Sean O'ReillySean O' Reilly was born in Derry in 1969. He has had stories published in various magazines. He is currently working on a collection of stories called 'Curfew.'
from Skull Stick
All over the sloping street there are trails of green footprints. In and out of the shade where the dogs are lying, onefooted circuits of the cars parked in the sun, up on the pavement to people's doors, crisscrossing layers of dancing heel and toe in the cobbled gutter: Doctor is dancing. A car approaches from up the street and slows to a stop at a safe distance... a number of the dogs drowsily lift their halloween heads. The driver fists the horn... then again... and stepping out of the way Doctor covers his face with his illuminated hands as if in pain. The car passes on across the wet tracks and carries the steps of the dance out through all the streets of London.
There you have an old black man dancing in the street in a woman's pink bathgown. On a summer's morning with a troupe of decorated dogs breathing and tinkling and blinking in the shade. Above his painted head he swings a magical stick, a carved brush pole, and the skulls on their strings dangle from it and bounce and clatter together - there's a new addition, a fresh pigeon's head, feathered and startled eyes, banging against a fleshless neighbour. Next thing there is a howl like the uplifted rage of ten men... Doctor's tongue is red and black stripes... he drops the gown from his shoulders. His spine is a crocodile in pink and blue, his sagging gut skin is a miasma of colour and fingerprints dapple his wrinkled neck. A plastic spoon swings from his old man's colouredin cock. Shaking his stick Doctor howls again... an aeroplane is passing somewhere like the noise of the waterfalls at the edge of the world... a woman's head looks out of an upper window, rubbing her eyes between the curtains, and smiles.
Did he wake ye up as well the mad bastard; that is Tally now, the next thing - sitting down beside you on the warmed doorstep in a pair of tartan boxer shorts and a white tshirt. He relights the butt of a joint and offers it, but it's too early... fuck away off ya mad fucken jungleman, he shouts and he is up of the step suddenly on the brink of something... fuck off d'ye hear me with yer fucken dancing. Doctor howls and a sprayed mongrel with a tinsel tail and a bell around its neck rises up and echoes the call... lies down on its stomach again in the shade. I mean it, says Tally as he sits again, he's doing my fucken head in, I mean it, I'm gonna lose it on him so I am. A Belfast man is Tally, not allowed back they say. The remnants of a burnt off tattoo on his arm like the skin has bubbled and overflowed the harp and the snake and a permanent black tear drop under his right eye. His feet are delicate and pale and hairless. I'm gonna lose it on him one morning I'm telling ye, with that fucken stick; Tally - the correct outcome, equilibrium, a reckoning, it all adding up and being how it should be... so what's the crack with ye anyway Paul, ye settling in, ye still at the university...
Doctor is displaying his highlighted arse to the halfrisen sun. Tally is talking about this teacher from years back who locked himself in the classroom and set the building on fire. He drags on the butt... I gave ye a knock the other night, late on, but you weren't there so what ye up to the day then Paul. Doctor straightens up and twists his neck to listen up and down the street to where it bends out of sight into the sun haze... it's a fucken van to take ye away ya mad cunt, no more dancing for you cowboy. Doctor starts to come nearer like a painted naked man arriving out of the sea... One more fucken step and it'll be yer own fucken head on that stick d'ye hear me, I'm not fucken joking ye wog man, I warned ye before remember, remember that one eh, ya mad fucken headcase: Tally is up on his bare feet and there is a sealed sleeping eye at the back of each knee. The dogs congregate dreamily around Doctor who is pointing the tip of the skull stick at Tally... you heard me Paul didn't ye, I warned him... Doctor raises his hand to quieten the din of the invisible multitude who follow him. Tally flicks the butt straight at Doctor and runs out into the street... he bangs his fists on a car bonnet, banging and screaming... y'see I can fucken do it as well, y'see, y'think yer mad, do you, ye think yer mad do ye, I can fucken do it as well, ye listening, ye listening...
The birds tilt in flattened swarms around the back gardens. In the windows opposite there are glimpses of people moving around and making plans for the day. All over the city the jointhedot crowds are mixing and reforming and searching for the one more to complete the picture and you are on your back on the bed without a dream in the blazing arena of the day. Tally wants to go swimming again, he said he'd loan you his shorts again as though he had no memory of the last time - you climbed out of the water to dive and the whistles sounded from wall to wall and Tally jumps on the lifeguard who is trying to throw you out for obscenity in your seethrough shorts. Afterwards, Tally bought a bottle of cider. They sat by the canal and Tally talked about London like it was a dangerous animal which needed care and sacrifice, its moods and lusts, how to stay alive - advising the newcomer. Later on they went to a pub somewhere and played darts for the sake of it and ended up in a competition with two English fellas. Tally was supposed to wait outside while he had a slash. He had no idea where he was when he came out into the darkness and couldn't find Tally; the road in both directions had the look of the track left behind after something terrifying had passed. And might be back. He had no idea where he was. Two girls went past laughing, only he was too afraid to ask them. There was nothing else to do but start walking. You walked the streets until it was light.
The birds drop like a pile of bricks on the clothesline and swarm up again into the trees when Elaine the American girl appears in the garden to put out her washing. The line hangs between the rusted swing and a pipe which runs up the side of the house to his open window and splits in two as it travels on up to the roof. She is a friend of Aisling, Eoin's girlfriend, and no one can establish how long she's planning to stay. Her red hair is straight and loose and she steps awkwardly around in the overgrown grass. She hasn't been out of bed long. When she reaches for a peg her shirt slips up above the frail kite of her hips. Her skinniness is usually cloaked in a smog of twilight perfumes she will not have chosen yet. She is looking up now in the direction of his window, squinting or vaguely smiling; she has either noticed his presence or she is anticipating the sun on the verge of rising over the rooftops.
... you know I see you there Paul... she folds her arms and then shields her eyes... I always know when somebody is watching me, I do, believe me. She looks away from him around the garden, at the houses opposite, at the silent plane in the sky. Then she lifts her face to him again and says, Come down and talk to me Paul. She uses his name too much. Returning to her clothes, rearranging the pegs, she is trying to pretend she is never denied. The birds drift and reel and soar. Next thing, she goes over and sits down on the swing - a different tactic. Instead of a seat there is a rotten length of wood at the end of the rusting chains. She swipes with her bony legs at the beer cans in the trampled grass... so are you going to tell me where you've been hiding and why you're ignoring us all... are you trying to look mysterious... she laughs and sweeps her hair back from her face... Eoin said you're depressed... is he right. She has this habit of asking questions which she likes to think are frank and straightforward. The first time they met was one night in Eoin's room watching a film when she slipped into the corner beside him and said you and me are alike I think, we're both outsiders aren't we. She attempted to lay her head and her mournful fragrances on his shoulder but he moved away. You Irish are all mad, she decides to be controversial now and pushes herself away from the ground, all you ever do is talk about having a good time but none of you ever manage it... or admit to it... am I right... her pale hands are gripping the cobwebbed chains in the sudden sunlight... what do you do up in your room all the time anyway... you'll never change anything like that you know... it'll all carry on without you. She has her eyes closed, swinging out of sight behind her washing and back again... hello world, she shouts and laughs at herself, trying to pretend she has a rampant appetite for all of it. She jumps off the swing into the long grass... I am not pretending, I don't need to pretend, she says. She swipes an insect from her neck and looks up at his window with her hands shielding her face from the sun... we're going to the park soon... you're coming with us... you are, Paul... she jumps over a dark tangle of thorns in the grass and goes back inside.
The entire text of Skull Stick may be found in the book Westland Row, which is published by Imp Press priced IR£5.99, and available at all good bookshops, or over the internet from Hodges Figgis.