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Absolute Arse

Months devolve into weeks into days into hours, metaphysical weather accrues, sweaty office girls, labourers and butcher’s assistants soaked in deodorant wish for long life and health like the hall-porter-doorman. It still astonishes me, the sun and the summer and my thinking cap, the one with the hole in it. It’s as amazing as all the shapes and sizes of office girls passing in the door, and the people who stop to talk, every one of them an amazement. Mike, a waiter in The Metropole who dreams of being a cinematographer, making films that detail his nightmares in the Delta Rhythm, murky claustrophobic landscapes populated by demons, ogres, dwarves, poisonous plants, hybrid creatures, half-man, half-reptile, landslides, and often running through overgrown wilderness in fear of discovery when trying to hide from the devils that roam without cease through his interior world. Teddy, the postman described his day out at the hurling match in Thurles, championship hurling was not good for the heart, the intensity was amazing, I agreed with him there, having watched the game on television in a pub, my heart pounding towards the end. Sally, a typist, with her hair braided and eyelids painted, the one who had almost been killed during a cyclone in Burma, asked had I seen the moonbow, the what? Lunar rainbow, such an amazing halo. Boris, the janitor, pulled out a pack of John Player Blue. We lit up. We said very little, but something passed between us. Mrs. Egan, a cleaning lady, a sweet light woman, who mostly spoke about her grandchildren, offered me a Fox’s Glacier Mint on her way out. A stop off in Mrs. Ford’s on the way up did nothing to improve the pensive mood that had sat on my hat like a black cloud all day, the hat with the hole in it, her sad, anguished face and fretful voice, her nervous tension was horrible. I sat with her, drinking a cup of tea, without saying a word, listening to her. She would be eighty in July. When I got home, I ate half a tuna sandwich after which I was unable to do anything but smoke and read, lounging in my chair, without vigour, not enough energy to go into the kitchen and boil the kettle. I was astounded to come across a reference to Burma in a novel. I lay back and stared at the ceiling, a fly circling the light bulb, water forever deluging down through the pipes. There was an argument in progress somewhere. You absolute arse, I heard, you should crawl back to your mummy. A neighbour’s washing machine rattled like heavy artillery; somewhere near a television moaned. The room grew dark. I let the dark settle. I kept the curtains closed because with the loss of energy, came a loss of passion for human companionship and with that also my passion for nature. When we were children, we heard of a man who never left his room. Come on, let’s knock on the door. We knocked on the door but legged it so fast down the stairs, three at a time, hitting the second landing with such a thump that Mrs. Manning was sent bundling into the wall. When we hit the street, we didn’t stop running. Noone wanted to see a man who never comes out, at least that’s what we thought and then forgot all about it. I began to fill in a tax form with a trembling hand, didn’t get beyond the first page. A pang of hunger around midnight, it was either a four-day-old sausage on a piece of toast, or a can of eel soup I’d picked up in Iceland. I mustered the energy to open the can of eel soup, half of which I forced down while listening to songs from a wireless radio, Luxemburg and Budapest, the tunes and lyrics of songs flitting through my consciousness, between four and six minutes long. I was a hall porter without ambition. I was a man with no desire to be seen or heard, and yet, the previous day, standing in the doorway, an energy to be something else began to simmer in my blood, to be something other than this skeleton in a uniform, someone to be admired, was that not ambition? Doris, an accountant arrived, I brushed a hand through my hair. What if she knew what I was really like? If she could read my thoughts and see the amazing ideas I entertained while listening to the radio, Luxemburg and Budapest, was that not ambition? If she could see into the depths of my midnight fantasies, you absolute arse, a light breeze lifting the curtains, a pigeon and the traffic on the road. And beyond a whole world living this minute, from The Metropole to Thurles to Burma and a mind-boggling multiplicity of hearts beating. I would rather write a letter of resignation than complete that tax form. Page one. I turned the yellow leaf, page two. I better have a closer look. After a lengthy search for my reading glasses, I found them in the top pocket of my shirt. Once, while going in for a swim, I planked my sunglasses beside a breakwater with the tide coming in. There was a birthday party on the beach. They grilled pork and beef burgers and chicken wings. When I came out of the water my sunglasses were already floating out to sea. You absolute arse. What of my anonymity if someone began to email me looking for information? Teddy, the postman, Sally the typist, Mike the waiter, Doris the accountant, Boris the janitor, Mrs. Ford the octogenarian, who felt sorry for me did not realise that she need not worry about my solitude, more time alone is what I needed. With the advent of all night supermarkets, I could go out under cover of darkness, an idea which for some reason made me recall a loud banging on the door earlier in the evening, somewhere between the tuna sandwich and the eel soup, someone hammering on the door. Children. I heard them running down the stairs. I walked from room to room. There was no letter, no phone, no emails. I walked from room to room. Maybe it was the eel soup, the eel slithering around inside, causing a disquiet of the mind, slithering inwards and outwards and onwards through all that was happening on the planet, every astonishing, amazing absolute arse. 

Edward Mc Whinney of Cork, Ireland, is a regular contributor to Contrary. Read our interview with him.