’m here, Sarah.

I made it, all the way. Two taxi rides, two shuttle flights, one long-haul, one city train, one national train with three connections and a fifty-minute walk. I’ve been awake for about thirty-eight hours. The last time I slept it was fitful, worrying about not being able to sleep. It feels like there are tiny spiders with scratchy claws wriggling around behind my eyelids. My head is compressed, packed tight; I’m so exhausted I feel nauseous. I haven’t had a proper meal in two days. My veins are filled with caffeine and my throat is raw from smoking too much in a dry environment. I’ve walked down airport concourses, underground steps, pedestrian walkways, through these ramshackle streets that I know you remember. My feet are blistered and I feel sorry for myself.


But I’m here now, at our beach. I travelled halfway around the world. I made that ‘big effort’. (I thought you might appreciate the irony.)

‘Our’ beach. Isn’t it funny how we appropriate a public place, an ancient, indifferent place like this, the silent sand and murmuring sea, simply because it holds some specific memory for us? We first expressed love for one another behind that sand dune so now it’s our sand dune; nobody else’s. It has passed to us by some indeterminate right. Never mind all the other people who smoked a joint there, or made love there, or sat and closed their eyes against the wind’s caress. They play no part in our history. They are erased by our arrogance and innocence; by me, and by you.


I’m writing in a notebook I bought when we landed here, however many hours ago that was. It’s blue, with a picture of that shitty television star on the front. You know the one: the quiz show host with the buckteeth and sleazy sunglasses. We used to watch that programme in the apartment, ironic, amused or drunk. I passed the apartment on my way to the beach. It’s not on the route from the train station; I detoured, I strung it out. (Why am I telling you this? You know the layout of things.) There was a line of washing hung out the front: big jumpers, floral dresses, the clothes of someone younger than you, less affluent. The outside of it, the balcony, had a homely air: potted plants and disembodied bicycle wheels, a dirty dog basket. I didn’t see the new tenant. The area hadn’t changed as much as I presumed it would.

I’m putting this on paper, as opposed to merely running through events in my mind, because writing helps me to structure things properly. Because I may send this to you, my distant valediction. And because I have decided to kill myself.


I have a confession: I borrowed your personal stereo. I must look ridiculous, at my age, those foolish plastic earphones looping around my crown, but I wanted to listen to something while I wrote. That’s my second confession: I’m listening to Leonard Cohen singing Hallelujah. I know, I know; I can picture your smile right now, a smile of sadness and vindication. You were right, Sarah, in all of it. I am that self-indulgent caricature I denied having become. My life is a bad TV serial on constant replay in my head, a paperback repository of cliché. I’m an indifferent observer of my own fall, and I hate it and love it at the same time.

Admitting this gives me a sickly power and makes me curse myself with a violence that surprises me.


The volume is turned down low – I wanted to hear the sea also. That roiling, soft-grey sea we remember, rearing horses trampling one another into oblivion, the sibilant call of the deeps and the leaks an accompaniment to the music. I have sand in my hair and spray on my cheeks. The sea can make you feel dirty and clean all at once. It’s a huge, beautiful thing, an exhalation of the moon. The melody of the song floats over the secret pulse of an ocean rhythm and I remember when you first played this for me. I laughed and called you pretentious; you had his novel in your bookcase and the album in vinyl. You got us cold beers from the kitchen and we listened to this song three or four times. It seemed to fit: the sweet aching, the cruelty and yearning for love.

What was that novel called? I could never remember. You had to remind me several times.


I’m counting back to when we knew this place together. Eight years… three months…however many days, I don’t remember exactly. If this were a movie, I would wistfully declare in voiceover, at this point, how life was almost perfect then; how I now realise, looking back, that things could never be the same.

But that’s not how our lives went. Our time here was good, it was exciting and airy; we were delirious on infatuation and poverty, on endless possibility. But going home was better. That formalised and concretised, it gave a shape to our feelings. The house, the dog – no kids, but that was a sensible decision, I think, at our age – the good jobs and beautiful furniture, the invigorating hikes and lazy nights watching old movies… These things sound boring, like the tired excuses of someone saturated with life. But they were all nice. I thought they were nice. I was too self-absorbed to realise that nice was not enough for you.


I found this in an old wallet, stashed at the back of my wardrobe, a few weeks ago, purely by chance. (Now, there’s a sign…) I’m sure you will remember these lines: ‘Dust and sand in whispers dance on the wind like a slim ballerina.’ It’s dated October 23rd, ten years ago. You always admired the haiku as a form – another pretension I teased you about – and wrote that here, on this beach. Here, where I sit now. The same dust and sand, and I swear, Sarah, I hear the same whispers.


This place is empty now and I am alone, alone with the song and the whispers, that sharp grass jerking into the wind. There are no funfairs, no rifle-range or bumper-cars, but it still feels like a seaside town: dirty and lonely, with the smell of nostalgia and the sweet sound of faded laughter. You would laugh if I were to say that in your presence. You’d tell me I was sentimental, I lived in the past. You’d shout to make me understand how the present was rotting like over-ripe fruit in a bowl because I refuse to eat the fruit, I just want to observe it. I want to write about the fruit, paint it, take photographs, discuss it, formulate theories as to why it was putrefying, anything to fill the days until nothing was left but a nauseous, syrupy mess, and I could indulge myself in the one act for which I still feel passion: the embrace of regret. I would regret the disintegration of the fruit.

I miss you. I hate myself and ran from you and miss you.


It’s dark enough now. I’ve removed my shoes and socks, my shirt and jacket. I’m sitting in light cotton trousers, a t-shirt, barefooted. (Yes, the t-shirt also makes me look ridiculous.) I have no cigarettes left. The air is that murky blue of gathering dusk; the sea is slate-grey, flecked off-white on the wave-tops. I’m scared of the cold, the thought of that heavy water sluicing down my throat. My lungs rebelling, rejecting, acid and diaphragmatic heaves, more salt-water pouring down. The immensity of it doesn’t frighten me, just the all-enclosing cold.

Sarah, I’m sorry. You were right to leave me. I am narcissistic and brittle. I’m the malevolent three-year-old despot observing the universe as it revolves around him, the seasons for my changing. I would have broken your heart, sooner or later, or dragged you down into my mire, or made you bend so much to accommodate me that you would no longer have been you, but a parody of yourself, or of me, it doesn’t matter. This is my final stupid, selfish, wicked act. I know it is all of those things.


It’s shushing me now. It’s soothing me, a fortifying lullaby. Hussshhhh…

I have done bad things, but they seem insignificant when I listen to it; all the bullshit and pettiness, all the times I turned traitor and tore the heart from your dreams, don’t seem to matter when I stand on the cusp and give myself up to it. I can’t forgive myself for this, and you shouldn’t forgive me either. But the sea… It is too great, too terrible, too impassive; it is sublime and dangerous, whipping the breath from me. It breathes clemency over my forehead in divine clouds of grey. I close my eyes and the spray kisses my eyelids.

I will go towards it now. I am forgiven.

Irish Balderdash: A dictionary of Irish placenames

…tionary of Irish placenames (cont’d)

Full of angry Lorena Bobbit types with philandering husbands and sharp gardening implements.
Home of the famous Annual Phlegm-Hacking Jamboree.
Memory-deficient population constantly surprised when someone raps on the door.
Like Knocknagoshel, but much more persistent visitors.
Plagued by fatal accidents involving thrill-seekers who can’t resist a dumb challenge.
Unpleasant community with collective genital fixation.
Infinitesimal hamlet inhabited by marijuana-growing twin brothers.
Where they go to mix up the dough for hash-cakes.
Where they bake up a batch.
Dictionary of Irish placenames (cont’d overleaf)
by Darragh McManus

Killing Time

OMMEL threw a half-drank bottle of Coke at the first kid who refused, catching him on the knuckles and sending him home in a dusty tumult of tears. He laughed into the boy’s tailwind and turned back to the group, his face a challenge. ‘So is anyone else too chickenshit to go through with it? You? You?’ Nobody admitted to being afraid.

The same kid’s father had accosted Rommel a few weeks previously, playing soccer on the council green; he said, ‘I’ll break your head if you ever get my young fella into trouble again, and I don’t care who your father is. Fucking stay away from my son.’ Rommel laughed while the other children got nervous; shrugging and turning from the guy, saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. The big man. Just keep talking.’ Rommel never showed anything but confidence and defiance. Everybody envied this.

He pointed to a broken spike in the school gate’s ironwork, pale and crumbling in its centre. ‘See that?’ he declared, the proud initiate of arcane knowledge, secrets from the adult world. ‘That’s where Jimmy Feeney drove a spike through his foot. Years ago. He was climbing the gate and he slipped. Right through the bones. They had to cut it with an electric saw.’ V got that languid, baffled look on his face and said, ‘They cut off his foot?’ Rommel slapped him on the head, a few times. ‘No, you stupid shit. The gate. They cut the gate.’

A dreary village in a dreary time, a bloodless hamlet off a secondary road. There wasn’t much to do on elongated summer evenings – too far from the sea, Dublin was another planet, and nobody went abroad back then. Or at least, those who went that far didn’t come back too often. Nothing to do but mess around with time: kill it, waste it, watch it, get fed up with it, wish it were later, tomorrow, next year. Impose your will on time.

Rommel had a game, learned from an American cousin recently visiting. It was all the rage over there. This was scary and seductive; it exerted a magnetic pull on the imagination. He gathered the group inside the school walls as day slid slowly into evening, shadows lengthening, a murky projection of the creepy old building, the sky a bleed of orange and purple. It had been a hot day.

Four remaining, and all had a nickname. Eleven- and twelve-year-olds, immersed in fantastical comic books and dreadful TV shows…you had to have a nickname. Codewords for the exclusion of others. One called herself Ace; she couldn’t remember why, but it sounded cool. Rommel’s handle was an homage to the Nazis. It seemed daring and anarchic at that age to profess admiration for something so taboo; swastikas on bags and Hitler moustaches on the pictures in textbooks. V was named for a trashy science fiction series, and Nettley after the alleged coach driver for Jack the Ripper. (Also taboo, also irresistibly appealing to callow minds.) He was the only one who hadn’t chosen his own moniker; it had been conferred, by his friends, to his displeasure.

‘Stand in a line. Here, up against the wall. C’mon, get a move on.’

Rommel arranged the other three, hands on their shoulders, a nervous, giddy line-up. He smiled, handsome and dangerous. He had strong features, violent-green eyes, set deep in his head. Girls would go crazy for Rommel when he was older. He said, ‘Stand straight. Heads up. Come on, heads up. Chest out. Take a deep breath.’

V looked sideways at Ace. He was scared, unsure of why exactly, and Ace was always more kind to him than the others. V was a strange kid: not exactly unintelligent, but almost moronically naïve and credulous. He lived in a chaotic home with kind-hearted but dysfunctional parents and three younger siblings, all of whom bullied him incessantly. But he was a nice fellow, sweet-natured, who dreamed of joining the airforce. Rommel teased him about this; he would say, ‘My first cousin got turned down for the airforce and got four Bs and two Cs in his Leaving, and is taller even than Ace, and looks like Patrick fucking Swayze. So why d’ya think if they turned him down they’re gonna accept a humpy four-eyed goon like you?’ V would shrug and nod, as if in agreement.

An old man passed on his bicycle, rising and falling with his exertions. His ears, seen close up, were almost translucent at the top; they glowed in the sunlight. Rommel glared at his passing. He turned back to his friends and stared casually at Nettley.

‘Right, Netters. You can be first.’

Nettley was very small, puny and slope-shouldered. He had the physique of a pensioner, seemed deficient in vital minerals. He grimaced; he glanced at the others, a silent plea, unwilling to voice his fears. Ace took a step forward.

‘I’ll go first. I want to go first.’

Rommel frowned, a little put out. Then he shrugged and said, ‘Alright. You first it is. Obviously not a chickenshit like Nettley there.’

Ace said, ‘Leave him alone. Just do it.’

Rommel moved her shoulders back, her thin girl’s chest pushed forward. He stared at her and Ace met his stare. Rommel said, ‘Look at me. You have to concentrate or it won’t work. Focus on my eyes. Okay…take a big breath and hold it.’

She inhaled, smoothly and deeply, her lips pursed. She kept her eyes on his. Rommel whispered, ‘Breathe out…now’, and punched her hard on the chest a moment later. Ace reeled, bending over, her arm reaching for the wall to steady herself. A vortex in her head, tightness in the lungs. Points of the spectrum danced behind her eyes. She was aware that she was crouching; one knee on the ground, the other pointed forward at an angle. All sound had dimmed to a tinny return of a distant echo. She didn’t feel Rommel’s hand on her arm, struggling to lift her. Ace settled into a seated position, instinct moving the requisite parts of the body. She slumped like a discarded marionette and gazed at the middle-distance. Her mind felt unfocused, at a sickly remove from things around her. She closed her eyes and eventually came around.

‘…shit. That worked. It actually worked.’

V and Nettley sat next to her, the same disconcerted glaze on their eyes, the same paleness of the skin. She looked up at Rommel: he smiled, triumphant.

‘You were out for a few minutes at least. Fucking hell. I didn’t think that would work at all. You know, a kid died doing that in the States. My cousin told me.’

Ace said, quietly, ‘Your cousin…what?’

‘Frankie. He told me a kid died doing that. A classmate of his. Loss of air to the brain or something. Ha ha. You guys are some dumb bastards.’

Ace looked at the other two, resurfacing, Nettley shaking his head like a dog after a swim, V darting glances around him. He looked confused; he started to cry, his pudgy hands balled into his face. Ace put her arm around his shoulders; she said to Rommel, ‘Did you do it?’

He replied, ‘How could I do it? I’d nobody to hit me. You three were all…’ He whistled and spun his finger in the air.

Ace stood, a little unsteady. She breathed deeply and felt herself return to ground. It was noticeably darker; she wondered how long she had been out. The long evening had almost run its course and night was lurking around the borders now.

‘You had nobody to hit you. Of course.’

Rommel smiled, wolfish, very composed. He pulled a half-smoked cigarette from a shirt pocket and lit it. ‘Hey, if you can’t handle it, then fuck off out of the gang. Shouldn’t be any girls allowed anyway. Right, lads?’

V was still crying; he refused to look up. Nettley stood and dragged his friend from the dusty concrete, little fists kneading his eyes. Nettley swallowed and said, ‘I have to go home. My mam will have my tea ready.’ V murmured, ‘I’ll go with you.’ They tottered to the gate, around onto the pavement. Their heads disappeared as the wall swallowed them from view. Ace looked back at Rommel. He was still grinning, but turned away from her gaze. He laughed, sourly.

‘What? What are you so riled up about? I didn’t force you to do anything.’

Ace laughed herself. She nodded and said, ‘Right. Sure.’ She brushed grit from the seat of her pants and hoisted herself up onto the wall. Ace dropped gently to the other side. She wiped a drying smear of saliva from the side of her chin and began walking home. Rommel stood in the schoolyard, smoke rising from the cigarette butt, as shadows oozed forward, the fingers of night.

A Brief History of the Universe

Darragh McManus’ poem “A Brief History of the Universe”, read by Snake-Oil Cure‘s editor DLR.

Click through to read the poem for yourself! (more…)

Interlude: The minor movement

HAT’S the movement of love?’

‘The movement of love.’

‘Yes. You know how people attribute colours and tastes and personalities to different emotions.’

‘Affection is a warm orange. Hatred is bitter tasting. Like that?’

‘So what’s the movement of love – of all emotions? What directions do they go in? What shapes do they take?’

‘I don’t know… Anger is a violent vibration, maybe, but rooted to the ground. Delight is a little explosion of energy in all directions.’

‘You’re getting good at this.’

‘Fear is slow, tentative. It’s something small and defenceless scuttling around in the dark.’

‘And love?’

‘What kind of love? Platonic love is a broad, sweeping gesture. Familial love is solid and relentless. Not relentless, that sounds too harsh; it’s vast, it’s unending. It moves because it must move. As for erotic love…’

‘Ssh. Come here, and I’ll show you.’

heir room is cool and darkening, a breeze billowing the curtains. Dusk is falling, and they are both naked. An electric fan helicopters in a blurry spiral on the ceiling. He lies on his back. One arm draped across his belly, one dropping towards an ashtray on the ground. She lies on her stomach, dying amber light a gentle patina on her hips and buttocks. She rests her head in one hand. The sheets cling to the end of the mattress, crumple on the dusty wooden floor.

He inhales cigarette smoke, swallows saliva, his Adam’s apple bobbing under bristled skin. She smiles and leans across, kissing his throat. He coughs – the smooth progress of the smoke disturbed. She gently bites his shoulder, the ridged muscle at the front. He squirms away, but not too convincingly; an ambiguous invitation. She bites again, and he blindly mashes the cigarette butt into the ashtray. He ducks his head into a mass of curls, closes his eyes. Dust and inexpensive shampoo, that sweet chemical scent.

He squeezes her hair, coiled handfuls, as she kisses his chest. He tastes vaguely like saltwater and Asian food. She smells the lingering trace of their earlier congress. She smiles and draws herself onto him, her breasts brushing his hipbone, the hollow of his side. She pulls herself along his body, a tingle of soft skin, pricked hair follicles, moist but powdery-dry. He moves in response. They move together.

wanted to get a tattoo once. I chickened out, I got scared. Couldn’t stand the thought of that needle drilling into my skin.’

‘Do you not like it, then?’

‘I like it on you. How the colour ripples when you move your arm. Like the dart of a tropical fish.’

‘What design were you going to get?’

‘A Chinese character, a pictogram. I know, it’s a cliché now. But it wasn’t then. This was many years ago.’

‘What character?’

‘I can’t recall the word in Chinese, but it stood for “outside”. Something bare and cold about it, unmoving. …It was still.’

‘Cold and still. Like a snowswept field.’

‘Yes. I felt very still back then.’

ancing in sharp sunlight, pelvises pushed together by thoraxes swaying to soft bossanova rhythms. The pollen, summer anti-matter, drizzling through a beam of light. She closes her eyes and hears. Muffled melodies and insistent beats. Feet shuffling quietly in random patterns. He kisses her on the mouth; she laughs. Music for the heart and groin. Loose movements, drowsiness. The overture and the event at once.

Her sweat on his mouth, on his lips and tongue. He tastes her acrid sweetness. Senses the infinitesimal hairs rising along her spine. The slope of her spine, that elegant architecture. The arch of her body in the half-dark. Blue nightlight and pliant shadows on her skin. He places his hands on her hips, that cello curve; she smiles at him over her shoulder. He savours the rising of desire.

Her body pressed down, her head to one side, eyes closed. She tilts her hips, an unsaid summons. He moves, his weight heavy on her, joined in warmth and rhythm, a fleshly fusion. He laughs and licks her ears, her neck, burrowing into the softness of her shoulder, and she squirms. He whispers, ‘I love you, I love you.’ She smiles, murmurs into her pillow. Nonsense endearments. Pungency and dreaminess, distant rustling noises. She reaches for his hand; fingers linked and bodies locked. They cherish the moment, then move together again.

ove moves like a pulse. A sonar pulse, in huge waves, throbbing its silent way through space. It’s the heartbeat of the universe.’

‘And how long before this pulse reaches our planet?’

‘No, it’s an electron. It’s everywhere and nowhere at once. Hot and oscillating. This sublime energy.’

‘Everywhere and nowhere. Like God?’

‘I don’t know… I suppose so. And God is love, right?’

‘I think you’re wrong. I think love moves slowly and deliberately, but with a sort of recklessness. It isn’t worried about losing control, about spiralling away into the emptiness. Love is confident in its movement.’

‘I’d agree with that. Love is confident. It’s cocky, relaxed. It does what it wants.’

‘Yes. That’s it. Love moves any way it wants.’

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. (more…)

The Planet of Sound • Part 1 of 2

his station had been gutted and rebuilt in recent years, and Margaret still wasn’t used to it. An award-winning architect with a large budget, desirous of glorification, ambitious for the work. The old building was hollowed out, cleaned, sterilised. Reformed in attenuated curves and a preponderance of light. The walls were a soft white, strangely not running to grubbiness yet. Long windows the length of one side, sunlight streaming through. A quadrangular play of brightness and shadow on the cool tiled floor. A high vaulted ceiling, the camber of antiquity, elegantly arched over the length of platforms one through seven. A triumph, they declared it; an almost perfect amalgam of classical themes and a funky post-modern sensibility.•

Margaret clicked on her computer’s internet icon at her desk in the back office, hidden away from the loudness and activity of the front desk. She held a mild contempt for the people who availed of the information service. Their stupid, repetitive questions, misshapen bags thrown up on the counter-top. Their sheepish smiles as her colleagues parroted, ‘Have a nice day.’ That phrase irritated her almost as much. ‘Have a nice day’: phony and American. The computer dialled into its external server, that horrible birth screech, and Margaret wondered why head office hadn’t equipped them with broadband yet. She leaned back, swivelling the chair gently. Light and information zapping across the globe like a laser in a comic book, unimaginably fast, cyclonic and glowing, this latticed membrane.

She listened to the faint babble outside, enjoying the annoyance a little, feeding off it, then typed in the address of a news website.

(i see between the layers of these things i squeeze through like blood from cut skin)

hings were still moving. Damien fidgeted in his seat, moulded plastic uncomfortable against his back. He shut his eyes tight, squinted at the dancing orange spots, opened them. There was no change – things were still moving.

He had dropped acid two or three hours earlier – he couldn’t place the time exactly – but that wasn’t the bad idea. The bad idea was an embarrassingly public shouting match with his girlfriend outside the station, which resulted in her walking off into the traffic and the sunshine. Christ, what a dumb, ridiculous excuse for an argument. He had bought the tabs for both of them, but Marissa hadn’t wanted to do it so early in the day, and was not pleased to discover that Damien had. ‘The champion of breakfasts,’ he had declared, grinning extravagantly. It had sounded funny under the circumstances.

Now things were moving and he had to deal with it on his own. Two more hours to his train and a long wait in store. No hallucinations, really – a weak brew, he smiled, relieved and aggrieved simultaneously – but gentle oscillations everywhere. He glanced over at a random fellow traveller, a fat woman in a sweat-soaked blouse: she was moving. Her head blurred from side to side, focusing and dissolving, like the fluctuation of a tuning fork. Hummmmm… Damien looked down the nearest platform: that was moving, the stone and iron vibrating, the movement rising, calming, reviving.

Normally he would relish an experience like this, an insight right into the core of things, the subcutaneous, the heart of all matter. But not on his own. Marissa was his rock, the devil of sense and balance on his shoulder, and she wasn’t here. Damien tried to focus on his watch, and felt miserable; it was going to be a long afternoon.

o, no, no. I don’t care. Progress my hole. They should have left it.’

Charles Charles, being possessed of the same first and last name, was one of those people who, as the old saw has it, like to get in their retaliation first. His parents’ woeful decision to lump him with such an absurd appellation had condemned Charles to a life of mockery and constant, tiresome explanation, but with one advantage: it had forced him to become assertive. More than that: obnoxious. Wearied of the jibes and questions, and particularly the sympathy, Charles was a conversational bully, loud and forceful, an intruder on others’ personal space. He bellowed his point first and at length, and tried not to listen too much. He did not give pause for reply.

‘It’s the beauty of old buildings,’ he continued. ‘You can never replace that, or build it up again. This, this…renovation. This abomination, if you ask me. They should have left it.’

His business partner, a bird-like, quavering man whom Charles referred to as Major, attempted a half-hearted interjection. ‘Yes, but you see, you see, the thing…’

‘I don’t care, I tell you. It’s a national bloody disgrace. Like touching up the colours on the Mona Lisa. The station was perfect before. That ruination, the old crumbling walls, cracks in the ceiling, dust and cobwebs. And those stained-glass windows…ah, the windows. Beautiful. And now, look, look…’ He swept an imperial hand around the station. ‘Modern. Spotless. Coherent. It’s disgusting.’

Charles hefted his suitcase onto a seat, brushed grit off the one beside. His considerable weight slammed into the hard plastic. He grimaced, a scrunched-up little boy face. Major stood before him, nervous, braced for the next instalment.

‘That’s the real underhistory, don’t you see? Do you not understand that, Major?’

Charles shook his head softly, and thought of a place he had visited once in Berlin, a few years after the Wall came down. On the eastern side of the city, around the corner from an Irish pub. Fantastic, fantastical: a walled-in wasteland, a whole block that had been bombed to hell by the Allies and never rebuilt. He supposed the Communists hadn’t had the money for it. And it was fabulous. People lived up there, in the husks of old buildings. Artists, hippies, probably criminal types; youngsters with beads in their hair. This carpet of golden powder, ruined buildings on all sides. And an airplane, its tail sticking up at a sixty degree angle, scarcely believable. Half-buried in the ground – it must have crashed right down out of the sky, and they just left it. People would pay good money nowadays for something like that – some modern art monstrosity… But this was organic. This was living history; generations piled on generations. Graffiti, scorch-marks, a film of dust settled on everything…

‘Fuck it,’ Charles said. ‘You wouldn’t understand. You’re like the rest of this mob. With your…’ The same regal sweep. ‘…modernising. Progress. Tsch. Progress my hole.’

cat flicked its eyes from side to side. It blinked, licked its pale-pink lips and yawned, its eyes rolling wildly towards the back of its head. The animal was marmalade in colour, white tufts under the chin and on the paws. It was a stray, but looked well-fed and healthy. The charity of a soft-hearted retiree with too much food in the house, or a child living in a fourth storey flat. The cat carried the natural wariness of the stray in its aspect, a sort of pre-tensed readiness, but was calm and unafraid. It slinked through a gap and hopped onto a low wall in the station yard, balancing there, settling itself into gravity and measurement, the languid Zen movement of its species.

It yawned again and gazed indifferently on a small man in worker’s overalls. He was hunched over, pulling on the heavy zip of a canvas hold-all, working it through a catch, grunting quietly with the effort. Finally the zip closed. The man stood and looked around, slowed his breathing. He met the cat’s gaze – patient, ancient. He smiled and threw a loose stone at the animal, calling, ‘Go home, cat. Go on. Home, home.’ The cat watched the stone sail past. It waited a few moments, establishing its dignity, then hissed and leaped away into oil-stained undergrowth.

(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)

histles sounded, brakes squealed, the wheels and track slowed the tempo of their circular duet, but it still didn’t feel like a proper train journey for Claire. She clutched her bag tightly, checking again that the drawstrings were tied. She flicked a piece of food off the side, then untied the bag, making sure that her purse was safely ensconced inside, retying it, clutching the drawstrings once more. Claire glanced at her watch: her father would be late, he had called to tell her. Wait in the station for half an hour. Buy a magazine. Get a cup of coffee. She didn’t drink coffee, and wished she wasn’t on her own.

The train lurched towards journey’s end, jerky and uncomfortable, brakes applied and eased, that huge momentum grinding to a halt. They passed a grimy council estate, barricaded away behind high walls, and it looked the same as every other council estate Claire had ever seen. They always looked the same, with those peeling, stubby gates out front, black dust collecting in the pebbledash finish, rugged grass shooting out from cracks in the pavements.

A heavy middle-aged woman leaned across with a practised, reassuring smile and said, ‘Those estates probably looked nice once.’ Claire remembered her manners, replying, ‘I beg your pardon?’ The woman leaned closer, a cloud of perfume surrounding her, softly glowing pearls around her neck. ‘Those council estates. They probably looked quite nice once upon a time. You know, when they were built. Everything looks nice when it’s just been built, doesn’t it?’ She smiled again, conspiratorial, somehow ingratiating, and Claire couldn’t think of a reply.

She looked out the window, as the outer reaches of the station slid past her vision, looked down at her bag, at the pulled drawstrings. She could feel the mild burn of embarrassment rise through her face, like dyed-red thermometer mercury. Massive square transit crates, stacks of iron and wood, discarded pallets, a tiny administrative hut, overhead wires, the loose flotsam of a railway yard. Claire gathered her courage and looked back up, but the woman was gone. She had stood in a line between the seats with the other impatient passengers, waiting for the slow halt to finally end, their bodies swaying erratically like saplings in the breeze.

id you see this? The thing in Limerick. Weird.’

Margaret leaned back from the computer screen, rubbed her neck, glanced at Austin. (more…)