I honestly don’t know where my imagination will take me next. It truly spooks me sometimes. I wrote this story over the course of two months. I was thinking about the experience of being a squatter in a house where a person had died, their body undiscovered. I thought about the kinds of people who might wish to live in a squat. And then my mind started tripping and I had a heck of a good time creating this character Luke. As I wrote his story, I laughed out loud. And when I re-read this story, I still laugh. I was lucky enough to be able to read this story aloud in 2011, during an Irish Writer’s Centre evening called The Lonely Voice which allows budding short story writers to share their stories with an audience. It brought about a few chuckles. I blushed. I suppose you’ll want to read it now. HINT: My favourite bits are the jumper with a knitted golden eagle on it and the line “I’m certainly not perfect, I have bitten my own toenails since I was a small child.”
When we broke in, we found hundreds of pieces of junk mail and this poor dead old guy lying in bed upstairs. Brutus played Gymnopédie on an electronic keyboard during the funeral in the back garden and I made some sticky G & T’s. Nobody came looking for him or to visit him so we started to relax. We kept the hedges and grass trimmed and didn’t sell anything. There were a couple of letters but there’s the old unwritten rules about never denying anyone the use of a toilet or glass of water and then the one which says never to read post addressed to you. Being honest we did use the Tesco Value Club vouchers. We didn’t have any poltergeist activity whatsoever, no unexplained toilet flushing or mystery messages likeGETOUT OF MY HOUSE in alphabet magnets on the fridge. Old people don’t have alphabet magnets. But this really happened, right… a small boy walked by out the front of the house, holding his mother’s hand and just blurted out ‘My shirt’s a bit loose on you.’ Weird as f***. Made me wonder. I had to use the old man’s balding toothbrush once, I’ve also worn his suits a couple of times for job interviews but I’m done with that kind of thing now.
My name is Luke. My personal style could be described as Raggle Taggle Gypsy-o. People always look at me twice – first in mild disdain, second time I think is that they’re picking up on my bodacious vibe and they’re scanning my face to see if their instinct matches what they’re seeing. It doesn’t so they just walk by feeling slightly more awake. If you don’t like me I am not bothered. I don’t mind feeling a bit mentally untidy – it supports my creative bohemian mentality. I often acquaint the feeling of not being understood. We’d have to switch off our neuroses and prejudices to properly listen to each other, isn’t that right? A lot of people are like that, their worries are like tiny maggots squirming about in their head but they’ve gotten used to the regular wriggling and feel out of sorts if there’s nothing tugging and gnawing on their neurons. Perhaps my worms are glow worms and they chomp down onto the good bits of my brain and when they do they release a certain kind of chemical which causes those parts of my brain to glow and for me to think marvellous thoughts. Looks beautiful with the lights turned off.
Who else lives here in this rustic, mustic place? Brutus my brother and our friend Richard. Brutus (27) – that’s not his real name, is my brother and did Anthropology in college. Constantly experimenting with his own life – diet, sleeping patterns, women. Brutus gets agitated and when he does his farts get bewilderingly bad. Brutus used to work in a TV store but as we all know being surrounded by magnetic waves is detrimental to your auric energy field. So Brutus took to hanging crystals from his clothing, they jangled about (seven of them I believe were hung about his neck on a leather string). He was asked to remove them despite there being no clause against wearing crystals about oneself in the training manual. Brutus held one of the crystals out and laughed ‘What, the crystals? Pfft!’ The manageredged away and asked him to put down the sharp implement before the authorities would be called. Brutus found our place and says he was drawn to it, possibly because it had a roof – we’d been homeless for about 5 weeks before then. We’ve been rather clever down through the years what with academia and the likes but there are some things we’re not good with. They would be getting out of bed early, status, routine, regular meal times and filling out forms. All of the above is quite important if one wishes to be a member of the workforce. Richard (43) is an intellectual, his short term memory is woeful but give him a decent book and he’ll remember the plot and all of the characters and the twists and the unexpected lurches and the holes in the storyline. An example being that the author made a mistake by perhaps saying the lead character was an orphan on page two but then describes a unexpected visit from his elderly father, a disgraced former high court judge clutching a bottle of brandy, one evening in June. Richard will talk about it for days and sometimes write a letter to the author and or publishing company with much exultation. He is every proud author’s worst nightmare. Don’t even dare set your next novel in medievalDublinwithout getting your facts straight, Richard will be on the case. Observe the tall gentleman with an aquiline nose and rimless glasses at book signings, he will attack your book with a bundle of post-its and a red pen; and your editor will get it back in a parcel wrapped in brown paper. I once had a job at a hospital, I filed patient administration. I was supposed to just pick up the files and slot them away except I picked up a sort of vibe from them and then started visiting people in the wards – out of genuine curiosity. ‘I couldn’t help but find out that you got second degree burns last week, you muppet! Seriously though, falling asleep in the sunroom at home – who would have thought it, like an ant under a magnifying glass. Easy thing to happen.’ My kind-heartedness didn’t work in my favour and I was fired that same day.
Who told me to get a job in the first place? Good old Timmy boy. Tim used to be a real idiot. I’m telling you about him now because there’s so many people like Tim that you need to recognise when you meet one and not get too attached. This guy sounds like a fiction but I swear he’s not. Aside from the job thing Tim also set me down another flawed path when we investigated my past relationships. Laurie was my old college girlfriend, we used to smoke spliffs all day Tuesdays – she hadn’t got any nursing lecturers on Tuesdays and I just liked the idea of not going in on Tuesdays. I used to call it Ruby Tuesdays, red is my favourite colour, Tuesday was my favourite day, mash the two together – Ruby Tuesdays. Practically custom made for me and I quite like the Rolling Stones as well. Laurie is a nurse now, in fact she used to work a contract down at my old hospital after I was put out on my arse, apparently she heard all these stories about the nutty administration guy who used to leave stacks of filing building up while he flitted around doing ‘holy things’ and visiting the sick. She wears a bun in her hair now which makes her ears far more prominent than they ever were, I told her to have them pinned back at one stage but we were stoned so I doubt she remembered after. I bet they burnt red at hearing the Luke stories, ‘He was a fecking luadar, wasn’t he?’ Tim started prodding and poking asking what happened to Laurie, where did it go wrong, what was the turning point? Tell me everything, he said. And I did tell him mostly everything. Basically most things I did she found embarrassing, at the same time these were the things I found wonderfully life enhancing. The way I drew on a monobrow with a permanent marker and walked around sporting it for a week. Also – letting myself go for a while, is that so wrong? The more she became engrossed in manufacturing a life path, the more I kind of ambled about, probably in circles, or not even moving, maybe with my eyes closed, pretty content as it happens, kind of like a baby peeping out of a pram and gawping around at the swirling colours and grim set faces darting by. Tim thought maybe I could give it another shot with Laurie, would there ever be a way if I got to grips with life and the constructs of society that she would consider a reunion. Nearly convinced me too, I was lurking around the hospital waiting for her to finish her shift so we could talk. Then it suddenly struck me, getting back together was a really bad idea – in fact, I was still wearing the jumper she hated with the large knitted golden eagle on it so confronting her in what she called a horrendous, absurd garment would further push her away from me and this was in my mind the coolest jumper in the world. If we couldn’t agree on that we were doomed. Revelations, epiphanies, like bolts out of the blue, like eagle shit on your head – unexpected, not always pleasant. But the one who squeezes it out is always chuffed. On reflection I preferred the jumper to Laurie.
Here’s a bit about Tim for you, I’ll let you judge for yourself, you already know what I think about the fella but hang on, never said I didn’t like him I just thought he’d got it all wrong. There was this husband and wife team called Tim and Hilary. Tim thought he knew enough about life to teach other people a thing or two – don’t ask where he got this idea. But people bought it. I don’t think it was malicious or even a money-spinner type of effort. But Tim somehow led people to believe that he could put them back on the right path. Tim sold e-books for 50 cents a download (think he made about twelve euro a week on that) and thought corduroy sports jackets were dapper, probably still does as corduroy is a personality thing. He took lots of exercise and ate halves of grapefruit to cut cholesterol levels. Grapefruit is not even a real food and disintegrates your intestines (personal belief but not scientifically proven). He sent tweets to a small collection of followers. Tim rarely suffered from constipation. Well I don’t really know this stuff for certain but I’m pretty sure I’m right. Sometimes he read women’s magazines. Most people Tim used to meet were the usual types of bog standard idiots who over-think, over-eat, under-perform, under-love and under-live. Easy to diagnose and give them some kind of completely obvious plan to revolutionise themselves. I wondered what’s the worst thing that ever happened to him, doubt he’s ever been fired or fat. Hilary had this Diploma in Marketing so she posted on the blog and printed out business cards to leave down at the library or at the organic food store. Hilary always wore those runners with the little ‘rockers’ on the bottom, apparently they tone up your arse or rock your world or whatever.
On the day met him I had tuned into his radio show ‘Listen In with Coach Tim’ laughed heartily right through to the ads and thought, ‘That’s it, I’m on my way over there.’ I do that a lot, just head right down to where the action is, I mean why not? I turn up at riots, demonstrations and drop into parties I’m not invited to. Tim’s show that day was about how to be a morning person. People were phoning in saying ‘Tim, I just can’t get out of bed in the morning. I’m not a morning person.’ And Tim was saying he gets up at6.30am, does his yoga and then has two poached eggs on granary toast, before or after he passes a well formed stool. The phones really started hopping then. ‘Tim I can’t do poached eggs, they remind me of jellyfish…’ and ‘Tim, what ring tone do you use on your mobile phone to help you wake up in the mornings?’ To me the concept of life coaching is ludicrous – people are here to make mistakes, you just can’t control life too much, you’ll get bored, boring or dull-witted. You also won’t get straight or useful answers by listening to a strangerwho has never had anything rubbish happen to them. Must say I’ve always enjoyed my own life, found it hilarious and utterly despairing too but have always recognised that in its mystery is the beautiful disorder of being alive. Some of my best times have been crashing around at a drum and bass underground club, some of my worst times while being homeless and drenched to the skin with a stinking eye infection but rather that than the horridness of mediocrity. I’m certainly not perfect, I have bitten my own toenails since I was a small child.
I turned up at the radio station and waited at reception, rubbing my hands. I knew something interesting was about to unfold, I’d either flip this guys world upside down or he’d be able to recalibrate me to slot in with all other ‘right-thinking adults’ – I’ll admit I was curious about this at the time, being keen to get my book of poetry published, entitled ‘Fidget: Impractical Poems for Modern People’. I thought my poem about yoga would be a good conversation starter with Tim when he emerged from the studio so I brought it with me – handwritten and all, meaning he should have really held on to it, could’ve been worth money but unfortunately it’s not as I didn’t get the book published in the end. Only wrote one poem.
‘I’m trying to meditate but I can feel my heart beat in one of my toes. My underwear creeps into sensitive territory. The candle flame makes a weird fizzing noise. I yawn. My buttocks are numb. That dado rail needs a repaint.’
Tim’s life changed dramatically after our meeting –the essence of which was that gurning monkeys on fridge magnets and a sunny disposition make not a wise man. I threw a lot of stuff back in his face eg. I strongly questioned his consumption of grapefruits. I can really rile people up sometimes which gives me immeasurable pleasure. In the coming days Tim started to have some issues with the people who came in with actual life experience. Like real life experience. Like people who had lost their small toe by getting it caught in a shopping trolley whilst wearing flip flops (that’s me). Eventually Tim got fed up with me but I met him again 5 days after Hilary disappeared. Rocked off someplace she did. Tim was distraught, I know this because I met him at my door one evening just as he was about to ring my doorbell. I put my hand on his shoulder and he yelped and turned around, he almost cried when he saw me and certainly not out of relief. He was in a bad way, scruffy and probably hadn’t taken a dump in ages, not since Hilary had rocked away on her rocking shoes. He’d been doing the rounds of the suburbs in an effort to track her down.
I brought him inside, he sat in our mismatched sitting room with the upright piano next to the tall antique lampshade with the red fringe. As it was dusk I switched on the lampshade, Tim stuck his head out from under the red fringe and rubbed his hands all over his face and over his scalp and pulled on his ears and rubbed his neck and opened his tie and started talking. The strangest thing was that Hilary had been remembering all of his dreams like she had been right there observing. The one with the house at the end of a sinister housing estate which is made entirely of glass, dirty and green along the joins and he can see its one inhabitant, an old woman who starts clawing at the glass and the house shatters and the splinters fly at his face. Brutus wandered in and eavesdropped for a while. He had shaved his head save for one dreadlock, I asked him why, he said it was his antennae to pick up messages from anyone who wanted to talk – God, aliens, whoever. I spoke to Tim ‘You can make this very easy or you can make this very difficult.’ It sounded good coming out but he gazed at me waiting for the next piece of advice and I hadn’t got any. ‘Have you got any other leads then,’ I said. Tim explained that she’d been very attached to large open spaces more than usual, the stretch of the sea, dark green waving fields and cliffs. We heard a see-saw shriek, the garden gate had just been opened and that little fella worried about the ill-fitting shirt stood on the paving. I stood at the door and Tim followed. He cleared his throat. ‘Tim, Hilary has been a bit bored and has gone on a spiritual safari.’ He trotted away with a small stuffed horse with little wheels and a stick attached. ‘There you go then. You heard what he said.’ I said to Tim who spluttered, then pounced out of the doorway, raced down to the squeaky gate and looked down the street which was bereft. So that was that, Tim had gotten his answer but didn’t know what to do next. I suggested he move in with us – with the stained yellow ceilings and teacups and green velour couches with tassles, most of the furniture here has tassles – even unexpected things like the bedspreads, tassles everywhere and an hour later he showed up with a big backpackers backpack and a yoga mat. We all sat in the kitchen, the four of us men and talked about spiritual safaris. ‘Ever been on one?’ I threw the question out. Rufus immediately shouted ‘Yes! This house is my spiritual safari. I’m at home here. We found this place on purpose, it brought us all together and ever since we’ve been very happy. Richard’s found several books with bad plots. Luke, you’ve been imparting life lessons and conundrums and paradoxes with vigour to all you meet. I’ve been journeying across a spiritual plane withSheridanmost nights and I’ve seen some amazing things and I can assure you all that there is life after death and our day to day consciousness is but a foible to our grander spiritual existence. We have all mislead ourselves by denying the soul!‘ I put on the kettle at once. ‘Bro, are you saying that this house is a portal to some sort of astral space?’ ‘Yes I am.Sheridanis the old man who used to live here, reincarnated as little Greg who lives next to Spar with his mum. We’ve been visiting floating castles, cascading meadows which you can run in barefoot and the grass is warm and sends waves of heat up the top of your skull, the suns send prisms of coloured light through your skin. It’s what Americans might call neat-o.’ ‘Surprised you didn’t tell us about this before.’ Tim stood up from his chair. ‘I’m not sure any of you are particularly sane.’ ‘He’s got a point.’ I said. It was all a bit strange but then so were a lot of things. A blackbird pecked on the window. We all looked. It had a piece of material in its beak, Rufus edged closer and yelled ‘That’sSheridan’s shirt!’ He jumped up and burst through the back door. The cuff of Sheridan’s shirt was peeking up above the grass and bony fingers arched out of the earth. ‘Sheridan?’ said Tim. ‘Yep, that’s the old man who used to live here.’ I said. ‘That’s Hilary’s maiden name,Sheridan. She hasn’t seen her Dad for more than twenty years.’
Hilary hadn’t totally disappeared, merely rented a ‘breathing space bedsit’ which was advertised as such – short term lettings for those dabbling with a trial marriage separation. She rocked into Spar onMulberry Streetand on a whim asked for a job on the check-out. The next day Greg and his mum were buying ham and cheese for school lunches, Greg took a shine to Hilary as their shopping got blipped. ‘You’ve got lovely hair.’ Hilary guffawed andGary’s mum looked embarrassed. ‘He talk to strangers a lot, I have to be careful! Particularly old men for some reason…sorry!’ She hissed. ‘Tim’s going frantic but he’s with the right crowd. We’ll talk soon.’ said Greg as his mum hustled him out the door.
Sheridan’s face was beaming, he had all of his teeth and his whispy hair looked almost transparent. He smiled. That night in the midst of a dream, Hilary sat opposite her father in the lotus position, the astral plane a haven of sparkling lights and they hovered in the great and glowing endless cavern which sang and hummed. ‘Tim is a bit boring. The life coaching thing is a facade for a gigantic fear of being imperfect. And this Twitter thing! No. ’ Hilary nodded.
‘Can’t believe you’ve been reincarnated as that little boy. I knew it was you! I’m looking for the guru named Luke like you suggested.’
‘He’ll see you both right.’ Sheridan said.
Tim wasn’t sleeping so trundled down to Spar for some Red Bull. He glanced around and saw Hilary in a chequered smock, purple fingered and clutching a frozen chicken in the chilled aisle. Tim shuffled backwards out of the shop. She’d been keeping away from him. It was probably over. He stuck around our house for a few days, played a bongo for a few moments and drank a lot of tea. He mellowed out a bit and one day he slept through ‘til11:42. That was 4 months ago.
Things have changed a lot around here. I’ve taken Tim’s radio slot as he’s gone trekking in Peru and on his return plans to study archaeology at the community college. ‘Now I understand Luke. I’d let myself go.’ Hilary has since moved in here and started a little something with Richard. They have become addicted to correcting Wikipedia articles, that’s a galaxy of joy right there. Brutus and I, believe it or not, have a bit of an enterprise going ourselves now – donation only. Fact is we’ve got a bit of a movement going on here at the squat. Confused people show up and somehow come to meet themselves – not just their mind or their soul but everything between and beyond. Every once in a while a blackbird taps on the back window andSheridansalutes us from the back yard. ‘Alright Dad,’ says Hilary.