Declan Geraghty‘s short story: The Stopover

The photos in picture frames on the walls made me feel sad, they made me feel like I missed out on something. The old man in the kitchen talked about old times, times that I’d have been too young too remember. Times that seemed too good to be true, and he kept pouring that drink out. That drink that made you dizzy, and he kept spilling it while pouring it out. He asked me did I want another a glass, I said no. He poured it out anyway and the glass overflowed as his hand shook, there were miniature puddles on the expensive looking table cloth. Puddles that eventually dripped onto the floor making puddles by our feet. Puddles that eventually dried and made the floor sticky and black with dirt. It’s the fucking curse he told me, we had it, we had Sam. In our grasp, literally in the palm of our hands. Then it all went tits up, the lot closed, right before the big day. It’s the curse I tell ye. The drink tasted like turps as I put it to me lips, a drop of the pure from the wesht he said. Spuds saved and killed this country all at once he said raising his glass, as he held his chest bracing it for a wave of indigestion.

Where are you heading boy? I knew where I was heading but I paused not knowing how he’d take my answer. Jericho I said, but my voice trailed off in a high pitch even though the first part off the word was spoke with confidence. His eyes stopped darting and suddenly fixed on me, like a predator. It doesn’t exist boy. There was a silence that hung in the air like the stench in the room. What doesn’t exist I said. Fucking Jericho he said. I looked at him, trying to take in his stupidity, well it’s better than waiting around in this mess. It sounds better than waiting around hear to die, to drink meself to death. He laughed, ah your some man for one man altogether, and he poured out more of that horrible shit, and it overflowed from the glass and his hand shook as he placed the bottle back down. I made a face as I tried to swallow another sip, sure you’re only a lightweight boy, and he laughed. That fucking laugh he had done something to me, it insulted my ego even when the laugh wasn’t directed at me. I was allergic to it, I was allergic to his laugh. My head was starting to spin and as I lifted my feet, my boots peeled from the sticky floor. I could hear his voice trail off as I got to the hall, then that laugh as I climbed the stairs.

My head sunk against the toilet pot, and I vomited, and my knees seemed to stick to the floor. And the only release from the violent spasms of puking was the coldness of the toilet bowl against my forehead. I was sure I could hear that laugh from downstairs but I couldn’t be sure. I couldn’t be sure of anything nowadays. As I came around I knew I was there a while, I could see dusk approaching through the window until the dull light eventually faded to black. Through expensive windows, big bay windows, not the type you’d see in a bathroom. Windows we should have never looked through, but nothing belonged to anybody any more. The upper classes were just powerless men now, powerless men with that never had a physical fights in their lives. Powerless men starting from the bottom, were the food chain seemed to be reversed over night.

The tap water tasted like metal in the kitchen but I couldn’t get enough of it, and by the time I wet my face I was drunk again. That’s the poitin for ye boy said the aul fella laughing. Laughing with that laugh of his, and I opened up the porch for air, the porch door with a thousand splashed dotted stains running up it from god knows what. The cold air suddenly hit me as the door swooshed open and I couldn’t get me balance, I’m on the grass, on me back. Looking up at the stars, not able to handle me poitin or me fresh air. Spinning but I can’t seem to get off. That laugh never seemed to be far away, and I could hear a tapping, like a leak. I could make out fireworks, in the sky sometimes in between spurts of sleep, but who’d celebrate this, or was it a warning, a warning or a way of communicating. I was sure I heard scramblers in the distance but I couldn’t be sure, the drink did that sometimes. And I was back in the kitchen again, even though I thought I was in the garden a moment ago. And the spilled poitin tapped as it hit the floor until it eventually became sticky and black with grime.

There was a constant coughing in between me drifting in and out of this madness, and when I finally pulled meself up out of another stupor I realised the old man was choking, his hand was out and his eyes pleading, it was the first time I saw his eyes plead. At first I thought it was just thirst or some warped joke, but I realised it wasn’t when I saw his eyes. Eyes that only ever seemed to mock, now reduced to desperate pleading, and he didn’t look like a wily old man any more. Just a scared child. And I looked on as he moved around the room with sudden agility, panicking with new found energy, not knowing what to do next. Only his right arm flailed, the left seemed always calmly tucked behind his back like some at ease politician declaring how much of a cunt he is.

I eventually came to and the old man was asleep, his head lay back against the gritty tiled walls, he looked so peaceful sleeping, like he wasn’t even breathing. I took the minidisc from me bag. I pressed play and it clunked into gear, the music played perfectly, John Coltrane. Then it went slow. Slow, ghostly and robotic and died out with the batteries. I got up, lifting myself with great difficulty and the hangover was cutting through me now. And I shook the old man, where the you hide the whiskey? I can’t drink any more of that shite. I knew he’d hid it, he talked like the place was always his but the pictures on the walls said otherwise. The upper middle class interior design said differently and so did the small library upstairs. I shook him hard, come on you cunt, get up. Come on now. Do you hear me? After about ten minutes shaking him I checked his breathing, he was gone.

I checked his pulse again, I sat down, almost slipping in the process on a puddle. I looked around, then stood up again and began palming his pockets. I knew he had batteries, I placed them in a nice backpack I found under the stairs. Along with the silver from his inside pocket, I took his watch, the wristband stank but I needed it. I found his wallet in his chest pocket, it was fat with notes. I left it there on the table, with the bottles of that horrible shit. The whiskey was in the kids room, inside the case of a small guitar, four bottles of it. I took some tins of fruit, I kept coming across canned peaches. It seemed any house I found food there were canned peaches that no one bothered taking. I braced myself for the journey, for those streets, that madness. Dawn was coming, it was in the post, you could feel movement even though nothing had awoken yet. But the beginning of it was here, rustling itself awake, the birds and insects, the animals that were left to roam the streets. The animals disguised as people.

I opened the back door, it was safer that way, that dirt spattered door and I took a last look at the corpse that looked asleep. I took a bottle of that horrible shit just in case things got bad. The door swooshed as I pulled it back. I could smell that summer air and hear scramblers in the distance.

The back lanes were gradually becoming fields, as the concrete made it’s last feeble attempts to stop nature rising up. Your mind could play tricks on you sometimes if you let it, if you let the paranoia win. That rumour going around about the zoo, about the animals left to roam, predators left to multiply. Surely it was all bollocks, it had to be. The sky was changing, the light filtered, it mixed like a cocktail of obscure colours, giving a hint of some brightness to come, even though it was still night. And me own footsteps seemed to get louder even though I was walking the same speed, on the same ground.

I touched Karens photo in me inside pocket, white lines went through it from constantly being folded. And every time I looked at it I saw a little less of her. I could feel something, but I couldn’t see it yet. Sometimes you just knew, even when you were drunk, although that was nearly always these days. I sat down and took a sip of one the good bottles the aul fella hid. It went back easy, like silk, not like that horrible shit. I heard something up ahead then saw a large deer, it’s antlers stood high and proud. It turned it’s head casually as it looked in my direction. It stopped for a moment then moved off again. The first of the birds began to chirp, I could hear the scramblers in the distance again. They seemed to get closer all the time, and I could smell that air. Like years ago at Halloween, that bonfire air. Everywhere seemed thick with it, like it tainted everything, even if you weren’t near it, it still stuck to you. To your clothes and the taste on the back of your throat.

The morning light began to unravel in stages as I walked through empty streets. I felt like I was being watched even though there was no one around. And there were all these lovely empty houses. I wondered could Jericho wait another few days for me, sure what would another few days be. The house stood out from the rest, like an aristocrat, it’s garden somehow wasn’t overgrown. I took my time and walked around the side entrance, a cat jumping out of nowhere gave me a fright but I got it together and went around the back. When you got older your nerves could get the better of you. I always seemed to be somehow dousing me nerves with something or other, dousing them with flammable materials. The back window had no curtain. And the dining room was even nicer than I thought it would be. And in the corner of the room there looked like something that may have been a drinks cabinet.

Declan Geraghty is a writer and Poet from Dublin. He’s had short stories featured in Dublin in the Coming Times, edited by Roddy Doyle. He’s had poetry published in The Brown Envelope Collection and Cry of The Poor, published by Culture Matters. His latest publication entitled Brigid was edited by Declan Burke and features in the Knock and enter collection.

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