"Fair morning" a man says, tiltin' the hat at a couple lassies stood front the bus-stop next the old cinema. Marquees boarded over, graffiti-bedizened hardwood sheets – Shelly + ?, Trevor Was Ere / Is A Knob, INLA etc etc. "Couldn't be bad t'that, sure?"
Lassies smiling, gesturing in agreement. One chewing the beads of her necklace, twirling a toe on the spot.
Round about, throbbing like a trapped-fly 'neath an eyelid; summer. A warm breeze shorn of puff loiters lazily about the flower-baskets hung here and there from the lampposts. Headed for the train-station, men in painter's overalls pat sweat-slick foreheads with damp hankies.
"Fair mourning" fella says again.
"It is that" I answer, sat on a bench at the town hall, looking up from the notebook open on my knee. "About time, an' all."
"Now… We're long due it, is right, God knows."
Wandering on, he's stopped at the top of Church Street by a fella in a white t-shirt and faded jeans, palm outstretched, unshaven face all scab-marked and potted, blackened eyes red-rimmed and wired. "You wouldn't have a pound, mate? Lend us till Monday?"
Watching this, drumming my fingers idly off of a knee, I'm thinking; Myself and Beautiful Ms Gillian – many's a quid we gave him, an' all, afore now. Fidgeting with one hand for change, other holding the honeycomb ice-cream busy dribbling and drabbling o'er the knuckles. Him laughing, tellin' me – "You keep your eye on her, now. She'd be the right handful, that lady, looks of her" and us laughing too, your mouth making mock-shocked O's, looking away in feigned offense.
(Line at the bottom of the notebook page – "For the memories we planned to gather, beacons be raised. For those we were lucky enough to catch – a song or two, I think.")
Thinking also of Newcastle night-time few months back, man by the phone-box calling "Fifty pence to make a call, mate?" and me shrugging apologetically. "I'm sorry, man, I have nothin'."
He then raising the palms, "Oh fair enough, like, fair enough. But would you have a brick, maybe? So as I could smash your fuckin' face in?"
Friend and musicological associate Mr Gardiner whispering to me; "Walk on by, for Jesus sakes. Keep the head down. S'always the same; abuse if you haven't got it, abuse if you have. Gave him 85p one evening, I did. 'Thanks' says he, then flings it back at me, skites me right up the back o' the thigh with a twenty-pence-piece. Miscalls me for all the arse-bandit bastards of the day. Shockin'."
From the fella on Church Street no insults nor slurs, just a smile as he pockets the change. "Also" he asks then, "You wouldn't have a cigarette at all?"
Shake of the head from your man there. "That's one thing I won't have about me nor ever will is a cigarette."
"No bother." Calling after as the gentleman walks off. "Need to be stoppin' anyway. Sure they've banned it in the pubs, the gets! What next, I say to that? Ban us from pishin' the very pish out our kidneys? Will they be at that? I wouldn't put it past them! Rogues and whores, them boys! Nanny State! Political correctness gone mad, that's what our Stanley calls it!"
Grinding and rumbling and crunching to my left. School-bus, screeching brakes and tissss of the doors. Two lads step out onto the street, emo fringes tickling the bridges of their noses, black growing out at the sides. "Is she riding?" one's asking the other, school-bag slung careless over a shoulder, shirt collar all skewed to that side.
"No. Fuck the ride she'll give. A month, and not so much as a dry wank. Tell you, I'm this close to skidaddling and tryin' the luck with wee Forrest there. Wild woman for the cock, Joe says. Like a starvin' youngster scrabblin' for a Yorkie, by all accounts."
Brushing the fag-ash off the trousers, closing the notebook, rising to my feet, fidgeting for the iPod headphones dangling out the neck of my t-shirt.
Up Linenhall Street then with Cassadaga in the ear-holes, headed for the park, passing four, five boarded-over storefronts and a poster advertising a car boot sale at the Church Of God and women walking two abreast with matching wains a-gaggle in matching prams.
Singing with surest conviction – Conor Oberst;
"Everything, it must belong somewhere – I know that now, that's why I'm staying here…"
And wound around his words, my own from three nights past; "I must belong somewhere, everything does… but it's not here." Crying and rubbing the nose with my sleeve, snotters blinding me and she crying also but saying "I understand…" and reaching to touch my arm. "It's okay…"
Aw balls – Lad I propositioned one time back in High School steps out the bookies next the traffic lights. Spying him I duck into the post office, passing the red bin I was shoved into one merry mid-October eve when the taxi driver refused to take me home on account of the boke still wet on my trousers. "Just had these fuckin' seats cleaned!" he was shouting, they told me the next day. "Fuck the pukin' hoor like that I'm taking anywhere!"
For a time I inspect the jiffy bags and the packs of airmail envelopes, lifting the odd one in the hand, turning it this way and that, coddin' on that I'm after something, giving himself out there time enough to have wandered far enough away.
"Good thing about this" a mate told me back one time when I was showin' him the picture of us at thon christening, you remember? "Good thing about this is that all the boyos you used to try an' get off wi' will know you were only messin'."
"What? Surely to God they know by now!"
"Well… There's the odd rumor goin' about yet. Hit the shins off one myself not so long ago. 'He'd be fond of a gargle of the salty yoke' I was told by your one out the petrol station, for instance."
Shrugging. "Well, you did grope his arse to him thon time. Tried to lick his ear, an all."
"It was ironic, dammit!"
With a box of driving licence applications held afore her, friend of mine emerges from behind the glass partitions, greeting me with a smile and a "How's yourself?"
"Not bad" says I, testing a green biro on the back of my hand. "You?"
"Ach." She rolls her eyes, tuts. "That Tommy's bein' the right knob so he is. Up all night I was, over the head of him. Comes in drunk at two in the mornin' with a weeks worth of santerin' to do, wouldn't you know? Wakes me up out my sleep and me only half an hour down as it was. 'We've to talk!' says he, and nothing would do him but we were up and sat at the kitchen table thonner – two in the mornin' I say! – assessing the relationship thus far and where we planned to be taking it and by what manner or means we would get there. Notes he was making on the back of the TV Times. Minutes! Quarter by six he finally passed out, praise to Jesus, and me workin' at nine bells."
"Lord above" says I.
She shakes her head. "Shockin'. But here – what's this I heard about yourself and your wee girl? Is it right enough?"
Nodding. "It is."
"Aw that's wicked so it is. I'm sorry to hear it."
Sighing, shrug of the shoulders. "Me too. But I couldn't… it's cause I'm goin' away. London."
"But you're comin' back, surely?"
"I don't know" I say. "I don't know if I am. I doubt it, as it happens. And being uncertain, it'd be nothin' but the foulest, most selfish chicanery to let things go on any longer. To pretend to herself and myself that it's only a temporary upheaval when everything's telling me it's nothing of the sort."
She makes a sympathetic "Dear me…" face, biting at the corner of her bottom lip, tilting the head some. "Well are youse still friends, at least?"
"Oh God aye" I say. "To lose a girlfriend's wretched enough – to lose a best friend at the same time… save us it'd be enough to wreck a man six times my size."
"Well that's always somethin'." Making for to head off towards the offices at the far-end of the building, she says "You'll keep in touch with us, aye? Let us all know how you're doin'."
"I will" I assure her, wandering back then to the doorway, earphones re-inserted.
To the park with one hand hung awkwardly at my side on account of the iPod leaving no room for it in the trouser pocket. At my side also walks herself. Sensing her as I go like a phantom limb, instinctively reaching to touch of occasion, and then nothing.
Speaks a voice from the back of my mind; "You'd be the wild one for playin' the martyr, wouldn't you just?"
Lashing the flesh off the shoulder blades with cat-o-nine-tails fashioned out old letters and birthday cards and valentines notes.
Sleeping with memories of sleeping next to her wound round the waist like Talbot's barbed-wire corsets.
The wild martyr, right enough.
Wandering towards me, lad I know from back at tech, blue bag full o' Steiger lager hung from one arm. "Trevor" says I, too loud probably. "You well?"
Questions scurrying back and forth o'er the pavings like frightened rats, never answered.
Of women living in houses next rivers and bodies touched with minds Leonard Cohen craggily coos. "A cartoon is all he is, that Cohen" a fella recently informed me, "Like Morrissey. Cartoon melancholy. Means nothin', really." Cartoon melancholy. Forlorn Leghorn.
Oh Jesus, that's awful. Near chokes me.
Choking also in her bedroom after it all. Twin Peaks paused on the laptop screen afore us. Cigarette trembling atween my fingers, and now and then from the room next door, yelps and whoops from the Spanish fella wreaking the savage havoc 'tween the thighs of the wee French lass he was courting.
"I'm sorry…" saying, and was, and am.
Dale Cooper frozen and eyeing me with the sore disgust. "Jais' but you're the right bastard."
"I couldn't do anything else, dammit."
Red room and a man stood in the middle singing "I Drove All Night" two beats out of time. 'Pon an analyst's couch a blonde-haired woman whispers "Sselb, reh sevol eh llits tub, wa."
"Course he does" spits the vagrant 'hind the drapes. "Obvious, that."
Passing the woman from the chip-shop sold me a fish supper one night I was drunk for the price of a half-dozen fireworks I had in my coat pocket, muting Cohen a moment to hear the busker on the street next the office supply shop.
Nicotine-yellowed fingers skite back and forth 'long slightly-bowed guitar neck, chasing out the frets an aching lament. Foot tapping arhythmically on the stones, he turns and gazes doe-eyed to the heavens, mouthing with gin-wizened intonation;
"Oh Kitty, my darling, remember
That the doom will be mine if I stay
T'is far better to part though it's hard to
Than to rot in their prison away…"
Parked off the motorway with hazard-lights on and radio off and windscreen wipers swishing lazily every half-dozen seconds, he turns to her and says "Aw, Kitty. So it will, but. The doom… All mine, it'll be…"
"Poor you" says she, turned away.
"You understand, though?" Tapping ash off the cigarette out the passenger window, shaking his head solemnly, words clinging to the coat-tails of the blue/grey fag-reek plume. "Mean, t'is far better to…"
"Better for who?"
"For… Mean, Mother Mercy, Kitty, to rot? To rot in their prison? Rot clean away?"
"Oh for Christ's sakes" says she, tutting. "Just get out."
Calling after her as she drives off, waving his arms frantic in the rain – "It's not you, Kitty! It's me!"
Song's end, busker looks up at me, sapphire eyes searing incandescent. "Request?" he asks.
"Aye" says I, tossing a quid to the guitar case afore him, a loose scatter of copper hugging the lower end. "D'know 'I Still Miss Someone'?"
He nods, hacks back a clattering throatful of phlegm, tilts the jaw this way and that. "Could tell by the droop tween the legs."
Laughing then. "Free of charge, that."
Till he tunes the guitar I perch myself 'pon the windowsill to the right, scribbling of occasion in the notebook, thinking about helium we sucked to make the voices high, about the pair of us walkin' down past the Liffey one night winter past, about pre-dawn danders 'round churchyards with green-coat fellas sleeping on the steps out back, about kisses and her bringing me out panic attacks and…
"Hurts" busker says, first few notes staggerin' unsteadily about the soundways like a fresh-rid gazelle.
"Does" I say. "But would've hurt more, eventually, if we hadn't. Still. Scarcely eases it any."
With arms all whipping couple wains come bounding o'er the dentist walls, flinging lollypop-ends at other, cursing and cheering and chortling as they gallop ever on, near colliding with a fella strolling upwards there towards us.
"Fair morning" I hear him saying to the bloke coming out the garage.
"Aye" says he. "To pish, though, the forecast says."
With narrowed eyes and furrowed brow the busker here now sings.