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Authors: Kevin Barry

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We had bought the place for a song. Some old dear had died in it, and it had granny odours, so it took a while to strip back the flock wallpaper and tan-coloured linoleum, but it was a perfect dream that we unpeeled. The high ceilings, the bay windows, the palm tree set in the front garden: haughty Edwardiana. We did it up with the sweat of our love and frequently broke off from our DIY tasks to fuck each other histrionically (it felt like we were running a race) on the stripped floorboards. The house rose 35 per cent in value the year after we bought it. It has since octupled in value.

Those early years of our marriage were perfect bliss. Together, we made a game out of life – everything was an adventure; even getting the tyres filled, even doing the groceries. We laughed a lot. We tiddled each other in the frozen foods aisle. We bit each other lustfully in the back row of the pictures at the late show, Saturdays. We made ironical play of our perfect marriage. She called me ‘Hubby’ and I called her ‘Wifey’. I can see her under a single sheet,
with
her bare, brown legs showing, and coyly in the morning she calls to me as I dress:

‘Hubby? Don’t go just yet … Wifey needs … attendance.’

‘Oh but Wifey, it’s past eight already and …’

‘What’s the wush, Hubby?’

Saoirse could not (and cannot) pronounce the letter ‘R’ – a rabbit was a wabbit – which made her even more cute and bonkable.

I rose steadily in the civil service. I was pretty much unsackable, unless I whipped out a rifle in the canteen or raped somebody in the photocopier room. Hubby went to work, and Wifey stayed at home, but we were absolutely an equal partnership. Together, in slow-mo, we jogged the dewy, early-morning park. Our equity by the month swelled, the figures rolling ever upwards with gay abandon. The electricity of our enraptured smiles – ! ! – could have powered the National fucking Grid. Things just couldn’t get any better, and they did.

In the third year of our marriage, a girl-child was born to us. Our darling we named Ellie, and she was a marvel. She was the living image of her beautiful mother, and I was doubly in love – I pushed her stroller along the breezy promenade, the Holyhead ferry hooted, and my heart soared with the black-backed gulls. Ellie slept eight hours a night from day one. Never so much as a teething pain. A perfect, placid child, and mantelpiece-pretty. We were so lucky I came to fear some unspeakable tragedy, some deft disintegration. But the seasons as they unrolled in south County Dublin were distinct and lovely, and each had its scheduled joys – the Easter eggs, the buckets and spades, the Halloween
masks
, the lovely tinsel schmaltz of Crimbo. Hubby, Wifey, Baby Ellie – heaven had come down and settled all about us.

If, over the subsequent years, the weight of devotion between Saoirse and I ever so fractionally diminished – and I mean
tinily
– this, too, I felt, was healthy. We probably needed to pull back, just a tad, from the obsessive quality of our love for each other. This minuscule diminishing was evident, perhaps, in the faint sardonic note that entered our conversation. Say when I came home from work in the evening, and she said:

‘Well,
Hubby
?’

With that kind of dry up note at the end of a sentence, that sarcastic stress? And I would answer in kind:

‘Well,
Wifey
?’

Of course the century turned, and early middle age slugged into the picture, and our arses dropped. Happens. And sure, I began to thicken a little around the waist. And yes, unavoidably, the impromptu fucking tends to die off a bit when you’ve a kid in the house. But we were happy still, just a little more calmly so, and I repeat that this is the story of a happy, happy marriage. (Pounds table twice for emphasis.)

Not that I didn’t linger sometimes in memory. How could I not? I mean Saoirse, when she was seventeen, was … erotic perfection. I could never desire anyone more than I did Saoirse back then. It was painful, almost, that I had wanted her so badly, and it had felt sinful, almost (I was brought up Catholic), to be able to sate my lust for her, at will, whenever I wanted, in whatever manner I wanted, and for so many ecstatic years.

I’m not saying she hasn’t aged well. She remains an extremely handsome woman. She has what my mother used
to
call an excellent hold of herself. Certainly, there is a little weight on her now, and that would have seemed unimaginable on those svelte, fawnish, teenage limbs, but as I have said, I’m no Twiggy myself these days. We like creamy pasta dishes flecked with lobster bits. We like ludicrously expensive chocolate. The kind with chilli bits baked in and a lavender dusting. And yes, occasionally, in the small hours, I suffer from … weeping jags. As the ships roll out remorselessly across Dublin Bay. And fine, let’s get it all out there, let’s – Saoirse has developed a Pinot Grigio habit that would knock a fucking horse.

But we are happy. We love each other. And we are dealing.

Because we married so young, however, and because we had our beautiful Ellie so early in life, we have that strange sensation of still being closely attuned to the operatics of the teenage world even now as our daughter has entered it. It’s almost as if we never left it ourselves, and we know all the old steps of the dance still as Ellie pelts through that skittle sequence of drugs, music, fashion, melancholia, suicidal ideation and, well, sex.

The difficult central fact of this thing: Ellie is now seventeen years old and everything about her is a taunt to man. The hair, the colouring, the build. Her sidelong glance, and the hoarseness of her laugh, and the particular way she pokes the tip of her tongue from the corner of her mouth in sardonic dismissal, and the hammy, poppy-eyed stare that translates as:

‘Are you for
weal
?’

No, she can’t say her Rs either. And she wears half-nothing. Hot pants, ripped tights, belly tops, and she has piercings all over. A slash of crimson lippy. Thigh-high boots.

Now understand that this is not about to get weird and fucked up but I need to point out that she is identical to Saoirse at that age. I am just being brutally honest here. And I would plead that the situation is not unusual. It’s just one of those things you’re supposed to keep shtum about. Horribly often, our beautiful, perfect daughters emerge into a perfect facsimile of how our beautiful, desirable wives had been, back then, when they were young. And slim. And sober. There is a horrid poignancy to it. And to even put this stuff down on paper looks wrong. There are certain people (hello, Dr Murtagh!) who would see this and think: your man is bad again. So I should just get to the story of how the trouble started. And, of course, it concerns my hatred for the boys who flock around my beautiful daughter.

Oh, trust me. Every hank of hair and hormones with the price of a lip ring in the borough of Dun Laoghaire has been panting after our Ellie. But she flicked them all away, one after the other, nothing lasted for more than an innocent date or two. Not until young and burly Aodhan McAdam showed up on the scene.

Even saying the horrible, smug, hiccupy syllables of that fucker’s name makes me retch. He wasn’t her usual type, so immediately I was worried. The usual type – so far as it had been established – was black-clad, pale-skinned, basically depressed-looking, given to eyeliner and guitar cases, Columbine types, sniper material, little runts in duster coats, addicted to their antihistamine inhalers, self-harmers, yadda-yadda, but basically innocent. I knew by the way she carried herself that she did not succumb to them. A father can tell – although this is another of the facts you’re supposed
to
keep shtum about. But then – hear the brush and rattle of doom’s timpani drums – enter Aodhan McAdam.

‘Howya doin’ boss-man?’

This, quickly, became his ritual greeting when I answered the door, evenings, and found him in his track pants and Abercrombie & Fitch polo shirt on the chequered tiles of our porch. He typically accompanied the greeting with a pally little punch on my upper arm and a big, toothy grin. He was seventeen, six two, with blonde, floppy hair, and about eight million quids’ worth of dental work. Looked like he’d been raised on prime beef and full-fat milk. Handsome as a movie star and so easy in his skin. One of those horrible, mid-Atlantic twangs – these kids don’t even sound fucking Irish any more – and broad as a jeep; I had no doubt he could beat the shit out of me. Which meant that I would have to surprise him.

I knew after the first two weeks that they were fucking. It was the way she carried herself – she was little-girl no more. And what did her mother do about this? She went and fetched another bottle of Pinot Grigio from the fridge.

‘Saoirse, we need to talk about what’s going on back there?’

Wrong, I know, you’re supposed to leave these things be. But I couldn’t … I couldn’t
not
bring it up. It was poisoning me.

Saoirse and I were in the front den. We keep the bigger TV in there, and the coffee table we commissioned from the Artisans-with-Aids programme, and a retro ’fifties couch in a burnt-orange shade that our shapes have settled into – unpleasantly, it makes it look like we have arses the size of boulders – and stacks upon stacks of DVDs climb the walls, just about every box set yet issued.

‘I suppose you know,’ I said, ‘that they’re, well … you
know
.’

‘Don’t,’ Saiorse said.

I sighed and left the den. The way it worked, Ellie had the use of the sitting room down back of the ground floor; no teenager wants to sit with her parents. She’d had a decorater in – it was got up in like a purple-and-black scheme – and she had a really fabulous Eames couch we’d got at auction for her sixteenth, and I went down there to check on Aodhan and herself. The shade was down, and they were watching some hip-hop crap on satellite, and they were under a duvet. This was a summer evening.

‘Yo, Popiscle,’ Ellie said.

‘Hey,’ Aodhan McAdam said, and leered at me.

I unleashed the coldest look I could summon and tried to say something and felt like I had a mouthful of marbles. I went back to the front den. I settled into the massive arse shape on my side of the couch.

‘Do you realise,’ I said, ‘that they’re under a duvet back there?’

‘Mmm-hmm?’

Saoirse was watching a
Wire
episode with crew commentary and was nose deep in a bucket-sized glass of Pinot Grigio. She drank it ice-cold – I could see the splinters of frozen crystals in there.

‘I mean what the fuck are they doing under a duvet? It’s July!’

She turned to me, and smiled benignly.

‘I think we can pwesume,’ she said, ‘that she’s jackin’ him off.’

‘Lovely,’ I said.

‘Ellie’s seventeen,’ she said. ‘The fuck do you think she’s doing?’

‘That
fucking
little McAdam bastard …’

‘Not so little,’ Saoirse said. ‘And actually he’s kinda hot?’

You’re supposed to just deal. But my brain would not stop whirring. I lay there that night in bed, and I was under siege. Random images came at me which I will not describe. I was nauseous. I knew it was a natural thing. I knew there was no stopping it. And as the morning surfaced on the bay, I tried to accept it. But I got out of the bed and I felt like I’d fought a war. I thought, maybe it’s better that he’s a rugby type rather than one of the sniper types. At least maybe he’s healthier.

That evening, after work, as I took my walk along the prom, with the cold sea oblivious, I saw them: the rugby boys. They hang out by a particular strip of green down there, sitting around the rain shelter, or tossing a ball about, and chortling all the time, chortling, with their big shiteater grins and testosterone. They all have the floppy hair, the polo shirts in soft pastels, the Canterbury track pants, the mid-Atlantic twangs. Aodhan McAdam was among them, and he saw me, and grinned, and he made a pair of pistols with his fingers and fired them at me.

Ka-pow
, he mouthed.

Ha-ha
, I grinned back.

He was no doubt giving the rest of the scrum a full account about what went on beneath the duvet. Of course he was! And later he was back for more. Bell rings about ten: orthodontic beam on porch. In fact, he appeared to have pretty much moved into the house. Every night now he was among us.

‘Babes!’ she squealed, and she raced down the hallway, and leapt onto him, and right there – right in front of me! – he cupped her butt-cheek.

Now often, between box-set episodes, Saoirse and I hang in the kitchen – it’s maybe our fave space, and it’s tricked out with as much cutesy, old-timey shit as a soul could reasonably stomach. The Aga. The stoneware pots from Puglia. The St Brigid’s Cross made out of actual, west of Ireland reeds for an ethnic-type touch. We snack hard and we just, like, sway with the kitchen vibe? But now Ellie and Aodhan were invading. Eighteen times a night they were out of the back room and attacking the fridge. Saoirse just smiled, fondly, as they ploughed into the hummus, the olives, the flatbreads, the cold cuts, the blue cheese, the Ben ’n’ Jerry’s, the lavender-dusted chocolate from Fallon & Byrne. I watched the motherfucker from the island counter – the way he wolfed the stuff down was unreal.

‘Do they feed you at your own place at all, Aodhan?’ I said, wryly.

He chortled, and he took out a six pack of Petit Filous yoghurts, and he made for the couch-and-duvet in my back room. He mock-punched me in the gut as he passed by.

‘This ol’ boy’s runnin’ on heavy fuel,’ he said, and he mussed my hair, or what’s left of it.

Later, in the den, I turned to Saoirse:

‘He’s treating me like a bitch,’ I said.

She was freezeframing bits of
The Wire
that featured the gay killer Omar because she had a thing for him. She had lately been waking in the night and crying out his name.

‘So what are you going to do about it?’ she said.

‘I know they’re fucking,’ I said. ‘I can just … smell it?’

‘You need to talk to Doctor Murtagh about this,’ she said.

‘Meaning?’

‘Meaning cognitive fucking thewapy,’ she said. ‘Meaning medication time. Meaning this is looking like a bweakdown-type thing again?’

BOOK: Dark Lies the Island
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ads

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