'Turned Out Nice in the End'
'Donal’s Big Solo Adventure'
He pointed the gun out of the car window, opened the door and walked out onto the path. I saw him do it. I didn't even know he had a gun. He had a gun. How was I supposed to know? He just looked like a regular fella. He didn't look like the type of person who would have a gun. Not that I’d know – I’d never seen a person with a gun before. It was the first gun I had seen, like that. I’d seen guns but never in a person’s hand – pointing at someone. Never seen that before. This was the type of gun you saw on TV cop shows or in the films.
He was pointing and he was shouting. He was the only one shouting, no one else was saying anything. Everybody else was quiet, calm. Well, their voices were quiet and bodies were calm but their eyes were wild. Their eyes were screaming.
“Motherfucker” he shouted. “You motherfucker”.
I don’t know who he was talking to. I was just walking down the road. Wanted a bit of air. Turned right instead of left and there he was. I didn't even know I was meant to be there. Because I do believe I was meant to be there.
And there he was – standing there with a gun. I don’t know what age he was, all I could see was the gun. Later the police said “What did he look like?” I don’t know; all I could see was the gun. I could tell you what that looked like – metallic, shiny with an inscription on the long barrel. It looked like it was ready to burst, ready to fire. Like it had never been used before and couldn't wait any longer.
Nothing happened. He stood there shouting and waving it around. He waved it at two men and a woman. I don’t know who she was but she screamed. A young woman, twenty five maybe, she screamed somebody’s name – ‘Anthony’. I don’t know who the person was, could have been a saint. She was speaking Spanish.
All I know is they saw me. They hadn't expected me.
“The fuck you doin’ here?”
I didn't know what to say. What do you say to a person pointing a gun at the air? Next thing he might have trained it on me. But he never did. He never pointed the gun at me. I wonder why he never pointed the gun at me? I don’t know.
Whatever had brought him to this point was obviously very important to him – he was annoyed, confused. He looked a little lost, I thought. He was blaming these people, or at least one of them. They all looked like family, all four of them. They looked alike.
It reminded me of a corny scene from a Sammy Davis Jr movie…don’t know why; this wasn't 1967 and it wasn't Las Vegas. It was 2015 Toronto, where people’s brains are frozen for four months and then over cooked in the summer for another four. And this was the result.
In the distance I could hear sirens. I don’t know the different sirens – could have been police, ambulance, fire brigade. Probably all three and an ice cream van – they do tend to over react. But this wasn't an overreaction – this was a guy, with a gun, pointing it at people. But not me.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. I didn't want to answer but I heard my voice say “I think I’m here to stop you”.
And that stopped him. He put the gun down.
“Fuck you” he said quietly. Yeah, maybe.
The young lady yelled “Anthony, Anthony” and if it was a saint then that saint was dressed in shorts and a white vest and came running out of his house – like no saint I've ever seen.
Anthony held out a gun and shot the man. The man who had decided not to shoot had been shot. And the man who had not expected to shoot, had shot.
Police asked me later to describe what I saw. I said I couldn't be sure but that the dead man had seemed like a decent sort. Just a bit annoyed. For a moment. A bit confused.
Weather will do that to you.
'Donal’s Big Solo Adventure'
When Donal was nineteen, he decided he would like to be homeless.
No reason. Just a thing he wanted to try. He felt he would be fine living on the street and had no fears.
The homeless people he saw when he went to college all seemed to be OK. They ate. They looked fine. Sure, they could do with a shave and a wash but they were homeless – showers probably weren’t all that easy to find.
They got plenty of fresh air and could come and go as they pleased.
This appealed to Donal’s sensibilities – to not have to answer to anyone and be the master of your own destiny.
Donal observed his co-students – always talking about the ‘pressure’; the constant pressure of exams, study, peers, parents, teachers. The expectations.
There were no expectations placed on the homeless – this band of unnamed, indefinable beings. What would you even expect from a non-entity?
They were totally free.
The idea of sleeping on a bench and sitting in a park with no timetable, sounded like heaven. Get up when you like, eat what you like, sleep when you like.
OK, Donal wasn’t completely naïve. He knew it wouldn’t be all free and easy, how could it be? Nothing in life worth doing comes easily – he believed that. That included doing and having little.
The day Donal decided to become homeless, he got up at the usual time. He showered and ate as much as possible – bacon, eggs, porridge, toast and milk. He would need a full stomach.
In his bag were some nuts (roasted), two apples (red), a banana (green), two chocolate bars (Twix and Mars), a litre of water (tap), toothbrush (medium), deodorant (roll on) and a jumbo packet of gum (spearmint).
No money. Out the door, clicking as it locked behind him.
Nobody home now.
Previous to this day, Donal had spent some time monitoring the regular homeless people who seemed to patrol his area. Familiar faces each one, he documented their moves like a TV anthropologist analysing the behaviour of some fascinating sub-species: “Look how he rummages through that bin, separating the useful from the useless, taking only what he needs…”
He saw ‘HatGuy’ quite a lot. A thin, tall man of possibly fifty always dressed in the same dark trousers, blue zip-up rain jacket and brown business shoes. ‘HatGuy’ earned his moniker due in no small part to the large straw ladies hat he appeared to enjoy wearing. Some days it came adorned with bows, other times a bandana. Both probably kept safe in his remarkably clean backpack, along with who knows what else.
‘HatGuy’ never noticed Donal watching or if he did, he never let on. Donal’s existence meant nothing to him – “Look all you want, I don’t care”.
That’s what reminded Donal of his reason for wanting to join his ilk – the confidence to not care; if it was confidence. He’d find out, probably.
‘Smiley’ was another character. He thought of all the homeless people as ‘characters’, as if the non-homeless could never be; that in order to become a character you needed to experience lack and hardships. Donal was aware that his presumption of those living in houses never being on the receiving end of misfortune was easily challenged but who was going to bother challenging him now?
‘Smiley’ did just what his name suggested – he smiled. Not like the Batman character, in so far as Smiley’s smile appeared well intentioned and based on pleasantries. His lips pulled back and gripped in place as if by an over-riding positive force, painting a picture of constant happy surprise.
His eyes, hidden by dark sunglasses – rain or shine.
‘Smiley’ spent a lot of his day sitting in the one spot. Possibly moving ten feet either way but always in the general area of the Pharmacy entrance doorway on the main street.
He held out no cup or hat for change. He asked nothing and for nothing. Donal never heard him speak; yet he received smiles.
Both ‘Smiley’ and ‘HatGuy’ (and others - once he looked for them, he saw plenty of others) appeared happy to be noticed. They didn’t hide away or skulk into laneways ashamed of their appearance or predicament. Sharing public space with others suggested a level of comfort in their own existence. Maybe they needed to see other people in order to re-enforce the image they had of themselves. Maybe not, who knew?
Those first few minutes and hours rolled by quite easily. The weather was fine, dry and warm enough to be outdoors, so Donal picked a bench and watched the families play in the park, couples strolling and dogs chasing shadows in the sun.
He ate, drank some of his water (which had warmed a little in his bag) and allowed whatever thoughts wandered through his mind to stay as long as they wished.
No more time restrictions, no more slave to the clock.
The warmth on his face felt nice.
The first question arose after roughly two hours and (more importantly) a quarter litre of warm water; precisely - the need to expel the quarter litre from his bowels.
For the past nineteen years this problem had been easily solved. Yes there had been a few close calls, but none ever resulted in the need to let loose in public.
All right, he needed to think this through.
If he were not homeless, what would he do?
Simple – either go home and use the toilet there or find a café and ask to use theirs (after apologising profusely to the staff).
The first of those was obviously no longer an option, so it was time to test number two.
He felt he wouldn’t look out of place strolling into a café today – after all he had showered and shaved that morning and even ironed his shirt. In fact, he probably looked better than half the people he’d come across on his adventure so far.
Happy with his decision, Donal entered the shop. Saying nothing and looking at no one directly, he headed straight for the toilets.
A private room with one toilet bowl, sink, mirror and paper towels. He peed.
Ah the pleasure and relief. Pure bliss.
The first challenge successfully dealt with – empty bladder.
Washing his hands in the sink, Donal glanced in the mirror.
A sunburned face looked back at him.
Overgrown beard, unkempt hair and eyes held open in a look of deep set confusion and bewilderment.
He touched his head and the hair in the mirror responded.
Ten minutes later, he sat on the park bench again watching the families, the couples and the dogs.
Drinking warm water from a plastic bottle.
Or “Benchman” as the local kids called him.
“We met before” she said.
I couldn’t place her but had no reason to doubt her either. In fact, quite the opposite. She seemed to be stating a fact. It wasn’t the tone of her voice – it didn’t stand out as particularly striking or memorable. The voice could have belonged to any anonymous young woman caught in conversation. Not solemn, not joyous , not anything at all really.
The look in her eye as she waited my response gave nothing away. Maybe there was nothing to give away. What she said was enough for her – it made sense.
No smile, no nose twitch or eye flutter. No facial signs yet a lifetime of them.
I remained clueless.
“Did we”? I offered.
“I was ten in 1976” I said. To me, 1976 held one image, one memory. A pair of brown and white woolen gloves. Me commenting to my friend Donal that they were gloves from the future as they had the number ‘77’ woven into the wool.
“So was I” she said.
Again the voice pointing nowhere. No embarrassment at not remembering and no feeling of expectation from her. She just stated it as an irrefutable fact; in the same way you might tell a person with two arms that he has two arms.
That sort of certainty.
Still no smile or hint at who she was.
“I’m really sorry that I can’t remember” I said.
“That’s all right. It was Summer time, quite warm. I was in a purple and white flowery dress, holding a balloon and eating a 99. I won the balloon at the fair. In Carlingford”.
I had old photos of us in Carlingford. ‘Us’ being my mum, dad and sisters. Me dressed in blue shorts, red and white check shirt and a freckled face from too much sun. Maybe brown sandals. The look of youthful uncertainty as I posed sitting on the harbour wall. Worrying that I could fall in.
Childhood events blur and merge and fade at the edges like the pictures we use to remember them by.
“You looked at me”.
I looked at her.
I looked at her.
“You were holding your dad’s hand crossing the road from the wall to the chip van”.
My dad held my hand?
“I was standing, holding the balloon, licking my ice cream, watching you”.
Why was she watching me? Is that why I looked at her?
The day returned and jumped out from the picture now stored in a biscuit tin somewhere and I felt the breath and heartbeat of that ten year old sunburned boy. Feeling the breeze, hearing the traffic, looking.
Purple dress, ice cream, balloon.
The eyes – watching.
But did I see her then or am I imagining it now? The suggestion could be enough to prod an image. Her eyes had already convinced.
“I don’t know if I remember”.
“Don’t worry” she said “You will”.
I had been alone, in the coffee shop, sitting by the window at a small round table which was just the right side for me and my book. Customers consistently coming and going, ordering, sitting, chatting and leaving.
It felt like eyes. Not eyes watching but ‘actual’ eyes. You can ‘feel’ eyes. I never knew that.
“Mind if I sit”?
As she pulled the opposite chair out from the table and slid her tiny frame into position across from me, I felt a gradual warm wave of calm and surety wash my way. Standing at the edge of the beach noticing the water and enjoying the yelps of delight as the swimmers and boaters play in the refreshing surf.
The eyes most definitely holding me hostage. Holding me still. In place.
No facial or physical response. No visual reaction. But some confirmation.
In the eyes.
“Is it you”?
Who? I knew her name?
I knew it.
She lit a cigarette. Indoors. Against all rules. Not her rules. The smoke masking all I knew. The smell, like vanilla ice cream in a cone.
Just been waiting.
I hadn’t expected it to be so quiet.
I hadn’t given it much thought at all to be honest. Ever.
But the stillness and silence that accompanied it is all consuming.
I’m not dead yet. Just close to it. Closer than I’ve ever been.
I can feel it.
Have done since I was told.
“You can’t give up” “You have to fight this”.
I hear the words and sense the sincerity and fear behind them. But the fear was never mine.
A quiet resignation was my initial response. A sure inevitability.
While my human head and heart spoke to eachother and discussed this, my eternal being woke and stretched.
Then the book appeared.
I recognised it immediately even though it was my first time seeing it.
Grey cover, hard back, standing upright on the table in front of me, and closed.
If you were to pick it up and try leaf through the pages it would provide no resistance. I wasn’t in the place to do that quite yet. The book would tell me when that time had arrived.
I knew no one else could see the book. If they could, it would have been mentioned.
A useful tool to chat about while trying to relate to the dying man.
Conversations flowed around me but never landing upon me. Questions asked, platitudes given, tokens received. None of them meaning anything anymore. The light from the past fading as the new beam intensified.
The now, the past and the present forming one smooth landscape – an oil painting conceived from moments.
Birth, toddler hood, crying, walking, eating, school, mother, father, brothers, sisters, town, driving, laughing, kissing, marrying, studying, worrying, working, travelling, dancing, socialising, entertaining, parenting, walking, running, sitting, drinking, praying, hoping, mourning, expecting, calming, soothing, arguing, delegating, writing, speaking, holidaying, retiring, dying.
How many smiles? Not enough.
How many laughs? Not enough
How many kisses? Never enough.
There is more. I can feel it inside, but it’s strength and force is fading slowly. Calmly. Quietly.
Leaving without a fuss.
A life lived quietly. A death endured stoically.
Those I have gathered around me through past choices made, watch on in uncertainty.
How to speak to the dying man? What is there to share?
My privacy relinquished at the time I seek it most.
The book sits quietly.
There should be more.
The sense of injustice and unfairness sits uncomfortably on my shoulders.
The will to walk - immense. The legs can’t and the body refuses.
Words become less relevant.
Yesterday is today is tomorrow.
The book opens.