Paul Murphy is in his late twenties. He was born and raised in Ballyhar which is a few miles outside Killarney. He studied English in the University of Limerick spending two years after graduation living and working in Vietnam. He is now back living in Kerry where he is putting together his first collection of short stories. He has been published before in an anthology of Kerry writing entitled ‘Still in the Dreaming.’
Flagon in hand
by Paul Murphy
Bill often wondered where Linden Village was. He drank from its two litre plastic bottle so often he fantasized about living there, among the many orchards brimming with apples. That first sip tasted like heaven. Towards the end, however, it became stagnant and putrid, but it was worth it for those first gulps. Collecting the change people forgot about from parking meters for a few hours was usually enough to buy one bottle. He always knew he would regret not getting enough for two, but the lure of that first sip was too much for him to evade. Washed down with a stale Cuisine de France roll from a bin out the back of Spar- he truly was the king of the unwashed.
On this day coming to that last sip he began to wonder where he would get the money for the next one. The traffic warden clocked off at five and people didn’t pay for parking thereafter. His place of residence was adjacent to Lidl, just up the footpath, through a hole in the fence and his river hovel awaited. He could sit with the flowing stream at his back and watch the diverse clientele of the discount German supermarket go about their business. You see the finest of cars shopping in the cheapest retailers. He often wondered if they kept the Marks and Spencer’s packaging and swapped over the produce in case of a swanky dinner party. Fools the lot of them, wasting their short time on this planet worrying about what brand of pasta to be seen to have. He was happy out with a flagon of cider and a body of water thank you very much.
Bill did not always live like this. Five years ago, he had a normal life. Steady work as a plasterer, caring wife and two young daughters. This changed when he first discovered the internet. His evenings went from playing with his kids to perusing chat rooms. What started out as innocent conversations soon turned to all-encompassing rabbit holes about certain conspiracy theories; – The Moon Landing, JFK’s assassination and 9/11. YouTube videos purported to show a different side to reality, this clicked with Bill’s curious disposition. He felt he was part of a club of people who knew the truth and he began to resent everyone else for their ignorance. Late one night, the beep of his computer filled the house. It was a message from someone named ‘Sandyhoax’. She led him on a journey into the Irish conspiracy theory movement where he was soon enveloped.
Four-star pizza closed early on Mondays. This meant he collected his dinner before it was dark. Months previously he made a deal with the owner – free pizza in exchange for keeping the homeless from congregating in front of his shop. What the owner didn’t know was that before this Bill had asked his pals to hang out there in the afternoons, thus creating a situation where everybody won. Bill happily helped the other drifters with their schemes to get by. The cunning some of them possessed was remarkable. If they had figured out a different way to utilize their skills, who knows what they could have done. He loved being part of this ever-changing group of misfits who live life on their own terms. We are all a lot closer to becoming homeless than we think, one or two things happen at the wrong time then bang- you’re walking down the road naked with only a party hat on.
While still on site he began coming into work later and later every morning as he couldn’t part with his computer. His foreman started receiving complaints that Bill was spreading crazy stories to the other workers about lizard overlords. He got his marching orders soon afterwards, laying down his trowel for one last time. Secretly he was relieved to be out of work, he could now focus his energies on helping to topple the illuminati who rule the world. He stopped shaving until he began to look unkempt, the people around him growing ever more worried the longer his beard grew. His wife tried getting help but the doctors didn’t want to hear about it, nor did Bill. Each week brought more tension until something had to give. His wife left with the kids one Spring morning, the trees were beginning to bloom, Bill watched a silver birch sway gently in the wind as the car pulled out of the driveway. Soon afterwards the banks came knocking. Bill took satisfaction from leaving with nothing apart from a change of clothes and a sleeping bag.
Freedom at last.
Finally, it came to him as he saw a shopping trolley drifting aimlessly around the near deserted car park. Lidl’s militant efficiency led to some foibles which can be exploited for one as astute as Bill. No trolley attendant and a number of forsaken trolleys meant a badly needed cash windfall. He did a quick count of two big trolleys and one medium. Their return just about perfectly equalled the price of another trip to Linden Village. Each scheme such as this deepened his beliefs, there is plenty of money already out there in the world, but people are too busy trying to earn more to notice.
With great satisfaction he went across the road to Fine Wines where he slowly stacked the coins on the counter. The owner Fergal hated the sight and smell of Bill in his premises, it made the wine connoisseurs shift uneasily with the reality of how some people live. Still though, he had no right to deny his purchase of booze. He served Bill with a grimace and watched him like a hawk until he left. Bill spent a lot of his time being looked at by people in much the same way, probably just their way of exercising their own insecurities about themselves, whatever helps you sleep at night. He floated back to his waterside nirvana, flagon in hand.
Vagrants can smell other vagrants a mile away. The hiss from a plastic bottle of cider opening reverberates around, only detectable to those with a thirst and a knack for not paying. Bill settled down into his Argos sleeping bag as the sun began to set on this May day. The light streaming through the trees gave the place a continental feel, the birds chirrups mixed with the gush of flowing water to create a tranquil atmosphere. Contentment is different for each of us. He thought back over the last five years and realized he wouldn’t change a thing.
A cracking of branches underfoot disturbed Bill’s peace, he looked around and in front of him stood a middle-aged woman. She looked worse for wear. Her bright purple hair was matted with dirt and her fishnet stockings had so many holes in them one had to question if they could still be called so. “How a ya? Me name’s Sandra. Yiz havin a drop a cider? Giz us a go off it?” He knew from the vibrations of her intonation that she wasn’t from around here. Kerry people go their whole lives without using their tongues and teeth in such a crude manner. Being the generous sort Bill offered her a seat and a swig of cider without second thought. He tried his best to suss her out, to see what breed of floater she was. In his experience a wide range of people lived rough. The light from the setting sun hovered between them. She did not offer the bottle back to Bill.
Bill watched as she looked around her surroundings vacantly. “Fair play to yiz on findin this spot. Mus be handy for casin out a few chumps after d’shop, dropped purses an that”. Bill was taken aback. He regarded himself as an upstanding member of society who just so happened to live on the street. He relied on nothing more than his charm and shrewdness to get by. “Ah shur look it. I don’t need to be casing anyone out at all. A few quid here or there does me fine out,” he said with a hint of unease as she began eye contact. Sandra finished the cider, holding the bottle aloft to drain any remaining dregs, all the while maintaining her focus. Upon finishing, she again looked around her, shrugged her shoulders and proceeded to mount Bill like a rodeo bull. They made clumsy love in his sleeping bag as a pink hue descended on the sky. She lit a silk cut purple when finished and shared it between them. Soon after her surprisingly limber body hopped up and with a wink she was gone again through the trees, back to the real world outside.
Bill lay bereft, still naked. She had come and gone like a flash. As night fell, he began to wonder if she had existed at all. The shutters came down in the shop as the workers went home. He remembered that sense of satisfaction at the end of a day’s work and felt a pang of guilt. The silver birch swayed in his mind’s eye. Such is life. Bill put back on his clothes, letting the sound of the flowing water help him drift into a troubled sleep. The taste of her and silk cut purple still lingered on his lips.