Latest chapters were added at above date
So what’s the book?
A novel, or fiction, whatever the word. It’s set in Ireland, and Canada, and Australia. But written for the various platforms people use to read today. So there’s added links and embedded stuff here and there, but not too many. Those links are underlined like this. Apart from all that, this is still a written book.
Pretty damn long. And it could get longer if the author takes any of the comments and criticism on board. But it’s in short digestible chunks. Right now if you read a chapter or so a week you could be here til...oh...Christmas?
So how does this work?
Each week (or so) a new chapter is published online.
That appears seperately on a different site but is also added to the end of this content here. This site here is really for newcoming readers to catch up on things. So if you're one of those, you'll have to read the book so far here first, and then continue over the weeks at the other site.
You may add comments/criticism right here on this blog page, or tweet the author @conankwrites.
CHRISTMAS - THE FIRST
Not a good time to be alone.
“You took a fine time to leave me Lucille,” he sang to himself as he walked along Baggot Street. Well, maybe not sang. More like a mutter. But the words were somewhere there in his head anyway as he walked down Baggot Street towards Merrion Row. The words of that old country song. Lucy used to sing it herself, perhaps just because of the name, perhaps as a warning? You took a fine time to leave me Lucille. With four hungry children and a crop in the field. And dee dum dee dum dee dum.
They didn’t actually have four children, Lucy and himself. And they weren’t married. But they had been together for two years. Going on three. And while they didn’t have any fields, either complete with crops or even barren, they did have a shared lease on an apartment...and they did have those two years, going on three.
It was enough.
Particularly at this time of year. It was enough to feel the loss. Walking down Baggot Street towards Merrion Row. Or was he walking up, Adam wondered? Was he heading up, rather than down? Baggot Street was one of those Dublin streets where a person never quite knew...even a Dubliner born...never quite come to terms with that...the upper from the lower. Never quite knew the upper from the lower.
Not that it really made much difference. Unless of course one was looking for a specific address. Number such and such Baggot Street Upper. Or number such and such Baggot Steet Lower. In that case it did make a difference. Being in the centre of the city or somewhere in the boondocks of Ballsbridge, that sort of difference.
But not tonight, tonight it made no difference. Tonight he knew precisely where he was going, and in which direction to head. He was going to O’Donoghue’s Pub.
“Why don’t you come to O’Donoghue’s?” they had said.
They were the lads.
His lads. Every young ish Dublin man has lads. And that’s ok. Just so long as he wasn’t over thirty. Over thirty was bad. Maybe even sad. Not good to have lads when one is over the age of thirty. Thirty five at a pinch.
He wasn’t, over thirty. But headed in that direction. In fact he was already in a place where he could think of very many reasons to not go to O’Donoghue’s this particular night. But those reasons had to be balanced against the alternative. Grim enough, that alternative. Wandering around the empty apartment. Wrapping presents for his folks in Ballinteer. Wandering round the empty apartment. Wrapping presents for his sister’s children...in Kilmacud. Wandering around the empty apartment. Trickling Lucy’s lingerie through his fingers, for the memory.
She’d be back for the rest of her stuff after Christmas.
It was all very civilised. Might have been better if there’d been a screaming row. And stuff thrown around the place, things smashed. Yes she had stormed out. But no, the parting was all quite calm and decided and Lucy had gone home to her parents in Tullamore. They were in farming. Dairying, and looking forward to the end of the milk quota in a year or so’s time. Big expansion then. Chinese market. Growing middleclass out there. Or so Lucy’s father had told Adam last Christmas. Showing him round the farm. And the slatted parlour. The silage pit…and the new tractor.
“Jesus Christ”, Adam had said, sitting up in the new tractor, “how much? You could get a top of range BMW for that.”
“Not much use around here son, not much use at all.”
A sombre sort of man, Lucy’s father. But he seemed to like him. And while he hadn’t quite said one day son all this could be yours…there were definitely some vague intimations. Lucy was an only child, no-one else to inherit the land. Good looking acres which had been in the family since well before the Land League. A farm which wasn’t going anywhere. But if it was it’d be travelling over dead bodies. That sort of conversation.
I’m in a John B Keane play, Adam had thought. And opposite me on the stage is Lucy, dark haired laughing Lucy, Administrative Officer (Grade Three) in the Department of The Environment.
“Did you know,” she mentioned once, “that the Custom House is actually a big square.”
“How do you mean, a big square?”
“Well it’s sort of four sides, round a big empty space. There’s a hole in the middle. You wouldn’t think that, would you?”
“Not really,” he agreed. And he hadn’t actually known that at all, so he told her. And she mocked him.
“Jesus and you’re a Dubliner. I know everything about Tullamore.”
“But there’s nothing...really...very much to know about Tullamore, is there?”
“You’d be surprised.”
“Well tell me one interesting thing then.”
“I was born there,” she replied. And looked at him steadily. With her calm grey eyes. The sort of grey her hair will be, he realised. Her shiny black hair will be that colour one day. In the quiet years of our marriage. And our own son taking over the farm.
O’Donoghue’s was exactly as predicted.
A zoo. Jammers. Bursting at the seams. A fire trap.
Adam stood on the pavement outside and didn’t really want to go in. It wasn’t clear how he would even find the lads in there if he did go in. And worse, even if he did find the lads he couldn’t see how it’d be possible to get a pint.
“O. M. G,” said the woman standing beside him. “Oh.My.God.”
He smiled, nodded, in agreement.
The randomer was blonde. Ish. Mid twenties. Maybe late. Even thirties. Hard to tell…these days. Of medium height, she wasn’t Irish. He knew that straight away. Dressed too well for starters. And her accent, yes, that clinched it. Even though she had only so far spoken three words…she had spoken them twice. So that made six. And he had detected that...something...different.
Polish? No, she wasn’t Polish. Too good looking to be Polish. Some other Eastern European? No, not tarty enough. American? A tiny bit too refined. Canadian? Might be, getting there.
She was a New Zealander. And she’d last been in O’Donoghue’s in the summer, and she hadn’t been long in Ireland then. And it was a sunny afternoon, quiet and midweek and she was wandering round the city getting her bearings. And she’d heard the sound of music coming through that gateway there, traditional Irish music. And two hairy men were playing, a fiddle and a flute. And another man was sitting with a bodhrán on his knee, looking at it.
“Looking at it?” Adam asked.
“Yes, just looking at it.”
“He was waiting for his moment,” said Adam, doing likewise. And when his moment came he asked her name.
“Eve,” she told him.
“What’s so funny, why are you laughing?”
“Well...like...well here we are on Christmas Eve...and your name is...Eve...don’t you find that...kind of...funny?” Adam tailed off, feeling his moment doing likewise.
“Not really,” she said calmly. “Maybe I just don’t have your Irish sense of humour.”
“It’s not a question of...oh forget it.” He looked back at the crowd. Time to go in there, search out the lads?
“So what’s your name,” Eve asked. “Maybe I can have a laugh too.”
“Adam,” he told her.
She made a spluttery noise, and then looked calmly at him. Cooly. And that calm cool look reminded him of Lucy. And those eyes too, even though they were a different colour. Blue to Lucy’s grey. But somehow the same, like the same sky at a different time of day.
“Would you like an apple?” she asked, the words a smile on her lips.
“I don’t get you.”
“Adam. And Eve. Garden of Eden. She gave him an apple. In the bible. Crikey I thought Ireland was a Christian country. Like you’d know that stuff. Knowledge of good and evil, and like that.”
“Of course I know it...just didn’t occur.”
They stood silently.
The crowd in front of them heaved, and pulsed, like something boiling over.
“It’s not really a time for meeting strangers, is it, Christmas Eve,” she said, suddenly.
“Well what’s it a time for?”
“It belongs to the past, doesn’t it? Memories. Other Christmases. It doesn’t really belong to the future.”
“And where do strangers belong?”
“In the future I reckon.” She looked at him calmly. “Do you want my number.”
He nodded, took out his phone.
She reached out and said “here give me that, I’ll put it in, I’m into technology.”
“Into technology,” he said, watching her fingers on his qwerty.
“It’s what I do,” she said. Into technology or not she seemed to take some time, Adam thought, watching, waiting. Maybe she was a phone thief, new scam? She wasn’t. She handed him back the phone and reached into some inner thief-proof pocket and took out a wallet. It flipped open in an unusual way, he noticed that. But once open was much the same as any woman’s in any checkout queue. Those tops of rows of plastic cards. Credit, he supposed, and debit, and Tesco points. Though Eve didn’t strike him as a woman totally into Tesco points. What sort of woman she did strike him as he wasn’t quite sure. Except that she was…different. She picked out a card and gave it to him. Not a plastic card, a business card. “Here, read all about it. There’s an app there. Download. You’ll know then.”
“All about me?”
“Most,” she grinned. Then she turned away and looked at the crowd bulging out through O’Donoghue’s gate. “Oh. My.God,” she said. “Oh. My.God. Hard yakka getting in there. But ’tis a far far better thing, all that.” She made the faintest shadow of that telephone gesture with her fingers, thumb and little finger. That extremely irritating telephone gesture with her fingers, no matter how faint. It disappointed him, and he wondered why.
Maybe he’d wanted her to be different, more different?
But the hell with it, what did it matter, his wondering and his wants?
“Goodbye,” she said, and was gone, thrusting into the crowd, carving in like she was a knife. Alright for her, thought Adam, watching. She has breasts, people give way to breasts. Brute force and ignorance and shoulders was all he had at his disposal.
He let her get well ahead and then pushed his own way in. And he did eventually find the lads. They had colonised a little nook and, more importantly, they seemed to have seized control of a bar girl. So he got himself a place to stand and a pint to hold in his hand. And the conversation was of the past and other Christmasses. And the anecdotes were from way back when. About after that football match. And women. And who got drunk and who got laid. All that. And Adam joined in.
The place was buzzing…but…but it wasn’t buzzing in the sense of some lively social occasion, Adam decided, more in the sense of just after someone had knocked over a beehive. And lots of pretty annoyed bees kicking up blue murder.
The noise? Horrendous.
But still among that noise he heard brief silences. They came between anecdotes, bursts of laughter. Or between pints. And in those silent moments he saw Lucy. Sitting in a train on her way to Tullamore. He saw that in his mind. And then in another silence he saw Eve. Far over there across O’Donoghue’s. Ever so calm, standing there. She seemed to be alone and he wondered why. And then the crowds closed in like it was the curtains on a stage. And that part of the play was over.
Act one...scene one.That sort of thing.
Happy Christmas. And to your folks too. (Don’t forget to pass that on.) We’ll talk in the New Year. xxx Lucy.
Adam read the email.
Xxx , he wondered, xxx? Were they kisses? Meaning love? Or was it just her polite way of saying fuck you, you bastard? Sometimes Lucy’s love and her fuck-you-you-bastard kind of merged. This was a volatile relationship. But bottom line this Christmas morning stayed the same, that she had left him. Again.
His mother knew. And his father. And his sister. And his brother-in-law. And maybe his sister’s children too, maybe even they knew. But the kids didn’t care if Lucy had left him or not. Opening presents was their priority.
Adam had bought the boy a game, a computer game.
Back home in the apartment last night he’d tried it out himself. It was very lifelike. Simple minded yes, but lifelike. But then there’s lives and lives, simple lives and complex lives. In this game you had to do a lot of things before you died. And the more things you did the more lives you would get. So you could come back again. And do more things. Fly a fighter jet through the Grand Canyon. Sing in the Grand Ole Opry.
Things like that appealed to nine year olds.
And to twenty nine year old unemployed building surveyors.
Back home in the apartment last night Adam had been more than half drunk and crashed his plane in the Grand Canyon. Suspected that even if he hadn’t been half drunk he’d have crashed anyway. These games were designed for younger minds, newer minds, the mutant generation. In any event he didn’t earn any new lives in the Grand Canyon so had to start all over again. Second time round he was booed off the stage at the Grand Ole Opry…and so he died again.
That was more or less it.
After that he’d carefully packed the game up so’s it looked brand new and unopened.
The girl was thirteen. No maybe fourteen? Thereabout. He had thought of getting her a dress or a top or something and had gone to Penney’s. But wandering there in the young-girl-gear department he decided it might be inappropriate, that he might come across as a dirty old uncle. He realised that this was the sort of occasion when he really needed Lucy. Forget about sex or companionship or a shared interest, the time a guy really needs a woman is when he’s buying clothes for a young girl. It takes the edge off the dirty old uncle bit. But Lucy wasn’t there and it wasn’t long before he decided he didn’t want to be there either. That whether or not he came across as a dirty old uncle was not the real problem. That the real problem was that no matter what he bought the child she’d look like a hooker. A thirteen fourteen year old hooker. The clothes had that thing about them. Someone should write to the papers about it. But sure as hell that someone wasn’t going to be him. Soon as he did the lads would say it was all in his own mind. That he really was a dirty old uncle.
Lads say things like that.
That’s the whole point of having lads.
They’re like those particular slaves that Roman Emperors had around the place, the ones to remind them of their humanity. And their weakness, their mortality. One day, those slaves would mutter in the ear, one day you too shall die. One day, the lads would whisper in Adam’s ear, one day you too shall be up before Judge Carney as a dirty old uncle. Eight hundred and thirty other offences to be taken into consideration.
So fuck that. Let someone else write to the papers about the early sexualization of young girls.
Adam went out of the young-girl-gear department and out of Penney’s and into the GPO. He didn’t need stamps, just liked the GPO. In one door and out the other, that sort of liking. Appreciated the architecture, the period feel. Nineteen twenties, thirties? Around then. Great architecture, good times. Pity about the rise of Nazi-ism. Gulags and despots, all that, pity. But whatever, he liked the place. And liked to imagine he was Patrick Pearse rallying the revolutionaries in nineteen sixteen. Tragic, a poet, and mad. A country needs that.
Another GPO thing...Adam liked to look at the statue of the dying Cuchulainn. It kind of gave a focus to a man walking up O’Connell Street, a good gaze at the statue of the dying Cuchulainn. But this day he couldn’t see the statue, it was hidden by a Christmas Crib. So he examined that instead. And thought vaguely that they should have had the three wise men dressed as postmen. It’d kind of give it an edge. Might write to An Post about the matter. But hardly worth the stamp.
They’d think I was a crank.
So that was the second letter he wasn’t going to write today.
Nothing about the over sexualisation of young girls, nothing about three wise men dressed as postmen.
Oh well, Adam thought, the world’s a poorer place.
He looked at the crib and walked away. Appreciated the architecture, some, imagined he was Patrick Pearse rallying the Volunteers, some, and went back out onto the street. There was a girl garda standing in the doorway, watching drug peddlars like she was tired. He looked her up and down. Wondered about her life. And her underwear. And her hair stuffed up into her hat, and how it would look on her naked shoulders in a tumble. Pretty damn good, he reckoned, pretty damn good. And he then walked on.
He turned up Henry Street and looked at the stalls there. He listened to the harsh voices of the attendants. And noticed their harsher faces, thin lipped and cruel eyed. Generations of Dublin’s criminal families hereabouts, he told himself. Slum dwellers. One tap in the yard. And a bucket of shit on the landing. They’d come from that to this.
How far was that journey?
Holy Mother, he decided, so this is what you get, this genetic mix. A thousand years of Irish tribesfolks breeding with Viking rapists and British soldiers. And throw in syphilitic sailors from Christ knows where. This is what you get. Holy Mother. He walked up as far as Arnott’s and then walked back. No need to linger further. The decision was made. He’d actually almost immediately seen what he wanted and his mind was made up. But a pause between mind and action was always useful, particularly where money was involved, and tight. There was a recession on. And he was unemployed. But needs must. So on the way back down the street he stopped again at that particular stall selling the large wooden bird with the two foot wingspan, the bird of no particular breed that you suspended from the ceiling in such a manner that it flapped its wings and looked like it was flying.
He liked that.
And the thirteen fourteen year old niece would like that too, he decided.
Thirteen fourteen year old girls like colourful wooden birds with two foot wingspans flapping over their bed. Or so he told himself. Not entirely convincingly, because he vaguely suspected that they’d prefer Johnny Depp hovering by the bedside but he just wasn’t going there. That was dirty old uncle territory.
He bought the bird.
And not only did he buy the bird… he hung it from his niece’s ceiling this very Christmas morning. He’d brought along fixings and screws precisely for that purpose. His brother-in-law watched him. And said this is bloody ridiculous, you’re making holes in the ceiling.
“I’m a building surveyor”, Adam told him. “I’m looking for the joist. Trust me”.
“I don’t trust you. You’re an unemployed building surveyor. That bird is going to fall on her head.”
“This bird is not going to fall. You could swing out of this bird. You’ve got to think of your daughter.”
“What? What do I have to think of my daughter?”
“Think of her lying here, imagining she’s in a tropical forest. And big colourful birds are flapping overhead. Stimulate the imagination. Children need that.”
“What the hell do you know about children?”
“I have a deep understanding,” Adam told him, “a deep understanding.”
“Well maybe you should patch up with Lucy and have some of your own. You’ll know more then.”
“Patch? Up? Lucy and I do not believe in patching…up…Lucy and I have a deep understanding. The words patch and up have no role in such a relationship.”
“Oh for godsakes let’s go downstairs and have another drink, it’s Christmas.”
They went downstairs and had another drink, it was Christmas.
The niece called him Adman. When she was a very very small girl she’d latched on to the name. And now that she was thirteen going on fourteen and dressed like a hooker…but courtesy of her mother’s taste so that was ok… now she knew quite well his name was Adam but also knew what an adman was…so she thought it funny.
“So what did you get me Adman,” she asked, “you said it was a surprise.”
“Yes I did, it’s up in your bedroom. Go up there and see.”
She came back down again. She said “hey everybody, Adman gave me a surprise in my bedroom”.
I wish she hadn’t put it quite like that, Adam thought.
“It’s a big wooden bird, flapping on the ceiling. It’s great. Thanks Adman”.
“The pleasure is all mine,” he told her. “So what school are you going to now?”
“Ah yes.” Adam hadn’t the remotest idea of where or what that was.
“Ad finem fidelis,” she said. And looked at him steadily.
“Ad finem fidelis. It’s our motto. It means to the end, faithful.”
“Faithful to what?”
“I’m not exactly sure,” she said. And looked at him steadily.
“I looked it up on the internet,” she added, “ it’s the motto of the Gilroy Clan. They’re Scottish.”
“Why would a Dublin girls’ school have the motto of a Scottish clan?”
“Could be many reasons,” she said, nodded.
It was at this point that Adam realised she was taking the piss out of him, that some private amusement was going on in her head.
“Whatever,” he said, to put a stop to that. “Now about the bird. Up there.” He pointed to the ceiling. She looked up at the ceiling. Looked back down at him. Still taking the piss, but what the hell. “Now what you’ve got to do is lie up in your room at night, and imagine, you’re far far away, in a mystery land. In a forest. Or a jungle. And there’s a great big flapping bird, over your head, mysterious.”
“I’ll do that,” she said, nodding, seriously. Too seriously to be not taking the piss.
“Reminds me of the holy ghost,” said Adam’s brother-in-law.
“What?” most people said.
“Well, like you know, those pictures of that bird over Mary the virgin mother’s head.”
“Yes but he got her pregnant,” said Adam’s sister.
“I don’t think a wooden bird would get me pregnant,” said Adam’s niece.
“I’ll have less of that talk,” said her mother.
And Adam thought well you might have less of that talk if you didn’t dress the girl as a hooker. But he didn’t get very far with that line of thinking because his sister turned to him, and turned on him too. “Now look what you’ve started.”
“What have I started?”
“Putting ideas in the child’s head, you shouldn’t be let out.”
“I didn’t put ideas into her head. It was him.” Adam pointed at his brother-in-law.
“The trouble is,” said Adam’s mother, “that young people today have no respect for religion. The bird we see depicted over the Holy Mother’s head is deeply symbolic. It’s the Holy Spirit.”
“Exactly,” said Adam, “egg zackly. I agree completely.”
“Oh shut up you,” said Adam’s mother. “You’re just trying to get one over on your sister. The point is. When I was that child’s age I didn’t even know what sex was.”
“Ah but you do now dear,” said Adam’s father.
Adam’s mother giggled.
Oh God, thought Adam.
“So where’s the turkey?” said Adam’s father.
“Adam hung it over your bed,” said Adam’s brother-in-law. “And what I want you to do is lie there and imagine you’re far away.”
“Sure I do that every night,” said Adam’s father.
Oh God, thought Adam.
“Can I have a glass of wine?” said Adam’s niece.
“You certainly can not,” said her mother. “Pregnant and now you want wine.”
“I’m not pregnant.”
“Talking about pregnant I mean.”
“But everyone else in the room is drunk.”
“Your brother’s not drunk.”
“He’s only ten.”
“And you’re only thirteen.”
“Fourteen, just fourteen. It’s important for young people to learn to drink in a controlled environment. Under supervision.”
“Well you can have half a glass mixed with water,” said Adam’s sister.
Adam watched the niece go over to pour herself a glass of wine. Her dress was too short. Or her legs were too shapely. It was one of those two things. He watched as she poured the wine. A full glass of wine. He didn’t notice her do anything about the water bit. And no-one else did either, the conversation had moved on.
“I didn’t drink until I was eighteen,” said Adam’s mother.
“Made up for it since,” said Adam’s father.
Adam’s mother giggled.
Oh God, thought Adam.
His niece across the room caught his eye. Raised the glass to her lips and winked. Yes definitely that dress was far too short.
Oh God, thought Adam.
“Come on let’s eat,” said Adam’s sister. “The turkey is free range.”I wish I was, thought Adam.
Above is the total of chapters of the book so far published.