avenue to gillingham close – i cut my hand by leytonstone high road – come around the close earlshoff road – i was opening a can of drink – the blood splatters and the blood is all over – a vicious hot summer day coming into evening the window is rolled and the arm is out and the blood in tiny drips spatters the jesus out of matcham road – driplets or droplets – to the high road – go selby road – by the plough and harrow to langthorne road – by the st patricks rc – the cut is after taking a slice from the inside of my thumb – oh mother – and it sings is the only way to put it – the high pitch note a sharp cut pain has – the longest evening of the summer and this year – the eyes are watering inside my head – all i can do is carry the tune of the cut under my breath as i go – hello – this frail arm raised for me – this old dear she waits for me – hello – veined in the eyes – carrying a bag of bottles – clinkety clink she like her drink – a talker right off i take her for – a talker – says she, this is brutal heat and seven o clock in the day – no respite, missus – and it is worse it’s getting she says – she is irish from a long time ago – as myself – beef to the heels off the ox mountain county sligo now this is a big boned boy and handsome was how my mother would say for the fattish child i was – she says – the old dear – she says there’s a show tonight in hackney i’d pay good money to see – the empire, i says? – no she says the dog and feathers joe malone from kiltimagh – in the county of mayo i says – beautiful singer she says the tears’d stream down your face and the heart would give out on you and which way you taking me for dunedin road anyhow, driver – by the leyton library, i says – that’ll do, she says, come up ruckholt road – exactly i says – i were propositioned once, she says, in the leyton library – that weren’t today nor yesterday, I says – cheeky, she says, he was an indian gentleman he had lovely knees – knees? i says – it was summer it was shorts he was in lovely… brown… agreeable… knees – steady, love, i says – very agreeable gentleman, she says, handsome as a dove – steady, i says, or shall i open another window, dear, get some air in – cheeky, she says, anyhow i had cyril at home and he’s wanting his tea since the legs went he’s useless for himself can’t heat a tin of beans – what’s happened cyril and his legs, i says – he’s fallen out a window, she says – nasty, i says – ground floor, she says, not like it was sky breaking news but he’s done himself in well enough leg-wise – the hand slips in the bag the screwing of the cap the little nip she takes, like a bird – so it’s not like i can run away to mumbai she says not with cyril at home wanting his beans – wouldn’t be just, ma’am, i says – he was trying to adjust the drapes on the runner, she says, he was always a holy fool was cyril – anyway, she says, this was… what, she says, 1976 – montreal olympics, i says – pig heat that summer and all, she says – i tell you now exactly where i was i says i was on a moped i was learning my routes i was straight off the ox mountain plonk me down in piccadilly circus you could have told me it was the face of the yellow moon – i don’t sleep so hot if there’s a moon, she says – i’ve come down adelaide road the one-way – i know how you feel, love, i says, on the full moon nights, i says, what i haven’t seen in the back of this cab – go on, she says – oh i have seen the nuttiest things, i says, i have seen a notorious midget from kentish town attempt to sell chinese cultural artefacts to a vicar from the city of lagos in nigeria, he’s anglican by the collar – now, she says – and i wouldn’t mind, i says, but when the vicar won’t buy, the midget, he comes over shirty – they can do, she says – no call for shirty, she says – but here, she says – are you sure, she says… are you sure it was a midget? – how’d you mean, i says – sometimes she says sometimes what you take for a midget can be a jockey – hmmmm, i says – here we go, i says, dunedin road – still my blood sings and drips and the air above and the sky thickens the summer even at its height is turning – orient way temple mills depot and the hackney marshes – she don’t want to tell me a midget from a jockey – i know a jockey – how many years have i carried the fancy how many times charing cross station for kempton park? – my hands could do it and my eyes closed – nose bring me there by the feel even – midges about and all – thick in the air – midges, midgets – the words go skewy and all over at the rough end of a nine hour shift – i had a jockey try have it off with his missus or ladyfriend back of this cab one time – i said, here – i said, give over now – i said what you do in the sanctity of your own bedroom, that’s a private and blessed business, and the best of luck to you with it all, but let’s not, friend, not here, not in the light of day, not with the traffic heavyish – chatsworth road is having one of its dreary moments – it can do – i wouldn’t mind she was a blonde about six foot two – i’ll take clifden road for churchill walk – there’s a regular there wants taking from churchill walk – poor sam – poor sam’s my old greek lad – he is originally green lanes – he’s taught me a bit of greek has sam as it happens – here he comes now, the long face on, that’ll be his tomatoes he’s worrying about – he’s taught me that hasappis means butcher – in the greek – and malaka means wanker and what more would you need, i says, in this line of business, and sam got a laugh out of that and it’s not often sam gets a laugh in – hello sam – well, he says, the latest, he says, these toms, he says – it’s a write-off, tony, he says, it’s the disaster season we’ve always known was coming – now this is a man who is quite frankly obsessed with his blooming tomatoes – he says, first they’ve bolted and now they’ve got the yellow wilt – nasty, i says, and i wince for him in the rear-view – knowing sam and his toms this twenty years gone the last words you want to hear from the poor man’s mouth is yellow and wilt – they’ve a thirst on now, he says, and there is not a sea that would quench it – the trail of blood is microscopic or so i imagine and you could not see it with the naked eye but maybe you could sense it from high up if there was a sensor above the sky that mapped by the heat of our blood these trails we take all over the town say that there are tiny red dots to mark on the map the heat of our blood as we move all over the town – pedro st to redwald road – and the river – the lea – for the air of a river the word is riverine – its atmosphere or trapped feeling – sam the greek he says the worst thing that can happen in the line of tomatoes is if they’ve come in too soon – like much in life, sam, i says – patience, i says, is the virtue required but sam is not for talking, not tonight, the year is screwed on sam if his toms have come in early, and watery, this summer there will be no alignment of the stars for sam – i am thinking of love by st john-at-hackney-gardens – in fact i am no longer married to doreen – good luck sam i says but he hardly has the eyes up from his trainers tonight poor sam and his toms though he adds the usual tip his twenty per cent never let it be said for the old boy from green lanes – a gentleman, one of the sad – i believe he tried to do away with himself one time but did not follow through – he wouldn’t have that kind of show in him – hot as it is the year is turning the grasses yellowing it comes around us quick the turn of year and a quiet, an eerie hour can creep down on you out of nowhere and the sky and nothing and the road just slides up of its own volition and eats away the last of the daylight for its darkness – the exasperating fact is that despite all my best efforts – the gymnasium? the twenty mile sunday hikes? the bloody pilates? – i aged quicker than doreen – dalston lane by the three compasses – and for all those years and monday nights – our nights out – i’m sat with her – in bistro or in bloody wine bar – and i’m thinking i could do better, you know, they’ll take her for my mother or for an auntly type but then, one dark sudden morning, i wake up, i look across the pillows, and doreen, at fifty-three years of age, an april morning, is fresh as a watered plant, she is positively girlish, and me, i’ve turned into the most horrendous old bum-face – into my father, essentially – face like the sole of a farmer’s boot and the back of my head so wide you’d play handball off if – sat in my cab with a breezeblock on for a noggin – i’ll keep going tonight – sandringham road by the argos – an argos always reminds me of doreen – it is as well that i let the streets eat me up tonight – my mother would always say if you have morbid thoughts the thing to do is stay busy – and this was a woman who never stopped going – this was a woman who’d be ironing sheets at four in the morning – tonight i’ll let the streets eat me up and chew me down and spit me out again – the town is filling up with its people and lights – and i have a bad five minutes re: the doreen situation – it is when you see people who are young and alive – i get an unpleasantness rising up in me sometimes – a sourish feeling – in the vicinity of balls pond road – balls pond road to essex road by the hope and glory – i haven’t taken a drink in fourteen years – i’d have been on the soda water in the wine bars with doreen and doreen acting glamorous on white rioja – and i do not wish to sound odd nor superstitious nor sectionable nor in any way batty but there are secret forces beneath these streets and they send up their airs and dark energies – we might as well be out in the open about this – beneath the streets and tar – upper street the stations of the cross the stations of my life – and these airs or feelings might be made of a sorrow or sadness that has lingered for years in a place or has been trapped there – i’ll pick it up clearly sometimes as i drift past and i can smell from a great distance off danger in the night – the word for the atmosphere of wolves on the air should be wolverine – a blessed arm rises for me and thanks be to jesus that it does before i go off again down that dark tunnel and into those black thoughts – wolves – hello, she says, i’m for the bohane gardens but take it easy, driver, and take it nice and slow, coz i’ve had a bit of a feed tonight – mr ottolenghi has done very well for himself, i says – what that man can’t do with a chickpea, she says – immense, i says, and he’s a perfect gent and all – and we drift together and banter and we move – and the air of the city moves through its night graces its warm embraces its secret traces its melancholy faces its dank its dark and hidden places and all of its motley races and all of its nutjobs and all of its hard cases – by clondesley place i am almost light-hearted – her words – she tells me of her life and loves – her words and scent fill up the cab – her dramas – and how it is the secret in life to remain at all times cheerful – i couldn’t agree more, missus, i says – miss, she says – and our eyebrows rise together to meet in the rear-view – hello – i give her my card and my heart is going like the two-thirty at kempton park over hardish ground – often it’s around here i’d be, i says, often it’s around this patch of the woods for me, i says, should you find some night that a cab is hard to find – thank you, she says – and she taps the number into her phone under cabbie, brackets, irish, with an x alongside – cheeky – and she gives the card back to me – copenhagen street – cartwright gardens – i was young around here one time – friday nights i’d meet doreen by goodge street station – tottenham street, again, second time today – ghosts of fitzrovia – the cut sings and i bite through the new scab and there is blood, again – riding house street for charlotte street for
monologue for cabman
Jun 01, 2015
Kevin Barry is the author of the short-story collections, There Are Little Kingdoms and Dark Lies The Island, and the novels, City of Bohane and Beatlebone. He lives in County Sligo.