Read an Excerpt
He walks. Every day, he walks. That was what the doctor had said. All the doctors. Plenty of exercise, they’d told him. It was the one thing he’d really understood.
—Are you a golf man, Mr Hanahoe?
—Do you walk the dog?
He’d buried the dog a few years ago, in the back garden.
—We’ll have to get you exercising.
He walks now, every day. Sundays too. He hadn’t even liked the dog. He walks, the same way. Except maybe when it was a pup, and the kids were younger. Every day, the same way. The way he went the first day. Up the Malahide Road.
Hanahoe walks. When the dog died the kids were upset, but not upset enough to go out in the rain and dig the grave. The dog had been dying for years; the kids were living most of their time outside the house. It had been up to Hanahoe. He starts at the Artane roundabout, his back to town, facing Malahide.
He’d have waited till it stopped raining, but it didn’t seem right, and it had been raining for days. So he dug in the dark. It was easy work, the ground was so wet. The spade sank nicely for him. And he dug up a rabbit. He saw it in the torchlight. A skeleton. He’d buried the rabbit years before: before the dog, after the goldfish.
It takes him ten minutes to get to the Artane roundabout but he doesn’t count that. The walk starts, the exercise starts, when he’s on the corner of Ardlea Road and the Malahide Road.
He had meant to tell the kids about the rabbit. He threw it back in, on top of the dog. He’d meant to tell them about it the next morning, before work and school. It was the only time they were all together in the house. But, he remembers now as he walks, he never did tell them. And he didn’t throw the rabbit in. He lowered it, on the spade, and let it slide off, onto the dog. He forgot to tell them. He thinks he forgot. He’s not sure.
There are other places he could walk. There are plenty of places. He could get in the car and drive to St Anne’s or Bull Island, or the path along the coast, or even out to Howth. But he doesn’t. He’s not sure why, just certain that he won’t. But that’s not true. He does know why; he knows exactly why. It’s people. Too many people. He got out of the habit of talking. As the kids were getting older. He put a stone slab, left over from the patio, over the dog’s grave, and then remembered that there was no dog now to dig it up. There was no need for the slab. Another thing he was going to tell the kids, and didn’t.
This is the stretch that Hanahoe has chosen. Starting outside the old folks’ flats. Mount Dillon Court. He’s never seen anyone coming out of there. Old or young – a milkman or Garda, a daughter, grandchild. No one. And that suits him. He’d stop looking if he saw anyone.
—Do you get down to the pub at all?
—The golf club?
—You asked me that the last time. No.
He used to. He went to the pub now and again. Once a week, twice. Sometimes after mass. She came too. He thought she’d liked it. He’d always thought that. A pint for him, something different for her. Gin and tonic, vodka and something, Ballygowan, Baileys. She’d never settled on one drink. And he doesn’t remember ever thinking there was anything wrong with that. He walks past the old cottages. They’re out of place there, on the dual carriageway. He walks beside the cycle path. To the newer houses. They’re on a road that runs beside the main road. They’re well back and hidden, behind old hedges and trees. If people look out at him passing every day, he doesn’t care, and he doesn’t have to. He doesn’t know them, and he won’t. He walks on the grass. The ground is hard. It hasn’t rained in a long time.
He wears tracksuit bottoms. She bought them for him. They were in a bag at the end of the bed when he got home from the hospital. Champion Sports. Two tracksuits. A blue and a grey. He doesn’t wear the tops. And he won’t. He doesn’t know when she moved into their daughters’ bedroom; he’s not sure, exactly. It was empty for a while. After the eldest girl moved out, and then her sister. And then she’d moved in, after a few months. He has trainers as well, that he got himself after he came home. The first time he went out, up to Artane Castle. There was no row or anything when she moved into the girls’ room. He doesn’t think there was. He woke up one night, and she wasn’t there. And the next night he felt her getting out of bed. It was too hot, she said. The night after that, she said nothing. The night after, she went straight to the girls’ room. A few years ago. Two, three. The trainers still look new. She never came back to their room. And he never asked why not. He’s been wearing them for a month now. They still look new-white. It annoys him.
Past Chanel Road. Past the Rampaí sign. He’s at the turn-off for Coolock. He looks behind, checks for cars. He’s clear, he crosses. Chanel to the left, the school. The kick-boxing sign on the gate pillar. Juniors and Seniors, Mondays and Fridays. They’d nothing like that when his kids were younger. Kick-boxing. Martial arts. Skateboarding. Nothing like that – he thinks. Hanahoe crosses the road.
—Are you a joiner?
—Do you join? Clubs. Societies.
—No, yet, or no, never?
He doesn’t answer. He shrugs.
He used to be. He thought he was. A joiner. The residents, the football. Fundraising, bringing kids to the matches. He did it. He did them all. He’d enjoyed it. Then his sons stopped playing, and he stopped going. Less people to talk to – it just happened that way. He didn’t miss it at the time. He doesn’t miss it now.
He passes the granite stone, ‘Coolock Village’ carved into it, ‘Sponsored by Irish Shell Ltd, 1998’. He’s behind the petrol station, the second-hand cars, against the back wall. Behind the chipper, and Coolock Glass. A high wall, there’s nothing to see. To his right, the traffic. Too early for the rush, but it’s heavy enough. He wonders what kick-boxing is like, what kick-boxing parents are like. He hasn’t a clue. He’s at the church now, the car park. There’s nothing on – funeral, wedding – no one there. He enjoyed the football. He liked the men who ran the club – he remembers that, he remembers saying it. There was a trip to Liverpool – the car, the ferry. Three kids in the back, another father beside him. That had been good. A good weekend. Liverpool had won. Against Ipswich or Sunderland. Some team like that. He’s doing well. He’s not tired. It’s hot. It might rain.
Another high wall, the backs of more houses. He has to bend under branches. Southampton. A bus passes, knocks warm air against him. Liverpool beat Southampton. The bus swerves in, to the stop in front of him. A woman gets off. She walks away. She’s faster than him; he won’t see her face. She wears trainers, like his. He stopped going to mass. She still goes. As far as he knows. He stopped going when the kids stopped. He’s coming up to the crossroads. There’s one of the Africans there, selling the Herald. Walking between the cars at the lights. He’s never seen anyone buy one. But the Africans are there, every day.
He can cross; the light is green for him. Cadbury’s, down to the left. More houses, in off the road. He hated mass, the whole thing. Always did. Standing up, sitting down. Most Sundays. Or Saturday nights, when they started that. Getting it over with.
He’s at the back of Cadbury’s now. It’s like a park. Greenhouses and all. It’s like the countryside here, the little river, the trees. What it must have been like. But not in his memory. It was always like this.
It’s depressing, a life, laid out like that. Mass, driving the kids to football, or dancing. The pint on Friday. The sex on Sunday. Pay on Thursday. The shop on Saturday. Leave the house at the same time, park in the same spot. The loyalty card. The bags. The routine. One day he knew: he hated it.
His mother worked in Cadbury’s when he was a kid. Christmas and Easter. The cinema across the road. The UCI. He hasn’t been to the pictures in years. She used to bring home Easter eggs, the ones that were out of shape, no use for the shops. He brought one into school. His lunch. King of the world that day. He can’t remember the last film he went to. He’s starting to sweat. Fine.
That’s exercise. That’s what they want. He can smell the Tayto factory. It’s not too bad today. Clouds gathering, ahead. Getting ready. It’s hot. Michael Collins. The last film he went to. But that’s a long time ago. He’s sure he’s been since then. He looks across at the UCI. But he can’t read the names of the films. Too far away. He hasn’t a clue what’s on, what’s big. No kids at home now. He’s going past the paint factory. He thinks it’s a paint factory. AkzoNobel. Berger, Sandtex, Sadolin. She doesn’t go to the pictures either. He doesn’t think she does. She didn’t like Michael Collins. He did.
More country cottages. And more behind them, old lanes, warehouses. He’s coming up to Woodie’s. She meets her friends when she goes out – he thinks. She still tells him, sometimes. Before she goes. Tells him she’s going. Who she’s meeting. A gang of women she’s known for years. He knows them all. He knows their husbands. They used to go out together, the men and the women. It wasn’t too bad. Not now though, not in years. Maybe she goes to the pictures with them. He doubts it. She’d tell him. It’s not that they never talk. She went to a play, a few months back. In town. She told him. Something like that, she’d tell him. He’d tell her. It’s not that bad.
He hates Woodie’s. Not the shop. He sees the need – wood, paint. He opens his jacket. It’s a bit too hot now. He’s fine. He’s grand. The heart is calm. It’s not the products. It’s the idea. The DIY. The people who live in the place at the weekend. Haunting the aisles. And the other shops over there. Classic Furniture. Right Price Tiles. ‘Tile Your Bathroom For €299.’ The pet shop’s gone. The big place. He used to go there with the kids. She’d come with them. They laughed when they realised: it was a family outing. Nearer than the zoo. Ice cream on the way home. The kids were delighted. The innocence. It was lovely.
He looks behind. Before he crosses. It’s usually busy. Nothing coming; he doesn’t have to stop. The McDonald’s is new. Toymaster. PC Superstore. And Lidl. Only open a week. Some kind of supermarket. The car park is fuller, packed since it opened.
He doesn’t know when it changed. He doesn’t know when he knew. Before she moved out of the bedroom. They stopped talking. There was nothing dramatic. He’s been living alone for years. He doesn’t know what happened. There was no shouting, very little. There was no violence. No one was hit. No one played away from home. He didn’t. She didn’t.
There was a Christmas do. He’s coming up to the Texaco station. The pub is behind it. Newtown House. Two doors, no windows. The Belcamp Inn, it used to be called – he thinks. The only place, the only time he was ever in a fight. In the days when he took his time coming home. He looks behind, crosses the turn for the industrial estate. Friday night. He knocked into a guy at the bar. Not really a fight. Just a couple of digs – he was too scared to feel them. Then too scared to leave.
That Christmas do. A young one who’d just started in the job a few weeks before. His leg had touched hers, sitting together. He was surprised when she didn’t move. A bit scared. Her leg pressed against his. Nothing sexy about it. Nice, though. The thought. Then they’d met in the corridor. Him going to the toilet, her coming back. They smiled. He stopped. She didn’t. Then she did. He put his hands on her. They kissed. Rubbed each other. He was bursting, full of drink. They stopped. He went to the jacks, came back, and it never happened. That was it. That was all. He never told anyone.
He looks. Cars coming up behind him. He waits, and crosses the station entrance. It’s not as fancy as those new forecourts going up everywhere. Martina. Goodlooking girl. She was young. But so was he.
That was all.
He doesn’t know what happened. Or what he’d say, how he’d bring it up, after this long.
—What went wrong?
He could never say that.
She’d look at him. He’d have to explain. Where would he start? He hadn’t a clue. And the question would announce it – the end. They’d have to admit it. And one of them would have to go.
But he’s alone already. He knows the last time he spoke to someone. This morning. Getting the paper. The woman behind the counter.
—Nice day again.
That was it. A nice woman. Attractive. His age. A bit younger. He’s coming up to the Darndale roundabout. He never looked at women his age. Until recently. They were always too old. Not really women; ex-women. Now, though, he looks. But he doesn’t. Not really. He doesn’t know what he’d do if a woman spoke to him.
—Nice day again.
What else could he say? He isn’t interested. He’s used to himself. He’s fine. He’s come to the roundabout. He’ll go on. He isn’t tired. He crosses. Darndale to the left. Rough spot. He’s never been in there. He runs the last bit, trots – to the other side. He’s fine.
It’s dark, very quickly. Like four hours gone, in a second. And cold, and it’s raining. He goes on. He closes his jacket. It’s bucketing. There’s an inch of sudden water. He can’t see far. The traffic noise has changed; it’s softer, menacing.
Who’s to blame? No one. It just happened. It’s too late now. He can’t pull them back, his wife, the kids. They have their own lives. She does; they do. Maybe grandkids will do something. If there are any. He doesn’t know. He knows nothing. He feels nothing. He doesn’t even feel sorry for himself. He doesn’t think he does. He’s fine. He copes.
From the Trade Paperback edition.