The Cat

I had been to the office numerous times before. So much so in fact, they buzzed me in if I simply looked up at the security camera. The office was not your typical New York Construction Management affair of beige cubicles surrounded by early nineties motivational posters. This company was cutting edge. The girl on the front desk was neither dumb nor beautiful. The few cubicles that lay behind her were waist high and large as a church door. The ceiling was further from me than the other side of the room. Giant pieces of art clung to the cold bare exposed walls, static as they were incomprehensible. An oil painting of a piece of wood, a watercolor of a carpenter’s tool box and a badly charcoaled drawing of a welder’s glove.

One always grabbed my attention every time I entered. A three foot by four foot heavily framed photograph of a ship stuck on a sand dune after the tide had long since gone out. The irony of which I’m sure seemed to be lost on the funky cube dwellers in a similar situation – that is, if the boat represented their dreams and the receding ocean represented all time and happiness. It was all lost on me, not because its meaning was beyond me but that it simply had none. I love art, I love how it’s an underused vector of feelings, I love how it takes you places and I love how it exposes people for who they really are.

The art in this office was simply, sterile shite.

I was greeted by Mr. Peterson, a tall thin man in his fifties. Minimally polite he reminded me of an old sea captain without the tales. A man who had travelled the globe and saw nothing. He spoke with a serious tone regarding the most mundane of issues.  

– Colin, good to see you. Let’s walk to the back room and go over the drawings shall we?

Wow, what gravitas, this must be important. It wasn’t. It never is, I’ve worked at this long enough.

We were to discuss a new building we were constructing together in the west village, issues with the neighbors and permit delays. Just once during a meeting I wish we could discuss something truly unique or unusual. Like how the people in the neighboring building were aliens and required a wide berth…or something, I don’t know, something exciting.

– They call themselves Aqualdaburgs, they exist partially in this dimension and feed on the skin of the living. The government has settled them at this address as it’s right above the fifth polar tri-spike into tomorrow. There will be a delivery every Tuesday between 11am and 2pm of human skin from a local hospital. Do not make eye contact with the driver. There’s an agreement in place but if any of your laborers fail to turn up for work call us immediately and cover yourself in milk. Curl up into the fetal position, close your eyes and breath through your nose until we get there.       

Unfortunately it’s more like Lego for grownups.

I explained that my boss was parking the car and would be along shortly. He reacted as if I told him my boss was out on the street taking a dump and would be up as soon as he could wipe his arse on the next passing child. He left me alone as I waited for my bosses fresh arsed arrival.

I passed the time watching the office cat make its rounds through the over sized cubicles past various employees collecting affection. I had seen it do this before and had also noticed previously that there was something, well, off about the cat. It was a clumsy little fucker. It was bright white, over weight and very old. It tripped over itself, banged it’s head on the printer, and stared off into space before totally miss-timing an easy leap from one desk to another. Graceful this cat was not but the staff loved it. Judging by the atmosphere in the place it was probably the only living creature anyone loved. This was the type of trendy workplace that a cat like this could only exist as some type of ironic non-cat.

– Yeah it’s our office cat but it doesn’t act like one. It likes to flop around like a dog but that’s cool. Whatever, we don’t judge it.

Perhaps the person buying the art also bought the cat. That made sense.

Their minimal hospitality towards me may have fuelled this animosity I had towards the cat. They loved it, regardless of its inability to be a simple agile cat.

It was loved.

I was being tolerated.

It is a cat.

I am a human being.

My boss arrived and the meeting began. As soon as Mr. Peterson sat down the cat was rubbing against his legs. Minutes later it hopped up onto the desk and was stalking the blueprints tripping over pencils and giving us each a thousand yard stare.

What the fuck is wrong with this cat?

My mind drifted from my job to the look I was receiving from this feline fuckwit. It surely knew me from all the other times I visited the office.

Why is this cat bugging me so much?

Mr. Peterson rubbed its back as it stared at me like a spoilt child. Why was it staring at me, or at something near me? No it was staring at me. Wait, maybe something behind me. It was staring near me? That’s when after all these visits I suddenly realised what it was about this particular cat that unsettled me. Before my mind could tell my mouth to not say it, my ears heard it.

– Mr. Peterson, do you know that your cat is cross-eyed?

The meeting stopped. Silence. My boss glared at me. Mr. Peterson’s droning eased to a freeze. He slowly looked at the cat and then back to me. Without a hint of emotion and with that pointlessly traveled gravitas he stated matter-of-fact.

– No it is not.

And then continued with the meeting as if nothing happened. My boss threw me a few more bewildered looks. I focused as best as I could on my notebook and scribbled away with notes but my mind drifted again.

Why did I say that?

Scribble, scribble.

That cat is cross-eyed!

Scribble, scribble.

Why would he deny the fact that his cat is cross-eyed? They could get it fixed. These guys are loaded!

Before I knew it the meeting was over. We shook hands and Mr. Peterson retired to the back office while the cat meandered in that general direction, sorta, kinda. It was hard to tell where it was going half the time to be honest.

Outside my boss cornered me. He knew me too well but asked the question anyway.

– Why did you tell Mr. Peterson that his cat was cross-eyed?

All I could think was the truth.

– Because it was.

– You don’t have to say the first thing that comes into your head you know.

– I didn’t mention the art work, I mean what’s up with that crap?

– He collects that crap. He also pays our fucking bills so keep a fucking lid on it in future.

I was in the wrong, I knew it.

– He has money, he could at least get his cat fixed. That’s all I’m saying.

I meant it, the image of that cat bumping around the art strewn office filled my belly up with stones. Who gives a flying fuck about your shitty art? Fix your cat.

He shook his head in disbelief and put it behind him.

– Go back to the office and work on those items Mr. Peterson wanted done by the end of the day.

I cut through the crowds to Union Square and got the L train back to the office. My mind was blank from the meeting. That boat, that fucking boat on the sand dune. I pulled out the notebook and opened it to assess the work I had to start. To my horror was the day’s date and three pages filled with various pictures of spirals, boats and of the cat.


How do I fix this?

Deborah and The Night Terrors.

I’ve always suffered from night terrors. I never recall the events so I can only describe it by pasting together descriptions from various people who have shared a bed or room with me. This is not a lot to be honest. The embarrassment it creates in me and the fear it distills in others is always matched equally in the hilarity it provides for everyone upon recollection of the events years later. My few memories of it seem to start from the moment I wake up. Generally this involves staring at the face of someone who is both scared and very tired with their hair tussled and perhaps clutching a broom or pillow while locked in a defensive pose. It always ends with what I call the “Okay Conversation”. This is a conversation that rarely changes and is conducted in a confused manner with a horse voice due to forgotten screaming while I try to get my bearings.

– Are you okay?
– What’s going on?
– You had a bad dream.
– My throat hurts. My hands are sore. I don’t feel so good.
– But are you okay?
– Are you okay?
– You should go back to sleep.
– So should you.
– Okay.
– Okay.
– I can’t remember anything.
– Okay, that’s a good thing.
– Okay.

Sometimes vague uncomfortable memories will hang over me like a bad smell the following day. Sometimes I won’t remember anything at all. It can happen anytime, traveling and stress tend to bring it on. It can also vary in intensity. I may run around a room screaming looking for the light switch or I may shift violently in my sleep before bolting upright in bed and point wide eyed and horrified at an unseen person in the room. Maybe I’ll calmly walk from my bed to the kitchen and stare out the window in silence. Either way it freaks other people out. It is not a very common occurrence I must admit but certain factors will bring it on. Stress, a combative atmosphere, confrontation and especially travel. In summary, a strange bed with a mind full of worries.       

“Nobody likes me” Deborah sobbed. It was the middle of the night and a full moon hung so close to her head I had to fight the urge to swat it away. What the fuck is wrong with her now? “They hate me” she continued slamming her fists into my chest. I tried to reassure her that it wasn’t true even though I didn’t believe it myself. Of course they hate her, she was aloof, judgmental, brash under the influence, a remorseless snob, and worst of all a hyper-competitive person. Most importantly they were other girls. I always found that trying to decipher the complex dynamics of girls in large groups was a kin to building Ikea furniture on a spiral staircase. So I just never bothered. The longer I tried to calm my girlfriend down the more it felt like attempting to wash a reluctant dog. Squirming, twisting, crying and lashing out. Christ, I don’t fucking like you!

The whole scene took place outside a small pub on a long stretch of highway deep within New Zealand. Our battered and worn deep blue tour bus dropped us along with other backpackers at the adjoining hostel. The tradition was that every bus load of backpackers that got dumped off for the night take part in a costume dress party at the bar. The catch was that all costumes somehow incorporate the use of black plastic trash bags. Every night the bar was over crowded with young drunk plastic covered idiots dancing on liquor soaked polyester carpet, letting off steam unhampered by neither fire extinguishers nor fire exits. A law changing inferno in the making. A group of Asian American girls in particular had upset her by walking past her? looking at her? not looking at her? getting served first at the bar? I never found out. It didn’t take much. Deborah viewed the world in two ways, winners and losers. I suspected that they got one over on her. She hated losing almost as much as she hated to see others win.

I had seen this gaggle of fun killers along our trip occasionally sharing the same bus from time to time. I referred to them as The Coat Hangers as it appeared that their only function seemed to be modeling the latest fashions on their bony frames. Four spoke no English and were from China, while two of them spoke with loud grating west coast American accents. All six of them were related. In all my years of traveling I discovered that there are two types of Americans in this world. Americans who go around telling everyone that they are American and those that sew Canadian flags onto their backpacks. I’ve always found the former perversely entertaining and the latter easier to get on with. These girls let everyone on the tour bus know that they were not only American (even the four chinese ones) but Californian.  

Deborah was wearing black plastic trash bags around her hips and her chest was stuffed with two pillows. Her tiny bulbous head looking comically small as she peered out over her black balloon-like frame which she thought was passing herself off as a Sumo Wrestler. I was dressed as a woman. I had a black trash bag scarf but I had found a full length floral dress and zebra print lady gloves in a nearby dumpster. Along with some of Deborah’s lipstick I had borrowed I was cutting quite the figure. Deborah being hyper-competitive as usual was in it to win it, and I just wanted to win to piss her off. This was my thing, I enjoyed pretending to compete. It made her crazy in that repressed bottle-things-up conservative way she had. This would explain my dumpster diving for a dress and lady gloves. Not something I would normally do.

We continued to argue, her dressed as a man and I dressed as a woman until the Asian girls came outside. They were wearing their regular lack of clothes. These girls were not covering up any square inch of their bony arses with black plastic trash bags for some stupid prize. I was hushed quiet, looks were exchanged between both waring factions from a distance and silence reigned supreme. I hadn’t a clue what the hell was going on, neither did I care. I looked up, straight up and gazed at the stars in bloom. No matter how long I had lived in the southern hemisphere the stars always looked as alien to me as the very first day I arrived.       

The next morning we climbed on board our tour bus and headed further south on our predetermined adventure. It was a far cry from the constant anxiety of being lost and scared in Cambodia or scared and lost in Vietnam. The previous night was conveniently forgotten the way Irish people do and our fellow passengers aligned again into the three usual groups on the bus. Canadians, Germans, Japanese, South Africans, English, Welsh, Scots, Irish and the Dutch in one group, people from Alaska, France and Vancouver in the other and our gaggle of Californian fashion coat hangers. One of those groups was a lot of fun.

Jenny was the exception; Jenny was from California, tall, blond, late thirties, heavy chested with thick limbs and eyes that were blue as the tour bus. Tough as a hostel mattress and an officer in the LAPD. She worked overtime all year so she could take a whole month off and go travelling. This year she was seeing New Zealand. To use one of her own phrases, Jenny was awesome. I used any excuse to slip away from Deborah and talk with Jenny. Jenny was funny, real funny, hands on your knees and bend over gasping for air funny. She was interesting, easy to talk to and absolutely no work to be with. I thought about things constantly to talk to Jenny about when she wasn’t around and when she was around I would just listen to her in silence. I could never put my finger on it other than that she was far more than the sum of her parts, she was simply, well, awesome.
The bus rolled in to a new town on our trip further south.  We all handed in our passports at the desk of our new hostel and were given rooms. Deborah and I made our way to ours. Another couple were already getting settled. They weren’t from our bus but we said hello and prepared our bunk beds as had become custom. I always shoved a torch under my pillow due to my hysterical and barely concealed fear of the dark. Deborah done the same but for different reasons. There was a clanging of expensive handbags against suitcases on roller wheels. High heals click clacked down the the cheap carpeted hallway until our door was blasted open and the coat hangers spilled in. The alpha hanger stood in the doorway looking horrified and reviewed the room much like I’m sure the very first GI to liberate Auschwitz did. The depravity. I was somewhat insulted as I was part of the room at this point. The other couple had climbed into the same bunk and fallen asleep giving the room that extra little bit of refugee flavor. More of the coat hangers pushed in. Their eyes slowly wandered around the room as they screwed their tiny pretty faces up even further. They settled on me, then moved to Deborah. Deborah was on the top bunk so I didn’t see the exchange of looks girls can give to each other like cats in an alleyway sometimes. The coat hangers walked to the far end of the room were an intense group meeting took place. I watched with extreme interest. It was like a nature program were two ants rub each others antennas together and exchange information, but in this case there was about six of them. Panic was growing. The alpha hanger calmed everyone else down by snapping at them in English.

– I’ll say it, I’ll say it. OK, OK, I’ll tell him. Wait here.     

I was no more that 12 feet away from all this. The alpha hanger stormed towards me. She was attractive in that way woman are supposed to be in magazines and television. Skinny, pointy tits, tiny arse, clothes that hang straight down and are a little bit sparkly, porcelain skin, glossy wet looking lips and shiny hair. Beauty by numbers, far less than the sum of her parts. She leaned down and put her face close up to mine. She smelled like some type of fruit. Melon? Kiwi? Mango mint? Powdery something? She spoke like I was a child or like she was. It was hard to tell. In that valley girl Californian speak she began demanding.

– Um, excuse me, but um, like, when you use the bathroom could you, um, like, make sure that you like put the toilet seat DOWN when you’re like, um, done!

The coat hanger actually said that. She said those things. To my face. I was furious, who wouldn’t be?  A tightness gripped my chest, I felt light headed and my hands began shaking. A fury and rage consumed my insides. Can rudeness like that really exist? Obviously. I inhaled and opened my mouth.

– Okay.

That’s what I said. Okay. Just like that. Oh – kay.

She spun hard making her long jacket spin out like a peacock’s tail and strutted back to her bunk and chirped triumphantly to her entourage.

– I told him, I told. I just walked up to him and said it. I said it to his face.  I just walked up there and like, I just, like, said it right to his, like, face.

She even translated it for the four with no English. I could tell it was about me because when she spoke she looked disgusted. They all looked back at me smiling like they had stolen both my kidneys in my sleep. Fuck them I thought. They laid down the law and I agreed to it out of politeness. I was not the loser here, I was the winner. Morally at least.  

Deborah’s head appeared from the bunk above. She glared at me in disbelieve. I had let them win which meant that she lost by association. Deborah was losing, the day would not be good.  

Later in the day a group of us decided to hike out to a lake. It was cold and breezy but we felt that a brisk walk would do us good. It wasn’t any old regular lake, no. It was a volcano that had not erupted in so long that it filled with rain water over hundreds of years. Impotence never looked so beautiful. Any day it would erupt violently and evaporate the beautiful scenery and destroy everything. Until then it was was simply stunning and worth the trek. Jenny was on the hike. As soon as Deborah was competing in general conversation with another back packer I left her side and walked as quickly as I could without taking flight to get side by side with Jenny.

It was hard to catch her as she strode over the rocks and gravel. When I caught up I walked beside her long enough for her to notice me. We talked about how beautiful the lake was and how uncomfortable the hostel seemed. I asked her about her life in LA and being a cop. Unlike my fantasy of her shooting drug dealers in speed boats with machine guns or walking away from explosions in slow motion lighting a cigar in a pair of sunglasses or cradling a smoking shotgun amongst the numerous bloodied corpses of expired terrorists I got the impression she gave out parking tickets outside boutiques. That’s still cool if you’re like Jenny, everything Jenny done was awesome.

I decided to tell her about the incident that morning with the coat hangers. Jenny listened intently and then stopped suddenly in her tracks. She pointed her finger at me and narrowed her beautiful blue eyes.

– You know what you should have said?
– What?
– You should have looked her straight in the face and said…hey, the next time YOU use the toilet, leave the toilet seat UP.


My sulking mind ignited into action and I promised myself that upon returning to the hostel it would be the first thing I would say to the coat hangers. I walked a little further with Jenny until Deborah called out to me. Deborah wanted to cut the hike short and hit the town so she could judge the place and pick out it’s faults. That’s exactly what we did until it got dark.   

Upon returning to the Hostel hours later I felt almost giddy with the prospect of hitting back at the coat hangers with my witticism, albeit a late one. We entered our room to find in my absolute horror that the girls were fast asleep. The soulless mannequins lay motionless in their beds. Around them lay perfectly placed make up bags, towels, folded clothes while shy tiny shoes were arranged neatly below their bunks.

Disappointed I vowed to encounter them first thing in the morning with my long over due comeback. I climbed into my bunk and closed my eyes. I could hear everyone breathing in the darkness while bunk springs squeaked under shifting bad sleepers. I thought about the hike, the asian girls, Jenny and the volcano lake before slowly drifting into a deep sleep. I was in a strange bed with a mind full of worries.  

I have no recollection of what happened next.

Deborah awoke around 4 o’ clock to the sound of high pitched screaming. She scrambled to find her torch and pointed it into the darkness. There in the middle of the room wearing only underpants was I. Illuminated by a single torch light she could make out my face twisted in horror and my outstretched hands that I was screaming at. I screamed in terror at my left hand, then turned to my right hand and screamed at that one. This process repeated while occasionally screaming at both hands. Another torch light appeared on me heightening the spectacle, then another, and another. Deborah hopped down off her top bunk, put her arms around me, calmed me down and shuffled me into my bunk were upon I immediately passed out and went back to sleep. I had just had a night terror. Everyone in the room was terrified but slowly went back to bed. The last thing Deborah remembered was the sound of the coat hanger’s panicked whispers to each other. It would be safe to presume from everyone else’s reaction that no one else in the room except Deborah had ever dealt with night terrors before.

I woke up early the following morning with a booming headache. A strange high pitched sound rang in my head. My hands hurt as did my teeth. My throat was raw and I presumed immediately that I was coming down with a cold I had picked up from the previous day’s hike. I sat up in the bed and let out a horse husky cough. Jesus, what the hell is wrong with me? I looked up and saw that the coat hangers were standing beside packed bags and were delicately putting on their coats as so not to disturb anybody. Where did all this consideration come from I wondered? Taking so much care as to leave without disturbing anybody. Then it hit me. This may be the last time I get to tell them my witty, cutting, comeback regarding the toilet seat situation from yesterday. I can’t let them get away with this. I put on my tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt as quick as I could. I stood up, this action seemed to scare them a little bit. I slowly walked over to the alpha coat hanger, and pointed my finger at her. I was trying to get the wording right in my head and stood there for about two seconds in silence. Ah yes, I got it now. They froze, now I would get my revenge via a carefully worded come back. As I spoke I realized that my voice was now about three octaves lower than it normally was and had the timbre of gravel in a blender.

– Hey you, yeah you. The next time YOU use the toilet, when you’re finished, leave the seat UP. Okay?      

The tough elitist exterior that had been shown by the girls for the last two days as they floated around being better than everyone else was now replaced with absolute fear and panic. They grabbed their bags and without out saying anything ran from the room. I found out later that they had complained at the desk and insisted on another room as they waited for the tour bus. There was none so they camped out in the foyer until it was time to leave. I showered early, packed my bags then lay on my bunk delighted that a simple comeback even a day late can have such consequences. The others in the room finally woke and gave me odd looks as they passed me on the way to the shower. Still having no recollection of my night terror I daydreamed about Jenny on my bunk and waited for Deborah to wake up.

Deborah filled me in over coffee at a nearby cafe as we waited for the tour bus. The whole hostel must have heard me. It explained the way people reacted that morning. The tour bus turned up after returning from the gas station and people from the hostel threw their bags into the hold and slowly climbed on board. Jenny walked by and caught my eye through the window. I nodded and smiled. She returned a rather subdued nod back, I didn’t like that. We picked up our bags and made for the bus. We were the last to get on. As I climbed on board I watched Deborah pass by the coat hangers at the front. Fear had been replaced by disgust. They threw their usual dirty looks at Deborah but when I passed they looked away. We both walked to the seats at the back of the bus as every glared at me. I was the one who woke everybody up in the hostel last night. Word had got around. When I passed Jenny she was asleep in her seat. The seats at the back of the bus were always empty due to the vibrations of the engine making it so uncomfortable. The walk there seemed to last forever. Deborah and I collapsed into the seats and sat in silence. A few people looked back at us but they were mostly looking at me. The bus started and we continued on our journey south. Deborah turned to me and whispered in my ear.

“Everybody hates me.”

“No” I said, “They hate me more than they hate you.”

Deborah’s face went flush with anger. She turned and stared out the window. I had won. She didn’t speak a word to me for the rest of the day. 
Somewhere in New Zealand from the bus window – C. Dempsey 2003



A Jar of Bees

A Jar of Bees
We spent the whole summer making a monster. And then it got out.
Every Saturday I would rescue my BMX from the overcrowded shed and cycle to my friend Ian’s house in a nearby housing estate. We would spend the day playing in the back yard before I retreated back home at six o’ clock. I was a responsible boy and this was the magic hour my whole day revolved around. My mother didn’t mind what I was doing, as long as I was back at the house like a loyal soldier by 1800 hours. If I returned by this magic time I could go anywhere, unquestioned. I was 10.
Ian was one of my best friends at school. He was tall, skinny, extremely shy and quiet and had short jet black hair cut in the shape of a bowl. He had piercing pale grey eyes that hung below thick dark black eyebrows.
My somewhat hyperactive, impulsive, and emotional behavior seemed to neutralize Ian’s cold, analytical and cautious demeanor. We would play out in the back garden for hours. Ian’s mother was a heavy user of Valium and would often stand at the kitchen sink staring out the window at nothing in particular while we horsed around just under her gaze. Regardless of what we were playing at, it always involved me pleading with Ian to hurry up and him begging me to calm down. This tug of war would last the whole day. Every Saturday like clockwork she would cook spaghetti bolognese and the three of us would sit down and eat. She would eat in silence while Ian and I rambled on excitedly about the latest adventure we just had in the garden. This was the only time Ian ever seemed comfortable talking. His mother would just slowly smile and push her food around her plate and listen. I would look at the clock to ensure I left on time so I would be home at six. So would she.
I rarely ever met Ian’s dad and when I did he seemed both aloof and foreboding. When he was there he was simply there; when he wasn’t he simply wasn’t. He worked in computers but Ian could never really understand what he did. He was cold–very cold–and I never liked being in the same room as him. I didn’t like how it affected the other people.
Ian was obsessed with experimenting on insects. He would make me watch as he burnt earwigs and beetles under a magnifying glass. Slugs would be subjected to salt attacks and worms cut up in the name of scientific curiosity. Birds were too nimble but wasps, bees and butterflies all died slow deaths in old jam jars scattered throughout the garden. This all under the glazed eye of his mother. If our Saturdays playing games were fun, it was obvious that his weeknights after school were being spent furiously busy.
I have something to show you,” Ian said excitedly as his mother let me through the side gate one Saturday. She moved with slow grace as he hopped up and down on the spot. I rarely saw him like this.
I placed my BMX against the pebble dash wall and followed him in into the garden.
It’s in the shed,” he continued, as we stepped over jars of bees and a spent container of Saxa salt. I dared not look at the slugs. We stood outside the shed, a large white painted wooden structure filled with bicycles, sheets of wood and old decaying games that had become sorry victims of boredom.
I found it three days ago,” he said as he entered, motioning for me to follow. The shed was dusty and cluttered, and the smell of rotting grass left on the mowers made me sneeze.
Shhhhhh, be quiet.”
Ian walked slowly to the end of the shed, slowly raising his hand he pointed to the corner of the window and the wall were I saw a large web. Actually, it was more like a web cave. At the mouth were the remains of various insect carcasses that had been drained dry. Ian reached for a jar on a nearby cabinet. He shook it violently, then opening the lid he tipped the contents of it onto the web. A dazed wasp fell on its back and lazily struggled to be free.
A large black spider, larger than any I had ever seen before appeared instantly. It paused and then pounced on the wasp. I couldn’t see what happened next exactly because the spider seemed to take up everything in my view, it’s spindly legs working mechanically around its new feast. Ian was smiling and looking at me for approval. I suddenly felt very aware of my surroundings. The hair stood up on my arms and neck but mostly I felt cold. Even with the summer sun piercing through the window I felt cold, and afraid, and very, very curious.
I’ve been feeding it. It bites them and they can’t move, then it eats their insides. I can’t believe I found it, it’s the best!
Ian slowly screwed the lid back on the empty jar. He kept staring at me. I was full of questions and I unleashed them on him as soon as he stared back at the spider.
– How old is it?
– Don’t know.
– Is it a boy or a girl?
– Can’t tell.
– Does your mam know about it?
– No.
– I wonder how big it can get?
Ian looked back at me. His cold grey eyes came to life.
Me too!”
I was won over by this simple fact that the spider’s size may be limited to the availability of its food supply. We decided to spend the rest of the day putting a vast array of insects into its web. Jars were emptied, new insects caught and traps set.
The next few Saturdays we threw more and more food to our new master. Once the sacrificial insect hit the web, it began to shake and vibrate and suddenly we were in the garden shaking and breathless talking excitedly of what we had seen. Did we just run out of the shed screaming? We never really saw anything, panic and terror made sure of that. Insects were often thrown from as far as 8 feet away, the jars they sprang from were shook from an array of angles to get the perfect arc for our stunned prey. Earwigs, woodlouse, bumble bees, wasps, the occasional caterpillar or two joined the tiny flies it managed to catch by itself. What we did not know at the time was that perspective was our enemy. It was getting bigger yet we were moving farther away.
It was like throwing raw meat at a body builder from ever increasing distances. How big could it get? Would we even notice as we perfected our delivery system from even further away? Stealing a steak from the fridge was briefly entertained but eventually deemed ridiculous because a steak was already dead. We were creating a cold blooded killer, not some scavenger. The spider must be presented with live food.
During the week at school Ian would let the spider feed itself claiming that he didn’t want it to “burst” in between our Saturday feasts. The truth, I suspected, was that Ian, like myself was too afraid to enter the shed alone. We didn’t even think of the spider when we were alone in the unlikely event that fear would paralyse us, consume us, then hang our empty husks on the walls of our school for all the other children to point at and hit with sticks before running away giggling.
Look children, there lie the remains of two boys who dared to be afraid of what they created.
When a thought of its black hairy legs pressing down on its webbed cave emerged from any one of my misty daydreams I would quickly turn my mind to something else, anything else, everything else.
But all things look like a spider when it is the only thing you fear. The spider creeped and crawled into every dark corner and crevice of my mind until I found myself fighting the urge to think about it constantly. Like a sore tooth must constantly be touched, our monster must constantly be visualised. Every gust of wind, every stray hair on my face, every dangling object in the corner of my eye was our monster.
I can remember the exact day I had my first taste of absolute undiluted piercing horror. I cycled up to Ian’s house, my head filled with images of our spider. The sun hung high over his street while the evergreen trees in his garden swayed in the wind beckoning me in.
As was now the routine, I rang the door bell and without waiting I walked around to the side entrance. Ian’s mother opened the side gate giving me her slow, dead smile. She never looked at me, just pointed her eyes in my direction. I said hello and walked my bike past her. I was here on business. I leaned my bike against the wall fitting the handle bar into a small hole that had now worn in the pebble dash wall over the past few weeks.
Ian was down the back of the garden burning holes in a butterfly with a magnifying glass. Ian’s mam retreated back to the house.
Hi,” I said.
Hi.” Ian didn’t look up.
The butterfly curled in the focused heat.
My dad will be here later so we’re having dinner early.”
Torturing an insect was not improving his mood for once.
Ian glanced at the shed and then back to me.
You wanna feed it?”
I caught some stuff.”
A smile grew on his face. His pale grey eyes narrowed.
– Bees?
– Bees and wasps?
– Separate jars?
– No.
– Don’t put them in the same jar? They fight.
– Not if you shake it?
– What do you mean?
– Well, not shake it but…roll it. Look.
Ian ran to the top of the garden and picked up one of the many jars lying around the perimeter. Inside wasps and bees crawled passively over each other. He threw it flat down the yard. It rolled and bounced until coming to rest at the base of an evergreen tree. We both ran down but Ian got to it first.
Ian twisted the lid and poured out the contents onto the grass. A mass of wasps and bees lay dazed in front of me.
You see. They’re numb. It’s the best!”
Ian had somehow managed to find a way of making the two coexist. It saved on jars for sure. I looked at the shed.
How big is it now?”
Ian just shrugged.
We gathered up a jar each and rolled them down the garden a few times then carefully checked the contents for apathy. When satisfied that our sacrificial insects lost there fight we moved towards the shed.
The shed was dusty as usual and light came through the window in a thick, well defined white column. Nothing stirred. Ian followed behind me clutching his jar as I small-stepped first with mine.
– Stop pushing me.
– I’m not pushing you.
– Get your hand off my back.
– Keep your voice down.
There it was, just as we had left it. The web. I shuffled closer slowly turning the jar lid. I stopped.
– What?
– Shhh!
– What is it?
I stared at the web, something wasn’t right.
– It’s gone!
– It can’t be.
– I mean I think it’s gone.
– Throw a bee in.
I opened the lid and flicked the jar. Two sorry bees and a wasp landed at the mouth of the web cave. Dazed they lay, only their legs moving. Nothing. Fear began to creep up from my toes as a cold chill descended from my head until both met in my sick stomach. This can’t be right. Ian cowered behind me
– What’s going on.
– It’s not coming out.
– Blow on the web.
– I’m not putting my face near that thing.
Ian had a theory that if you blew on a web the spider would come out to see what was “going on.” Simple as that. Knowing that Ian spent the vast majority of his time capturing, studying and then torturing insects, he most likely knew a lot more about them than I did. I still was not going to blow on that web.
Suddenly a glass smashed on the ground behind me accompanied by the sound of feet shuffling over the rough concrete floor. They were shuffling away from me. I turned to my right and saw Ian try to speak. His jar of bees and wasps lay at his feet, his grey eyes wide and wild, his mouth was gaping but nothing came out. He made a strange snorting sound with his nose and his bottom lip trembled. I turned back to the web. Nothing. The monster’s sacrificial dazed food slowly kicked the air above them. Something was wrong. Everything was wrong.
Don’t panic.
I slowly turned to my left. It was the most laborious and time consuming action of my entire life.
Three inches from my face on an old battered cupboard was what first appeared to be a black hairy welders glove. Don’t panic. It moved. Panic.
Eyes, lots of them. Legs? Fangs? Hairy? Large bulbous body?
The shed door slammed shut. Ian was gone. Panic-meltdown.
Beautiful. Horrifying. Immense. Crying. Fire. Skeletons. Hell. Sex with your mother.
The bees are waking up!
Time had fractured. The universe was broken. The world is now over. Our monster had gotten out!
Being abandoned by your friend is one thing, starting to lose your mind is another, having a monster-sized spider three inches from your face is the worst thing in the world.
It is clear to me now that I had some kind of fear and panic induced mental breakdown.
Outside, I must get outside, I thought. The door, I must get to the door. Outside is outside the door.
A box fell behind me, then a bicycle. Its bell struck the concrete floor like the first bell of Round 1. Fight! I jumped over Ian’s shattered jar of bees. Some were walking away, others were taking to the air. The wasps were coming out of their daze. They were angry. Buzzing filled my ears. My hands flailed all around me while my body emitted a ghostly wail that I had no control over.
Is this what fear sounds like?
– Uuuuuuurrgh aaaarguuuurgh wuuuuuuhhhaaaaaaargghhh!
More boxes fell. In my mind the monster was trying to get to me. All of its eight bristled muscular legs pushing and shoving and tearing and punching boxes and bikes and lawnmowers and abandoned board games out of its way to bite my flush, panicked flesh.
The jar, I’m still holding my jar .
I threw it behind me over my shoulder like raw meat to an attacking dog.
Take it! I’m sorry, eat them not me!
It smashed and its contents entered the theater of panic like fresh legs to an old football game. Something brushed my hair, a chainsaw exploded in my ear.
Now the monster had recruited its own food supply to attack me. Then it was gone. Then it was back. More boxes fell. My hands hit the door palms out and I started pushing but it wouldn’t budge. The buzzing disappeared and I could hear that ghostly groan again.
– Uuuuuuurrgh aaaarguuuurgh wuuuuuuhhhaaaaaaargghhh!
Was I making that sound? I did it again but this time it tailed off into what sounds like “Ian.” IAN! I’m calling out for my friend but the bastard’s gone. I pushed the door again. Nothing. The buzzing returned and something black floated past my face. I jumped back hitting another box that caused a toolbox to fall from a bench and explode into spanners and screwdrivers on the floor. The ear piercing clanging metal vibrated my tiny bones. Why me? How could a spider flip a tool box like that?
I am going to die!
I looked up, a sliver of light pierced through the door. It was slightly open. I was pushing it the wrong way. Brilliant light illuminated the dusty air exposing parts of the shed’s interior while covering others in a thick black shadow. Three bees hung in the air between me and the door. I jumped through them and ripped the door open. The daylight put a blood fire in my eyes and I closed them, running blindly out into the garden screaming. I didn’t stop until I hit the thick evergreens on the far side. I fell onto my back and just lay on the cool grass catching my breath.
It’s over, I am alive.
I kept my eyes closed and listened to the trees rustling. I was alive. I am alive!
Footsteps approached. Ian put his hand out and helped me up. My legs were weak, I could barely stand but I had caught my breath. I should have been angry but all I felt was relief. He apologized even though he didn’t have to–not that I would’ve heard it over my heartbeat thundering in my ears. I would have done the same. We stood shocked, looking at each other in the garden surrounded by jars of bees. Ian’s mother called to us. Dinner was ready.
Ian, his mother and I sat at the table and ate spaghetti bolognese in absolute silence except for the cutlery scraping our plates. She looked at the wall clock a few times. So did I. It wasn’t six o’ clock yet, it was nowhere near it. I was too tired, relieved, and numb to speak. Ian’s father eventually arrived home from work and placed money on the kitchen counter beside the sink. He stared out the window into the garden surveying the jars that lined the perimeter. He poured himself a drink. He looked at Ian for a few seconds more than was comfortable then left without saying a word to anyone. Muffled TV chatter erupted from the next room that signaled the end to our dinner. Ian’s mother got up and put the money in a jar on top of the fridge. She prepared a new plate of food. Ian and I hardly touched ours and we left silently for the garden.
An argument erupted inside the house as we walked along the evergreens. Without saying a word we picked up the jars and shook the insects out onto the grass. Some were dead while others flew away. We placed the glass jars in the trash and locked the shed from the outside. I left for home, because I could. Besides, by the time we set everything free it was almost six o’ clock.

My Name Is Colin

…and I hate sports.

When I was eleven I joined the school hurling team. Hurling is an ancient Irish sport in which men chase a ball around a field with sticks. I only joined the team because my teacher was also the manager and they were a boy short. He asked me and I said yes. Outside of playing my Commodore 64 and listening to my mother’s record collection that consisted of the Carpenters, Bread and Barbra Streisand’s and Barry Gibb’s Guilty, I was doing little else in the evenings. I hate sports.
My teacher, and now hurling manager, was a stocky pleasant man with a large grey beard, short limbs and was the same height as we were when not sitting on a large old wooden chair behind his desk in class. We called it Grogan‘s throne, though, not to his face.
We played twice a week and I was decidedly dreadful. I was a fullback, so my main function was to prevent the other team scoring, along with the goal keeper. Mark, our goal keeper, and I delighted in our over-the-top double act shows of disbelief and disgust when they did score, which was often. We became good friends and over a period of time, learned how to blame everyone else on the team for our incompetence. Mark was tall, skinny and very charming with over-styled spiky blonde hair that sat upon his long face. He was obsessed with American wrestling; Hulk Hogan was his hero and it was quite often that he would turn on me and place me in a headlock if girls were around.

In March, over the St. Patrick’s day holiday Grogan told us that it was tradition for the school team to travel down to the country to play the team of the school he attended as a young boy. Indeed this had been going on for years. We would don Dublin jerseys, travel to a small town of about 1200 people on a peninsula stretching deep into the Atlantic ocean in County Kerry and play the opposing team. It would be a three day trip and we discovered that the girl’s team was going too. Due to puberty being earlier in some and late in others, this news created both positive and negative excitement. We would also get the honor in marching in the town’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.
A few days before the trip, in the most off-handed way Grogan explained that we would be playing Gaelic football and not hurling, which I had still not managed to master. No one else cared but to me it was another sport I had no clue about. For a week I practiced on the field across from my house bewildering the neighbors with my inept control of the ball. Playing football to me was like trying to describe a dream–I could never quite grasp it and I always looked ridiculous trying to do so. I asked anyone I could, who I thought might know what the rules of Gaelic football were.
“The same as hurling, sorta.”
“Like hurling but different”
“Do you play hurling? Well it’s in and around the same thing there or there abouts.”

No help. I’ll just wing it.

The plan was that we all get the bus down to Kerry and stay with the family of a player from the opposing team, returning two nights later. Friday morning I stood outside the school with my bag waiting for everyone to turn up. Mark arrived bright eyed wearing his Sunday best, strutting down the street with his hair gelled up like a rock formation on his head. He stank of aftershave and breakfast cereal. How could someone so bad at sports be so confident? At least I had the dignity to not make eye contact with anyone. I said hello and kept my distance. With so many girls around I was likely to end up in a neck brace.

We boarded the bus and began our 6-hour journey to the small town at the very bottom of Ireland. I joined in singing, ate crisps and drank gallons of coke until the roof of my mouth was raw and my voice was hoarse. Somewhere between Mitchelstown and Mallow a girl called Michelle wanted to “get off” with me. I was more than happy to and we innocently kissed each other until we arrived in the town.

Upon arrival we met the families we would be staying with. Everyone on the bus stayed with a family that lived in the town itself, except me. I ended up on a farm up in the mountains a good hour away. I was horrified by this. A tall curly haired woman introduced herself as Maeve. She wore a cardigan and long skirt and even though she smiled a lot I was pretty sure she had no emotions what so ever stored inside.

“Are you Colm?”
“Nice to meet you Colm, you’re staying with me.”

We took a long journey through beautiful countryside while she grilled me for information regarding my parents, their jobs and my eating habits. We arrived at a small house surrounded by broken tractors parts, half made fences and frozen car tracks. Being up in a mountain, it was constantly cold and windy.

I was greeted inside by Seamus, Maeve’s son. Seamus was a ginger-haired, heavily freckled lump of a child. He had pale blue eyes, pink–almost red–skin, freckles on his lips and very large protruding teeth set low in the face, like a middle aged man. Unlike me, he was huge, almost 12 and played on the opposing team. Seamus took it upon himself to immediately start berating me for being from Dublin.

“Don’t steal the Lamb, I know you dubs, you’ll steal anything like,” he screamed in his lilting Kerry accent pointing to an actual lamb in a bin in the kitchen. I briefly thought his horse-like mouth would spring towards me and eat my face. It didn’t, he just laughed hysterically.

Maeve explained that they were keeping a close eye on the lamb because it had been ill so they put it in a large bin lined with a black bag. This, of course, was explained to me in the manner that I was being talked down off a ledge; being a Dub I might just go mad at the farming way of life. Did you hear about the kid from Dublin, they’d say. He went mad and tried to eat the house, they’d say. He couldn’t handle the farming way of life, they’d say. He even stole a lamb, they’d say. You don’t say, they’d say. He did, and he fucked a tractor too.

“What if it escapes from the bin?” I said.
“And go where?” Maeve replied nodding to the frozen mountains surrounding us.

I was then introduced to Desmond, Maeve’s white-haired husband. He seemed a lot older and for the next three days would say little or nothing and just sit in his chair beside an open fire. How he could sit so close and not burst into flames was beyond me.
Seamus maintained the anti-Dublin rhetoric with multiple references to Kerry beating Dublin in the 1985 final. I had no clue what he was talking about but I expressed some false shame and knowing head nods.

“You don’t have a Dublin accent,” Maeve said accusingly, as if I was not from Dublin at all. Desmond slowly nodded with closed eyes in silent agreement as he continued to slowly roast before what now looked like the gates of hell.
“You all have accents,” I heard myself say, not knowing what I really meant.

Seamus leaned in and fixed his eyes on me for a few seconds before suddenly slapping my shoulder.
“Oh he’s a Dub alright!!” he roared before reducing himself to fits of laughter.
Maeve hit him on the arm, indicating for him to behave while Desmond chuckled as he packed his pipe.

‘I want to go home,’ I thought rubbing my arm.

Night dropped like a hammer and the silence made every floorboard and door creak feel like the end of the world. The family sat around the fire and watched some television before turning it off at 10 and retiring to bed.

“Alright Colm, let me show you where you and Seamus are sleeping,” Maeve said. I gave up correcting her. Besides, I was more concerned with the phrase “you and Seamus.”

Climbing an old wood staircase, we entered a small room that overlooked the courtyard. It had a short oak wardrobe and a single bed. This couldn’t be right.
“You and Seamus are sharing the bed” she said. It was not up for discussion.
“It’s an early start tomorrow so get a good night’s sleep.”

I looked at her, Seamus, the short oak wardrobe, and the bed and waited for the laughter to come. It didn’t. I was going to propose sleeping on the floor but I suddenly realized that two legs of the bed had been cut short to keep it level due to the slant in the floor, not that there was much room to sleep there anyway.

Before I knew it Maeve was gone and Seamus had stripped down bollock naked and grabbed the side near the window.

“This is my side,” he shouted, jumping in with gutso.

How was this not bothering him? I kept my clothes on and lay down on the furthest point of the opposite end and balanced before the drop to the uneven floor. ‘Don’t touch me’ I kept thinking. I was shocked at how soon he fell asleep. I lay awake most of the night, catching at best an hour of sleep.

The following morning Seamus and I were driven to the town where we would all meet at the club house and get to know the locals before the day’s events. Michelle was making calls from the town’s payphone just outside the front door and she ignored me as I passed her. Inside, the adults huddled together in clouds of cigarette smoke as the rest of us ate crisps and drank coke. Mark seemed highly disturbed.
“How is your house?” he asked.
“I don’t like it, I’m up the mountains and they seem a bit weird. Last night…erm…I had to sleep…” Before I could explain Mark exploded.
“There’s been a mistake,” he said “You’re meant to be staying with me”. He was all smiles but his eyes looked anxious.
“Really?” I was relieved. I wanted to tell him about the lamb and Seamus sleeping naked and Desmond’s apparent immunity to fire and the whole accent fiasco but I wouldn’t have to now. I listened as Mark explained everything.
“They keep asking where the other one is. They had another bed made for you and everything.”
My own bed! Oh the joy.

“We should ask Grogan if we can get you to switch to my place,” Mark said, grabbing my arm and pulling me towards the nicotine cloud of laughter and deep booming voices.

Mark explained the situation again, the whole mix up. He was always charming, my mother especially loved him, but at this moment it was a performance that would have shamed the greatest of Shakespearean actors. Hands on shoulders, fake laughing, smiles a plenty. It was something to be seen. When Mark was like this, he could get anybody to do anything. But not this time.
“No way lads, I can’t do that. The game is only a few hours away, besides they never came to me about it.” Grogan was stern and final about it.
“You can’t be serious!” Mark pleaded, towering over him. He looked desperate. His mood suddenly soured.
“Mark, I’ll look into it. For now just focus on the match okay!” Grogan was not backing down.
Mark’s face was red with fury. He stormed out of the clubhouse leaving me alone with the men and their cigarettes. I found him outside, head in hands sitting on the short wall that separated the car park from a large ancient graveyard. It was raining so faintly you could barely notice.

“Don’t worry about it Mark, it’s just one more night.”
Mark just shook his head. I had never seen him so upset. We sat for a few minutes on the wall listening to the boisterous laughter inside the clubhouse. The rain picked up a bit but Mark wasn’t moving. Something wasn’t right.
“Is that true what you said about the mistake?”
He shook his head again.
“Then why did you say that?”
He pulled his hands away from his face. It was back to its pale color but his eyes were bloodshot.
“They’re awful,” he said. “They hate me.”
“When they brought me to the house, we all sat down for dinner. Nobody really said anything to me, they barley speak. Then they brought the food out in bowls and one was filled with all these carrots. When they passed me the bowl I told them I don’t eat carrots and the man shouted, ‘What do think this is? A fucking hotel?’ ”
Mark buried his head in his hands again. “They hate me,” he mumbled through his fingers.
“It’s just one more night Mark.” I decided to tell him about the farm I was staying at. He seemed somewhat relieved. He even laughed about naked Seamus.
“We have to beat them today, I mean really beat them. Like 20 goals to nothing or something,” Mark said, his mood now elevated by our shared misfortune.
“Yeah,” I said with all the enthusiasm I could muster with one hours sleep. I just wanted to go home. 

Everyone piled out of the clubhouse and cursed the rain before we were all taken to a waiting coach.
As part of the trip, much to our surprise before the match was to be brought out to Valencia Island’s weather station to watch the launch of a weather balloon. Mark sulked through the whole thing but I was utterly amazed. It was explained in great detail the height it would rise to and how the balloon would grow far bigger because of air pressure. Once it left the ground I stood for as long as I could keeping my eye on it as it disappeared into the dark morning’s overcast sky. I was last back on the bus. Amazing.
Upon returning to the town, the local St. Patrick’s day parade was just beginning. We changed into our Dublin kit and walked through the town waving at nobody in particular. Mark’s mood had picked up a little with all the attention he was getting. I knew I was safe from any sudden wrestling moves because the parade was passing too fast down the main street for him to have enough time to impress anybody. It was short, fun and most of all took my mind off the previous night and the inescapable fact that I had to play a match in which I knew little of the rules and had close to zero skill. The parade fizzled out, most of the locals hit the pubs but a sizable amount made their way to the pitch to watch the match.

The changing room smelled like every other one I’d ever been in, damp earth-like musk with a tinge of deep heat spray. We donned our boots and stood around Grogan as he told us what to do. I couldn’t understand a word of it. All I had to do was help Mark keep the ball out of our end of the pitch. If we failed we had our theatrics. We walked out to the field to see the other team at the far end kicking a ball around warming up. They really looked like they knew what they were doing. The ground was waterlogged and it was hard to walk through it, let alone run. There was a sizable crowd all cheering on the local team.

I took up position as the right back and chatted with Mark in the rain waiting for the game to begin. The game had been under way for a few minutes before we even noticed. Unlike sports on the television, there was no discernible structure or plan. A large group of eleven- year-olds formed a swarm around the ball and followed it around the pitch as managers and the crowd shouted at us. It was absolute chaos. Suddenly a player from the opposite team broke from the scrum of frantic kicking legs and charged towards our goal. The crowd went crazy as me and Mark looked at each other panicked. It was just the two of us and this guy was getting bigger by the second.

“Run out and tackle him!” Mark shouted, pointing to the oncoming player with a shaky hand.

“You run out and tackle him!” I said defensively.
“I’m the goalkeeper for fuck sake!”
“Fine, I’ll do it then, Jesus.”

I proceeded to run through the sodden pitch and towards the lone player. I had only gone a few feet when I got a good look at him. This isn’t happening! I turned to Mark and my face told him before any words met his ears.

“It’s Seamus, that’s the guy I told you about!”

The shouting crowds were drowned out due to the sound of the rain. Mark shouted back even louder to compensate for the increasing downpour.

“That’s him? Really? You have to sleep in a bed with that guy?”

“Keep your fucking voice down Mark you fucking arsehole, shut the fuck up, shut your fucking mouth!” I screamed turning to the crowd to see if they heard. They hadn’t. There were a few strange looks and odd glances but they had brought them from the pub earlier.

I turned and ran directly at Seamus. His orange main slicked back with rain left his freckled face exposed and determined. A grimace pulled his mouth back showing his gravestone sized teeth. There was no stopping this guy. He was charging at me like a ginger freight train. He had his clothes on, but all I could see was him running at me bollock naked. We made eye contact and he turned slightly to charge at me. Was he smiling? Before contact I jumped out of the way to avoid all bodily contact landing face down. Wiping the mud from my face I turned to see Mark come out of the goal then run back, out, back, out and back again. Seamus dropped the ball to his foot and blasted it straight at Mark’s head. It was an easy save but Mark ducked on the spot, allowing the ball to hit the back of the net. The crowd erupted and Seamus ran back to his team for celebrations, giving me only a sideways glace and a smile as he passed. There was no way Mark and I could pass this off as anyone else’s fault but our own. No amateur dramatics was gonna help us now. The rest of our team just stood and stared at us. What the fuck was that?

This scenario repeated itself in various forms throughout the game until the final whistle blew and although I don’t remember the score I did hear my manager say that it was the biggest loss his side had accrued in the history of the school.

The whole team showered and dressed in silence. Grogan told us we played well but were beaten by the better team and all that stuff you tell losers. It was clear to everyone that my inability to tackle and actually run away from Seamus along with Marks panic attacks lead to an embarrassing defeat. Mark done his hair up with copious amounts of hair gel and I used the aftershave he stole from his father. Everyone spilled out without saying a word to either of us, muttering under their breaths as they left. Alone, Mark and I packed our bags and just sat their in the changing room together.

“They’re giving us food down the pub. I won’t need to eat diner tonight,” said Mark.
“We should head down, they’ll be giving out medals and all that,” I said.
“Lets just hang here for a bit.”
I nodded and settled back on the bench and we listened to the crowds dissipate outside.

On our way to the pub we discovered that the girls team had won. I couldn’t figure if this was good or bad. Would it embarrass me further that the girls won or would it be a welcome distraction? We passed Michelle on the street, she was smiling and chatting excitedly with one of the other girls off her team. I said hello but they ignored us and walked by.
The pub was a cold grey stone building just off the main street with sport banners and Guinness signs hanging outside. Once stepping inside it was hard to find a place to stand without bumping into anybody. Speeches were made, pints were raised, our girls and their boys all got medals. We drank coke and ate crisps and tried to entertain ourselves while the grown ups slowly got hammered. Mark and I kept to ourselves. Maeve arrived and drove Seamus and me back in the car. He wore his medal all the way home chattering about the game.
“You can put them with all the others,” Maeve said at one point. Yeah, you do that Seamus. I envisioned a six-foot gold pile of medals out the back of the house and him lazily throwing his latest on top of it. Maybe someday he would melt it down into a crown and staff and walk about the town or make gold-lined underwear like the underwear he didn’t wear in bed with me. Cheater. He does it on purpose. What kind of eleven-and-a- half- year-old sleeps bollock naked in a bed? Michelle probably fancied him, that’s why she never said hello.

We got back to the house and Desmond took one look at Seamus’s medal and gave a silent closed eye nod. Seamus was ecstatic. Y’done well boy! As Seamus and Desmond bonded over the medal by the gates of hell I checked on the lamb. It just sat there. I’d never seen a lamb before, well not in real life. I wanted it to act like a dog or a cat and scramble to get out but it didn’t. It just sat there at peace, accepting of its fate in the large bin. It would get better and eventually end up for dinner at the table a few feet away.
For the second time , night jumped upon the house when I wasn’t looking. Maeve cooked up a large dinner for my last night. Seamus continued to recount every moment of the match with ever more embellishment. Desmond never lost interest no matter how many times he heard it, like he never tired of piling more logs on the fire. I felt utterly uncomfortable with each retelling.
“…and this fella like, this fella right here right, he runs the opposite way,” Sheaus roared. Desmond closed his eyes and chuckled to himself.
“The rain was in my face,” I offered as my pathetic excuse.
“Not in the second half, it stopped like.”
“The wind was…”
“Wind, rain, for the love jaysus Colm do they play football indoors up in Dublin?”
“Mind that tongue Seamus, you we don’t like any bad language in this house,” Maeve shouted from the kitchen. Desmond nodded in agreement, throwing another log on his towering inferno. The rain outside picked up from a patter to a sharp stabbing at the window but inside it was burning hot.
“It’s Colin!”
“Sorry mam!” he screamed before turning impatiently to me, “What?”
“Get up and help your mother,” Desmond mumbled eyes closed laying back listening to the crackling fire. He left for the kitchen and then returned with Maeve carrying steaming bowls of food to the table. I looked at a large bowl of carrots and thought about Mark and the hotel he wasn’t staying in.

Over dinner we talked about the long bus trip back to Dublin in the morning, if I liked the town, which I did. It was really just a long street that ran all the way down to the sea and was filled with churches, pubs and small family run shops. I had enjoyed walking through it in the parade before the slaughter, but now that we were the joke of the town it seemed a somewhat embarrassing memory.

“Hard luck today Colm,” Desmond sighed as he reached the bowl of steaming carrots.
“Colin.” I said sulking. Maeve shot Seamus a look as she passed him the potatoes.
“Y’know Colm, with the weather and everything, I don’t know…I suppose its kinda hard to…” Seamus struggled to find the comforting words to ease my ego and make the last nights dinner palatable.
“Yeah, Colm…” Desmond chipped in, but he was lost too.

“It’s Colin,” I said. Maeve just stared at me chewing a mouth full of pork chops.
“I’ve played that pitch a hundred times or more so I’m well used to it like…” Seamus said somewhat desperately staring at his mother staring at me.
“Colin,” I repeated slowly.
“What?” Desmond said.
“Colin. My name is Colin.”
“Is everything alright with you Colm?” inquired Maeve. She had a worried look on her face.
“My name is Colin, you all keep calling me Colm.” I was breathless for some reason, and shaking.
“But that’s what we said,” pleaded Maeve.
“No, you say Colm but its Colin.”
“Colm, yeah we know” agreed Seamus, albeit mistakenly.
The lamb, naked Seamus, being so far from the town, the embarrassment of losing, the weather balloon getting further away, the parade of losers, and the way the dark just appeared at the door without warning. Everything suddenly seemed so alien. I started banging my hands on the table.
“Colin, Colin, my name is COLIN.” I screamed then spelled it out “C.O.L.I.N.”

Silence, except for the rain on the window.
“I think it’s time for bed,” said Maeve, then she swiftly began collecting plates while Seamus cleared the table.

I buried my head in my hands. Desmond got up and walked to the fire. I could hear him in the silence. I could hear everything.

The last night anywhere is always the quietest. The house creaked and the wind occasionally picked up but besides this there was not a sound. I had been lying in bed for about an hour playing back all the days events. I could not stop thinking of the weather balloon. Were is it now? Would it be somewhere directly overhead or far off over the Atlantic? Perhaps lost deep within dark clouds or soaring high wrapped in stars.

“Seamus,” I whispered. Not a stir.
“Are you awake?”
“You’re a fucking bastard.”
I closed my eyes and slept like a baby.

We Grow Up in The Strangest Places – Part Four

We Grow Up In The Strangest Places – Part Four

Before long it was almost Christmas and they hired new staff for the rush. Momentum was building to the point where flop-haired Stewart and crazy-eyed Martin started to look like their head-shots. Shiny new mannequins draped in the latest fashions adorned the smaller satellite store windows, irrelevant, static, empowering and terrifying in their limblessness. Christmas tree salesmen appeared out on the roadside and butted heads for space, lights went up, and all that shite that is christmas began.

Frank was the new recruit that stuck out. He was from Ballymun, a rough area a few towns over, which meant that every other store between there and here had not hired him.  This was terrifying because the distance covered Crazy Prices, Super-Valu, Bargain Town and, the most inglorious of them all, the battleground of thugs the Northside Shopping Center. I’m sure that Northside’s radio jingle (shouted, not sung) was performed by the very thugs who populated the place. “Northside! Northside! the great, great shopping center!!!”.

Frank cycled to work everyday, showered at work, and then hit the floor with his pencil thin mustache and rock-hard gelled hair. Skinny as a rake and propped upright with rage, he laughed with an evil, quiet chuckle that came from his belly and barely caused his lips to move. Wah wah wah. He would steal produce the entire day and by lunchtime his backpack was pretty much bulging to burst. Did I ever say anything? Fuck no, I befriended him because he terrified me. Little did I know that he would ruin Christmas for everybody by having the mother of all showdowns with Santa Clause himself.

Santa Clause, or Terry as he was known to all, came in every year and dressed up for the local kids. His grotto sat just outside the store and lines of children would form as soon as the doors opened. To say Terry was simply loved would be to say that Mother Theresa was simply tolerated. Terry was adored. Everyday he would walk from Beaumont through the houses, down the main road to the roundabout and skip in through the car park whistling as loud as anybody could whistle. He loved his job, loved it. I never found out what he did the rest of the year but for the three-week run up to Christmas he was a professional Santa Clause. 

This is where the problem started. At the end of the day, Terry used to leave his Santa costume in the one and only shower in the whole place causing Frank great displeasure in having to move it every time he came in to work. Frank always arrived before Terry, and he would move his costume by dumping it on the floor, and then proceed shower and leave. Terry would arrive later and find his costume on the ground. Later again because Terry left after Frank he would put his costume back in the shower, therefore stamping his territory. The shower was Terry’s and Frank was an occasional lodger. Everybody loved Terry and everybody was scared of Frank. 

A storm was a brewing. A shit storm.

That morning of the shit storm, the mornings of all mornings, I arrived to find the place is chaos. Managers were running around like cowards in a battle, lines of children at the grotto had become shifting tides of crying and wailing snot-nosed shriek machines, pleading to their mothers to see Santa. But there was no Santa, and as the lines grew bigger, an air of panic floated over everything. The only thing I could hear clearly was the bleeping of the newly installed barcode scanner checkout machines. Bleep, Bleep, SCREAM, bleep, bleep, SHUT UP Y’LITTLE BASTARD, bleep, bleep, WAHHH!. I walked to the locker room and saw the cleaning lady come out with a large black bag. She was wearing rubber gloves and carried a bottle of bleach. It didn’t look good. I was almost afraid to ask, judging by the look on her face. The cigarette that always stuck out sternly and erect from her lip now hung down by her chin shaking the ash onto her apron. 

“What happened” I said.
“Oh poor Terry, that poor man” she said. “He’s fuck’n heartbroken so he is”.
She dropped the bag into the cart, walked me into the canteen and over a cup of tea she told me what had just happened.

Frank it seemed, finished his shift the previous night and before leaving he went to the shower were Terry kept his Santa costume. He took one of his black Santa boots and unceremoniously took a shit in it. I never had to imagine a man shitting in a boot before but that day was a day of firsts. I could imagine Frank, teeth bared over thin chapped lips and his snake-like eyes burning holes in the shower tiles as that soft chuckle of his slipped out of his mouth. Wah wah wah. His pencil thin mustache lying dead on a stretched-thin smile as he pushed his boney arse into the fur-lined boot. 

The cleaner had seen Terry arrive in full pomp and whistling ceremoniously as he always did, laughing and waving to everyone. He went to the locker room and dressed himself with the speedy routine he acquired over the years. Last to go on were his boots, the last of which contained Frank’s day old shite. Terry pulled up the boot, froze, turned to the cleaning lady and said in his gravely deep voice “I quit.” He showered, changed back into his old clothes and walked home never to be seen again, ever. I was going to ask about the tell-tale smells which may have lingered from his boot, but the place was full of strange smells all poorly masked by the overpowering twang of bleach. Nobody could ever really smell anything let alone chain-smoking, gravel gurgling Terry. Everyone knew it was Frank but there was no proof. The locker rooms were off limits to any type of surveillance due to an incident involving an overweight female security guard who fell through the skylight in the woman’s bathroom while investigating the mysterious disappearance of toilet rolls from the cubicles. She sued the store and won. Hence, there was no security once you left the shop floor. 

I sat there drinking tea while the cleaning lady stared out the window. “Poor Terry,” she said. “God love’m, the face he made when he put on that boot. He knew immediately who it was.” She stubbed her cigarette butt out in a foil ashtray then threw it in the cart.
“Things are gonna change around here I tell yah.” She made her way through the tables and chairs to the door. I nodded, but deep down I knew they wouldn’t. The trash compactor burst to life from the storeroom and Terry’s Santa costume was no more.

That was the day, that was the morning, that was the moment when working there stopped being fun. It had started odd and would get even worse. I should have guessed judging by how the day started. 

Earlier that morning when coming to work I took a short cut through a local housing estate when I suddenly heard the magical and sickly twinkles of something familiar, then it stopped just as quickly. I turned to see that across the street, Maggie was getting into his ice-cream van ready for another day, slow and careful so as not to break himself. Maggie, a man, was my former ice-cream man. There was something sad about seeing him climb into his pink van with his wild, unkempt grey hair, a cigarette hanging from his lip, and an obvious hangover. It was too real. He looked old. When I was young, seeing his van in the estate was magic; now it just made me depressed. Hearing The Teddy Bears’ Picnic plink-plank tune bounce off the pebble dash walls from the far end near the Campbell’s house, bounce around the playground, and disappear into the fields across from my house set such a fire inside me, I would have burnt a chapel to its foundations for its donation money. I never did, I just asked my mam for 25 pence and bought a screwball. A screwball was ice cream in a plastic cone with a round ball of gum at the bottom that we called a gob-stopper. Cherry if I was lucky. I would scoop out the ice cream at the back of the van, eat the gob-stopper and stick the plastic container between the back wheel and frame of my BMX because it made it sound like a motorcycle when I sped through the back lane, chewing cherry-flavored gum thinking I was cool. Maggie was great, always in good form ─ until we had a dispute over the increase in the cost of a screwball from 25 pence to 30 pence. After hearing a neighbor shout at the bin-man the day before, regarding them leaving a mess behind, I decided to quote him directly in a desperate attempt to get the same results. I did, kinda. 

“I pay your fuck’n wages Maggie,” I cried at the height of our exchange. I was 10 years old.
“Y’do in your bollox!” he screamed jumping out the van’s side window scattering cones and a tub of chocolate flakes before chasing me down the street. He never caught me. I never went back to Maggie. Besides, I hated ice cream. Now I knew where he lived. I’d seen him before the magic of his arrival at our estate two towns over.

As I walked through the car park to the store I saw something that was both hilarious and depressing at the same time. It was the type of thing you only see working in a job were you pack shelves and take shit from the public. It was not uncommon to have people from the richer areas shop at our store for its much lower prices. They had been doing it at Crazy Prices, Dunnes Stores and Super Valu for years. They would come in the morning or late at night. They stood out like sore thumbs. Men who seemed both confused and surprised at everything. They smelled different, less like Old Spice and more herb-like. Sports jackets with elbow patches. Skinny, boney-arsed wives, zombying around the store with purple wine-stained lips. When you saw them together, it was less love, more function. 

A guy with side parted hair and lemon sweater stooped over a miniature version of himself surrounded by glass and bubbles. I could tell they were broken champagne bottles because they were the only bottles I’d never walked out of the liquor store with. The child was having, for a ten year old, a very mature nervous breakdown. Stoic. There were tears but they left his eyes so reluctantly. He was more embarrassed at showing emotion than being upset. Like a ship without a mast, a tall skinny woman drifted through the parked cars, her nose air bound. She brought her heavily bangled wrists up and pointed at her son, also in lemon, crying. Albeit slurred, she demanded answers.

“What in the name of CHRIST is going on?”
Looking down, the husband pointed at his sons shoes surrounded by effervescent rainbow filled bubbles.
“Nigel is after dropping all the fucking plonk!”

Nigel looked up distraught, and the husband threw his hands in the air. The day was ruined. The wife calmly opened the passenger door of the car and climbed inside with the elegance of a woman who regularly got drunk by 11am. Sitting in silence punching buttons on the radio, she eventually found a station playing her song. As Nigel and his father cleaned up the mess, she listened to “Diary” by Bread at top volume.

I entered the shop both entertained and disturbed by what I had seen and moved past the smaller shops in the arcade, with their mannequins propped in the windows. Then I walked into the Frank – Terry fiasco. The rest of the day was a somber affair. Everybody was talking about it. I had laughed along with all the other pranks and tricks that were played upon the staff, but not this one. I felt bad for Terry, I felt bad for all my sycophantic behavior around Frank because I was afraid of him. Most of all I just found it depressing that this was the reality I lived in. They got one of the butchers to dress in the Santa suit but he wore his own shoes. I wondered how the children may have been affected by the copper smell of blood from this hastily-gathered slaughter-turned-Santa as they sat on his knee telling him what they wanted for Christmas. Not to be murdered by you?

The day before Christmas eve I worked the night shift with the usual crew. The tradition of working nights over any holiday was that we all chip in and get the job done, help each other out so we could finish early and retire to the canteen to get hammered drunk. We could eat anything off the shelves and drink whatever the manager left for us as a bonus. This was always reinforced by liquor smuggled in. It also helped that Keith was living with Maria, the manager of the liquor store. These nights always led to carnage and the settling of old scores, and this was no different, although I remember not enjoying it as much this time around. 

There was the food fight which never got quite out of hand because we had to clean it up afterwards, the pallet truck race, indoor football match using borrowed mannequins for goal keepers, and scone throwing. Unadulterated, joyous scone throwing. Keith regaled us with further stories of his sexual adventures with Maria, Paul’s fight talk reached higher, more unbelievable grounds spurned on no doubt by being out-psychoed by Frank in the last few weeks. Paul would fight anyone but he’d never shit in someone’s shoe and he knew that we knew it too. Andy done his usual party trick of putting a chair on a table and standing on it while puffing on a huge cigar as we all slapped the table and chanted “Midget! Midget! Midget!”. A guitar was brought out and we all sang until the blue light of morning started to shine through the grimy canteen windows. We then finished the beer as we sat around tired, chatting and re-establishing what we had and had not in common.

Then we all went our separate ways home. I knew it would be the last of the night shift parties for me. They would have many more. 

As I left I walked out through the shop floor, along the wicker baskets filled with scones, around Santa’s grotto and past the smaller stores in the arcade with their battered mannequins wearing soon to be last years fashions. 
Despair is contagious.
The End.

We Grow Up in The Strangest Places – Part Three

We Grow Up In The Strangest Places – Part Three

Paul was psychotic and worked in the peas and beans aisle—canned food that had a longer life span than we had. He liked to slam down the heavy trays of tinned food from the pallet truck with a thump on the floor while telling tales of Saturday night fights. He had battered everyone in Artane, Raheny, Edenmore and Coolock, apparently. He confessed to me once that he wished while walking home at night he would be mugged so he could batter someone to death. This should have scared me, but he was pricing tins of baked beans at the time. He was, in his own words, a “martial-fucking-arts expert”. He would roll up his sleeves to reveal muscled, tattooed arms and would show me his moves, all of which ended with an invisible victim being thrown over his shoulder to the ground before having his neck broken. It was not uncommon for him to be interrupted by a customer during these briefings. This caused Paul great frustration as it distracted him out of his murderous inertia. It always amused me to watch him come down from his wide-eyed, trance-like poses and neck-snapping simulations in order to show an old woman where the sardines were.

I secretly loved these reenactments of him twirling around a limp corpse-to-be like a baton—as if gravity and reality had both slept in that day—because it was always sincere. He really believed in his superpower-esque fighting abilities. Post story he would grab another tray of baked beans, slash the plastic covering with a knife and in seconds it would all be on the shelf, every label facing out in true OCD fashion. Paul liked me because I also played the guitar like him—and I listened. I liked Paul because, despite his craziness, he was honest.
“What are marrow fat peas, Paul?”
“How the fuck should I know?”

Andy was a tiny man. He was as small as a grown man could be without actually being a dwarf. He looked exactly like Bono and had twice his charisma, but despite this fact, he was more into Elvis than U2. He smoked huge cigars alone in the car park on his lunch break, and rarely was he seen not carrying a small step ladder for fear that someone might steal it. A man as small as Andy carrying a step ladder always made a bad situation look much worse. When not carrying the step ladder, he was standing on it in aisle #1 packing pet food.

Andy’s aisle was the busiest because it was the one you had to walk through upon entering the store, and he chatted up every female that graced it. But this also meant that he was constantly having his stuff stolen by employees starting their shift, a problem new employees were sure to correct upon realizing he knew who was late in the morning and who was early leaving that night. If you left anything lying around someone would take it. As a backup, he had managed a system that allowed him to carry everything he owned on his person.
Box-cutter: top shirt pocket along with felt markers. Price gun: left trouser pocket. Spray cleaner: back left trouser pocket for cleaning shelves. Rags: back right trouser pocket. And, as he walked around like this, his little step ladder would be slung over his right shoulder. The man was a human Swiss army knife.

Andy, Paul, and Keith were best mates and in the months following my promotion, I slowly became an honorary fourth member. They said it was because I had a good knowledge of music and played guitar like them, but it was mostly because I was a lot younger, covered for them when they took long breaks and even more importantly, I let them borrow my stuff when needed, be it a price gun or a pallet truck. In return I was part of their group.

The months rolled in and I loved working at the supermarket for various reasons, mainly because it never changed. It was always well lit, colorful and everyone who worked there could be found in their own section no matter what. There was a certain predictability that I found almost romantic. The fact that I knew I would never be there forever made the bad days bearable. I was part of the transitional staff , most of which never lasted more than three years. The full-timers were there forever.

A system started every Thursday night where Martin, Stewart, Andy, Keith, Paul and I would finish and walk to the pub across the street after clocking off. A checkout girl or two would sometimes tag along adding some much needed reasoning to our ramblings. The barman would ask us to place all of our box cutters into a shoe box behind the bar. Changes by Bowie would start the long line of Bowie-only songs from the jukebox, while we sat in the alcove by the door talking. Stewart always made sure of that. I’ll always remember sitting there laughing, aching all over with hands burning from tearing open hundreds of boxes, my mind slowly adjusting to the low light after an entire shift of bright, vivid product colors, generic Muzak and brainwashing promotional displays. Here in the darkness we let Bowie wash it all away. Never before and never since has beer ever tasted so good. That first cold pint on hot sore hands. The spark and sharp kick in your throat. Feeling your head float slowly away as we laughed in the darkness by the door. I have never since had a pint I felt I deserved more.

Only once did I not have a good time there. On this particular day a man had pushed his shopping cart around the store like a bumper car with his daughter sitting inside, treating the place like a theme park. He was hammered drunk and the daughter was scared, but silent. We had all seen him at some point, but nobody approached him. He crashed through sales promotions, soap powder stands and swung the cart around singing his heart out. He only stopped when his wife turned up and screamed at him to stop. He had been in the pub all day then picked up his daughter from school and brought her shopping. Later that night, we went across the street, we listened to Bowie, but we made our excuses and left early.

The pub across the street. I never knew what its actual name was.

We Grow Up in The Strangest Places – Part Two

We Grow Up in the Strangest Places – Part Two

Quinnsworth Supermarket was a large supermarket that was part of an even larger shopping complex called Artane Castle. As the name, implies it was built on the grounds of what was originally a castle, none of which survived. I had been told it was haunted, and although I do not believe in ghosts, I had an experience there that has yet to be explained.
One Friday while working the night shift alone in my alcove at the arse end of the store, away from everyone else, I heard shampoo bottles being kicked off a shelf. I thought the night crew must be launching scones again, so I wasn’t too surprised when I first walked out of my aisle to find the entirety of the hair care section scattered on the floor. But nobody was around, and not a scone was in sight. I crouched down and placed the bottles back on the bottom shelf. Suddenly, I felt two or three fingers pressed hard into my back and I shifted sideways. About to fall, I caught myself and called out to whomever was doing it to stop. No one was there. I walked around for a while trying to understand what had just happened. I walked to the far side of the store through the strip of darkness that separated my sole section from the rest of the store, where everyone else was working. The night crew was there, all of them in their sections packing shelves like zombies, the way night-workers do. I returned to the alcove and never spoke of it to anyone.
It was, in fact, a strange place to work, full of noises, odd smells, temperature changes and stranger still – the people themselves. Keith was a full-timer and worked in confectionary. Tall and lanky with an elbow- sized Adam’s apple and long ash blonde hair, he was obsessed with music – U2 and Oasis mostly. Friday nights we started at 8; by 9 the store closed and he took over the intercom system, blasting music until 3 or 4 in the morning before we packed up for home, leaving the store’s shelves bursting with produce for the Saturday sales. Keith was three years older than me, a total sex fiend and was meant to show me the ropes. But without fail, about ten minutes into my unofficial retail education the conversation always resorted back to tales of him riding his girlfriend. His girlfriend Maria managed the liquor store. She had been there for years and was part of top-level management. She was small and incredibly pretty with a giant arse. Her faint, high-pitched voice made her sound like an angel. One day Keith had just finished a long detailed story of how he recently rode her from behind in the bath tub as she clung to the taps screaming like a mad thing when she walked up to us. She gently touched Keith’s arm, smiled then turned to me.
“Hi, Colin isn’t it?”
“Can you help me stack some crates when you get a chance?”
“Sure, I’ll do it now.”
“Later,” Keith mumbled, turning to violently throw bags of mini Mars bars into the sales bin.
I followed behind her, staring at her arse. It was big, as big as the car park vacuum cleaner, and the sheer mechanics of Keith’s story baffled me because he lived with Maria in a small council house, similar to the one that I used to live in, and there wasn’t much room in those places to do anything.
We spent an hour stacking crates of a new American beer for some promotion and chatted.
“Well done on your promotion” she said smiling. It was like she still had her baby teeth, they were so small. Her eyes almost narrowed shut when she smiled.
“Thanks.” I smiled back. I was tucking my shirt in and fixing my hair.
“I was really hoping they would pick you and not that Martin guy.” She let out a sigh of relief. 
“Yeah, he’s a bit mental.”
She nodded in agreement. My face was hot, I could feel it.
“You working here long?” I watched the curly brown hair rested on her collar as I spoke to her.
“Years, years. Too long. I started the same day as Keith. That’s how we met. I used to work in your section y’know.”
“Nappys and bogroll?”.
She laughed and nodded. “Have you noticed the first time dads coming in stressing over what nappys to get yet?”
I hadn’t noticed anything, not in that alcove.
“Yeah, now and again.” I changed the subject. “ I sold a breast pump the other day. That’s a first. And a bottle of gripe water, whatever the hell that is.”
She laughed then moved closer lowering her voice “I had a guy come in once and he started crying while picking out nappys.”
“Jesus,” I said. “That’s fucked up”. She nodded silently with a grin.
“God only knows what’s going on there. Anyway, thanks for your help. These are for you”
She leaned in even closer while searching through her pockets. She smelled like sweat and perfume. Up close it looked like her lipstick was put on in a hurry. Her skin was perfect, pale with deep freckles. I was handed a bunch of coupons for free beer with dimpled scuffed hands. Up close I could almost tell what her life was like before she came to work.
“Here’s a little something for helping me out, get a few beers for you and your mates on me,” she said smiling.
“Thanks Maria, I will” I turned and walked back to the alcove. I thought of Keith slobbering over her. Then I thought of the scones.