A NIGHT ON THE TOWN

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

I wasn’t allowed out at night so, after my parents thought I’d gone to finish my homework and to bed, I went out the window. A younger brother asked to come too and I had to bring him along.

Ah! The pleasure, the joy, the freedom to be out on the streets at night – especially when it had been forbidden. I was wearing my new blue trainer shoes. They felt good. They looked good. I felt good.

We wandered on towards a street of brightly-lit shops, most of them still open. Around the corner we went – and walked into the tail-end of a robbery! It was a sports shoe shop and the robbers, young lads, were spilling out of the shop, bumped into me … and people were shouting. And then one of the bystanders or shop assistants pointed at me and shouted that I was one of the robbers!

Well, even if I could convince people I was not, when the cops questioned me, they’d at least take me home to confirm my address and check my parents. And I was not supposed to be out.

Getting out of there quick seemed like the only rational option.

As I ran, I cursed my new trainers as I heard my accuser shout: “Look, he’s even wearing a pair of the stolen trainers! The blue ones.”

I had to get out of the area and, if possible, change my shoes. How to do that? Nearby was a late-night school gym and that’s where I headed. Asking the brother to wait for me outside in the shrubbery, I ducked in.

I passed by some youth around my age in a corridor and got by them casually with not too many words. It surprised me that they were all black. I soon found a changing room with shoes and clothes scattered about – and no-one in there — great! There was even a pair of white trainers my size — my luck was in! But as I was changing into them, the door opened and a black kid walked in.

“Who’re you?” was his immediate question, eyeing me suspiciously.

“Marlon,” I replied, giving the first reply that came to my head. I was just thinking that was an unlikely name for a white boy and he might even think I was taking the piss out of current Afro-Caribbean youth names when he asked “Marlon who?”

And like some conditioned response, I replied “Brando”. My heart sank but I kept my face unconcerned. With any luck he only watched kung-fu and chain-saw massacre films.

His eyes narrowed. “That’s an actor’s name”. Damn! For a second I considered blagging it but knew it wouldn’t work.

“Yeah, sorry,” I replied, shrugging. “Just a joke.” And I gave him another name.

Just then, the door opened and a younger black kid looked in. I’d met him earlier, on the way in.

“Hi, Ian,” he said when he saw me. I’d probably told him my name was Ian Fleming. That wasn’t the problem, though; the real problem was that was not the name I’d just given tough guy., whose eves widened.

Young black kid had hardly closed the door and gone before tough black kid grabbed my arm, opened a door to another room and shoved me in there.

It was a toilet and looked like there was shit everywhere. And it was not in turds but in semi-liquid form, like an explosion – or more likely, several explosions – of severe diarrhoea. To say it was disgusting would so far below reality as to be a lie.

“It’s covered in shit,” I complained.

“So clean it up,” he replied, shut and locked the door.

The memory of what followed is all too clear to me but I’ll spare any of you the description. Suffice it to say that I cleaned it up, or most of it, dumping it in the pan and pumping the toilet flusher a number of times.

I had nearly finished when the door was unlocked and another black kid, this one in plastic apron, rubber boots and gloves, looked in on me.

“Done?” he enquired.

“Yeah,” I replied, washing my hands in the sink. “And it was truly disgusting.”

“You had it easy,” he replied. “You’d want to see the mountain of dog shit I’ve had to clear.”

He was wrong about that – I definitely did not want to see it. Right then I wished never to see shit again as long as I lived but it was just another of many wishes already in my short life that I knew would not be granted.

“Come along,” he said and beckoned.

He seemed friendly and anyway, what choice did I have? There was no other way out of that room.

He opened another door and I followed him into a compound of dog pens.

“Mamelukes” he said, showing me around.

“You mean Malemutes,” I began to say but trailed off when I saw them. There’s a lot of things I don’t know but I do know these were not malemutes – not even close. And Mamelukes were an Egyptian slave soldier caste. I don’t know what kind of breed these dogs were but they reminded me of that latest of accessory dog breeds, the shar pei. They had very short hair and wrinkled skin. But the pups were kind of grey-coloured and huge.

Despite my guide’s reassurance as he brought me into one pen, the pup was growling fiercely at me. Its mother (I presume) in the next pen, barked at the pup as if to say “Shut up, silly! Can’t you see this guy is a friend? He’s with our feeder and pen cleaner!”

Her head came up to the height of my chest. Even though she looked like she was friendly towards me, I was glad she was in the next pen, with a wire fence between us. Otherwise I would never have dared do what I did next.

Grabbing the pup around the muzzle so it couldn’t bite me, I flipped it on to its back and started scratching its stomach. The pup wriggled madly, at first in anger or fear, but then out of pleasure. When I let it up, dominance and pleasure-giving role established, it was all over me. Wagging its tail like mad, squirming, its wrinkles running up and down its loose skin. It was ugly, really but kind of appealing too.

My guide took me out of the pen and locked it but then, looking off to the side, exclaimed: “Oh no! One’s got out. It likes being chased and it’ll take me ages to catch it. Help me, please.”

I set off after him and we passed beyond the pens into a piece of undulating open ground where cabbages and other vegetables had been grown – some were still there, unharvested. In the distance, something was moving fast. Strangely, it looked like a head of cabbage.

I ran after the guy and caught up with him just in time to see the pup’s hind legs disappearing into a burrow.

“Quick, head it off at the other side,” he said.

The other side of the burrow was only a few steps away and emerging on to a ridge, where I took up station to block the pup. I heard and felt more than saw it coming and what flew out of the burrow at me was no pup or cabbage head but some kind of large flying insect. By reflex I reached out and grabbed it and some of its feet scratched my fingers. And then it was a bird.

It had been some time since I had taken any drugs and never the psychotropic kind but that was definitely a bird in my hand now. A pretty one too.

Next I remember I found the brother and we made our way home, me still with the bird quite placidly in my hand. And we walked into the house through the back garden and it was daylight and no-one was telling us off for being out all night.

We had some visitors I could see through the open door to the kitchen and it looked like my Ma and my younger sister had been having an argument. The visitors seemed quite shocked when the Sis said loudly: “I don’t give a shit!”.

My older brother walked past them munching something and gave me a sardonic lift of the eyebrow in passing. That was really weird – not so much the eyebrow but the fact that I don’t have an older brother – but it didn’t seem to bother me much at the time.

“Look at the bird I have!” I called to my sister.

A smile of malicious delight spread over her face. “Shove it up!” she shouted.

The visitors gasped.

The bird flew away.

And I woke up in my own bed.

End.

 

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THE JACKEEN AND THE ACTRESS (a dream)

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

The festivities were being held in a small country town, probably in a hotel hired for the event – I’m not sure. I don’t even know what they were celebrating – their GAA team’s win? But that would be weird too, because I knew they weren’t from this town or county – I could tell that from the indulgent smiles of the locals passing in the street. Yes, at one point some of the gathering were in the street – I can’t remember why.

I was peripheral to the gathering – maybe a relative by marriage, someone’s partner (though I don’t remember being with anyone) or perhaps a visitor. But I was tolerepted – that’s more than tolerated but not the same as fully accepted. When the gathering turned to calling for singers and songs and I was prevailed upon to sing (which to be honest, didn’t take much prevailing), I could almost read the thought in the air afterwards: “That Jackeen can sing, all right.” And I was asked to sing again, which of course I did — maybe more than once.

I am pretty sure I wasn’t with anyone and I remember focusing at some point on a dark-haired woman whose eyes might’ve been blue, anywhere between thirty and fifty years of age, depending on genes and life-style and health but more likely the lower age of the range – and it definitely wasn’t makeup, of which she was wearing little.

We kind of clicked and were getting on well – she seemed intelligent and there was something definitely sexy about her but understated, like a strong current running underground. We became an item for a short while, obvious to people there but I don’t remember any intimate details – only a definite intimacy.

Then the scene somehow shifted and she got excited about the offer of a part in some production in the big city. I was glad for her, although it meant I was going to see less of her.

When I saw her next, it was in the big city, she and her male counterpart were still wearing the eye-masks and head-pieces from their performances, although in a public place, which was a little weird. They were laughing a lot … she was buzzing – they both were – and turned towards one another, me little more than an observer, though sitting at the same table.

For the next scene we were back at the gathering, which seemed to have moved on but little, and some of the women were tearing into her, verbally but at one point also physically; I’m not sure what about but part of it could have been about how she had treated me. I remember she got some clothes torn off her and marched past me (I had just arrived in the hotel lobby — or was it a big mansion now? — and caught the end of the altercation) ….. Yes, marched past me, tears taking a line of mascara down her face, wearing some kind of pink leotard with strips of outer clothing hanging off her …. Some of the women were jeering: “Look at her go, the great actress!”

Minutes later she stomped back past me again, her eyes flaring, head up and jaw jutting forward, heading back towards the women. “I’ll show them! I’ll show them!”

I watched her stomp past in that ridiculous pink leotard and fluttering strips of clothing and – you know what? Despite everything – I was mentally cheering her.

 

end

THE GANG, THE BOSS AND THE MICE

Diarmuid Breatnach

Around 6am I awoke, still half in the script and trying to figure a way to win through. But not for long, as I was driven stumbling from my bed by the urea imperative – I had to go to the toilet. In the hallway I switched on the light, still thinking about the script I had been in and, turning into what I thought was the open doorway, immediately stubbed my toe and nearly my nose on the door. After suitable curses, I stood in front of the enamel directing the hose while I thought about the damned dream in which I had been.

I had been …. somewhere. An urban setting. And I had debts. And there was a gang …. or gangs … and I was kind of in one of them and the big boss was putting the squeeze on me. Now, in my other life, the waking one, I’ve never really been in a gang, not even in my teens, although that’s not to say I didn’t have anything to do with them. I did – running from them, hiding from them, sometimes fighting and (of course) getting beaten up by them. My social class set, the lower middle class, didn’t have gangs. The working class had them and the upper middle class had them too, curiously. The Geldoff types (he was from my home town). And since I didn’t usually have money to go to dances and discos, the dangerous times in my hometown were mostly daytime. The Geldoff types hung out in the Bamboo café across the road from Murray’s record shop, where us gangless lower middle class hung out. And the working class had no café or record shop, just their areas – the ‘Noggin, York Road …. They weren’t anything like the legendary Ringsend or Dolphin’s Barn, but they were tough enough in my book. Ringsend lads came to the Top Hat Ballroom in my hometown once to settle a score and chased the locals all the way up to the ‘Noggin and the Farm. Local folklore had it that as they queued up in Ringsend earlier that evening to get into taxis for the foray, old dockers had handed each youth a docker’s hook.

There were times when walking down the main street in Dún Laoghaire had felt like something out of High Noon or some other western film, when the hero doesn’t want to go out in the street, he knows death is waiting there – but he has to. In his case, it was duty or some kind of fatalism sending him out there. In my case, it was fear of isolation. I didn’t want to end up cut off from my contemporaries – the boys and, yes, especially the girls. Where they hung out, I would have to go. Of course death wasn’t waiting for me, unless it were accidental …. only a beating.

Anyway, I deviate. Which doesn’t make me a deviant, by the way ….. Anyway, back to the script.

One of the things I was being pressured about had to do with promoting the gang leader’s mice. Yes, mice. Don’t ask me – I didn’t write the script.

For some reason the boss’ mice needed to be distributed, to take over everywhere. And one of the places Big Al wanted his mice installed was in a closed down fairground. It was in my area, so of course Big Al thought it was my responsibility to do it.

Big Al, photo taken during one of his philosophical debates

Big Al, photo taken during one of his philosophical debates

The thing is, that abandoned fairground already had mice, as I tried to tell Big Al. I’d hardly ever actually seen one but you could hear them, rustling, scratching and sometimes squeaking as they fought. Big Al wasn’t interested. Were they HIS mice? Well, no …. Well, didn’t I see the problem? I nodded. I could see I had a problem and I’d have a worse one if I didn’t do as he wanted.

Big Al’s mice arrived next day delivered by motorbike courier, in a plastic bag. Yeah, I know … but remember — I’m not the script writer. I took some of the mice out. They were sleek, strong, well-fed, pinky-white mice. I carried the bag to the empty fair ground and let some of them out, to see how they got on. They scurried eagerly down lots of holes and there was suddenly a lot of squeaking underground. Then silence. After a while, one came back, mauled and bloody. I waited but no others arrived. I put the rest of Al’s mice on the ground so they could avenge their mates. I had no choice, unless I wanted to tell Big Al I had disobeyed his instructions.

Those mice knew what was waiting for them and not a single one went down any hole. They milled around above ground. Then they found an unopened can of beer left by some inebriated street drinker, bit through into it …. and proceeded to get really, really drunk.

Some of Al's mice before they discovered the beer can

Some of Al’s mice before they discovered the beer can

They were still drunk when Big Al dropped by to see how his mouse colonising was progressing.

“What the fuck is going on?” Big Al and his bodyguard were looking in amazement at his carousing, stumbling mice. I told him what had happened. He shook his head, muttered something, shook his head again, then went off grumbling to get some more mice – maybe Super-mice, or Ninja Mice, or something.

I knew the drunken mice would be history. If a cat or a kestrel didn’t get them …. well, Big Al had a low tolerance for failure. I should have felt sorry for them …. and I kind of did … but also a kind of contempt. The fairground mice had lived a hard life, braving flood and ice, finding what food they could, breeding, tunneling, avoiding alley cats, kestrels … Big Al’s mice had been fed high-protein diets, reared in secure environments, built up muscle, each probably outweighed the biggest fairground mouse by a couple of ounces. But those scruffy, lean, dirty mice had finished off the advance guard of Al’s mice in minutes. And the rest? Didn’t even have the courage to make a fight of it but went and got drunk instead!

I left them to it. Al would be back and he’d probably want to supervise the operation against the Fairground Mice himself. That was fine with me. I didn’t like the job and I secretly wished the native mice well. Anyway, I had other problems to deal with. I still had to organise my area for Big Al’s other operations – or else. I didn’t know exactly what the “else” might be and truth to tell, I didn’t even want to think about it.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

In the end, I couldn’t do it. I could fool myself that I could manage the area for Al in a more decent way than somebody else working for him …. maybe. But I would still have to become too much like Al himself to do it. So, one alternative only – get out, go on the run and hope Big Al or his goons couldn’t find me. I didn’t even know where I was going to go – just out.

In my benighted life, I had one bit of success.

I ducked into a shop and got to use their phone. That’s right, no mobiles – maybe this script was set in the 1980s …. Not that I remember seeing big hair, shoulder pads or baggy trousers … Anyway, I phoned up the electric phone company and got to speak to the Area Manager about my bill …. yes, the actual Area Manager! I told him I was going out of business and after a little haggling he agreed to accept 20% of the bill in payment and to wipe the slate clean.

Then I phoned my cousin, also my best friend and told him I was getting out. He was disappointed in me. Really, really disappointed. I could imagine him shaking his head.

“What about community organisation, man?” he asked.

“I can’t do it, Mort. Big Al is too much to go up against.”

“I can’t believe it – and you from a long line of trade union organisers.”

That got to me because, in the script, it was true. My Da had been a union organiser most of his life. My Ma too. And one of my Grandas as well. Strikes, union meetings, pickets, marches, police stations and courthouses had been a part of my childhood, almost as much as school throughout the year and the seaside in summer.

In real life, of course, my Da had been many things but never a trade union organiser. Active trade union member, yes – organiser, no. And my Ma – well, maybe if there had been a Housewife’s Union …. she would have probably been General Secretary.

Anyway, in the script, Mort shamed me. And talked some more. And I argued. And he put forward a plan.

For some reason, this plan, which of course required community organising, needed a public appeal by television. Mort said I should do it. I told him I couldn’t – I’d freeze on camera and anyway I was too closely involved. I begged him to nominate someone else. He thought for a little while.
“Ok, but you have to go with whoever I choose – no backing out.”
“Sure! Thanks!” I gulped, relief flooding me.

His next words ejected that relief right out again.
“Ask your Ma.”

After I recovered from the shock and hung up, I went to see Ma. This was Ma in the script and nothing like the Ma I had in the real life, the one who was born in the Basque Country and spoke English with a German accent, because her Da had been a German. And this script Ma was easy-going, unruffled …. Still, she took some persuading before she agreed. And while she was getting ready for her TV appearance – having her hair done, rehearsing her appeal, buying new shoes (who was going to see her shoes on TV?!!) — I was down on the street in my area, doing the rounds, talking to shopkeepers, community workers, youth, pensioners ….

Of course, Big Al was going to get to hear what I was doing. But the gamble was that my Ma’s appeal would be broadcast before he could make his move …. and after that, it would be much more difficult for Big Al to demonstrate the full meaning of that “else” with which he had threatened me. And hopefully the community would start to solidify and be able to resist. Doing nasty things to me wouldn’t be that productive any more. And whatever else Big Al was, he was a pragmatist. Yes, of course, there’s always the unpredictable emotional element ….

I was pondering that when something pulled me half out of the script. It was around 6am and I was still half in the script and trying to figure a way to win through. But not for long, as I was driven stumbling from my bed by the urea imperative – I had to go to the toilet. In the hallway I switched on the light, still thinking about the script I had been in and, turning into what I thought was the open doorway, immediately stubbed my toe and nearly my nose on the door. After suitable curses, I did the business in the toilet and thought about the events in the script.

Then I wondered whether I could somehow get hold of the scriptwriter and how I could make him pay. Had I met him? No, never. How did I know he was male? I don’t know, but for some reason I was sure he was. Which is strange, because nobody in my life had ever fucked with my head the way some women had. But yes, he is male – I’m sure of it. Now, where could he be hanging out ….?