Gu-Gu-Geoghegan — Chapter 13 of 32

There are many ways of tracing a person when all you know is their name and a rough idea of where they work or study. The internet is a great facilitator for homing in on someone’s identity, whether it be out of innocent curiosity or an interest more nefarious. And so, because Luke was unwilling to press Senán for information on Connie Hogan, he turned to the World Wide Web. It was not the first time he had looked up a girl for whom he had developed a fascination. He had practised this art over the years — on girls with whom he had worked or those he had met socially. After little more than an evening’s trawling, Luke had discovered Connie’s building and office number in the university, her Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, her parents’ address in a salubrious district of Limerick city, and the address of the house she shared close by the college.

He then set about stalking Connie, a habit he had slipped into in his early teens, when instead of approaching the object of his affections, he would skulk and hide and watch from afar. His methods had become more refined over the years, incorporating all the usual tools of the cyberstalker as well as bits and bobs of electronic surveillance equipment he had picked up here and there. Within days of meeting Connie, he had attached a tracking device to her car and could follow her movements through an app on his phone.

To anyone keeping an eye on the movements of cars in and out of the estate where Connie lived, his old, grey Opel Corsa would have become a familiar sight. But in an estate of mainly rented houses, where there was a lack of retirees or housewives with the time on their hands to watch the world go by, Luke’s regular drive-bys went unnoticed. He was too wary and too experienced to park outside her house detective-like, training a long lens on bedroom or sitting room. He planned his forays into Woodhaven to coincide with when Connie was likely to be on the move, driving smartly by her house, keeping his eyes on the road ahead, and leaving it up to his dashboard camera to record any glimpses of her moving between the front door and her car. Luke would then circle the estate and follow Connie from a distance of at least two cars. If she stopped at a supermarket, he would pull in and snap photographs of her leaving her car, wheeling her trolley, or packing the messages in her boot. If she went to visit her parents or friends, he would take photos of her in transit between car and front door. He soon built up a large collection.

Not only did Luke quickly come to learn Connie’s routines, but after weeks of following her he possessed a large amount of data concerning her habits and movements. He knew, for example, that she got her hair cut every three weeks, usually on a Thursday evening, at the X-Static Hair Studio in Castletroy. A photograph of her leaning back into a sink having her hair washed was among his most treasured trophies. He knew what cafés and bars she frequented at the weekend, and with whom, thanks to Facebook and Instagram. She did her laundry on a Monday evening, hanging the washing in her tiny garden if the weather was clement. Some evenings she emerged decked out in sports gear for a brisk walk around the neighbourhood with a housemate. It bothered Luke that only rarely could he slip out of Francie’s at the time he knew her to be pounding the pavements of Castletroy: it was when she was wearing her Lycra leggings and body-clinging running top that he found her most attractive.

It also bothered Luke that he was not free during Connie’s working hours to shadow her movements on campus. Besides details gleamed from social media, what she did between leaving the house and returning in the evening was unknown territory for him. When he asked Francie if he could move his day off from Sunday to Tuesday or Wednesday, Francie would not hear talk of it.

“Ah no, Luke,” he said. “You need your day off. Sundays in here are crazy. Let me handle them. No, no. You take it easy mid-week in here, putting the place in order for Friday and Saturday, and enjoy your Sunday off.”

And so a couple of times a week, Luke would race across the city on his lunch break, stuffing out-of-date sandwiches from the shop into his mouth while he waited at traffic lights. He would frantically look for a parking space on campus as close to Connie’s building as possible and then walk discreetly around and through it. He knew that she usually lunched between half one and two in the business school’s spacious cafeteria. He would pass by her office, pausing outside to listen if the door was closed or hurrying past if it was open. If she was having lunch, he would watch her from the atrium above the cafeteria, take note of who she was with, and snatch a sly photo with his phone. He only ever once directly encountered her, in the car park behind her building. A flash of puzzlement lit her eyes, but she said nothing as they passed one another.

In one way Luke was relieved that she seemed not to recognise him, but in another he was disappointed. If she had pulled up to say, “Oh, you’re Senán’s friend — the manager. Nice to meet you again”, it would certainly have been too much for him. He mightn’t have been able to put two words together without making a fool of himself. He had a story rehearsed, nonetheless. Just in case.

“I was thinking of getting a qualification,” he would try to say. “A diploma in management. I’m in here to find out about that.” Short, direct sentences. No beating around the bush. No stuttering. And no going red in the face.

The cover story wasn’t too much of a lie. His brother was always telling him to leave the shop. Get himself a qualification. Move on to better things. And the truth was, he was half thinking of starting a night course in retail management. Or even a full-time degree. He’d seen a lot of girls like Connie on his wanderings around campus. Classy ladies. He’d never run out of classy ladies to follow on campus.

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Gu-Gu-Geoghegan — Chapter 12 of 32

“Um, you said she was a girl, dude, this new friend of yours. Trish, yeah? Is there something you’re trying to tell old Uncle Vincent now?”

He was more than slightly drunk, more than merry, but the shock was not feigned. He looked up from the corner of the booth occupied by his ample frame, moving his gaze from Senán to Luke.

“I’ll say it slowly this time Vincent,” said Senán. He leaned over the head of the long table and put his mouth close to Vincent’s ear. “I decided not to bring Trish. Instead, it’s a friend of mine from the shop, Luke. I owed him a tour of campus and a few pints.”

“OK. Phew.”

Vincent pulled himself by his elbows into a standing position, and he and Luke shook hands. Senán then made a general introduction of Luke to the table, a mixture of junior lecturers, postdocs and postgrads from the sociology department. He was glad that Scary Mary wasn’t among the faces. She rarely came to these things, and apparently the name of Tom Maguire, the postdoc whose publication they were celebrating, was in her little black book. Luke appeared to be intimidated enough acknowledging the friendly nods without having to deal with The Stare.

“Come in here beside me, Luke. I don’t bite,” shouted Vincent above the hubbub. The college bar was quite full for a Friday night, usually a dead night on campus because of the exodus of students who went home for the weekend. But a large party of Erasmus students clustered around the bar made it necessary to raise one’s voice.

Luke squeezed in beside Vincent, casting nervous glances at his shock of long spiky hair and his ripped and faded Disintegration T-shirt. By the time Senán had returned from the bar with a triangle of settling Guinnesses wedged between his hands, Vincent was bending Luke’s ear about an obscure gothic band from the ’80s, Xmal Deutschland.

“They should never have signed to 4AD. I know it’s heresy to say so, but if they’d stuck it out, a bigger label would have come for them. It would have done them the world of good to have a bit of a budget, a bit of room for development. Some producer who woulda pulled them out of themselves, like yer man did for Mazzy Star. You know—”

“Ah, come on, Vincent. Give the poor fella a break,” said Senán. “Xmal Deutschland! Is there anyone beyond a few head-the-balls who’s ever even heard of them. The lad is nervous enough that he’ll be eaten alive by a table full of sociologists. Don’t be putting the fear of God in him with your Xmal Deutschland. Jaysus!”

“It’s-it’s-it’s OK,” said Luke shyly. “I ha-ha-haven’t heard of X-mu-mu-mal Deutschland, but I’ve-I’ve heard of Mu-Mu-Mazzy Star. A couple-couple of their songs were in Bu-Bu-Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I-I-I checked them ow-ow-out. Yer-yer-yer wan is tasty.”

Vincent thumped the table and gave a little cheer. “A man after me own heart. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Mainstream, but slick and subversive. The Buffyverse has been a portal to the dark side for many an edgy adolescent. Between its peculiar and thoroughly modern lexicon and word usage, as well as the music, post-modern mythologising and very completeness of the alternative reality it creates within the broad school of magic realism, Buffy has a very important place in the gothic, emo, nu metal, et cetera canon. In other words — a shitkicker of a series.”

Vincent finished his pint with a greedy gulp, sucked at the head on his fresh pint, and looked at Luke with fond appreciation.

“And you reckon Hope Sandoval is a bit of all right? You’re the man, Luke! There was a time I would have walked over broken glass just to be up the front of a gig looking up at her long legs and those humongous lips. She has a special place in my pantheon of dark beauties.”

Settling into a stool beside Luke, Senán groaned. “I’m sorry, Luke,” he said. “Your first time in UL and you run into one of the campus’s leading eccentrics. We’re not all like this.”

“I’m much more than that,” offered Vincent, mock-offended. “I’m — what did Connie call me the other day?”

“A creep.”

“Creep!” said Vincent. “I like that. I’m the creepiest creep on campus. Vincent Conroy, creepmeister. The creepiest cat on Shannonside.” He then hummed the piano break from The Cure’s “The Love Cats”.

“Are you high, Vincent?” asked Senán with no trace of sarcasm.

Vincent smiled like the cat that got the cream. “I may have shared a few puffs of the aul’ doobie with a certain notorious pot-head postgrad before coming here.”

“Down in your haunt?” said Senán incredulously.

Vincent nodded.

“On campus?”

He nodded again.

“Are you mental? If you’re caught you could lose your job. Sometimes you’re a fucking idiot, Vincent.”

Vincent took a long, smiling drink of his Guinness. He licked his lips daintily, and suddenly a harried look came over him.

“If I lose my job, it won’t be over that,” he said. “I have to tell you, Senán, me old segotia, something truly terrible happened today. Something ominous, portentous. The sanctity of our little foxhole up in the Foundation has been violated. It is no longer a refuge from the great unwashed hoi polloi that make up the student body of this unvenerable institution. The seals of King Tut’s tomb have been torn open. The metaphorical machinery of eons-old traps have been heard to grind into action, but there is no Indiana Jones to save me.”

“What the fuck are you on about?”

“My dear Senán, our hideout has been rumbled. Our bolthole has been discovered. This very evening when you were in with Scary Mary I was visited by an undergraduate student.”

“Oh,” Senán said. He now understood his friend’s need to smoke marijuana and his current strange humour.

“You know what this means?” continued Vincent. “The fuckers know where I am. This changes everything.”

Senán saw the puzzlement on Luke’s face and filled him in on Vincent’s almost phobic attitude to his students.

“You see, Luke,” said Vincent, “my job is to teach. I set a course, give lectures, reading lists, tutorials. I give assignments. Set exams. Correct them rigorously and fairly. End of. My view of university education is that you come here — as an adult — and stand on your own two fucking feet. You turn on your fucking brain, put your nose to the grindstone, read books, papers, whatever you can get your fucking hands on for the subject you’re studying, and just fucking act like someone who has reached the age of majority has been expected to act like since the fucking Enlightenment. My students are adults. For fuck’s sake, some of them have had their mickeys pierced. I know that for a fact. I hear them talking. And then you have little bitches like the one who despoiled the peace and quiet of my dear old cubicle this evening. A skinny, spotty, whiny string of piss coming in to me with script in hand, demanding to know why I’d only given her a B3. ‘I put an awful lot of work into it,’ she says. Jesus. Well fuck you! I don’t care if she worked on it for forty days and forty nights. It was mediocre. It only deserved a B3.”

He took another glug of Guinness before continuing.

“And now all is changed, changed utterly. Not only does that little bitch know where to find me, she’s probably passed on the secret to all her spotty little friends. I predict a fucking endless stream of dissatisfied little whores running up to me snivelling about all the hard work they put in and how they deserved higher marks for the steaming pile of mediocrity they served up to me. And furthermore, meeting that spotty little bitch has now altered the student–teacher relationship between us, as it will when I meet her two dozen other scabby little mates. You see, when I have her script in front of me now, I have a face and a personality — not particularly winning, let me tell you that — to put to the name and student number. And not only that, I will be correcting the script with the knowledge that she felt hard done by the previous marks I gave her. So where’s my objectivity after that? Gone out the fucking window, that’s where. I am now no longer grading a script based on what’s on the fucking screen in front of me, but factoring in other extraneous facts as well. Now, this li’l lady is no beauty, but imagine if she was, for example, Hope Sandoval’s doppelganger? Would I be tempted to bump up the marks in some pathetic attempt to get into her knickers? Or if she had argued her point without resort to self-righteous whimpering, if she’d blinded me with the brilliance that was sorely lacking in her paper? Or imagine if she came wearing a Bauhaus T-shirt and we started talking about the aul’ Peter Murphy and Daniel Ash, and we got on like a house on fire? You see, I don’t want to meet the fuckers. I’m not hard enough, in spite of all the gobbing off I do. I’m too soft, too human. I’d take pity on people, I’d be too forgiving. It just wouldn’t work. Take Scary Mary, though. She doesn’t mind one bit meeting her students. She’s a fucking queue outside her door most afternoons. And do you know why she doesn’t mind interacting with the scurvy knaves? Coz she’s a hard bitch, as cold and twistedly unemotional and nastily rational as some sort of artificial intelligence in a Ridley Scott movie. She doesn’t see them as students, let alone people. They’re part of some process, just like Senán here. Like bottles on the bottling line ready to be capped and labelled. All she wants to do is go about her business, like the queen in Alien laying her eggs. Only in this case it’s getting to the top that concerns her. No, her marking of scripts, no matter what, would be clinical and rational. No human concern or emotion would impinge upon it. Even if a student cleaned her house, washed her car and then got down on their knees to lick her out, God forgive me, she’d give them the exact mark they deserved. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

As if to say “I rest my case”, he sat back in the bench, ruffled his hair with both hands, and took a long drink from his pint. He then announced that he was going for a smoke. Luke, looking slightly disturbed by Vincent’s rant, stood up to let him pass. When they were alone, Senán apologised for his friend.

“He’s a character,” he told Luke. “But he’s a nice guy when he’s not drunk or high. We share a cubicle, as you might have guessed.”

“He’s-he’s like some-someone from a T-T-V show. Like from Breaking Bad or Shu-Shu-Shameless.”

“Like I said, a real character.”

They sat quietly for a time, Luke casting rapid glances around the table and craning his neck to inspect the gaggle of Erasmus students with their tans, hipster clothing and half pints. Just as Senán was thinking how different the scene must appear to him compared to Bowsie’s or the other pubs he frequented, he felt a hand on his shoulder and heard Connie say his name.

“I see you’re out with your department,” she said in a friendly enough way. “Celebrating something?”

Senán told her about Tom Maguire’s paper and then introduced her to Luke.

“He’s the manager of Francie’s, the shop I work in.”

“Ah, the manager,” she said, making it sound like she was impressed. “Senán’s boss. Wow. You’re young to be a manager.”

Luke lowered his head shyly and a light blush spread over the taut features of his face.

“He’s the man,” said Senán, only realising in saying it that he sounded like Francie. “What are you doing here?” he asked Connie, in an attempt to cover up his faux pas.

“I’m with that crowd,” she said, and nodded in the direction of a knot of Erasmus students at the far corner of the bar. “One of the lads in the house is Swiss. I said I’d come out with him and meet his fellow countrymen. And women.”

“Is there something going on I should know about?” said Senán with a grin. “Foreign relations?”

Connie shook her head. “See. You’re sounding more and more like that creep. I saw him outside, by the way. Jiving around with a fag in his mouth like he was on something.”

Luke was looking up at Connie like one of the children of Fatima at an invisible Virgin Mary.

“You look like a sensible lad,” said Connie to him. “You tell Senán to stay away from that creep. He won’t listen to me.” She turned around to see what her companions were up to and then announced that she had to go. “They’re Swiss. They don’t know how to handle ordering drink in a dive like this place. Too polite. I’ll have to give them a hand. Nice to meet you, Luke.”

Luke’s eyes were stuck to Connie as she walked away.

“Jesus. She’s a fu-fu-fine thing,” he almost slavered. “Fu-fu-fine thing.”

Senán did have to admit to himself that she was looking good. She had obviously made the effort for her Swiss friends, wearing a black party dress that Senán had never seen on her before. It clung to her body and he presumed it was her bottom and thighs that held Luke’s attention until she disappeared into the cluster of students.

“I used to go out with her, you know.”

“Fu-fu-fuck off.”

“Yep. For nearly three years. We split up last year.”


They looked towards the knot of Swiss. Connie’s dark hair and black dress were visible among all the jeans and bright jumpers. She was the centre of attention of the predominantly male group, holding their grinning faces with her dark eyes and ruby lips. She shepherded them closer to the taps, and Luke and Senán lost sight of her.

“She reminds me of one of my brother’s girlfriends,” said Luke. “A classy lady.”

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Gu-Gu-Geoghegan — Chapter 11 of 32

Connie took a slurp off the foam on her cappuccino, licked her lips and put her mug down. “So,” she said. “Who was this girl you were seen out with on Saturday in the White House?”

The penny dropped. “That’s why you asked me to come for coffee,” Senán said, with a hint of accusation in his voice. “To pump me for information.”

His and Connie’s break-up had been amicable enough. They had called it a day just as the minor, sporadic arguments between them had started to become serious, heated, rolling rows that carried on for hours or days, and hung over their relationship like phantoms, to be summoned to the mortal plane whenever a new niggle or disagreement surfaced. When they realised they wanted different things from life and that this was the root of all the bickering and tension, the decision to part had been close to mutual; Connie had proposed the split, and in the end, despite all the light-hearted talk of conscious uncoupling to friends and family, Senán felt that, while he had not exactly been dumped, Connie had moved on from him.

“Well, duh,” she sang. “I’ve had nothing but ‘Senán was with this leggy brunette in the White House’ all day. The whole Small Firm Internationalisation Unit was out on Saturday. Doing nothing but watching you and your one canoodling, by the sound of things. You’re the talk of the Business School. Even Jim fucking Duggan said to me: ‘Whatever he has, he should bottle it. How he’s able to go round with all these gorgeous women is beyond me. It’s always the quiet ones.’ I mean, I don’t know what to say to people. You should have told me you were seeing someone.”

Senán smirked. “I thought after consciously uncoupling that we were free agents. That we were going to move on to new chapters of our lives. Not take one another into consideration vis-à-vis future options or choices. The same as if we were just good ol’ buddies.” He was throwing phrases back at her that she had used when they broke up. “I didn’t think I needed to run stuff by you, and since I haven’t seen you since the thing between this girl and me started, I just didn’t get the chance. I would have told you if we’d met. It wasn’t that I was hiding it. It’s just that—”

“I’m clearly not important to you anymore. I get it.” She gave him a hard look. “Jesus, you weren’t long getting over me.”

Senán wanted to reply with a snarky comment, but he didn’t have the heart. Whether the peevishness, anger and hurt burning through her dark brown eyes was down to embarrassment or some residue of the love that had existed between them, he didn’t have it in him to kick her while she was down.

“C’mon,” he said kindly. “I think we were both over each other well before we split up. And you know I’d never do anything to hurt you, no matter what shenanigans went on towards the end. I’d hope you’d think that of me anyway.”

The coffee dock in the Foundation was winding down for the evening. Senán and Connie were among a handful of customers chatting above the rattle and clack of the waitress who was locking things down for the night. Connie looked out beyond the café’s floor-to-ceiling windows into the darkness, seeming to study the queue of cars waiting to exit the car park. She wrinkled her pale forehead and blew some strands of jet-black hair out of her eyes.

“You coulda just given me some heads-up. People still think we’re joined at the hip. They haven’t got the message we’re split up.”

She sounded less irate now, as if the play of headlights on the car park’s long, rectangular water feature was soothing her spirit. Senán didn’t answer, but took a subtle glance at her face and figure. She hasn’t let herself go, anyway, he thought.

Her hair shone and her skin still had that plumped-up, velvety texture that he had found adorable. She was dressed in one of her preppy jeans-and-boots combinations and a lemon-coloured V-neck jumper, tight enough to reveal a voluptuous figure. Senán saw that if she ever put on weight, her shape could easily become sloppy. She didn’t have Trish’s height or long limbs to get away with excess body fat.

“So. Who’s this mystery girl?” she asked. “Some babe from the sociology department?”

“No. She’s a girl from the shop. Trish. She’s a nice girl.”

The double take Connie did was almost comical. “A shop girl? Jesus Christ, Senán. You really are getting down with the people in the ‘hood.”

“Nice” was all Senán said. Connie’s snobbery had always been a bone of contention between them, and her opinions — classified by Senán as reactionary — on Travellers, the city’s poor, the unemployed and immigrants had often kick-started quarrels.

“Is it serious?”

“It’s a bit early to tell yet, but . . . it’s going well so far.”

Connie nodded and looked again towards the car park. They drank their coffees. Connie’s phone tinkled an alert, which she read and dismissed.

“Are you going to take her home to meet your mother? Coz, Jesus, if I was never good enough for you, what are the chances of some shop girl meeting her impossible standards?”

Senán’s mother had never warmed to Connie, despite the fact that Connie came from a “good” family — her father was an architect and her mother a GP. Senán’s mother always said Connie was a good-time girl, that he would be better off seeing someone less interested in glamour and socialising, someone more “solid”. A sensible country girl instead of a Limerick city slicker like Connie. While the women had always been impeccably polite to one another, they had made their mutual dislike clear in that infinitely nuanced, near-invisible mode of communication that exists between competing females.

Senán sniffed and jauntily raised an eyebrow. “Trish is quite the traditionalist,” he said. “She doesn’t want any family involved until the engagement is announced. She wants all the formalities followed: an ad in the Irish Times. A little soirée in the bride-to-be’s house. In evening dress. Official invitations on the correct grade of paper. Formal introductions over amontillado in the drawing room.”

“Fuck off, Senán.” Connie looked annoyed. “You know, you’re talking like that creep, Vincent. The more you hang out with him, the more you sound like him.”

“Vincent is my hero,” he said with hammy pride in his voice.

“He’s a fucking joke. The University of Limerick’s Cureologist, for fuck’s sake. You should hear what they say about him in the Business School. All that fucking funding he gets for researching why a bunch of snotty, emo, spoiled bitches are scratching their arms. And that moronic conference on The Cure that’s happening in the summer. Jesus Christ, if he’s your mentor, you’re up the swanny. I bet he put you up to getting that fucking job in the shop and dallying with slags from Moyross.”

“I’ve a few corrections to make there, Connie. One, Scary Mary is my mentor, apparently; two, emo is well over; and three, Trish is from the Island, not Moyross. And she’s not a slag.” He paused for effect. “You know, my mother used that word about you a few times.”


Senán plopped down into his chair and groaned.

“All is not right in the kingdom of Sen, I sense,” said Vincent in a booming, actorly voice.

“I just had a coffee with Connie. I think we’re definitely now in that clichéd space where neither of us can figure out what we ever saw in one another.”

“Ah, the delectable Connie. The childless yummy mummy.” Vincent had met her a few times when he had tagged along with Senán on nights out. He told Senán he found her shallow and square.

“Well,” said Senán, ducking his head above the panel of their cubicle to make sure there was no one within listening distance, “I think we’ve burnt our bridges there. Or the bridge between us has finally crumbled into the river below. Or whatever.”

“Speaking of combustion: will you come out with me for a fag?”

“Go on. Last distraction of the evening, though. I’ve this PCA to do for Scary Mary. I’d say I’ll be at it till midnight.”

Outside, sheltering from the breeze in Vincent’s haunt, Senán told him that Connie had called him a creep. Vincent looked pleased.

“I like it. I kind of am a creep. You know, creepy-crawly, creature of the night. Cobwebs, Cocteau Twins, Cranes—”

“The Cure. That song they have about the spider eating the singer.”


After a puff of his cigarette Vincent spoke again: “So the door is truly shut on you and Connie’s teenage romance?”

“P is less than zero point zero five.”

“I have to say I’m happy for you, me old segotia. She was too straight for you. You’re such a solid, reliable fella — I would be reluctant to use the s-word,” he made a square using the thumb and forefinger of each hand, “that you need someone to offset that. Someone with a bit of go in them, with a bit of spirit. Someone a bit fuckin’ kerrazy. Jesus, I can only imagine what it was like between you and Miss Yummy-Mummy. The sex must have been like that scene in The Piano where yer man has a spa attack when Holly Hunter touches his arse.”

Senán told him he was going too far.

“Sorry. But listen. The minute I saw fuckin’ Connie, I knew that that Playboy-bunny-crossed-with-Sarah-Palin thing she had going on, that façade of sensuality and worldliness she presented to mankind — I knew that was all horseshit. I fuckin’ bet that she was frigid and had intimacy issues. Tell me I’m right.”

Senán smiled, astounded more than offended. “The only thing I’m going to tell you is mind your own fucking business. And. That I’m seeing someone else now. Her name is Trish, and, before you ask, she has no intimacy issues.”

Vincent’s pudgy face lit up with pleasure.

“Good man. I’m delighted for you. Keep your hand — and other body parts — in the game. Use it or lose it.”

Senán puffed in disgust and Vincent chortled at his little joke, then turned excitedly to face his friend. “I know! We can all meet this Trish lady! There’s a night out being organised for Friday. To celebrate Maguire’s paper being accepted — six revisions, but he’s got it into one of the biggies. We’re going straight after work. Starting in the college bar. Finishing God knows where. Bring her along.”

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Gu-Gu-Geoghegan — Chapter 10 of 32

Senán looked across at Trish and smiled. She was giving him the fourth degree. He hadn’t been asked so many questions since Scary Mary had interviewed him for what she kept calling the “position”. (Vincent got a kick out of Senán’s report of the interview, punning on position to within an inch of its life.)

“So you go home every weekend?” asked Trish.


“Every weekend? Seriously?”


“For hurling practice?”

“Well, that and to see my family.”

“And then you’ve a game on the Sunday?”

“Most Sundays. The league is starting up now. Intermediate level, God love us.”

“And do you practise during the week here in Limerick?”

“Yeah. I’m in the hurling club in college. We train twice a week at my level. Luckily it doesn’t clash with my job in Francie’s. We train at midday. The big boys, the senior team, train in the evenings.”

“And then after the match at home on Sunday you head off back to Limerick?”


“I can’t get over it,” said Trish. She took a sip of her wine and shook her head carefully — she was wearing her hair in an elaborate up style, what Senán would call a “wedding hairdo” and which he guessed had taken quite a length of time to concoct. “You kinda live in two places, a sort of double life. You’ve your weekend life at home in Tipp and then your weekday life here in Limerick. It’s a weird . . .”

“Dichotomy,” offered Senán.


Senán smiled as a joke came to mind. “But that’s enough about me,” he said in a corny American accent, “what about you?”

Trish laughed. “I’ve been going on a bit, haven’t I, asking you questions, like?”

“Just a bit!”

Senán was surprised at how nervous Trish was. She hadn’t been her usual smart, sassy and talkative self the minute he picked her up from outside her house in his battered old Mazda 323. There was tension written on her face, and the little peck on the cheek she gave him after buckling up was more out of formality than warmth.

“C’mon. Get the fuck out of here,” she had said between her teeth. “My family are all gawking out at us.”

She had been quiet on the journey across town, gripping her handbag to her chest and looking into shop windows. Senán had kept where they were going a secret, despite Trish’s pleadings throughout the week. In quiet moments in Francie’s she would stand under his ladder and beg to be told where they were going.

“I need to know what to wear,” she would say. “Is it a dressy kind of place or fucking McDonald’s?”

All Senán would reveal was that it was neither a Michelin-starred restaurant nor a fast food joint. In response to her increasingly desperate messages as he prepared to drive back to Limerick on Saturday afternoon after training, he told her he would be wearing “smart cas”. When she gave her coat to the waiter in Martino’s, she had either ignored this message or possessed a different concept of smart casual than Senán. She wore a sea-green body-hugging minidress of a kind of synthetic, stretchy satin with sheer fabric sleeves. The pattern, consisting of irregular arrangements of chevrons of a darker green and shinier material than the base fabric, was continued from the body of the outfit to the arms, with iridescent ribs running over the see-through fabric to give Trish’s long, toned arms an impressive, structured appearance. Although the dress’s neckline was high, its tightness and pattern emphasised her bust. At the back of the dress, similarly positioned chevrons drew the eye to the buttocks. Whenever she moved, reflected light from stretching and contracting chevrons played on the curves of her body. Senán could see men at other tables checking her out.

“Wow,” he said.

“You like it?” said Trish skittishly. “Not too OTT?”

“No way. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. You look gorgeous. Like you could be on the red carpet of a film premiere. I’m blown away.”

Trish glowed with pleasure, but didn’t relax fully until after the starters had been cleared away and she had poured herself a second glass of red wine.

“I don’t want to sound like the poor little girl from the Island, but I’ve never been to a place like this before,” she said.

“Ah, it’s not that fancy,” said Senán. “You don’t have to have a knighthood or anything to come to this aul’ place.”

Martino’s was one of the city’s longest-established eateries, on the go since the 1970s. It had been cordon bleu in the dark days before Ireland became a cosmopolitan, outward-looking country, and when the phrase carried a certain snob value. While some of the cachet of eating in Martino’s had worn off over the decades, with the arrival of new trends and competing restaurants that boasted concept décor and nouvelle cuisine, it was still a place where the great and the good of the city ate, and where you took a client if you wanted to wine and dine them. Martino’s didn’t do stag or hen parties, unlike many of the city’s restaurants, and there was no pizza, lasagne, hamburger or, God forbid, kiddies’ meal on the menu.

“I know,” said Trish, “but places like this never seem like the type of place for the likes of us to go to. If I go out with the family, it’s always Mackie D’s or Supermac’s or somewhere like that for the younger ones. With the girls we always go to a Chinese or Indian or do pub grub. This place is like for . . . other people to go to. You know. Decent people. Teachers, doctors, solicitors. You know what I mean?”

“I know what you mean.”

“Besides all that there’s the price. Are you really sure you can afford this?”

Trish had looked at the menu in shock after they were seated and had offered to go halves, worried that paying for a three-course meal and a bottle of wine would ruin him. Senán smiled. His ex, Connie, had never shown any desire to go Dutch, and their outings had bled him dry of any monies he might have amassed over the summer.

“Don’t worry,” said Senán. “I won this prize in college at the end of the summer. The O’Curry Medal. It’s given to whoever gets the highest mark in the finals in advanced data modelling. You get this stupid medal, your photograph taken with the head of department and some dudes in suits who sponsor the thing — and five hundred quid prize money. I said to myself that I’d keep the money to spend on something special . . . and here we are. I couldn’t imagine a more special thing to do with it.”

He raised his glass, waited for Trish to follow suit, and said as their glasses clinked: “Here’s to Professor O’Curry — whoever he is, or was!”

“I presume this advanced data modelling has nothing to do with the catwalk or Adriana Lima or Marc Jacobs?”

“You would presume correctly. The modelling I do, it’s a bit like designing a computer game — like the Sims or Animal Crossing. You play around with the variables, basically fiddle with inputs — numbers — like amounts of money, interest rates, time spans, population growth rates, rates of mortality, depreciation, economic constants, et cetera. And you see what comes out the other side when the game is finished. The more variables you add based on real-world data, the more accurate the model is likely to be. It’s a simulation of what might occur in the real world. You gather data, plug it in and press Go. Simple really, if you know what you’re doing. You wouldn’t believe how much data modelling goes on in the world. In supermarkets, in sport, the military — even fashion, I would imagine. The big houses like Zara or Penneys. No one moves a finger nowadays without some kind of modelling being done.”

It was Trish’s turn to say “Wow”, then she looked glumly around the restaurant and snatched at her wine glass.

“What’s wrong, Trish? Bored?”

“No. It just hit me how little we have in common. I mean, you have all this computer modelling and stuff you do out at the university. Stuff way beyond my little brain. I mean, I was shit at maths. Shit. I took the Leaving Cert Applied and I still failed most of that. You’re so academic and intelligent. And I work in a fucking shop. I just wonder are we kidding ourselves that we can have something together. You’ll get tired of my fucking thickness, and I won’t know what you’re on about half the time. I dunno.”

Senán thought for a while.

“Listen,” he said. “Imagine if I was a mechanic. Or a plumber. Would you be worried that you couldn’t talk to me about, I dunno, fan belts and carburettors or pumps and ballcocks and pipes with me?”

Trish raised her eyebrows and smirked. “I’d wind up talking ballcocks and pipe with any fella after a while!”

“You know what I mean.”

“I know what you mean. But most plumbers and mechanics are like me. People who were thick at school and who couldn’t move on to better things. Half the fellas in my class wanted to be mechanics, for fuck’s sake. Guys with their fucking knuckles dragging off the ground. You’re smart. You talk about stuff I’ve never heard of — and I’m not talking about what you do out at the university. You’re cultured. You read. You could be on one of those fucking late-night news programmes talking about the economy—”

“That’s hardly a compliment.”

“But you know what I mean.”

Senán sighed. “It’s the class thing. It’s going to hang over us like a Damocles sword. I’m from a big farm in the Golden Vale. Strong farmer stock. Sent off to university to keep the cycle that’s been turning since the Land War oiled for another generation. You’re from the Island Field. Generation X of inner-city poverty moved from the tenements down the lanes out to modern council houses. I have my lexicon and class identifiers and you have yours and never the twain shall meet. That’s supposed to be the fucking narrative, isn’t it?”

“See: no one from the Island Field would ever use the word narrative,” said Trish, her spirits seeming to fall even further.

It was his turn to take a fortifying sip of wine. “This is good shit, by the way,” he said.

“‘Twould fucking want to be,” answered Trish, “at forty quid a bottle.”

Suddenly they looked at each other and burst out laughing.

“If my mother could see me now,” said Senán, in between shudders of mirth, “she’d die. She’s a teetotaller. She’d be pussing at my father for a week if he’d more than two pints down the pub. If she saw the price of this . . .”

“Well,” said Trish, “my mother would probably be on to her fifth or sixth glass of it by now and she’d be looking at you to order her another. That’s if my father hadn’t gone through it already!”

“We’ll have to get them together, your mother and mine. Does your mother bake?”

Trish found this last question so hilarious that she hooted with laughter, and Senán could hear her high heels clank off the wooden floor as her body shook.

“My mother can just about do a frozen pizza in the oven. Or a tray of chips. I remember once I had to do fucking soda bread for a home economics project and I asked her to help me. I was fourteen. We’d to go on this big spree to find the ingredients. I think we’d to go to fucking Superquinn in Castletroy to find the fucking buttermilk. On the bus. No shop on the Island would stock something as fucking posh as that. Anyway. We got all the stuff together and I did the dough. Grand. All we had to do was put the fucking thing in the oven for half an hour. Anyway. The recipe said, whatever, four hundred degrees Fahrenheit, gas mark whatever and one-eighty Celsius. My mother, not knowing shit, turned the oven up to as close to four hundred as it would go. Fifteen minutes later we’d a fucking fire on our hands. That was the last bit of baking we ever did at home.”

“Well. My mother isn’t just a teetotaller. She’s a Pioneer. Or, a member of the Total Abstinence Association, to use its official title. She thinks alcohol is evil, not to mention drugs. The work of the Devil. She goes to prayer meetings to send beams up to heaven so there’s less alcoholism in the world. And she writes articles for this fucking magazine called Pioneer, surprise, surprise. She gives talks in schools about the evils of drink and drugs. She gave talks in my school — every fucking year. Imagine how embarrassing that was when you’re sixteen and trying to be all tough and cool.”

“Did she smell your breath coming in the door when you were a teenager?”

“She still does.”


For the rest of the meal Senán and Trish excitedly painted pictures for one another of their backgrounds. Neither considered their respective families ideal. Senán’s mother was controlling, distant and strict, suspicious of the modern world and fearful that any lapse into pleasure would lead to downfall. She had fought tooth and nail to slot each of her four children into careers she considered suitable — respectable careers, with prospects. Senán’s older brother was packed off to agricultural college and pencilled in for the family farm. Senán was to go into finance, his sisters into pharmacy and human resources. His father was a wimp, completely under his wife’s thumb. The only area where he had the luxury of free will was in running the farm.

“She chooses what clothes he wears. Tells him when he has to get his hair cut. Drags him off to mass and to her Pioneer meetings. Tells him when it’s time to go to bed. He’s like her little boy,” said Senán. “My older brother’s nearly as bad. Still lives at home. Wears these woolly fucking jumpers she buys him in this old man’s shop in Cahir. Still runs around according to her schedule. God help the poor woman he ever gets married to. She’ll have a toddler on her hands.”

“And what about you?” asked Trish. “Are you under her thumb?”

“Not really, anymore,” said Senán, after considering his reply for a moment. “She had a fucking conniption fit when I told her I’d got the wee job in Francie’s.”

“Didn’t think it was good enough for you?”

“Yep. But it was more than that. Last year I decided not to follow the path she’d set out for me. You know, do a master’s in finance and then go into some soulless bank or insurance company and fester there for the rest of my life. Doing this thing in the sociology department was basically turning my back on a life focussed on making shitloads of money no matter what the cost, and instead using my training to try and make the world a slightly better place. That’s when the real showdown happened. That was when I really got her claws out of me. There were some interesting conversations around that time. The argument about Francie’s was just a kind of coda to all that.”

“See, in my family you’d never use a word like coda,” said Trish. “I actually don’t really know myself what coda means.” She scrunched up her face apologetically. “My father just talks about football and rugby and hurling. And the greyhounds. He kinda lives in a parallel universe to the rest of us. He gets up, goes to work, comes home, reads the paper, eats his tea, goes to the pub if there’s a match on, or goes off to the dogs on a race night. I used to go with him as a little girl but not for years now. All I really know about him is that he hates fucking politicians — all of them. He’s given up voting. He’s not going to pay the water charges over his dead body, and he wants the Arsenal crest on his gravestone when he dies. He’ll do a bit of gardening and DIY if my mum nags him enough, and he cleans his car on Saturdays if the weather’s all right. My mum smokes like a trooper, does a few hours’ cleaning in Tesco four nights a week and spends the rest of her life in front of the TV watching Strictly and The X-Factor. I’ve two younger brothers and two younger sisters. The boys are boys: Playstation, rap music, knocking round the place with their homies. The girls are sweeties. Jessica is six. Draws a lot. Into princesses and all that shit. Lauren is smart. She’s the brains of the family. Gets all A’s. Has got her shit together in a way the rest of us never had. Going into secondary school next year. I just hope to fuck she keeps on like she is and doesn’t wind up working in a fucking shop like me.”

Senán looked into Trish’s dark blue eyes. He wanted to take away the anger, disappointment and resignation he saw in them.

“Hey, come on, there’s nothing wrong with working in a shop.”

“Yeah, right. It’s career of the century. It’s so exciting and fulfilling. It really has me leaping out of bed in the mornings. Facing the day ready to meet new challenges and encounter interesting people.” She placed her knife and fork on her plate and brusquely drained her wine glass. “If I think about it too long it gets me down. If I think forward ten years and see myself still working in Francie’s, taking orders from fucking Gollum, still having the little fucker trying to peep down my top, and beep-beep-beeping fucking cans of spaghetti letters and pasties over my scanner day in, day out . . . I think I’d be better off in the fucking river. But like you said, this wine is good shit!”

They ate without speaking for a time, glancing discreetly at other tables or following the waiters’ sweeping deliveries. Martino’s was hopping. Not a single table was free and a couple of parties waited at the bar sipping aperitifs until they could be seated.

“You know,” observed Senán. “This place looks like the type of sitting room my mum and all her friends would have if they won the lottery. It’s like the kind of décor middle-class women of a certain age swoon over. It actually is like my mum’s good room, as she calls it, on steroids. It’s like the ur-good room. Creepy.”

“I love the way you talk,” said Trish. “You’re like someone from a TV show. Like that guy from Scrubs or someone. I’ve never met anyone like you before.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment. Can I capitalise on the goodwill and steal a kiss?”

Wordlessly, Trish leaned across their table, closed her eyes and half pursed her lips. Senán nuzzled her nose, caught her lips lightly with his own and they kissed at length.

“They won’t kick us out for kissing, will they?” said Trish afterwards.

“Naw,” said Senán. “I think part of the forty quid for the wine comes with a licence for at least a couple of unobtrusive pecks over this fine candle here.”


“Where to next, m’lady?”

They were standing outside Martino’s. Underneath her coat, Trish was rigid from the sharp change in temperature between the toasty restaurant and the north-wind bite of the November night. Senán draped his jacket over her shoulders.

“Go on outa that!” she said. “I’m grand.”

“Grand, me arse. You look like you’re ready to snap in two. Sur’ you haven’t a pick on you. You need to fatten up for winter.”

She drew Senán’s jacket around her and looked at him with tipsy eyes. “Senán, this night is nearly perfect. You’re like a Prince Charming. I don’t want it to end, you know. Let’s go for one or two more. On me, though. You’ve paid for enough.”

She put her arm around his waist and pulled him in the direction of O’Connell Street. The Christmas lights were shining against the black sky, the streets adorned with silver, blue and golden stars and snowflakes.

“It’s lovely,” gushed Trish. “I have to come in here with the girls tomorrow evening. They love the Christmas lights. And looking in the shops.”

At the top of O’Connell Street, where they were absorbed into the cheerful crowds moving from bar to bar, Senán asked her where they were going.

“Somewhere I’ve never been before, but have always wanted to go. A place I’ve never felt good enough to go into and a place I want to go with you for the first time. Coz after that it will always be our special place.”

She pulled him more tightly to her, and Senán felt her softness, even under the pair of coats. The warm belief hit him that he was with someone special: somebody not just physically beautiful but kind, caring and romantic. He was perhaps a romantic himself, and between the lights, the buzz on the street and Trish’s hearty squeeze he felt like a leading man in the soppiest of romcoms.

Posted in Fiction, Gu-Gu-Geoghegan, Ireland | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Gu-Gu-Geoghegan — Chapter 9 of 32

“This place really is beyond Thunderdome.”

“Tha-tha-that’s one of the ru-ru-reasons I bu-bu-brought you here first. To show you-to show you that at-at least du-du-down our-our neck of the woods thing-thing-things aren’t so bad.”

“This is a totally different kettle of fish to Kileely or St Mary’s Park. This is genuinely scary.”

Luke nodded. “I do-don’t know this area-area as well as my oh-oh-own,” he said, “but-but we can take a-a spin around and-and-and I’ll show-show-show you some-some-some of the la-la-landmarks.”

He and Senán were driving around an estate in Southill, in fulfilment of his promise to give Senán a tour of the “badlands”. It was Wednesday evening the week after Halloween and they had set out directly from Francie’s for the southern fringes of the city after hastily locking up. Luke had wanted to arrive at Southill as early as possible — “be-be-before all the creepy-crawlies come out-out-out of the wu-wu-wu-woodwork”. He had insisted on taking his own car, saying that Senán’s Tipperary reg would arouse suspicion among those charged with watching out for the gardaí.

“There’s al-al-always someone on the look-look-lookout,” he had said. “Ku-ku-kids mostly. They-they-they’d figure that two young-young lads in a Limerick reg cu-cu-car like mine are-are-are ju-ju-just driving in here-here to score.”

Senán was shocked by the grimness and state of ruin of the estate. They were cruising past a large green on which several horses were grazing, and which was surrounded by large boulders — placed there by the city council to prevent Travellers pitching their camps and joyriders performing stunts on its flat expanse. If the green had been intended as a recreation area for children, that purpose was no longer valid. Years of horses’ hooves had trampled the green into a bumpy mire. Opposite was a short row of boarded-up terraced houses, a couple of which were burnt out. Looking around at the other terraces surrounding the L-shaped open area, Senán noticed that they all had a metal-shuttered member. These shutters were invariably rusted and almost always graffitied, although graffiti — mostly crude words, scribbled surnames, or the outing of someone as a “rat” — was by no means confined to these slabs of oxidised metal. Many walls, footpaths and gable ends were also defaced. MK Is Gay, he read on a nearby garden wall.

Those houses that were occupied were badly maintained. Front garden walls were subsiding or fallen down altogether. Wrought-iron gates were bulging and flaking with rust. Concrete drives were dappled with moss and algae, their surfaces loose, cracking and dented. The paintwork of wooden doors and windows was chipped and peeling. Most houses looked like they hadn’t been painted in decades, and even in the weak light from the few functioning streetlights their pebble-dash walls appeared damp and stained. Roofs were carpeted with moss and lichen, with gutters hosting little copses of ferns and maples. Some houses were well maintained, though. Their brightly painted walls, hydrangeas and cherry trees stood out like beacons of hope and order among the dereliction and neglect.

It wasn’t just dwellings that were in disrepair: the common areas and general infrastructure were in an equally deplorable state. From the rutted footpaths and crumbling kerbstones to the weathered, potholed and disintegrating roads, it looked like a council crew had not visited the estate in many years, except perhaps to fit speed bumps and boulders, which Senán saw lined every public space which was not a road and into which a car or caravan might fit. Perhaps one in every three streetlights was broken. Some of the galvanised steel poles looked like they had had fires set around them, and some as if they had been pulled down or driven into. There was not a street or road sign that was fully intact, nor a single tree growing on any patch of green area. Senán’s overriding impression was of an area where normal society had broken down.

Luke drove past the green and turned into a cul-de-sac where the majority of the houses were boarded up.

“This is whe-where the famous sh-shoot-out took-took place about ten yu-yu-years ago,” he said. “There were Du-Du-Duggans living in this middle house. Two vu-vu-vanloads of McCullochs arrived and-and opened up-up-up on the-on the place. You can see the bu-bu-bullet marks.” He stopped the car to give Senán a chance to see the dozen or so bullet holes that scored the house’s blackened plaster. The residence had been burnt out.

“The-the-the Duggans fu-fu-fired back. One of the McCullochs was killed. The Du-Du-Duggans had to leave town af-af-after that.”

He turned the car at the end of the road. “Going ba-ba-back ten years, this-this place would have been-been black with pe-people. Young fellas du-du-drinking. Ow-ow-out smoking dope. Ju-ju-joyriding. Now it’s a lot-lot quieter. But I still-still wouldn’t fuck-fuck around up here. There’s still-there’s still some day-day-dangerous fu-fuckers on the loose.”

He drove to the other end of the estate, the corner farthest away from the main road. On a street corner stood three youths wearing hoodies who eyeballed the car as it went past.

“Du-Du-Dealer’s Corner,” said Luke. “The-the-them lads can get you anything you wa-wa-want.”

Looking in the wing mirror, Senán saw one of the hooded figures snapping a photo of the car with his phone.

“They-they-they’ll know who-who I am in five mu-mu-minutes, if they want,” Luke said, with a laugh. “They’ll put-put my reg into a da-database and Bu-Bu-Bob’s your uncle!”

“Scary,” said Senán.

As they did one more loop through the estate, Luke elaborated on his theme. “Thi-thi-this place isn’t the same as-as it was at-at all. There no lu-lu-life here. All-all-all the normal people’s gone. And your kinda-kinda mid-table scu-scumbag has gone as well. The-the-they’re the ones who can give a pla-place a bit of life. Like the fu-fu-fellas who set the bu-bu-bonfire the other-other night in the Island Field. The likes-likes of them mi-mightn’t always be on-on the right side of-of the law, but-but they’re not the-the-the kind to burn your how-how-house down either. It’s-it’s the fu-fu-fuckers that’s left are the one’s who’d-who’d burn a how-how-house down. No matter who-who’s in it.”

On their way out of the estate Luke pointed out what used to be one of many shebeens in the area — a boarded-up mid-terrace house.

“Now with only su-su-psychos left living here they had-had-had to close it down. There-there was blu-blu-blue murder in there every night.”


After he had joined the brisk traffic on the main road into the city, Luke asked Senán what he thought of his first trip to Southill.

“I’m dumbfounded,” he said. “I mean, I’ve seen all those images on TV and in the newspaper and whatever. And I’ve read dozens of academic papers on the area. But Jesus, in the flesh, the place is shocking. I mean, from my point of view, the project I’m working on and everything, the place is totally out there. None of the normal rules of the property market apply to it. It’s like: who would want to live in a war zone? Southill has just about as much normalcy in terms of the property market as a war zone. I’ve read papers on the property market — or lack thereof — in war zones and I would hazard that Southill fits into that category, no problem. No exaggeration. You couldn’t give away a house in there.”

“You’d-you’d-you’d have to pu-pay someone to-to live there!”

“Exactly! All the normal models that apply to sales and rentals in a middle-class or working-class estates are invalid there. Part of my work will be to establish economic models for Southill and the other areas. But Jesus, a free-market model is off the cards. The place needs turning around. And the only people to do it are the city council or the government. Or both. I guess that’s what this Limerick Regeneration Office is all about.”

“They-they’d want to get their fu-fu-fingers out!”

“Yeah. But what I’m also angry about is how the place was let slide like it so clearly has been. Like, the vast majority of those houses are council houses. The council was in charge of maintaining them. It had an onus on it to do so. And regardless of who was living in them and however dysfunctional or criminal the tenants might have been, they still had a right to live in decent accommodation. There’s broken down walls. Dampness. Places in need of re-roofing. Subsidence. And then there’s the general infrastructure in the estate. Walls, kerbs, roads, playgrounds — they’re all in shit. It’s a fucking disgrace. Of course no one wants to live there. The council really failed in their duty to these people, however poor or uneducated or antisocial they are. They still deserved better. I mean, if you build this ramshackle estate on the edge of the city with fuck-all around it and you let the physical environment go to shit, how do you expect the people in there to turn out? Anyone decent — anyone with a job and a bit of optimism for the future — will get out of there as soon as they can, the place will be turned over to the hooligans and the psychos who have no option but to live there — and you have yourself a vicious circle. I mean, stated bluntly it’s like this: in Ireland of the twenty-first century we have a series of massive sink estates — shitholes, for want of a better term — where the place is falling down around the people’s heads, and the likes of you and me can’t even go for a walk around them at ten thirty at night or we’d be lynched. It’s a fucking disgrace!”

“That-that-that’s what everyone’s been say-say-saying for years. But no-one ever du-du-does anything a-a-a-about it.”


“This place isn’t quite as bad as Southill. At least you can get out of your car and walk around.”

“That’s coz-coz-coz I’m no-no-known around here. If you-you were here with-with-without me you’d be getting ha-hassle fairly lively.”

The pair were now in Moyross on the northern edge of the city. Luke had parked in the car park of the area’s well-manicured playing fields, and they were walking towards the heart of the estate. Unlike Southill, there was a steady stream of cars passing by and plenty of pedestrian footfall. On first impressions, Senán thought Moyross to be far less derelict and sinister than Southill. There wasn’t that sense of abandonment, of things falling to rack and ruin that he had experienced on the southside. There were no boulders barring access to greens and alleyways. Street lamps were in working order. Graffiti wasn’t quite so ubiquitous. The footpaths and roads were in good repair.

Either the council is lavishing more attention on this place, thought Senán, or the inhabitants are more civilised.

If it wasn’t for the fact that so many houses were boarded up, Moyross would have looked like any ordinary working-class estate. Only it wasn’t an ordinary estate. Luke was filling him in on all the grisly details.

“Back-back-back in the day, when the few-few-feud was in fu-fu-full swing, this place was mental. Lu-lu-loopers! A drive-by nu-nearly ev-ev-every week. Gu-gu-gangs of knackers up here wu-wu-with slash hooks an-an-and crowbars and shu-shotguns. There was how-how-houses petrol-bombed. Tha-tha-that one there, fu-fu-for example.”

He pointed to a boarded-up, roofless house which, judging by the charred state of its remaining beams and rafters, had suffered from a devastating fire. There were many such boarded-up houses, although most showed no signs of arson.

“Another how-house behind, burnt down wi-with a couple of ju-ju-junkies inside. I su-su-saw the firemen take the bu-bu-bodies out. They were lu-lu-like bu-bu-bundles of black-black sticks. They su-su-say they were so-so out of it that-that they didn’t e-e-even wake up when the flames ru-ru-reached them.”

They were walking along a winding street lined on both sides by the typical style of house found in Moyross: a mix of pebble-dash and red brick, with two small square upstairs windows, one larger downstairs window and a wide front door. Unlike Southill and the city’s older estates, there was a small driveway and a postage stamp of front lawn. When Southill and Kileely had been designed, the city fathers had no expectation that those moving from the overcrowded lanes and tenements of the city centre to their brand-new houses on its edge would ever better their lives enough to need a driveway in which to park a car. Senán noted that in the time between the creation of Southill and Moyross, those responsible for designing the council’s estates seemed, at least, to have grown in empathy and humanity.

“You know, Luke,” he said. “This place isn’t bad. I’d live here myself. The houses are bigger than in Southill. They seem better built. And they’re definitely better maintained. The estate is full of open spaces and it’s much better laid out. There’s trees. A view of the hills over there in Clare. Ample parking. The place is in pretty good order. You’ve your sports club down below. I can see this place being turned around eventually.”

Luke shook his head. It was a mild night and he was wearing a light bomber jacket over the navy pants and jumper he always wore in Francie’s. The jacket emphasised his leanness, with his shoulder blades poking out under its shiny fabric.

“You wu-wu-wouldn’t survive five mu-mu-minutes here. It’s winter now, there’s-there’s no great goo on young lads to-to-to be out making tru-tru-trouble. But come-come-come the good weather and the long nights: this-this place will be nu-nu-nuts. Joyriders. Pu-pu-parties in abandoned houses. Gangs on the streets. Horses racing up-up and down.”

On their meandering walk through the estate, Luke and Senán had come across several groups of youths wearing hoodies or baseball caps huddled in the shadows drinking cans of beer or cider and smoking what he assumed to be pot. The youths had in local parlance “stared them out of it” until Luke gave a special tilt of his head, somewhere between a nod and a shake and said: “How’s it going, boys?” The answer was invariably “grand”. After they would pass a group, Senán would hear someone mutter “Gu-Gu-Geoghegan”, followed by knowing laughter.

“What would happen, now, if I was wandering around here on my own?” Senán asked.

“Number one,” said Luke, smiling, “you don’t look-look-look like someone from around here. The face. The-the colour of your skin. Number two: your shoes. No-no-no one from around here wu-wu-wears fuckin’ deck shoes. So they-so they have you pu-pu-pegged immediately as an-an outsider. And-and-and a middle-class ow-ow-outsider at that. A-a-after that it’s all down to how-how-how they want to play it.”

“Play it?”

“Yeah. If the-the-the boys just want to have-have a bit of fun-fun with you they’ll ju-ju-just take the mickey out-out-out of your clothes or shoes or-or-or whatever. But if they’re fu-fu-feeling in the mood fu-fu-for a scrap or they’ve tu-tu-taken a dislike to you, pre-pre-prepare to get-to get your head kicked in. Or to-to-to run like fuck.”

Senán made no comment, but let his thoughts range free while they walked in silence through the night. There was an almost-full moon. Glimpses of the Sliabh Bearnagh mountains silhouetted against the sky could be caught in the gaps between the rows of houses, and when the two turned north at the end of the street, this low range filled their vista.

“Why don’t they pick on you?” said Senán after a while. “Respect? Familiarity? Coz you’re one of them? Coz you know people, their older brothers or whatever? Why do you have a free pass here?”

“Coz-coz I’m one of them. One-one-one of the tribe, lu-like you said. They can-can-can see it, e-e-even if they mightn’t-mightn’t know exactly who I am. They can smell it off me that I belong here. Like dogs.” Luke flashed a look at Senán and turned something over in his mind before continuing. “The wu-wu-ones who know or-or-or kinda know me — they-they-they know there’s nothing to be gu-gu-gained by pushing-pushing me around. Nu-nu-no street cred at all. The stu-stu-stutter lo-lo-lost its novelty for them years ago. And-and-and be-be-beating me up is no-no great trophy. I’m not-not exactly Tu-Tu-Tyson Fury!”

A shiver of excitement ran through Senán. Luke had mentioned his stutter. This was the perfect opportunity.

“Did you ever go to speech therapy?”

Luke laughed — a bitter snuffling sound. “Yu-yu-you’re ju-joking? A bu-bu-boy from the Island Field gu-gu-going to sp-sp-sp-sp-speech therapy? Not on yu-yu-your life!”

It looked like Luke was mulling over what to say next, so Senán just walked beside him in silence.

“My-my-my-my mu-mu-mother fu-fucked off when I was si-si-six. Me-me-me and my bro-bro-brother lived with ow-ow-our grandparents. We-we-we were dirt poor. On-on-on a mu-mu-medical card. There was no-there was no thu-thu-therapist du-down this side of the cu-cu-country, so after being-being on a wu-wu-waiting list for years we-we-we went up to-up to Dublin on the train and-and-and I saw this wu-wu-one a cu-cu-couple of times. Du-du-didn’t work, as you-as you can see. All I remember is going to the-the-the zoo afterwards and-and-and feeding the ku-ku-kangaroos Jelly Tots. We du-du-didn’t have the mu-mu-money to be hi-hi-hiking up to Dublin every month, so when it lu-looked like it wasn’t wu-wu-working we stopped-stopped gu-gu-going.”

“And none of your teachers ever tried to help? Giving you poetry to read or songs or anything?”

Luked laughed again. “You’re-you’re fucking joking? Ed-ed-education around here is all about mu-mu-making sure nobody nu-nu-knifes you or bu-bu-burns the school down. Half the ku-kids hardly know how-how to read and write when they leave sku-sku-school. I jus-jus-just kept my head do-do-down and tried not to-not to gu-gu-get bullied too much. Tha-tha-that was school for-for me.”

“Jesus,” Senán said.

Luke led them downhill to the bottom of a cul-de-sac. After passing the last house, he stopped and turned to Senán. “I’ve-I’ve something different plu-plu-planned,” he said with a mysterious smirk on his face. “We’re going to do-do what ge-ge-generations of young fellas from ru-ru-round here have done. Follow-follow me.”

He left the road and sprang over the low wall that marked the estate’s northern boundary. A well-worn path in the grass beyond led them through a field in which a couple of piebald ponies grazed, their white patches shining in the moonlight and steam rising from their nostrils. The cropped grass was damp but the ground was firm. At the far end of the field was a gap in the thick whitethorn hedge that formed its boundary. Luke pulled himself through and held back the briars to ease Senán’s passage. Beyond the hedge was a much larger field, empty of livestock, but Senán saw from the hoof marks and pats that it had recently contained cattle. A sheltered area, a type of bay under the whitethorn, was littered with bottles, cans and plastic bags — the detritus of years of bush drinking. There were even plastic crates and car tyres, which Senán imagined served as seats for gangs of drinkers. Luke made towards a short incline that ended in the peak of the field’s irregular pentagon shape.

“We’re going on-on to the train tracks,” he announced when they arrived at the apex. Beyond it was the incongruous presence of a high steel fence of recent construction. After squeezing through more whitethorn and briar, Senán found himself beside what he assumed was the Limerick–Ennis line. Luke took out his phone and turned on its flashlight.

“The boys wu-wu-will have loosened some of these,” he said, pointing his phone towards the bottom of the flattened two-inch-wide pickets making up each section of the fence. He walked in a crouch along the line, shining his light before him. Senán wasn’t sure what Luke was looking for until he heard a triumphant “Bingo”.

“Look,” said Luke. “We mi-mi-mightn’t have mu-much schooling but we ain’t-ain’t thick!”

Senán peered over Luke’s shoulder and saw the light from his phone dance over a series of markings scratched into the galvanised surface of three consecutive pickets.

“The wu-wu-weldings on these have been saw-sawn through by some en-en-enterprising young lad. This-this is his code. We ju-ju-just have to lift ’em ow-ow-out of the gravel, mosey on-on through and repla-place ’em.”

Senán was impressed. “Railway vandals’ code. Or trespassers’ code or whatever. Cool.”

“The only tu-tu-time when people ru-round here come together is to fu-fu-fuck the system.”

They removed the pickets, stepped through the gap and carefully put them back in place.

“Do they never inspect the lines?” asked Senán.

“Couple of times a wu-wu-week. But in one of tho-those little engines. Har-har-hardly ever on foot.”

“What are the chances of us being caught?”

“Nil. We-we-we’re only going across the river and back. I ju-ju-just want to show you Ballynanty and the Island from a u-u-unique viewpoint. And-and some of the old haw-haw-haunts. There’s no ca-ca-cameras. And no security until you gu-gu-get near the station. And even-even though it’s a gru-gru-grand bru-bru-bright night, we-we-we won’t be seen.”

“And if a train comes?”

“We’ll have plu-plu-plenty warning.”

With that, Luke scurried up the embankment until he stood on the single line of track. Senán followed, and soon the pair were walking in the direction of the city. Even though they were only a stone’s throw outside the city limits, there wasn’t a sound to be heard beyond the crunching of their feet on the gravel. After a couple of minutes’ trudging the coarse stones or hopping from sleeper to sleeper they had the dark houses of Moyross on either side of them. Luke took up his commentary.

“There was-was jokes about which half of Moyross was on-on the wrong side of the tracks. The-the joke never had a definite pu-pu-punchline.”

He pointed out the back gardens of heroin dealers, notorious families of settled Travellers, another house which had been firebombed. They left Moyross behind, and immediately it seemed like they were in the countryside again. Fields either side of the track in which horses or cattle stood silently in the moonlight gave way to an area of damp crag laced with brimming ditches and pools of swampy water. This led to wild woodland where the bare branches of alder and willow spilled on to the tracks and must have rattled against the carriages as they trundled by. Given the piles of cans and bottles, the shelter from the trees had made this section of track inviting for bands of bush drinkers down through the years. Graffiti artists had also plied their trade under the branches: the fence glowed with garish motifs, surprisingly artistic. Senán took photos. More mundane graffiti marked the sleepers — Horse Loves Suzi or CIRA or Biggsy Is A Shade Rat. The trees thinned out and Senán looked down into space on either side. They were about to cross the Shannon, whose black waters sped by about fifty feet below.

“Jesus,” he said. “Are we OK crossing this? What if a train comes?”

Luke laughed. “You ru-ru-run like fuck!”

Nervously, Senán picked his way from sleeper to sleeper, going much more slowly than Luke, who strode nimbly ahead. Seeing glints of river between the sleepers made Senán tread cautiously. Some of the older sleepers were mossy and slimy, with edges rounded by years of exposure to the elements. A slip could put someone sprawling, and the image of dangling over the river waiting for Luke to rescue him didn’t reassure Senán. He looked ahead at Luke and saw someone at home in their natural environment. Slipping through bushes, scurrying up embankments, squeezing through fences and skipping over the sleepers, Luke’s scrawny lightness and slight stoop were an advantage. It was almost as if a childhood spent exploring the waste ground between the Island Field and Moyross had shaped his physique. Looking at his form, black against the blue midnight sky, loping across the bridge, Senán could not seal his mind to the word Gollum. It also struck him that there was something of the creature of the night about Luke, not in the sense of a Dracula-like predator, but rather a being who slunk in the shadows avoiding the gaze of others, watching and waiting.

When Luke reached the other bank and turned around with a triumphant and indulgent smile to watch his companion’s shaky progress, Senán felt sorry for him again.

He gets his self-esteem from these little things. And being cock of the roost in Francie’s. I should tell him about my stutter. How I got rid of it. Maybe it’s not too late for him.

“Gu-gu-good man,” tittered Luke. “You-you-you made it. You can pu-pu-put that on your CV. ‘Cru-cru-crossed the Sha-sha-shannon at mi-mi-midnight on the ray-ray-railway bridge’.”

“I have to say,” said Senán, “it’s a wee bit scary. And I always thought I was good with heights.”

Luke turned around to face southwards and raised an arm to point to a cluster of lit streets about a quarter of a mile away.

“That-that-that’s the Island Field. The bu-bu-bonfire the other night was just down-down there. The-the-the train line doesn’t cru-cru-cross the Island Field. Just-just skirts it. We’re-we’re going as far as that pu-pu-point where you could nu-nu-nearly throw a stone across the A-A-Abbey River and hit the Island, and-and-and then we’re turning back.”

He looked behind at Senán and pointed towards the west.

“Over-over there is where we’ve cu-cu-come from: Moyross. Down below, Bally-Ballynanty. And-and then Kileely.” He began walking. “If-if-if we follow the line, we pass through all the shi-shi-shitholes in the city: Lower Park, Garryowen, the-the edge of Southill, Roxboro. It’s like-like when they started mu-mu-moving people fro-fro-from the slums in the fifties, sixties, the tru-tru-train line mu-mu-marked the ow-ow-outer limits, the places where no-no-nobody wanted to live. All-all-all the decent people are either wu-wu-west of Moyross, between Southill and the-the Shannon or-or-or even further out, like in Castle-Castletroy.”

“Interesting,” said Senán. “If you can hear the train you’re more likely to live in a council estate. I can prove that with a little stats magic. I’ll do a little exploratory stats, a correlation, during the week. And I must read into the history of how and why and when the train line was laid down. Could be interesting. A different angle from the usual narrative of why Limerick took its current dysfunctional shape. Thanks, Luke. It could be a good way of looking at things. The train line angle.”

Luke smiled proudly and began to lead the way along the line. The land on this side of the river was also heavily wooded. Long limbs of willow shook in the night’s light breeze and hid the lights of the city which they had been able to see while crossing the bridge. This stretch of track was also popular with bush drinkers. Numerous cave-like areas created by tangles of drooping willow boughs, ash and whitethorn bushes were littered as before, and graffiti artists had also broken the greyness of the fence along there. At a point where the line bent gently to the right to cling to the crook which the Abbey River made before it joined the Shannon, Luke, a few yards ahead, came suddenly to a stop and shushed. He scurried silently towards the embankment, crouched in the undergrowth and bade Senán do the same.

“There’s someone up ahead,” he hissed. “Listen.”

Senán strained his ears. Just above the sound of the wind whistling through the branches above him he heard music, weak and tinny, as if coming through the tiny speakers of a mobile phone. It was difficult to tell how far ahead the source was.

“Fu-fu-follow me quietly,” whispered Luke.

Keeping to the high grass at the right-hand side of the track, Luke duck-walked forward soundlessly, stopping to listen and peer into the darkness before taking off again. The music grew louder until Senán could recognise the song — a Katy Perry number which was on constant rotation in Francie’s. Luke put his mouth close to Senán’s ear: “Look. Over to the lu-lu-left there. There’s a cu-cu-couple of pallets. See the shape on top.”

Senán, already impressed by Luke’s keen sense of hearing, was now amazed by his night vision. After opening his eyes wide and staring at the spot indicated by Luke — one of the cave-like enclosures formed by the trees and bushes — he spied a kind of divan and took Luke at his word that this was made of pallets. On top there was a form which could have been that of a person.

“It’s a girl,” said Luke. “A yu-yu-young one. Let’s move a bit closer to see-see if she’s alone.”

They crept to within fifteen yards of her and watched and listened. The girl, who Senán could now see had a full head of long, unruly blonde hair, swayed her shoulders slightly in time to the music. He imagined her to be lost in the song, eyes shut, oblivious to the world around her. If she wasn’t alone, then whoever she was with was either lying silently behind the stack of pallets or had gone up the track for a call of nature. If she was on her own, Senán wondered what a girl of her age was doing down the tracks after midnight. Drinking? Doing drugs? Escaping from some terrible domestic reality?

The song ended and there was a pause before another cued itself up. After a few introductory bars, the girl spoke: “Fuck’s sake.”

She shuffled on the platform and activated her phone. Its light allowed them a clear look at her. She was no more than sixteen. She had a heart-shaped face with a strong brow line and deeply set, piercing blue eyes. She wore little or no make-up, but the strength of her features needed no assistance to define an already sharp beauty. Senán guiltily thought he had rarely seen someone as beautiful outside the pages of a magazine. As she swiped the screen of her phone, he saw that she was not dressed for a chilly November night. All in black, she wore a tiny skirt over leggings slashed at the knees. Her little leather jacket would not have afforded much heat even if she had drawn its zipper up fully. He noted that beside her was a 700-millilitre bottle of vodka.

“I know her,” said Luke. “Let-let-let me handle this.”

Presumably finding a song to her liking, she laid the phone down. Before its light faded, and as the beats of a new track popped through the air, she lifted the bottle and took a swig. As if this were his cue, Luke stood up, turned on his own phone, pointed the light towards his face to reveal himself and said, “Farrah! What are you doing out here on your own at this time of the-the night?”

The girl spluttered and Senán saw her blonde head rear up in shock.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Luke. You scared the fuck out of me! What the fuck are you at?”

Luke crossed the tracks and stood on the edge of the hollow. “I’m out for a walk is all. Showing a fu-fu-friend of mine around.”

The girl looked past Luke and squinted at Senán, who, not wanting to cause any undue alarm, was hanging back a few yards.

“A fu-fu-friend. Fucking hell. You’re full of surprises.”

Luke ignored her mocking and signalled for Senán to approach.

“This is Su-Su-Senán. From the shop. ‘Member I told you about him. The guy studying the how-how-housing market down here.”

The girl eyed Senán from head to foot, a peevish, deliberately unimpressed look on her face. She said nothing, but proceeded to root in her handbag for a packet of cigarettes and lighter.

“Senán,” said Luke formally, “this is Fu-Fu-Farrah. She’s from the Island. We’re neighbours.”

Farrah lit up a cigarette and blew the smoke contemptuously towards Luke.

“Neighbours,” she snorted. “You make it sound like I’m one of the Flanders and you’re fucking Bart Simpson.”

Senán wondered if the girl’s hostility was down to the quarter bottle of vodka she had drunk or whether she held some deeper resentment towards Luke. Trish’s comment on the night of the bonfire about Luke liking them younger ran through his mind, and he asked himself was Farrah the girl who Luke had met that night. She looked so young and was behaving in such a classic teenage manner that Senán couldn’t possibly imagine his friend being involved in a relationship with her. He decided to reserve judgement until he had more evidence.

“Come-come on and I’ll walk you home,” said Luke. “This is no place for you to be. On-on your own and all. Any-anyone could come along. You’re a si-si-sitting duck.”

“Quack quack.” Smiling at her joke, she turned up the volume of the music.

“Some dodgy fuck-fuck-fuckers do be out at this hour of the night,” insisted Luke. “Come-come-come on. Come with me.”

“I can handle myself.”

“Haven’t you got sku-sku-school tomorrow?”

“I told you I’m finished with that fucking shithole. I’ll be up in time to bring the younger ones to their school. Right? But I ain’t setting foot in my own institution ever again. I’m finished with it. So you and what’s his face can mosey on down the track and leave me the fuck alone.”

“We’re not,” said Luke sternly. “You’re coming back up to Moyross with us and then I’ll drive you home.”

Farrah took a drag from her cigarette and then a mouthful of vodka. She fixed her blue eyes on Senán. “I bet you didn’t know Gu-Gu-Geoghegan here was a knight in shining armour. He gets a kick outa looking after little strays like me. Did you know that?”

“Cut the shit, Farrah! You’re co-co-coming with us.”

There was verbal toing and froing between them for the time it took her to finish her cigarette. It was only when Luke sat down beside her and declared that he would stay until whenever she decided to leave that the impasse was broken.

“Fuck’s sake,” said an exasperated Farrah. “You’re a pain in the fucking hole, Luke. I’ll go, OK? I’ll go back with you fuckers. Back to my wonderful home with my wonderful junkie mother, and cross my fingers that she hasn’t brought one of her beautiful junkie dickwad boyfriends home with her, and the two of them aren’t out of it on the couch when I get in. OK? Happy?”

She closed the bottle of vodka and slid off the pallets. Going behind them and turning on the flashlight of her phone, she found a hidey-hole for the bottle in the bushes.

“I’ll know who fecked it if it’s not there the next time,” she said accusingly, before crunching up the gravelly slope to the track. Without waiting for Luke and Senán, she set off in the direction of Moyross.

“Su-su-sorry,” whispered Luke to Senán before they began to follow Farrah. “She’s a bit du-du-difficult tonight. She’s-she’s going through a bu-bu-bad patch. We’ll have to fu-fu-finish the tour another time.”

“Don’t worry. The most important thing is to look after your friend.”

After they caught up with her, Luke insisted that her music would draw unwanted attention, and ordered her to turn it off.

“You nu-nu-never know who’s hanging out in the u-u-undergrowth either side of the lines.”

“Fuck off, Luke. There isn’t a fucking sinner out at this hour.”

“You nu-nu-never know.”

“Your friend Luke is paranoid,” she said to Senán. “Thinks they’re all coming to get him. Spends his life snaking around the place. Hiding in bushes, spying on people. Thinks we’re all like him.”

Eventually, just beyond the wooded area on the far bank of the river, she did turn off the music. Senán noted that although Farrah had put up some prickly resistance, Luke had come out tops in two successive battles of wills. He seemed to exercise authority over her. Senán speculated again on the nature of their relationship.

At the stretch of track where Moyross’s lights could be seen through the hedgerows on either side, Farrah made an announcement: “I’m bursting for a piss. You guys go on ahead and I’ll catch up. And no looking. Go on.” Thirty yards up the track, waiting for her to finish, Senán took the opportunity to ask Luke about her.

“Mu-mu-mother’s a junkie,” Luke answered. “She’s not gu-gu-great at the homemaking, as you mu-mu-might guess. Farrah’s the eldest. The-the-there’s fu-four younger brothers and sisters. I think there’s thu-thu-three fathers involved. None of them’s on the scene. So Farrah is like the response-responsible adult in the house. It’s a lot of work: shopping, cu-cu-cooking, cleaning, getting them u-up for sku-sku-school and all that. Some-some-sometimes it gets her down, lu-lu-like tonight. You know?”

“I can imagine. Jesus.”

“But no matter what, she still-still needs to keep going to school. Otherwise, you know-you know yourself. She’ll be stuck on the fu-fu-fuckin’ Island forever. I’ll have to have-have-have a chat with her.”

“What about social services? Couldn’t someone call those and have them intervene?”

Luke shook his head, violently almost. “No fu-fu-fuckin’ way. That’s the la-last option. They’d jus-just split the family up. And they’d be fucked then. They’d nu-nu-never be a family again. At least now they’re-they’re all together. And the mu-mu-mother, bad and all as she is, does her best. She loves them. Never did a spo-spot of harm to them. If they took the kids away from the mother, it would be a disaster. Tu-tu-take it from me.”

Senán, realising that he had come close to upsetting Luke, just nodded. A question came to him after a time, though: “How do they manage for money? If the mother’s a junkie, her fix or whatever mustn’t leave much for groceries and electricity bills et cetera.”

“They have it tough all right,” said Luke. “But-but-but people help out. Friends. Neighbours. St Vincent de Paul. Francie. They don’t starve anyway.”

They heard the crumple of footsteps approaching and kept their peace as Farrah’s blonde head grew closer, almost seeming to materialise out of the darkness.

“That’s better,” she said. “I had a couple of cans on the way down. That fucking lager just runs through you. You’ll have to have a word to Francie about it, Luke.”

As she spluttered with laughter at her wisecrack, Senán wondered if she was an habitual drinker. Even with cans and vodka on board she was showing no signs of having drunk — beyond her tetchiness, which may have been a personality trait. She seemed in better humour now, and made small talk as they walked. She asked Senán where he was from and what he was doing, and even showed interest in his research project. She seemed to grow reflective the nearer they got to their destination.

“I like the peace out here at night on my own,” she said, when Luke went searching for the markings on the pickets. “I look at the lights of the houses I pass and it’s kinda like looking at a movie except I’m making up the stories of what’s happening inside. I always think people in the houses are happy, that their lives are perfect. Like the families in Liv and Maddie or Jessie or one of those lame yokes on Disney Channel. There’s a father and a mother. Nice, polite, normal kids. Their fridges and presses are full of whatever food they want. The kids’ drawings are stuck up in the kitchen. There’s this cute dog. They all do stuff together — play basketball in the yard, cook, put up the Christmas tree. The only problems they have are to do with boyfriends or bad hair days or falling out with a friend.”

She sighed wistfully. “There really are people like that, aren’t there?”

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