Expect Me To Talk
Tommy was getting used to the views from the train’s window shooting by at eighty miles an hour - the greenery of his home county close to the tracks, the estates and shops in the towns the train stopped at, the flatness of the Curragh, the dirty looking houses that appeared as they came in Dublin. He didn’t like the capital, didn’t like any place with more than a dozen people per square mile, but he liked seeing his friend Declan so it was worth it. Tommy had been up to the city a few times and was getting used to the feel of Dublin, the look of the narrow streets and the dark old buildings, and the glassy Celtic Tiger office blocks. He was getting used to the crowds in Heuston station too, and had his ticket ready for the machine this time, not having to fumble with his wallet while an auld lad told him to fuckin’ hurry up like last time. Now he knew he had to get on the Luas that ran to the left, and get out at the Jervis stop. The tram pulled up and Tommy saw Declan leaning against a wall, looking at his phone. Declan was twenty one, almost a year younger than Tommy, and a little shorter, though he looked more mature with an angular face and a square jaw in contrast to Tommy’s soft features. He also wore glasses, unlike Tommy, and had a taste for flashier clothes. Today he wore a striped polo shirt under a suit jacket. They could spot each other a mile away.
“Howya bud,” said Tommy.
“In Dublin five minutes and you’re already a skanger,” said Declan.
“What are we up to today?”
“I think we’ll go to the IFI and see Goldfinger.”
“Goldfinger?” said Tommy. It was one of his favourite films. “In a cinema? Wow.”
“I know. Hopefully it won’t be too full.”
“Can’t wait to see Sean Connery’s hairy chest eight feet high.”
“Or his cock,” said Declan.
“Ah now,” said Tommy. They walked to the IFI building, past shops that smelled like lavender candles, crossed the bridge over the Liffey, talking little. Tommy would’ve probably ended up in Kildare if he had to find his own way.
The black double doors of the Irish Film Institute opened into a short tunnel with a gift shop with a wooden facade to one side. The tunnel led to the courtyard in the centre of the building. There were doors leading to the various small cinemas, a bar further in, and in the courtyard itself was a small restaurant in the open air. Declan chose a table for them in the middle, furthest away from the few others there. The metal chairs squeaked on the polished marble floor. They looked at the menu.
“There always ages serving you in here,” said Declan.
“I know. Remember last time?”
“No. When was that?”
“The Tony Curtis thing,” said Tommy.
“Oh yeah!” said Declan. They’d come up to Dublin together to see Tony Curtis who was meant to appear. Declan decided, for some reason, not to buy tickets to the event, assuming there’d be some available at the door. There were not. It didn’t matter though, because the event was cancelled due to Tony being sick, and a few days later he died. So that was that.
“God, that was fierce alright,” said Declan. “Have you been up to Dublin since?”
“There was a… thing that happened,” said Tommy and looked down at the salt cellar.
“Oh? What was it?”
“I… didn’t tell anyone about it, but way back in September I came up to see this girl I knew from college. Karen was her name.”
“You? With a girl?”
“Yeah, well not really,” said Tommy. “We went to see a film, but she… I don’t know, it was awful. She wouldn’t talk to me or anything. You know I find it hard to talk, but that wasn’t it. Everything I said, she just… shot it down. She didn’t even talk to me.”
Tommy played with the menu to keep his mind from wandering back to it yet again.
“So what did you do?” said Declan.
“Nothing. Went home. She didn’t think of me again, I’m sure. I don’t know why I bother. I don’t know why she said yes when I asked her to go see something. What was the point? She obviously didn’t want to be there. Last time I have anything to do with people.”
“Not everyone is like that,” said Declan.
“It’s not worth the risk either way,” said Tommy
“That’s not why you dropped out of your course, is it?”
“No. It didn’t exactly make me want to stay though. The whole thing just made me tired. I’d felt like it for a long time, but that just really made me see the things I’m missing that everyone else has.”
“Ah, you’ve enough,” said Declan, smile with one corner of his mouth. “You just need to find a girl with very low standards.”
“One of your exes?” said Tommy.
A pretty waitress came over and they both ordered a chicken salad. The ticket booth in the corner opened up and Declan bought them a ticket each.
“See the girl in the booth?” said Declan in a whisper when he came back. “She was in my class in college.”
“Oh? How’s her film career going? Better than yours?”
“Even yours is going better than mine. She won some short film award, she was telling me. She’s a bit cracked though. Talks to herself a lot, has these mad notions about things.”
“So do all great directors,” said Tommy.
“Yeah. Well, she deserves her success more than the rest of them anyway. Bunch of druggies, most of them. Looking for an easy way to have enough money for cocaine.”
“Jesus,” said Tommy. “Oh, that reminds me. You know the way I’ve been writing a thing?”
“The post-apocalyptic thing?”
“Yeah. Well this lad came into my circles recently.”
“I’ll bet he did,” said Declan with a wink.
“Shut up. Paddy Ward is his name. He’s this lad my age who lives in London, and it’s really weird. He wrote a post-apocalyptic novel too, and he got it published. He’s one of those really handsome confident shitheads too. I bought his book anyway, and it’s the worst sort of shit. All about people bashing each other’s heads in for no reason. Anyway, I was just thinking about him. He has everything I want. I mean, he lives in London, he’s a freelance writer making a good living, he studied writing in college, he has a beautiful girlfriend from what I can make out, and he got a novel published.”
“So I was comparing myself to him,” said Tommy.
“Can only end badly,” said Declan.
“I know. But it got me thinking. I mean, he is a real shallow idiot. I mean, he’s a moron. He’s everything I despise and yet he has everything - exactly everything - that I want.”
“You should kill him and steal his life,” said Declan.
“Might do. Seriously though, why do I bother with writing? You and me both know it won’t go anywhere. You can be a moron and do well if you have confidence and contacts and live in London and all that. Does anyone really care how shit your book is if you fit in?”
“Yeah, of course,” said Declan. “If he was that shit, he wouldn’t have gotten published.”
“Well… maybe he’s not entirely shit,” said Tommy. “That’s something else I was thinking about. What if I only hate him because I know he has everything I want and he’s better than me in every way? It’s so weird to hear tell of him though. He’s like a parody of me. He’s like a Joker to my Batman.”
“A fun lad to your big depressed gobshite,” said Declan.
“That might be it,” said Tommy. “I don’t know if I’ll keep going with my writing. What’s the point? No-one wants to read about stuff happening in Ireland, not the sort of life I lead anyway. They want to read about people getting blowjobs at parties in New York, or about some horrific war in Africa or somewhere. I just don’t know if I should bother.”
“What else can you do?” said Declan.
“I suppose that’s the way I look at it, ‘what else can I do’. Nothing. I’d be no good at any normal job. I just want to write. If I ever made as much as I’d make on the dole, I’d consider meself a success. But when will that come? That might need ten or twenty years of writing. And all the time life’d be passing me by. It’s passing me by now, I suppose. I haven’t a clue how to grab onto it. Not a clue.”
“Jesus, I thought we were going to be firing off Roger Moore impressions at each other or something,” said Declan. “This is a bit heavy.”
“Alright, I’m just getting things off my chest. I’m not looking for advice or anything,” said Tommy. Then in a terrible Roger Moore voice said: “Doing Roger Moore impressions would be a pleasure…” The waitress brought them their salads.
When they were done eating, doing impressions, firing off quotes and references, and had paid the bill, they moved over to the leather sofa in the corner and waited for them to open the door to the cinema.
“I meant to ask you how Sean’s getting on,” said Declan. Sean was Tommy’s brother, a year younger than him.
“He’s alright,” said Tommy. “He’ll tell you himself, next time you come to see us. He went into the place in Enniscorthy, the… home, you know.”
“He’s still a bit depressed, but he’s getting a bit better I think. He came out but he had to go back in again. It could’ve easily been me, if things went a bit different. He had a kind of breakdown.”
“Poor chap,” said Declan. “Sean doesn’t deserve that.”
“No. He’ll be alright though, I hope. He’s seeing a therapist in town. She’s trying to help him build up some confidence, you know. He’s been phoning some people he knows from the internet, just for a chat like. He never did that before.”
“No? Have you?”
“No,” said Tommy. “As I said, it could’ve been me. Maybe it will be me one day soon.”
“Ah, you’ll be grand,” said Declan.
A young man in a red shirt unlocked the door to the cinema and people started handing him their tickets.
“You give him the tickets,” said Tommy, getting up. “I hope you don’t expect me to talk.”
“Why would you have to talk?”
“The line. Do the line.”
“Oh,” said Declan. “No Mr. Casey, I expect you to die!”
After 007 had expended his Aston Martin’s machine guns and dodged Oddjob’s hat and made Goldfinger fly out of the window of a Learjet to his doom, Tommy and Declan took the DART out to Dun Laoighaire, where Declan lived in a student house. Declan was going home for the summer, and on the train, he told Tommy he’d be taking a place closer to the college, and cheaper. Declan’s red Fiat Punto was parked in the driveway and the back seat was already filled with Declan’s stuff. When they went inside, each action had an air of sadness as they knew it may be the last time Declan did whatever he was doing. The house was cramped, messy, and smelled of curry Pot Noodles. Declan’s two housemates, both girls, had already left for the summer so he and Tommy were free to be as rambunctious as they desired. Declan led Tommy through the hall into the living room with a kitchenette in the corner. There were two armchairs and a sofa faced a big window looking out into the square of unkempt grass that was the garden.
“Sit down,” said Declan. “A young woman like you needs her rest.”
“Tis true,” said Tommy and collapsed onto the sofa. Declan put on the electric kettle and Tommy looked out the window. There was a graveyard next door, and broken glass stuck out of the top of the wall separating the two properties.
“What’s that glass for?” said Tommy, shouting over the noise of the kettle.
“To stop people getting over the wall.”
“From the graveyard? Are you expecting zombies.”
“You’d never know.”
Tommy looked out at a blackbird pulling a worm from the grass.
“I have dreams about zombies,” he said.
“Do you?” said Declan. The electric kettle switched off.
“Yeah. Like, zombies are attacking my house or whatever. One time I dreamt I was in my granny’s house with zombies outside, except her back door was missing one of the bottom panels so I could see outside, and there was this zombie baby standing perfectly still except his eye was hanging out.”
“Jesus. Maybe you need help or something.”
“They’re all about anxiety,” said Tommy. “I don’t think I need a professional to point that out. I’m scared of everything. Zombies are scary.”
“Is that all you dream about?” said Declan, very carefully arranging digestive biscuits on a plate.
“No. The other thing I keep dreaming about is I’m trying to drive away from home, or I think I’m in Tokyo somewhere, but then I kind of wake up, still in the dream I mean, and realise I’m still back at home, or the car is broken down or something.”
“You want to get away from home.”
“Thanks, Sigmund,” said Tommy. “I’d really love to have a car though. Or to be able to make money to afford one. Just to have even a couple of thousand of my own, I couldn’t even imagine it.”
“You could get your parents to give you money. It’s not like you’re living away from home and spending their money.”
“No,” said Tommy. “They already feed and clothe me and all that. I don’t want to take more.”
Declan brought over the plate of biscuits and two cups of tea. He kept the Lyons Tea mug for himself, and gave Tommy one emblazoned with Hello Kitty.
“Do you ever dream?” said Tommy. “Please, don’t be too explicit.”
“Ah, nothing like that. I don’t dream much now. I used to back in school. I had this recurring dream with a dam, and there was a tree growing out of the top of the dam, but it was dying because it couldn’t get any water. It was weird, because I had like a ‘finale’ dream after I came to college where the dam burst, and the tree got loads of water and went into bloom.”
“You probably needed a wee,” said Tommy, sipping the tea.
“Probably it. I haven’t had many filthy dreams since I started going out with Sandra.”
“Please, I don’t want to vomit up all my internal organs,” said Tommy.
“Oddly enough, that was one of the kinky things me and Sandra were talking about doing recently.”
“For a second there I believed you,” said Tommy.
When they’d finished their tea, Tommy helped Declan carry bags of clothes to the car, then went into Declan’s room and sat on his bed and tried to stay out of his friend’s way as he packed the rest of his things. Tommy picked up the alarm clock and played with it to amuse himself.
“I set your alarm two minutes early.”
“That’s nice dear,” said Declan, rooting in the wardrobe.
“Now every day you’ll have two extra minutes. Within a year you’ll have read every book you ever wanted to and become a sexy billionaire.”
“Where did the coat go? Did you see me black coat?”
“It’s in the car I think. I might set your alarm two minutes late, so that you lose time, and within a year you’re an obese drunken slob.”
“That’ll probably happen on its own,” said Declan, shoving some underpants into a black bag. “I think that’s everything now.”
“Hope there’s room for us left in the car.”
“What time is it?”
Tommy looked at the alarm clock then put it into the bag.
“Rush hour. We’d better wait a while to head off. I really wanted to give this place a proper farewell. This room is where I… came of age, I suppose you’d say.”
“I changed the sheets, don’t worry,” said Declan and laughed a bit.
“Wish I could come of age,” said Tommy.
“Ah, you’ve plenty of time. As long as you don’t lose your glorious ginger mane.”
“My worst fear.”
“I have an idea what we could do to fill half an hour.”
“Please don’t fuck me,” said Tommy.
“Damn. Alright, I have another idea,” said Declan and reached into the bin and took something out. Tommy followed him into the kitchen and saw that he had one of those small black plastic cylinders from camera film. He opened the cupboard, took out a tin of baking soda, and carefully poured some into the cylinder.
“What’s this?” said Tommy. “Have you gone mad?”
“Whisht for a minute,” said Declan got a bottle of Coca Cola with only a little bit left in the bottom from the fridge. “Come on to the bathroom.”
Declan placed the canister in the bottom of the bath. Then he pour some cola into it, quickly put the cap on and gave it a shake.
“Take cover!” he shouted and pulled the bathroom door closed. In a second there was a tremendous pop.
“Jesus!” said Tommy. Declan opened the door. They looked into the bath. The bottom of it was covered with brown liquid.
“It’s all over the place,” said Declan. “It’s on the curtains.”
“It’s on the ceiling,” said Tommy, looking up at more brown foam and laughing loudly. “You’re a fucking mentalist!
“So is this how you amuse yourself?” said Tommy.
“Nah. I’ve always wanted to do that.”
“Are you going to clean it up?”
“Nah,” said Declan. “Fuck it. The landlord’s a gobshite.”
“That was right gas.”
Tommy took the cylinder and threw it back in the bin. They sat in the living room again.
“You know what me and Sean used to do?” said Tommy. “We used to get all the weird stuff in the cupboards - flour, red and brown sauce, sugar, lemon juice, baking powder, everything - and put it in a big glass, just for fun. We used to call them ‘potions’. They were awful. They always smelled like vinegar by the time we were finished.”
“Trying to summon Satan, were you?” he said. “We could do that, except I’ve already packed all that stuff away.”
“Nah. What’s the point? Just more stuff to clean up after.”
“Are you going to get all serious again?”
“I think so,” said Tommy and thought in silence for a moment. His brow was furrowed. He looked like someone who hadn’t laughed in a year.
“Are you happy?” he said finally. “I mean, living up here and having Sandra and everything?”
“Yeah, pretty much. It’s not without its challenges, but yeah.”
“It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about. I used to think that to be happy you had to just ignore all the bad things in the world, not care about them at all.”
“I don’t care about them,” said Declan.
“Well, you know what I mean. You’re aware they exist. I don’t know. Most of the time I think I’m just making excuses for things, for feeling the way I do even though I shouldn’t.”
“Maybe you should actually see a therapist,” said Declan. “Bring you out of your shell.”
“I don’t know.”
“I know people who’ve gone. It seems to help a lot. They’re not exactly going down ‘da club’, but they’re doing whatever they want to anyway.”
“It wouldn’t change things,” said Tommy. “I’d still be stuck at home doing nothing all day, waiting for something to come to me. I still keep thinking that some big agent or someone will somehow read one of my stories and I’ll get famous. It won’t happen though.”
“No, it won’t,” said Declan. “That doesn’t mean it won’t happen if you get out into the world.”
“I think it does,” said Tommy.
Declan checked the house once more for anything left behind, then they went outside and sat in the car.
“It’s hard to say goodbye to it,” said Declan. “It’s odd. For the first few months, I really hated it. It was small and smelly. Like you. But now it seems like the best place in the world.” He started the engine. A great puff of blue smoke exploded from the exhaust. “Well, onwards and upwards I suppose. I’ll still see Sandra in the new place, that’s the main thing.”
“You’ll get on fine,” said Tommy. “You always do.”
“Not always,” said Declan. “I’ve felt like you have before, you know. Worse, probably. I went a bit mad. Bought a load of tight trousers and got a tattoo.”
“Mid life crisis.”
“Pretty much. Anyway, I got over it. You’ll get over it too. There’s loads of opportunities out there. You just don’t know how to go about it yet.”
“Yeah,” said Tommy. “I wonder. You know, I used to keep a diary when I was ten or eleven. Every day I put the same thing in it: ‘Got up. Went to school. Came home. Played the Playstation. Went to bed.’ If I kept a diary now, it’d say the same things, except ‘tweeted’ instead of ‘went to school’.”
“Don’t get stuck in the past. That’s what kills you. Let the dam burst.”
“I need to get the Dambusters I think. A big bomb might be the only thing to get rid of the past for me. An atomic bomb.”
“You have to learn to live in the present,” said Declan. “Carpe diem.”
“Feck off,” said Tommy.
Declan put her into reverse.
“You don’t want to piss before we go, do you?”
“I’ll do it out the window,” said Tommy. The car bounced as Declan reversed into the street.
“That’s that,” said Declan as the house and the graveyard receded from view. By car or by train, it didn’t matter. Tommy would always end up back where he started. In a little under two hours he would be back at home, back to the same places and the same thoughts, saying goodbye to each new day before it even began.