Containing prose concerned with resonant text; like: a half-remembered smell out of the corner of an eye; a secret discovery of the familiar in a distant dislocation; a whispered auto-psychography caught on the wind of another time; a glimpsed memory of hidden frustration; a remnant of death; a detachment; a regretted venture, and a destiny inside the mind.

Nothing sate your appetite? Still crave a shot of short story? Let
Albedo One
tap your vein...


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The Black Light


Black -adj. 1 reflecting no light; completely dark. 2 angry; gloomy (black look, mood). 3 wicked, sinister, deadly. 4 portending trouble (things look black). 5 comic but sinister (black comedy).

Light /lait/ -n. 1 the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible. 2 flame or spark serving to ignite. 3 a mental illumination b spiritual illumination by divine truth. -adj bring (or come) to light reveal or be revealed. in a good (or bad) light giving a favourable (or unfavourable) impression.



A selection of Leaflit short stories by Sean MacRoibin




first published: 2001

1816 words - reading time: 9 minutes approximately



first published: 1999

1274 words - reading time: 6 minutes approximately



first published: 2000

4311 words - reading time: 22 minutes approximately



first published: 1997 (Albedo One)

3898 words - reading time: 20 minutes approximately



first published: 1999

1984 words - reading time: 10 minutes approximately



first published: 2000

4850 words - reading time: 24 minutes approximately




Prose not your thing? Try Downright Bockedy for a jolt of comics and cartoons!



















Time Of No Reply


Nobody talks to me, Albert thought, and I have the time.

The girl behind the counter in Tower Records caught him by surprise, though. Do you have his other albums, she asked.

What? Yes, he managed.

My favourite is Either/Or. This is her, not Albert. I saw that film Good Will Hunting and just had to find out more about the soundtrack artist.

Oh. This is Albert, caught cold.

The conversation was in his head for days, because he had the time. Ballad Of Big Nothing was probably his favourite from Either/Or, or maybe Angeles, he had never really made up his mind; there were just so many great songs on the thing, all so perfectly formed and expertly realised that the best track seemed always the one he happened to be listening to at the time.

But the film, he hadn't been keen on the film; Albert would have liked her to know that. It had all just been so juvenile: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Minnie self-involved-head-up-her-own-arse Driver. Even bloody Robin Williams for God's sake! - don't get me started. Director Gus Van Sant did his best though, but there's not much to be done with a juvenile script, really.

No. That didn't sound right. Keep the juvenile script part, but the film itself had just been power-fantasy dressed with pop psychology.

Albert mulled it over a second: maybe lose Minnie Driver's arse bit. Yeah, much better.

Stupidity Tries was his favourite song from the Figure 8 album. Well, in as much as it was possible to pick a favourite from such an astonishing track-list. Those lines: I couldn't think of a thing / that I hope tomorrow brings / Oh what a surprise / stupidity tries.

She'd have been impressed that I like those words, Albert thought.

She was maybe his age, late-twenties, possibly younger. He was kind of looking forward to the next time she talked to him, then.


Either/Or was actually taken from the title of philosopher Soren Kierkegaard's book of the same name, you know. Are you familiar with it? It discusses the importance of pure choice in ethics and belief.

Albert was heading for Tower Records again.

I guess Elliott Smith must be something of an existentialist himself.

He knew he was mad to come into the City Centre on a Saturday, but he had been putting it off most of the week; then he hit the weekend and realised he wouldn't be able to wait 'til Monday. This way there was a better chance of her remembering him.

Existentialism is all about the freedom to do what you want, when you want, and without constraint, because the universe is meaningless anyway.

God, if she remembered him! Just think!

Albert tried not to think though, he knew where this thinking was headed: if she remembered him, was she remembering him because she liked him or simply because you don't forget seeing a person who looks strange or abnormal?

Albert knew how strangers thought; all those ones he may have passed twice. He recognised it in their glances. He recognised it in their double takes.

I passed that guy two weeks ago on Grafton Street, they'd think. Or: I passed that guy last time I was here on holiday - I'm sure of it!

No. Mustn't think.

Did she know that he had almost gone to see Elliott Smith when he played the Temple Bar Music Centre a few years back? Oh yes, Albert had been into Smith long before he had hit the big time with his Oscars appearance.

I much prefer his older stuff actually: Roman Candle, and that second one, what's it called? - they have a rawness that the over-produced new stuff lacks. He's just gone so commercial.

The place was packed, though - Tower Records, not the Temple Bar Music Centre. Albert immediately flickered onto a different level of consciousness. Suddenly everything was focused but then rejected by his over-informed brain. The edges blurred and all he was aware of was himself surrounded by a swirling torrent of incoming information.

The panic of a sudden daymare too: a sorry, in his head, a can't hear you over the rabble. Could you move to the left of the counter, sir. Somebody will be free to assist you shortly. Please sir, you're in the way.

To hell with it! Albert would come back another day.


Monday was better.

Albert could see the Smith girl behind the counter. She was dumping empty CD cases into what looked like a washing basket. Not one of those wicker ones that dead bodies are smuggled from hotels in, but the cheap plasticky kind.

Funny thing is: existentialism seems to follow me around.

Albert was talking to this Smith girl again.

Nick Drake did an existential album, you know. His third one, Pink Moon. They used the title song in a car advert or something in America a while back and sales of the album rocketed. My favourite track is Things Behind The Sun, but just because I really like the way the lyrics leave the song kind of hanging: You find renown while people frown / At things that you say / But say what you'll say / About the farmers and the fun / And the things behind the sun / And the people round your head / Who say everything's been said / And the movement in your brain / Sends you out into the rain.

Actually, some people find it depressing, but then anything these days that doesn't come with pounding bass-line and fluffy lyric is dismissed as depressing. Ha-ha.

He watched her from the G section. She seemed content enough just pottering around the counter, glancing at the till, or punching the keys of the computer then smiling at the monitor. He hadn't noticed how fine her breasts were.

Yes, I guess I could come around to your place. I'll bring Drake's posthumous album of home recordings with me, Tanworth-in-Arden 1967-69. We'll have a listen first.

Albert had once carried around a scrap of paper which read something-heads or other, by Lisa Germano, a name from the music credits of a made-for-tv film he'd accidentally seen about a man or woman dying of AIDS - he couldn't remember. Lisa Germano was listed under G all right, but there were no albums on display.

Perhaps I could ask if there are any in stock, he thought.

I was wondering if you have anything by Lisa Germano in stock by any chance?

No. No use. Not Lisa Germano; he didn't know anything about her. He could find himself asking for an Adult Oriented Rock person if he wasn't careful, and that wouldn't do. And sure what if he ended up marrying this Smith girl? An Adult Oriented Rock person would then become part of the equation: recounting to their children the story of how they met, AOR would be the soundtrack of their romance. Then there was that made-for-tv film to consider too.

Albert had climbed Killiney Hill two summers previous to kill himself off the Dunlaoghaire-facing cliff, but couldn't find a decent cinema ticket-stub in his pocket to be remembered by.

No. Albert's palms were sweating-it. The AOR thing was bad enough, but the made-for-tv film had settled matters. It had been too close for comfort. He needed time to get his head together, to regroup.

Perhaps I could hit her with Bobby Conn, he mused.

No. Things had to be perfect.


The body of the twenty-seven year old Sandymount man discovered at the Killiney cliffs has been identified as Albert Albright. He leaves behind a ticket-stub for comedy movie Police Academy 7: Mission To Moscow.

Albert winced as he rushed through another daymare.

In a dramatic turn-around, relatives are now denying rumours that the deceased man was in good form following the screening.

He would get them now and again, the daymares, but memories were the worst. Memories really threw him, and these he got regularly. Not the kind that make you smile and think that maybe a happy moment on a day back in the winter of '93 made it seem as if life was almost worth living, but the excruciating kind: the ones that distort your face as if you've just tasted bitter remorse.

Like that time Albert answered this girl who it turned out was actually aiming her question at some head-the-ball behind him. That was awful. She had said something along the lines of -

No, Albert! Stop! Don't think about it you fool! What was it you were thinking just then? Just before the recall thing? What was it?

I was thinking that maybe you and I could catch a gig some night. Our musical tastes seem pretty similar.

Albert had it all worked out. He and the Smith girl had done enough talking; the verbal foreplay had been exhausted. It was time to move their relationship to the next level.

He was in there again the Wednesday, rummaging through the racks, fingering the discs.

Then of course there's the likes of Camus and Sartre to follow in Kierkegaard's footsteps.

The Smith girl was on her knees restocking one of the displays. Her sweatshirt rose up to reveal the flesh of her back as she leaned forward, and just a tantalising glimpse of cheek-merged-waist.

Actually, Camus' The Myth Of Sisyphus was found on Drake's bedside locker the day he died. But then, we've all got our rocks to roll, I guess. We just Rock 'n Roll our lives away!

No. Jesus Christ you don't want to scare the girl! Females prefer a good laugh; they like a male who's always up and positive. Don't be so depressingly obscure.

Albert had seen enough documentaries to know what girls wanted: if they were ovulating, a muscular, strong type to provide sturdy genes for their kids. All other times a weedy type to nurture and care for these built kids seemed to fit the bill.

What was the point? Albert had no desire to be a child-minder.

My funeral mass play-list comprises all Nick Drake songs.

What was the point?


Got a foot in the door / God knows what for.

I guess you reach a point where you realise what's real and lasting has to occupy the same space as the superficial payoff of the moment. It's kind of a jarring truth, I think.

Albert watched from across the street as the Smith girl knocked-off. Maybe away from the work environment they would be able to relate to each other differently.

Do you like me doing that to you?

Yeah, sure he was nothing to look at, and he wasn't muscular by any stretch of the imagination; but he had strength enough for some things. He wasn't weak.

Do you like that?

And anyway, he had all this time to fill.

Stop your fucking screaming.



















Vacancy For Satan


My father placed a small ad in the local paper. Due to some strange typing error the Tuesday edition of his ad read Vacancy For Satan. (He had only wanted to sell the lawn-mower.) Lucifer Iblis arrived Wednesday. We were to call him Lou.

Lou had the gift of the gab. He talked frequently, and would have had us eating crisps out of his underpants had he felt so inclined.

Misery, happiness, he mumbled pensively before retiring to bed on that first night with a hot cocoa and stale fig-roll. Recited repeatedly with speed the sequence blurs, and our differences in a social context, mine and Harry's, fade to insignificance. What does it matter if you choose happiness now and misery later?

The assurance was there, his reputation unfounded; we were not to worry. And for the most part it was as if Lou wasn't there at all. He seemed content to levitate in the background, observing my parents and I go about our mundane routines: work, school, play. Dad and me in particular settled to his unassuming ways and dry wit.

We're off to Mass now, dad once grinned. Coming?

Maybe, Lou retorted, what colour is it?

For her part, mother proved less convinced. In those early days her abrasive moods, Satan-bashing tongue, and disturbance in hormonal balance provoked an atmosphere of some discomfort.

Non-smoker my foot, she'd often groan. His room reeks of sulphur, and he constantly has the radiator on full blast.

However, mother too would warm to him, and eventually come to worship him: Lou was always a willing dryer of dishes, and even hoovered the sitting-room floor on occasion; without being asked. On weekends he did her hair. Sure he was easy to cook for as well: happy enough he was with a sole or two, and some burnt toast to put them on.

Ask not what he looked like though, nor his age, for we each seemed in possession of our own interpretations: individual perspectives mirrored in both years and appearance; he simply changed to suit our visual needs.

Change was something that happened rapidly throughout the household, in fact. Where once gin rummy and the Rosary sufficed to fill an evening, Twister soon emerged to provoke the resounding belch of laughter through our stale rooms. I can't quite recall: had we once played naked? I'm not sure.

Morality and misery go hand in hand, Lou would often opine, to which I'd nod approvingly. He'd say: Soon as one is miserable, one becomes moral, and soon as one becomes moral, one becomes miserable.

I offered no argument. The black veil had been lifted from our household; there was no denying our happiness. We had given up giving-up all that does not lead to God, all our worldly ambition. Empathy became apathy, and we wallowed in convenient ignorance. Lou seemed pretty chuffed himself.

One day, dad returned home early from work with excited swagger and exploding grin. Accounting-shmounting, gang, he bellowed gleefully as he barged in the front door. I've just purchased an ice-cream van with our savings!

Lou dropped the Twister dial to the floor; mother eased herself from between my legs.

Can you believe it, dad continued, I'm the new Mister Whippy!

I too became prone to impulsive action: while at my first disco, Lou and I gave the impression that we were submerged in drunken stupor that we could flop from girl to girl on the dance-floor, brushing against developing breasts in accidental collision; or falling to my knees even, and lunging forward in sozzled daze, head firmly pressed between two thighs, my nose nuzzling ever deeper.

But if events at the under-fourteens local girl-guides hall proved some kind of act of debasement, it paled in comparison to what followed: mother, for some reason, had taken to using the toilet with unlocked door.

Though occasional disturbance of mum's visits was inevitable - indeed, I had experienced some startling dreams on the very subject - nothing could have prepared me for the sight of an actual interruption.

Little realising anything but the urgency of my own bowels, I bolted in the toilet door on this one occasion only to find my mother's wrinkled, bare bum peering back at me. She stood above the toilet bowl; her legs spread either side, naked from the waist down. Her hands were on her head, clasped amid her hair, and she hummed softly as her urine sloshed into the bowl.

Mother, I shrieked as she glanced over her shoulder, I don't believe this!

What? she smirked, I have the seat up.

Things were not right; I could see that then. I needed guidance, some words of wisdom. I turned to Satan.

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ, Lou offered, has been begotten by God, and whoever loves the Father that begot him loves the child whom he begets.

Things seemed a lot less confusing after that, and life went on, albeit a touch more manky than before. Mother suddenly refused to cook, or clean, or get up early in the mornings to see me safely off to school. Even my new maths book went uncovered that term in spite of an abundance of leftover wallpaper at her disposal.

What's in it for me? she would say.

Dad too became more selective with regards reasons for prompting his bulk from the couch; he just didn't care. I was not of a dissimilar frame of mind myself: as long as the pocket-money kept coming, and the off-duty girl-guides continued to take to the dance-floor, I couldn't even be bothered grumbling. Fuck, I was happy.

Morality and misery, Lou smirked. Morality and misery!

But I didn't even give half a left-bollock what he said. And anyway, he was becoming clingy: I couldn't move in my own home without his watchful eye on me. The parents, it emerged, felt the same.

Familiarity breeds contempt, my father groaned from his dip in the couch.

He moults, my mother whined, then glanced towards the kitchen door for fear of being over-heard above Lou's fevered preparation of devilled kidneys and sweet and sour cabbage. Her voice lowered, she continued: And his undies smell of cheese and onion.

Oh he can cook, my father confided, but the fucker pays no rent.

Familiarity breeds contempt, mum mumbled with nodding head. Familiarity breeds contempt!

Twister soon died a death, and the inevitable transpired: Lou and I returned home from the disco one Friday night to find his suitcase and a black refuse bag crammed with crisp wrappers sitting on the doorstep.

We're not a charity, you know, I divulged.

Ah here now, he gawped as I closed the door on him.

We never saw Lucifer Iblis again.

Things returned to normal not long after Lou's departure: rummy and rosary rampant once more. Last week I failed miserably to over-dose on Calpol again; there was only four spoonfuls left in the bloomin' bottle, and sure there was no Milk Of Magnesia at all in the house.

Remember, son, mother nagged as she spied me with the bottle, suicides don't get to Heaven.

Ignore him, dear, father advised her. He's just looking for attention.

I miss Lou. There was a bit of the devil in him; in me too for a while, though I think my girl-guide nose-nudging days are behind me. Dad's Mister Whippy days are well past also - he plans on selling the ice-cream van as soon as possible. He just might place a small ad in the local paper again, I don't know. He probably will; there's the little matter of an unsold lawnmower yet to be resolved.



















These Goldfish Days Have Me Worried


August 19 - I tell Jeffrey that I was the girl in Primary whose beaker leaked in her bag, and who, for a term, suffered the daily upset of having to write in a copybook with the stain of a yellow coastline mapped on each page. He says he has no recollection of a girl like that, but was I any relation to the girl in Secondary who frequently went absent with spots? Yeah, that was me, I concede. Jeffrey claims to be the after-thought invite to a party, but I don't imagine he is serious.

August 28 - Jeffrey's final day. As of Monday he's officially an employee of Better Box Assembly on the North-side. I tell him that I wouldn't be able to stomach his farewell gathering at The Cuckoo's Nest, and that things aren't what they seem anyway: that it's not really the Cuckoo's nest. I remind him that not only is he indifferent to his co-workers, but he has talked non-stop about quitting the job for three years now. He promises to avoid a drinks-prompted outpouring of sentiment, but I refuse to take the chance. I tell him that I was the reticent girl in the workplace with secret admiration for the colleague who never attempted wit when parting company nor displayed pride in a hangover. He just laughs and says that he didn't think he knew her.

September 16 - Dad's attention wanders from his poorly tuned radio show to dictate to me again, but I am rehearsed and ready: All arguments in this house have just one thing in common, I say, and that's you! It seems that opinions other than those of the master of the house must be left at the front door. He's like the bouncer with-in: he shouts me down and is never wrong. Obviously I must work, though again I am offered no convincing reason why. I don't drink, I say, I don't smoke; I rarely socialise, and I have money enough amassed to reduce to disposable income the entirety of my projected earnings for the next five years. This man is not convinced, and when I leave the room my mother gets an earful - an earful to be passed-on. Do they know I'm twenty-four? The Memory Loss Program is fast becoming a serious option.

October 11 - The stranger's ulterior motive to conversation; when the pleasant waste of time becomes a dirty waste of time. (I feel reassured.) This is my first real interaction since Jeffrey left work: an old-ish man on Dunlaoghaire pier. We talk about - I don't know what we talk about - What are those boats doing, he asks out of the blue. Nothing, I say, they're just filling in the day, pretending to be fishing off-harbour. He's keen to talk, so we chat a while. And though I have my bicycle with me, an hour later he asks if I want to go for a drive, then leaves abruptly. Note to self: the addition of a more intimate element - someone's obvious interest in personal matters - does not necessarily transform things said from small talk to conversation.

October 13 - Society requires a reconstruction. Dull routine rewarded with routine drink and routine weekend partying offers little by way of stimulus for any healthy person. Keeping people occupied is simply not enough.

October 19 - Why am I affected by the opinions of those whose opinion I no longer respect? And why is it that everybody is always looking at me? I tell myself that I must be looking at them to know that they're looking at me, and that I'm paranoid. I hope I'm paranoid. I am increasingly becoming less comfortable in situations not encountered on a daily basis.

November 6 - Things are changing. From my bedroom window I watch my sister being picked up by her first boyfriend. He is dark, sexual, built. She is seven years younger than me. While Tracy is out gallivanting, much of my time is spent picturing the different ways I could be found. How to commit suicide without hurting anybody's feelings? I imagine both my parents will be dead before I'm fifty. I will just have my sister then, and she will have her family. Even now we're drifting apart. She will cope with another loss. (At supper my mother asks if I've been crying.)

November 19 - That dream again: I'm filling in an hour on a park bench with a bad sense of nothing to do. Dark clouds obscure the sun, there's chewing gum stuck to my shoe; a cat wanders past and refuses to be talked to.

November 28 - If I purposely manufacture an aloof and mysterious image it's because I don't really want to know people who are good fun, or sound, or a laugh if they are not inherently decent. So many people are likeable in passing but display intolerable traits when they tire of performance and allow their mask to slip. I have no friends; just acquaintances. That way I guess it will be easier to leave.

December 6 - Freedom ensues from the elimination of need. If I can eliminate my need for company, rather than freely sate this need, I can discover true freedom. What is company anyway but a guilt-diminishing smokescreen for killing time. (Is there a legitimate use of time that could be sustained over a life? Is this where belief in the existence of an omnipotent being is handy? Perhaps if I didn't know where my next meal was coming from?)

December 14 - Work-shmurk! People won't let me not live, therefore I must die; though this is not my preferred option. It's difficult, however: botched pill overdoses are quite common; violent vomiting and a pumped stomach the by-products. If I thought I had the nerve to slash my wrists I think I would like to do it in the dark of the cinema, in the back-row of a good matinee. Perhaps if My Life As A Dog ever gets some sort of limited re-release. Maybe Buffalo 66.

December 18 - I inform my mother that I am going on The Memory Loss Program. She laughs and tells me not to be silly - this from the woman who once refused to go to the hairdresser because her hair was a mess. I say that I have already set up an appointment with the surgeon, and that I just can't see the point in recalling a daily work routine that requires nothing but an aptitude for boredom. What exactly is it that you do in work, she asks. I fold information sheets and place them in Uni-Flu boxes, I answer. All right, do what you want, she sighs, but don't come running to me when you lose a third of your life and suddenly have difficulty breathing. Later, for some reason dad tells me that goldfish have a memory capacity of only five seconds.

December 19 - First time in ages that I've not been on the verge of crying - the consultation with the memory surgeon goes better than expected. He seems content that my interest in the program is prompted by legitimate reasons. He tells me that not all applicants are successful in gaining a place on the program, but that I perfectly fit the profile: inadequate interpersonal relationships, poor adaptive or coping skills, the will to change my immediate circumstances. The operation is scheduled for January 15, a Monday. The following week, after a paid recovery period, I will commence work in Bag It, a local participant in the program.

December 25 - This Christmas I acutely feel the desperation to grasp something tangible from the day's festivities. I think possibly the role of a gift is that of compensatory gesture for informed man's inability to muster a sense of surprise and fervour at a time when the lengthening of daylight marks the turning point from the seemingly inexorable march towards total night. God help us all, the suspense is gone!

December 26 - My dazed stumble through mundane routine and forced conformity in and out of work offer little worthy of description. With no real events to chronicle, is it any wonder I am occupied merely with thoughts and musings? Overheard in back-garden during the summer (but just remembered now): dad to mum - Next time you're at the doctor, show the doctor your knuckles. Your finger wasn't that way thirty-odd years ago when I was pushing that ring on.

January 1 - Those people at the stroke of midnight on New Year; their need to elevate a moment into an event prompts in them an expression of their will to be excited, rather than any actual excitement. I for one remain unconvinced by scheduled hysteria.

January 8 - In anticipation of the operation, work seems not so bad now. There is a relief that I can at last see/not see the future. I explain to dad exactly what results are expected from participation in the program: a device fitted to my temporal lobe will provide the facility for extracting recall of the day's working hours and promote the feeling that a new job awaits each day. This will greatly ease the disillusionment and depression that repetitive tasks prompt. Dad is not convinced, but concedes that I am old enough to make my own decisions. I tell him that he is right as usual, and that insects have no noses.

January 12 - I have no friends; just acquaintances. (I've written this before.) My work colleagues prove this today as they fail to supply even a measly card on my final day. Attempts to convince me to accompany them to the pub after work presents one last chance to utter my familiar refusal: I don't need the overtime. As I gallop through the security gates I make a mental note to remember the sense of exaltation experienced, for recollection in years to come when I inadvertently think fondly of these miserable times.

January 14 - On this the eve of my op', I feel neither apprehension nor dread. My indifference disturbs the parents and their concentrated glances find in me no glimmer of regret to mine. Dad says that I'm living in my head. Mum says that it would be naive to ever take surgery lightly. I say: next time, maybe. I'm sure I must seem a stranger to them.

January 16 - What have I done?!? Spent the night in a small ward in the surgery. The operation went well, but I find that I can't speak, I can't sleep, and the back of my eyes feel as if they're grating. This morning the nurse tells me that I can go home, and I leave in shock. My caught-in-the-headlights expression greets my parents, and they say little as I spend the day gently rocking on the edge of the settee.

January 18 - I contact the surgery twice and am given assurance that as the slur gradually eases so too should the migraine. I try to tell the nurse that I have become obsessively conscious of my tongue, that I can't sleep for contemplating its location: when not in use, does it sit on the lower gum, or just float there, suspended? If the latter, should this not be tiring? She says yes, dear repeatedly, and tells me to give it a few more days.

January 20 - As temporary ailments fade - it's almost as if the nurse knew what she was talking about - my attention is drawn to the small metal implant in my left temple. It is a threaded hollow known as the receiver, which allows for the insertion of a conductive electroencephalograph. This instrument is infixed and removed by a deletist at the commencement and conclusion of working hours, and results in the carrier's complete loss of information pertaining to the duration of tapping. When not in use, the receiver is simply plugged to avert infection. (Plugs come in a variety of new and exciting colours, as well as in the original flesh tones of winter, and early and late summer).

January 21 - Now comes the apprehension: first day tomorrow. Unskilled work is guaranteed, otherwise a pre-training program would exist to avoid the need to daily retrain tapped employees. Even those workers that have been there for years will not be aware that I am new. Perhaps an initial lack of confidence will prove my one signal of rookie status - I imagine the veterans will display some degree of confidence, in the knowledge that they have experience of the situation. However, they'll not be able to recall that experience. It will be as if they too are going about their tasks for the first time, which, of course, is the point.

January 22 - Such a strange sensation of a shortened day. Like an immediate loss of events that are normally amalgamated over a longer period of similar activity, and, ultimately, so banal, beyond recall anyway. I do not however possess even the capacity for recall of such an amalgamation, as I retain no memory of my working day that could be cobbled together to form a collage awareness of such a regrettable future history. My working life is wished away.

January 25 - Experience difficulty removing my shoes on arrival home from work: the laces are knotted so badly that I have to cut them to free my feet. Why did I do this? Perhaps the work I do requires the wearing of safety boots. Even so, those knotted laces: like a statement of some sort; a deliberate attempt to draw attention. What do I be doing all day?

January 26 - Meet the manager in a pre-tapped encounter. He apologises for not being available previously, and assures me that I have become a part of a healthy, stress-free working environment, the balance and maintenance of which requires that after-work familiarising with colleagues not be entered into. This, he explains, is an egalitarian approach, which promotes in-house empathy and avoids the formation of impenetrable cliques. To further secure said-environment, both start and finish times are staggered on an individual basis, though breaks are of course collective. Also, at all times there will be but one non-carrier among the floor-staff: the supervisor, whose job it is to delegate work, provide assistance, and if necessary, prompt colleagues in opposite directions should personality clashes be inevitable. I make a mental note there and then to minimise interaction with the supervisor, lest I part with personal information that he/she can utilise to realise his/her own daily apotheosis.

January 29 - I feel more acutely responsible for the time left me. I seem to suffer neither physical nor mental exhaustion from the day's unremembered activities, and so experience a greater sense of lucidity. It is almost as if I am functioning on a higher level of consciousness. (Though, as someone who has previously lived in her head, it is possible that compared to everybody else I have always existed on a different level of consciousness at least. Certainly this would explain/excuse my incompatibility with pretty much every person I have ever known!)

February 2 - A curious thing occurs: having come round from deletion I am immediately alarmed by a hearing defect in my left ear and notify the deletist of my discomfort. He examines said ear, and, smiling, pulls a tweezers from his pocket. Out of the corner of my eye I glimpse his movements: he extracts what looks like a small piece of folded paper from the troubled ear. Just a hard lump of wax, he says, fighting a grin. Nothing to worry about. I am convinced the paper contained a message to myself. In future I must remember to remain quiet about any sudden discomfort experienced upon completion of the deletion period.

February 3 - I can reinvent myself on a daily basis; secure in the knowledge that possible negative reaction will not exist beyond that day's working hours. However, this role-playing should be premeditated - decided upon prior to each daily tapping - otherwise, unbeknown to myself, I could possibly adopt the same persona every day; which wouldn't really matter anyway, since I'll have not the faintest inkling of the repetition. The worry is that others may already be practising chameleons, perhaps aggressively pursuing each other for the first time each day; even to obnoxious levels; repercussions not carried beyond that day's working hours. However, the likelihood is that I will have pretty much the same uneventful time every day: the same conversations about shopping, or drinking, or the previous night's fly-on-the-wall docu-soap; the same coma-inducing tasks; and even the same emotions at particular junctures of this recycled day. In fact, I imagine the only distinction from a regular job is that the work is constantly new, and the people are always just out of their cellophane; eager to impress, and with performance material enough to last that day.

February 5 - Finding it difficult to relax. Doing nothing no longer seems an option. Unfortunately, with no recall of the day's pointless toiling - if not pointless, then numbingly familiar - I have no recent associations with which to elevate my evening activities by comparison. Not exactly true: I can refer to my previous evening's less-than-worthy inactivity, but this only heightens my frustration at being unable to confer meaning on anything I do, or would wish to do. Would it be possible, I wonder, to extend the tapping to cover a twenty-four hour period?

February 13 - What a fool I was to think that work was the source of my unhappiness. Even now with its pseudo-elimination, I remain profoundly disappointed. But then, perhaps subconsciously I have always been less concerned with reducing work to a disposable element than utilising the actual memory deletion process as a cry for help. This strange self-mutilation by proxy has however served to highlight the depth of my distorted beliefs, and clarified just what is meant when I utter those hollow words I'm fine i.e. I am friendless, aimless, pointless, and depressed far beyond the ability to properly function in society.

February 19 - That dream again: I'm filling in an hour on a park bench with a bad sense of nothing to do. (Perhaps I intend to leave the hour blank?) Dark clouds obscure the sun, there's chewing gum stuck to my shoe; a cat wanders past and refuses to be talked to. Suited people work from other park benches, on mobile phones, pacing their calls. One of them nods to me. These days, he shouts over, the best-paid jobs have foundations based in theory.

February 29 - This new-found level of consciousness continues to offer a more reliable perception of self. I have been involved in a convincing deception: my occasional hint at the possibility that my mysterious and aloof image is manufactured enables me to disguise my depression and suggest a sense of control. I am however capable only of controlling my degree of detachment by adding to it. Also: does existentialism beget depression, or does depression beget existentialism? I think it's certainly more convenient to relate my condition to a philosophy than to an illness. In truth the philosopher's notion of not being is a reality that I have little choice but to accept. (I try to convince myself that I am actually attempting to eliminate need in an effort to discover true freedom, but it's simply the case that my depression renders me incapable of acting on my needs.)

March 10 - What goes on? No note this time, but arrive home to discover that my blouse is mis-buttoned. Is this a further means of alerting myself to abnormalities in my working day? Was the blouse even mis-buttoned at my own hands? More worryingly: I have convinced myself that my crotch is sore.

March 16 - Mother continues to enquire about my day. Anything happen in work, she asks as she pours my tea. (It's just like her offer of gravy at dinner). I soberly tell her that I've discovered surprise scars on my lower back; but it doesn't quite register: the woman only responds to specific tones. I've stopped explaining things to her. It's a possibility that she too is involved in a memory loss program, for home use, and quite conceivably has been involved for as long as I can remember. Certainly it would account for much.

March 19 - Society's concept of an adult is someone who amasses enough responsibilities to be incapable of functioning outside the parameters of society. By presenting commitments to males - in the main, finance-related - females create the illusion of the responsible male adult. In truth, maturation in the male is physical only: he retains the same voice in his head from boy to man, and is capable merely of demonstrating maturity via expectations-influenced performance. The rest is simply guilt.

March 23 - I have an awful thought, and a new, improved concept of Hell: what if Declan Clanbrassle works with me? Every morning I would have to face him for the first time since that encounter on the final day of school when he caught me by the hand and told me that he fancied me. Declan was ugly. It was unexpected. I kind of panicked. Fancy me?? I said. What does that mean: that you want to shove your penis up my vagina? Declan was taken aback for a moment, but quickly regained composure. Repeatedly, he retorted. I want to shove my penis up your vagina repeatedly! It's funny, but I think of him pretty much every day now. I'm daft.

April 2 - That dream again: I'm filling in an hour on a park bench with a bad sense of nothing to do. Dark clouds obscure the sun, there's chewing gum stuck to my shoe; a cat wanders past and refuses to be talked to. Suited people work from other park benches, on mobile phones; pacing their calls. One of them nods to me. These days, he shouts over, the best-paid jobs have foundations based in theory. One of the other men rises from his bench and approaches me. He is ringing. This is for you, he says, and hands me a phone from his jacket's inside pocket. A familiar voice says hello.

April 20 - Still no sign of a covert message from myself. Either nothing out of the ordinary has occurred during this particular working day to prompt such a note - and I have no cause for suspicion: wax it was, perhaps - or access to pen and paper have been denied me since that ear incident last - When was that? Last week? There is of course also the possibility of a procedure amendment in the form of a thorough strip-searching prior to deletion, of which I would have no recall. I am thinking of going to work with a note already taped to my inner thigh, which if not there on returning home, would suggest a definite interference. However, it would be impossible not to arouse suspicion of this tactic if pen and paper are indeed denied me. And anyway, what form of message could my note possibly take?

April 23 - A startling discovery. For some time after knocking-off work I remain around the industrial estate, in close proximity to my job, eager to establish a semblance of character from my co-workers' appearances. However, I resolve that I must be the last of the floor-staff to leave, because three departures only follow my own: the deletist, the manager, and a smartly dressed man I can only presume to be the supervisor. As he locks up I creep close enough to identify him as the ringing man from my dreams.

April 29 - These goldfish days have me worried. I find a piece of paper in my pocket with the words don't phone Jeffrey written across it. What does this mean? Was this planted on me - and allowed through - in an attempt to deter outside interference? Am I warning myself not to get others involved? I must phone Jeffrey.

April 30 - I take a sickie and find the phone number of Better Box Assembly. I want to tell Jeffrey that I am the girl whose only joy comes in finding the towel with fifteen seconds of soap in her eyes, but he refuses to talk to me and I am informed by the Better Box secretary that I am my own worst enemy; that I am not to call again; and that I am making a nuisance of myself. For some time after she has hung up, the phone remains to my ear. It hums a deep hum and catches a dribble of saliva on my chin. I can't seem to bring myself to put the thing down.

May 3 - Declan Clanbrassle wasn't ugly. It was simply that I wouldn't inflict myself on him. Do I hate myself enough, I wonder, to discover at work each day that this anguish is of my own prompting, then choose to continue to torment myself? Did I laugh as I mis-buttoned my blouse?

May 8 - That Queen song, Play The Game; dad says to me there was a woman singing that on the radio today, and had I heard it? I say no and tell him I think that it was just probably off the station; that it was distorted. Was that it? he reflected. I was thinking that it had the same arrangement. Still, it wasn't a bad version.

May 16 - That dream again: the park bench, the chewing gum, the unsociable cat. A man is ringing. He hands me his phone; it's for you. A familiar voice says hello; and it is me: I am on both ends of the line.



















Something Occurred; Bennie on the Loose

Met Jayo on the 77. He was going to town himself. I slipped down beside him without a word, smiling all the while. Saw him trying to catch a sideways peek at me, see who I was.

'Story, Jaysis!'

'Johnner, ye fucking shite-for-brains! Where ye heading?'

'Ah, thought I'd catch a flick.'

'In town? What's wrong with The Square?'

'Nothing, I just -'

'Ah yeah, ye fucking sleeveen! Your gee-bag sister works in that newsagents on Grafton Street, doesn't she?!'

He smells of shampoo. Just been to the hairdressers, so he says - got a one. He's poking his left hand up the back of his clothing most of the time. Fucking hairs.

'The bird in the place, Jesus!' he's saying to me, and I'm listening to his bullshit all the way. I know her: red hair, big smile, moves about you real awkward like.

'Swear to God,' he says, 'tits in my face the whole time, or brushing my shoulder. Crotch nudging me knee, too.'


'Like a fucking wet dream.'


The aul-one in the next seat was starting to blow her nose. Sounded fierce bad, like a long skid on a wet tyre. She kept blowing even when there was nothing there, and made this hollowed out dry noise. Jay and me just looked at each other and laughed.

'She'll be spurting blood out her ears if she's not careful,' I whispered.

'Fucking sure!'

Then she was up off her seat wiping condensation from the windows, with the bloody tissue she'd been poking her nose with, no less. Fucking mad yoke, she was.

When I got off the bus I think she moved into my seat, because I went to wave at Jay and she was leaning over him mopping his window. He looked sort of frightened, and feebly waved at me with a finger.


I don't go straight to the pictures; never do. There's this routine I'd stick to: Penney's for a bottle of Coke, then up to Cinelli's, get myself a sausage and chips special. It's special because it's only a quid for two bangers and a single, but you get fewer chips than in a normal single, and they always seem to be reheats - as if they put some chips aside just so they can cool off and be used in the specials, just because you deserve no more for your scabby pound.

The spotty girl behind the counter wasn't much older than me - probably just done her Junior Cert. The other head-the-ball behind there with her, this hairy Italian muppet - probably Cinelli himself - kept calling her Double.

'S-salt and v-v-vin-v-vinegar,' she asked.

'Just salt, thanks,' I said. Prick.

I slinked up to the Garden of Remembrance then, just halfway up that road at the top of O'Connell Street where the pigeons hang out. It smells of bus diesel - the road - and there's those distorted rainbow patches slithering across it every few paces.

It being autumn there was a nip in the air, so there was only a splattering of people in the garden. And the arse-gobbing birds. Like, no problem finding a free bench. So I sat meself down, and me and the birds started into the soggy chips. Sure we're not halfway through the third chip when some aul-fella in a leather jacket tells me that it's a nice day, like I hadn't fecking noticed.

'Nice day,' he said.

The pigeons abandoned their chip-flinging contest and scarpered. I looked up from my single. 'Uh, yeah. I guess.'

'I've seen you here before, haven't I?'

I'm back in my bag then. Like, preoccupied beyond conversation. 'Yeah, I'm often here.'

'It's a nice spot all right,' he grinned, 'if the birds'd leave you alone.'

'Ah, they're sound,' I said. 'Sure we have one at home - a budgie. The thing's older than me!'


'Yeah, must be near enough sixteen now. He's on his last legs, though.'

'Sad,' he sighs, then meandered off.

Fucking cheek, talking to me!

He's at it again a few minutes later. Like, on his way out. I hadn't even finished my chips.

'Live round here?' he says, and stands right in front of me, hands firmly hidden in his jacket pockets. I can smell his beer breath he's so close.

'Nah, I'm from Tallaght.'

'Oh, Tallaght.' (Like it means something to him!) 'I suppose you're still with your parents, huh?'

I smiled. 'Yeah, sure they've been like a mother and father to me!'

The mouldy cunt looked puzzled.

'Ah, no,' I said. 'I don't think I'll be stuck with them much longer.'

'Oh?' His right foot starts tapping the ground, slow at first, then like ninety.

'Soon as I get my exams from school,' I shrugged, 'I'll get meself a job, then I'm out of there. It's a kip.'

'I see,' he laughed. 'I guess it must be difficult bringing the girlfriend home, huh?'

'Nah, don't have one.'

'Too right,' he nodded, his hands flying out of his pockets into folded arms pose. 'Women are just trouble, they're all money. You're better off without.'

I sort of grunted approval and guiltily shoved the last few chips into my mouth. Fuck, I hate eating in company.

'That said,' he continued, like I was interested or something, 'it gets lonely. I live alone myself, and you need a bit of company sometimes. Ye know?'

Again that noise, from the roof of my mouth, caught somewhere between a grunt and a hum. It doesn't stop the aul-fella rabbiting on.

'That's why I'm just out for a ramble. Maybe just drop into a pub. Do you drink, yourself?'

'Me? No,' I ssid. 'Well, sometimes. Coke, in anyway.'

I pointed towards the bottle at my feet, by way of sample beverage.

He frowned. 'Ah, sure you're better off without. You're too young yet.'

He touched me with his left hand on the side of my head then, like some fatherly figurey type thing, and buggered off. 'Better make a move for that pub,' he says. 'Fill in the day.'

Thanks be to fucking Jaysis, I'm thinking. I hadn't even touched me Coke. I usually drink to the top of the label on the bottle, leave the rest for the cinema. Still, the popcorn does be salty enough. Like, there was no problem there.

And I'm down in the jax in the middle of O'Connell Street a little later, like always, making sure I take a leak before the film. The four cubicles are occupied and I'm standing there reading the No Loitering sign. I've been in this place loads of times, but I'm really uncomfortable then, all of a sudden. Some dope at the urinal kept turning his head slightly, as if he thought I was gawking at him or something. I was! He had his legs spread a good bit, like he was making some sort of kick-ass statement, but he wasn't pissing. There was no piss, to my mind.

In anyway, the fucking cubicle door opened then and some sheepish, baldy fella is ushered out by a powerful-sounding flush. I went in, had a quick goo into the not-too-manky toilet and turned to shut the door behind me. I glimpsed the kick-ass fella - he was looking straight at me, and seemed to be, like, legging it in my direction. I sort of stalled a second. I don't know, I suppose I was kind of bricking it. For no reason, really, he was probably just heading for the sinks. Though like, I shut that fucking door pronto, in anyway!

Someone had omitted the first s from Fascist in the graffiti on the inside of the cubicle door. It's difficult then to take seriously British Facist Army Out, I think. I didn't even have a ball-point pen on me.

The kick-ass scumbag's gone when I come out. Still, d'you think I hung about to wash me hands? I did in me arse!

Met Jayo on the 77 again the following Saturday. He's sniffing the air the minute I sat in beside him.

'That you?' he says. 'Smells like expensive shit.'

'Must be me ma's washing powder,' I laughed.

I didn't know if I should mention the aul-fella in the Garden of Remembrance. Don't know why, it's not as if anything happened.

'The guy's a fucking faggot looking for his hole,' Jay yelped. 'I'll go with ye today, and if he's there we'll bait the crap out of him!'

'Nah,' I said, 'sure maybe it's all innocent. I mean, your da touches ye on the side of your head and you think nothing of it.'

'Not my fucking da, he doesn't. Not if he knows what's good for him!'


Just then a B flies past us, and Skinner Reagan's mouthing something at us from one of the windows. Jayo gives a surprised wave, then shifted uncomfortably in his seat. 'Ha, Skinner Reagan,' he mumbles. 'Fucking header!'

We passed the bus a few minutes later, and this time Jay's ready. He stands up at one of those sliding window things above the main window and cocks his middle finger. 'Swivel on it, Skinner ye fucking tool!' he shouts out, laughing all the while.

Some woman behind us tuts, but Jayo doesn't give a fuck. He poked most of his arm out the window and followed the bus with his digit as it slipped behind us. Some buzz!

'Like a bucket,' he bellows at me next while looking round with gleeful smirk at the tutting woman. 'Like a fucking bucket!'

I'm at the garden a little earlier than usual. There's two geriatric aul-biddies there saying the rosary, or novena of grace or something. They were muttering incoherently in anyway, so it must have been some sort of religious thing. Not that there's much wrong with that: I'm pro-God, meself. Like, I believe there should be one. Definitely.

I sat down on my usual bench. I guess I was sort of praying, myself, glancing around every few minutes, for no reason. Just didn't want conversation is all. Then I'm into me sausage and chips, and all of a sudden the fucker's right there in front of me. Shite.

'Ah, you're back, I see,' he said.

'Sure am.'

'Ah sure I might as well sit down a minute, myself.'

He's down beside me then, just bent forward, leaning on his knees with his elbows. That beer breath again, and Jesus H: Old Spice!

'So,' he sighs, 'how's the sex life?'

'Oh I wish!' I said. 'I don't get out much. Haven't even put meself on the market yet.'

'Ha, into boys are you?!' he laughed, his head flung back slightly, his right hand lifting from his knee, then landing on my thigh. (His hand on my thigh!) He shakes the thigh a little, before snapping his hand back into a clammy clap.

'Nah, not at all,' I'm saying, scratching my nose furiously and gawking at those grannies in the next bench, obvious like.

'What's that,' he went, 'prayers?'

'Nah,' I said, 'they were shooting-up just before you came.'

He grinned, and still looking at the aul-ones, mentions he's never even seen drugs, actually. (I am the manipulator of conversation, I am!)

'Sure there's not much to see,' I assured him. 'Most of them are just like tablets, though ye get some and they're just these little bits of paper dipped in acid or something.'

'Oh,' he began to smile, 'do they make you feel sexy?'

Like, I really don't want to be there then. Leave it out ye aul-bollox!

He gives this stupid laughy-cough thing, and his hand settles on my thigh again. It's warm, and he pretty much has my leg in his big hand. He gives a squeeze.

'Large thighs,' he grimaces expertly with nodded head, squeezing once more, then releasing his grip.

'Oh eh, yeah,' I spluttered, calmly covering my thigh with my non-chips-holding hand, 'I cycle a lot, I guess.'

He's in like a shot: 'And do you wear those shorts things?'


I'm scratching my nose furiously then. Fuck the thigh. Like, I have to get in a bit of nervous panic while he wipes the drool from his chin.

'Big muscley thigh,' he confirmed, his hand suddenly resting on my vacant thigh for the third time, and I feel sort of detached from my leg. This time his hand stays there. He doesn't bother removing it. And like, he's not even looking at me.

'I better make a move,' I said, not moving. (Damn legs not responding!) 'Don't wanna miss the start of the film...'

The fucker's hand still grasped my leg.

'Y'know, get in before the lights go down...'

'Oh,' he says, all of a sudden wide-eyed and looking right at me, 'how dark does the cinema be?'

Me bollix, I'm thinking.

I pushed myself to the edge of the bench, knees still bent as if I'm carefully cradling some poxy cat or something. And I'm ready to scarper, big time. But yer man's hand doesn't budge. There's a sort of strength in it now, like urging me not to go.

Me bum's practically off the edge of the seat before he releases his hold. I'm standing then, turned toward him, stepping backwards a little.

He winces. 'What you going to see anyway,' he asks.

'Dunno,' I said. 'Probably an action film, if I can get in.'

'Might see you again next week then,' he smiled lamely as I edged away.

I met his glance a second. He looked lost or something.

'Maybe,' I said softly, and legged it, adrenalin pumping, bag of chips still in my right hand, Coke forgotten.

Maybe fuck!

Just missed the 77 the next week. Got the B though, it was right behind. Skinner hopped on the next stop. He was sitting a few seats back from me most of the way. Suited me. Then he spots me.

'Johnner! Didn't see your fat head there,' he says and pushes in beside me. 'What happened the Pool during the week? Fucking blessed, weren't they?'

'Feck off!' says me. 'The chances we had!'

'Don't gimme that!' he barked. 'When I think of the goals United just couldn't put away!'

'How can you say that?! The Pool could of easily had six more than United if only we'd finished well.'

'You're talking out of your hole,' he says, and shrugged real aggressive-like, throwing his right hand at the air. 'The Pool didn't not score more goals than United. There's no way!'

We both went sort of quiet then a second, though the conversation resumed soon after. I didn't really give a rat's arse what Skinner thought, but at one stage I heard myself boasting the fact that the Pool had the Mersey and United had fuck-all. Skinner mumbled something about some trickling puddle or other.

We parted company at the terminus in town. Gobshite! The 77 I'd missed was already there. Its driver was putting Garage on the front of the bus instead of its usual destination. Musta been having problems.

The banjaxed bus limped past me a couple of minutes later on the way. Don't know why, but I glanced up at the top deck - there, a few seats from the back, I could see Jayo. And someone else. Like, what the fuck??

Jay's head and left shoulder were sort of pressed up against the window, and this other person, some man, was lying against him or something. I think he was asleep.

Poor Jayo, ha! He looked like he was shittin' bricks. Fucking eejit!

Didn't know whether to head up to the garden or not - looked like it was going to piss down from the heavens. And anyhow, didn't really want to bump into that dirty fuck again. So like, I get me Coke and pound special, and I'm wandering around trying to eat it, but it's no use - you can't enjoy the fucking thing. Really, you have to be sitting down.

The garden's empty, not a soul. And like, I'm nearly not going in, but I'm thinking, fuck it - I been coming here yonks!

I don't sit on my usual bench, though. I headed to the ones furthest on, just at the foot of the steps to the Children of Lir statue - give me time to make a move if I see him coming. Like, just on the way out kind-of-thing.

Me head's in rag order. I'm jumpily scoffing my chips and sausage as quick as I can. Guzzling my Coke too, always glancing back towards the gates at the entrance, just in case. Christ, even up the other way towards the statue, and sure that's a dead end.

I'm looking at the statue then: the transformation of four children into swans, from Irish history, or mythology, or something. Sounds nice, but I think the kids are stuck that way for nine hundred years before the change back into humans. Of course, they're ancient and decrepit then, and like snuff it pretty much immediately. Or something to that effect, in anyway. Typical!

And I'm staring at my Coke bottle then. There was fuck-all left. Shite, I'm saying to myself, I'll have to fork out for another.

I'm not listening, of course. Too busy lifting the bottle up close to my face, forcing my vision through the label, just to see exactly what damage there was. When I look round again it's too late.

'Ah, back again, I see.'

He had this broad smile on his face, a plastic bag in his hand, and plonked himself down beside me like it was an inevitable progression of his step. Me, I couldn't seem to move.

'So, anyone on the mat yet,' he asked.

'No mat!' I shrugged.

'Never mind,' he said, handing me the bag. 'Got you something.'

'A plastic bag,' I smiled sourly. 'Very nice! Now I've something to put things in.'

'No,' he laughed, and shifted uneasily on the bench, 'in the bag...'

It was a video, previously viewed, ex-rental.

'Uh, thanks very much,' I said. 'What's this for?'

'Ah, nothing really. I know you like action movies.'

He's leaning forward on his knees then, rubbing his hands together like he's cold or something. His foot's goin' ninety at the ground again, this constant twitching tap - like a blinking eye, except in his foot.

'Never seen this one,' I nodded, sussing out the details on the back of the video box. 'Any good?'

'Oh yeah, just as good as the first,' he says.

'Now there was a film,' says me.

'Oh, you liked the first? Must keep an eye out for that one for you.'

'Really?' I says. 'Janey, that'd be great.'

A silence descended, and the aul-fella just sat there fidgeting, rubbing his hands together in slippery prayer. I wanted to go, but I just didn't seem to know how to make the break.

'Do you ever play with yourself,' he suddenly asked. (He was staring at the palm of his left hand with this mad preoccupied glare, but I deduced that the question was in fact meant for me.)

'What?' I laughed feebly.

'Does it ever go hard?' he whispered, his desperate eyes fleetingly turned towards me. 'Your penis.'

'Uh, yeah, sometimes,' I gulped, and I'm sort of planking it then.

'Ah, I'd say you do! With thighs like that sure you'd have to, wouldn't you?'

And his hand was on my left thigh, just stationary at first, then slipping down my inside-leg in circular motion. His little finger kept jutting out and nudging my balls. I could feel it through my jeans.

'Looks like rain,' I says.

I gaped at the sky a moment, concentrating on the wide expanse that I might somehow lose myself in it. Like, oblivion would be nice. Oblivion and collapse upwards.

And his hand was at my groin. He was squeezing the fold in my jeans that buckled every time I sat down. He had it between fingers and thumb, and glanced at me each time he gave a little pinch. I don't know, he must have thought he had something else.

It didn't matter. I felt myself grow hard.

'Looks like rain,' I repeated, again diverting my gaze elsewhere.

I heard my fly gradually pulled down. It sounded like a stifled fart grudgingly released. I almost laugh at the thought. But his hand is in my underpants then, his arm reaching in like a soft JCB. He cups my balls first, squashing my mickie against them, then slowly dragged his hand back out. My mickie comes with it.

The cold air is almost soothing.

I'm well hard then, and the aul-fella grasps my erection, lightly at first, then with a stronger grip as he begins his sweaty tugs. They're slow to start, then settle to a firm pumping rhythm. The rub of the zip is sharp against me, but it's sort of nice. I'm startled though by the sight of my mickie a second. I almost pull back in horror - my knob for the first time slightly protruding. It's like an open wound, something internal. Had he hurt me? No, everything was fine. I was a good boy.

'That's a good boy,' he says, smiling at me.

I met his gaze an instant. He looked kind of sad. And I don't want to think about him. I seemed to be frozen in a moment or something, shoving my mind elsewhere. Thinking anything but him. Thinking, I don't know - my life. All this stuff that happens, for the best. Like getting up, or putting down the budgie. Twelve gauge, one shot. Burial just seems silly then. All the best, Joe. The best.

And there's this feeling of acceleration then, a rush of warm glow. And for a split second I know what's happening: a bone grinding over a cog of soap, or sliding against it. Frothed suds. And there's something wet and hot slipping down my penis, over yer man's hand.

'Cum,' I gasped, wide-eyed. 'It's mine.'

He gently wiped me off with a tissue. Tucked me in.

'There,' he said, 'all set now. All set for the cinema.'

I briefly rubbed my nose, and scratched the side of my head. The fucker just sat there and watched me a while. Don't know what the hell he was up to, but when I met his gaze again, it seemed like I just had to cry. I didn't.

'I've to bring back my bum,' he said softly. 'It's got a crack in it.'

Things were silent then. I could almost hear the flap of stone wings.

He chuckled nervously a time, rocking back and forth a bit, his hands slipping up and down his own thighs for a change.

'So, what you going to see,' he asked. 'Another action film?'

'Dunno,' I hummed.

He touched the side of my head. I pulled away and quickly converted a sob to a sniffle. It sounded like a collision of bubbles in my nose.

'Well, I'll work on that video for you. Probably have it next week if I see you.'

'Yeah,' I muttered.

He's gone ten minutes and it lashes down. I could still smell the beer and the Old Spice, and the scented page I had ripped from one of the glossy magazines from which my sister had torn the covers and sneaked home. It was down my vest - a sample advertisement for Fahrenheit.

I felt sick. Wet too, soaked to the skin. And I was thinking about Jay then, with that sleeping man on the bus, suddenly hoping he was all right. Jay, not the man.

And it was pissing down like mad. Unfamiliar clouds so massive it was impossible to see the floated blue.



















The Voice From Out The Darkness


Destroy all earwigs, they are evil, they must die. At least that's what Nana O'Glover always maintained. Beetles were fine, the spider your friend, but earwigs: they were the devil in disguise. You see one you kill the little cunt! People in town with umbrellas too.

That's what Nana O' used always say, and more fool he, young Gilbert O' always listened.

Now Gilbert O'Glover was never the sort to cross another. Mild of temper he was, and more likely to tolerate those who vexed him than go out of his way to be with a kindly soul. He could always be relied upon for overtime too, never seemed to say no. Sad fucker really: existing on the fringes of society, it was as if he hadn't a leg to stand on.

But in truth, Gilbert was a bastard, and Nana O' never forgave her daughter for birthing the bastard, nor dying while doing so. Neither did she think Gilbert the offspring of a woman who fell asleep in the sun; she was not naive. Nana O' knew there were times for myth and folklore, and then there were times for harsh realities. This, Gilbert didn't know; a childhood distraction had quietly but methodically removed his power of discernment.

And so it was, as one would expect, that Gilbert O' was never easy under the apple bough, his misguided youth spent traipsing through graveyards in search of a buried candle, or throdding enough earwigs to roof a four bedroom semi-detached.

Gilb, you little bastard, Nana O' would often snarl. Sure as Oisin fell from his steed in Glenasmole, a curse on you has been put!

Gilbert was an ugly fuck all right, but that this be the result of some half-baked curse could not be proved. Nana O' seemed convinced though: it was common knowledge that to bury a candle in a graveyard while cursing a victim resulted in misfortune or mishap for the recipient. But that it could prompt Gilbert O' to reach adulthood with hordes of acquaintances, but no friends, was another matter. It seemed unlikely, for who could say what patterned Gilbert's life most: the actual alleged curse, or simply the thought that such a curse existed.

It didn't matter, Gilbert O'Glover lacked confidence in altruism-induced measure, hating himself, and subsequently disliking others. And if every tick of his childhood clock had been spent in pursuance of some buried candle, by age twenty-five he was resigned to his lot, unsure anyway if, as the antidote required, he could actually eat the fucking thing when found.

In any case, Nana O' sensibly reasoned, Tallaght itself is one giant graveyard, taking its name from Taimhleacht, meaning 'plague grave'. The bloomin' candle could be anywhere!

The thought of nine thousand victims of the Black Death interred beneath his feet helped Gilbert sleep nights, but he remained uneasy with life, unsure of anything but his want of happiness.

It came as little surprise then that Gilbert O' fell into bad ways, caring for nothing but the gulp of alcohol, the mind-yank of mad substances and head-fill of blow. Night after night was spent gallivanting in drunken stupor, in drug-buzz pub-crawls about Tallaght village, just one step beyond a warm vomit-trail.

On one such occasion, far into the night, an awkward stumble saw Gilbert O' separated from his laddish company: the journey from the Foxes Covert to the Dragon Inn had not gone to plan, and to his blunt surprise Gilbert found himself wandering the grounds of St. Mary's Priory, unable to pick his way through the darkness with flootered vision. He sat down for some blurred contemplation, when from out the darkness came a small voice:

Why so unhappy, Gilbert O'Glover?

Too stoned to be startled, Gilbert offered polite but slurred reply: Suh-noppy besod ah dugly, he mumbled. (I am unhappy because I am ugly, was his reply).

The voice came again: Is that so? And if the lassies were attracted to you in spite of this ugliness, would this unhappiness remain?

Gilbert paused a moment, then shook his head solemnly at the darkness.

Well then, the voice said, I must help you find a woman. Then perhaps in return you could see your way to doing a little favour for me?

Gilbert nodded with resigned reluctance, and the small voice bade him go about his business as usual. And return here to me again, the voice directed. Same time on the morrow, and we shall see about your woman.

Now, no girl had ever given Gilbert O' the twinkle of her eye. Not that he'd ever asked for it, mind. He certainly wasn't one for conventional approach: never had he given Nana's advice time to get old before it was followed...

For concoction of a love potion, of sorts, he had unsuccessfully tried to first find, then pluck, two white hairs from the tail of a black cat. He had held a sprig of mint in his hand 'til it became limp, but then couldn't conceive of any credible reason to hold the prospective victim's hand in complete silence for ten minutes; what would he say? Worse still, he toiled in vain to have his desired lass eat bread given voluntarily by a married couple that had the same name before marriage. (Nana O' later confessed that this was not, as she had first related, a method of prompting love in another, but in fact a dubious cure for whooping cough. Attempts to procure a bottle of Rohypnol by way of sarcastic apology failed dismally.)

However, these past shortcomings would be scraped clean from Gilbert O' with the intervention of the little people, for he felt sure that it was one of these fairy folk who had spoken to him in the grounds of the Priory that night. There would be a price to pay; this he knew; a favour to return - but be that the soul from his very gut, Gilbert O' was determined that he should have himself a woman.

And so it was with a bubbling anticipation that Gilbert O'Glover went about his business the next day, urging the clock hands to wave the day good-bye. And sure enough, night fell as the stubborn day grudgingly wore out.

The few scoops downed with adrenal-powered ease, a well-dressed Gilbert, awash with Old Spice, made his way to the Priory grounds, his footing more stable than the previous night's prolonged collapse.

Are you there? Gilbert whispered as he wandered deeper into the stirring black of the grounds, leaving the main street behind. Have you come back to me?

And sure enough, just as happened the night before, from out the darkness comes the small voice: Back indeed I am, Gilbert O'Glover.

And a woman, Gilbert blurts. Have you brought me a woman?

No I have not, the voice from out the dark says. Would I be right in thinking that it is not so much the love of a woman that you crave, as a really good fuck?

Momentarily stunned by the candour of what the voice had said, Gilbert O' scratched his head and thought for a second. I don't know, he muttered, maybe a bit of a muff-dive wouldn't go amiss; something prick-related even. The only time I've been between a woman's legs I was covered in after-birth.

Feebly laughing, he continued: To be honest with you, I don't really know exactly what being loved entails. I suppose there'd be responsibilities, commitments of sorts; a change in routine...

Gilbert O' coughed a hollow cough into his fist. I guess it'd be easier, he whispered, if the girl was just indifferent.

I see, said the small voice. Well then, go to the main street and choose your woman, then return here with her and I will work my magic.

A scratch of the head again, Gilbert O' looked puzzled. Bring her back here? But how am I -

Just go, the voice replied. Remember my magic.

Gilbert remained in the shadows on the fringe of the Priory grounds, watching. Slappers came and went, flitting from pub to taxi, stumbling home on the arm of their lovers; so many shaggables spoken for.

But there was one, Gilbert could see her approach from the direction of the Dragon Inn: fishnet tights, black mini, broad hips and strong legs. Alone. He could drag her in through the gate as she passed and no one would be any the wiser.

Gilbert O' rushed to the gate, penis stirring in his pants; her hot nipple pressed to his mouth; his fore-finger slipped down her -

Uh, sorry, excuse me, he says. I know this sounds weird, but would you mind -

Fuck off, wanker, the girl snapped with not even a glance in Gilbert's direction. And if she'd sauntered to that spot, it was a saunter that took her beyond it too.

A wink of sleep Gilbert O' didn't have that night. Neither could he think straight in work the following day. The fucking bitch, dismissing him like that; and her nothing but the slut of a poxy slapper.

Ah yeah, and if I'd been in any way handsome, he raged.

There was nothing for it but to get this fucking cow; Gilbert knew this. He'd have her vagina pumped full of semen before the night was out. Better still: force the bitch to take it in the mouth, his sluggish prods jolting his hot fucking cum down her skinny fucking neck. His little friend cheering from the sideline: Fucking piss into the bitch, he'd cry.

Gilbert O'Glover didn't touch a drop that night in the Foxes Covert. His brooding focus saw him detached from his company, and there wasn't a raised eyebrow as he slipped away.

He stood outside the off-licence in the main street, almost directly opposite the Priory grounds, waiting, fidgeting. He glared into the darkness of the grounds. A motion in the trees settled him. A black flurry above; it looked like rain.

It didn't matter: a feigned drunken swagger to the other side of the road and Gilbert lunged at his target, grasping her about the mouth and chin, then pulling her backwards into the shadowed Priory grounds. Her flailing and muffled screams reduced to suffocated mime, Gilbert O' pressed the girl to the ground, his fingers heavy on her jaws, a knee across her abdomen. She caught him with her milky fist on the thigh.

Give it up, you fucking slag.

He focused more weight onto his knee. I'll fucking kill you! You and your wet fucking cunt up your black fucking mini!

One handed, Gilbert went for his flies with the urgency of adrenaline. His erect penis flopped out. The grounded girl whimpered, her pleading eyes turned toward his engorged member as he loomed over her, slowly releasing his hand from her mouth.

The girl was sobbing. P-please!

Gilbert's reply emerged an intense whisper: Shut the fuck up, he said. Your mouth is going to open for one fucking reason, and one fucking reason only!

He grabbed the girl by the hair with exasperated tug, and pulled her face toward his penis. But he wasn't looking; his knob brushed her cheek.

You there, little man? he says, searching the darkness with concentrated stare. This bitch is going to eat my fucking candle!

There came no reply.

Come on, little man, Gilbert urged. You there? This bitch is going to eat my fucking candle!

There was no reply, and Gilbert quickly stood off the girl, his hands limply by his sides. He searched the darkness once more, his alarmed eyes for a moment falling on the tearful girl, then back towards the darkness in imploring gaze.

Little man, he whimpered. Th-the magic.

But again there came no reply. There was just the girl on the ground; this silence you could stitch a button on, a sudden collapse inwards.



















The Time Machine


The summer that Bernard Mallon disappeared was the summer we were convinced that spiders could fly. It had something to do with floating strands of cobweb, caught on the breeze, and more frequent than jinny-joes. It was frightening stuff. In such an atmosphere of unease, it seemed only proper that there should occur something out of the ordinary.

The county council tractor hadn’t been around in ages – this certainly wasn’t the out-of-ordinary thing – and we spent hours tying traps in the long grass, then played ten minutes of mad football. There was Sully, Toe, Gaffo and me, and we were falling like Brits picked-off by Provo snipers, heavily breathing giggles as we collapsed into every stride as if it was our last.

'What time is it now,' I asked as the game-adrenaline eased and participants reluctantly stayed down with grass-burn regret that they’d worn shorts. 'I’ve to be home for dinner at one.'

Sully looked at his watch and laughed. Sap! – it was half-four.

I got lucky: there was no giving-out. Mrs Mallon was with mam. Bernard hadn’t come home from school the previous day; she wanted to know if I had any idea where he had got to. I gnawed on my thumbnail and squinted like I was thinking. Mallo was going to be famous, I thought; and rich. I knew where he’d be: old man Buntner’s basement, putting the finishing touches to the time machine he’d talked about a few days previous. The one for god’s sake I wasn’t to tell anybody about.

'Maybe he said something,' Mrs Mallon prompted. 'He didn’t say he’d planned on going to stay with his uncle or anything, did he?'

I squinted some more. I was good at this. I’d seen Toe do it so often. Toe hadn’t said much since he spent the night in a burns ward, a horrible administration mix-up some years previous that Mallo had somehow side-stepped. Toe always looked like he was thinking.

No, nothing came to mind, except for a little detail Mallo once told me: he wasn’t allowed to open the fridge too often. And an overheard detail unwittingly supplied by my mother: people see Sally Mallon, then they fix their hair. Also: I was thinking that Mallo was probably in the future by then, waiting for us to catch up on him. Our little secret. I was to be trusted.

Mrs Mallon turned to my mother and went on about how Bernard had emptied his school bag of all his copies and books on Monday night, and how she’d noticed a lot of his games and annuals missing. Even his Mr Pinkwhistle book was gone. He often buggered off to his uncle’s place without a word; she had phoned earlier, but could get no answer.

'Probably off gallivanting, the pair of them,' she said.

She’s at the front-door then with my mam when I decided to say that the previous school-day, Tuesday, was the last of term. 'We don’t do any learning that day,' I explained. 'Everybody empties their school-bags and brings in toys and games for our final day party.'

Mrs Mallon got an answer this time. When she put down the phone mam eased an arm around her shoulders and told me to go and reheat my dinner under the grill.

It was chips, beans and fish-fingers. I dried my grass burns on the heat as I waited.


My grandad thought he was out sick with his foot again. It always seemed to worsen during the summer months. He spent his time just sitting on our doorstep, offering passers-by his weather report.

'Hello. Nice day,' they’d say.

'Sure is,' he’d return. '22°. Might turn showery later, though.'

Grandad got talking to me about work, and that awful man Francis Buntner who he’d left behind with the rest of the good-for-nothings that took showers an hour before knocking-off and smoked and laughed like they were already seeing double on precarious legs; and phone-calls every hands turned. But an awful man for not buying a paper was Buntner. Each day he’d read every newspaper available in the place, though only once ever buying one himself.

'That day the lads had a bit of fun with him,' grandad said. 'Word got round that Buntner had actually brought in a paper, so one by one for the duration of the day the lads took a lend of it. Soon as one had returned the paper, another was over taking a lend of it. And so it went, until at the end of the day the thing was at last returned to Buntner’s grasp. He hadn’t even had a glimpse. I think he kind of left for home then, happy that he’d made a contribution.

'The following day he was livid. Somebody had replaced all the inside pages of his newspaper with the innards of a previous day’s paper, and he didn’t see the funny side. He was twitching and ticking all day, shouting at times, and furiously scratching his scalp.

'He left for home with a gentle head rock that day, mumbling I’m not mad. I’m not mad. I’m not mad.'

That’s good, I thought: he’s not mad.

Grandad laughed. 'Last time I saw him before my foot started playing up, one of the lads had him convinced that blancmange is a colour.'

Gaffo knocked-in on his chopper that evening. He wanted to revisit the site of his extraordinary bowel movement somewhere amid the clump of trees just off the Tallaght Town playing pitch in Dodder Valley. The previous week he’d got so nervous that during a match he had to come off on 68 minutes to have a shite.

'Come on,' he said, 'it was pure scutter, you’ve got to see it! Toe’s coming. Sully said he might; and I think Toe’s sister Niamh is coming too.'

There was no mention of Niamh’s friend Rebecca Wilson.

'Nah,' I said, 'sure it’ll be well crusted by now. And anyway, Mannix is just starting.'

'You don’t watch that shite,' he said, and pedalled away.

I moseyed off to Firhouse as Gaff disappeared round Kinsella’s corner. The river was down, so I didn’t have to walk all the way up to the Old Bawn bridge. Only thing I had to worry about were slimy rocks and nettles. And Mallo.

I wasn’t that worried about him: probably he was better off, I reckoned. Kids around him seemed already to have mapped his path. There were all these stories that just hovered about, waiting for some fool to wander into them. Buntner had a different story waiting; I would have walked into it myself, given the chance. No way was this guy mad - he’d built a time machine for god’s sake!

Still, I wanted to see for myself, to be on the safe side.

Buntner’s mansion was big, but a real dump, and in a sort of isolation that only hatching estates could interrupt, as the countryside is pushed back towards cliff’s edge, and the sea. The kind of place that would have to keep a time machine in its basement.

I was thinking of Mallo then as I approached, and how he always smelt of Life-Buoy soap and refused to go to bed because it was boring. Also, he was the only person I knew who still had his Top Trumps. It was like they were to do him into adulthood or something.

The ground dipped towards the back of the mansion and seemed to encourage closer scrutiny as it slope-sucked my momentum in the direction of a boarded-up window. This window was low: I had to lie down to peek through a small gap between boards.

Mallo was there all right. I could see him in this darkened basement, sitting with Buntner; on two car seats, atop what looked like a raised platform of gutted washing machines that gave off this subdued red glow. It looked like the time machine might just have been warming up. This was pretty impressive stuff.

A dulled bulb hung from the ceiling above the contraption. It picked out the laughing pair as Buntner cradled what looked like Mallo’s Frustration game on his lap. Mallo pressed on the pop-o-matic dice-action and Buntner let out a cheer. Mallo had barely a stitch on; he was in his undies.

'Of course!' I muttered with nodding head. 'It's so obvious: A stitch in time saves nine.'

This time travel was a tricky business.


I got back to the gang gathered on Kinsella’s corner. It looked like an impending bout of knock-dolly. Gaffo and Toe broke away on seeing me approach. There seemed not enough time for Gaff to get his words out. Even Toe seemed inclined to speak.

I’d missed the Garda. They’d been asking loads of questions. Bernard Mallon had disappeared and the Garda wanted to know if anybody knew anything.

Gaffo spoke with hushed tone: 'This is worse than when Tweekie got that new voice on Buck Rogers.'

'Were they looking for me,' I asked. 'Did they mention me at all?'

Sully stepped out from the crowd. 'What the hell would they be looking for you for?!' he said. 'You haven’t been gone that long. It’s Mallo they were after. He’s been kidnapped or something.'

I tutted really loudly. 'He hasn’t been kidnapped,' I said. 'Is that what the Garda think?'

Everybody gathered around me. Sully got sucked back into this eager crowd. They all wanted to know what I knew, exactly.

You see, Mallo sort of kept to himself: he never played marbles for keeps, or risked a football card in a game of nearest against the wall. And he kicked ball like he wanted to use both feet at the same time. It wasn’t that nobody liked him; it was just that he’d stumbled into all these stories: he still mixed-in his dinner; he had a tendency to smell his own armpit; he could do strange things with sandwich spread. Then there was those big chunks of dry skin he collected, dyed and used as goldfish food. Kids really only wanted him around because they hadn’t finished laughing at him. That’s the way I saw it, anyway.

Mallo and me went to the same school though, across the water in Firhouse. We walked there and back together, and it was during these walks that he had confided in me his secret work on the time machine, and his plan to accelerate into the future.

'I haven’t a clue where he is,' I said, and reminded everybody of the time Mallo had disappeared before. This story went: after three days his mother found him hiding under his bed with twenty-five curly-wurlies, six bottles of coke, some 2000AD comics, a torch and a fairly full potty.

I said: 'He’d probably still be there now if his mam hadn’t been alerted by the stink.'

Then Rebecca Wilson slides out from the crowd and puts a hand on my shoulder. 'Don’t mind the others,' she said. 'You can tell me if you know anything…in private!'

Her arm slipped around my waist as she coaxed me away from Kinsella’s corner. We stopped outside Rafferty’s, and she cupped her hand to my ear. 'Do you know anything?' she whispered.

I felt funny then. It sort of tickled, like a silent giggle reverberating in my brain. I cupped my hands to Rebecca’s ear. 'No,' I whispered back.

Everybody stared as she pulled away. I grabbed her shoulder and quickly cupped my hand to her ear again. 'Well, maybe,' I added, and Rebecca Wilson smiled.

By the end of the night I had been chatted-to by everybody. This story had a part for me.

There was talk of nuns’ heads on staircases, then; of windowless vans that scoured the estates for any kid out on his own; of the time we convinced Mallo that he’d need surgery after he had accidentally eaten the black stalky bit at the base of a banana; and of a twenty pounds reward for information leading to the fool’s discovery.

'How many packs of Kung-Fu and Incredible Hulk cards is that?' Gaffo exclaimed.

'It’s the whole Liverpool team, no problem,' Sully replied. 'Then you can start thinking about a couple of hundred packs of your stupid Hulk cards.'

Toe smiled and nodded. 'That’s some amount of chewing,' he said.


The next morning brought a Christmas buzz of excitement, and hyper kids way too eager to get into the new day. Gaff, Toe, and even Sully, seemed to be taking it in turns to knock-in for me. I gave Toe a lend of the ball, but the other two still knocked-in. Eventually I came out when Champion The Wonder Horse was over. (Why Don’t You was never worth staying-in for, really.)

'This is no time for telly,' Sully said, impatiently booting the ball against the front wall. 'Rebecca Wilson’s been around looking for you already. She says everybody’s going searching for backwards-Bernard this morning.'

'Has anyone checked under his bed yet,' I asked.

Sully tutted really loudly. 'Stop acting like you know something,' he said. 'Because you don’t!'

We all congregated around the block. Rebecca had it all worked out: we were to divide into pairs; the couples had already been determined. Sully bet me that I’d be going with Rebecca herself, and told me I was lucky that Kilian Kelly’s mother made him go on the Summer Project. I bet him that he’d be paired with Toe’s sister Niamh, and told him that I didn’t care who I ended up with, and that Kilian Kelly wouldn’t be able to kick me silly even if he tried.

'I better not be stuck with that fat cow,' he muttered.

Rebecca cleared her throat. 'For starters,' she announced, 'Rob, you’re with me.'

Sully mumbled Told you so as I was caught by the hand and led out of the gathering. I was kind of humming all over. Then everybody else was paired off. Gaffo got Toe – Ah, not this fool – Sully got Niamh, and another four unlikely couples were master-minded into existence. It was that episode of Sesame Street all over again for Sully: how he suffered watching Burt doing the ooh-ooh pigeon! Niamh seemed pleased enough though.

Rebecca and I veered toward the river as the others drifted off in their own directions.

'So, where we going,' I asked.

'You tell me,' she replied, and gave me this brief smile that sparked her eyes the way Wonder Woman’s sparked.

This was unknown country for me. Presumably I would be expected to string a few sentences together; keep the girl entertained. But what if she got bored? This was pressure like never before.

'I know where Bernard is,' I said. 'That’s if he’s still there now.'

This was Rebecca Wilson! Mallo would understand.

She smiled. 'I knew that you knew,' she said.

'Well I knew that you knew that I knew,' I grinned, and she laughed. Ha-ha-ha.

We’d crossed the river, negotiated the nettles – and even the dock-leaves for some reason – and were well on our way across the farmer’s field toward Firhouse Road when there comes a small yelp from behind. Rebecca and I stopped dead in our tracks. There was somebody there: somebody who wasn’t negotiating the nettles with much success.

'The farmer,' I whispered. 'I hope he doesn’t have his pellet-gun.'

Rebecca grabbed my arm. 'Don’t look back!'

Our strides lengthened, and Rebecca’s hand grew tighter around my arm. Another noise from behind, and we were running.

'Hold on, would you,' comes a voice. 'It’s only us!'

I looked back. 'I knew you’d follow us,' I shouted.

Sully and Niamh were weaving through the nettles, Niamh yelping the whole way. Rebecca laughed her head off. Ha-ha-ha.

Me and Sully were The Hardy Boys, then. Rebecca was Nancy Drew. Sull said that Niamh could be Timmy the dog.

The barn was empty, of course.

'Damn! I was sure he’d be here,' I said.



What if old man Buntner is Mallo grown up, bitter that his break-through arrived when he was ancient, and come back in time to give himself the machine at an age with the prospect of experiencing the full life-long benefits of the invention?

I had a bit of a headache the afternoon we got back from the barn. Mrs Mallon was with mam again and she got down on her hunkers and held me by both arms. 'Think, Robert,' Mrs Mallon said. 'Can you remember my Bernie saying anything to you? Anything at all? Or maybe something happened. Did something happen, Robert?'

I gnawed on my thumbnail and squinted. No, nothing happened.

'Bernard’s lid did come off his tupperware in his schoolbag,' I said. 'I think it was the day before we got off. Monday. His books were soaked.'

'Was he upset, Rob,' mam asked me. She put a hand on Mrs Mallon’s shoulder. 'Did he say anything about what he was going to do?'

'Nah. He was talking about not caring,' I mumbled, and Mrs Mallon turned to mam with these distressed eyes, then back to me again. 'He said he didn’t care, that it was only diluted orange, that it could of been worse: that it might have been Coke if he’d had a da.'

Mallo’s mam’s eyes welled up, and she pulled me close and hugged me, her hand stroking the back of my head. My nose was on her neck and I could get this warm smell, like Christmas cake mix before the fruit’s in. And true as god I nearly tell her everything.

Sully knocked-in that evening as I was having tea.

'There’s that Sullivan boy at the door, Robert,' mam said as she let the curtain drop. 'Does this mean you’re friends again?'

'I don’t know,' I said. 'I suppose. For awhile anyway.'

'What happened to Anthony? And Stella Gaffney’s boy,' she asked. 'They’re your own age.'

'Nothing happened to them,' I pussed. 'And anyway, I’m a month older than Sully!'

'Well I don’t like you hanging around with him,' she said. 'Wasn’t he the one who stole the bionic from Steve Austin’s upper arm?'

That had been years ago. Me and Sull used to pit my Steve Austin against his Action Jackson. It was a bit of a mismatch really: Austin was so much bigger. Still, we managed somehow. This was before he started messing around the place with Kilian Kelly, asking passing kids if they were looking for a fight…

'A-A fight? No,' the kids would say.

'Well you’ve come to the wrong place then,' KK would reply. (I wouldn’t mind but Sull wasn’t even a good go-er.)

I answered the door. There were six to ten baby-spits on the path at Sully's feet. They reminded me of cigarette butts in films, when an accumulation of the things suggested that the suspicious bloke in the shadows at the edge of the alley had been waiting a while.

'You heading round to Rebecca’s later?' Sully said. 'We could go looking for that retard again.'

'I don’t know,' I said. 'Gaff, Toe and me usually play commandos down the field tonight.'

Sully scowled and released this brief snigger.

'Well it’s more IRA snipers than commandos,' I assured him.

He told me that KK didn’t go with Rebecca; he’d asked her all right, but she wasn’t interested. 'Those little tits are up for grabs,' he said. 'You’d get in her pants no problem.'

'I could?'

I promised I’d call around for him in twenty minutes because mam wouldn’t let me out until I’d digested my food.

I thought about Rebecca’s pants over tea.

Anthony and Stella Gaffney’s boy were all set for commandos afterwards. 'You missed it earlier,' Gaff said, and Toe laughed quietly. 'We went looking for Mallo up at the flats and got chased by two Allers. Swear to god one of them had rabies!'

'I want to watch the second part of Shogun,' I said.

'We were stuck on a wall for half an hour,' Gaff giggled.

An Okay then, and they were gone, chuckling their heads off as they strolled into a British ambush. Bobby Sands would not go free that night.

I passed grandad in the hall, on his way to weather reports on the front step. As ever, he limped on a soggy bandage tinged with a half-hearted yellow. He leant into me as he shuffled by and I could see a dullness in his eyes that I’d not noticed before. He was concentrating.

This septic arthritis was pain that wept.


Mrs Sullivan told me that Gary had gone out already. 'If you see him,' she said, 'tell him I’ll kill him.’


I found him around the block, sitting on the wall outside Kilian Kelly’s house with Rebecca and Niamh. I’d almost turned the corner when I realised that KK was there too. I ducked.

Their voices carried from the wall, and I realised then that I had got myself too deep into a Mallo story.

'...tying traps in the grass, the retards,' Sully was saying. 'Then he tried to hump Rebecca’s leg!'

'I told him to hump off, more like,' Rebecca said. 'And I still think he knows more than he’s letting on about Bernard Mallon.'

KK spoke: 'See it made the fucking news earlier? This’ll be his third night missing: Tuesday, Wednesday, and now Thursday fucking night too. Poor sap! The Garda were saying that there was increasing cause for concern.'

'Increasing cause for concern,' Sully laughed. 'Bet they think some fucking pervert’s got him, molesting the fuck out of him.'

'And Becky reckons that Robbie fuck-face is in on it,' KK said. 'Maybe we should help with police enquiries, interrogate the little cunt…'

'Why the fuck not?! We could have him doing time before the fucking week’s out!'

'What’s a pervert,' Niamh asked, and Rebecca let out this abrupt laugh. Ha-ha.

I had to get back to Buntner’s place, pronto. I was hoping the time machine had worked and that Mallo was in the future then, reunited with his mother, and front-page news of every paper in the world. And even if he wasn’t, I thought, this six o’clock news report: he’s famous enough as it is. The last thing I wanted was for one of these pervert people to get their hands on him and be molesting the fuck out of him. It didn’t sound the best.

I practically ran the whole way. Nearly slipped in the river. I didn’t care. And anyway, a person whose laugh you can spell is not to be trusted; that’s what my mam says, anyway.

Everything drained into the boarded up window. I sat down beside it, hugging my legs with my arms, momentarily evading the roll, rocking a little.

Once when making a goal with some leftover planks from Halloween, Gaffo suggested that we erect the crossbar first. And he was deadly serious too; though later, when the verbal abuse subsided, claimed that he’d just been messing.

I let my legs go and tumbled onto my side.

My mother has some words that aren’t in the dictionary. Haw is one. Derived from the sound one’s mouth makes, this is the act of breathing onto a window-pane, and also the resultant clouded residue of breath left on this pane. Slawm is another. This is the act of running one’s fingers through the aforementioned haw, and also the resultant grubby marks left on the pane when this slawmed haw dries.

I slid to the window, peeked in. There was nobody there. The light was off, and no glow from the machine was visible.

They’d done it. They’d only just gone and travelled into the future. Yes, that was it. Of course that was it! Mallo was going to be famous, and rich. Rich and famous! He’d be able to get rid of his Tric-trac and buy that Scalectrix instead. Hell, he could buy a real car if he wanted! Everything would be fine.

I thought it was best to let his mam know, now that the experiment had been a success. I ran the whole way back; red blotched legs from the nettles, feet soaked from the river. I was desperate for her to know. I had to tell her as soon as possible. I ran so hard I thought I could taste blood in my mouth. The full story; she had to know it. Now! I dropped in with the good news immediately.

The Garda weren’t long in arriving.


It looked like a grushie crowd at Mrs Mallon’s gate. These kids scavenged on rumour instead of flung coppers, and fixed their stares on me as if I glided down the path in bridal gown, or in cuffs and matching ball and chain.

'What’s the story, Robbie?'

'Is he going to prison?'

'Rob, can I have your gullies?'

Garda Fergal had his hand to my shoulder, directing me to the front squad car. The back door flew open and I climbed-in beside a second Garda. No sooner had Garda Fergal followed me in and we were off. I was being driven further into the story, toward some grand ending: Mallo would return with a hairy sea creature, not from the future, but the past, and express surprise that the Garda had receding hair lines. He’d fall to the ground screaming, What have I done? What have I done??

I glanced back to see Mrs Mallon escorted into the second car, and caught a glimpse of Rebecca standing at the gate as Sully and KK animatedly wove their tangled web of explanation for the gathered crowd. She sort of waved half-heartedly, her gesture drifting into a gentle drag back of hair from her forehead.

We passed the commando field on the way. Gaff and Toe had done well: the bodies were piling up. I secretly saluted them as we passed. Thousands had fallen.

'So what does this time-machine look like,' Garda Fergal asked as he nudged me in the shoulder.

'Oh it’s mad it is,' I said, scratching the nettle rash on my thigh, briefly contemplating a night in Toe’s burns ward. 'It sort of glows.'

'I see,' he said. 'And you say it’s gone now, huh? No sign at all of it or its two occupants last time you were at this house, no?'

I thought hard for a second. I wasn’t going to cry. 'No, it was there,' I mumbled, 'but…but Bernard, he was gone. And…and…'

And the last thing I wanted was for Mallo to have the fuck molested out of him.

'You just let us know if we’re going the wrong way, son,' the driver said, smiling at me in his mirror. 'We don’t want to go barging into the wrong house now, do we?'

We got the right house all right.

Mrs Mallon’s squad car was parked right beside my one. She must have been told to stay put, too. I wanted to see if she was happy or sad, but I just couldn’t seem to bring myself to look over at her.

My dad was convinced that Summertime and Moondance were the same song. He once bought a T-Rex EP and for three months played it at the wrong speed. When he realised his mistake he said it sounded better at the slower speed, but never played the thing again. He told me to not tell anybody about it because it was an easy way to write a new tune and he could make millions.

An ambulance quietly parked behind us.

Mallo’s offer of a swig of his lukewarm orange, when crumbs floated on top and the slight taste of bread and butter prompted a reluctant swallow.

Wherever they went, they’d left the time machine behind.


Buntner came out, his hands cuffed behind his back. Two Garda jostled him in the direction of Mrs Mallon’s squad car. She rushed past, toward the house, a mother running.

Buntner was shouting madly. 'Time is relative,' he was saying. 'Time is relative to when you look at the clock.'

I’d never seen an aul-fella in the nip before. He was the colour blancmange.

Mallo was out then, cradled in Garda Fergal’s arms. He was naked too – Mallo, not Fergal – but wrapped in Garda Fergal’s blazer. His mam ran alongside, pulling the collar tight around her son.

I could see Mallo’s shoulders shake now and then beneath the blazer. It looked like he was sobbing. But then he spied me as he passed, and the movement stopped dead.

I stood out of the squad car, clutched the door and gave him a sour smile. 'Y-You made it, then?'

'Rob, what day is it,' he pleaded. 'What day is it?'

His eyes were all blood-shot and puffy, and there was a shiny bump on his forehead. 'It’s Thursday,' I said.

'Thursday?' The blazer rose and fell again. 'But how do I get back,' he asked with sad, sobbing smile, then quickly turned his gaze away. 'How do I get back?'

A thread of cobweb brushed past my face. Caught on the warm breeze, a tiny spider clung to the end of this silken strand of web; on its way to god only knew where.


Gaff, Toe, Mallo: god only knows where!

They’re disappearing fast, our childhood haunts, and places that held our shape when little things had swollen meaning.

We're all doing time. This damned machine hums and rattles, and never rests.





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