Thursday, 11 September 2008

Wake

Rory was walking the dog down every back street he knew. Avoiding going back home, hoping to feel the ugly weight of his workday sink into the damp tracks of his footprints, with every step he took, he was imagining a quiet phase creeping across his mind like a silent tide. He knew it might take a while, but so far, despite him crossing his fingers, strangling them around each other, tight in his pockets, he was still prey to the erratic seasick roll of looping thoughts hitting him in a dark place deep behind his swaying belly, somewhere grabbed by the throat and slammed up against his spine. 

Maybe it was the exhaustion getting the better of him, the stress of a day packed with the emotion of too much expected doom, or perhaps he was sickening for something? 

He made one more circuit of the parish bounds, following the streets like the funeral procession he'd seen a week earlier that was led by proud horses that looked like they were dancing. They had made him smile. So had a ridiculous thought about everyone having a knees up on the way to the grave, never mind at the wake. As he looked down from the office window, he was expecting a fiddler to stroll out of the pub playing a heart wrenching lament - one of those old Irish airs that seemed to play in time stopped still, full of ornaments and swooping intervals that caught your breath and made you remember. In the spectacle of it all, he thought he could hear the gathering chaos of a reel that couldn't help running away with itself, laughing high on the whoops and spins of girls who had kicked off their shoes, and the inevitable racing towards the tumbling notes of the jig. But it must have been some green light-footed ancestral ghost passing a hand of welcome over Rory's knuckles as he gripped the edge of the gritty window sill. He didn't know why this felt like such a happy moment.

It was still fresh in his mind when, behind Woolworth's, eight loud and round girls in the pink stetsons of a hen party hobbled past on the cobblestones, flashing their knickers and throwing soggy chips.  An elderly man, stood on the corner, watching, holding a sign on a long pole. "The end is nigh" blared down from a height like a raucous fanfare from out of tune horns in close discord. Rory guessed that the man must have been waiting all his life for this very day, wanting to drink in every moment, every drop of it so as not to miss a thing, reveling in his superior knowledge. 

In the absurdity of it all, the dog suddenly turned all twitchy on it's paws, like it was walking on spilled and scattered tacks. Before he knew it, they were running back towards the hen party girls, back towards the man with the sign. And just like in some unplanned party game that gets out of hand on the squeals of children, they were all running through the black edged street in a long stumbling line - the shocked and offended man with his sign of doom, eight screaming girls, hats and handbags flying, a galloping dog on a long red lead, and a buoyant, laughing man who felt, at last, like he was stepping into a real life.