When did they get like this?
I turned my hands over and looked down at my stained knuckles. They were thick, coarse and hard, riveted with deep cracks and lines. I’ve never felt old but every time I look at my hands I get a small shock at how much life has passed through them.
Sparrow brayed at me and I snapped too. He shook his head, ears twitching and one front leg raised, kicked back to expose the hoof in the way he did when he was losing his patience with me. I’d come over here to turn the radio on and gotten lost along the way. That occasionally happened to me now. I reached up and flicked the switch of the old high-fi that was half-hung, half-bolted to the wall, bringing the warm babble of radio voices to life within the cinderblock walls of the stable.
There’s something about the radio that’s innately intimate. Like someone is tapping you on the shoulder and whispering directly into your ear. Sparrow likes it to be on when I’m not around. He spends so much of his life in the middle of traffic I think the silence scares him a little bit. I’m the same. I don’t like the hollowness of a silent room. There’s no life in it.
I shuffled over and patted down Sparrow once more, rubbing along his neck. He nuzzled into my arm briefly and then clopped over to his corner. It was time to leave. I turned off the main light, leaving Sparrow in a small pool of lamplight in the corner, the hay pale gold beneath him as the smooth crackle of the radio bathed the darkness with the electric heat of the city. I slid back the steel door, tamped my soft cap down firmly, stepped out into the night air and turned the lock on Sparrow for the evening.
The moon was high and brazen amongst an otherwise barren sky of deep purple. I dug my knuckles into my pockets and sloped down the narrow alley and into the red warrens of Pimlico and the Liberties. It was late November so all the other pedestrians where hunched and inwards as they hurried towards or away in various directions. The easy summer conversations you could strike up on your way home that would sometimes take you right through autumn where now long since gone. I only opened my mouth to say thank you to the bored shopkeeper in the small corner store that lay on the corner of my road.
I slid the key into the lock of my front door, getting as always that deep sense of satisfaction from the slick action of the lock’s motion, and bundled myself into the house. The radio chirped aimlessly from the kitchen towards the back. I made towards it, slinging the shopping bag onto the table before I slumped into the only one of the wooden table chairs I ever use anymore. I sat back, surprised by how out of breath I was, and let my cap crumple in from my hands into my lap.
I looked around. This house had been mine since birth. I’d never expected to make it this far in the same place. I still remembered getting drunk at this table when I was only fourteen years old and then many times after; a few of them with my Old Man which was still a memory that made me smile; a few of them when I had covered myself in shame that was deep and lasting.
This house had seen so much of me, good and bad. I’d done things I’d regretted in here. Thrown away more than one good woman for the ease of not needing to compromise. Sometimes I could still hear the quiet tears of Annette as she sat where I sat now a full fifty years ago. Of course I had seen her around since, but she was never that same person again.
I remembered the fight with my brother than had broken through the original living room door and created a space that separated years. I remembered when he finally came back and the joyful racket his family had filled the halls with.
People had come and gone through the halls of this house so easily for so long that it had been a long time before I realised how quiet things had become, and even longer before I came to understand that silence is a hard thing to remove once it’s set in. It goes deep, right to the roots, and settles there until it suffocates all else. But what can you do by that point? Time doesn’t go backwards.
I looked down again at my knuckles as the radio talked of rural robberies down south and that night’s lotto numbers.
Written by Adam O'Keeffe © 2015