The Planet of Sound • Part 2 of 2

ounds of an argument wafted towards Claire
as she walked along the platform. Her legs felt a little unsteady, that mild approximation of seasickness occasioned by the slalom of the train as it pulled in. Nausea settled in the hollow of her stomach, and she hoped her father wouldn’t be late.

The argument grew louder, a fog of soundwaves clarifying into words, pauses, emphases, and then Claire was passing them, two men in official-looking blazers. The heavier of the two was jabbing a finger at the other’s chest, vein pulsing in his temple, the glint of precious metal in a tooth filling. He said, ‘This is your responsibility. Yours. Not someone else’s. Yours.’ The other man shifted back a few feet, eyes up towards an advertising placard. He muttered something about a speech he had to give at a social function that evening. The heavy man raised a hand flat before him, the semaphore of “Stop.” He shook his head violently and said, ‘No, Austin. It can’t get done tomorrow. I don’t give a flying shit about your golf dinner, and this must get sorted out today. Now. So do it.’ The thin man bit his lip, defeated and sullen, eventually nodding acquiescence. His superior turned on his heel, calling back, ‘And don’t think this is the end of it. I’ve had it up to here with your fucking attitude, union be damned. You’ll be hearing more about this.’ The thin man waited until the other was at a safe distance, then contorted his face into a childish moue and recited, ‘You’ll hear more about this. You’ll hear more about this.’ He noticed Claire, and stopped; Claire noticed that she was staring, and carried on.

amien finished his cigarette, sucking the hotness from the butt-end, that cloudy burn, and returned inside the station. The strap of the rucksack dug into his shoulder-blade. He wriggled his shoulders, grimacing, trying to shift the weight of the bag, but it made little difference. He glanced at his watch again: forty-five more minutes to wait. The watch hands pulsed softly under the glass casing, in tune with Damien’s heartbeat. He smiled in appreciation for a few seconds, despite his annoyance. An announcement squalled over the tannoy, but all Damien registered was the fuzzy “bing-bong” at the beginning and end – the rest was just noise.

ill Gates is so rich, apparently – get this now – he’s so rich that there’s not enough dollars in the world should he decide to cash in his wealth. Hah? Not enough actual paper money to give him what he’d be owed. Now there’s a man I could admire.’

Charles was riffing on another rant, this one about the inequities of the tax system and the masses of whining socialists who had, he believed, infiltrated the proper political parties. Major chewed three sticks of gum at once, stepping lightly from foot to foot, nodding metronomically as Charles held forth.

‘But there’s you, Major, with your soft spot for the “underclasses”, quote-unquote, and your benefits and education. With your understanding. ‘Tis all a load of rubbish. I blame the religious; they were always too soft. Do you think the likes of that eejit over there appreciates what bleeding hearts like you try to do for him? The state of him.’

Major glanced over at a young man smiling giddily at his fingers as he wriggled them before his eyes, slow ropes swimming through the air. He looked around at other travellers, grinning dumbly, vague entreaties to share in the spectacle. Major sighed heavily and pulled a cigarette from the packet. He seemed about to speak, but nodded at Charles instead. He put the cigarette in his mouth, sighed, removed it and said, ‘I might…pop outside for a smoke, will I?’

Charles harrumphed and said, ‘Go on, then. You might as well.’ He turned and peered at the departures board. ‘Christ almighty. How much longer have we to wait for that bloody train?’

he display board was changing, digital characters, numbers and letters, their constituent points of light rearranged. One train had arrived, been checked and cleaned and refuelled, and was now ready for its outward journey. A message rolled across the top of the departures section of the board: the next train to Galway would now leave from platform three, twenty-five minutes later than planned, and not platform seven. An accompanying verbal announcement explained that station personnel were currently experiencing some minor signalling difficulties, and thanked passengers for their co-operation.

Claire looked away from the board, bored and tense. She bit her fingernail and sucked apple juice through a straw. Her father still hadn’t arrived.

(i see between the layers of these things i squeeze through like blood from cut skin this small event is a travesty a waste a fucking tragedy i want a fist through glass or a car-smash a little yellow-fever or a night standing naked in cold rain my hands glow a sandy colour they are flecked with alien matter as our happy drama cycles round again bare spontaneous and violently loud)

ou’re late. You were meant to be here twenty…’ Austin stopped, taking a second look at the man with the bag, properly noticing him only now. ‘You’re not the engineer. The engineer doesn’t wear overalls.’ The man stood there, stocky, a passive expression, clutching a canvas hold-all. He didn’t speak. Austin frowned and said, ‘Well – who are you, then? Come on, dummy. Speak. Did maintenance send you down here?’

The man nodded and placed the bag on the ground. He said, ‘That’s right. Boss’ orders. Asked me to check out the, ah, the generator down here.’

“The generator? What fucking generator? …That fucking Considine. He’s only doing this to annoy me. That’s it. Here – hold this.’ Austin handed the man a slim manual and a torch. ‘We’ll fucking see about a generator.’ He took off towards the inner station, talking over his shoulder. ‘If you see the engineer, tell him it’s this platform, alright? He knows what to do.’

The man smiled and saluted. He waited a few seconds, then walked briskly towards a small stand-alone hut, twenty yards down the platform. He checked nobody was watching and ducked behind the hut, bending and reaching into a thick undergrowth of weeds and rubbish. The man felt around, concentrating on touch-information, and finally smiled. He had found what he was searching for.

argaret locked her office door, giving the key an extra wriggle for insurance. It was unlikely that someone would break into an office in a train station, but in these dangerous, unpredictable times, one could never be sure. Her sister had agreed with her, talking on the phone five minutes before: the world was gone to hell. She passed the front desk, nodding in greeting to the girl working it today, and noticed how much she was perspiring already. Margaret was significantly overweight. She knew this, and pledged to rectify matters as soon as she had more time. Weightwatchers, maybe, or that other thing, like yoga, the thing Madonna was fond of.

But that could wait. She walked towards the snack kiosk in the centre of the station, a functional, plasticky-looking structure, reminiscent of a fast-food chain. Another signifier of the encroaching Americanisation of the country, she angrily noted. Margaret was fumbling for change in her pocket when a tall, crazy-looking man in a profane t-shirt stepped in front of her, a rapturous smile on his face, his eyes looking beyond her.

He said, ‘Everything, everything. It’s all moving. Fucking hell. Can you see it?’ and caught her by the shoulders. His smile broadened as he said, ‘Whoa. You’re moving too. Fucking great. Excellent.’

Margaret recoiled and slapped his hands away, snarling, ‘Get your hands off me, you tramp.’ The man spun away, going low on one knee and coming up with a strange grace, and started pointing at random objects around him. She looked around for the security guard, that dozy young fellow who was more interested in ogling the girls than paying attention to his job. There was no sign of him. Margaret set off towards the lost baggage office and was stopped by a small man in overalls. He nodded behind her, in the direction of the lunatic with the long hair.

‘I saw what happened there,’ the man said. ‘Don‟t worry about him.’

‘Oh. Right?’

‘Mm-hm. I’ll take care of it. You needn’t worry about him anymore.’

“Well…alright. Thank you.’

The man noticed someone in the distance, smiled at Margaret and moved away. She stood there for a moment, feeling oddly self-conscious, then moved herself. A skinny young girl stood between the kiosk and a rubbish bin, speaking sotto voce into her mobile phone as she gazed about the station, fretful, close to tears. The girl said, ‘…told him I didn’t like waiting on my own but he just said he’d be late. He said buy a magazine and wait for him. And I’m waiting nearly an hour now but he’s still not here.’

Margaret noticed that the girl had turned away from her bag, a large canvas hold-all, where it lay on the ground some ten feet from her. She thought of warning her to keep an eye on it, but decided to wait until the girl’s call had ended. Margaret picked up a chocolate bar and stood in line, delving into the depths of her pocket for payment. Her peripheral vision caught a commotion near the front desk: the crazy in the lewd t-shirt was aggravating a heavy-set man, pulling at the handle of his suitcase and laughing dizzily. The big man looked close to violence, his thick hands balled into fists and rage in his face. A diminutive fellow in a smart suit stood between them, pacifying the man with the suitcase. Margaret tutted, seeking out the maintenance man who had promised to sort the situation out. He, like the useless security guard, was nowhere to be seen.

The girl working the kiosk, a pretty, flighty thing with a high ponytail and blond streaks, was giving change to the customer in front. She beamed and said, ‘Have a nice day, sir.’ The argument by the front desk was escalating, noises of trouble seeping like an electric tension throughout the building. Margaret dropped the chocolate and scanned the place for the security guard. She saw Austin then, at the far side, placing his hand on Mr. Considine’s shoulder, spinning him around, getting in close to his face, angry, verbose. Mr. Considine seemed shocked, before recovering his bearings, fighting back.

Margaret groaned and held her head in her hands for a moment, then struck out towards the two men. Their private feud would have to wait – there were more pressing matters to sort out. She noticed the man in overalls strolling out a side exit, his face darkened in the interior’s shadow, then the cold brilliance of the sunshine like an interstellar beam into which he ascended.

(i see between the layers of these things i squeeze through like blood from cut skin this small event is a travesty a waste a fucking tragedy i want a fist through glass or a car-smash a little yellow-fever or a night standing naked in cold rain my hands glow a sandy colour they are flecked with alien matter as our happy drama cycles round again bare spontaneous and violently loud self-taught headaches with a jungle fever my heart stops it stops)

ow are you? I saw you leave there, just said I’d come over.’

Agatha turned in surprise, then smiled when she saw her friend from earlier. He was now without his bag. He smiled also, the same placid, non-committal expression as before. Agatha said, ‘Oh, hello. Yes, I’m taking your advice. …When are you starting your work?’

He checked his watch and said, ‘Ooh, not too long now. Should be all happening very soon.’

‘Righto. Well, I’ll be on my way. I think I see my cat going home ahead of me there. He’s not my cat, he’s a stray, but I feed him sometimes.’ She smiled again, a little embarrassed. ‘Well. Sure, I’ll let you back to it. Take care.’

‘Yeah, take care yourself, now.’

The young man began walking away from Agatha, away from the station. She watched him momentarily, shrugged and turned for home. She fixed her coat buckle more comfortably on her midriff and headed towards her bungalow. She mulled over whether to give the cat some fish or meat for its dinner this evening, settling on both. The young man crossed the road, walked thirty yards and stopped at a post box. He pulled a letter from his pocket, marked urgent and addressed to the local Garda station, and slipped it in the slot. He stepped out of his overalls, rolling them into a neat bundle, and started walking again.

He was almost out of earshot when a row of elegant, elevated windows exploded outwards in a nebula of glass fragments and rent matter and glittering dust. One enormous eruption, chaos and distant screams in its wake; then silence fell.

Two hundred yards away Agatha gasped. She didn’t turn around.

(my heart stops it stops)

(this is no longer the planet of sound)

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