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Old photographs of a married couple fade away on a living room mantel. The Crying Boy sheds a tear for the peeling nicotine stained wallpaper. A record player withers in the corner, flanked by a small scrapheap of neglected vinyl scratched with forgotten songs. Across the room, a towering bookcase full of damp Digests and stagnant newspapers are stacked in various stages of discoloration. Volume cranked, a portable TV spews weather forecasts and bland reruns from yesteryear drowning in canned laughter. We’re promised rain.
He sits hunched over. Poor unkempt cardigan cratur with a hook nose and perennial cough. He squints through bifocals, mutters at anything that resembles life on the miniature screen. Occasionally he stares at his slippers planted thick in the infinite pattern of the nylon carpet and waits for the bells of the Angelus.
He used to read the newspaper and think about things when he was straddling the can. Not just day-to-day stuff like the price of milk or which horse to back in the three-thirty, but curios about life and death and right and wrong, up and down and why one man’s meat was another man’s poison. And then there were the little things, the awkward stuff he could never discuss with the wife with the lights turned on, let alone in the dark.
Sometimes he’d lose track of time and his missus would rap her puffy knuckles on the door and ask was he writing a book? He’d ruffle the newspaper, bark he was trying to finish the crossword in peace and tell her to take the clothes off the line before the heavens opened. That was then.
Staring into his filth, he pulls the chain. Empty heaves, whines and whistles. The cistern fills at a snail’s pace, a geriatric water torture where time is measured drip by drip. A hairline crack in the Belfast sink. Pressure down to a rusty trickle in the tap. He stares at old man’s hands, soaps slivers between the palms and folds, whilst overhead a fluorescent tube flickers a semaphore for moths and those adrift. And his eye, which once twinkled, is drawn to the light and he forgets.
Perched on the edge of a mattress, he loosens the belt. A trapeze of aching bones and tired springs. The groan and rusted screech before the nightly grind. Off come the slacks. Down past the knock of the knees to the ankles and the concertina of the tweed. Right leg first, a half-arsed buck and they’re free. Then still half-dressed, he crawls under pink Chatham blankets and stares at the ceiling and the mold cowering black in the corner. And there he mouths a rambling galloping decade from imprint then waits for morning or death.
Marty Thornton is a writer from Galway, in the West of Ireland. His work has appeared in The Irish Times was shortlisted for the Hennessey First Fiction award 2018. He is currently working on a collection of short stories about outsiders, lawlessness and memory.