This page has the text of Airport Roundabout published in the graduation collection by my M.Phil class in Creative Writing in 2009, when I thought briefly about leaving the theatre forever to write fiction. I enjoyed the interlude but continue mainly to work in theatre!
(first published in Commotions: OWC Press 2009)
Harvo stands on the flyover above the M1 at Swords, his crossbow pulled taut and aimed at the road below. Next red car along gets it. A blue Mercedes speeds towards him and passes underneath. Motionless, he waits. Now comes a silver Toyota hatchback. Now blue again, this time a Mazda. In the distance a red car. Oh gift! A Lexus Coupe Convertible, roof down! It nears. A woman driver.
He releases the trigger, the bolt flies down in a true line, passes just above the woman’s head, skids off the boot and hits the road behind. She doesn’t even notice.
“Shite!” says Harvo, and heads off home to see what’s for the tea.
The woman drives on, Deborah Rowe, from Skerries. She is listening to REM on her iPod Touch, singing along, the wind in her face, four o’clock, a hot Friday afternoon, late May.
“That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion.”
She’s had a text to say that Roddy’s plane is delayed by forty minutes, so there goes the dinner plan. By the time they get back to the apartment it will be too late to cook and get out to The Little Theatre. Some play her sister is in. Maybe they might catch an Early Bird meal somewhere on the way home.
She turns off the M1, up the slipway and on down to the Airport Roundabout, casting a glance out of habit at John Kindness’ aeronautic artwork. It means nothing to her. The coupe purrs up the ramp and glides into the short-term. Debbie parks, slings her Louis Vuitton across her shoulder and walks towards the Arrivals Hall to meet her husband.
Roddy’s plane is still in the air, banking, circling. In fact, as Roddy well knows it’s in trouble, big fucking trouble! Oh, he can read between the lines, hearing beneath the calm voice of the pilot the true panic he knows is gripping the cockpit.
“We are just awaiting clearance to land,” announces Captain Cronin or whatever the guy said his name was.
“We have just lost another engine,” Roddy hears.
He reclines his middle seat, no one either side of him. The plane is half-empty, maybe only fifty passengers. He’d rather have died with three hundred others on a Jumbo. He’s the only white man aboard. The Jumbo is flying from Harare to Copenhagen. A terrorist attack. His name will be in the papers. He will get an obituary in the Irish Times. Leading finance executive at the peak of his career. But no, this is Aer Lingus from Heathrow and he’s flying home for the weekend, like every weekend, after his week’s work with Ernst & Young Accounting, his fear of flying as acute now as it was the first time he flew at age twelve on a school tour to Paris and puked. Therapy no help. Pills no help. Ease back in the seat. Get me down, Cronin or Crowley or whatever your name is, you slow bastard!
The flight attendant passes along and asks him to return his seat to the upright position. Roddy obliges, while staring the bitch out. She blushes. Her collar has become smudged with camouflage make-up, a petite strawberry birthmark on her neck now partially revealed.
“See you in Hell…Marie!” he thinks, as she recovers herself and glides on past him, “We’re going down together.”
Old habit. He always checks out one of the stewards’ names. He notes it during the take-off safety routine. Could put you ahead of the queue if the worst were to happen. “Sorry, Marie isn’t it? Could you help me down the chute…I have this leg thing…” He looks out the window as the plane plummets to earth. Just below, racing towards him, the Airside Retail Park at Swords where he is due to drop off an audit file to a client on the way home. Forgot to mention that in the text to Debbie.
“Hah! At least we’ll take out Airside. Take the client with me. Ironic twist!”
He swigs from his mineral water, one last mouthful of Kerry Spring before facing the Devil. He glances over at an African woman sitting alone across the aisle, peering out her window at the fields of north Dublin below. His hands sweat. The fields rush at him, the wheels crash against the tarmac, the plane careers along, he suppresses a surge of acid vomit. And then they slow right down and he hears the calming notes of the tinkling piano filtering in on the tinny sound system. And everything is alright again. Well done, Cronin, he thinks. Well done!
Marie O’Connor walks briskly through customs with her colleague Claire. A big wave for Eugene, the security guard. Two days’ leave now before her next flight. Amsterdam, 6 a.m., Monday. She’s growing tired of the job. In Mammy’s time an air hostess was seen as the most glamorous job you could have in Ireland, like the lady who pulled the sweepstake ticket on the TV. Now it’s just hard work and the pay is only middling and they keep threatening mergers and takeovers and wage cuts and layoffs. And the passengers can be bloody rude, like that sneering guy who reclined his seat as they were touching down.
I could just say yes to Steve, she thinks. Settle down, join a gym and a golf club; live in Navan, have kids, grow old. Claire senses her distance, her unease.
“You coming down to The Castle tomorrow?” she asks.
“Huh? No. Not this weekend. Steve is taking me out somewhere to dinner. I think he’s going to ask me to marry him.”
“I don’t know, Claire, I don’t know.”
“Where you headed now? You going out to your folks?”
“Later. I’m stopping in to the Pavilions first, do a bit of shopping, then head back over to them. Yourself?”
“No plans. Might join you?”
“Why not?” says Marie, although she’d rather have had the hour or two to herself, before going to stay at her parents’ place.
Eugene watches the two flight attendants as they merge into the crowd at arrivals. He finds them glamorous, with their neat uniforms and flight bags and polite manners and neat hair. Eugene likes neat. He is neat and natty himself, in his own way. His belly is large, bloated from beer drinking, but his shirt is carefully ironed and tucked in. His beard is evenly plucked, sitting tidily on his large chin, connecting carefully with his trim moustache. His cheeks are clean-shaven, no side-facial hair, no sideburns, just a tidy beard pruned and planted upon on his chin. He likes the airport. Much better than Motorola. Best thing he ever did was to take the Motorola redundancy. Now he is officially Garda-cleared, trained in First Aid and uniformed.
He is betrayed by a sudden moment of lower bowel wind, checks that no one is looking, scratches his arse and farts quietly at the same time. The smell hovers around him a bit longer than usual. He worries someone might come along. Nobody comes. His bowel is at him a lot this past few months, and his arse is constantly itchy. Maybe need to get that looked at. The glass doors open and shut for a Nigerian woman with a trolley full of suitcases. The wind blows the fart away.
Oni Adeleke, a resident of Swords, enters the arrivals area, returning from a short visit to her brother in London. Her mood warms when she sees her twin daughters, Mojisola and Yetunde waiting at the barrier. She calls out and the two children jump up and down excitedly. Behind them, her older sister Wasola stands smiling broadly and waving, accompanied by her daughter, Blessing, and a white child Oni has never seen before, obviously a friend of Blessing. The white girl stands quietly aside as the others clamour excitedly around Oni, demanding to know what presents she’s brought and how was London and how was their uncle. The mothers greet and speak animatedly in Yoruba about their brother’s forthcoming marriage, until Blessing glowers at Wasola and both women remember to speak in English before the white girl. Blessing is nine, a delicate age.
“This is Ciara, my friend,” she says.
“They are on their way to hip-hop,” Wasola says.
“Yes Mamma,” Blessing says, “and we are so late! It starts at five”
“I know child, but your aunt’s plane was late. She can’t help that. What time does hiphop finish?”
“Then you will still have plenty of time for dancing. Come on everybody! Out to the car! Here, you children, help your Mamma with her suitcases.”
The hip-hop class is located in the function room of a football club in Swords. Thirty kids are already arranged in a V formation, dancing, as Blessing and Ciara enter.
“Oh no!” Ciara says. “Look. Lara’s back!”
“Why do you dislike her so much?” Blessing whispers.
When I grow up, I wanna be famous, I wanna be a star. The sound system thumps out the song and the girls fall into line and go through the dance routine. Two more sessions before summer recess and the concert for the parents.
“Because she smells!”
Blessing spins and sees the whole class spin with her. She loves this moment, the first big spin.
“And five, six, seven, eight. And one, two, three, four.”
What Ciara said about Lara was unkind. It is true that Lara smells some days. She smells of wee, but a person can’t really help that. Well, she can, of course, by washing. But you can wash away a smell. You can’t wash away a bad thought or a bad sin, Mamma says. And Pastor Tiamayu says there are many pitfalls of sin in Swords. If you fall into a pit, you can never climb out without God’s forgiveness. At Halloween, Pastor Tiamayu said the children should not go out on the parade because it invoked demons, but Mamma said it was OK so long as you just saw it as a game and didn’t actually pray to the Devil. Ciara was not a mean person, usually. She was actually quite brave and had once stood in front of Blessing when some boys from another school had called her bad names and threatened to hit her. But what she said about Lara was unkind.
Blessing catches sight of her own reflection in the big bar mirror. Her white and pink tracksuit is bright and clean. Mamma bought it yesterday in Penneys. Her hair is up in braids with coloured ribbons. It took Mamma an hour to do it up for Aunt Oni coming home.
I am a pretty girl, she thinks, and loses herself again in the dance moves. She looks across at Lara. Lara is a good dancer. Her bony arms and shoulders twist in perfect time to the song. Her knees lift in a strange but hypnotic goose step. She is completely engaged in the dance. Blessing smiles at her. Lara looks away, her face sour, looks at the floor.
Lara walks home lonely. As she approaches the gate of her house she sees her brother disappear up around the corner of the estate. He is alone and in one of his shuffly moods. She hides behind a car until he is out of sight. In the house, Ma is watching telly.
“There’s beans in the kitchen. Make yourself toast,” she says,
“Where’s Harvo gone?” Lara asks.
“I dunno. He had his tea.”
“What did he have?”
“Beans,” Ma says. “Same as you.”
“I have a note from hip hop.”
She hands her mother the note.
“Two more weeks?” Ma says. “Ah Jaysus. She’s lookin’ a hundred and sixty euro for next year. That’s gone up!”
“Will you come to the concert? Please Ma?” The child tilts her head, imploring.
“Hah? Oh, I will, love. Course I will.”
Lara feels great relief. She thinks of hugging her mother but decides not to. She goes into the kitchen. Harvo’s half-finished beans and toast are on the draining board. She scrapes the leftovers into the dog’s pot, reaches into the breadbin and takes the last two slices of white bread. Tomorrow is Friday and Ma will go to Lidl and buy more. In the gap between the cooker and the press unit she sees a mousetrap her mother set six months ago, covered in a thick grey cobweb, the bait of bacon-fat untouched, turned green with age. She worries suddenly about her brother.
Harvo goes down to the river behind the warehouse, but no one is around. He kicks away the ashes of a fire and finds two blackened dessert spoons, abandoned by some junkies. A skinny dog appears and Harvo kicks a burnt can in its direction.
“Fuck off, mutt!” The dog cocks its head and slinks away.
Harvo walks. He goes up the main street, quiet now with the shops just closed and before the pubs fill up. A few people are sitting outside Trentuno smoking and drinking coffee. Across the street he sees a copper. The copper watches him. He walks on. He’s gonna take a long walk. At the Pavilions Shopping Centre, he sees his reflection all distorted in Mc Cabes’ plate glass window. He is wearing his Liverpool jersey, grey sweat pants and new runners. He dribbles, weaves and kicks a pretend ball and then stops himself. Naff! Kids’ stuff.
Out on the dual carriageway, the rush hour cars heading north are lined up, three lanes deep, hardly moving. Harvo walks among them easily, steps up onto the meridian and waits for his chance to cross the uncluttered southbound carriageway, where the cars are fewer but travelling at high speeds, back towards the city. He looks over his shoulder at the crawling rush hour drivers.
Youse are all goin’ the wrong way, he thinks.
He smirks invisibly at his private joke and walks coolly out onto the southbound lane. Cars swerve and horns sound but he walks, doesn’t run. Walk, don’t run. Walk, don’t run.
He walks in the direction of the airport, crossing the grassy Pinnock Hill roundabout, past the Travelodge and then on along the left-hand pavement skirting the Airside Retail Park. The surface car park is still half-full. He thinks he might go into Airside, maybe see if he can get into Smyths’ toyshop and look at a few games or something, it stays open late on a Friday, but he knows he won’t get past security. He climbs over the fence and wanders down among the parked cars. His darting eyes pick out something familiar. The red Lexus Coupe Convertible.
In the Airside Chinese Restaurant, Debbie Rowe and Roddy are finishing off coffees and waiting for the bill.
“Not bad.” Roddy says, “Not bad at all! I’d never think of this place. Good idea to stop off here.”
He checks his watch. My God, ten to seven! How did it get to be ten to seven? He’s pleased and slightly woozy. The big airy restaurant is almost empty. A few businessmen away over in the far corner. One other couple, dining in silence. He’s already dropped the audit file into the client’s showroom. Boss in London will be happy. Then Debbie suggested this place, good Early Bird deal. Now he’s knocked back a half-bottle of the house Cabernet and had a decent Peking Duck. Debbie’s been lingering over one glass of Chardonnay, conscientious driver, good ol’ Deb! He feels content and suddenly a bit horny, wants to get home to the apartment in Skerries. She pushes the half-finished glass away.
“I don’t want to fall asleep at the play”, she murmurs.
“Oh God!” Roddy groans, “Do we have to go?”
“Roddy! She’s my sister!”
“I know. But you remember the last one…”
“Yeah,” she laughs, “what was she like with the big Kerry accent?”
“What’s this one?”
“I dunno. Some American thing. A Streetcar called Desire.”
“A Streetcar named Desire.” he corrects her. “Marlon Brando.”
A Chinese waitress brings him the credit card machine and he keys in his number without really noticing her. He finds himself remembering the descent, the rushing fields, the blushing air hostess with the birthmark. The waitress smiles politely while the Visa receipt prints out.
Marie O’Connor drives away from the Pavilions Shopping Centre in Swords, having bought a few bits and pieces—cosmetics, a top for her date with Steve, a new handbag. Claire had driven behind her from the airport and followed her around from shop to shop, spending without counting—tops, jeans, shoes, more tops, Marc O’Polo, Levi, Prada, frocks, a handbag, a necklace—and then took her to the Kylemore for latte and pastries. Marie is alone now and relieved, her spendthrift friend gone home to Malahide. She rings her mother in her new house at Boroimhe, near Airside.
“Ten minutes, Mum.”
Home now for a grilling. Well, have you thought about it? Are you going to say yes? We think he’s a lovely lad. Are you really going to go ahead with laser treatment for your mark? So soon? Before the wedding? Your father is very wary of lasers, you know: he thinks they cause cancer … Leave me alone, Mum! And it dawns upon her, I don’t think I want to marry Steve. I just don’t know.
She blinks hard to relieve her headache and lowers the two front windows of her Fiat Punto. Too hot. Too stuffy. The seat is hot against her back. Emerging from the carpark, she yields to a big people-carrier driven by a hesitant African woman. The car is full of kids, one of them white. Another African woman is in the front passenger seat, dressed magnificently. Marie follows the big car cautiously, the “L” plate on the rear windscreen a warning to keep her distance. The two vehicles slow down and stop at a zebra crossing. A stout security man in a yellow hi-viz vest steps out in front of Marie and rights a traffic cone that has been knocked over. Eugene? My God, he looks just like Eugene except that he has no beard! The security man sees Marie staring at him and gives her a polite wave.
“Hello!” she hears him say in a foreign accent. Eastern European, Latvian probably. The people carrier shunts forward and she follows it out of the carpark, along the curve of the roundabout at McCabe’s and off right towards the Dublin Road.
The 33 bus swings around the Airport Roundabout and heads north. Eugene sits in the front seat, on the top deck, looking out ahead. The unease in his bowel has settled. He had a bit of relief half-an-hour ago, just before knocking off. A hard stool, he would tell Dr. Rice. Ten minutes straining but a good hard stool. He would go and see him on Saturday. For now, life was good. A Polish chap was due to call by after half-seven to look at the tumble dryer. It had sat for a week in “Buy and Sell” without a single enquiry. Now he had the Polish lad calling and later on a man from Kildare, if the Pole didn’t take it straight away.
I won’t let it go for less than two hundred, he thinks, and picks up his Herald to scan the sports. Caleb Folan to miss friendly against Nigeria. Useful player, he thinks, studying Folan’s photo, a striking black man, head shaven with a neat beard not unlike Eugene’s own. He wonders if Folan could have qualified for Nigeria if he hadn’t opted for Ireland?
The people carrier approaches Pinnock Hill on the outside lane. Wasola releases the clutch awkwardly and the big transporter shunts and stalls and slows down too suddenly, still some distance from the roundabout. The smaller of the twins shouts, as if alarmed.
“Mamma, why are we going back to the airport?”
“We are not going to the airport, Mojisola. We are dropping Blessing’s friend home to her house in St. Margaret’s.”
“Oh! … Mamma, why did we not go to the cinema?”
The people carrier veers left into the path of the Fiat Punto, as Wasola tries to switch lanes.
“I told you. We went to the Pavilions for quick shopping, not for cinema. We needed groceries. Wasola! Watch that car! On your left!”
“Oh!” says the child.
“I see it! I see it! I know what I am doing!”
Blessing gazes out at the road ahead, oblivious to the adults’ concerns.
“Look, Ciara!” she says suddenly, “Look, there’s Lara!”
Ciara looks and sees Lara crossing the roundabout up ahead at Pinnock Hill.
“What’s she doin’ up around here?” she mutters. Blessing shrugs.
Wasola enters the roundabout still stuck in the outside lane. Nervous of driving straight through with the Fiat Punto now cruising alongside her, she continues around the roundabout.
“Wheeee!” Oni laughs merrily, “Wheeeee!”
The twins echo her. “Wheeeeeee!!!!”
Blessing is embarrassed.
Wasola completes her three hundred and sixty degree rotation and then heads off around the roundabout a second time, laughing gleefully. “Wheeee!”
Everybody laughing now, except Blessing.
“Your family’s mad!” Ciara says and Blessing relaxes and joins in the happy laughter. “Wheeee!”
Lara has disappeared out of sight, walking agitated towards Airside.
Lara is worried. Where is Harvo? Where the Hell is Harvo? When Harvo is in one of his shuffly moods, he can do anything! He’s always hangin’ about Airside, up to some trouble. But if he gets into trouble with the law again, he’ll end up back in Swords Court and this time the judge will put him away and that will break Mam’s heart. Lara looks across the fence and sees her brother far below, mooching around behind a red sportscar. No Harvo!
Harvo examines the Lexus. It’s the same one alright. He runs his hand along the paintwork, to see if his bolt even left a scratch. It didn’t. He might as well not have fired it. Fuck sake! It occurs to him that he should go back to the motorway and look for it. Then his eye falls on a gift. On the tarmac, smack on the white paint between the parking bays, a set of keys. The bitch dropped her keys.
Harvo has never driven before, but he was often in cars with other lads, racing and spinning up at the roundabouts and out on the M1. He picks up the keys, opens the door and sits in, the black velvet cushion still carrying the impress of the woman driver’s ass. He checks the glove compartment and finds only a deep red lipstick, lid off. He takes a minute to figure out the basic workings—wipers this side, indicators that, ignition there…and shite…it’s an automatic—less of a buzz, but a jammer’s a jammer. He reverses out of the bay and drives slowly at first, then accelerates wildly up towards the main road. Cars and vans and glass buildings flash by on his left as he pulls out to overtake the stationary queue at the traffic lights, careering and weaving, everyone beeping and blaring. Up ahead, beyond the carpark fence, he sees his kid sister on the footpath frantically waving her bony arms. He puts his foot to the floor.
Debbie and Roddy emerge from the Chinese restaurant into the sunlight, blinking.
“Oh-my-God!” Debbie shouts, “Roddy! The car!”
The Lexus speeds past them, heading towards the retail park exit, the teenage driver apparently planning to cut straight across the busy main road traffic and into the housing development beyond. Roddy chases it uselessly.
“Stop!” he shouts, but no-one hears.
He looks up. A huge advertising hoarding reads “Welcome to Boroimhe: 4 and 5-bed houses / 1 bed apartments for sale”. A pale blue Fiat Punto pulls directly into the path of the Lexus and stops in the middle of the junction, waiting to turn right into Boroimhe.
Marie O’Connor’s mobile rings, as she waits in the Boroimhe turning bay. She gropes about in her handbag and finds it. The dial reads “Steve”. She hesitates. Answer now? What if the Guards see me? Wait until I pull off the main road? What if he’s gone? What if he pops the question here and now? To her left, she hears the sudden screeching of a car being driven at high speed. She looks across towards Airside and sees a red Lexus Coupe Convertible with a boy at the wheel hurtling directly towards her. Her hand reaches instinctively for the gear stick but she knows she has no chance. She knows there is no question of reversing or shunting forward out of the way. The phone stops ringing.
At the last second, the Lexus swings to the right, avoiding collision. It skids onto the southbound carriageway and speeds off, weaving and manoeuvring among the oncoming cars, heading back northwards towards the Travelodge on the wrong side of the road. A skinny girl on the footpath jumps up and down, shouting at the stolen car. Marie is overcome by a sensation of paralysis in her thighs and calves, and struggles to breathe. Her phone begins to ring again.
Traffic has been stopped for a few minutes now. Eugene eventually puts down his newspaper, checks his silver watch, seven o’clock exactly, and looks out the window to see what’s going on. From his elevated perch, he surveys the carnage up ahead. He runs down the stairs.
“Joe, Joe! Let me out,” he says, “There’s an accident up ahead. African woman out on the road hollerin’, goin’ mad.”
“Huh? Is that what it is? And what are ya gonna do, Eugene? Are ya gonna walk home to Lusk from here?”
“No, Joe! I’m trained in First Aid. I’m gonna see if I can help.”
Joe pushes the button and the doors hiss open. Up ahead he can hear the anguished screams of a Nigerian woman crying out to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour! You will not allow this! Oh, my child! Oh, my sister! Jesus, You must not allow this! Jesus Christ, You are my Lord and Saviour!
Joe closes the door again. He leans his elbows on the steering wheel, rests his chin on his cupped hands and watches as portly Eugene races along between the stationary cars, belly bouncing up and down, his jacket swinging in the summer breeze, hitching up his Securicor trousers as he runs to assist with the dead and the injured.