A Model Partner
It was March when Tom Stacey met the woman from Donaghmede who couldn’t stop crying. The date had been set up by an agency, Happy Couples, a business owned by two middle-aged women, both silver haired, both wearers of glasses, Anna slightly more dumpy than Martha but without the facial hair which Martha tries to hide under sludgy looking foundation. Their office, a single room above a dental surgery near the Artane Roundabout, is the cramped type, yellowed blinds on the window, desks side-by-side, two sturdy grey filing cabinets and a wooden unit where thin documents slouch and bend on each shelf.
They are believers in love, Martha and Anna, devout followers. And a couple of years ago Tom would have never set foot in a place like this but in some ways Tom is a believer himself, a believer in last chances. He would never admit this to himself, never clasp his hands together and rock back and forth urging himself on with a mantra.
Last shot Tommy boy, last one in the bag.
But there’s only so long that emptiness can stay unfilled and at the time he joined the agency Tom was starting to worry about what was going to fill his emptiness.
So he walked in off the street and he took the single chair that was neither in front of Martha’s desk nor in front of Anna’s but somewhere in between and which made Tom feel exposed and a little unsure of where to look. He rested his hands on his lap and waited for their guidance.
They sat with identical straight-backed poses, heads angled to the right and that little half smile that comes on people when they are dealing with those who they pity.
‘We know what it’s like,’ Martha said.
‘We’ve been there before,’ Anna added in an identical tone.
‘It can be difficult to meet new people.’
Martha offered an exaggerated slump of the shoulders and a put-on sad face or what Anna would later refer to as a ‘frownie face’.
They settled on the woman from Donaghmede. The crier. It was to be his first date with the agency and the ladies congratulated each other on the find and then congratulated Tom on what was to be his perfect match. Tom was shown her picture. She was pretty in a stylised, conventional way, her hair layered in varying shades of brown, her eyebrows the barest of lines, large blue eyes and thin face. Two weeks later, in real-life physical form she would resemble this photograph only slightly and Tom would think of those travel guides that are on a special stand in his local library, the ones where all the photographs have been taken on a bright sunny day and he would think how different a place can look with an overcast sky in the middle of winter.
He met her in a pub on Capel Street, a place with large arch windows and a recently constructed dining area. Cutlery rested on white paper napkins and the menus were laminated and sandwiched between glass salt shakers and grubby bottles of tomato ketchup. He arrived first and requested the table nearest the door, moving his chair so that when he sat down he was directly facing the exit. She arrived ten minutes late. She shed her first tears after the starter and by the time the main course landed on the table she could hardly speak. She would inhale rapidly a number of times at the start of each sentence and make a stammering noise at the back of her throat, in some ways like a Cortina his grandfather once owned, a car which would choke over and over on cold mornings before the engine would eventually catch and grumble to life.
She said she was a primary school teacher and that she was depressed, going as far as to call herself a ‘puddle’.
‘I’m a puddle,’ she blubbered. ‘Nobody wants to be anywhere near a puddle.’
This would stay with Tom long after the date ended. A puddle. There is something deeply sad about puddles, he would think to himself.
‘Try not to worry about it,’ Tom had said. ‘Things will get better. They always get better.’
At one point he almost touched her hand. It looked so delicate and soft resting on the table. He reached across but lost his nerve at the last moment, instead jilting his hand to the right, sending the sauce bottle into a precarious wobble.
They didn’t agree to a second meet that evening but Tom did ask Martha a few weeks later how the woman was getting on. Martha gave a flight-attendant type smile and said that ‘Everyone is entitled to their privacy and if a particular client decides they do not want to see another particular client then it is best for all concerned to leave it in the past.’
Tom didn’t press any further.
His second date wasn’t as bad as the first but Tom laughed a little too loud at her jokes and asked her if she was okay too many times. As the night wore on she became standoffish and the noise of chewing became more audible and the clink of cutlery on plates all too uncomfortable in the silence. There have been plenty of dates since then, all as unsuccessful, and Tom is beginning to wonder if this dating agency is the best way to go.
Pappin’s Tower (Published in the Stinging Fly)
…The balcony is small, a vertical lip of concrete with gaps on both sides. It wasn’t designed for children so I keep the back door locked at all times. It wasn’t designed for pets either. Mrs. Rafferty on the eight floor found this out the hard way, losing poor little Sniffy to an unplanned skydive. After time had dampened the loss, she began to see a funny side to the accident. Living in the complex you have to find a funny side to everything, the hilarity of the vandalised stairwells, the comical eviction notices and the side splitting unemployment rates. It is a dark humour, as dark as the shadowed landings which house clever, scurrying rats.
A man sits on the concrete lip. He is fat.
‘Where is she?’ he yells, turning toward the door.
I recognise him. His name is Ted Maroni and he works in the local chip shop, a building sandwiched between the sleepy Laundromat and the rolling hackney-cab depot. The chip-shop is a bright place, with a blinding metal counter and shiny tiles. Aged, unappetising posters line the walls, survivors of the sixties.
Have a groovy meal.
Right on, a hip, happening hamburger.
Ted has a short beard and wears a white smock with stained sleeves. The scent of grease forever hangs about him, on his hair and clothes. Depending on your leaning toward chips you are either hungry or ill in his presence. His Italian genes have been diluted to the point that he now resembles an Irishman with a touch of jaundice.
I remember the family used to work from an old van perched on a grass verge outside Pappin’s Tower. The tyres were ripped and gouged, bubbled solder ripples ran along the rear and side doors. They served from a crude hatch to customers who queued on a flattened patch of grass. On blustery days the scent of vinegar would waft across the whole town through a tunnel formed by the row of flats. It was a lure to stray mutts and men who fell from the local pubs…
The Eye of the Storm (Published in REA Journal)
Johnny Doran was known as ‘Spider’ when he was a young man, on account of his posture on a piano stool when he played in the dance halls up and down the country. He would crouch forward on the stool, lift his thin legs to the side and hunch his shoulders, so his arms were level with his head and his fingers dangled above the keys. If he wasn’t playing in those halls he was dancing in them.
He has always surrounded himself with music and he has always had a gift for finding music in the seemingly unmusical. He can hear it in the earth and in the water, in the hum of an engine and in the cottage where he lives, when the damp walls and old, warped beams settle at night. He hears it now as he stands beside a window, in the beat of the fat raindrops which splatter against the pane, in their quickening swell and the deep vibrations on the weathered roof…
Last Stance (Published in Wake)
Close your eyes. Pause, and picture yourself standing
tall. Taller than you have ever stood, ascending over
rooftops and trees, overshadowing all around, eclipsing
the sun from the world beneath. You are unrivalled by
anyone but your own. Unsurpassed. Now imagine the
breezes swimming, swirling and spiraling around your
head, a whirlpool of wind, so high that only you and
the birds can know it. Keeping your eyes closed, listen
to your heartbeat. If you had two, what would it sound
like? Well, imagine there are hundreds of differing
heartbeats pulsing through your body. A natural beat,
thumping from head to toe. Envisage many voices
deep within, from the cry of a baby to the murmuring
of an aged man. Each one sends vibrations across your
skin in waves of abundant energy.
Now, slowly, open your eyes. Welcome to my world. Don’t
look down yet. Look out, beyond the city. As the sunlight cascades
across the mountains, each dip and curve is clear to see.
Cast your eyes back, across the church steeples, along the scattered
buildings. Cranes seem to be blotting every part of the
landscape, like uninvited guests. They are building everywhere,
but you will never see the likes of me again. Look
down upon the ground. Watch as the children swarm from the
schools and buzz around the playing fields. Their yells and
laughter can even be heard up here. See the people pass at
your feet, carrying out everyday tasks, immersed in their
thoughts and dreams. Hold on to these images. Write them
down if you can, for when I am just rubble, dispersed across
the land, I may need some reminding…
Canvas (Published in Writers Wanted)
…His smooth brush strokes ended with a slight flick of the wrist, shaping a thin line of colour onto the flat canvas. The image was beginning to take on a realistic shape. This was his favourite part of the painting ritual. From the origins of a small idea his paintings frequently differed from what he initially imagined, taking on a life of their own. The hardest part was knowing when to finish. It would be easy to keep adding in search of perfection. But nothing was perfect and one too many brush strokes could ruin the entire mood of the piece.
The still atmosphere in the shop was broken by the chipped metallic bell as it rattled against the edge of the door. The shrill ringing filled the small interior. A Slight stirring breeze entered the shop and with it a young child. He wasn’t surprised to see that it was a child. Living in this area all of his life he had grown accustomed to the nature of the young. Habitual dullness instilled an incessant curiosity in the youth with their attraction to anything new akin to a moth to a flame. The shop was only a month old and already he witnessed swarms of small heads bobbing around the pictures from his vantage point behind the counter.
They never bought anything but they absorbed every corner creating their own future memories. He wondered if the youthful patterns of these adolescents would always be this way now that events were afoot in the area. Geographically and aesthetically the place was in the process of change. After years of overcrowding and under earning the government eventually decided to invest huge sums of money to, in their words, regenerate the area. Initially local people had been suspicious. As they know better than most you don’t get something for nothing in this world. They were a raw breed, shying away from emotional barriers they believed in the ‘what you see is what you get approach.’ Their creed lay in God, family and work in no particular order as each was as important as the next. Although transparent in emotional display they seemed to hide their cleverness. To show ones cleverness is to show ones cards. But you had to be clever to survive in this environment…
Theatre of life (Published in Fringe)
…Welcome one and all to this exhilarating arena, in which inhabitants manoeuvre and hustle to the music of stolen cars, grumbling notes from tortured engines and screeching tones which rip through the night. This town is a stage, embraced by fierce winds, gusts which jostle through great, hefty structures, ferocious roars dwindling to soft exhalations, rising and falling, blasts which bay wildly along laneways, advance through metal grills and lift shafts, rapturous applause for violent activity or low sighs for the sorrowful stirrings. Heed the call, patiently prepare for an unforgettable evening, the show is underway.
Follow the clowns in their bright patterned trousers, flowing pyjamas for casual wear. Take in the dog and pony show, wild mongrels brutally scratching their hairy, flea ridden behinds. See the brown aged horse, imprisoned by a rope, his circle marked out with deep, hollow prints. They chew on littered greens under boarded windows and old tyres which swing from the head of the lampposts like round, rubber trapeze artists. Get a ticket for the show and sit in the tiers with the others, on one of the balconies of the many abandoned apartments with the elongated shadows which are indicative of the venue and a darkness to remind you of where you are going.
Rah-tah-tah-thump- the sound of a drum, or is it merely the faithful beat of a television set which escapes from the window of a bookie-shop, the noise of thundering hooves and thrown clumps of earth, for the gamblers and desperate with their optimistic bellows and empty pockets. Clouds of smoke shroud the entrances of bars, the traffic queues from one road to the next. If you close your eyes you can hear the City rumble, the movement of people with their tumbling hopes and dreams.
Faa-la-la-la, the spiralling notes, the ice-cream vans and car radios, the terrible neighbours with their radios on full blast, the clip-clop of high shoes and the scream of alarms, the scent of wood burning and aroma of chips, the undeniable pressure of life on the streets. The lampposts crackle with excessive current, splaying circular rings onto mutilated playgrounds and parks. There are gurgles in the pipes and there are rats in the sewers, an infestation of cats in the lanes and on the roofs, while the foxes have made their homes in high places, and watch the activity with quiet glee.
Roll up- roll up; get your ticket for the show. There are groups of women chattering and men pushing and shoving with abundant energy, there are the loved and the loved ones, the lost and the found, the quiet, the warriors and the damned. The streets throb with characters. The buildings crackle with verve. Take it all in, this theatre of life which is well underway…