwear and there’s instructions, like, how many days they want her to wear them for and stuff.’
‘That’s some sick shit.’
There’s a silence that is broken when my sister starts cracking up.
‘I was just thinking about Mary and imagining that she starts getting people to help her out. Like getting her grandma to wear the underwear and then sending it back to those perverts and stuff.’
The thought of that makes me almost puke up. I hate it when people say those things because I can’t help but visualize every horrid detail. When I’m gagging it makes my sister laugh even harder, and then I start to get the taste of Donna’s nasty coffee in my mouth, which makes me think of Donna and the underwear, and then the miscarriage and the underwear, and then I need to pull over and be sick by the side of the road. There’s nothing in my stomach but convulsions and my eyes water as a string of thick saliva leads from my mouth to the ground. It gets caught up in the currant from all the rainwater in the gutter and floats off.
When I finally catch my breath, I feel almost normal and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand before collapsing back into the driver seat.
‘Okay,’ I tell her, ‘if you want me to get us home safely then you’re going to have to stop saying things like that.’
My sister keeps laughing and tells me to grow up. My stomach hurts when I laugh but I’m happy to laugh with her for now. I look at the state of us and think about how messed up our lives must be for this to be normal.
‘I think we should go to church,’ I say to her.
‘You think they would let us in looking like this?
‘I think it would make their day if we showed up.’
‘We’ve never been to church since mum got us baptized.’
‘It should make their day then. We’d be like two of their flock returning. We’re Catholic too so I think we get wine and bread.
‘Wine and bread would be good.’
‘I’ll drive us to church then.’