Austin stopped for a minute on the bridge to finish off the rest of the can, and rested one elbow on the parapet above the miniature rapids of the Garavogue, his eyes, instead of looking down onto the water as he’d intended, straying to and staying on the warped monument to Yeats outside the Ulster Bank across the way. Back against his squeezed-up shoulder he leaned, feeling his lips against the tepid tin widen in a small smile as the last of the beer trickled between them. He shivered a little, though the night seemed closer than ever, and quieter suddenly also, though the fiddled music from the Swan flowed with zestless insistence and mingled with the mildly querulous swoosh of the river below him. The sound of human voices was at this moment absent, though, and in the absence of others he heard his own words deadened to a hollowed monotone by the opening of the can at his mouth. Lowering the can he listened to himself repeat the words, remembering how Becky, from whom he’d first heard them, had first said them, for the memory of how she said them the first night they met was funnier than the words themselves, and seemed the more so now with the monument before him. Then for the first time in a long time he thought of how that first night they’d kissed before they left Hennigan’s after he’d listened to her for a while chatting to him about some things she’d on her, a mauve cloth with navy ink stains wound around the top of her head, the glasses with big frames she called tortoiseshell, the piece of cockle shell on thin twine around her neck. He remembered thinking how she tasted the same way that in his childhood memory Brid’s lipstick smelled, in the pub and as well when they stopped and shifted again for a few minutes under the Wank at the Bank, and again he smiled at the way she’d said this nickname with her tongue darting out of the corners of her mouth which he’d yet to learn was a habit of hers. When she’d sat and bent over under the upraised fingers and flared bronze body of the monument with one fat-ringed finger poking down the side of one of the Docs she was breaking in so she could get at and stroke a sore part of her ankle at the same time as she squeezed her eyes behind her specs to read out the bits of poems gouged in the bronze feet beside her he had stood with his hands in his pockets and looked at her thinking I could be with her and standing against the cold stone now with the Bank and the statue in front of him he remembered also for the first time in a long time that as he looked at her she looked up from the metal feet and beyond him with her finger still working its way down the inside of her boot and nodding her head forward said without surprise Look at the fox, and when he turned there it was, beautiful although skin and bone nearly, coming out of the shadow of Holborn Street at a quick self-conscious trot and skulking close to the sides of parked cars along the quiet road into Stephen Street with its tail drooping well down. The poor thing, it’s only a young one, said Becky, and Good man yerself she’d called after him when he’d followed it and she laughingly called Good man a few more times without budging from the base of Yeats as he, getting more and more concerned, spent ages trying to get in front of it to bar it from going up the Mall where it’d be killed for sure on the road and drive it back the way it came, back over Forte Hill into the fields around St Joseph’s and off into safe open country again. But instead it’d stopped to stare at him wild-eyed with its pointed face dipped under street-lit bumpers and flitted and ducked and double-backed away from him around the cars every time he came within a certain distance before finally skimming like lightning over the road and disappearing stiff-shouldered down the lane to the car-park behind the Bank of Ireland, and the next thing Becky was beside him saying something about the poor things being forced into the town to forage because of their natural habitats being eaten into and built up on and then she slid her fingers into his hand and gripped it and led them to her little ground-floor room on Bridge Street and as they kissed and petted on her futon he watched her mouth twist with a lust that looked like disgust and when they were riding her upper lip rose above her teeth like a snarl so as they bucked and bounced he kept his eyes instead on the small shell pendant as it leapt and fell in the pit of her throat. It was a good one that after that first night they were together five months, five months that seemed like years of conversations and closeness though without getting really that close, and years seemingly of all these mad different moods and feelings between them and her forever taking the piss about him being paranoid which he’d actually enjoyed, and it sickened him now for a second as it had for months afterwards that he’d lost her and the way he had and just when they were talking about getting engaged or when he was at least, with him even mentioning it to Sheron during a night out for the four of them at Leonard’s the week before Sheron and Imelda moved to the States when Sheron looking down at Becky’s hands said straightaway Where’s the ring? so that Austin had to explain No, I said we’re thinking about it just, and in no time after that he had as he had tonight phoned Sheron when himself and Imelda were only just in their new place in New York and he was back telling him Becky’d ended it and feeling surprise at the lie of his own casualness and listening to Sheron accept it without any question or comment as though it was a phase Austin had passed through as expected, and he was back a few nights before that at Gav’s old flat in Union Place with the big wooden hatch between the bedroom and kitchen when the three of them did the lethal blow Gav brought down from Dublin that got them mad out of it as they sat under the hatch on Gav’s narrow bed with the filthy pillows Becky spent half the night slagging him about, having mad craic listening to Gav play spaced-out tunes and psyching each other out until he ended up lashing out at Gav thinking all of a sudden he was trying to gang together with Becky against him and even as he’d done it he remembered thinking This is it, we’re fucked now, while Gav without even touching the spot over his eye where he’d hit him just told him to take it easy, real cool like, and Becky after staring at him and saying nothing for a minute slipped out and went home on her own and when he saw the next day the mark at the side of Gav’s eyebrow he was worried again that that was their friendship fucked for good, but Gav laughed it off and sold him some dope and they were as thick as ever but then the next thing Becky ended it saying he’d stay off that shit if he knew what was good for him and how anyways she was sick of the paranoid way he went on whether he was on something or not and how it wasn’t something she thought was good for her and all that and he never saw her after that because she finished her art degree at the Regional that year and went back to her home in Ballinamore for the summer and then moved away altogether somewhere else, he never wanted to hear where, and he remembered the night of the day she dumped him he was on in the plastics factory to make things worse, one of his last shifts before to his relief they sacked him for lateness, and when he was cycling home depressed in the dark he went by a skip outside the industrial estate with what as he flew past looked out of the side of his eye like the matted brush of something that could only have looked doomed when it lived dumped in against its rusting shadowed side.
Asleep At The Switch (Extract)
Issue 5, Volume 1