1.So there you have it. The book launches on August 22nd, by the way, at Hodges Figgis on Dawson Street, Dublin 2. If you’re in the vicinity, I’d love to see you there.
It was rare fine night for a stroll down by the docks, the moon plump as a new pillow in an old-fashioned hotel and the undertow in the turning tide swushing its ripples silvery-green and a bird you’ve never heard before chirring its homesick tale of a place you might once have known and most likely now will never see, mid-June and almost midnight and balmy yet, the kind of evening built for a long walk with a woman who likes to take long walks and not say very much, and that little in a murmur you have to strain to catch, her laughter low and throaty, her humour dry and favouring lewd, eyes like smoky mirrors of the vast night sky and in them twinkles that might be stars reflecting or the first sparks of intentions that you’d better fan with soft words and a gentle touch in just the right place or spend the rest of your life and maybe forever wondering what might have been, all for the want of a soft word and a touch gentle and true.
It was that kind of evening, alright. That kind of place.
You ever find yourself there, say something soft, and be gentle, and true.
Me, I found myself hunched over the charred dwarf that had once been Finn Hamilton, parts of him still sizzling in a marinade of oily flesh and melting tar, and all around the rank stench of singing hair and burnt petrol, seared pork.
Midnight, and balmy yet.
I’d seen him jump. Pacing the yard below, phone clamped to my ear. ‘Listen, Ben, she’s under pressure at work, okay? You need to take that on -- What? Yeah, I know. But look, sometimes your mum says things she --’
I heard him, first. Faint but clear from nine stories high.
‘Bell jars away …’
From instinct I glanced up with the next line already forming, let’s be fearless with our promises, but by then he’d jumped, a dark blur plummeting, wings folded against the drag like some starving hawk out of the noon sun, some angel betrayed.
I guess he punched through the cab’s roof so hard he sent metal shearing into the petrol tank. All it took was one spark.
The blast smashed me ten feet into a heap of scrap metal, left me deafened and half blind, limbs rubbery as I scrabbled around ripping my hands on rusty steel. Stunned and flopping in the aftermath of a quake that tore my insides apart
lie down stay down
lungs pounded by hammers O Jesus breathe, breathe and a roaring in the ears of blood tortured to a scream
coming tinny and distant
‘Dad? Are you there?’
the phone two feet and a million miles away, dirt thick in my teeth
‘I think you’re breaking up, Dad …’
and the taste of roasting flesh and metal thick on my tongue.
A hot knife pierced my ribs as I reached for the phone.
‘Ben?’ A harsh grating. ‘Ring you back, Ben.’
I lurched to my feet on spongy knees and stumbled across the yard towards the blaze. The air all a-shimmer so that his feet looked submerged, some weirdly wavering polyps. One of his moccasins came away as I pulled him free and at first I thought I’d ripped him in half. Then I thought he’d dropped a dwarf on the cab. Strange the things you think when you’re trying not to think at all, dragging a man from a torched wreck and his flesh frying in lumps on the melting tar.
As I twisted my head, guts already heaving, I realised why he seemed so short.
He’d dived, come down arrow-straight, in the final instant pulling back his arms so that the impact drove his head and shoulders back up into his chest. There was still some remnant of what had once been his neck but the head had pulped like so much ripe melon.
I puked until the heaves came dry and then rang it in. Globs of grey grease spitting on the cab’s skeletal frame.
Meanwhile, for those of you curious about the origin of the lyrics briefly quoted above, they’re from ‘Bell Jars Away’, courtesy of the immortal Rollerskate Skinny. Roll it there, Collette …