by Paul R. Buckle
Weir– A low dam; On the hop – Skipping school; Holliers – Holidays; Langer – Contemptible person; Quid – Pound; Boy – buddy/mate (pronounced – by); Leaving Cert – Leaving certificate (End of high school certificate); Nagan – Small bottle of alcohol; Offy – Off Licence; Whacker – Uncouth youth; Half cut – Half drunk; Fag -Cigarette; Snazzy – Well dressed; Hopped – Jumped, attacked; Preggers – Pregnant.
It’s a warm summer afternoon when I find out that Joe has killed himself. His image comes to me, him hanging there in his bedroom, his long red hair swaying about his face, his shadow flicking about the pale yellow walls. ‘Walls the colour of puke’, he always said.
I stand there helpless.
“Remember Graddard?” Joe is asking.
Joe and me are down the weirs watching the water bubble over the rocks. We’re on the hop, and it’s the usual haunt for truants, right behind the school and easy to get to if you can squeeze under the wire fence at the back of the sports field, which you can because it’s been pulled up many a time for just that.
It’s getting to the fence without being nabbed that’s the trick; you have to slip your way through the loose line of ferns that start at the school gates and go all the way past the prefabs up to the gym, and then there’s that bit of open space, a couple of yards you have to sprint across before you kind of dive-wriggle under the fence.
You can be caught alright. A few lads are. Dewey, the Vice-Principal, is no fool and it kills him to have fellas get away with anything; but as keen as he is he can’t be everywhere at once, so it’s often worth a go. It’s our third time down here this month actually – it being the best time to go on the hop, with the holliers coming up an’ all.
“Do ya remember Graddard?” Joe asks again.
I don’t say anything. I don’t want to remember Graddard. I stand up and try to skip a stone down the river but it’s not flat enough. One hop and it goes under with a plop.
“Christ, he fucked you over, didn’t he? You know he got kicked out of Bell’s too, do ya?”
“Did he?” I say, glad as.
“Yeah, so I heard. No school would hold that langer.”
“He’s a langer alright.”
“Remember that shit with the bike? Fuck’s sake, he really fuckin’ had you goin’ didn’t he?”
Joe is smiling away annoyingly. I try for another skim. This one goes down without even a jump. Plop. I don’t like to be reminded about Graddard, not only because of the bike.
“Didn’t he rob twenty quid off ya as well, the fucker?”
“Jesus, will ya shut up about Graddard!”
“Oh, soft spot is it, boy? Come on for fuck’s sake. Will ya relax? Just chatting like. Besides, I was the one who helped ya like. If it wasn’t for me he’d probably have conned ya out of your underwear too.”
The thought of it brings a huge smile to Joe’s face. “Jesus. He’d a had ya bollocks naked if it wasn’t for me, boy!”
Now he’s going red in the face with his own humour; splitting himself, he is. I spot a heron on the other side of the water, a pale dirty one, and I wonder if I can get him with a stone. I pick one up and take aim.
Joe sees me and the bird too. “Just imagine he’s Graddard, boy!” he says, barely able to get the words out so cracked up is he at himself. I fire the stone off but it’s woefully wide. Still, the heron is at least nice enough to raise its wide wings and fly off, though more slowly and lazily than I wanted.
I grab a scoop of river water and fling it at Joe.
“Alright boy, alright boy,” he says, still grinning away. “Change subject like.”
It’s a great feeling of freedom to be down here, in amongst the trees and rocks, with the long grass bent under our arses and the smell of the green and the river surrounding us. We can see over to the farm on the other bank and take turns giving the little farmhouse the finger. Pointless as it is, it feels good, and there isn’t much else to be getting along with but flinging stones down the river and talking shit to each other.
At about lunch-time Joe decides to take a nap. Lying back on the grass now, he is, jumper under his head, mouth half open, dribbling on himself. I look out over the water again. Another Heron has come down by the bank over. Maybe it’s the same one, mocking me.
Leaving Cert night and we’re on the piss. We got our results and the points we needed so good fucking bye BCS forever. Joe is off to the regional tech to do Mech. Eng. and I’m going up to UCD to study communications. We won’t see each other that much after this so we’re going to make the most of our last weeks down here together, which means going on the piss as often as possible.
We’ve just got out of Farran’s offy where we usually get served ‘cos they never check ID. We stick our nagans in our jackets and head for the alley near Spitzer’s. We’re going to down the nagans and then head into the nightclub. We’ve got past the bouncers there before, so we’re pretty sure we’ll get in.
We’re not the only lads in the alley. There are small groups all around. Everyone’s drinking. It’s dark and the ground is wet. Small puddles light up under match flames and laughter bounces around the damp walls.
There’s a group of whackers not far from us and one of them asks us for a fag. We usually don’t talk to whackers but we’re half cut and not much seems to matter so I throw them a ciggy and we get talking. There’s four of them, fairly rough, shaved heads and white faces, pale and thin.
“On the piss, boys?” one of them asks.
“We are. Headin’ for Spitzer’s after this,” Joe says.
“Ah Spitzer’s. Nice one, boys. We’d be in there too but the bouncers are cunts. Ye’ll get in alright though, snazzy out,” he adds, looking at our clothes.
Compared to them we do look snazzy, but it wouldn’t take much. They look like they don’t wash – themselves or their clothes.
“Cheers anyway like.” He raises a can of cider and we knock our nagans off it.
“Got another fag there, boys?” his friend asks.
I open the box and offer one. He takes two.
“Where are ye boys from?” another one of them says.
“Ballincollig,” I say
“Ahh, I know it alright.”
“And ye boys?” says Joe.
I can’t help cringing.
Joe nods. “My cousin works up in Apple,” he says.
“Me brother robbed a chip out o’ there once,” one of the whackers says casually. “Couldn’t get nothin’ for it though.”
“The ‘collig is it? D’ye know Deccy MacCarthy?” another one asks.
We do. He’s a dealer.
“Yeah.” We nod.
“What d’ye think of Deccy? He’s a langer isn’t he?”
“Cunt,” says Joe without hesitation.
The whacker looks at him carefully.
I take a swig of vodka.
“And what d’ye think o’ Smurf. D’ye know Smurf?”
We do. Smurf is one of Deccy’s delivery boys.
“Langer,” says Joe simply.
“I think he’s alright,” says the whacker very slowly.
I cop it but Joe doesn’t seem bothered.
“Couple o’ lads hopped me brother out in the ‘collig one time,” says his friend. “Kicked the head off him, they did.”
“Probably those cunts down in Castle Park,” says Joe happily.
“My cousin’s from Castle Park like,” says one of the whackers quickly. “You got a problem with that?”
Joe looks blankly at him.
“No boy, there’s all sorts in Castle Park,” I say.
“He wasn’t fuckin’ askin’ you, boy,” his friend says with a sneer.
I turn and look at him. There’s an ugly acne scar on his forehead. My eyes rest there for a moment.
“What are ya lookin’ at, boy? Are ya alright like?”
“Chill the beans, boy,” Joe pipes in. “Have some fuckin’ vodka.”
He offers scar-face his bottle.
“I don’t need no fuckin’ charity, boy.”
I grab Joe’s arm.
“We’re out of fags lads,” I say quickly. “We’ll just go grab some.”
One of the whackers steps in front of me.
“You’re not goin’ nowhere, boy.”
Blackness comes over me, a black drowning fear. I try to push past the whacker. He kicks at me. I half fall towards the wall. He swings at me with his fist but misses and hits the wall. He grabs his hand in pain.
Then I hear Joe cry out. They’ve started on him. I half look around and see one of the whackers knee him in the stomach. He doubles over, dropping his nagan on the ground.
“Cut the fucker,” someone shouts.
I twist past the whacker who’d swung at me.
“Come here ya cunt,” he says, still holding his hand.
I run and don’t stop until I get to the end of the alley.
“Joe,” I shout back into the darkness. I don’t hear anything. I don’t see anything. I stand there helpless.
Those were the first words he said to me from his hospital bed. I don’t know what I expected from him but I didn’t expect that. I never asked for any of it. What could I have done? But to Joe, it was all black and white. I ran. I left him there. Now he was in hospital with a punctured lung and a mangled kidney and I was just the one who got away.
I didn’t stay long at the hospital. I tried to explain myself and he nodded, just nodded. We chatted for a while. I left. He was in there for over a month. Missed the start of college. Then we hardly saw each other. I was up in Dublin anyway and he was still down in Cork.
When I finished my course, I stayed up there and got a job with RTE. He failed his first year in Mech. Eng. and didn’t bother repeating. Took a job at a butcher’s. Got well into his drugs.
I saw him when I was in a nightclub once, back down in Cork. He was high on E. He came up and hugged me and for a moment I felt things were alright with us, but then he was gone again, into the smoke and light.
I left RTE and went to London to work for the BBC. I didn’t talk to Joe at all after that, just heard bits and pieces: he was still at the butcher’s; he was on the dole; he was working for the ESB; he was mad into his E’s; he’d got a young one preggers; they were living together at his mother’s place.
Bits and pieces, and eight years later, this. Swinging from the roof of his bedroom. Hanged. Swinging between yellow-puke walls.