Ne ja, nego Roddy Doyle. Ja se izvinjavam zbog duzine teksta.
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Short story: Sleep
While his wife sleeps, a man looks back on their marriage: at the sexual highs, the emotional lows, and a lifetime of mad, tender moments in between
It was the thing he'd always loved about her. The way she could sleep. When they'd just started going with each other, before they really knew each other, he'd lie awake, hoping she'd wake up, praying for it, dying. But even then he'd loved to look at her while she slept. There was something about it that made him feel lucky, or privileged. Or trusted. She could do that beside him, turn everything off, all the defences, and let him watch her.
It wasn't just the drink that knocked Tara out. They drank a lot in the early days. They'd get drunk and braver two nights a week, Fridays and Saturdays. There'd be a taxi or the last bus home, to his flat or hers. Hers was nicer. Tom's flat was a kip, and the bed sagged badly in the middle. They'd paw at each other in the taxi. There was once a mad night, she took the belt off his trousers, and put it around her neck and pulled.
The driver swerved off the road, up onto the path, and stopped.
"Ah, come on," she said. She gave him her accent and smile. "We were joking."
"Out," the driver said to the mirror. "Now, or I'll drive yis to the cop shop. It's only around the corner."
Her flat was around the corner, too, so they paid the driver and walked the rest of the way. Holding each other, trying to walk side by side. The belt wasn't around her neck and it wasn't around his waist.
"We left it in the f***ing taxi."
She pronounced her "g"s. All of them. She was the only person he knew who did that. It still made him weak. Even when she was telling him he was f***ing useless. There was one night - it might have been the same night; there were a lot of new, weird nights then - she fell asleep on Friday and woke up on Sunday morning. He was awake on Saturday, as usual. Alert, alive, gasping for water and sex, but content enough with the water. He got out of the bed and went to the kitchen. She had a kitchen, and a jacks. He didn't, not then. His flat was just the one room, and it wasn't big. He had a bed, a table, two chairs, a Baby Belling cooker, and a fridge so small it could only take a salad-cream bottle if he sat it on its side. He shared the toilet and bath with three other bedsits, which was fine sometimes and f***in' desperate other times.
He went to the kitchen and let the cold tap run. He could remember water bouncing off the bottom of the sink onto his stomach and chest. He couldn't find a glass, so he'd used a mug with blue and white stripes and tea stains inside it. He'd filled it twice and knocked it back. Then he'd filled the mug again and brought it back to the bedroom. He'd got under the duvet, hoping his movements would wake her. He'd yawned, extravagantly - he remembered this. Stretched, extravagantly. His knuckles scraped the wall behind him. The water sloshed around inside him - he felt it, he heard it - then settled.
She wasn't going to wake up. He'd accepted that, and he'd read for a while. A Tale of Two Cities. He'd dozed off. He'd read some more - he'd finished the book that day. He'd gone out to the shop and bought rashers and bread, and The Irish Times and a packet of Ritchies Silvermints. He'd made himself a rasher sandwich. He'd left the kitchen door open and the window shut, and hoped the smell would wake her - she loved her grub. But it didn't. He took the rashers back to the bed and ate them while he read the paper. Every bit of it. Even the deaths and births and "Presbyterian Notes". And dozed, and woke and stretched - extravagantly. He got up and went to the jacks and came back, and watched her sleep. It got dark outside, and he put on his clothes and went for a pint in the pub at the top of her road. It was a middle-class place, full of people who looked as if they disapproved of pubs. He was the only man in the place drinking Guinness. This was back in the early 1980s, so it was weird. But he'd loved her for that, too - the feeling that she was bringing him into a new world. He went back to the flat and stopped for chips on the way. The chipper was posh, too: scampi on the menu on the wall behind the counter. He didn't really know what scampi was. He bought himself chips and a spice burger. He had her keys with him. He let himself in and slammed the door, slightly. He brought the portable telly to the bedroom, got undressed and back under the duvet, and ate the chips and watched Match of the Day and a film he couldn't remember now. He turned off the telly and stretched and yawned, and started another book. Crime and Punishment. Off her bookshelf.
She woke the next morning and knew it was Sunday. Twenty-six years later, it still amazed him. He often boasted about it. He didn't sleep much himself, but he'd married a woman who did. He loved that. It had always been good.
He still looked at her while she slept. She was still beautiful.
He'd been a different kind of eejit back then. He never went to restaurants, because they were bourgeois. He remembered actually saying that. There was Bewley's on Westmoreland Street, where you could get a fry or shepherd's pie - the people's food. Where you queued up and carried your own tray. Where they didn't throw out the junkies. That was the only place he'd go to. Not that he'd wanted to eat with the junkies. He kept well away from them. But he liked the fact that they could go into Bewley's, sit down and stay as long as they wanted. There was room for them. And the old women with their cakes and pots of tea, and journalists from The Irish Times across the street, and people who'd missed their bus and came in to get out of the rain. The famous Bewley's coffee was dreadful, but he only found that out later, when real coffee came to Dublin. And even if he'd known, it wouldn't have mattered. Good coffee would have been bourgeois. Along with suits and new cars and flats with more than two rooms and classical music and all the other things he couldn't cope with.
Then she phoned him one night. The strange man from the flat beside the payphone in the hall shouted up the stairs. Tom went down and picked up the phone.
It was her.
It was Tuesday. Nine o'clock. He'd been watching the news.
"I'm still in town," she said. "Working late. Will we go for something to eat?"
And he'd said yes. He was 20 minutes from her and he ran part of the way. He met her outside the Lebanese restaurant he'd walked past every day for years. They went in, and down the wooden steps to the basement. They ate in the damp, and he loved it. Not the food. Food never grabbed him. Not then or since. He liked food, but it was good or great - that was it. It was never delicious or sublime. He was a writer, but he'd never written about food. There wasn't a banana or a biscuit in anything he'd done.
It was her eating the food and talking about it - that was what he'd loved. Stuffing her mouth, laughing. A fat belly dancer came out of the ladies' with a tape recorder and an anorak. She plugged it in, hit the button, climbed out of the anorak, and danced in the couple of inches that were left between the tables. She knocked over the salt on theirs. They were the only customers. He couldn't wait to clap.
They went back to his place, because he needed his bag for work in the morning. They lay on his bed, pushed against each other because of the dead springs beneath them, and listened to the drunk in the next room trying to open a tin of stew or dog food.
"You don't have to live here," she said, quietly.
"It isn't," she said. "It's f***ing awful. Move in with me."
She slept and he looked at her. He slept for a while. She was still asleep when he had to leave for work. He sat on the chair beside the bed. He missed his bus.
He was a teacher then. He'd loved college, UCD, from the first day, and decided he'd stay. He saw himself lecturing on the contemporary novel to a room full of 20-year-old women. He'd ended up teaching 7-year-old boys how to button their coats and say their prayers in Irish. But he liked it. For five years. Great kids - wild kids. With wild parents. Some of the mothers had frightened him. Tough, sexy birds in shiny tracksuits. A bit desperate and mad; the sexy days were numbered, and they knew it. He'd gone for a drink after work once, with a few of the other staff. He was at the bar, waiting for his pint - and one of the mothers was right beside him.
"Happy Christmas, Sir," she said.
And she kissed him - on October the 23rd. She grabbed his jacket and her tongue went into his mouth. He tasted Coke and cheese'n'onion. She took her mouth away, but she held on to his jacket.
"There," she said.
Her husband had come with her to the last parent-teacher meeting. He'd given Tom permission to use corporal punishment on their son.
"You can batter the little c***," he'd said. "Any time." An angry unemployed man who'd have been just as angry if he'd had a job.
But Tom, in the pub, didn't panic. He didn't look around for the husband. He didn't pull his jacket from her grip. If she'd asked him did he want to go outside and ride her against the back wall, behind the crates of empties, he'd have gone with her. It was politics, saying yes to a working-class woman with an unemployed husband. But she didn't ask. She let go of his jacket and went back to her friends, more blonde mothers in tracksuits, who cheered as she got nearer to them. It was then that he'd decided to get out of teaching.
But he'd liked it. And he'd believed in it. Teaching the little sons of men and women who'd never known work. Giving them that bit of power. But he'd very few fond memories.
Teaching was how he'd met Tara. He didn't remember much about the job, but writing about it had given him his route out. He wrote a weekly column for a magazine called Holy Dublin. He'd started as a kind of Marxist man-about-town but he'd run out of things to write about, because Dublin was such a dreary kip and he hardly ever went out. So he began to write about teaching. Most of it was lies - he didn't use his own name. Notes from the Chalkface, by Paddy Orwell. He even made himself a secondary teacher, teaching much older kids in a co-ed school. He met Tara one day when he brought in his copy.
He heard her before he saw her.
"Where's the f***ing stapler?"
That "g". He opened the reception door. She was searching the desk drawer with a cheerful violence that he thought was lovely. She looked at him. Big eyes, mouth, small ears, the hair.
"Hello," she said.
"Hi," he said. "I have my... my column here."
"Oh, great. Which one are you?"
"Notes from the Chalkface."
"I love that f***ing thing," she said. "It's a f***ing hoot."
He took the pages from his schoolbag.
"Paddy Orwell," she said.
"It's not my real name."
"I love that," she said. "That's so f***ing cool."
"I'm new," she said.
He gave up teaching a month later. He told her about the mother kissing him in the pub - she loved it. It was a weird thing to be doing in Ireland in the 1980s, giving up a job. But the guilt was alleviated by the fact that he no longer had a job to give up. He was half-unemployed, one of the people. And he could stay in bed with Tara. It
was probably the last exciting, unpredictable thing he ever did.
Now, more than 25 years later, he was sitting in bed, watching her sleep. His back hurt, he was frightened, but she was exactly the same. She was a grandmother, but the same. She'd slept through the recession, the boom, and she was sleeping through the new recession. She'd slept through the anxieties, terrors, poisonings, the joys and shite of marriage and children. He had cancer of the colon - he'd found out that afternoon and he hadn't told her yet - but for now he didn't care. He had the cancer, she didn't - and that felt like success. It wasn't sentimentality. It was a physical thing, like a soft hand on the back of his neck.
He wouldn't die - he wasn't going to die. There was a good chance he wouldn't die, the specialist had said.
There was once - their eldest child stopped breathing. He came downstairs, out of bed, and sat between them on the couch. They argued over Aaron's head about who was going to bring him back upstairs. They were both a bit pissed - they were on three or four bottles of wine a night back then.
"I did it last time."
"You didn't. You weren't even here the last time."
Nothing too angry or meant. But they didn't notice that the child was dying until she gave up on the row and went to pick him up. Then they were suddenly sober and brilliant. He ran to the kitchen and rang for an ambulance. She managed to get some breath into Aaron, by massaging his chest or something, and she was putting on his coat - he was even helping her, lifting his arms. There was no sign of the ambulance, so Tom rang for a taxi. He told them it was an emergency, and there was one outside the front gate in 30 seconds - it seemed that quick. He ran out with Aaron in his arms, bouncing on his shoulder. The house wasn't far from the children's hospital on Temple Street, so he was there in five minutes, getting out of the taxi, trying to make sure Aaron's head didn't whack the door. The taxi driver wouldn't take money. The hospital would, though. They wanted a tenner before they'd let him into the A&E. He remembered switching Aaron to his other shoulder so he could get at his wallet. He even remembered giving the woman behind the hatch two fivers and watching her write the receipt. Aaron was sitting in the crook of his arm, wheezing but okay.
"Good lad, good lad."
It was asthma. A nurse saw that before a doctor had looked at him. She put him up on a bed and got him to sit back against the pillow, and started to put some sort of plastic mask over his nose and mouth.
"Look at this yoke, Aaron," she said. "Will you put it on yourself or will I do it?"
"What is it?" Tom asked.
"A nebulizer," she said. "It'll open the poor lungs for him. It's just a spray, really, with the medicine in it. The easiest way to get it into them. And they love the drama."
She smiled, and he smiled. He saw how it worked now, the clear plastic pipe running from a box in the wall to the mask. Aaron didn't object as she put it over his face.
"Good lad," Tom said. "You're great."
He found a spare chair and sat beside Aaron. The place was packed. There wasn't an empty bed, and some of the children were lying across two or three chairs, depending on the length of the child. Most of them had nebulizers. All the hissing and wheezing, the white-blue skin, the strange calm - it was terrifying, and lovely. The courage of his own lad, and the other children. A broken leg or a burn victim would have ruined it. He was there for three hours, more.
Later, he sat on the steps outside the hospital with Aaron, waiting for a taxi. Four in the morning. Aaron was wide awake, deep inside his coat. It was freezing, and absolutely windless. Tom could feel the dirt in the fog. There were men, four of them, standing at the corner of Hardwicke Street. They had a fire going in a barrel - a brazier. They stood around it, in jackets that looked much too thin.
"Why have they a fire?" Aaron asked.
His breathing was grand, not a bother on him.
"They're cold," Tom said.
"Why don't they go to their houses?"
"They want to stop other men from selling drugs," Tom said. "It's why they're out so late. Concerned Parents, they're called. It's sad."
They said nothing else. They sat close and watched the men and the fire in the barrel and waited for the taxi.
She was awake when they got home. Lying in bed, well under the duvet. She lifted it so Aaron could get in beside her.
"Asthma," Tom said.
She smiled, and kissed Aaron's forehead.
Tom got into the bed. He leant across Aaron, touched the top of her head. She smiled. She closed her eyes. She opened them and closed them again. He lay there. She was asleep again. He listened to her, and to Aaron. He'd get a book tomorrow. He'd read it - they'd read it - and know what they needed to know about asthma. About bronchospasm and allergens. About the inhalers and dust mites and mattress and pillow covers. They'd get rid of the carpets and the curtains, get blinds instead, and polish the floorboards. They'd sign petitions and phone the local politicians to make Dublin a smokeless zone. Aaron would be fine. He'd get into fights, he'd play his football. He'd go drinking in St Anne's Park, in the pissing rain, with his inhaler in his pocket. He'd join a band, he'd smoke, he'd stroll up Kilimanjaro. He'd come home one morning and tell them they were going to be grandparents, and make them both shockingly happy.
Tom sat up a bit straighter now, in the bed. He looked at her, sleeping.