Valerie and me are just back from the canteen, standing at the photocopier between Roads, which is her section, and Drains, which is mine, continuing our discussion. I wish Lorraine was here but she is covering the desk in Housing Allocations during lunch hour. She does that so she can watch Dr. Phil; today the show is about adopted kids whose mothers find them and then start going out with their kids’ boyfriends. Since the glass protection barrier went up in Housing Allocations you can’t hear the TV properly because the volume has to be kept at 4. You can’t even see it that well from behind the desk because the glass kind of breaks the picture in two. So there is a big union thing going on to get the glass taken down even though they were the ones who said we’d all walk unless it went up. Lorraine is a major force behind the campaign to get the glass taken down. Now she uses the customer seats which is definitely a bit of a risk and if anything happens the union says they can’t support her.
There’s a noise coming from inside the lift before the doors even open and then Lorraine comes bursting out shouting, ‘God, did you hear, did anyone see?’
She goes straight past us, over to Maintenance, to Ivan and Darragh, who are always hanging around waiting to get a call out. She is practically crying, saying something about a plane crash. A few people put their heads up and ask where and she says in America. I am thinking so what? She is so hysterical ever since we went to Lanzarote last year and she found out she was adopted when we got our passports. I want to tell her to wipe her lip because she is sweating so much you can see her little ronnie.
Valerie says, ‘I wonder what’s she’s going on about?’
‘Nothing to do with us,’ I say, because Valerie is looking for any excuse to weasel her way out of taking the hedgehog back.
Then loads of phones start to ring. There are eleven desks I can see from my chair and it is a U-shaped office so there are probably about another twenty-five or thirty desks stretching around the lift and the phones on nearly every single desk are going off. The noise is completely different from what you would think, more like a fire alarm than phones. Before anyone picks up, we all look at each other, like really look at each other because whatever is happening is going on for all of us together which never happens with senior and junior staff and Maintenance as well.
I pick up my phone and it’s Richie, my flat-mate, although we hardly ever see each other anymore because of his new boyfriend.
‘Did you see it?’ he says.
‘They’re after bombing America. Siobhan is after ringing my Ma.’
‘My sister. In Cincinnati. To say she’s okay. She just dropped the twins off to school; it’s only the morning there. Now she’s trying to get them back in case there’s some kind of chemical attack.’
‘I’m not sure but they’re telling people to stay inside.’
‘What about an aeroplane crash?’
‘Yeah, my Ma says that’s some kind of signal. It’s all on telly.’
‘Jesus. Are you at home?’
‘No, I’m at the gym. Just in the changing rooms but I have to get to a telly.’
I’m kind of bummed for Richie when he says that because he is on the dole and has spent hours watching TV, probably most of the last two years since we left school. Like if anyone should be the person sitting on a couch with cornflakes and coke in front of a TV when this happens, it is him. But he decided to give up photography which is what he is brilliant at and get into acting which is his dream, so he has started getting up around twelve and going into town for lunch and then going to the gym. I mean literally he only started this regime for getting in shape to be an actor at the beginning of September. Unbelievable.
‘Gotta go,’ he says, ‘someone said there’s a telly on in the weights room.’
Because it’s the afternoon, there are probably not that many people watching TV in Ireland, whereas in America it’s the morning. That’s something that is kind of weird, like we are a bit ahead of the news already, seeing as how we’re on the front side of time from places like New York.
Now everyone wants to get off the phone to see what everyone else knows. By the time I hang up Valerie has already gone downstairs with Lorraine. They didn’t even wait for me. I don’t go down because I think they will be told to come straight back up. But I am by myself in the office for ages before they get back so I miss loads of stuff. By myself except for the hedgehog that is, under my desk. As far as I’m concerned Valerie has one hundred per cent promised to take it back so I push the box with my foot over beside her handbag.
At about half four, Valerie’s mother rings and says she is not to take the train home; that her father is going to drive up to Dublin and collect her because everyone is panicking about the trains. In Ireland. The train between Heuston and Athy. Big potential for a terrorist attack there. Unbelievable.
‘You could bring the hedgehog down in the car,’ I say, ‘it’d be even easier than the train.’
But she won’t because of some shite about her father not knowing she had sold me the hedgehog in the first place and her mother would be mortified with the idea of Valerie bringing a hedgehog into the City Council offices. I’m still gutted my Da gave it back; I hadn’t looked in the box so I didn’t know about the fleas or how small it was. Da said he couldn’t take it even though it was a birthday present because of some rubbish about it being only a few weeks old and also terrorising Nana who has a fear of needles and birds. He said to give it back to its family because it would never survive in the city.
After work, some people are going across to Bolger’s pub to watch the news. I am tempted and I could leave the hedgehog in the office. I mean with water and biscuits, of course. But then Bernie the cleaner, who’s under the mistaken impression she’s the City Manager, comes in early and starts up our side and spots the air holes in the box. When I tell her what’s in it, she says, ‘Not in here, no way. Unless he’s a guide hedgehog.’
Which is making a mockery of Brendan O’Connor in the rent office downstairs because his dog is not the usual big Labrador type; it’s a pug that he had before he started losing his sight so I don’t think it’s even a trained official guide dog but it goes everywhere with him.
Anyway I’m broke and Lorraine can’t make up her mind whether to go to Bolger’s or Weight Watchers so I end up going home with the hedgehog. It is absolutely hopping with fleas and does a big dump in the bottom of its box.
When Richie gets back to the flat, around nine, he’s alone for a change.
‘Thai Delight or Dominos?’ I say to him and he goes, ‘I think it has to be Dominos because of the day that’s in it,’ and I totally get it. They have a crunchy super-thin crust that we love with anchovies.
It’s great to have us both home and just hanging out which is how I thought it would always be when we moved in together. We were best friends from school and we both swore as soon as we got a job and deposit we were getting a flat. But it turns out Richie goes out clubbing way more than me because he’s gay and on the dole. So in a funny way the attack kind of brings us back together and they’re saying on the TV that tragedy does that, it makes people pull together. There are probably loads of people all over New York doing the same thing as us, having a pizza and a glass of wine with their mates and getting back to basics.
‘You know the way you always remember exactly where you were when Kurt Cobain died?’ I say.
‘And Princess Diana,’ Richie says, ‘I’ll never forget the look on Ma’s face when she woke me up to tell me.’
‘Do you think we’ll never forget this?’
‘Forget what?’ he says.
When I go out to the kitchen to get more wine, the hedgehog has gone through the bin, which is a bit gross, and there’s a McDonald’s flurry cup—probably mine ‘cos I love strawberry and get them every other day, but if it is toffee it’s Richie’s—stuck on its head. It looks so cute walking around like that with its little paws trying to push the cup off and its teeny fingernails slipping on the plastic. I bring it back into the living room with me. They are interviewing some firemen on TV and the hedgehog is going around and around in circles which is hilarious. After a while it gets a bit annoying so I find the scissors during an ad break and cut the cup a little and it manages to wriggle its head out. Then Richie trims my fringe. He does it too short and we end up having a big fight because we’re both drunk. I say that being on the planes would be the worst because you’d feel so trapped. At least in the buildings you might think you were just in a fire or something. Richie says that’s stupid and it wouldn’t make a difference in the end and he goes into his bedroom to ring Anton, his boyfriend. Everything is unreal; I mean we‘ve seen the planes crashing into the towers probably twenty times now, more times than our best movie. The whole scene has got that vibe of cramming for an exam when the words don’t even seem like words that mean anything any more; they’re just random letters in a row.
Later Richie comes back out and says I have to bring the hedgehog into work tomorrow and don’t let Valerie leave Dublin without it one way or another or he’s moving out. He thinks it smells bad and he says he has bites on his ankles but it doesn’t smell like anything.
When I wake up the very first thing I start thinking about is how am I going to make Valerie take the hedgehog back; probably that comes into my head because of the snuffling it is making in the kitchen. I am so mad at her; I could shove it you know where. For a couple of minutes I completely forget about the attack although I only stopped watching TV five hours ago. I hate that I’m distracted by this hedgehog situation because you really want to hang on to every moment at a time like this and I already missed the start.
When I was asleep they hadn’t all finished their whole day in America because even in Los Angeles they’re behind the rest of America. I find the time zones thing a head wreck. When we all went to Lanzarote, I couldn’t work out if I was more tired on the way over or back because of the time difference. Like is it plus or minus an hour?
After breakfast, when I put it back in its box, I touch its nose and it curls up the way some people scrunch up their face when they smile. I mean it is really cute, its eyes are so round and black like a teddy bear and it has a mouth that looks like it is grinning all the time. I don’t know how big they grow but this one is only a baby so it’s tiny and tiny things are much cuter. It was so small in my Da’s hand, he was able to cup his two hands closed with the hedgehog inside and not even scratch his palms. I notice how the hair on its face and its spikes are coordinated, like the black spikes and brown fur kind of work together in a way you wouldn’t think.
Now I have to think of another birthday present for my Da and I have no other ideas because that was my best one. Well, it was Lorraine’s idea really because she knew that hedgehogs are killer for eating slugs and my Da is big into his vegetables. So she convinced Valerie to get her little brother to trap one. At the end of the day it’s Valerie’s responsibility because she took the money. Which I haven’t even asked for back.
Just thinking about birthday presents today seems wrong or something. What if your birthday was yesterday and now there is no way you will be having a party on that day ever, even for your twenty-first. We’re already planning our twenty-firsts, picking different themes: Lorraine’s next March black and white; mine in June, pretty in pink; Valerie’s isn’t until the year after that. Or when we are all having babies and say mine was due on that date, the 11th of September, that would be a seriously bad omen. I would definitely book a C-section for the 10th.
On the way to work I feel a tickle on my hand and when I look down there’s a spider on it. I shake my hand to get it off, only about eight steps later I look down and it’s not a spider, it’s a flea. It must have got out of the hedgehog box. I flick it off but now I start to get that sensation when you’ve taken a pill and your skin is stretching a bit and crawling. I think some fleas have got up the leg of my jeans which are new black hipsters or buttsters, as Valerie says. Also there’s this itch right below my waistband and I will die if a flea has got into my pants. I’m waiting at the big junction at North Marine Drive where I cross to get my bus and I’m trying to scratch, but secretly, because I don’t want people to think I’ve got some disease.
I’m still waiting for the lights to change when I see my bus and there is no way I’m going to make it across. Now I have fifteen minutes to wait until the next one but I’m not too worried because it’s okay on flexi-time up until ten. There’s a grass verge between the kerb and the sea wall and I walk over to look at the sea which I never do even though I am living right beside it. You can hear the waves all the time because they are nonstop, in and out. I put the hedgehog box on the grass and I try to look properly over the wall at the view in front of me. I feel like I am connected in some way to all this; not like ‘Oh I’m going to be a terrorist to fight the terrorists,’ or anything. Or ‘I’m never going to do my Christmas shopping in New York now.’ More like it’s the morning for me and it’s still some American’s night-time and for the terrorists it might already be Thursday. And I’m here watching the ferry crossing the sea on a pretty calm day, though I am exhausted and really pissed off at Valerie for not taking the hedgehog home with her yesterday.
I don’t know why exactly but I take it out of the box. I don’t point it at the sea wall or the road; I just set it down there on the grassy patch to make up its own mind. Loads of hedgehogs die on roads, I know, but maybe this one will go the other way and choose life for itself. If it does get across the road it’ll be at the entrance to a kid’s school so I feel like I’m giving it a choice or something instead of me trying to make it happen because there doesn’t seem to be any point to that.
It just sits there, rolled up in a ball.
It still hasn’t moved off the grass by the time the bus comes but I think it is turned a bit more towards the sea so maybe it could go that way. Hedgehogs eat loads of different stuff and there are probably millions of insects in the rocks behind the sea wall. And the sea, I mean that is something it wouldn’t even get within sniffing distance of, if it stayed in the country like the rest of its family. Maybe it’s a surfer hedgehog who is dying to hang out at the beach.
I can’t see it anymore when we turn onto the Coast Road but I think it was definitely heading towards the wall and the sea. I feel like that is the totally right thing, like the hedgehog’s destiny is one tiny part of all the stuff happening in the world today.
When I get in Lorraine is already over with Valerie. Can you believe they are wearing black armbands that Lorraine made?
‘Worst nightmare ever it was,’ Lorraine is saying. ‘So my mother was visiting New York and she was in the tower, in the restaurant. I was on my way to meet her when it happened and I was rolling on the ground, screaming I was. She jumped but after she fell a bit she grew these sort of wings and flew up into the sky, away from the flames.’
I am getting a bit fed up listening to Lorraine’s adoption stuff. How she is so excited about finding out about her mother none of us can get because, as Valerie said to me, ‘This is the person who actually wanted to get rid of Lorraine. All the magazines say this could turn out very bad. Like her mother might have been a prostitute or been raped which is why she didn’t want to look into the baby’s face every day.’
That is true but a lot of times things do work out. They have talked on the phone but Lorraine keeps putting off meeting her face-to-face because she’s trying to lose weight first and it is not going well. She’s put on about two stone since she found out and she keeps changing her hairstyle to look thinner. But the maddest part is the fact that Lorraine’s mother lives in, and is actually from, Cork. Even Lorraine herself can’t believe that because she is one hundred per cent a Dub and now it turns out she is actually part-Cork. Life is so random like that. I mean some of the people in the planes were only in America on holidays and I heard a man on the bus saying a few Irish people were killed.
While Lorraine is rabbiting on about her mother, I’m thinking about who is usually in work here by half nine. Valerie mostly gets the 9.10 bus from Heuston but when her train is delayed—it could be wet leaves on the track, stray animals, the ghost of the Marie Celeste—she misses that bus. So her life could be saved by something as tiny as a wet leaf. That’s just a head wreck. Lorraine and me are often in before ten so we probably have a fifty-fifty chance of being in the building if it was attacked in the morning. Senior staff are always in before us unless one of their kids is sick.
Imagine if your kid was dying and you thought that was the worst thing ever and then your office gets attacked when you’re at their bedside and the kid survives and so do you but all the other people you work with are killed? Unbelievable.
Thinking in that kind of way I get it. Like in a cartoon when a light bulb goes on, I get that the big stuff, politics and countries, is connected to small stuff and there is good and evil in the world and luck. I’d say luckiness more than anything, pure straight-up being lucky is the number one force to be reckoned with.
I wonder which way the hedgehog has gone. Maybe towards the sea.
Then a big argument starts up about the armbands because Ivan who is a bit of a Rah-head or something says it is a political symbol and he is going to wear a lily into work someday.
‘Political, me arse,’ Lorraine says. ‘You need to forget about your politics shite and think of the people,’ because apparently he was saying loads of stuff in the pub last night about America that wound everyone up.
I see Valerie is pushing the armband down her arm slowly until it is more like a cuff. She is crapping herself in case there are any repercussions but she is too afraid of Lorraine to take it off.
‘Nice cuff,’ I say, ‘very Janet Jackson.’
I start to tell them about my big fight with Richie and I just get to the part about the McDonalds flurry cup when Darragh comes over with some form he needs typed up and the buzzer goes and Valerie is covering front desk for Maureen who is on holidays—not in America, in Thailand or somewhere—so I say ‘I’ll tell ya the rest at break.’
Even when I’m typing I keep thinking about the baby hedgehog. Although I know it is probably okay, I see this picture in my head of it flattened on the road. I hate to think of its nose getting broken if it got hit by a car because it is so round and upturned like in a kid’s book. Then I tell myself it’s all down to good luck or bad luck, you have to think positive and I did leave him right beside the sea wall.
All morning, everyone is talking about it, the firemen who got caught inside and the other planes and the ones who jumped out the windows. Right before break, I go over to get some paper for the printer but I take the long way around by the windows that look out onto the quays. The Liffey is really high today, it looks kind of blacky-green like oil. I wonder what it might be like to jump, though we are on the second floor and the whole building only goes up to seven floors. I don’t know if I could do it. But if you had to, who knows what you would do? We were all thinking stuff like that.