Rain is the constant moment. It perpetuates the city streets, the alleyways, the gutters, the canals. Streaming down windows, the hiss of the few cars, the steam. Beads of rain like messages, like words from ghosts that we just couldn’t understand. Sheets of rain. Systems of rain.
A sound comes out of the night cloud, an endless patter, a spectrum of single notes that are finite each but somehow infinite altogether. Pattering, slapping, pounding, tapping, hissing, hammering, teeming, gushing, spitting, thrashing, thundering … in plastic skins, the people hold themselves tight. The dampness seeps into the bones of each citizen, into everything. The echo of water covers everything, lulls every thing.
|| ∆ ||
Dublin at that time was a city full of unhinged people, walking around talking to themselves, purling in eddies, shoals of souls in the malleable plastic shrouds they called ‘skins’, directing the low murmur of their speech into the microphones of their devices. It was as if that great rambling city intercom overhead was contagious, as if the nonsensical stream of data that flowed out into the rainy streets and dirty markets had infected the minds of its inhabitants. Slumkids prattled on to themselves as they filtered out of the rubbish what could be used or sold to the factories; administrators shuffled home from work through empty parks, muttering conversations and confrontations they wished they’d had at the office; mothers and fathers admonished long–run-away children, pleaded with lost lovers; countless messages were sent back and forth between devices.
No city like it: water filling every nook and cranny; generations deformed by every kind of badness in the water and air; the flashing blue and white and red lights of the Heavy Gang motors passing periodically the window of his drizzled vision and the myriad stories he kept shoring up against his own life, and the calls of street vendors came to him through the steady hiss of the rain, and the distant rambling of the intercom, and the cacophony of droplets on the skins of the citizens of that drowning city, in all its squalor and petty efforts. Blurred vision and pain and sweat falling in waves: this was the city in the days in which O’ Casey crossed it, stopping on a bridge to be sick in the oily Liffee, to say, /Ta fukk/
To say, /Where is that kid and what has he been up to?/
Who knows how O’ Casey had spent his life so far, what cruel bouts he had endured under the shimmering rain of this fallen city, propelling himself forward on short, powerful legs, feet that had fallen upon ten thousand pavements and gangways, that kicked out, thrust onwards … he who had to this point been years following the trivial stories—the seagull thieves, the inland ark cults.
/Immaculate conception me fukken hole!/ he cursed aloud. /The grape’s the reason for it I bet!/
Saying again, /How will I learn the story of this kid?/
He keyed the door next to the back entrance to the Pup&Pendant, where he dared not drink, and hands and feet he ascended from the depths of the dark doorway to the top of the stairs, bawling at the mouldwet walls, stories of the past bobbing across his mind, stories of crashed rivertrucks at the Liffee Barrier, of thirty thousand animals drowndead in a Connacht island storm, of a slug that could be trained, of a statue in Dingel that promised an end to the rain, of the punishing revenge fires of the vigilante Depaul.
Dark folds and damp smell of his chamber, lit by the singular bulb. He sat over the ledger, held upon the piece of reclaimed car bonnet that he used as a knee-desk. He reviewed some pages: when would he add the boy? Then through the warped wooden floorboards of his chamber, beneath the groaning bed, the flimsy chest of drawers, the washbasin, O’ Casey undertook the habitual and deliberate act of listening.
Up through a hole—there behind the pedestal of the washbasin, the size of a wine bottle’s base—came the click and muted thud of a billiards game. It was there, he had discovered over time, that the Earlie Boys played and planned and boasted of their feats. It was there that he had first discovered a whole anthology of death, and began to count, and record.
/I threw it over him/ the one called Crooner Bart, or the Bard, once said. /Bopped the empty glass off his noggin, held his head back by the hair and gutted him like a mackerel …
/He pulled the stout straight and I said to him, I seen you pull that straight and if you put it up here in front of me I’ll throw the fukken thing over you. I just serves the drink, the cunt says. So he puts it up on the counter in front of me and I throw the fukken thing over his head/
/And you stiffened him, Barty boy?/
They all had names like Rice, and Mike the Hat, and Holloway, and the Spanyard. Stupid Irish nicknames.
/Did/ Bart would say. /And so I up and fukked off out of it. Up the road in a gusher, laughing me fukken hole off. Next thing I know am gone a mile the wrong way. Am standing on some backwater canal looking at a riverbus to Gra-fukken-hán!/
And the neat stamp of pint glasses on the counter would march along their roars and the walls and upwards to the straining ear of the reporter in his room above, where he sat against the end of the bed. He heard it all with fascination etched across the shape of his bulging eyes and lips, and each crime he noted down carefully for further investigation, his lexicon unique and coded.
And then at some point on these nights the Earlie King himself might come in, from training horses or meeting men.
/Get me whiskey!/ he’d cry. /Give me a beer!/
And they’d cheer him always when he came in roaring that.
|| ∆ ||
Bit From The Play / ACT The First, SCENE 2
The lounge of the Pup&Pendant pub: dim, lit by overhead lamps which hang from steel pipes. The mantelpiece is an altar of collected objects, maintained by the Earlie Boys, and at the centre of the idolatry and iconography sits a skull, which radiates pink neon … A plooping rain can be heard beyond the walls, and at the start of the scene the HOURLY BELL is ringing. Every few beats the distorted voice of the intercom announcer rambles distantly, indecipherable, ignored by the PERSONS IN THE PLAY. SISSY and KER sit alone in the lounge at lights up, alongside each other at the counter, drinking pints of porter, and, amidst the soft pipechant of unseen pints being pulled, there is talk of a ferrybus scam.
SISSY. What they’re doing is they’re turning up twenty minutes before the actual ferryboat for that hour is due.
KER. As per timetable?
SISSY. Oh, of course.
KER. What do you mean, of course? How was that obvious from what you said?
SISSY. Right. Let me restart and be clear and transparent with you from the get-go. Let there be no confusion or murky areas in what am saying. [aside, ‘Eejit.’] They obtain the timetable, or schedule if you’re linguistically agile, for said journey. They then note pick-up times from the departure point, which has already been discussed and revealed, and which, for reasons of confidentiality, will not be repeated here now. Comprende?
SISSY. They then use the timetable, or schedule, of said official operator and arrive twenty minutes before the scheduled, or timetabled, departure time. In this case, that departure time is on the hour, every second hour from 4 a.m.
KER. As in, four, six, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen hundred, sixteen hundred, eighteen hundred, twenty hundred, twenty-two hundred and midnight?
SISSY. Are a clever mark.
KER. Thank you. Gracias.
SISSY. They use an unmarked ferrybus, as in no official logos and cetera. They do not advertise anywhere the destination of the vehicle. With me?
KER. Oui. Right alongside you.
SISSY. They work in pairs. One drives, one stands ashore of the ferrybus and calls out the destination and the fare.
KER. One hawks the wares, the other delivers the product.
KER. Claro. Do they undercut pricewise?
SISSY. But no. The very thing they are doing is pretending that they themselves are offering the timetabled service. No need then to undercut, because are not the competition.
KER. Cash payments only, I presume?
SISSY. Your mind is evolving at a furious pace, and you are indeed correct again. What they do is add to their destination call the words ‘CASH ONLY …’. If pushed for an explanation, they divulge to the astute customer that are in fact the ‘overflow service’, as this is a fully booked service and a second vessel is needed for customers without a reservation. For this reason, they can turn away people with legitimate bookings, and therefore no cash, and take turn-up customers on a cash-only basis. Voila.
SISSY. So now what are the pitfalls of these gentlemen’s illegal endeavour? They seem to have advanced a pretty strong business case and modus operandi, no?
KER. Are not wrong. But there are other considerations. For example, how many citizens in today’s world are more than ten minutes earlie for their ferrybus?
SISSY. A fair point. A few but not enough for huge profit.
KER. And there is the matter of insurance. Now of course all buses have insurance.
SISSY. And of course it is illegal to so much as start an engine without such insurance in place.
KER. Indeed. But if you are to pick up passengers illegally, are you insured to carry them?
SISSY. Are not, is the answer I would venture.
KER. Only last week, I observed in passing a national-service ferrybus in flames on the river.
SISSY. Christ, I heard about that! At Georgie’s Quay. People were hurt.
KER. All twenty-one passengers died, their lives all cleared out of existence by flame. Eighty per cent of the crew also, eaten whole by fire. Only the captain of the vessel survived, and he is but crackled bacon in a hospital ward somewhere now.
SISSY. Was it Vinny Depaul setting fires again? Thought he only burned the oppressors of the poor? Surely was clean ordinary folk on board?
KER. Wasn’t Vincent Depaul. Always claims his doings …
SISSY. And what was your role? Did you call emergency men?
KER. My role was to pass by in a hurry, stopping only for a moment to observe the hideous beauty of it. Was late for a very important … thing … But you are missing the point.
SISSY. Which is?
KER. Insurance. That vessel was an official, above-water business; thusly, all lives and losses were financially covered and therefore compensation is redeemable … But if the action of carrying said passengers was illegal—a scam say—and therefore technically uninsured … Well, you can estimate for yourself the value of twenty-five bona fide citizen lives …
They sup from their pints and take stock. There is a rhythm to their drinking.
|| ∆ ||
Wears a long coat and black boots, and maybe a hat above his collar. Maybe a fedora, maybe a bowler. Or, he wears no coat and goes barefoot, and his feet are dead animals washed up and his hands are vise-grips and his blood is slick oil. He is both hairy and scaly. He is made of a complex plastic. He can’t ever think straight.
For every man, woman and child exercising pain in a kitchen or a bedroom or an alley or a pub, he is on the other side of the window, watching. He is delighted! Whether it is the vigilante Vincent Depaul setting fires for the poor, or a heavy’s boot on a pickpocket’s head, or a girl dragged down by a slipway, he is dancing a jig in the shadows of that place!
But they don’t see him; shadows are all that they see.
See him now at the window! Watching in the house the midwife and the girl and the mother. Hear the screaming! Is the screaming that brings him into the room, grinning with glee. Big yellow horse’s teeth in that grin. Two lamps are lit, and the single bed of that girl’s childhood is ruined by sweat and blood and mucus and muck. The mother stands back, her hand on her mouth. The girl screams, as if the other child, the child within her, is eating her from the inside out. The midwife, a gangly string of misery, stoops to her work, knowing that she too is helpless. Then Mister Violence decides he has seen enough, and takes over.
/Will bring in that child!/ he laughs, and his laughter is sirens wailing.
He removes his hat to reveal his neon skull. Then he is the midwife, and he bends to the work, ripping out the child from within, tearing skin with surgical fingers, blood flowing as life drains from one and fills the other.
Mister Violence holds the baby aloft for the King, who arrives dumbly, thinking it is over.
The babba cries aloud and reaches out.
|| ∆ ||
The kid in yellow rubbed the shine of his pantalones, his legs being cold. In the afternoon of a day which he would not remember he was woken by the hourly bell. The sound of his brother shooting returned him to the world of the flat, all drip and drop and flow and splatter and bedroom gunfire and pitterpatter. And cursing and quiet: dreadful quiet of no mother to say STOP THAT NOW and no father to say COME HERE. Dreadful quiet yes.
/Tommib/ he said. /Tommib and silence and rain and violence/
/Never even got to say goodbye/ he heard himself say. /Or yoo-hoo/
Fire, he longed for fire. And he saw the rain too, from the fire escape door as he lay on his sofa, rain falling night and day, and he imagined some dark heaven above it.
/Tommib/ he said. /Tommib and fire and tall mossy spire/
He pushed off the couch.
To the brother: /Am going out/
From the brother: no response.
To the brother: /Want anything?/
The brother grunted no, lost to the world of a game where he murdered scores.
From the twenty-sixth floor of the Croke Park Flats he was carried down. Words were graffiti-written up and down the broken mirrors. what you tinkin, he read. The King’s Eye, he saw. And his message to T. And the promise of Vinny Depaul to burn the oppressors of the poor. And the slogans of the politicians, and all the other words people used to say something.
It was a glittery drizzle that day, rain sparkling, sticking to the buildings and the boats. From the entrance to the flats he took the network of alleyways, the alleys being narrow and waterlogged and lined often enough with people nearly dying from Fadinhead. That day though they were quiet. He saw only two boys in close against the fence, holding each other. They were without skins so that the rain ran down their shaven heads and soaked their underclothes. He gave them a wide berth, but they were shivering and crying out their last and didn’t even notice him.
At the end of the alleys was the canal, and the stables where he kept Honest John. At the stables there was only the old buck, with the long grey ponytail and the moustache. They’d seen each other most days for two years without ever knowing each other’s names.
/Help thee, lad?/ the old buck asked as he swept water towards the perimeter drain.
/Collecting John is all/ the kid said.
The buck followed the work of his brush. /Sound/
A lovely calm animal, Honest John showed no pleasure at seeing the kid. The pony watched the horizon instead, with eternal patience, dull lids drooping over chestnut eyes, tail flicking at chubby flanks.
They left the yard together side by side, connected to each other by a length of cable that the kid held. He never got up on the pony, he didn’t think that was right. The way he saw it, if horses and ponies were meant to be ridden they’d have been born with saddles on their backs. Of course people mocked him for that, but, yes, he walked Honest John like a dog of old, and had found that him and John walked at the same pace, and were interested in stopping to look at the same flowers and the same canal vessels.
Pony and kid had each other two years. The kid had bought the animal with money made from running for the Earlie King. In the pub too they gave him tithes for doing their bets. They slipped him grade if he spiked drinks for them. Two years, but when you see someone every day for two years it does not feel like you have known them only two years. It feels like whole lifetimes you’ve spent together.
The canal beyond the stables led to the river, and they walked in that direction.
/See, the world is full of other yous/ the kid was telling John. /Is full of people who are just like you but somehow different. They may look different; they may sound different. They may have different favourites; they may have different mammies, or memories, or names. But something in them will be the same as in you. Something in them will reflect in you as with a mirror. You and me are like mirrors of each other, for example. And, somehow, me and the King are like mirrors of each other too/
Honest John stopped to pinch a mouthful of canalweed for himself.
As they walked the riverbank walls he plotted and spun plans but found himself down dead-end alleys with each idea. He alone was responsible. Anger grew and faded. He felt lost. He tired himself thinking about T and the babba.
/Tourists came to Dublin once. Ebb and flow and whack on the bonce!/
/Tommib and weft and warp and sea. Be the thing you want to be!/
The rain began to come down heavier, hurling itself against the river, but they kept on at their own pace. Rickshaw amphibians stopped on the path, ringing bells and shouting slogans, and gondoliers called destination prices from the water. The road and the river were busy, but it seemed like the kid and Honest John were the only ones out walking. They were fine on their own, walking.
The city intercom relayed advertisements and statistics to the unhearing people. The lashing went on and the lights came on strong. The kid began to feel the mystery of the rain. Coming along by the city buildings he wanted to get lost in them.
/You ever wonder, John, are the buildings sleeping? And are all the people going around in them the buildings’ dreams of people?/
He wanted to be inside one of those buildings, inside one of those dreams. He wanted to be just a normal office worker in a shirt and tie, walking corridors and chatting nice to people under bright lights. To be older. A grown-up. A father, with T his wife. To see everything in one straight line. But the way it all happened it was like he was treading water in the night, in the windy rainy sea, and he was drunk, and he didn’t know which way was land and which hole piss came out of. Panic and sadness grew and faded, grew and faded. Anger flashed and disappeared. What could he do? He could not do what she had asked.
Traffic lights, shining cobblestones, the whale song of drones and overpasses. Yellow lines, leaking sewers. Fuming vents. Into the city building streets walked the kid and Honest John, the two of them streaming. The city was a steaming mess of steel and glass. Yellowblack. The TeleVisio said that Vikings came down that river once and built a town of wood on its banks, and the sun shone through the rain and blonded their hair for them, and if you dug down far enough into the river now, through the oil slicks and petroleum clouds, through the mutie fishbones and old boats and trolleys and tyres, you would find the wood of that city they built, even now. He wanted so badly to understand the world, but all he had was confusion and numbness and boredom and anger. He felt nothing good could come of his life. The Earlie King. Honest John. T, the babba. Crooner Bart. Brick. Perspex. Fountains in the rain. His brother on the computer, shooting. The wet walls of the flat. The leaking, creaking dockyards. He tried to piece it all together like a story but he was still lost. On a deserted pavement he picked a chunk of concrete from the ground and hurled it through a building window, and the banshee wail of the alarm chased them down the road, Honest John trotting along with him, with the same look of eternal patience in his chestnut eyes.
|| ∆ ||
Later, as O’ Casey drank in another place, in the company of a group of sailors—hairy, slimywet apparitions, yelling at each other to heave aweigh, singing, falling forwards onto him at the table where he had decided to rest his head on crossed forearms, where he heard above him glass clinking and bawling and stamping and clapping like some kind of demented jazz in the kaleidoscope of the light—he thought of the kid, a fist of yellow, a blur in the rainworld. This boy would die at the hands of the King. No doubt. Would be the youngest on the ledger. Up in the Croke Park flats—that slum on rungs—they’d find him, spraying messages to ‘T’ mayhap, and they’d haul him away. They’d get him in a boot or a riverbag and they’d take him to one of the yards they used—above ground or below—where, surrounded perhaps by defunct, crash-landed satellites, he would join all the other ghosts of that city. And O’ Casey would find out about it, and the thought would occur to him then that really none of it mattered, that these were all just passing beads of water, lost in rain, and that a whole life could be reduced to a moment’s downpour, noticed by no one, and reduced entirely then, disappeared into nothing in one maddening view of the sea, that which drowned all words, and he’d need a drink then, and yet here he was, drinking, and the sailors all roaring around him, /Water, water! Get your duds in order! Heave away, me jollies, heave aweigh!/
|| ∆ ||
You know I remember O’ Casey vividly. What brought us together then was the boy, and mayhap more so than that the Earlie Boys, for they were the cause of everything here. You see the country then was oxter deep in black market activity. The Earlie Boys moved pharm, dolls, organs, clones—you name it—to port and to starboard. They washed money to port and to starboard. And we were understaffed, under-gunned, under-everythinged. But maybe that’s an excuse.
Let me tell you about our country. When people accepted that it would never stop raining, we weren’t long losing farming. And the same thing happened with fishing when the seas around us became too acidic and what was left of the catch turned hard and mutie, and again when automation took hold. Then, like a bad joke, or a tragedy, the New Labour Laws were written, and the factories that were left became unregulated hellholes. Old culchies and teenage jacks alike wandered into industrial estates looking for a start and were never seen again. Things got very bad. That was when vigilantes like Saint Vincent Depaul started to burn things up. And the whole thing crescendoed. The cities festered; the suburbs drowned; the countryside changed forever—no longer farmland but marsh, swamp, fen, fish farm, labs and compounds on concrete stands in the mangroves. The first Irish pink dolphins were discovered in the Boyle, the first green dolphins in the Lee. These were scientific triumphs until it was discovered that the animals were deaf, tormented animals. I remember my father telling me all this, and mayhap his father told him, or lived it, I don’t remember. All these stories are ghost stories now.
See—every culture has its myths and Ireland was no different. They say that she was won over from the Tuatha Dé Danaan by the warrior-poet Amhairgin. Sent out over nine waves, Amhairgin invoked the whole country with a poem. He was the seawave, and that was the start of Ireland.
Then they say that Ireland was lost to fire, to digital collapse and environmental drowning. The culprits this time were the Earlie King and the kid in yellow. They say that the kid stole the cure for the rain from the King, and that the King and his men pursued the kid across a drenched land. This is what they say.
|| ∆ ||
Enjoyed This Extract?
If you're interested in reading more from this issue, including non-fiction, fiction, and poetry, you can purchase an issue here.