Wednesday, 23 December 2009

An Exploration

Duller even than hypnosis, this,
the sky bulging with its charity
of snow. The crested, toothpaste-
topped houses are mountains
a team of dogs could not traverse,
or waves that have drowned kittens
and preserved mammoths. I think
about the warmth of pubs, and twinkling
Christmas songs, and the polar explorer
whose ring finger became a frozen
blood-sausage and snapped off,
about how he was miles away
in a room as warm as your loaf-
headed house before he noticed
the pain of a phantom thaw, the dumb,
numb sleep of a bit of himself
left behind in the linelessness of snow.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

She Still Collects the Eggs; He is Lucky

A man came to dry out the kitchen with something that looked like an industrial vacuum cleaner. It was easier said than done. The boy (let's call him that despite or because of the fact that he was twenty-two, only three years younger than the man with the vacuum cleaner) made two cups of tea and watched the water as it slowly left the kitchen floor by way of a fragile and papery pump. Watched the accident disappear. The girl was not there.

The boy caught the man's attention and mouthed the word sugar at him. He wondered if he had managed to convey a question mark.

The man nodded elaborately and raised two fingers. A peace sign. The boy put two sugars in the man's tea and two in his own.

The boy listened to the gurgled sounds in the pump where water commingled with air. Subterranean sounds. The man had one arm on the draining board. He drank the tea before it could cool. His stance was nonchalant and slouching. He was looking out of the window into the back garden and not at the tools of his trade.

He shouted, You've got some chickens out there.

The boy was thinking about that morning. He had come downstairs and his kitchen was flooded. Pavlov floating happily in his basket. Not howling.

He did not want to shout above the sound of the sputtering pump but neither did he want to appear rude. He said, Yes, we've got three hens. My missus likes eggs. He regretted using the word missus.

He remembered panicking, shouting upstairs to the girl, We're flooded, come down quickly. She had said, You'll have to deal with it. Call someone out. I'm late for work as it is. At first he had not known who to call. The fire brigade perhaps.

He watched the hens. They both watched the hens. Two of them plucked gravel from the ground in the outside run. The third was out of sight in the coop.

They sat down in the upstairs study where it was dry and the boy turned on the battery-operated radio. The living room was still damp. Bin liners on the floor. Out of sight the pump did its muscular work. News of a snooker match on the radio. On top of the blank television set was a small framed photograph of the boy and the girl on the outside deck of a ferry to or from Dublin or Dun Laoghaire two summers before. He had forgotten who had taken it.

He said, It was good of you to come at such short notice. You must be busy.

He had no idea why the he though the man would be busy. He thought about the last words the girl had said before she went left for work. Don't let him do a half-arsed job, and don't give him any money until we know it's been sorted out.

The man talked about snooker, and betting.

An idea came to the boy. Not a good idea, he thought. Yes, a good idea in its own way, I suppose. He went down to the kitchen and got two cans of lager from the fridge, which was still cold despite the electricty being turned off. He tiptoed on the still-wet floor.

He said, You want one of these?

The man said, You know what, I will. It's not often I get the chance to sit down on the job.

The man opened his can. It had a picture of a bear on it. They talked about whatever was on the radio, called each other mate once or twice. The boy looked at the photo on top of the television. Pavlov, shut in the spare room, barked. The girl looked happy. It must have been taken on the way out and not the way back. He thought he was lucky. They still had sex. Sometimes he thought of that picture, or of other pictures, while they were doing it. Pictures of her smiling. She still liked to collect the eggs every morning. No, not every morning, because the hens weren't that reliable, but whenever she could. To the extent that he no longer liked the omelettes she made. He had been lucky in Ireland. She had returned with him over the flat sea, although he was sure there were no photographs of that return journey.

He drank from his can, which was yellow.

He was still lucky. He had told her things she had never meant to find out in Ireland. It must have been the drink. That was where he had really started hitting it. Where they had really started hitting it. Or was it afterwards? He had been forgiven, in a sense. He thought about the duality of forgiveness, or the infinity. He felt betrayed by her forgiveness, although he thought he probably had no right. Downstairs the pipe slurped and sucked.

When the pipe had done its work the man hauled it dripping over his shoulder with the adroitness of a sailor and said, That's all I can do for now.

The ground floor was still too damp to be lived in but at least there was no standing water. The boy said, You don't fancy another can before you go?

The man said, No, thanks. Busy afternoon ahead.