Sunday Jan 21

June Caldwell June Caldwell has an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University Belfast. Room Little Darker, her acclaimed collection of short stories, is published by New Island Books and forthcoming from Head of Zeus. Her story ‘SOMAT’ was published in the award-winning anthology The Long Gaze Back, and was chosen as a favourite by The Sunday Times. June’s fiction has been published in The Stinging Fly, The Moth, Winter Papers, The Lonely Crowd and The Broken Spiral anthology. She is a prizewinner of the Moth International Short Story Prize and has been shortlisted for many others, including: the Calvino Prize in Fabulist Fiction, the Colm Toíbín International Short Story Award, the Lorian Hemingway Prize, and the Sunday Business Post/Penguin Ireland Short Story Prize. Her first novel, Little Town Moone, is forthcoming from John Murray.

“Room Little Darker” is filled with brilliant lines. I’ve never read anything like it. Caldwell is a master of language, angst, hilarity, and savage situations.

Quotes

“He always said he saw faces and not just in the dead leg of night. Mean wizened women’s faces, out of holy nowhere, in the glass panel of the kitchen door leading out into the back garden.”

“And the house was never going to spew him up willingly either.”

“A water tank in the attic, only replaced the previous year, decided to manifest a swollen belly on the toilet ceiling, bursting through its own guts before the lift arrived.”

“His life was now a junk shop egg timer. Throat broken. Stomach empty. His head, well, basically in not so many words, it had begun to thoroughly scoff itself. Middle cerebral artery: considerable shrinkage. Clots: many. Brain bleeds: more to be expected. Aspiration pneumonia. Muscle Damage. He screamed. Roared. Pegged at us as if he were grabbing on to a half-inflated lifeboat.”

“…high up in the armpit of the hills…”

“Despite his seething arrogance, he still struck me as the type that’d lose the nelly in an existential tantrum and hang himself one day.”

“He knew he smelt like a sardine but that’s what Polish beer does to a man on a low wage.”

“This town is gone rough as a nun’s moustache.”

Interview with June Caldwell

Can you give some background to your writing? When did the pen find you?

I always wanted to write so I set off to do what a writer never should: I did three writing-related University courses then spent twenty years avoiding writing. I got into journalism instead because I figured if I was to make a living, pay rent, live, I had to make a living at something, so journalism was what I chose and looking back now it was always the wrong route for me. I resented flinging out nonsense copy; advertorials, business articles, IT drudge, feature articles, news stories, I probably only wrote a decent article I wanted to write twice a year or so, everything else was a strange form of PR, information regurgitation, heartache. Of course it meant that for thirteen years I was on a hamster wheel of words, with no tolerance or ability to sit down and write creatively in the evenings. I was so frustrated I wouldn’t read novels or any books that might make me feel even more miserable. I was on the wrong path completely. The turn in the road came in my mid 30s when I wrote a non-fiction biography of a gangster’s moll. I ditched the freelance work in Dublin and moved to Belfast to research and write the book. I sold an apartment in Dublin and lived off the profits. It meant I could also pay for an MA in Creative Writing at QUB. The writer Nuala O’Faolain – who always encouraged me and saw some potential in me – was my referee. But again I had to work as a freelance journalist to fund myself through the course. I was, effectively, working as a professional writer to pay for a course to teach me how to write. How Irish can you get! After the course was done I was exhausted trying to get by in Belfast and moved back down to Dublin. I volunteered at The Irish Writers Centre and it was there (not on the MA) that I learnt what I needed to about attempting to write fiction. As a member of staff, I got to ‘sit in’ on courses for free. They were far superior to what the MA had to offer. The tutors here were all working writers and their emphasis was to really push you to get you to a *new place* with your writing. The first course I did was Sean O’Reilly’s ‘Tales of the City’ short fiction course. It was fantastic though he was brutal and brutalizing in many ways. His advice in those early days was: ‘Write about the people you hate. Write about what’s disturbed you as well as what’s moved you. Push yourself. Don’t hold back.’ I learnt a lot from him and began to pen bits and pieces of plotless ‘short fiction’ (not complex enough to be dubbed ‘short stories’ at that stage, and sent them out to competitions and journals. I was shortlisted the first few times for various comps and thought it might be just fluke. But after one or two published pieces I tried to take myself more seriously. It was hard. I was also looking after family members who were ill and it was slow going. I had no confidence to properly go for it (yet) so kept sitting in on more and more courses, Mike McCormack’s ‘The Short Story’ course. Selina Guinness’s ‘Memoir Writing’ and various others. I had, at this time, begun writing for The Ante Room, a type of arts/feminist blog, edited by Sinéad Gleeson and Anna Carey. Sinéad saw potential in my writing and encouraged me to ‘write a novel’ or a ‘collection of stories’ [she would eventually launch my book for me, which was a great honour]. But still I faffed around and avoided the inevitable. They were tough years, not having enough base confidence but watching a lot of writers I met and knew, soar to great heights. I felt miserable! In 2015, seven years after completing the MA, Sinéad asked me to contribute a story to The Long Gaze Back anthology of Irish women writers. I was so nervous I left it until two days before the deadline and sent her in SOMAT. When the book came out, there was a lot of *thumbs up* for the story and I was quite surprised, if not shocked. It gave me the impetus to go forward. I signed up for The Stinging Fly six month fiction writing course a year later and that’s also [coincidentally] when New Island Books approached me for a collection. I had five months to do it, some old stories revamped, new ones penned and also several that didn’t make the grade as they were too barking.


Most novels and stories are loaded with what I call ‘fillers’. Sentences that lose the flavor of the language. I had a writing teacher once who told us that if we put two good sentences on every page, that is more than enough. What do you think of that advice?

There’s so much ‘writing advice’ doing the rounds that a lot of emerging writers begin to fall for it like a form of self-help, and it ultimately ends up stopping them writing. At the end of the day writing is lonely, hard and terrifying, you have to grapple with it alone, no amount of sitting in workshops or heading out to hear how other writers ‘got there’ will help you. It takes personal drive and commitment. And I’m saying this from the perspective of someone who avoided it for so long. A few simple questions to ask yourself: 1. Why do you want to write (what is pushing you to do that, what’s your neurosis all about) and 2. What do you want to write about? The latter is probably more important as you need to have that conversation with yourself before you set off on the Everest climb. Do you want to reproduce your life experience in a series of narcissistic dribbles that’ll amuse and entertain just you and your close friends or do you want to say something wider about the society you live in? If so, your writing needs to reflect that, you need to be unfiltered when it comes to subject matter and fearless on themes.


How long have you lived in Dublin?

Born in Dublin, lived here until age 18, left to go to London (I had to, Ireland was in rag, there were no jobs, you couldn’t get the dole then if you lived at home, every which way you looked, it was a series of economic dilemmas…Britain was an easy option, the brave and the stupid went further afield) for seven years, came back after a few years working and doing a BA in Writing & Publishing, to do a Pg.Dip in Journalism here in Dublin. There were short slots (six months each) of living in Jersey, Channel Islands, and Galway in the West of Ireland. Then Belfast for three and half years, and back to Dublin where I assume I’ll stay. I dream of living in Berlin some day, but by then I’ll be too old and narky to enjoy all the hipster shite on offer.


Can you pass along some new bands from Ireland that you love? Maybe a youtube link?

I don’t really listen to a lot of Irish music per se. I do, however, listen to songs *on repeat* when I’m writing. When I was penning the collection listened to one song on a loop for each of the stories I wrote/reworked, no real rhyme or reason, but here ye go:

Upcycle: Katie Noonan - Crazy
Leitrim Flip: Nina Simone - I Put A Spell On You

Dubstopia: Radiohead - Daydreaming

Imp of the Perverse: The Heartless Bastards - Only For You

SOMAT: Kate Bush - This Woman's Work

The Glens of Antrim: Cigarettes After Sex - Nothing's Gonna Hurt You Baby

The Man Who Lived In A Tree: AURORA - Runaway

Natterbean: The Pogues - Summer In Siam

BoyBot: The Waterboys - How Long Will I Love You

The Implant: Ash - Shining Light

Cadaverus Moves: David Bowie - Starman


What/Who/Where has inspired you?

Angela Carter blew my socks off while at University in the mid 1990s, incredibly unique, strong sexual/feminist overtones, brilliantly sculptured fairytales in The Bloody Chamber gone ultra modern with more intricate messages for the times we live in. Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept for the searing pain of a love affair gone [lifelong] wrong. Amos Oz’s The Same Sea for poetic brilliance and a novel told in hybrid form. Ross Raisin’s In God’s Own Country as a lesson in how to get completely consumed and obsessed by a character you create. Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From, a beautiful lean book of distilled expression. Irish writers such as Sean O’Reilly – for not holding back in the darkness and for resisting self-censorship – his latest collection Levitation is a startling experimental work and is like nothing any Irish writer has written , Eimear McBride (for voice and a brilliant grip on language), Claire Louise Bennett’s Pond for a new take on the close first-person narrative, it’s so cloister phobic the writing makes you feel like an accidental voyeur, Joanna Walsh (all her work) for sheer brilliance and intelligence. Nuala O’Faolain (RIP) for bravery in tackling real-life issues in a non-PC honest manner. Cats for strangeness and amusement. The full moon. Aubergines. Train journeys. Trees. The night sky. Good wine. Nice ravioli. Kind hearted people. Expensive bedspreads. Velvet. The sound of the sea bashing the shores where we assume we’re safe.


You have a lot of women characters in abusive situations, but most seem to appreciate being ‘bottoms’. They don’t lose their spark and wiry fire. Any thoughts on this?

There has been a lot of talk in reviews about ‘the sex’ in the book and the usual accusations of ‘trying to shock’ or material being purposefully ‘graphic’ which I was expecting being a woman author. When men write graphically they get the bog-standard holler of approval and are called brave. A lot of material in the stories stems from real life, either personal experience or reality as I have perceived it (however twistedly). There are power relations in every relationship, someone controlling or assuming control, maybe a clandestine flipping of that where the person who thinks they’re in control realizes they totally rely on the assume ‘weaker’ partner to make them feel strong and resilient. And yet the public perception (or our own perception) of relationship is an obsession with equality, with PC egalitarianism. I wanted to examine two people bashing their psychologies together in a different manner to the usual: I wanted to push boundaries and see people at the fracture point in relationships, where they’re mentally breaking down trying to cope. I’d also noticed that a lot of fiction depicting women’s desire is based around sitting on a couch silently mulling over a man, flicking through the sexual politics of it as theory instead of in action. The two ‘relationship stories’ – Leitrim Flip and The Glens of Antrim – explore close relationships through the prism of power exchanges. But these are not often what they seem. Like The Moon card in the tarot, the message in both is probably ‘things are not as they seem’. In Leitrim Flip the ‘submissive’ character comes out on top (excuse the pun) by accepting her fate, she’s at peace in her head by the end and hopeful, while the ‘Master’ character has lost the plot completely. He cannot cope with having his assumed hierarchy stripped from him. In The Glens of Antrim the female character looks back at their ‘experimental’ sexual relationship and comes to terms with how stark and unfulfilling it really was. Rather than there being moral lessons here, I hope my depiction of the female characters owns up to a type of vulnerability, a risk taking that women can and do take too easily in relationships, sore lessons learnt but a period of change by the end. Although these stories are explicit in part, I hope they are also humourous or eye-opening. In other stories, such as The Implant, we see the female character coming to terms with a toxic relationship breaking down and taking back some of the power she needs to go forward into new life with. There is a casual misogyny in relationship that I’ve experienced myself, where you get coaxed in and misled, dragged to the depths where you have to [eventually] take responsibility for not having your own needs met. Romance is so rare these days and so hard to come by, we can get lost so very easily. Women have more power and equality than ever before, but still we are *used* in ways we are often not prepared for or can understand.


I saw Kevin Barry read here in NM and he said he had to invent a place in Ireland because the mass of great Irish writers had taken and written about all the locations. My favorite Irish writer was Flann O’Brien. I hold you up there in high esteem. What do you think about Barry’s comment?

There was a huge hang-up for way too long in writers writing about The Irish idyll, which usually meant bilocating to some lurid shithole in rural Ireland somewhere and writing out the dreams and obsessions of the nation, of an assumed identity that Ireland seems to have around the globe. I really don’t’ know what that’s about. If you’re from a working-class housing estate in a dreary city, then write about that, make it interesting, bring it alive. Same too for writers from the North of Ireland (there’s not a lot of fiction about The Troubles that reflects the lived realities) or writers who grew up in high rise complexes (Karl Parkinson’s The Blocks is a unique take on this). I think because an awful lot of male writers did so auto-well writing about the hilarity of The Irish Blackguard (a kind of chancer) or the wily farmer, horny priest, blah blah, we got used to reading the clichés as real. Writers like Edna O’Brien really made huge inroads into writing about Irish women’s predicaments in a misogynistic church-ruled country that denied women not only economic parity but also their own sexuality, for way too long. Meave Brennan and Nora Hoult that were shoved aside by ‘the canon’ for a long time (never making it onto the school curriculum which was traditionally riddled with nature or war-obsessed dead bearded men) are being exhumed and read again, which is doing something to redress the silent reception that a lot of women writers faced. I think it’s great that writers like Kevin Barry are inventing new rural-scapes that are brutal and near-apocalyptic. Colin Barrett, Frankie Gaffney and Rob Doyle are also doing interesting (and ‘edgy’) stuff with their lit-geographies in their book. For me I was predominantly hung-up on writing about ‘the city’ in Room Little Darker because that’s where I live, breathe, sponge in and exist. Why would I write about an imagined place when there’s so much bizarre reality playing itself out in front of my eyes in the Dublin of today?


How do you like reading and touring?

I love reading at festivals and literary events. I’m very shy on one level, so it’s great for me to put a bit of welly into bringing characters to life. It tickles me no end when someone asks (after a reading) ‘Are you an actress?’ I love that. Maybe we all are. It’s also great to meet and chat to readers and to hear criticism or points of confusion, that’s an opportunity to learn where your own fiction has let you down.


What are you working on now or next?

I’ve a deadline for a novel – Little Town Moone – with John Murrays in the UK for next summer. I pretty much only had a wobbly beginning of a novel I started years ago on the MA but didn’t have enough gusto to grab it by the short and curlies then. It’s loosely based around one of the missing women in Ireland back in the 1990s, but it’s taken on a bit in time and is a fractured narrative which examines the idea of risk-taking, personal trauma and misogyny. It’s a scary juncture for me, after writing stories (only) before now, but I also love a challenge, so in the New Year it’s head down and time to shut the bedroom door and become a raving obsessive once again.


Do you have a specific schedule you adhere to? Do you ever drink at night while you write?

I never drink and write. I can’t write at all with a hangover so the booze is on a 2018 limit for me. I’ll go out occasionally and will be reading at festivals (such as Doolin Writers Weekend) where I will let my hair down and suck up the gin, but when I write it’s bottled water and music played on a loop. I don’t write every day though I’ll have to now. I prefer to wait until I’m in the mood and really dance madly with it, writing for eight or ten hours at a time. And bizarrely, the next day I often feel quite scooped out and depressed and gorge on Netflix until the guilt pokes me up the arse again. I write at night-time mainly, when the world is asleep and I have the freedom and peace to think and slip myself forward, ever so slightly.


Can you share a quote from someone who inspires you?

“No, my advocates, my angels with sadist eyes, this is the beginning of my life, or the end. So I lean affirmation across the cafe table, and surrender my fifty years away with an easy smile. But the surety of my love is not dismayed by any eventuality which prudence or pity can conjure up, and in the end all that we can do is to sit at the table over which our hands cross, listening to tunes from the wurlitzer, with love huge and simple between us, and nothing more to be said.”
                   ― Elizabeth Smart , By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept



Thank you so much, June, for sharing some of your brilliance with us! LOVE! Xoxo
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                                                                       NATTERBEAN

He knew he smelt like a sardine but that’s what Polish beer does to a man on a low wage. With names like Tatra, Tyskie, and Żywiec, he may as well have been downing fermented donkey piss the night before. The smug knotty face on the bent cop who ran the off license on a privately paid-for unflappable hip made him madder than a hacksaw. To top it off he woke to Gina screaming blue butchery as he forgot the green lentils again – on a wholefood buzz since her arse went all weather balloon – he still hadn’t got around to sorting out the monkey business with her. Burrowing in his chest hair for six torturous weeks. But today it was the thoughts of Natterbeans that was pushing him comprehensively into the dark place. Swarming the roads and cycle lanes. Using his waxed bonnet traffic lights as a fat walking stick to get them to where they didn’t remember they had to go on the other side. If he’d half a brain or a quarter of a heart he’d feel sorry for the fuckers, but they were a type of celestial cabbage he loathed. When he passed Fanagans Funeral Home with the over owing bottle bins slumped at its gates, bits of torn brown tights flying from the tangled railings of an aulone’s wet dream, one of them hopped in all lickety-spit.

‘Alright bro! You and me are mates aren’t we? Yer nor gonna give me no jip cos I’m having a fuck of a day like? I’ll pay ye goodo, yeah. I’ll see ye alright when I get me glasses as me old ma used to say but I never really knew what she meant. Ma’s are stone fucking mad aren’t they? You know what I’m gerrin’ at, don’t ye? I’ll shut me trap now, we’ll probably get there quicker. Isn’t that the way bud? You from around here?’

‘Where are we off to?’ he asked. Knowing that to politely remove the plank from the back seat after he’d already pressed the fare button would be undue hassle. ‘Just tell me where we’re heading to so we can make a move.’ The roads ahead slippy and slimy. He’d have to drive slow and meticulously, sunk stupid in Natterbean’s backdoor trots splattering from his gob.

‘Well I tell ye what, I’m natterbean up at the clinic and they was fucking me around cos they says I ain’t got a prescription or that I did have a yokedymadoo in anyways but I don’t no more so I’ve to head to this other gaff up around Meath Street and talk to Mr Doherty who’ll sort me out at another clinic till the Finglas one get word of where their prescription went to ... One hand doesn’t know who’s scratching the nebs of the other ... bunch of bleeding jokers.’

‘Look, where are we going to?’ he asked again. Not so politely this time, adding that he wanted to see the cash. ‘Out with the spondoolies, I need to know if you can sort the fare.’

‘Stall the ball there bud. Don’t be going all Donald Trump on me. Think I’m just another dopey trackie don’t ye? But here, c’mere, I’m natterbean up at the cash machine so we’re good to wangle. I’m not fucking dense. I can answer most questions on The Chase. Do ye watch dat, do ye? Fucking love that programme. Gas the way greedy bolloxes say they’re going to buy a gaff, then they go home with fuck all when them fat chasers ram them up the hole.’

He’d been stung too many times lately by the likes of him. The last Natterbean, he had to reef him back into the car through the front window by the scruff. So far gone, so wasted, so emaciated, he would’ve been able to do a runner through a cat flap if he’d had his jimminy bits about him. That particular night he drove like a gazelle with a rocket up its shitepipe, through the Port Tunnel, up past the airport. Out into the spuds and strawberries-for-sale countryside with its vulgar pretend Tudor houses and Breaded Chicken Breast With Pineapple pubs. Dumping him in a field without his Nikes or bubble down jacket. A few hard farewell slaps. Took his social welfare and medical cards just so he’d forget forever who he was supposed to be. Left him there at the hem of humanity for the dawn to deal with.

‘It’s nice to be nice, you know? Don’t be all rough bud like one of them bleeding leg breakers. Didn’t I tell ye we were going up as far as Meath Street. I’m natterbean in two Jo Maxis and they were like, the same as that. I’ve plenty of paper on me so I have. I’ll give ye extra if ye wait for us. I’ll give ye a tenner up front now, alright bud, even though yezer clock only says a fiver so far, how’s that for a bargain bucket?’

‘Do me a favour,’ he said, this time pulling the taxi over to the side of the road before they headed further into the cesspit. ‘Will ye try to shut your hoop on the way? I can’t concentrate if someone’s nattering constantly. Trying to keep me mincers on the traffic. Nothing personal. I’m sure you’re a nice fella, blah blah blah. But we’ll get on much better if we can get there as quickly and as peacefully as we can.’

He adjusted the mirror to take a closer look. Natterbean had the same mushroom pallor and knee- jerkiness as the others, but with a thin pointy face that was extra alert. Morning fox in an industrial estate looking for crane flies. His uneven shoulders and busted nose were typical. Teeth yellow as corn on the cob. Stinking of Lynx over dirt and cherry bubblegum. As he drove past Glasnevin Cemetery, he was reminded of the tour guide who supped the pints in his local boozer. He’d be beating on about how the bodies of the rich were interred in fancy private tombs but in recent times Natterbeans were breaking in in the dead of night pricking themselves and the ghosts with heroin needles. The ornamental pathways planted with Lebanon cedar, red sequoia, oak, beech and yew, were spattered with blood and empty Tayto bags. Soon they’d be in sight of the quays and he’d be rid of him, circling back to grab sure-fire fares from the airport.

‘Yeah yeah yeah yeah, what did I fucking tell ye? He’s a poxy messer. Fucking headwreck. Don’t be minding him. Total spacer. ’Whining into his blower. ‘I’m natterbean up there with Natalie this morning and she says it’s sorted. I’ve to go here first on a message, gizza buzz back in an hour.’

He was glaring at the mobile, pressing on the buttons like a reflexology tosspot would on a scabby foot. ‘Here, bud, will ye pull over there for a sec. There’s me old homey at the corner, I owe him a note.’

Homey was a fat man on one leg with a squeegee of green hair you could wash a pile of dishes with. He could hear the Honda 50 drawl of both their voice boxes building up at breakneck speed into an ambulance siren,‘warrrhhh warrrrhhh warrrrh warrrr’, before he jumped back in the car again. Better not be messing him around. The meter was up to €14 already. He wasn’t about to bring him on a round-trip of inner city Dublin dealers in creepy car parks and lurid laneways strewn with needles, plastic cartons, banana skins, blood-soaked knickers. The one yesterday, a good-looking dolly, had the wool rightly pulled, taking him to five different chemists for ‘phy’ while robbing them of expensive wrinkle cream.

‘I’m only trying to make an honest living like you are,’ she’d said, jumping back into his car. ‘I’m natterbean in prison four times already and I’ll never go back, so relax the cacks.’

His reg was taken on CCTV and traced. He had to call into the Guards and explain himself. It’s not his job to ask questions as long as the punter pays up, but he got a fine from the carriage office regardless.

‘Can ye turn down here for a minute bud,’ he said when they hit the grey bulk of Christchurch. ‘There’s me mate Bottler, just want to say howayea. His missus had a sprog a few weeks back. They’d to sew up her piss bag an all, she’s in an awful state.’

Bottler staggered out of a doorway looking like a grade-A psycho who’d crack your toes off and use them as ear plugs for nights he was slumped under the motorway bridge unable to crawl to anywhere else. Natterbean gave him a man slap on the shoulder and limped his way back to the car.

‘That fella looks like a bit of a header if you don’t mind me saying.’ He wanted to draw his attention to the clock. ‘Just letting you know with the few stops already, it’s up to €22 now.’

‘No bother bud,’ he said. ‘Here’s another Lady Godiva. I’ll give ye the rest when we get there. He used to be a brilliant house breaker, but the Hungarians have it wrapped up so they do. Put fucking broken glass outside bedroom doors. If ye hear clatter in the middle of the night, right, ye smash yer feet right up if ye gander to see what’s going down. Filthy stuff that is. We never did nothing like that. Always straight in and out. It’s not on. Some poor oldie prick cutting his feet to ribbons. You don’t do shit like that but the Hungarians and Poles are bonkers. No bleeding respect.’

At the corner of Meath Street and Engine Alley a red hoodie made a run for the window. ‘There ye are ye mad cunt!’ he roared in. ‘I’m natterbean talking about you to Skittles and the lads!’ He held onto the boot as the lights turned green, falling over on his arse and rolling towards the drain. Natterbean was punching more digits on his mobile as the chemist came into view. He thought of Gina and her constant trips to McCabe’s for fake tan. Except she’d gotten the mangy Egyptian one, looked like runny dog shite slipping down her pins. It didn’t strike him as odd at the time either that she’d started getting her fanny waxed into a Brazilian landing strip, whatever the bejaysisfuck that was, saying that it stopped her getting itchy. ‘It’s €28 on the clock, I’ll need paying as soon as you come out.’

He’d accidentally seen her Tinder chat a few weeks before. Gina left her pink iPhone in the newly built utility room thrown on top of some dirty duvet covers ironically enough – he hadn’t even heard of dating apps for phones – a kind of Hailo for getting your hole. It might’ve only been a series of narks with this Paul but he doubted it. She was a right goer when she could be arsed putting it out. Up to three times a day when they met first. His knob the colour of a pit bull’s nose. ‘Bonobo’ he’d called her. Always wanting it rough from behind. Hurt like fuck to know she could’ve been that lonely or desperate after twenty-two years. He’d decided not to tell her he knew but the knowing had done his snot in. Didn’t sit pretty thinking what he could do to her if she continued messing him around. He could harm her so easily. Breaking her neck like a Brazil nut. Pushing her down the stairs when she was doing her aulone’s trick of hauling two baskets of washing. Sticking ethylene glycol in her skinny mint hot chocolate to fuck up her kidneys. Now this knucklehead of a Natterbean was bashing digits just like she does with Candy Crush when she wakes in the mornings full of beans whiffing of boiled mackerel. There was probably a junkie app as well. Swaying thumb tacks on Google Maps for those desperate for a hit.

‘You can pay me what you owe and get out of the car.’

‘Don’t be freaking the beak,’ he said. ‘Jaysis I’m natterbean in a queue the size of a black man’s mickey. Fucking mayhem in there! They’re making everyone down it in front of the nurses on account of wackos keeping it in their gobs. They do be spitting the phy out into plastic cups to sell outside. Here’s a thirty spot. I need one more Cheesy Quaver over in Ringsend.’

Is this what she’d been doing too, sending him off on ‘little jobs’ as she called them? All over the grid while she got herself nice and slinky and reeking of Beyoncé Heat upstairs. Cut-price curtains in Debenhams. A parasol in Woodies. Under-the-bed shoe boxes from a boutique in Louth when they have them in Clearwater for a tenner ... while yer man was messing with her plumbing controls at home? Playing with her faucets, bursting her storm drain. Her in some lace corset or other he hadn’t seen or noticed from years ago. He wondered if any of the neighbours noticed him sidling up the driveway or if he had the smarts to park around the corner and stroll around casually. Grabbing Gina’s tits in the hall. Shoving his hand up her skirt and calling her a dirty slut. He imagined himself around the back on the decking looking through the kitchen window down into the hall. Grabbing a baseball bat from the shed. Tearing through the door, zapping the fucker with one huge belt so his head split like a melon. Her screaming, leg still cocked, about to take him deep up the fandora. He liked the idea of making her clean his blood afterwards. Making sure she took her knickers off first. He’d sniff the crotch while he watched her swipe with the J-cloth, not even near spongy enough to soak up the clots. Crying like a zany bag at a pope’s funeral. ‘Wait until you see what I’m going to do with you next.’

‘Are you dealing skank and using me as a muppet to drive you around?’ he barked at Natterbean, who was, once again, slapping the shit out of his mobile phone.

‘No way, no way, I’m no scummer, not like that, no way.’

He could see him now in the mirror pulling at a sausage shape in his crotch. He’d heard about heroin making them extra fertile and methadone making ye mad horny. Endless cycle of new drugs and new bellies full of babies. To think that him and Gina planned their kid right from when her ovaries were steaming. Up to the Camengo Lollipops & Animals wallpaper he’d ordered from France as a surprise after she’d done the big heave-ho. Didn’t even wet the baby’s head so he’d be there, bolder soldier by her side. Waited till the stitches healed to let her home in his taxi laced with cerise balloons chasing all three of them through the cobbles of Dublin. ‘I’ll suck the snot out of her hooter if I have to,’ he promised Gina. ‘When she gets on a bit I’ll collect her in the work limo from school so she’ll feel like a rap princess at her first gig down the O2.’

Natterbean pulled out a wad of notes, spilling a bundle over his feet. At least a couple of grand. A mate of his, Breezer, a real good spud, a dad, a brother, a footballer an’ all before he kicked into the smack, was gonna get it in the head tonight from a knackbag worse than the Nidge. Wasn’t even an IOU involved in this one, no. Refused to put lead in the head of another junkie who rode one of the dealer’s pole tarts. Like he was an innocent fucker this bloke. Only got into the skank when his Ma died of tit cancer leaving him to look after six youngfellas, cooked his head big time. That’s where they were heading now. He’d done a dip around to get him on the boat to Britland. ‘I’ll give ye a hundred to collect him at Ringsend and bring him safe to the boat in East Wall. We gorra deal bud?’

He wasn’t expecting anything like this from the likes of that. ‘What age is his nipper? Look, it’s no problem, no harm to help a bloke out in a proper jam. This town is gone rough as a nun’s moustache.’

‘Son is eight, lives out of his ankles, you never see them apart, follows him around the town like a bleeding shadow, he’s gutted so he is, poor cunt.’

Gina’s bloke probably had a little bollox the same age. When he took his regular beached whale politician who smelt of egg mayonnaise from the Dáil up to the Blackrock Clinic to get the jab in her swollen gam, he’d squat outside with the engine off thinking of where the brat might go to school. Shifting up to the bushes near the gates. ‘Here d’ye want these Pringles, I’m stuffed stupid, g’wan there’s more than half left.’ The greedy twit would stroll straight over, a thick fuck like his Da, trusting as the days goes by. He’d grab his small head, ramming the window closed on his snotter, hearing his high-pitched scream. Pulling the fucker’s ears, giving him a few hard smacks. ‘Tell your dirty aulfella that’s what he gets for porking my wife. ’Watching him in the mirror as he drove off, spinning on the path, an upside-down beetle.

Eyes wide open when they reached the docks. It wasn’t that long since Nulty had his licence swiped and car impounded by Special Branch for helping Cocaine Crispin drop off a load set for the UK jog into Europe. Matters piggery shite if the cops know you’re just a cog. More likely to go after the deputies than the mofos who can afford water wheels and brass dragons outside big dirty gaffs in Meath and Kildare. Nulty’s missus shut the door and kept on power walking when he could no longer pay the mortgage. Never got over it, though he got back on track as a security guard after. ‘That’s it for me,’ he told the lads in the Come On Inn. ‘No more fish in the fryer when ye marry your first and pray she’ll be the last. I wouldn’t know what to do with a new bitch’s wet bits. I’d fucking brown meself.’

The docks had a sheeny buzz since they’d done them all up on Fine Fáil chips. No more rust bunks sitting on giant metal plinths. Through civil wars and world wars and the IRA’s gun-running gobshites on the run from themselves, they’d all hid down here, heads low. First batches of heroin were holed up in derelict warehouses full of pigeons. Prozzies from Eastern Europe were brought in through the sea gates. Young lives spent sucking on office peckers dreaming of getting out in a footballer’s convertible before being shot in the head as a favour to a crack baron in Cabra for a write-off of a few quid or other. He could imagine the scrawny famine families dressed in linen sacks carrying malnourished mites onto ships here. Mooching back through history to see Gina and yer man up on deck staring down with grotto faces hoping for a fresh start in New York. Knowing they’d never be back again but being sure they’d starve to death on the way. He’d like to throw her back to the roaring famine and shove a pile of typhus down her gullet for good measure. Not in a million fucking years did he think she’d put out for anyone other than him. That had been the Majorca promise. Nothing but the egg smell of seaweed had stayed the same since those rotten times. There was even an apartment block now in the shape of a cruise liner for those twats that worked in Google and the likes. At night you could see the neon fish swimming up their walls as far out as Howth.

‘There’s the cunt there!’ Natterbean said, pointing to a bloke in a grey duffel coat. Slumped up against a wet wall with black anchor chains, arguing with a seagull. ‘Breezer, over here, c’mere, ye fucking queer!’ He froghopped before the car had properly stopped. They wobbled towards each other. Slap slap, mind yerself, where’s me gym bag, take care, no you take care, I’ll take care, but will you take care, let us know. Stay under wraps until he heard of them getting de chop. All of them ones ended up sucking fat worms before they were thirty.

The way Breezer hugged yer man as if he was a warm marshmallow. Never seen anything like it. Sad bastard would be on the ferry in an hour thinking of his nipper he’d never fudge eyes on again. ‘I need a hundred now before we go further,’ he told Natterbean when he slumped back in.‘The clock’s been off over an hour.’ He drove slowly, snakily, ignoring the fact that he was crying. Junkies don’t cry, he thought. They wouldn’t know what it meant. He’d looked at the two bozos clouting about in the wind and felt in his guts they’d end up on the shite side of fate no matter how much they scrambled to look after themselves. Him and Gina hadn’t done too bad all been told. They were on top of the bills, even with the insurance hikes on the motor in the last year. They always managed a big sloppy carvery on a Sunday. Got out for at least a few riproars in the month. Always made sure they had a right laugh. Sure hadn’t he done a few slappers when they didn’t have the dosh, instead of taking them to the Guards for the proper fare. Banged them over the leopard-fur front seats without giving Gina a thought. He tried not to think of that too much. Men had different needs to birds but it didn’t have to mean anything sinister. Gave her at least two holidays a year, taking Cindy to Disneyland Paris for her sixth birthday, Gina begged him for months. She wanted for nothing and he said fuck all when she got the paint slopper in every Christmas to magic the walls cacky green.

No matter what she’d be moaning the toss when he got back. Ye forgot this, ye didn’t pick up that. Didn’t he get a right laugh out of her nagging him with her eyes going all big and hyper and mad? ‘Where’s me poxy lentils? Didn’t I say no matter what bring me back the green lentils.’ He’d be in no mood for a long ear-lashing with the night shift a few stinking hours away. ‘Ah here, would ye ever give me a bitta space.’ He’d give her the mucky glare alright. Always got a trouser twitch after driving for hours. She’d be wearing her vampire slag purple lippo.There wasn’t a woman in Ireland who looked as scorchingly horny with it lathered all over her big gob, the dirty minx. ‘Love, I’m natterbean out all day grafting, the least you can do is shut that sinkhole and put the kettle on. ’Then he’d smile like a donut and tell her she’d a nice ripe arse.