Fiction # 1

I wrote a short story a while ago. I considered making it longer, and then I realised that, insofar as it is a story, it is the story. There is nothing before; there is nothing after. I'm publishing this in the knowledge that it may be really, really awful. Feel free to tell me if it is (and feel freer to tell me if it’s not).

Last Thursday I woke up and something was missing. A recollection; a memory. A peace. The pain came before the realisation - a dull, throbbing ache in my nose; a sharper, more precise shock in my cheekbone. When I rolled over - and it was only then that I realised I wasn't at home, not in bed, not in a bed, the unfamiliar feelings becoming moreso with every intake of breath - I felt a spasm in my side, a pressured breathing (do they say "laboured"? I think they do).

It was another shock when I realised I was crying; my face was wet, at least, but when I touched my cheek I came away with an unknown ooze; tears, blood and... Something else, something as yet unmentionable.

I was in a kitchen. The lino, with its geometric patterns of beige and brown, called to mind my grandparents' home, where we would while away our Sundays in a haze of cigarette smoke and shouted crossword clues. The counter, over my right shoulder, was imitation marble; I could see broken glass and then, suddenly (like an epiphany) I could feel it. Beneath my arm, beneath my hip. Blood, more blood, more...

I wondered if I would faint. Is this what shock felt like? When I looked back, when I recalled - which I would, several times that day and beyond - I would wonder at how long I lay on that lino floor assembling a litany of injuries, thinking about what was broken (my nose, I thought, and my fingers), ignoring what was really destroyed; not considering the immediate danger.

That came to me soon enough - as I considered the wound on my thigh (a serrated knife, I thought, and deep enough to bleed, to still be bleeding, but not enough to kill), the blood in my hair, it was a whispered warning: "Where IS he?"

I had often wondered what it meant, "I froze", as if one could really turn to ice. But in that moment it was as if my past, my future, my present, all solidified into the pit of my stomach. All there, waiting for some secret, silent alarm - waiting to breathe, waiting to move, and fearing what I would find.

I considered. My coat was on the floor by the door; the door was a latch release. No key. I counted down; then, the countdown was what would get me by - 10, nine... At eight (if I tricked myself, who was there who could see it coming?) I heaved myself off the floor, breath held, mouth closed, my body crying out in pain, and I grabbed - my coat, the door latch, myself. And I ran.

That day comes back to me sometimes - although not as often as it might - in a blur of bureaucracy, of clinical smells, hands held, tears of the father, the mother; tears of friends. My own salty, hot tears - tears I could only bring myself to cry properly once I had been cleaned up and dried out, once the horrors seemed in some way a fiction, a memory that would, I knew, become hazier over time. Ever hazier.

*****

The morning always felt hotter inside the car than it did outside; without the balm of wind and fresh air, the sun concentrated itself, he thought, on making him into the worst version of himself - sweaty, irritable, shiny. Like his father. Always like his father.

But to look on the bright side - and didn't they say one should look on the bright side? - it was Dublin, it was a Thursday morning (one day closer to Sunday, the day he took off, most weeks), and it wasn't raining. His mother, God rest her soul, had always told him to thank God for small mercies. And he did. It's not raining - thank fucking Christ for that.

Later on he would wonder if his regular blaspheming had got him into this shit - if, had he been more reverent, more considerate of that benevolent catholic God, he might have taken another road. He mightn't have gone up the North Circular that day; he might have picked up an earlier fare; he mightn't have seen her, might have pretended not to see her, and might have avoided the shit storm that awaited him.

But he believed in destiny, to a certain extent, and insofar as he believed in it, maybe this was his. And he had never turned down an opportunity to help someone in need, or at least that was his theory, seeing as how he'd never been granted said opportunity before that Thursday morning.

Thursday morning. 6.10am or so. That's what he told them, over and over. He knew it was 10 past because the news had just finished. It was a few seconds into the sports when he saw her, a vision from a horror movie, stumbling out of that house - number 87 or 89, he could take you back there, definitely an odd number but he wasn’t sure which one.

What was she wearing? Sure, what does it - okay, okay. She was wearing a coat, a trench, is that what they call them? It was probably beige once, but now... It was dirty, filthy, covered in muck, in blood, in god knows what.

He noticed her first because of how dramatic it seemed; she tore out of the building as if the devil was at her heels, and flung herself at the car as if he was her personal saviour. (When he looked back on it, of course, he began to think that maybe he was - and the story, when he told it, would take on a much more charitable tone, as if he was there just looking for someone to save.)

But storytelling is one thing; recounting how it felt to see this woman, beaten, bruised, bleeding, throw herself at his mercy - literally, into the passenger seat, hands shaking - hell, everything shaking, was quite another. He noticed the face first, as most people would; her nose, he thought, was definitely broken. She looked like she'd done a few rounds: black eyes, broken nose, maybe a fractured cheekbone.

He looked at her again; bloody hands, bloody legs - one more so than the other, a wound just visible under the edge of her coat. He wondered what horrors lay beneath, what injuries were currently covered.

"I... I don't have any money," she said. Her voice was somehow more than he'd expected, her tone even, a low timbre. "I don't have my bag. I left my bag... behind me."

It was, he thought, particularly bizarre. Here they were, the two of them, both seeing the same thing, and she was talking about her bag, about where her bag was, about money as if he wouldn't have taken her wherever she wanted to go for free and then sat outside her house indefinitely to make sure, to make sure... Just to make sure.

"Forget the money," he said. "Listen, love..."

"Love?" She sounded scrappy now, almost reproachful. She laughed, a rasping cough and then winced, clutched her side - that's a couple of ribs, so, maybe her collarbone - and swallowed. "Niall Street please. Number 16. I know it's not far but..." Another laugh. "I was hardly gonna walk."

A silence. The journey took five minutes, but it was a journey that would take forever in his mind. He wouldn't see her again, but he would talk about her, about that five minutes, for what seemed like an eternity. For whatever reason, she became, for him, to him, a signifier, the signified, the symbol and the guide. The everything.

She got out without a word and shuffled, limped, to the door. Retrieved a key from the lintel - when she reached up he realised that she wasn't wearing any shoes - unlocked the door and disappeared.