by Cathal Brogan (he/him)
Photography by Shreya Ambades.
Trigger Warnings: Suicide.
Open your eyes.
Mornings are hard for me.
Open your eyes.
I have to force myself to keep going.
Open your eyes.
Lead myself like an untrained dog.
Open your eyes.
I open my eyes.
My bedroom is as beige as ever, from the floor to the ceiling to my bedsheets. The colour is enhanced by the 11am sunlight sneaking around the edges of my curtains.
Remove the duvet.
I wrench the duvet off me, quickly exposing my bare legs. It’s a bit of a dramatic gesture, but I find that it helps.
My bed creaks as I prop myself up. The chill in the room leaves goosebumps on my suddenly exposed body.
Put your feet on the ground.
The carpet feels fuzzy.
Now stand up.
This is the hardest part.
Now stand up.
Once I stand up, my day has started.
But I’ve grown awfully fond of the end of days.
Still, as before, the mind’s instruction finds purchase in my nerves and from knees to hips to spine I straighten up and stand. I glance at myself in the mirror. Sahelanthropus, I think, the ape that stood up.
I make my way to the kitchen. I don’t really eat anything for breakfast anymore but I do get myself to chew on some cereal with milk and then swallow it, which I suppose is about the same. I’ve decided that today is going to be a day spent outdoors. You see, I’ve stayed inside so long I like to make myself think I’ve become desperate for some fresh air and sunlight; this way, I can trick myself into feeling motivated to go outside. My trick works, and next thing I know I’m on my doorstep in my favourite coat. I live in Galway City nowadays, in a dirty little terrace house along Headford Road. I think about making my way up the road to the shopping centre, but decide against it. This walk is for pleasure, not for business. I’ll walk along the seafront.
I make my way up through Bóthar na mBan, with Dock Road in mind for my eventual destination – maybe I could get a wave in at the pretty girl living on the James Joyce. Unfortunately, this means passing through Eyre Square. I have come to hate Eyre Square. I hate its stupid little pedestrian barricades. I hate its revolting toilet block. I hate the dead stumpy tree the council never bothered to do anything about, and I particularly hate the clothes strewn everywhere.
But worse than all of those things are the people. There’s always at least one, some idiot sitting there having a bawl as if it’ll change anything. I think they know it won’t change anything. I think they’re fully aware that they’re wasting their time, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about attention, plain and simple. Most of the time I think they want pity; other times I give them the benefit of the doubt and think they’re being hopeful. Hopeful that through the misery we can all band together and see it through with pride. If that’s the case then it’s just a bit more stupid of them than narcissistic, because if we were that kind of people who could do all that neighbourly love and comfort stuff, we wouldn’t be here in the first place now would we?
I venture onwards and soon find myself at the docks once again. Like the bus and train station – fellow termini – the docks are empty but for the usual exception. The James Joyce, an old warship of the Irish navy, still remains like a great grey monument to the way things once were. I’ve always liked ships, even the unflattering ones such as oil tankers and cruise liners. I think there’s just something so inherently human about a boat. They were the first instance of our domination of Mother Nature, when the seas and lakes and rivers became not obstacles, but opportunities for trade and travel and trawling. I also like how, despite so many centuries of improvement, boats seem so unchanged. There are hookers and yachts and catamarans and aircraft carriers, but they all have hulls and rudders and port and starboard. Maybe it’s just because I grew up by the sea, but boats have always seemed like bows and arrows: something that only a human could, and inevitably would, create. I looked the James Joyce up last time I was at the internet café and it turns out it used to have a maximum crew of about 54 people. Nowadays it’s just the pretty lady left. I think she lives there out of habit more than anything else. That, and the several military grade firearms she’s got stashed away below deck. Probably best she keeps them there too. She’s not out on deck today so I don’t get a chance to get my usual wave in. This disappoints me but still, I soldier on past the scrapyard and around the corner to The Claddagh.
‘The Claddagh’, what an imposing name for a row of houses and a pier. I haven’t looked it up yet, but I remember hearing it used to be a fishing village and it’s supposedly been continually inhabited since the 5th century. Not that you’d have known it by the way people treated it. It was a favourite spot of many a drunk student, and drunk students don’t give a toss about littering all over a place of heritage and culture. Even now, they make the place look like a tip with their high-waisted jeans and ‘The North Face’ puffer-jackets floating on the water like a layer of algae almost as far as the eye can see.
I continue along the waterfront, keeping off of the pier but following the path along Frenchville, past Claddagh Park and into Salthill proper.
This is good, I think. I feel like the fresh sea air is ripping off a layer of dead skin and complacency.
As I wander further, past the casinos and the roundabout, I step onto the promenade and cast my gaze out to sea. The water is like liquid chrome. It’s calm and silent, not because of the absence of noise, more that these waters never actually knew sound. In the distance, the grey of the sea and the grey of the sky grow so similar that they seem almost to merge, to become intertwined like lovers’ hands. The sand, yet another shade of grey, slips out from under the placid water like a shadow underneath a door.
The Blackrock diving board comes looming into my view, a bold streak of yellow jutting out into the sea.
I’ve never been on that pier before. Looks like today’s the day.
I’m almost immediately disappointed as I step on to the concrete platform. It’s free of the usual debris, but it’s in a frightfully poor condition. The concrete steps are cracked, the railings are rusted, and the lovely distinguishable yellow paint is peeling off. I go up to the highest part of the pier. It’s in as sorry a state as the rest of the thing but at least up here I get a great view of the sea.
God, I’m being very negative today, but pessimism has always been one of my faults and it’s not like I’m going to get any better, is it?
It is a really good view of the sea. And the promenade too. I can see someone down there now actually. I think it’s a woman, judging by the silhouette. She must have come down from Dr Mannix Road because I sure didn’t spot her on my way in. She walks very slowly down to the beach. Judging by the slight shakiness of her image, I think she’s crying.
I think I know where this is going.
I should look away.
I’m not looking away.
Because she just keeps going, walking into the calm cool sea. The illusion of a mirror surface is cracked by her as she slowly starts swimming out into the deep water. I want to believe this is just a crazy impromptu swim in the sea – but I don’t. It’s strange, I’m watching her and I’m at the same time watching myself watching her. I don’t immediately register how I feel about this. For a brief moment, I can instead only register that I have a lot of feelings about it.
I’m sad, certainly, but also annoyed.
I know that that sounds horrible, but it comes from a place of good intention. I’m watching a woman kill herself, and I know that I’m watching it – and that makes me sad. The annoyance is, I guess, because I was really enjoying this walk, just like I’d planned to. Now though, this lady is out there. She’s just another reminder of it all, and I sure didn’t sign up for more of that.
I make myself look somewhere else.
I feel empty.
I close my eyes.
I count to ten very slowly.
Then I walk away.
Today has been ruined. Everything has been ruined.
I’m going to the pub.
A bell chimes as I push the door of ‘McSwiggan’s Pub’ inward. Yes, it’s actually called ‘McSwiggan’s’. Next time I’m at the café I’m Googling the hell out of that name because, as fake as it seems, a part of me desperately hopes it’s real. My footsteps creak on the pub’s wooden floors as I make my way to the bar. John, my good friend and enabler, is there.
“If it isn’t yourself. I was wondering where you’d gone.”
Surprised I haven’t killed myself yet?
“I’ve been shutting myself in for the past week.”
“And what’s that in aid of?”
“I think I’ll last longer if I deprive myself of my walks a bit, make it more of a treat, you know?”
John nods politely. “Has it worked?”
“Not really. I think I lost my mind back in that house and…when I finally went outside today…” I search my head for a more delicate way to put it, but realise I don’t care. “I saw a woman kill herself.”
He sighs. “How?”
“Just went into the sea and never came back.”
“Beach at Salthill. I saw her from the diving board.”
“We’ve lost plenty that way. Bad way to go; it’s why I steer clear of the promenade altogether these days.”
“I think you might be onto something there.”
“Want something to drink?”
John pours a drink for me and gets himself a bottle of Coke. It’s not his favourite but the pub ran out of 7up weeks ago. We take a moment to let the drinks settle and then enjoy our first mouthfuls. The unrestricted ability to just take your time used to be such a rare pleasure. Nowadays I feel it’s the only pleasure we can still have.
“I think I’ll pop into the internet café tonight. The day can still be salvaged.”
“Sorry, but the internet’s gone.”
Now I wince.
“Yeah. I’m sorry, buddy, but we knew it had to happen sometime.”
We enjoy another slow gulp of our drinks.
He’s of a generation who don’t express emotions well, or sometimes even at all, but I detect a sympathetic note to his voice when he next speaks.
“It’ll be awfully dull now, won’t it?”
“But who knows, maybe they’ll burn another church down or there’ll be another gang war thing.”
“Is that what we’re counting as entertainment nowadays?”
John merely shrugs. My mind is miles away from the pub right now. John’s right, the internet had to go eventually; some server or satellite or whatever would have to go down and drag us further into the dark with it.
Still sucks to hear though.
So, I drown my feelings in beer and let John do the talking. He prattles on about all the different names they have for this new ‘stab-between-the-fingers’ game he’s been playing with his rougher customers. I never took him for that type of man, but he seems ecstatic when he shows me the scar on his ring finger.
Out of sympathy, I think, he lets me go as far as my fourth pint before he shuts down and sends me off staggering back to my house.
I drag my feet through the porch and up the stairs to my bedroom. God, I’m so tired. I feel like my, I suppose essence is the word for it, is being absorbed directly into the carpet.
The walls are so dull it hurts, I didn’t know beige could sting so much.
Sting it does however, and I find myself crawling that last distance across the landing to my bedroom. I lie on the wooden floor like an upturned obelisk; something bizarre and old that has been so still for so long yet still seems to show the concept of movement – its own slow fall captured like a fly in amber. That could describe the world itself now: “there was movement here once, but not anymore.”
Eventually, the hard floor starts to hurt and not long after that my tolerance for the pain wanes. I stand up, approach my bedroom calendar, and complete the last part of the day’s routine.
I grab a marker and put an ‘X’ through today’s date.
224 days since The Rapture, since I was left behind.
I return to the lovely painful floor and track the passage of time by the migration of a window’s patch of sunlight across my room.
Eventually, the sun goes down and I remain on the floor. I let the night’s darkness blanket me and, as is usual for one laying under a blanket, I drift slowly into sleep.
I dream of emptiness, and the filth in the seams, of death and sudden grotesque life.
I dream as I live now, slowly and painfully.
What was that? It woke me up. It was a sound, right? A good sound or a bad one though?
I’m up off the floor and moving now, creeping down the stairs. There’s definitely some noise from down there. A scuffling sound I’m not used to hearing in this house.
I creep down the stairs, further and further in tandem with the increasing noise from the kitchen.
I reach and flick the kitchen light on before I’m even through the doorway. The back door is open, kicked in no doubt, and there’s a masked man standing next to it looking as shocked as if I was the one breaking into his house.
A second passes before I reach for a kitchen knife. He intercepts me. We interlock at the arms and shoulders. I’m reminded of a documentary about stag beetles. We push and squeak across the kitchen floor until he changes tactics and pushes me away. I scramble for a hold. I find one at the nape of his neck.
It comes off quickly and cleanly.
It reveals a face.
It’s John’s face.
We stare at each other for several heartbeats.
“What are you doing, John?”
“I’m sorry, mate.”
“I’m just really, really bored.”
We stand there a while longer.
“Are you here to rob me or kill me?”
I almost laugh, it’s ridiculous that it makes this much sense, but it does.
“Can we at least have another drink before we do this?”
John looks pensive.
“You got anything here?”
“No, but we could go back to the pub.”
“I don’t really want to lose the momentum.”
He grabs a nice big kitchen knife and rams it in my chest.
Did I even try to stop it? I don’t know, and by the time my back hits the floor I don’t care. It’s odd. I thought I’d be feeling something, some pull or heat or fear. But there’s nothing here, just my cooling body and dimming vision. Maybe that’s the trick, maybe it’ll be a surprise. Maybe this is it. Maybe hell is just nothing. An utter void.
Or maybe I’m not going to hell. Maybe this pool of my own blood that I lie in is actually becoming a river. Maybe this river will carry me along its course to somewhere different; neither Heaven or Hell.
Or perhaps it’s a river that never stops; a liquid ouroboros. I think I’d like that, to just float on the river. Float away and away forever.
I think I’d like that a lot.
John leaves the body on the floor. He’s the last person to see it, and the only one to mourn it.
Cathal Brogan is a student of creative writing at University College Dublin (UCD). He has just started the second year of his undergraduate course in English with Creative Writing. His dream is to be able to write professionally and his biggest literary inspirations are Robert B. Parker, Niall Williams and Andrzej Sapkowski.