Thursday, July 22, 2010
Eric O’Gorman notes the storm as it thunders against the skylight above his bed but he’s disconnected from it. He watches it as through a screen, he hasn’t been following the drama and has no interest in it.
He sits, his back set in the corner his bed has been squeezed into. His whole existence compressed into a tiny room on a small street in a city he has never cared for.
On the table beside Eric’s bed is a recently emptied bottle of cheap wine and two crushed and discarded beer cans. A glass sits by the room’s only lamp, a fag end polluting the last mouthful Eric didn’t finish.
They all lie on top of faded newspapers and torn magazines. On the covers jaded girls trust their tits out towards the camera. On the floor at the foot of the table, almost against the bed, is a vodka bottle, the top missing.
Eric holds a framed photo, so old the colours have bled. The edges of the frame are worn down from years of Eric clutching it in his big hands. In the picture is a small boy, curly blonde hair flowing down to his shoulders. The boy is being held by his dad, the man with Eric’s eyes.
He sits there staring vacantly at the glass, as he has done since midnight. The two figures, happy, all smiles, stare back.
Eric’s eyes screw up tight and his fists contract and shake as they clutch the frame. His knuckles go white before he drops the photo to the bed with a strange sob, like all the air has been knocked from his lungs.
He gasps, he can’t breathe. He doubles over on the bed and shakes. For 10 long minutes he silently sobs, his whole body wracked with an anguish he cannot fight and cannot control. Finally the shaking passes and he reaches down and swipes the vodka bottle. He takes a swig but wretches on the cheap vodka.
Eric grabs the glass from the bedside table and tosses the fag end and the last mouthful into the bin. He wipes it out with his fingers and with an unsteady hand pours half a glass. He spills vodka all over the magazines and newspapers but he doesn’t care.
He starts searching for mixer but the bottle of coke he had started with earlier is empty. He staggers from the bed, spilling the vodka on the floor. He leaves the glass on a cluttered counter and searches the fridge. There’s nothing in there but milk and that’s out of date.
He curses to himself and throws open his two battered cupboards. He finds an empty cereal box and a half loaf of bread already going mouldy. In the other is pasta and rice, but nothing to cut his drink.
He drops into his only arm chair and begins laboriously to put on his shoes. He grabs his coat and searches the pockets until he finds his keys. He searches the dining table, cluttered with crap, for his wallet. He leaves. A moment later he returns for his coat.
Outside the gutters are overflowing. The cat has had to make a break from the bins, which now sit in a couple inches of water. He is perched instead on the alley wall, directly in the rain. Eric leaves his dingy flat and steps into the alley, straight into a huge puddle. He sighs and pulls the collar of his coat up around his neck. He looks up and down the alley and heads south towards the city centre.
Eric doesn’t see anyone until he passes Blessingston Street. Then a lone tramp scurries by him without even a glance.
At Parnell Square Eric turns and trudges towards the river. The rain is so heavy that he can only see the lights ahead. As he crosses Parnell Street a taxi speeds at him from the rain and Eric has to leap to the pavement to avoid being hit. The angry driver shoves his fist against the horn until he’s well out of sight.
Even O’Connell Street is empty, the combination of driving rain and the late hour keeping even the usual night owls safely tucked away. Only a Garda, sheltering under the portico at the GPO watches Eric as he heads south.
As he comes to Abbey Street a peal of thunder rattles off against the buildings and Eric is suddenly afraid.
The haze of the alcohol is flushed from his head as adrenaline kicks in and his heart starts to pump. What is he doing wandering around in a thunderstorm at 4am? He considers going back but he’s come too far now. He ducks into the only shop still open and grabs a large bottle of coke. He goes to the counter and reaches for his wallet. He knows even as he opens it that it’s empty. He spent his last twenty on the bottle of vodka nine hours previously.
He opens it anyway and then pats his pockets looking for change. He doesn’t have any, so he sighs, puts the bottle back on the shelf where he found it and trudges out into the rain.
Around the corner on Abbey Street he finds an ATM and withdraws a twenty euro note. As he takes his bank card from the machine his stomach grumbles and he changes his mind about buying the coke. Instead he crosses O’Connell Street and ducks into the burger king, which is always open, unfailingly, like a church for the unwanted and malnourished.
He orders a burger and sits, munching on it, staring out into the rain.
Through the thunder clouds dawn is breaking and Eric, alone with the two staff joking behind the counter, sees the rare beauty of a dawn storm.
With his burger finished and shivering from his damp clothes, Eric leaves the fast food joint and heads home.
By the time he reaches his flat Eric is so cold that his hands shake too much to get the key in the lock. Only after breathing on his hands for a minute can he open the door.
As he steps into his flat the smell of vodka greets him like a veteran’s wife. He ignores it and turns up the heating. Before the door swings shut behind him he’s already pulling off his sodden clothes, piling them on the floor where they bleed out.
Eric hates his flat but the old place has one saving grace; the electric shower with its constant supply of hot water. He sticks it on and within a minute the waters warm and feeling begins to return to Eric’s legs and arms.
He removes what few real possessions are on his bedside table and bins the vodka soaked newspapers and magazines in one go. He thinks briefly with regret about Tabitha, who liked cats and had a great rack but the magazines are too saturated to save.
Then he mops up the remaining vodka with paper towels, takes the photo from the bed and without looking at it puts it on the table, facing away from the bed. On the back of the frame is written in his mother’s handwriting: James and Eric, aged 6.
Still naked, Eric pulls the blankets up over his head and goes to sleep. Above him the rain drums on the skylight as the sun rises behind the clouds. Outside the cat is gone.